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Suppan is a bad option, but not that bad

The St. Louis Cardinals added Milwaukee’s reject, Jeff Suppan. How much trouble will ensue?

By Ian Walton

Jeff Suppan (AP photo)Apparently fed up with giving starts to the likes of P.J. Walters and Blake Hawksworth, the Cardinals have decided to do their starting rotation what they have been doing to their bench of late, sign another team’s discard to take the place of a rookie.  In this instance, former Cardinal Jeff Suppan joins Aaron Miles and Randy Winn in making the team older, if not particularly more or less talented.

It isn’t news that Jeff Suppan, despite being a nice guy by many accounts, is not a very good pitcher any more.  You don’t need me to tell you that.  The Brewers, who as of 6/10 were ranked 15th of 16 National League teams in ERA with a 5.30 mark, released the guy despite owing him $12.5M this season.  He’s 35 years old.  His fastball lies at 87-88 MPH.  His walk rate per nine innings pitched during his three full seasons with the Brewers increased from 2.96 to 3.39 to 4.12.  His strikeout rate per nine decreased from 4.96 to 4.56 to 4.45.  His 12 wild pitches last season were the third most thrown in the National League.  The man held a 7.84 ERA in 31 innings this season.  Jeff Suppan is a bad pitcher who is only getting worse.

He isn’t all that bad, however.  He isn’t really a 7.84 ERA pitcher.  He has been unlucky this season and offers a number of reasons for Cardinal fans not to be entirely discouraged by his signing:

  • He has a legitimate starter’s repertoire of pitches.  According to Pitch F/X, he mixes a four-seam fastball with a slider, a curveball, a changeup, and a cut fastball.  At very least, he can keep hitters guessing which one of his mediocre pitches will be thrown.
  • His changeup, which was his only above average pitch last season according to FanGraphs, is getting absolutely destroyed this season.  One reason might be that he has been throwing it at a meager 79.6 MPH this year, down a full 1.5 MPH from 2009.  Considering that his fastball isn’t getting any slower, Dave Duncan might convince him to take less off of the change in hopes of hitters having a little less time to react to it.  If that doesn’t work, he can always scrap the pitch in favor of the cutter that he has started throwing this season.
  • His groundball percentage in 2010 is only 37.5%, down from 48.9% in 2009.  If anyone can help him fix this particular flaw, it is Dave Duncan.
  • Opposing hitters have a .399 batting average on balls in play in 2010 against Suppan, which is dramatically higher than his career .303 value.  He has been unlucky this year, plain and simple.
  • This year, his K/9 rate is 5.23 and his BB/9 rate is 3.48, which are noted improvements over his 4.45 and 4.12 values in 2009 as listed earlier.  Again, he has pitched moderately well for being Jeff Suppan despite his inflated ERA.

So maybe the Jeff Suppan signing won’t really be all that bad.  P.J. Walters gave up 13 earned runs over his last eight innings pitched.  Blake Hawksworth gave up six earned runs in four innings during his past start.  Even 2010 Jeff Suppan was better than that, and 2010 Jeff Suppan has been rather unlucky.  A reasonable case can be made that he is legitimately the Cardinals’ fifth best healthy starting pitching option at this point.  As a $12.5M pitcher, Jeff Suppan was an outlandish disappointment.  As a pro-rated league minimum pitcher, he could get the job done until Brad Penny returns from the DL.  I can’t fault the Cardinals for trying.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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