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Glavine Returns (Again) to Atlanta

The Atlanta Braves have come to terms with 43-year-old LHP Tom Glavine this morning on a 1-year, $1M contract with an additional $3.5M in incentives. Glavine, a staple of the dominant 90's Braves rotation, returned to Atlanta in 2008 after pitching for 5 seasons in New York with the Mets. His homecoming excited many fans, but for Glavine, returning home wasn't as sweet as he expected. Over the course of the season, he battled elbow problems and only made 13 starts before undergoing surgery in August. It was the first time in Glavine's career that he failed to make at least 28 starts in a full season of baseball. 

Glavine is expected to fill the 5th spot in Atlantas revamped rotation. How has Glavine changed over the last four years? And what are his chances going foward? Let's check out some graphs and try to answer those questions after the jump.

(All pitching data courtesy of FanGraphs)

Pitch Selection



For our first graph, we'll examine pitch selection.

  • You can see right off the bat that Glavine hasn't changed his approach over the last four years. When he's pitching, you're going to see two things: the fastball and his famous changeup. Over the last four years, Glavine has thrown his fastball at least 50% of the time. His changeup usage has ranged from 36-45% during this time frame.
  • Outside of his fastball and changeup, Glavine doesn't throw his slider or curveball all that much. His slider percentage dropped even further in 2007-08.
  • Calling Glavine a two-pitch pitcher isn't an insult, he really is a two-pitch pitcher. 90% of the time he's going to throw either his fastball or changeup.

Velocity by Pitch-Type


  • Glavine has never been a flame-thrower, instead he gets by on command and location, but his fastball has dropped from 85.2mph in 2005 to 82.1mph in 2008. That's a loss of 3mph. His elbow problems most likely had an affect on his velocity last season, but he's probably not going to throw much harder than 82-83mph these days.
  • In 2008, Glavine had the 5th slowest fastball in all of the major leagues. He was between Jamie Moyer (81.2mph) and Livan Hernandez (83.7mph).
  • Both of his breaking pitches -- which he rarely throws -- are in the same range in terms of velocity. Both are clocked between 76-78mph.

Pitching Outcomes


  • Over the last four seasons, Glavine been inducing groundballs at a somewhat modest rate. In 2005 he as above-average with a score of 45.8% but since then, he's played closer to the league average of 42%.
  • He's been a slight flyball pitcher over the last four seasons as well. His high for FB% was in 2007 with a score of 29.2%. The league average FB% for starters tends to be around 36% and Glavine has been under that number every year out of the last four.
  • His LD% rates are right around average, too. League average LD%'s tend to be around 20% and you can see that Glavine has hovered around that number.
  • Glavine isn't going to strike many guys out with his stuff -- his K% has trended down slightly -- but he's also not going to walk many hitters either. He did see a spike in his walk-rate last season, but I'm assuming that's because of his arm issues.
  • Because of Glavine's pitching style -- doesn't walk many hitters, doesn't strike out many hitters, slightly above league average for GB% and FB% -- he's going to need a good defense to play behind him. In 2008, the Braves were slightly below average defensively -- a team bUZR of -9 runs.

Valuing Glavine in the Future

I'll finish off this post with a quick WAR calculation for Glavine. CHONE has Glavine projected as a 5.50 FIP pitcher in 2009 and Marcel has him projected at a 4.88 FIP. If Glavine is healthy, he should be able to post a FIP in the 4.70 to 5.00 range. Let's stick him at a 4.90 FIP and have him throw 100 innings for the season.

I've set my replacement level starter in the NL to a 5.50 FIP. Here's the math:

100 IP * 5.50 = 550/9 = 61.1 xR's for a replacement-level starter
100 IP * 4.90 = 490/9 = 54.4 R's for Glavine's performance

61.1 expected runs - 54.4 actual runs =  6.7 runs / 10.5 = .63 Wins Above Replacement

A .6 WAR player should be worth about $2.5-3M in a season. Glavine's baseline for his contract is $1M and it could take him up to $4.5M in total if he hits certain incecntives -- which I don't think have been released yet, but they are probably based on playing time.

It's not a bad deal for the Braves if Glavine is healthy. The best case scenario is that his elbow is recovered and he makes 20+ starts while posting his usual numbers, if he does that, the contract should pay for itself. The deal probably also has some fan value, I'm guessing that a few more Atlanta fans might come out for a Glavine start because of nostalgia. If Glavine gets hurt and only pitches 60 innings, the Braves will be only be out of the $1M it cost to sign him because he won't be hitting those playing time incentives. Really, though, there isn't much performance needed to clear the $1M that the Braves have spent on Glavine.

As a pitcher, despite the velocity loss, Glavine really hasn't changed his style very much. He's still going to work off his fastball and changeup, same as it ever was. It's a nice pickup for Atlanta that should help the team some on the field and in the marketing department.