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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.
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