Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Should the Yankees consider Braden Looper?

Late last night the Atlanta Braves signed Derek Lowe to a four year deal.

While this is good news for Atlanta and gives them a possible rotation of Lowe, Vasquez, Jurjens, Campillo, Reyes and the new guy Kawakami, which could easily challenge the Phillies for the NL East, it's not such good news for the Yankees and, of course, even worse news for the NY Mets.

For the Yankees, the signing of Lowe means that one of the options they had for the fifth spot in the rotation, should they be unable to come to terms with Andy Pettitte, is now no longer viable.

ESPN's free agent tracker provides a wonderful list of the starting pitchers still on the market; as you can see, there are not a whole lot of options.

One option, though, that seems to be continually glossed over is that of Braden Looper. Sure, he's no spring chicken, but the Yankees right now are not looking for a long-term option, since conventional wisdom states that by sometime in 2010 Hughes and Chamberlain would have established themselves in the rotation.

Let's take a look at Looper's numbers.

Last year, while pitching for the Cardinals, Looper went 12-14 with a 4.16 ERA. These aren't the most attractive numbers, of course, but when you consider what Pettitte did in the #2 spot--14-14, 4.54--Looper's basic line doesn't seem so far off.

Of course, the worst thing to do is judge a pitcher on a won-loss record, so let's look at some of Looper's other numbers.

Looper pitched 199 innings last year, which compares similarly to Pettitte's 204. Pettitte had more strikeouts--158 to Looper's 108--and Pettitte also had a better K/BB ratio, 2.87 to Looper's 2.4.

However, Pettitte was tagged for 112 runs, while Looper was only tagged for 101. Whether this has something to do with the defense playing behind them is entirely possible, given the Yankees' nearly league-worst defense last year and the type of pitcher that Pettitte is, but, even so, the ultimate results are similar.

In another statistic that SABR and stats geeks everywhere love, Pettitte's ERA+ was 98 for 2008, while Looper's was 102. Over the course of their careers, Pettitte's is higher-117 to 109, but Looper's career WHIP is lower, 1.35 to Pettitte's 1.36.

You can view Pettitte's complete stats here and Looper's here.

So what does this mean?

On the surface, the two pitchers seem remarkably similar, so the thinking would go that if Pettitte is the best fit for what the Yankees need, that, failing that, Looper would be a good option.

It is, of course, entirely possible that there's something I'm missing--Looper might want a long-term deal the Yankees don't want to give, or perhaps has a medical history of which the Yankees are wary (though I have not heard anything like that), but it does seem strange to me that names like Jon Garland and Randy Wolf are bandied about with more force than Looper, when Looper might seem to be the better fit.

[Edit]: This post, from LoHud gives a better take on the situation:

Looper isn’t good and he was nowhere close to as good as Pettitte was last year.

The numbers you’re looking at probably aren’t the best way to compare them.

By adjusted pitching stats in 2008 Looper was around 9% worse than a league average pitcher. In 2007 Looper was 11% worse. In 2008 pettite was 7% better than league average. In 2007 8% better.

So the past two seasons Pettitte has been Looper by 16% and 19%.

And that was while looper was pitching in the NL which is very difficult to truly adjust for.

A lot people keep talking about Looper (Cliff Corcoran in particular…) but they are simply looking at his ERA without considering the defense he plays in front of and the league.

Stupid numbers. Always getting in the way of everything...


  1. Gee, Mike, tell us what you really think =P

  2. Uh, wouldn't it make more sense to sign Pettitte, or Wolf, before Looper? His K/BB rates aren't the best, he's entering his age 34 season, and he's only been starting consistently for two seasons.

  3. Third Yip: It certainly would make more sense to sign Pettitte.

    My post is considering the hypothetical that they can't, or won't, get Andy.