Monday, August 9, 2010

Breaking Down Carl Pavano

Minnesota, Meet Carl. Carl, Meet Minnesota.

A little over a year ago, the Twins traded pitching prospect Yohan Pino for Carl Pavano. I figured this was another timeworn move to acquire "veteran presence" the Twins are always searching for. Visions of Ramon Ortiz, Livan Hernandez, and Sydney Ponson haunted me. To say the least, I was skeptical -- and I admitted as much when the trade happened. I found it odd that he made it through waivers, and Cleveland was willing to trade within the division. His numbers with Cleveland weren't great either -- 9-8 and 5.37 ERA and he missed some time with neck and shoulder soreness.

Part of my negativity toward him stemmed from the unfavorable depiction of him in Joe Torre's (ok, Tom Verducci's) book The Yankee Years. He had a horrible 4-year stint with the Yankees, where he was given a large contract, and due to injury and ineffectiveness, gave them very little return on investment. So a history of being injury-prone didn't do much to convince me this was a good move.

But, he had a reputation of having success against the Tigers. This was important as the drive towards the playoffs progressed.

Playoffs and Beyond

For the final months with the Twins, Pavano wasn't stellar, but he was solid. And he did have some success against those Tigers -- the Twins won two of the three times he started against them. He finished the season 5-4 with a 4.64 ERA. His contribution probably helped the Twins make up ground in the division.

But he really showed off his worth during the ALDS against the Yankees, but unfortunately, his efforts fell short due to no run support (7.0 inning pitched, 5 hits, 2 solo homeruns, 9 strikeouts).

So, as the off-season moved along, the Twins must have seen something they liked, because they offered him arbitration. Now it's common for teams to offer arbitration to their stud free agents in order to receive some extra draft picks if the player signs with another team. But, teams have to be careful what they wish for and can only really do that for players they wouldn't mind keeping; there's a chance the player will accept.

Pavano must have liked the Twins experience too, because he did accept. And then he did the national sports radio interview circuit, saying all the right things with the proper amount of enthusiasm for the club and the community. So, with a $7,000,000 contract, the Twins made him their fourth-highest paid player for 2010.

What Have You Done For Us Lately?

So far this year, that contract offer has seemed pretty savvy; he's having an excellent year. So far, he's 14-7 with a 3.28 ERA. But the most notable stat is the 5 complete games, two of them shutouts. The last Twin to have that many was Brad Radke in 2001 with 6.

However, in his last few starts, he's shown some signs of fatigue. The term "dead arm" has been thrown around the blogs and sports articles. But in his most recent start, he's shown a little more sharpness again. I think he'll be fine.

He's also become a good leader in the clubhouse. He's experienced a lot in the big leagues, from a World Series win with the Marlins to, well, the Yankee Years. And both he and Gardy have stated that he's not afraid to speak his mind. Which, to me, indicates that he's handing out praise and criticism to the younger pitchers as appropriate. I suppose he's kind of a peer-review pitching coach. I think that's exactly what the team needs.

Perhaps the Twins finally found the real "veteran presence" they've been looking for all along.

The 'Stache

Ok, we can't talk about Pavano without talking about the centerpiece of his season -- the oft talked-about 'stache. It seems as if he started pitching exceptionally since he started growing it, at the expense of his appearance. Is it coincidence, or is it some facial seven-locks of Samson thing? Of course, he's coy when he's asked about it. "It's just for fun," is all he'll say about it. But I tell you what, he's got to be superstitious about it. At this point, there ain't no way it's going away.

The Catcher

As a result of Pavano's outspokenness, he decided that Joe Mauer isn't the best catcher (gasp!) while he pitches. He claims that Drew Butera's smaller frame is less distracting and allows him to move side to side better. This annoys many fans and bloggers greatly because they consider Butera an offensive liability. Joe can DH on days Pavano starts, but that keeps hitters like Jim Thome out of the line up.

However, I don't think having Butera catch Pavano is a problem. Gardy has admitted on separate occasions that he is looking for ways to rest both Mauer and Thome an adequate amount to keep them fresh and healthy. Opportunity granted. And Mauer says he doesn't mind -- of course, he's Minnesota-nice, what else is he going to say?

But, I think the real reason Pavano wants Butera behind the plate is because he needs him there. Pavano is notoriously bad at holding on base runners, and opponents know it. This year, Butera is much better at gunning down potential base stealers than Mauer. Butera has a caught-stealing percentage of 44%, allowing only 14 stolen bases out of 25 attempts (catching 11). Mauer, on the other hand, has thrown out only 27%, allowing 36 of 49 attempts (getting only 13).

The Future

So if (a very big IF) Pavano continues at this impressive pace, and if (another very big IF) the Twins return to the playoffs, then the seven million is worth it. But then what?

Good veteran pitching is rare and special...and worth a lot of money. And, as a free agent, he'll probably draw interest from almost every team (well, maybe not the Yankees), which will likely drive up his value.

Of course the big question will be whether he can keep it up. Is 2010 a true indication of his ability, or an anomaly? What will a fair deal be? Will big money equal trouble again? With the Joe Mauer contract kicking in next year, what can the Twins afford? Will they even want to bring him back?

With all these questions, I guess it's best to focus on the present, and keep hoping for the best.


shannon said...

It's entirely possible that more base-runners are deciding that it isn't worth the risk of getting picked off by a guy like Mauer. Only the most brazen of runners seem to be attempting it, maybe explaining why Mauer's pick-off percentage isn't as high as it was last year. Meanwhile, runners have underestimated Butera's defensive skills, which truly do rival those of Mauer. The fact that Butera is also much smaller than the man he backs up could be helping him out in his ability to placate the runners.

CapitalBabs said...

I think that the "stealing" factor with Butera/Pavano is very insightful and might very definitely play into it. For whatever reason, Pavano has clicked with Butera and trusts him. Why really doesn't matter much to Carl, Drew or even Joe! As Crash Davis would say, "a player on a streak has to respect the streak. If you believe you're playing well because you're getting laid, or because you're not getting laid, or because you wear women's underwear, then you ARE! And you should know that!"

And for all those commenters out there who think it says Mauer is a lesser catcher if a pitcher clicks with a different one a) aren't paying attention that at least one (I think two) of those complete games were with Mauer and b) personalities are personalities - sometimes some combine better than others. *shrug*

I honestly don't think Mauer is saying it's ok is Minnesota Nice either. I know that he respects Pavano's professionalism and will pitch to him if he's the catcher. That's the game. He LIKES Butera and I think that should be just fine with everybody because they are both doing a pretty good job of kicking ass. *GRIN*

JimCrikket said...

I think you're absolutely right about Butera being better at helping Pavano keep runners from stealing at will. Maybe if/when Mauer's shoulder gets healthy again, it won't be an issue, but this season it is.

As for Pavano's worth next year as a Free Agent, he'll certainly get good offers. However, it's not a coincidence that the Free Agents that get the largest contracts are generally those that find a way to get the Yankees in on the bidding. If you don't have to worry about bidding against the Yankees, it's no longer such a long shot that you could make a reasonable deal.

That said, I think Pavano is going to want a 3 year deal and I'm not sure the Twins will do that with him.