In Search Of A 5th Starter


In the Rangers ever expanding quest for a 5th starter to begin the season with, they are now apparently kicking the tires on veteran righty Shaun Marcum, as well as keeping communication lines open with free agent RHP Kyle Lohse.

Marcum, 31, is coming off an injury-shortened season where he made only 21 starts, posting a 3.70 ERA in 124.0 IP. Despite pretty solid numbers over his last few years in Milwaukee and Toronto (3.64, 3.54 and 3.70 ERA’s, respectively), the thought in Texas might be that he’d be a safe bet on a buy-low contract, likely for one year, and hopefully be able to extract some value from until Colby Lewis is ready to pitch. Because although he’s consistently produced solid earned run averages, his peripherals suggest he’d be a dangerous fit toeing the rubber in Arlington, namely his lifetime sub-40% ground ball rate, and the fact that he’s outperformed his xFIP (4.13) by nearly a half-run over the course of his career (3.76 ERA). You have to figure his ERA would jump if he pitched half his games in Texas’ hot box.

That said, if he can be had on a one-year deal for, say, $2-$3 million, it would be worth the risk.

Kyle Lohse, 34, is a slightly different bird, and not just because he’s pitched the last 5 years with the Cardinals. He’s coming off back-to-back impressive seasons, posting ERA’s of 3.39 and 2.86 in 2011 and 2012, respectively. I’m leery of mid-30-something year-old pitchers coming off career years in contract seasons, relating to, but not exclusively because, they are hard to project moving forward. Some guys figure things out, and maybe Lohse has, but the pessimistic perspective says there was someone with a high level of motivation looking to cash in on the last significant contract of his career.

GM’s and front offices don’t judge talent based on what has already happened. They either give big contracts to athletes who they believe can duplicate prior success, or issue shorter, cheaper contracts to players they think will add surplus value.

Lohse is something of a conundrum, because even though his ERA totals have been noteworthy, his xFIP shows he’s had a fair amount of luck. Last year his ERA was 2.86, and his xFIP was over a full run higher (3.96). And like Shaun Marcum, he’s not exactly the most extreme of ground ball pitchers, posting a 40.5% rate in 2012. He also isn’t a strikeout pitcher (lifetime 5.65 K’s/9 IP). Basically, a guy who doesn’t induce a ton of ground balls, who also doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters, isn’t a very good match in Texas.

He’s probably looking for something in the range of a 3-year deal worth something between $12-$14 million AAV, which is the type of money you give to a strong #3 starter. I don’t believe Lohse is that guy, not in Arlington, at least.

Unless Marcum, or another cheap pitcher of the same ilk, comes along, your best bet is that the Rangers will go into Spring Training with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando occupying the first 4 slots in the rotation, with the 5th spot up for grabs. Among the candidates are Martin Perez, Robbie Ross and Justin Grimm, but the belief is that once Colby Lewis returns, the rotation will be rounded out by the time the dog days of summer start to kick in.