January 17, 2013
Thursday, January 17
The widely anticipated Michael Morse trade came on Wednesday afternoon, when the Nationals sent the 30-year-old back to the Mariners, in exchange for three prospects from the Athletics, who received John Jaso from Seattle. For more on that deal, see R.J. Anderson’s Transaction Analysis post. Today’s Roundup includes three stories that broke earlier in the day, featuring a starter and two erstwhile closers that are still seeking work.
Joe Saunders a rotation option for the Twins
According to FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi, one of the candidates on Ryan’s list is Joe Saunders, who split the 2012 season between Arizona and Baltimore and logged a career-best 4.08 FIP along the way. The 31-year-old Saunders pared his walk rate down to 5.2 percent (lowest of his career) and hiked his strikeout rate up to 15.0 percent (highest since 2006), perhaps as a result of tinkering with his pitch mix.
There are a couple of notable takeaways from the three tables above, from Saunders’ Brooks Baseball card. First, notice the variation in Saunders’ slider usage—very rare in 2010, more common in 2011, and completely abandoned (in favor of more curveballs) in 2012. Notice also the shift in Saunders’ hard stuff from 2011 to 2012, as he began to rely more heavily on his sinker, possibly because of the steady decline in his velocity. (By the way, the increase in sinkers did not help Saunders to induce more grounders; his ground-ball rate actually decreased to 43.1 percent in 2012 from 44.5 percent the previous year.) In addition to mitigating the consequences of his waning heater, Saunders likely was trying to address his persistent woes against right-handed batters, who have teed-off to the tune of a .290 TAv over the course of his career, while his fellow lefties have managed only a .197 mark.
If that was Saunders’ primary motive, then his most recent adjustment seems to have failed. The southpaw’s bump in sinker usage (43 percent vs. RHH in 2012) brought on a 17-point increase in right-handed hitters’ TAv, to .297 in 2012 from .280 in 2011, when their diet was chock full of changeups (23 percent). Of course, the recipe isn’t quite that simple: A similar mix in 2010 produced a .298 TAv for right-handed opponents, putting Saunders behind the eight ball when it comes to narrowing his platoon splits.
At this stage of his career, Saunders should not be expected to suddenly crack the code, so interested teams ought to view him as a back-of-the-rotation starter with little upside. Saunders fits well with the Twins, who offer a friendlier ballpark than either Chase Field or Camden Yards, and he should help to stabilize manager Ron Gardenhire’s rotation if he can stay healthy and continue to limit free passes. The Virginia Tech product has a history of shoulder trouble, dating back to his surgery to repair a fraying labrum in 2003, but the strain that cost him four weeks of action last year marked his first stint on the disabled list since 2009.