Thinking about Pitchers: Chris Capuano, Carl Pavano, Bruce Chen, and Alex Burnett


Good morning!

Let’s start the day off with some thoughts about pitchers. One guy the Twins could sign, one guy the Twins could trade, one they mercifully did not sign, and one who’s already here.

Joe Christiansen of the Strib mentioned Chris Capuano‘s name as one of the “bargains on the free agent market” that the Twins could potentially pursue. When I first looked over the lists of free agent pitchers, I ignored Capuano, but upon further review, he might not be a bad choice. Capuano went 11-12 with a 4.55 ERA for the Mets last year, but look at his peripheral numbers: 8.1 K/9 and a nifty 3.67 xFIP. Perhaps more importantly, he made 31 starts last year, which indicates that he’s fully recovered from an unfortunate bout with Tommy John surgery. He is apparently seeking a two year deal; pegs him in the 2 year, $8 million total range. $4 million per season would not be a bad price for the Twins, who need durable starting pitchers more than anything else. I’m not totally thrilled about the idea of bringing Capuano in, but the Twins could do a whole lot worse. Anyway, he’s at least a name to watch.

On the other hand, instead of bringing in a veteran like Capuano, maybe the Twins could be looking to trade one away. Scott Baker or Francisco Liriano would yield the highest return, but Carl Pavano is the most intriguing candidate. He’s proven to be quite stable and durable over the last two seasons. It seems like every season there are at least three or four contending teams willing to overpay for a reliable back of the rotation starter, and Pavano would fill that role nicely. Since he’s only under contract through 2012, dealing him wouldn’t really hurt the Twins’ long-term plans. And they could almost certainly receive a better prospect in return than the guy they traded away to get him (anyone remember Yohan Pino?). Pavano is scheduled to pull down $8.5 million this season, so dealing him would free up some cash, even though it would create another hole to fill.

Fortunately, the Twins won’t be filling any holes in the rotation with Bruce Chen. Sadly, Minnesota was actively pursuing Chen until he mercifully re-signed with Kansas City. I suppose Terry Ryan looked at Chen and thought “here’s a guy who won 12 games last year and had an ERA under 4.00.” But when I look at the same pitcher I think “so that’s what would happen if  Livan Hernandez were lefthanded.” Chen has had a decent record the last two years in Kansas City, but I think that was a fluke. He has bounced around with 10 different teams in his MLB career, and it’s not hard to see why.

Now you may be asking “how can you support signing Capuano but bash Chen? Good question. The answer is strikeouts. Capuano can make batters miss, while Chen had a measly 5.63 K/9 last year. And believe it or not, Chen’s fastball is actually two mph slower than Capuano’s, averaging 85.8 mph last season. Put a guy like that on the mound with the Twins’ defense behind him, and you’re just asking for trouble. Then there’s the durability. Chen has pitched over 155 innings in a season exactly once: back in 2005. The Twins learned last year that the only thing worse than an ineffective starter is an ineffective starter who can’t stay healthy. So while both of these guys will probably end up being in the same price range, Capuano is a far superior option.

Changing the subject a little… what do you think of Alex Burnett? I admit that I cringed and shook my head every time he came into a close game last year. He pitched badly and gave up a lot of leads. But to me, he seems like a guy that should be a pretty good reliever. His fastball averages about 93 mph and he has a pretty decent slider. And he consistently struck out eight or nine guys per nine innings in the minors. I think the Twins rushed him to the big leagues too quickly. He only got about 20 innings in AAA in 2010, and he’s been in the Majors ever since. My prediction: Burnett will have a breakout year in 2012. The game experience will finally catch up to him, his strikeout rate will improve, and he will develop into a decent reliever. You heard it here first, folks!

*Note: if my prediction turns out to be wrong, please ignore it.