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Finding The Next Happ/Nova Via Value Factor

Photos credit to MLB, Fox Sports, Getty Images.

No one was clamoring to trade for A.J. 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 2016 compared to their results.

Today I will only discuss starting pitchers, which I qualified as anyone that pitched over 30 innings. A whopping 223 pitchers met this qualification.

Of the 223 starting pitchers who pitched more than 30 innings, ridiculously few are Free Agents this offseason. Even worse for the Pirates there are few 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 223, but just some interesting ones. I will discuss the rankings below.

Who I think the Pirates should sign

First question… do we have to sign someone? OK if we HAVE TO:

  • Edwin Jackson – (Value Factor 1.66) Meet this year’s version of Jonathan Sanchez, Ryan Vogelsong, etc. He’s a very cheap veteran starter, but he did have a fairly high Value Factor. I looked and he had one game in September where he went eight innings against the Red Sox (and all the future HOFers), struck out 11 and had a game score of 80! He’s also the closest thing on this list to what I call a “tissue Free Agent” : a free agent that can be thrown away when not needed anymore…i.e., in June.
  • Jorge De La Rosa – (Value Factor 1.80) 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 have his catchers (including you, Michael McKenry). He’d probably come cheap on a one year deal with hopes of getting the Searage bump to a 3 year free agent contract after 2017.
  • Jon Niese – (Value Factor 2.01) Yes, I must list him because he does have value and if he didn’t have a bad experience in Pittsburgh he’d be in the running. Do I think he could bounce back? Especially if he was injured? Yes. Do I think he’s a real option? No, not really.

Who they could potentially trade for

  • Drew Smyly – (Value Factor 1.45) The Rays are cheaper bastards than the Pirates. They hear arbitration raises and they pick up the phone and start dialing other GMs. Smyly strikes out a lot of guys, but doesn’t induce many groundballs. Drew Smyly would not come cheap but he could be a star in PNC Park, in the NL, with Searage and with a stud pitch framer. Plus wouldn’t it be good to have a LH starting pitcher with the Smyly/Smiley last name again?
  • Anibal Sanchez – (Value Factor 2.35) Sanchez could be the closest thing to A.J. Burnett with the Yankees that you can find. He has a couple years left on an expensive contract ($16.8M in 2017, with $16M option or $5M buyout in 2018). There’s upside but risk, especially if his recurrent shoulder issues are not fixable. Depending on how much money the Tigers would eat in the deal, it could require minimal prospects Sanchez could be a star back in the NL with the Pirates.

Two relievers who could be Juan Nicasio starters in Free Agency

  • Bud Norris – Norris was in my consideration last year before he signed with the Braves. He started some games for them, but then got shipped to the Dodgers where his starting pitching talents weren’t needed anymore. He could be a starter for a couple weeks until one of the kids were ready then head to the pen.
  • Trevor Cahill – in the 2015 offseason I predicted that the Bucs would sign John Jaso and Trevor Cahill. They signed Jaso and offered a contract to Cahill. Cahill turned down the Bucs offer to win a World Series ring in Chicago. He could fill the same role as Norris could but with a greater history of throwing ground balls.

Two relievers who could be Juan Nicasio starters….already on the Pirates

  • Juan Nicasio – Had a pretty high Value Factor as a starter, mostly because he had pretty bad luck with the long ball. Do I want to see Nicasio start again? No. Do I think he’s conceivably a spot starter option? Maybe.
  • Wade LeBlanc – LeBlanc had a good run as a starter for the Mariners in 2016. It was automatically assumed that he was a reliever when he re-signed with the Bucs but I wouldn’t be 100% sure. He could be your Vin Mazzaro and start some games…pitch in relief and conceivably pass through waivers, too.

Nova….Na Na Na Nova

  • Ivan Nova – (Value Factor 1.32) Every yinzer and their cousin Donna wants the Pirates to resign Nova, but Huntington ain’t no jag off. He realizes that Nova could be bad Liriano in a year or two and that wouldn’t be awesome.

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.