Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Greinke and Price deals. Genius or folly?

David Price says he’s saving postseason wins for Boston

In that case, I hope he can skate, because he might make the post-season with the Bruins.

All kidding aside:

Is it worth it to offer a big 7-year contract to a 30-year-old pitcher? Just out of curiosity, I went to and looked up the ten most comparable players to Price at age 29. I eliminated the ones who are still active and looked at the post-age-29 careers of the others: Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, Tim Hudson, Jon Candelaria and Doug Drabek.

And yes, they were all very similar to Price at age 29. Unless you are Price's mom, you probably can't pick him out of the list below.
#1:   99 wins, 1494 innings, 3.11 ERA
#2: 104 wins, 1441 innings, 3.09 ERA
#3: 106 wins, 1432 innings, 3.33 ERA
#4: 110 wins, 1613 innings, 3.15 ERA
#5: 112 wins, 1413 innings, 3.07 ERA
#6: 109 wins, 1543 innings, 3.11 ERA 
For the record, they are, from top to bottom: Drabek, Price, Hudson, Candelaria, Oswalt, Santana.

In the next seven years after age 29:
  • Drabek had a 56-64 record and a dreadful 4.63 ERA in 1040 innings. WAR 5. 
  • Santana pitched 482 innings, went 30-27 with a 3.49 ERA. WAR 8. 
  • Candelaria threw 844 innings in posting a 67-44 record with a 3.57 ERA. WAR 11. 
  • Oswalt was 51-48 with a 3.85 in 832 innings. WAR 13. 
  • Newly retired Tim Hudson was 91-56 in his first seven years after age 29 with a 3.52 ERA in 1149 innings. WAR 20.
The best case is Hudson, who had several solid seasons after age 29. The worst case scenario is the Drabek career because he really fell apart.

The average case was 59-48 with a 3.86 ERA in 869 innings, a net WAR of 11. That would be a pretty durned weak return on $217 million, since it would cost nearly $20 million per win. To place that in context: Since A-Rod signed with the Rangers, he has collected about $365 million in salary, but he's produced a WAR of 81 - about four and a half million per win.

In other words, the most likely scenario (assumed to be the average of the five guys) is that he's costing four to five times as much per win as A-Rod.

If Hudson is the best case scenario, Price is still costing more than twice as much per win as A-Rod.

Zack Greinke agrees to deal with Diamondbacks - 6 years, worth $206 million

"The Dodgers offered Greinke a five-year deal worth $31 million per year," but it was not enough. Greinke is awesome, but those numbers are huge for a 32-year-old pitcher.

Applying the same logic I used on David Price, I collected the most comparable retired pitchers through age 31, and determined what they did for the rest of their careers.

Greinke's list of comps is much more impressive than Price's, filled with Hall of Fame material and men who won Cy Young awards both before and after they turned 31:

Through age 31:
  • Bret Saberhagen: 141 wins, 2227 innings, 3.26 ERA
  • John Smoltz: 146 wins, 2228 innings, 3.36 ERA
  • Mike Mussina: 147 wins, 2009 innings, 3.53 ERA
  • Zack Greinke: 142 wins, 2094 innings, 3.35 ERA
  • Bob Welch: 132 wins, 2065 innings, 3.20 ERA
  • Jack Morris: 144 wins, 2121 innings, 3.57 ERA
  • Tom Glavine: 153 wins, 2196 innings, 3.40 ERA
  • John Candelaria: 131 wins, 1924 innings, 3.14 ERA

The first six years after age 31:
  • Bret Saberhagen pitched only 335 innings, 26-17, 3.90 ERA, 6 WAR. 
  • John Smoltz became a reliever after he missed the 2000 season. He was 17-16 with 154 saves in 471 innings, 2.86 ERA, 12 WAR. 
  • Mike Mussina was 92-53 in 1200 innings, 3.80 ERA, 29 WAR. 
  • Bob Welch was 79-51 in 1026 innings with a 4.01 ERA, 8 WAR - and one spectacular season with 27 wins! 
  • Jack Morris was 93-74 in 1408 innings, 3.97 ERA, 14 WAR. 
  • Tom Glavine was 98-58 in 1331 innings with a 3.47 ERA, 24 WAR. 
  • John Candelaria was 44-27, partially as a reliever, in 556 innings, with a 3.83 ERA and a WAR of 6.

Viewed from this perspective, the Greinke deal is better than the Price contract because Greinke is starting from a higher level, so the comps are more impressive (except Candelaria, of course, who is in both groups) and the upside potential is higher. None of the seven blew up completely, and only Candelaria drifted into mediocrity.

Greinke's most likely scenario (the average of the players above - 14 WAR in 6 years) and his upside (29 WAR over six years) both indicate that this is seems to be a better deal than the Price contract.

Cost per win:
  • Price: best case $11 million; average case $20M.
  • Greinke: best case $7 million; average case $15M.
You'll note from the comparisons above that the method is anything but infallible. Saberhagen and Smoltz had just about identical numbers at age 31, but Saberhagen's career was nearly over at that point, while Smoltz went on forever, despite losing an entire year to injuries. He lasted until age 42, including several solid years as a starter in the period after the one studied above (twice in the top seven in Cy Young balloting), and three tremendous years as a closer in the studied period (including a 55-save season which earned him a third place in the Cy Young balloting).

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