Never too soon to talk about a few free agent pitchers

Well, it is almost that time of the year. The time when baseball free agents are able to sign with any team and the hot stove season truly starts to heat up. We are not quite there yet, and most winters, things start slowly and this year should be no different. Especially with the uncertainly over the collective bargaining agreement.

MLBTradeRumors.com listed several categories of free agent starting pitchers this week. And, while we don’t expect the Orioles to be diving into the deep end of this pool, there could be some pitchers worth at least taking a look at in the category they labeled as “older veterans and back-of-the-rotation” options.

If the Orioles’ rebuilding plan begins to take flight over the next year or two and they start to win, the Orioles will likely be more open to spending and chasing higher-caliber pitchers. But today, let’s begin to take a look at a few pitchers in this back end category, and we’ll start at the beginning of this category with three today going in alphabetical order by last name.

Brett Anderson: This lefty, now 33, made 24 starts for the Milwaukee Brewers this year. He has signed one-year free agent deals with the Brewers the last two seasons, one for $5 million in 2020 and for $2.5 million last year, when he went 4-9 with a 4.22 ERA. Over 96 innings, he allowed 102 hits and 11 homers with a WHIP of 1.354. He gave up 9.6 hits per nine innings, including 1.0 homers, with 2.6 walks and 5.4 strikeouts. Opponents produced a .766 OPS against him and his groundball rate was strong at 56.4.

Anderson has pitched in the majors since 2009 for Oakland, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, Toronto, Oakland again and Milwaukee for two seasons. He went on the injured list three times in the ‘21 season for a hamstring issue, right knee contusion and left shoulder contusion.

Over the last four years combined, he has a 4.12 ERA (and 104 ERA+, which is above league average) in 399 innings with a 1.310 WHIP, 2.3 walk rate and 5.1 strikeout rate.

So he scores well in experience, command, and keeping the ball in the ballpark and on the ground often. He’s not going to put up big strikeout numbers and asking him for 150 or more innings seems ambitious. His fastball, which he threw 46 percent last year, averaged 89 mph to go with a changeup he threw 25 percent and a curveball 13 percent of the time.

Camden-Yards-View-from-Behind-Plate-Sidebar.jpgTyler Anderson: This Anderson, 31, went a combined 7-11 with a 4.53 ERA this season between Pittsburgh and Seattle. He ended up with the Mariners after a late July trade. He did eat innings, throwing a combined 167, allowing 170 hits over 31 starts. He posted a combined 1.246 WHIP, allowing 9.2 hits per nine innings with 1.5 homers, 2.0 walks and 7.2 strikeouts.

Like the other Anderson, this one doesn’t get much swing and miss but throws a lot of strikes with a respectable WHIP and low walk total. He does not however have a good groundball rate and his 34.7 mark would have ranked in the bottom third on the Orioles in 2021.

But his 2.0 walks per nine would have trailed only John Means (1.6) and Tyler Wells (1.9). A 1.5 homer rate is far from great, but among 16 Orioles that pitched 30 or more innings this year, it would have been better than the homer rates of 10 of those pitchers.

Anderson earned $1.775 million in the 2020 season and $2.5 million last year.

In ‘21, he used his fastball 48 percent of the time at an average velocity of 90.2 mph, and he threw his cutter 27 percent with 25 percent changeup usage as essentially a three-pitch pitcher.

Alex Cobb: Reunion, anyone? It seems unlikely after the Orioles sent Cobb and $10 million (of his $15 million 2021 salary) to the Los Angeles Angels on Feb. 2, 2021 for infielder Jahmai Jones. From 2018-2020, Cobb went 7-22 with a 5.10 ERA for the Orioles with a 1.419 WHIP.

He pitched better than that in 2021 for the Angels. Over 18 starts and 93 1/3 innings, Cobb went 8-3 with a 3.76 ERA and he gave up just five home runs. His WHIP was 1.264 and he allowed 8.2 hits and 0.5 homers per nine innings with 3.2 walks and a career-best 9.5 strikeouts.

So Cobb’s homer rate made a big improvement from his three-year O’s career, when it was 1.7, and so did his strikeout rate, which was 6.1 with Baltimore.

But Cobb missed some significant time including 12 days in May with a right middle finger blister and he had similar issues with the Orioles. He missed about six weeks from late July into September with right wrist inflammation.

But consider this: While Cobb did turn 34 earlier this month, in 2020 for the Orioles, he allowed two earned runs or less in seven of his 10 starts. Last season for the Angels, he gave up three runs or less in 13 of 18 starts. And while the Orioles were a combined 7-23 (.233) in Cobb’s starts in 2018-19, the O’s went 5-5 in his 2020 starts and the Angels went 12-6 last season for a two-year mark of 17-11 (.607) in the games he started.

Cobb used his fastball about 47 percent this year at an average velocity of 92.8 mph, which was up by a very small amount from his final years with the Orioles. He did throw his splitter, called a changeup by FanGraphs.com, 37 percent last year, the second-most of his career behind 2014 while with Tampa Bay. Less fastball and more split usage for Cobb in 2021.

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