Tyson Ross Is Gone, But Many Interesting Pitching Options Are Still Available

In what came as the only real bummer to an extended CubsCon weekend, Tyson Ross agreed to a contract with the Texas Rangers. I admit that I was disappointed when I heard he chose the Rangers over the *clears throat* World Champion Chicago Cubs, but oh well. The silver lining here is that there are still pitching options in the free agent pool. Let’s take a look.

According to Steamer, one of FanGraphs’ featured projection models, four pitchers with a projected WAR of at least 2.0 in 2017 are still available. Steamer takes into account aging, previous performance, park effects, league effects, etc. to come up with its projections. Like any such system, Steamer is but a snapshot of what might be and can’t factor in nuances (e.g., plate discipline peripheral trends, contact trends, etc.) that will obviously impact results. Nonetheless, I think it’s a a good starting point in player analysis.

The two big names on top of the above leaderboard are Henderson Alvarez and Brett Anderson. Let’s throw Alvarez out right away because he’s going to miss most of 2017. That leaves us with Brett Anderson, who is projected to have an ERA and FIP under 4.00, but who is also not immune to the injury bug. He’s been a practice dummy for orthopedic surgeons, having undergone lower back surgery in 2014 and 2016, foot stress fracture therapy in 2013, and Tommy John Surgery in 2012. I wouldn’t be opposed to the signing, though, and can see the logic behind it. Still, what else is out there?

There are a few pitchers that made me squint and forced me to refresh their Brooks Baseball pages.

The first is Kris Medlen. Granted, he’s another guy with a deep injury history, but is more interesting to me than Anderson. Despite only totaling 82 innings from 2013-2016, man, he has a filthy and diverse repertoire of pitches (image below).

Medlen throws three pitches with at least a 15% frequency rate and recently  incorporated a successful cutter into his pitch basket. I’m dreaming of a scenario in which Medlen stays healthy and mixes in a cutter with a changeup — his best pitch — on the mound during warm summer days at Wrigley. In his 24-inning sample last year, Medlen’s cutter made batters miss at a 21% rate, which was greater than 99% of all pitchers from 2012-2016.

Combine that with a change that generated a league best swinging-strike rate of 30% in 2013 and a respectable 16% rate in subsequent seasons, and, well, you get the picture. Of course, all of this wishful thinking is exactly what it is: wishful. His injury history is a legit concern, but his stuff oozes filth.

The second pitcher that stands out is Jake Peavy. Yes, that Jake Peavy. Maybe Ross signing with Texas is actually a precursor to Peavy (throwback inside joke to all my PSDers out there). Peavy’s basket of pitches is deep. He threw six different pitch types last year with San Fran, five of which saw a minimum 8% usage. In addition, three of his six pitches garnered swinging strike rates at a greater rate than 50% of MLB starters (4-seam, cutter, and change). I dig that.

Perhaps Peavy could benefit from a limited-exposure role that maximizes value. He struggled mightily against the second and third time through the order, as his breaking and offspeed stuff ISO nearly doubled after the first nine batters (see image below). Limit the exposure and he would prevent more runs. Also, you can’t help but smile when thinking of a Peavy, Lackey, and Lester reunion, right? Imagine all the shenanigans.

Travis Wood, Dillon Gee, and Vance Worley might all make sense since they have been more durable than several other options, but they aren’t as interesting as Anderson and — my favorite of the bunch — Medlen. Losing out on Ross does sting a bit, but the Cubs still have a few high-risk, high-reward candidates and a few more stable options from which to chose. Plus, I’m in love with Mike Montgomery‘s pitch repertoire, so I’m not sweating that much.

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