Baltimore Orioles 2013 in review: Scott Feldman

Al Messerschmidt

Scott Feldman had an average year for a starting pitcher, but given the initial starting rotation, average was an upgrade.

Scott Feldman, erstwhile Texas Ranger and Chicago Cub, came to O's along with Steve Clevenger for Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, and two international bonus slots. At age 27, Arrieta had worn out his welcome in Baltimore by failing to prove he could handle a starting role, and Strop was struggling to not walk every batter he faced. Actually, Arrieta was struggling with that too.

What the team got in Feldman was an average major-league starting pitcher. He struck out batters and walked them at around league-average rates. He gave up home runs at a league-average rate. If you need further convincing, his FIP- this year was 101 (where 100 is league-average), better than Chris Tillman. No one expected that kind of performance to win the division, but at the time of the trade, the O's were in second place in the AL East, just 3.5 games back. And Arrieta and Strop certainly weren't helping.

You may think I use "average" as a pejorative, but I mean no such disrespect. For a team like the Orioles that used the likes of Arrieta, Jason Hammel, and Freddy Garcia in the rotation, league-average is worth something. Consider that Feldman posted 1.1 WAR in his time with the O's. Arrieta, on the other end of the deal, was worth 0 WAR in his time with the Cubs. Strop ended up being quite good, worth 0.9 WAR in his time in Chicago, on a combination of much better luck and a drastically-reduced walk rate.

Here's how Feldman performed in Chi-town:

  • Opposing hitters' line: .234/.289/.367, 10 HR in 91 IP
  • K%: 17.8%
  • BB%: 6.7%
  • HR/FB%: 11.2%
  • BABIP: .255

And his performance in Baltimore:

  • Opposing hitters' line: .235/.307/.378, 9 HR in 90.2 IP
  • K%: 17%
  • BB%: 8.1%
  • HR/FB%: 10.8%
  • BABIP: .262

For reference, the average batter in 2013 hit .253/.318/.396, struck out 18.9% of the time, and walked 7.4% of the time.

Despite walking batters a little bit more often, he was pretty much the same pitcher before the trade as he was afterwards. Feldman was even decent when pitching at OPACY: there, opponents hit .250/.320/.377 (.310 wOBA) against him, with 5 HR in 53 innings. It's a small sample size, but given that it's not terribly out of character with his overall pitching line, it's a point in his favor.

Feldman is a free agent for 2014; should the team re-sign him? If they do, the only thing to worry about is his BABIP, which for the year was about 11% below both league-average and his own career average. That's a pretty big drop, and one that we can attribute to good fortune, because nothing fundamental changed about the way he pitched -- his strikeout, walk, and line-drive rates were similar to his career levels. Unfortunately, his BABIP is likely to regress to the mean next season, raising his ERA slightly. (We already saw some of this regression after he came to Baltimore.) That he will be 31 next season is all the more reason to expect a slight decline.

But there shouldn't be enough of a drop to put a serious crimp in his value. An ERA in the low 4's is still worth something to the Orioles. Feldman doesn't strike out a ton of guys, but he doesn't walk a lot either, and he doesn't give up a lot of home runs. Feldman would be a capable #4 starter for the team. If you squint hard enough, he looks like a #3. A rotation of Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Feldman, and Bud Norris sounds decent to me.

It could happen. Feldman has expressed interest in staying in Baltimore, but given his consistency and durability (at least 28 games started in seven of the last eight years), he will attract some interest on the market, easily earning a raise from the $6 million he made this year. A win costs about $7 million on the open market, so since he was a two-win player this year, something like two years and $16 million would make sense. Though since he looks good compared to the rest of this year's free agent starters, he may go as high as three years and $30 million.

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