• Free Agent Pitching: 20/20 Hindsight

    By the end of the coming weekend, the Twins will have reached the one-quarter mark of the season with 40+ games under their belts. Itís as good a time as any to reflect upon how some of the decisions made by General Manager Terry Ryan in building the teamís roster have turned out.

    As a team, the Twins have been hovering over the .500 mark most of the season and, after Monday nightís win over the White Sox, they are one game over the break-even point. Over the weekend, Ryan told 1500ESPN that .500 wasnít what he was looking for out of this team, that he wanted them to be contenders. Itís great, of course, for your teamís GM to say that kind of thing, but I think most fans would have been pretty satisfied with the prospects of a .500 year out of this Twins team.

    This article was originally posted Tuesday, May 14 at Knuckleballsblog.com.



    Terry Ryan (Photo: Knuckleballs/Jim Crikket)

    You also have to consider that those words were coming out of the same mouth that, last November, told TwinsDailyís John Bonnes that the Twins would be pursuing one of the ďpretty darn goodĒ pitchers on the free agent market last season and then went out and made Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey the cornerstones of the teamís free agent class.

    In that same interview, Ryan also told Bonnes that he felt the free agent pitching market was, ďthin,Ē when most of us felt there was a pretty solid group of middle-to-upper-half of the rotation arms available.

    Now, looking back over the first six weeks of the season, is it possible Terry Ryan was right?

    Back on November 20, I posted an article at Knuckleballs in which I shared my wish list of free agent pitchers for Ryan and the Twins to pursue. Other fans and writers were naturally sharing their own advice for the Twins GM about the same time. Letís see how our suggestions have been panning out compared to the guys Ryan actually signed for the Twins.

    Not many of us were suggesting the Twins should (or even could) sign Zack Greinke, who eventually signed a six-year deal for $159 million with the Dodgers. Greinke was actually off to a decent start until he broke his collarbone (or rather, Carlos Quentin broke Greinkeís collarbone). Maybe Greinke will bounce back and pay dividends on his deal with the Dodgers, but Iím not sorry the Twins didnít try to outbid the Dodgers for his services.

    I argued in my post that the Twins should go ahead and pursue not one, but two of the other big dogs among the free agent pitching class, Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson.

    Sanchez is one guy who is putting up the kind of numbers you would hope for, so far, as his 2.05 ERA , 1.082 WHIP and 66 strikeouts in 52.2 innings would attest. However, he eventually re-signed with the Tigers (5 years/$88 million), so thereís certainly doubt as to whether he and his agent would ever have even considered a move to Target Field.

    Jackson, on the other hand, is not exactly earning his 4 year/$52 million contract with the Cubs. Yes, heís striking out almost one batter per inning pitched, but otherwise, his 6.02 ERA and 1.569 WHIP are pretty close to what the Twins are getting out of Mike Pelfrey (6.03/1.689)Ö and Ryan is on the hook for about $48 million less than Theo Epstein owes Jackson.

    The third pitcher on my wish list was Joe Saunders. I felt the Twins needed another lefty in the rotation and while he wasnít likely to be a headliner, Saunders looked to me like a good bet to be a solid middle of the rotation pitcher for the next couple of years. When he eventually signed with the Mariners for just one year and $6.5 million, I was pretty certain the Twins would regret not outbidding the Mís for Saundersí services (though I recall there was some talk about Saunders not being interested in pitching for the Twins, regardless).

    Saunders has pieced together a 3-4 record despite a 5.51 ERA and a 1.521 WHIP. Heís struck out exactly as many hitters (20) as Correia has for the Twins, but has walked more than twice as many batters. Correiaís ERA (3.09) and WHIP (1.200) are certainly looking better than Saundersí.

    So maybe my ideas, outside of Sanchez, werenít as good as I thought they were (and apparently not as good as the ideas Ryan and his staff were having at the time).

    But what about the other pitchers on the market last off season? With all of the talent we thought was out there, surely there must have been several pitchers that have turned out to make the GMs who signed them look smart.

    Many of the best options, like Sanchez, were re-signed by their 2012 clubs or, in some cases, had options picked up by their teams. But there were still a number of pitchers generating buzz among the Twins faithful.

    There was some chatter about Dan Haren, who ended up with the Nationals on a one-year deal for $13 million. Heís put up a 5.17 ERA and a 1.487 WHIP while striking out 27 batters in 38.1 innings over seven starts. Thatís not real impressive to me, but hey, he does have a 4-3 record if thatís what youíre in to.

    Brandon McCarthy was also a hot commodity in the blogging world. He got a two-year deal from the DíBacks totaling $18 million. For that, heís accumulated a 5.63 ERA, a 1.542 WHIP, and has gone winless. Iíve read that McCarthy has been ďunlucky,Ē as reflected in a higher than average batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Thatís fine. But if you buy that, you need to also give a couple of the Twins (such as Pelfrey and, to an even greater degree, Vance Worley) pitchers the benefit of the same doubt for their ďbad luck.Ē

    Ryan Dempster got beat up a bit by the Blue Jays on Sunday, but I donít think the Red Sox are doubting their two-year/$26.5 million investment too much, so far. Heís got a 3.75 ERA, even after giving up six earned runs to the Jays in five innings of work. His 1.146 WHIP is certainly competitive, but itís his 61 strike outs in 48 innings thatís perhaps more impressive. Again, I donít think there was ever any chance Dempster would sign with the Twins since he likely had more than enough suitors from among contending teams.

    Shawn Marcum, though, was certainly a guy that a number of Twins fans thought might be obtainable by the club. Marcum signed a one-year deal with the Mets for just $4 million. It turns out the Mets may have overpaid. Marcum has put up a nasty looking 8.59 ERA to go with a 2.045 WHIP. Heís thrown only 14.2 innings covering three starts and one relief appearance.

    Were you one of the fans touting Joe Blanton as a possible Twins rotation addition? If so, you might want to keep it to yourself. Blanton signed with the Angels for $15 million over two years and has repaid them with a 0-7 record covering eight starts. His 6.46 ERA and 1.870 WHIP would indicate his record is not terribly misleading.

    Itís starting to look like Terry Ryanís assessment of the pitching market as ďthinĒ might have actually been pretty accurate, isnít it?

    But certainly there must be some success stories, right? Of course there are.

    If, while the rest of us were laughing at the absurdity of the Royals signing Jeremy Guthrie to a 3 year/$25 million contract, you were actually going on the record saying it was a shrewd move certain to pay dividends, give yourself a pat on the back.

    Guthrie is 5-0 with the Royals and while heís not striking a ton of hitters out (30 Ks in 47.1 innings), heís put up a 2.28 ERA and a 1.183 WHIP in his seven starts for the Royals. Heís gone at least six innings in every start and has one complete game shutout of the White Sox to his credit. Oh yeah, and the Royals are three games above .500 going in to Tuesday nightís games, 1 Ĺ games behind Division leading Detroit.

    Of course, Guthrie isnít the only free agent pitcher making his GM look wise.

    Carlos Villanueva and Scott Feldman were among the pitchers Epstein added to the Cubs and itís pretty clear that neither of them are primarily responsible for the Cubs being six games under .500. Villanueva sports a 3.02 ERA and a 1.007 WHIP, but has only one win in seven starts to show for his efforts. Feldmanís ERA is even lower, at 2.53 and his WHIP is a very respectable 1.148. Heís actually gotten enough support to put up a 3-3 record.

    Maybe Iím wrong, but I just donít recall a lot of wailing about Terry Ryan allowing Villanueva and Feldman to slip through his fingers. And before you credit Theo Epstein for being so much more brilliant than Terry Ryan, take a look at what Epstein and the Cubs are getting in return for outbidding Ryan for the services of Scott Baker this season. Bakerís next pitch in a Cubs uniform (if he ever makes one) will be his first.

    There are probably a few more pitchers worth checking in on that are escaping me at the moment. But from the looks of things, Iím starting to think Correia and Pelfrey werenít such bad ideas after all. Iím not convinced Correia will continue to perform at the levels of his first few starts, but I do think that as Pelfrey continues to work out the post-TJ-surgery kinks, he may actually improve as the year goes on.

    Even with the benefit of perfect hindsight, Iím not 100% sure Iíd jump for joy at those free agent signings, but I certainly like the way theyíve turned out so far a whole lot better than most of the other options.
    This article was originally published in blog: Free Agent Pitching: 20/20 Hindsight started by SD Buhr
    Comments 69 Comments
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      The problem with your stance is it means we are only allowed to evaluate GMs based on how they behaved relative to publicly available information such as FanGraphs. So you bias the whole conversation to that. As long as you stick to that information, and you can never be wrong, no matter how poorly the guys you favor do in the season.

      Most of the things Ryan might use prior to signing a player he holds in confidence with his scouts. He doesn't want other teams using that information because it will tend to drive up the price of a player, or, worst case, entice a competitor to sign the player before he has a chance to make a counter-offer. After he signs the player, it does nobody any good to make the information public. It only prejudices the player against the organization.
      Yup, that's the way the world works. It's not always fair or pretty. Even if someone doesn't like the outcome doesn't change the fact that logically 2013 results have no bearing on decisions made in 2012. They are two independent events.


      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      The only things that have come out since the signings relate to durability and upside. Parker interviewed the Twins stats guy, who said he used Pitch F/X data combined with video to project a pitcher they signed. I.e. Carreia. They thought he had a chance to get more movement and be more effective than his numbers. The health thing was just about Correia not having health concerns and the other options having health concerns, which is why they passed on so many of them.
      That's just not true. The talk was not about Correia in Parker's article and there was nothing about making the pitch better. Here is alink if you wish to brush up on it.

      Twins Daily - Where are the Twins at with statistical analysis?

      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      But every time I bring up stuff like that, you deny it because it is not available to you. As though the conversations on this site must be filtered through your lenses.
      You're right. When you make things up I'm going to call you on it. Just like in this post.
    1. tobynotjason's Avatar
      tobynotjason -
      Worley is 86th in the league in SIERA among qualified pitchers to lead the Twins. (I assume you're interested in what's likely going forward, not what SSS BABIP and HR/FB numbers have posted.)

      Correia's 88th. Pelfrey 104th (of 108).

      Sanchez is 3rd. Jackson's 45th. You might have wanted Saunders, but "ew". (He's 103rd, btw.) Haren's 63rd. McCarthy's 51st. Dempster's 11th.

      So per the best one-number statistic we have to measure how well a pitcher's done the things he can actually control and how well he's likely to do going forward: yeah, Terry Ryan picked poorly and the one guy who's done superficially "well" (if you ignore everything lately) hasn't posted any numbers that suggest he's anything but thoroughly mediocre. (His ERA actually outpaces his BABIP, by the way, which itself ranks THIRTY TWO places higher than his SIERA. Unsustainable much?)
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobynotjason View Post
      Worley is 86th in the league in SIERA among qualified pitchers to lead the Twins. (I assume you're interested in what's likely going forward, not what SSS BABIP and HR/FB numbers have posted.)

      Correia's 88th. Pelfrey 104th (of 108).

      Sanchez is 3rd. Jackson's 45th. You might have wanted Saunders, but "ew". (He's 103rd, btw.) Haren's 63rd. McCarthy's 51st. Dempster's 11th.

      So per the best one-number statistic we have to measure how well a pitcher's done the things he can actually control and how well he's likely to do going forward: yeah, Terry Ryan picked poorly and the one guy who's done superficially "well" (if you ignore everything lately) hasn't posted any numbers that suggest he's anything but thoroughly mediocre. (His ERA actually outpaces his BABIP, by the way, which itself ranks THIRTY TWO places higher than his SIERA. Unsustainable much?)
      Using any of the metrics is fine if you understand the limitations of them. You sign a player to play in your baseball park 81 games a year. What that player does should suit your park. All of the metrics attempt to get rid of that factor. Any metric is a look backwards wether or not it is sustainable no metric measures.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      Yup, that's the way the world works. It's not always fair or pretty. Even if someone doesn't like the outcome doesn't change the fact that logically 2013 results have no bearing on decisions made in 2012. They are two independent events.
      A scientist makes a prediction based on a theory. He then tests the prediction in the lab. The test works as predicted (within a margin of error). Therefore, the theory has some validity.

      A GM makes a decision based on a theory and some facts. He then tests the decision on the field in the form of giving the player an opportunity. The prediction holds, as the player was successful. Therefore, the decision was right.

      A scientist makes a prediction based on a theory. He then tests the prediction in the lab. Unfortunately, the test fails to show what he expects. This invalidates the theory.

      A GM signs a player based on a theory and some facts. He then tests the theory on the field in the form of giving the player an opportunity. Unfortunately, the test fails as the player fails to perform as well as the GM's theory predicted. Therefore, the decision was wrong.

      This is the kind of reasoning we use in everyday life. I fail to see that it is invalid or it's "just not how the world works."

      I do web marketing. We build experiences and test them in multivariate settings. The one that works the best gets adopted. We then continue to test that experience and iteratively improve it.

      The whole premise is that you can't really know all that much about how an experience will work in advance until you test it. When you test it, you can say, "I guess option B was best."

      This is a lot like what GMs do. They have limited data. Humans are not robots. So they take their best shot. If it doesn't work out, they say, "Well, I guess I was wrong." If everybody knew the right answer before trying it, it wouldn't be a game. The guys who play the game the best win. But even the best GMs are right a little better than half the time, which is why they hedge their bets by getting depth.

      Oh, and the stats guy never said it was Correia. He said it was a player they were considering acquiring. It seems likely that if he did it for one player, he did it for every player they acquired.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Just because a decision works, does not mean the decision was good. Lots of lucky things happen that lead to a good outcome, that does not mean the actual decision was a good decision. For example, if you drive drunk and don't kill someone, that does not mean you made a good decision. It happened to work, but that does not make it a good decision. And, more importantly, just becaue it worked once does not mean it will work again.

      Look, Ryan bought cheap pitchers for whatever reason. He passed, as he has every year he has been GM, on more expensive options. The players he signed (and traded for) have not been effective this year, as a whole. They seem to be getting worse as the year goes on. Can we all just agree on a couple of things:

      1. They have utterly sucked at drafting and developing pitchers for years.
      2. They have not spent money to make the team better, for whatever reason.
      3. This staff is awful, again this year, and they continue to stick with the staff.
      4. Something needs to change.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
    1. jharaldson's Avatar
      jharaldson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      maybe free agency is such a crap shoot that you never know what you're going to get
      I thought I would do some math to prove or disprove this point. To start with, I took the top 25 contracts from the ESPN Free Agent Tracker and ordered them from largest to smallest:

      2012 MLB Baseball Free Agent Tracker - Major League Baseball - ESPN

      I then went to FanGraphs and created a custom report for these players and ranked them by ERA:

      Major League Leaderboards Ľ 2013 Ľ Pitchers Ľ Custom Statistics | FanGraphs Baseball

      I put both of these together in a spreadsheet:

      Contract
      Rank
      ERA
      Rank
      Name ERA
      1 1 Zack Greinke 1.62
      25 2 Francisco Liriano 1.69
      10 3 Hisashi Iwakuma 1.84
      2 4 Anibal Sanchez 2.05
      9 5 Hiroki Kuroda 2.31
      15 6 Scott Feldman 2.53
      6 7 Jeremy Guthrie 2.82
      13 8 Kevin Correia 3.35
      4 9 Hyun-Jin Ryu 3.4
      20 10 Jason Marquis 3.49
      5 11 Ryan Dempster 3.75
      12 12 Andy Pettitte 3.83
      18 13 Roberto Hernandez 4.43
      19 14 Bartolo Colon 4.56
      11 15 Dan Haren 4.76
      7 16 Brandon McCarthy 5.63
      23 17 Jeff Francis 6
      3 18 Edwin Jackson 6.02
      22 19 John Lannan 6.14
      8 20 Joe Blanton 6.46
      17 21 Mike Pelfrey 6.57
      14 22 Brett Myers 8.02
      16 23 Scott Baker
      20 24 Jeff Karstens
      24 25 Jair Jurrjens

      One interesting thing is 7 of the top 11 guys in ERA are from the top 11 contracts signed in the offseason. When I ran the correlation numbers it came up as a .39 correlation which is not high but shows there is a correlation between contract size and performance.

      In short, free agent pitchers are not a crap shoot. There is a moderate correlation between the amount you spend and the performance you get.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by snepp View Post
      Sure. So you can talk about whether they had a good process or not. Problem is, much of that is proprietary to the Twins. So from an outsiders' perspective, it might seem like a bad process. But that doesn't mean it is.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Great post jharaldson
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      I think the underlying problem is is that most of us do not like the team's philosophy on pitching, period. I don't think spending in FA is always the answer. How many times have the Oakland A's turned out great pitching prospects!??? Thy may not stay in an A's uniform past 6 years (when FA kicks in) but they flip it for more young pitching and they always seem to have it. The A's are always acquiring pitching via trades and the Twins (up until this off season) seldom think like this. Its dumpster diving every offseason and hoping something sticks. The soft tossing, pitch-to-contact guys are cheap for a reason. They get hit and too often hit hard. IMO, the Twins organization needs to seriously change both the type of pitcher it is targeting and also it acquiring philosophy. Enough with the soft-tossers!
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      jharaldson - a .39 correlation!? That's way lower than I would have guessed. Thanks for running the numbers.
    1. drjim's Avatar
      drjim -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Great post jharaldson
      +1. I would add a couple thoughts.

      1. Contract rank might not be the best indicator of talent as this will vary based upon age of pitcher or certain intangibles (ie desire to play for contender or certain geographic location). Perhaps the rankings of MLBTR?

      2. Despite Seth's comments, I would think of FA as a relative crapshoot. Few, if any, would argue that Greinke was #1, Sanchez #2, and Dempster #3 last offseason. The crapshoot starts in the next tier and I would imagine if you knock out the clear top performers that the correlation would be that much smaller.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      But is FA more of a crapshoot than drafting and developing players? I'd think that success (or heck, reaching) in the majors indicates a higher likelihood of success than being a 3rd round pick in the draft. That's the issue for some of us, ignoring a channel, for a channel that is less likely to work (and that the team has utterly failed out lately).
    1. drjim's Avatar
      drjim -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      1. They have utterly sucked at drafting and developing pitchers for years.
      2. They have not spent money to make the team better, for whatever reason.
      3. This staff is awful, again this year, and they continue to stick with the staff.
      4. Something needs to change.
      I would accept this list with some slight modifications.

      On point 1 I would emphasize a bad run instead of sucking. The front office has developed talent before and probably will again.

      On point 2 I would cut out "for some reason". It adds nothing to the point and I personally think there are several good reasons why they didn't spend this offseason.
    1. drjim's Avatar
      drjim -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      But is FA more of a crapshoot than drafting and developing players? I'd think that success (or heck, reaching) in the majors indicates a higher likelihood of success than being a 3rd round pick in the draft. That's the issue for some of us, ignoring a channel, for a channel that is less likely to work (and that the team has utterly failed out lately).
      They don't ignore it, they just signed two free agents this offseason.
    1. jharaldson's Avatar
      jharaldson -
      Correlation is measured between -1 and 1. Anything above 0 is considered correlation and I generally think of it this way:

      .66-1 = High correlation
      .33-.66 = Moderate Correlation
      0-.33 = Low correlation

      So contract size is moderate to low correlation but still well above a crap shoot which I interpreted as no correlation.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      But is FA more of a crapshoot than drafting and developing players? I'd think that success (or heck, reaching) in the majors indicates a higher likelihood of success than being a 3rd round pick in the draft. That's the issue for some of us, ignoring a channel, for a channel that is less likely to work (and that the team has utterly failed out lately).
      The relative downside is not even remotely close to the same. If you sign a guy like Willingham for example, which by all means was NOT an expensive free agent contract, you're on the hook for $21 million. If he implodes, that's serious money. If you sign a guy in the third round and he never makes it out of AA, you've paid him maybe $300,000 over the life of his contract and given the minor league fans something to watch.

      I think it's terribly obvious that signing good players in free agency is far more likely to get you a good player than signing a kid in the draft, waiting five years, and crossing your fingers. But when one fails, future teams suffer. When the other fails, people yawn.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Unless it fails year, after year, after year, and you have zero, not one, starter in your rotation you drafted, and the ones you had the year before were bad (not Baker, he was good), and the same as the year before.......the fear of downside risk shown by the fans of this team astounds me, it really does. You are not wrong to have that fear if you want, people have different appetities, but it does amaze me.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Unless it fails year, after year, after year, and you have zero, not one, starter in your rotation you drafted, and the ones you had the year before were bad (not Baker, he was good), and the same as the year before.......the fear of downside risk shown by the fans of this team astounds me, it really does. You are not wrong to have that fear if you want, people have different appetities, but it does amaze me.
      Um, 2010 says Hi.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Your argument that they aren't bad at drafting players is that 4 seasons ago they had some good pitchers?
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