Nationals Arm Race

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NLDS Post Mortem

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Not Aaron Barrett's finest moment. Photo via lockerdome.com

Not Aaron Barrett’s finest moment. Photo via lockerdome.com

So, if you told me that the Nats would lose the deciding NLDS game because Matt Williams chose to work the 7th inning with Matt Thornton, Aaron Barrett and then Rafael Soriano as the savior, I would have asked you, “was everyone else in the bullpen dead?”

Instead of going to war in a tie game with any of his three longest serving and most effective relievers (i.e., Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen) he went with a waiver claim, a rookie, and a deposed starter with an ERA after the all-star break north of 6.00.

I get bringing in Thornton to go against the first two lefties in the 7th; why the hell do you leave him in to face the Giant’s best hitter in Buster Posey?

When Posey inevitably singles to put guys on first and second with one out … clearly the key point in the game and the post-season … why do you bring in a frigging rookie instead of your #1 shut-down, high leverage reliever (Clippard)?

Was anyone really shocked when Barrett walked the next guy to load the bases?  Was anyone then subsequently surprised when he overgripped, overcome by the moment and bounced a mid 90s fastball to the fence?   Wilson Ramos looked like an amateur trying to “block” that pitch, stabbing at it backhanded like someone who’s never caught before, but whatever.  The damage had already been done.  If it wasn’t a wild pitch, it would have been a deep ground out, or a sac fly; the run expectancy of bases loaded with one out is more than 1.5.  I won’t even go into the little league IBB wild pitch; the poor guy was clearly still thinking about the run he just gave up and the weight of the team’s season was on his shoulders.

For the record, you’re not going to win a ton of games where you get just four hits.  Gio Gonzalez once again proved he wasn’t up to the task, and the Nats were lucky to get out of the 5th without giving up a run (also a bases-loaded, one-out jam that Tanner Roark mostly created on his own but also mostly got out of thanks to a ballsy 2-0 changeup to Pablo Sandoval).

No, the story of this game and this series can be summarized with the following list of lines for the 4-game series:

  • Leadoff hitter Denard Span: 2 for 19 with one walk.
  • #3 hitter Jayson Werth: 1 for 17
  • #4 hitter Adam LaRoche: 1 for 18
  • #5 hitter Ian Desmond: 3 for 18.

All of those hits?  Singles.  No power, no driving the ball from the heart of the order.  Basically, the top half of the Nats lineup played four games of automatic outs.  Hard to win like that.  The bottom half of the lineup wasn’t much better: Cabrera was just 3 for 15 though with two clutch hits and Ramos was just 2 for 17 in the series and was a guaranteed weak ground-ball to shortstop every time.

You’re not going to win games when your 3-4-5  hitters get 5 combined hits in four games, none for extra bases and none driving in any runs.  Did you know that Anthony Rendon was 9-17 with a walk and scored ZERO runs in the series?  He was on base TEN times in four games and never scored.  That’s a huge indictment of the middle of the Nats order.

The only hitters who showed up in this series were the two youngest regulars on the field; Rendon and Harper.  With three homers and a double in four games (driving in four of the 9 total runs the team scored), Harper showed once again why it was folly that he was batting 6th.  He drove in exactly four runs; had he been batting with Rendon on all the time, he may have batted in double that and we’re talking about a different series.

Its a bummer; the Nats offense picked a really crummy time to shut down, to make Ryan Vogelsong look like a staff ace.  And they’re out in the divisional round for the 2nd time in three years despite being the #1 seed.  Tim Hudson: you have your answer.

Would you have pulled Zimmermann?

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This picture is 2 years old; replace it with a red jersey and you would have thought it was last night.  Photo Andrew Harnik/washingtontimes.com

This picture is 2 years old; replace it with a red jersey and you would have thought it was last night. Photo Andrew Harnik/washingtontimes.com

On his 100th pitch of what I certainly thought was going to be a 3-hit shutout masterpiece to resurrect this playoff series for the Nats, Jordan Zimmermann missed on a fastball up to Giants #2 hitter Joe Panik, issuing his first walk and just the fourth base-runner of the night.

I was not entirely shocked to see Matt Williams trot to the mound, but I also wasn’t happy.  As my wife can attest, I uttered the following phrase: “I think he’s going to regret taking him out.”

Sure enough.  Another Drew Storen meltdown, another blown 9th inning lead that led to the team snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

To be fair; this isn’t entirely about second guessing.  You can quite easily make the argument to put in Storen as thus: Storen has been lights out for the entire year.  The Giant’s most dangerous hitter (Buster Posey) was coming to the plate.  You would rather have Posey going at a fresh Storen than getting his 4th look at Zimmermann (most starters’ third time through the lineup averages inflate wildly, to say nothing of their 4th).  It was righty-versus-righty.

Well, sometimes you can over-think things.  Certainly Tom Boswell feels that way, based on his column this morning.

On the other hand, if the following scenarios had played out, I’m not sure anyone would have argued against the strategy.

  1. After giving up the walk, Williams walks out to talk to Zimmermann, he stays in and gives up the Posey single, *then* Storen comes in and gives up the run-scoring double to Pablo Sandoval.  You’ve yanked the starter after putting two guys on, and you’ve gone to your closer in the highest-leverage situation of his career and he got unlucky.  That’s still harsh on Storen, but more understandable.
  2. After giving up the walk, Williams leaves Zimmermann in like a total old-school manager and watches him subsequently give up the single and then the double, all while his closer warms up in the bullpen.  That would have led to the reverse second-guessing; why leave him in when you’ve got your closer ready to go?

Major league manager; sometimes you just can’t win.  Williams had a quick hook last night.  Don Mattingly had an excruciatingly slow hook two nights ago, letting his ace Clayton Kershaw give up *SIX* hits in the 7th inning of the Dodgers-Cardinals series before relieving him, and then watched his reliever give up a 3-run homer to turn a 6-2 lead into a 7-6 deficit.  That’s “lose your job” kind of decision making (if the Dodger’s don’t get out of the NLDS).

You guys know what I follow and am most interested in; starting pitching.  So you probably know what I would have done; stick with my starter.  But sometimes it isn’t that simple.  So I’m not going to kill Williams for last night.  I do think Storen’s future with this team is in serious doubt; would you throw him again this post-season?  Would you trust him going forward?  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice …. and I see Storen in a new uniform next year.

I spent 6+ hours watching that baseball game (practically the first time all summer I have watched a game from start to end).  The longer I watched, that more and more looked like it was going to be the inevitable disappointment, as Yusmiero Petit looked like the second coming of Roger Clemens and the Nats hitters looked like a AAA team at the plate for much of the night.  A deflating end to a long night.  Tanner Roark gave up the game-winning homer on a mistake (he missed over the plate while trying to hit the outside corner and Brandon Belt destroyed it), but the offense had more than their share of walk-off opportunities.

The Nats have a long road ahead; they match up with the Giant’s Ace next, have to win 2 straight on the road just to get it back to a 5th game.  Lets see if they have what Tim Hudson implied they may not have: I can’t say it here in a PG blog but it rhymes with “Walls.”  :-)

DC-IBWAA 2014 Poll results and my vote

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Each year, David Nichols of the District Sports Page blog does a great job getting all the Nats bloggers to participate in pre-season and post-season polls, voting on awards for the team for the year.

For 2014, here’s his post-season awards as voted on by us nerd bloggers.  2013′s post-season poll results and my post here.

Here’s how I voted and why.

2014 DC-Internet Baseball Writers Association

POST-SEASON ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS BALLOT

 

 AWARD FIRST (5 POINTS) SECOND (3 points) THIRD (1 point)
Goose Goslin Most Valuable Player
Player most valuable to the success of the Washington Nationals
Rendon Werth LaRoche
Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher of the Year
Excellent performance as a starting pitcher
Zimmermann Fister Roark
Frederick “Firpo” Marberry Relief Pitcher of the Year
Excellent performance as a relief pitcher
Storen Clippard Soriano
Sam Rice Hitter of the Year
Excellence in all-around hitting, situational hitting and baserunning
Rendon Span Werth
Frank Howard Slugger of the Year
Excellence in power hitting
LaRoche Desmond Rendon
Joe Judge Defensive Player of the Year
Excellence in fielding
Rendon Harper Span
Mickey Vernon Comeback Player of the Year
Player who overcame biggest obstacle in the preceding season to contribute on the field
Storen Roark Barrett
Josh Gibson Humanitarian Player of the YearPlayer who meritoriously gave of himself to the community Zimmerman Desmond Ramos
Minor League Player of the Year Minor league player most destined for big league success Souza Taylor Giolito

Award by Award:

  • Team MVP: Have to go with Rendon; easily leads the team in WAR (by a nearly 3-win margin in bWAR over Werth/Span in second place).   Werth continues to steadily hold on to his skills and contribute well into his mid 30s, while LaRoche put up a great contract year performance.
  • Starter of the Year: No argument here: Zimmermann was the best starter on the year.  Fister‘s advanced stats don’t like him (his FIP is above 4.00) but he gets results.  And Roark remains the best “found gold” the Nats have had in terms of prospect matriculation since the likes of Brad Peacock.
  • Reliever of the Year: Storen‘s great bounce back  year has to put him in the lead, followed closely behind by Clippard.  Still think the Soriano acquisition was worth it?  I have him 3rd here just by virtue of his first half … and because the rest of the relievers were either long guys (Stammen, Detwiler), matchup loogies (Blevins, Thornton) or guys who spent more time in AAA than the majors (Barrett, Treinen).
  • Hitter of the Year: Rendon, Werth obvious top 3 guys, but I like what Span‘s done this year in terms of jacking his average up.  Another classic contract year performance.
  • Slugger of the year: I just went with the team leaders in homers 1-2-3.  You would have thought that Harper would be here by now.
  • Defender of the year: looking at the various advanced stats, I ended up with Rendon for his excellent work at 2B and 3B, then Harper (an excellent UZR/150 in left on the year).  Span has a negative UZR/150 in center on the year, but passes the eye test.  I’ll be curious to see how he ends up looking in the other defensive metrics.  So he gets 3rd place essentially because there’s not another regular who has a positive UZR/150 on the team.
  • Comeback player: Storen makes the most sense … his comeback has been two years in the making.  Roark isn’t really a comeback guy as much as he’s a “making the most of his chances guy.”  Neither is Barrett honestly; but there’s not a good example of someone who was hurt or really came out of nowhere to make this team better.
  • Humanitarian: Honestly I only know of two guys on the Nats who actively do humanitarian/charity stuff and that’s Zimmerman and Desmond.
  • Minor League Player of the Year.  As discussed in the comments of another post recently, for me “Minor League Player of the Year” is a completely different list than the subtitle offered of “Minor league player most destined for big league success.”  POTY for me this year went Souza, Taylor and Giolito, while the top 3 prospects in our system probably are Giolito, Cole and Taylor.

Additional Questions

1) Of the players on the current active roster (or DL), which players do you think will not be part of the organization next season?

Pitchers: Blevins, Mattheus, Ohlendorf, Soriano, Detwiler

Out-field players: Solano, Cabrera, LaRoche, Frandsen, Span, Hairston, Schierholz

I’m guessing the team declines Soriano’s option, non-tenders Ohlendorf, Mattheus and Detwiler, and DFAs Blevins after his poor season.

Of the positional players, the team won’t exercise its options on LaRoche or Span, will have to end up DFA-ing Solano (and perhaps others; I havn’t done my options analysis yet) due to having no more options, and will let veteran FAs Frandsen, Hairston and Schierholz hit free agency.  I think Cabrera is going to command too much money for the team to realistically consider him.

2) Will Ian Desmond or Jordan Zimmermann sign a contract extension before they hit the free agent market?

No.  Both will go to FA.  Desmond to the Yankees to be the next Derek Jeter, Zimmermann to highest bidder.

3) Who was the biggest pleasant surprise on this year’s team?

Rendon’s advancement and central role on the team.

4) Who was the biggest disappointment?

Zimmerman’s continued inability to stay healthy.  A close second is Harper’s injury riddled season and struggles.

5) Who is your favorite professional Nats writer?

Mark Zuckerman #1.  After him, i’ll go with Adam Kilgore 2nd and Byron Kerr third.

6) Which is your favorite non-professional Nats blog or writer?

Luke Erickson; sorry to see him take a step back.  My #2 probably is NatsGM Ryan Sullivan, #3 Luigi de Guzman of Natsradamus (when he infrequently posts).

Rotation Reviews of your 2014 Playoff Teams

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Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Will the Nats be staring down Kershaw in the playoffs? Photo via wiki.

Here we are.  After a crazy trade deadline in July, and an August and September that featured the division leaders (in most cases) solidifying their positions and extending their leads, the playoffs are upon us.

Lets take a look at the rotations of the playoff teams (despite the fact that the four Wild Card teams are just one-man pitching staffs until they win the play-in game).  Who lines up best?  For each team i’ve tried to line the pitchers up one through five, with the 5th guy being the one headed to the bullpen.

(Quick useful links: AL full standings on b-r.com, NL full standings, and post season schedule at MLB.com).

Trade deadline 2014 acquisitions highlighted in blue.  Pre-season acquisitions highlighted in Green for context.

NL Division Champs:

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark (yes this is how I think it will shake out despite Roark’s great season-long performance; we posted on this separately)
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Lynn, Wacha, Miller, Lackey (Masterson to the bullpen when Wacha came back)
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Haren, Hernandez, Wright (Beckett hurt, done for year, Ryu coming back, should be ok for playoffs so I’ve inserted him as the #3.  Maholm, Billingsley, Fife hurt all year).

Just look at what the Dodgers have tried to do to keep their rotation afloat in terms of player acquisition over the past couple of years.  I’d like to have their budget.  They will have no less than eleven capable, MLB-experienced starters once they’re all healthy.  Yes Kershaw is unbeatable, but as pointed out earlier this year, they are basically a .500 team otherwise.  Their 4th and 5th starters have been below replacement for much of the past month but they’re getting back Ryu right in time for the playoffs.   St. Louis’ rotation looks just as strong as it has been for the past few years; Wainwright quietly has 20 wins and a 2.38 ERA on the season.  Lynn has been great.  Only Miller has struggled but still has a league-average ERA+.

It is hard not to look at the Nationals’ rotation and claim they’re the deepest one-through-four, despite Gonzalez’s struggles.   I’d take our #4 (Fister) over anyone else’s #4, I think our #3 matches up just as favorably to anyone els’es #3, and Strasburg has a 1.34 ERA in September as the #1.

NL Wild Card:

  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Cole, Locke, Volquez, Worley (Morton dinged up late Sept, made way for Cole).
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Petit, Vogelsong, Peavy (Lincecum to bullpen for Petit, Cain out all year)

The NL WC pitching match-up will be Bumgarner-Liriano.  Both teams manipulated their rotations at season’s end to preserve their aces for the coin-flip game.  We’ll do a separate prediction piece.

NL Also-Rans;

  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood (Beachy, Floyd, Medlen out all year)
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Fiers (Nelson and Estrada to bullpen)

The Braves fell so far, so badly in September that they were nearly surpassed by the lowly NY Mets for 2nd place in the NL East.  That’s crazy.  But they still remain here as an also-ran because they were in the wild card race until mid-September.  I still think it is crazy what they were able to accomplish given the starting pitcher injuries they suffered in spring training and don’t quite understand why Frank Wren was fired.  If you want to fire him for his crummy FA contracts so be it; but the man engineered a team that made the playoffs three of the past five years.  Harsh treatment if you ask me.  Insider comments seem to think that Wren lost an internal power-struggle involving Fredi Gonzalez.


And here’s what we’re looking at in the AL:

AL Division Champs:

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman (Jimenez demoted to BP)
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Shoemaker, Santiago, Rasmus, LeBlanc (Richards injured, Skaggs hurt)

It is hard to look at these rotations and comprehend where these teams currently stand:

  • How is Baltimore leading the AL East by 12 games?  None of these guys are a league-wide “Ace.”
  • How is Detroit not pulling away from the AL Central with this collection of arms?  Of course, you could ask this question of Detroit over and again the past few years; with a stacked lineup and stacked rotation they have just barely won their (usually) weak division year after year.
  • How does Los Angeles have the best record in the majors with a non-drafted FA and a waiver claim in their Sept rotation?  Would you favor this rotation over Detroit’s?

I guess it doesn’t matter; these teams have bashed their way to their titles and should continue to hit in the post-season.  Apparently the O’s aren’t going to go with Gausman in their playoff rotation despite his good seasonal numbers.  It may be a case of veteran manager going with the veterans, as Gausman’s numbers are pretty much in line with most of the rest of the Baltimore rotation.  The injury to Richards really hurts the Angels: Weaver may be close to an Ace but Wilson showed he is hittable in the post-season and lord knows what will happen when LA has to throw their #3 and #4 choices.

AL Wild Cards:

  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir

AL Wild Card looks like a knock-out match-up of Shields and Lester; the A’s burned Grey yesterday to get the win that put them in the playoffs.  Oakland has to be kicking themselves; how did they go from (easily) the best team in the majors for the first half to struggling to hang onto the WC spot?   On paper replacing 3/5ths of the rotation (out with Chavez, Milone, Pomeranz and Straily, in with Samardzija, Lester and Hammel) sounded like a great idea … but to me the team’s chemistry was clearly un-balanced.  At least they held on to the spot and avoiding a one-game play-in against Felix Hernandez.

AL Also-Rans:

  • Seattle: Hernandez, Walker, Iwakuma, Paxton, Young (Elias out for year)
  • New York: McCarthy, Greene, Kuroda, Capuano, Pineda (with Tanaka finally coming back at season’s end.  Nova and Sabathia gone all year with injuries).

All Seattle needed to do was *get* to the wild card game … and they’d have great odds of advancing behind ace Hernandez.  But struggled to the finish line.  Meanwhile Cleveland and New York would have been mentioned here a week ago, but both squads just ran out of time to make comebacks.  I’ll give NY credit: they played 7 games better than their pythagorean record with huge chunks of their rotation gone for the season and depending on guys who’s names I had to look up.

Coming soon; a review of the WC matchups with predictions.

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 29th, 2014 at 8:58 am

Nats playoff rotation: who will be in and who should be in?

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Roark may be odd-man out in the playoffs.  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark may be odd-man out in the playoffs. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

The NL East champion Nationals have a problem that lots of teams would like to have: they have 5 great starter options for 4 post-season rotation spots.  Who should we pick, and in what order should they pitch?

(all stats are as of 9/23/14 courtesy of baseball-reference.com)

Option 1: stick with the season-long rotation.  Strasburg-Gonzalez-Zimmermann-Fister with Roark heading to the bullpen.

Pos Name W L W-L% ERA ERA+ FIP WHIP G GS IP BB SO BB9 SO9 SO/W
SP Stephen Strasburg 13 11 0.542 3.23 116 2.98 1.139 33 33 209 42 235 1.8 10.1 5.6
SP Gio Gonzalez* 9 10 0.474 3.74 100 3.13 1.233 26 26 151.2 54 150 3.2 8.9 2.78
SP Jordan Zimmermann 13 5 0.722 2.78 135 2.75 1.117 31 31 190.2 28 172 1.3 8.1 6.14
SP Doug Fister 15 6 0.714 2.55 147 4.07 1.123 24 24 155 24 89 1.4 5.2 3.71
SP Tanner Roark 14 10 0.583 2.85 131 3.49 1.102 30 30 192.1 39 137 1.8 6.4 3.51

This is likely what happens regardless, since manager Matt Williams is old school and likely sticks with his veterans over the “new guy” in Roark.  Thanks to four off-days between their last regular season game (Sunday 9/28) and the first game of the playoffs (Friday 10/3) it doesn’t even matter what order these guys have been pitching in; even the guy who goes Sunday (scheduled to be Gio) would have four full days of rest prior to the NLDS opener.

Option 2: Go with the four best starters in terms of season-long performance: Zimmermann-Fister-Strasburg-Roark with Gonzalez the odd-man out.

Looking at the above stats, this would be your top four going strictly by a subjective opinion looking at the “old school” stats of W/L record and ERA.  But a closer look at the FIPs show this to be faulty logic; despite his excellent numbers Fister has the highest FIP of the starters despite having the best ERA+ figure.  Plus, you really don’t want to leave out your sole lefty starter in a playoff series.

Option 3: Go with the hottest hands. Strasburg-Zimmermann-Gonzalez-Roark with Fister in the pen.

Here’s the stats for the last 5 starts for each guy:

Pos Name Team W Team L W-L% ERA babip BAA WHIP G GS IP BB SO BB9 SO9 SO/W
SP Stephen Strasburg 3 2 0.6 1.34 0.28 0.21 0.802 5 5 33.66 2 33 0.535 8.82 16.5
SP Gio Gonzalez* 3 2 0.6 3.41 0.25 0.22 0.958 5 5 31.33 4 23 1.149 6.61 5.75
SP Jordan Zimmermann 5 0 1 2.03 0.3 0.23 1.032 5 5 31 4 32 1.161 9.29 8
SP Doug Fister 3 2 0.6 3.26 0.27 0.27 1.352 5 5 30.33 9 12 2.671 3.56 1.333
SP Tanner Roark 2 3 0.4 3.13 0.3 0.28 1.169 5 5 31.66 3 19 0.853 5.4 6.333

Taking a look at each starter’s last 5 starts, a couple things become clear: Strasburg, as we have all seen, is on fire; just two walks in 33+ innings and a 1.34 ERA.  Its ridiculous that the team hasn’t won all five of his games.  Washington has won all five of Zimmermann’s starts.  Meanwhile, Fister looks like the weakest link here, with the highest whip and the fewest Ks in the closing run.  Roark’s finish hasn’t been too bad, but his peripherals put him behind Gio.

Option 4: Look at the home-road splits to pick starters.  Strasburg-Roark-Zimmerman-Fister

Here’s the season long home/away splits for our starters.

Pos Name Split W L W-L% ERA G GS IP BB SO WHIP SO9 SO/W
SP Gio Gonzalez* Home 4 3 0.571 3.88 12 12 65 23 63 1.3 8.7 2.7
SP Gio Gonzalez* Away 5 7 0.417 3.63 14 14 86 31 87 1.2 9 2.8
SP Stephen Strasburg Home 8 3 0.727 2.7 17 17 110 17 133 1.1 10.9 7.8
SP Stephen Strasburg Away 5 8 0.385 3.82 16 16 99 25 102 1.2 9.3 4.1
SP Tanner Roark Home 6 6 0.5 2.5 14 14 90 23 61 1.2 6.1 2.7
SP Tanner Roark Away 8 4 0.667 3.17 16 16 102 16 76 1.1 6.7 4.8
SP Doug Fister Home 7 2 0.778 1.95 10 10 69 10 47 0.9 6.1 4.7
SP Doug Fister Away 8 4 0.667 3.05 14 14 85 14 42 1.3 4.4 3
SP Jordan Zimmermann Home 6 2 0.75 2.81 16 16 96 16 78 1.2 7.3 4.9
SP Jordan Zimmermann Away 7 3 0.7 2.76 15 15 94 12 94 1 8.9 7.8

This isn’t so much about picking who is better at home; its going with those who have the best away records.  Zimmermann and Fister both give a better chance of winning on the road and make sense as game #3 and #4 starters.  Meanwhile both Strasburg is less effective on the road versus at home.   This scenario leaves us without Gio though, our sole lefty, so it probably isn’t viable.

Option #5: play match-ups with the opponent.  Unfortunately, I’m hoping the team clinches the top seed, which means they go against the wild card winner … and while we’re pretty sure we know who the WC teams are (San Francisco and Pittsburgh) at this point … we don’t know who will host the play-in game, nor who they’ll be throwing.   Washington took the season series against both squads (4-3 over Pittsburgh, 5-2 over San Francisco), and the timing of those series are also interesting:

  • Nats dropped 3 out of 4 in Pittsburgh in May when playing poorly.
  • Nats swept Pittsburgh 3 straight in August at home as they began to solidify their lead in the division.
  • Nats won 3 out of 4 in San Francisco in June when they were still a .500 team.
  • Nats won 2 out of 3 at home in August in a slug-fest of a series.

Fister beat Liriano in Pittsburgh in May; Strasburg, Zimmermann and Treinen all lost.   Then, Roark and Fister pitched effectively in August while Gio was run-of-the-mill.

Against San Francisco; Strasburg, Fister and Roark all pitched great in ATT Park (only Treinen got beat).  Then at home, Strasburg was awful, Fister mediocre and Zimmerman effective in the August series.

Does that tell us much?  Not really.


In the end, I think it’s going to be the same rotation that we lined up on opening day, in the same order. Luckily for us, that means our hottest pitcher (Strasburg) getting the ball in game #1 and #5, it means our two starters who are best away from home will get the ball in games #3 and #4 at the opponent’s park, and it gives us a decent balance of lefty/righty in the first two games at home.  No room for Roark though, which is a shame considering his performance on the year.

So much for cutting edge analysis :-)

 

Written by Todd Boss

September 23rd, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Statistics, Deception and Boswell

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In case you weren't aware, Clayton Kershaw is really good.  Photo via wiki.

In case you weren’t aware, Clayton Kershaw is really good. Photo via wiki.

Was casually reading Tom Boswell‘s article in the post today (which can be summarized as “1,000 words on why you don’t want to face Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs, duh) and he posted the following intriguing statistic as part of his argument:

  • In games started by Kershaw, the Dodgers are 19-4
  • In games NOT started by Kershaw, the Dodgers are 59-58

Ergo, the Dodgers are really beatable when they don’t throw Kershaw.

This sounded like a great stat.  Until you dive a little deeper and you do the same analysis for our own first place/better record than the Dodgers team.

Los Angeles is, as of the moment of this writing, 78-62.  By starter, their team record breaks down like this:

  • Kershaw: 19-4
  • Ryu: 15-9
  • Greinke: 14-13
  • Haren: 13-14
  • Beckett: 9-11
  • Other randoms: 8-11

All others besides Kershaw and Ryu: 44-49
All others but Kershaw: 59-58

Pretty compelling, eh? They’re a losing team when not throwing one of their two aces in Kershaw or Hyun-jin Ryu.   Surprisingly, the team under their supposed #2 Zack Grienke sports just a .500 record on the year through 27 starts despite his known quality.


Lets do the same analysis for the Nationals, currently sporting a better record of 79-59 and having just beaten the Dodgers two out of three at their house.  Here’s the Nats team record under each starter this year:

  • Zimmerman: 19-9
  • Fister: 14-7
  • Gio: 13-10
  • Stras: 16-13
  • Roark: 15-12
  • Jordan: 1-4
  • Treinen: 1-4

All others besides Zimmermann and Fister: 46-43.

Hmm.  So, much like the Dodgers, if you play the Nats and you’re not facing one of OUR two best pitchers, we’re basically a .500 team.

I guess the point is this: in a sport where a team that is winning 57% of its games has the best record in the majors, the margins for winning and losing are pretty slim.  Or maybe the point is this: you can use stats to support pretty much whatever hypothesis you wish to postulate.

I think everyone knows that beating Kershaw is nearly impossible, and facing him twice in a short series may be the difference between advancing and going home.  But then again, this is the same Kershaw who has (believe it or not) a career 4.23 ERA in the post-season and got hammered by the Cardinals for 7 runs in 4 innings in last  year’s NLCS.   I guess that’s why they play the games.

But, I think it is also safe to say that the series in Los Angeles showed why it’d be one heck of an NLCS if the seedings held and the two top NL teams  held form in the divisional series.  Lets hope it comes to pass.

Post trade-deadline playoff contender rotations

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This year’s MLB trade deadline was crazy.  Never before have so many big-time names moved teams.  And certainly I cannot remember so many big-time pitchers relocating mid-season as well.

Lets look at the playoff contender rotations as they stand right now, with Trade deadline acquisitions highlighted in blue.

NL

  • Washington: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Fister, Roark
  • Atlanta:  Teheran, Minor, Santana, Harang, Wood
  • Milwaukee: Lohse, Garza, Gallardo, Peralta, Nelson
  • Cincinnati: Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Leake, Simon
  • St. Louis: Wainwright, Masterson, Lackey, Lynn, Miller
  • Pittsburgh: Liriano, Morton, Locke, Volquez, Worley
  • Los Angeles: Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Beckett, Haren
  • San Francisco: Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Peavy

St. Louis clearly did the most in the NL, acquiring two mid-rotation guys to help cover for the injured Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, but it is hard to look at their rotation and say they’d have the advantage over some of their potential playoff rivals.  San Francisco lost its ace (thought he hasn’t pitched like an Ace since signing his new deal) Matt Cain, and his replacement was not inspiring confidence (Yusmiero Petit), so they added former Cy Young winner Peavy (who is pitching better than his 1-11 W/L record .. but not a lot better).  Otherwise the NL playoff contenders mostly stood pat.  There was some small surprise that the free-spending Dodgers wouldn’t try to improve upon the suddenly underperforming Josh Beckett and/or the “fool-me-once” Dan Haren.  They’ll struggle to get through the #3 and #4 starts of their planned playoff rotation to get back to their co-aces Kershaw and Greinke (who was good but not shut-down in last year’s playoffs).  The home-town Nats may find themselves with an uncomfortable decision to make if they make the playoffs; which starter to send to the pen?  Roark is the least renound and the least tenured … but he has clearly been more effective than other rotation members.

It continues to amaze that the Braves are competing, given the losses they’ve faced in their rotation.  They are missing (arguably) their planned #2, #3 and #5 starters in Kris MedlenBrandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd but are getting by thanks to two mid-spring acquisitions (Santana and Harang) and the surprise performances of youngsters Wood and David Hale (who didn’t merit his demotion to the bullpen).

AL

  • Baltimore: Tillman, Norris, Chen, Gonzalez, Gausman
  • Toronto: Buehrle, Dickey, Happ, Strohman, Hutchinson
  • New York: Kuroda, Phelps, Capuano, Greene, McCarthy
  • Detroit: Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello
  • Kansas City: Shields, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas
  • Oakland: Grey, Samardzija, Lester, Hammel, Kazmir
  • Los Angeles: Weaver, Wilson, Richards, Shoemaker, Santiago
  • Seattle: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Paxton, Elias, Young

I didn’t include fringe playoff contenders such as Cleveland or Tampa Bay here; both of those rotations were purged and weakened, and their odds of catching one of these listed WC contendors is long.  Oakland completely re-made their rotation here, attempting to keep up with Detroit, who now features the last three AL Cy Young winners to go along with Sanchez (who finished 4th last year in a season where he led the league in both ERA and FIP).  That’s quite a lineup.  Meanwhile Seattle likely finishes 10 games back of the Angels and could end up facing them in the coin-flip wild-card game … and could end up throwing the best pitcher in the AL at them (which has been noted as a significant down-side to the 2nd wild-card matchup; who wants to see a team lose out to a divisional rival that they bested by so many games in a play-in game?).

New York is the “Atlanta” of the AL this year; they currently have four planned rotation members on the D/L and (likely) out for the year (CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka).   Their 4th and 5th starters were a 14th and 15th round pick respectively.  They’ve been outscored by nearly 30 runs on the year yet somehow have a winning record.  It seems like just a matter of time before their luck runs out and they settle back below .500.

Who would you rather go to war with, Detroit or Oakland’s rotation?   Probably Detroit’s rotation, given its depth one to four.  But the ALCS could be one heck of a series.

 

 

What’s eating Stephen Strasburg? Some stats and some thoughts

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Strasburg's  having a weird season. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Strasburg’s having a weird season. Photo unk via thewifehatessports.com

Knee-jerk question: who is the best starter on the Washington Nationals?  Who do you call the team’s “Ace?”

For years its been Stephen Strasburg, even when Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann were getting Cy Young votes (Gio 3rd place in 2012 and Jordan 7th place in 2013).  Its been Strasburg even when Zimmermann makes two consecutive all-star teams and the team acquires Doug Fister, who is 13th in the majors in accumulated fWAR over the past four seasons.  Its still Strasburg despite the fact that #5 starter (and someone who people in this space argued rather vociferously for “stashing” in AAA this year in lieu of other pitchers) Tanner Roark leads the team in victories right now.

(all stats on baseball-reference.com and/or fangraphs.com as of 7/31/14).

But this year, something is amiss with Strasburg.  He’s having a complete jeckyl-and-hyde season in many ways.  To wit;

  • He leads the starters in FIP and xFIP,  (indeed; among qualified starters right now in MLB, he’s 11th in FIP and 4th in xFIP, training just leading Cy Young favorites Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Masahiro Tanaka).
  • He leads the Nats starters in fWAR.
  • He leads the NL in strikeouts with 10 more than his closest competitor Johnny Cueto.

I dunno.  If someone told me that a starting pitcher was leading the league in Ks, was 4th in xFIP, 11th in FIP and was 6th in velocity i’d say you had a pretty darn good pitcher.  But he’s been arguably the Nats *least* effective starter this year all in all.

Yet he’s just 7-9 on the season with a 3.55 ERA (one 1/100th of a point better than Zimmermann for last on the Nats rotation).   He has the worst WHIP of any of our starters at 1.240.  The team is just 11-12 in his starts.

So what the heck is going on?  Here’s some interesting statistical splits:

  • Compared to last year, his K/9 is up, his BB/9 is down.  That sounds good.  But his ground ball percentage is down and his line drive percentage is up.  Batters are putting better wood on the ball.  Which leads to…
  • His current BABIP against is an astoundingly high .345.  That’s the third highest BABIP of any qualified starter this year and a good 50 points higher than the league average.
  • Why are hitters getting such good wood on him?  Here’s a hint: for reasons unknown, batters are squaring up his fastballs like never before.  Checking his Pitch F/X data: he’s got a batting average against (BAA) of .294 on his four-seam fastball and an astounding .350 against his two-seam fastball.  Both of those figures are 50 points higher than the comparable BAA for those two pitches from 2013.
  • His velocity is down.  Which is kind of like saying that a model has gained a few pounds, but still.   Last years’ avg MPH on his two fastballs were 95.2 and 95.3.  This year?  94.5 and 94.6.  That’s just 7/10ths of a mph, and even with his loss of velocity he’s still easily in the top 10 in the league in average fastball velocity (6th in four seam velocity among starters), but its still declining.  In his 5 pro seasons his 4-seam average fastball velocity has gone from 97.6 to 96.0 to 95.8 to 95.2 to his current 94.5.

It sounds to me like a combination of slightly declined fastball velocity and some bad luck has led to hitters squaring up his fastballs more this year, resulting in more line drives, higher BABIP and more runs.  That more or less explains the huge delta between his ERA and his FIP.  But why?  Pitch F/X isn’t showing much of a change in fastball movement from last year to this year, so it is hard to argue that he’s lost movement on his fastball.  Could it all just be about location?

A couple more split-related observations (some of these we’ve seen during broadcasts):

  • Home ERA: 2.62.  Away ERA: 4.68.  Yeah, but lots of pitchers have big home/away splits.
  • First Inning ERA: 5.09!  Second Inning ERA: 4.30.  He’s getting hit early and often.
  • He’s improving as the game goes on; his stats against the order the second time through are significantly better than the first time through, something you don’t normally see.

If he’s so bad in the first inning, is he just having difficulties getting loose and finding his spots?  Is he falling behind and grooving fastballs and getting more line drive hits?  Why is he so significantly worse on the road?

On the bright side, the combination of an inflated BABIP and a huge delta between xFIP/FIP and his ERA does tend to indicate that there should be some regression back to the mean.  Maybe we’ll start seeing a bunch more of 7ip, 4hit, 2walk, 10K outings and he’ll break off a slew of dominant starts to help the Nats pull away in the division, just in time to lead the charge with a  home-field start in game 1 of the playoffs.

Thoughts?  Are you worried?  What else do you think is causing his troubles this year?

State of the Nats at the halfway point

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Harper's run production in the middle of the order should spark this team now that he's back.  Photo via fansided.com

Harper’s run production in the middle of the order should spark this team now that he’s back. Photo via fansided.com

When Bryce Harper was reinstated from the D/L on 6/30/14, an interesting situation occurred:  The Nationals were at full strength for the first time, all year.

That’s right.  With Doug Fister starting the season on the D/L, even those who think that the team was at “full strength” for the first 7 innings of the first game (that’s how long it took before a Nationals offensive starter got hurt) aren’t quite right.  This team has been hampered and has been covering for injuries to its best available squad since the first day of the season.  Here’s a review of the tale of the injury tape for the ideal 25-man roster of this team so far in 2014:

  • Doug Fister; strained shoulder 3/23/14, missed 34 games
  • Wilson Ramos: broken hand on 4/1/14, missed 32 games
  • Scott Hairston; oblique strain on 4/6/14, missed 26 games
  • Denard Span, concussion on 4/12/14, missed 7 games
  • Ryan Zimmerman, broken thumb on 4/13/14, missed 44 games
  • Bryce Harper: torn thumb tendon on 4/27/14, missed 56 games
  • Adam LaRoche: strained quad on 5/11/14, missed 14 games
  • Gio Gonzalez, shoulder strain on 5/18/14, missed 27 games
  • Ramos again, this time a hamstring strain on 6/11/14, missed 14 games

2/5ths of the rotation and 5/8ths of the starting offense have at one time or another been on the shelf so far this year.  More than 250 games lost.  Ironically the oldest player on the team (Jayson Werth) has been one if its healthiest (he’s only missed 4 games this year).  And (knock on wood) there hasn’t been a single bullpen injury, likely one of the main reasons the Nats bullpen is among the best in the game this year.

The Nats (at the time of this writing) sit 1/2 a game out of first behind nemesis Atlanta, but have several reasons to be optimistic about catching them:

  • The Nats have a +39 run differential right now, while the Braves have a zero run differential.  That means that the Nats should be 9 games above .500 (according to pythagorean records) while the Braves should be a .500 team.  The Nats have been unlucky while the Braves have been quite lucky.  You could expect these situations to reverse themselves over the rest of the season.
  • The Nats are just 2-7 in extra inning games and 9-13 in one-run games.  You’d normally expect both of these W/L records to be near .500 and is likely the real reason behind the above run differential issue.
  • Despite the heart of their batting order missing dozens and dozens of games, the offense is not doing half bad: the Nats as a team are 8th out of 15 in the NL in WRC+, 8th in runs scored, 8th in wOBA, 10th in batting average, and are 10th in homers despite Zimmerman having just THREE on the year.
  • While the Offense treads water, the Pitching has been fantastic.  Our starters are 5th in the NL in ERA, 1st in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 2nd in SIERA.  The bullpen has been equally as good (a huge improvement over last year):  2nd in NL ERA, 1st in FIP, 6th in SIERA.
  • The starters lead the NL in FIP despite Stephen Strasburg‘s “struggles;” ironically despite his having a .500 record an a 3.70 ERA he has the best FIP of any Nats starter.   He’s just been victim of circumstance while he pitches.   Blake Treinen has been fantastic covering in the rotation, and the team has found an excellent 5th starter in Tanner Roark.  Games that were “thrown away” time and again last year by Dan Haren and a litany of poor-performing minor league call-ups have been handled with aplumb this year.

Where do we go from here?

The Nats schedule from here on out eases significantly; as of the time of this writing the last three months look like this:

  • July: 10 of 25 games against teams with winning records right now
  • August: 12 of 28 games against teams with winning records right now … and that includes teams that very well may have losing records by the time we get to them.
  • September: Just 9 of 27 games against teams with winning records right now, including the final 11 against Marlins and Mets teams likely to be playing out the string with 40-man call-ups from AAA and key young arms sitting due to inning limits.

For this Nats fan, its hard to see the same struggles we saw last year; I see a team finally getting their squad back together, having a solid July and perhaps a dominant closing to the season to fulfil its promise.  I like where this team stands right now (even with the tepid split in Chicago last weekend) and look forward to the next few months.

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.