Last week in Revisiting ’03, we delved into the 2003 season and subsequent career of former young stud pitcher Dontrelle Willis. Willis of course was an integral part of the 2003 World Series winning Florida Marlins, but he was just one part of an excellent five-man rotation that contributed around 15 WAR for the team according to FanGraphs. But of the five regular starters that season, there was always one pitcher that I thought simply did not belong among the group. Whenever I watched the team, I always thought “Man, that guy just shouldn’t be in there, he’s terrible.”
That guy was lefty Mark Redman. And let me tell you something about Mark Redman that maybe you did not know or think of when you saw him in 2003: Mark Redman was good that year.
It was hard to like Mark Redman when four out of every five games you saw hurlers like Willis, Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, and Carl Pavano. For one thing, all four of those guys threw the ball hard. Here’s a table of their average fastball velocities that year according to FanGraphs.
Clearly, it would appear to the casual observer that, while four of the Marlins’ five starters had solid fastballs of at least 90 MPH, Redman was the lone junkballer in the group. As we all know, junkballers do not get a lot of love from the casual fan.
Consider also the way in which Redman was acquired. Of the five starters, Redman was among the most recently acquired player and the lowest-profile acquisition among them. Beckett was of course the prized homegrown product, a former first round, top-ten draft pick. Penny had been on the team the second longest, having arrived in 1999 in the dealt that sent former Marlins closer Matt Mantei; he started for the Marlins the following season. Pavano was acquired from the Montreal Expos in the disappointing Cliff Floyd trade the previous season. Willis was the most prominent minor leaguer acquired in the deal that sent Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement to the Chicago Cubs.
Compare that to the Redman acquisition, which sent three minor leaguers and got back one more in addition to Redman. Of the important names traded, current embattled Detroit Tigers starter Nate Robertson, a former Marlins fifth rounder, was the only big name involved. Redman wasn’t also particularly young at the time, especially compared to the other members of the staff; Redman was 29 years old, the senior of a staff that also consisted of three pitchers 25 and under in age.
So Redman came to the Marlins as a 29-year old former first round draft pick, a junkballer with an 85 MPH fastball, not to mention a sort of pudgy appearance. What’s not to like about the guy’s performance?
The Sabermetric Lens
The truth was that Redman was very good for the Marlins. I was quite surprised at the end of that season to find that he had actually posted a 3.59 ERA, third amongst the starters and not far off the two in front of him, Beckett and Willis. What surprised me even more, years later when I put on the sabermetric lens, is that that ERA was not much of a fluke. Redman posted a FIP of 3.58 that season, the best of his career, and pitched 190 2/3 innings, the second largest total of his career, culminating in a total of 3.7 WAR according to FanGraphs. Rally’s WAR database generally agrees, giving him credit for 3.4 WAR (note: Rally’s database and FanGraphs use different estimates for replacement level pitching).
How did this junkballing lefty do it? It may surprise you to hear that Redman’s peripherals solidly above average.
Redman did not strike out the most hitters on the Marlins starting staff, and neither did he walk the least guys. His ground ball numbers weren’t great and in fact were well below average, though he ended up allowing a home run rate just lower than the league rate. But while Redman did not excel in any area compared to the other Marlins starters, he was solidly in the middle of each category, third on the team in strikeout, walk, and home run rate, and fourth in GB%. Note also that Redman was better decently better than the league average in strikeouts and walks and about average in home runs, though his ground ball rate left something to be desired. Combine that with his innings, the second highest total on the team, and you can see how he could have provided 3+ WAR for the Marlins that season.
A quick aside regarding that table. I was very surprised to see how differently each of our pitchers handled themselves that season. Beckett was clearly the team’s premier strikeout pitcher, but he also led the team in GB%. He struggled with his walks, however. On the other side, Pavano was excellent for the exact opposite reason; Pavano gave up just 39 unintentional walks in 201 innings and 846 batters faced, but he struck out only 133 batters, the lowest on the team. He also gave up the most balls in the air on the staff. Great diversity among the five men.
If he was so good, why did we trade him?
The Marlins dealt Redman to the Oakland Athletics for scraps and he was later released and resigned by the A’s for $2M. My guess is that the Marlins expected to have a starting five set with A.J. Burnett expected to return from the Tommy John surgery that cut his 2003 season short. The Fish had six slots for five starters and had to choose one to leave, and the old man got the shaft. Redman also did not leave a great impression in the 2003 playoffs, starting four games, pitching 18 innings and giving up 13 runs, with only 10 strikeouts and nine walks.
Based on some of those 2003 numbers (not necessarily the postseason, but in general), it might not have been a bad idea. Redman’s lack of home runs allowed was a big help to his performance in 2003, but given his low ground ball tendencies that might have been expected to change. According to FanGraphs, Redman allowed only 7.1% HR/FB, one of the lowest totals of his career. That number usually regresses pretty heavily to the mean of around 10-11%, and that additional three or four percent could mean an additional six to eight home runs, which would shoot his FIP and ERA upwards. Combine that aspect with his advanced age and it seemed logical for the Marlins to drop Redman instead of the other starters.
Ultimately, of course, Redman did not follow that 2003 season with a whole lot of success. His following season with Oakland was a poor one, as he stopped striking out hitters entirely (12.3% K% in 2004) on his way to a 5.05 FIP, and he found himself stuck with the journeyman label the rest of his career. Redman was a part of five organizations since then, ending with the Colorado Rockies in 2008. While Redman’s career never panned out, he’ll always have a World Series ring from his excellent year in Florida.
Oh, and that All-Star selection for the Kansas City Royals when he posted a 4.99 FIP. But mostly the ring and the great 2003 season.