Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Filling out the Rotation

The Tribe signed Jason Johnson to be their 5th starter, which completed the 2006 rotations (sans Davis, Carmona, or Sowers, who could all still be just a phone call away). I was not that thrilled with the signing at first glance, mainly because my knowledge of Johnson was limited to his outings against the Tribe (0-2, 5.51 ERA) last year.

When looking deeper into the numbers, though, the Johnson signing simply represents an upgrade over Scott Elarton (while committing to one less guaranteed year) at the 5th spot. If Paul Byrd is a downgrade from Kevin Millwood (who impossibly got 4 years guaranteed with the 5th year easy to attain from the Rangers, who should have learned from the Chan Ho Park debacle), then Johnson balances that exchange by upgrading the 5th starter spot.

What Johnson will do is eat innings, as he’s thrown more than 185 innings every year but one since 2001. That kind of dependability (mostly for bad teams) could translate into wins at the Jake, particularly considering that he’s a groundball pitcher in the Westbrook mold.

Remember that Johnson was seen by some as the Tigers’ ace going into last season, which (though it’s akin to being the prettiest girl in Pittsburgh) counts for something. He may thrive in an environment where he’s pitching against 5th starters (like Cliff Lee does against 3rd starters) and turn into a nice little pick-up.

The signing of Byrd and Johnson do represent an upgrade in signing pitchers with few injury questions and with a track record. Compared to the success stories of Indians pulled off of the scrap heap (Elarton, Sauerbeck, Howry), these free agent pitchers are at least known quantities.

Essentially, we replaced Millwood and Elarton with Byrd and Johnson to fill out a deep rotation. Pitchers’ arms, being the fickle things that they are, aren’t guaranteed to stay healthy or perform identically from year to year. That being said, let’s look at the two numbers most people pointed to when extolling the Tribe rotation last year, IP and ERA:
Millwood – 192 IP, 2.86 ERA
Elarton – 181.2 IP, 4.61 ERA
-Cumulative ERA of 3.70
Paul Byrd – 204.1 IP, 3.74 ERA
Jason Johnson – 210 IP, 4.54 ERA
-Cumulative ERA of 4.14

So, are we going to get the same production from those 2 spots in the rotation? Who knows? What is known is that Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson are signed for a total of 3 guaranteed years at $18.25M, while Millwood and Elarton are locked up for their respective teams for 6 years at $56M.

If the productivity were similar, which package would you rather have, given the unpredictability of pitchers? Also, with the young arms closer and closer, do you want to tie up that kind of money and years in the rotation?

Shapiro’s core belief of financial flexibility is apparent in this signing. And while other teams (notably the Blue Jays) tempt fate in the length of contracts given out to pitchers this off-season, Shapiro quietly (and successfully) built a pitching staff that (on paper) should perform on par with that of 2005.

Where the Indians go from here is anyone’s guess. With rumors of David Riske for Ryan Langerhans and Coco Crisp for Andy Marte floating around, along with the recent Hillenbrand rumor (I hope not), expect something to be done. That something probably just won’t be on the scale that most would like to see (um…how about Broussard, Blake, Riske, Coco, Phillips, and Davis for Manny?)

In reality, Shapiro will likely upgrade one or two positions by dealing from a strength (the bullpen or pitching prospects) or trading a player whose value is high (Coco) with numerous contingency plans that ensure that there will be no glaring holes on the 2006 roster.


Rockdawg said...

No doubt, the Tribe worked it's financial magic again, spending next to nothing to get some quality arms (that doesn't include Karsay). I feel like Jerry Seinfeld after George finds the vibrating chair for a much cheaper price to give to Joe Mayo. Jerry remarks.."Huh...maybe cheapness IS a sense." I am not confident, however, that this team as upgraded enough to beat out the White Sox next year. Something else must be done!

On a side note, is Richard Jefferson's tatoo of "RJ" not the most rediculous thing you've ever seen? Did he design that logo when he was in third grade? I hate that guy!!!

Cy Slapnicka said...


seriously, did the browns turn away an old man with a goat from the stadium that we don't know about? i am thinking of returning my browns pullover i got for xmas. i can't deal with this.