Keeping Chris Stewart as backup over Tony Sanchez

Chris Stewart is coming off knee surgery and has some durability questions. He can’t hit for average, get on base at a high rate, or hit for power. He can do one thing very well, and that is frame pitches. It’s almost universally agreed that Stewart can frame well, and that his framing is valuable to a team. How valuable is debatable, but the Pirates obviously believed in him enough to trade for him this offseason and pay him 1 million dollars (not a lot) to back up Russell Martin this season. That obviously changed with Stewart’s knee injury, and a number of fans are calling for Tony Sanchez to remain with the team after his hot start to the season. That shouldn’t happen, regardless of how well Sanchez is doing, for a number of reasons.

First, Russell Martin is a free agent after this season. He’s almost assuredly gone. Someone’s going to have to replace him, and the team appears to think that player will be Tony Sanchez, serving as a stopgap to the eventual promotion of Reese McGuire (or a free agent, or another catching prospect). Having Sanchez play every day would give him more in game at bats to work on his hitting. Perhaps even more importantly, it would give Sanchez more time to figure out his defense, which was once vaunted but lately has been viewed as a problem for the catcher.

Second, Tony Sanchez won’t accumulate service time while he’s in AAA. Although Sanchez wouldn’t be arbitration eligible following this season, that’s money the Pirates could be saving down the line to spend on another position of need. 

Lastly, it’s not as though Stewart is so terrible. He’s actually quite interesting, depending on how you weight his pitch framing. Don’t buy into Sanchez’s stats through one week of baseball. It’s possible he’s going to develop into an average major league starter, but that’s probably his ceiling. It would be a mistake to weaken the depth of the organization by trading or waiving Stewart just because Sanchez might be marginally better in the immediate. Stewart still has years of arbitration left, and can serve as a cost efficient backup to Sanchez after Martin leaves. If the Pirates keep Sanchez on the Major League roster, they’re taking a shortsighted view, attempting to maximize their chances this season. If they go with Stewart, they’re planning for the future.

Travis Ishikawa and the first week.

We’ve made it through a week with Travis Ishikawa as the Pirates primary first baseman against righties, and the team hasn’t self destructed. That’s it. Oh and, it means absolutely nothing, but he’s actually doing well right now. I wouldn’t bet on him continuing to do well, but so far there’s nothing for Pirate fans to complain about at first base, except Gaby Sanchez, who fans seem to hate for some reason unknown to me.

A Starling Marte Extension (and extension ramblings)

The Pirates have reportedly approached Starling Marte a few times this offseason about signing a multi-year extension. This makes sense. Marte has just above a year of service time and won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2015 season, with free agency in 2018. Obviously, the Pirates are looking to lock Marte up for a below market rate, hoping he continues to perform at a high level as he did in 2013. It’s a common tactic of small market teams, with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Cleveland Indians (in the late 90s), and the Atlanta Braves all locking up players as early as they can. The Rays have locked up Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Matt Moore to pre-arb deals over the last few years. The Indians did it with Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, and Sandy Alomar jr. The Pirates themselves did the same thing with Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata (to varying degrees of success obviously).

The Houston Astros are taking this tactic to the extreme this offseason, offering deals to players who aren’t considered future stars, or in some cases profile as average regulars at best. The best example of this is the recent rumor of the team offering extensions to third baseman Matt Dominguez and outfielder Robbie Grossman (former Pirate prospect). Both players are flawed in one way or another. Scouts have long loved Grossman’s on-base-ability, while questioning his range in center and his power in a corner outfield spot. That the Astros offered him a long term deal shows a strange amount of faith in his ability to produce at the major league level, but they have the money to spend and would perhaps rather spend it locking up Grossman for less than he would make in arbitration now. The extension offer to Dominguez is perhaps even more curious, as he’s shown nothing that would make him appear to be anything more than a 2 win player in his peak seasons (probably right around league average). 

Another interesting aspect of this is that the team isn’t trying to extend Neil Walker or Pedro Alvarez. They’re two perennial fan favorites when extensions are discussed, but both have perhaps seen their time to sign deals come and go. The merits of a Neil Walker extension are separate from this discussion, although I tend to believe that locking him up long term, especially at this point, is unnecessary. 

Marte as a prospect was a little divisive. Scouts liked his glove and arm (both of which are tremendous), but questioned his ability to get on base enough (his plate discipline was seen as poor, leading to below average walk totals). Marte in his short major league career has been exactly that. A fantastic defensive outfielder who has a lot of swing and miss in his game. That does depress his walk totals, but luckily for Marte, the hit by pitch is just as effective at getting to first base. Marte was hit by 24 pitches last season, while he walked 25 times. 24 HBP is 2 less that Shin Soo Choo, who led the majors. So while Marte walked 4.4% of the time last season, his OBP% was buoyed by a 4.2% HBP rate. The obvious problem with using the HBP as a primary means of getting on base is that any time a small, hard object thrown at a high speed hits you it can cause injury. I’ve done absolutely no research on the subject, but I’d be willing to wager that players who are hit by pitches more frequently are also injured more frequently. Marte has enough power to hold down a corner spot without much difficulty, and his speed (not just on stolen bases, but defensively and taking extra bases) should prove valuable for the Pirates as well. 

MLB Trade Rumors lists recent potential comparable deals as Julio Teheran, who just signed a 6 year/32.4 million dollar deal (a 7th year/12 million dollar team option) with the Atlanta Braves, and Denard Span, who signed his 5 year/16.5 million dollar deal (with a 6th year/9 million dollar team option) with the Minnesota Twins. Teheran signed the deal entering his age 23 season though, and Marte’s two full years older than Teheran, even though their service time is similar (between 1-2 years). Span signed his deal in 2009 entering his age 26 season, and his service time was similar, so he’s a better comparison from that standpoint. Span signed his deal as a left fielder who could play center (same as Marte), but with much less power. Through their first two seasons (the extent of Marte’s career and Span’s before he signed his contract) here are some numbers they each put up:

Marte:

  • 748 PA, 17 HR, 53 SB, 4.4 BB%, 25.1 K%, .275 AVG/.332 OBP/.440 SLG, .161 ISO, .344 wOBA, 121 wRC+, .347 BABIP

Span: 

  • 1,087 PA, 14 HR, 41 SB, 11 BB%, 13.7 K%, .305 AVG/.389 OBP/.422 SLG, .117 ISO, .360 wOBA, 119 wRC+, .356 BABIP

As is easily apparent, these are two fairly different players. Span had amassed more plate appearances than Marte had after two major league seasons, so his counting stats need to be adjusted. Marte has far more power than Span, across every metric. Span, even at his power peak, hits more doubles and triples than home runs, and his value drops accordingly (especially if he’s playing a corner outfield spot, as he often did when he broke in with the Twins). Span also walks significantly more and strikes out significantly less. Both players have inflated BABIP’s, and in Span’s case that BABIP normalized and hurt him over the next few years. He still had value and more than performed to the level of contract, making that deal team friendly and a good example of what can go right if a player is amenable to signing an extension and the team puts forth a package that’s tempting enough. 

The Pirates should be looking to lock Marte up, but it’s likely that, like Span, his bat will take a step back this season. Players who don’t walk live and die by BABIP, and Marte’s been basking in the warm glow of the BABIP gods so far in his career. If it normalizes and his average (and OBP/SLG) takes a hit, he’ll still provide quality defense and a cannon for an arm. It’s unlikely that he’ll sign a deal close to Span’s, but that deal could act as a starting point for discussion. While details haven’t come out about how much money Marte was offered, it’s been reported the deal would extend Marte until 2020, which would mean the Pirates are trying to buy out just one of Marte’s free agent years. That puts the deal around five years (not counting 2014, where Marte already has a year). If the Pirates can extend Marte, it should be a good move for the Pittsburgh Ballclub. 

Why I love Danny Salazar, and and why the Indians do not need to extend him

The Indians rotation has lost Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir this offseason. Replacing those innings is going to be a challenge, and while the Indians seem fairly well equipped to handle those losses, but they’ll be relying on 2nd year pitcher Danny Salazar to demonstrate his durability. Salazar, who had Tommy John surgery in 2010, threw 145 innings last season between AA, AAA, and the Majors. Since he’s still ramping back up from his surgery, he’ll probably add another 40 or 50 innings to his total next season. He’ll likely throw more pitches per game this season as well, as the Indians were carefully monitoring him last season. This “unleashing” of Salazar could have an interesting impact on his season. If there are any doubters of Salazar’s durability, they’ll surely be looking to pounce on any sign of fatigue as the season progresses and Salazar racks up innings. 

As far as scouting goes, Salazar has everything you could want in a pitcher, except perhaps size. He’s listed at 6 feet exactly, which obviously isn’t short, but when you’re looking for downward plane on a fastball every inch counts. That lack of size probably contributes to the questions about his durability. All data about Salazar in the majors last year is qualified by the fact that he only threw 52 innings over 11 starts, but he still impressed. His fastball, which he threw 64.14% of the time in 2013, averaged 96.24 mph. That’s some serious heat. He pairs that with a slider and a splitter, both of which are good pitches. His splitter missed an astonishing 22.02% of swings, and his slider missed an impressive 16.51%. Even his fastball missed 13.98%. Among starting pitchers with more than 50 innings last season, Salazar’s 14.6 swinging strike percentage ranks 1st in the Majors. However, this needs to be qualified by saying that had Salazar thrown more innings, his percentages likely would have gone down. You can’t expect a pitcher to continue to strike out 30% of batters he faces. All the same, he seems to have the stuff to miss bats, and should continue to do so at an strong rate.

Here are some statistics about Salazar’s time in the Majors last season:

  • 52 IP, 11.25 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.21 HR/9, 83.3 LOB%, 34.4 GB%, 13.7 HR/FB, 3.12 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 2.75 xFIP

There are a lot of takeaways from that simple line of data. First, Salazar strikes a ton of people out. I already wrote that. I just wanted to take the opportunity to write it again, because that’s a huge number of strikeouts. Even with that strikeout rate though, he doesn’t seem to have the control problems that can plague other hard throwers. What he does have however, is a potential to seem homer prone. Giving up more than one home run per 9 innings, Salazar could have just been unlucky last season, with more balls finding their ways to the seats than he deserved, or it could be a side affect of his height or something completely unrelated. His 34.4 GB% (in a small sample size again), indicates that he’ll give up more fly balls, and likely more home runs, than the league average pitcher. xFIP, which normalizes a pitchers home run rate to league average under the assumption that pitchers cannot control home runs, and so a pitcher who gives up more than a normal amount of home runs was unlucky. I disagree with that slightly, because a pitcher who gives up a greater number of fly balls will likely give up a greater number of home runs. Even with that, Salazar’s ground ball percentage could be, and probably is, a sample size fluke. It’s absolutely something to keep an eye on in his first full year in the majors. Another thing to keep an eye on are his breaking pitches. The reason some scouts project Salazar to end up in the bullpen is that they aren’t sold on his slider as a solid 3rd pitch, and a pitcher with only two plus pitches could be in for a rough time once the league adjusts to him. I like Salazar’s slider though, and I think he could succeed in a major league rotation. Even if his strikeouts go down, there’s likely to be some increase in his GB% and a corresponding decrease in his HR%. That could make the difference between high strikeout/high leverage reliever, and a starter who can be effective over a full season.

So, aside from the obvious durability questions and the lack of a third pitch, why shouldn’t the Indians look to extend Salazar? Easily enough, it’s because he’s 24. He just finished his first year in the majors. The team will control Salazar at the minimum salary through 2015, and he’ll only reach free agency after the 2018 season. This means Salazar will be 29 when he reaches free agency. At this point, if I was in the position of the Indians, I’d be looking for more data before committing to an extension. Salazar could be fantastic, but he could just as easily flame out. That doesn’t seem like the type of player the Indians should be guaranteeing money to just yet. There is a chance that Salazar could put up a fantastic 2014 season and see his price raise dramatically, but if the cost of extending him gets too high, the Indians will get their six years and that’ll be it. They’ll miss out on the chance of Salazar’s age 29 and age 30 seasons (if the contract were to extend that far), but if he turns into a reliever they won’t be paying starting pitching free agent rates for a reliever. So while Salazar would be an interesting extension candidate, it serves the team better to wait to see how his arm holds up over the course of a full season.

 

 

The Pittsburgh Pirates Starting Rotation by Projection Systems

After the team missed out on A.J. Burnett, I wanted to examine how the Pirates remaining pitching depth was projected to perform by three projection systems.

 

They are:

  1. Pecota, by Baseball Prospectus and available in their 2014 annual.
  2. ZIPS, which is done by Dan Szymborski and published on fangraphs.com
  3. and Steamer, which is available on fangraphs and published by Steamer Projections 

These projection systems do not give predictions, they just take the data on a given player and compare that information to available information on every baseball player who performed similarly. Doing this allows the system to put forth an expectation of how that player might perform. They’re interesting to use when setting expectations for players. So here are the Pirates starting pitching options, and depth.

Francisco Liriano

  • PECOTA: 154 IP, 9.00 K/9, 3.40 BB/9, 3.41 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 1.7 WARP
  • ZIPS: 161 IP, 7.40 K/9, 3.30 BB/9, 3.13 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 2.9 zWAR
  • Steamer: 192 IP, 8.84 K/9, 3.80 BB/9, 3.80 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 2.5 WAR

Francisco Liriano had a terrific 2013 season. Over his career he’s performed all over the map, and he’s not getting younger. The move to PNC Park (which is favorable to left handed pitchers) and the National League (which doesn’t have the Designated Hitter), probably accounts for some part of his success last season, and that’ll continue this year. The projection systems are all over the map with Liriano though, particularly with his K/9. They all project a drop from his 9.11 K/9 last year, and that’ll clearly hurt him if it comes true. Then again, they all project him to have a sub 4.00 ERA with strong secondary numbers, so perhaps the potential drop in strikeouts won’t hurt him too much.

Gerrit Cole

  • PECOTA: 151 IP, 7.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 3.24 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 2.0 WARP
  • ZIPS: 163 IP, 7.4 K/9, 2.87 BB/9, 3.48 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 2.2 zWAR
  • Steamer: 182 IP, 7.76 K/9, 3.34 BB/9, 3.88 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 2.1 WAR

Cole’s very good rookie season is over. Expectations are sky high for the former number 1 overall pick, and justifiably so, but the projection systems indicate he’ll be less successful this year than he was last year. Why? The walk rate. Cole had a 2.15 BB/9 last year. Every projection system expects that to climb, although they each expect it to climb to a different level. If it ends up in the area of the PECOTA, or even the ZIPS projection, Cole will probably still turn in a very good sophomore season. If his walk rate ends up near Steamer’s projection, it should still be a good season for Cole, but it might be disappointing to anyone expecting Cole to take a major step forward this year.

Wandy Rodriguez

  • PECOTA: 80 IP, 6.8 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 3.69 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 0.5 WARP
  • ZIPS: 119 IP, 6.28 K/9, 2.42 BB/9, 3.63 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 1.4 zWAR
  • Steamer: 144 IP, 6.36 K/9, 2.66 BB/9, 4.15 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 1.3 WAR

I’ve never had arthritis, but I imagine throwing a baseball with it cannot feel good. When it comes to Rodriguez, I’m inclined to throw out nearly all his past performance as an indicator of what he’ll be in the future. Best case scenario, that’s likely his ceiling. It doesn’t matter what they do to prepare him for pitching, it’s likely going to feel radically different for Rodriguez than it did before he was injured. With that in mind, if I was forced to take the over or under on PECOTA’s projection of 80 innings for Rodriguez this year, I’d take the under.

Jeff Locke

  • PECOTA: 141 IP, 6.9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 4.24 ERA, 4.26, -0.1 WARP
  • ZIPS: 158.3 IP, 6.71 K/9, 2.42 BB/9, 4.09 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 1.0 zWAR
  • Steamer: 134 IP, 7.07 K/9, 3.95 BB/9, 4.22 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 1.0 WAR

Jeff Locke will have a banner reading “All Star” on his baseballreference.com page for the remainder of his life. Nobody can retroactively take that away from him. Even if Locke wasn’t as good as he appeared in the first half of 2013, there’s probably still some value here. He could slot in as the fifth starter and put up below average numbers, and these projections back that up. Locke won’t strike many batters out, and he’ll walk too many, but that doesn’t completely negate his value. With a projected 1 WAR, Locke could end up being a pitcher fans hate because they expect the all star, but who the team squeezes enough value out of to keep on the MLB roster. 

Edinson Volquez

  • PECOTA: 153 IP, 8.10 K/9, 4.00 BB/9, 4.12 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 0.3 WARP
  • ZIPS: 164.7 IP, 7.10 K/9, 3.99 BB/9, 4.48 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 0.2 zWAR
  • Steamer: 48 IP, 6.94 K/9, 4.01 BB/9, 4.41 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 0.3 WAR

The Pirates signed Volquez for 5 million dollars this offseason, and reaction was definitely mixed to negative. Hopefully Volquez’s strikeout rate will be closer to the PECOTA projection than Steamer, because his strikeouts are essential when he walks 4 batters per 9. Expectations for Volquez this year are low, and that’s probably a good thing. He might surprise some people, benefiting from Ray Searage’s guidance and the pitch framing of Russell Martin and Chris Stewart, but even if everything goes well for Volquez this season, and he outperforms his projections, he’s probably going to be a league average pitcher at best. That has value, but it would be foolish to expect Volquez to be the next Francisco Liriano.

Stolmy Pimentel

  • PECOTA: 144 IP, 5.60 K/9, 3.20 BB/9, 4.56 ERA, 4.75 FIP, -0.7 WARP
  • ZIPS: 142.3 IP, 5.50 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, 4.17 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 0.7 zWAR
  • Steamer: 25 IP, 7.20 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 3.75 ERA, 3.94 FIP, 0.0 WAR

Acquired as part of the Joel Hanrahan trade, Pimentel looks like a long shot for the rotation. At only 24 years old he’s already out of options and so would have to clear waivers to make it back to the minors. I don’t know if any other team would claim Pimentel, but I would not be shocked if someone was willing to give him a shot. It’s more likely that Pimentel will slot into a bullpen role, possibly long relief. These projections are all over the map (as they are for some minor leaguers), so at least from this standpoint it’s a tossup on what Pimentel could be in 2014.

Charlie Morton

  • PECOTA: 118 IP, 6.1 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 4.25 ERA, 4.15 FIP, -0.0 WARP
  • ZIPS: 121.3 IP, 5.79 K/9, 3.19 BB/9, 4.01 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 0.9 zWAR
  • Steamer: 182 IP, 6.14 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, 3.91 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 1.9 WAR

There are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and Charlie Morton getting ground balls. He gets batters to smash the ball into the dirt at near the league’s highest percentage, and with that comes an abundance of base hits (but not extra base hits) and double plays. He parlayed that into a 3 year extension worth 21 million. With that said, he comes with some question marks. His sinker breaks in on righties, and they struggle to hit against him, with a .247 weighted On Base Average against him in 2013. Lefties on the other hand had a .380 weighted On Base Average against him last year. He’s already had Tommy John surgery, and he’s only a year recovered from that. He threw 116 innings last year and he’ll increase that number this year, hopefully continuing to get ground balls in the process.  

Brandon Cumpton

  • PECOTA: 140 IP, 5.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 4.21 ERA, 4.46 FIP, 0.0 WARP
  • ZIPS: 139 IP, 4.92 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 4.34 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 0.4 zWAR
  • Steamer: 39 IP, 6.27 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 4.11 ERA, 4.09 FIP, -0.1 WAR

Brandon Cumpton is organizational depth. He doesn’t do anything well enough to be more than replacement level, and these projections highlight that. He’ll slot into the rotation in Indianapolis and if the Pirates call him up to the majors it’ll be out of necessity and won’t bode well for the team.

Kyle McPherson

  • PECOTA: [No data available]
  • ZIPS: 95.7 IP, 6.02 K/9, 2.07 BB/9, 4.23 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 0.4 zWAR
  • Steamer: 29 IP, 7.35 K/9, 2.62 BB/9, 3.72 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 0.1 WAR

Kyle McPherson was a prospect two years ago when he came up and performed well over a small sample size. McPherson was viewed as having an inside track to be a part of the future rotation at the time (at least by myself), but he suffered an injury and had Tommy John surgery last year. He’s in the process of coming back from that surgery, and while he likely won’t be ready to start the year he could provide valuable depth if he’s anything like the pitcher he used to be upon his return.

Jameson Taillon

  • PECOTA: 130 IP, 6.9 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 4.15 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 0.1 WARP
  • ZIPS: 146.7 IP, 6.75 K/9, 2.94 BB/9, 3.74 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 1.5 zWAR
  • Steamer: 1 IP, 7.33 K/9, 3.63 BB/9, 4.20 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 0.0 WAR

Too many Pirate fans equate Jameson Taillon to Gerrit Cole (in the same way Mets fans seemed to equate Zach Wheeler with Matt Harvey last year). That’s not fair to Taillon, who is not likely to make the debut that Cole did. He should still be a good pitcher, with ZIPS in particular thinking he could contribute to the Pirates rotation this year. PECOTA and Steamer are less excited about the Canadian/Texan, and I would expect his performance to be somewhere in the middle when he does make his debut.

Nick Kingham

  • PECOTA: 119 IP, 7.1 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 4.25 ERA, 4.30 FIP, -0.0 WARP
  • ZIPS: 133 IP, 6.63 K/9, 3.05 BB/9, 4.13 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 0.8 zWAR
  • Steamer: 1.0 IP, 6.97 K/9, 3.61 BB/9, 4.31 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 0.0 WAR

Kingham falls into the shadow of sexier pitching prospects like Cole, Taillon, and the younger Tyler Glasnow, but he could end up being just as important in the future Pirates rotation as any of them. He looks like a middle of the rotation workhorse, and since he spent 2013 in AA he could be knocking on the door to the majors before too long. 

Phil Irwin

  • PECOTA: [No data available]
  • ZIPS: 79.3 IP, 5.22 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 4.54 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 0.1 zWAR
  • Steamer: 1.0 IP, 6.97 K/9, 3.61 BB/9, 4.31 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 0.0 WAR

Phil Irwin doesn’t have a lot going for him, but he does have a curveball that can make you look twice. His projections don’t seem to think that curveball will help him put up more than replacement level numbers, although ZIPS is the only projection that can be looked at seriously, what with PECOTA not doing one for Irwin and Steamer only projecting 1 inning pitched. Irwin, like McPherson, is coming off an injury which limited him last year.

The Pirates seem to have a number of pitchers who can serve as depth, although none of their options that appear major league ready seem likely to amount to much more than that. The exception to that might be Stolmy Pimentel, who’ll likely be forced into the majors in a relief role rather than being given time to develop as a starter in AAA. The Pirates might have a problem, though, if they need any of these pitchers who are expected to serve as depth to log any serious amount of time in the majors. 

As far as the MLB rotation goes, Liriano and Cole look to repeat their fine 2013 seasons. Morton will look to add to the number of innings he can pitch, and Rodriguez will attempt to be as healthy as he can be at this point in his career. Volquez will be an interesting player to watch, as the Pirates attempt to remold him into the pitcher they think is worth 5 million dollars.

 

Michael Brantley extension

The Indians tonight agreed to a 4 year extension with outfielder Michael Brantley. Ken Rosenthal reports the details of the extension as a 3.5 million dollar signing bonus, 1.5 million in 2014, 5 million in 2015, 6.5 million in 2016, 7.5 million in 2017, and the 11 million dollar team option has a 1 million dollar buyout. That means it will either be a 4/25 extension or a 5/35. It’s hard to not like that deal for the Indians (and Brantley actually). There’s nothing that Brantley does spectacularly. He doesn’t play left field as well as he should for a converted center fielder. He doesn’t hit for as much power as you might expect from a corner outfielder (actually, he might be a part of a growing movement in MLB to sacrifice some power for speed and defense in the corner, especially larger or more difficult outfields). He does get on base at a higher than average rate, and that on-base ability is critical to what makes Brantley valuable. He’s a good example of a number of average parts adding up to a more valuable whole.

Entering his age 27 season, the Indians have locked Brantley up for his prime. Even if his club option ends up being too expensive, paying 4/25 for a league average outfielder is a very good deal for a team that needs to get creative. I’ll admit I thought it was interesting that the team chose to lock up Brantley rather than Jason Kipnis or Justin Masterson, who of course would both have been far more expensive. There’s no reason to think they couldn’t still extend both players (or that they necessarily should extend both players). The extension hopefully precedes the Indians making a move for some starting pitching, as the team has a more immediate need in that area. 

Chris Capuano as a potential Cleveland Indian

Any team that loses two important starting pitchers to free agency is going to have some depth problems. That’s what happened to the Indians this offseason, with Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir departing for new teams (although Jimenez hasn’t yet signed, indications are that the Indians aren’t in the running for his services). MLBDepthCharts.com currently projects the Indians pitching rotation to be Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, and Carlos Carrasco. Other options for the rotation include Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer, although at this point counting on Bauer to be an effective major league pitcher would be a mistake. Examining the Indians potential rotation is interesting enough (and I hope to do just that later), but perhaps more interesting is the chance the Indians have to upgrade the 5th spot in their rotation.

Carrasco, 26, is basically replacement level as a starting pitcher, meaning the Indians should attempt to upgrade on that rotation spot and use Carrasco as depth. Carrasco, who is out of options and has made it clear to the team that he wants to start, would probably be better served in a long relief role, if in the majors at all. Carrasco also seemingly has a problem with his anger that bleeds into games, and that leads to hitting batters and that leads to getting ejected and suspended. I could go on and on about Carrasco, but I’ll summarize his major league career so far by saying that, in 238.1 innings he has a 5.29 ERA and a 4.48 FIP, while striking out 6.19 per 9 and walking 3.13. He appears homer prone as well, giving up more than one home run per 9 innings so far in his career. Carrasco won’t even log innings, especially coming off Tommy John surgery that stopped him from pitching in 2012. It’s possible I’m just lower on Carrasco than the Indians are publicly stating that they are, but I wouldn’t want him anywhere near my rotation, except in an emergency. Carrasco does have one thing going for him though. He’s cheap. He won’t be arbitration eligible for the first time until after this season, and even then, the arbitration process doesn’t figure to favor a player like Carrasco. 

So that brings me to Chris Capuano, a 36 year old left hander, who could be a fit for the Indians (or a number of teams) on a one year deal. The best part about Capuano is that he’s a known quantity, and relative to the rest of the market, he’s going to be cheap. At the start of the offseason, the Dodgers paid a 1 million dollar buyout on an 8 million dollar team option for Capuano, meaning they didn’t think he was worth that. And it’s not like anyone has been beating down his door trying to sign him, so when news broke recently that his demand had dropped to a one year deal, it wasn’t a shock, but it could be of good value to the team that signs him. Capuano in the last two years has put up the following numbers.

  • 304 innings
  • 7.19 SO/9
  • 2.31 BB/9
  • 3.91 ERA
  • 3.95 FIP (2012) and 3.55 FIP (2013)
  • 3.2 WAR

It should be mentioned that, of the past two seasons, 2012 was a better season for Capuano by ERA, innings pitched, and WAR. He started 2013 in the bullpen because there wasn’t an opening in the rotation, and when he did get his chance as a starter last year he quickly injured his left calf and was placed on the DL. This limited him to just 105 innings, but there’s no reason to think he couldn’t go past that to near or just below his career average of 193. Interestingly, despite Capuano’s seeming durability, he’s actually undergone Tommy John surgery twice. That almost certainly contributes to his struggles in finding a team, but the last time he had the surgery was 2008, so, while every pitcher will break eventually and Capuano is perhaps more likely than most, he’s pitched 5 years with no arm issues. Capuano is more than capable of eating innings and putting up league average to slightly below league average numbers for an Indians team that more than needs that service. As for the value he could provide, let’s compare him to former Pittsburgh Pirate Kevin Correia, who put up the following numbers before he hit free agency.

  • 325 innings pitched
  • 4.6 SO/9
  • 2.35 BB/9
  • 4.48 ERA
  • 4.85 FIP (2011) and 4.43 FIP (2012)
  • .4 WAR

It’s pretty clear that Capuano’s 2012-13 is better than Correia’s 2011-12. Especially with Correia pitching in pitcher friendly PNC Park and Capuano pitching in the hitter friendly Dodger Stadium. Correia over those two years was basically replacement level, and he managed to parlay those numbers into a 2 year, 10 million dollar contract from the Minnesota Twins. Now, the Twins are contact-centric, which explains their love of Correia and his low strikeout rate, but Capuano doesn’t fit that profile. He strikes batters out, while walking them at a similar rate. In Correia’s favor, though, is his age. He was 32 when he signed, as opposed to Capuano’s 36 this offseason. But if Capuano can’t even get two years, he’s shaping up to be a bargain when a pitcher like Correia can get two. 

Lastly, it would be impossible to bring up Capuano without mentioning his extreme platoon issue. As a lefty, Capuano is effective against left handed hitters, with a career .276 wOBA from his arm side (wOBA measures a batters complete offensive performance). Against right handed pitchers Capuano isn’t nearly as effective, with a career .347 wOBA. obviously, other managers will look to exploit this as much as they possibly can, but that doesn’t stop Capuano from being effective. It’s not as though managers haven’t been aware of this issue in the past, and won’t continue to be.

Capuano is shaping up to be a bargain for whatever team is smart enough to jump at the opportunity to sign him to a one year deal, and there’s no reason the Indians shouldn’t attempt to be that team. Upgrading from Carlos Carrasco to Chris Capuano could be worth a win or two to the Indians this year, and they won’t be burdened with a long term financial commitment to an aging player. They’ll probably get more innings and better performance from Capuano, and that’s important to an Indians team that’s probably realistically fighting for a spot in the wild card game again this year. 

 

 

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