Why we don't need starting pitchingOver the weekend, the Nats Blog tried to compare free agent pitchers on an even keel by looking at how "lucky" they were. The basic idea is a good one, but their methodology isn't nearly as good as it could be, and they end up drawing some bad conclusions as a result.
Baseball Prospectus does measure defense-adjusted ERA (dERA), which calculates an ERA after totally leveling the playing field, particularly from a defense perspective. An absolutely average pitcher would have a 4.50 dERA.
One of the key observations between both approaches is that, for balls put in play, the pitcher had little to no control as to what happens, unless the ball was a home run.
I thought it would be good to evaluate our current rotation and the current pool of free agents using dERA over the last two years. First, let's take a look at four starters from last year that I believe would be in the rotation were the season to start today:
|Player||2004 dERA||2003 dERA|
|Tony Armas, Jr.||4.74||2.36 (31 IP)|
Now that we've seen our staff, let's look at the remaining free agent starters who have logged at least 70 innings in one of the past two years (a star indicates that the 70 inning mark wasn't reached):
|Player||2004 dERA||2003 dERA|
|Todd Van Poppel||5.87||*|
If we're going to get someone from that list, I think it should be a substantial improvement. Our worst pitcher on that list is probably Armas, and he'll probably have an average year. If not, we have a few other people sitting around who would do about as well. So if we're going to shop around, let's say we want someone who has gotten below a 4.25 in one of the two years, and, if they pitched, didn't stink the other year (5 or above, ruling out, among others, Hideo Nomo, Derek Lowe and Esteban Loaiza, thankfully). This leaves us with the following:
- Roger Clemens
- Matt Clement
- Orlando Hernandez
- Al Leiter
- Jose Lima
- Pedro Martinez
- Carl Pavano
- Odalis Perez
- Brad Radke
- David Wells
- Woody Williams
- Jamey Wright
- Jaret Wright
Williams would be looking for the entire $6M, and his numbers don't merit it.
We've got lots of competition for several of the remaining people on the list. Jaret Wright and Odalis Perez are both in enough demand that we might not attract them within our budget (even if someone else might).
David Wells is also a hot item, and I imagine we're not even bothering, which is too bad, because he'll probably be a good deal for whoever does land him.
That leaves El Duque, Lima and Jamey Wright. El Duque isn't the innings eater that Bowden wants (dERA clearly isn't measuring durability), but I suspect he's the best value of the bunch. Wrightmight be worth taking a chance on... he had a huge WHIP last year (1.61), but much of that is probably the Coors effect. I'm sure he'll be largely overlooked for that reason, which means he might end up a good deal. And while Lima's numbers don't bowl me over compared to anyone we already have, there's no denying that he's an entertainer that will draw fans. Though we'll probably end up overpaying anyone we sign, these three guys look like our best fits, considering the constraints. I think El Duque clearly has the biggest upside here, but probably also the most risk.
I think looking at pitchers independent of defense demonstrates that we don't really have a huge need for starting pitching. All of our starters are better than average, except maybe Armas, who will still be about average at worst, I suspect. And we actually have one or two people in reserve that will hold their own if need be.
If we stand pat here, I won't complain at all. Basically, as far as a free agent signing goes, I think we only really can feel that we made a move that is likely to improve the team if we grab one of the guys on that short list. It's a really short list, and it'd be amazing if we could afford someone who is going to make a substantial improvement over what we've already got.