Pirates do not need to sign a mediocre free agent pitcher

Many have advocated that the Pirates add a veteran starting pitcher this offseason. One name that has popped up quite a bit is Braden Looper, so I will use him as an example of the typical middle of the road free agent starter.  He seemed like a good player to use, even though he is in the process of signing with the Brewers.  Below is a comparison of Looper to the current Pirate starters, using tRA*. I am also including expected 2009 salary for each player.

Here is a tRA primer.  tRA* is a regressed version of tRA. It has more predictive value than basic tRA.

Name tRA* Estimated Salary
Braden Looper 4.87 $5 million
Paul Maholm 4.33 $3.5 million
Jeff Karstens 4.76 minimum
Zach Duke 4.85 $2.2 million
Ross Ohlendorf 4.91 minimum
Ian Snell 5.58 $3 million
Tom Gorzelanny 5.97 minimum
Daniel McCutchen + 4.76 minimum
Jimmy Barthmaier + 4.34 minimum

+ The numbers for McCutchen and Barthmaier are from Indianapolis. The other pitchers’ stats are while with the Pirates. There is a sample size issue with many of these numbers, but it is a rudimentary way to compare the pitchers to Looper.

As you can see, Looper is probably middle of the pack in performance. He would easily be the oldest, as well as the highest paid. We are not expecting to contend this year, so why do we want a stopgap veteran starter that is unlikely to be any better than the other eight pitchers already on the roster? He would just be in the way, in my opinion. I would much rather learn whether players like Ohlendorf, Karstens, Snell, and Gorzelanny have what it takes to start in the major leagues.

One phrase that is greatly overvalued is “established major leaguer.” I would prefer that the Pirates scour the waiver wire for young, undervalued minor league starters with some upside.  That would provide some additional depth, in case the catastrophe of 2008 occurs again.  Focus on the Phil Dumatraits of the world, not the Braden Loopers.




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