First Pitch: Evaluating the Non-Tendered Starting Pitchers
The Pittsburgh Pirates are looking for pitching this off-season, and several pitchers just hit the open market as non-tenders. Rob Biertempfel and Tom Singer both reported today that the Pirates have shown interest in several of the non-tendered pitchers, specifically looking at left-handers John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny, Manny Parra, and right-handers Jair Jurrjens and Mike Pelfrey.
None of these guys are going to be big signings. There’s a reason they were non-tendered recently. That said, all five would be capable of handling a back of the rotation spot, which is what the Pirates are looking for. Here are my thoughts on each player.
John Lannan - We heard about Lannan specifically today, and I shared my thoughts here. Lannan doesn’t have flashy numbers, with a career 4.71 K/9 ratio. He would benefit from pitching in PNC Park as a left-handed pitcher with a career 53% ground ball rate. His advanced metrics have him as a pitcher in the 4.50 ERA range. He’s always played above the advanced metrics, and a lefty with an extreme ground ball rate in PNC Park would make it more likely that he could repeat his career 4.01 ERA. He’s also an innings eater, which could help the Pirates.
Tom Gorzelanny - For all of the Neal Huntington trades that have been criticized, the Gorzelanny trade made the least amount of sense to me. Gorzelanny was a young pitcher who was struggling, but was a year removed from a good season. The Pirates traded him when his value was low, at a time when they were desperate for pitching and trading for prospects at low values. For some reason, Gorzelanny hasn’t been appreciated by his other teams. The Cubs had him in the rotation for most of 2010, and watched him put up a 4.09 ERA in 136.1 innings. He was traded to Washington, where he split time between the rotation and bullpen in 2010. He put up a 4.03 ERA in 105 innings. Last year he worked mostly in relief, with a 2.88 ERA in 72 innings. All three years he had good strikeout numbers, and his xFIP was in the 4.00-4.30 range. He’s been more of a flyball pitcher, with a career 41.2%, but he’s been effective and has been more dominant than some of the other guys on this list.
Manny Parra - Parra is similar to Lannan. He’s a lefty with a good ground ball rate, although not as good as Lannan. Parra’s career ground ball rate is 48.4%. He’s been very dominant, with a career 8.4 K/9. The problem is that his control has been an issue, with a career 4.6 BB/9. His advanced numbers have been much better than his actual numbers. He has a 5.12 ERA, but a 4.08 xFIP in his career. Last year he posted a 5.06 ERA in 58.2 innings in relief with Milwaukee, with a 9.4 K/9 and a 5.4 BB/9. His xFIP was 4.11. He could benefit from PNC Park, and the strikeouts are intriguing, but the control problems are a big red flag.
Jair Jurrjens - Pirates fans may remember that Jurrjens was rumored to be offered to the Pirates in exchange for Jack Wilson in 2007. The right-hander was dealt to Atlanta, where he immediately put things together, with strong seasons in 2008 and 2009. He’s gone downhill the last few years. His 2.96 ERA in 152 innings in 2011 was strong, but his 4.23 xFIP was much lower. He’s seen his strikeout rate drop from 6.7 in 2010 to 5.3 in 2011 to 3.5 in 2012. In 2012 he had a 6.89 ERA in 48.1 innings. The most concerning thing is his lost velocity. He averaged 91 MPH with his fastball from 2008-2010. In 2011 his fastball dropped to 89.1 MPH, and dropped again to 88.6 MPH in 2012. His slider has also dropped from 80 MPH in 2008-2010, going down to 79.2 in 2011 and 77.9 in 2012. The decline in strikeouts and the loss in velocity are both red flags. Jurrjens doesn’t look like the same pitcher he was in 2008-2009.
Mike Pelfrey - He only threw 19.2 innings in 2012, missing time with an injury. His ERA has been hot and cold, and seems to be good every other year. No matter if the ERA is good or bad, his xFIP has been around 4.50. He doesn’t strikeout a lot, with a career 5.1 K/9. He’s a right-hander, but wouldn’t be impacted by PNC as much as other right-handers due to his career 48.6% groundball rate. Prior to his shortened 2012 season, Pelfrey had four years in a row with 180+ innings. He seems like just the type of pitcher the Pirates go for: 6′ 7″, 250 pounds, and throws 92-94 MPH. His value really comes with his ability to eat innings.
Lannan isn’t the most flashy of the group, but he fits PNC Park the best. Gorzelanny is a guy who I feel is under-rated, and would be a good choice as a sleeper for the rotation, or a strong bullpen option. I’m not high on Jurrjens. He’s just a name at this point, and is far removed from what made him successful those first two years. Pelfrey or Parra wouldn’t be bad. Parra has control issues, and Pelfrey reminds me of a harder throwing Kevin Correia. Both guys would be better in the bullpen, and look like number five starters.
Then there’s Jeff Karstens, who I talked about last week. I’d probably take Lannan over Karstens due to PNC, but Karstens would be a close second due to his numbers when healthy. With all the guys on this list, the Pirates are looking at back of the rotation guys and innings eaters at best.
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