Nationals Arm Race

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

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Pitcher Wins on the FA Market – 2014 edition with bWAR

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Kershaw's new $30M/year contract will be tough to live up to.  Photo via wiki.

Kershaw’s new $30M/year contract will be tough to live up to. Photo via wiki.

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 updated version of this analysis to determine some of the “best” and “worst” free agent contracts ever awarded to starting pitchers.  It is updated for 2014 from last year’s version of the post by my putting in all the 2013 data for pitchers, plus putting in the significant 2014 FA contracts.  And, per requests I have added in bWAR and $/bWAR for analysis (though, as we’ll soon see, $/bWAR can be tricky to interpret for really poor performing pitchers).

The raw data spreadsheet is available in Google Docs at this link, or along the side of this blog window in the NAR Creation links section.  I havn’t cut and pasted any of the data here because the spreadsheet is too “wide” for the blog; I suggest opening it up in a separate tab while reading this post.

Data Taxonomy/caveats: 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).  This analysis focuses heavily on dollars per pitcher Win, despite the known limitations of the win stat.  There is also dollars per Quality Start and now dollars per bWAR (baseball-reference’s version of WAR).

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 Contracts ever signed

  • Clayton Kershaw‘s new 7yr/$214M deal signed this past off-season.
  • It beats out the previous record holder (Felix Hernandez‘s  7 year, $175M extension) by nearly $40M in total value.
  • CC Sabathia (7yrs/$161M in 2009) was the longer-time previous record holder before that.
  • Zack Greinke (6yr/$147M)  and Cole Hamel‘s 6yr/$144M contract deserve mention.
  • Masahiro Tanaka signed one of the biggest ever deals (7 year $155M) before he ever threw a MLB pitch.

Largest Single-Season AAV

  • Kershaw’s new deal finally beats out Roger Clemen‘s long standing single season record 1yr/$28M deal in 2007 as the largest AAV pitcher contract.  
  • Justin Verlander‘s new deal gives him an AAV of $28M, a 10% jump up from the $24-$25M/year threshold deals we saw a number of pitchers sign in the last couple of years.

What are some of the Worst Deals ever made?  Lets talk about some of these awful deals on a $ per win or $ per bWAR basis.  Most of these contracts are well known to baseball fans and are commonly thrown around when talking about the worst historical FA contracts, but they’re fun to revisit.  Thanks to the bWAR inclusion, a number of new/more recent contracts now pop up on this list.

  • Kei Igawa‘s 2007 deal with the Yankees, which was 5yrs/$20M but included a $26M posting fee, is generally speaking 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 made exactly one quality start, meaning the Yankees paid $46M per QS.He spent the last two seasons of this contract buried in AAA.   For their $46M, the Yankees got a combined -0.6 bWAR out of Igawa.
  • Chris Carpenter signed a 2yr/$21M extension in St. Louis before the 2012 season that seemed like a good deal at the time; unfortunately for both sides Carpenter hurt his shoulder, only made 3 starts in 2012, went 0-2 and contributed a -2.3 bWAR in that time.  So his dollars per win is infinite and his $/bWAR is uncalculatable.  I still rank Igawa’s deal as worse though since it cost his team more than double the dollars, and since Carpenter’s troubles were injury related while Igawa’s was mostly due to performance.
  • Jason Schmidt‘s 3yr/$47M contract with the Dodgers.  Schmidt made 10 total starts and went 3-6, equating to $15.6M per win.  He totaled a -0.5 bWAR during this 3 year contract.
  • Oliver Perez made just 21 starts (and got 3 wins in the duration of his 3 year/$36M contract with the Mets.  He was released in March of 2011, the final year of the contract, causing the Mets to eat $12M in salary.  The Nats picked him up and carried him on their AA roster all year before dumping him as well; he’s now trying to remake himself as a loogy and is in Arizona’s bullpen.
  • Matt Harrison‘s current deal (so far) has been pretty expensive for the Rangers: for $11M in salary in 2013 they got just two starts and two bad losses before he hit the D/L and missed the remainder of the season.  He still hasn’t returned.  Odds are he recovers and has a chance to earn this contract, but you never know with shoulder injuries (though to be fair the injury that cost him 2013 was a ruptured disk in his back).
  • Tim Lincecum‘s recently completed 2yr/$40.5M contract was pretty ugly for San Francisco; he went 20-29, had just a 43% Quality Start percentage and contributed -2.3 bWAR over those two seasons for his $40M.
  • Barry Zito signed a 7yr/$126M deal.  In those 7 years he went 63-80 and contributed just 3.0 bWAR in the lifetime of the contract.  That’s $42M per win.  By way of comparison, Tanner Roark‘s 5 weeks of effort for the Nats last summer totaled 2.0 wins.
  • Mike Hampton‘s injury plagued/ill conceived 7yr/$121M contract resulted in two full missed seasons and just a grand total 3.0 bWAR of value.
  • Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren both managed to put up negative bWAR for their 2013 seasons (for which they were both being paid $13M a piece).  But those are just one-year deals; they aren’t the multi-year disasters that these other contracts can be.
  • Chan Ho Park signed a 5yr/$65M deal with the Dodgers; for those $65M the Dodgers got precisely 0.2 total bWAR in 5 seasons.  That’s right; for that money they could have fielded a 4-A pitcher and gotten comparable value.  Park was 33-33 during that time and missed significant time with injury.
  • Darren Dreifort (6.1M/win and 0.2 bWAR in 5 seasons), Russ Ortiz (4.7M/win and -3.2 bWAR in 4 seasons), Carl Pavano ($4.4M/win and 0.4 bWAR in 4 seasons), and Carlos Silva ($4M/win and -0.7 bWAR in 5 seasons) all had pretty infamous contract disasters too.

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 some of the best value FA contracts ever signed:

  • Pedro Martinez: 7yr/$92M, during which he went 117-37 for the Red Sox for a $786k/win total.
  • Justin Verlander‘s 5yr/$80M deal from 2010-2014 will be a steal for Detroit: he’s already contributed 25+ bWAR and is at about $888k/win.  The same probably will not be said about his mammoth $140M extension.
  • Mike Mussina went 92-53 in his 6yr/$88.5M contract for $961k/win.
  • Chris Carpenter‘s 4yr/$50.8M deal from 2008-2011 was a steal for St. Louis: He may have missed some time but he still went 44-23 during that contract, contributed 13.6 bWAR and his $/win number was just $1.1M.  He’s the only guy who appears in both the “best contracts” and “worst contracts” section in this post.
  • Mark Buehrle‘s 4yr/$56 deal from 2008-2011 resulted in about a $1M/win and just $3.2M/bWAR, great value for his team despite his mediocre looking 54-44 record.
  • Jered Weaver, Yu Darvish, and Hyun-Jin Ryu deserve  mention here; they’re all in the early stages of their long-term contracts and are easily providing value in terms of $/win.

So what does this data mean?  Here’s some conclusions when talking about Dollars per Pitcher Win.

  1. Up to perhaps the mid 2000s, 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.
  2. Now, if you’re getting anything under $1.5M per win, you should be happy.  Especially if you’re paying an ace $25-$30M/year.
  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 $25M/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 with injuries since then, but teams that  lock down and depend on these pre-arb starters save untold amounts of FA dollars as a result.
  6. This analysis is 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 three times that considering how good he was in comparison to his counterparts in the mid 90s.  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 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.

And here’s some discussions on Dollars per WAR, since we’ve added that in for this 2014 analysis.

  1. The general rule of thumb is that “wins” in terms of WAR “cost” is somewhere between $6M and $7M on the open market.  Did $6M/win work out in this analysis?  Yes and no; it is sort of difficult to do this analysis with players badly underperformed.  Take for example John Danks: he’s two years into a 5yr/$65M contract where he’s gotten hurt in both seasons and has just 7 wins and a 0.7 bWAR.  Well, $26M in total salary paid so far for 0.7 bWAR equals a $37M/war figure.  Well that’s not quite right.
  2. The best you can do is look at player-by-player examples.  Johan Santana‘s 6yr/$137.5M contract cost his team $9M/bWAR.  That’s unquestionably bad.   Cole Hamels went 17-6 in 2012 on a 1yr/$15M deal, which turned out to be just $3.2M per WAR for his 4.2 bWAR season.  That’s great.
  3. The $/bWAR analysis gets worse if the bWAR is negative; our own Dan Haren came in with a -0.01 bWAR for 2013; how do you decide how much the Nationals paid on a dollar-per-bWAR basis for Haren?  If you divide 0.01 into his $13M salary you get a non-sensical -$1.3 billion figure.

 


Lastly, for comparison purposes, here’s the above analysis looks for the 2013 Nationals pitching staff.  Keep in mind that the $/win figures for pre-arbitration pitchers vastly skew the analysis (apologies if this bleeds off the side of the browser screen)

Last Name First Name Total Value (includes guaranteed $) $$/year AAV Contract Term Years Into Contract Starts QS QS % W L $ per start $ per QS $ AAV per win Total bWAR $ per bWAR
Strasburg Steven $19,000,000 $4,750,000 2009-13 5 75 46 61.3% 29 19 $316,667 $516,304 $818,966 8.5 $2,794,118
Gonzalez Gio $42,000,000 $8,400,000 2012-16 2 64 43 67.2% 32 16 $262,500 $390,698 $525,000 7.9 $2,126,582
Zimmermann Jordan $5,350,000 $5,350,000 2013 1 32 21 65.6% 19 9 $167,188 $254,762 $281,579 3.7 $1,445,946
Detwiler Ross $2,337,500 $2,337,500 2013 1 13 6 46.2% 2 7 $179,808 $389,583 $1,168,750 0.1 $23,375,000
Haren Dan $13,000,000 $13,000,000 2013 1 30 15 50.0% 10 14 $433,333 $866,667 $1,300,000 0.0 (0 war)
Maya Yunesky $8,000,000 $2,000,000 2010-13 4 10 1 10.0% 1 4 $800,000 $8,000,000 $8,000,000 -0.8 ($10,000,000)
Karns Nathan 490,000 490,000 2013 1 3 0 0.0% 0 1 $163,333 (0 QS) (0 wins) -0.4 ($1,225,000)
Jordan Taylor 490,000 490,000 2013 1 9 3 33.3% 1 3 $54,444 $163,333 $490,000 0.0 (0 war)
Ohlendorf Ross 1,000,000 1,000,000 2013 1 7 3 42.9% 3 1 $142,857 $333,333 $333,333 0.9 $1,111,111
Roark Tanner 490,000 490,000 2013 1 5 4 80.0% 3 1 $98,000 $122,500 $163,333 2.0 $245,000

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 5th year of his original 5 year deal, hence the 75 total starts in those 5 years.

The 2013 Nats have $AAV per win and $/bWAR mostly on the good side:

  • Yunesky Maya and Nathan Karns both contributed negative bWAR for 2013, so their numbers are meaningless.
  • Taylor Jordan and Dan Haren both came in at zero (or close enough to it) bWAR, so their numbers are also meaningless.  Well, not “meaningless” in Haren’s case: basically he gave the team replacement performance for his $13M in salary; the team could have just called up a guy from AAA and let him pitch all year and gotten about the same value.  Thanks for the memories!
  • The best $/win guy was Tanner Roark, who got 3 wins for his MLB minimum salary … and that’s not even taking into account the fact that Roark’s 2013 salary probably should be pro-rated for this analysis.
  • The worst $/win guy was  Maya; who demonstrated yet again that his $8M contract was a mistake.
  • Nearly the entire staff has $/win values under the “you’re doing well” threshold of $1M/win.  And nearly the whole squad is doing $/bWAR well below the $6M/bWAR range.

 

2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo: talksportsphilly.com

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on baseball-reference.com and mlbdepthcharts.com for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

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Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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Johan Santana to miss 2013; a cautionary tale

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Santana to miss 2013 and end his Mets career on a sour note. Photo via wikipedia/flickr user slgckgc

Earlier this month I published an updated version of the “Starter Dollar per Win” analysis that I maintain and update on an annual basis.  In that post, I listed some of the worst free agent starter contracts ever signed (among them Kei Igawa, Jason Schmidt, Oliver Perez, Darren Dreifort).  However I did not mention Johan Santana among these awful deals because it looked like he could at least finish out the last year of his deal and increase his per-win values.

Last week we learned that Santana has a torn shoulder capsule and is likely to miss the entire 2013 season.  This is the last guaranteed year of the 6 yr/$137.5M contract that he signed with the Mets after his fantastic early-career stint with Minnesota and it seems almost certain that he’ll be looking for work elsewhere in 2014, if he continues to play at all (this being a re-tear of the same Anterior Capsule that sidelined him for all of 2011 and his third arm/shoulder surgery overall).

In his 6 years in New York, he had one great season (the first), two entirely missed due to injury, two with good results but still injury curtailed, and one (2012) that was entirely mediocre and injury curtailed after he (foolishly?) threw 130+ innings to chase a no-hitter.  That’s not entirely a great return on $137.5M.

Looking at my “Dollar per Win” analysis spreadsheet, and assuming that the Mets are going to pay him a $5.5M instead of his $25M option for 2014 (the $137.5M number only includes guaranteed money and thus already includes this $5.5M buyout), here’s how he ended up performing on a per-dollar basis for the life of this contract:

  • 109 starts over 6 years: $1,261,468 per start.
  • 72 Quality Starts: $1,909,722 per QS
  • 46 Wins: $2,989,130 per Win.

This contract is now officially “Worse” than the infamous Denny Neagle deal (19 wins for a 5yr/$55M deal) and significantly worse than the even more infamous Mike Hampton deal (56 wins for an 8yr/$121M deal) on a dollar per win basis.

The cautionary tale is a familiar one: we all know that pitchers are health wildcards to begin with.  But guaranteeing many years and tens of millions of dollars to these injury wildcards is lunacy.  (Ken Rosenthal wrote a similar story on 3/29/13 on this same topic).   I now count Thirteen 9-figure contracts that have been given out to starting pitchers in the history of the game, and of the contracts that are closer to the end or finished its hard to find any of them that the signing team would do over again.

  • Santana, Barry Zito, Hampton, Kevin Brown and Daisuke Matsuzaka were all 9-figure deals that did not live up to the money (Matsuzaka’s 9-figure haul includes the posting fee).
  • Matt Cain, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Yu Darvish (again, including his posting fee) are all 1-2 years into longer term 9-figure deals with (admittedly) satisfying levels of performance thus far.
  • Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and now Justin Verlander as of 3/29/13 are all starting 9-figure deals in 2013 or later.  Adam Wainwright just missed the cutoff; his new deal totaled $97.5M.

How does this affect the Nationals?  Well, in 2017 Stephen Strasburg is likely to become a free agent (lets be honest with ourselves; his agent is Scott Boras, his agent is aggressive to the max, wants to explore every possible free agency aspect, and rarely if ever allows his clients to agree to contract extensions, team friendly or otherwise; Strasburg is going to hit the FA market).  Based on the list of arms above, and assuming Strasburg doesn’t get re-injured in the next few years you have to think he’s going to be in line for a 9-figure deal of his own.  What do you do if you’re the Nats?  Do you pay the man, knowing that the likelihood of a 9-figure deal being a good deal for the team is very slim, or do you let him walk and let some other team pay him that money and assume the franchise crippling risk?

At least it isn’t a problem we have to deal with for a few years :-)

My 2013 Fantasy Baseball Team

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Kemp reacts to being Boss' first round pick in my fantasy league for the 2nd year running. Photo unknown via ladodgertalk.com

Editor’s note: feel free to stop reading now if you don’t want to read 4,400+ words on my fantasy baseball team.  I won’t blame you for it.  For those of you who do play fantasy, as I made picks I wrote down who I was considering and who was available per each pick to try to give some context for the pick.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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Pitcher Wins on the Free Agency Market; an analysis

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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.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/21/11 edition

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Can’t wait for the first Darvish-Pujols matchup when Texas visits Los Angeles. Photo unknown via beatofthebronx.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.

Nationals In General

  • John Sickels does in-depth system reviews, but allows his readers to pipe in about the prospects down on the farm.  Here’s the discussion on the Nats, which (as is apt to happen) devolved into arguments about Bryce Harper.  Still, lots of the usual suspects piped up and offered opinions.  Here’s a link to his preliminary list of Nats prospects.
  • In case you havn’t seen enough scouting reports on our precocious star, here’s another from the blog prospectjunkies.com.  I will say it was refreshing to see this author go out of his way to dispell the whole “Harper is a brat” storyline that most lazy sportswriters pen, without having ever interviewed or even *seen* the guy.
  • I hope this isn’t our starting CF for 2012; Nats sign Mike Cameron to a minor league contract.  I actually don’t mind this deal; yes he’s old and yes his production slipped badly in 2011, but he’s still a high-end defensive player.  Maybe he’s just a cheaper version of Rick Ankiel.  Odds are, as posted elsewhere, that Cameron is a half-season option just holding court until Harper is promoted sometime in June.  Works for me.
  • Hmm.  Reports from Ken Rosenthal that the team is “pushing hard” for Gio Gonzalez, offering Billy Beane a “4 for 1″ deal.  Not sure I like hearing that; while he’s got decent stats two years running, there’s some chinks in that armor.  He lead the league in walks last year and gives them up at nearly a walk every other inning.  His ERA jumps nearly a point when he pitches away from the friendly confines of Oakland’s pitcher-friendly stadium.  He’s not an “Ace.”  What four players are we talking about giving up?  If this is anything like the Mat Latos deal, it probably would be something like Detwiler, Norris, a major league arm and a lower minor league arm.


Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • First Reports on the winning Yu Darvish bid?  $48M.  No, wait, then it was even higher than Dice-K’s bid.  I privately thought he’d eclipse Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s record of $51M (and change) from 2005.   Another nugget from this article; Darvish wants a 5yr/$75M contract.  That’s $120M+ for this guy.  Does anyone still want to argue that he’s worth $120M, when the absolute best FA pitcher purchase in recent years (Cliff Lee) himself got 5yrs/$120M guaranteed from Philadelphia?
  • Who won the Darvish sweepstakes?  First thought to be Toronto, then Texas.  On 12/20 we were confirmed: Texas won with a $51.7M bid.  The AL West is turning into a shootout.
  • Breaking news over the weekend: Cincinnati gets Mat Latos for a package of prospects that includes their uber rising star Yonder Alonso, another 1st rounder in Yasmani Grandal and former ace-pretender Edinson Volquez.  That’s an awful lot for a guy who, while certainly is “good,” isn’t among the elite pitchers of this league.  That seems like more than what Zack Greinke fetched, and he as a Cy Young award to his credit.  It also begs the question; why does San Diego need Alonso?  They already traded for a top-end 1B prospect, Anthony Rizzo.  Alonso was blocked in Cincinnati by Joey Votto and was clearly on the trading block, but San Diego is a curious spot.   Oh I see now: he’s officially listed as a left fielder now.  Except that scouts openly scoff at his abilities to play anywhere but 1b or DH.  The Padres can always put together a competent pitching rotation by virtue of their park; if some of these hitters pan out they could be a very good team, quickly.  Meanwhile Cincinnati gets a good pitcher who hopefully wasn’t under-exposed by pitching in the cavern in San Diego but who most say is a legit front-of-the-rotation ace.  Update: now we’re hearing that Rizzo is in play possibly for Matt Garza.  That’s probably Theo Epstein trying to get his boy back.

General Baseball News

  • An excellent take at Grantland from Jonah Keri, another favored writer, on Steroid use in baseball, inspired in the post Ryan Braun mania.  As it has turned out, Braun’s case isn’t about Steroids, but he does dispute the notion frequently posted on the internet that “no positive test has ever been appealed successfully.”  In reality, according to both players and well-connected writers, no “leaked” positive test has ever been appealed, and that initial positives have been overturned on more than a few occasions.  Here’s a player who says he successfully appealed a positive test himself.  He also links to very interesting articles on testosterone and false positives, one of which (If i’m reading it correctly) notes that about 1 in 4 positive tests is actually a false positive.  I can’t believe any official test is that inaccurate, so perhaps its either old technology or i’m mis-interpreting the story.  Subsequent reports show that Braun’s test was from medication taken for a “personal issue.”  Sounds like Viagra, doesn’t it?
  • Another takeaway from Keri’s article is another pet peeve of mine; the notion that Matt Kemp was a “more worthy” MVP candidate than Braun but that Braun won the award because “his teammates were better.”  That’s one take on the award, IF you interpret the “MVP” to be given to the “best player” in a particular year.  But that’s not the definition of “Most Valuable Player” that most writers adhere to.  Simply put, how can you be the “Most Valuable player” to your team if your team stinks?  If your team already has a losing record, and the star player wasn’t there, wouldn’t that team just have a WORSE losing record?  To me, that’s the essence of the MVP argument; you simply cannot be the most valuable player on a bad team, unless your season is so historically amazing that it stands out on its own merit.  If we want to “invent” a new award, say the “Cy Young” of hitters (almost an uber “Silver Slugger”) so that we can properly award a guy like Kemp, I’d be for it absolutely.  In fact, it would pretty much end these ridiculous arguments that will only continue to get louder as more and more stat-heads who never actually watch games but just interpret advanced statistical tables on websites as if baseball players were robots playing in a nil-gravity vacuum gain admittance to the BBWAA and start voting on these awards themselves.
  • Yet another excellent Grantland.com article, this time analyzing whether or not the Economics of Moneyball still exist.  After this article published, I saw some criticisms of the statistics used on more stat-heavy blogs like Fangraphs.  Not sure why; the article makes sense to me.
  • I sometimes take issue with Craig Calcaterra‘s stuff on Hardballtalk, but his opinion on ESPN Legal Analyst Lester Munson‘s love affair with the abject failure of the Barry Bonds case is spot on for me.  Bonds was convicted of one really shaky obstruction of justice count after years and MILLIONS of dollars of expenses, and was sentenced to 30 days of home confinement.  The prosecutors who led this monstrosity need to be fired, frankly.
  • Ugh.  Bill Conlan of the Philadelphia Daily News, a hall of fame baseball writer, resigns ahead of child molestation charges being filed.  Interestingly, it is the rival Philly newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, filing the charges.

General News; other

  • I like Grantland, and I like stuff that Chuck Klosterman writes.  Here, he writes about the “Triangle Offense” that we’ve heard so much about from Phil Jackson during his time with the Bulls and Lakers.  My takeaway; the Triangle is dying out because (according to Jackson) the league is dominated by me-first scorers (whether they be slash and burn or 3-point specialists) and because the Triangle is considered really complex.
  • Kobe Bryant‘s wife is leaving him, reportedly because she caught him cheating.  Really??  What, that whole incident in Colorado wasn’t evidence enough?
  • In case you somehow missed the front page of cnnsi.com this week, yet another example of the absolute hypocritical nature of the NCAA is on display once again: a former St. Joseph’s basketball player is being held hostage by an (apparently) petulant basketball coach who refuses to grant his waiver to play for another school.  Coaches can change schools like they’re changing suits, but if a player changes they have to get approvals from their releasing school (a conflict of interest if there ever was one) and approval from the NCAA, AND then have to give up a year of eligibility.  How is this possibly fair?  Coaches can coach for 50 years and don’t lose any eligibility; players can only play for four (five if they red-shirt) but have to give up 25% of that time if a situation isn’t right for them.  Every time I read something about college athletics like this (or the UKentucky/Oliver case, or the Colorado WR/snowboarder case, or the entire player images case) I’m more and more infuriated and hope that the organization has to face congressional review.  More links on the topic: lawsuit threatened.  Possibly “the other side” to the story here.  There’s other interesting links to twitter comments and blog op-ed pieces throughout.  Another opinion here.

Ask Boswell 12/12/11 edition

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If you squint, this almost looks like an Angels uniform already. Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Here’s Tom Boswell‘ weekly Monday chat on 12/12/11.  Despite being in the baseball off-season, the chat had a TON of baseball questions.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.

As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write my own answer prior to reading his.

Q: Is Albert Pujols a cautionary tale for the Nats signing Ryan Zimmerman to a long term contract?

A: Its not *quite* the same; Pujols is better but older, and if you believe the scuttlebutt/internet rumors may be even older still.  Zimmerman will hit his walk year at age 28 with a good 3-4 years of “peak” in him (assuming that your “peak” is somewhere around age 31).  So the Angels just bought 10 years of almost-certain decline for Pujols while the next deal that Zimmerman signs will still include his most productive years.  The Cardinals were nearly $40M off in the end, AND didn’t offer up something like the personal services contract that guarantees the retired Pujols income into his 50s.  So there’s more at work here, honestly.  In the respect that the Cardinals “played chicken” to a certain extent with Pujols, then yes there is a cautionary tale for how the Nats treat Zimmerman.

But there are some issues with extending Zimmerman.  He’s injury-prone.  He’s missed nearly 150 games in 5 seasons, had two surgeries and a third major injury (his labrum) that could have been surgical.  Is his 2009 season (33 homers, 106 rbi and a 133 ops+) the best possible case or is that his sustainable production?  The team wants to extend him (if you believe the beat reporters) but the team has also rebuffed Zimmerman’s agents’ attempts to negotiate this off-season (if you believe ex-Nats gm hack Jim Bowden).  Me?  I’d see what happens in 2012 and make a decision next off-season.   Boswell assumes the Nats will offer Zimmerman a Troy Tulowitzki type deal, and so do I frankly.

Q: What are your opinions on the seemingly arbitrary Hall of Fame voting process?

A: My issues with HoF voting include the following:

  • Voters who are voting on morals/ethics stances and not productivity on the field (say, Roberto Alomar).
  • Voters who are swayed by revisionist-historian sabremetrics nerds who canonize players 25 years after they played but forget that those same players were essentially mediocre during their day (i’m looking at you Bert Blyleven).
  • Voters who use the HoF vote to penalize players that stiffed them or were mean to them during their career (how else can you explain some of the voting results for players that should be sure-fire near 100% electees?  Willie Mays only got 94% of the vote, Mickey Mantle an even more ridiculous 88%.
  • Voters who fail to vote for players who have never had any sniff of PED controversy but who played in the era (Jeff Bagwell).
  • Voters who have now elected nearly 13% of active players from the 30s and 40s but who can’t find a place for the best players from the 80s (Raines, Larkin, Morris and the like).

As for the election of Ron Santo, he is another case of a guy who slipped through the cracks and who should have been elected by the veterans committee long before he passed.  What sense does it make to canonize a guy right after he dies?  So that his wife can be happy?  I don’t get it.  Santo was the same guy, with the same stats, ever since the day he retired.

Boswell says he agrees with the “first ballot hall of fame” distinction and supports NOT voting for guys who aren’t the uber-elite on the first ballot.  He also mentions that Blyleven’s candidacy was clearly helped by outside lobbying.

Q: Where — if at all — does Yu Darvish fit within your “pay up for quality” theory in last weekend’s post-Pujols signing column? Also, How likely are the Nats to make a serious bid for Darvish?

A: Boswell’s theory in baseball free agency is simple: you pay up for quality because the rest is junk.  A good working theory in some respects; he figures that “going for it” and failing is better than just dipping your toes into the FA water.

I think the Nats will put in a legitimate offer, but that it won’t be close to the $51M that it took to sign Dice-K.

My personal concern with Darvish is the fact that many have come before him from Japan and very few have succeeded.  There’s yet to really be one impact pitcher that has come from the Japanese leagues.  And even those that do come over with great pedigrees (Dice-K as the most recent high profile example) tend to burn out quickly.  It isn’t a race thing; its more of a level of competition and a different pitching routine in the Japanese leagues (starters go on 5 days rest, not our traditional 4).  For me, the risk is not worth it.  I know these teams have scouted the hell out of Darvish and believe what they believe, but the fact is that the NPB is a AAA-quality league and the minors are FILLED with guys who dominated AAA but who couldn’t get guys out in the majors.  If it was just a FA signing (4yrs $50M) that’s one level of risk, but throwing in nearly that amount just in posting fees and suddenly you’re compensating a guy at the level of an elite Ace in this league without any proof that the guy will actually live up to that level.   Boswell uses the same comparisons as I do, and predicts that the Nats will be over-bid by the major market teams that are looking for starters.

Q: How much should St. Louis fans be remonstrating about Pujols leaving?

A: Not much.  For all those that say that athletes should take less money to be “the man” for their first team, I say, “put yourself in his shoes.”  He was offered more money in Los Angeles.  Plain and simple.  If it was a few million dollars over 10 years that’s one thing; $30M over 10 years plus the personal services contract?  That’s a lot more.  Everyone who thinks that Pujols “owed” something to St. Louis, or that he should have wanted to stay there his whole career like Stan Musial needs to remind themselves of one thing; If Musial played in the Free Agency era instead of the reserve clause era, would he have stayed in St. Louis his whole career?  In my opinion if St. Louis couldn’t come up with the per-year payroll, they should have gotten creative with perhaps points in the team or something along those lines.  If St. Louis really wanted Pujols to be the face of the Cardinals for the next 50 years, they could have made it happen. Boswell agrees with me, for the most part.

Q: Do you agree with the Washington Post preventing its writers from voting for Baseball Awards?  (post-season and hall of fame, the typical BBWAA awards)?

A: I think its ridiculous that the Post, and the Post alone apparently, takes this stance.  The whole point of using baseball writers to vote on these awards is because baseball writers are the BEST people to use; they cover teams, go to the games, and see the stars in action to a greater extent than anyone else besides the team officials and players themselves.  Boswell points out the obvious conflicts of interest, but those same conflicts exist for every writer in every market.  Honestly I think the way the NFL does things (with a nominating board of senior national writers) is a far better way to determine who gets in to the Hall of Fame.

Q: Is is just me, or did it seem obvious the Cards didn’t really want to sign Pujols?

A: No, to me the Cardinals set their price and when the price went above it, they waved good bye.  Now, you can argue that the price they set was far too low (If Pujols was looking to beat AAV of Alex Rodriguez‘s contract just on principle, then he’s a fool and was never going to beat that), but in the end the Angels just offered more money than made sense to St. Louis from a long term financial viability perspective.  Fair enough.  There’s lots of articles out there saying how much St. Louis privately breathed a sign of relief that they’re not going to have to go through the “oh my gosh how overpaid is Pujols” phase 8-10 years from now… Boswell thinks St. Louis was banking on a home-town discount.

Q: Should the Nats be looking to sign guys like Clippard and Storen long term (as they should be doing with Strasburg)?

A: No.  Not that I don’t like these two players, but relievers (outside of the uber-elite, guys like Mariano Rivera) are mostly replaceable.  I’ve posted time and again about how overvalued relievers and (especially) closers are.  You just should not over-spend for these guys; you can always find more of them in your farm system.  Boswell says you can’t sign them all.

Q: Do you see Ross Detwiler making the 2012 rotation?

A: No, not at this point.  The team is clearly trying to find another FA starter, which puts Detwiler‘s spot directly in their cross hairs.  Look for Detwiler to be traded as soon as a new pitcher is signed, now that they’ve locked up Gorzelanny as the lefty long-man/spot starter already; I can’t see both Detwiler and Gorzelanny in the bullpen.  Detwiler is out of options and can’t be stashed in AAA.  Of course, he could come down with a mystery soft-tissue injury that delays the inevitable.   Boswell says the same thing, but doesn’t talk about Detwiler’s lack of options.

Q: Did the Nats lack of winter meeting activity indicate that the Lerners are cheap and that the team is going nowhere?

A: Wow, fail to sign a $200M player and you’re a failure.  Lets have some patience here; the team may have really been on Buehrle but wasn’t on anybody else that has already signed frankly.  Oswalt is still out there, as is Darvish.  As is Fielder, who could be the massive run-creating machine that this lineup needs.  Boswell says the need to sign Oswalt is bigger now, and I’d tend to agree since he was the guy I wanted in the first place.

Q: Any idea whether the Nats ever made Buerhle an offer or whether there really was any interest in Reyes? Do you think the Nats will make a move on Darvish or the Cuban CF Cespesdes?

A: Nats definitely made Buehrle an offer; it just wasn’t very close.  I don’t think there was interest in Reyes; they really like Desmond at 1/20th of the cost right now.  I think the team will definitely post a reasonable bid (perhaps $25-$30M for Darvish) but probably gets out-bid.  And yes I think the team will be in the Cespedes bonanza, but may be out-bid by another team as well that has a longer-term view on the guy.  Boswell mirrors what I’ve said here and also says they’re “serious” about Oswalt now.  But are they serious enough?

Q: Do you expect the Nats to try and bid on Zack Greinke next year?

A: Yes absolutely.  If Greinke hits the open market, this team will be all over him.  If they sign Oswalt this year and Greinke next, you could be looking at a 2013 rotation that goes Strasburg, Zimmermann, Oswalt, Greinke and a death-match struggle between our best 5-6 starter prospects for the #5 spot.  That’s scary good.  Boswell says he hopes the team doesn’t pass on the rest of this off-season just to wait for the next one.

Q: Did the Marlin’s offer too much or did the Nationals not offer enough for Buehrle?

A: A little of both probably; Buehrle reportedly liked DC and liked the money,  but a 4th year and nearly $19M more was too much to match.  3yrs/$39M has an AAV of $13M, which was actually LESS than he earned on his last contract.  So that doesn’t sound right; would we have offered him a pay cut?  Boswell says the Marlins went too high, which was my initial reaction until seeing the AVV.

Q: Braun’s steroid test showed twice the level of any other sample. Ever. That has to be a false positive… or some other such type of error. What does that mean medically? Did they take the blood sample from the same cheek and 5 minutes after Braun shot up?

A: Fair point.  That’s kind of what i’m thinking frankly.  The test doesn’t seem to make sense.  I will say that its awfully irritating to read all these posts already assuming he’s guilty.  Boswell didn’t have much of an opinion yet.

Q: So, is Fielder completely off the table for the Nats? Seems weird that we were one of the teams linked to him all season, and now, nada. Boras power play at work here?

A: Boras clearly uses us to play for his clients.  But I also don’t think the team is completely out of it for Fielder.  The team needs offense, can stay with Morse in left for a bit and just can eat it on LaRoche.  Maybe.  Boswell doesn’t know what to think.

Q: Have you heard of any more interest in Edwin Jackson from the Nats?

A: Interestingly no.  I would have thought the Nats would be full bore over the guy, based on past interest.  But nobody’s printed a single word of Jackson rumors this offseason.  Perhaps his representation is just waiting out the big names before shopping their guy.  He did seem to come up rather ineffective in the post-season, dampering his value, so perhaps the team has soured on him.  Boswell says Oswalt is better option.



Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 10/21/11 edition

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A quick wrap-up of news items floated lately with a Nats interest in mind… and some opinion on each bullet point.

  • Baseball America posted a wrap-up of the 2011 Nats draft.  In short, BA thought the Nats had the best draft in 2011, getting the draft’s best hitter in Anthony Rendon, a big arm in Alex Meyer and a potential steal in Matthew Purke.   Nothing we didn’t already know…
  • Speaking of Rendon, this news item reports that he may not make it to the AFL after all.  This concerns me, honestly.  Just how bad was his shoulder injury??
  • Interestingly, the Nats returned 2011 rule-5 pickup Elvin Ramirez to the Mets after having him languish on our 60-day DL all season.  I’m slightly surprised by the move, in that the team obviously wanted to give him a shot when they took him earlier this year.  Now, after paying his freight all year without ever really seeing him perform in a game situation (he did throw in the instructionals though) we’ve given up on him.  My guess is that the team knows its bullpen is going to be competitive in 2012 and don’t anticipate being able to carry a youngster.
  • Ken Rosenthal has a quick primer on the issues remaining to be haggled over in the next MLB deal.   Some things of interest that could be included are draft slotting, an earlier signing deadline date, earlier free-agency, more wild-card teams and a balanced league schedule.
  • Si’s Jon Heyman had a quick blurb about Phillie’s closer and FA Ryan Madson being a possible Nats off-season target.  More interestingly he reports that Jayson Werth is trying to pitch Madson on the team.  I’m guessing that the pitch job would include an understanding that the Nats already have a pretty good closer in Drew Storen (who just came in 3rd in the 2011 Rolaids Reliever of the Year award) and that Madson would be a setup guy.  In a crowded closer FA market, perhaps Madson needs to keep his options open in case he can’t get a closer guaranteed job.  I’m hoping that Werth’s “pitching” his former teammate isn’t interpreted as a lack of confidence in his current closer … a bit of press hype that certainly isn’t out of the realm of possible to be overblown so as to start a New York-style press issue.
  • A couple different news sites along with MLB’s beat reporter Bill Ladson are reporting that the team is close to signing Chien-Ming Wang to a new deal.  This isn’t terribly surprising to those of us that have read every bit of Nats news this off season, and I’m all for signing him for 2012 after he’s been paid to re-hab for two years by this team.  It would be a refreshing bit of FA business to see someone like Wang take a lesser-monied deal to stay with the team that nursed him back to health.  Wang would probably slot in nicely as our #4 starter next year but would mean that the team faces a tough decision next spring training for the back end of the rotation.  Ross Detwiler is out of options and seems set to compete right now with Tommy Milone for this 5th starter spot.  This also leaves no room for additional FA signings (CJ Wilson anyone?).
  • Thank god we don’t live in Boston.  Terry Franconia scapegoated for his team’s collapse in September and then absolutely denigrated by his owner (stay classy Mr. Henry).  Theo Epstein (who you may put more of the September collapse on than the manager by virtue of leaving the team rather thin in terms of quality starting pitching) reads the tea leaves and escapes for Chicago.  Now the whole “beer drinking” story that won’t die; starting pitchers would drink some beer and eat chicken on their off days, or maybe they were drinking beer in the dugout during games.  I dunno; a starter in-between starts has little to nothing to do during the games; in fact veterans are often allowed to travel home early to be with family.  It seems to me to be the Boston press playing into the hands of a rather cowardly news source, looking to grind a personal axe with the named players.  Not a very healthy organization, the Red Sox, right now.
  • Bryce Harper finally exploded in the AFL with a homer, 2 other hits and 2 walks for a pretty good game.  I wouldn’t read too much into his struggles in the AFL, or in AA for that matter.  I think he’s exhausted after his first full season and it should be more telling to see how he starts 2012.
  • Bill Ladson had a quick interview with Adam LaRoche, who reports that he’s recovering, starting baseball activities soon and that the team hasn’t promised him any playing time in 2012.  What??  I’m sure that quote is being blown out of proportion; why would the Nats have signed him for 2 years if they didn’t want him, for 2 whole years??  Of course the team wants him to play next year, to be the 25homer/100rbi left handed middle-of-the-order plus-defender player that they paid for in the off-season.  I suppose its possible the team will make a splash for Fielder or Pujols, but don’t think for a second this team doesn’t plan on just flushing LaRoche’s $8M salary in 2012.  Follow up comments from GM Rizzo seem to indicate the team plans to stand pat.
  • Please, please Nats do not get involved in the Yu Darvish madness.  They got burned on Maya; the Red Sox got burned on Dice-K.  It’ll cost many tens of millions of dollars just to “win” the posting, then even more money to sign the guy.  Is he worth $80-$100M?  Wouldn’t you rather get a known quantity for that kind of pitching outlay?

Contract Value for FA Starting Pitchers; the Cliff Lee lesson-to-be

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Cliff Lee. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

As Cliff Lee continues to dazzle in the post season (his most recent effort being his 8inning, 2hit 13k gem against the most potent offense in Baseball, your NY Yankees), rumors of his purported price tag in the Free Agency market continue to reach spiraling heights.  The most common numbers thrown out start at 5yrs, $25M per.  One author at Forbes thinks he may approach $200M for 6 years combining salary and endorsements.

If you are trying to compare talent to contract value, then you have to start with the highest paid pitchers at current.  CC Sabathia is at $23M/year, Johan Santana is at $22.9M/year on average, and Roy Halladay took a slight discount to sign with Philadelphia (and be able to live in his offseason Odessa home 2 extra months of the year and drive to Spring Training) and is making $20M/year on his new deal.  Clearly, Cliff Lee has shown that he belongs at least at the $20M/year scale.  But how much higher makes sense financially for the signing team?

Forgetting for the moment that payroll means very little to a team like the New York Yankees (unfortunately his likely destination), lets talk about the value of the Free Agent contract and whether a team that gives out a $25M/year contract can ever really get their money’s worth.  Baseball is filled with horror stories of huge FA contracts that went bust.  Names like Zito, Dreifort, Pavano, Neagle, and Hampton fill general managers and fan’s heads with dispair.

How bad were these contracts?  I put together a spreadsheet with every significant starting pitcher FA contract that I could find, then cross referenced it by the Pitcher’s Won/Loss record during the duration of the contract.  See below: the table is sorted in reverse order of $/win.  In addition to the major FA contracts, I also arbitrarily added every “Ace” starter in the league, resulting in names like Lee, Jimenez, Price and Buchholz being in this list despite not being major FA pitchers (yet).  Their inclusion illustrates one of my major conclusions below.

Pitcher Team Total Value (includes club options) $$/year Avg Contract Term W/L $ per win
Kei Igawa New York Yankees $46,000,000 $9,200,000 2007-11 2-4 $18,400,000
Jason Schmidt Los Angeles Dodgers $47,000,000 $15,666,667 2007-09 3-6 $15,666,667
Kei Igawa New York Yankees $20,000,000 $4,000,000 2007-11 2-4 $8,000,000
Darren Dreifort Los Angeles Dodgers $55,000,000 $11,000,000 2001-05 9-15 $6,111,111
Russ Ortiz Arizona Diamondbacks $33,000,000 $8,250,000 2005-08 7-22 $4,714,286
Roger Clemens New York Yankees $28,000,022 $28,000,022 2007 6-6 $4,666,670
Carl Pavano New York Yankees $39,950,000 $9,987,500 2005-8 9-8 $4,438,889
Denny Neagle Colorado Rockies $51,000,000 $10,200,000 2001-05 19-23 $2,684,211
Jake Peavy San Diego Padres $52,000,000 $17,333,333 2010-12 7-6 $2,476,190
Carlos Silva Seattle Mariners $48,000,000 $12,000,000 2008-12 15-24 $2,400,000
Mike Hampton Colorado Rockies $121,000,000 $15,125,000 2001-08 56-52 $2,160,714
Chan Ho Park Los Angeles Dodgers $65,000,000 $13,000,000 2002-06 33-33 $1,969,697
Barry Zito San Francisco Giants $126,000,000 $18,000,000 2007-13 40-57 $1,800,000
Johan Santana New York Mets $137,500,000 $22,916,667 2008-13 40-25 $1,718,750
Pedro Martinez New York Mets $54,000,000 $13,500,000 2005-08 32-23 $1,687,500
Carlos Zambrano Chicago Cubs $91,500,000 $18,300,000 2008-12 34-19 $1,614,706
Gil Meche Kansas City Royals $55,000,000 $11,000,000 2007-11 29-39 $1,517,241
Daisuke Matsuzaka Boston Red Sox $103,000,000 $17,166,667 2007-12 46-27 $1,492,754
Kevin Brown Los Angeles Dodgers $105,000,000 $15,000,000 1999-2005 72-45 $1,458,333
A.J. Burnett New York Yankees $82,500,000 $16,500,000 2009-13 23-24 $1,434,783
Roger Clemens New York Yankees $18,000,000 $18,000,000 2005 13-8 $1,384,615
Felix Hernandez Seattle Mariners $78,000,000 $15,600,000 2010-14 13-12 $1,200,000
John Lackey Boston Red Sox $82,500,000 $16,500,000 2010-14 14-11 $1,178,571
Jarrod Washburn Seattle Mariners $37,000,000 $9,250,000 2006-09 32-52 $1,156,250
Chris Carpenter St. Louis Cardinals $50,800,000 $12,700,000 2008-11 33-13 $1,154,545
Kevin Millwood Texas Rangers $60,000,000 $12,000,000 2006-10 52-62 $1,153,846
C.C. Sabathia New York Yankees $161,000,000 $23,000,000 2009-15 40-15 $1,150,000
Roy Oswalt Houston Astros $73,000,000 $14,600,000 2007-11 52-36 $1,123,077
Bartolo Colon Los Angeles Angels $51,000,000 $12,750,000 2004-07 46-33 $1,108,696
Mark Buehrle Chicago White Sox $56,000,000 $14,000,000 2008-11 41-35 $1,024,390
Ryan Dempster Chicago Cubs $52,000,000 $13,000,000 2009-12 26-21 $1,000,000
Derek Lowe Atlanta Braves $60,000,000 $15,000,000 2009-12 31-22 $967,742
Mike Mussina New York Yankees $88,500,000 $14,750,000 2001-06 92-53 $961,957
Justin Verlander Detroit Tigers $80,000,000 $16,000,000 2010-14 18-9 $888,889
Josh Johnson Florida Marlins $39,000,000 $9,750,000 2010-2013 11-6 $886,364
Pedro Martinez Boston Red Sox $92,000,000 $15,333,333 1998-04 117-37 $786,325
Bronson Arroyo Cincinnati Reds $25,000,000 $12,500,000 2009-10 32-23 $781,250
Josh Beckett Boston Red Sox $42,000,000 $8,400,000 2007-10 55-29 $763,636
Daisuke Matsuzaka Boston Red Sox $52,000,000 $8,666,667 2007-12 46-27 $753,623
Ted Lilly Chicago Cubs $40,000,000 $10,000,000 2007-10 54-21 $740,741
Zack Greinke Kansas City Royals $38,000,000 $9,500,000 2009-12 26-22 $730,769
Tim Lincecum San Francisco Giants $23,000,000 $11,500,000 2010-11 16-10 $718,750
Mike Mussina New York Yankees $22,141,452 $11,070,726 2007-08 31-19 $714,240
Matt Cain San Francisco Giants $27,250,000 $9,083,333 2010-12 13-11 $698,718
Roy Halladay Toronto Blue Jays $40,000,000 $13,333,333 2008-10 58-31 $689,655
Derek Lowe Los Angeles Dodgers $36,000,000 $9,000,000 2005-08 54-48 $666,667
Cole Hamels Philadelphia Phillies $20,500,000 $6,833,333 2009-11 22-22 $621,212
Jason Schmidt San Francisco Giants $40,000,000 $8,000,000 2002-06 71-36 $563,380
Brandon Webb Arizona Diamondbacks $28,000,000 $5,600,000 2006-10 56-25 $500,000
Jon Lester Boston Red Sox $43,000,000 $7,166,667 2009-14 34-17 $421,569
Adam Wainwright St. Louis Cardinals $36,000,000 $6,000,000 2008-13 50-22 $360,000
Cliff Lee Cleveland Indians $23,000,000 $4,600,000 2006-10 67-44 $343,284
Ubaldo Jimenez Colorado Rockies $23,750,000 $3,958,333 2009-14 34-20 $232,843
David Price Tampa Bay Rays $11,250,000 $1,875,000 2007-12 29-13 $64,655
Clay Buchholz Boston Red Sox $443,000 $443,000 2010 17-7 $26,059

Comment on Won/Loss records; yes I know that individual pitcher wins are not a great indicator of a starter’s worth.  However, they do reasonably indicate over the course of a longer term period the value of that pitcher to a team.  Perhaps a better argument is free agent dollars per quality start (despite the quality start measuring basically a mediocre start of 3ER or less in 6ip or more by a pitcher, it does generally correlate well to team wins andveven to a “real” quality start of 2ER or less in 6IP or more).  At some point I’ll re-run the analysis and count up QS per FA dollar to see how it compares.

Note for the purposes of this argument:

  • The Contract total value is averaged over the life of the contract, even if the payments are different during different years.
  • The W/L record is for the pitcher over the life of the contract, not necessarily for the original signing team.
  • If the contract is current (i.e., runs from 2009-2012) then I’ve only counted the completed regular seasons.
  • There are no off-season records taken into play.
  • I entered in both Japanese Pitchers (Igawa and Matsuzaka) with massive posting numbers twice; one factoring the posting fee and the other not.  Without the fee Dice-K looks halfway decent but with it he’s overpriced (something all Boston fans probably already knew about their highly paid #5 pitcher).

Conclusions.

– If  you can get 1 win per $1M expended, you are doing about average it seems.  Anything above $1.25M and you are looking at a questionable contract.

– It is difficult to look at any contract below $1M/victory and say that the team made a bad deal.

– The absurdly low $/victory values for David Price and Clay Buchholz demonstrate as clearly as possible the value of the pre-arbitration superstar.  Tampa Bay (who did a similarly shrewd deal with Evan Longoria, buying out the arbitration years and tying the player to the club past the 6-year pre-FA window) now gets Cy Young-quality starts from Price for the next two years at 1/20th his market value.  Buchholz is even more evident; at a pre-arbitration salary of $443,000 for 2010, he went 17-7 and gave the Red Sox #1 starter capabilities.  On the open market he’s worth at least $15M/year at that level of productivity.

– The worst FA contract ever given to a starting pitcher wasn’t one of the aforementioned infamous culprets; it belongs to one Kei Igawa.  The Yankees paid the posting fee of $26M just to negotiate with him, then signed him to a 5 year, $20M contract.  For that outlay of $46M guaranteed, the Yankees have gotten a record of 2-4 over parts of two seasons, and he hasn’t appeared in a MLB game since June of 2008.  Luckily the Yankees can afford it; this kind of FA mistake would cripple a mid-to-small market team for years.

Jason Schmidt‘s 3yr, $47M deal with the LA Dodgers is the largest $$ bust in terms of a pure FA play, not counting the vagarities of the Japanese posting system.  Schmidt had ironically just finished an incredibly efficient deal with San Francisco, where he went 71-36 over 5 seasons on a $40M contract (resulting in a very good $/win number of $563,380).  Six games into his Dodger career he went onto the DL list with shoulder injuries that eventually cost him the rest of 2007 and all of 2008.  He tried to regroup in 09, failed to make the team out of spring, made a few starts and was back on the DL.  All told, 3 wins in 10 starts for $47M.

– Some of the infamous deals do appear close to the top of this list; Neagle’s $51M for a 19-23 record.  Dreifort’s $55M deal resulting in a grand total of 9 wins and only 26 starts.  Ironically, the highest single season salary was Roger Clemen‘s $28M deal with New York in 2007.  For that money the Yankees got a middling 6-6 record.

– Are there any major FA deals that ARE paying off?  Well, you have to dig deep.  CC Sabathia has won 40 games for the Yankees in the first two years of his $23M/year deal, which is easily the best 9-figure deal.  However, it is early; we need to check back in years 6 and 7 of this deal.  Mussina went 92-53 for the Yankees after he signed his $88M deal in 2001.  Verlander won 18 games this year for his $16M annual salary and looks like a good bet to continue that trend.

– The BEST long term FA deal ever signed has to be Pedro Martinez‘s 6year $92M deal.  He went 117-37 between 1998-2004, won 3 Cy Youngs, had 2 Cy Young runners-up, and in the year 2000 posted an ERA+ of 291, which accounts for the best modern-day single-season pitching performance in the history of the game.

Bringing this back to Cliff Lee; the conclusion is thus; he may earn a $25M/year deal but the odds of his continuing to win 20-22 games/year for the duration of the contract and thus inflating the $/win value will eventually prove that contract to be an albatross (even more so if he misses significant time to injury at some point).