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— A Timely Look at Transactions as They Happen

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tigers - Signed Benoit

On the surface this might seem like an overpay.  After all, Benoit missed the entire 2009 season due to a torn rotator cuff and wasn’t all that effective in 2008, walking 35 batters in 45 innings on a way to an ERA of 5.

However, the free agent market is rather thin this winter and while you can make arguments for Grant Balfour or Frank Francisco being the equal of Benoit, there’s nobody clearly better that’s available for $5.5 million.  I’d rather have Mariano Rivera for a couple years and certainly Rafael Soriano but neither closer will be available at that price.  You could conceivably offer Rivera or Soriano twice that and come up short.

So what do we make of the risk involved with signing Benoit?  He’s certainly proved that he can be dominating - a 1.34 ERA and 11 strikeouts per 9 innings is nearly as good as you can get—but if history’s taught us anything, paying for a player’s best season is a sure path to disappointment, as seen in contracts for Mark Davis, Jeff Hammonds, and a multitude of other players that became free agents at just the right time.  Benoit’s performance will surely decline in 2011, but how much?

There’s a bit of good news for the Tigers when it comes to the nature of Benoit’s 2010 season.  While he did have a .201 BABIP, a number that he’s not likely to match next year, his peripherals were enough to net a FIP (a measure of expected ERA from peripheral numbers) of 2.43, suggesting that he really was pitching like a star.  Another red flag is a pitcher with a unusually low HR rate, but Benoit’s HR per flyball rate was 9.4%, right in line with his career 9.5%, so there’s no worry there.  Benoit’s great 2010 was powered by incredible strikeout and walk rates and that’s why the Tigers shouldn’t have too many sleepless nights wondering how Benoit will pitch - strikeout and walks are the two most stable statistics for pitchers (and hitters as well) and improvement or decline in those numbers are more likely to stick than with any other number.

The second concern for the Tigers is the injury risk.  “Rotator cuff” is a phrase that you never want to see associated with a pitcher on your team, but Benoit by all accounts has recovered about as well as anyone can from shoulder problems.  His fastball averaged 94 MPH in 2010, a career high.  There’s always a risk that Benoit will be injured, but that’s the nature of pitching - no matter how careful you are with a pitcher and no matter how wonderful their mechanics are (hello, Mark Prior!), there’s a substantial risk of something very bad happening to their elbow or shoulder.  Even Tim Wakefield and Jamie Moyer haven’t had injury-free careers and they probably throw slower than a good high school pitcher.

The AL Central is a wide-open for the White Sox, Twins, and Tigers and having Benoit serve as the 8th-inning bridge to closer Jose Valverde makes the whole bullpen more flexible as the team doesn’t have to count on Joel Zumaya being healthy and can give Ryan Perry more time to mature.  If the team gets a little luck with the latter two players, they can even afford to lose Valverde and put that $7 million towards a much-needed starting pitcher in a better market.

ZiPS Projection - Joaquin Benoit
      W   L   G GS     IP   H   ER HR BB SO   ERA   ERA+
2011   3   2 53   0   59.1   53   22   6 21 65 3.34   129  
2012   3   2 51   0   57.0   51   22   6 20 63 3.47   124
2013   3   2 49   0   54.1   49   21   6 20 60 3.48   123  
Top Comps:  Goose Gossage, Robb Nen, Kiko Calero


Dan Szymborski Posted: November 19, 2010 at 01:41 AM | 6 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Walt Davis Posted: November 19, 2010 at 05:32 AM (#3693432)
So I'm guessing this was 3/$16.5? :-)

Too much for a flash in the pan reliever IMHO.
   2. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: November 19, 2010 at 05:57 AM (#3693435)
Well, it is if he's a flash in the pan, Walt. That was kind of the crux of everything Dan wrote. I'm glad you can predict his future with such certainty, though.
   3. Bug Selig Posted: November 19, 2010 at 06:25 PM (#3693802)
Even Tim Wakefield and Jamie Moyer haven't had injury-free careers and they probably throw slower than a good high school pitcher.

Probably? My 14-year old hit 78 this past week. He's on his travel organization's C-team. Granted, it's a good organization, but...
   4. Home Run Teal & Black Black Black Gone! Posted: November 19, 2010 at 10:58 PM (#3694021)
Everybody's too expensive!

I like his name though.
   5. Dan Szymborski Posted: November 19, 2010 at 11:23 PM (#3694032)
Benoit always had the tools (he has a great changeup), but just had trouble putting it together completely.

BABIP can be fluky as can HR rate, to a smaller extent. It's much harder to fluke your way to a 75:11 K:BB in 60 innings.

Let me put it a different way. Based on the last 40 years, I have a generalized regression model for what percent you would expect a major league pitcher's stats to regress to the mean based on recent y batters faced.

$H = 1 - y / (y + 3039)
$H adjusted for team $H regressed to league average = 1 - y / (y + 1850)
HR per PA = 1 - y / (y + 1389)
HR per ball hit in play = 1 - y / (y + 1229)
BB per batter faced = 1 - y / (y + 346)
K per batter face = 1 - y / (y + 158)
   6. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: November 24, 2010 at 03:39 AM (#3696479)
Interesting little look into someone else's system.

Dan, have you thought about making your stats you feed into the system independent? IE:

K /(BFP - K)
HR /(BFP - K - HR)

and so on? Always had a lot of success with doing it that way.

Interesting with Benoit. I just ran him through my old system (which goes back four years for pitchers) and he actually has a better projection if you use the 2007 and 2008 seasons than if you omit them. He gains two walks, but he also gains four strikeouts and gives up close to one less home run. This results in three fewer hits and a projected ERA about 0.10 lower. It's also good to see Dan's 3.34 ERA match-up well with my 3.28 and 3.38. I agree with Dan in that if you have to have a fluke out of nowhere season, Benoit had the one you'd like to have.

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