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Post-Gazette: Get Suppan

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The Post-Gazette has articles from Gene Collier and Dejan Kovacevic suggesting that the Pirates sign Jeff Suppan.

Kovacevic wisely points out that Major League Baseball is swimming in cash, and that the pool isn't going to close any time soon. He suggests that because Suppan's "reliability and durability are exceptional," he'd stabilize the rotation and free the Pirates to trade a pitcher for a power hitter. Collier's analysis is sillier, focusing on things like the wins statistic and World Series heroism, and describing Suppan as "hard-throwing." (What?!)

Beyond that, the overall theme here is that the Pirates should have lots of money to spend. I think that's almost certainly true, and it needs to be pointed out. But Suppan is not the right player for the Pirates to acquire. Forget the postseason heroism  - again, even if that mattered, it would be completely irrelevant as far as the Pirates are concerned. Paying for postseason heroism would be an extremely stupid waste of the Pirates' money.

Here's what Suppan has done in the last three seasons:

  1. 188 IP, 4.17 ERA, 4.69 RA, 5.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
  2. 194.1 IP, 3.57 ERA, 4.31 RA, 5.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
  3. 190 IP, 4.12 ERA, 4.74 RA, 4.9 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
(For the uninitiated, RA is just all runs allowed. For context, Ian Snell, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm all had RAs around 5.)

Suppan's DIPS ERA, which measures what his ERA would be judged only by strikeouts, walks allowed, and homers allowed, was 4.64, significanly higher than his overall ERA. This difference is important because it shows that part of the reason his ERA was so low was because of the defense behind him.

St. Louis' defense was ranked ninth in the major leagues in defensive efficiency, which measures the number of balls in play that a team converts to outs. The Pirates were ranked dead last. As a result, Duke, Snell and Maholm all had DIPS ERAs that were lower than their actual ERAs. Suppan's personal defensive efficiency rating was not especially high, but it was still significantly higher than Pirates' starters as a whole.

Other than the departure of Jeromy Burnitz, there's no particular reason to expect the Pirates' defense to be significantly better next year - and right field defense won't affect Suppan much, because he's a groundball pitcher.

The problem here isn't Suppan's defensive efficiency rating. If the Pirates acquire a starter, it will be very likely his defensive efficiency rating will be higher than most Pirates', regardless of who he is.

Instead, the problems here are threefold. One, Suppan's getting older. It would be foolish to expect him to continue to be the decent pitcher he is now.

Two, as the poster Econolodge has repeatedly pointed out at the Unofficial Pirates Message Board, he depends heavily on his defense, since he doesn't strike batters out. The defense behind him in 2006 was pretty good, whereas the Pirates' in 2007 will be very bad. So he's pretty likely to tack a half a run or more onto his ERA just by switching teams. If Suppan has an ERA around five, he probably won't seem so "reliable" anymore.

Three, the Pirates would be paying for Suppan's postseason heroism. That would be pointless.

I acknowledge the need for the Pirates to get someone to eat innings. But they need to look for someone under the radar. They're practically guaranteed to overpay for Suppan, and he's not very likely to perform well for them.