Eric Gagne has become something of a polarizing figure. He's become a running joke in the playoffs as the Red Sox have refused to let him try and protect a lead of fewer than nine runs. Meanwhile, Nate Silver suggests that Gagne will be one of the biggest bargains on the free agent market this offseason. Other analysts seem to be taking Nate's side. Who's right?
In baseball, it's hard to get more results-disoriented than evaluating pitchers by their DIPS numbers. When we do that, the picture becomes clear:
Gagne with Texas, 2007: 2.16 ERA, 4.19 xFIP
Gagne with Boston, 2007: 6.75 ERA, 4.21 xFIP
Hmm. Suddenly it looks like Gagne didn't forget how to pitch, but his defense forgot how to field (or his ground balls forgot how to find gloves). Either way, we were basically watching the same pitcher the whole year; the Texas version just had fortune on his side.
Gagne's stuff wasn't all the way back from his peak, but his dominant 2002-04 does hint at some upside. If Gagne can go from this year's 4 BB/9 and 9 K/9 to 3 and 10, he becomes a dominant closer again. Remember, he did this all in the AL, so a league switch alone might give his rate stats a big boost.
The big question with Gagne, of course, is health. No one should be throwing four guaranteed years at him, and even three is dicey. But in a market where Danys Baez gets $19 million over three years, I'd certainly offer Gagne two years and $12MM and see what happens.