Despite being a weak free agent class in Major League Baseball this offseason, there’s still plenty of unsigned players left. What this class lacks in top-level talent, it makes up for it in quantity. This recurring theme proves to be true when it comes to MLB free agent starting pitchers. Of CBS Sports’ top 20 free agent pitchers, there still remains six starters that have yet to sign on with a team this offseason. We will now analyze these free agents, four pitchers at a time, and try to gauge their upcoming 2014 season along with a list of interested teams.
Before we start crunching the numbers, let’s meet our first four-man rotation:
Not an impressive list, but all four pitchers have something to offer in the big leagues and have garnered some interest this offseason. We begin by looking back at their 2013 season (the “Age” category is the age that the pitcher will be for the majority of the 2014 season):
Free Agent Pitchers: 2013 Stats
- Obviously, Garza posted the best numbers of this group, while Garcia pitched in the least amount of innings, but was still able to post respectable ERA and WHIP.
- However, as can be seen by Garcia’s Field Independent Pitching (FIP: at it’s most dumb-down definition, it’s the pitcher’s ERA without the help of fielders), because of the low strikeout numbers, his season could’ve been a lot worse. Getting traded to the Braves might have earned him a roster spot somewhere in 2014.
- Then there’s Harang, who was the only pitcher to finish with an ERA above 5.00. Having a Strikeout:Walk Ratio (K/BB) of 2.84 should have resulted in more success but judging by his high WHIP, Harang might have been a victim of bad luck. His FIP, though not impressive, suggests that he may not be as bad as his ERA suggests. Harang also finished with an even lower Skill-Interactive ERA (SIERA: dumb-down definition, it basically takes FIP and accounts for balls in play. Could also be used as a predictive metric).
- Hammel, by all accounts, had a miserable 2013.
We dig a little deeper and take a look at these pitchers’ batted ball rates for 2013:
Free Agent Pitchers: 2013 Batted Ball Rates
- It’s remarkable how Garza was able to post respectable raw numbers despite owning the 14th highest Line Drive Rate (LD%) among pitchers that completed at least 130 innings pitched. He also finished the year with the 35th highest Home Run Per Fly Ball Rate (HR/FB%). He played with two teams last season: the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers. Although the Ballpark in Arlington ranked low in Park Factor last year, it has been one of the more hitter-friendly ballparks since 2010. Meanwhile, Wrigley Field finished as a very hitter-friendly park last year.
- Hammel finished with the highest Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP: per FanGraphs.com, it “measures how many balls in play against a pitcher go for hits”) among this group. It would partially explain the high WHIP and SIERA, but his LD% is still high. Hammel also posted the 20th highest HR/FB% (minimum 130 innings pitched) last year. To his credit, he did force plenty of pop-ups.
- Harang is a fly ball pitcher and a lot of those balls would end up being home runs. The HR/FB% was the highest it has been since 2008. He also posted the lowest pop-up rate of his career. Surprisingly, however, he did post a low LD% along with a low BABIP, yet he still had a high ERA and WHIP. This further validates his low SIERA, but this is what happens when a pitcher falls victim to the long ball.
- Garcia, might be the luckiest pitcher here. High LD% and HR/FB% were offset by a low BABIP and respectable pop-up rate.
So the batted balls rate gives some explanation to these pitchers’ 2013 season. We now take a look at the pitchers’ plate discipline:
Free Agent Pitchers: 2013 Plate Discipline
- Garza may have gotten lit up by line drives and home runs, but his decent raw numbers could be explained by his plate discipline. A Strikeout Percentage (K%) close to 21 percent was good enough for 35th place among starters last year (minimum 150 innings pitched). He still does a pretty good job at inducing swings and even though hitters found success in getting clean hits off of him, judging by his low Contact Rate, they weren’t always successful.
- Conversely, Hammel owns the highest Contact Rate among this group. Matter of fact, he owned the 12th highest rate in 2013 (min. 130 IP). The high rate in contact has resulted in plenty of hits allowed and he’s not doing himself any favors with his high Walk Rate (BB%) and low K%. Hitters are simply not being fooled into swinging at many pitches off of Hammel. Not shown is Hammel’s low Zone Percentage of 44.4 percent (Zone%: pitches inside the strike zone). Which means that Hammel has a bit of a control issue to go along with his command problems.
- Harang, despite his advanced age, had a bit of bounce-back year in 2013. However, his Contact Rate was just as high as Hammel’s, but unlike Hammel, Harang was able to control his walks and induce a lot more swings.
- Garcia won’t impress anybody with his paltry K%, but as long as he keeps his walks down, he should continue to prove to be a somewhat serviceable starter. Garcia also induced a lot more swings than Hammel.
How is Garcia posting high swing rates over a younger Jason Hammel? A theory might take shape in the table below:
Free Agent Pitchers and Their Pitches
Change Since 2011
2013 Most Used Non-Fastball Pitch (%Used)
2013 Second Most Used Pitch (%Used)
- “Big Game Freddy” Garcia has had a steady fastball sitting at 87 miles per hour since 2010. And although he does not solely depend on his fastball, his 2013 Fastball Rate was the highest since 2009. The swing rates in question might be a result of his split-fingered fastball being indistinguishable from his regular fastball. Though his slider is listed on the table above, Garcia equally uses his curveball and changeup to keep hitters off-balanced.
- Garza has the fastest fastball in this group, but has also seen the most drop in speed since 2011. We’ve discussed the dangers of decreasing velocity on pitchers’ fastballs during the summer, but his fastball, in terms of speed, was ranked as the 15th fastest among starting pitchers last year (min. 150 innings). However, since 2011, Garza has utilized his fastball less and less, as he’s grown more dependent on his slider.
- Judging by Hammel’s stuff, his struggles cannot be explained by lack of talent. Just like Garza, he’s grown dependent on his slider and he’s actually been more reluctant to use his curveball since 2011. He might have the stuff, but he’s still struggling to hone his skills.
- Harang has seen a drop in Fastball Rate since 2009 and 2010 was the last time his fastball averaged over 90 mph. Unlike Garza and Hammel, Harang saw the use of his slider drop, but began to use his curveball more, posting a career high in the utilization of his curve last year.
In conclusion, Garza’s numbers ranked him in the top-half of starting pitchers last season. A big concern is his injury history and the batted balls rates are somewhat worrisome, but he should fit in well as a team’s number two starter. Per Joel Sherman, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels are in pursuit of the right-hander.
Jon Morosi has the Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals and Braves showing interest in Hammel. Whoever ends up signing him needs to work closely with him to fix his control and command issues. Otherwise, Hammel has the talent to be a middle of the rotation starter.
Aaron Harang is getting some interest from the New York Mets. Regardless, Harang might make a viable option as a back-of-the-rotation starter. If he can keep the home runs in check, a team might get a lot more than they bargained for.
Finally, the Mets are also trying to sign Garcia, while the Braves, per David O’Brien, are showing interest in re-signing Garcia as well. There are some durability issues with Garcia and his advanced age. Then again, Garza is much younger and he too comes with durability issues of his own. That pretty much sums up this free agency period so far.
Stats courtesy of fangraphs.com.