We Don’t Want Your Braden Looper

A few days ago, I read an interesting article over at FanGraphs by R.J. Anderson, in regards to Ned Colletti’s assertation that the Dodgers may still look outside the organization for a #5 starter. Anderson, citing other research, noted that there’s really no such thing as a “#5 starter” except in the rarest of instances – due to injuries and ineffectiveness, nearly every team will go through several arms at the back end of their rotation. What this means is that you better have at least a few guys who you can count on to get you through the season. While the Dodgers may not have been able to acquire an “ace” this offseason, they do have quite a decent collection of options for that back-end - young guns like James McDonald & Scott Elbert, fringy young veterans like Eric Stults & Charlie Haeger, not to mention a collection of thousands of mediocre over-30 guys.

As Anderson says, and as I think many of us would agree, McDonald would seem to be the ideal first choice:

McDonald has made nearly 90 starts in the minors, including 42 between Triple- and Double-A. At both destinations McDonald struck out at least nine per nine and walked between three and four batters per nine. He turned 25 in October and started last season in the Dodgers’ rotation. He would only make four starts, as he walked 14 in 13.1 innings and struck out only six. Upon a move to the bullpen, McDonald looked like his minor league self, posting a SO/BB of 2.4 and striking out roughly one batter pr inning.

His stuff doesn’t seem to stink, either: a low-90s fastball, curve, and change. Each pitch was whiffed on at least 8% of the time. His fastball shows great “rise” which makes up for some lackadaisical run. Those whiff rates will likely decrease upon a move back to the rotation, but McDonald’s body of work makes him more appealing than the Ortizes of the world. Plus, who knows, maybe he turns into more than a bona fide number five.

If McDonald falters, you still have Elbert. Or Stults. Or Haeger. Or so on. McDonald & Elbert both have big upside potential, Stults has shown competence, and if you’ve read this blog at all you know what a big fan of Haeger I am. Look, a number five starter doesn’t need to be the guy you look to in October.  He just needs to be the guy(s) who can keep you in the game every fifth day, and even less so if you consider off-days. The Dodgers have the guys right now who can fulfill that need, and some with the potential to be more than that.

It’s with this in mind that today’s news from Ken Gurnick is a little disturbing:

The Dodgers remain in contact with the agent for unsigned pitcher Braden Looper, but chances of a deal are slim because they can’t offer the Major League roster spot or the kind of salary the right-hander wants.

So… why?

Obviously, as Gurnick states, it’s unlikely because Looper’s salaries demands are seemingly unreasonable – so I won’t lose much sleep over it. Just saying… the fact that Looper is even on the radar is a little disturbing. I mean, what does he offer, at 35 and coming off a lousy year, that the young guys can’t? Looper was the worst in 2009…

2009 MLB FIP:
Stults: 4.36
McDonald: 4.48
Elbert: 4.67
Haeger: 5.68
Looper: 5.74

…and is projected to be the worst in 2010 by all three FanGraphs measurements:

2010 MLB FIP (projected ranges):
Elbert: 3.76 – 4.67
McDonald: 3.97 – 4.32
Stults: 4.52 – 4.57
Haeger: 4.81 – 5.20
Looper: 4.82 – 5.21

So what does Looper have going for him? That’s he’s a “name”? That he threw 194 innings last year, as though it doesn’t matter that he was hurting the Brewers by being that bad that often? Or is it – and I shudder to think it – because he somehow went 14-7, as though wins actually matter? The Brewers supported him with nearly nine runs a game in his starts, second among NL pitchers with over 180 IP.

The fact is, Braden Looper isn’t very good, coming off what is in many ways the worst season of his career despite the win total. At 35, he’s not likely to start improving, and with the group of other arms the Dodgers have collected, he’d be almost guaranteed to be taking away valuable innings from pitchers with more upside than him – not to mention how much more money he’s looking for.

As Gurnick said, it’s not likely that Looper lands in LA. It’s just the thought that the Dodgers might be interested at any price that is disconcerting.

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