October 11, 2006

Bringing Back Silva?

The Twins have until sometime in mid-November to decide whether or not to exercise Carlos Silva's $4.3 million option for 2007, so there'll be plenty of opportunity to debate the issue between now and then. However, in the wake of the team spending $12 million to bring Torii Hunter back for one more year and Terry Ryan seemingly indicating during a radio interview earlier this week that he plans to pick up Silva's option, now seems like a good time to begin the conversation.

Is this pitcher worth paying $4.3 million in 2007?

YEAR      G     GS      W      L        IP      ERA     OAVG
2004 33 33 14 8 203.0 4.21 .310
2005 27 27 9 8 188.1 3.44 .290
2006 36 31 11 15 180.1 5.94 .324

Or if you're like me and want to dig a little deeper:

YEAR     xFIP     SO%     BB%     HR%      GB%      LD%
2004 4.78 8.7 3.8 2.6 50.5 17.9
2005 4.16 9.5 0.9 3.3 49.2 19.6
2006 5.09 8.6 3.3 4.7 43.6 22.2

*Definitions of the various stats quoted above can be found by clicking here.

Regardless of which set of numbers you prefer, the trends aren't very encouraging. Silva's ground-ball percentage has declined significantly while both his line-drive percentage and home-run percentage have steadily risen, which is just about the worst-case scenario for a guy who fails to strike out even 10 percent of the batters he faces (for comparison, Johan Santana is at 26 percent for his career). Silva has gone from being a strike-throwing ground-ball machine to simply tossing batting practice.

In fact, Silva's ground-ball percentage of 43.6 was actually slightly below the league average of 44.0 percent. In other words, for all the talk about his sinker and all the focus on his ability to keep the ball on the ground, he's no longer even a ground-ball pitcher. When you don't miss bats and you don't get tons of grounders, you're not long for a sub-5.00 ERA. Of course, the question now is whether or not the Twins think they can get Silva back to his grounder-inducing ways.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson seems to think so and Ryan seems willing to spend the money to give him another try. I have as much faith in Anderson as I do anyone in the organization, but the odds are against him here. Throughout baseball history, low-strikeout pitchers have walked a thin line between success and failure, and because of that don't typically experience sustained excellence. There are many exceptions, of course, but as a group pitchers who can't miss bats have a limited shelf life.

Silva's days as a competent middle-of-the-rotation starter may simply have expired and he wouldn't be the first such pitcher to see his success vanish in an instant. When the best-case scenario is likely 180 innings of 4.00 ERA pitching and the worst-case scenario is as ugly as Silva's performance this year, devoting seven percent of the team's payroll to find out which it'll be strikes me as a mistake. Sadly, it also strikes me as something that's likely to take place.

It's likely that the Twins are overpaying Hunter by a few million dollars for 2007 and compounding that by giving $4 million to a high-risk pitcher coming off a disastrous season would leave them with little payroll room to bring in outside help. When spring rolls around and no "big bat" has been added to the lineup, devoting one-fourth of a $65 million payroll to the team's fourth-best hitter and fifth-best starter can safely be blamed.

Twins fans can only hope that Anderson is able to work enough magic to keep the team from flushing $4 million down the toilet and Ryan is able to identify better bargain-basement free-agent options than Tony Batista this time around. I had some thoughts of the Twins addressing their lineup and rotation holes through semi-legitimate free agents (as opposed to the Batista kind), but less than a week into the offseason I've all but given up on that.

I'm now convinced more than ever that any major changes to the Twins' roster will come via trade and, barring that, a lower-level veteran starting pitcher will be the only significant addition to the team. The Twins remaining serious contenders through that approach depends on Francisco Liriano's health and how many young players step up into prominent roles, but it certainly doesn't leave much margin for error.

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