Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Should the Braves Consider a Kyle Lohse-ish Pickup?

Last season, Kyle Lohse received a qualifying offer from the Cardinals and several teams shied away from signing him.  Lohse was not an ace, but a good quality pitcher who can help out a team by being a solid starter.  Eventually, on March 25th last year, Lohse finally signed a 3 year, $33M contract with the Brewers with $7M deferred.  Whether or not the Brewers waited out the market, Lohse was signed to a deal that appeared pretty reasonable.

This offseason, a pair of pitchers – Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez – remain on the market, waiting to sign with a team as we hit mid-January.  We are counting down the days until catchers and pitchers report and these pitchers, both effective last year, can’t find a job.  Part of that comes down to a market that is currently waiting on Masahiro Tanaka to either sign with a major league team or stay in Japan, but there is a bigger consideration for major league teams.  It comes down to the expected production of the pitcher vs. the qualifying offer compensation.  The Braves, for instance, would have to surrender their top pick in June’s draft to sign either pitcher.  Should they?

Let’s consider Ervin Santana.  After spending the first eight years of his career in Los Angeles with the Angels, Santana was dealt to the Royals last offseason.  The pending free agent posted a 3.24 ERA, 3.93 FIP, and 3.0 fWAR.  In yet another “win-loss records are stupid” examples, his record in 2013 was 9-10, only slightly better than 9-13 the previous season, but he was a -1.0 fWAR pitcher in 2012.  While his 3.93 FIP was the second-best of his career, it was a far cry from his 2008 season, where he posted a 3.30 FIP and 6 fWAR.  While he has improved his groundball rate, he is homer prone and really just throws two pitches about 90% of the time (fastball/slider).

Is he worth the Braves first round selection plus a financial commitment comparable to Lohse’s deal?  I would say no.  Santana is a decent innings-eater.  He’s been very durable and just turned 31 so in a three-year deal, you would have him through just his age-33 season.  However, would he be better than Gavin Floyd?  Doubtful.  Even if you are adding depth in case an injury pops up or Floyd struggles to make it back, would Santana provide notable improvement over Alex Wood?  Debatable, but at most, the improvement would be minimal and not worth the price.

Most importantly, he is not the ace that many believe the Braves need nor has Santana ever been an ace outside of that one big year in 2008.  Ubaldo Jimenez was an ace with the Rockies between 2008-10.  In 2010, Jimenez finished third in the NL Cy Young vote with a 40% share behind unanimous winner Roy Halladay.  Jimenez went 19-8 that year with a 3.10 FIP, 6.5 fWAR, and 8.69 K/9.  He also posted a pair of no-hitters, including one against the Braves in Turner Field on April 17th.  His numbers fell the following year that included a trade to the Indians and those numbers flat lined in 2012.

2013 started with much of the same for Jimenez, but he turned it on over the final three months of the season, posting a 2.01 ERA in his final 15 starts with 106 K’s in 94 innings.  He limited opposing hitters to just a .296 OBP and averaged 61 as a game score.  In four of his final eight starts, he reached double digit strikeouts, including 13 in his final start.  To put that into perspective, in the 87 starts before those final eight, Jimenez reached double digit in strikeouts just twice.

Jimenez can be that ace-type pitcher Santana can’t be…but who are you getting?  The guy who dominated the AL over 15 starts down the stretch last season or the guy who was okay-to-bad during the previous 80?
Just 29 (30 on January 22nd), Santana changed up things last year.  His fastball is no longer the plus pitch it was during his best days with the Rockies so he stopped relying on it and began to use his slider more.  He took what was a rarely-used pitch and began to use his splitter a lot more.  To put this simply, he’s a different pitcher than he was in 2010.  He seemed to deal with the same problems that have hurt Tim Lincecum.  Instead of a thrower, Jimenez is a pitcher now and could be a great acquisition for a team this offseason.

Should that be the Braves?  If it came at Lohse’s cost…absolutely.  But that is unlikely and the Braves can’t afford to offer much more.  At 3 years, $33M, Jimenez could be a steal, though there remains a chance he would pitch again like 2012 Jimenez.  But if the cost was not prohibitive, I take the chance.  At his best, Jimenez is as good as any pitcher.

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