Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Idling Into Cleveland

After the Indians filled their holes in the bullpen and in the infield (for the short and long term) with a sizzle, it seems that the off-season will end with a bit of a fizzle as the Tribe has signed Carl Pavano to the 2009 rotation mix on a one-year, incentive-laden deal that guarantees Pavano $1.5M with $5.3M additionally available if certain incentives are reached, ostensibly ending the Indians’ off-season. The rationale behind the Pavano deal is that adding him to the rotation gives them some depth in the rotation, allowing Pavano to be a candidate to fill one of the three spots in the rotation behind Lee and Carmona. Since a number of the candidates for those 3 spots still have options (notably Laffey, Sowers, Huff, and Lewis), it would stand to reason that Pavano (who was dubbed “American Idle” by the brutal New York tabloids), even if remotely healthy or effective, will given a spot out of Spring Training to sit in the #3 or #4 hole in the rotation.

A low risk signing with potential to pull that “Kevin Millwood Miracle” of 2005 out of the hat again, right?

I guess, but this move doesn’t really do much for me as Pavano has really only had two good years (OK, one very good and one decent) in his 11 MLB seasons. While both of those years were his final two in Florida (during which he complied a cumulative line of 3.61 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 5.78 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 2.76 K/BB, which is certainly an impressive performance), that was in 2003 and 2004. He’s only pitched 145 2/3 innings since then over the last 4 years, and has pitched more than 140 innings only twice (those two final years in Florida) in his 11-year career.

When healthy, Pavano’s a good middle-of-the-rotation starter…except that he hasn’t been healthy in four full seasons now. I suppose if Pavano somehow finds a way to stay healthy, he’s another arm to throw into the mix, but his performance (when allegedly healthy) in 2008 doesn’t exactly scream that he’s turned a corner as a pitcher or that he’ll re-discover his 2004 form. He’s never been a big strikeout pitcher or had dominant stuff, so he’s a decent middle-of-the rotation option…if healthy (which, if I have failed to mention it, is no certainty).

It’s true that the Indians are buying low on him, like Millwood, and giving him the opportunity to pitch his way into a bigger contract and back into legitimacy, right?

Maybe, but prior to Millwood signing his reclamation contract with the Indians (for $7M guaranteed, if you’ll remember), he had put up 200+ innings 4 out of his 7 full years in MLB (the lowest inning total being 121) and had put up inordinately better numbers year after year than Pavano, who seems to still be living off the 2004 (which looks to be the aberration when looking at Pavano’s body of work) that netted him his payday in the Bronx.

Maybe Pavano, out of the bright lights of the big city, can re-capture some semblance of the career that derailed in 2004. I’m not that optimistic that he can, given his varied and illustrious injury history and the fact that his career and reputation have been built on one admittedly fantastic season. Shapiro’s saying all of the right things about his health and his hunger, but the Indians are protected against him being injured or being ineffective enough to be cut loose as the incentives in the contract are pretty straightforward as “Pavano gets $100,000 each for reaching 18, 20 and 22 starts, $200,000 each for reaching 24, 26 and 28 starts, $250,000 for 30 starts, $300,000 for 32 starts, $350,000 each for 33 and 34 starts and $400,000 for 35 starts. He gets $100,000 each for reaching 130, 140 and 150 innings pitched, $150,000 each for 160 and 170 innings, $200,000 for 180, $250,000 for 190, $250,000 for 200, $300,000 for 215, $400,000 for 225 and $500,000 for 235.”

He’s had 24 starts twice in his 11-year career and has reached 140 innings only twice, so he’s going to have to come ROARING back into shape for most of those incentives to kick in. Being very optimistic, let’s say he has 23 starts and 130 IP – his salary bumps from $1.5M guaranteed goes to $1.9M guaranteed.

Overall, the signing itself and adding Pavano doesn’t do much for me other than to know that there’s another arm to add to the rotation mix to perhaps eat some innings until Jake Westbrook returns from injury (hopefully) in the middle of the season. Realistically, a healthy Pavano, is better than simply giving innings to Jeremy Sowers and it adds the depth that the Indians love, where they can go 7 or 8 starters deep, with the top of the AAA rotation serving as insurance against injury or ineffectiveness. It certainly sets up an interesting battle for the 5th spot in the rotation (remember, Reyes is out of options) as Laffey, Sowers, Huff, Zach Jackson (who does have an option left) and Scott Lewis all fight NOT to go to Columbus.

But (while I never wanted to remember or invoke this name ever again) let’s all say right now that the “Lesson of Jason Johnson” should be in full effect with Pavano. That is, if Pavano is not healthy, or is obviously ineffective, while the talented youngsters that now figure to start the season in AAA (notably, Dave Huff) prove that they’re further along than AAA (and Huff may have already proved that in his 16 starts in Buffalo last year), he should be on an awfully short leash and that this low-risk contract should be one that the Indians are not afraid to eat early and admit a mistake before it’s…I don’t know mid-June or so.

More interesting to me than simply adding Pavano is what the signing means in the long-term as it’s likely that this is the last move that the Indians make this off-season as they’ve now added to their bullpen, their infield, and their rotation. Unless Pavano was added to create more depth to allow one of the young LHP to be part of a package for a surer thing in the rotation, this looks to be the 2009 Indians, which brings some things to light.

First off, for the first time in what seems like a long time, the rotation figures to go into Spring Training with a lot of “ifs” around each of the principals that figure to make up the rotation:
What if Cliff Lee shows that 2008 IS NOT who he is as a pitcher?
What if Fausto Carmona shows that 2008 IS who he is as a pitcher?
What if Carl Pavano can’t stay healthy or has had injuries take their toll on his effectiveness?
What if the injuries that shut down Anthony Reyes and Aaron Laffey rear their ugly head again in 2009?
What if the Aaron Laffey we saw when he was promoted is nothing more than a Sowersesque mirage?
What if Jeremy Sowers’ career descent cannot find a bottom?
What if the young pitchers like Huff and Lewis fail to take that next step?

For an organization that has been designed to be built on strong starting pitching, that’s a lot of variables at play to fill out the top 5 spots in the rotation. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by knowing who would be getting the majority of the starts during the season when the team got to Spring Training as far back as 2005, but the middle-to-back of the rotation still looks to be built on sand to me, Pavano or no Pavano.

Going further than that, the Pavano signing removes, for the most part, the thought of trading Kelly Shoppach for a middle-of-the-rotation starter as Pavano is designed to fill that need. What that means to me is that concerns about the health of Hafner and Martinez and the long-term production of Garko are significant enough that the Indians don’t want to part with their insurance policy against another lost or poor year by any of them. Because, on the surface, everyday AB don’t look to be there for Shoppach (despite him earning them in 2008) as the Indians’ oft-stated stance is that Victor is the catcher, which would mean that Garko remains the de facto 1B. If Hafner is supposed to be healthy for 2009, how does this not suddenly look like a part-time position for Shoppach or maybe some sort of platoon with Garko, when Shoppach far outperformed Garko in 2008?

The Indians claim that they can find regular AB for all four players at three positions, but I’m just not seeing how that’s going to happen with one of these players being out of the lineup every game. How they’re going to balance it out remains to be seen (if, in fact, no more moves are coming) and it will be interesting to see how Shoppach performs in 2009, whether this off-season will come to represent his peak value or if 2008 was simply an appetizer for the main course that Show Pack has in store in 2009.

As an aside, this essentially means is that I can stop writing the piece that I was working on suggesting why Ricky Nolasco (FLA), Wandy Rodriguez (HOU), and Mike Pelfrey (NYM) would all be attractive trade candidates for the Indians to target in that their team would be in need of a catcher and each of them represented tangible upgrades (a few years away from FA) over the in-house back-end-of-the-rotation candidates.

Regardless, the Pavano signing looks to be it this off-season…so without further ado ladies and gentleman, YOUR 2009 Cleveland Indians!

15 comments:

Brian Megilligan said...

First off, I just want to say that this is an excellent blog. I love reading this. I am removed from the Cleveland area now and have been for a few years so to read this kind of stuff with this level of thought and detail gets me excited for the season to start!

The only thing I want to contribute here is just about the Kevin Millwood reference. I used to think it was such a shame that he didn't stick around after he had his one year stint with the Indians. But even though he had a great ERA (and wasn't it the lowest in the league that year?), he only had nine wins. Not only did he manage just nine wins, but he had eleven losses.

I only say this because of the reference to the "Millwood Miracle" I've seen here and other places. It is a logical comparison in that the two pitchers are coming off injury-plagued seasons and are signed at a bargain. But this seems a little funny: What was the miracle exactly? The bottom line for a starting pitcher is winning games. As it turns out, a really good ERA is just a really good ERA, but it doesn't mean you're winning if you're loosing 2-1 and 3-2 every other start!

So I guess if Pavano stays healthy enough to pitch the 192 innings that Millwood pitched, and comes up with nine wins, we should consider our expectations met!

Just remember, in 2007, Paul Byrd pitched 192+ innings, had 15 wins (8 losses) and had an impressive ERA of 4.59! It's all about the wins!

Just my two cents.

hutchjohn33 said...

I agree somewhat with what Brian posted in his comment about wins being more important than ERA, however, the Indians have basically added a veteran pitcher with some upside potential. If he stinks, the team can cut him without much loss financially. If he's good, then he will be worth the incentive money. It also means it will give the Indians some time to see if Hafner and Martinez are healthy and/or productive enough to be counted on. If they aren't, I'm glad they have Garko and Shoppach as insurance because they could do way worse than those guys. I do believe that they will get their share of ABs because someone will likely be injured at some point, so it's good to have this kind of depth. I don't want to see a trade for a 3rd or 4th starter right now because I'm concerned that Hafner and Martinez aren't going to put up the numbers that everyone hopes they do. So given the limited financial resources, this is probably the best move the team could make at this point. Remember, there is always the trade deadline!

Baltimoran said...

being in the "keep Shoppach" camp, I also like the deal. With a one year deal, the guy's career is on the line and with the NY media making a joke out of him the last 2 years, I can't think of any player with more to prove this season. the added bonus being if he does win 14 or more games, the NY fans will be rather annoyed.

Paul Cousineau said...

Brian,
Welcome and thanks for the compliments on the blog, though I’m not sure where you’re coming from on your argument that wins are the best indicator of a pitcher’s effectiveness as wins fall somewhere around 20 to 30 on the list of how to determine how well a pitcher is performing in any given year. Wins are determined by so many things out of the pitcher’s control (run support, fielding, bullpen performance) that I hardly even look at a win-loss record to see how a particular pitcher fared over the course of a year.

While I guess I see your point that wins are all that matter at the end of the day to a team, to suggest that because Paul Byrd winning a game 8-6 somehow means he did better than Kevin Millwood losing a game 2-0 is patently absurd. Did the team do better? Absolutely, they won – but to suggest that Byrd had a better PITCHING performance if he went 5 innings and gave up 4 unearned runs and got the win than Millwood going 7 innings giving up 1 unearned run is mystifying to me.

Millwood’s run support in 2005 was 3.62 runs, with an ERA of 2.86 (ERA+ of 146). Byrd’s run support in 2007 was 5.45 runs, with an ERA of 4.59 (ERA+ of 100).
Which one do you think is going to get more wins?
Which one was the better pitcher?

If you’re going to say Byrd and argue that wins are all that matter for a pitcher, just know that throwing that argument out there in this space (particularly in your first comment) doesn’t exactly portray you as much of an expert.

Spills said...

Ha

maynor said...

ERA, ERC, VORP, WHIP, QS, HLD... I love stats as much or more than the next guy but why on earth do people value the wins stat for pitchers? My dad and I argued about this last night when I called him about the Pavano signing. He believes that wins and losses are the most important way to evaluate a starting pitcher.

A pitcher cannot win a game unless he is at the plate holding a bat. The starter can go 9 innings without giving up a hit, walk or run and still not get the win. The win is a team stat. I don't think there is one stat that can solely define a player and the win is the worst way to define a pitcher's ability. If you do prefer to use a single stat; era is good, VORP is better and the win is awful.

Les Savy Ferd said...

wow, this post is like a sobering cup of joe after a long night of boozing. Here i was getting all excited about this guy, and for what, really?

Yes, there's upside.
Yes, the deal seems attractive.

But you're absolutely right on the short leash. Let the kids play if this guy doesn't pan out. As a friend of mine fired back at me when i changed my away message to "Carl effin' pavano!?"

"Good luck with the man with the broken bum"

(Oh and I STILL totally want to read the hypothetical Ricky/Wandy/Pelfrey article, if it is in any way salvageable. There's plenty of time til spring training, and most of us Tribe fans are really BASEBALL fans at heart, and hearing your opinion/explication on some other pitchers wouldn't hurt anyone)

Cy Slapnicka said...

Wow, how could anyone forget Millwood's lack of run support that season? It was ridiculous and got to the point where people would joke about it during the season and interviews. Present day CC couldn't win games with that sort of run support.

I mean, forget what stats are most important for a minute, did you hit your head and blackout for the entire 2005 season?! Refresh...Cliff Lee was good before he was bad, Elarton had a winning record, the Aaron F-ing Boone experiment started, failed, and somehow continued, we couldn't beat Tampa, and the season ending sweep to the Sox.

To prove my point, I googled "Millwood Indians run support" and the google results simply returned: "seriously, you don't remember?"

Btw Brian, in case you forgot anything else from 2005, you also put together an outstanding musical arrangement for a wedding at Firestone ;)

Paul Cousineau said...

LSF,
I didn’t mean to throw cold water on the Hot Stove, it’s just that I’m kind of indifferent to this deal as it I just don't see Pavano staying healthy, given that he hasn't been since 2004. What I was trying to project was that Pavano just looks like another question mark to me and doesn't really make me feel any better about the state of the rotation.

Certainly it's a low-risk option and maybe he does have something to prove, I just don't see Pavano adding much more to the rotation than the hope that he'll miraculously return to his 2004 form after too many injuries to even count.

I think a lot of people see the name “Carl Pavano”, know that he was (for at least a season) one of the better pitchers in baseball, know that the Yankees gave him all of that money, and get excited for Kevin Millwood redux when the two scenarios are very different. All I was trying to point out was that he simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy and that one season was now a full four years ago.

It's not that I HATE the deal, it's just that I don't love it the way that I do the Wood, DeRosa, Smith, and Valbuena acquisitions and don't think it does anything to settle what still looks to be a questionable back of the rotation. There’s no question that the off-season has been a wild success, in terms of addressing issues, but I don’t put the Pavano signing in the “plus” side of the ledger with the rest of those additions just yet.

The deal looks, to me, to be more of a "let's get another arm to compete, and if he's healthy - great, if not - no big loss" move that doesn't generate much more from me than a "meh".

As for putting that other piece out there, maybe I’ll go back to it if there’s a quiet week between now and Spring Training.

RE said...

hardly quantifiable, and maybe completely wrong, but it seems to me that there are certain pitchers who inspire run production and others who don't...Millwood didn't in Cleveland and hasn't in (even!) Texas.

KonstrucktaTribe said...

NEW TOPIC:

Probably a bit out there but apparently the yankees have a log jam in the outfield (according to MLB.com) what about a trade for Xavier Nady. Shoppach and prospects? Shoppach and ?

Do the Ynakees really think Posada and Molina(?) can fill out catching duties?

KonstrucktaTribe said...

I guess its kinda stupid now that I read my comment out loud. But Xavier Nady if I recall is cheap and under control for a while.

crymeacuyahogariverblog.blogspot.com said...

All this argument about the importance of wins as an indicator of talent reminds me of the Derek Anderson debate after the 2007 Browns season.

R.M. Jennings said...

I'm with you on the wins thing, PC. I remember going to the first game after the All-Star break in 2005, and watching the White Sox beat Millwood 1-0 on a Frank Thomas double in the first inning. It was maddening. He pitched an incredible game, but lack of run support gave him the big old "L". The loss was no reflection of his performance. Yeah, at the end of the day, a win from the team is the only thing that matters, but a win or loss for the pitcher can't be used as the only way to evaluate how well he did his part. FJM has many great articles on this.

Nady is cheap... if you're the Yankees. Put him on the 2008 Indians, and he's the 10th highest paid player, ahead of Sizemore, Carmona, Peralta, and especially Shoppach. He'd be making David Dellucci money, and admittedly be an upgrade, but certainly not worth trading Shoppach.

Also, PC, my girlfriend (who really enjoyed your Dietribe post after I insisted she read it) wanted me to tell you that she saw that the first episode was free on iTunes.

R.M. Jennings said...

Also, don't wanna see Shoppach in pinstripes this soon. Wait until the Yankees have to cough up $700 million and give him his own Space Shuttle in a few years.

On a related note, as a New York State taxpayer, I can't believe that I'm paying for the new Yankee Stadium when the state is in a budget crisis, and the Yankees just spent an obscene amount of money on three players. Regardless of how you feel about Dennis Kucinich's politics, you gotta love that he got on the Yankees' case about this.