Scott Baker‘s first name is actually Timothy. File that one under “Things I did not know about Scott Baker”.
In addition to having a deceptive name, Baker, along with Francisco Liriano, is one of the Twins’ only strike out pitchers. His career K/9 is 7.2, higher than 2012 projected starters Carl Pavano (5.5), Nick Blackburn (4.3), and Jason Marquis (5.2). Only Liriano (8.9) among projected Twins starters has a higher career K/9 rating, and Baker edged him out in 2011 8.2 to 7.5. While no one will argue that Scott Baker at his best is better than Liriano at his, Baker’s 10 strike out shut out of the Padres on June 18 last year shows that Baker can light up the opposition when he’s really rolling. In fact, Baker had 8 starts in 2011 where he gave up zero or one run while going at least five innings for the Twins.
No one has ever really questioned Baker’s stuff, it is his ability to stay healthy for 162 games that raises the most eyebrows. Since becoming a regular part of the starting rotation in 2006, Baker has managed to throw 200 innings just once, when he threw exactly that many in 2009. Despite pitching limited innings most years, Baker has been a fairly valuable player for the Twins, averaging 3.075 WAR per season over the last four years. In the big picture, from 2008-20011, Scott Baker accumulated the 27th most WAR for starting pitchers and his 3.8 WAR in 2011 was 26th best in the Major Leagues (and he only pitched 134.2 innings!). Scott Baker will need to stay healthy and again perform at a high level this season if he wants the Twins to pick up his $9.25 million dollar option for 2013.
Bill James projects Baker to have another mediocre year for the Twins, pitching only 140.0 innings, striking out almost one batter less per 9 innings at 7.33/9, and to have an ERA of 3.99, lower than a projected FIP of 4.05. Pitching just 5.1 more innings than he did a year ago, James projects Baker to give up 4 more home runs, and to walk 3 more batters, representing increaases in his BB/9 and HR/9. Despite what should be a better defense behind him in 2012, James predicts Bakers BABIP to increase to .310 from .297 a year ago. This indicates that James believes Baker was lucky in 2011 or that he belives that he will regress back towards career norms in 2012, perhaps both. If healthy Baker has the stuff to be one of the top 20 starting pitchers in baseball, and certainly the ace of the Minnesota Twins staff. I project Scott Baker to have a resurgent year in 2012, and to throw the most innings of his career, 214. Along with career high numbers in innings pitched, Baker should see career highs in strike outs, 175, and walks, 50, both of which would be in range of his career rate stats, adjusted for an increase in innings. I also expect Baker’s BABIP to go down in 2012, somewhere in the neighborhood of .295, because if he is healthy, he’s pitching consistently at a higher level, and he should have an improved defense behind him. Using his career Expected Fielding Independent Pitching stats (xFIP) to project Baker’s performance in 2012, I expect him to turn in a 4.6 WAR season, good enough to be valued at $23 million dollars (the rarefied air of Joe Mauer territory!).
While this certainly represents a rosy outlook for Timothy Scott Baker in 2012, he is still the 27th best pitcher over the past 4 seasons, and that’s nothing to shake a stick at.
Previous 2012 Projections can be found here.