Friday, November 2, 2012

In the Cross Hairs: Carlos Villanueva

I will continue the Cross Hairs series by discussing a somewhat under the radar free agent starting pitcher, Carlos Villanueva.  Villanueva, who will be 29 on opening day next season, has quietly been a reliable spot starter/ swing man arm for the Toronto Blue Jays for the past two seasons.  Prior to his stint with the Blue Jays, Villanueva worked primarily out of the bullpen for the Milwaukee Brewers.  Villanueva is a proven major league pitcher who is probably looking for an offer to become a part of a team’s rotation plans and leaving his relief pitching behind him.

Villanueva is a 6’2’’ 235 pound righty originally from the Dominican Republic.  His fastball clocked in at an average of 89 MPH last season and he has a four pitch arsenal including a change-up, slider, and curve ball.  Villanueva threw his fastball just over 44% of the time last year and is known to feel comfortable throwing off speed pitches in any count.  Villanueva had a 4.16 ERA last season.  He gave up fewer hits (113) than innings pitched (125) and has nearly a strikeout per inning with 122 strikeouts last season.  Villanueva gave up some of his command last year in exchange for a higher strikeout rate, but did end the season with a respectable 3.6 BB/9.  He was vulnerable to the home run last season, giving up 23 long balls during his 125 innings.

The only manner in which the Royals would view Villanueva is as a starter.  While Villanueva managed more strikeouts and a lower ERA as a reliever, he did a solid job during his 16 starts with the Jays last season.  The most notable difference from his time as a starter is his ability to cut down on walks.  He walked 21 batters in 33 relief innings while only walking 25 over 92 innings as a starter.  Villanueva also managed a strikeout rate of 8.4; but did allow 18 home runs as a starter, which was the main culprit for his 4.50 ERA during his starts.

Carlos earned about 2.3 million dollars last season and should be looking to receive a raise and could even warrant a long term contract.   He is still young and would be able to contribute to the Royals who desperately need more pitching.  As long as Villanueva continues to find ways to punch batters out and limit his home runs even a little he could become a valuable back end starter.  Pitchers like Jeremy Guthrie have shown that Kaufmann is able to suppress home runs enough to make fly ball pitchers more effective than they otherwise would, and this should hold true for Villanueva. 

The Royals could choose to offer Villanueva a 2-3 year deal worth 3.5-4 million per.  With the addition to Ervin Santana the Royals are making a concerted effort to improve a rotation that is currently very thin.  Villanueva is a jack of all trades pitcher that could start for them regularly in 2013 and be a valuable swing-man as the Royals continue to add starting pitching depth from their system and otherwise over the next few seasons.   

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