The Surprisingly Robust Starting Pitching Market

Much like fingerprints, no two off-seasons are exactly alike. Every year develops at its own pace and has its own quirks, and this year is certainly no exception. Multiple Scott Boras clients have signed one-year deals, hoping to get more interest next season. One of the top players on the market didn’t sign until late January. The Florida Marlins were one of the high-rollers at the Winter Meetings. And in the wake of Edwin Jackson signing with the Washington Nationals, we’re left with another oddity: an over-supply of starting pitchers in February.

At the moment, there are at least four pitchers available as a free agent or on the trade block:

Roy Oswalt (4.04 SIERA in 2011)
John Lannan (4.47 SIERA)
Jeff Niemann (3.79 SIERA) / Wade Davis (4.83 SIERA)
Kyle McClellan (4.36 SIERA)

Oswalt is easily the best free agent starter that has been available as late as February in a few years. John Maine was the best starter signed after February 1st last off-season, and Livan Hernandez and Chien-Ming Wang were the two hot February acquisitions back in 2010. And back in 2009, the list was just as paltry: Adam Eaton, Jorge Vazquez, Livan Hernandez, and Brett Tomko.

Come February, the trade market for starting pitchers is also normally bone dry. Dana Eveland was traded in early February of 2010, and the Rays traded away Jason Hammel in April of 2009. Outside of that, the only other significant starting pitchers to get traded this late in the off-season were Johan Santana and Erik Bedard back in 2008.

How many teams currently need starting pitching? The Red Sox certainly do, and it appears that the Orioles, Indians, Blue Jays, and Cardinals have all been searching to some degree. The Mets could also use to add a starter, right? But as we get down to the wire, it feels like there are fewer and fewer teams clamoring to add starting pitching, while the market for starters is (relatively speaking) flooded.

Of course, the market isn’t quite as straightforward as it looks. Oswalt doesn’t appear to want to sign with the Red Sox, and the Rays aren’t going to be willing to sell low or trade in-division with either Niemann or Davis. Meanwhile, Lannan and McClellan are both average-to-below-average pitchers that will be due a few million each this upcoming season.

Will this market end up being more favorable to teams interested in buying or selling starters? It’s difficult to say, but based on the recent past, this looks like an unusually strong buyers market.

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

17 Responses to “The Surprisingly Robust Starting Pitching Market”

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  1. Evan says:

    Any list that includes Adam Eaton is MASSIVE

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  2. Jesse says:

    How surprising is this?

    Last year was the so often hyped, “year of the pitcher”, and there are more than a few elite talents entering/re-entering the fray this year (moore, strasburg, darvish, wainwright, santana, cruz-the over under on that groups WAR for next year has got to be like 20).

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    • harpago17 says:

      By definition, if the pool over pitchers becomes deeper, wouldn’t you expect WAR to be lower for most pitchers, since the performance level of replacement would be higher?

      Unless of course the starting pitching pool is simply adding to the number of “elite” pitchers while keeping those at the replacement level on approximately the same performance level.

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  3. hernandez17 says:

    Robust is a strong word…

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  4. pm says:

    How can you say that John Lannan is an average to below average pitcher? In his 5 seasons, he has had 4 seasons with a 103+ ERA+. In 3 of the last 4 years, he has had a sub 4 ERA. He’s had 1 bad seasons in 2010, but that was due to injury. He had a 3.42 ERA and a robust FIP when he came back. So in his 5 seasons, he has performed more than adequately when he has been healthy.

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    • Jono411 says:

      career ERA- of 98, FIP- of 112. seems average to below average to me.

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      • pm says:

        No that’s about average. 4 seasons at 98 ERA- or less indicates his 116 ERA- season is a fluke. If Lannan is below average, what does that make soon to be HOF Jack Morris and his Lannan-like 105 ERA+?

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        It makes Morris lucky he played on a team with a good enough offense and bullpen to give him so many wins and post season appearances.

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    • Dave S says:

      ERA- of 100 is now called the “Lannan line”, in honor of his resplendent mediocrity.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Watching John Lannan is like watching a better version of Kyle Kendrick. You know he shouldn’t be succeeding, but somehow he does. I still expect Kyle Kendrick to be bad everytime he pitches and I expect Lannan to be below average. It’s a visceral reaction, but I’ve spoken to scouts with the same opinion so I consider it acceptable.

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  5. pft says:

    The term robust market is usually used when it’s a sellers market, A buyers market is a bear market, not robust.

    Lannan is an UER machine. Should use R/9 instead ERA, or RA+ instead of ERA+. Lannan gives up 4.5 R.

    UER is the biggest weakness of ERA. Better to use the change in RE an errors causes, than UER.

    Lannan is a relatively soft tossing lefty, who got hit pretty well by RHB’ers last year. He is the type that typically does not adjust well going to the AL East (w/DH) and Fenway from the NL. Also, the weak side if the IF defensively for the Red Sox is the left side, so a LH GB pitchers with low k/9 is not what they need.

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    • Dave S says:

      “top 10” Qualifiers, 2011. Sorry for the (lack of) formatting.

      Name UER/9ip

      Jaime Garcia 1.066
      Matt Garza 0.773
      Bud Norris 0.726
      Fausto Carmona 0.717
      Carl Pavano 0.689
      John Lannan 0.684
      Bartolo Colon 0.658
      C.J. Wilson 0.645
      Ubaldo Jimenez 0.622
      Livan Hernandez 0.565

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    • Dave S says:

      “top 15” qualifiers, 2008-2011 combined.

      Name UER/9ip

      Jaime Garcia 0.955
      Rodrigo Lopez 0.770
      Dave Bush 0.718
      Jonathon Niese 0.682
      Tim Wakefield 0.679
      Jhoulys Chacin 0.605
      Bud Norris 0.592
      Fausto Carmona 0.584
      Brett Anderson 0.582
      Felipe Paulino 0.576
      Justin Masterson 0.566
      Nick Blackburn 0.559
      John Lannan 0.556
      Brad Bergesen 0.548
      Charlie Morton 0.543

      Lannan is #13, so yeah… he’s a repeat offender. I was surprised to see Jaime Garcia topping this list.

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    • B N says:

      “LH GB pitchers with low k/9 is not what they need.”

      Plus, we already have one L-named guy who sucks. Two of them would be pushing it.

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