MLB free agency: The best remaining free agent starting pitchers

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - OCTOBER 12: Starting pitcher Carlos Rodon #55 of the Chicago White Sox pitches during the 2nd inning of Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Houston Astros at Guaranteed Rate Field on October 12, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - OCTOBER 12: Starting pitcher Carlos Rodon #55 of the Chicago White Sox pitches during the 2nd inning of Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Houston Astros at Guaranteed Rate Field on October 12, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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ST LOUIS, MO – AUGUST 01: Michael Pineda #35 of the Minnesota Twins delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on August 1, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO – AUGUST 01: Michael Pineda #35 of the Minnesota Twins delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on August 1, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

The Health Concerns: Johnny Cueto and Michael Pineda

Over the last four seasons, Johnny Cueto has pitched 247 innings and Michael Pineda has pitched 282. Both have had Tommy John surgery during that span and have had multiple trips to the injured list for both arm and leg issues. In 2021, each appeared in 22 games, starting 21 and pitched around 110 innings.

For the 36-year-old Cueto, 2021 was arguably his most productive season since 2016. He compiled a 4.08 ERA and a league average 100 ERA+. For Pineda, 2021 was his third straight above-average season and his 3.62 ERA and 117 ERA+ were the best for any season in which he pitched more than 100 innings. Predictive stats see them both as 4.30-4.40 ERA pitchers moving forward, good enough for a guaranteed Major League contract. Any team signing them, however, should be prepared with a contingency plan.

The Unproven: Yusei Kikuchi and Kwang Hyun Kim

There are not a lot of similarities between Kikuchi and Kim other than they are both left-handed starters. Kikuchi throws a mid-90s fastball and strikes out better than a batter an inning while Kim rarely reaches 90 on the radar gun and sees many more balls in play. Since coming to MLB in 2019, Kikuchi has steadily improved and finished the 2021 season with a career-best 4.41 ERA. Kim, on the other hand, has produced excellent results with a 2.97 ERA over his combined 145.2 IP in two MLB seasons.

The interesting thing about both Kikuchi and Kim is when you look a little deeper into the predictive statistics, they are trending in opposite directions. Kim’s peripheral statistics are demonstrably worse than his in-game results. His career 4.22 FIP is significantly higher than his ERA and his predictive stats from 2021 are the worst of any of the eight pitchers in this article with a 4.85 SIERA and 4.70 xFIP. In contrast, Kikuchi had a 4.17 SIERA and 3.85 xFIP in 2021, suggesting his future production will be improved. Further confounding for those evaluating Kikuchi is that he has produced a career 4.97 ERA despite pitching in one of the best home environments for pitchers according to Statcast Park Factors. Teams might have more questions than answers about future performance from both of these players.