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Why Is Jesse Crain Getting Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree?

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I'm guessing it's because of his fresh pine scent.

When the Twins decided to go ahead and offer Jesse Crain arbitration, you just knew that fans would have him on a short leash.  He's been the bullpen's whipping boy for a couple of years now, regardless of numbers or trends or circumstances, and right now it's hard to really blame anyone.  Minnesota has an expensive bullpen this season, and $2 million of that is going to Crain.

Now, just eight appearances into the season, a strong start has been forgotten.  Three of Crain's last five appearances have been multi-run extravaganzas, including Wednesday night's game where he allowed a trio of doubles on four pitches.

Oddly enough, on the surface it's hard to tell the difference between Crain and Jon Rauch:

Name IP H K BB WHIP xFIP
Rauch 10 10 7 2 1.20 4.36
Crain 10 11 8 2 1.30 4.71

 

 

 

 

We all know it goes deeper than this, but it's an interesting comparison.  Not a terrible number of base runners overall.  But this is what can happen, particularly A) early in the year and B) to relief pitchers.  In the five appearances this season where Crain hasn't allowed a run, he's given up just three hits while striking out five and not walking anybody.

The point, really, is that it's not the what that's been the difference for Crain in his outings, but the how.  He's inducing ground balls at a dangerously low rate, just 24.2%, meaning that almost everything batters can put wood on is being hit into the air.  Some of these are turned into easy outs, but a lot of these are falling for hits.  Left-handed hitters especially are a problem for him right now.  25 right-handed hitters haven't taken a walk and are hitting just .240, but guys from the other side of the box are hitting .313.  Crain's xFIP against lefties is 6.46.  Maybe it's time to turn Crain into a ROOGY?

Crain's biggest problem is how he performs with runners on base.  He's only stranding 43% of base runners, and that's a great way to lose your job no matter how what your peripherals might say.  It shows in his splits:

Bases Empty:  .217/.217/.261
Runners On:  .333/.400/.778

No doubt that Crain is losing ground in Gardy's bullpen already, but maybe there are things that can be done to help stop the bleeding.  First, never give him an inherited base runner.  Second, don't let him face a left-handed hitter unless the bases are empty.  Third, keep him out of situations where the outcome of the game could be in doubt.  Fourth, his fastball hasn't been a plus pitch since '05, but this year it's off to a bad start; he needs to find a way to make his fastball effective.

Maybe those things help him get his groove back, or maybe he'll just settle in as the season settles in.  Whatever gets him back on track is fine with me, because a couple more appearances like this and I'll be introducing everyone to Anthony Slama.