We’ve been talking a lot about the Phillies needing to add a starter this off-season, and it still feels like they’re going to add somebody.
But despite Nick Williams trying to sell the Phils to Jake Arrieta, I still don’t think the former Chicago ace is coming to Philadelphia. And it feels that if the Phillies were interested in bringing Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb aboard, it would have happened already. I dunno, maybe the asking prices of these pitchers are too high, maybe they all want five-year deals, and maybe the Phillies either aren’t interested or are really trying to get them on the cheap. It’s impossible to say.
But it feels like, the later things get in this winter, the more likely it is the Phillies are going to be heading back to the bargain bin of free agency for a free agent starting pitcher on a one or two-year deal.
So who are those guys this year? Which free agents out there make sense? On this week’s episode of The Felske Files, I talk about the lower-tier of free agents and which ones would work for the Phillies and which don’t.
None of these cats will get you excited about their arrival, but they know how to throw an overhand baseball, so that’s something.
If the Phillies decide they want a lefty in the rotation, Vargas would be my choice. His fWAR and bWARs were quite different last year, based on the gap between his FIP and ERA. He went 18-11 with a 4.16 ERA in 179.2 innings last year (32 starts), giving him a bWAR of 3.8. He also led the American League in wins. WINS, PEOPLE! However, his FIP of 4.67 gave him a 1.6 fWAR.
Baseball Prospectus’ DRA for Vargas came closer to his ERA, at 3.83, giving him a WARP of 3.5. That to me, is the tie-breaker. The main worry with Vargas is his health. He made just nine starts for the Royals in 2015 and three with KC in 2016, but he did take the hill 32 times last year, and his strikeout rate of 17.7% was higher than his career average of 15.8%.
Vargas would probably be my top option overall, and a two-year deal for the 34-year-old sounds about right, too.
Andrew Cashner either had a fantastic 2017 season or an OK 2017 season, depending on which website you visit. Baseball Reference gave him credit for 4.6 bWAR last year, thanks to an 11-11 record in 28 starts (166.2 IP) and an ERA of 3.40. That 4.6 bWAR was 12th in MLB last season. In other words, they say he had the 12th-best season in baseball last year. However, Fangraphs gave him credit for 1.9 fWAR, thanks to a much-higher FIP of 4.61. That was tied for 45th out of 58 qualified MLB starters last year.
Yeah, this is why WAR screws some people up.
So who’s right? Baseball Prospectus had Cashner’s Deserved Run Average (DRA) at 4.81, giving him a WARP of 1.4. And from 2013-16, Cashner posted bWARs of 2.4, 1.9, -0.9, -0.1 and -0.6. In other words, he was below a replacement level pitcher in the three seasons prior to last season. A plummeting strikeout rate (12.2% last season) in ‘17 was covered up by the fact hitters batted just .247 against him, thanks to a .266 BABIP. He does get lots of ground balls (48.6%), so that’s good, but he won’t put up an ERA that low again.
There’s no other way to say it, Chris Tillman was just awful last year. In 24 appearances (19 starts) he posted an ERA of 7.84 and a FIP of 6.93. He was worth -2.2 bWAR and -1.0 fWAR, and a shoulder injury that caused him to miss last off-season’s throwing program screwed up his mechanics to an ungodly point. He never recovered.
But in the five seasons from 2012-16, Tillman was the ace of the Baltimore staff, going 65-33 with a 3.81 ERA in more than 840 innings. He posted bWARs of 1.6, 4.4, 2.4, 0.8 and 4.1 during that stretch. If last year was an outlier, some team could get a very good starting pitcher on the cheap. I’d love the Phils to take a shot at him on a one-year deal.
Garcia was traded twice last year and went 5-10 with a 4.41 ERA and a 4.25 FIP. He made 27 starts and has seen his walk rate increase from 5.9% in 2015 to 7.7% in ‘16 to 9.5% last year. He still held hitters to a .258 batting average that was not aided by luck (.302 BABIP), and he’s a ground ball guy, with a GB% of 54.8 that was 5th among MLB pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched. That could play well at Citizens Bank Park, if he can get his walks under control.
Lackey’s best days are behind him, but man that dude was effective for a long time. He put up fWARs over 3.0 in both 2015 and ‘16 in his age 36 and 37 seasons, and actually finished 9th in the Cy Young voting in ‘15. But last year, the decline may have officially started. He went 12-12 with a 4.59 ERA and a FIP of 5.30, giving up a league-leading 36 home runs last season.
Was it a one-year aberration? It will take a one-year deal to find out.
Over the last four years, Jimenez has put up ERAs of 4.81, 4.11, 5.44 and 6.81. No thanks.
After a solid 2016 season with the Phils, Hellickson accepted their qualifying offer last year, and rejoined the team for the ‘17 season. He started off with a spectacular April, putting up a 1.80 ERA. I called for the Phils to extend him.
Yeah, it’s a good thing they ignored my salient piece of advice. He posted an ERA of 7.04 in May, 4.30 in June, 6.40 in July, 6.55 in August and 7.79 in September. He’s still just 30 years old, but yeah we’re all ready to close the book on this one.
Nolasco is the very definition of uninspiring. He wasn’t awful, making 33 starts for the Angels last year with a 4.92 ERA and a 5.10 FIP. He was an innings eater for L.A., but he doesn’t help you win games, and we kinda want the Phillies to win some games in 2018, right?
Volquez rejuvenated his career with the Pirates in 2014 and then with the Royals in 2015, with ERAs of 3.04 and 3.55, respectively. But those gains disappeared in Kansas City in 2016, as his ERA jumped to 5.37 in 34 starts. He was hurt for much of the season in Miami last year, making just 17 starts, and had a more respectable 4.19 ERA and 4.35 FIP. If he can stay healthy, he may not be a bad buy-low on a one-year deal, but I’d rather see Nick Pivetta or Tom Eshelmann get those starts.
In 21 starts last year for the Reds, Feldman had a 4.77 ERA and a 5.04 FIP. His strikeout rate did jump from 16.6% in 2016 to 19.7% last year, but his walk rate also increased, from 5.6% to 7.4%. Nope.
Frankly, only the top four guys on this list (Vargas, Tillman, Cashner and Garcis) are worth signing and giving a rotation spot over the group of young starters that is already here.
Also on this week’s pod, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports joins the show to discuss his earth-shattering piece this week about the financial state of the game, and the virtual certainty that we will see a players’ strike after the 2020 season (16:17 mark).
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