Friday, November 13, 2009

Brewers Don't Let Looper's 14-7 Record Trick Them

This morning, the Brewers declined their $6.5M team option on right-hander Braden Looper, instead choosing to pay him a $1M buyout, as reported by Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Let's just say that disaster has been averted, as the Brewers made the smart decision not to waste $5.25M on a pitcher that essentially has one asset: durability. Late in the season, there was talk about whether the Brewers would exercise his option, and it blew my mind, right up until I saw that he managed to post a 14-7 win-loss record.

Then, my mind was blown by something totally different, and that was the fact that Looper went 14-7 in spite of pitching at the level that he did. He misses very few bats, posting a sub-5.00 strikeout rate for the third consecutive season, gives up lots of home runs (1.4 HR/9 in the past three seasons), and his command is solid but it would need to be extraordinary in order to make up for his other substantial flaws.

Looper tried to incorporate a split-fingered fastball into his arsenal this season, and the result was that his other pitches absolutely suffered. According to Pitch F/X data, he threw the splitter 34.1% of the time in 2009, up from 18% in 2008 and 10% the year before. In turn, he's thrown his four-seamer much less, throwing it 49.5% of the time in 2009, compared to 63.8% of the time in 2008.

While the split-finger was an above average pitch, with a +2.4 pitch value mark for the season, but his other pitches totally fell apart, as his fastball posted a -14.2 mark and his slider posted a -13.7 mark, compared to -0.5 and 1.0 marks, respectively, from the previous season.

Unless Pitch F/X is misdiagnosing four-seamers as splitters, it appears that he's tried to use the splitter in order to make up for his declining velocity, and it's made him far more prone to giving up home runs, posting HR/FB ratios over 10% in each of the past three seasons, after posting a mark above 10% just once from 2002-2006.

And the numbers appear to have some correlation as well:

2007: 10.4% SF, 10.2% HR/FB
2008: 18.4% SF, 11.7% HR/FB
2009: 34.1% SF, 15.8% HR/FB

Looper just doesn't have the ability to miss bats or avoid home runs anymore, and his command is good but not at the level necessary to excel in spite of his other numerous issues. Given that the Brewers are already wasting $14.5M on Jeff Suppan for next season already, exercising Looper's option would've amounted to spending $20M on two pitchers that probably don't even deserve rotation spots.

I can't imagine that the Brewers considered his option that seriously, but given some of the talk around the game, now Brewer fans can rest easy knowing that they won't have to watch Looper and Suppan go back-to-back again.

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