Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Pitcher Wins on the Free Agency Market; an analysis

3 comments

Is Greinke's big new deal going to pay off for the Dodgers? We'll see. Photo Jeff Golden/Getty Images

One of my pet projects of recent years has been to track “major” Starting Pitcher free agent contracts and then to do analysis of how they turned out, on a Dollar per win basis.  This post is an analysis of this work along with some interesting conclusions to determine some of the “best” and “worst” free agent contracts ever awarded.

This is mostly an analysis of past performance; there’s plenty of pitchers right now on major contracts that are just too soon into the deal to really draw any conclusions.  I’ve included in the spreadsheet all the major contracts signed this past off-season and will continue to do so if these guys get significant deals.  But we’ll have to wait a year to see how the first year of the contracts play out.  For all contracts that are in the middle of being played out, I’ve calculated how that contract is faring thus far.

Some caveats to the data:  For ease of analysis, I depend on the Average Annual Value (AAV) of the contracts as opposed to trying to figure out exactly how many wins were earned in which year of a varying contract amount.  Therefore (for example), Gio Gonzalez‘s contract may have only paid him $3.25M in 2012 but I’m using the full AAV of $8.4M for the purposes of the analysis (it would just be far too difficult to calculate each pitcher’s dollar per win on an annualized basis otherwise).  Also, I focus on dollars per Win, despite the known limitations of the “Win” statistic.  I have gone through and added in Quality Starts to the analysis, but that stat is also flawed in some respects (though it does do a pretty good job of indicating whether or not the starter has done his job).  Unfortunately the $/QS doesn’t work out as nicely as $/Win, since Pitcher Wins are still so prevalent in our player analysis.  I mean, after all, the goal of the game is to WIN the game, right?

Here’s a quick cut-n-paste from the spreadsheet (which is also available in the Links section to the right and on Google Docs) of some selected fields.  See the Google xls for everything.  Apologies if this doesn’t present well online.  The table is listed in descending order of $/year AAV.  Blanks in the Wins and $AAV per win indicate that the contract has yet to begin.  I also threw in a couple of non-FA contracts at the end to show what a MLB-minimum successful starting pitcher looks like in comparison.

Last Name First Name Total Value (includes club options) $/year AAV Contract Term Wins $ AAV per win
Clemens Roger $28,000,022 $28,000,022 2007 6 $4,666,670
Greinke Zack $147,000,000 $24,500,000 2013-2018
Sabathia C.C. $122,000,000 $24,400,000 2012-16 15 $1,626,667
Lee Cliff $120,000,000 $24,000,000 2011-15 23 $2,086,957
Hamels Cole $144,000,000 $24,000,000 2013-18
Sabathia C.C. $69,000,000 $23,000,000 2009-11 59 $1,169,492
Santana Johan $137,500,000 $22,916,667 2008-13 46 $2,989,130
Cain Matt $127,500,000 $21,250,000 2012-17 16 $1,328,125
Lincecum Tim $40,500,000 $20,250,000 2012-13 10 $2,025,000
Halladay Roy $60,000,000 $20,000,000 2011-13 30 $1,333,333
Darvish Yu $111,700,000 $18,616,667 2012-18 16 $1,163,542
Zambrano Carlos $91,500,000 $18,300,000 2008-12 50 $1,830,000
Zito Barry $126,000,000 $18,000,000 2007-13 58 $1,862,069
Clemens Roger $18,000,000 $18,000,000 2005 13 $1,384,615
Peavy Jake $52,000,000 $17,333,333 2010-12 25 $2,080,000
Matsuzaka Daisuke $103,000,000 $17,166,667 2007-12 50 $2,060,000
Beckett Josh $68,000,000 $17,000,000 2011-14 20 $1,700,000
Weaver Jered $85,000,000 $17,000,000 2012-16 20 $850,000
Lackey John $82,500,000 $16,500,000 2010-14 26 $1,903,846
Burnett A.J. $82,500,000 $16,500,000 2009-13 50 $1,320,000
Verlander Justin $80,000,000 $16,000,000 2010-14 59 $813,559
Sanchez Anibal $80,000,000 $16,000,000 2013-17
Schmidt Jason $47,000,000 $15,666,667 2007-09 3 $15,666,667
Hernandez Felix $78,000,000 $15,600,000 2010-14 40 $1,170,000
Wilson C.J. $77,500,000 $15,500,000 2012-16 13 $1,192,308
Hampton Mike $121,000,000 $15,125,000 2001-08 56 $2,160,714
Brown Kevin $105,000,000 $15,000,000 1999-05 72 $1,458,333
Lowe Derek $60,000,000 $15,000,000 2009-12 49 $1,224,490
Hamels Cole $15,000,000 $15,000,000 2012 17 $882,353
Kuroda Hiroki $15,000,000 $15,000,000 2013
Mussina Mike $88,500,000 $14,750,000 2001-06 92 $961,957
Oswalt Roy $73,000,000 $14,600,000 2007-11 61 $1,196,721
Buehrle Mark $58,000,000 $14,500,000 2012-15 13 $1,115,385
Peavy Jake $29,000,000 $14,500,000 2013-14
Buehrle Mark $56,000,000 $14,000,000 2008-11 54 $1,037,037
Martinez Pedro $54,000,000 $13,500,000 2005-08 32 $1,687,500
Halladay Roy $40,000,000 $13,333,333 2008-10 58 $689,655
Martinez Pedro $92,000,000 $13,142,857 1998-04 117 $786,325
Danks Jon 65,000,000 $13,000,000 2012-15 3 $4,333,333
Park Chan Ho $65,000,000 $13,000,000 2002-06 33 $1,969,697
Dempster Ryan $52,000,000 $13,000,000 2009-12 48 $1,083,333
Haren Dan $13,000,000 $13,000,000 2013
Jackson Edwin $52,000,000 $13,000,000 2013-16
Colon Bartolo $51,000,000 $12,750,000 2004-07 46 $1,108,696
Carpenter Chris $50,800,000 $12,700,000 2008-11 44 $1,154,545
Arroyo Bronson $25,000,000 $12,500,000 2009-10 32 $781,250
Dickey R.A. $25,000,000 $12,500,000 2013-14
Perez Oliver 36,000,000 $12,000,000 2009-11 3 $12,000,000
Silva Carlos $48,000,000 $12,000,000 2008-12 15 $4,000,000
Millwood Kevin $60,000,000 $12,000,000 2006-10 52 $1,153,846
Kuroda Hiroki $12,000,000 $12,000,000 2011 13 $923,077
Pettitte Andy $12,000,000 $12,000,000 2013
Haren Dan $47,750,000 $11,937,500 2009-12 54 $884,259
Kuroda Hiroki $35,300,000 $11,766,667 2008-10 28 $1,260,714
Arroyo Bronson $35,000,000 $11,666,667 2011-13 21 $1,666,667
Lincecum Tim $23,000,000 $11,500,000 2010-11 29 $793,103
Mussina Mike $22,141,452 $11,070,726 2007-08 31 $714,240
Dreifort Darren $55,000,000 $11,000,000 2001-05 9 $6,111,111
Meche Gil $55,000,000 $11,000,000 2007-11 29 $1,896,552
Lilly Ted $33,000,000 $11,000,000 2011-13 17 $1,294,118
Jackson Edwin $11,000,000 $11,000,000 2012 10 $1,100,000
Harrison Matt $55,000,000 $11,000,000 2013-17
Carpenter Chris $21,000,000 $10,500,000 2012-13 0 (0 wins)
Ryu Hyun-Jin $61,700,000 $10,283,333 2013-18
Neagle Denny $51,000,000 $10,200,000 2001-05 19 $2,684,211
Lilly Ted $40,000,000 $10,000,000 2007-10 54 $740,741
Darvish Yu $60,000,000 $10,000,000 2012-18 16 $625,000
Kuroda Hiroki $10,000,000 $10,000,000 2012 16 $625,000
Pavano Carl $39,950,000 $9,987,500 2005-08 9 $4,438,889
Wolf Randy $29,750,000 $9,916,667 2010-12 31 $959,677
Johnson Josh $39,000,000 $9,750,000 2010-13 22 $1,329,545
Greinke Zack $38,000,000 $9,500,000 2009-12 67 $567,164
Washburn Jarrod $37,000,000 $9,250,000 2006-09 32 $1,156,250
Igawa Kei $46,000,000 $9,200,000 2007-11 2 $23,000,000
Cain Matt $27,250,000 $9,083,333 2010-12 41 $664,634
Lowe Derek $36,000,000 $9,000,000 2005-08 54 $666,667
Matsuzaka Daisuke $52,000,000 $8,666,667 2007-12 50 $1,040,000
Beckett Josh $42,000,000 $8,400,000 2007-10 55 $610,909
Gonzalez Gio $42,000,000 $8,400,000 2012-16 21 $400,000
Guthrie Jeremy $25,000,000 $8,333,333 2013-16
Ortiz Russ $33,000,000 $8,250,000 2005-08 7 $4,714,286
Schmidt Jason $40,000,000 $8,000,000 2002-06 71 $563,380
Buchholz Clay $30,000,000 $7,500,000 2012-15 11 $681,818
Lester Jon $43,000,000 $7,166,667 2009-14 58 $494,253
Hamels Cole $20,500,000 $6,833,333 2009-11 36 $569,444
Wainwright Adam $36,000,000 $6,000,000 2008-13 64 $468,750
Ryu Hyun-Jin $36,000,000 $6,000,000 2013-18
Webb Brandon $28,000,000 $5,600,000 2006-10 56 $500,000
Lee Cliff $23,000,000 $4,600,000 2006-10 67 $343,284
Igawa Kei $20,000,000 $4,000,000 2007-11 2 $10,000,000
Jimenez Ubaldo $23,750,000 $3,958,333 2009-14 53 $298,742
Jimenez Ubaldo $10,000,000 $2,500,000 2009-12 53 $188,679
Price David $9,750,000 $1,950,000 2007-11 41 $237,805
Buchholz Clay $555,000 $555,000 2011 6 $92,500
Buchholz Clay $443,000 $443,000 2010 17 $26,059

Here’s some interesting facts, that come out of this analysis (some of these points can also be seen at the amazing Cots Salary database, now at Baseball Prospectus, and are confirmed in my spreadsheet tracking the same):

  • Largest total Starting Pitcher Contract ever signed: Felix Hernandez‘s brand new 7 year, $175M extension, beating out the previous record-holder CC Sabathia (7yrs/$161M in 2009).   Zack Greinke‘s just signed 6yr/$147M would be the 2nd biggest ever signed, and Cole Hamel‘s 6yr/$144M contract the third.  Will our own Stephen Strasburg come close to broaching these limits when he hits the FA market?  We’ll see.
  • Largest Single-Season AAV: Roger Clemen‘s 1yr/$28M deal in 2007.  The next closest are Hernandez’s $25M/year, Greinke $24.5M/year and Sabathia’s $24.4M figures.

(A couple of quick caveats to the above lists: CC Sabathia subseqently opted out of his 7/161 deal, so it basically got turned into a 3yr/$69M deal.  And, techncially Hernandez’s deal ripped up the last two years of his previous deal to replace it with the 7/175 deal; lots of people are looking at the new deal as a 5  year extension with an even higher AAV.  I don’t see it the same way; I see it as a replacement of the existing contract years).

What are some of the worst deals ever made?

  • Worst Ever Starting Pitcher Contract: Kei Igawa‘s 2007 deal with the Yankees, which was 5yrs/$20M but included a $26M posting fee, is the worst $AAV per Win contract ever signed.  Igawa went 2-4 in 13 starts over the life of this 5 year deal, equating to $23M per win for his team.  He spent the last two seasons of this contract buried in AAA.
  • Worst non-Posting fee Starting Pitcher Contract: Jason Schmidt‘s 3yr/$47M contract with the Dodgers.  Schmidt made 10 total starts and went 3-6, equating to $15.6M per win.

Other names on the “Worst Starting Pitcher Contract” category include Oliver Perez ($12M/win), Darren Dreifort (6.1M/win), Russ Ortiz (4.7M/win), Carl Pavano ($4.4M/win) and Carlos Silva ($4M/win).   Most of these contracts are well known to baseball fans and are commonly thrown around when talking about the worst historical FA contracts.

How about some of the “Best” Contracts ever signed?  Lots of players have signed small one year deals and won double-digit games, so those really cannot count.   Starting with an arbitrary floor of a $50M free agent contract, here’s the best value FA contracts ever signed:

  1. Pedro Martinez: 7yr/$92M, during which he went 117-37 for the Red Sox for a $786k/win total.
  2. Justin Verlander: He’s in the middle of a 5yr/$80M contract and for the first 3 years he’s 59-22 for $813k/win.
  3. Mike Mussina went 92-53 in his 6yr/$88.5M contract for $961k/win.

Jered Weaver and Yu Darvish deserve some mention here; they’re both in the first year of $50M+ contracts and are easily earning their pay in terms of $/win.


So what does this data mean?  Here’s some conclusions.

  1. It used to indicate that if you got about one (1) pitcher Win per million dollars spent on a player in the Free Agent market that you were doing great.  Look at our own Edwin Jackson in 2012: we signed him for $11M, he went 10-11 for us, equating to $1.1M/win.  Good value frankly.
  2. If you’re getting anything between $1.25M and $1.5M/win, there may be some complaints about the value of the contract.  Not always, but most of the time it indicates that either the pitcher is underperforming or is overpaid.
  3. Anything over $2M/win is usually considered a bust.  Nearly every contract in the $2M/win in AAV and above has been mentioned and criticized as being a bad contract; the list of “worst ever” above starts at $4M/win and goes higher.
  4. If you pay a starter anything more than about $18M/season,  you’re really going to have a hard time getting value back.  There’s only been a handful of 20-game winners over the past 5 years or so, but paying a starter $24M like Greinke is getting is almost certainly going to be regretted at some point.  An injury or a lost season completely blows the $AAV/win.
  5. It illustrates more clearly than anywhere else the value of a top-notch, pre-Arbitration starter.  Take Clay Buchholz for example; in 2010 he was 17-7 while earning the league minimum of $443k.  That equates to $26,059/win on the same staff that was busy paying Daisuke Matsuzaka $2.06M per win (when adding in the $52M posting fee).  Buchholz has struggled since then, but teams that depend on these pre-arb starters (Tampa, Oakland, Washington to a certain extent) save untold amounts of FA dollars as a result.
  6. Lastly, and this is the hard part, this analysis is getting nearly impossible to do across baseball eras because of the general inflation of contracts and especially because of the bonanza of FA dollars being thrown out there right now.  Pedro Martinez at the top of his game signed a 7yr/$92M deal.  Imagine what he’d get today?  It could be twice that.  He was coming off a 1997 season in which he struck out 305 batters, had a 1.90 ERA, a 219 ERA+ and won the Cy Young award.  So perhaps going forward a general $1.25M/win is a more accurate barometer for whether or not a pitcher has “earned” his contract.  But there’s no easy way to draw a line in the free agency sand and say that before yearX $1M/win was a good barometer while after yearY $1.25M/win is a good barometer.
  7. A caveat to the $1M/win benchmark; there are different standards for obtaining wins.   If you sign a $3M 1 year deal and then subsequently go 3-12 with a 6.00 ERA … while it looks like you reached the $1m/win threshold in reality you were, well, awful.  This analysis only really holds up for major FA contracts paying in excess of $10M/year.

Lastly, for comparison purposes, here’s the above analysis looks for the 2012 Nationals pitching staff.  Keep in mind that the $/win figures for pre-arbitration pitchers vastly skew the analysis.

Last Name First Name Total Value (includes club options) $/year AAV Starts QS Wins $ per QS $ AAV per win
Strasburg Steven $15,100,000 $3,775,000 45 28 21 $539,286 $719,048
Gonzalez Gio $42,000,000 $8,400,000 32 22 21 $381,818 $400,000
Zimmermann Jordan $2,300,000 $2,300,000 32 24 12 $95,833 $191,667
Jackson Edwin $11,000,000 $11,000,000 31 17 10 $647,059 $1,100,000
Wang Chien-Ming $4,000,000 $4,000,000 5 0 2 #DIV/0! $2,000,000
Detwiler Ross $485,000 $485,000 27 12 10 $40,417 $48,500
Lannan John $5,000,000 $5,000,000 6 2 4 $2,500,000 $1,250,000
Maya Yunesky $8,000,000 $2,000,000 10 1 1 $6,000,000 $6,000,000

The counting figures for Starts/QS/Wins/Losses are cumulative for the life of whatever contract the player is on.  So for Strasburg, he was basically in the 4th year of his original 4 year deal, hence the 45 total starts in those 4 years.  For guys like Zimmermann and Detwiler, the analysis is just for 2012 since they were playing on one-year deals.

The 2012 Nats have $AAV per win values all over the road:

  • Detwiler‘s $48k per win in 2012 is an amazing bargain; he got 10 wins while pitching for basically the MLB minimum.  And, Zimmermann‘s 12-win season while on a first-year Arbitration salary also represented about 20% of what those wins would have cost on the FA market.
  • Jackson produced almost exactly at the expectations for a FA starter; $11M contract, 10 wins, and $1.1M per win.  In 2013 if we get 12-13 wins from Dan Haren, we’ll be doing alright.
  • Lannan provided just on the borderline of bust production, as you’d expect for someone who got paid $5M to give the team 6 starts.
  • Wang: $4M salary, 5 starts, zero quality starts, 2 wins and a $2M/win price tag.  Yes; he was a bust.
  • Lastly Mr. Yunesky Maya.  The team has now paid him $6M over three years.  In that time he’s gotten 10 MLB starts and has produced exactly one Quality start and one win.  That’s $6M the team has paid for each win, in the range for one of the worst dollar-per-win contracts ever signed.  Of course, the Nats only signed him for $8M (not the $46M contract Igawa got), so the downside is limited.  But it does illustrated just how badly this deal has gone for the team.

3 Responses to 'Pitcher Wins on the Free Agency Market; an analysis'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Pitcher Wins on the Free Agency Market; an analysis'.

  1. It would be interesting to do an analysis like this using some version of WAR rather than wins, for obvious reasons. Still a fun read, though.

    John C.

    13 Mar 13 at 1:55 pm

  2. uuuugh. It would be a massive pain in the *ss to re-look up every player, every season to add up WAR values. It was a difficult enough xls to generate counting wins and QS. :-) And, which WAR do you use? B-R’s, Fangraphs or BPs? They’re all different. And in some cases drastically so; Jack Morris career WAR on baseball-reference = 39.3, career WAR on fangraphs = 56.9. That’s a HUGE, huge discrepancy for such an important player in the game’s history. And it highlights one of the real problems I have with WAR in general.

    I actually added in quality starts to get around the issues of Wins but decided that it wasn’t as “easy” or fun analysis. When it looked like $1Million per Win was a good benchmark, that was easier to talk about than $775,000 per QS.

    BUT, it would go towards proving or disproving the going rate for WAR on the FA market (I think the latest estimate is at about $5.5M per WAR).

    Todd Boss

    13 Mar 13 at 2:03 pm

  3. So much here, but have to say that Pedro contract looks lke one of the greatest bargains in free agent history. A Koufax-like period!

    Mark L

    13 Mar 13 at 10:13 pm

Leave a Reply