Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Brother, Can You Spare An Arm?

We need pitching. Lots of it. For now, it's JPat, Livan, Lawrence, and pray for a torrent -- which is roughly where we ended the year.

1/2 are set. While neither John Patterson nor Livan are true aces, they're both valuable pitchers. Patterson has the stuff, but he needs to work on his durability and his endurance. Livan has the endurance, but his knee severly limited what he's capable of doing, especially in the second half. Assuming good health, we're fine there.

The trick is going to be replacing the 3/4 spots in the rotation. Esteban Loaiza was excellent as a number three starter. Tony Armas, Ryan Drese and Tomo Ohka ranged from execrable to underrated.

We're in luck. There are free agent pitchers out the wazoo. But which are the right fit? And at what price?

The cream of the crop.
                 ERA   IP   K/9  BB/9 HR/9  G/F   FIP   3YE
AJ Burnett 3.44 209 8.5 3.4 .52 2.63 3.09 117 112 86
Kevin Millwood 2.86 192 6.8 2.4 .94 1.39 3.77 143 90 103
Jarrod Washburn 3.20 177 4.8 2.6 .96 0.99 4.39 131 99 96
Matt Morris 4.11 193 5.5 1.7 1.03 1.66 3.97 104 89 111
Jeff Weaver 4.22 224 6.3 1.7 1.41 1.06 4.45 96 103 73
Esteban Loaiza 3.77 217 7.2 2.3 .75 1.27 3.86 105 84 154

Let me explain the stats I used, first. The first few should be self-explantory. There's a line of theory (which actually makes sense) that one of the most effecitve ways to evaluate a pitcher is through his peripheral numbers. Hits, it's argued, are sometimes a function of luck -- think of a dying quail down the line that goes for a double, or think of, say, a ground ball pitcher in front of Vidro and Guzman. Looking at strike outs, homers, and walks are a good way to isolate those things which the pitcher most controls. And it provides a decent baseline for evaluating performance.

G/F is the groundball/flyball ratio. The higher the number, the more groundballs the player induces. Most pitchers are in the 1.2-1.6 range (ballpark). I and some of the other blogs have theorized that flyball pitchers can excel here because of the very forgiving power alleys. Balls that were home runs in other parks will fall on to the 390-foot warning track.

FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, gleefully stolen from The Hardball Times. It takes the pitcher's peripheral stats and projects what his ERA would be in a neutral setting. If there's a large difference between the two, it could indicate that the pitcher was lucky (and possibly portend a crash back to earth the next season)

Finally, 3YE is the three-year ERA+. Too often I see people evaluating players on one year's worth of stats. Three years isn't perfect, but it can help to spot trends. Remember, an average ERA works out to 100. The stat adjusts for park, and tries to form a standard baseline. Someone with a 90, for example, had an ERA 10% higher than average.
  • Burnett is the most prominent name. He has amazing stuff, routinely hitting 99+ on the radar gun. But he has some drawbacks. 1) He's the proverbial ten-cent head. He gave up on his team last year when things started falling apart, and he was quoted to the effect of, after coming back from Tommy John surgery, that if his elbow started hurting, he'd just throw harder. 2) That surgery is scary! While he's had plenty of time to recover, he's not the model of health. Last season was the only year of his career where he made 30 starts, and he's reached 200 IP in just two of his seven seasons. But more importantly, he's going to command the big bucks.

    Pitching-wise, he's an extreme ground-baller, who racks up the strikeouts. He had a decent ERA, but his other numbers indicate he was probably even better than that. Just 28, he's going to be the most expensive pitcher. Our friends at Baseball Analysts have pegged him at 4 years/ $48 million. That seems about right. Unfortunately, that's probably too much for our nomadic team.


  • Millwood is the 1A of the free agent market. Unfortunately, he'll be paid like that, even if his performance doesn't show it. Look at his FIP compared to his regular ERA. Then look at his past seasons of performance, and where they rank to this one. It screams fluke, doesn't it? While he'd be an effective innings-eater in the Loaiza mold, he's probably going to make more than the performance you'll get. Baseball Analysts chimes in with a 4-year, $36 million contract -- Derek Lowe money. I'd pass.


  • Washburn is an interesting case. One of the warning signs in a pitcher's quality is his K/9 ratio. Washburn's numbers are mediocre, and the lowest of his career. He survives by getting hitters to make outs, not by dominating them (see his FIP for proof of that). He's an extreme flyball pitcher, but he didn't give up a ton of home runs. Oh, and he's left-handed. He's 31, and could be a good fit for the Nationals. With the amount of fair territory at RFK, those fly balls stand a great chance of being run down. The declining strike outs are a bit worrying, but he's essentially been league average for his career. He's been farily durable for his career, but you can't expect him to pitch as deep into games as Livan. Baseball Analysts have him pegged at three-years, $25 million. That might be a bit rich, but that seems pretty reasonable. The park's forgivingness makes a complete collapse much less likely. And with some of the division's left-handed batting, a LHP might not be a bad idea.


  • Matt Morris scared me. Until I looked closely at the stats. Then he surprised me. But there are still warning signs. He fell off the table in the second half last year, which isn't the first time that that's happened. I'm not sure if it's a fatigue or mechanics issue. Or it could possibly be another injury -- something that's no stranger to his career. He's an excellent control pitcher, rarely walking a batter, but the high number of homers allowed indicate that he might be a bit too wild in the zone, giving up some hittable pitches. Still, his ERA is right in line with what his numbers suggest, and he's had a number of solid years in the past. BA predicts 2-years, $13-15 with incentives. That could be a reasonable deal, but some of these red flags scare me. I wouldn't scream bloody murder if they signed him, but he's not at the top of the list.


  • Jeff Weaver has certainly had an interesting career. Once promising, he went to the Yankees to wither before getting back on the right track in LA. Weaver is a work horse. He's capable of starting 34 times and pitching 230 innings. If he can find his early career form, he's an excellent pitcher. If he recreates the form of the last two years, he's league average. 230 innings of league average is pretty damn valuable. From the stats above, Weaver isn't perfect. He gives up a ton of fly balls, and a ton of those go over the fence -- something RFK could help at. The ERA+ numbers are scary, but he pitched three times at Coors field (all pretty poorly), which would weight his numbers slightly. Overall, he had a 4.34 ERA on the road, which when you factor in CO, probably isn't too bad. Esteban Loaiza, for comparison, had a 4.77 road ERA. He's also just 29. BA predicts 3-4 years at $8-9 per. When compared to Morris, I could go for that. He compares favorably with Washburn. He certainly is a bit screwy, but the idea that he could return to his Detroit promise is pretty tempting.


  • Esteban Loaiza is the name we know. It seemed like he had a better year than those numbers indicate. I'm a little wary of the number of IP and his age. It's only the second time in his 11-year career that he's broken 200 IP, and his results weren't pretty after the last one. Still, I think there is something to his late-career resurgence. When he broke out in 2003, it was a result of his learning a new pitch, the cutter. It's the same thing with Hector Carrasco -- the equation has changed (Read that! It's good!). Loaiza is not the kind of pitcher that will win you games on his own. He'll work into the seventh inning, racking up the quality starts. If he gets run support, he wins. If not, he loses. That's not a criticism. But we need to think of him as more of a #3 starter, which is really what he is. BA thinks he'll get two-years, $9-11 MM. I think someone will give the 33-year old that third year. Is he worth three-years $16 million? I'm not sure. I'd be comfortable with those first two years, but that third makes me nervous. The Nationals have offered him a contract in the 2-years $10 million range. He's countered with 3-years, $21 million. If he can get someone to offer him that, adios!

These aren't the only pitchers available. They're just the best. Later, I'll show you the rest. There are a few pitchers who could prove to be the kind of diamonds in the rough that Jim Bowden covets.

Given the contract estimates, Weaver and Washburn would be my number one targets. If he'll play ball, Loaiza would be welcomed back. Millwood, to me, is a younger Loaiza. He'll be vastly overpaid because of his one-year's gaudy stats. Burnett will be excellent for whoever signs him, but I just don't think the Nats are in a position to commit that kind of money. Morris is probably the least desirable.

How would you rank them?

7 Comments:

  • Where's Kenny Rogers on that list, sucka? And a healthy Livan is totally an ace. Don't make me come over there. Sucka.

    By Blogger Ryan, at 11/10/2005 7:03 AM  

  • The Gambler didn't make the first cut. You'll get him today or tomorrow, jerk.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 11/10/2005 8:30 AM  

  • Yeah, he's not half the pitcher Matt Morris is. Sucka.

    By Blogger Ryan, at 11/10/2005 8:42 AM  

  • I like the three-year ERA+ idea, but for Loaiza (I know, I'm playing Devil's Advocate on him), you almost have to go back farther with him, because as is it's something of a multiple endpoint issue. He's had four years out of eleven where he's qualified as at least "league-average innings-eater." Two of them are in the last three. While it's certainly possible or probable that he's hit a late-season resurgence, it's not a certainty. Twelve months ago, he was so down that ONE team offered him a big league contract.

    Basically, the point is that he's been maddening inconsistent, and though he's coming off a season where he was a nice league average or better innings eater, I get the feeling that this quality is being projected on to him. (Not by you, just generally . . . )

    By Blogger Basil, at 11/10/2005 9:13 AM  

  • Three years is a sample -- just one piece of many. It's not perfect, just as how using just K/9 isn't perfect either. It didn't come down via papal decree, so feel free to use whatever stat you'd like. ;) (No schismatic joke here)

    That being said, I'm not so sure that his previous seasons ARE valid because of the cutter. He's a different pitcher than he was early in his career, because he has a new tool.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 11/10/2005 9:15 AM  

  • Dammit Basil, stop treating Loaiza like he's Thom Loverro or something.

    By Blogger Ryan, at 11/10/2005 9:27 AM  

  • He's a different pitcher than he was early in his career, because he has a new tool

    Yeah, but Thom Loverro was throwing the cutter in 2004 . . .

    :P

    By Blogger Basil, at 11/10/2005 9:38 AM  

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