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The 2010 rotation

My first order of business today is to let everybody know that this will be my final daily post here at VEB. Though I’ve truly enjoyed doing this for the last couple of years or so, I’ve found that it takes too much time away from my family and my job to do this well. It’s simply a matter of priorities and my kids are getting older – they’re 6 and 8 now – and my son thinks he’s going to be Albert Pujols one day (and who am I to tell him he won’t?) and I’ve made the decision to spend more time with them and less time doing this. Additionally, my job as a teacher means I quite frequently have work to do at night and on the weekends and it’s a beautiful weekend this weekend and I’m going to spend it locked in my house working on threads for VEB and grading papers. Such is life but at some point, something’s gotta give. I want to thank LB for giving me this shot, and Dan, RB, and AZ for helping me out as much as they have. I also want to thank each of you for helping to make this experience such an enjoyable one. You’ll still see me popping up in the comments from time to time and in the occasional fanpost, I just won’t be a regular contributor any longer. There’s no doubt in my mind that the site is in good hands so I’m totally at peace by stepping away right now. All that said, it’s time to get down to business.

So John Smoltz would like to return to the Cardinals next year, huh? As of right now, the team appears to have 2 holes in the rotation, since Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Kyle Lohse will fill 3 rotation spots. If Smoltz returns, that leaves one spot available. It’s been generally assumed that either Mitch Boggs or Jaime Garcia would fill the other spot but Dan O’Neill, yesterday, suggested that either Blake Hawksworth or Kyle McClellan should be moved to the rotation. This is intriguing. AZ has long been on the "free K-Mac" bandwagon and, if nothing else, it would provide substantial depth for the 5th spot in the rotation.

I’m not sure which of Hawksworth or McClellan would make the better starter but I think creating a competition in spring training between them, Garcia, and Boggs for the 5th spot is a pretty good idea. The "losers" could move to the pen (where we’re going to need to make some changes anyway) and provide reinforcements in case Carp, Lohse, Smoltz, or Smoltz’s replacement end up on the D.L. This season the Cards used 9 starting pitchers, including P.J. Walters for 1 start and Brad Thompson for 8. Here are the ’09 major league peripherals for 3 of the 4 contenders.

K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP GB% xFIP tRA*
Boggs 7.14 5.12 0.47 4.10 52.7 4.78 4.61
McClellan 6.89 4.59 0.54 3.97 50.0 4.43 4.69
Hawksworth 4.50 3.38 0.45 3.95 53.8 4.48 4.17

Though they’re somewhat different pitchers, their numbers all look very similar. They all walk more than we’d prefer, though Boggs’ and McClellan’s K rates are higher than Hawksworth’s. They all had very low HR/9 b/c they’re all ground ball pitchers. But they were all probably lucky to have such a low HR rate since all three had HR/FB around 6% -- about 5% below league average. Boggs and Hawksworth throw a little harder than McClellan, w/ fastballs averaging 92.7 and 92.5 mph to McClellan’s 91.4. This year, Boggs’ best pitch was his slider, McClellan’s was his curveball, and Hawksworth’s was his fastball. It seems to me that, of the 3 – or 4 if Garcia is added to the mix – we’ll be able to find one guy to fill that 5th spot.

So that leaves Smoltz for the 4th spot…or does it? We could probably add Smoltz on a 1 year, $5 M or so contract to return, thus leaving us quite a bit of coin to resign Holliday, or add a higher priced 3B than David Freese/Allen Craig (yeah, right!). The thing is, though, while the free agent class isn’t very strong – John Lackey is really the only really solid free agent pitcher available – there are a lot of fairly strong comeback candidates that could provide a huge boost to the rotation should they pay off. I’m not sure we should just settle for Smoltz and be done with it.

Dave Cameron over at fangraphs addressed this some the other day -- that there will be a lot of potentially very good starters on the market who are looking for a short-term deal. In other words, a lot of potential for adding a low risk, high reward starter. Some of the starters on the market this offseason will include Rich Harden, Randy Johnson, Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer, Kelvim Escobar, Brett Myers, and Erik Bedard in addition to Smoltz.

Briefly, now…their resumes:

Rich Harden – will be just 28 in November. He hasn’t pitched more than 148 innings in a season since 2004 and this year he gave up a ridiculous 23 HR in just 141 innings. He is a fly ball pitcher who had extremely bad luck this year w/ fly balls leaving the park (HR/FB = 15.1%). When he’s on, there are few better. He has a career K/9 of 9.35 and BB/9 of 3.93. Over the last 2 years, his fastball mph is down from averaging 93-94 mph to 92.1 and 92.0. In ’08, he was worth 4.4 WAR for the A’s and Cubs in just 148 innings.

Ben Sheets – 31 years old. Missed all of 2009 with an elbow injury. From 2005-2008, he threw 156.2, 106, 141.1, and 198.1 innings (averaging just less than 151 innings per season). He hasn’t had an ERA above 4.00 since 2003. Career K/9 – 7.60. Career BB/9 – 1.97. He’s not really a ground ball pitcher either but his career HR/9 = 1.01. He’s basically a fastball/curveball pitcher whose FB has been pretty consistent throughout his career and averaged 92.7 mph.

Erik Bedard – turns 31 in March. The only lefty in the group. Since being traded to the Mariners prior to the ’08 season, he’s thrown only 164 innings. He was having a great season before tearing his labrum this season. He likely won’t be ready to go on opening day b/c of a 6 month recovery period. Pitching his entire career in the AL, he hasn’t had an ERA above 4.00 since 2004. Career K/9 – 8.77. Career BB/9 – 3.56. Career HR/9 – just 0.82 despite averaging a 36.7% FB rate for his career. He’s basically a two pitch pitcher as well w/ a terrific curveball.

Kelvim Escobar – turns 34 in April. I’ve always liked this guy. He’s had shoulder problems over the last couple of years as he’s thrown just 5 innings since 2007. From ’03 – ’07, however, he threw over 180 innings every season but one. Career K/9 – 7.78. Career BB/9 – 3.65. He’s much more of a ground ball pitcher than any of the previous guys. He’s always been basically a fastball, curveball, change pitcher whose fastball has averaged nearly 94 mph. Who knows what he’ll look like when the scouts see him throw, but he’s always had terrific stuff.

Justin Duchscherer – turns 32 in November. Duchscherer’s been a reliever throughout his career until the A’s moved him to the rotation in 2008. He’s been battling elbow problems and depression since throwing 141.2 innings for the A’s last season. Career K/9 – 6.94. Career BB/9 – 2.30. Duchscherer doesn’t throw hard. His fastball’s only averaged 86.0 mph for his career but it, his cutter, and his curveball have all been effective pitches for him in his career. I doubt the team will want to go there after their experience w/ Khalil Greene this season but…

Brett Myers – turned 29 in August. Myers has bounced back and forth from the Phillies’ rotation to the bullpen for the last 3 years and has suffered from shoulder and hip problems this season. Career K/9 – 7.50. Career BB/9 – pi. His career GB% is over 47% and, while he had homer problems this season (18 in just 70.2 innings), he was horribly unlucky, as evidenced by his ridiculous 23.4% HR/FB rate. He’s a fastball, slider, curveball pitcher whose fastball averaged just 89.3 mph this season – down from 90.8 for his career.

Randy Johnson – just turned 46. Yes, 46. He’s Julio Franco meets Cy Young. I advocated signing Johnson prior to this season. He’s definitely scary b/c of his age and the fact that he threw just 96 innings this season. And while his K rate and BB rate were very good, his HR rate was very high – and that’s for someone who pitched half his games in whatever the Giants’ park is called these days. (3 Com? AT&T? …whatever). However, like Myers, he was ridiculously unlucky in that his HR/FB rate was 19.2%. His fastball’s been losing velocity for the last couple of years but his slider’s as potent as ever.

Of course, before we look to sign any of these guys we’d have to double and triple-check their medical reports and watch them pitch, check out their mph, whatever. We’d absolutely have to do our due diligence. And we’d have to understand that we’re unlikely to get 200 innings from any of these guys but if we could get 140-150 from them and then another 50 or so from whoever finishes 2nd in the 5th starter derby, we’d potentially have a very potent 1, 2, and 3 when the playoffs arrive next fall.

I’d say my top 3 at this point would be 1. Sheets; 2. Bedard; 3. Smoltz but I’d like to see what Myers, Escobar, and Harden look like as well.

See you soon.