Free Kevin Slowey

Over the last three years, 87 starting pitchers have accumulated at least 400 innings pitched, or an average of just under three per team. Due to injuries and poor performance, most teams end up using their last two rotation spots as a never-ending wheel of fill-ins, which is one reason why pitchers with decent track records of success often get large amounts of money in free agency. In fact, even the guys at the bottom of this list in terms of results keep getting opportunities, since they have a track record that organizations can point to.

However, one of the guys on this list – a guy with a good track record, who is pretty much square in the middle of the results no matter what metric you use – just his lost job this week. And it’s somewhat shocking to me that no one has swooped in to make him a part of their rotation yet.

This guy ranks 56th in ERA among starters (again, 400 IP minimum) since 2008, one spot ahead of Josh Beckett. He ranks 41st in FIP, one spot ahead of Gavin Floyd. He ranks 48th in xFIP, just ahead of Paul Maholm. Yet, despite being peers with some pretty well regarded pitchers, Kevin Slowey has found himself slotted in as the Twins long reliever, if they can’t find anyone to trade for him.

Slowey would represent a legitimate upgrade over at least one member of nearly every rotation in baseball. Over the last three years, the only pitchers in baseball with a better strikeout to walk ratio are Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Dan Haren, and none of those three have pitched exclusively in the American League during that stretch.

Yes, Slowey is an extreme fly ball pitcher who gives up a good amount of home runs, thanks in large part to an average fastball that doesn’t quite crack 90 MPH. However, his secondary stuff is pretty good, he has terrific command, and he hasn’t shown any kind of real platoon split throughout his career. Slowey is a perfectly capable mid-rotation starter, doesn’t turn 27 until May, and is only owed $2.7 million in salary this year.

There are 150 Major League rotation spots in play each year. By nearly any objective measure, Slowey is one of the 100 best starting pitchers in baseball right now. And yet, he’s ticketed for a low-leverage bullpen role, while Arizona rolls out a guy like Joe Saunders – at best, no better than Slowey, and probably worse – as their opening day starting pitcher.

I get that the Twins have a deep rotation, but Bill Smith‘s phone should have been ringing off the hook the minute that Slowey became available in trade. If he had the exact same results, but his fastball clocked in several miles-per-hour faster, teams would be falling all over themselves to acquire Slowey – for evidence, see Edwin Jackson. However, because Slowey is a command guy without an obvious plus pitch, he’s slapped with the replaceable #5 starter label, even though his performance in the big leagues has been demonstrably better than that.

It’s a common cry that there’s not enough pitching to go around in baseball. It’s tough to take those cries too seriously when Kevin Slowey can’t land a job as a starting pitcher.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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