Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 22, 2004
BASEBALL: Armers' Market
Perhaps the most striking feature of this baseball offseason, coming during an era when effective starting pitching would seem to be in short supply, is the large number of starting pitchers with substantial track records - many of them quite successful in recent years - who have gone on the market. I'm probably missing someone here, but I count 30 starters - 20% of the starting jobs in the big leagues, and more than that as a proportion of guys with any kind of major league track record - who have either been traded or been free agents this off season (this is counting free agents who re-signed or, like Roger Clemens, are now committed to one team, as well as guys in the Randy Johnson deal who were publicly traded before the deal fell through). Of course, with so many pitchers available, it behooves buyers in this market not to overpay out of a concern for scarcity. To make sense of the available options, it's therefore useful to look at them as a group.
In the past, I've found "established performance levels" to be a useful way to organize information about a player's record, including my continuing "Established Win Shares Levels" studies. In that spirit, here are the established performance levels, Win Shares included, for those 30 pitchers, ranked by ERA+ (which I computed as a weighted average); I listed "U" next to the team for guys who are still unclaimed:
Of course, this chart is just past performance; it doesn't show the severe injury risks associated with a large number of these guys, most notably Pedro and Brad Penny . . . Just a few more quick thoughts for now:
*You can clearly see that the Mets overpayed for Kris Benson. While I'm not a fan of Benson, I wasn't opposed to re-signing him, which seemed like a necessary move to avoid opening a hole in the rotation. But it's now clear that there were many other available alternatives of comparable quality, and the Mets should have relied on that to avoid overpaying and, if necessary, sign or trade for someone else.
*The difficulty of sustaining a serious workload in this day and age is apparent from the fact that only Hudson and Vazquez have been able to establish a level of 210 or more innings over the last three-year period.
*Context matters: Carl Pavano's numbers look better than those of Vazquez because he was pitching in a friendlier evironment last year. Derek Lowe's ERAs are actually better than those of David Wells, when you adjust for Fenway.
*Matt Clement is indeed a useful pitcher, and his power would have made him especially valuable to the Mets, but the guy does have weaknesses (mainly walks) that will be exposed at Fenway.
*I continue to think that Billy Beane will be vindicated in his decision to deal Mark Mulder now rather than later as far as Mulder's declining performance and uncertain health/durability is concerned - but that doesn't justify the trade, because it doesn't look like Beane got enough value in return. Good strategy, bad tactics. The same applies to a lesser extent to the Hudson deal.
*Matt Morris' performance no longer lives up to his reputation.
*Somebody could still really make a quiet impact on their rotation by snagging both Odalis Perez and Wade Miller.