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Can We Just Sign Impact Players? Part I: Starting Pitching




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Let's face it, every Twins fan is getting tired of watching the poor play of the past couple years. We know the future looks bright as we await the arrival of some of baseballs top prospects, but that does not help the situation on the field right now. The fact of it is, the Twins are lousy again this year and, like usual, it looks like the starting rotation is to blame.


Everybody has their own theory on how the Twins can end the losing. A common theme I keep hearing is some version of "I think it's time the Twins spend some money and sign some impact players!" I love the spirit of that argument, but if it were so easy, why wouldn't the Twins have done it by now? This is my first post in a short series that will look at whether or not it is even possible to find impact players in a free agent market. I begin where the Twins struggle most, in the starting rotation.


Using Fangraphs, I looked at all the starting pitchers that I would call impact players based on their performance this season. I limited my search to qualifiers, because pitchers who haven't qualified haven't really made that large of an impact. The only two stats I really focused on were ERA and FIP. I know ERA is not a perfect statistic, but sometimes actual results are as important as theoretical results. In forming a team, I would feel confident using any of these players as a Number 2 or Ace (based only on their performance this year). I have divided them into five groups based on how their current team acquired them:


Note: after ever name I will provide this seasons ERA/FIP in parentheses.


Group 1: Free Agent Acquisitions

Phil Hughes(3.65, 2.62), Zack Greinke(2.79, 3.14), Scott Kazmir(3.08, 3.42), Ervin Santana(3.60, 3.32), Tim Hudson(2.99, 3.51)


This group accounts for 5/34 players, or just under 15%. The fact that only 15% of "impact" pitchers were acquired through the free agent market is enough to indicate it is probably not the best way to find top pitching talent. I'm happy to see the Twins own one of these five players. Interestingly, four of these five players signed last offseason, despite the free agent class being considered weak in terms of pitching. It is also worth noting that not all of these pitchers play for large market teams, despite the fact that large market teams tend to attract more expensive free agents.


Group 2: Non-Drafed Free Agents

Felix Hernandez(2.07, 2.23), Jose Quintana(3.25, 2.85), Johnny Cueto(2.20, 3.25), Hisashi Iwakuma(2.83, 3.04), Julio Teheran(2.96, 3.52)


Again just 5/34 or just under 15%. Throw in the fact that Hisashi Iwakuma tried to sign via the posting process but had no luck, so he was actually major league ready when acquired. The fact that only 4 international free agents are still with their original teams and having terrific seasons seems low to me.


Group 3: Drafted by Current Organization

Clayton Kershaw(2.53, 2.63), Chris Sale(2.03, 2.44), Garrett Richards(2.61, 2.61), Jordan Zimmermann(2.93, 2.81), Dallas Keuchel(3.12, 3.25), Cole Hamels(2.53, 3.01), Stephen Strasburg(3.59, 3.14), Lance Lynn(2.78, 3.07), Madison Bumgarner(3.17, 3.00), Rick Porcello(3.09, 3.55), Sonny Gray(3.00, 3.42)


As expected, more of our "impact" pitchers were acquired through the draft than any other medium. This represents 11/34, or around 1/3 of the players being analyzed. This provides evidence that drafting and developing pitching talent should remain the top priority for all ballclubs.


Group 4: Acquired via Trade

Corey Kluber(2.46, 2.48), Jon Lester(2.53, 2.63), Max Scherzer(3.13, 2.82), David Price(3.00, 2.93), Adam Wainwright(2.52, 2.80), Chris Archer(3.09, 3.02), James Shields(3.28, 3.69), Jeff Samardzija(3.27, 3.45), Mark Buehrle(3.41, 3.82), Tyson Ross(2.68, 3.29)


Almost as large as the group of players drafted by their current organization, 10/34 "impact" pitchers (about 30%) were acquired via trade. Maybe this group is too general, as some of these players were acquired as prospects and other are more rentals, but it appears that the second most effective way to find good starting pitching is by trading.


Group 5: Acquired via Posting Process

Yu Darvish(3.06, 2.85), Masahiro Tanaka(2.51, 3.07), Hyun-Jin Ryu(3.28, 2.77)


All three of these pitchers have worked out quite well (as has Iwakuma), but they should all be considered high-risk signings. It is impossible to know how successful a player who has never pitched in the majors will fare, and this is a much more substantial agreement (in both years and dollars) than drafting or signing young, undeveloped talent. I believe the reason that only 3/34(9%) of "impact" pitchers were acquired this way is because the number of players talented enough to be worth the risk is so low.


I guess after looking at the numbers, it is possible to find a free agent pitcher capable of high-level play, but it is easier to rely on drafting, trade for prospects, and rent aces from other teams. This doesn't mean every free agent signing is bad, but rather than it looks like us Twins fans are going to have to wait for our prospects (like Meyer, Berrios, and Stewart) to make an impact before we can do much more than continue to fill the back of the rotation. Maybe by 2015 or 2016 we will have a strong enough foundation to look into aggressively persuing pitchers through the trade market, but until then, I recommend patience.


Feel free to add your own thoughts/add any players I may have forgotten.


I'll be back with a look at "impact" hitters as soon as I have time to do some more research. Thanks for reading!



Recommended Comments

Drafting and developing players seems to be the way the Twins hope to succeede. I also think that trading minor league pieces also plays into the draft and develop model. If Meyer and May become succcessful they'll be in that trade category, but their success, I beleive, will also be becasue of twns developmental staff in MiLB.


Looking forward to your hitters list.

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I get wanting to sign a free agent pitcher in the off season but the twins are not going to sign Price or Scherzer because there are better ways to allocate those funds in less risky manner. I think the onoy starting pitcher the twins should target would be Shields and I am not sure at 15 million a year I would rather watch somebody else. There are three locks for the starting rotation next year. Nolasco (like it or not) Hughes and Gibson. That leaves two spots. The current options to fill those spots are May, Meyer Pelfrey, Pino, Johnson, Gilmartin, Darnell and Milone. We already have enough right handers that can do the job and unless Nolasco goes to the pen then it doest make sense to sign Shields. I would prefer the twins sign Lester but not at 150 million.

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