Late yesterday came word that the Yankees and Rangers were locking horns for a big-name free agent pitcher. However, in this case the teams are vying for onetime phenom Mark Prior and not my-agent-is-making-a-mockery-of-the-winter-meetings Cliff Lee.
Prior of course is the former Cub and pitching deity who had one utterly brilliant season in 2003 (211.1 innings of 2.43/2.47/2.84 ball, good for a 7.6 fWAR!) along with three other very good seasons. Unfortunately a career that could have been one for the ages was completely derailed by injuries, and as such Prior hasn’t pitched in the Big Leagues since 2006. He apparently pitched one inning of AAA ball for Texas this past September (after a stint with the Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League), and according to this story from Hardball Talk, Prior showed good velocity during his time in the independent league and hopes to resurrect his career as a relief pitcher.
Here’s Prior’s career pitcher triple slash (ERA/FIP/xFIP) in convenient line graph form:
It’s a very pretty picture from 2002 through 2005, with all three stats tracking each other nicely. Slightly troublesome is that Prior’s xFIP was actually lower than his FIP in two of those four seasons, though it was basically a wash in 2004 (3.53 FIP, 3.57 xFIP). Additionally, for his career, his xFIP (3.32) is superior to his FIP (3.41). This would appear to indicate that Prior’s a bit more susceptible to the home run ball than we’d like. Indeed, Prior’s career HR/FB% is 11.1%, whereas CC Sabathia‘s is 8.5%, Lee’s is 8.2% and Jon Lester‘s is 8.9%, to name three elite starting pitchers.
Of course, the most troubling aspect of all — aside from that scary spike in all three stats in his injury-riddled 2006 — is that there are no data points on the chart from 2007 through 2010.
Does Prior have anything left? It’s impossible to say seeing as how he hasn’t pitched at the highest level of competition in four seasons, but if he can recover even a portion of the form that made him one of the more exciting pitchers of the first half of the aughts, it’s probably a worthwhile gamble. Prior’s said to be looking for a minor league deal, and given that you can never have enough pitching depth, I don’t see how taking a flier could really backfire on the Yankees
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