Takahashi’s value as a starter

Posted on October 25, 2010 by

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David Waldstein of the New York Times recently reminded everyone that the Mets essentially have until the end of October to sign Hisanori Takahashi. While Takahashi is a free agent following the 2010 season, if the Mets do not sign him by Halloween they are ineligible to ink him to a major league deal before May 15th, as laid out by Rule 8(i)(2).

Takahashi wants to be a starter. Last year he was much more effective as a reliever (2.04 ERA in 57.1 IP) than he was as a starter (5.01 ERA in 67.2 IP). Still, given the lack of starting pitching options for the Mets, should they consider re-signing Takahashi as a starter, and if so, how much money should they be willing to give him?

The biggest factors against re-signing Takahashi are his age and his ERA as a starter. But what if we throw some other numbers into the equation? Takahashi also had an 8.41 K/9 and a K/BB of 2.65 in 2010 as a 35-year old, and as a starter he posted a 7.52 K/9 and a 2.57 K/BB,

Since 1990, only four lefties in the majors age 34 and up pitched 100 innings, had an ERA over 4.75 while posting a K/9 over 6.00 and a K/BB of 2.00 or greater. They are:

Chuck Finley in 2001 as a 38-year old
Jamie Moyer in 2007 as a 44-year old
Randy Johnson in 2006 as a 42-year old
David Wells in 1999 as a 36-year old

Overall, there are only 33 seasons by a lefty that match our criteria above (ignoring ERA), 10 of them by Johnson, four by Finley, and three by Wells, Al Leiter and Andy Pettitte. Basically, you have to be a pretty good pitcher to put up the numbers that Takahashi did in 2010, even if we just looked at what he did as a starter. Others on the list include Jimmy Key, Mark Langston, and Ted Lilly.

Putting up the numbers is one thing, but what did our group do the following season?

Finley won 11 games and had a 4.15 ERA (down from 5.54) and threw 190.2 IP
Moyer won 16 games and had a 3.71 ERA (down from 5.01) in 196.1 IP
Johnson won 4 games and had a 3.81 ERA (down from 5.00) in 56.2 IP
Wells won 20 games and had a 4.11 ERA (down from 4.82) in 229.2 IP

All of those pitchers were older than Takahashi. And while all of them had a more established major league pedigree, we should remember that Takahashi pitched 10 years in Japan, with his final season having a line of 10-6 with a 2.94 ERA and a 7.88 K/9.

Takahashi had a 5.01 ERA as a starter but he had a 4.72 FIP in that span. He averaged 5.1 IP in his 12 starts. Let’s say he made no improvements, made 32 starts and had average luck next year. What would a starting pitcher with a 4.72 ERA in 170 IP be worth?

Last year Joe Blanton had 175.2 IP and a 4.82 ERA and FanGraphs showed him being worth $7.5 million. But they use FIP for their calculations instead of ERA. Jeff Niemann had 174.2 IP and a 4.61 FIP and FanGraphs pegged that as being worth $4.9 million

So, if the Mets put Takahashi into the rotation and he makes no improvements over what he did as a starter in 2010, he’s likely to be worth north of $4 million next season.

So, is there any chance for improvement?

Objectively, we’ve already seen his FIP as a starter was lower than his ERA. Takahashi had a 2.57 K/BB as a starter last year. Of the 20 players last year that hurled at least 150 IP and had a K/BB between 2.37 and 2.77 – no one had an ERA over 4.20. In 2009, there were eight pitchers between 2.37 and 2.77 K/BB and the highest ERA was 4.12.

Subjectively, one would think that if he stayed in the rotation for the entire year he would pitch better. Last year after making 15 relief appearances, Takahashi moved into the rotation and made nine starts. Then he moved back to the bullpen, then back to the rotation, back to the bullpen, back to the rotation and then back to the bullpen for good beginning in August.

Takahashi was either very good or very bad last year. He had six Quality Starts, five games where he gave up 5 ER or more and only one where he fell in the middle (5 IP, 3 ER). One of the blowouts came in the bandbox of Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico and another one came when he went 13 games between starts. Neither of those things should happen to 2011 Takahashi if the Mets commit to him as a starter.

While you cannot realistically throw out starts of which you do not like the results, it is interesting to see that minus those two appearances, Takahashi has a 3.83 ERA as a starter.

Takahashi’s ability to avoid walks and strike out batters at a good clip makes him a decent bet to be a productive starting pitcher. The main issue is his propensity to give up fly balls and home runs. Takahashi had an 11.3 HR/FB ratio last year as a starter, perhaps just a tad higher than what we would expect given his home park.

He had 73 GB and 97 FB last year as a starting pitcher. Ted Lilly had the highest FB% (52.6) of any pitcher to throw at least 150 IP last year. Takahashi’s rate as a starter was 57.1 percent. Lilly gives the blueprint in how to survive as a FB pitcher – Have a high K/BB, high IFFB% and a low BABIP.

With solid K/BB and IFFB% (8.3), Takahashi could be a Lilly-lite. It would help if he could improve on last year’s .330 BABIP as a starter. Lilly had a .259 BABIP last year and has a career .283 mark. Altogether, Lilly had a 3.62 ERA last year and has a lifetime 4.18 mark.

Can Takahashi post a year like Lilly’s 2010? That’s unlikely. But it’s unlikely even Lilly can post another season like that, as he had a 77.4 LOB% to go with the low BABIP. But Lilly’s lifetime ERA of 4.18 certainly seems within reach for Takahashi.

But the Mets (or any other team) would be happy if Takahashi would provide a 4.50 ERA as their fourth or fifth starter. Hopefully the new general manager will be signed in time to move forward with the Takahashi negotiations. I would be comfortable with a two-year, $8 million contract for Takahashi, although I would certainly prefer a single year with an option.

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Posted in: Perspectives