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.

Links and Notes

**Pre-order your copy of the 2013 Prospect Guide, which will be shipping in a few weeks.

**Winter Meeting Notes: Big Moves, Grilli, Jones, McPherson.

**Joel Hanrahan’s Trade Market.

**Garrett Jones and the Orioles: Actual Rumors or Connecting the Dots?

**Pirates Interested in John Lannan.

**Winter Leagues Recap: Fuesser and Welch Named to All-Star Team.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Winter Meetings Preview.

**Seattle Interested in Garrett Jones.

**Pirates Sign Mike Zagurski to a Minor League Deal.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

First Pitch: Trying to Make Sense of Today’s Moves

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First Pitch: Are the Free Agent Deals Really That Crazy?

  • LCD

    If these are the guys they can sign, I would go ahead with that Hanrahan/Capuano deal. If it I’d still possible

  • whiteAngus

    gorzo was the one trade by NH that i couldnt get my brain around. basically it leads me to think that the FO wanted a clean slate to work with.

    • Lee Young

      I agree….never understood it.

      My preference is Lannan or Karstens and Gorzo.

      Altho, I’d love Capuano as LCD suggests above.


      • whiteAngus

        a rotation of AJ, wandy, capuano, JMac and McFear looks good to me.

        except that now i hear that McFear hurt his shoulder in winter ball???? wtf!?!?!?!

        • Fred Langford

          I hope it is just extreme caution after last spring.

    • Ecbucs

      I assumed that Gorzo’s personality had a lot to do with him leaving Bucs. Don’t know for sure if it was a factor but it was clear the Bucs didn’t value him very highly.

  • jalcorn

    I realize you are sticking to nontender guys, but why not Carlos Villanueva? I doubt he’d be too expensive and he actually can miss bats. I agree about Gorzo, he would be my choice from this group as he can actually strike people out.

    Whatabout a Bedard like gamble on Dan Haren? He must be after a 1 year deal.

    • Lee Young

      I’d love to see us get Haren, but btwn his back and hip, he’d have to be a incentive laden add.

      Not a Villanueva fan, but I wouldn’t mind him if not too expensive.


    • Fred Langford

      Haren wouldn’t be a gamble at all. Haren pitched very well after the ASB last year. He is fine…he will be expensive though.

      • Kevin Creagh

        Haren signed this morning with Washington — $1 year/$13M. Guess the doomed physicals being reported didn’t scare off the Nats.

        Combined with his $3.5M buyout from the Angels, Haren is now making more than his $15.5M option would have been with the Angels.

        I really wanted the Pirates to get Haren and I am surprised that he got a big money guarenteed deal with no incentives this early in the offseason.

  • leadoff

    I like Gorzo because of his versatility and he usually gives his team a chance to win.
    But I think any pitching moves depend on what they can do with Hanrahan, they are not going to acquire a 4 or 5 starting pitcher for 4 or 5mil and still pay Hanrahan 7mil. So I would expect a move on Hanrahan before they acquire anyone, I could be wrong they might get a deal they can’t pass up, who knows.

  • Thom Kay

    I don’t think Lannan deserves the title of “innings eater.” He has been pretty durable, so he’s had a lot of starts. But in the past three seasons, he’s only averaged about 5 2/3 IP per start (5.6). That’s about average (NL avg is 5.9).

    He does, however, tend to stay healthy, and I don’t hate the idea of getting him cheap.

  • elgaupo

    A young LHP with good stuff has been discarded by three teams now. I wouldn’t call him underrated Tim. Something off the field him makes him overrated.

  • James S

    The best non-tendered starter out there is Jeff Karstens. The grass is always greener on the other side for some people, and apparently for Huntington too.

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