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March 17, 2013

Thoma: Why the Twins’ signing of Correia was a mistake

— From the email inbox:

Don’t you get tired of ripping the Twins signing of Kevin Correia? I am. Give the man a chance instead of writing how bad he is and will be before he has even thrown a single pitch in a Twins uniform. Pelfry hasn’t exactly been setting the world afire this spring either but I don’t see you ripping him.

Answer: No, I don’t get tired of it, and here’s why.

The signing of Kevin Correia was the most obviously flawed move of the Twins offseason, and admittedly it’s been a rare week since the signing that I haven’t griped about it on the blog.

Comparing the signings of Correia and Mike Pelfrey ... It’s not about spring training results, which I’ve never mentioned in regards to either. It’s about established levels of ability.

Pelfrey, coming off a season lost to Tommy John surgery, is on a one-year contract for $4 million. Correia’s contract is two years, $10 million — twice as long and more than twice the money.

Pelfrey is 29. He has four full seasons in a major league rotation (all with the Mets), two of them with good results.

In those four seasons (2008-11) he was 45-45, 4.27 ERA, averaging 3.0 walks and 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings and averaging just under 200 innings a season. His ERA+ — a formula that accounts for park effects and league context — was 93, meaning he was seven percent below league average.

Pelfrey’s peripheral numbers aren’t great, and he is coming off significant surgery. I’d give the chances of his signing being a success for the Twins — by which I mean 30 starts and near 200 innings with an ERA around league average — as about 30 percent.

Correia is 32. He too has four full seasons in a major league rotation (two with San Diego, two with Pittsburgh), none of them as good as Pelfrey’s two good years and perhaps none as poor as Pelfrey’s worst.

In those four seasons (2009-12) Correia was 46-43, 4.51, with 2.9 BB/9 and 5.7 K/9 and averaging 167 innings. His ERA+ was 83 — 17 percent below league average.

I give the Correia signing about a 10 percent chance of being a success, and that’s erring on the generous side. He’s never had a 200-inning season, never had an ERA+ of 100 or better.

He’s not going to give the Twins anything they couldn’t get from Cole De Vries, Samuel Deduno or Liam Hendriks — and they’d cost one-tenth of Correia’s salary.

Flip the two contracts — Correia the one-year deal for $4 million, Pelfrey the two-year deal for $10 — and I’d be silent. For this year, Correia’s not in the way of anything really significant. For two, he might be. For one year, Pelfrey is likely just a rehab project with no payoff at the end.

The odds are so strongly against Correia that giving him a two-year contract is simply baffling to an astute outsider.

Terry Ryan’s public justification for the signing has made three points:

1) Correia’s a good teammate.

2) Correia works deep into games.

3) “Our scouts tell us his stuff is better than his stats.”

As for point one, I won’t argue, other than to suggest that the best teammates are the ones who do the most to win games.

On point two, I don’t think it’s true. Correia had just four starts longer than six innings last season and none longer than seven innings. He averaged 5.7 innings per start. That’s not an innings eater.

(Correia’s explanation is that he was pinch-hit for often and he’ll work deeper in the DH league. But when do National League pitchers get hit for in the fifth or sixth inning? When they’re behind and/or not pitching well enough to justify another inning.)

The third point is perhaps the biggest tell of the faulty logic behind the signing. It suggests that the Twins based the signing on scouting techniques better used to evaluate amateur and low minors players to judge a major league veteran.

Correia is 32. He has more than 150 major league starts under his belt.

He is what he is, and the hitters are telling us all we need to know about the quality of his stuff and how well he applies it.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.

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