Monday, November 26, 2007

Erasing Silva: (Or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

Carlos Silva is poised for a pay increase this offseason, upwards of $9 million a season, because of his ability to amass innings. There is basic baseball theory in which Silva's forthcoming payday is predicated upon. It is the idea that if your starting pitching can provide six-plus innings an outing, your bullpen will be considerably fresh during the back-end of a three or four game series. General Managers have allocated a significant portion of their pitching staff to players that have at certain points in their career have proven they can meet or exceed two hundred innings in a given season. The Milwaukee Brewers signed Jeff Suppan to a 4 yr/$42 million dollar contract based upon his perceived durability. The theory certainly has teeth. After all, if your bullpen cannot be trusted with a lead, a short-term fix would be to sign a pitcher that can throw 50+ more innings per season. The basis for Silva's enlarged paycheck revolves are three elements: 1) he throws a lot of innings, 2) his walk-rate is minuscule and 3) he induces groundballs with his sinker.

Are these three reasons enough to commit $50 million and 5-years?

To answer that question we have to address the aforementioned three elements and prove why those elements are not rationale enough to resign Silva. Fortunately for me, the wheel does not have to be reinvented as Dave Cameron at the USS Mariner has already assembled a guide to Evaluating Pitching Talent. In the chart below, are Silva's critical pitching statistical categories the past three seasons.

Silva Batters Faced K% BB% GB%
2005 749 9.2% 1.2% 49.2%
2006 811 8.6% 3.9% 43.6%
2007 848 10.5% 4.2% 47.5%

His base-on-balls per plate appearance is absurdly low. As Cameron reaffirms this in his evaluation: "The average walkrate is 8% for a major league pitcher, though the DH makes the AL a higher walk league than the NL. Anything under 5% is tremendous, and anything over 11% is a problem." This is a strong indication that Silva knows where the plate is. Conversely, Silva's strikeout per plate appearance falls short of the league average. Cameron's research shows that "16% is league average, with 20% being terrific and 12% being a problem", Silva's best strikeout season in 2007 was still well below the acceptable rate for the league. Between strikeouts and walks, Silva was directly responsible for 125 batters-faced.

These statistics show that Silva is near the plate but not inducing swing-and-misses. His groundball per batted balls in play has been roughly above-average to average. Cameron's study says that: "42% is league average, and anything over 50% is terrific, with the best sinkerball pitchers posting rates in the 60-65% range, while anything below 35% can be a problem if its not offset with a high strikeout rate." When 723 batters were putting the ball-in-play in 2007, 402 were hitting them on the ground. Another 321 batters put the ball in play in various other manners. So at face value, Silva's ability to induce the groundball appears positive yet his inability to get strikeouts, Silva has to be extremely reliant on his defense.

Comparing Carlos Silva's 2007 to Boof Bonser's 2007 campaign, one will find not only that they shared the same ability to provoke grounders but Bonser can also retire batters through strikeouts.

Bonser Batters Faced K% BB% GB%
2007 772 17.6% 8.4% 45.0%

Bonser is already a staple in the rotation and will remain there but he has been exactly the kind of young talent that Silva was blocking because Silva is viewed by the organization as an "innings-eater" and a rare, miracle groundball manufacturer while peripheral statistics indicate otherwise. Bonser had direct responsibility (strikeout or walk) for the results of 201 plate appearances. His walkrate is average as is his strikeout rate. As stated above in Cameron's research, inciting groundballs 45% of the time is above league average -- a total of 257 balls-in-play for Bonser were on the ground (which is 145 less chances for a seeing-eye, squib or bouncers down the line than Silva). Bonser has the ability to get batters out on his own, pining them at a 17.6% strikeout rate, a trait that Silva has lacked.

Dick 'n Bert's FoxSportsNet Twins Lovefest have lauded Carlos for making opposing batters beat the ball into the carpet while keeping runners off of the basepaths because of a low-walk rate. This notion coupled with Silva's relative durability (180+ in the past four seasons) and youth (28) will invariably attract attention from the inning-hording GMs. Organizations like the Royals or Mets who have admired him from afar and will overvalue innings pitched regardless of their quality will eventually sign Silva to what could conceivably reach $50 million dollars (although Sean McAdams reports that some teams recognize the depleted talent pool and will avoid the free agent overpricing by seeking a higher quality pitcher via trade )(Then again, last offseason one gm make the statement that the free agent pool was shallow and still managed to overpay for Adam Eaton ). These overinflated contracts are a result of franchises lacking the in-depth analysis into these supposed durable innings-providers that eventually culminate in allocating a significant portion of a payroll strictly to innings rather than outs.