Free Agent Analysis: Aramis Ramirez, David Ortiz, Mark Buehrle and Hiroki Kuroda
2011 Stats: .306/.361/.510, 26 Home Runs, 133 wRC+, .373 wOBA, .204 ISO, 1 Stolen Base, 3.6 WAR
Ramirez bounced back from his poor 2010 season and was one of the most productive offensive third basemen in the league in 2011. He is the only decent option at third base in the open market, and even with his best years behind him at age 33, he still has 20-plus home run power. I would worry about a steady decline in the next couple of years in terms of bat speed, but his 8.8 swinging strike rate was his lowest since 2007. Ramirez also dealt with injures in parts of 2009 and 2010 that seriously affected his production, especially in 2010. If healthy, I project Ramirez having a .290/.345/.495 line with 21 home runs, which would be a solid addition for teams looking for a third baseman.
However, the real question is whether Ramirez should be playing third base at all. His age has taken a toll on his range at the position. Ramirez has the fifth worst UZR among third baseman over the last three years (-18.6), and he never was considered even an average defender in his prime. That range will certainly decline more rapidly over the next few seasons, and any club that signs him to a three year deal will have to deal with a possible move to first base or DH. The Orioles look like they have moved Mark Reynolds to first-base, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Orioles give three years to him. The Tigers could be a possibility if he would accept a shorter deal and if he would want to play for a contender.
2011 Stats: .309/.398/.554, 29 Home Runs, 153 wRC+, .405 wOBA, .246 ISO, 4.2 WAR
Ortiz had his best overall year since 2007 and he proved that he still has a few good years left at the plate, despite being 35. The full time DH was able to hit over .300 for the first time since 2007 because of a career low strikeout rate of 13.7 percent. This number was not a fluke, as his seven percent swinging strike rate was also a career low. Ortiz found his bat speed, and produced his highest contact rate of his career. As Keith Law pointed out, Ortiz laid off more breaking pitches out of the zone in 2011, which led to an improved contact rate. His wRC+ was tied for ninth best in the majors, and even if there is a regression back to his normal contact rate, he still is worth about two wins at the DH spot.
Ortiz still produced an above average HR/FB ratio of 17.5 percent, but one worrisome stat was Ortiz’s career high ground ball rate of 41.1 percent. 2011 was his first season to produce a ground ball rate higher than 38 percent, but this could just be a 2011 fluke. Ortiz is looking for a three-year deal, which he is unlikely to receive. The Blue Jays are said to be interested but I don’t see many other fits with AL clubs. In the end, I think the Red Sox will re-sign him to a two-year deal.
Prediction: Red Sox
2011 Stats: 3.59 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 4.14 xFIP, 205.1 IP, 1.30 WHIP, 4.78 K/9, 1.97 BB/9, 3.4 WAR
Buehrle had another typical season throwing 200 innings, producing a strikeout rate below 5.0 K/9 and outperforming his FIP and xFIP. His gift has been his ability to stay healthy and provide 3.5-5 wins a season. He has been a full time starter since 2001 and he has never had a season where he did not reach the 200-inning mark. Buehrle hasn’t seen much of a decline, because his current velocity isn’t much lower than his velocity in his prime. He averaged 85.6 mph on his fastball this season, which isn’t much different from his average fastball in 2002—86.6 mph. His repertoire also includes a cutter, change-up, slow curveball and occasional slider with the cutter being his most effective pitch. With a lack of a dominating pitch, he does not have much of a platoon split for his career, but he is one of the few left-handed pitchers that is not afraid to use his change-up against left handed hitters.
Buehrle’s 2012 performance will depend on which team he signs with over the coming weeks. With his low strikeout rate, he relies on his defense and going to a bad defensive team could result in a much higher ERA. I’m unsure how long Buehrle is looking to pitch for, but he is worth $13-14 million a year because of his durability and the fact that he has not had a WAR lower than 3.4 since 2006. If he has a similar defense, I envision a 3.85/4.10/4.30 type of season again with a 4.40 K/9. The Marlins, Rangers and Yankees have been rumored to be interested in his services, but my guess is he stays with the White Sox.
Prediction: White Sox
2011 Stats: 3.07 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 3.56 xFIP, 202 IP, 1.21 WHIP, 7.17 K/9, 2.18 BB/9, 2.4 WAR
Kuroda delivered a career best ERA in 2011, but it was not his most successful season in Major League Baseball since coming over from Japan before the 2008 season. Because of a 79.9 percent strand rate, he was able to deliver a 3.07 ERA, but his career ERA of 3.45 is more representative of what kind of pitcher Kuroda is. Kuroda’s ground ball rate dropped from 51.1 in 2010 to 43.2 percent in 2011 along with an increase in his HR/FB ratio from eight to 11.3 percent. Those numbers are troubling considering he had a 11.2 percent ratio in Dodgers Stadium, one of the more friendly pitchers’ parks. His .287 BABIP and 22.6 percent line drive rate demonstrate that he was lucky with balls put in play, and if he stays in the majors next season he should regress back to something closer to a 3.50 ERA.
He did deliver the second best strikeout rate of his four-year major league career with his second best swinging strike rate—10.2 percent. Kuroda’s average fastball velocity is still at 92 mph. He uses his four-seam and two-seam fastball with a good slider (84.3 mph), splitter (87.1 mph) and occasional curveball. His slider gives him an advantage against right handed hitting—3.07 xFIP vs. RHH and 4.11 xFIP vs LHH. Some of his best games in terms of velocity came during the last few starts of the season, and I do not foresee a drop in stuff next year. However, Kuroda has indicated a preference to play in either Japan or LA, and has not indicated whether he would play elsewhere. He might get other clubs interested to drive up price, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him head back to Japan for the 2012 season.
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