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Rumors continue to swirl as winter meetings begin

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: December 5, 2011 - 12:48 AM

The GM Winter Meetings starts today in Dallas and the event holds plenty of promise for adding new faces to the roster - including potentially finding a starting pitcher to complete the rotation.

The Twins were aggressive with the left-handed Chris Capuano but ultimately lost out to the Los Angeles Dodgers when the veteran decided to sign for a two-year, $10 million to stay in the National League last week. Nevertheless, reports surfaced that the team has been connected to free agents Jeff Francis and Edwin Jackson.

Jackson is a fairly young (28), right-handed power arm (averages 94.5 miles per hour on his fastball) who has been a 3-wins above replacement the previous two seasons and is now poised to command a multi-year deal which we estimated to be in the ballpark of three years at $11 million per year.  Francis, on the other hand, is a slightly older (31 in 2012), left-handed soft-tosser (managed to average just 84.7 miles per hour on his “heater”) who has averaging 2-wins above replacement the past two years and is fortunate if he gets offered employment for one year.

The likes of Jeff Francis and Edwin Jackson couldn’t be any further away from each other on the pitcher spectrum. Jackson is a hard-throwing fastball/slider guy while Francis is a control-oriented, slow-slower-and-slowest pitcher. Having interest in the pair is like being at the bar and trying to decide between a shot of bourbon or a wine cooler. Yet, when you peeled back some of the data, you can see that these two have a lot of common ground.

The pairs’ fastballs, with an almost ten mile per hour discrepancy between them, could not elicit a different response. Some people have actually attempt to compare Edwin Jackson to the legendary Bob Gibson, Jeff Francis’s fastball reminds people of Debbie Gibson. Still, even with the difference it is amazing that they both wound up with similar results on the pitch:

 

Comparing Fastball Results (2011)

 

Velocity

%Pitches

Miss%

Well-Hit Avg

Ground Ball%

Edwin Jackson

94.5

55%

10%

.295

44%

Jeff Francis

84.7

53%

11%

.278

48%

MLB Avg

92.0

62%

15%

.248

44%

(via Inside Edge)

For the most part, both of the pitchers’ fastballs were below average in all categories. Jackson clearly had an advantage in the velocity department as his fastball held the fifth-highest velocity on average in 2010. Meanwhile Francis had the second slowest fastball in baseball, trailing the Nationals’ Livan Hernandez for that honor. In spite of having the livelier fastball, it was Francis who was able to get more batters to miss. Likewise, it was Francis’s ground ball tendencies that put him slightly better than the norm and thus likely caused his well-hit average to be twenty points lower in that category than Jackson.

Jackson, blessed numbers that set radar gun-enthusiasts hearts aflutter, typically just hurls his fastball to the fat part of the zone. He is a “here-hit-this” type of pitcher. As it turns out, opponents do hit it. Conversely, not afforded the same genetics, Francis is forced to work the outer-half and just off the plate in attempt to coerce the softer contact.

What separates the two pitchers is their secondary offerings. Jackson is reliant on his slider while Francis works in a changeup. Jackson’s slider has been able to generate a high percentage of swing-and-misses (34% miss percentage). Francis favors the changeup which nets him a swing-and-miss of 23% but a high rate of grounders. It is because of this that Jackson has been able to strikeout 17.2% of hitters faced while Francis has been only able to whiff 11.3%.

But strikeouts don’t tell the entire story. Sure, they are a great predictor of future success but it does not paint a picture of the complete pitcher.

In 2011, both Jackson and Francis both shared a WHIP of 1.44 - meaning they averaged roughly the same amount of base-runners over the season. Jackson had struggled with his control over his career whereas Francis has actually improved his since his injury, cutting down his walks in the past two years. Both gave up a hefty number of hits (Francis gave up more of the extra base variety). Because of his down-the-middle approach, Jackson had a much higher line drive rate as hitters were able to square up more. Francis’s attempts to incite contact indubitably led to base hits. In the end, Jackson has been roughly one win above replacement better than Francis (or he provided his team with $5 million in more “value”) yet he will be able to land a deal worth three times as much as Francis in both years and dollars. 

Current Free Agent SP WAR (2011)

Name

WAR

C.J. Wilson

5.9

Edwin Jackson

3.8

Mark Buehrle

3.4

Javier Vazquez

3.2

Bartolo Colon

2.9

Jeff Francis

2.6

Roy Oswalt

2.5

Hiroki Kuroda

2.4

Erik Bedard

2.4

Paul Maholm

2.1

 Presented with the option between the two, odds are that the vast majority of fans would prefer Jackson over Francis eight days a week (I’m certain a quick scroll through the comments section will validate this). The reality is that likelihood of landing Jackson, who is one of the top free agents on the market due to a small pool of starting pitchers and a Scott Boras client, is minimal. As mentioned above, he stands to collect a decent paycheck for the next few years which the Twins budget does not appear able to accommodate. And, given the interworking of his arsenal, I would say that he stands to be overpaid as well.

If you are looking at it from a purely investment standpoint, for an organization that has stated it has a $100 million payroll budget, bringing in Francis would make sense – giving the team flexibility to address other areas like the bullpen or an outfielder. Guys like Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson are poised to make northwards of $10 million next year and will provide a small uptick in value over Francis who will likely make south of $5 million.

Signing Francis would not be a sexy acquisition in any shape or form. It would be settling. This is by no means an endorsement for the move. However, last year he proved capable of throwing over 180 innings and, even with an unimpressive repertoire, he has shown that he can almost match Jackson’s output. With a better defense and a more supportive lineup, Francis has the potential to post a better season in 2012 than in 2011 – at a reasonable price.

 


 

  • If you are interested in the latest analysis of the winter meetings, Seth Stohs will be hosting nightly podcasts to recap the day's news and events.
  • DiamondCentric has the Game Six, The Killer and Nothing Runs Like Revere shirts priced at $15 for the holiday shopping season. 
     

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