Nationals Arm Race

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

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RIP Roy Halliday: a posthumous Hall of Famer?

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Halladay was always a tough out for the Nats; RIP. Photo via wcpo.com

Halladay was always a tough out for the Nats; RIP. Photo via wcpo.com

I have the mlb app with notifications turned on, so I got the news as soon as it was confirmed that Roy Halladay was in the plane.  It was shocking indeed.  Hate to see something like this.

My Halladay memories: The best seats I ever had at a Nats game were for a Nats-Philadelphia game in late 2008 with Halladay starting.  I sprung for those diamond seats, 2nd row behind the plate.  It was an awesome experience, and you just don’t really get a sense for how hard these guys throw until you’re *that* close.  I also remember vividly a game that I’m sure some of you also remember: Halladay going for a complete game against us in 2011 but running into trouble in the 9th only to strike out both Matt Stairs and Ivan Rodriguez looking  … and neither guy moved their bat off their shoulder.

I’ve begun thinking about his legacy, as one is apt to do in times like this: Halladay was an incredibly dominant pitcher for a good stretch of his career, but he was essentially washed up at 34 and out of the game at 36, didn’t have the counting numbers some older voters want, and may have some difficulties getting elected.

However, I wonder if his untimely death affects (to the positive) his Hall of Fame candidacy.  It sucks that we’re talking about that as a possible posthumous honor, but he definitely had an interesting case.  From 2003 to 2011 he was basically in the conversation year after year of being the best pitcher in the game (2 Cy Youngs, 5 other times named in top 5, and 8 all-star appearances).  But he only played 15 full seasons, 6 of which were cut short due to injury or youth, and he was done by age 36.  200 wins, but no where near 3000Ks.  One seminal post-season moment (his 2010 NLDS no-hitter), but not a ton of post-season experience other wise (just 5 starts for Philly across 2010-11).
65.6 career bWAR, 65.2 career fWAR, which puts him right in the areas where he should be heavily considered (some hall of fame pitchers right in that same range include Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, Bob Feller, Juan Marichal, Dennis Eckersley, etc).   He’s 38th all-time in fWAR for Pitchers, 41st for bWAR.  And most every pitcher ranked above him on these lists is already in the HoFame (or should be).
The thing is, there’s starters above him on these lists who are struggling to get elected.  Consider these names who are ranked above Halladay but who are not yet elected):
Roger Clemens (for obvious reasons)
Mike Mussina: longer career, more Wins, more Ks
Curt Schilling; whatever you think of his post-career politics, he was a dominant pitcher for a long time who probably could have had 3 Cy Young awards
Kevin Brown: criminally under-appreciated long time dominant starter
Mussina and Schilling are the ones that stick out for me; if those two guys can’t get in, can Halladay?
Most of the old grizzled voters hate having career value conversations couched around WAR (probably because they don’t understand it).  But because we’re likely never seeing 300 wins again i wonder if he might be the kind of candidate where they look past his macro numbers and look at the fact that for nearly a decade he was the #1 or #2 guy in the league.  And get some sentimental votes at the same time.
For me?  I’m a big Hall kind of guy, so I think all these guys above Halladay need to be in the Hall of Fame.  I think Halladay does too; he passes the eye test and the smell test, if not the career stat-gathering test.

Obligatory Post on the 2017 Hall of Fame class

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"Throw another circle change so you can blow out your elbow!" Photo via zimbio

“Throw another circle change so you can blow out your elbow!” Photo via zimbio

The ballot for the 2017 Hall of Fame class came out in early November 2016, and had 34 names on it.  Baseball-reference has a very  nice page summarizing all the candidates and their career stats.  Since Ballots are due by 12/31, and since this is the beginning of the obligatory holier-than-thou arguments about HoFame balloting, I give you my own holier-than-thou take on it.

Important/Vital link for 2017 Hall of Fame vote tracking: Ryan Thibodaux‘s online tracker of all HoF votes, which is showing some very different trends in 2017 for long-time ballot candidates.  You may have already seen some analysis of the early voting, from Bill James to Buster Olney.  The big shock so far is just how much support both of the major PED-tainted candidates (Bonds and Clemens) have gained since last year.  Some (most?) attribute this to the veteran’s electing of Bud Selig, who presided over the Steroid era and did little to stop it.  The thinking probably goes, “well if Selig is in, he’s just as culpable as the players, so i’m now voting for Bonds/Clemens).

With my imaginary ballot, here’s how i’d vote.  Since there’s a (ridiculous) limit of 10 players per ballot, I’ll list these players in rough order of voting priority to start:

New Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Ivan RodriguezManny Ramirez (and with Pudge, the first “Nationals” connected player to make it!)
  • Less emphatic Yes for Vladimir Guerrero
  • Slight pause to consider Jorge Posada
  • No on everyone else.

Returning Ballot Candidates:

  • Absolute Yes on Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds
  • More tepid Yes on Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Trevor Hoffman
  • Pass on Lee Smith, Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, Sammy Sosa

Discussions on my opinions from a hypocritical litmus test stand point:

  • Why support Hoffman but not Smith and Wagner?   Probably a fair question and probably not supported by stats when you compare all three guys together.  But that’s why its the “Hall of Fame” and not the “Hall of WAR” or the “Hall of Stats.”  Hoffman was more famous than these other relievers.  I always viewed Smith as a good-but-not-great reliever who compiled stats, and I viewed Wagner as an electric and under-rated closer without near the career accomplishments of Hoffman.
  • Why support McGriff/Guerrero but not Walker?  You can make the argument that Walker’s numbers were a product of Colorado … and you can make the alternative argument too.  I think for me the fact that Walker couldn’t reach even 400 homers while playing in the launching pad in Denver is an indictment of his career.  Walker was a fine hitter … but he never inspired the league wide “fear” that Guerrero and McGriff did.  He’s in the “Hall of Good” but not the “Hall of Fame” for me.  Also it is worth noting that McGriff finished his career with 493 homers, but missed months out of the 1994 season at his peak.  Had he eclipsed 500 homers … i think we’re having a different conversation about him.  These artificial numbers (300, 3000, 500) are pretty important to voters.  Guerrero himself was for a time absolutely “the best player in the game,” a title that I don’t think Walker can come close to claimin.
  • Why support Bonds and Ramirez but not Sosa?   Something about Sosa’s career just screams “artificial.”  He went from being a 35-home run hitter to a 66-home run hitter overnight, he has PED suspisions and a corked bat on his resume, and his skills disappeared as soon as testing became the norm.

So that gives me 6 “Yes” votes and another 6 less emphatic  “yes” votes.  So i’d have to cull two candidates to fit onto a 10-person ballot.  I’d cut Schilling just on principle for the ridiculousness of his statements lately, and Hoffman on general anti-closer principles.  So my hypothetical ballot is:

  • Rodriguez, Ramirez, Guerrero, Bagwell, Raines, Clemens, Bonds, Martinez, Mussina, McGriff

My prediction on who actually gets elected?  Well, of course the PED issue comes into play.  So three or four of my “Yesses” are going to struggle to get votes.  So i’m guessing that the likes of Pudge and Manny don’t get 1st ballot votes, and Clemens/Bonds will continues to struggle.   But based on there being three candidates that got pretty close last year, i’m going to guess that its a 3-man roster for 2017: Raines, Bagwell and Hoffman.  And that’s a fine class.   The tracker is showing Raines, Bagwell and Rodriguez well in the 75% range, with Bonds, Clemens, Hoffman and Guerrero in the 70-75% range.  Which means that they’ll likely fall short in the end, since the non-public ballots are usually more parsimonious and more narrative-driven.  Hoffman has enough of a narrative to perhaps maintain his 75% range though, so i’m putting him in first ballot (whether or not you think he deserves it).

One great change coming to HoFame balloting; no more secret ballots.  Every idiot who has a ballot and turns in something nonsensical will now have to answer for his vote in the court of public opinion.  Which I think is a great thing; no more sanctimonious votes preventing deserving players from getting their due.

So, who you got in the Hall this time?

 

2015 obligatory Hall of Fame Post

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Randy Johnson leads the 2015 hall of fame ballot.  Photo (AP Photo/   Elaine Thompson) via seattlepi.com

Randy Johnson leads the 2015 hall of fame ballot. Photo (AP Photo/ Elaine Thompson) via seattlepi.com

Last year’s version of this post is here; it has links to prior years where I went into my general thought process on yes/no votes per individual player.  I’ve tired of writing the same 2,000 word post on the topic since everyone else on the internet is, so this is a bit shorter of a HoF post.  And it won’t insult me if you don’t respond or even read this post; there’s far, far too much hall of fame arguing going on in the baseball blogosphere, and i’m no more or less qualified to publish an opinion on this ballot than many of the official BBWAA writers at this point.

The 2015 ballot at baseball-reference.com is here.  Once again there’s too many deserving players for not enough spots.

For me, there’s three no-brainer 1st ballot hall-of-famers new to the 2015 ballot: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.  The first two should be unanimous but of course they won’t.  In fact, we already have a published ballot of someone who left both off so he could vote for others who “needed the votes.”  Smoltz might be borderline for some but for me he’s better than other hurlers recently enshrined; somehow I doubt he gets in this time around.

Of the carry overs from last year’s ballot, I’d vote as follows:

  • Yes for Biggio, Piazza, Bagwell, Raines, Clemens, Bonds, Schilling, Martinez, McGwire
  • Maybe later for Trammell, Mussina, Kent, and Sheffield.
  • No for Smith, McGriff, Walker, Mattingly, Sosa and anyone else new to the ballot this year not otherwise mentioned.  Why are these No votes?  See 2012 and 2013′s links for my reasoning on the names here, all of whom are repeats.

Of course, this is too many “Yes” votes.  If I had to cut two of my 12 Yes votes, I’d guess Martinez and McGwire are the first two to go.  Or maybe Schilling.  Which is a shame because I think all the guys in the “maybe later” have legitimate cases too.  But this is the bed that the BBWAA has made for itself with its arbitrary player limit and its wishy-washy stance on alleged PED users.

2015 voting Prediction: Johnson, Martinez and Biggio elected.  Smoltz just misses, and Piazza & Bagwell get close enough that they’ll go in with the 2016 class (which only has one no-brainer candidate in Ken Griffey, Jr).  Still no love for Bagwell, the PED brothers, or Raines, much to the chagrin of the sabr-crowd.

1/6/15 update: My prediction was too conservative: Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz and Biggio inducted in 2015.  Piazza got 69% of the vote and seems like a good bet for 2016.  however Bagwell and Raines lagged seriously behind, at just 55% of the vote each.  Another huge gap after that leads to a trio of players in the mid 30s … not nearly enough to talk about them getting in next year.

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.

 

Ask Boswell 3/3/14 edition

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Walter's hot start to the spring has him in a lot of people's thoughts... Photo unk via wp.com

Walter’s hot start to the spring has him in a lot of people’s thoughts… Photo unk via wp.com

Well, the entire DC area was off-work with yesterday’s (hopefully) final snowfall of the season snarling roads and cancelling work.  But Tom Boswell was busy chatting.  Here’s how i’d have answered his baseball-related questions from his WP chat session on 3/3/14.

Q: Walters is 5-5 and making some impressive defensive plays. Do you foresee him being more than a September call up this year – perhaps a quality utility player? He also seems like a sharp kid and an interesting character.

A: Well, the only “impressive play” I’ve seen Zach Walters pull off was a 2-run scoring throwing error … but that’s just a “short sample size.”   To answer this question; yes I think Walters is more than a 9/1 call up this year; I think he’s going to be the first guy called up (ahead of both Jamie Carroll and/or Mike Fontenot at this point) if we need middle infield coverage.  I’m worried about his defense (as has been noted in this space before), so I dunno how much we want to depend on him … but so far he’s looking impressive indeed at the plate.  What more does he have to prove in AAA?   The more he hits, the more he pressures the organization to give him a shot at the MLB level.  Boswell doesn’t know either; there’s no room at the inn for him here; maybe a trade is in order to either move him or free up space for him.

Q: If Danny Espinosa can find his swing and cut down on the strikeouts, could Matt Williams get 300+ ABs for him alternating between 2nd/SS/3rd as a super utility?

A: I’m pretty sure that’s the plan for him even if he doesn’t necessarily “find his swing” right now.   Who would you rather go to war with as your backup infielder right now?  Danny Espinosa or a 40-yr old punch-less middle infielder like Carrol or Fontenot?  More and more I think the decision may be Espinosa vs Walters.  Boswell agrees, thinking Espinosa *is* going to be the primary utility guy for this team.

Q: Does Mussina get in to HOF?

A: Hmm.   That is a tough one.   On the one hand his career bWAR is *way* up there (82.7, which puts him in some very heady company right around 50th best in the history of the game). JAWS likes him, and the “Hall of Fame Standards” metric on B-R.com thinks he’s borderline.  On the other hand his ERA isn’t fantastic (career 3.68, career ERA+ of 123, which is about what Jimmy Key or Tim Hudson are pitching to for their careers).  Didn’t get the magical 300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts.  Never won a Cy Young but was in the top 6 in voting 9 times out of 18 years.  Five all-star appearances, seven gold gloves.  7-8 with a 3.42 ERA in 139 2/3 post season innings, where he peaked in his 1997 exploits in an epic Baltimore vs Cleveland series.  I think he was unquestionably one of the best arms in the game for a period of time, even if Cy Young’s don’t show it.  He did not have the greatest reputation with the media though.

Answer?  I’d vote for him, but i’m a “bigger hall” guy.  I think he’s the type who gets in after a few votes to gather steam as people remember how good he was.  But I think its also telling that his best player comparable on B-R is Andy Pettitte, another very borderline hall-of-fame guy.  There’s certainly no PED usage issues with Mussina; maybe that’s enough to get him votes that other players will never get.  Boswell agrees with my sentiments here.

Q: What are the Syracuse Chiefs expecting in terms of a pitching staff this year?

A: In December 2013, here’s what I predicted for Syracuse’s pitching staff:

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Karns, Rosenbaum (L), Young, MLFA or two?
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis,  Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Herron (AA?), Alfaro, Stange, Delcarmen
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman

What’s happened since then?  We traded away Karns, resigned Ryan Tatusko, resigned Tyler Robinson, signed Clay Hensley , signed a lefty Zack Jackson, signed a righty Warner Madrigal, signed former Nat Luis Ayala, traded for Felipe Rivero, signed Josh Roenicke and (just today) signed another former Nat Reliever Michael Gonzalez.

Phew.  That’s a lot of guys signed who all look like they belong in AAA.   I honestly have no idea how spring training is going to shake out but I do see one issue here: none of these new guys coming in are starters.  So with Karns traded away, we’re looking at just 3-4 true starters left out of all these guys.  Does Tatusko go back into the rotation?   Do the Nats throw a bone to one of the remaining veteran FA starters out there (Joe Saunders has local connections, and Barry Zito could use some work).

If I had to guess, right now, what 5 starters and 7-8 relievers break camp and fly to upstate NY i’d go with the following:

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Rosenbaum, Young, Myers, Tatusko
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett (closer), Davis, Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Ayala, Gonzalez, Rivero (L), Delcarmen.
  • AAA D/L: Mattheus, Garcia (come on, you know its going to happen)

As for the rest of these guys?  Maybe some push back to AA, maybe the rest exercise out clauses and hit MLFA again.  But there definitely seems like a ton of 4-A/AAA guys for not a lot of spots.  Boswell has no idea and openly solicits input from people who do follow the Nats minors.

Q: Why is the opener in Australia a real game instead of an Exhibition?

A: Probably because the moment it becomes an exhibition thousands of miles away … teams would basically send their AAA squads.  And MLB knows it, so they have to be “real games.”  Boswell just notes how unfair it is to the teams that play.

Q: What’s the best way to get Bryce Harper’s autograph on a special piece of memorabilia?

A: Probably to go to Spring Training and bring along a little kid :-)  That’s my plan, eventually, to use Son-as-proxy to get cool autographs.  Of course, I also have this thing where everytime i’m in a position to get an autograph I have the player customize it to my son … cheesy, sure.  But i’m not acquiring autographs to re-sell them or some fool thing.    Boswell doens’t have any good advice.

Q: Assuming you could afford them all and they would resign, if you had to who on the current roster to make “lifelong” Nats – who would you choose among Desmond/Zimmermann/Strasburg/Harper? And who is the most replaceable?

A: Great question.  The kind that will inevitably lead to 30+ comments here :-)

Assuming money is no object and that they’d all re-sign, I think your “lifelong” Nats have to be in order Desmond, Harper, Strasburg, and then Zimmermann.  All four if you can get them.   I think they’re replaceable in this order: Zimmermann, Strasburg, Desmond and Harper.  But even that order is splitting hairs between Strasburg and Desmond; who is more replaceable?  A top-5 short stop in the league or a top-10 arm?  I dunno.  Harper is in a league by himself; you just can’t replicate power hitters who matriculate to the majors by age 19.

I think Zimmermann is the most replaceable by our pipeline of upper-end arms.  The other three guys, not so much.

By the way, this question goes to the essence of my arguments against “Big Money GMs” as postulated in the post and comments sections of my big GM Rankings post last week.  This question is entirely moot if you have a $200M payroll.  Do you think Brian Cashman ever had to sit down with his ownership and go, “ok we’ve got Derek JeterMariano RiveraBernie Williams and Jorge Posada coming up on the end of their deals: we can only keep a couple of them; which ones are we letting walk?”

Boswell goes slightly different order of replaceability, putting Strasburg ahead of Desmond because the Nats have Espinosa and Walters.  Uh … not sure I think either of those two guys is a “replacement” for Desmond right now Mr. Boswell.  Nonetheless he also postulates that the Nats really can only keep two of the four, and that internally they keep a “5 max contract” limit in place, meaning that they still have some flexibility to keep three of these four guys.  

Q: I am not impressed with the Nats’ bench, because it is a bucket full of strikeouts. Does this open a door for Jamey Carroll to make the Opening Day roster? Would it be a bad sign if he did?

A: I cut-n-pasted this whole question because I love the “bucket-full of strikeouts” line.   Maybe a grizzled vet keeps Carroll instead of Espinosa or Tyler Moore.  Maybe not.  But if you carry Carroll instead of Moore, you are trading one commodity (defense) for another (power).  I’d rather have Moore but understand the positional flexibility of Carroll.   Boswell seems to intimate the decision will be Carroll vs Walters: why does everyone assume Moore is making this team with two other backup outfielders already under multi-million dollar contracts??  

Q: If Zach Walters continues his excellent play from the end of last year deep into the Spring, and Danny Espinosa parties like it’s 2012, do you see the Nats dealing Espinosa this year, or are his defensive skills at short and second too valuable to lose?

A: Yes, I think Espinosa will eventually be traded, as I’ve noted many times here (best summarized in this 1/2/14 Ladson inbox response).   But, he has to regain value first.  If he’s suddenly returning to a near 100 ops+ hitter with his defensive prowness, there’s a whole slew of teams that could use an upgrade at the position (just perusing RotoWorld depth charts, I can see a 2011-esque Espinosa being a desirable choice to current options for at least Houston, Minnesota, Miami, maybe the Mets, Pittsburgh, San Diego, maybe Chicago (WS), maybe the Angels, maybe Seattle, and maybe the Dodgers (so they can move Hanley Ramirez back to 3B).   And that doesn’t even look at the 2B options out there that he could ably fill.  Boswell notes this little nugget; the Dodgers sniffed around on Espinosa exactly to do what I just said; move Hanley back to third.  

Q:  Should we be concerned about middle infield depth? If Espinosa can’t hit over .200, who’s left? Jamey Carroll’s OBP was .267 in 227 ABs last season… yikes.

A:  I’m not concerned because we should only have to count on one of these guys.  Espinosa (as mentioned ad naseum) had a pretty legitimate excuse for his BA last year; he was hurt.  He’s healthy now; there should be no reason he doesn’t return to at least a .240 guy with power he was for his first couple of seasons.  Boswell points at his new favorite fan boy Zach Walters.

Q: Assuming the Nats fifth starter (whoever it may be though I’m pulling for Detwiler) has a great “fifth starter” season, how good can we expect it to be? Has any fifth starter won 15-20 games? 

A: I think a “good” season out of our 5th starter would be 28 starts, a 14-8 record or something like that, and an ERA in the 3.50 range.  I’d love to see that happen.  Has a 5th starter ever won 15-20 games?  I have no idea how you’d find that out; it isn’t as if starters are “labeled” by their rotational rankings like we do in the sportswriting world.  I looked up a couple of options though to see how some “5th” starters fared on some very good teams (looking up the winningest teams I could think of in the 5th starter era)

  • The 5th starter for the 108 win 1986 Mets was Rick Aguilera; he went 10-7 with a 3.66 ERA.
  • The 114-game winning 1998 Yankees 5th starter was Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, who went 12-4 and had the best ERA+ on the staff, but he wasn’t exactly a “normal” 5th starter.   In reality by the time the playoffs rolled around the real 5th starter was Hideki Irabu: he was 13-9 in the regular season but didn’t get a start in the post-season.
  • Lastly the 116-game winning 2001 Mariners’ 5th starter seemed to be John Halama, who went 10-7 despite a 4.73 ERA and was replaced mid-season by rookie Joel Pineiro. 

Boswell notes a good point; if a “5th starter” wins 20 games … people forget he was the 5th starter.

Q: He had 38 (or thereabouts) errors in Syracuse this year. I don’t think there should be any serious talk of him spending significant time with the Nats until he can clean up his fielding in AAA.

A: I wonder if the person who sent in this question also reads me.  By the way: the break down of Errors (per b-r.com) was 31 errors in 104 games at short to go along with 7 additional errors in 27 games while playing third.  That’s a LOT of errors.  And it is almost entirely consistent with the number of errors he committed in 2012 in AA.  So this wasn’t a fluke season.

We all hear stories about how crummy minor league fields are and how they contribute to poor fielding numbers for players.  Have you ever played on a pro field?  They’re miles better than any amateur field and looked beyond immaculate to me.  I wonder just how much nicer they can get honestly.

But, yes I do somewhat agree with the questioner here; I’d like to see Walters have a cleaner fielding season before counting on him.  That being said, we should all remember that we were ready to string up Ian Desmond for his fielding issues … now he’s a gold-glove calibre talent.   Boswell brings up Desmond’s incredibly poor minor league fielding record … maybe there’s more truth to the whole minor league field issue than we thought.

Q: Do you think Storen might not be long for the team? I’ve felt for some time that Game 5 in 2012 truly affected how Rizzo sees him. Also, many like to say they have three guys who have closed in the bullpen. I feel the 7th, 8th and 9th are all different so that theory doesn’t always work. Thoughts?

A: I’m not sure if 2012 has anything to do with it: Drew Storen definitely got squeezed in that inning and in some ways was very unlucky.  And as my dad likes to point out, Davey Johnson‘s usage of Storen in the series (and his bullpen management overall) really left something to be desired.  Nonetheless, to answer the question no I think Storen is eventually moved, not because of any bad blood but because of simple economics.  We’ve got a really expensive bullpen and three closer-quality guys when only one is needed.  At some point we will cash in.  I’m not sure I believe that 7th/8th/9th innings require different mindsets; you still want guys who can get people out, you want swing-and-miss talents, you want people who can keep the ball in the park and not walk anyone.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question.

 

Buster Olney’s HoF vote explanation…

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… is probably the best, most reasoned, least hyperbolic explanation of a Hall of Fame ballot that I’ve read, probably ever.

Its ESPN Insider, but if you’re a true baseball fan you should be paying the $2/month or whatever pittance it is in order to get Buster Olney and Keith Law‘s stuff.

http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/buster-olney/post?id=4360

He voted for Rafael Palmeiro but not Mark McGwire (I’d tend to disagree here but he reasonably explains why).   He voted for Jack Morris but not Curt Schilling or Mike Mussina (again, even up comparing Morris to either of these guys I’d disagree, but I also like Morris for the Hall despite all the vehiment arguments that people make against him).  Olney explains his thoughts about the “character clause” that seems to be catching so many voters in the most clear and concise way i’ve seen.

Its just a nice read in the face of the just over-the-top criticism on the baseball blogosphere (which is heavily slanted towards the use of metrics above all else) of writers and their votes.

Like you, i’ve had my annual fill of reactionary blog postings to those writers who make their ballots public, with titles judging whether or not the ballot was “good” or “bad” based on whether or not the voter did or did not include someone’s pet name.   Olney simply dismisses these criticisms by saying that “he understands arguments but disagrees.”   I’m tired of some kid writing blog posts in his mommy’s basement acting as if he knows more than a guy who has been covering the game, in the clubhouses and on the road, for 25 years.  (Yeah that’s a total cliche but it isn’t far from the truth; if you found out that some blog post was written by a college freshman who just took a stats class and thinks he knows everything, would you give it more weight than by a veteran beat reporter for a major newspaper?  I didn’t think so).  I’m ready for the announcement of the 2014 class to come, one way or another, so we can get back to preparing for next season.

Pitchers and Catchers in 37 days.   It won’t come a day too soon.

Written by Todd Boss

January 8th, 2014 at 9:57 am

2014 Hall of Fame Ballot Obligatory Post

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Its Morris' 15th year; its now or never.  Photo John Iacono via si.com

Its Morris’ 15th year; its now or never. Photo John Iacono via si.com

Before starting, if you hadn’t heard Deadspin has bought a Hall of Fame vote this year and is going to submit it as populated by crowd sourcing.  Click on this link to go to Deadspin.com’s page to vote.  Voting at deadspin ends on 12/28/13 and all hall of fame ballots are due to be mailed back to the BBWAA by 12/31/13.  The class of 2014 will be announced later in January.

Everyone else has a post about how they’d vote if they had a BBWAA ballot.  Here’s mine.  Only its slightly different from how i’ve done these in the past.

Joe Posnanski has put out a survey in October 2013 that anyone can take that simply asks you to rank the 2014 candidates 1-10.  It is an interesting exercise because it very quickly highlights the depth of the ballot, since as everyone knows, there are many very deserving candidates who are outside the top 10 and who may very well fall off the ballot this year because of the glut of candidates.  It also makes you think; if you rank your candidates 1 to 10 … how many names would you be leaving off your ballot that you’d want to vote for?

So, instead of doing a “who’s on/who’s off” post like i’ve done in years past (and like everyone else does) here’s a different take driven by Posnanski’s ranking question.

My first 8 “Yes Votes” were relatively easy: Maddux, Bonds, Clemens, Thomas, McGwire, Bagwell, Glavine, Piazza.  I don’t think there’s one of those 8 candidates who shouldn’t be a slam dunk hall-of-famer based on baseball accomplishments.   (That most all of them likely do not get in because of PED suspicions is another story).  The only one of my top 8 that doesn’t match with Posnanski’s survey results is McGwire (replace him with Raines, everyone’s favorite Bert Blyleven-style charity case for getting more support).

Then I got stuck.  Who were the last 2 I’d put on the ballot?  Lets look at the rest of the 2014 ballot:

  • Voting No altogether: Walker, McGriff, Palmeiro, Smith, Sosa and anyone else new to the ballot this year not otherwise mentioned.  Why are these No votes?  See 2012 and 2013’s links for my reasoning on the 5 names here, all of whom are repeats.
  • Remaining Pitchers in order that I’d likely vote them in: Schilling, Morris, Mussina
  • Remaining Hitters in the order that I’d likely vote them in: Raines, Martinez, Kent, Biggio, Trammell

So I guess my last two would likely be Schilling and Raines, or perhaps Raines and Martinez.

Man, tough ballot this year.

If there wasn’t a 10-person limit, then I’d go crazy and probably vote for 16 candidates, basically the first 8 plus all the other “remaining” players above.   I’m by no means a “small hall” person, and I’m also not obsessed with the stat-driven arguments against Morris.  I think all these guys merit a plaque in Cooperstown.

Coincidentally, to all those people who write 1,000 words on all the things the BBWAA should do to fix the congestion issue (expand beyond 10 names, remove the 5% threshold), just stop wasting your time.  Year after year the BBWAA stays in the news for weeks at a time exactly because they refuse to change the standards.  Why would they relent now?

If you want to read how I’ve weighed in on the Hall votes in year’s past, here’s some links:

And lastly, I have a huge draft post dated from Dec 2011 with pictures from my actual visit to the Hall of Fame that I started but never finished (mostly because adding pictures to WordPress is a huge pain in the *ss).  Maybe I’ll get bored, finish it up and post that in conjunction with the 2014 class announcement.

How do Pitchers “tip” their pitches to opposing hitters?

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Zack Wheeler's mechanics are apparently a mess right now.  Photo cnnsi.com

Zack Wheeler’s mechanics are apparently a mess right now. Photo cnnsi.com

I’ve taken an interest in Mets rookie right hander Zack Wheeler since his call-up.  I nabbed him for my fantasy team and have watched his starts when I could.   His name has been in the news for quite a while, ever since he was traded by the Giants for a 2-month rental of Carlos Beltran (a trade that had Giants prospect-watching fans howling).  Moreso because of Wheeler’s pedigree; 100mph heat, #1 starter ceiling.  There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a prospect for the first time, even if he could be the bane of your team’s existance for the next 10 years.

His first few starts have been up and down; now we may know why: reports are coming out of the Mets camp that say that Wheeler’s been tipping his pitches.  Of course, it apparently wasn’t an issue when he threw 6 shutout innings in his debut, but its still something worth looking into.  The team plans on working with Wheeler in the bullpen to make some adjustments (he apparently is doing several things wrong right now; see below for all the different ways he’s tipping).  However, apparently not enough was fixed prior to his last start against the Nationals, who teed off on him as if they knew what was coming.  And you know what?  They probably did.

But this got me wondering: how exactly to pitchers “tip” their pitches?  I’ve played an awful long time and have always been a “feel” hitter at the plate; I look fastball, adjust to the curve, never really give much thought to trying to think along with the pitcher, and generally “feel” my way through at-bats.  I’ve never in my life specifically looked for or noticed a pitcher tipping his pitches or tried to take advantage of it; frankly when a guy’s fastball is only in the upper 70s or low 80s as it generally is in amateur leagues, you don’t really need to get that kind of advantage.

After doing a bit of research, here’s what I’ve found.  Pitchers can “tip” their pitches a number of different ways.

  1. Differing Arm Angles for different pitches.  This (according to the above link) is one current Wheeler issue.  I have seen this personally; usually a curveball comes in at a slightly lower arm angle if the pitcher wants to get more side-to-side action.  Pitch F/X data tracks release points and this type of tip can be worked on.
  2. Differing Arm Action: A common tip is when a pitcher specificically slows their arm when an off-speed pitch comes, especially a change-up.  This is an amateur tip though; professionals throwing change-ups hone their craft to be as deceptive as possible.
  3. Glove Positioning: another apparent Wheeler issue; he was holding his glove in different spots (as pointed out by this fangraphs.com link and as noticed in the video in this article here) depending on the pitch.  This has to be something done unconsciously; there’s no reason to hold your glove in different spots or to hold your body in different positions based on the pitch you’re going to throw.   Others have noted that pitchers will have different “glove widths” depending on the grip; a “12-6” grip (like on a fastball) allows the glove to be slightly more closed than a “3-9” grip, like you’d have on a curve ball.  Another glove tip-off may be the way the glove is held in the set position; some pitchers have a tendency to hold the glove more straight up and down when throwing fastballs.
  4. Differing Motion Mechanics: I’ve often wondered if our own Drew Storen, who uses two different leg kicks, has any sort of telegraphing of his pitch selection by virtue of this mechanical difference.  Andy Pettitte unconsiously was once found to bring his arms together in slightly different ways from the stretch depending on the pitch he was to throw.  Dennis Eckersley admitted (after he retired of course) that he went through a tipping period where batters could tell he was throwing off-speed stuff because he unconsiously was “tapping” his leg with his hand.
  5. Differing Motion Speeds: do you speed up  your motion for one pitch but not another?  Apparently Wheeler may be doing it now.  Conventional wisdom states that a pitcher will take a nice leisurly motion for a fastball to gain natural physical momentum but may forget that momentum when he’s throwing a curve.
  6. Pitch Gripping in the Glove: If a pitcher throws an unconventional pitch that takes a moment to get a grip on, a batter can pickup on different timings or different mannerisms and get a read on the pitch.  I’ve noticed this with pitchers who throw specifically the split-fingered fastball, one of the more difficult pitches to properly grip.  I once watched a guy on the hill who would pre-jam the ball in-between his fingers as he took the sign; it became pretty easy to know what was coming because if he did NOT fiddle with his glove you knew it was a splitter.  Some pitchers have to look down at their grip to get it right after accepting the call; can you glean anything from this fiddling in the glove?
  7. Pitch Grip VisibilityMike Mussina found out from a teammate (Jorge Posada) during spring training one year that his unique change-up grip telegraphed the pitch to opposing hitters.  Posada watched him pitch and called out every pitch in what must have been a rather disheartening bullpen session.  He made a slight adjustment with his finger positioning and eliminated the tell.  This problem is somewhat related to a pitcher’s overall ability to “hide the ball” during his wind-up; if you’re an over-the-top thrower and you throw a pitch that shows a lot of the ball … batters can see it.  Knuckleballers especially are plagued by this, but they don’t much care since everyone knows what pitch is coming anyway.
  8. Poker-face tells: sometimes pitchers just flat out have a Poker table-esque tell that they unconsiously perform on certain pitchers.  They’ll grimace, or puff up cheeks, or stick out their tongue on some pitches but not others.

The best way to find out about any of these tells is to have a former rival hitter get traded to your team.  But even then sometimes players can be secretive.  So video tape work is key, as is 3rd party eyes looking for predictive tells in your body language and motion.

 

Written by Todd Boss

July 2nd, 2013 at 1:31 pm

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.

Edmonds or Sheffield for the Hall?

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Will Jim Edmonds' defensive capabilities lift him to HoF status? Photo: www.vivaelbirdos.com

I know it is cliche, and that every baseball writer pens the same article whenever a big name retires.  But these opinion pieces are still fun to write and argue about.  So argue away.

Within the past week, two notable hitters hung up their spikes.  Gary Sheffield was forced to admit (much like Barry Bonds, Jermaine Dye and other aging DH-only players quickly being obsoleted in the fast, new, young MLB) that no team would hire him after sitting out all of 2010 and officially filed the paperwork with the league.  Meanwhile, Jim Edmonds retired from a lingering achilles heel injury that prevented him from suiting up in 2011.

For the sake of this article, we will exclude consideration of the fact that Sheffield has admitted to PED/Steroids use and thus probably faces little chance of making the hall.  Lets talk about their performances on the field.

Case 1: Gary Sheffield

Sheffield hails from the famous Hillsborough High School in Tampa, which also produced the likes of Dwight Gooden, Carl Everett and (infamously) Elijah Dukes.  Sheffield’s career numbers are strong.  He retires with a CAREER OPS+ of 140.  That’s essentially an entire career of production at the average level of what Ryan Zimmerman gave the Nats last season.  He hit more than 500 homers while also having more than 250 stolen bases.  He has a career slash line of .292/.393/.514, which is also great.  His hall of fame monitor and standard scores (Bill James’ creations that try to measure whether a player is HoF worth) both easily put him in. His closest comparison on baseball-reference is Mel Ott.  That’s heady company.

Awards: 9 times an all star, 7 times getting MVP votes (a 2nd, two 3rd and a 6th place finish).  5 silver sluggers.  Played 3B early, RF middle and LF/DH late in his career.  His best season was in 1997, finishing with a ridiculous 189 OPS+ for the Marlins but only finishing 6th in the MVP voting.

Beyond the Boxscore printed out an interesting Visual Hall of Fame graphic that essentially shows that Sheffield’s best seasons of his 22-yr career were in the latter part of his career, consistent with a steroids user who was able to beat back the hands of time and not diminish as he aged.  In the same way that Bonds did not tail off as he entered his late 30s.

Regardless of the steroids, I think he’s a hall of fame player.  He was a feared, ferocious hitter who clearly had 5-tools (though not quite at the 5-tool level of someone like Willie Mays or Ken Griffey).  He was a game changer who bounced around the league but produced wherever he was.  Unfortunately because of a prickly relationship with sports writers and implications in the BALCO scandal, his only chance of entrance will be 30 years from now by a veteran’s committee.  He’ll be on a very busy 2014 hall of fame ballot (other first timers on that ballot include near locks Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, and Tom Glavine, along with borderline cases Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina).

Case 2: Jim Edmonds

Edmond’s case is less about pure offensive merit but weighing the benefits of a player who can produce at a high offensive level AND provide fantastic defense.  Edmond’s career offensive numbers are good but not amazing; in 17 major league seasons he hit 393 homers, had a respectable career slash line of .284/.376/ .527, and a career OPS of 132.

Those numbers compare pretty favorably to Sheffield’s career lines when you consider that Edmonds was considered among the best 2-3 outfielders in the game for the middle 10 years of his career.  He earned 8 gold gloves for his work in centerfield and has a litany of high-light reel catches to his credit. He was excellent defensively but this did not correlate to raw speed on the base-paths; he retired with only 67 stolen bases for his career, averaging just four a year.   His diving catches helped contribute to his demise; he was frequently injured, missed the entirety of 2009 and hung it up because he was not going to be medically cleared to play this year.

Career Achievements: 8th in his Rookie voting, 4 time all star, 6 times receiving MVP votes (a 4th and a 5th place vote his best achievements).

Bill James’ Hall of Fame metrics are not quite as kind to Edmonds; he falls short in both the Monitor and the Standard.  His most similar player comparison is to one Ellis Burks, not really a flattering comparison.

Is he a hall of famer?  I say “probably.”  When grading the defensively minded players (shortstops, catchers and athletic center fielders) you have to balance offensive and defensive.  With Edmonds, he’s nearly the hitter of Sheffield with fantastic defense. I’m concerned by the lack of MVP consideration, and lack of all-star selections.  If a player isn’t routinely considered among the best players in the game, how can he be a hall of famer?

He’ll be on the 2015 ballot along with first timers (and locks) Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.  So he may have to wait to get in but he should merit it.