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Free-Agent Pitchers: How The Giants Might Fashion A Shopping List

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Now that we know the names, ranks, and serial numbers of the pitchers who will receive qualifying offers -- and therefore are probably off-limits to all Giants shoppers -- we can start thinking systematically about which pitchers the Giants should pursue. There are many criteria: past performance, finances, injury history, off-field pursuits (do you only smoke crack during a drunken stupor? OK then!). Too complicated for little ol' me. No doubt there's a white board deep in the bowels of Mays Field that looks like this (h/t Washington Post):

immigration-flowchart.gifI'll only briefly mention finances. The Giants publicly aren't ruling out anyone, but let's assume they are prioritizing short-term deals of one or two years. Probably not an iron-clad rule, but if, say, Roy Halladay wants four years, well, squeeeeeak goes the black marker through his name. Matt Garza wants four years? Apart from being a caveman meathead, his spotty injury record should help the Giants steer clear. The Giants are probably willing to "overpay" for two years if it helps beat, say, a three-year offer for someone they really like. This is the theory behind the Tim Lincecum contract extension: A pre-emptive strike of overpayment, if you will.

Instead of stuffing all the various criteria into our game-theory flow chart, let's shine our soft, warm blog light on a single performance related measurement that might set the Giants apart from other teams:

Their home park is the hardest place in the world for left-handed baseball players to hit home runs. Absolute worst. Worse than this place? Oh yeah. Much worse. Haven't you seen the skulls of Larry Walker and Felipe Crespo festooning the ramparts?

For more proof, go here and sort through every year on "HR as L." The only home field with a lower park factor is San Diego, and, shazam, they moved in their fences in 2013. (Unfortunately Fangraphs doesn't yet have 2013 data, but I'm going to assume the San Diegan fence move must have shaken Petco from the top spot.)

So it's OK to go after a fly ball pitcher, especially a right-hander who doesn't need park-factor help suppressing same-handed hitters. In other words, go for a righty-killer, and don't worry too much if he has long-ball troubles with lefties. He should get a nice boost from Mays Field against them.

Ah, you say, but what about the extra doubles and triples the park allows to left handed batters! In recent years, nope. It hasn't. Going back to 2010, the park has been about neutral for lefty doubles and has suppressed lefty triples. Going back into the '00s, the factors tilt more toward the plus-side, but I can't emphasize this enough: In recent years, as run suppression has increased across baseball, Mays Field has proven especially tough for lefty hitters, and it's not likely to shift back soon.

Playing Angel Pagan in center and Hunter Pence isn't the best way to maximize the park's lefty-killing potential, but at least for a couple more years, that tandem should remain above league average.

Now, sort through the starting pitchers who have best limited wOBA against right handed batters since 2011, and look who's in the top 25: Bartolo Colon (.271, good for 7th), Tim Hudson (.275, 9th), and Bronson Arroyo (.290, t-23th). All free agents likely to accept one or two year deals. (Also: Matt Cain, .281, 14th, and Madison Bumgarner .290, t-23th.)

Plenty of stadia the Giants frequent can punish fly-ball pitchers. Coors Field and Arizona Predatory Lending Field, where the Giants play 11% of their games, come immediately to mind. Inducing ground balls and racking up strikeouts are still nice abilities. Are any of those pitchers above also good at inducing grounders, which the Giant infield, with Brandons Belt and Crawford, a slimmer Pablo Sandoval and a healthier Marco Scutaro, should turn into outs at a better than league average clip? (Pretend you didn't notice the questionable assumptions floated in that previous sentence.)

Ladies and gentlemen: Tim Hudson, ground ball machine, with a 56.1% rate since 2011, tied for sixth best in baseball among starters. Hudson is recovering from a horrific ankle injury and he turns 39 in July. If he doesn't re-sign with the Braves I'll be shocked, stunned, and muldooned, as they say in Decatur.

How the Giants prioritize ground ball vs. fly ball skills will likely relate to who's playing left field, too. But that gets into the 5-D chess I want to avoid for now. So does the evaluation of, say, Hudson's ankle or Bartolo Colon's weight. Enough to say for now that there are a few pitchers available, probably for relatively short-term deals, who have recent track records of throttling right handed batters. That's as good a place as any to start a shopping list.  


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