Nationals Arm Race

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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.

 

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.

HoF Post mortem/Is the Hall in trouble?

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Biggio has to wait for enshrinement to the HoF. Photo Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle

Obligatory HoF Reaction post.

I wasn’t going to write one.  But email/text conversations later I thought it may just be easier to write a thousand words on the topic.

As the front page of the BBWAA site says, “No players elected for the first time since 1996.” Also for only the 8th time in the history of balloting, no player was elected this cycle by the electorate.

We all knew this day was coming.  You can google articles from nearly 5 years ago when the whole slew of these first time players were first known to all be eligible on this ballot and know this day was coming.  And now here we are.

My interpretation of the results for the major players kind of goes like the following:

  • Craig Biggio was “penalized” by some voters for not being a “First Ballot Hall of Famer” calibre player.  Therefore lots of voters who have annointed themselves the keepers of this title skipped voting for him this year.  Much like what happened to Roberto Alomar (who went from 73% to 90% from 1st ballot to 2nd) we probably see Biggio get > 90% next year.  He’s clearly a hall of famer, but clearly not a first balloter in some eyes.
  • Jack Morris is screwed.  He only rose from 66% to 67%, indicating to me that enough people have bought into the anti-Morris narrative that has been so fully expoused by sabre-tinged writers to outlast the old-school guard of baseball writers who covered Morris and remember him as I do.
  • Piazza and Bagwell both are side effects of the PED argument, but clearly get more credit for possibly being clean than the next two names.  But enough people are believing that “back acne” proves PED usage for Piazza, and “muscles” proves PED usage for Bagwell, so both will likely struggle to get to 75% for a few years.
  • Clemens and Bonds: both getting almost identical vote totals in the 36-37% range despite both being amongst the best who ever played indicates a clear statement being made by the older voters, who clearly are penalizing these guys for their alleged/accused/leaked grand testimony involving PEDs.  I’ll bet though that both players will get significantly more votes in subsequent years and probably eventually make it.
  • Sosa and McGwire: probably both never get in, since both are in the 12-16% range.  Writers clearly believe both guys were 100% the product of andro and steroids, and thus artificially gained their accomplishments.
  • Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton both amazingly will fall off the ballot.  I don’t think either are HoFamers but I also thought they deserved to hang around on the ballot for a while (kind of like a Dale Murphy or a Don Mattingly) to discuss.
  • Tim Raines and Lee Smith are probably never getting in; their vote totals don’t seem to be changing much, and a slew of more deserving names are coming in the next 5 years.
  • Edgar Martinez, TrammellMcGriff, Walker, Mattingly: they’re all marginal candidates for different reasons, and they all seem likely to die on the ballot in the 30-40% range.  I like Martinez for the Hall; in a sentence if you elect the best relief pitchers, how can you not elect the best designated hitters?
  • Palmeiro sealed his fate the moment he tested positive.  It doesn’t matter if he broached magical barriers of 500 (homers) and 3000 (career hits).  He’ll never get in.
  • Lastly, the interesting case of Curt Schilling.  38.8% on the first ballot.  What does this mean?  He’s definitely never been accused of PEDs, had a great peak, was absolutely one of the best pitchers in the game for at least a short amount of time, has 3000 Ks but not 300 wins (or close to it), had an iconic moment in the bloody sock game, and was on two different WS winning teams.  A 127 career ERA+ puts him career 48th, even or ahead of plenty of hall of famers.  Why so few votes?  What statement is being made here?  I’m not sure entirely.  Maybe this is a combination of the “not a first ballot hall of famer” denials AND some sense of outrage against the outspoken Schilling from older media members who covered him and still vote primarily with their egos.

Back to the question of the article; is the HoF in trouble?  Well, yes and no.

No because I think Biggio will be elected next year, along with two more big names who have never had a schred of PED accusations (Maddux and Glavine).  And you can see guys in each of the subsequent years easily being elected (Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez in 2015, Ken Griffey Jr in 2016, Pudge and Manny in 2017 unless there’s still PED outrage at that point.  And that ensures there’s ceremonies with who should be absolute no-brainer electees each year for the next few years.

But, Yes because Cooperstown and the Hall itself are not always profit making endeavors, and having an election year without any recently retired players is going to mean a massive drop in income for the town and the hall.  Reportedly the museum has lost money in 8 of the last 10 years.  That coupled with the continued recession, and we could see some serious financial hardship in upstate New York in 2013.  Will it be enough that the BBWAA agrees to one of the litany of election system changes being proposed on the internet?  Maybe, maybe not.  But if this continues into 2013, yeah we may see something change.  Perhaps a panel of judges versus the BBWAA electorate (similar to what the NFL does) makes sense in the long run.  The point is that the HoF NEEDS to have a compelling election class in order to stay profitable, and may change its entry mechanisms to guarantee attendance (and thus revenues) each year.

One thing I do agree with; I think writers who purposely send in a blank ballot should be removed from the voting system.  You just can not look at this list of players and tell me there’s not at least ONE deserving candidate.  A blank ballot does nothing but hurt the chances of legitimate players to be honored and should be interpreted as a writer who does not take the process seriously.

Murkier are my thoughts on entrance requirements to the BBWAA in general.  Should we allow in all these internet baseball writers?  I think that a lot of the moral outrage and indignance expressed by frequent baseball bloggers over the BBWAA and the “old school” writers is simply mis-placed jealousy that they (the internet blogger) are not eligible to vote.    There is a section of the BBWAA constitution that talks about internet writer acceptance and the requirements don’t seem that unfair.  The intent of the organization is to find people who “cover the game” but also people who actually “attend the games,” interview players and coaches, and are generally members of the traditional media.  People who have access and who understand more than the average baseball blogger, who interprets box scores and statistics websites to pass judgement.  I’m ok with the limitations set out as thus.

Two other quick thoughts:

  • Yeah, we should probably increase the 10-player limit.
  • Yeah, we should probably force writers to reveal their ballots (much as the major awards now do).

Until next year.  One thing is certain; much like relief over the end of the election news, I’m relieved that no more HoF articles will be appearing.

Jack Morris, Statistics and the meaning of the Hall of Fame

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Its Hall of Fame ballot time. Let the Jack Morris arguments start-up again. Photo John Iacono via si.com

(coincidentally, this is the exact same picture and exact same caption as I used last year.  Nothing w/r/t Morris has changed).

Every year about this time comes the inevitable Jack Morris battles when it comes to deciding whether or not he’s a Hall-of-Famer.  Those who argue against him (and argue they do, rather loudly, as exemplified by writers such as David Schoenfield, Rob Neyer, and Joe Posnanski and easily found at nearly any baseball blog, almost all of which are extremely anti-Morris) typically point at Morris’ career ERA, his ERA+, his career WAR and then argue that he was actually a mediocre pitcher.  They have all sorts of arguments against “pitching to score” and even make arguments that middling starters from the 90s are actually “better” than Morris.

My one overriding opinion on the whole “Hall of Fame” worthiness argument is that the stat-inclined seem to be missing the whole point of the “Hall of Fame.”  It isn’t defined as the “Hall of the Best  Statistically Significant players above some arbitrary benchmark.”  If it were, then arguments comparing Morris to Rick Reushel or Brad Radke (both of whom have higher career WARs than Morris) would be important.  (side note: Ironically, this is the same distinction that these people generally also miss when talking about the “Most Valuable Player” award; it isn’t the “Best Player” its the “Most Valuable,” and therefore you can’t just give me a gazillion stats that tell me why Mike Trout had a better season than Miguel Cabrera and call me an idiot for saying that Cabrera was the MVP this year.  How can you be the MVP of a 3rd place team that would have still been a 3rd place team with or without you?  How can you be the “most valuable” player in the league but have zero impact on your team’s standings or the playoffs?  But I digress).

No; its the Hall of FAME (emphasis mine).  It should be the Hall of the most FAMOUS people in the game’s history.  And inarguably Jack Morris is more famous than either Reushel or Radke (since these two pitchers are often used in comparison).  And since its baseball writers themselves that a) remember Morris as being better and more famous than he was according to specific career-measuring stats like WAR, and b) do the voting themselves, its likely that Morris may very well get into Cooperstown despite other people feeling that he’s a lesser pitcher.  Its why a pitcher like Catfish Hunter has been elected already, despite his having even worse career numbers (in the sabre-slanted statistical categories that the new-wave know-it-all bloggers constantly refer to) than Morris.  I can’t recall ever reading one single article talking about how bad it is that Hunter is in the hall of fame, but it seems that EVERY single baseball blogger and columnist out there under the age of 30 has written multiple times about how its the death of the legitimacy of the Hall of Fame if Morris makes it in.  I just don’t get it.

A lot of these arguments seem to be driven by one stat: Career WAR.  People look at that one overriding stat and make their arguments.  My biggest problem with career WAR is its “accumulator nature.”  It rewards a healthy, mediocre pitcher who makes a ton of starts and accumulates a ton of strikeouts and wins and innings pitched. Meanwhile a better pitcher with a higher peak who ends his career earlier won’t “score” as high in career WAR.

The two pitchers in particular i’m looking at in the above paragraph are Bert Blyleven (career bWAR of 89.3) and Pedro Martinez (career bWAR of 80.5).  There is not one person in their right mind that would say with a straight face that Blyleven was a “better” pitcher than Martinez.  But, if you look at the WAR without context you’d argue that was the case.

Blyleven during his career, for those of us actually old enough to have seen him play, was a mediocre pitcher.  Plain and simple.  In 22 seasons he made 3 All Star teams and received Cy Young votes only 4 times, never coming close to sniffing the award.  Morris on the other hand, received Cy Young votes in 7 of his 18 seasons and started the All Star game 3 times.  Morris STARTED more all-star games than Blyleven ever made.  Blyleven was traded for relative nobodies a number of times in his career, and the prevailing press of the day referred to him as a middling pitcher.  Only after he’s retired, when we “discovered” statistics like ERA+ and FIP and realized he was better than his numbers at the time indicated did we make the push for him into the HoF.

Why do I point out All Star appearances and Cy Young voting?  Because in the context of the Hall of Fame discussion, they’re important.  You can quibble about the meaning of all star appearances (certainly they’ve been diluted in the last 20 years) and cy young votes all you want, but the fact is this: if you REALLY want to know who the writers felt were the best players of their day, then all star appearances and Cy Young/MVP voting is vitally important.

But here’s my main point: why can’t the Hall recognize BOTH the likes of Blyleven (better than people realized at the time) AND also recognize Morris (overrated statistically but still historically significant and thus “famous” enough for enshrinement)?  Why do people devote so much time towards disparaging the case for Morris?  Yes, Morris gets undue credit for his fantastic 1991 World Series Start, for leading the 1984 Tigers, for leading the 1980s in Wins.   If you ask any player or manager in the game at the time, they’d likely tell you Morris was one of the best.   But these are all the same aspects that make him “Famous” and thus a likely candidate for the Hall of FAME.  These are the same reasons why a fine pitcher like Curt Schilling, who also was part of some iconic moments in the game’s history, also should be in Cooperstown (in my opinion).

I just feel like the nature of sports writing has come to the point where people use statistical measures as the be-all, end-all proof of everything in baseball.  And then they forget that the game is played by humans, that there are ALWAYS some things that cannot be measured, and just because some statistic has been cheapened in today’s game (I’m thinking of the pitcher Win) does not mean it was always cheapened.  I know there’s people out there who wrote doctoral thesises about how Morris never “pitched to score.”  But how do you measure a pitcher who knows he’s gotta go 9 innings, who knows he’s not getting pulled in the 6th inning for a lefty-on-lefty matchup, who knows he’s more likely to throw 160 pitches than 95?  I absolutely think there’s something in the “pitching to score” arguments, if only because I have played with pitchers who absolutely would coast through games when they got a lead, or who would “take innings off” against in order to preserve their arm to go 9 full innings.  Unless you had a biometric measure on every single pitch Jack Morris ever threw, correlated to the weather, the score, his team’s bullpen status and his manager’s whims, you can NOT tell me that Morris did or did not pitch to score, let up with a big lead, or cruise through innings knowing he may have to go 9 on a 100 degree day.  Just because you can’t prove something mathematically doesn’t mean it still doesn’t exist.  Tom Verducci did an excellent piece recently on Morris and his innings pitched and complete games in context, somewhat related to this topic.

Morris comes from a transitionary time in baseball, before specialized relief pitchers, before the power of the 90s and before PEDs.  He comes from a time severely under-represented in the Hall (think of players like Dale Murphy, Alan Trammell, Denny MartinezOrel Hershiser and Bret Saberhagen: these were the stars of the 80s and some of them barely got 2% of the HoF vote), a side-effect of the ridiculously talented players we saw in the 90s and thus victims of the inevitable comparisons, falling wanting.  He holds an important place in the history of the game, in the narrative of the 1980s, and of the fantastic 1991 World Series.  Cooperstown is a museum, not a spreadsheet.

Call me ignorant, call me old school.  Whatever.  Maybe I’m just tired of the negative rhetoric.  I say “Elect Jack Morris.”

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 2/11/12 edition

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Mr. Jackson Comes to Washington. Photo unknown via sportsbank.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  I try to publish this about weekly or if it gets up to about 1500 words, so that it’s not to voluminous.

Apologies for the delay on this; life sometimes intervenes into blogging :-) .  Most of this news is at least a week old.

Nationals In General

  • John Lannan presses his luck, goes to arbitration with the team and “loses,” meaning he’ll only get $5M in 2012 instead of the $5.7M he was seeking.   I thought $5M was rich frankly; using my 40/60/80% theory on arbitration salaries (as in, your first year arbitration salary is roughly 40% of your open market free agent value, 2nd year 60% and so on…) I thought Lannan’s salary would be roughly $4.8M (equating to an $8M salary on the open market).  Still, he nearly doubles his 2011 salary of $2.75M despite having a sub .500 record (yes I know that’s relatively meaning less but still).
  • In the out of nowhere department, Edwin Jackson signs with the Nats.  1yr, $11M (with $2M deferred to 2013).  Scott Boras finds employment for another client in Washington DC.  Mike Rizzo immediately had to comment on the future of John Lannan, who clearly seems like the odd-man out despite being guaranteed a $5M salary in 2012.  I should do a more in-depth post on this situation … Rizzo mentioned at the press conference a “flaw” in Jackson’s delivery that they’ve identified; its not often you invest $11M into a guy just to say he’s flawed.  But the splits are pretty obvious: As noted by Joe Lemire with no-one on base the league had an astounding .868 OPS (slash line: .339/.390/.478) against Jackson but with runners on that figure dropped to .665 (slash line: .239/.292/.373).  However most every other pitcher in the league experiences the reverse of this situation, faring better out of the wind-up than from the stretch.  Maybe Jackson needs to pitch from the stretch all the time…. For context, a Batting Average Against (BAA) of .239 for an entire season would have ranked Jackson around 30th for all qualified Starters in the league, better than supposed Aces Matt Garza and Zack Greinke.  Maybe we didn’t get a 4th starter; maybe we got something close to a #2 starter in disguise.
  • Very good Nats starting pitching option analysis post Jackson acquisition from David Shoenfield, who does some trade analysis for Lannan and comes up with some good options.  And Joe Lemire does a 5-point analysis of the Nats and concludes
  • Si.com‘s very detailed article on Venezuelan baseball, safety concerns and details on the Wilson Ramos kidnapping case.
  • A link to try out for the Racing Presidents.

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Reports from both Craig Calcaterra and Jon Heyman that JD Drew may retire based on the lack of interest this off-season.  See, I have a big problem with this.  Drew’s career numbers are very under-rated; he’s got a career .873 OPS and a career 125 OPS+.  Yes he tailed off badly in 2011, and has struggled with injuries the past several seasons; but look at his OBP  figures; he could be the solution to the Nats outfield problem!  I think I need to write a post on this.

Hall of Fame leftovers

  • More interesting Jack Morris articles; this one talking about the fact that he was the “winningest pitcher” of the 80s.  Which he was, by a fairly large margin (20 wins if memory serves).  Here’s the pertinent fact: EVERY single pitcher who has led a “decade” in wins is in the Hall of Fame, prior to Morris and the 80s.  The leader for the 90s was Greg Maddox, who may become the first unanimous first ballot hall of famer (unless of course someone makes a “statement” vote by mailing in a blank ballot or something stupid).  The leader for the 2000 decade?  Andy Pettitte, who I think will struggle to make the Hall just as Morris has.  Now, does this mean that Morris and Pettitte are automatically hall of famers by virtue of leading their decades?  No, probably not, but just because a pitcher is a “borderline” candidate doesn’t mean they don’t deserve consideration.  I’ll bet we’ll be arguing about Pettitte the same way we’re arguing about Morris in about 10 year’s time.  The other interesting takeaway from this article was this google doc spreadsheet, where someone went through and calculated the leader of every 10-year period to see how the “leader of the decade” worked on rolling 10 year scales.  You’re hard pressed to find a non-hall of fame pitcher on this rolling scale no matter what the 10 year period.
  • An interesting article that says that certain legendary hitters are “overrated” when looking at career WAR.  This is something I’ve been saying for years, especially with those that think Bert Blyleven is one of the best pitchers ever to play the game.  WAR is an accumulator stat, overrating mediocre-but-extremely-healthy players who rack up a ton of stats over time.  My simple case in point: Blyleven’s career WAR of 87.6 ranks him 44th of all time, while Pedro Martinez‘s career WAR is 73.5.  Anyone who looks at me with a straight face and says that Blyleven therefore is a better pitcher than Martinez needs to consider both this article and my statement.  Stats are what they are; they are tools that help people analyze and consider behaviors.  They’re not be-all, end-all statements.
  • The above article led me to create this interesting trivia question; what baseball player has the highest career WAR but who is not enshrined in the Hall of Fame (counting these caveats; the player can’t be currently active, pre-Hall of Fame eligible or currently ON the hall of fame ballot)?  The answer is Bill Dahlen, with a career WAR of 75.9 and who played from 1891 to 1911.  He played mostly short stop, which explains why his WAR is so high considering his career OPS+ of 109.  Pete Rose, coincidentally, is just behind him on the career WAR leaderboard and would probably be most people’s guess.

General Baseball News

  • Adam Dunn talks about his “one stupid year” in 2011 to the Chicago Sun-Times (h/t to Craig Calcaterra).  I do feel sorry for Dunn, who seems to have caught a perfect storm of adjustments (switching leagues, switching teams, switching positions, moving cities and going to a unique on-field manager just to name a few) just at the wrong time, leading to his historically bad season.  I hope he figures out what he needs to do to return to his prior form.
  • Interesting NYTimes article by Tyler Kepner (h/t to Calcaterra again) on the Identity Fraud problem for baseball players in the DR.  This of course is a follow up to the latest scandal, this time involving all-star Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona, or as we now know his real name to be Roberto Hernandez Heredia.  He paid off someone 3 years younger to assume his identity, and was outed when he stopped paying the bribe.  (side note: if you pay someone to help you do something illegal … chances are you’ll probably be outed on your illegal behavior 100% of the time if you remove the sole incentive for keeping that person quiet.  Duh).   Anyway; the interesting takeaway here was the anonymous quote that more than “a dozen such cases” could soon get exposed.  I hate anonymous quotes like this, but on this topic it isn’t surprising.  Age disputes have dogged Albert Pujols for years (though I doubt them personally; if he really is 2-3 years older than he says, then he would have been a MUCH bigger prospect out of high school).
  • An article at Cleveland.com (but which is of severe interest to Washington fans as we re-negotiate our MASN deal) talking about Regional Sports Network TV money highlights an interesting point that nearly every team in a major market soon will have tens of millions more dollars in their pocket, thanks to renegotiated TV deals.  We squawk about how the big market teams over spend now?  How about when suddenly teams that are “mid-market” but spending $100M on payroll get an extra $30-$40M to play with?  I wonder if the solution for the betterment of the sport (considering that a team in a small market like Milwaukee only gets about $12M total in TV money) is going to be to go to a NFL-style TV revenue model where all 30 teams share the same pool equally.  That last sentence of course will never happen; the Steinbrenner family isn’t about to give up HUNDREDS of millions of dollars of their own money to help tight-fisted owners in other cities pad their bottom line.
  • I hate seeing this story blown so far out of proportion: Josh Hamilton had “a few drinks” at a bar and now there’s headlines talking about a “relapse” and holier than thou stories about how this is going to cost him tens of millions of dollars.  This post on sbnation.com asks the right question; “Is this any of our business?”  I had 3-4 drinks one night at dinner last week; am I I a relapsed alcoholic?  Of course not.  I guess this is the price of fame.

General News; other

  • Months ago, when Tyler Hamilton had his gripping appearance disclosing all sorts of supposedly incriminating facts about Lance Armstrong on 60-minutes I had a rather heated discussion over email with some fellow sports-fanatic fans talking about whether that interview was really “proof” of Armstrong’s having cheated his way to 7 tour de France wins.  I guess not: Federal prosecutors closed the inquiry into Armstrong after a 2-year witch hunt.  I was much more vehement on this topic before but my general stance is this; Armstrong took hundreds of drug tests in his life and never ONCE tested positive.  There’s allegations of cheating by former teammates who themselves lied about cheating (and were eventually caught), and there’s allegations of covered-up tests (which can’t be corroborated), and there’s rumors and innuendo.  But nowhere, ever, has anyone actually found anything close to concrete “proof” that Armstrong cheated.  So to anyone who still thinks he’s a cheater, I’ll say this: “Innocent until proven guilty.”  And nobody will ever find any proof, because (as is noted in this column) if Jeff Novitzky couldn’t find the proof, nobody will.
http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/7533216/edwin-jackson-agrees-washington-nationals

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.

Off Topic: ranking the ESPN 30 for 30 series

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Photo courtesy of ESPN Films, the producers of the series.

For me, the ESPN “30 for 30″ series was one of the best creations of TV over the past few years.  The documentary approach to sports journalism has been refreshing and (in most cases) great TV.  When sports programming can keep even a passing sports fan (my finacee) interested and asking for more, you know its been done well.

I listen to almost exclusively podcasts in the car these days, and one of my favorites is the “Firewall and Iceberg” podcast recorded by the lead TV reviewers Alan Sepinwall and Dan Fienberg from www.hitfix.com.  I first learned of reviewer Alan Sepinwall by his appearances on Bill Simmons‘ podcasts (which are first in line to listen to when they get released) and really enjoy his reviews online and their podcasts.

I happened to be perusing the hitfix.com site lately (I was looking for the name of a show they were extolling on the latest podcast) when I came across this link: Dan Fienberg’s rankings of the 30 “30-for-30″ shows.  While I did appreciate most of his comments, I didn’t necessarily agree with the rankings he came up with for the programs.  Since i’ve seen every one of the series, I thought i’d go ahead and do my own rankings.

Disappointing or Unwatchable

  • “Marion Jones: Press Pause”   As most critics have noted, this essentially turned into a glorification of Marion Jones and never once delved into her steroids usage, why she did it, or touch on any of the real issues involved with her.
  • “Without Bias” – It essentially was a step-by-step review of the story of the player without adding much analysis to the story.
  • “Straight Outta LA” – Unwatchable, I turned it off halfway through.  Ice-T‘s not much of a filmmaker.
  • “One Night in Vegas” – Another really weird documentary, especially with the gangsta-poem readings at the beginning and end of the show.  I find it really difficult to glorify the death of a rap star who essentially talked his way into being a target.
  • “Silly Little Game” – Re-enactment of the first group of people to play fantasy baseball; it sounds as interesting as watching the first accountants come up with regulatory principles in a room together.
  • “The House of Steinbrenner” – This wasn’t so much a documentary as it was a glorification of a franchise that has used its superior financial might for the entire century.  Poor Yankees fans; your stadium has been replaced with a Billion dollar monstrosity that has $4,000/game seats and is guaranteed to skew the revenue system in baseball for another 50 years.  Awesome.

Watchable but could have been done better

  • “The Birth of Big Air” – Matt Hoffman certainly is an interesting character but I don’t really consider extreme sports of any kind to be “real” sports.  Yes they’re difficult feats of athletic prowness … but so is ballet dancing.  Yes, i’m difficult to watch most olympic sports with :-)
  • “The U” – Too long, and gets bogged down in the year-to-year machinations of the program.
  • “Unmatched” – Such an uncomfortable documentary; I came away from watching it with the interesting storyline that Evert and Navratilova were such friends … but the tone of the story and music choices had me essentially waiting for the lesbian coupling that seemed to be so pushed by the filmmakers.  Ugh.
  • “Little Big Men” – Good story, but there’s been so many American little league winners, as well as the dilution of the field, that this story loses its impact.
  • “Guru of Go” – Perhaps combining both the story of Hank Gathers’ death AND the basketball system of Paul Westphal confused the story.
  • “The Legend of Jimmy the Greek” – one of the very first ones shown and certainly an interesting story, but the re-enactment voice over ruins the story.
  • “June 17, 1994″ – Brings bad some strange memories.  I loved the never-before-seen footage of sportscasters but I thought the story could have done with actual images and story telling.
  • “Run Ricky Run” – Another weird documentary.  Hard to feel remorse for a drug using athlete though.
  • “Muhammad and Larry” – This was perhaps the most depressing of the series.  Ali was so brain damaged by the time he took this fight, it seems almost criminal now that he was allowed to fight.  The story drags though, using weird fillers for most of the time and not really showing the fight itself.

Interesting watches

  • “The 16th Man” – Good, but so was Invictus.
  • “Jordan Rides the Bus” – I love Ron Shelton‘s work but you cannot help but wonder how good this would have been with actual participation from Michael Jordan.  You come away from the story with the thought that Jordan actually had talent and that he worked at his baseball craft.
  • “The Pony Excess” – Lots of interviews, great detail.  Probably a bit too long though.
  • “Tim Richmond: To the Limit” – I thought it was really interesting that NASCAR turned out to be so introspective about the clear mis-treatment of one of its own … all in the name of fear over his illness.  Read his wikipedia page for some really interesting notes about his essentially be framed for his positive drug test.  I cannot imagine this news breaking in Nascar or any other major sport today.

Good to Very Good

  • “Fernando Nation” – If you don’t remember just how amazingly dominant Fernando Valenzuela was when he came to MLB, check out his baseball-reference page.  In his rookie season he threw EIGHT shutouts, and started the season 8-0 with 8 complete games, and only gave up FOUR earned runs in his first 8 starts.  That’s a heck of a start to the season.  The story telling related to the treatment of the Mexican-American community in Los Angeles was also interesting to learn about.
  • “No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson” – Another that really could have used involvement of the principal character of the story.  Nonetheless, the substories related to the high school rivalries and politics of the Tidewater area were fascinating, if not necessarily substantiated.  Having lived in Virginia at the time, the amazing part of the Iverson story was that he was named both the Football and the Basketball player of the year in the state … as a Junior.  He undoubtedly would have done the same as a senior.
  • “King’s Ransom” – Interesting story telling from a great director in Peter Berg.  The involvement and discussions with Gretzky on the golf range really gave this story its life.  Unlike the story of LeBron James moving cities and destroying a franchise, Gretzky’s departure clearly altered the direction of the Edmonton Oilers for the long run.
  • “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?” – Some criticized this documentary, but just for the interview with the incredibly egotistical Donald Trump make this for me.
  • “Into the Wind” – Such a moving story. Steve Nash‘s involvement was really special in telling this inspirational Canadian pride story.

The Best of the Series

  • “Four Days in October” – A great documentary if only for the fantastic interviews with Pedro Martinez.  I found the footage of the Red Sox players facing a 3-0 deficit fascinating, and the drama of the games in retrospect makes the Boston comeback even more amazing.  Update: After several re-watches, I moved this up in my rankings.
  • “The Band that Wouldn’t Die” – Most say this is the best of the series.  I feel they’re getting starry-eyed by the director (Barry Levinson) versus the actual story.  But this obscure story is a highlight of the series and is a great example of the richness of American sport as a subject matter.
  • “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks” – One of the absolute best stories.  The interviews with Reggie Miller and Spike Lee make this one of the best of the series.
  • “The Best That Never Was” – My father immediately recalled who Marcus Dupree was, and this story was an interesting tale.  My biggest takeaway was the 100% positiveness of Dupree, even today.  He’s not angry or sad about what his life has become (he’s a truck driver in rural Mississippi).  On the contrary, he’s grateful for everything he had and all the opportunities he got.
  • “The Two Escobars” – the footage, interviews and story told here was fantastic.  I only wish it was not 100% subtitled.
  • “Once Brothers” – Another great story, told through the eyes of the very human Vlade Divac.  It could have used a bit more subtext into the politics behind the split of Yugoslavia for those of us who get lost in the mid 80s politics.

If I had to give a best and worst, I’d probably go with “The Two Escobars” for best and “Marion Jones” as the worst.  I can’t wait to see the stories they have in the pipeline.  Steve Bartman should make for a great story to tell.  The great news is that the series will continue and some of the original ideas proposed will be explored.  Again referring to a Bill Simmons podcast, here’s some of the original series ideas kicked around that may still be turned into documentaries:

  • 86 masters
  • 89 ws earthquake
  • Tysons-robin givens Relationship
  • doc and darrell
  • title 9
  • dream Team
  • fab five
  • wwf/ andre the giant (couldn’t be done b/c Vince McMahon owns all the film)
  • 94 rangers
  • kerri suggs
  • scott norwood/scapegoats (delayed b/c of the Bartman film)
  • racism in sports
  • franchise relocation (pushed off b/c of the Levinson Baltimore Colts band story)
  • pete rose

Here’s to a great series and many more great documentaries.

5/11/11 Update: ESPN’s 30-for-30 site now allows you to rank the series yourself, which I did and ranked them as such:

1.Two Escobars
2.Band/Wouldn’t Die
3.Reggie Miller
4.Marcus Dupree
5.Four Days Oct.
6.Once Brothers
7.No Crossover
8.Who Killed USFL?
9.Fernando Nation
10.King’s Ransom
11.Into The Wind
12.Jordan Rides/Bus
13.Pony Excess
14.Tim Richmond
15.The 16th Man
16.Muhammad / Larry
17.Unmatched
18.Birth of Big Air
19.Little Big Men
20.Jimmy The Greek
21.The U
22.Guru of Go
23.June 17, 1994
24.Run Ricky Run
25.Without Bias
26.Steinbrenner
27.Silly Little Game
28.Straight Outta L.A.
29.One Night/Vegas
30.Marion Jones

After submitting my rankings, I could see how the rest of ESPN nation had these ranked and was rather surprised.  As of 5/11/11, here’s the rankings overall:

1 The U
2 Pony Excess
3 Marcus Dupree
4 Reggie Miller
5 Run Ricky Run
6 Two Escobars
7 Without Bias
8 June 17, 1994
9 Once Brothers
10 No Crossover
11 Muhammad / Larry
12 Jordan Rides/Bus
13 One Night/Vegas
14 Four Days Oct.
15 Who Killed USFL?
16 Straight Outta L.A.
17 King’s Ransom
18 Guru of Go
19 Jimmy The Greek
20 Steinbrenner
21 Band/Wouldn’t Die
22 Into The Wind
23 Silly Little Game
24 The 16th Man
25 Fernando Nation
26 Little Big Men
27 Birth of Big Air
28 Unmatched
29 Tim Richmond
30 Marion Jones

“The U,” which I thought was only mediocre, led by a fairly large margin over #2.  My #1 film “The Two escobars” was in the top 10, but was 3rd in overall #1 votes.

“Marion Jones: Press Pause”
“Without Bias”
“Straight Outta LA”
“One Night in Vegas”
“Silly Little Game”

Watchable but could have been done better
“The Birth of Big Air”
“The U”
“Unmatched”
“Little Big Men”
“Tim Richmond: To the Limit”
“Guru of Go”
“The Legend of Jimmy the Greek”
“The House of Steinbrenner”
“June 17, 1994″
“Run Ricky Run”

Run of the Mill
“The 16th Man”
“Muhammad and Larry”
“Jordan Rides the Bus”
“Four Days in October”
“Fernando Nation”
“The Pony Excess”

Good
“No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson”
“Once Brothers”
“King’s Ransom”
“Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?”

Great
“The Band that Wouldn’t Die”
“Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks”
“Into the Wind”
“The Best That Never Was”
“The Two Escobars”

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).