After the ‘good’ news that the Mets have signed every backup catcher on the market, the Mets attention turns to trading Luis Castillo and finding that mid-rotation starter we’ve been talking about. After we investigated Joel Piniero and found that he had decent value as a ground ball inducing machine. But what about some other guys on the market that have similar profiles?
In particular, what about Jason Marquis? He had a career year, with his best FIP (fielding-independent pitching number), best win total, and five-year best in ERA. How did he do it?
Well, he did it with groundballs and a cutter, just like Piniero. His career high in ground ball percentage (55.6%) was organically better than his career rate (49.8%) so it doesn’t seem like he just had a lucky year. His ‘luck’ stats also don’t suggest that he was lucky – he had a reasonable BABIP (.291) and strand rate (70.5%). None of these stats will necessarily regress next year, so why do I still feel skeptical about the Rockies’ free agent starter?
Perhaps it’s irrational. Marquis made the groundball gains by using the same pitch as Piniero. Piniero, as we showed last week, cut down on his fastball (46.2% career, 36.8% in 2009) and favored the cutter (14.2% career, 27.6% in 2009) in order to get some worm-burners. Marquis went through the same process, though not as radically. His fastball use went down (58% career, 49.5% in 2009) and his cutter rate increased (7.8% career, 13.3% in 2009).
Marquis profiles in a very similar way beyond the cutter/fastball split. He also sports a below-average K/9 (5.25 career, 4.79 in 2009), a reasonable BB/9 (3.50 career, 3.33 in 2009), and induces the groundball well. In fact, his groundball rate is elite – it was third best among qualified starters (sandwiched between Derek Lowe and Chris Carpenter). So why do I like Piniero more than Marquis?
Perhaps its the fact that Piniero’s walk rate (2.56 career, 1.14 in 2009) is a second ‘tool’ of his, where Marquis doesn’t boast a second aspect in his statistical profile that shows up elite. If you barely walk anyone and keep the ball on the ground, you can succeed. If you walk about as many as the average pitcher (2009 average: 3.46, Marquis: 3.33) and keep the ball on the ground, you’ll just be okay. Piniero’s walk rate has also limited his bad years – he hasn’t ever had a negative valuation on FanGraphs – while Marquis has had worse years, more recently (he sported a negative $2.5 million number in 2006). It looks like Marquis is more volatile while Piniero’s basement is more valuable. I’ll take the steadier guy for the middle of my rotation.
Once again, though, we are left wondering if chasing the groundball is what the Mets should be doing. They own a big park that suppresses fly balls. Why not go after someone like Chris Young from the Padres, who owns a much better strikeout rate and just happens to own a fly ball rate (52.9%) that makes him less appealing? If not Young, why not apply that same approach and find other under-valued fly-ball pitchers that would enjoy calling Citi Field home? That way, you don’t have to feed at the same trough as everyone else. Try that out, Omar, you might like it.