Last night in my instant analysis of the Dan Haren trade I suggested that the Diamondbacks were overrating Joe Saunders by focusing on his win-loss record instead of his ERA, secondary numbers, and raw stuff.
Sure enough, interim general manager Jerry Dipoto basically confirmed that in his press conference announcing the deal:
We achieved by maintaining major league quality with a 2008 All-Star in Joe Saunders and a guy who quite frankly has been one of the winners in Major League Baseball. I think he trails only Roy Halladay among major leaguers in total wins. He’s won 63 percent of his games since coming to the major leagues, pitched in the postseason on two different occasions. He’s a quality, durable, steady major league starter. We feel like this club needs that, and a guy with a good deal of playoff experience.
Dipoto quoted his career winning percentage several other times and said stuff like “he goes out and he wins.”
In reality Saunders “went out and won” with the Angels because he got very good support from the lineup and bullpen, which enabled him to accumulate more victories than his 4.29 career ERA warranted on its own. To think that Saunders will automatically continue to win more games than his ERA warrants now that he’s in Arizona shows a lack of understanding about evaluating pitching performances.
Last season Saunders received the most run support of any starter in all of baseball, and so he went 16-7 despite a 4.60 ERA. This season his run support has been merely average, and so he’s just 6-10 despite a 4.62 ERA. He didn’t suddenly forget how to win, he suddenly stopped getting the runs necessary to make him look much better than he actually is.
Diamondbacks fans should hope that Dipoto is simply talking up Saunders’ victory totals and winning percentages as a way to spin the trade in the team’s favor, because if he truly believes those two things are crucial elements to evaluating a pitcher’s future value … well, things may be getting even uglier in the desert.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.
Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).
Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.
Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.
Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.