The recent injuries to AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte have many wondering whether the Yankees will reignite their pursuit of a starting pitcher on the trade market. Aside from big names like Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren, one option would include Cubs lefthander Ted Lilly. At 34 years old, Lilly is in the final year of his 4 year, $40 million contract that he signed before the start of the 2007 season. He is owed roughly $6M on this deal and will be a free agent at the end of the year. Would he make sense as a trade target for the Yankees?
Over the course of his career, Lilly has been a 4.24 ERA pitcher with an ERA+ of 108. He’s averaged a strikeout rate of 7.6 batters per nine innings and a walk rate of 3.1. His best years have come as a Chicago Cub, and last year he seemed to take a big step forward when he lowered his walk rate to 1.8, leaving him with a nifty 4.19 K/BB ratio. This year has been slightly different. After undergoing offseason shoulder surgery and missing the first three weeks of the season, Lilly has struggled to regain his form with subpar fastball velocity. Lilly has never been a hard-tosser, averaging 88-90 mph over the course of his career, but in April and May his fastball came in at 85.8 mph. In June, it jumped to 87.3 mph, and now in July it is back at 86 mph. However, during his best performance of the year on July 16, when he struck out 10 Phillies over 7 innings, his fastball averaged 88.3 mph and topped out just over 90 mph.
Aside from his troubles with velocity, there is also the question of results. As David Golebiewski showed a few weeks ago, Lilly is exhibiting decent control but is generating far fewer swings and misses on his fastball, slider and curveball. For this reason it’s not surprising that Lilly’s strikeout rate has fallen in 2010 to 6.49. So while Lilly’s ERA this year is 4.07, his peripherals suggest he has been slightly worse than advertised. His BABIP is a measly .253, well below his career average of .284, and his FIP is 4.70. Eleven percent of Lilly’s fly balls are going for home runs this year, right in line with his career average, and his xFIP is 4.62. This represents his highest mark since leaving the Blue Jays for Chicago.
There is also the question of Lilly’s Type A status as a free agent after this season. As RJ Anderson noted several days ago, Lilly is a borderline Type A pitcher and it’s an open question as to whether he will gain Type A status before the end of the year. Anderson writes:
The problem is that Lilly isn’t guaranteed Type-A status. Bajek has done yeoman’s work and his rankings suggest that Lilly is only a borderline Type-A. The rankings weigh stats like wins, win percentage, and ERA, three things Lilly doesn’t have going for him, particularly the wins metric. You see, as Joe Posnanski pointed out here, to qualify for a win the pitcher needs to exit with the lead, which is a problem when your team never scores while you’re in the game, and that’s the case for Lilly. Among all qualified starting pitchers Lilly has the lowest run support at a tick more than 2.40.
Lilly could pick up a few more wins if put on a team with an offense like the Yankees. At the same time, the win is a fickle stat, and he could see his ERA continue to rise both in conjunction with his fielding independent statistics and as a result of facing tougher opposition in the American League. Further, it’s not even certain that his Type A status would matter. There’s no guarantee that the Yankees would offer Lilly arbitration (they’ve eschewed that strategy in recent years) or that he would decline if offered. If Lilly has a mediocre second half, perhaps he would consider accepting arbitration, taking a $10M+ salary for 2011 and attempting to rebuild his value before hitting the open market after the 2011 season.
Finally, there is the question of cost to the Yankees. The remaining balance on his contract is around $6M, which is neither cheap nor prohibitive for the Yankees. However, the rumors were circulating last night that the Cubs had asked for Jesus Montero in exchange for Lilly. This is, quite obviously, a ludicrous demand. Lilly isn’t worth Montero, and he’s not worth Romine. Is he worth Zach McAllister, the AAA pitcher with little major league value to the Yankees, and a handful of lower-level prospects?
All things considered, probably not. Any team trading for Ted Lilly and paying a premium in prospects must believe that his Friday performance against the Phillies is a truer representation of his skills going forward. This is no sure thing. Lilly is a fly ball pitcher with mediocre results in 2010. He’s had injury trouble, and it’s doubtful that the cost in prospects of bringing him aboard can be recouped. Ted Lilly simply looks too much like Jarrod Washburn right now and the Yankees would be wise to pass. The injuries to Pettitte and Burnett aren’t the end of the world. The Yankees aren’t desperate, and Ted Lilly is no savior.