Finding an innings eater is not as easy as you’d think. Seven MLB teams didn’t have a single pitcher throw 200 innings in 2011 and none of those seven clubs made the playoffs. Only five teams — the Angels, Phillies, Brewers, Giants and Diamondbacks — had three pitchers log 200 innings. Those five clubs averaged 93 wins and accounted for all three division titles in the National League.
Now that it’s late December, many of the most durable free agent pitchers are no longer available. As a result, free agents Joe Saunders, Hiroki Kuroda and Edwin Jackson* are well positioned at this point in the offseason. They’re three of the 40 pitchers who logged 200 innings this past season and it’s no surprise that they’re each drawing interest, especially while the asking prices for trade candidates such as Gio Gonzalez remain high.
Not only does an innings eater contribute when he’s on the mound, he lightens the workload for others on the staff by pitching deep into games. For example, the Orioles’ bullpen was average at best in 2011 and if we measure the group in terms of strikeout rate (7.33 K/9) or ERA (4.18), it's easy to conclude that Buck Showalter was working with one of the worst bullpens in MLB. But Baltimore needed an MLB-leading 565 2/3 innings from the bullpen, and it’s not hard to imagine that the group’s performance would have been better with a few more days off over the course of the season. At the very least, Showalter would have called on middle relievers less often. Then the results would have been better even if the talent level remained unchanged.
Saunders, Kuroda and Jackson aren’t necessarily top-of-the-rotation starters and each has his flaws. But innings eaters are difficult to come by, so the three remaining free agents who reached the 200 inning plateau last year figure to continue drawing significant interest until they sign.
*Jackson pitched 199 2/3 regular season innings plus 17 2/3 in the playoffs. Should Javier Vazquez (192 2/3 innings) decide to play, teams will have interest in him, too.