It’s no secret that Arizona’s starting pitchers struggled in 2013. They were tenth in the NL in ERA compared to other starting staffs. With position players that provided an above average offense and top-tier defense, the place with most room for improvement is within the pitching staff. There has already been turnover amongst the relievers, and the rumors indicate Arizona is interested in signing a free agent starter. Assuming Masahiro Tanaka does not sign with the Diamondbacks, none of the available starters would provide a significant upgrade for the Dbacks.
In order to determine if a potential signing would be justified, the value of the new starter needs to be compared to the value of the old starter plus any potential value the old SP would establish in the bullpen. The first component of this is the value of any potential starting pitchers. Matt Garza is one of the best pitchers available, is projected to post a 2.8 WAR next year according to Steamer. In 2011, Garza compiled an impressive 4.9 WAR, but that seems like a bit of an anomaly. He pitched 259 innings combined in the past two seasons, so injuries are a concern, too. I tend to agree with the smart folks at Steamer; Garza is most likely to be a middle of the rotation starter in 2014 and beyond.
In order for Garza to represent an upgrade, his production must be an improvement over that of whichever starting pitcher he’s replacing. With a current projected rotation of Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, and Randall Delgado, the most likely candidate to be bumped at this point appears to be Delgado. McCarthy and Cahill had unsatisfactory results in 2013, but their salaries make a demotion unlikely. Jeff’s Steamer report provides more insight into expectations for Cahill and McCarthy, among others.
Assuming Delgado would be bumped from the rotation, what kind of production would a free agent be replacing? For starters, Delgado throws a fastball of the four-seam and two-seam variety, which generally sits in the low 90’s, with an above-average changeup, and an average curveball. His two-seam fastball is known to have good, late movement, and he has been projected by scouts as anywhere from a number three to number five starter.
Even ZiPS and Steamer, two of the big predictor’s of player performance, disagree on how Delgado will perform in 2014. Steamer says he will have a FIP of 4.17, while ZiPS thinks it will be 4.96. In order to determine which seems more likely, it is important to look at a few indicators for Delgado.
When looking at 2014 projections, the walk rate jumps out. Delgado was known to have control issues heading into last season, but he only walked 4.9% of batters in 2013. This was a superb mark, particularly for a pitcher with control issues. Neither projection expects this low rate to reappear in 2014. ZiPS has Delgado’s BB% jumping to 8.4%, and Steamer says that it will be 9.1%.
Another issue is the rate at which Delgado has been giving up homers. He gave up 1.86 HR/9 in 2013. Both projections expect that number to come down–ZiPS projects 1.47 and Steamer projects 0.95. This is a huge difference, and ultimately, these could decide whether adding a starting pitcher via free agency would be a good idea.
Delgado pitched poorly in September; the walks were up a bit and he started giving up home runs at an astonishing rate. Looking at the PitchF/X data at texasleaguers.com, it seems that he was just suffering from fatigue and an inconsistent release point.
First, let’s look at his release points from July 26, when he threw a 3-hit shutout:
It was consistent, and hitters had no way of knowing what pitch was coming based on release point. Now, look at a chart of the release points from September 9, when he lasted only 2.2 innings and gave up four homers.
Not only is it much less consistent, but Delgado might have even been tipping his pitches. Now, let’s look at Delgado’s last start of the season:
This start did not go very well, as you probably guessed from the inconsistency depicted above. Comparing the shutout with Delgado’s last start of the season, he also lost velocity on his two-seam fastball.
Release point issues generally point to command issues, which we know has been a theme with Delgado. Towers agrees that the homers are a result of command issues, “His homers are getting too much of the plate, an elevated fastball or change-up that’s left up in the zone.”
Clearly, release point has been an issue. So if Delgado gets a consistent release point down like he did in early 2013, we have to wonder what will happen with his strikeout rate. He struck out 19% of batters in approximately 90 innings with the Braves in 2012, but only 16.7% in 2013. One theory would be that the lack of control in 2012 allowed batters to swing and miss more often. The numbers support this; Delgado threw more balls in 2012 and batters made contact at a lower rate than they did in 2013.
It is reasonable to expect Delgado to find a consistent release point, bringing the homerun and walk rates down, but bringing the strikeout rate with them. Delgado has the potential to be a three-win player, but the most likely outcome in 2014 is that he will add about two wins to the team.
It is hard to project what Delgado would contribute as a potential reliever, but his fastball would probably be closer to 94 or 95, and his good change-up would give him two very effective pitches. He would also have value as a sixth starter, but Josh Collmenter has done a great job in that role and Archie Bradley is expected to debut in the summer. Assuming that the Diamondbacks are able to acquire Matt Garza, the improvement does not seem to be substantial. The best- case scenario would be that Garza is two wins better than Delgado in 2014. A more likely scenario is that Garza is somewhere between 0.5 and 1.5 wins better. The Diamondbacks are a team with a lower payroll, and somewhere around $15 million dollars a year (what Garza would command) is a big investment for them. The risk would not justify the reward in this scenario; acquiring Matt Garza or any other free agent starting pitcher not named Masahiro Tanaka would be an inefficient use of resources.
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