The Mets made a nice move yesterday, signing lefty Chris Capuano to a $1.5MM deal (along with Taylor Buchholz). With those two off of the market–as well as Brandon Webb–the only real buy low options at this point are Chris Young and Jeff Francis. Moshe laid out a great case for Francis last month and after reviewing that, and perusing the current market, he is definitely the best option out there.
As a lefty, Francis has a natural advantage over the right handed Young. And, despite missing all of 2009, Francis still pitched more Major League innings in 2010 (104.1) than Chris Young did in 2009 and 2010 combined (96.0). Young’s 2009 and 2010 seasons were also rife with control issues: 4.7 BB/9 and 5.0 BB/9 respectively, with K/9 marks of 5.9 and 6.8. There is also something very concerning about Young.
In 2010, Young averaged just 84.7 MPH on his fastball in 2010. That is most definitely not a good sign. His control hasn’t been there in the last two years (also had a 4.2 BB/9 in ’08) and he’s lost his strikeout numbers, as well as his stuff. There is always a chance he could regain his stuff, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. We could be looking at another case of Javier Vazquez and the Nothingball.
I was pretty ambivalent about Francis in the last few weeks, but with the options dwindling, I think he’s worth taking a flier on. The market dictates a one year deal for around $1MM or less, and I’d definitely be okay with that. Francis would likely be able to beat out whoever for the 4th/5th starter race and would probably be more successful than Sergio Mitre in the rotation.
For what it’s worth, Bill James projects Francis to throw 87 innings in 2011 at a 4.25 FIP. That IP total is definitely incredibly conservative, especially considering Francis pitched over 100 innings in 2010. That 4.25 FIP, though, is something more than acceptable out of a 4th/5th starter. We have to note, though, that the FIP projection is not adjusted for playing in the A.L. or at Yankee Stadium III. Having pitched in Coors Field, however, Francis has experience pitching in a hitter’s park. He’s also adjusted his batted ball profile over the last few years. He upped his GB% from 43.6 to 47.0 in 2010, while dropping his FB% from 36.1 to 32.2%, the third straight season with a drop in FB%. 2010 also saw Francis put up a 106 tRA+ as a starter, so the contact he was giving up was weaker than league average by six percent.
Part of the possibility of Jeff Francis rests on Andy Pettitte. If Andy Pettitte changes his apparent course and decides not to retire, the need for Francis decreases and the Yankees could use Ivan Nova as the fifth starter instead of the fourth starter. This would hardly be unacceptable and if the Yankees decided to stand pat with a hypothetical rotation of Sabathia/Hughes/Pettitte/Burnett/Nova, I’d be fine. But, I think signing Jeff Francis would still be a wise move. At the very least, it would give the Yankees another arm to look at in Spring Training. The loser of that competition could also be transferred to the bullpen to give the Yankees another option at long reliever, which is something I prefer. No matter what happens with Andy Pettitte, the Yankees should try and sign Jeff Francis.