Thursday, December 2, 2010
Parsing Pavano's prospects
Joe Pawlikowski on Carl Pavano and what's it's going to take to get him:
In 2010 Pavano saw his strikeout rate dip quite a bit. He’d never been a strikeout pitcher, but 4.76 K/9 fell considerably below his career average. He did see a spike in his groundball rate, which suggests he adapted a bit, but that low strikeout rate is certainly concerning. There are only 86 player seasons since 1970 wherein a pitcher has struck out fewer than 5 per nine and has pitched more than 150 innings in his age 35 through 37 seasons. Only about half had a league average or better ERA.
Still, there’s a good chance Pavano turns in another quality season next year, as both his xFIP, 4.01, and his SIERA, 4.15, point to some sustainability. But once pitchers, especially ones with an injury history as deep as Pavano’s, hit that age-35 mark, the situation becomes a bit murkier. If it takes a two-year commitment to land Pavano, that seems reasonable. But to add that third year, effectively giving a team a low-strikeout 37-year-old, is a bit too much. There’s a good chance it will become a freebie year, in which the team receives little to no production, meaning they’re paying more for those first two years.
In this market? Are you kidding? With so many teams desperate for starting pitchers and so few good starting pitchers available, somebody might just deliver a blank check to the gate outside Cliff Lee's mansion. The only limiting factor is probably that the Red Sox and the Yankees (especially the Yankees) don't figure to have any interest. But I'll bet Pavano gets that third year guaranteed, and I'll bet he gets more money than you'd guess.
Is the strikeout rate a concern? Yeah, it probably should be. If he's striking out 4.8 per nine innings when he's 34, what's he going to do when he's 37? There is a point at which it just becomes nearly impossible to prevent runs, and Pavano's already approaching that number.
Granted, maybe it was just a blip. If we combine his last two seasons -- between which, there doesn't seem to have been an injury that would have knocked down his strikeout rate -- Pavano struck out 5.7 per nine innings, with an excellent 3.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
For what it's worth, Pavano threw just about as hard in 2010 as 2009; his fastball maybe a touch slower, but his slider and change-up right in line. All things considered, the last two seasons might have been the best of his career.
Granted, he'll probably never pitch quite as well again. And Pavano's low strikeout rate will leave him vulnerable to poor luck. His ERA might be around 4 next season, but it might almost easily be around 5 (as it was in 2009). As long as he's giving you 200 innings and striking out three times more hitters than he walks, you pays your money and you takes your chances.
Of course, this being The Land of Guaranteed Contracts, even if Pavano doesn't give you those things, you're still going to pays your money. Which is where the risk comes in.
Me? I probably wouldn't give him that guaranteed third year. Unless I thought he might be all I needed to put me over the top in one of those first two years. In which case I might just takes my chances.