In what now seems like a simple administrative deal in comparison to the Blue Jays-Marlins blockbuster deal, the Cubs have acquired right handed pitcher Scott Baker on a $5.5 million contract for 1 year of service.
Baker, the former Twins hurler, is coming off an injury laden 2012 where he had Tommy John surgery. Previous to that, he’s been an effective pitcher for many years throwing 170+ IP in 3 of his last 5 seasons dating back to 2008.
The big bodied righty (6″4″ 220 lbs) is familiar with the MLB and should be able to adjust quickly from his surgery. His mix included a fastball that wont blow anyone away at 88-92 MpH, but has a very decisive “jump” action as it draws in to the plate, thus making it very difficult to read. Sprinkle in his effective pounding of both sides of the zone, and his fast ball is a registered weapon at the major league level. Secondary pitches include a big curve, an average to + slider and a tricky fade-away changeup that is particularity vicious towards left handed hitters.
He’s been signed in order to help bolster the rotation and it’s quite clear what the Cubs are expecting of him because of the bonuses laid out in his contract: $150,000 for registering 145, 150, 155, 160, 165, 170, 175, 180, 185 and 190 total innings pitched in 2013.
They want a starter who can go out, eat up innings and give the bats a chance to win baseball games.
Not to discredit Baker for his abilities to win games from the mound – Baker was having a career year in 2011 before being injured. His 3.14 ERA was complimented nicely by a 1.173 WHIP and a 4.2 WAR. Control is not an issue for Baker, who tends to keep batters off balance by using a smart mix of location fastballs, sliders and curves. This helps keeps his direct offense metrics low, posting a 1.0 HR/9, .297 BABIP and 2.1 BB/9 which are respectable numbers.
Anyone starting to feel like Baker is just a cheaper, right handed version of Paul Maholm? You’re not wrong.
Baker’s game is control because he lacks the power to blow balls passed batters – much like Maholm. He does this quite well, posting an 8.22 SO/9 but tends to be very hit-able when he’s not on his game as indicated by his 8.4 H/9. I might chose Maholm over Baker, but Baker shows potential to be as effective if not more effective than Maholm pending his rehab.
Being a ground ball pitcher, Baker could face challenges with a weaker defense behind him which would artificially inflate his metrics. Watch his xFIP as the season progresses, as this will be the true indication of his recovery.
Baker brings experience and a solid work ethic to the team this year and now has a chance to pick up where he left off in Minnesota. He’ll be a welcomed addition.