Friday, June 6, 2014

How to Fix the Pirates Rotation Later (2015)

The Pirates rotation is bad now, however it won’t magically get better next season unless all of our pitchers get lucky. (Good) Luck is not something to rely upon unless you are already a lottery winner or something along those lines.

What happens if the Buccos fail to acquire a more capable arm before the trade deadline? What will they need to do to recover and prepare during the offseason? Wandy Rodriguez is gone and Francisco Liriano will (probably) become a free agent as well as Edinson Volquez. So who’s left?

James Santelli wrote a piece last August explaining why he thought the 2015 Pirates could be a 100-win team, although the prediction was made before Jameson Taillon needed Tommy John surgery. Nick Kingham still has a chance to make an appearance later this season, even though I expect the "standard" he’s-still-learning-no-really-we’re-not-just-trying-to-save-money-guys June or September call up. With any luck, we may see Taillon around this time next year as well.

I started out this post stating I did not like luck, not to mention there are quite a few games between Opening Day and June, so who will accompany Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton? If we are left with the status quo, then the Pirates will probably rely upon Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton, Stolmy Pimentel, and/or Casey Sadler.

I typically rely upon Pirates Prospects for this data, but their early look at the Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 payroll was last updated in January of 2012. The values in the table below are my best estimation as I attempted to imitate their work using MLB Depth Charts and Cot's Baseball Contracts, then comparing them to the dated information on Pirates Prospects.

If the Pirates choose to allow all of our potential free agents to leave, then they should have approximately $10 million to spend during the offseason. They very well may beg for Russell Martin to return and I would not criticize them for it. However, we are trying to address their rotation, so let’s see what we can afford if that money was dedicated to a starting pitcher. Sorry James, but I don't intend to suggest Johan Santana this time around.

These spreadsheets were compiled using data I gathered from FanGraphs. The players included in the following spreadsheets are all free agent starting pitchers included on MLB Trade Rumors 2015 Free Agents post.

There are 41 starting pitchers in the free agent pool according to MLBTR, however a few have not appeared yet this season and we can expect several to sign extensions before the season's end. I sorted them using WAR/GS, which is simply wins above replacement divided by their total games started. This should give us a basic understanding of how valuable a pitcher has been during each start.

If we only use this near-sighted information, then we can observe some players are pitching very well, while others are playing at or below replacement level. Contract value is typically determined with greater scope than just a single season, so it would be best to increase our scale to the past three years. Finally, you may wonder why some rows are colored green, orange, or blue. I will touch upon that after this final table:

Green = Workhorse, dependable (>360IP, averaged >120IP per season)
Orange = Sub-par reliability (180-360IP, averaged 60-120IP per season)
Blue = Injury prone, high risk (<180IP, averaged <60IP per season)

Neal Huntington has targeted pitchers as recovery projects over the past few seasons, but it would be ideal to see him select at least one reliable, dependable arm for a change. We saw mild success in the past with A.J. Burnett, Liriano, and even Volquez is playing better than expected. We also saw (eventual) disasters with Kevin Correia, Erik Bedard, Jonathan Sanchez, and Wandy. I understand the Pirates may not be able to afford the best arms on the market (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Johnny Cueto) and other pitchers may expect a big raise (Aaron Harang, Jason Hammel, Ervin Santana) whether or not they truly deserve it.

In order to predict contract values, I borrowed research conducted by Dave Cameron on FanGraphs and Lewie Pollis on Beyond the Box Score (The Cost of a Win in the 2014 Off-Season and How Much Does a Win Really Cost?). They determined a win is worth somewhere between $5 and $7 million. With this knowledge in hand, I awarded certain win values to pitchers depending upon their previously noted reliability. If a pitcher was deemed dependable, then I allotted him $6 million per win; if sub-par, $5.5; and if high risk, $5.

I would expect the Pirates have a chance to target anyone I pointed out in the table above. If it were me, then I would take my pick between Yovani Gallardo, Dan Haren, or Justin Masterson at $10 million. If they rolled the dice with a little more risk, then I would not be upset if they ended up with Brandon Morrow, Chad Billingsley, Brett Anderson, Chris Capuano, or even Josh Johnson, but only at a price tag of $6 million or less.

Who would you like to see wear black and gold while standing atop our mound?

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