#Dodgers are favorite for Scott Baker, one source believes deal is pending physical.
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) April 4, 2015
Scott Baker was pitching in Yankees camp this year, but was cut last week. His ERA was high (but that doesn’t matter). He did strike out 10 batters and walked zero in 10-1/3 innings, but that doesn’t matter much either.
Baker used to be a pretty decent pitcher for the Twins. Between 2007 and 2011, he posted five straight seasons of 2.5 fWAR or higher. He was never durable, but posted decent enough numbers when he was able to take the mound. However, his career derailed in early 2012 when he needed Tommy John surgery. He serves as a worthwhile reminder that the surgery is not an automatic recovery as some think. In 2013, Baker managed just 3 starts for the Cubs. Last year, he threw 80 innings for the Rangers, mostly out of the bullpen. His 135 ERA- and 124 FIP- were shadows of what his numbers were in Minnesota. Before the surgery, his fastball averaged 92 as a starter. After the surgery, his fastball has hovered around 90, as a reliever.
Baker’s most notable pitching characteristic is that he gives up a lot of fly balls. Among pitchers with at least 90 innings in the past two years, he has the second lowest grounder to fly ball ratio, second only to Tall Chris Young. In that span, he has allowed twice as many balls in the air as ground balls. Expanding the search to pitchers with at least 1000 innings pitched since Baker’s 2005 debut places Baker with the fourth highest ratio, behind Young (again), Jered Weaver, and Bruce Chen.
Many fly ball pitchers are at least somewhat good at preventing home runs, but Baker hasn’t been. His HR/FB rates tend to hang around the league average. Allowing one of the highest fly ball rates and having an average HR/FB rates leads to a lot of home runs. In the same group of pitchers since 2005, Baker has the 10th highest HR/9 rate (1.20). The vast majority of his playing career has been in Minnesota, which heavily suppresses home runs. Dodger Stadium does not, and that’s a little scary.
Baker’s good years were the result of strong K/BB rates. Last season, his strikeout rate dropped significantly. Since he was pitching from the bullpen, that’s a bit worrisome. His 8.6% swinging strike rate was well below his pre-surgery numbers. Baker’s walk rate dropped to an extent, but not enough to take him beyond replacement level.
Still, the Dodgers are scraping all corners of the market for starting depth. Baker is low on the depth chart, so he’ll start the season allowing dingers in Oklahoma City. If he appears in Los Angeles, it’ll be the result of a lot of things going wrong. At least he’s probably better than Freddy Garcia.