Patrick Corbin

Buy-Low Starting Pitcher Candidates

We all know that one of the biggest issues facing the Royals this offseason is their starting rotation. They need both quality and quantity after a season that saw them struggle to find consistency in the back of the rotation (and the front, actually) due to both injuries and ineffectiveness. Unfortunately, the starting rotation isn’t their only area of concern, and there might even be bigger fish to fry for them as they look to build another championship caliber club for the 2017 season.

So that means it’s time to look for bargains. These can be either on the free agent market or via trade, but they likely need to find someone who doesn’t take much in terms of either player return or salary (or both) in order to find the solution they really need.

I tried to look for those pitchers who may be a little cheaper than they should be. A change of scenery, especially one to pitch in front of the Royals defense, might be just what the doctor ordered to get these pitchers on the right track. As it stands right now, the Royals rotation looks to include Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy with Jason Vargas a likely fourth starter if his health holds up. That’s not bad. There’s a ton of upside with the first two and the possibility for quality veteran innings with the latter two. But they still need more.

So I decided to look at one of my favorite pitching statistics, Deserved Run Average (DRA) and see who had a DRA below that of their ERA for the season. As it turns out, 353 pitchers in baseball underperformed their DRA. Some did it in one game or two, so they’re not necessarily worth mentioning, but there were 88 pitchers who underperformed their DRA who accumulated at least 10 starts. Some are guys like David Price and Corey Kluber. They’re not going anywhere, but there are a few on this list who I think the Royals might be wise to at least check in about during the offseason.

Without further ado, here’s the list.

Patrick Corbin – I’ve talked a bit about the Royals interest in Corbin, and it makes some sense. Corbin was excellent in his first full big league season, going 14-8 with a 3.41 ERA in 208.1 innings. Then he had Tommy John surgery and came back in 2015 to post a 3.60 ERA in 85 innings over 16 starts. He even showed impeccable control, which is one of the last things to come back after the surgery. And then 2016 happened. He was just awful, posting a 5.15 ERA and eventually moved to the bullpen. His DRA of 3.89 told a different story than his ERA, and I think he’s a great candidate to get on the upswing. He has three years of arbitration eligibility remaining, which should probably earn him around $15 to $20 million, so he’s relatively cheap in terms of contract. With that in mind, though, the Diamondbacks might ask for a lot in return in spite of his down year.

Tyler Duffey – I’m not sure why the Twins would trade a young starting pitcher, especially now that they’re in new hands in the front office, but who knows? Duffey won’t dazzle you with stuff, but he did post a 4.05 DRA compared to a 6.43 ERA. He made 26 starts, throwing 133 innings. In 2015, he made 10 starts for the Twins and posted a 3.10 ERA with a 3.52 DRA. He has decent control, gets some strikeouts and is a big, strong righty who seems like he should be capable of going deep into games. Again, I’m not sure why the Twins would trade him, but he could be a nice buy-low candidate.

Kyle Gibson – Yes, another Twins starter. No, I don’t think it’ll be the easiest thing in the world to acquire a starter from within the division, but Gibson is a guy who I think bounces back in 2017. He struggled mightily last year, going 6-11 with a 5.07 ERA, but his DRA of 4.69 says he was at least a little better than that. What gets me is that he had a DRA of 3.68 in 2014 and 3.74 in 2015. The ERA matched much better in 2015, but he really fell off this past season. His walks increased a bit, but his strikeouts remained at over six per nine. If he can get the walks in check, his ground ball tendencies would play better in front of the Royals defense than in front of whatever the Twins thought was a defense. His BABIP against went from .287 in each of 2014 and 2015 to .330 in 2016. That explains two extra hits per nine innings. Gibson isn’t an ace, but I think he’d do well for the Royals. The biggest holdup is that he’s still cheap as he’s entering arbitration for the first time this season, so even with his down year, his price tag being low means the Twins might want to stick with him.

Gio Gonzalez – It was a rough 2016 for Gonzalez, who posted a 4.57 ERA in 32 starts. What got me is that his strikeouts remained the same while his walks decreased from his 2015 numbers when he was pretty solid. His DRA of 3.26 was down from his 2015 number of 3.40. By FIP, he fared far worse in 2016 because he was bit by the home run ball (weren’t we all?), but he seems like a decent bounceback candidate to me. He gets a fair amount of grounders and could do well with much better infielders behind him. I mean, Daniel Murphy can really hit, but let’s just say he’s no Frank White with the glove. Some red flags include decreasing velocity and spending more time in the strike zone than in previous seasons. That could be what led to the hits he allowed. He’s owed $12 million on a team option, though, and with lots of young arms on their way up through the Nationals system, he may be deemed expendable.

Joe Kelly – I’m pretty sure that Kelly will never not be on a list like this. He has good stuff, but just can’t seem to put it together. His 5.4 walks per nine innings last year were atrocious and helped lead to his 5.18 ERA, but he did post a 3.69 DRA. Granted, the innings were limited, but Kelly has shown flashes of being a quality pitcher, and I wonder if Dave Eiland can’t help bring that out of him. If nothing else, I would have ever bit of confidence that he could become a very good reliever with the Royals, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world considering he’s arbitration eligible for the next two seasons and isn’t likely to earn a ton in that time. Now, it’s worth noting that in previous seasons, his DRA has been in line with his below average ERA. But this is a risk and these are all risks in their own way.

Wade Miley – He was really bad in 2016, especially for the Orioles after they acquired him to bolster the rotation. But why was he bad? Well, he gave up more hits with the Orioles than he had in the past, but he also had a 3.55 DRA for the year compared to a 5.37 ERA. Something is missing there. His ground ball rate dropped a bit after coming to the American League, but he still limited walks and he actually struck out a ton of batters after the Orioles picked him up. That’s not his game, though, so like just about everyone, he can benefit from a bigger park and a solid defense behind him. Like Gonzalez, there’s a trend of decreasing velocity, but he’s owed just under $9 million in 2017 and has a $12 million option with a $500k buyout in 2018. That’s not a terrible contract for a guy with the strikeout to walk ratio he’s put up. It’s a gamble, but again, these are all gambles.

Charlie Morton – Morton is a free agent. I mentioned him on Friday in Friday Notes, but he fits the category here. He posted a 3.53 DRA in his short time in the big leagues last year, but has a DRA of 4.04 or lower every year since 2011. He’s not someone you’re going to count on for 200 innings, but as part of rotational depth, I think the Royals could do far worse than Morton filling the role they envisioned for Chris Young in 2016.

Ricky Nolasco – I know. This is Ricky Nolasco. At first, I thought about not including him even though he fits the criteria. He provided 197.2 innings this year, which is very good. He also had a 4.42 ERA, which really isn’t that bad. His DRA was 4.03 and his FIP was actually 4.10, so no matter what you like to look at, he wasn’t as bad as you’d think. A lot of that came from his time with the Angels after they flipped Hector Santiago for him. He was 4-6 with a 3.21 ERA with the Angels in 11 starts over 73 innings. Now, they’re desperate for starters, so they may not want to trade a nearly 200 inning arm, but he has solid control and I think would really benefit from a very good defense behind him. He’s owed $12 million next year and there’s a $1 million buyout on his 2018 option, so he’s not cheap, but I think it could actually work.

Some other pitchers who could prove to be bargains are Henderson Alvarez, Brett Anderson, Jorge De La Rosa and Jon Niese. All are free agents who suffered from injuries, bad seasons or both.

Many of the pitchers I went into detail about above are not bargains in the truest sense of the word or like the free agents listed just above, and a couple may not actually even be attainable for the Royals, but I think all of them would qualify as good risks on the field to help the Royals bolster their starting rotation for the 2017 season. I’ve said before they need to find at least two more starters. One of those needs to be someone they can slot into the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation and another has to be someone they’d be comfortable with if he had to be in the Opening Day rotation. They could probably really use three, but any of these listed above would fit the criteria of the first two they need and they could all be undervalued based on their performance in 2016.

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