Jarrod Washburn is apparently considering a comeback:
“I honestly am very happy with my decision to not play and hadn’t thought of playing again until recently. This past week I have already been contacted by a couple teams, just to gauge my interest in coming back, so that has made me think about it a little. I will not say I am 100 percent retired because a great opportunity might present itself.”
The most interesting part of this quote is that Washburn really believes that it was his choice not play in 2010. Really, I jest. After the 2009 season, Washburn had some offers, but he declined each and every one of them. Why? He seemed to think his skills were worth a lot more on the free agent market than they actually were. Interested teams made it pretty clear that while they were interested in signing him, it would have to be at a significantly reduced price. Rather than show humility and accept his new role, he chose to retire. Fair enough. It can’t be easy being told that you’re not as good as you used to be…that you’re on the downward slope of your career.
In Washburn's defense, prior to being traded to Detroit midway through the 2009 season, he put up some pretty solid traditional numbers: 8-6 with a 2.64 ERA and a 2.39 K/BB ratio through 20 starts. Had he continued on that pace, it's very possible that he could've taken that success, and turned it into a two or three year deal worth around $8-9M per season.
Unfortunately, those stats weren't really indicative of how he was pitching. First of all, when in Seattle, Washburn greatly benefited from pitching in front of baseball's best defense. Despite giving up a line drives at 21.4% clip, he somehow managed to put a .249 BABIP.* Based on his batted ball statistics, his xBABIP was .288, which indicates that Washburn was incredibly lucky on balls in play. Additionally, as a fly ball pitcher, Washburn benefited from pitching in a park (Safeco Field) that stifles home runs. His 6.4% HR/FB ratio was below both his career rate (8.8%), and the normalized league rate (10.5%). Logically, everyone should've expected both his BABIP and HR/FB rate to see some form of regression by the end of the season.
*It should be noted that Washburn has historically had a low BABIP. For his career, his BABIP is .280. While this is below the normal range of .290-.310, it's still within the sustainable range (.280-.320). He was able to sustain a low BABIP due to him being a flyball pitcher.
Once Washburn was traded to the Tigers in late July, he lost the two factors that seemed benefit him most. While Detroit's defense was still very good (69.5% defensive efficiency, ninth in MLB), it wasn't anywhere near as good as Seattle's (71.2% defensive efficiency, second in MLB). As a result, Washburn's BABIP regressed toward the norm (.280) during his eight starts with the Tigers. While this certainly had an affect on Washburn's performance, his regression in his HR/FB rate (6.4% in Seattle to 18.5% with Detroit) had a much larger affect. Comerica Park isn't considered a home run friendly park, but it's definitely more friendly to the long ball than Safeco Field. As a result, we should've expected to see an increase in his HR/FB rate. That said, no one should've expected the veritable home run derby that occurred when Washburn pitched for the Tigers. During his time with the Tigers, he put up a forgettable 1-3 record with a 7.33 ERA, 1.31 K/BB ratio, and 12 home runs allowed in eight starts. This effectively killed any chances Washburn had of getting the long term deal he was seeking.
Luckily for Washburn, he’s a left handed pitcher. Provided he shows that he can still get left handed hitters out consistently, he shouldn’t have any problem finding a job. He’ll probably have to accept a role as a middle reliever on a contending team, or a back of the rotation guy on a non-contender.