Thursday, December 15, 2005

St. Looper Moves On Up (and Padilla Picture #3)

Braden Looper is going to "Heaven" after signing a three-year contract worth $13.5 million to play in Scott Rolen's favorite city in the world St. Louis. It was believed by many that Looper was the Phillies number one choice to become new closer Tom Gordon's 8th inning man and that Looper had the Phillies higher than anybody else on his personal list of destinations. Some times these things just don't work out the way you plan - and some times it is for the best. My thoughts on Looper from his first round matchup of my 2005 FA Tournament (still ongoing by the way, I haven't given up/forgotten):

Looper has the classic frame of a big league pitcher (6’5’’, 225 lbs.) and the stuff to back it up. His spotty 2005 season with the Mets will surely leave a bad taste in the mouths of teams looking at him as a potential closer. This is fair. Looper had a difficult time closing out games this year for New York. His problems were obvious upon closer inspection. Looper’s K/BB ratio dropped from a career best 3.16 in 2004 to a pathetic 1.08 in 2005. He struck out fewer guys and walked more – never a recipe for success. His K/9 rate went from 6.48 in 2004 down to 4.10 in 2005 while his BB/9 rose from 1.73 in 2004 to 3.34 in 2005. Those are drastic differences and are fairly clear indicators as to why Looper struggled the way he did in 2005. So we’ve established the fact that Looper had a less than great year as a closer in 2005. This doesn’t make him a bad reliever, it only means he had a less than great year. It happens. Comparing his 2004 and 2005 might be a
mistake anyway considering his 2004 season was a career best season and out of line with the rest of his big league numbers. He isn’t as good as he was in 2004 (ERA+ 158, ERA 2.70, 60 Ks in 83.1 innings) and he isn’t as bad as he was in 2005 (ERA+ 106, ERA 3.94, only 27 Ks in 59.1 innings).

Looper is an extreme ground ball pitcher (1.92 GO/AO ration in 2005, 2.74 in 2004) who hasn’t had a season below league average in his entire big league career (beginning in 1999). He has always walked a bit more guys than you’d like and never struck out batters like the elite closers do, but he has done a consistently solid job in many different roles coming out of the pen. Looper should be a very nice “buy low” candidate in this crazy, oversaturated, overvalued relief pitching market.

Prediction: Signs with Baltimore, 3-year deal worth $7.75 million

If the Phillies could have landed him with a three-year deal like the one predicted, it would have been a solid move. Clearly the market for relief help has exploded this offseason (Howry, Eyre, any of the big name closers) so the prediction was out of whack from the start. Can't win 'em all, right? In any event, I'm glad to see the Phillies let Looper move on to the Cardinals without a fight. He is set to earn $3.5 million in 2006, $4.5 million in 2007, and $5.5 million in 2008. That is a ton of money for a relief pitcher. Is Looper worth $3 million more than Geoff Geary in 2006? Geary posted an ERA+ of 122 in 2006; Looper, who has had an underrated career make no mistake about it, only has had as good a year twice in 7 complete big league seasons. The bullpen is a spot where you can afford to go a little cheaper than other positions. Looper could have been a nice fit, but only at the right price. The price wasn’t right and a deal never materialized. The Phillies are better off for it. The only question remaining (and oh boy it is a huge one) is…what next?

All the beautiful people agree - Looper is better off getting overpaid in "Heaven"


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