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Dec 08

Free Agent Fun with Comps: the Broken Arms

Gavin FloydThis is part 11 of an ongoing series featuring a breakdown of the current free agent players at each position. Positions completed so far: catchers, first base, second base, shortstop, third base, left field, remaining outfielders, designated hitters, and starting pitchers part one and part two.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I’m assessing the current free agent players seeking their respective paydays by comparing each player with his historical comp. Then, after painstakingly looking over the numbers, I determine if I’d bet on the current free agent to perform better over the next few years or go with the comp.

It’s that simple.

All comparisons are pulled using the Similarity Score by age from Baseball-Reference and all free agents were borrowed from the listing at MLB Trade Rumors.

Today, I continue discussing the starting pitchers.

STARTING PITCHERS

We’re down to our final group of starting pitchers, and this is where we discuss the starters with significant injury risk. Okay. Pitchers and injury are inherently intertwined, but those in this grouping are particularly worrisome.

For instance, if Gavin Floyd hadn’t suffered a broken olecranon bone in his pitching elbow, the season after returning from Tommy John surgery, how much interest would he be drawing this offseason?

At the time of suffering his injury, Floyd had been enjoying his return to the NL by posting a career best ERA+ and was on his way to his third win of the season. Considering how wonky his elbow looked after the break, will he even receive a similar $4 million one-year deal like Atlanta gave him after his TJ surgery? Floyd will be 32 next year, broke his elbow when he opened the can of whoop ass against the Nationals, and has pitched fewer than 80 innings in the last two seasons combined.

I figure the market is tepid.

Anyway, every one of these men carries a story similar to Floyd’s. It’s our job to sift through the torn ligaments and shoulder contusions and determine whether teams should save their money for overpriced DHs.

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Josh Johnson 31 Matt Morris David Cone Morris
Gavin Floyd 32 Bronson Arroyo Ted Lilly Arroyo
Brett Anderson 27 Travis Wood Chuck Finley Wood
Brandon Morrow 30 Carlos Villanueva Dave Stewart Morrow
Scott Baker 33 Carl Pavano Kris Benson
Colby Lewis 35 Mark Gardner Rodrigo Lopez Gardner
Chad Billingsley 30 Chuck Estrada Jake Peavy Billingsley
Franklin Morales 29 J.P. Howell Jeremy Affeldt Howell
Kevin Slowey 31 John Halama John Maine Slowey
Felipe Paulino 31 Justin Germano Philip Humber Paulino

Starting Pitchers by Comps

1.  Josh Johnson – If there’s a way to suppress a pitcher’s marketability, it has to be a second TJ surgery, right? Johnson first had the surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews in August of 2007, spent a large chunk of 2008 recovering, and then spent 2009-10 embarrassing hitters with a mid-90s fastball and a filthy slider.

Then Johnson suffered through an assortment of shoulder ailments that cost him a full season of games split amongst 2010-11 and triceps and forearm issues that cost another half season in ’13. Oh, yeah, there’s that whole second TJ surgery this past April.

Because Johnson made fewer than seven starts last season for San Diego (zero actually) the Padres could have had him on their staff for a measly $4 million, and the team declined because he can’t stay healthy. They’d rather offer him less. That’s not small market temerity. That’s sound financial sense.

If there’s a chance Johnson could stay healthy, he’s easily the most intriguing pitcher available in free agency outside of Scherzer, Lester, and Shields. Age and all those injuries have zapped him of some of the life on his fourseamer, but his slider was still effective the last time he actually showed it.

I discuss Matt Morris in relation to Scherzer (oddly enough, Cone is a Scherzer comp as well), so I won’t discuss that all over again. Should I be more worried about Scherzer because of the similar comps or higher on Johnson? At 30, Morris had labrum surgery and was essentially done as a big league pitcher. I’d rather have the ages 30-32 years of Morris, struggles and all, over having to carry six starters with Johnson around. Was Morris good then? No. At least he stuck around for 200 innings per.

2.  Gavin FloydJoel Zumaya suffered a fractured olecranon bone in 2010 and possibly would have been pitching in the Majors again in 2011 if he didn’t have to have a screw replaced in the same elbow one year later. Zumaya never pitched another game in the big leagues, but that wasn’t because of his broken elbow.

I won’t pretend to be a medical professional and say Floyd is in the clear because a broken olecranon bone looks to be caused by muscle fatigue and overuse, two things a pitcher knows pretty well, and who knows the lingering mental gymnastics a pitcher would have to overcome after breaking his elbow while throwing. Maybe Floyd returns to post a few seasons of quality baseball and maybe he doesn’t. He was roughly league average in the two seasons prior to his TJ surgery, and the best case scenario moving forward is that he gives a team much of the same with a return to full health.

That’s a big if.

I don’t want to oversell Floyd’s injury because I don’t know enough about it to be certain one way or the other. I do know that breaking a bone while doing something that you have to do thousands a time a year doesn’t sound all that promising and would worry me if I was signing his paychecks.

I like Floyd enough to offer him a minor-league contract and see what comes from it. Depending on him though is foolish.

Bronson Arroyo won’t win any awards for intimidation, but he’s been productive in his Cincinnati years. Last season with Arizona didn’t go so hot (oh, silly puns), but I hear TJ surgeries are all the thing these days.

A healthy Floyd gives Arroyo a fight, but Arroyo’s steady 2-2.5 bWAR since turning 32 wins the day.

3.  Brett Anderson –27 this upcoming February, Brett Anderson is the youngest free agent pitcher this offseason and left handed, and those two combined should make Anderson ridiculously overpaid. He’s probably not because of a history of missing games due to a list of injuries that rival an Operation board.

Since making it to the Majors in 2009, Anderson has missed 560 games due to injuries! That’s 3 ½ years. He missed 80% of ’14 due to a fractured index finger on his throwing hand and then a bulging disc.

The latter injury would worry me if I’m a GM. Some guys can’t seem to stay healthy, and Anderson is one of those guys. It’s a shame, too, since when he does pitch he does a pretty admirable job of it. He owns a career ERA+ of 112 and strikes out around seven per nine while allowing a hit an inning.

Travis Wood is probably a better hitter than he is a pitcher, jacking three home runs in each of the last two seasons, and is even used as a pinch hitter by the Cubs. All of his accumulated value comes down to one WTF season in 2013. Wood is a year older, and I’d take his future over Anderson’s medical bills.

4.  Brandon Morrow – I don’t know why I believe in Brandon Morrow. If you look at his injury history, it’s just as bleak as Anderson’s, and he’s three years older, which means he’s going to break down even quicker. Still. He throws ridiculously hard, strikes out a ton of batters, and has the most upside of anyone in this group not named Josh Johnson. He’s also missed nearly two full seasons of games since 2008, and the majority of those games were lost (217) since 2013.

Others have expended considerably more brain energy figuring out where Morrow will end up in a few years, but I still think he has something left and is probably a league average starter for the next few seasons if nothing else.

I covered Carlos Villanueva in part two, and while I like his mustache, I think a reasonably healthy Morrow surpasses him.

Scott Baker5.  Scott Baker – Besides being Kevin Slowey’s rotation-mate with the Twins from 2007-11 (#9 on our list), Baker was a damn fine pitcher until TJ surgery in 2012 sent him into a prolonged funk. He lost all of 2012 and nearly all of 2013 to surgery and recovery, and last season with the Rangers he worked mostly out of the pen with an occasional spot start.

Baker’s never been a big strikeout pitcher, but you have to believe the 6.1 K/9 posted last season will get better. By all rights, he should be listed higher, but his closest comp is Carl Pavano, and that scares me.

I think another year removed from surgery, a season away from the mess that was the Texas Rangers last year, and Baker will return to pitching okay. Will he surpass the 6 bWAR Pavano accumulated after turning 33?

I think so.

6.  Colby Lewis – The Rangers just re-signed Lewis to a one-year, $4 million dollar deal, so technically he’s not a free agent anymore. Lewis returned from a torn flexor tendon that shelved him in 2013 to pitch fairly blah last season. Let’s just say the guy who gave up around eight hits per nine while striking out in the neighborhood of 8-9 isn’t the one that showed up in Arlington last season.

He did make 29 starts and didn’t quit on the team, so maybe this contract is a thank you.

Since 2004, Lewis has missed 3 ½ years due to injury, and his medical profile looks more like Steve Austin’s (the Six Million Dollar Man one, not the wrestler, but both could work1) than a Major League pitcher. He’s three years removed from when he had back-to-back healthy seasons, and at 35, I’m guessing this season isn’t a repeat. Maybe it is. I hope so. A person can’t always be unlucky, right?

From the age of 35 on, Mark Gardner hovered right around 1-1.5 bWAR with a few sub replacement level seasons thrown in. I like Lewis, and I hope he does well, but I don’t think he tops Gardner.

7.  Chad Billingsley – Talk about bad luck. A season after undergoing TJ surgery, Billingsley missed ’14 due to a torn flexor tendon. At least it took Lewis 16 years to suffer the same fate. Billingsley. Stupid overachiever.

If he returns in 2015, he won’t turn 31 until late July, so he’s still young enough that a GM might hope for the return of the former All Star who owns a career 110 ERA+. In his eight years with the Dodgers, Billingsley has only two seasons where he’s posted an ERA above four and his career K/9 of 7.9 is intriguing.

Then again, he hasn’t thrown a Major League pitch since 04/15/2013.

Chuck Estrada pitched nine games for the Mets at the age of 29 and never pitched again. Seeing as the 1967 Mets lost 101 games, I can see why Estrada decided he’d rather walk away than witness that horror again.

I’m betting Billingsley returns for a few decent years.

LESS THAN ZERO

The only thing I remember about the movie Less than Zero is that it had a surprisingly star studded lineup for the day. James Spader, Andrew McCarthy, and Jamie Gertz were the big actors at the time, but in retrospect, Robert Downey Jr. was the one that would become the A-list megastar of today. At the time, though, he was the goofy sidekick in movies such as Back to School and Johnny Be Good. The one movie he starred in, The Pick-up Artist, I somehow ended up seeing in the theatre as an 11-year old.

Why? How? I don’t know. Things were a lot different in the 80s. Less than Zero did have a pretty decent soundtrack, though.

Anyway, sometimes the unexpected happens and goofy sidekicks turn into big stars. Is that going to happen with our remaining free agent pitchers? I doubt it. The heading above has more to do with the value delivered last season.

8.  Franklin Morales – Morales lost a third of 2013 to a bulging disc, but he pitched in the postseason for the World Champion Red Sox, so whatever. Souvenirs and mementos adorn trophy cases forever.

Last season, Morales essentially doubled the quantity of starts he had made in his seven seasons prior, and he thanked the Rockies for the opportunity by posting an ERA+ of 79 and earned a -0.4 bWAR in 142 1/3 innings.

I don’t really see big things in Morales’ future. But, that being said, he’s left-handed and under 30.

J.P. Howell still pitches and led the Dodgers bullpen in ERA last season at 2.39. Since turning 29, he’s earned 3.6 bWAR.

Howell is the clear winner.

9.  Kevin Slowey – Slowey: it’s not just a name; it’s a way of pitching. Ugh. The joke needs a little work, admittedly. Slowey’s last decent season was in 2010 when he started 28 games for the Twins. Since then, he’s earned -0.2 bWAR and has spent roughly 1 ½ seasons (114 of those games in the minors) on the DL.

Last season he pitched primarily out of the bullpen with the Marlins and allowed 12.8 H/9. The good news is that only three of those 53 hits he allowed were home runs. Look at the way he wears that throwback. Doesn’t he look like he belongs in a baggy uniform on grainy film? Oh, and he doesn’t walk many guys.

That’s fantastic!

After turning 31, John Halama was worth about 1/2 a win over the course of four seasons. You know what, I believe in Slowey. I think he finds a little of that 2008-10 Minneapolis magic and does it again.

The uni swayed me.

10.  Felipe Paulino – There were players who posted a lower ERA+ than Paulino’s 35, but not a single one of those players pitched more than 6 1/3 innings. Of course, Paulino only pitched 18.1 innings, and it has to be attributed to the tendonitis in his pitching shoulder that sidelined him since mid-April. Still. 35 is low. It’s five points higher than his age. My eyeballs hurt just looking at these stats.

Since 2008, Paulino has lost 696 games to injury. That’s 61% of the possible games in which he could have theoretically appeared.

If you called Paulino an injury risk, you would be telling people that you don’t understand what risk means. He’s guaranteed to end up on the DL. Someone will sign him. He can touch mid-90s with his fastball.

The Mets will sign him and ask him to pitch in the bullpen.

Justin Germano will be 32, has pitched nine years in the Majors, and has somehow accumulated fewer wins (-2.1) than Paulino (-0.1).

I just want this to end.

Player Count Position
Mike Macfarlane 3 Catchers
Scott Servais 3 Catchers
Ben Oglivie 3 1B
Robby Thompson 2 2B
Johnny Berardino 2 SS
All unique 1 3B
Josh Willingham 3 LF
Jim Lemon 3 LF
8 players 2 OF
6 players 2 DH
Andy Ashby, 5 SP
Kris Benson 5 SP

Similar Players by Count

Gavin Floyd and Scott Baker photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

  1. If you’re wondering, there is a Six Million Dollar Man Christmas episode, one that is based off of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and that I gleefully watched last night. It includes Ray Walston who most people remember as Mr. Hand from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but I’ll always remember him as that guy on a bicycle with coffee from the movie Rad. Cru Jones forever!

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