Signing Free Agent Pitchers

Should the Mets make a run at [free agent starting pitcher] this winter? They need pitching help, and if they don’t re-sign Jose Reyes they should have the money to sign [free agent starting pitcher].

– Outis the Mets Fan, via email

First: I might have invented this email. But the question is a real one, and something I looked into recently — it seems that there are a lot of bad contracts given to starting pitchers. A lot of bad contracts, along with some good ones, of course, but it seems as though the bad contracts outnumber the good. I wanted to see what the big picture looks like for these deals.

As it turns out, the big picture is really ugly. The short answer is: don’t ever sign a free agent pitcher for more than one year. Below is a list of the 46 multi-year contracts signed by a free agent pitcher between the winter of ’04-05 and the present, loosely running from best to worst, along with the five that were signed last winter. (EDIT: There are 51 contracts here, but five were signed last winter and it’s too early to make a call on them. So we’re really only looking at 46 contracts.) There were three rules for making this list:

– It has to be a free agent pitcher who hits free agency. Extensions don’t count, so no Johan Santana deal, ect. Re-signing with the same team after testing the open market does count. It seems that the bidding wars of free agency create a lot of these monsters.

– It has to be a multi-year deal. One-year deals don’t count. One-year deals with a team option for a second year doesn’t count. One-year deals with a player option for a second year would count, but there aren’t any of those so it doesn’t matter.

– If the contract isn’t over, we don’t count the years that haven’t happened yet when ranking the contracts. For example: Barry Zito’s massive contract counts as a five-year, $80 million dollar deal for our purposes. It’s still in last place.

We’ll start by looking at the top ten, then list the middle 26, and take a look at the bottom ten. Toby Hyde suggested throwing in the WAR total and how much money each win cost, so I threw that on too. Hat tip to him. [One more edit. These contracts are not ranked by dollars per win above replacement. Instead, we’re setting the price of a win at $4.5 million, and then comparing how much value the player brought in (that is, his WAR times $4.5 million) to how much the team paid him. That’s how they’re ranked.] Here we go:

The Ten Best Contracts:

1. Derek Lowe, Dodgers (2005-2008), four years, $36 million dollars
12.7 WAR, $2.83 million per win

Easily the best contract listed here. This signing looked risky at the time, with Lowe’s ERA rising from 2.58 during his first year as a starter with the Red Sox in 2002 all the way to 5.42 in his walk year in 2004. The theory was that Lowe lacked the stamina to remain a successful starter, having spent the first five years of his career as a reliever before being moved to the rotation. The secret, I guess, was that Lowe’s peripheral numbers remained about the same between 2003 and 2004, despite his ERA jumping almost a full run.

It seems that Paul DePodesta’s Dodgers saw that, and gave Lowe four years and $36 million dollars. Lowe pitched 850.1 innings over the four years, posting a 3.59 ERA and a 120 ERA+. Lowe’s Dodgers teams were good but never great, sneaking into the playoffs twice but never winning more than 88 games in a season. But if you sign a pitcher for four years and they make all 135 of their starts, that’s probably a great contract. It also almost never happens.

2. David Wells, Red Sox (2005-2006), two years, $8 million dollars
3.8 WAR, $2.1 million per win

The Red Sox took a chance on the 41-year-old Wells before the 2005 season, giving him a two-year deal. Wells made 30 starts and pitched 184 innings in 2005, going 15-7 and posting a 4.45 ERA (with a 3.83 FIP) for an iffy fielding Red Sox team. That performance right there was worth more than the $8 million Boston paid Wells, with anything else in 2006 being gravy — which was all they got. Wells was injured for most of 2006, but made eight gravy starts for Boston before being traded to the Padres at the August deadline.

Seriously, this is the second-best contract, and it was given to a fat, 42-year-old pitcher making $4 million dollars a year. We could stop here, because that’s probably all anyone needs to know about signing free agent pitchers to multi-year deals.

3. Ted Lilly, Cubs (2007-2010), four years, $40 million dollars
10.4 WAR, $3.85 million per win

See, it’s contracts like this one here that make me think that the good contracts on the list don’t necessarily reflect anything about a good process by the team handing them out. When the Cubs signed Lilly, he was a 30-year-old flyball lefty who had been traded four times and had a 4.60 career ERA. He walked a ton of batter and allowed a ton of home runs. He had never pitched 200 innings in a season. Basically, he was fairly Oliver Perez-like.

Then Lilly signed with the Cubs and became a much, much better pitcher overnight. He cut his walk rate in half. He pitched over 200 innings in 2007 and 2008 and missed 11 starts over four years. His ERA was 3.68, a 121 ERA+. A flyball lefty in Wrigley, he still gave up the gobs of home runs you might expect, but the Lilly contract was a boom for Chicago. Maybe the Cubs scouted him well and saw the potential, in which case credit to them — or maybe they didn’t and it just worked out. Bad processes sometimes lead to good results, and maybe Lilly is just that.

4. Randy Wolf, Brewers, three years, $18.5 million dollars (two years, $18.75 so far)
5.1 WAR, $3.68 million per win

There’s a year and $11 million left on this deal, so the jury is still out on this one. But two years and about $19 million dollars in, Wolf has given the Brewers 428 average-to-below-average innings over two years. Considering the cost, that actually counts as a huge win here.

5. CC Sabathia, Yankees (2009-2011), three years, $69 million dollars
16.2 WAR, $4.26 million per win

If we assume he opts out – probably a safe bet — this worked out to about a fair deal for both sides. Sabathia has been great, maybe even better than advertised: He went 59-23, made 101 starts, pitched 230 innings every season and had a 140 ERA+. He also gave the Yankees 61 innings in the postseason and went 5-1 with a 3.54 ERA. Everything they could have wanted out of an ace.

The reason it’s not number one on the list: In exchange, the Yankees gave him $69 million dollars and a “if you’re hurt or terrible, you can still get us to pay you $92 million for four more years” safety net. It wasn’t like he was doing it all for free.

6. A.J. Burnett, Blue Jays (2006-2008), three years, $31 million dollars
7.6 WAR, $4.08 million per win

Pitchers with opt-out clauses are the new Moneyball? This was a five year deal with an opt-out clause after three years, which Burnett exercised after a healthy and moderately effective walk year in 2008.

7. Jason Marquis, Cubs (2007-2009), three years, $21 million dollars
5.1 WAR, $4.12 per win

Remember the process/results thing about the Cubs and and Ted Lilly? Marquis is the same idea. The Staten Island sinkerballer posted a 6.02 ERA with St. Louis in 2006, leading the NL in earned runs and home runs allowed. The Cardinals left Marquis off their roster for the NLCS and the World Series – and then the Cubs gave him a three-year contract that winter. Not one year. Not two years. A three-year deal for a pitcher who didn’t pitch an inning for his team in the postseason because they didn’t want him pitching any innings in the postseason, and he led the league in earned runs allowed.

But it worked out. Marquis pitched 574.2 innings, posted a 106 ERA+, and made an All Star team with Colorado after being traded for the last year of the deal. Again, maybe the Cubs saw something they liked about him, too, but this smells of bad process, good results.

By the way, I’m starting to think that . . . something . . . happened in the winter of 2006/2007, because an enormous number of crazy contracts were handed out that winter. More on that later.

8. Jarrod Washburn, Mariners (2006-2009), four years, $37 million dollars
8.4 WAR, $4.4 million per win

This isn’t a great contract, but out of the 46 contracts multi-year, free agent contracts that were signed between 2005 and 2010, only like seven or eight worked out well. So we’re already stretching. Washburn gave the Mariners and the Tigers 710.1 innings and a 4.36 ERA over the four years. That counts as a win here.

9. Kenny Rogers, Tigers (2006-2007), two years, $16 million dollars
3.4 WAR, $4.71 per win

The Tigers gave a two-year deal to a 40-year-old pitcher. Rogers finished fifth in Cy Young voting in 2006, winning 17 games with a 119 ERA+, and pitched 23 scoreless innings while possibly doctoring the baseball during the Tigers’ playoff run. He was hurt and less effective the next season, but the first year makes this a good deal for Detroit. Seriously. This counts as a top ten deal, too.

10. Mike Mussina, Yankees (2007-2008), two years, $23 million dollars
4.7 WAR, $4.89 million per win

This looked like bad idea jeans at the time, with Mussina struggling to a replacement-level-y 5.15 ERA in 2008, though his 4.01 FIP hinted that better things were to come in 2008. They were. Mussina pitched 200.1 innings, made 34 starts and won 20 of them in his final season with the Yankees.

Now, if you’re thinking that there’s no way these are the ten best deals handed out to free agent pitchers between 2004 and 2010, well . . . just look at all the other ones. Think about how many of them make you say, “Oh, golly gee, that was a good deal,” and how many of them are, “Oh my . . . that actually happened.” Here are all the contracts that fall into . . .

The Middle Bunch:

From last winter, so the jury is still out (but four of them look bad already):

  • Cliff Lee, Phillies, five years, $125 million
  • Jorge de la Rosa, Rockies, two years, $21.5 million
  • Carl Pavano, Twins, two years, $16.5 million
  • Jake Westbrook, Cardinals, two years, $16.5 million
  • Kevin Correia, Pirates, two years, $8 million

Before that (2004-2010), in loose descending order of awfulness, with Wins Above Replacement and dollars (in millions) per win:

  • Orlando Hernandez, Mets, two years, $12 million; 2.1 WAR, $5.71 per win
  • Cory Lidle, Phillies, two years, $6.3 million; 0.8 WAR, $7.88 per win
  • Paul Byrd, Indians, two years, $14.5 million; 2.4 WAR, $5.94 per win
  • Woody Williams, Padres, two years, $8 million, 0.4 WAR, $20 per win
  • Yoslan Herrera, Pirates, three years, $2 million, -1 WAR, -($2) per win
  • Joel Pineiro, Angels, two years, $16 million; 1.5 WAR, $10.67 per win
  • Brett Tomko, Dodgers, two years, $8.7 million; -0.3 WAR, $(-29) per win
  • Woody Williams, Astros, two years, $12.5 million; 0.5 WAR, $25 per win
  • Jamie Moyer, Phillies, two years, $13 million; 0.4 WAR, 32.5 per win
  • Matt Clement, Red Sox, three years, $25.8 million; 2.6 WAR, 9.92 per win
  • Paul Wilson, Reds, two years, $8.2 million; -1.4 WAR, -($5.86) per win
  • Gil Meche, Royals, five years, $55 million; 9 WAR, $4.78 per win*
  • Esteban Loaiza, A’s, three years, $21.4 million; 0.8 WAR, $26.73 per win
  • Jaret Wright, Yankees, three years, $21 million; 0.6 WAR, $35 per win
  • Mark Mulder, Cardinals, two years, $13 million; -1.2 WAR, $(-10.83) per win
  • Kenshin Kawakami, Braves, three years, $23 million; 0.5 WAR, $46 per win
  • Jason Marquis, Nationals, two years, $15 million; -1.6 WAR, $(-9.38) per win
  • Miguel Batista, Mariners, three years, $25 million; 0.3 WAR, $83.33 per win

We start hitting the big fishes around here:

  • Kevin Millwood, Rangers, five years, $60 million; 7.7 WAR, $7.79 per win
  • Ryan Dempster, Cubs, four years, $52 million; 5.7 WAR, $9.12 per win
  • Pedro Martinez, Mets, four years, $53 million; 5.8 WAR, $9.14 per win
  • Vincente Padilla, Rangers, three years, $34 million; 1.1, $30.73
  • Matt Morris, Giants, three years, $27 million; WAR -1.3, $(-20.77) per win
  • John Lackey, Red Sox, five years, $82.5 million; 0.6 WAR, $61.25 per win
  • A.J. Burnett, Yankees, five years, $82.5 million; 3.4 WAR, $14.56 per win
  • Carl Pavano, Yankees, four years, $38 million; -0.1 WAR; $(-380) per win

Gil Meche is stared because he chose to retire instead of collecting the $12 million he could have been paid in 2011. Lackey’s deal still has a shot at getting down here, but for now here are . . .

The Bottom Ten

10. Derek Lowe, Braves (2009-2012), four years, $60 million dollars (three years, $45 million so far)
1.2 WAR, $37.5 per win

He’s still making all his starts, but he’s also stopped being an effective pitcher. Lowe has a 4.57 ERA as a member of the Braves, has been worth 1.2 wins above replacement according to Baseball-Reference thus far, and still have $15 million dollars coming to him next year. This might be too low. The peripheral numbers are still there, and Fangraphs values his performance much higher, but it’s not a great deal either way. If the question for the Mets before the 2009 season was Ollie or Lowe, it turns out the answer was Randy Wolf. Marty Noble was right.

9. Adam Eaton, Phillies (2007-2009), three years, $24.5 million dollars
-3.5 WAR, $(-7) per win

The damage: 268.2 innings over two seasons for the Phillies and a 6.10 ERA along the way. Philadelphia released Eaton and ate the rest of the contract before the 2009 season. Like most teams found down here, they would have been better off setting the money on fire.

8. Jeff Suppan, Brewers (2007-2010), four years, $48 million dollars
0.0 WAR, $ – dollars per win

Suppan had been an average innings eater for the eight seasons before signing this deal, and wasn’t THAT old at the time, just 32, so it didn’t look that bad at the time – good process/bad results? Or is signing a free agent pitcher to a multi-year deal always a bad process? That’s really the whole question here.

7. Oliver Perez, Mets, three years (2009-2011), $36 million dollars
-2.9 WAR, -($12.41) per win

I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just move on.

6. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox, six years (2007-2012), $103.1 million (five years, $93.1 million so far)
9.6 WAR, $9.7 per win

Matsuzaka actually hasn’t pitched terribly overall – 49-30, 108 ERA+, 4.25 ERA and a 4.26 FIP, 9.6 wins above replacement – but he cost the Red Sox loads and loads and loads of money between a $51 million dollar posting fee just to negotiate with him and a $52 million dollar contract. He still has $10 million dollars coming to him for next season and it doesn’t look like he’s going to contribute much.

5. Jason Schmidt (2007-2009), Dodgers, three years, $47 million dollars
-0.6 WAR, -($78.33) per win

Made ten starts.

4. Kei Igawa, Yankees (2007-2011), five years, $46 million dollars
-1 WAR, -($46) per win

Made 13 starts.

3. Russ Ortiz, Diamondbacks (2005-2008), four years, $33 million dollars
-3.9 WAR, -($8.46) per win

The Ortiz contract is one of the scarier stories, because he had been healthy and moderately effective just about every season before hitting free agency before the 2005 season. Not great and not an ace by any means, but a mildly effective pitcher. Arizona rewarded him with a big, multi-year contract; Ortiz posted a 7.00 ERA in 28 starts and was released 18 months into a four-year deal. It wasn’t a good contract, but it was supposed to be this awful, either.

2. Carlos Silva, Mariners (2008-2011), four years, $48 million dollars
-1.3 WAR, -($36.92) per win

The only multi-year deal given out to a starting pitcher before the 2008 season, but Seattle made sure it counted. David Wells and CC Sabathia made the best contracts top ten list, but Silva puts a damper on the “it’s a good idea to sign fat free agent pitchers” theory.

1. Barry Zito, Giants, seven years (2007-2013), $126 million dollars (five years, $80 million dollars so far)
2.9 WAR, $27.59 per win

This is already at the bottom, and there are still two years left on the deal. Definitely the worst contract on this list. Zito hasn’t been awful and has remade himself into a decent innings eater – and although he was hurt this year, he has also been healthy every other year of his deal. But he’s being paid to be an ace, and he’s not anymore and hasn’t been one for a while.

Getting back to something mentioned ealier, looking at these contracts . . . something happened between 2006 and 2007. I don’t know what, but it seems that something happened. Because before the 2005 and 2006 seasons, teams gave out 54 years worth of guaranteed, multi-year deals to free agent pitchers, worth about $453 million dollars, or about $8.4 million per year. Not an awful amount, not too many unreasonable deals. Then the whole world went crazy. Before the 2007 season, teams gave out 57 years worth of multi-year deals to free agent pitchers at the cost of $632 million dollars, or about $11 million dollars per year. Barry Zito signed for seven years. Gil Meche signed for five years. The Red Sox signed Dice-K for six years. Jeff Suppan and Ted Lilly signed for four years apiece. Miguel Batista – Miguel Batista! – signed for three years with Seattle. Vincente Padilla signed for three years with Texas. So did Jason Marquis with Chicago.

And it wasn’t just pitchers. Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, Juan Pierre, Aramis Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Gary Matthews Jr., Juan Pierre, and Julio Lugo – all those albatrosses happened that winter. Almost every contract given out the winter after 2006 season that ran longer than a single year was a bad contract. I’m not sure what happened, and we’re all free to speculate – so if you’d like to speculate that during the 2006 CBA negotiating sessions, the MLBPA agreed not to accuse the owners of colluding to drive down free agent prices publicly if the owners agreed to stop doing it, well, go ahead. But something weird happened, because everything went crazy that winter.

So here’s what I’ve learned: Signing [free agent starting pitcher] to a multi-year contract looks like a bad idea. For all the pitchers listed here, it has cost teams $12.4 dollars per win above a replacement-level pitcher. Outfielders signed to multi-year deals, over the same time period, ran at about $6.5 dollars per win above replacement. Some pitchers don’t pitch as well after they sign. Some are overpaid to begin with. Some get hurt and don’t pitch at all. Sometimes it’s all three. But the result is that signing a free agent starting pitcher to a multi-year deal is a massive risk, and one that usually burns the team.



Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

44 responses to “Signing Free Agent Pitchers

  1. Ben

    I’m just a bit lost on your cost per win numbers. I can see what “X per win” means, but what does a negative “X per win” mean? It’s not like the pitcher paid the team for the win…

    • Patrick Flood

      It’s really nonsense when it’s negative X per wins. It doesn’t mean anything.

      The idea is that, if a player is worth -1 WAR and the team paid him $48 million, he actually cost the team more than $48 million. He actually cost them $48 million plus whatever they might have made with one more win from a replacement level pitcher.

      • Yeah, it should be titled something like cost per additional win above replacement. or cost per additional WAR. Furthermore, shouldn’t he be factoring in the cost of the replacement level player’s salary if he really wanted that to be accurate?

  2. tom

    really well done…that article was so much fun to read as a fan who loves to see how much a player is doing compared to his contract…a lot of fun to read and excellent analysis..question: did you find any of the labeled “middle bunch” solid contracts?

    • Patrick Flood

      You can make an argument that some aren’t as bad as others. So when compared to other contracts given to starting pitchers, yeah, some are solid. But generally speaking they’re all bad.

      • tom

        yoslan herrera is by far the funniest signing…couldn’t believe the Igawa and Schmidt signings except for the fact that the yankees signed Igawa…i would have liked to see the glavine signing but i know it was like a year or two earlier that that

      • Patrick Flood

        Glavine comes in at $4.29 million per win . . . considering that it was signed in 2003, that’s actually a good contract for a starting pitcher. He’d be a win.

      • Except that he was the mole.

  3. So you’re suggesting teams that draft and develop thier own pitching are better off in the long run? 🙂

    I’d be curious how much better the multi year contract extensions have been when teams resign thier own players just hitting free agency years. Something tells me it won’t look that much better overall. Santana was great, then nothing, and the bulk of his value is still to be earned with a shoulder no pitcher has been able to respectably compete with.

    Its a shame the Mike Hampton contract was before your list. Would be interesting in comparison.

    You know, it might be a bit off base to call these contracts ‘bad’ when relative to each other they are so similar. Its just the going rate to have pitchers.

    • Patrick Flood

      I will point out that the Rangers have one pitcher signed to a multi-year deal (Colby Lewis for two years and $5 million), and the Rays drafted and developed all of their starters this season. I think they’re both ahead of the curve.

      I can look at players signing extensions to buy out their free agency years. My guess is that it is going to look better. Maybe not much better, but a little bit better.

      Anyway, these contracts aren’t actually ranked by dollars per win, but by putting $4.5 million as the going rate for a win — about what it normally costs for a win in free agency — seeing how much the player should have been paid, and then seeing how that compares to the player’s actual payout. Derek Lowe’s deal brought the Dodgers about $22 million in excess value, while Barry Zito’s deal has cost the Giants about $70 million. So it’s a $90 million dollar gap — it’s not like they’re all that similar.

      • The Tigers are a great example too with five starting pitchers under team control and one free agent signing, Brad Penny.. who didnt get to start in the post season.
        Its not all Justin Verlander, who by the way has a 3 year 60 mil ‘extension’ covering his first three of free agency. That should be a serious win in comparison.

  4. What about pedros contract with boston

    • Patrick Flood

      When did he sign that deal?

      • Fox

        Pedro signed an extension with the Sox after he was traded from the Expos following the ’97 season. So by your standards it wouldn’t have counted because 1) it was well before 2004 and 2) he never tested the FA waters while with Boston.

        PS. This was a fantastic article and should be a pre-requisite for every fan begging the Mets brass to sign C.J. Wilson or whatever SP FA will be in vogue this off-season. Well done.

  5. ian

    you are kidding, right Flood? ever hear of kevin brown? don gullett? wayne garland? do some research. jeez.

  6. Great research Patrick, and an interesting thing to think about. I had assumed that this was the case, however it’s nice to see the numbers bear it out. My interpretation of your findings is that they demonstrate that signing pitchers to multi-year deals in the current market is simply an inefficient way to buy wins. It’s not that signing pitchers to multi-year deals is inherently stupid. It’s just that at the current market rate, those wins tend to be overpriced, relative to wins bought via pitchers on one-year deals or hitters. I’d be interested to see what the cost per win for the other types of FA contracts (multi-year hitter, one-year pitcher, and one-year hitter) in your timeframe came out to be.

    Also, and this is just a hunch, I bet if you included multi-year contract extensions given to players with at least 6 years of ML service (i.e. not buying out arb years), your observed results wouldn’t be significantly different from those of pitchers who actually made it to the free market.

    Anyway, kudos on the interesting piece. I really enjoyed it.

    • Patrick Flood

      Just looked at extensions buying out free agent years over the same time frame, actually — $4.64 million dollars per WAR. Not even close. I’ll post more on that tomorrow.

      • Really? Wow, I’ll keep an eye out for that post, because I did not think they would be so different. To be clear, that includes only players with at least 6 years of ML experience at the time they sign their multi-year extensions, right? One more thing, and apologies if this is already in the post, but what was the cost per WAR for multi-year pitcher FAs as a group in your sample?

      • Patrick Flood

        $12.2 for free agents.

  7. Knowing the Mets, and Alderson saying 2012 will once again not spend lavishly, here is what I think is going to happen. I think it’s obvious the Mets are more unlikely than likely to resign Mets, and put cash in the bank. Knowing they don’t want to spend, I can actually picture a return of K-Rod, what is there to loose? Would be nice to have a Papelbon, but obviously that isn’t going to happen.

    • Fox

      K-Rod isn’t coming back. He wants closer money, and he’s not part of any future of ours so why go backwards? Just let Parnell or another young kid develop. If that fails to pan out, then we can go out and trade/sign a closer in 2013, when the Mets are likely ready to compete.

  8. Made an error, don’t know how. But intended to say the Mets are more unlikely than likely to resign Jose Reyes, and bank the cash.

  9. Very much agree that signing free agent SP to a longterm contract is a hugely dangerous business.

    A big reason for the Mets´ lack of sustainable success over the past 20+ years has been their total inability to develop frontline young starting pitching from within.

    Looking back, we did trade the best two SP in Kazmir and AJ Burnett (Al Leiter deal in 1998) before they arrived. And neither has been a frontline SP for any length of time.

    Among pitchers who have actually started games for the Mets, the list looks even worse:

    # 1 Bobby Jones
    # 2 Mike Pelfrey
    # 3 Jon Niese
    # 4 Pete Schourek
    # 5 your choice of Paul Wilson or Bill Pulsipher ?

    If you´re looking for a reason for 3 playoff appearances over the past 22 years, there you go…

  10. Thanks for the ton of info. It fully explains to me why Alderson signed a Capuano and Young last year and why he insists that he is not changing the rotation for 2012. The article opens up my eyes and forces me to rethink the best way to obtain starting pitching. Thanks so much.

  11. I don’t see how contracts such as Santana and Hallady etal don’t make this list, their contracts were dictated by the market especially when they were traded, the teams acquiring them had a limited window to extend them.

  12. Patrick – great analysis. I thought the most illuminating point was what nearly seemed like an afterthought – the relative bargain that free agent outfielders provide.

    I’m guessing there might be sample size issues if you were to look at middle infielders and corner infielders as separate categories – would there be if you combined the corners (1B, 3B, LF, RF) and then looked at up the middle (SS, 2B, CF) as a category?

    If in fact there is a value proposition in buying (via FA) one position category over another it could have huge implications on draft day.

    • Patrick Flood

      My guess is that up the middle would be underpaid, because teams didn’t pay for fielding until recently. Mike Cameron has been underpaid for his free agent career, I believe. Same for Beltran, actually.

  13. Very cool stuff.

    A minor ranking quibble. Your $4.5M per win baseline is what is used by fangraphs, but you are using B-Ref for WAR here. You should probably use a higher baseline, like $5.25M per win, in your evaluation (a B-Ref win is worth a bit more).

    I also think an argument could be made for spending a bit more per win for starting pitchers, since they are so hard to find. I guess the question here is whether wins are totally fungible, that is, can you really throw bad SP out there and totally make up for it by adding cheaper wins on the offensive end?

    I think probably not quite. With only 5 SP spots to fill, I might be happy with a slight overpay there rather than a near replacement level arm.

    This would change very little in the above ranking, however. Nearly all of your “middle bunch” there was really not all that far above replacement level. The one guy who I would argue should maybe be top 10 is Gil Meche, and even that’s a case of the result likely better than the process (almost no one aside from the Royals expected that one to work out near as well as it did).

    Still, even if you paid Meche the full $55M (as if he didn’t retire), that would still come to only $5M per win using fangraphs or about $6M per win using B-R. My guess is that the three years of better than average pitching there, and 9 (or 10.7 per fg) cumulative WAR, makes that a better real world deal than these guys who were a bit cheaper per win, but delivered under 2.0 WAR total in a multi-year deal.

    • Patrick Flood

      You’re right about the baseball-ref WAR being less. I went with $4.5 per win because a lot of these contracts were signed 2006, 2007, etc, when the cost of a win was lower than it is today. It’s not accurate, but this was the quickest and dirtiest way to do it.

      It’s possible that it’s easier to find better-than replacement level outfielders than it is to find better-than replacement level pitchers. Or maybe it’s easier to identify the better-than-replacement outfielders before the season. Which would explain why teams attempt to overpay for pitching.

  14. Awesome post! Thanks for writing this up!

  15. Well thought out & reasoned acceptably….. for a mets fanatic. My friend tuned me in to ur blog, he’s a bigger fanatic for the mets, & I’m impressed by the depth with which you explore with each article. Do you only blog with the mets in mind or do you tackle all teams? In regards to this article …… what would you have teams do? Just say [expletive] it before the season starts? Say ur the mets, & ur staff is in shambles, it may be the safer play to develop up & comers from the farm system, but your fanbase/ownership group wants to win now. So they go out & try to sign the best upgrade you can afford, then take in effect the fact that some teams need to offer more to lure a player to their team…… So its a gamble but at least its an attempt to be better this year instead of standing pat & sucking (the rebuilding years excuse for putting out piss poor performances) why be cheap? Where’s the article of teams that made the playoffs with their new signings compared to those that signed & didn’t? Or if the team won more games than the previous year …. the individual stats may be underwhelming ….. but the team on the whole could’ve improved …. which is what ur trying to do, so shouldn’t that be your factor not what it cost to be better? It’d be cool if you responded … cheers

    • Patrick Flood

      Teams should factor how close they are to contending when giving out big contracts, because most of the value comes in the first few seasons. Signing a starting pitcher is a better idea when you’re close to contention. Even if Cliff Lee stinks the last two years of his deal with the Phillies, it’s not that important — it’s a good risk for the Phillies to take, because they’re serious contenders right now. If the Nationals went out and signed Cliff Lee to the same deal last winter, that would have been a bad idea. They’re not contending right now, so the disadvantages of signing Lee start to outweigh the benefits.

      Drafting and developing your own pitchers is a better idea, and I think it’s the key to sustained success. The Rays do it better than anyone, Texas has done a good job recently. The Cardinals trade for their guys and then sign them to extensions. The Brewers traded for Greinke and Marcum, and developed Gallardo. No team made the playoffs this season with a starting staff built of multi-year free agent signings. Maybe the Yankees, I guess, but I don’t know if they made the playoffs because of A.J. Burnett as much as in spite of him.

      It’s a gamble worth taking sometimes, but probably not one the Mets should be taking right now.

    • “My friend tuned me in to ur blog…”

      This is the Ur-blog!?! I wish that had been made clear earlier, uhm, urlier.

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