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Starting pitcher bargains hard to find

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Derek Holland hasn’t worked out for White Sox on his one-year deal, but he has plenty of company around baseball

Toronto Blue Jays v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Derek Holland has found a rhythm as his one-year engagement with the White Sox winds down, but it’s not one a pitcher seeks out: a subpar effort in a loss, a harsh self-assessment, and repeat.

Based on the results, there just isn’t a whole lot else he can do as a starter. Since closing out May with a 2.37 ERA, you can decide the ugliest way to characterize the 15 appearances after:

  • 2-9 record
  • 9.67 ERA
  • 41 walks to 41 strikeouts over 62.1 innings
  • 20 homers over those 62.1 innings
  • .342/.436/.645 line allowed

The hope entering the season was that Holland would pitch well enough on a one-year, $6 million contract to find a midseason buyer. Instead, he’s still with the Sox in late August, and he probably will be until either another team needs a lefty in the bullpen or the White Sox designate him for assignment to open a rotation spot. Since the Sox have their own lefty shortage in the bullpen, the latter may be unlikely unless the Sox think they’re doing Holland a favor.

The good news? It’s not like the Sox had a bevy of better candidates for a rebound contract. Looking at the rest of the free-agent starters who signed for one year this past offseason, most of them proved why they couldn’t do better on the open market.

Free-agent starters on one-year contracts, 2017

Pitcher W-L ERA G IP H HR BB% K% FIP bWAR $$$
Pitcher W-L ERA G IP H HR BB% K% FIP bWAR $$$
Derek Holland 6-13 6.07 25 123 142 28 11.5 16.4 6.34 -1.3 6
Brett Anderson 2-2 8.18 6 22 34 2 10.8 14.4 4.5 -0.7 3.5
Bartolo Colon 4-10 6.7 19 99.1 137 18 5.9 13.4 5.11 -1.9 12.5
R.A. Dickey 8-8 3.98 24 147 144 22 8.9 16.6 5 1.8 8
Tyson Ross 3-2 7.02 9 42.1 39 6 15.7 15.7 6.14 -0.7 6
Andrew Cashner 7-9 3.31 20 119.2 113 10 9.6 12.2 4.56 3.6 10
Jered Weaver 0-5 7.44 9 42.1 51 16 6.3 12 8.1 -1.3 3
Trevor Cahill 4-3 4.38 14 72 76 10 10.3 24.3 4.28 0.6 1.75
Jhoulys Chacin 11-8 3.98 25 142.1 126 17 9.3 19.7 4.38 2.5 1.75
Jeff Locke 0-5 8.16 7 32 42 9.9 17.1 26 4.54 -0.9 3.025
Jesse Chavez 6-10 5.24 26 120.1 130 25 8.3 17.8 5.31 0.3 5..75
Clayton Richard 6-12 4.84 25 154.1 191 18 6.7 16.4 4.25 0.6 1.75
Scott Feldman 7-7 4.77 21 111.1 116 21 7.4 19.4 5.02 0.5 2.3

When you look at the list, Cahill was the only pitcher moved at the deadline. The Padres sent Cahill to Kansas City for Travis Wood, Matt Strahm and Esteury Ruiz, but that deal was also about adding Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter to the Royals’ bullpen. And even then, Cahill is on the DL with a shoulder issue he battled earlier in the season.

Cahill is outnumbered by guys who didn’t last the season with their original team. Weaver retired, Locke was outrighted, Anderson was released, and Colon was DFA’d before finding an eighth life with the Twins.

The teams that found a success also signed at least one flop. The Padres in particular cast a wiiiiiiiiide net. They were able to trade Cahill, but they also signed Weaver for more than Cahill cost. Richard is there to provide innings through beatings — look at this three-start stretch — and they couldn’t find a taker for Chacin, perhaps because he allows an OPS 300 points higher away from Petco Park.

Likewise, Cashner has served a purpose with the Rangers despite iffy peripherals, but Ross can’t get it together. The Braves will likely exercise Dickey’s club option for 2018, but Colon was the league’s worst pitcher before they cut him.

Looking at the landscape, Holland doesn’t look like a failure by Don Cooper or the White Sox’ pro scouting, but merely a lost bet on not-great odds. The White Sox will probably go to this well again to fill in the rotation around Carlos Rodon, James Shields, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, and without multiple glaring holes in the rotation, they’ll probably be limited again to just one veteran starter on a similar deal. Like Mat Latos before him, Holland shows how hard it is for teams to hit on a one-off attempt.