Starting pitching in the National League has been very good this season and has been much of the focus of this blog. There is much debate currently of who should win the National League Cy Young award. The race has been a three pony affair. With the Phillies Aces Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay competing against each other as well as the Dodgers young gun-slinger Clayton Kershaw. All three are the only N.L. pitchers with a WAR over 6.
Many of the sports reporters who have debated the achievements of these three starters, look at the “standard” statistics and have come to the conclusion that it is in fact a race. And in part I cannot blame then for this, because while looking at these types of statistics, this Cy Young race looks close. The statistics they would look at would be W-L, ERA, strikeouts and if they are “ambitious” WHIP of the three pitchers.
Based on these statistics the pitchers are extremely comparable. Kershaw’s line is as follows 19-5/2.30/236/.98 (W-L/ERA/SO/WHIP). Halladay has similar numbers 18-5/2.34/211/1.04. Lee continues to mirror his colleagues at 16-7/2.38/223/1.02. These Stats are almost identical, with Lee having a few less wins than the others and Kershaw has some more K’s, but nonetheless one could make an argument for any of these three pitchers to win the award based on these numbers. And if I would have to predict, based only on these numbers, who would win I would say Clayton Kershaw was the N.L. Cy Young winner.
However, these statistics do not reveal the true value of the pitchers in the race. Moving into the world of Sabrmetrics, Roy Halladay has already ran away with the award. Hallady has a WAR of 8.1 and a FIP of 2.04. While, the top 3 N.L. starters in both of these statistical categories are Halladay, Kershaw, and Lee respectively, Halladay is heads and shoulders above them in these stats. Kershaw has a WAR 1.3 lower than Halladay (6.8), while Halladay’s teammate Lee’s WAR (6.5) is 1.6 lower. All three have tremendous FIP’s below 3, but Halladay’s is significantly better than the other two aces (Kershaw at 2.37 and Lee at 2.59).
Roy Halladay most likely will win the award, because voters may have a bias towards him, because of past success. But it is too highly possible that one of the other two wins the award, and while they are deserving, they just have not been in the class of Halladay this season. There are only about 2 starts left this season for these starters, which is to say their WAR’s cannot change that much, thus Halladay will still be the obvious Cy Young winner.
This blog tends to look at everything from an Economic-value since, and from this perspective Halladay would not be the most valuable of these three. Because he makes about 6 million more than Lee and over 19 million more than Kershaw. But the Cy Young award goes to the best pitcher overall by performance, not by economic value, thus Roy Halladay hands-down deserves the Cy Young based completely on his dominance on the field.
What does a 5 year/$85million deal mean for a 28 year-old right hander with one year left of salary arbitration and a career FIP of .360? Well it means many things:
The first thing to consider is now the Angels have protected themselves from having to deal with a bidding war with the Yankees, Red Sox, or Phillies, when Weaver would have become a free agent, possibly driving up his price, but also now they must hope that Weaver will be worth $17 million a year each season from when he’s 29-33.
The Angels have to hope that this deal does not come back to haunt them, like those of overpaying both Torii Hunter and Gary Matthews Jr., as well as, trading for Vernon Wells. One could say that Weaver is more established and has more upside at this time then those players did when the moves were made for them, but I would like to take a closer look.
I’ll first take a look at what Weaver has been worth/paid over his career and what he should be paid. Jered Weaver made the major league minimum ($400k) at the start of career before beginning , before reaching arbitration in 2010 (4.265 million) and last season making 7.4 million dollars. According to fangraphs.com’s evaluation of value for a player, Weaver has been immensely valuable to the Angels over his career:
Season Salary Value Difference
2006 385k 9.6 million 9.2 million
2007 385k 12.5 million 12.1 millon
2008 435k 15.2 million 14.9 million
2009 465k 17.4 million 16.8 million
2010 4.2mil. 23.5 million 19.3 million
2011 7.3 mil. 23.5 million 16.2 million
Total 13.17 mil. 101.7 mil. 88.53 million
Note that Weaver’s 23.5 million dollar value this season is so far, and will be higher at the close of the season.
By looking at this table, it is apparent that Jered Weaver has already made the Angels over 85 million dollars in his career with them ($88.53 million), so one could make a point that even with zero production over the next 5 years the Angels would still have made money off their talented right hander; however, baseball teams are supposed to make money off of players during their seasons before free agency. Also, it would be horrible business for the Angels to lose money on this $85 million dollar investment, so the question is will Weaver be worth $17 million over the next 5 seasons, and also did they overpay for his services.
Over each of Weaver’s last 3 seasons his value has been over $17 million, with an average FIP of 3.31 and WAR of 5.3 in those seasons. He is currently, this season, 6th among pitchers with a 5.2 WAR and 10th in FIP (2.85), thus, he is a legitimate top 10 pitcher, who will be only 33 at the end of this contract. It looks as though Weaver will be worth $17 million in each of the next five seasons. Over his career, Weaver’s value per season on average has been $16.95 dollars exactly, and that includes a rookie season with only 19 starts, as well as, his 2011 campaign has yet to be concluded. Thus, it projects out that Weaver does have to potential to be worth his $85 million monster extension.
The Angels will be paying Weaver 4 million more dollars next season then they have in total over his entire career of six major league seasons (excluding his signing bonus after being drafted). So it seems like they may have overpaid for him, but to see if they did we’ll look at the contracts of the 5 pitchers with higher WAR’s than Weaver this season, as well as, two young aces who signed similar extensions last season. Of the five pitchers ahead of Weaver two are making more than $17 million a year; Roy Halladay ($20 million) and C.C. Sabathia ($24.6 million).Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and Dan Haren make less than 17 million, Kershaw makes $500k, but has never been eligible for arbitration, Verlander is raking in 13 million and Haren makes 12.75 million dollars which is well under his value (which I am sure the Angels are not complaining about). Only 6 pitchers in baseball this make $17 million dollars or more this season, which would mean Weaver would have to be around a top 5 pitcher each season for the Angels not to have overpaid.
Many comparisons have been made this season between Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver, because they have been racing for the A.L. Cy Young award. Last season, Verlander signed a similar extension with Detroit, and Seattle’s youthful ace Felix Hernandez did the same. Felix’s deal was slightly less than Weaver’s at 5 years/$78 million, or $1.4 million dollars per season, and Verlander’s about the same as Felix’s at 5 years/$80 million, or $1 million dollars per season. Thus, Verlander and Hernandez have almost the same contracts as Weaver, so the question is if Weaver is as good as those two aces. Felix was only 24 when he signed his contract, which means he will be the same age at the end of his contract as Weaver will be at the beginning of his. So one would possibly say that Felix’s age and potential for less money makes Weaver overpaid, but Weaver has the same amount of career starts (mileage) as the King of Seattle at the time of his deal. Over his three seasons before his contract extension, Felix’s average FIP was 3.43 or .12 higher than Weaver’s, also Felix has never posted a FIP of below 3.04 in his career, Weaver’s sits at 2.85 this season. Felix posted a WAR of 6.8 and 6.2, the season’s before his contract extension, which are higher than any WAR in Weaver’s career, but Weaver’s WAR is 1 higher than that of Hernandez this season.
Verlander was 27 when he signed his 5 year deal, and had just 7 starts less than that of Weaver and Hernandez. In the three seasons before his contract extension Verlander averaged the exact same FIP as Weaver. In 2009 Verlander had a ridiculous WAR of 8.3, something that Weaver has never come close to matching. Also Verlander’s value this season is already at $28 million, which is much higher than that of what he is being paid. So maybe the Angels feel as though Weaver is as talented as Verlander, or Scott Boras necessitated that Weaver needed to be paid as much as him, but they will have to hope he stays as good as Felix and become as valuable as Verlander over the next five seasons.
Signing Weaver to an extension that is a mirror image of those that went to Verlander and Hernandez seems like the right idea, because the Angels avoided what would have happened if Weaver had won his arbitration case after this season and gone fishing for deals with Boras after 2012. Weaver’s 2011 numbers are very similar to that of Tim Lincecum in 2010, who won his arbitration case and made 14 million dollars this season. The details of Weaver’s contract are not yet released, which is to say we do not know how much he’ll make in 2012, as apposed to other seasons, but let’s just say he makes $14 million in 2012 and $71 million over the next four years, which seems plausible (Verlander making $12.85 in 2011 67.15 next 4). So with this new contract extension, Weaver will make exactly the same next season as he would, if he had not signed it. Thus, where the judgment will lie for this contract will be in the 4 year/$71 million aspect starting in 2013, in comparison to the deal Weaver would have received on the open market with Boras as his agent.
The Angels had an ace in 2009, who became a free agent at the age of 31 named John Lackey. In the three seasons, leading up to becoming a free agent, Lackey posted an average FIP of 3.93 and WAR of 3.83. He also showed injury potential, while missing 9 starts two years before the deal, and 6 starts in ’09. Weaver (someone knock on wood quick) has never missed a major league start because of injury. When Lackey became a free agent in 2009 he signed a deal with the Boston Red Sox for 5 years/$82.5 million dollars (with a 6th year option). Lackey received almost the same exact contract as Weaver, when Weaver would have been 2 years younger with better numbers, and no injury history when he hit the market, with an agent in Scott Boras who would be looking for a lot more money than Lackey’s agent had. To give a ballpark estimate of the free agent contract Jered Weaver would have signed, if he had another strong season in 2012, I would say around 6 years/$115 million dollars. That is on average over $2 million more per season than Weaver will be making, and would sign him for the seasons when he is 34 and 35, in which most likely he will not have a value nearly that high.
There will be many arguments made about whether or not the Angels made the right move in giving Weaver this contract extension, many will say he’s simply not as talented as Verlander or Hernandez, and should not have the same deal as them. But after laying at all the facts, it seems as though if Jered can stay healthy and continue at this pace (those are both big if’s however) then Angels’ GM Tony Reagins may have made the right move this time in locking up his ace starter, instead of allowing Boras another shark testing the water in the winter of 2012.
Looming in Chavez Ravine may be the best hitter/pitcher combination in baseball. Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are legitimate award contenders on a dreadful baseball team. Their SABRmetric numbers are tops of any hitter/pitcher combo in baseball, by far.
Matt Kemp is 3rd in wOBA at .417 and 7th among hitters in WAR at 5.9 has a disgusting TAv of .347. Kemp is also 3rd in baseball in wRC+ at 168 runs.
Clayton Kersahw is 4th among pitchers in WAR at 5.3 and 2nd in FIP at .255. He strikes out almost 3 more batters per 9 innings than he gives up hits, with his rates at Hits per 9 innings of 6.86, strike outs per 9 innings of 9.75.
Kershaw pitches 20% of the Dodgers games, but 30% of the Dodgers’ wins this season have come in Kershaw starts. The Dodgers have a .653 winning percentage when Kershaw is the starting pitcher, and have only a .400 winning percentage when he is not on the hill.
Dodgers have scored 8 runs per win this season, with 448 runs and 56 wins. Of those 448 runs Matt Kemp has created 168 of them, or 38%. Dividing Kemp’s runs created by wins, he has accumulated 21 of the Dodgers wins this season. To exaggerate the point even further lets just say Kemp and Kershaw’s wins were entirely separate and that the 21 games that the runs Kemp attributed to were separate from Kershaw’s wins, that would be two players with 38 wins by themselves, that is 68% of the Dodgers wins this season.
The Dodgers payroll this season is in the area of 115 million dollars, before trading away Rafael Furcal and his 13 million dollar deal, so let’s say in the area of 110 million. Kershaw and Kemp will make a combined 7.6 million dollars, or just 6.9% of the Dodgers payroll. Thus, their two best players make little or no money, and are an incredible core to build around. If only the Dodgers had used the remaining 102 million dollars to sign legitimate players to surround their two stars.
However, they have not come anywhere close to doing so. This is part of what makes baseball so great, a team needs a solid 25-man roster to win. In basketball, having two superstar players would make a team a legit contender, but that is not the case in baseball. Kershaw can only pitch in 1 out of every 5 games, and Kemp cannot play ever position or hit in each spot in the order; thus, having two superstars with no one around them is just an incredible waste of talent and value out of two of baseball’s brightest stars.
With free agent pitchers like Jorge De la Rosa, Jake Westbrook, and Carl Pavano receiving between 8 and 10 million dollar a year deals on the open market, Clayton Kershaw’s $500,000 a year arm is an owner and general manager’s dream.
Stories of Clayton Kershaw’s jackhammer curveball became somewhat of a legend in the minor leagues as a prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then he became a young phenom with the flashy sideburns, pitching for the Dodgers in the ’08 and ’09 playoffs. Now, the 23 year-old lefty leads the MLB in strikeouts with 173 through August 1st. His 2.72 earned-run average, 1.04 WHIP, and .213 opponent batting average this late in the season are borderline Cy-Young numbers. Also his 12-4 record, with the way the Dodgers hit the ball, is also more than commendable.
I am not a huge fan of numbers like Win-Loss, ERA, and WHIP, though. Kershaw has over 10 strikeouts per nine innings to only 2 walks, and Kershaw’s SABRmetric statistics and non-fielding pitching numbers are just as impressive as his “traditional” numbers. Kershaw has a FIP well under 3 (2.42), and most v aluable play er –esque VORP and WARP numbers at 43.4 and 4.1 respectively. For an explanation of these statistics, visit baseballprospectus.com. What these numbers mean to me as a whole is that Kershaw has won 4 more games, single-handedly, for the Dodgers than a Triple-A call-up would have and has saved them over 43 runs on the hill. To give a reader an even clearer picture of what these numbers mean, compare them to those of baseball’s highest paid pitcher and perennial all-star C.C. Sabathia.
C.C. was an all-star this season and has put up very good numbers for the Yankees. He has the same WARP as Kershaw (4.1) and just slightly worse VORP and FIP numbers at 37.5 and 2.48 respectively. C.C. has been very good, almost as good as the Dodgers’ lefty. Looking at these numbers from an Economist’s point of view; however, I see a glaring difference between the Bronx Bombers’ Southpaw and Lefty from the Left Coast. And that difference is in their respective salaries.
C.C. Sabathia is making over 24 million dollars this season, while Kershaw is reeling in just half a million. One can do the simple math and realize that C.C. is making over 48 times as much as Kershaw to perform slightly worse. Sabathia has performed well this season and the Yankees (I’m sure) can live with his contract being that size. But most baseball teams do not have the luxury of spending 24 million dollars on one player (The Royals ENTIRE payroll is under 40). Thus, Kershaw’s season has been much more incredible and mainly much more valuable to the Dodgers this season.
I can estimate that Kershaw’s true value to the Dodgers is in the area of 16 million dollars (or about 23 times that of his current contract), which would mean he could make even more than that in the open market, because teams historically overpay for starting pitching
While Kershaw is an anomaly among players in the majors making under a million dollars, there is still much to be said about how good he has been for so little. His contract will rise a good deal next year when he is up for arbitration, but not until 2015 when he is finally eligible for free agency will Kershaw’s salary be anywhere near that of Sabathia.