Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Fabulous Baker Boy

For his first several years of MLB service time, Scott Baker enjoyed building his frequent flyer portfolio by bouncing between Minneapolis and Rochester from 2005 until this past season where, without an identifiable frontline starter (unless you consider Livan Hernandez a frontline starter and I certainly don't), Baker stepped up as the leader of the rotation going 11-4 in his 28 starts and increased his K/9 from 6.39 in 2007 to 7.32 in 2008.  That's not all:
  • His FIP was the sixth-best among qualified starters in the AL Central (but would quickly ascend the list due to the departure of Javier Vazquez). 
  • Had it not been for the phenomenal season by the Indians' Cliff Lee, Baker would have captured the title of best WHIP in the division at 1.18 - instead he has to settle for second-best in the Central and fifth overall in the American League.  
  • His 3.35 K/BB finished second only to Lee once again in the division and sixth behind the good company of names like Halladay, Beckett, Mussina, Santana and Shields.  This was an improvement of two places from 2007 when he finished eighth in that category. 









S. Baker








Given this progress it seemed like a natural decision that the Twins signing him to a four-year, $15.25 million dollar contract with an option for a fifth season worth $9.25, effectively buying out his three arbitration years for $14.5 million.       








S. Baker


$3 M

$5 M

$6.5 M

$9.25 (Option)

= $15.25 M ($24.5 w/ Option Year)

Red = Arbitration Years Bought
Green = Free Agent Years
Given the lengthy commitment to purchasing Baker's arbitration years, a quick due diligence should be paid to figure if Baker can sustain his 2008 output over the course of the contract. 
Though it may not seem obvious considering his velocity is a rather middle-of-the-road 91.7-mph but Scott Baker possessed the best fastball in the American League Central in 2008.  According to my WHIFF breakdown, among starting pitchers that made a minimum of 20 starts, Scott Baker had the highest WHIFF (.176).  What's more is that Baker's fastball WHIFF was in a league of its own in 2008 among the qualified candidates -- as 17.6% of all swings on the pitch reached the catcher's mitt.   On average the AL Central featured swing-and-misses on just 8.5% (.085 WHIFF) of fastballs.  For the record, Greinke's 14.6% (.146 WHIFF) was second only to Baker (followed then by Fausto Carmona, Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar). 
Baker ranked second in the American League in out-of-zone swings (31.5%) thanks to his slider (.278 WHIFF) set up with his impeccable control of his fastball.  Only Ervin Santana and his sick slider (.387 WHIFF) featured an out-of-zone swing percentages higher than Baker (31.7%).In 2007, Baker was the most chased pitcher in the American League among those throwing at least 140 innings (33.7%). 



Curve WHIFF / %

Slider WHIFF/ %

Change WHIFF/%



.127 / 59.9%

.200 / 5.8%

.259 / 29.5%

.200 / 4.5%



.176 / 61.8%

.180 / 7.2%

.278 / 19.7%

.159 / 4.5%


ARM INJURY RISK (the Joe Mays clause):
When an organization makes a significant investment, they should consider the potential for injury.  In 2008, in 28 starts, Scott Baker accumulated just 54 pitcher abuse points (PAP).  This amount was well-below the AL Central average of 108 PAP this past year.  Justin Verlander led the division with 383 followed by Gil Meche (281), Cliff Lee (266) and Javier Vazquez (236).  In 28 starts, Baker wound up throwing over 110 pitches in just two games.  For comparison's sake, Verlander threw over 110 pitches in 16 of his 33 starts and threw over 120 pitches twice.  What does a light pitch count do for Scott Baker?  Unlike the aforementioned quadruplets, Baker's arm has little to no wear-and-tear on it from 2008 making the likelihood that his 2009 will be injury-free (at least in his arm) that much greater. 

Injury Risk:

2008 PAP

S. Baker


  • Baker's batting average on balls in play was .290 last year, slightly below the league-average of .300.  This was a serious decrease from a year ago when he had a BABIP of .327 - well above the league average.  This differential helped shave his ERA from 4.26 to 3.45.  Even though it is a small adjustment from .290 to league-average, Baker saw fewer flyballs find the ground (.118 vs .167 FB BABIP) thanks to a much improved outfield defense in 2008.  Depending on what defensive alignment the Twins choose to favor will have a big influence on his BABIP numbers.  More hits mean more baserunners which spell more runs.
  • Last season Baker led the entire AL with a left-on-base percentage of 78.7%, well above the expected league average of 72% suggesting that Baker could regress to the mean this coming season as a result allowing a few more runs thus inflating his ERA.  However, some studies have shown that pitchers that have K/9 over 7.0 (as Baker did in 2008) have a 52% chance on a LOB% of over 73%.  Judging from Baker's stuff listed above, he has the repertoire to sustain a K/9 above 7.0. 
  • As an extreme flyball-oriented pitcher, Baker stands a very good chance of allowing home runs.  For whatever reason maybe in 2008, his 8.5% HR/FB% was below the baseball average of 10.0%.  Don't be surprised if Baker is the victim of a few more gopher balls in 2009.













Overall, given his pitching stuff, low injury risk and little worry that he will deviate too far from his 2008 numbers in the coming years, Baker has a better than average chance of maintaining consistency throughout the duration of his contract extension.  His contract is diligent in securing his prime years between the ages of  27-through-30 and allows for the option of his 31-year-old season if he is still effective at the backend of his contract extension.  Baker is essentially a finished product and should be plateauing between now and at least his 30-year-old season in 2012.  The Twins have retained one of the American League's best pitchers with a solid contract.