Zach Duke Another Buy-Low Fix?

May 1, 2010 Los Angeles, CA..starting pitcher Zach Duke of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action during the Major League Baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium May 01, 2010 in Los Angeles, California..The Dodgers defeated the Pirates, 5-1.Louis Lopez/CSM.

Zach Duke was designated for assignment by the Pirates on Friday, effectively shutting the door on his time in Pittsburgh.  He’s the last of that once-lauded pitching trio (along with Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell) that was supposed to bring the Bucs out of the division cellar.

Forgive me if this sounds like the Kenshin Kawakami post from last week, but Duke’s not as bad as his surface numbers would indicate.  He’d be an interesting buy-low candidate if the Brewers wanted to throw a minor league contract at him and give him a non-roster invite to spring training.

His 5.72 ERA last season was the highest of his six-year big league career, but his xFIP was a not-so-horrible 4.48.  His 5.43 K/9 rate was the highest since his rookie season in 2005, and his GB% was consistent with career averages.  Before 2010, he posted xFIPs of 3.60, 4.40, 4.76, 4.57, and 4.31.

As long as you know what you’re getting with him, he’s fine if you’re looking to fill out the bottom of your rotation.  His stuff isn’t good, though, so you’re going to need to rely on the defense to help him out — part of the reason why his numbers in Pittsburgh have been so bad as of late.  Last season, his fastball was 22 runs below average, good for 5th-worst in the league behind James Shields (-24.7), Brad Bergesen (-24.6), Ryan Rowland-Smith (-24.2), and yes, Manny Parra (-22.5).  For the third time in his career, none of his pitches were above average: his slider was 8.5 runs below average, his curveball was -0.4 runs below average, and his changeup was -1.3 runs below average.

He’s not going to strike many guys — if any — out, but if Rick Kranitz can get his off-speed stuff going again, he might be worth the low risk to see if he can be the team’s #5 this year, or possibly a long man out of the bullpen.

A lot of buy-low names have been floated out there already this season — off the top of my head I’ve thought about Washburn, Kawakami, Francis, Duke, and you could throw in bringing back Capuano.  But they’re only interesting individually — out of that group, I wouldn’t want to bring in more than two to camp.  It’s fine if you have them fighting over the last spot in the rotation, but if you’re counting on any of those guys to be more than a stopgap or a bridge until you feel like Mark Rogers or someone else can get some starts, you’re going to be in trouble.

Have one of those stopgaps fill the #5 spot, and trade for/sign Someone Not Named Carl Pavano to fill the rotation spot, and I think that’s a rotation that could at least have the Brewers competitive in the division race into September.  It won’t be the first or second best rotation in the division, but it’ll be good enough to get within striking distance.  Considering the Central still looks to be wide open (i.e., bad) in 2011, that might be all it takes.

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