Free Agent Analysis: Javy Vazquez, Michael Cuddyer, Josh Willingham and Papelbon
2011 Stats: 3.69 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 3.87 xFIP, 1.18 WHIP, 7.57 K/9, 2.34 BB/9, 3.2 WAR
Vazquez got off to a slow start in 2011, posting a 6.45 xFIP during the first month of the season. His fastball velocity sat between 86-89 mph, much like his 2010, and was constantly trying to pitch to the corners.
However, by his 13th start of the season, Vazquez started averaging 92 mph on his fastball and became one of the most effective pitchers during the second half of the season. He finished the season with an average of 90.4 mph with his fastball, and he uses a slow curveball (73.3 mph), slider (82.7 mph) and change-up (79.6 mph) against opposing hitters.
His curveball is his most effective pitch, but he cut his change-up usage in half in 2011. The slider is a pitch that will get him in trouble, often hanging it inside to LHH.
If Vazquez could maintain his velocity for the entire 2012 season, I would expect him to put up a similar line in 2012. However, the real question is whether Vazquez wants to pitch next season.
There has been constant chatter that Vazquez does not want to pitch again, instead returning to his family. If he does return to pitch, it would only be for an East Coast team (except for the Yankees).
If he does pitch again, I expect it to be with the Marlins, but I think he will hang it up in the next couple of weeks. Ken Rosenthal reported that it was 50/50 whether or not Vazquez pitches next season.
2011 Stats: .284/.346/.459, 20 Home Runs, 124 wRC+, .354 wOBA, .176 ISO, 11 Stolen Bases, 3.1 WAR
Cuddyer is one of the tougher hitters to figure out as his production often varies dramatically year to year. At his best, Cuddyer is nothing more than a three-win player.
Despite being labeled as a power hitter, he has only hit 20 home runs or more three times in his career, and his ISO since 2008 is lower than Aubrey Huff and Cody Ross.
He can play both the corner infield spots and the corner outfield, but he is poor at each one of those positions. He is best suited for a DH role, but teams will probably want to sign him for a corner outfield position, and at 32 years old his range will become more limited.
The weakness of this free agent class becomes apparent when Cuddyer is considered within the Top 15.
His .284 batting average was a career high, but he is typically a .270/.339/.440 type of hitter who should hit somewhere between 16-20 home runs next season. Cuddyer did most of his damage against sliders and change-ups this season, with 12 of his 20 home runs coming against them.
He will struggle against a good curveball, and I am concerned that his bat speed will decline rapidly over the next few seasons. While Cuddyer stole 11 bases this season (a career high), he does not possess much speed. He is a decent base runner who knows when to steal on specific counts.
The Phillies seem to have the most interest at this point, and this seems like a deal Ruben Amaro would make (re: Raul Ibanez). He could help the Phillies out at first if Howard is going to be out longer than realized, but I would be concerned if he takes away at-bats from Domonic Brown.
2011 Stats: .246/.332/.477, 29 Home Runs, 123 wRC+, .350 wOBA, .232 ISO, 4 Stolen Bases, 2.1 WAR
Willingham set a career high in home runs with 29, while providing the second best ISO of his career during the 2011 season. However, there are some concerns with the 32-year-old left fielder because of the noticeable drop in his OBP.
His .332 OBP is the lowest of his career in which he has more than 400 plate appearances, and his walk rate dropped from 14.9 percent in 2010 to 9.9 percent in 2011. His batting average dropped not because of a significant fall in his BABIP, but because of a career high strikeout rate (26.6 percent).
Additionally, his swinging strike rate increased from 7.6 to 9.7 percent from 2010-2011, but that percentage did not represent a career high. I expect his strikeout rate to decrease next season, but it should hover above 20 percent still.
Willingham is a dead-read fastball hitter, but he did swing and miss more versus good fastballs this season. With his bat-speed slowing down and his terrible defense, Willingham is probably worth 2.5 wins at best, and he should be limited to the American League.
His range in the outfield is terrible, and his arm is considered average at best. With that said, he should do damage as a DH and could help any lineup needing a right-handed bat on a one to two-year deal. He should provide a line close to .255/.361/.472 along with 23-25 home runs.
2011 Stats: 2.94 ERA, 1.53 FIP, 2.16 xFIP, 0.93 WHIP, 12.17 K/9, 1.40 BB/9, 3.0 WAR
Papelbon is the top reliever in the 2012 free agent class, and he is coming off of one of his best seasons since becoming Boston’s closer in 2006. Both his FIP and xFIP were career bests, and his 12.17 K/9 was the second best of his career.
That strikeout increase was not a fluke, as his 16.8 percent swinging strike rate was his highest since 2007, and that rate ranked as the highest among qualified relievers in 2011. His fastball, which averaged 95 mph in 2011 (second best of career), along with a slider (81.8 mp) and hard splitter (89.8 mph) are a lethal combination and has great command of a each pitch.
At 30, Papelbon has stayed relatively healthy over the last few years despite dealing with shoulder issues in 2006-2007, and the Red Sox never abused his workload over the seasons (he has never pitched more than 69.1 innings in a single season).
Daniel Bard’s struggles over the last few months of 2011 means that the Red Sox are more than likely to bring Papelbon back to be the closer. At most, he should make $14 million, but he is the most likely free agent to be overpaid this offseason. That’s the nature of the closer’s position now, and the reported Ryan Madson deal only makes it more likely.
Prediction: Red Sox
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