There is one thing that Tom Ricketts loves above all others, and that is starting pitchers named Scott.
He signed Scott Feldman to a one-year, $6 million pact, but the true bargain of the 2 Scotts he signed this year is Scott Baker. Baker signed a $5.5 million deal + incentives, on a one-year “prove it” deal. He signed up knowing that he was going to be traded at midseason if he recovered to his post-TJS abilities. He had TJS in April of 2011, and his return should coincide with the beginning of the 2013 season (though he could miss some initial time).
When Baker has been healthy, he’s been effective. He sports an ERA identical to his FIP (3.86), and has been worth a minimum of 2.6 wins in the past 5 years. He works around a .300 BABIP as well, so you don’t have to worry about being hit lucky or unlucky. Probably my favorite stat of Baker’s is his absurd 3.34 K/BB rate. That’s an elite level talent, even if he’s not heralded as an elite pitcher.
Baker’s primary offering is by far his sinker, though it’s a really a sinker/fastball mix. He throws the pitch 65% of the time, and it hits 91 mph on the gun. In 2011, it was a legitimate plus pitch, teetering on plus-plus. His only other real pitch is a forgettable 82 mph slider, which he throws 30% of the time. In 2011 it was bad, but in every other year it was an average to good pitch. I attribute that to small sample size, it’s likely just an average pitch. His other offering is a changeup he mixes in 5% of the time; it’s hard to tell how good the pitch is because it’s so rarely thrown. Overall, it grades out to well below average on PITCHf/x.
Baker works in the zone much more often than your average starter, at it helps to keep walks down. However, it doesn’t lead to more contact; he induces 10.4% of swinging strikes (the average is 8.6%). That’s very encouraging. The combination of working in the zone and not inducing great contact is a recipe for success.
Scott Baker needs a successful recovery from TJS to be worth anything in 2013. If he does, the change alone to the NL Central will be all that’s needed to take his already considerable skillset and turn it into a long-term asset for the Cubs. TJS is no sure thing, but the recovery rates are getting better and better. If Baker’s rehab goes swimmingly, the Cubs stand to reap a pretty huge reward for just $5.5 million.
To put it into perspective, the Cubs received a fringe-top 100 prospect (Christian Villanueva) for half of a season of Ryan Dempster last year, who had provided 2.1 WAR for the Cubs at that point. He had also been a routinely 2-3 WAR pitcher for the past 4 years. Scott Baker more or less fits that role to a tee. He’ll also be considerably cheaper for that same rental, so teams that don’t have budget can enter the bidding. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Top 75-100 type come back for Baker next July.