Chris Larson 2020 MLB Free Agents Pitching Staff

Free Agents
HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 05: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros reacts after his 14th strike out during the eighth inning of Game 2 of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park on October 05, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Pitching Staff for 2020 Regular Season

With a lull in baseball news and activity, now is the perfect time to take a look back at the past offseason. When doing that, there’s a fun exercise where you can build your own team made up completely of free agents. As such, I will be doing a mini, two-part series focused on building out an entire roster of free agents from this past offseason.

For this series, I will take on the role of being a mid-market team with a total payroll of $186 million dollars which is the average of the top ten payrolls in baseball right now. In the game today, being able to have a payroll of that amount is a rarity. In fact, only the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs have a payroll greater than that valuation.

Today, the focus will be on building out the pitching staff. Given that team’s rosters are expanding to 26 or potentially more players this season, many teams will go with 13-man pitching staffs. The same stipulations will apply for this exercise.

Gerrit Cole: The Money Man Ace

Gerrit Cole is a slam dunk choice for the first spot on the pitching staff. It’s hard to argue against his worth even if it means investing $36 million dollars into him per season for 2020 until 2028. Cole is coming off a season in which he led all of baseball in strikeouts (326 over 33 starts). That alone is more than valuable as is his ability to pitch in high-leverage situations during the course of a game.

Last year in situations with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP), Cole held opposing teams to a cumulative batting line of: .173/.229/.236 over 140 plate appearances. In the game today, getting on base regularly usually doesn’t happen unless there is a significant rally. However, as a General Manager I know that I need someone who can step up to the plate and deliver in the most critical situations.

Dallas Keuchel: Kid Keuchy Number Two Starter

Dallas Keuchel might not be the obvious choice to plug into the second spot of the starting rotation. However, given that he comes at a rate of $18.5 million dollars and is heading into his age 32 season, it’s a gamble worth taking. Keuchel might not have the greatest surface-level numbers among free agents from this past offseason. The one thing he does have though is durability and that’s significant in the game today. It was only two years ago that Keuchel made a total of 34 starts.

Furthermore, given that he signed with the Atlanta Braves late last season that had an effect on how many starts he ended up making. However, Keuchel made all 19 starts last season and provided the Braves with some significant value down the stretch. In total, Keuchel concluded the season with a 3.75 ERA over 112 and 2/3 innings of work with an ERA+ of 121.

Rounding Out the Starting Rotation

Tanner Roark: T-Ro for Three

Tanner Roark, otherwise known as T-Ro, is a great selection for the third spot of the starting rotation. Roark comes at the cost of $12 million dollars this coming season. Like Dallas Keuchel, Roark doesn’t possess the best surface-level numbers overall. However, he is yet another durable starting pitcher and that’s once again significant.

Additionally, Roark posted an opponent batting average line of: .211/.313/.394 in high leverage situations last season. That accounted for a total of approximately 84 plate appearances. While that is a small sample size, Roark showed that he can be brilliant during high leverage moments during his tenure with the Washington Nationals.

Julio Teheran: K-eheran Slots Into the Fourth Spot

Julio Teheran is yet another high risk and potentially high reward starting pitcher. Teheran signed a one-year, $9 million dollar deal with the Los Angeles Angels this past offseason. Some might consider $9 million to be a lot for a starting pitcher like Teheran, but it’s a gamble worth taking. Teheran has been a strikeout machine the last few seasons. Last year, Teheran finished with the same K/9 rate as he did during the 2018 regular season (8.3).

Furthermore, Teheran is yet another starting pitcher who has made at least 30 starts every single season of his big league career. Despite the walk rate being 4.3-per-9 innings, there’s the potential that Teheran could thrive in the right environment with the right team. After all, Teheran is still only 29 years old.

Taijuan Walker: A Man of Mystery

Rounding out the final spot of the starting rotation is Taijuan Walker. Walker only pitched a single inning last year as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. However, there was a lot of potential surrounding him when the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired him from the Seattle Mariners prior to the start of the 2017 regular season. Walker, who is still in the midst of his prime, will turn 28 this coming August.

Many times, pitchers who have Tommy John surgery come back stronger than ever. Therefore, Walker is the perfect flier candidate at an affordable rate of $2 million dollars. If Walker can replicate some of his splits from the 2017 regular season, then it could be even more valuable in the long-run.

Ivan Nova: Sixth Man Up

Ivan Nova signed a very affordable one-year, $1.5 million dollar deal with the Detroit Tigers this past offseason. Nova has made his way around the big leagues on various teams over the last few seasons. Although, his value is still felt in a big way and last year alone, Nova made 34 starts with the Chicago White Sox. With some of the uncertainty of the middle-to-back end of the starting rotation, as a General Manager, I would want to ensure that I had enough depth for down the stretch this coming season.

As they say, in many cases a contending team needs 8 or 9 starting pitchers to make it through a full 162-game season. While this season isn’t going to be 162-games long, Nova is the perfect guy to step in when there is an injury or when one of the other starting pitchers might need a break.

Swingman for the Win: Collin McHugh

Collin McHugh was a valuable part of the Houston Astros pitching staff in 2018 and took a bit of a step back last year. However, McHugh is still valuable because he is only going to cost $600,000 dollars for the coming season. Additionally, McHugh has the ability to pitch in the starting rotation or out of the bullpen. In fact, last season McHugh started 8 games for the Astros and finished 8 games with 18 other relief appearances mixed in. Over that span, McHugh posted a 4.70 ERA but had a 9.9 K/9 rate.

Against left-handers last season, McHugh posted a .178/.279/.380 batting line. If McHugh could provide that value and bounce back to the 2018 version of himself, it could be a steal of a deal. Potentially one that makes me look like a genius of a General Manager.

Drew Pomeranz: The Closer

Drew Pomeranz was one of the more highly paid relievers on the free-agent market this past offseason. Pomeranz finished last season with the Milwaukee Brewers and posted great results. In total, Pomeranz posted a 2.39 ERA over 26 and 1/3 innings of work with 2 saves, an ERA+ of 188, and a 15.4 K/9 rate. As a General Manager, that K/9 rate is especially intriguing as is the fact that Pomeranz is a left-hander. In the right environment, it feels like Pomeranz could be a valuable reliever in every regard.

To demonstrate how Pomeranz might thrive in the closer role, consider his stats during situations when the game was in the late innings last year and close in score. Those situations accounted for a total of 41 plate appearances. In those 41 plate appearances, Pomeranz held opposing batters to a .139/.244/.333 batting line. For the 2020 season, Pomeranz will come at a cost of $8.5 million dollars.

Daniel Hudson: Backup Closer and Eighth Inning Guy

Daniel Hudson was one of the prime reasons why the Washington Nationals won the World Series last year. Hudson showed throughout the course of both the regular and postseasons that he can deliver in big spots and provide value. As a General Manager, I would look back on Hudson’s 2019 regular season and make note of those high-leverage situations knowing that Hudson could thrive in my bullpen in a back-up closer/eighth-inning role. If Pomeranz were to struggle, Hudson could be plugged into that spot.

At a salary of $5.5 million dollars, Hudson is pricy compared to other free agent relievers from this past offseason. Additionally, Hudson has experience pitching in the seventh inning as well which happened to be his best inning last year. Combined altogether for innings 7-9, Hudson posted a 2.50 ERA last season with 55 strikeouts.

Blake Treinen: The Train Show

Blake Treinen was non-tendered by the Oakland Athletics at the conclusion of last season. As such, the Los Angeles Dodgers saw the potential in Treinen and signed him to a one-year, $10 million dollar deal. The 2019 regular season went very bad for Treinen as he finished the season with a 4.91 ERA over 58 and 2/3 innings pitched. In that span, Treinen had a 5.14 Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP) along with a 9.1 K/9 rate.

If you rewind to the 2018 regular season though, Treinen was untouchable. That season the right-hander concluded the regular season with a 0.78 ERA. That translated into an ERA+ of 531 and a 4.1 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) value. In addition, Treinen has the ability to pitch in the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth inning providing even more value.

Rounding Out The Bullpen

Junior Guerra: Sneaky Bullpen Pick-Up

Junior Guerra was picked up by the Arizona Diamondbacks this past offseason. Guerra could potentially be a great reliever once again and will come at the cost of $2.65 million dollars. Guerra had his best season in 2019 since the 2016 regular season and while his age is increasing, he’s been consistent with his K/9 rate.

In addition, Guerra is another part of this pitching staff that could be a hybrid pitcher. If a spot starter is needed or depending on the matchup, Guerra can step into the starting role and provide the team with value from that perspective.

Yimi Garcia: Splits Master

Yimi Garcia is another under-the-radar, potentially sneaky pickup for the bullpen. The 29-year old, right-hander was effective against both righties and lefties last season. From a General Manager’s perspective, that is significant because I know that he could be thrust into any type of situation that might come up during the course of a game. Furthermore, Garcia is affordable at a salary of $2.65 million dollars for the coming season.

Additionally, Garcia is a reliever who can attack opposing hitters from the get-go. Last year, Garcia held opposing batters to a .147/.192/.397 slash line in situations where the batter swung at the first pitch.

Josh Osich: Second Lefty

Josh Osich would be the final option to round out the bullpen for this exercise. Osich will be paid $850,000 dollars this coming season by the Boston Red Sox. While there is less emphasis placed on left-handed specialists in the game today, having an additional left-hander alongside the aforementioned Blake Treinen is important.

From a Runs Above Average perspective, Osich finished last season with a positive value in that category of 0. That is a step forward compared to the 2018 regular season when Osich had an RAA of -6. Furthermore, Osich recorded 61 strikeouts over the course of 67 and 2/3 innings last season.

Final Thoughts

Although this pitching staff is filled with some uncertainty, it contains some intriguing arms. From a workload perspective, the starting rotation should be set with Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Tanner Roark, and Julio Teheran in it. For additional help, Ivan Nova would be utilized as the team’s sixth starting pitcher. Additionally, Junior Guerra and Collin McHugh can make spot starts when needed as well.

Beyond that, Taijuan Walker might be the most intriguing name of the remaining pitchers. Walker has the capability to be a highly effective starting pitcher this coming season. If he is able to live up to what the expectations were for him prior to Tommy John surgery, then it could be a tremendous value pickup.

Total Money Spent on Pitching Staff: $109.75 Million Dollars

Remaining Money: $76.25 Million Dollars

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