Ranking the 2016 Free Agent Starting Pitchers


Major League Baseball free agency kicks off this weekend, as free agents can begin negotiating with teams at 12:01 am on Saturday. This winter, the Pirates are in the market for at least one starting pitcher: Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano will return to the rotation for sure; Charlie Morton (one more guaranteed season on his contract) and Jeff Locke (arbitration eligible) will presumably be given another shot … Tyler Glasnow will likely be held down in AAA until the middle of the summer … meanwhile, A.J. Burnett is retiring and J.A. Happ is a free agent. The Bucs have dipped into the free agent starter pool often in the past, and there should be options there this winter if they choose to go that route.

Our preliminary rankings for this year’s starting pitching class are below. I’ve broken them down into tiers, using the past three years of performance as a guide. As well as age, I specifically looked at innings pitched, K/9, BB/9, ERA,  and WAR (FanGraphs), weighting the more recent seasons more heavily (5/4/3 – a la the Marcel projections). I then calculated each pitcher’s percentile within each category and totaled them, finding some decent results.

This system has its pros and its cons. It was difficult for pitchers who, in particular seasons, pitched very little. It was more difficult for those who didn’t pitch at all. For that reason, I excluded Cliff Lee, Bronson Arroyo (still has a club option out-standing at the time of writing this), Brandon Beachy (also club option), Shaun Marcum, and Chad Billingsley. Lee (whose $27.5 million club option was declined by Philadelphia on Tuesday) hasn’t thrown a pitch since July of 2014, and at age 37, I have no idea where to put him (he’s probably retiring anyway). On the other hand, Marcum, Beachy, and Billingsley didn’t pitch at all in 2014 and sparingly in 2015, and I don’t think they’re worth worrying about right now. I also scratched Brandon Morrow, Sean O’Sullivan, and Rich Hill, who threw 120.2, 108.2, and 73 innings, respectively, in the last three years combined.

Precision was not my utmost intent (hence the tier-based method), and I made adjustments where I saw fit. Below the rankings, there’s an embedded Excel app where you can choose specific players and see their percentile ranks.

Final notes:
Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia have had their club options exercised.
Zack Greinke has officially opted out of his current contract with the Dodgers and is a free agent.
– The Royals did not exercise their end of Jeremy Guthrie‘s mutual option, so he is a free agent. 
– All the numbers I used can be found via FanGraphs, h/t MLB Trade Rumors.

Without further ado…

Tier 1

David Price (age 30)
Zack Greinke (32)
Jordan Zimmermann (30)
Johnny Cueto (30)

These four are undoubtedly the best pitchers available. They also won’t be coming to Pittsburgh.

Continue reading “Ranking the 2016 Free Agent Starting Pitchers”

Help Wanted: Pirates Catcher

Since they declined Rod Barajas’ $3.5 million option for 2013, the Pirates are now in need of a catcher to go along with Michael McKenry. Rob Biertempfel of the Trib wrote about how the Bucs are in the market for both a catcher and starting pitcher. The five catchers listed as possible targets are Gerald Laird, A.J. Pierzynski, Yorvit Torrealba, Kelly Shoppach, and Humberto Quintero; here are their resumes:

A few of these players are listed on Yahoo’s Ultimate Free-Agent Tracker. It notes that “Pierzynski is not going to hit 27 home runs again, and he’ll go back to what he was: a low-on-base guy whose propensity not to walk borders on historic. In Pierzynski’s 12 seasons with at least 400 plate appearances, not once has he exceeded 30 walks.Shoppachcalls a decent game” and “can hit home runs.” All it says for Laird is “this is where it starts to get bad” which signals a significant drop off in talented catchers.

Pierzynski’s inability to get on base is a red flag, and he certainly isn’t getting any younger. He’ll probably get a pretty decent salary despite his age. MLB Trade Rumors predicted that A.J. will go to the Texas Rangers.

Shoppach is an interesting case. He only hit .233 in 2012 but can put up some decent power. A major problem for the Pirates last season was throwing out runners; Shoppach threw out 33% in 2012 (compared to Barajas’ 6%). Plus he’s never made more than $3 million in his career and could come on the cheap at age 33. Mets blog Rising Apple points out that Shoppach is “the one free-agent that has a good chance at returning to Flushing in 2013.” Mets GM Sandy Alderson will seek outside help at catcher but could re-sign Shoppach if he can’t find an upgrade.

According to Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski, Gerald Laird is looking for more playing time and more salary than the Tigers can offer. Laird wasn’t tremendous at throwing out runners, as he caught just 10 of 52 (19%). For comparison, Michael McKenry threw out 13 of 74 (18%). He doesn’t hit for much power and is a career .244 hitter.

Torrealba’s 2012 season seems very similar to Barajas’ 2011 before he came to the Pirates:
Barajas 2011 – age 35, $3.25 million salary, .230 avg, .717 OPS, 25% CS
Torrealba 2012 – age 33, $3.25 million salary, .227 avg, .623 OPS, 22% CS
…so he seems like Rod Barajas 2.0

Quintero is pretty much the same deal at .232 avg and an abysmal .523 OPS, along with 35% CS (17 out of 49), so he’s not a very attractive candidate either.

It seems that Neal Huntington may be open to dealing Joel Hanrahan for a major league-ready catcher. Hammer may not be affordable at this point, and the market for closers is ridiculous. Many believe that closer is an overrated position and that they can be easily replaced. With that logic, it makes sense to deal Hanrahan, as long as the Pirates can get a solid return.

The market for catchers, both free agency and trade, is really slim, but the Bucs are in need of an upgrade. Tony Sanchez doesn’t seem quite ready at Triple-A and the rest of the farm system is lacking. These free agent targets aren’t intriguing, but Neal Huntington & Co. need to make something happen. It will be interesting to see how they approach the catching situation this offseason.