Though most of the offseason attention has been spent discussing where top-tier pitchers like CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Derek Lowe will sign, several hurlers capable of filling out the middle to back of the rotation were available. Daniel Cabrera became the most recent of these pitcher to sign, when he inked a one year deal with the Nationals. Tim Redding is currently seeking a two-year deal, and may very well receive one from the New York Mets. Another pitcher along these lines, likely better than Cabrera and Redding, is Braden Looper.
Looper, 34, spent the last three seasons on the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2006, he appeared in 69 games out of the bullpen, putting together a solid season with a 3.46 FIP. Looper moved to the rotation the next season, where he logged 175 innings while posting a 4.82 FIP. He did not exactly take the league by storm but had value above replacement level and made just $4.5 mil.
This past season, Braden earned $5.5 mil while recording a 4.52 FIP in 199 innings. With a slight bonus for pitching about 200 innings, Looper was a +2 win pitcher in 2008.
In 2009, Marcel projects Looper to be a 4.53 FIP pitcher in 170 innings. I think it is more realistic he will log closer to 180 innings. Let’s call him a 180 inning pitcher with a 4.60 FIP, which would result in 92 runs allowed. A replacement level starter with a 5.50 FIP in 150 innings would allow 92 runs. The replacement reliever would amass the remaining 30 innings at a 4.50 FIP, allowing 15 runs in the process.
This places Looper at +15 runs above replacement, and we can add another two runs as a bonus for pitching 180 innings. With these numbers, Looper projects to be a +1.5 to +1.7 win pitcher next season. At the going rate of $5 mil/win, Looper’s fair market value would be set at $8.5 mil, $3 mil more than his salary last season.
It is somewhat surprising that Looper’s name has not surfaced in rumors or reports as often as the likes of Cabrera and Redding. Considering the fact that he has proven himself better and projects more optimistically than either of the aforementioned pitchers, that only one report features Braden’s potential new location—Milwaukee—seems odd. How does Redding have several reported suitors yet Looper only has one, and that has not even been confirmed?
Regardless, whichever team ends up inking him to a deal will be getting a pitcher who, last season, showed a big improvement in his O-Swing%, increasing from 20% to 25%. At the same time, his Z-Swing%, which measures pitches swung at in the strike zone, dropped by an almost equal amount. His percentage of first strikes rose from 55% to 62% and he sustained a 51% rate of pitches thrown in the strike zone. Put together, he was able to increase swings on bad pitches and decrease swings on good pitches, while avoiding throwing more pitches out of the zone and getting ahead more often.
Looper may be 34, and he might not have the power potential of a Cabrera, or the potential cheap fee like a Redding, but he can definitely strengthen the back end of a rotation.
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