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Dec 02

Free Agent Fun with Comps: Starting Pitchers II

Justin Masterson - pitching with the Cleveland Indians.

Justin Masterson – pitching with the Cleveland Indians.

This is part 10 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.

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

The average age for this year’s free agents starters is 32.7 years old with the median coming in at 32. While not a particularly large group, there are a few remaining pitchers that are closer to the legal age to run for Senate than for President, so I’ll kick off today’s post with the youngsters who don’t carry a large medical files.

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Justin Masterson 30 Kip Wells Jason Schmidt Masterson
Edinson Volquez 30 Joey Hamilton Cal Eldred Volquez
Kyle Kendrick 30 Gavin Floyd Todd Stottlemyre Floyd
Carlos Villanueva 31 Chad Gaudin Gaudin Villanueva
Yohan Pino 31
Jake Peavy 34 Doug Drabek Kevin Appier Peavy
Aaron Harang 37 Pedro Astacio Randy Wolf Harang
Chris Young 35 Mike Norris Rick Reed Young
Roberto Hernandez 34 Tim Leary Kris Benson Leary
Ryan Vogelsong 37 Scott Kamieniecki R.A. Dickey Vogelsong
Chris Capuano 36 Eric Bedard Kris Benson Capuano
Bruce Chen 38 Mark Gardner Mike Bielecki Gardner
Kevin Correia 34 Frank Castillo Roberto Hernandez Castillo
Paul Maholm 33 Neal Heaton Andy Ashby Maholm
Brad Mills 29
Wandy Rodriguez 36 Dennis Rasmussen Jamie Moyer Rodriquez
Joe Saunders 34 Jake Westbrook Westbrook Westbrook
Eric Stults 35 Al Gettel Socks Seibold Stults
Randy Wolf 38 Rick Sutcliffe Sutcliffe Wolf

Starting Pitchers by Comps

YOUNGSTERS

1.  Justin Masterson – Going off of Masterson’s -1.7 bWAR from last season, he should probably been buried at the bottom. That’s silly. Masterson has a lot of good innings left in his arm. He’ll be 30 next year, has appeared in the All Star game, and has recorded two seasons where he’s been worth 3-4 wins. Sure, his 2014 was fairly putrid with a 5.88 ERA split between Cleveland and St. Louis. I’ll remember the Masterson from prior seasons and blame last season on his right knee. He went on the disabled list in late June, but Masterson claims it had been bothering him since April.

He is a ground ball inducing machine. Over the last two years, batters have made worms an endangered species by driving his sinker into the ground nearly 70% of the time, and Masterson has still managed to strike out 8+ over the last two seasons.

At the age of 30, Kip Wells was dealing with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and came back to lose time to various other injuries. Over parts of four different seasons with six different teams, he was worth -2.6 bWAR.

Call this the official Masterson bandwagon.

2.  Edinson Volquez – Okay, Volquez had Tommy John surgery in 2009 and spent a large majority of 2010 recovering, so technically, he’s young with a medical file, but since his surgery in ’09 he’s been on the DL twice with blisters. I think it’s safe (or about as safe as things can be anymore) to call Volquez a healthy option.

With that being said, which Volquez will potential teams be signing? After a breathtaking 2008 with Cincinnati where Volquez struck out nearly 10 per nine innings with a blistering fastball and enough wildness to keep batters constantly guessing, Volquez had his aforementioned surgery and essentially turned into a sub replacement pitcher who walked too many batters to be worth the bother.

Last season in Pittsburgh saw Volquez as something of a revelation, topping 190 innings for the first time since ’08 while lowering that walk rate to 3.3 per nine. In September, he managed to strike out 10 for the first time in nearly two years and even had an 18 inning scoreless streak as well. I don’t know if I’d offer more than a year or two to find out if this is the Volquez to expect going forward—I expect that his 2.5 bWAR from last season might just be the best we’re going to see—but he could fill out a rotation on the cheap. Pirates are looking to re-sign him, and my guess is he remains there.

At 29, Joey Hamilton had rotator cuff surgery and returned to pitch sub-replacement across parts of three seasons.

Volquez is the guy.

3.  Kyle Kendrick – The following basically sums up Kendrick over the years: .262, .277, .282, .299, and .310. Those numbers represent the batting average against Kendrick’s sinker, starting in 2010. Unfortunately for Kendrick, he throws his sinker around 45% of the time. Being a sinker ball pitcher, he does induce quite a few double-plays, averaging just shy of 13 over the last few years, which helps to minimize the damage done by the large quantity of base hits he allows. Last season was the first one since 2010 where he wasn’t worth at least 1 win, but all the lines are trending in the wrong direction to expect Kendrick to be anything more than an innings eater.

Since Gavin Floyd is presumably still active, this becomes another exercise in who provides the most value going forward. Almost. At 30, Floyd pitched one month before being lost to TJ surgery. Last season, he was pitching well until fracturing his olecranon bone in his elbow joint. After all of that, I still think Floyd can bounce back and provide enough value of the next few years to surpass Kendrick.

4.  Carlos Villanueva – Listing Villanueva as a starter is a stretch, admittedly, seeing as he made just five of them last year in 42 appearances, but he’s on the list and his injury history looks positively rosy compared to the infirmary to be discussed later. He doesn’t throw especially hard, in the low 90s perhaps, but his fourseamer really seems to jump from his hand. I’m a believer. His ERA is ugly at 4.64 last season with the Cubs, but his FIP was 3.13 and he’s struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings.

Is he starter? Probably not. He’s a good guy to have in the bullpen, making the occasional start but there for long relief mostly. Over the next couple of years he’s been worth a win or two per, and if he’s paid like a reliever, that’s a good deal.

Like Villanueva, Chad Gaudin will be 31 next year. Last season, Gaudin was signed to a minor-league deal by the Phillies but was released after failing a physical. Was it the carpal tunnel that sidelined him in 2013? He didn’t pitch in 2014, and who knows if he’ll pitch again in the big leagues.

Villanueva, awesome mustache and all, is our winner.

5.  Yohan Pino – Pino has bounced around the minor leagues ever since signing with the Twins as an amateur in 2004. After spending nine years in the minors, and staring 2014 there, he was finally called up and made 11 starts before being shut down with UCL sprain. He had a few nice starts, striking out seven on two different occasions, and his FIP of 3.94 showed much better than his 5.07 ERA.

He throws high 80s with fly ball tendencies. Good luck.

VETERANS

There are still plenty of youngish pitchers available, but they all carry with them past injury risks and will be discussed later. The following group consists of the wily veterans who are still capable Major League starters.

Jake Peavy6.  Jake Peavy – When the time comes for Peavy to retire, I’m going to miss him. If you can’t enjoy a man berating himself on the mound after every misstep, then you’re just not living La Schadenfreude loca.

Peavy’s rough go of it in the World Series where he allowed nine earned runs in 6 1/3 brought an end to a nice bounce back half season for the veteran righty. Other than an All Star season in 2012 with the White Sox, Peavy has sort of been hovering around decent for six or seven years. As a Giant, he went 6-4 in 12 starts with a 2.17 ERA. His 1.04 WHIP with San Francisco was his lowest since ’12. While he hasn’t been the Cy Young winner he was in 2007 with the Padres, he’s still been pretty good.

Keeping Peavy healthy has been an issue. Since ’09, he’s lost over 180 team games due to various injuries. Out of the last six seasons, Peavy has failed to spend significant time on the DL in only two of them.

Caveat emptor.

When he does pitch, he’s found success with an assortment of six pitches, though he typically throws his fourseamer, cutter, and sinker. He’s settled into a pitch to contact guy as his K/9 have trended down from his glory days pitching in the NL and striking out 9+ per nine innings, and last season his 7 per nine was the lowest of his career. I like to think that the entertainment of his neck vein popping as he screams into his mitt should be worth a two-year deal at least. Why not? It’s only money.

As a kid, I hated everything about Doug Drabek. I hated the Pirates. I hated his left leg kick and that stupid sweeping leg motion toward home. I hated that he won the Cy Young in 1990, and I especially hated that the Mets couldn’t beat out the Pirates to win the East. Stupid Doug Drabek and stupid Pirates.

Drabek was worth -1.0 bWAR over his age 34-35 seasons. Peavy should eclipse that.

7. Daisuke Matsuzaka – Just kidding. As mentioned previously, he signed with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. Between his slow windup and his tendency to never actually challenge a hitter, Matsuzaka took approximately 30-minutes per batter. I probably won’t miss that. Seriously. Watch his windup:

I think he fell asleep.

7.  Aaron Harang – For a guy signed by Atlanta after failing to make Cleveland’s roster out of spring training, Harang had to be pretty ecstatic with how ‘14. He topped 200 innings for the first time in seven years and finished with the lowest ERA and FIP (both 3.57) in his career. While he wasn’t exactly unhittable—his career H/9 is 9.4—with a heavy dose of sinkers and sliders, he induced batters into 15 double plays while giving up a reasonable .257/.317/.359 slash line with men on base.

Harang won’t overpower anyone at this point in his career. He’ll hover in the low 90s, strike out around seven per nine, and battle. Playing next season at 37, he’s not a long term solution, but with a solid defense behind him he’d make for a good back of the rotation starter for a year or two.

At 37, Pedro Astacio finished his career with a miserable half-season with the Nationals. Harang should top that.

8.  Chris Young – Technically, I should discuss Chris Young but I won’t. Not really. Young spent 2013 in the Nationals minor league system and returned to Seattle in 2014 for his finest season since his 2007 All Star year. Maybe a team takes a flier on the 6’10” righty. I wouldn’t count on lightning strike twice, however.

The important thing about Chris Young, in the context of this blog, is that his fourth closest comp is Rick Reed. In the late 90s I had an irrational devotion to Rick Reed when he pitched with the Mets. He was from WV, making him and John Kruk the only players that I knew of at the time from WV (with the help of Baseball-Reference, I just found out that both George Brett and Bill Mazeroski were born in the Mountain State as well), so immediately I was a big fan, and he didn’t throw particularly hard, making him always look a little overmatched against those big muscled batters of the day. Also, I didn’t throw very hard when I pitched, so of course I identified with him.

With the Mets, Reed made the All Star team twice, helped pitch the Mets into the NLCS for the first time since 1988, and started the lone Mets win in the 2000 World Series, allowing two earned runs against the fearsome Yankees.

Al Leiter was the real talent on those Mets pitching staffs, and Reed and Bobby Jones sort of existed on guile, but Reed was my favorite.

Mike Norris pitched 14 games in relief at 35. Young will sign with someone and surpass that.

9.  Roberto Hernandez – Hernandez earned 0.8 bWAR split between the Phillies and the Dodgers, and honestly, I suspect that number is artificially inflated because of the way he stymied the Nats when he was with Philadelphia. In two starts against Washington, he allowed zero earned runs on nine hits in 15 1/3. Somehow he managed to only strike out six Nats in those two starts, which is shocking considering Ian Desmond didn’t strike out once in either game. How is that possible?

I have a feeling that ‘14 was the best we’re going to see from Hernandez.

Tim Leary hovered around replacement level for Seattle in 1993 and was out of baseball one season later.

10.  Ryan Vogelsong – Fresh off of earning his second World Series ring with the Giants, Vogelsong enters the market at 37 years old. He made 32 starts for San Francisco last season, pitching pretty well all told. He surpassed his career averages in H/9, K/9, and WHIP and had a 3.85 FIP.

Vogelsong can still hit the low 90s on the gun, but over the years he’s switched to throwing fewer fourseamers and relying more on his cutter and sinker. His cutter last season was particularly nasty, resulting in batters hitting .221 off of it.

For a one year deal, he’s worth a look.

Scott Kamieniecki retired before pitching at 37. I think Vogelsong has one or two good seasons left in that arm.

SOFT TOSSING LEFTIES

11-19. Chris Capuano, Bruce Chen, Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, Brad Mills, Wandy Rodriguez, Joe Saunders, Eric Stults, and Randy Wolf – Okay, so Kevin Correia is actually a righty, but he doesn’t throw hard and he’s an honorary member for this exercise. What? Better I tried to sneak that one past you?

Joe Saunders and, ahem, Correia are the likeliest of this group to touch 90 on the radar gun, but for the most part, we’re discussing a group of guys who change speeds and pitch to contact. Capuano is the closest we’ll see to a strikeout artist with a career average of 7.48 K/9 in a career spent almost entirely in the NL.

Chen and Wolf make for interesting cases. Neither pitcher threw all that effectively last season nor has either one made an announcement regarding retirement. Both would be pitching in 2015 at the age of 38. The most likely scenario is that both end up retiring soon and becoming college pitching coaches.

If you need a lefty (real or honorary) to fill out your rotation, there you go.

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

Next I finishing looking at the starting pitchers—this time discussing the injury risks and a few potential bargains.

Justin Masterson photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

Jake Peavy photo credit: Chicago Man via photopin cc

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