Analyzing the Starting Pitcher Free Agent Market

One of the Pirates remaining needs is a starting pitcher. There are a couple of questions that come to mind immediately after saying that though. What type of starter do they need? What type of starters are available? and quite simply What is a #1 starter? a #3 starter? I hope to figure all of this out by looking at the starting pitcher data of the last 3 seasons. I am going to focus on 2  numbers xFIP and WAR.

Over the last 4 seasons there have been 126 starters that have accumulated over 300 innings. This makes for roughly 4 starters per team. This is perfect because a team’s 5th spot is usually a rotating door and it is tough to get a grasp of what a typical 5th starter is. The top 4 spots in the rotation are usually reserved for players who pitch on a somewhat consistent basis and 100 innings per year is a very low threshold. So without farther ado:

xFIP

#1 Starter (1-30): 2.84 – 3.66

#2 Starter (31-60): 3.66 – 3.92

#3 Starter (61-90): 3.93 – 4.26

#4 Starter (91-120): 4.27 – 4.61

WAR

#1 Starter (1-30): 9.8 – 22.2 (3.3 to 7.5 per year)

#2 Starter (31-60): 6.9 – 9.8 (2.3 to 3.3 per year)

#3 Starter (61-90): 4.8 – 6.8 (1.6 to 2.3 per year)

#4 Starter (91-120): 2.6 – 4.7 (.9 to 1.6 per year)

As you can say there is a huge gap between the top and bottom of the #1 starter group. That is to be expected as there is a handful of great pitchers but not enough to fill 30 spots. So now we need to figure out what the average #x starter is.

#1: xFIP: 3.40, WAR: 14.0 (4.7/year)

#2 xFIP: 3.82, WAR: 8.2 (2.7/year)

#3: xFIP: 4.11, WAR: 5.8 (1.9/year)

#4: xFIP: 4.43, WAR: 3.7 (1.2/year)

Now since we have those numbers we can take a look at the free agent market (I/m dropping the inning limit to 150 IP).

xFIP:

#1 (lower or at 3.66): Hiroki Kuroda, Erik Bedard, Javier Vazquez, Roy Oswalt

#2 (lower or at 3.92): CJ Wilson, Chris Capuano, Joel Pineiro

#3 (lower or at 4.26): Edwin Jackson, Bartolo Colon, Aaron Harang, Jeff Francis, Rich Harden, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke

#4 (lower or at 4.61): Jason Marquis, Mark Buehrle, Aaron Cook, Jon Garland, Rodrigo Lopez, Kevin Millwood, Kenshin Kawakami, Brad Penny, Livan Hernandez

Other (above 4.61): Kyle Davies, Brian Tallet, Tim Wakefield, Scott Kazmir

WAR

#1 (above or at 9.8):  Edwin Jackson, Mark Buehrle, CJ Wilson, Roy Oswalt

#2 (above or at 6.9): Javier Vazquez, Hiroka Kuroda, Joel Pineiro, Paul Maholm

#3 (above or at 4.8): Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis

#4 (above or at 2.6): Aaron Cook, Kevin Millwood, Jeff Francis, Brad Penny, Erik Bedard, Tim Wakefield, Aaron Harang, Zach Duke, Kyle Davies, Jon Garland, Bartolo Colon

Other (below 2.6): Kenshin Kawakami, Chris Capuano, Rich Harden, Brian Tallet, Scott Kazmir, Rodrigo Lopez

Now let’s look at what the Pirates have (I am only going to use their 2011 numbers).

Charlie Morton: 4.08 xFIP, 2.2 WAR

Jeff Karstens: 4.01 xFIP, 1.o WAR

Brad Lincoln: 4.09 xFIP, 0.5 WAR

James McDonald: 4.46 xFIP, 0.4 WAR

Kevin Correia: 4.37 xFIP, 0.0 WAR

Using xFIP as the guide Morton, Karstens and Lincoln are #3 starters and Correia and McDonald are #4 starters.

The Pirates obviously need top of the rotation help but it is just as obvious that they are not landing one of the top pitchers so lets take a look at who I consider the best of their possible choices.

Erik Bedard: 3.60 xFIP (2011 xFIP: 3.56)

Chris Capuano: 3.74 xFIP (3.66)

Aaron Harang: 4.12 xFIP (4.21)

Jeff Francis: 4.12 xFIP (4.29)

Rich Harden: 4.21 xFIP (3.68)

Paul Maholm: 4.21 xFIP (4.03)

Jason Marquis: 4.33 xFIP (4.02)

Aaron Cook: 4.34 xFIP (4.41)

Jon Garland: 4.45 xFIP (4.86)

Kevin Millwood: 4.46 xFIP (3.55)

Livan Hernandez: 4.53 xFIP (4.28)

So using this data only:

#1: Erik Bedard

#2: Chris Capuano, Rich Harden

#3: Aaron Harang, Jeff Francis, Paul Maholm, Jason Marquis, Kevin Millwood

#4: Aaron Cook, Jon Garland, Livan Hernadez

I am hoping the Pirates land one of the top 3 because while they are big risks they also have big upsides. The Pirates need a top of the rotation starter and taking a chance on a Bedard, Capuano or Harden is the only chance the Pirates have of acquiring such a player.

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3 comments

  1. Ryan Sendek

    Loved the analysis and agree with you 100% on your acquisition hopefuls. I chose Capuano when I tried to speculate how to utilize their payroll earlier this month. I also had Bedard going to Pittsburgh in the MLBTR free agent contest.

    They can’t get both, but I’d love to see it happen.

    • burghfan66

      Thank you for actually taking time and reading my blog. Capuano and Bedard are my top two choices because the Pirates need a pitcher who can miss bats. The only other two players who are with in their price range and fit that description are Harden and Harang. I think Harden is a huge injury risk (even more so than Bedard) and I don’t have a lot of confidence in Harang. Although I would take either over the recently rumored Cook.

      • Ryan Sendek

        No worries. I like to read and share your work.
        I have to agree with you again. If they made a low cost, high risk investment with the upside of a #1 or #2 quality starter, then I would be ecstatic. Acquiring Correia last season was a step in that direction, though he did not reach his full potential. Cook is not that pitcher.
        I was never a fan of Maholm’s low K rate and K/BB ratio, so I hope they focus on a replacement who is capable of producing better stats than Paul.

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