Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 22, 2004
BASEBALL: Pavano With Caution
Nobody doubts that Carl Pavano is a talented pitcher, but I've been hearing people talk about Pavano as if he was a potential substitute for Pedro Martinez in Boston or Javier Vazquez or Kevin Brown in New York. Hold on there, people. Pavano may be just coming into his own, or he may be just coming off a career year. Either way, I don't see a #1 starter.
First off, there's his lack of a track record; Pavano's thrown 100 innings in a season 5 times, and 2004 is the first time he's been better than a league-average pitcher. Then there's the core of the problem: strikeouts. 28-year-old pitchers who don't get a lot of strikeouts do not, in general, become stars. And look at Pavano's K per 9 innings the last four years: 7.59, 6.09, 5.96, 5.63. Certainly not forward progress.
This is not to say that Pavano is doomed as an effective pitcher, or even that it's impossible that he will follow the footsteps of Kevin Brown and Mike Scott and similar pitchers who bucked the trend of history by becoming big strikeout pitchers in their 30s. After all, he had a fine year in 2004 by slicing his walks to less than 2 per 9 innings and avoiding the home run ball, both critical skills. But the odds on the latter are not strong. Consider the ten men identified by Baseball-Reference.com as the most-similar pitchers to Pavano through age 28:
As you can see, the similarity scores are fairly high - and these guys averaged 41 career wins after age 28. Nagy and Wegman both had their best years at 29, and Stottlemyre had a big strikeout year at 30, but not one of these guys was really on his way up entering his thirties.
I'd put Pavano on the level with Jon Lieber and Brad Radke, both similar pitchers in some ways, although Radke in particular is homer-prone. But Pedro Martinez, who's four years older and with a lot of mileage on his arm, still struck out 9.41 men per 9 innings in 2004 with only a slightly higher walk rate than Pavano. There's no comparison.