No one is coming to help you, Scott.

Why the Twins can't just sign away their pitching problems

Well, the Winter Meetings have ended and the Twins still have a gaping hole in the starting pitching department.  The Kevin Correia signing was a thing that happened.  A couple of savvy trades have given the Twins better organizational depth, but next year’s rotation is still suspect at best.  I could write all about how the Twins front office has failed me as a fan and offended me as a person.  I could say “oh, lol is me!” and dramatically faint onto my living room couch.  I will be doing no such thing.  The Twins have put themselves in this position, and that is a fact.  However, getting out of this situation was never as simple as signing two or three good starting pitchers in the off-season.  Let’s look at the loose mathematical reasons why.

According to FanGraphs.com, an “all-star” pitcher has a WAR around 4 or higher.  Last year, there were 19 such pitchers.  3 of those pitchers were considered “available” this off-season.  Zack Greinke was a free agent, and signed a lucrative contract with the Dodgers last weekend.  James Shields and R.A. Dickey were available by trade, with Shields being moved to the Royals earlier this week.  However, the Twins currently lack the type of MLB assets it would take to land Dickey and they would be unwise to trade high end prospects right now.  I’ve talked about how difficult it is to make a trade previously.

Ok.

A 2 WAR pitcher is about average.  That means, any pitcher with a WAR below 2 would be below average (sadly, that might be an upgrade from last year).  Last year, there were 58 pitchers with a WAR between 2 and 4.  Scott Diamond was the only Twin in that range.   Newly acquired Vance Worley was just shy, with a WAR of 1.9.  He likely reaches 2 with a healthy season.  Kevin Correia’s WAR was 0.9, which is just peachy.

Onto players with no Twins ties.  Here are the six remaining free agents that fall in the 2-4 WAR range:  Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, Joe Saunders, and Kevin Millwood.  Six more have signed contracts or had options picked up already:  Joe Blanton, Jake Peavy, Bartolo Colon, Scott Feldman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Hiroki KurodaShaun Marcum and Brandon McCarthy did not make this list, mostly due to injuries, so if you want to throw them in, that is fine by me.  Dan Haren barely missed, but he might be in decline.  Thus, if you add Greinke to these 14 players, there were a total of 15 free agents that could be classified as league average or better, when using WAR.  More on this in a bit.

I know that I would prefer to have pitchers that can at least be league average.  Some pitchers who fell in the 2 WAR or lower segment are there for a reason.  Some were injured, some had unlucky seasons, and others are young and could improve.  In addition, there are minor league pitchers who are ready to assume their place in the 2+ WAR group.  At the same time, some of those in the 2+ WAR group can decline or have issues with injuries in the future.  While this sample is flawed, it can serve as a guideline for the purposes of the rest of my math party.

19 + 58 = 77.  There are roughly 77 league average or better pitchers, going into 2013, right?

WRONG!

I decided to be more diligent than that.  I looked at the number of 2+ WAR pitchers for the past 5 seasons and averaged that number.  I didn’t want to go back any further, for risk of unearthing some sort of change in the anthropology of pitching.  The average ended up at 80.6, which I am rounding to 81 until someone proves to me that .6 of a pitcher is something that exists on Earth.

81.  There are 81 starting pitchers in an average year that can contribute at a league average level.  Now, we all know there are 30 MLB teams.  One can reasonably conclude that contending teams would like to have at least 4 average or better pitchers.  Anyone requesting that the Twins sign 3 good starting pitchers is basically making this claim.  Even teams without reason to believe that they can contend would realistically want to field 3 league average or better starters.  Anyone asking the Twins to sign 2 good starting pitchers is basically making this claim.  If we average this out, we could conclude that there would be about 3.5 x 30 league average starting pitching spots available.  This would be 105 spots.

Kevin Correia: Seems happy

Of those original 81, 15 were free agents going into the off-season.  That leaves 66 spots taken and 39 spots available.  There were basically 15 league average or better pitchers available and 39 spots that could be filled.  That leaves 24 spots for pitchers that will perform below league average.  This number jumps significantly if we assume that all teams would prefer 4 or more league average starters.  Regardless, it shows that pitchers have a lot of potential destinations to choose from.  With many options for the pitchers to choose from, they can be picky when they decide where they want to play.  The vast majority of those spaces will be taken up by the Kevin Correias of the world (not to pick on him, he is a loyal reader after all).  Many spots that teams would like to fill with league average or better pitching simply cannot be, due to a lack of supply in that area.

If the money is the same, a logical player would choose a better situation than the current Twins situation.  The Twins recently traded two of their best players and lost 195 games in the past two seasons.  Even if Minnesota were an attractive place to play, the odds of signing 30% of the quality starting pitching pool is pretty steep.  Free agency is a true Domino Rally.  One team makes a move and it triggers the next move.  If the Twins did sign Anibal Sanchez, you can bet the other teams that wanted him would intensify their efforts toward their next target.  Would Anibal Sanchez alone change the course of Twins history?  I doubt it.  If the Twins want to land quality pitching, they have to overcome a lot more than just a perceived lack of money and resources.

Like other fans, I went into the off-season hoping that the Twins will land a good or great starting pitcher.  I can wish for two or more, but one would be enough for me.  If they do sign Sanchez, for example, the 2013 Twins are still unlikely to contend.  But, it could be a building block toward future success.  Add a little Kyle Gibson, a little Alex Meyer, maybe a small dose of Trevor May, maybe a 2013 off-season free agent, and now we are cooking!

If they end up with a bunch of chumps, I’ll understand why.  The numbers just don’t add up.  We don’t have to like it though.  The numbers don’t necessarily excuse the issues with the team, but they certainly do help to explain them.

I didn’t want to sully the waters of Puckett’s Pond with my negative feelings about the Kevin Correia signing.  If you absolutely must read how I feel about it, you can find my thoughts here.  Spoiler alert:  Not a fan.

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