Saturday, December 19, 2009

Distinguishing the Mid-Range Pitching Options - Marquis, Piniero, Garland

The Basics - 2009 and Career Stats

Joel Pineiro
3.49 ERA, 214 IP, 27 bb, 105 k, 1.14 WHIP, 9.2 h/9, 1.1 bb/9, 4.4 k/9

Before last year, Joel Piniero basically stunk. A career 4.55 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, but even worse recently -- he had a ghastly 5.50 ERA since 2005. But last year, for whatever reason, he pitched fantastically. Piniero was 4.8 Wins Above Replacement last year, by far the best free agent remaining.

Somehow, Joel Piniero was able to take his career ground ball to fly ball ratio, which has hovered around 1.5 for EIGHT seasons, and ramp it all the way up to 2.54. That's right, 2.54 ground balls per fly ball. Mike Pelfrey's GB/FB ratio has been between 1.68 and 1.71 for four years straight. His GB/FB ratio was the highest in baseball last year by HALF a point -- Derek Lowe was second, at 2.18. (Incidentally, Marquis was third at 2.03).

Jon Garland
4.01 ERA, 204 IP, 61 bb, 109 k, 1.40 WHIP, 9.9 h/9, 2.7 bb/9, 4.8 k/9

Garland was across the board worse than Piniero last year. Probably the best part of his resume was his brief National League audition. After eight years in the American League, he had 36 great innings for the Dodgers down the stretch this year, posting a 2.72 ERA. Overall, Garland was 2.4 Wins Above Replacement.

Aside from his 2005, which was excellent, Garland has been mediocre throughout his career. Although durability is a big point in his favor, he's basically a lock to post an ERA around 4.41 - his four year average - unless something has changed in his approach.

Jason Marquis
4.04 ERA, 216 ip, 80 bb, 115 k, 1.38 WHIP, 9.1 h/9, 3.3 bb/9, 4.8 k/9

Take Garland, allow a few less hits, and walk a few more guys and you have Marquis. Marquis had a pretty decent season last year, posting the numbers that he posted while pitching in Coors Field. For comparison, Marquis' 4.04 ERA was good for a 113 ERA+ (after adjusted for field, etc.) while Garland's 4.01 ERA was only a 111 ERA+.

Over his career, Marquis has been less consistent than Garland. He posted a career best 3.71 ERA for St. Louis back in 2004 at the age of 25, and a career worst of 6.02 in 2006. Since then, he's got a fairly consistent statistical line.

The Stuff, the Stories

If you were looking only at the surface stats, everything about Joel Piniero's season last year would scream FLUKE. But because of his increase in ground balls, he allowed less home runs. He allowed less line drives. His unusually low BABIP of .293 might be close to sustainable.

He relies primarily on his fastball, throwing it 71% of the time last year. That was by far a career high. He throws a sinking two seamer which averages 89 mph. Not overbearing stuff, but we knew that already. His slider was once a very good pitch, but nowadays, his other pitches are all about average.

Jon Garland is a big guy, listed at 6'6" and 210 lbs. He relies primarily on his fastball, which averages about 90 mph, and also throws a slider, curveball, and changeup. According to fangraphs, he's also added a cutter this season. I've never seen Garland pitch, but according to fangraphs once again, all of his pitches were league average or worse except the cutter, which was pretty good.

I like Jason Marquis because he has the most diverse repetoire of useful pitches. He throws a fastball which averages about 90.5 mph, a slider which comes in at 84 mph, a cutter, and a changeup (and a curveball which he throws about once a game). According to fangraphs, the fastball is slightly above average, but the slider is good and the cutter is excellent. With three useful pitches, he's way less likely to regress next season.

The Big Question

Pineiro: Was last year's improvement for real?

Probably. He may not be able to lead the universe in ground balls again next year, but he was able to do this over the course of a full season - it was no fluke. He was equally good in the first and second half of the year.

My only concern with Pineiro is that he might be an injury risk. His worst month last year was September, and he only pitched 148, 97, and 165 innings the previous three years after breaking onto the scene with the Mariners.

Garland: Will his predictable mediocrity be worth the contract?

Garland has been worth approximately $11 million a year over his last five seasons because of his durability. A starter who posts a mediocre ERA is still valuable if they can stay healthy and pitch a lot of innings. The Dodgers declined to pick up their one year, $10 million option on Garland which would indicate to me that his perceived value is lower than that.

He'd need to maintain his level of performance and remain just as durable to command a contract approaching the size I am hearing rumored. Odds are, one or the other will not happen if he's given a multi-year deal.

Marquis: How seriously can we take his Coors Field performance?

A 4.04 ERA in general is okay, but if history is any guide, a 4.04 ERA for a pitcher pitching half his games in Coors is even better. This year, his ERA was actually LOWER at home, a 3.92 ERA at Coors and 4.16 ERA away. Perhaps Coors Field is particularly well suited to sinkerballers?

In any event, I would look at his away statistics as more indicative of his true talent. His 4.16 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 1.7 strikeout to walk ratio are basically in line with what you would expect of Marquis if he were to make an incremental improvement. With his improved cutter and slider, in addition to ditching his ineffective changeup, Marquis may have taken a slight step forward.


In order of projected performance, I like Pineiro, Marquis, and Garland. In terms of what they are likely to receive, however, I think I might put Marquis first.

Pineiro is good, but between the fact that his ERA last year was SO good, and that he's probably going come back to earth slightly, may lead to him being somewhat overpaid.

It'll be interesting to see how this all shakes out - but after digging through the numbers, I wouldn't be at all unhappy to see the Mets with Pineiro or Marquis.

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