Ron Gardenhire announced last week that Carl Pavano was going to be the Twins’ 2012 Opening Day Starter. While Pavano has certainly earned the right to be the Opening Day Starter, the wiley old veteran is not likely to be confused as the ace of the Twins pitching staff. Over the past four seasons Pavano has been slightly worse than league average, posting an average FIP- of 104, meaning that he was about 4% worse than an average Major League pitcher over that period of time. Despite those numbers, Pavano has been one of the most consistent and reliable pitchers for the Minnesota Twins since coming over midseason in 2009 from the Cleveland Indians (traded for a PTBNL that turned out to be Minor Leaguer Yohan Pino, who has yet to even earn a September call up, and ended 2011 playing for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Toronto Blue Jays organization). In the 2009 year he split between Minnesota and Cleveland, and the two full years since then, Pavano has averaged 214 innings pitched, meaning that he’s thrown often (32+ starts), and averaged 6 and 2/3 innings per outing. Pretty solid when you consider that the Twins have not had another 200 inning start of their own since Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker both hit 200 innings in 2009, throwing 205 2/3 and 200 innings respectively. While Pavano is certainly not going to strike a ton of guys out (career 5.5 SO/9, and just 4.8 and 4.1 the previous two seasons), he should continue to give the Twins reliable innings and his pitch to contact style should result in a modest increase in his stats for 2012 thanks to an improved Twins defense behind him, especially up the middle.
Bill James, RotoChamp and the fans over at Fangraphs all project Carl Pavano to have another strong year, throwing 200+ innings. James’ projection is the rosiest, estimating 226 innings pitched, a SO/9 just under 5 and 4.98, a BABIP of just .288 on balls put in play against him. Pavano hasn’t had a full season BABIP that low since 2004 when he finished 6th in the Cy Young voting for the Marlins, so James is obviously giving both Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla the benefit of the doubt behind Pavano, and he is expecting Ben Revere and Denard Span to get to more than their fair share of balls in the gap to help Pavano create extra outs. James interestingly projects Pavano to give up 1.08 HR/9, the highest mark he’s posted since before coming over to the Twins and playing in the spacious Target Field. The 1.08 Hr/9 represents more than 27 home runs given up over the course of Pavano’s 226 innings, more than he’s given up in any of his previous 13 years in the bigs. While James projects Pavano to pitch slightly worse in 2012 than 2011 (Fielding Independent Pitching, FIP, 4.19 compared to 4.10 in 2011), he again believes that Pavano’s ERA to improve in 2012, likely another nod to the improved defense of the Minnesota Twins.
Unfortunately, I do not believe that Pavano can duplicate the numbers he’s put up in his previous two plus seasons with the Minnesota Twins. Pavano has never stayed healthy for four consecutive years, and while he’s experienced a bit of good luck to stay healthy in a Twins uniform, I think the injury bug that ravaged the Twins in 2011 will claim some part of Pavano’s 2012 season. Because I think that Pavano will succumb to injury at some point in 2012, his numbers will be inflated, and his innings pitched will be reduced. I project Pavano to have a FIP near 5, something like 4.85 and his resulting ERA will probably come in just slightly higher right at 5.0. I think he will pitch a maximum of 150 innings, but realistically I only expect him to hang around for 130. Using the Updated Team WAR Spreadsheet from Beyond the Boxscore, I can calculate that Pavano will be worth just 1.1 WAR in 2011, worth just over $5 million dollars, far below the $8.5 million he is set to make in 2012.
However, an injury to Pavano means that Twins’ Rule V draftee Terry Doyle have an opportunity to grab a couple starts or that the Twins promote Liam Hendriks from Rochester, and either player can likely replicate the league average performance that a healthy Carl Pavano would deliver.