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December 6, 2007
  
Carlos Silva: What About That Guy, Is He Any Good?

Surprisingly, yes. That guy is good.

As of this writing, the Mets still haven’t found that front-line starting pitcher that everybody’s looking for, but Omar’s plan to corner the market on backup catchers is coming along swimmingly. The dearth of Mets prospects still makes it unlikely that the team will be able outbid the Red Sox-Angels-Dodgers for Johan Santana, Dan Haren, or Erik Bedard; which leaves the Mets with a slowly dwindling supply of somewhat uninspiring free agents. We’ve shown that Livan Hernandez is no kind of solution in the rotation, but what about Carlos Silva? He’s still available, but is he any good?

Below, you can see the career peripheral rates (K/9, HR/9, etc., which are often better predictors of future success than ERA or win-loss records) for Carlos Silva, first as a reliever with Philadelphia in 2002 and 2003 and then as a starter for the Twins since 2004. Playing for the Twins in the AL Central, Silva wasn’t somebody that I knew a lot about. I vaguely remember him pitching against the Mets as a middle reliever, but those were dark days and I do my best to pretend they never happened. Finesse pitcher, I recalled. Not many strikeouts, but not many walks, either.

Wow, is that an understatement. My initial response when confronted by a starter who throws less than four strikeouts per nine innings is to run like hell. Last year Livan Hernandez threw 4.0 K/9—higher than Silva’s career 3.8 K/9—and I just got done telling you what a bum he is. So how the hell is Carlos Silva any good? The answer, of course lies in his even-more-absurdly-low walk rate.

These are Silva’s peripheral rates, expressed as a percentage better or worse than average for AL starters from 2004 through 2007 (we’re interested in Silva as a starter, so I only looked at those years). Silva strikes batters out at a rate 38% worse than the average AL starter, which is terrible, and ordinarily I would say that rate is unsustainable, but he also walks batters at a 45% better rate (meaning less). His strikeout-to-walk ratio is actually about 13% better than league average.

Silva had one really excellent year, 2005, in which he struck out nearly eight times as many as he walked. That’s elite pitching. And he did it, not by striking out more batters, but by walking even fewer, only 0.4 BB/9. He issued only nine walks that whole year—and two of them were intentional! That’s insane.

Strikeouts are an important indicator of pitching ability, but they’re by no means the only one. Tom Tippett wrote an article over at Diamond Mind Baseball back in 2003, as a refutation (or modification) of Voros McCracken’s then-controversial claim that pitchers had little-or-no control over whether or not a ball put into play would become a hit. Most of us are familiar with this idea now, either from Moneyball, DIPS (Defense-Independent Pitching Stats), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), DER (Defensive Efficiency Ratio) or, uh . . . this website, and accept it as true.

By looking at the career profiles of various pitchers to determine whether or not they had some influence on BABIP (it turns out they do), Tippett also showed how those pitchers had been successful. Some, like Pedro Martinez or Roger Clemens, succeeded with lots of strikeouts. Others found success by limiting their home runs (Tommy John) or walks allowed (Greg Maddux). Some even found success despite a high number of walks by limiting the base hits allowed on balls put into play (rough, tough Charlie Hough). The point is there’s always more than one way to skin a cat. As long as Silva can couple his few strikeouts with even fewer walks, he can be successful.

The danger for a pitcher who allows so many balls to be put into play, of course, is that bad luck will have more opportunities to affect him than a pitcher who strikes out a lot of batters. Last year, Silva faced 848 batters, and they managed to put the ball in play 82% of the time. By way of comparison, Oliver Perez faced 765 batters, but they only managed to put it in play 63% of the time. At those rates, if they each face 830 batters in 2008 (about 32 starts’ worth), Carlos will have 160 more opportunities to get bitten by a dying quail.

Of course, the flip side of that is that Carlos would also have 160 more opportunities to get lucky, too. In fact, one could make the argument that a good defensive team—like the Mets, with Carlos Beltran in center and Luis Castillo, Jose Reyes, and Gold Glover David Wright in the infield—is better off allowing batters to put the ball in play more often, because it gives the defense more opportunities to shine. Also, groundballs are more democratic.

The danger is that Silva’s walk rate wouldn’t have to climb much before it would match his strikeout rate and make him useless. It’s a pretty fine line that he’s got to walk, and without many strikeouts to fall back on, he doesn’t have much room for error. He’s still on the right side of thirty, though, so I have some faith that he’ll be able to maintain his present level of effectiveness, or something close to it. Combined with the fact that Silva would be coming to the slightly weaker and DH-less National League, I think he’d be a fine addition to the Mets rotation. Or at any rate, a better option than most, and one the Mets could acquire without shipping off any more young talent.

Special thanks, as always, to Baseball Reference, the Hardball Times, and David Pinto for making it possible for me to disseminate my unqualified opinions to the masses.


20 Responses to “Carlos Silva: What About That Guy, Is He Any Good?”

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  1. Comment posted by John Peterson on December 6, 2007 at 12:53 am (#574443)

    Good points, but I don’t know. Silva got very lucky last year and benefited his whole time in Minnesota from a high DER. On top of that, he doesn’t have a knock-out ground ball ratio, which is something that is every bit as important as K- and BB-rates. His HR rate is also bound to go up, although he would benefit from Shea Stadium for one out of four years. Look here to see how, since 2002, Silva has become more and more of a fly ball pitcher.

    Way, way too many things can go wrong with Carlos Silva. He’s just not a good risk, and probably won’t be worth what he gets.

  2. Comment posted by ITAC on December 6, 2007 at 7:52 am (#574455)

    Are you then suggesting that we offer a man with such a low K rate and high DIPS rate a 5 year deal at 10-11 million dollars? This is what it will take in the current market and for me, I still don’t see how this is smarter than offering Livan Herandez a 2 year deal and/or offering Jason Jennings/Freddy Garcia a 1 year deal.

  3. Comment posted by Danny on December 6, 2007 at 8:27 am (#574460)

    Carlos Silva terrifies me for the exact reason you state at the end: If his walk rates increases even ever so slightly, he’s in trouble.

    Thomas Glavine is a grat example of someone who lived and died by whether the dying quail was finding a glove or some grass, and sadly on September, those quails were finding grass over and over again.

    Silva would be frustrating and terrifying to watch (a la Glavine), but I do agree that he could definitely be a useful asset for this team for next few seasons if things fell correctly. But there is certainly a significant risk there.

  4. Comment posted by Danny on December 6, 2007 at 8:27 am (#574461)

    September 30*

  5. Comment posted by JamesSC on December 6, 2007 at 11:27 am (#574681)

    Silva would be a great addition to the team because he basically only costs us money (is he a type A FA or a type B), the question of course is how much money will he cost. If we can get him for 3 with an option for 4 years, I think it makes a lot of sense, the 4 or 5 years is when things get just down right silly.

    I would take him over Livan though, and he seems to be asking for 3 or 4 years as well. I would be much more willing to go 4 years with Silva than 3 with Livan, but 2 for Livan makes more sense to me than 4 or 5 with Silva.

    Also, I was under an impression that the new ballpark was going to be fairly pitcher friendly too? Obviously on paper vs reality is hard to confirm, but I always thought that we were staying fairly pitcher friendly in 2009.

  6. Comment posted by the pirate on December 6, 2007 at 12:12 pm (#574749)

    ITAC - No, I don’t suggest that. Nobody is even considering giving Silva a five-year contract - he’s holding out for a 4 year/$40 million deal, but nobody’s giving it to him. In a magical world where I run the Mets, I wouldn’t offer more than 3/$30. I believe that only very-good-to-great pitchers should get deals longer than three years; and Silva, while useful, is hardly “great.”

    John - I’m not sure the numbers show Silva has been lucky as a Twin. He has a .309 BABIP as a starter; BABIP was .302 for AL starters from ‘04 thru ‘07. Either he was unlucky, or a .309 BABIP represents his level of ability. Either way, I wouldn’t expect a huge regression to the mean.

    As for his rising fly ball rates, I would ignore his first two seasons pitching as a reliever in Philadelphia, and focus on his four seasons as a starter in Minneapolis. I’m not sure it makes sense to compare his stats while pitching in a different role, in a different city and league. During those four years in Minny his FB% has been 32%, 31%, 34%, and 34%. That seems pretty steady to me.

    Look, I don’t think he’s King Shit of Fuck Mountain or anything, but if the Mets are determined to get a starter I don’t think he’d be a bad choice, for all the reasons JamesSC says. The Mets could get him; he costs only money, not talent; and he’s still under 30.

  7. Comment posted by yfern328 on December 6, 2007 at 1:20 pm (#574844)

    JASON JENNINGS

  8. Comment posted by Joe A. on December 6, 2007 at 1:21 pm (#574846)

    You’re not going to get Silva for 3/30. Someone will go to 4/44. He’s still a better choice than any of the other free agents.

  9. Comment posted by Joe A. on December 6, 2007 at 1:24 pm (#574847)

    I don’t know enough about Jennings’ injuries to have an opinion on him. I know he was hurt most of last year but I don’t remember what the injuries were. What is his status now? Is he expected to be ready for spring training? (I assume the people advocating his signing know these answers).

    But if he’s healthy and willing to take a 1 year deal, he would be a decent alternative to Silva.

  10. Comment posted by Gus Gloom on December 6, 2007 at 2:23 pm (#574894)

    Silva is the best of a very bad group of FA SPs put there right now, Garcia is probably the best risk, if you can get by without him until June, and Colon may be a decent risk, if he signs a short term contract. And neither of those is a given as far as pitching well goes. Silva should at least be an adequate back of the rotation pitcher, but the years and dollars he’ll get in this market will be ridiculous.

    Maybe Omar can convert Register back to a starter, 27 GS in AA 2006. 8^)

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  12. Comment posted by Peter H on December 6, 2007 at 2:29 pm (#574901)

    Nobody has else has mentioned this possibility, but supposedly, the Pirates are looking to trade Matt Morris. Paying $9.5 million for Morris in 2008 is too much (although the Pirates might eat some of that contract), but it’d be preferable to giving a multiyear contract to Silva, Lohse, or Hernandez.

    I’m also a little bit wary on taking a gamble on Jason Jennings or Freddy Garica, given that we already have a couple of injury risks in our ration.

  13. Comment posted by NYNarwhal on December 6, 2007 at 5:42 pm (#575113)

    My biggest fear about Carlos Silva is that he precludes the Mets from getting a pitcher that’s better. There is really nothing wrong with Silva–he’s a good fourth starter, but you don’t want the investment (in dollars and innings) blocking a potential aquisition of a pitcher the caliber of Haren or Bedard.

  14. Comment posted by e poc on December 6, 2007 at 5:46 pm (#575114)

    well, i held off on this for two months, and i still say we don’t need another starter at all, but if some of us are starting to warm to the likes of carlos silva and livan hernandez, i’ll go ahead and throw it out there: aaron heilman can start, and he is good.

  15. Comment posted by ITAC on December 6, 2007 at 5:52 pm (#575115)

    Pirate, if you think Silva won’t get a 4-5 year deal after the dust settles in this market, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn I want to you buy. Once teams see how expensive acquiring guys like Haren, Bedard, and Santana will be they will be pressured to turn to the FA market and all it takes is 1 GM to bite on that 4-5 year deal Silva is holding out for. Thus, this discussion seems moot to me because even if Silva is the second coming of Rick Reed in terms of his impeccable control, he won’t be worth the contract he’ll eventually command when things fall into place.

  16. Comment posted by El Sid Rulz on December 6, 2007 at 6:27 pm (#575135)

    I love the idea of morris as the five man, assuming we can get him for next to nothing and don’t have to pay all of the salary (although 9 mil seems to be just slightly above the going rate for 50-50 pitchers)

  17. Comment posted by JamesSC on December 6, 2007 at 7:44 pm (#575148)

    I also like the idea of signing Garcia for a 2 year deal and letting him rehab up. Maybe we get a big plus in the second half, and we add some depth for 2009 (when we have Pedro and Ollie to sign as it is).

  18. Comment posted by MightyJoeOrsulak on December 6, 2007 at 7:59 pm (#575149)

    There is nothing Silva brings to the table that the best 200 innings of Duque, Humber, and Mulvey can’t for a much cheaper price that won’t leave the Mets tied up in a bunch of high-priced contracts for “proven” mediocrities, although I must admit that the argument is impressively well executed.

    However, this is a guy who has to walk 10 guys a year in order to be effective and who will demand a four year deal. If he’s ineffective, a wise man posted before, he will get playing time over Humber and Mulvey regardless because of the size of his contract.

    For the love of Heaven, these kids will have to play someday, and their trade value cannot get much lower than it is now; the Mets have nothing to lose and much to gain by finally giving their young guns a chance.

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  20. Comment posted by John Peterson on December 7, 2007 at 11:59 am (#575299)

    I agree with the growing mob. Silva is not all bad; in fact, he’s plenty good. But the standard Mets’ PR-response post-collapse, to go out and acquire some “proven guys,” isn’t going to work with this crowd.

  21. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on December 7, 2007 at 11:37 pm (#575605)

    I’d take him before Livan and YEARS before I’d take Bart Colon (seriously, he is DONE, done done done, there ain’t nothin’ left in that tank and the tank got sold off too) as long as you could get him to a short contract.

    We might be overvaluing the dude… ain’t nobody close to biting on him yet, y’know.

  22. Comment posted by rfloh on December 8, 2007 at 5:20 am (#575606)

    One thing to keep in mind with Silva:

    He only cost money. NO draft pick. He does not even qualify as a type B.

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