Is there a lesser of two evils?
The only reason my teeth are leaving deeper marks in my fingers on this acquisition in comparison to the Ponson pick up is because of the money involved and style of contract involved. If Ramon Ortiz had signed a minor league deal like ol' Sidney, worth a similar bankroll, I could at least be able to say "yes, I understand why you would do this".
But therein lies the rub--Ortiz is no more valuable than Ponson. Certainly $3.1 MM is better than the GNP of a country that was spent on something called Gil Meche, but that doesn't make it right.
Since the Twins, and indeed many organizations in baseball, will be hesitant to hand three starting slots to four guys with less than 300 combined innings of experience, it's pretty safe to say that Ponson or Ortiz will be anchoring the fourth or fifth starter position. So, who would you rather have?
Name IP GS IP GS
Ortiz 190.2 33 490.0 77
Ponson 85.0 16 431.0 72
While the overall numbers over the last three years don't look drastically different, the fissure is wider than it appears. Ponson's 72 starts indicate at least some instability in his consistency, and it has to do with his health and overall ineffective performance. Ortiz actually split time between the bullpen and rotation in 2004, making 20 appearances as a relief pitcher. In this sense, Ortiz's moderate advantage over Ponson is decieving.
Let's be clear, though: just because Ortiz made more appearances doesn't necessarily mean he was more effective. As a starting pitcher his entire career, which includes being a big piece of the Angels' World Series run of 2002, Anaheim didn't move him from starter to reliever because he was blowing hitters away.
So...pick your poison. Either way, it's difficult to pick who has the advantage here because results were the same: your starting pitcher has a history, a recent history, of being ineffective regardless of how many innings they pitched or games they started.
Name K/9 K/9
Ortiz 4.91 5.66
Ponson 4.33 5.41
If you only strike out 25 people in a season, it's not a big deal...unless you pitched 25 innings. Neither of these guys, no matter how many innings they pitched, really managed to perform a disappearing act with a baseball. Their strikeout rates from last season are disturbingly low, and their career numbers are decidely average and unimpressive.
But you don't have to be a Santana or a Liriano to be effective...or average. Sidney Ponson hangs his hat of mediocrity on being a groundball pitcher. Ponson's GO:AO ratio dropped below 1.00 only once--in his 2006 stint with the Yankees. Ortiz's career ratio of the same statistic is 1.07, thanks in large part to numbers below 1.00 in '03, '04 and '06.
Neither pitcher can rely on a strikeout to retire a hitter. Glancing through their numbers will indicate there aren't other numbers that translate to success on the field in regards to these two pitchers, either. So how did Ramon Ortiz go 15-9 with a 3.77 ERA in 2002? How did Sidney Ponson manage 17 wins and a 3.75 ERA in 2003?
All I'm coming up with is luck.
Allowing Base Runners
Name H/9 BB/9 WHIP H/9 BB/9 WHIP
Ortiz 10.86 3.02 1.54 9.61 3.02 1.42
Ponson 10.75 3.80 1.62 10.02 3.06 1.45
It's not the walks that were necessarily killing Ponson and Ortiz. It's that both of them are walking two or three hitters per start while averaging more than a hit per inning. When you average 1.5 baserunners per inning, you're going to get shelled. When you're not getting shelled, you're just getting lucky. If a pitcher manages to last six innings allowing nine base runners, and logs a quality start, what else would you call it?
If you're noticing a pattern developing--the fact that the numbers for these guys were worse in 2006 than they have been for their career--you're right. Unfortunately, the career numbers aren't quite the light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, taking note of how each of these pitchers have performed the last few years, there's little reason to expect they could manage the magic they managed to conjure for one season each.
There is a bright side here. Thankfully, neither of these guys are going to be counted on to be win machines. Their job is to log innings, and to give stability to an inexperienced rotation.
Ortiz 1-Year, $3.1 MM
Ponson 1-Year, Minor League Contract ($1.0 MM for making 25-man roster)
In all three prior comparisons, Ramon Ortiz managed a slight advantage over Ponson. Here is where those margins disappear, not only because Ponson's contract is 1/3 of Ramon's, but also because he'll only make that one million if he makes the roster.
Obviously, you pay for better players. Ramon Ortiz, even if just barely, IS better than Sidney Ponson historically. Just for relative purposes, however, let's look at one more line of statistics, and then you can pass judgement on your own.
Name PRAA '04-'06
This is Pitchers Runs Above Average, a defense-independent statistic. Is being less effective than an average pitcher, but more effective than another who's even worse, worth $2,000,000?
In this season's free agent market, and considering the Twins' needs, the answer might actually be "yes".