When a big-ticket deal happens in baseball, it can’t stay quiet for long. Pitcher Zack Greinke officially signed with the L.A. Dodgers, creating a ruckus. The Dodgers signed him for six years and 147 million dollars.
That’s right, $147 million.
What this means for the Mariners is that the Texas Rangers suddenly have a lot of bargaining power to snatch up Josh Hamilton for a larger contract. It also means that “King” Felix Hernandez may have his eye on a much higher price tag to renew his contract.
Greinke’s record-setting deal is the second largest only to Yankees pitcher, CC Sabathia at $161 million. Greinke had a stellar 2012 season, posting a 3.48 ERA in 212 1/3 innings for the Brewers and Dodgers. He won the AL Cy Young Award, an honor reserved for the two best pitchers (one AL one NL) in baseball, in 2009. He has a career ERA of 3.51, ninth of all active pitchers.
The Grienke deal is pending a physical. Should he pass and join the Dodgers, it will make the Dodgers 2013 payroll (already $210.68 million) the largest in Major League Baseball history.
What do you think the Grienke deal will mean for the Mariners, who are trying valiantly to scoop up key offensive players for their 2013 season? Will King Felix try to negotiate a larger deal? Will they be able to compete for Josh Hamilton against the larger-budget Rangers? Post your thoughts in the comments section.
Joel summed up the rotation pretty well last week, and while any report about the M’s pitching should have us excited about the future, perhaps we shouldn’t be so content with the present.
Here’s what the rotation is likely to look like come April (with no roster changes):
Obviously if we don’t get another pitcher this off season, everyone bumps up and Blake Beavan takes over the #5 spot. Or, as Joel mentioned, perhaps Tom Wilhelmsen could be asked to bring out the hammer for five or six innings at a time. While we’re waiting for any one of the “Big Three” to be ready, I don’t think we necessarily need to throw away a spot in the order hoping for Beavan to figure it out, or for Wilhelmsen to translate closer success into starter success. There’s a laundry list of free-agent pitchers out there that could help bolster the rotation for a few years. And, contrary to popular opinion, we might just need some stability on staff.
We’re all hoping that each of Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Danny Hultzen becomes valuable parts of the pitching staff. But Joel articulated the harsh reality of prospects not too long ago. Perhaps we should taper our expectations to 1-out-of-the-Big-Three, and muster up a backup plan.
First stop: Fangraphs’ free agent leaderboards!
I’m quite fond of Zack Greinke, and Peavy is intriguing; but cost and injury risk, respectively, turn me away. Brandon McCarthy gets your wheels turning upstairs, and teams are likely to shy away due to his off-season brain surgery. But I don’t want high risk. We’re avoiding high-risk, right?
The guys I’m looking at are Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren. Did you know Jackson is just 29 years old? Jackson has never put up less than 160 innings, and we know just what we’re getting.
Talk about consistency, especially in the xFIPs. Last year he didn’t like any long-term offers and went to the Nats for a one-year, $11M allowance. Then he went ahead and put up a very Edwin Jackson-like season. Edwin Jackson is not Felix Hernandez, but Edwin Jackson is not Blake Beavan. We know exactly who Edwin Jackson is. He’s right up there in that chart. Maybe the M’s could get him for three years and less than $30M? I’d do it.
Dan Haren is, if you can believe it, actually older than Jake Peavy. However, Haren has a recent track record of actually pitching. Peavy hadn’t broken 200 innings before this season in three years. Haren’s K/BB rates have never dipped below 3.00, and recently clocked in at 3.74 (2012). One thing that irks me a little is that the Angels declined his $15.5M option earlier this month, instead paying him $3.5M to hit free agency. Home teams tend to know their players well, and Buster Olney reported something about hip problems. The speculation is that he will have to settle for a one or two-year deal. That deal is not likely to be for $15.5M per year, or even close to it. The Angels essentially valued him at $12M for 2013 (15.5 – 3.5). His injury concerns don’t sound too risky, and Haren could be available for, maybe, two years at $24M? I’d do it.
Yes, I realize we need bats, too. But pretending that the rotation is fine and that all three parts of the three-headed monster will become major league talents is naïve. Getting a solid #2 starter now while it’s available on the market would be a savvy move.
Many players began this off-season with no contract. Many of those players are starting pitchers. Starting pitchers like Zack Greinke, Jake Peavy and Anibal Sanchez. Through the following research, I found that it seems that perhaps WAR systematically overvalues elite starting pitchers–something to be aware of during this off season and those to follow.
When valuing players, there are two primary stats we turn to: Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and Win Percentage Added (WPA). WAR completely strips every play of its context, valuing a walkoff grandslam the same as a first-inning solo shot. On the other hand, WPA attempts to calibrate for each unique situation, and it would value that walkoff slam quite a bit more than the first-inning solo homerun. I think it’s fair to say that WAR’s primary advantage over WPA is its ability to filter out a lot of statistical noise and hone in on a player’s true talent level. Though WPA may be better at explaining what happened and when it happened, it also gives players a lot of credit for something not believed to be a repeatable skill: clutch performance.
But it’s not my intention to get into an argument about the validity of either stat. I actually want to encourage the use of both in conjunction, especially when valuing elite starting pitchers as a group.
For an individual player, WPA’s inclusion of “clutch value” tends to make it a very fickle statistic. In 2003, Albert Pujols slashed .359/.439/.667 with 43 homeruns. He would have won the NL MVP if not for some guy named Barry Bonds. But that season also represented just the fifth best season of Pujols’ career in terms of WPA, probably due to the fact that the average leverage of his plate appearances that season was well below average (0.93). Pretty much by dumb luck, Pujols didn’t get as many crucial trips to the plate. This is mostly why WPA is not used as often as WAR. Too much is out of the player’s control.
However, while one player’s WPA may not be representative of his skill set, the WPA of an entire group of players can hint at trends to which we should pay attention. I think WAR is the product of a lot of smart thinking, but its greatest strength is also its primary shortcoming. Stripping context out of a value statistic completely perhaps ignores patterns of how and where that value is distributed throughout the season. For example, an elite pitcher has a lot of control over about 35 games per season, and virtually no control over the other 127. It would seem that good pitchers are more likely to be involved in blowout wins, since they have so much control over the outcome of those games relative to position players. Thus, WAR might have a tendency to overvalue good starting pitchers, giving them larger chunks of WAR in situations that don’t help the team. But how to measure it… Oh I know! WPA!
To get started, I took the top 10% of hitters and the top 10% of pitchers by WAR in 2012 (through September 23rd). I then subtracted each player’s WPA from his WAR to get an idea of how much WAR overvalues WPA. While there are nuances to the concepts of “above replacement” (WAR) versus “above average” (WPA), those nuances should be flushed out later when I compare the two groups. For 2012, the top 10% of pitchers recorded a WAR 2.55 wins greater than WPA. The top 10% of hitters only recorded a WAR 2.11 wins greater than WPA. Though the 2.55 and 2.11 figures themselves shouldn’t mean much to us, the 0.44-win difference should. That figure approximates that WAR is overvaluing elite starting pitchers by 0.44 wins on average, relative to the elite hitters. I think this is due to a greater percentage of the WAR an elite starting pitcher accumulates being wasted on blowout wins.
So while the WPA of one single player is highly variable, looking at WPA trends in 2012 for elite starters suggests that, on average, WAR is overvaluing top pitchers. But why use small sample sizes when you can use big sample sizes?
I performed the same test, combining the 2009 through 2011 seasons. However, to qualify for elite status, a player had to be in the 85th percentile for both WAR and WPA over the three seasons. This hopefully reduced any sampling biases of the first method. The hitter group recorded a WAR 5.9 wins greater than WPA, while the pitcher group’s difference climbed to 7.7 wins. Again, we expect WAR to outpace WPA since the baseline for WAR is lower, so these differences in and of themselves are not surprising. But when we compare the differences between the pitchers and hitters groups—the differences in the differences, if you will—the pitchers were “overvalued” by an additional 1.8 wins compared to the hitters (7.7 minus 5.9), or about 0.6 wins per season. In terms of money, that’s worth approximately $2.5M on the free-agent market these days, and not something that should be entirely ignored.
*It should be noted that the differences in WAR minus WPA for the 2009 – 2011 tests were highly significant, according to both a T-test and a Wilcoxon Rank Sum test.
I’ve been hung up on the AL Cy Young award for quite awhile now. Obviously I’m inclined to throw my undying support at Felix, but I’d prefer to do it for the right reasons, and I’m finally convinced that he deserves the award – not necessarily more than say, Cliff Lee or Francisco Liriano, but he deserves it. I didn’t want to support him just because he was the popular pick among statisticians, but with the way he’s pitched recently, and the current leader boards the way they are, I don’t have any problem doing it.
Just look at the numbers. Aside from Cliff Lee, who I would not be disappointed to see the award go to, mind you, Felix has the highest WAR in the league, at 6.4. His xFIP of 3.27 ranks 3rd, behind Francisco Liriano, who has sustained his 3.07 mark over significantly fewer innings, and Jon Lester. Strikeouts? He’s got 232 of them, the most in baseball. Like inning eaters? He’s thrown 249 2/3, second to the one and only Roy Halladay, by exactly one inning. Not so big on sabermetrics? He has a 2.27 ERA, too.
The fact is, no matter what stats you subscribe to, Felix Hernandez has been one of, if not the very best pitcher in the American League – unless, of course, you subscribe to win-loss record, in which case you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog. Similar arguments can be made for Lee and Liriano as well, and as long as one of those 3 comes away with the award, no injustice has been committed. CC Sabathia, on the other hand, really has nothing but wins going for him, and those wins mean a whole lot less when you pitch for the Yankees.
The Cy Young voters made a ton of progress last season when they went with Tim Lincecum (15 wins) and Zack Greinke (16 wins), and they have a chance to continue that progress in 2010.