26 August 2012

The Case for Joe Saunders

This column began as a thesis on how Joe Saunders might be helpful to the Orioles this year and what it would cost to acquire him.  That changed as the Orioles ended the speculation and agreed on a deal with the Diamondbacks.  Free Agent to be Joe Saunders and an undisclosed amount of cash come to the Orioles for Matt Lindstrom and a player to be named later.  There has been no information on the player to be named later other than it was mentioned that this individual is a not a "targeted" prospect from the lower level of the minors who will be determined after the season.  This means that there is a group of players the Diamondbacks will be allowed to select from that has at the moment been agreed upon.  Additionally, it is possible that the group of prospects for selection may change depending on the success of the Orioles.  This possibility would be similar to the Steve Trachsel for Scott Moore and Rocky Cherry deal in 2007.  The Cubs made the playoffs and that resulted in the Orioles also receiving Jake Renshaw.

What did the Orioles lose?

On a team with many weaknesses, the Orioles have something in excess: relief pitching.  The Orioles have relief in spades this year.  Matt Lindstrom has a 2.72 ERA.  When the season ended last year, that mark would have been beaten by only Jim Johnson.  This year, Darren O'Day, Troy Patton, Luis Ayala, and Pedro Strop all have better marks.  The Orioles also have decent arms in Jake Arrieta and whoever else falls out of the rotation.  Many of these arms are right handed like Lindstrom.  In terms of pure numbers and effectiveness, Lindstrom was neither special or unique on this team.

One thing the Orioles need?

The Orioles' starting pitching has been incredibly uneven this season. 

W  L  ERA  IP  ERA+ 
Wei-Yin Chen*  12 7 3.87 151 108
Tommy Hunter  4 8 5.95 121 70
Jason Hammel  8 6 3.54 109.1 118
Jake Arrieta  3 9 6.13 101.1 68
Brian Matusz*  5 10 5.40 85 78
Miguel Gonzalez  5 3 3.66 66.1 115
Chris Tillman  6 2 3.71 51 114
Zach Britton*  3 1 5.59 37 75
Dana Eveland*  0 1 4.73 32.1 89
Steve Johnson  2 0 3.18 17 134
Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel have kept the rotation afloat for much of the year.  Neither are having great seasons, but they are certain having very good ones.  Jason Hammel could have actually been a fringe Cy Young argument if he had not missed eight starts this year.  Beyond those two, the Orioles have seen horrific results from several pitchers (e.g., Zach Britton) and very good performances from several pitchers (e.g., Zach Britton).  The team faces an open question of how successful can this squad be with Chris Tillman, Steve Johnson and whoever else they use.  Combine that with a desire to lower the workloads for Miguel Gonzalez and Chen...that makes for a starting pitching deficit.  Joe Saunders may help fulfill some of that need.

Who is Joe Saunders?

Saunders is in his eighth season as a starting pitcher.  He has never made an appearance as anything other than a starting pitcher.

Age  Tm  ERA  G  IP  ERA+  HR/9  BB/9  SO/9 
24 LAA  7.71 2 9.1 57 2.9 3.9 3.9
25 LAA  4.71 13 70.2 96 0.8 3.7 6.5
26 LAA  4.44 18 107.1 102 0.9 2.9 5.8
27 LAA  3.41 31 198 131 1 2.4 4.7
28 LAA  4.6 31 186 95 1.4 3.1 4.9
29 TOT  4.47 33 203.1 92 1.1 2.8 5
30 ARI  3.69 33 212 109 1.2 2.8 4.6
31 ARI  4.22 21 130 102 1.2 2.1 6.2
What you can see above is that Saunders was very good one year and has consistently performed at a back end level for a first division team.  Here are a few more numbers for your perusal.

Age  Tm  bWAR fWAR
24 LAA  -0.2 -0.2
25 LAA  0.5 1.3
26 LAA  1.2 1.8
27 LAA  4.4 2.8
28 LAA  0.3 1.1
29 TOT  -0.3 1.7
30 ARI  1.4 1
31 ARI  0.6 1.7
As a reminder, the basic difference between the two metrics is that bWAR credits the pitcher for batted ball quality while fWAR does not consider potential pitcher effects on batted ball quality.  I wrote about the two statistics in a post about last winter's Jeremy Guthrie - Jason Hammel deal.  So, yes, you can argue that Saunders is more of the same that the Orioles already have or that he may be a solid average pitcher.

Something has also been made of Saunders' poor record at home with the inflated offensive atmosphere in Arizona.  Below are a couple seasons from his time with the Angels and his last two years in Arizona.


Home wOBA
Road wOBA
2007 5.11 0.37
3.71 0.312
2008 4.27 0.322
2.55 0.289


Home wOBA
Road wOBA
2011 4.42 0.349
3.14 0.309
2012 5.8 0.371
2.92 0.288
As you can see...you could have made similar arguments about how Saunders would benefit pitching elsewhere.  2009 and 2010 showed rather even performance.  More so, the Angels home field is not a place where it is particularly easy for home runs to be hit.  It seems doubtful that the Orioles should expect him to be a low 3 era pitcher.

Additional Value as a Relief Pitcher?

Saunders has pitched in 285 games as a professional.  He has thrown in relief once.  It was 2005 when he was with the Salt Lake City Buzz.  Saunders value as a reliever is purely hypothetical as we have no indication whether he can actually pitch in relief.  The Orioles saw something similar with Dontrelle Willis this year.  He tried to throw in relief, met some hard times, and could not do it.  Some of that may have been mental and some of it may be physical damage to his arm.  That said, we do not know if Saunders is OK being in the pen.

The hope is that he can use his ability to shut down lefties as a starter to his advantage in the pen.



2006 0.237 2.43
0.327 4.49
2007 0.273 2.53
0.359 4.69
2008 0.294 3.56
0.309 4.60
2009 0.306 4.13
0.361 5.01
2010 0.310 3.93
0.358 4.80
2011 0.250 2.67
0.347 4.90
2012 0.208 1.65
0.361 5.01
If Saunders can handle the relief state of mind, he could prove to be a rather impressive force from the bullpen against lefties.  With expanded rosters in September, a larger bullpen would enable more frequent use of batter specific match ups.  With a smaller rotation in the playoffs, a similar situation could also be utilized.


The Orioles adding Joe Saunders to the mix while bring Jake Arrieta to the bullpen will give Buck better options to use at the Major League level.  This is certainly not a game changing trade.  Few deals in August are game changers.  However, the Orioles have been able to convert their abundance of relief talent into improving the talent available for starting pitching.  As long as the player to be named later is no one of great importance, this is a solid deal looking to go as deep as possible this year.


Philip Taggart said...

What is TOT?
I've seen that term before, but it's not a live term, so there's no explanatory information.
Thanx again for the article

Jon Shepherd said...

TOT means total. He was traded midseason from the Angels to the Diamondbacks.