Hector Noesi May Be Better Than We Realize

Dave · January 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Because The Big Trade sends two players in each direction, it’s only natural to pair those players off and view the deal as essentially Pineda-for-Montero and Campos-for-Noesi. And that’s generally how this deal has been analyzed, including by me. The talk surrounding this trade has been almost entirely about Montero’s future value and where he’ll fit into the roster long term, while Noesi has been relegated to the backburner. The only attention he’s really gotten has been tied to lamenting the loss of Campos, a personal favorite of a lot of people who follow the M’s minor leagues closely.

So, over the last 24 hours or so, I’ve done a lot of digging on Noesi, trying to ascertain exactly what the M’s got along with Montero by surrendering Michael Pineda. I knew he was a mid-tier Yankees prospect that was generally talked about as a potential #5 starter in New York, but beyond that, I didn’t really know that much. So, I started asking around, talking to people in the game who knew Noesi pretty well. And, the more I talked to these folks, the more I realized that Noesi should be viewed as a lot more than just a throw-in arm. In fact, there are legitimate reasons to be pretty excited about his inclusion in the deal.

With any pitcher, the foundation of his value is in what he throws, so let’s start with Noesi’s stuff. In last year’s Baseball America write-up (where he rated as the Yankees seventh best prospect), John Manuel wrote that Noesi:

“…pounds the zone with an 89-93 mph fastball, reaching as high as 96. His maintains his velocity deep into games, and his fastball has some run and tail. Noesi’s No. 2 pitch is a changeup with similar action, though he doesn’t quite command it like his fastball. His curveball and slider remain below-average offerings, but he flashes the ability to spin the ball.”

Thanks to the wonders of Pitch F/x data, and the Yankees decision to carry him as their long reliever for most of the 2011 season, we can actually confirm the validity of what Manuel wrote. Here’s a plot of all of Noesi’s pitches last year, broken out by velocity and horizontal movement, which makes identifying the different pitch clusters quite easy.

Just like John wrote, Noesi mixed in four different pitches – the algorithm separated out his fastballs into two-seam and four-seam varieties, but he doesn’t throw a true sinker, so don’t pay too much attention to the blue/green differences there – and generally threw them for strikes. As for velocity, the data backs up Manuel’s assessment there as well:

He generally sat in the 89-96 range with his fastball last year, but his average fastball velocity was 93.3, a few ticks higher than reported in his BA writeup. This could easily be attributed to pitching out of the bullpen, where velocity spikes are common and expected, but the Yankees didn’t use Noesi as a typical relief pitcher. He was their long guy, relied on to eat up innings when a starter didn’t get very deep into the ballgame, and was regularly asked to stay on the mound for multiple innings at a time.

In fact, Noesi averaged 8.2 batters faced and 32 pitches per appearance, and threw 40 or more pitches in 10 of his 30 outings. While that isn’t nearly the same workload as a starting pitcher, and we should expect his average fastball to dip as a starting pitcher, the difference shouldn’t be as stark as it would be in converting a reliever who is used in a more traditional one-inning role. And even those pitchers generally only see a drop in velocity of about 1 MPH or so when converting back to a starter.

His longest appearance of the year – a six inning, 71 pitch outing against Boston in June – backs up that assumption.

He began the game at 93-95 and sat there for the first 20 pitches or so, then dropped back into the 90-93 range for the rest of the night. Overall, his fastball averaged 92.6 MPH that evening, so his velocity is not just a product of being used out of the bullpen. He has a good arm and can get it up to the plate with some oomph.

Despite above average velocity and good fastball command, the knocks against him as a prospect have been related to the quality of his two breaking pitches – neither his slider or his curveball are seen as a true out-pitch. So, the overall package of plus command of one good pitch and then a collection of okay secondary offerings leads to projections as a back-end starter, a guy who can throw strikes but lacks the repertoire to dominate hitters.

I’m not going to argue with that assessment, as it seems to be the general consensus among those who have watched him pitch a good deal. However, in talking to folks who have seen Noesi a lot, several made the point that this skillset is often undervalued in prospecting circles – where upside is king and lower ceiling guys often fly under the radar – and that Noesi could step into a Major League rotation tomorrow and be a quality starter.

In fact, when asking for pitchers that Noesi reminded them of, a few names popped up that show just how large the divide can occasionally be between hype and results for this pitcher type. One front office executive said that he saw Noesi as a similar pitcher to Daniel Hudson, while a scout threw out the name Cory Luebke.

Neither of these guys were ever projected as front-line starters due to their reliance on good command of a solid fastball with secondary stuff that needed work (sound familiar?), but both got themselves to the Majors by racking up solid K/BB ratios that were built more on avoiding walks than missing a ton of bats. However, since arriving in the Majors, Luebke and Hudson have been two of the better young pitchers in baseball, translating their minor league success into quality Major League performances.

Another person in the game that I talked to pointed out that the Twins have been building quality pitching staffs for years through a never-ending assembly line of Hector Noesi style pitchers. He pointed to Scott Baker (another guy who never appeared in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects) as an example of just how effective this skillset can be. And he’s absolutely right – a look at the results of team pitching staffs over the last 10 years show that the Twins have walked the fewest batters (by a mile) of any team in baseball, and their staffs have generally been populated by the likes of Baker, Brad Radke, Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano, and Kyle Lohse. Noesi throws harder than those guys, but the general approach to pitching is pretty similar. Pound the zone, change speeds, mix pitches, and succeed by never walking anyone.

It’s not as sexy of a skillset as Pineda’s “haha you can’t hit this” approach, but the sport is filled with guys who are succeeding as Major League starters without sitting in the mid-90s. The lack of a true dominating out-pitch means that Noesi isn’t going to turn into Clayton Kershaw, but these types of pitchers are often more valuable than they’re given credit for.

For instance, Baker/Hudson/Luebke have pitched 1,350 innings in the big leagues and have combined to be worth +26.5 WAR, or +3.5 WAR per 180 innings pitched. For comparison, Michael Pineda was worth +3.4 WAR in 171 innings last year. Yeah.

We shouldn’t just take these three examples and extrapolate Noesi as a +3.5 win pitcher for 2012, but when people talk about this skillset having limited upside, realize that what they’re saying is that these pitchers max out as All-Stars instead of Cy Young winners. There is a cap on how good Noesi can be, but that cap isn’t set at league average starter as many would have you believe.

Go look through last year’s pitching leaderboards. There’s 35 pitchers on that front page, each of whom posted a WAR of +3.6 or higher in 2011. Yeah, there’s a bunch of guys who throw hard and have nasty breaking balls, but there’s also Dan Haren (never a BA Top 100 guy, and classified as a “middle of the rotation starter” when BA rated him the Carindals #1 prospect in 2003), Doug Fister, Ian Kennedy, James Shields, Daniel Hudson, and Brandon McCarthy. All of these guys put themselves on the map by pounding strikes without dominating stuff and all were painted with the same “limited upside” brush. They’re all evidence that this skillset can turn out to be more than just another generic #5 starter.

And, while these examples are obviously the best case scenario for Noesi, we can’t overlook the fact that he pitched pretty well for the Yankees last year. Again, yes, caveats about pitching low leverage innings out of the bullpen, but he posted a 4.02 xFIP while pitching in the AL East as a rookie. Or, how about this fun fact – opposing batters made contact with 79.9% of pitches that Noesi threw. Here’s the complete list of AL starting pitchers (minimum 50 IP) who had contact rates between 79.5% and 80.5%:

Jered Weaver: 79.5%
Charlie Furbush: 79.6%
Kyle Drabek: 79.6%
Scott Baker: 79.7%
Philip Humber: 79.8%
C.J. Wilson: 79.8%
Felix Hernandez: 80.1%
Jon Lester: 80.1%
Edwin Jackson: 80.4%
Trevor Cahill: 80.5%

By the way, Haren just missed the cut at 79.3%, and if we expanded it out a little more, we’d run into Clay Buchholz (80.7%), Ervin Santana (80.9%), and David Price (81.0%). Besides Furbush (HR problems) and Drabek (BB problems), that’s a pretty sweet group to be keeping company with. Obviously, there’s a lot more to judging a pitcher than just contact rate, but it’s his questionable ability to miss bats in the big leagues that’s always been the thing that has been held against him. Given how he performed in the Majors as a rookie, there are reasons to think that his stuff might be better than he’s been given credit for.

The strong minor league track record suggests that Noesi can get batters out with what he has. His Major League performance as a rookie backs up that assertion as well. There are a number of really good Major League pitchers who throw similar stuff and faced the same questions when they were prospects. Add it all up, and it seems like sticking a “back-end starter” label on Noesi doesn’t really do his potential value justice.

Right now, I’d slot him in as the team’s #4 starter, easily ahead of Beaven and Furbush, and honestly not that far behind Jason Vargas or Hisashi Iwakuma in the pecking order. While I still think there are good values to be found among starting pitchers on the free agent market, Noesi is a guy that I’d like to see break camp as a member of the rotation. His skillset should play well in Safeco, especially if the M’s put a good defensive club on the field, and there’s a chance that he himself could replace a good chunk of what the team gave up in Pineda.

Montero’s production will still likely determine whether this trade is viewed as a success or a failure, but Noesi shouldn’t just be viewed as a throw-in that cost us Jose Campos. He could be a solid Major League starter who is ready to step into the rotation immediately, and that’s a valuable piece, even if his skillset is generally underrated.


65 Responses to “Hector Noesi May Be Better Than We Realize”

  1. MoreMariners on January 15th, 2012 9:34 pm

    I think Noesi will surprise a lot of Mariners fans.

  2. eponymous coward on January 15th, 2012 9:42 pm

    It’s an unneeded risk. You don’t tie up salary in a #2-3 when you’re 4-5 guys away. He could blow out his arm and then you can’t spend that money when you really need it.

    Haven’t you been spending a lot of time here arguing we need to sign Fielder? So are you flipping on that? Or somehow is Fielder exempt from the potential risks of free agent signings?

    Anyways, if it’s Oswalt or (insert one year deal here) on a one year deal, what else are you going to spend the money on? The team’s not going to carry over 2012 salary to 2013, that’s not how it’s ever worked. And, um, hello, if the team’s 17 games out in late July and Oswalt is pitching well, you have a trade chit.

    And if Dave’s right and Jackson (alternately, insert reasonable multi-year deal year) is an undervalued asset who’s got a good chance to be a decent player for a few years (and in Edwin Jackson’s case, we’re talking about a 3-4 WAR pitcher the last 3 years- basically, he’s Pineda), this is just a no-brainer, especially given that there is not much salary on the books after 2012 (and almost nothing after 2013, once Guti and Figgins fall off)- we could easily absorb a guy like Jackson at 4/50. If you can pick up a good player at a reasonable price that has an excellent chance of improving the win-loss record and talent base, pick up the player. Dave’s pont is absolutely right- wins are wins, you try to get as many of them as you can, and you move the floor for your team up as high as you can without doing violence to your team’s ability to spend in the future. There is no “wait for next year”. This is what KC and Baltimore do- spend a decade being terrible waiting for the right year.

    Also, a true-talent 75 win team needs a lot of luck to be a 90 win team. Adding 5 or more wins to that of talent considerably reduces the amount of luck needed. 10 win swings from true talent aren’t all that unusual (granted, this means downside risk too), but you can’t take advantage of luck if you don’t put yourself in position to do it.

  3. eponymous coward on January 15th, 2012 10:02 pm

    The other thing is this: if the moves become something like this:

    – get Oswalt or Jackson or (insert name here)
    – spend rest of 2012 salary budget on shoring up OF/corner positions with additional bat (Dave’s mentioned Mark Reynolds, I’m not a fan because bad defense + zillion Ks is the opposite of what this team needs- I’d rather have someone who could cover CF)

    This team is almost certainly a .500 team with upside- if Ichiro is back to his 4-5 WAR self one more time, Gutierrez is capable of bouncing back close to where he was in 2009, one or more of the kids breaks out to join Ackley as a 3-4 WAR player- well, there’s your scenario.

  4. Valenica on January 15th, 2012 10:42 pm

    Can someone tell me which Jackson we’ll be getting? White Sox Jackson, who is worth $12M/yr, or Tigers/D-Backs/Cards Jackson, who isn’t worth $12M/yr? He’s undervalued for a reason. It’s hard to evaluate what you’re getting. And you know for a 3.5 WAR pitcher, you’re not getting THAT much surplus. You gain maybe $4M a year, which is nice, but for the risk, not exactly a home run.

    I just think we’re so far away we should focus less on acquiring an arm like Jackson and focus more on playing the MLB-ready arms we have, like Nosei, Beavan, Furbush, Hultzen, Paxton, and Erasmo.

    I mean think about it – you’re banking on Ichiro bouncing back fully, Gutierrez bouncing back fully, Ackley breaking out, Jackson giving you 3 WAR, and you still win 85 games. What do you gain by signing Jackson now over one of the dozen pitchers next year who are just as good? The slight chance Ackley, Montero, Smoak, Seager, Carp, Wells, Gutierrez, and Ichiro all breakout this year and he helps you contend?

    What do you lose? Maybe you don’t find out what Beavan or Furbush or Erasmo or Nosei give you. If they give you nothing – sign a guy next year. If they give you something – you just have a free arm with Jackson level production, to trade or keep. So you also lose payroll flexibility – instead of having $30-40M to use on holes next off-season, you have $18-28M to use on holes because you assume SP will be a hole. If we can fill that hole internally for cheap, we’re better off because we can focus on getting better quality in OF or 3B.

    It’s not giving up on the season – it’s seeing what you have before you start making moves that closes the doors. Might as well leave them open when we basically need a miracle and a BOS/TB/LAA collapse to make the playoffs.

  5. Typical Idiot Fan on January 16th, 2012 12:07 am

    Can someone tell me which Jackson we’ll be getting? White Sox Jackson, who is worth $12M/yr, or Tigers/D-Backs/Cards Jackson, who isn’t worth $12M/yr?

    Last I checked, they were the same dude.

  6. eponymous coward on January 16th, 2012 1:16 am

    Nosei, Beavan, Furbush, Hultzen, Paxton, and Erasmo

    Hultzen and Paxton do not belong in a MLB rotation for an entire season yet, given that they haven’t shown they can handle 150 innings at the minors yet (Pineda was well ahead of them as a prospect, and you saw what problems his inning limit caused us last year- we spent September starting one of the worst pitchers to have a cup of coffee in MLB history because he had to be shut down early). So they’re not making the team out of Peoria, and I wouldn’t bet on them being able to pitch in September (again, inning limit), so… I wouldn’t bet on them pitching in M’s uniforms in 2012 even if they do well and race through the minors. 2013, maybe.

    Maybe you don’t find out what Beavan or Furbush or Erasmo or Nosei give you.

    Let’s say we sign Jackson (who you seem to be having the freakout about). So the rotation becomes Felix, Jackson, Vargas, and two of Iwakuma/Noesi/Beavan/Furbush.

    What on earth is wrong with having four guys competing for two rotation spots, losers go to the bullpen or Tacoma? Since when is it not possible to evaluate players based on minor league performance or use young pitchers out of the bullpen? What’s wrong with having depth? (Hint: what are the odds that we use five starters all year long?)

    Also, again, Jackson’s had 3 years at 3.5ish WAR, at ALL his stops the last 3 years. I wouldn’t bet on Beavan or Furbush hitting that, certainly not in 2012. So, yes, you are basically advocating “make the team worse in 2012 so we can evaluate kids (who probably won’t be as good)”.

    Finally, here’s a fun fact:

    Jackson: 11 WAR, 2009-2011
    Fielder: 15.3 WAR, 2009-2011

    (Jackson’s eight months older.)

    Everything you said about Jackson blocking pitching goes double for Fielder blocking Smoak (especially now that Montero’s in town), and we’re looking at a difference of about 1.5 WAR/yr in talent.

    So I assume that if Jackson at 4 years/50 million’s a bad idea, so’s Fielder at, say, 5 years/75 million, right? (I suspect GMZ would have signed Fielder already if he could get him at 5/75. That’s actually an OK deal for a quality, top tier FA 1B in his prime.)

    If we can fill that hole internally for cheap, we’re better off because we can focus on getting better quality in OF or 3B.

    Why not do both? The team can probably take another 15-20 million or so in salary, and Jackson doesn’t have to soak all that up (alternately, Oswalt, or whoever). Talent is talent, and you should add talent wherever you can if the deal pencils out as improving your team. This team is nowhere close to having too much pitching. If we were discussing a rotation of Felix, Halladay, Sabathia and Lee, sure, we should be building from within for a 5th starter, and putting money elsewhere. But we’re not.

  7. just a fan on January 16th, 2012 3:58 am

    If the rotation was Felix-Jackson-Vargas-Iwakuma-Noesi and Hultzen or Paxton was ready and you wanted them to start…

    Either Vargas is pitching well and has trade value, or Vargas is not pitching well and loses his rotation spot.

    If they’re both ready, they can Rochambeau for a bullpen spot.

    Problem solved.

  8. Valenica on January 16th, 2012 4:52 am

    I don’t think Paxton and Hultzen pitch 2012 either, but for them it’s about 2013. With Jackson, it’d be Felix-Jackson-Hultzen-Paxton-Nosei or some such. 2014 is Walker’s turn: Felix-Jackson-Hultzen-Paxton-Walker.

    So what do you suggest we do with Nosei, Furbush, Beavan, and Erasmo then? We’re only getting a year out of them any of them with Jackson, two max. Trade them for 4th OFers? Put them in the bullpen? I guess if one of them breaks out we can deal them for something useful.

    I know what Jackson’s WAR was. Why not go deeper? His xFIP was inconsistent throughout the entire 3 years. His SIERA the last 3 years is 4.30, 3.85, 4.01. His tERA was 4.40, 4.29, 4.61. His xFIP and FIP both outperformed his SIERA/tERA, so his WAR might be inflated. He’s not exactly guaranteed to be 3 WAR in the future either, here. Sure enough, bWAR gives his last 3 years 1.8, 2.3, 0.8 WAR. Still want to pay $12M a year to Charlie Furbush without HR problems?

    Fielder at 5/75 represents $50M in surplus. Jackson at 5/60, represents $15M in surplus. Big difference. I don’t even know why you bring up Fielder – I don’t think we should go after him anymore. Unless we can afford both Fielder + Jackson – that would make things interesting.

    I don’t have problems adding talent for a good price, as long as it doesn’t interfere with long-term flexibility. I want Oswalt, though I doubt he comes here. But what’s the upside to Jackson? What do we gain from signing Jackson now, as opposed to a SP3 next year or the year after? That’s what I’m asking. I don’t see any upside, other then it helps the team now, and saves us like what, $6-10M in surplus for 2 years? Except we have 3-4 MLB-ready, hungry starters who could give $6-10M in surplus just as easily. So in the end, all you gain is $12M in wins, which is nice, but it’s tied up in that SP spot for the next 4 years. We’re a team of 23 year olds – it’s not exactly the best time to tie up money.

  9. The Ancient Mariner on January 16th, 2012 6:25 am

    In the first place, Val, please learn to spell Noesi. Just remember, it’s pronounced “no acey.”

    Second, who besides you has suggested 5/$60 for Jackson?

    Third, we would be at the far end of good luck if all three of Hultzen/Paxton/Walker turned into good starters. Either you haven’t followed the M’s very long, or you haven’t learned from the past.

  10. terry on January 16th, 2012 6:29 am

    Its starting to look like the Ms will be fun to watch this season.

  11. eponymous coward on January 16th, 2012 9:57 am

    I don’t see any upside, other then it helps the team now

    What other thing does it need to be, if it doesn’t really cripple the team’s ability to spend in 2013/2014/etc., which it doesn’t?

    More wins is good in and of itself. More talent is good in and of itself.

    We’re a team of 23 year olds – it’s not exactly the best time to tie up money.

    Don’t look at this as “tie up money”. Look at it as “add talent”.

    It’s always a good time to add talent at below market value. Period.

    Essentially, there’s two things that happen to the remainder of the M’s salary budget for 2012- it gets spent, or it gets retained as earnings (or reduced losses, I guess) and doesn’t impact 2013’s budget, because that’s how the M’s roll.

    One thing that DOES impact 2013’s budget is how many fans the M’s draw, which is primarily impacted by winning games, which is dependent on team quality. Also, a 75 win true talent team has considerably farther to go (in terms of rookies that need to blow up big, roster moves that need to be made) to get over the 85-90 win “you’ve got a shot” hump than an 81 win true talent team.

    There’s just no real reason to think that winning now and winning later are at odds, even if we’re behind the Rangers and Angels in the talent race. The only way to catch up is to start catching up, and being offered talent at below-market prices? Sign me up.

  12. goat on January 16th, 2012 10:42 am

    Sounds like a Fister replacement. Not bad at all.

    I think there are enough questions in the projected rotation from anyone not named Felix that it still makes sense to try for Oswalt or Jackson. (Having anyone other than Vargas as the #2 right now is wishful thinking.)

  13. gwangung on January 16th, 2012 10:53 am

    I think there are enough questions in the projected rotation from anyone not named Felix that it still makes sense to try for Oswalt or Jackson.

    Yeah. I like Jackson at a decent salary, because he’d be a useful player in the future, if everything DOES work out.

  14. Johnny Slick on January 16th, 2012 12:19 pm

    Weird that this turned into a whither Edwin Jackson thread, but I think that’s a totally different situation than a Fielder signing. For Fielder he has to take one of basically two slots on the team: starting 1b or starting dh. A pitcher can basically fit into one of five slots on the other hand. On top of that, pitchers get hurt, so realistically you need more than five guys to fill a rotation for a year.

  15. MoreMariners on January 16th, 2012 3:26 pm

    At minimum, Noesi should be at least a +1 win pitcher, and Montero shouldn’t have trouble reaching +3 wins. Therefore, it works out for now. Also, as for the Jackson debate, I much prefer Oswalt. Get him on a one year deal for $8-10, flip him in July if we’re out of contention. We replaced Pineda with a pitcher of similar value (Oswalt) for $8MM, and we gained Noesi and Montero as bonuses — not to mention the players that we would receive for Oswalt.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.