November 14, 2012

Free agent pitching options: Middle-of-the-rotation starters

Twins starting pitchers combined for a 5.00 ERA during the past two seasons to rank dead last in the league and they head into the offseason with only Scott Diamond locked into a rotation spot. Terry Ryan has said he'd prefer to address the rotation via trades, which is no surprise for a team that's basically never pursued free agent pitching beyond bargain-bin shopping, but if they do decide to dive into the free agent pitching pool the water is reasonably deep.

In an effort to figure out the Twins' options I've separated the free agent pitching class into three categories: Top-of-the-rotation starters, middle-of-the-rotation starters, and back-of-the-rotation starters. Below are the middle-of-the-rotation starters, which I view as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter on a contending team and, for example, what Diamond seems likely to be long term if things go well and what new Cubs signee Scott Baker was before elbow surgery.

Shaun Marcum - RHP - 124 innings - 3.70 ERA - 4.21 xFIP - 109/41 K/BB

Marcum never threw hard, but has topped out in the high-80s since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2010. Despite that he has a 3.62 ERA and above-average strikeout rate in 520 innings during that time, thanks largely to a great changeup. After staying mostly healthy in back-to-back seasons Marcum again had elbow issues in 2012, but he pitched well in September. He's a prototypical Twins pitcher and the injuries could drop Marcum into their price range.

Brandon McCarthy - RHP - 111 innings - 3.24 ERA - 4.23 xFIP - 73/24 K/BB

A former top prospect repeatedly derailed by injuries, McCarthy finally got healthy and thrived for the A's before a second straight strong year was ruined by a line drive to the head on September 5 that led to brain surgery. Obviously his health is a serious question mark and McCarthy isn't as good as his numbers looked in pitcher-friendly Oakland, but he's a solid 28-year-old starter who fits the Twins' strike-throwing mold and is someone to root for on and off the field.

Joe Blanton - RHP - 191 innings - 4.71 ERA - 3.39 xFIP - 166/34 K/BB

Blanton missed most of 2011 with an elbow injury and on the surface his return was ugly with a 4.71 ERA and 29 homers in 191 innings, but his secondary numbers were far better. Not only were his 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings a career-high, Blanton had the NL's second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio and his 3.39 xFIP ranked 16th in MLB. At age 31 he's not really a breakout candidate, but Blanton is a strike-thrower with more upside than his ERA suggests.

Kyle Lohse - RHP - 211 innings - 2.86 ERA - 3.96 xFIP - 143/38 K/BB ratio

Lohse was his usual mediocre self for the first five years after the Twins traded him in 2006, posting a 4.66 ERA in 665 innings, but during the past two seasons he had a 3.11 ERA in 399 innings for the Cardinals while starting seven playoff games. At age 34 and with significantly less impressive secondary numbers Lohse is a good bet to be among the offseason's most overpaid free agents, but even if he were available cheaply a Twins reunion would never happen.

Francisco Liriano - LHP - 157 innings - 5.34 ERA - 4.14 xFIP - 167/87 K/BB

Speaking of unlikely reunions, Liriano is a free agent after the Twins traded him to Chicago for a pair of non-prospects in July. He was the same occasionally dominant but mostly frustrating guy in Chicago, tossing 57 innings with a 5.40 ERA and rates of 9.2 strikeouts and 5.1 walks per nine innings. For the Twins he had a 5.31 ERA, 9.8 strikeouts, and 5.0 walks. At age 29 and with all those strikeouts Liriano has more upside than most on this list, but ... who knows.

Brett Myers - RHP - 65 innings - 3.31 ERA - 3.92 xFIP - 41/15 K/BB

In both 2008 and this year Myers was shifted from the rotation to the bullpen and made a closer, with strong results, but he's also been a quality starter for most of his career. He has 247 starts with a 4.27 ERA and 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings, including a 3.79 ERA and 340/123 K/BB ratio in 440 innings between 2010 and 2011. As a fly-ball pitcher he struggles to limit homers, but Target Field would help that if the Twins are willing to bring in a not-so-wonderful person.

Roy Oswalt - RHP - 59 innings - 5.80 ERA - 3.27 xFIP - 59/11 K/BB

Oswalt talked about retiring because of back problems, sat out the first two months before signing with the Rangers, and then got knocked around for a 5.80 ERA while being demoted to the bullpen. At age 35 he may simply be nearing the end of the line, but a 59-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 59 innings suggests Oswalt wasn't nearly as bad as his ERA. His velocity was the same as 2011, when he pitched well for the Phillies, and his track record is tough to beat.

Carlos Villanueva - RHP - 125 innings - 4.16 ERA - 4.09 xFIP - 122/46 K/BB

Villanueva had a lot of success as a starter in the minors, but has spent most of his big-league career as a long reliever and has been mediocre when called on to make spot starts. He started 16 times for Toronto in 2012, struggling to keep the ball in the ballpark while posting a 4.50 ERA, but also had an 86-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 92 innings. If given a chance to build up his arm strength as a full-time starter at age 29 he could provide nice value.

Erik Bedard - LHP - 126 innings - 5.01 ERA - 4.05 xFIP - 118/56 K/BB

He's basically never stayed healthy, has a reputation for being a pain in the ass, and posted a 5.01 ERA for the Pirates this year, but Bedard's superior secondary stats included 118 strikeouts in 126 innings. And during the previous five years his worst ERA was 3.76 and his worst strikeout rate was 7.8 per nine innings. I'd never invest big money or multiple years in Bedard, especially at age 34, but for the hope of 25 starts on a one-year deal he's got some bat-missing upside.

May 13, 2011

Link-O-Rama

• If only click on one link today, make it this photo of Kevin Garnett and his date at prom.

• According to a recent study people who sit for most of their day are 54 percent more likely to die of a heart attack, which is exactly why I've done all my blogging lying in bed for the past 10 years. Gotta be smart (or at least super lazy) to beat the system.

Cedric Daniels meeting Frank Reynolds is proof that television producers can read my mind.

• FOX no doubt gave Gus Johnson more money and a higher overall profile than he previously had at CBS, but the one thing they can't offer is an announcing gig as perfect for Johnson as calling the NCAA tournament. He deserved to get paid and CBS never fully appreciated what it had in Johnson, but selfishly I'll miss him calling buzzer-beaters every March.

Kyle Lohse plays a pretty convincing Tony La Russa, but his cover was blown when he failed to make more than two pitching changes in an inning.

• Maybe I'm just getting old, but the idea of a state full of Masons and Avas is disconcerting.

Brock Lesnar's mixed martial arts career is once again in limbo after his June 11 fight against Junior Dos Santos was canceled yesterday due to more health problems.

• As a former baseball card fanatic who later became a stat-head this illustrated history of how the statistics displayed on the backs of cards have evolved over the years is a must-read from Larry Granillo at Baseball Prospectus.

• ESPN and FOX teamed up to keep NBC away from college football.

• You've probably never heard of Jesse Heiman, but you've definitely seen him on screen:

He's a five o'clock shadow away from having the perfect look to play the lead in my life story.

• Pandora now has stand-up comedy stations, which I've been listening to non-stop all week.

Ozzie Guillen, romantic wine connoisseur.

• Congrats to the Minnesota Daily for being named the best student newspaper in the country by the Society of Professional Journalists. I'll probably never get over repeatedly being turned down by the Daily while in college--the final rejection count was nine, including three in-person interviews--but the reason I wanted so badly to join the staff in the first place is because it's a tremendous newspaper that churns out quality writers and reporters every year.

• Speaking of journalism school, Rick Reilly had awful advice while giving the commencement address at the University of Colorado school of journalism and mass communication:

When you get out there, all I ask is that you: Don't write for free! Nobody asks strippers to strip for free, doctors to doctor for free or professors to profess for free. Have some pride! What you know how to do now is a skill that 99.9 percent of the people don't have. If you do it for free, they won't respect you in the morning. Or the next day. Or the day after that. You sink everybody's boat in the harbor, not just yours. So just don't!

Every job I've ever gotten and every dollar I've ever earned ultimately stems from starting this blog as a 19-year-old and devoting myself to writing hundreds of thousands of words for free. Through that I gained an audience that otherwise wouldn't have been available to me, which allowed me to improve through experience and eventually get my work in front of people who actually pay. Listening to Reilly's advice would have been the worst decision I've ever made.

• When is the last time a longtime couple breaking up had both men and women this excited?

• On a related note, this breakup means there has to be a new "most confusing couple" vote.

Jon Heyman of SI.com has an odd way of evaluating contracts.

• Sad to hear about the death of 34-year-old former University of Michigan star and NBA player Robert "Tractor" Traylor, whose need to pull up his shorts after every dunk made me a fan in the mid-90s. Traylor had a fantastic college career, but his NBA days will likely be remembered most for the Mavericks picking him sixth overall in the 1998 draft and then swapping him to the Bucks for the ninth pick, a little-known German teenager named Dirk Nowitzki.

Alexi Casilla's first experience with hail earlier this week at Target Field was amusing:

"I'm trying to get better with my hands."

• These pictures of a pregnant Jessica Alba at the beach with her infant child are probably the most visually confusing things my brain has ever had to process.

Bill James was a guest on The Colbert Report.

• Mets catcher Josh Thole deleted his Twitter account after getting too many mean messages, which is funny because I've become obsessed with Twitter partly thanks to the interactions on there generally involving a higher level of discourse and a lower percentage of trolls than blog comment sections. In fairness to Thole, my Twitter followers may just be nicer than Mets fans.

• Young Me/Now Me is an interesting website where people match photos from their childhood with the same pose as adults. I'd contribute, but there aren't any pictures of me in bed typing on a laptop from 1988.

Jay Mariotti is no longer a newspaper columnist, but he's still a scumbag.

• As part of their combining with NBC Universal the regional Comcast sports networks will soon be re-branded as, for instance, NBC Sports Philadelphia and NBC Sports Chicago.

Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote a lengthy piece about the Twin Cities' sports radio landscape, which has undergone a ton of changes over the past year. I'm biased because 1500-ESPN occasionally invites me on their airwaves, but more than that I've always been a huge fan of talk radio and increased competition leading to more options and better content is a good thing for everyone.

• Newish podcast recommendation: "The Mental Illness Happy Hour" with Paul Gilmartin, who talks to comedians, actors and artists about depression and other serious stuff in a funny way.

• One of my favorite MLB reporters, Yankees beat writer Marc Carig of the Newark Star Ledger, is now also contributing columns to Baseball Prospectus. The lines, they are a blurring.

• As perhaps the only 20-something male who watches the underrated show, I'm happy that NBC picked up Parenthood for a third season despite mediocre ratings.

• Fat-O-Meter update: I'm down 55 pounds since March 7 and am getting dangerously close to being merely "really fat." My initial goal was to have my pounds lost be higher than the Twins' win total, but that may not be so impressive this year. Right now they're on pace for 56 wins.

• How much rain would be required for this to happen to the Twins' entire season?

• Finally, in honor of that Daily-sized chip on my shoulder , this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Shot Down" by The Sonics: