The Carlos Question

It appears that the Jays will be faced with a decision on Carlos Villanueva this fall. He says that he would like to stay in Toronto, but only as a starter. The Jays are rumoured to still be unsure about whether Carlos can hold up as a starter for the entire season.

As at the date of this posting (Sept 12) Carlos has pitched 111 innings with an ERA of 3.48 and a WHIP of 1.21. These figures appear to be “for real” – his xFIP is 3.93 and his BABIP is .272.

The first concern appears to be Carlos’ ability to pitch starter-level innings. Prior to 2012, the most innings he has pitched in a year in the majors was 114 in 2007. From 2009-2011 he averaged only 85 innings per year.

The second concern is about his IP per start. Carlos has started 13 games in 2012, with a total of 78 IP, for an average of exactly 6 IP per start. Clearly, he would bring more value if he could go deeper in games.

How serious are these concerns?

The Jays have 21 games left. Carlos is scheduled to start against Boston on the 15th, and should accordingly have 4 games left this year. If he continues his average of 6 IP per start, he would finish the year with 135 innings. In 2011, the 91st highest IP total was Philip Humber of the CWS with 163 IP, which would imply that 165 IP for a year would be a reasonable expectation of a #3-4 starter. Assuming that Carlos maintains his ERA/xFIP stats through 135 innings (i.e. that he shows no sign of tiring), a jump to 165 in 2013 would not seem to be an unreasonable stretch.

And as regards his IP per start: in 2010, the average IP per start by a MLB pitcher was 5.98. In 2009, it was 5.81. So Carlos’ 6.0 does not look that bad. And as to averaging 7+ IP/start – so far in 2012, only 4 starters (with 25+ starts) have achieved that figure: Verlander, Felix, Dickey and Hamels.

How much would Carlos cost?

Hard to say, really. He has pitched very well in 2012 (barring a late season meltdown), but the concerns about his innings and stuff (his fastball is averaging only 88.9 mph in 2012) will likely limit his payout. Still, a sub-4.00 ERA with 8.81 K/9 and a 2.66 K/BB is not to be sneezed at, particularly with so many teams looking for starting pitching. One prediction was for him to sign a 2-year contract for $10-12 million.

Should the Jays bite?

More than anything else, the Jays’ 2012 season has highlighted the old adage that a team can never have too much pitching. And while the concerns about Carlos’ innings are all valid, the fact remains that he has done what was asked of him.

The average salary for a starting pitcher in 2011 was $4.88 million, but this figure was artificially depressed by the many pitchers still in their arbitration years. So $5 million for a potential middle-of-the-rotation starter is not ridiculous.

Bottom line? If A-squared could negotiate one of his typical 2-years-plus-team-options deals in the $5 million per year range, I would do it. It is a gamble, but - I think -a justified one.

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