Thursday, January 27, 2011

On the Injury-Prone: Reese Havens

Today's task: Who gets injured more frequently, Rich Harden or Reese Havens? And is either still valuable to a club?

Havens was drafted out of South Carolina in 2008, the same season as Ike Davis. Ike has clearly panned out well and is performing just fine at the Major League level. Havens, however, has only succeeded in working his way up to Double-A Binghamton so far. He has hit .261/.363/.467 in 152 pro games since his debut with 26 homers and 80 walks. Not bad at all, but then you remember that those career totals have been compiled over three years.

Three years.

Havens has had a string of injuries since signing - his elbow, groin, quadriceps, hand, oblique and back have all given him trouble, making him even more injury-prone than my favorite klutz, Jed Lowrie. I would consider Havens to still have potential, certainly, but he has problems staying healthy, which is sorely injuring (no pun intended) his prospect status. He's definitely a more than decent hitter - 149 hits in 570 pro at-bats isn't bad at all - and although his defense is only average (he recently switched from shortstop to second base), he would likely be able to hold his own at the position even though he's no Dustin Pedroia.

Here's the question, though: is Havens worth the risk?

Let's compare Havens to another oft-injured RH, Rich Harden. Although Harden is a pitcher, he presents a similarity to Havens - a high upside with a risk of injury higher than average.

As of the time I'm writing this, Harden has pitched for Oakland from '03-'08, Chicago (NL) from '08-'09, and Texas in '10. His first major injury occurred in 2005, when he had an oblique problem that kept him on the bench for a month. He then pitched well until he injured his shoulder in late August, which kept him out for another month. Despite this, he finished the season with strong numbers (10-5; 2.57 ERA, 121 Ks in 128 innings). 2006 and 2007 went less successfully, however, as injury-plagued Harden pitched in only 16 games total, starting 13 of those. Prior to that, he had appeared in 68 games for Oakland.

In 2008, Harden was traded to the Cubs mid-season. By Harden standards, this was an excellent year - 25 starts (13 in Oakland, 12 in Chicago), 10-2 record, 2.07 total ERA. He notched a career high in strikeouts (181) and a career low WHIP (1.061). More importantly, he spent this season playing instead of riding the pine, and he revealed just how good he actually could be when healthy. Comparatively, 2009 and 2010 were sharp contrasts from 2008 - the stats ballooned comparatively, and in 2010 he ended up on the DL again with a gluteal strain.

Reese Havens' minors numbers make him appear to be similar -almost like a position player equivalent to Harden. With the exception of 2009, in which Havens played in 97 games in High-A St. Lucie, he's only been in 55 games total in the years 2008 and 2010. Although comparing a position player to a pitcher is like comparing apples to oranges, the risk-reward with a player like Havens is similar to Harden. Do you retain a player who is highly skilled but frequently hurt, or do you cast them to the wind if they don't actually play enough due to being injured so often?

Oakland's answer was to pick Harden up with a one-year contract for 2011. Now it remains to be seen what the Mets do with Havens. If he remains healthy, he'll likely make it to the Majors by 2012 or 2013, but if his frequent health issues remain, there is a chance he may be labeled as a bust and will toil in the Minors or possibly be released or retire.

Only Reese's health can decide his future.