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Finding The Next Francisco Liriano


Latos, Cueto, the Guthrie family and Jerome Willams’ alter ego from top left clockwise.

No one was clamoring to trade for AJ Burnett in February 2012 or to sign Russell Martin as a free agent in November 2012. Some people scoffed at the Francisco Liriano signing, more scoffed at the J.A. Happ trade and even more at the Edinson Volquez signing.

So I tried to reverse engineer what the Pirates saw in Burnett and Liriano, specifically, and I came up with a good algorithm using statistics from our friends at Fangraphs and catcher framing data from Matt Carruth and his excellent statistics at StatCorner.

I came up with a statistic I’m calling Value Factor. Value Factor is a statistic that shows how much better a pitcher pitched in 2015 compared to their results.

Today I will only discuss starting pitchers, which I qualified as anyone that pitched over 100 innings. 139 pitchers met this qualification.

Of the 139 starting pitchers who pitched more than 100 innings, 30 are Free Agents this offseason and luckily for the Pirates many are in the Pirates wheelhouse…meaning they a) are readily available and b) have a lot of value in them based on what will be required to sign them.

In the Excel snippet below I didn’t show ALL 139 but rather the top 14 and some interesting ones. The pitchers that are Free Agents have their Fangraphs Crowdsourcing estimates included, which gives a ballpark of what it will take to sign them. I will discuss the rankings below.

Pitcher Nerdsourcing

Who I think the Pirates should sign

  • Jerome Williams – aka “The Junk Yard Dog”. Williams had terrible home run luck this year. He had a pretty terrible defense behind him and his catcher Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz was a terrible pitch framer. Williams would be a great longman/spot starter for $3M a year and could fill the role ably. Williams is also supposedly a great clubhouse guy (a theme you’ll see repeated here).
  • Trevor Cahill is probably the best bet on this list to go from “garbage” to #3 starter. He had a bad year and bad luck last year, but he has an incredible groudball rate throughout his career. He also pitched pretty well in the bullpen and could be signed as a late inning reliever if Melancon is traded.
  • Jeremy Guthrie/Kyle Kendrick – While Guthrie is 5 years older than Kendrick, they’re similar in the fact that they are on their last chances as starters. They both were unlucky with home runs and had terrible pitch framing catchers (Sal Perez was the worst pitch framer of regular catchers). Guthrie also seems to be a Mormon version of Neil Walker or Cutch with his clubhouse persona and community involvement.
  • Justin Masterson – (Value Factor +0.200) – This is your classic “could he overcome nagging injuries?” case. Masterson is a groudball expert and had a little bad luck in 2015. He has a low arm slot which normally doesn’t jive with Ray Searage but he passes the good guy test as he and his wife are philanthropists and he once appeared at the White House prayer breakfast. He was omitted in the initial article since he wasn’t listed on the Crowdsourcing data. (Editor’s note — added 12/2/15)

* Bud Norris would have been on this list but he already signed a 1/$2.5M deal with the Braves.

Who they could potentially trade for

  • Jorge De La Rosa – JDLR was clamored for back in 2011 by Pirate fans when he was a free agent and he was offered a fair deal from the Bucs but he signed in Colorado. He’s suffered through some bad seasons there. His playing environment has hurt him as has his catchers (including you, Michael McKenry). He’s owed $12.5M so he’d come cheap in terms of prospects, if the Pirates took on some contract.
  • Anibal Sanchez – Sanchez could be the closest thing to AJ Burnett with the Yankees that you can find. He has a couple years left on an expensive contract ($16.8M in 2016/2017, with $16M option or $5M buyout in 2018): upside but risk. Depending on how much money the Tigers would eat in the deal, it could require minimal prospects ranging to an Austin Meadows or Josh Bell-level prospect. Sanchez could be star back in the NL with the Pirates.

Two guys to avoid based NOT on numbers

  • Mat Latos – Latos is a popular choice for the Pirates to sign based on media speculation. He also could be incredible in Pittsburgh given his stuff combined with Searage, the best pitch framer in the league in Cervelli, and the Pirates’ defense. He also had a severe amount of bad luck and bad framing, but he seems like a clubhouse cancer and probably won’t be signed by Huntington.
  • Alfredo Simon – Simon is my favorite signing based on the numbers. Bad luck. Bad pitch framing. AL to NL. He even throws an eephus. The problem is that his Wikipedia entry includes separate bullets for “Involuntary Manslaughter Allegations” and “Rape Allegations”. Not a chance in Hurdle or Cutch’s clubhouse.

The guys whose numbers were deceiving

  • Marco Estrada – already signed with the Blue Jays but he was suggested to the Pirates. He was the 3rd most overvalued pitcher in all of baseball. His floor probably is high, but he’s not the pitcher that we saw in 2015.
  • Zack Grienke – Grienke was in the running for the Cy Young and had an incredible year, but both he and Clayton Kershaw benefited from great pitch framing. Grienke also had a severe amount of luck making the team that signs him likely to regret basing the contract off of his amazing 2015.
  • Gerrit Cole – Cole was great in 2015, but when I watched him pitch he didn’t seem as dominant as a Kershaw or Arrieta. We now can see why. He was first a little lucky and secondly his catchers were amazing framers. StatCorner had Cervelli as the the best pitch framer in all of baseball and Chris Stewart received high marks for the fourth straight year. The Pirates have a good recipe to improve their pitcher outcomes.
  • Jeff Samardzija – (Value Factor -0.142) – realize that Tyler Flowers, Samardzija’s main catcher, was the second best pitch framer in all of baseball behind Cervelli. So Samardzija was bad but could have been worse.

The guy that made everyone Happ-y

  • J.A. Happ – (Value Factor -0.115) Happ obviously is an ex-Pirate already but wouldn’t have been a value. He had two great pitch framers all year in Russell Martin and Cervelli (plus Stewart). He’ll be missed in the clubhouse but not in the pocketbook. (Editor’s note – added 12/2/15)
About Michael Bradley (54 Articles)
Michael is a Pirates contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Michael is former submarine officer and Naval Academy grad. He now runs a small consulting firm and does veteran related job fairs. He is a SABR member and regularly attends Altoona Curve games to scout the Pirate prospects.
Contact: Twitter

2 Comments on Finding The Next Francisco Liriano

  1. Great stuff. Would love to see an article explaining the algorithm behind Value Factor. Also, we miss your perspective at OBN. Any chance you come back and post there?

    • Michael Bradley // December 2, 2015 at 9:41 AM // Reply

      Roberto, good to hear from you!

      I’m going to do a separate article that shows the formula and try to submit it to our friends at SABR ( Good people.

      I’m pretty much a TPOP guy now. Tell the guys hello for me.

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