Tale of the Tape: Mystery Pitcher v. Field

As pointed out to him last week, the M's should probably have their eye on a mystery starting pitcher or two.

Last week I received an e-mail from, let's call him a baseball thinker for the sake of this discussion, with the subject title "mystery pitcher", except it actually had the pitcher's name typed neatly about.

The sender mentioned that this pitcher might be available from a certain National League club and could be a decent idea for the Mariners to look into this winter, if the price was right.

At first glance, he seemed like a run-of-the-mill pitcher who never lived up to the hype. But a deep delve into his numbers suggest two things.

1) The thinker was correct, this guy might be a pretty solid addition and at the very least, a pretty good risk to take.

2) The 6-2, 242-pounder has some skills that can't be ignored, and could be a convincing indication that he should be a target, if he isn't already.

He very may well be the next starter to break through, i.e. Jon Garland, Jake Westbrook, John Patterson, etc.

While he may not have the stuff of Garland or Patterson, he may have a better arsenal than Westrbook, who has had two successful seasons at the back end of the Cleveland Indians rotation.

As the M's continue their search for starting pitching, their sights will stay set on the A.J. Burnetts and Kevin Millwoods of the free agent market, and may even take a look at names such as Matt Morris, Jeff Weaver or Paul Byrd.

But whether they succeed or fail at landing any of the above starters, the trade route may be the path that GM Bill Bavasi has to take. And it may not be bad idea, at all.

Aside from this mystery pitcher, other potential trade targets may be right-handers Carl Pavano, Livan Hernandez and Kris Benson, as well as lefty Odalis Perez.

All have multi-year contracts, some quite larger than the others.

Mystery pitcher No. 1, seen in statistics below, is a current AL starter while No. 2 is the aforementioned National Leaguer, who will earn considerably less in 2006 than any other name on the chart.

Who's the better value?

You make the call.
Tale of the Tape
Millwood 3.61/4.29/3.86 7.0/7.3/5.8 2.2/2.8/2.5 1.34/1.10/1.04
Burnett 4.16/3.33/3.29 7.5/7.1/7.7 3.3/2.6/3.6 2.42/1.49/1.10
Weaver 4.44/3.82/5.07 5.7/5.4/4.9 1.4/2.4/2.6 1.00/1.06/1.11
Morris 4.95/4.58/3.73 5.0/5.1/5.5 1.3/2.2/1.7 1.60/1.59/1.44
Pavano 5.57/2.89/3.93 5.3/5.2/5.6 1.4/1.6/1.7 1.60/1.43/1.10
Byrd 4.24/3.92/3.24 4.4/5.2/4.5 1.1/1.2/1.1 0.89/0.77/0.80
Hernandez 4.51/3.05/3.13 4.7/5.5/5.9 2.9/2.7/1.9 1.07/1.29/1.99
Perez 3.24/4.30/3.06 5.0/5.8/5.2 1.7/2.0/1.1 1.62/1.99/1.36
Benson 4.49/4.14/3.86 4.4/5.9/5.0 2.2/1.8/2.6 1.17/1.14/1.21
Mystery1 5.54/4.10/3.74 4.9/6.3/5.8 2.7/2.5/3.3 1.29/1.18/1.26
Mystery2 4.62/4.14/4.24 5.6/5.9/6.1 3.9/3.7/3.4 1.83/1.54/1.51

The data listed above is seen in reverse order starting with 2005 and ending with 2003. All data is translated using the formula seen here at Baseball Prospectus, to reflect park factors and such.

All stats are translated except for G/F.

Due to Paul Byrd missing all of 2003, his three-year line reads from 2002, 2004-2005. A.J. Burnett missed most of 2003, his line reads from 2002, 2004 and 2005. Odalis Perez threw just 125 innings in '05, his line reads from 2002, 2003, 2004.

Carl Pavano missed significant time in 2005, but switched leagues. His 2005 line was included as part of his three-year line to reflect the switch to the AL.

This chart shows why Matt Morris is not very good option, as his adjusted ERA has risen vigorously over the three-year stretch, while his strikeout has dropped somewhat. His walk rates fluctuated but they were stellar a year ago.

Morris consistently induces a solid number of ground balls but is giving up more hits per nine innings now (10.2 in 2005) versus his career line of 8.9.

Weaver is a better bet than Morris, as his strikeout and walk rates would suggest. His ERA is up and down but still no worse than league average overall. If the two pitchers were of the same age, this would be a closer race, but Weaver is two years younger and without the injury history of Morris.

Weaver also pitches deeper into games (444 IP last two seasons), aiding a club's bullpen while Morris has failed to reach 200 innings in two of the last three years.

The consensus around baseball is that A.J. Burnett is the better signing while Millwood is safer and potentially less risky.

Aside from Burnett's slight spike in ERA over his last two full seasons, his strikeout rates and G/F ratios are evidence that he's just as capable of sustaining his most recent level of performance, and even improving.

Paul Byrd has seen his ERA rise a full run in his last three seasons, which has seen him change leagues twice.

Byrd's poor strikeout rate, fly ball tendencies and H/9 trends cancel out his impeccable control. His home run rates have typically sat just above one per nine innings, and seems to be a fairly sustainable stat for him. His age and history of injury are risks at he prices in the current market.

Livan Hernandez is at the top of the pole of starting pitchers that may see a massive drop off in the next year or two.

After logging 750 innings in the last three seasons, Hernandez finally saw decline in his strikeout rate (more than a strikeout drop since 2003) and he's allowing nearly twice as many fly balls.

At 31, Hernandez is likely done as a 240-inning horse who finds a way to drop a sub-4.00 ERA on the league. Even in the severe pitcher's park that was RFK in 2005, Hernandez struggled to keep his ERA in the threes and surrendered 25 home runs, just three off the second-highest total of his career.

Despite pitching at Shea Stadium, Benson continued his downward spiral. His strikeout rate plummeted and his ERA rose more than a quarter of a run.

Odalis Perez was off his game in 2005 and was also injured. His 4.82 ERA may be an aberation but his tendency to land on the DL is not.

An up and down spike in all areas make it tough to guage where Perez might go next, but his fragility should scare every team away.

Pavano's 4.93 FIP (Fielding Independent ERA) last season shows that his 5.57 ERA was at least somewhat due to the terrible defense that the Yankees put behind him.

Pavano's injury almost certainly contributed to his struggles, but he did continue to get ground balls, though not many were turned into outs.

At 29, Pavano's health is the only thing keeping him from his No. 3 starter capabilities.

Mystery pitcher No. 1 is a walking red flag, though his 4.50 FIP shows that he had some bad luck in 2005.

The right-hander induced a decent amound of ground balls, the best ratio of his career, but his strikeout rates were down and his walk rates were up from '04.

If he wasn't still under 30 and with the injury excuse, he'd be on the scrap heap, and he may land there anyways with a repeat of 2005.

Mistery pitcher No. 2 has sustained his ERA within a half run, despite pitching through a finger injury in '05 as well as a tough park in which to pitch.

His strikeouts haven't dipped much, though his control is still in shambles. His biggest positive factor is his ground ball tendencies, steadily improving each year. This right-handed starter could see a breakout season if he joins the right club.

We all know that Burnett and Millwood are the top two starters on the market and everyone else is mid-tier talent - or worse.

In looking for value, Morris isn't worth what Loaiza received, largely due to the improbability that he can sustain his '05 performance beyond 2006 - if that long.

Weaver has the edge over Morris, cite his age and recent trend advantage, though he isn't likely to be a value choice at four years and more annual salary than Jon Lieber.

Byrd might be a decent value for one year, but even that is up for debate. Giving him the benefit of the doubt would be claiming that he can repeat his '05 season at an 80% rate.

Byrd needs a strong defense and a fly ball park to keep things going, but his troubles versus left-handed hitters (.306 BAA in '05) is bound to bite him in the ERA. With bad G/F rates, his 35th birthday and a "pitch-to-contact" approach, Byrd is more than likely a one-year value and a three-year waste.

The trade possibilities with Benson, Hernandez, Perez and Mystery pitcher No. 2 can be waded through by salary and trade cost and trimmed down to the unknown arm as the best value, as well as the most likely to either improve or repeat his recent numbers.

Mystery pitcher No. 1 is a burning wick on a stick of dynamite, with the possible exception of a late-season turnaround last summer.

Comparing No. 2 with Morris, Weaver, Byrd, Pavano, Benson and Hernandez ends with the last pitcher standing being the one with the proverbial ski mask over his head.

Pavano is pretty good bet to return to most of the form that landed him nearly $10 million a season, or nearly $6 million more than No. 2.

In case you haven't figured it out, Mystery pitcher No. 1 is Seattle's own Joel Pineiro. He may be finished as a quality starter and could be deemed useless without a quick comeback in 2006.

Mystery pitcher No. 2 is Colorado right-hander Jason Jennings. With severe ground ball abilities, a repeatable talent, he's one skill shy of having No. 3 starter potential at just $4.5 million - better control.

Getting him out of Coors and into an actual baseball park will help immensley and could even improve his confidence and overall stuff.

While he's no rotation savior or immediate impact arm, it's this kind of acquisition that championship baseball clubs make. See Chicago White Sox with Jermaine Dye, Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez or St. Louis with Chris Carpenter.

It's a risk, but a low-risk, high-reward type that can't hurt the club if it results in a swing and a miss.

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