The emerging consensus around baseball is that former White Sox starting pitcher Jose Contreras is old and just about washed up. Certainly, his traditional stats of a 5-13 ERA and a 5.42 ERA do little to convince you otherwise.

White Sox Orioles BaseballWhich is why I was shocked when I looked at Alejandro’s White Sox WAR pie and saw that Contreras has actually been the fifth most productive player on the White Sox this year, with a 2.3 WAR. Clearly some investigation was warranted.

Reports out of Colorado are that GM Dan O’Dowd’s first choice for a replacement starter was Brad Penny, but that manager Jim Tracy, who had had to deal with Penny when he managed the Dodgers, was against acquiring him, so O’Dowd was forced to fall back on Contreras as a second choice.

But looking at Contreras’s FIP this season, it is a mere 4.12, which is significantly better than Brad Penny’s 4.48 FIP when he was signed by the Giants. Indeed, looking at Contreras’s peripherals, they are all right in line with his career norms. In fact, his groundball rate is slightly up, and his line drive and home run rates are slightly down, all of which are good signs for a pitcher.

Well, actually there is one glaring exception. Contreras’s strand rate is at 56.8%, which is one of the lowest strand rates I have ever seen. So basically, Contreras is not letting all that many guys on base, but when he does, almost half of all baserunners score.

Now, some old-school baseball guys might tell you that this is a reflection on the weakness of Contreras’s character, and that he must be somehow “cracking under the pressure” when guys get on base. But given that most stats guys are convinced that strand rate is almost entirely based on luck, and that Contreras’s career mark is a much healthier 67%, a natural conclusion to draw is that the Rockies just got themselves a much better pitcher than they maybe even realized.

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