The 2011 Chicago White Sox were a $128 million disaster, slogging to a 79-83 record and a third-place finish in the AL Central. Sans Ozzie and possessing perhaps the worst farm system in baseball, Chicago could take advantage of a lukewarm market for free agent starters by shopping John Danks and/or Gavin Floyd. Both are drawing interest, according to Ken Rosenthal.
Floyd, 29 in January, is under contract for $7 million in 2012 and also has a $9.5 million club option for 2013. The reasonable financial commitment and the flexibility afforded in not having to lock into a three or four-year deal mean that the ChiSox should fetch a decent prospect if they decide to trade Floyd. But just how good of a prospect Chicago gets could come down to whether teams value Floyd by his peripheral stats or his ERA.
Over the past three seasons, Floyd has a 3.66 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). That's 27th among qualified starting pitchers. Based on that, you could say that Floyd is a number one on a pitching-starved squad or a solid number two starter. The righty's ERA, however, is a half-run higher at 4.16. That's 55th among qualified starters, and makes him look more like a mid-rotation arm.
So, why the disconnect between FIP and ERA? The answer is his rate of leaving runners on base. Floyd has a 69.2 percent strand rate since '09, while the big league average for starters has sat around 71-72 percent. You might be inclined to write that off as a product of bad luck, and you might be right. But let's dig deeper into Floyd's performance from the stretch.
Generally speaking, pitchers perform worse with ducks on the pond. Since 2009, starting pitchers have struck out 18.4 percent of hitters faced and walked 7.1 percent with the bases empty. With men on, they have punched out 16.8 percent of hitters and walked 8.7 percent. So, strikeout rate declines by nine percent with men on, and walk rate increases by 24 percent.
But Floyd? He has struck out 20.8 percent of hitters and walked 6.1 percent with the bases clean. Once a runner reaches, he has a 17.3 K% and a 7.8 BB%. His strikeout rate declines by 17 percent with men on, and his walk rate increases by 28 percent. Also likely not helping matters: Floyd has a slow move to the plate, and runners are often successful when they take off (82 percent of the time against him since '09). Those steals put runners in scoring position more often.
The big difference between Floyd with the bases empty and Floyd with men on is his fastball. Floyd has thrown his fastball in the zone 53 percent of the time with the bases empty, and 46 percent of the time with men on. Aside from missing the zone more often to the arm side, he also elevates the fastball more with runners on base. Check out his heater location with the bases empty, compared to when a runner reaches:
He has thrown 37 percent of his fastballs high in the zone with no one on, and 42 percent with runners on base. Whether Floyd is missing his spots and leaving the ball up or he's intentionally trying to blow the ball by hitters, it's not working. Batters do pretty well against Floyd's fastball when no one's on base (.290/.349/.434), but they're hitting .340/.386/.487 against the pitch with men on.
While Floyd's K and walk rates with men on base decline more than most when compared to performance with the bases empty, they're still better than those of the average starter (i.e. he strikes out more hitters and walks fewer with men on than the average starter, despite his larger-than average decline in those categories between bases empty/men on situations). The main reason for his low strand rate is a .285 batting average on balls in play with no one on, and a .316 BABIP when runners reach. That's an 11 percent increase, compared to less than a half-percent increase for the average starter.
Are Floyd's woes with runners on base merely bad luck, the product more hitter's counts, poor pitch location or a mix of all of the above? Unfortunately, I don't have a definitive answer. But how teams answer that question will determine whether they view Floyd as a well above-average starter or just a serviceable rotation piece.