Free Kevin Slowey

Over the last three years, 87 starting pitchers have accumulated at least 400 innings pitched, or an average of just under three per team. Due to injuries and poor performance, most teams end up using their last two rotation spots as a never-ending wheel of fill-ins, which is one reason why pitchers with decent track records of success often get large amounts of money in free agency. In fact, even the guys at the bottom of this list in terms of results keep getting opportunities, since they have a track record that organizations can point to.

However, one of the guys on this list – a guy with a good track record, who is pretty much square in the middle of the results no matter what metric you use – just his lost job this week. And it’s somewhat shocking to me that no one has swooped in to make him a part of their rotation yet.

This guy ranks 56th in ERA among starters (again, 400 IP minimum) since 2008, one spot ahead of Josh Beckett. He ranks 41st in FIP, one spot ahead of Gavin Floyd. He ranks 48th in xFIP, just ahead of Paul Maholm. Yet, despite being peers with some pretty well regarded pitchers, Kevin Slowey has found himself slotted in as the Twins long reliever, if they can’t find anyone to trade for him.

Slowey would represent a legitimate upgrade over at least one member of nearly every rotation in baseball. Over the last three years, the only pitchers in baseball with a better strikeout to walk ratio are Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Dan Haren, and none of those three have pitched exclusively in the American League during that stretch.

Yes, Slowey is an extreme fly ball pitcher who gives up a good amount of home runs, thanks in large part to an average fastball that doesn’t quite crack 90 MPH. However, his secondary stuff is pretty good, he has terrific command, and he hasn’t shown any kind of real platoon split throughout his career. Slowey is a perfectly capable mid-rotation starter, doesn’t turn 27 until May, and is only owed $2.7 million in salary this year.

There are 150 Major League rotation spots in play each year. By nearly any objective measure, Slowey is one of the 100 best starting pitchers in baseball right now. And yet, he’s ticketed for a low-leverage bullpen role, while Arizona rolls out a guy like Joe Saunders – at best, no better than Slowey, and probably worse – as their opening day starting pitcher.

I get that the Twins have a deep rotation, but Bill Smith’s phone should have been ringing off the hook the minute that Slowey became available in trade. If he had the exact same results, but his fastball clocked in several miles-per-hour faster, teams would be falling all over themselves to acquire Slowey – for evidence, see Edwin Jackson. However, because Slowey is a command guy without an obvious plus pitch, he’s slapped with the replaceable #5 starter label, even though his performance in the big leagues has been demonstrably better than that.

It’s a common cry that there’s not enough pitching to go around in baseball. It’s tough to take those cries too seriously when Kevin Slowey can’t land a job as a starting pitcher.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Joltin' Joe
Guest

Maybe demand is low because he’s never healthy.

Joe R
Guest

Still, a 27 year old starter coming off a season where he FIP’d under 4 being unemployed is baffling.

SOMEONE has to want this guy.

Mark
Guest
Mark

Maybe I’m not understanding how FIP works, but for a pitcher who gives up home runs at such an extreme rate (ie thanks to the high FB rate), wouldn’t we expect him to have an ERA higher than his FIP? So while he did have a sub 4 FIP, I wouldn’t expect his ERA to be sub 4.

Nathaniel Dawson
Guest
Nathaniel Dawson

Huh?

HR’s are one of the three inputs to FIP. If a pitcher gives up a lot of home runs, his FIP is going to reflect that. And when you look at FIP and compare outcomes for groundball and flyball pitchers, it tends to inflate expected runs for flyball pitchers. If anything, Slowey’s FIP would probably be a slight bit higher than his actual runs allowed.

Mark
Guest
Mark

I realize HR’s are one of the 3 outputs of FIP. What I’m saying is more along the lines of players with extreme FB or GB rates aren’t accurately represented by FIP.

For instance take Tim Hudson – he’s got a career FIP of 3.82 and an ERA of 3.42. He’s got a 60% career GB rate. So my thinking is that if an extreme GB guy can have his ERA significantly lower then his FIP, then couldn’t we argue the opposite – that an extreme FB pitcher would always have a higher ERA then his FIP? Slowey’s got one of the worst GB rates in the league, so my expectations would be that he’d always underperform his FIP, resulting in a higher ERA.

Essentially, what I’m saying is that in an extreme case, such as a Slowey or a Hudson, FIP isn’t the best (or most accurate) tool to use.

fredsbank
Guest
fredsbank

FIP has a huge hard on for low bb/9

Nathaniel Dawson
Guest
Nathaniel Dawson

Mark, if you look at huge groups of pitchers, instead of just one, you’ll find that FIP for flyball pitchers tends to be higher than their ERA, while FIP for groundball pitchers is lower than their ERA.

If you look at what FIP leaves out, you can understand why this would be so. Because FIP excludes all non-home run batted balls, it essentially treats them all as equal. But we know this is not so. Non-home run flyballs are less costly to a pitcher than groundballs are. Because those batted balls result in fewer runs, flyball pitchers generally don’t allow as many runs as FIP suggests they do, while groundball pitchers allow more.

It’s not a huge difference, and there’s a lot inherent randomness with how and when runs are allowed, so it’s hard to see this if you look at only a few pitchers, and any one pitcher could deviate from this.

Again, it’s not a huge difference, like maybe a fifth of a run for an extreme flyball pitcher and vice-versa for an extreme groundball pitcher, but it’s something to keep in mind when looking at a pitcher’s FIP. It might slightly under-estimate flyball pitchers while slightly over-estimating groundball pitchers.