Monday, October 19, 2015

Hot Stove Preview: Scouting the Second Tier Free Agent Starting Pitchers

This is an unusually rich class of FA SP's which could create a modest buyers market, although you can never have too much pitching, so the demand is always going to be there and multiple teams are believed to be looking for high end SP.  There are 4 pitchers who I would put into a second tier ranking behind the top 3 of David Price, Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto.  My second tier consists of Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Leake, Jeff Samardzija and Yovani Gallardo.    These would be the guys the Giants would fall back to if David Price's price goes to the moon, Zack Greinke just re-signs with the Dodgers and Johnny Cueto's health is too suspect for their taste.  Let's break it down:

Jordan Zimmermann, RHP.  We have already covered Zimm in-depth in a prior post about the natural history of Tommy John Surgery.  Without the history of TJ hanging over him, Zimm's career numbers put him on the edge of the top tier, although 2015 was a down year for him.  Here are his career numbers:

70-50, 3.32, 7.43 K/9, 1.82 BB/9, GB/FB= 1.16.

His average FB velocity last year was 93.0 against a career average of 93.5 and down from his peak of 93.9 in 2013.  2016 will be his age 30 season.  He won't be cheap, but his price should be easily affordable by the Giants.  In many ways, he would seem like a perfect fit.  My only objection is he is the only SP in the top 2 tiers who has had TJ surgery.  While I don't think his risk of having another UCL tear is much higher than the others having their first, his chances of full recovery from a second surgery are significantly lower than the chances of the others recovering from their first.

Mike Leake, RHP.  Leake seems to be the Giants first second choice on the FA market and Leake has been open about wanting to be a Giant long term and was open to signing prior to testing the open market.  The fact that the Giants have not rushed to re-sign him tells me they are keeping their powder dry for a run at one of the top tier guys.  Who knows how that affects Leake's enthusiasm for signing with the Giants?   Anyway, we already know a lot about Leake, but here are his career numbers:

64-52, 3.88, 6.06 K/9, 2.30 BB/9, GB/FB= 1.76.

His average FB velocity in 2015 was 90.4 against a career average of 90.2.  He has the most extreme GB tendency of of the top 2 tier SP's by a wide margin.  2015 will be his age 28 season, so he is the youngest FA pitcher by a full 2 years.  He has pitched his entire career in a bandbox ballpark in Cincinnati.  His second half ERA in 2015 was a full run off his first half and he gave up 8 HR's in the second half as opposed to 14 in the first half.  Could be sample size, but it also could be a reflection of pitching in a better park.  Personally, I like Leake a lot and would be OK if the Giants just resigned him  and then went for a tier 3 pitcher to back him up.  If  the Giants think they can sign both Leake and a top tier dude, that would be A-OK too!  Bonus points to Leake for being a very good hitter.  I would be fun watching him and Bummy push each other at the plate.  I think that rubs off on the other pitchers too.

Jeff Samardzija, RHP.  Samardzija might have the highest ceiling of any of the tier 2 guys, but is a bit of an enigma.  He had a downer of a season pitching in a bad ballpark after Billy Beane traded him to the ChiSox.  Here are his career numbers:

47-61, 4.09, 6.86 K/9, 2.06 BB/9, GB/FB= 1.27.

He actually has the best velocity of any of the top 2 tiers averaging 94.3 on the FB in 2015 against a 94.5 career average.  His big problem has been a tendency to giving up dingers, but that may be due to the parks he pitched in.  His dinger rate was significantly lower while he pitched for the A's.  Samardzija will be an attractive option for a team willing to take a bit of a risk for upside.  2015 will be his age 31 season.  He is reputed to be a good clubhouse presence.

Yovani Gallardo, RHP.  Gallardo is a bit of a sleeper here, mostly because his peripheral numbers are not exciting, but he has put up remarkably consistently good numbers pitching in some terrible ballparks.  Here are his career numbers:

102-75, 3.66, 8.23 K/9, 3.31 BB/9, GB/FB= 1.44.

His K rate was down in 2015, but  his results were still good.  He average FB velocity in 2015 was 90.5 against a career average of 91.9, so there has been a small but significant drop off.  2016 will be his age 30 season.  He's another good hitter.  If the Giants signed both him and Leake, they would team up with Bummy to give the Giants a huge advantage over other NL teams at the plate.


  1. Additional point: Each of these guys other than Leake will (likely) cost a first draft choice.

  2. You are one of the few people, besides me, who think the Giants would be fine signing Leake without signing a top tier starter, though as you note, I wouldn't mind them getting a top tier too!

    Here's my take on the Leake FA situation. I can see why some might think the Giants are waiting on Leake in order to make a run at bigger fish. Evans said as much in his ending presser. However, this belies what was said by each party beforehand. Both said that they were interested in signing Leake early. So what happened?

    My speculation is the following. They approached each other. They both want the other. However, Leake's side wants more than the Giants are willing to give, and the distance is enough for the Giants to table discussions. With a 3.30 Road ERA the past three seasons, perhaps his agent is shooting for close to Tier 1 money, perhaps they are hoping AZ will meet or beat, something is creating a gulf. Leake will test the waters but agree to come back to the Giants to continue talks and see how the Giants feel about matching or beating. Just my thoughts.

    I think that the Giants will eventually sign Leake and another pitcher. The former just makes too much sense, because it looks like both sides want the same thing, though AZ reminds a dark horse potentially. The latter makes some sense.

    With Peavy and Cain being question marks, and Heston either not strong enough to last a full season or the league was figuring him out, signing another pitcher would give the Giants three youngish and relatively reliable starters in Bum, Leake and this other signing. Then they got Peavy and Cain, with Heston, perhaps, as long relief, and Blackburn looking pretty ready in AAA, plus perhaps Beede and/or Stratton taking next step up by mid-season. That would be a lot of depth in case anything goes wrong, and a lot of good candidates for Peavy's spot in 2016 and Cain's in 2018, or earlier if there is any injury.

    I agree with you that Zimmerman's TJS will be a non-starter for the Giants, lots of money to pay out with little chance of recovery if there is a second one. I was not aware of that, great point to make about him.

    I don't really like the Shark much, mainly because he's never done much of anything in his career to make me that interested. I feel that whoever signs him is betting more on hope than proven performance. Plus his road numbers this season wasn't good either, not just his home numbers.

    But I do like Gallardo. Always liked him, and seeing his numbers, nice strikeout rate, and while walks too much, the Giants seem to be able to help the wilder guys some to slice some off. I was impressed that his numbers are basically the same, home or road, seems able to keep his performance on an even keel no matter where he pitches. So my hope is probably Leake and then Gallardo, as it seems like getting a top tier is much less of a probability.

    If I were to get a top tier, Greinke would be top of the list, even though he had anxiety issues before, but this would take away a huge weapon from the LADdies. Price's career numbers look best among this tier, overall, plus huge strikeout rate, huge K/BB, and relative youth, so I wouldn't mind him either. Cueto's strikeout rate scares me, as well as K/BB, and his road numbers are actually worse than his home, he has some advantage pitching in Cincy that most pitchers don't have, so right now I don't care to get him, I would prefer a cheaper guy like Gallardo.

    1. In regard to the career numbers, I think it helps to look at the trends. As Dr. B noted, Greinke's last 3 years have been remarkable, and if you take out some of his rougher earlier years with KC, his numbers look better and better. In fact, if you look at his 5 years in the NL per BB Ref they are ridiculous:

      Also, he has won both a Silver Slugger (2013) and a Gold Glove (2014), so he can hit and field his position. I spent all year dreaming on Price, but I think for all that Greinke offers he is my top choice now, and it would be awesome to take him from the Dodgers!

      Here's an interesting article on Greinke from ESPN the Magazine:

  3. In any case, I think it'll be pretty tough to pull off signing two of the top seven pitchers available, even with an advantage with Leake of on-going negotiations, even with that much money available. The Giants have been leery under Sabean to spend too much in any one area, so even if the money is available, then there is all that money tied into the rotation. Does not seem to be a Giants or Sabean thing to do, frankly.

    So the Giants might end up with a lower tier pitcher. And they might prefer that with all the pitching that they will have coming on-line in the next 1-3 years (Heston, Blackburn, Beede, Stratton, Blach, Mejia, Johnson's, Bickford, Suarez).

    They liked Bud Norris before, seemed to nearly trade for him. Fister also seems to be a pitcher the Giants might like. Iwakuma and Kazmir might also be available for a 2-3 year deal. Lackey too. These would fit budget wise as well as time wise, with all the prospects coming up in the next few years.

  4. I like this tier of pitchers. As we saw with Lester last year, its a courtship, and being a free agent means you have the final say. There will usually be multiple teams competing for your services. The question for me is this: do you go for a high velocity or high K guy? Is that where the money is best spent? The best Giant trade (pitcher division) in the Sabean years was Jason Schmidt. He wasn't considered an ace when they did the acquiring. Do Leake or Samardzija have another gear they can find, in edition to a pitcher friendly park? The problem being is once you've Zito'd, you are stuck with that, and you play that hand out. The Giants had a rather interesting history with that, some lowest lows and some highest highs (I'm paraphrazing BPBZ, who retired today - Good Giant!).

    Maybe signing one of these guys and making a savvy trade is the way to go. And giving the farm another year to develop. The Mets are in a great position with arm after arm after arm, young and under team control. Giants might be due a big surprise success soon, they've been grinding away at it for a while.

    1. Yeah, I'm with you and DrB, long term contracts are just full of so much risk, that it's hard to pull the trigger, in my mind, on anybody. Seems like the younger, the better, and yet that's what the Yankees did with that Japanese pitcher and he TJS in his first season!

      I'm personally fine with Bumgarner, Leake, Peavy, Cain, Heston as our starting five, with Petit long relief and Blackburn, Stratton, Beede, Blach as our backups (and perhaps Lincecum in reserve). Not that this will necessarily last the whole season, but by mid-season, we can make another trade for a pitching boost, like we did in 2014 and 2015, without committing big money and time to anyone.

      I would be happy with the acquisition of a second pitcher to go along with Leake, as well. Push Heston to long relief, trade Petit for a prospect or some good bench bat. Someone in the second or third tier would be OK if it's in the 2-3 year range.

      But I like the pitchers coming up, and would rather do this to keep spots open than commit long term to anyone. Besides, the top tier all have question marks in my mind that makes me queasy giving them big money and time.

  5. Definitely want Leake back. Also, would be fine signing Samardzija to a one year prove it deal preferably with a team option but only as long as he is the second pitcher signed.

  6. I would like to see the Giants sign Leake. I would be happy if they signed either one of the other pitchers in the main body of the post. I would be happier if they signed two of them. If they decided to pursue (and signed) a Top-Tier pitcher (Price, Greinke, etc.), I'd be happy if they signed a Tier 3 guy as well, or, of course, any of the three mentioned above. If they only signed a Top-tier guy, I'd be okay with it because I think between Blackburn and Heston we might have an in-house solution to the back of the rotation.

    And, of course, there are other FA pitchers out there that could end up in the back of the rotation. But I definitely think we need at least one Tier 2 or better.