As you may recall, two winters ago the Sox needed to make signficant decisions about expensive starting pitchers in the free agent market. They decided to not match the Mets offer for Pedro Martinez and didn't show much interest in Derek Lowe at all. They subsequently signed Matt Clement and David Wells, but they reportedly made signficant offers to Brad Radke and Carl Pavano as well. That was also the winter when seemingly every halfway decent pitcher recieved a similar 3 yr/21M contract so it's always been interesting to me to follow those pitchers first in terms of their economic value (that's obvious when we're talking about comparing free agent contracts) and then more recently in terms of durability.
But durability has always been an important consideration to me when thinking about Lowe (ok, and Pedro too). When noted super duper smart guy Paul DePodesta signed Lowe to a then shocking contract a lot of fans of super duper smart GMs were a bit perplexed. Rob Neyer somewhat infamously went to BTF begging for people to help explain what DePodesta may have been thinking. Most of that initial reaction focused on how well Lowe's extreme ground ball style fit Dodger Stadium park effects. There is a compelling case to be made there, but the thing that really struck me about Lowe in comparison to his fellow FA pitchers is how much better his health prognosis and durability seemed to be. Lowe has been worked hard as a releiver, experienced a huge jump in IP and he never seemed to skip a bit. It always seemed to me like he could go on throwing sinkers forever. In fact, even though Lowe was one of the few pitchers to get a four year contract I assumed he was the best bet to average 30 starts per year over the life of his contract. And that has tremendous value especially for a high revenue team that expects to complete for the playoffs every year like the Dodgers (and the Sox too). Lowe's rate stat based projections may have been pretty blah, but if you beleived his health prognosis was much better than his peers, then how much should that offset the quality indicators? That's really a difficult thing to juggle.
Anyway, let's spend some time looking at the expensive free agent pitchers from the last two free agent classes. I included every pitcher that got at a three year contract (and generally the AAV was always at least 7M) and a handful of pitchers who received two year contracts at about that same AAV. These are the standard B level veteran free agent pitchers.
Here are pitchers from the winter of 2004/05 (perhaps in a spiffy new table!)
|[td=10%] [/td] [td=10%] [/td] [td=10%] [/td]|
Do you think this is going to turn out well for the teams that guaranteed these pitchers over 330M? Me neither.
The next table will include Games Started, Innings Pitched, VORP and "$/10 VORP" for every pitcher for 2005, 2006 and the two year total. Pitchers are ranked by Total VORP. You'll recognize the two guys on top.
What I hope you're seeing in a pretty table is that in 2005 those 12 pitchers combined for 327 starts, 1981 IP, 172.4 VORP at an AAV cost of 102.8M. That produces a cost per 10 VORP of 5.962M which isn't very good at all.
In 2006 thos same pitchers combined for 252 starts (75 fewer), 1487 IP (~500 fewer) and 124.7 VORP (~50 less) for the same AAV cost of 102.8M. That produces a cost per 10 VORP of 8.243M which is downright terrible.
The 50 VORP difference is pretty much exactly Pedro's decline. Some of the individual B starters fluctuated from year to year, but en mass they were roughly the same. Pedro as the only ace nearly redeemed the FA expenditure in 2005 by having a very good year. When he collapsed in 2006 he brought the whole thing down into a 103M sinkhole. More or less.
All but Radke and Wells will contrinue into 2007 on year 3 of thier contracts. The injuries to Pedro and Clement just about guarantee that 2007 will be a pretty bad year again.
Just a few things from the Total columns...
I speculated that Lowe might be the best bet to average 30 starts per year for the life of his contract. He's only halfway through, but he's at 35 per year. Lieber and Milton are right at the 30 start average. Radke is killing himself pitching through a torn labrum to just about get there. Benson is almost there as well. The rest are already guaranteed to not make it.
In terms of IP Lowe is the only one to clear 400 IP. He blew by that 200 IP per year standard with 440 IP. Radke, Benson and Lieber are again the next tier of durability with 357-386 IP.
The only pitchers to average a mere 20 VORP per year are those three second tier durability guys, Lowe and Pedro. Pedro was actually so good in 2005 that if he doesn't pitch again he'll average just over 20 VORP per year.
Wells came pretty close. The rest are all disasters.
The good, or at least adequate and durable, pitchers cost 2.5-4M per 10 VORP. Those are just the successes, but that's pretty good. The rest are quite hideous.
I don't want SoSH to eat my (hopefully) nifty tables so I'll continue in the next post.