The Snail’s Pace Arms Race


There are free agent pitchers and teams really don’t care that much

As cliché as do you come here often sounds when approaching the opposite sex as awkwardly as possible, offering a delicious stout as a proposal for coitus, the cold MLB hot stove is an omnipresent topic of every news source that is just as cliché these days. Speculation varies; we first blamed Shohei Ohtani, then Giancarlo Stanton, but now that their new uniforms are available for purchase, we have nobody to blame except suspect pitching, because the available guys are the equivalent of buying a used car from Bubba who sells mud ducks right next to the Quick Trip. Really, that analogy is as questionable as the actual pitchers available. We really don’t know if anyone available will give us 180 innings and a 3.00 ERA or 155 of 4.50 ball. Pure crapshoot.

Here are the guys your team’s GM can get that I want to talk about:

  • Jake Arrieta
  • Yu Darvish
  • Alex Cobb
  • Andrew Cashner
  • Lance Lynn
  • A wildcard at the end

These are some of the guys. They’re what we got and what your team will have to make work. Good pitching is hard to find. Here’s why you might and might not want these guys on your team.

Jake Arrieta

Barring an existence under a rock the past few years, you’ve heard the name and you’ve seen the track record. At one point this guy had 24 straight quality starts, putting down a 20-1 record (the only time he lost was when Cole Hamels threw a no-no against the Cubs) with 17 earned runs in 178 innings. That’s a 0.86 ERA over 178 innings. He was The Predator on the mound. But, as Dutch said, “if it bleeds, we can kill it.” Jake started to bleed in 2016 and 2017. After making quite the mark in 2015; Cy Young, 8.7 WAR, a league best 0.4 HRs and 5.9 hits per nine innings and a 0.865 WHIP, the cracks in 2016 lead to a 1.9 WAR in 2017, a league lead in wild pitches, a 1.218 WHIP and a 3.53 ERA over only 168.1 innings. Jake getting through 6 innings was like watching a monkey try to hump a football, i.e., it wasn’t pretty. If your team signs him, you’re either getting the penthouse or the outhouse. This could be why he is on the market still. Hey Scott Boras, we’d like to be pimps from Oakland or cowboys from Arizona. Grow up, Peter Pan. Anything past three years is burning cash. He’ll be the Albert Pujols of pitching free agency.

Yu Darvish

When this guy throws a baseball, it moves like a UFO in the sky—I mean, it’s all Ancient Aliens: very confusing, mysterious, and unless you see it, you don’t believe it. The ball darts, lasers, and moves like backyard whiffle ball. He’s a Nolan Ryan-esque strikeout machine; Yu struck out 11.9 guys per nine in 2013, which was a career high and more than The Ryan Express ever K’d per nine in a season (his high: 11.5 per 9). Over his five-year career he’s nabbed 11 per 9, which I love because when ducks hit the pond and jams happen, he has the ability to get guys out while keeping the ball out of play. You like this especially in tight games. However, his early game numbers scream for help. In 2017 he carried a 4.06 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP in the 1st inning, which is higher than his 2017 averages. In 4 of his 5 seasons, his first inning ERA has been worse than his total for the season; in 2012 and 2013 his 1st inning ERA was a run higher. This all points to his struggles in the 2017 World Series in which he posted a 21.60 ERA over 3.1 innings. He is known as a guy who is easily shook. I wrote in an earlier piece that with the right team in 2018 he could win the Cy Young, so if your team gets him, you’re getting the Picasso of strikeouts with a sprinkle of the yips. Let’s hope your team lets Yu be Yu.

Alex Cobb

The Cubs made Alex Cobb an offer he could refuse—3 years worth $42M. Cobb just completed his first full season post Tommy John: 179.1 innings, 3.66 ERA, 113 ERA+ and a 1.221 WHIP. That’s a good season for a number 3 or 4 guy. However, 2017 gave us a new Alex Cobb that we are all uncertain of for 2018. From 2013-2014, via Baseball Reference, he threw 309.2 innings with a 2.92 ERA, 1.143 WHIP, and a 134 ERA+. His 2017 shows a negative trend because of a different approach on the mound. Pre-Tommy John, his split-finger was his go-to pitch, but post-Tommy John he was told not to throw it because of his repaired UCL, increasing his sinker and curveball usage.

This new approach is scary for many reasons. Cobb’s 2017 success could be a delay in scouting from other teams—meaning that lineups weren’t expecting this approach but they could be in 2018, making Cobb less effective without his dominate splitter. And two, Cobb’s ground ball rate dropped to the lowest of his career, his rate of contact was the highest of his career, his swing and miss rate was the lowest of his career, all while giving up more home runs per nine than he ever has in his career. A lot of career highs and lows here, and they’re in the wrong direction.

Cobb has great command, but his new approach combined with his contract desires make him a high risk, high reward type thing. He could throw like a fifth starter or a two spot, who knows. Best of luck if your team gets him. Also, if your team signs Cobb, your team loses a draft pick. Decide wisely GMs.

Andrew Cashner

Ahh, the enigmatic righty with the big beard and the 138 ERA+ in 2017 was a bigger surprise than the time Randy Johnson smoked a bird with a fastball. With a new off-speed repertoire, having once owned the seventh hardest fastball in all of baseball, he upped the use of the sinker and started slingin’ a slider which has created a lower ground ball rate and an increased soft contact fly-ball rate, which I absolutely love in this juiced ball-home run era—he could have prolonged success in today’s game with his new approach. You’ll notice what looks like a lucky BABIP that was the second lowest in baseball, but his new approach created this more than luck, so we think it is by design and not by the draw.

In our opinion, he’s just as risky as Cobb but cheaper. I think both Cobb and Cashner are in similar positions as far as what their future will look like if they are on your team: new approaches that proved well for 2017, a crapshoot in 2018 even if they stay healthy. Cashner just has a lower risk—he’ll require less years and less money.

Lance Lynn

Lance is my next to last guy. I had like 3 more guys lined up after this but I think we are good and plus these are my favorite free agent pitchers anyway, besides Lackey, which may make a surprise appearance after ol’ Lance here. First, Lance Lynn is the toughest pitcher in all of MLB and it’s not even close. He can take a hit like a bloody Rocky fighting Ivan Drago. Lance Lynn threw a fastball to Lorenzo Cain, Cain hit the ball back to Lance, the ball slammed off Lance’s head, then Lance got up, put his hat back on, and when his teammates wanted to check on him, Lance “stared back in their soul and told them to get back in the dugout.” Post game he said that his hat caught the brunt of the screamer because baseball hats are for protection and he wasn’t hurt because the launched fastball hit the hat, so he was good. Also, “I thought it should’ve been caught. Where was Kolten at on the ricochet?”

Lynn, in my opinion, is the best overall value in pitching you can sign this offseason. I’m talking dough and throw. His past three seasons he’s spun a 3.06 ERA, 129 ERA+ and averaged 188 innings per year. But, 2018 does have some concerns.

Lynn’s 2017 was also his first since Tommy John surgery. We saw dips from Lance just like with Alex: career low fastball velocity, career high walk rate and career low K rate and he only lasted on average 5.6 innings per start. The main concerns with this is that he relies heavily on that fastball, and if his velo continues to dip, so might those numbers. His DRA was 4.54 and his FIP was 4.82 in 2017. Those aren’t good numbers. 2018 could be a disaster if his velocity doesn’t rebound.

MLB Trade Rumors originally reported that Lance could get 4 years at $60M, but since the market isn’t moving on the big 6’5” 280-pound hurler, your team could get him at a great price and take the risk on a guy that has proven he can produce on the mound.

John Lackey (The Surprise Slanger!)

The man once got ejected from a baseball game mid-count. Profanities pour from him like Niagara Falls. He makes Lou Piniella look like The Dalai Lama and has the best set of veneers this side of the nuthouse. Good god don’t give him a sharp object, but I’ll tell you this, he’ll turn your young core of starters into leathery bad-asses who’ll be ready to put one in a hip quicker than a jackrabbit on a date. He’s your huckleberry.

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