Carl Pavano

Dave · October 26, 2004 at 5:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

At the beginning of the 2004 season, you could have given me 30 or 40 chances to name the most coveted free agent starter on the upcoming market, and I’m still not sure I would have gotten around to mentioning Carl Pavano. A prized Red Sox prospect coming up through the farm system (he was the main player given up in the Pedro Martinez trade), he had never lived up to expectations. His performance record consisted of three and a half below average seasons in Montreal and a year and a half of league average production in Florida. In just over 700 career innings of work, he had posted a 4.59 ERA with peripheral stats that supported the assertion that he was an innings eater at best.

2004 saw him post an ERA of 3.00, 37 percent better than league average, and post an 18-8 record and a VORP of 64.4, fourth highest among major league starters. Seemingly out of nowhere, Pavano became a legitimate Cy Young contender, mixing both durability and excellence at the age or 28. What changed to cause him to go from back end starter to ace? Look at his ratios for the past three seasons:

2002	1.28	2.04	1.25	6.09
2003	1.01	2.71	0.85	5.96
2004	0.95	2.84	0.65	5.63  

His walk rate has remained fairly steady, but he’s been able to cut his hits and home runs allowed. Usually, this would be accompanied by a higher strikeout rate, but Pavano is actually missing less bats now than he was during his mediocre years. Peripherally, there is very little difference between his average 2003 and superb 2004 seasons. So what the heck happened?

Honestly, it was probably luck. Based on his peripherals and an average defensive support, he should have posted a 3.57 ERA; still solid, but a big step down from his actual performance. It appears that a good percentage of the steps forward he took this year aren’t repeatable talent, but more good fortune.

Pavano’s skillset is one that can succeed, but much like Brad Radke, whom we profiled earlier, he’s going to be prone to inconsistency. As a ball-in-play starter, he will be more susceptible to the ups and downs of random variation than a three true outcomes starter like Matt Clement. 2004 was the peak of what one could expect from Pavano, given his stuff and command. Whoever signs him will pay the premium value for a pitcher who cannot reasonably be expected to pitch any better than he did last year, and should be expected to return closer to performances matching his career lines.

In all the talk about Adrian Beltre’s breakout season (or fluke, depending on your point of view), Carl Pavano’s leap from mediocrity to stardom appears to have the least potential to continue. Pavano, while coming off a tremendous year, is going to price himself into a market that will almost certainly make him a bad investment. He’s a great player to avoid.


28 Responses to “Carl Pavano”

  1. U.S.S. Mariner » Free Agent Writeups on November 16th, 2004 4:22 pm
    […] se who may have missed them, here are the ones I’ve completed to date: Matt Clement Carl Pavano Brad Radke Richie Sexson Troy Glaus Corey Koskie Carlos Delgado Adrian Beltre Hopefully, I&#8 […]

  2. adam on October 26th, 2004 5:45 pm

    “Honestly, it was probably luck.”

    I don’t know, I hate statements like that because it implies that ther is no strategy to pitching.

  3. tede on October 26th, 2004 6:57 pm

    I thought the rumor was that he wanted to stay in National League and/or East Coast? Supposedly Tim Hudson may be available in a trade (not to the M’s obviously) since his deal expires at the end of this season.

    Dave Myers may have just find himself a 3rd base coaching job with the Cardinals. I think there will be an opening after Jose Oquendo’s performance tonight with sending Larry Walker (ball way too shallow even with Manny in LF) and the Jeff Suppan disaster at 3rd base (gotta treat pitchers like 9 year olds and remind them to go on contact). Can’t get over how much Oquendo looks like character actor Luis Guzman.

  4. Dave on October 26th, 2004 8:02 pm


    I disagree. The statement implies that Pavano was the benefactor of things outside of his control, and those things are not likely to continue at the same rate they did during 2004. It has nothing to do with strategy of pitching. It’s simply a proven fact that pitchers who outperform expected results based on an above average amount of balls in play being turned into outs tend to regress back to the mean. Carl Pavano’s 2004 performance was boosted significantly by factors other than Carl Pavano, and those factors likely will not be on his side to the same degree in 2005 and beyond.

  5. Jeremy on October 26th, 2004 10:44 pm

    What kind of pitching strategy should be taken into account? Is Pavano’s strategy to walk guys until the bases are loaded and then to get three guys to foul out? Good strategy is reflected in peripheral stats, since the goal of any pitching strategy should be to get the other men out. Any other logic is kind of like the logic behind “clutch” hitting — if a guy hits home runs when he’s in a clutch situation, why not do it every time he’s up to bat?

    Nice post by the way. It seems like all commentators are bullish on every big name free agent and feel whoever signs the big names are going to be the offseason “winners.” Whoever signs guys like Pavano and Beltre at likely market price will be the offseason losers, IMO.

  6. Jeremy on October 26th, 2004 10:51 pm

    Anyone know any examples of pitchers who suddenly went from being average to becoming really good and then maintained that really good performance? Especially at an “advanced” age like 28. Curt Schilling is sometimes mentioned as an example, but he was always really good — he just didn’t have the W’s.

    I asked that question re: Beltre in an earlier thread, and there was maybe one decent example of a hitter suddenly turning average to very good, even as young as 26.

  7. globalhawk on October 26th, 2004 11:02 pm

    re example of a hitter “suddenly turning from average to very good” and then back to average, we have our very own Bret Boone. career .260 hitter has a single .331 season (2001) at age 31, gets big contract, and reverts back to his mean in next 3 years (.278, .294, 2.54). …

  8. big chef terry on October 26th, 2004 11:04 pm

    Bill Robinson had a breakout year of sorts in 73 with the Phillies when he was 28 and followed it up with two poor years and then 6 pretty solid years with the Pirates from age 30 on…not quite the big year that Beltre had, but for the era a very solid performance.

  9. kenshin on October 26th, 2004 11:17 pm

    re: #6

    I do not think that your claim fairly represents Boone’s production for the 2 years following 2001. Despite the substantial drop in batting average he experienced, he remained a very good player during those two seasons. That said, he is an excellent example of an average player who suddenly becomes good.

  10. Bela Txadux on October 26th, 2004 11:42 pm

    So Dave, re: Pavano, I agree with your macro analysis here, but there’s more to the man than you elect to summarize given your generally ‘don’t go there’ conclusion. Let’s take a little broader look.

    Pavano was a great physical package coming up with a mid-90s murderball—and blew out his his shoulder. In fact, his arm may have been bad when Montreal _acquired_ him, but they never got anything out of it. Pavano missed a great deal of development time, then was thrown directly into Montreal’s rotation as soon as his arm could take it because they needed a body. He was still throwing like a power pitcher but without the velocity, getting a fair amount of Ks—and getting hit real hard to boot putting average stuff in the middle of the strike zone. He rarely made it to the seventh inning if I’m recalling, and by the time he was traded out of Montreal had gotten a ‘gutless wonder’ rep hung on him which, as it now appears, he didn’t really deserve.

    Furthermore, I think you make his ’04 season seem more like a fluke than it actually is. In fact, Pavano pitched significantly better _throughout ’03_ than he had at any time before that; down the stretch of that season he was arguably Florida’s most consistent starter even if nothing like the physical package of Beckett, Burnett, or Penny. Pavano’s dominating start against the Yankees in the ’03 Series was _not_ a fluke; he had pitched well all year. The guy simply continued this trend on into ’04. Pavano has been better in ’04 than the year before, sure, but not enormously better, and yes, it _is_ his walk year so he’s showing us the best he’s got, but also he’s not that old, either. I think you are ‘stat picking’ here to a degree, looking at the numbers that support your overall (and generally accurate, yes) assessment, while not going for the big picture. I don’t have Pavano’s innings total this year past in front of me, but it was pretty good I recall, like 200 innings, for example. That’s worth putting into the picture along with his other numbers. How about number of quality starts? How about average innings per start?? To get the true read on his future matrix we need those numbers also.

    My addendum to your summary on Pavano is this: it took him 3+ years to learn to pitch with his post-injury skillset; now he knows how. He lost development time, as I said, and was thrust into a big league rotation not really knowing how to compensate for his decreased velocity and initial tendency to tire early. By his fourth year when he was traded to Florida he had finally learned how to pitch for contact, stay away from the big inning, and generally avoid giving the batters anything good to hit. He is going much deeper into the game in consequence, and therein lies his main value. Basically, he’s Brad Radke, but six (seven?) years younger. And quite possibly better. Or not.

    That said, yes: a) he is now as good a pitcher as he will ever be, b) he is likely to have a significantly lesser year in ’05 given regression to the mean and the post-contract effect, and c) is effectively priced in this offseason’s market at well above what his actual value could rationally be assessed to be. I do not want to see the Ms move on him at all; they have plenty of guys with the same overall package though without Pavano’s track record of the last 2+ years be it said, which as I’ve implied is rather stronger than you make it out to be. Carl will get a good contract to stay on the Eastern seaboard, and could do very well in Boston, but Seattle would be better off looking at many another option in my view.

  11. globalhawk on October 26th, 2004 11:43 pm

    re boone — “remained a good player”? his fielding and slugging also sank over last three years. and his work ethic was abysmal. in second half of this year, he would never get into the ready position at second base, just standing straight up as the pitcher threw … like a 12-year-old who just didn’t care. … i really put a lot of the blame for his poor effort on Melvin, who didn’t seem capable of shaming the Boones of the ’04 team into playing tight, professional ball.

  12. eponymous coward on October 27th, 2004 1:24 am

    Uh, let’s see, Boone’s 2003 season:

    .294/.366/.535, 35 HR, 111 R, 117 RBI, .902 OPS

    Boy, he really sucked, didn’t he?

    Shoot, his 2002 season was also not too shabby in the context of his career- Boone’s career OPS is .773, in 2002 it was .801.

    Please don’t use batting average as a metric for offensive contribution. Would you seriously assert that Luis Castillo (career BA: .292) is really a better hitter than Reggie Jackson (career BA: .262) merely because his batting average is 30 points higher? Then why cite Bret Boone’s batting average and ignore his other offensive contributions (and the fact that before THIS year, he was hitting better as a Mariner than he had since 1994)?

    Shoot, even this year, his stats are in line with other years. Here:

    .252 .310 .416
    .251 .317 .423
    .251 .326 .421

    Which one was Bret’s line THIS year, and which ones were from 1999 and 2000?

  13. Scraps on October 27th, 2004 3:57 am

    Beltre is still young, and almost certainly hasn’t entered his peak years. Remember, the surprise isn’t that he’s this good, it’s that he wasn’t this good before; we’d been waiting so long for a breakout year from Beltre that we seem to have forgot we expected one. I think his improvement is real, and I’d be delighted to pay to find out. I sure think it’s a better chance than, say, Melvin Mora was, to name another sudden improver who held his gains.

  14. Scraps on October 27th, 2004 3:59 am

    Also, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Beltre’s defense is in the same league as Chavez and Rolen, and maybe even better, and that’s been established for more than one season.

  15. Dave on October 27th, 2004 5:29 am


    Obviously, there are a lot of things that go into a full analysis of Pavano that I didn’t touch on. These are “short articles”, intended to give a brief history of the player, my opinion of whether he’s a good option or not, and an overview of why I feel that way. I don’t write everything that led me to the conclusion, so don’t assume that if its not in the short articles, I haven’t thought about it.

  16. Jeremy on October 27th, 2004 6:53 am

    re Beltre: Ron Shandler (Baseball Forecaster) has done some work and found a strong correlation between age 25 with major league experience as a good breakout indicator. I don’t tend to see Beltre as a one year wonder, but as a very talented 3B who’s right on schedule with his career development. A 26 year old 3B who posts those types of offensive numbers with solid D: sign me up.

  17. Troy on October 27th, 2004 7:36 am

    I’ll take Beltre anyday of the week. Dave’s right abotu Pavano though – he’s bound to sign for more than he can give.

  18. msb on October 27th, 2004 9:43 am

    “…his work ethic was abysmal. in second half of this year, he would never get into the ready position at second base, just standing straight up as the pitcher threw … like a 12-year-old who just didn’t care.”–Comment by globalhawk — 10/26/2004 @ 11:43 pm

    that wasn’t work ethic, that was hip flexor leading to on and off back issues

  19. PositivePaul on October 27th, 2004 10:04 am

    All the signs seem to point to Bavasi being very interested in taking a risk on Beltre. I’m really curious if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I’m leaning to the side that it’s a HUGE risk to take, but could certainly be convinced otherwise because I haven’t really seen him play all that much. If indeed he became the next Chavez or Rolen, then I’d say we’d be just fine throwing him a long contract. Have you formulated your thoughts on Beltre, Dave? I think your articles on Beltre and Beltran should be next…

  20. Jim Thomsen on October 27th, 2004 10:26 am

    #5 — Mike Scott is probably a good example of what you’re looking for. He scuffled in mediocrity from 1979 through 1984, then, partway through 1985, starting trying out the split-finger fastball. He mastered it in his great 1986 season at age 31, and was a great pitcher through 1990 before injuries derailed his career well short of borderline Hall of Fame consideration.

    Paul Wilson and Paul Byrd might also qualify, though they were highly-rated prospects who lost huge chunks of their careers to injuries before finding their way.

  21. Brent Overman on October 27th, 2004 12:29 pm

    I’m leery on Pavano given his injury history. He may have turn the corner and looks like he’s no Chris Bosio fluke (one good year). That said, is Carl Pavano above or at the same level as most of St. Louis’s pitching staff, given park effects?

    IMO, St. Louis is getting pummeled so far this series because Boston has extremely patient hitters facing barely-above (at best) league average contact pitchers prone to an occasional mistake pitch. Running contact pitchers out against a patient team is a recipe for disaster; one St. Louis couldn’t avoid. It was no surprise Suppan, Williams, and Morris were ineffective given their inability to dominantly attack the strike zone.

    What made Florida so successful last year was the domination by Beckett and strong defense behind pitchers like Pavano. We all know what happens to the contact pitchers (Franklin, Moyer, Pineiro, et al) with Seattle’s current defense.

    What potential dominating pitching is available on the market? Matt Clement? There’s that name again…

  22. Eric on October 27th, 2004 2:38 pm


    Many theorize that Scott learned more than just a split finger:-)

  23. Ryan on October 27th, 2004 2:57 pm

    Btw….don’t forget to link the Pavano analysis to the ’05 roster construction page. Thanks.

  24. DMZ on October 27th, 2004 2:58 pm




  25. Bela Txadux on October 28th, 2004 5:41 am

    Yo Dave, re: your background on the foreground, in fact I assume that _nothing_ I mention, certainly not in this Pavano post, is news to you. It’s clear that there is a lot more info in your approach than makes it into your posts. My primary goal in this post is that without some of that background there is an ‘impression’ of a skew in the _posted_ evaluation which I do not think is actually the case in _your_ case. Others will read these evals and take them as the first and the last word, however; that is my concern. I don’t think Carl Pavano is where I want to make my stand on ‘all the facts, please,’ but I think you get my meaning here.

  26. Jeremy on October 28th, 2004 7:25 am


    As an average baseball fan, I don’t want to read a 35,000 word BP styled math clinic on every free agent. If we were arguing a capital murder case in court, I’d expect such a diatribe. Since we are not, I enjoy these synopsis style columns for what they are.

    I’m glad that the fine folks at USSM have decided to write their columns in a way that many baseball fans can enjoy. The guys here have established their credibility as their readership numbers no doubt indicate. I don’t need to know every step they took to form their opinions.

  27. Admiral Ackbar on October 28th, 2004 7:41 am

    It’s a trap!

  28. muddy frogwater on November 16th, 2004 11:37 am

    I entertain the thought of Derek Lowe. Not because of his overated post season Beltran like heroics. Derek Lowe is a ground ball pitcher with his sinker and relies heavily on the DP. Derek Lowe plays gold glove style D. Most of the season he had a less than stellar defense playing behind him. The Sox traded Nomar for Cabrera with his outstanding D to shore up the infield. Could it be if he had a reliable infield, moved to a different division where the hitters haven’t had as many looks at his pitches that he could improve? Could we once again see a sub 3.00 ERA? He faces some mighty big bats over there in the AL East.