A Log for the Hot Stove: Carl Pavano

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A Log for the Hot Stove: Carl Pavano
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The Winter Meetings kicked off this morning, and while no blockbusters have been reported as of yet, the buzz has been quite good regarding players like Curtis Granderson, Brad Penny, Milton Bradley, and even Edwin Jackson. The Twins are traditionally lesser players this time of year, 2007 excepted, but that hardly dampens the fun of watching deals get made and forecasting which teams will come out winners in the annual Great Trade Melee.

While they may not be generating much buzz, the Twins are eagerly waiting to hear from Carl Pavano as to whether or not he'll accept their offer of arbitration. Reports are that Pavano would like to capitalize on last year's strong finish by signing a two-year deal, but that teams, including the Twins, are more interested in a one-year pact. Pavano said on a number of occasions that he liked pitching for the Twins and liked the staff, so, if everything else is equal, he'll likely come back to the Twins by accepting arbitration.

However, if he feels he can get that second year from another team, he's likely to sign with them for the added financial security. While most of the reports now have him leaning toward accepting the Twins' offer, I find it hard to believe that a team like the Brewers, so badly in need of pitching, wouldn't take a chance on the second year and sign him if given the chance. He may have to wait until the market bottoms out for them to realize it, but Pavano is a solid option in what has become a very, very shallow market for pitching.

John Lackey is the cream of the crop, said to be a target of the Mets if the Angels can't resign him, but below him is a precipitous drop off. Eric Bedard and Rich Harden are unbelievably talented pitchers, but both carry such substantial injury risks that they aren't likely to get much in terms of money or years. Harden has the advantage of having had a fairly healthy 2009, so he's probably the second best arm on the market. Bedard, Bill Bavasi's grandest folly, hasn't made 20 starts in a season since 2007 and made just 30 starts in 2008 and 2009 combined. One could add Ben Sheets to the list of talented-but-injured-aces, as he missed all of 2009 following surgery.

The Third Estate is comprised of veteran arms, third starter types: Justin Duchsherer, Doug Davis, Jose Contreras, and of course, Carl Pavano. Given the quality of those around him, it would be hard to believe anyone but the three pitchers above (Lackey, Sheets, Harden) would be a much more attractive option than Pavano would be. That doesn't guarantee that he'll get the deal he wants, but all it takes is one injury in camp and a team could be left scrambling to add a starter. The difference between 1-year, $5 Million and 2-years, $10 Million seems a lot smaller when you're desperate.

All this is to say, if Pavano returns to play a season in Target Field, I suspect that it will be because he accepted arbitration, which I predicted he would from the get-go.

So, if Pavano returns, it is a good thing for the Twins?

In the sense that if they bring him in, it means that Harden goes off the board, I'd say no, but in any objective evaluation, the answer is probably yes.

Pavano's one-year bargain with the Indians was largely a ploy to rebuild his value after a horrid stint in New York. Pavano made just 17 starts his first season in the Bronx and then just nine in the next two seasons combined. When he did pitch he was below average and that type of performance isn't going to win you many fans in New York. His time in Cleveland was unspectacular as he went 9-8 in 21 starts with a 5.37 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP, and while he improved after being traded to the Twins (5-4 in 12 starts, 4.64, 1.37) he was still a bit below league average. His start against the Yankees in Game Three of the playoffs was one of his best of the season, and would have looked a whole lot better if he had been pulled at the end of the 6th when he was clearly gassed.

So why should the Twins be hoping that a reliever who was below average even when he was pitching better accepts their offer to return? Why would they want him back in the first place?

The proof is in the pudding, or the peripherals in this case.

Pavano's QERA--a predictive stat based on strikeout, walk, and groundball rates, scaled to ERA--was under four and would have been the best on the Twins' staff. His strand rate was 66.1% (h/t to Over The Baggy), three points below his career average and five points below league average. Combine that with a BABIP well over .300 and you have a lot of runners reaching, and a lot of runners scoring, that normally wouldn't score. As both of those rates return to normal, Pavano's ERA and RA will both drop back into normal rates. A decline in BABIP will also portend a drop in his WHIP, and that doesn't even factor in improved defense behind him.

Pavano will slot in at the three or four spot in the rotation depending on how Nick Blackburn pitches, so even if he's around league average, he'll give the Twins much better production than they got out of either Glen Perkins or Francisco Liriano. I think there's an excellent chance that he rates slightly above league average and finally earns the long-term deal he's been hoping for in the 2010 offseason.

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