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More on Braden Looper

I wanted to learn a bit more about Braden Looper, and I might as well share my findings with the rest of you. First, here's a comparison, which I was not the first to come up with.

Pitcher A
90.3mph initial fastball velocity
FIPs of 4.57 and 4.93
tERAs of 4.44 and 4.58
K:BB rates of 6.47: 2.13 and 5.30: 2.34
GB rates of 43% and 41%

90.3mph initial fastball velocity
FIPs of 4.82 and 4.52
tERAs of 5.14 and 4.81
K:BB rates of 4.47: 2.62 and 4.88: 2.04
GB rates of 42% and 48%

So these pitchers are pretty equal, you might prefer the first one based on a bit better K rates. As you've probably figured out, Player A is Dave Bush. Braden Looper is pretty much what you'd expect-- a very slightly worse version of Bush, with similar production and worse strikeout to walk rates. 

Contrary to what you might think, a slightly worse version of Bush has a lot of value. The average ERA for a starter in the NL was 4.44. CHONE projects a 4.85 ERA for Looper, ZiPS projects 4.53, the Crazy Bill James projection is 4.03, and a simple Marcel, though skewed by a bit of relief pitching data in 2006, projects 4.42. If we do in fact sign him, I'll run a separate community projection thread for him. For now I'll just project him for about 4.6-- which is what Statcorner's regressed tRA thinks he would produce in ERA if he pitches at the same level he did last year (even with a 4.8: 2 K:BB ratio). If Looper is as durable as he appears to be, that makes him about a 1.5-2 win player if he throws between 180-200 innings.

Usually when you sign a player, his Wins figure is a bit inflated if he's replacing a guy that's above replacement level. In this situation, Looper is actually worth almost 2 wins to the Brewers because he will mostly be replacing replacement-level pitching. This allows McClung to move into a reserve rotation role and now, we don't have to count on any innings from Capuano-- any we get are a bonus, really. And this keeps us from having to rely on Chase Wright or Mark DiFelice for significant innings. If one of them pitches well enough to force the issue, they can be used out of the bullpen. Each could certainly be pressed into service at some point, but right now three pitchers in this rotation have the label of "durable innings eater"-- which is not necessarily a good label to have, but we can count on lots of innings from the bottom. The key to the success of the rotation and team is the health of Gallardo and Parra. 

Consider this: if Doug does follow through with signing Looper, the rotation will consist of two above-average, high upside starters with some durability questions, two starters who are almost exactly average, and one who is just a tick above replacement level. For depth, we have McClung, who profiles as an above-replacement starter with durability/stamina problems. The depth drops off after Seth, but when you look at this overall, we have an above-average rotation. We also have an above-average offense, and if things break right, an average-to-above average bullpen.

Looper's trends and skill set are very sketchy. He doesn't throw extremely hard and doesn't strike anybody out, but makes up for it by walking few and getting a lot of ground balls. I wouldn't want to commit to him for more than 1 year, or 2 at the very most, because of this. But I'd feel confident in him pitching well on a 1-year deal.

I think signing Looper for around $6 million for 1 year would be an excellent signing, given our situation. If you think Looper is a 2-win upgrade, you could justify giving him up to $9 million. For Looper to justify a $6 million dollar contract, he'd have to pitch about 170 innings with a 4.6 ERA. That is a gamble I'd be willing to take. Given the lack of depth in the rotation right now and our position on the win curve that remains close to a wild-card spot, I really would like this deal to get done.