Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Huston Street or Carl Pavano?Posted by Evan Brunell
Earlier today, it was revealed that the baseball version of Humpty Dumpty, Carl Pavano, signed for $7 million, avoiding arbitration with the Minnesota Twins. Elsewhere in the great expanse of the midwest, the Colorado Rockies struck an accord with closer Huston Street to the tune of three years and $22.5 million.
There are those that believe paying Street $7.5 million annually is a joke, while others are baffled how Pavano got $7 million. Thus, the question becomes: would you rather Carl Pavano or Huston Street (2010 only)? Here's one man's attempt to answer.
Let's go through each player and a nice, simple pros and cons list.
Con: While his xFIP and tERA posit an ERA under 4, the fact remains that 4.77 is his lowest ERA in his time in the American League, so we're looking at a four-year span (he missed all of 2006) over 345 innings. It's not a lot of innings over a timespan, but it's enough to draw a few conclusions from. Additionally, Pavano's xFIP in 2009 was the lowest since ... well, since before we have data for it. (Fangraph's xFIP goes back to only 2002.) You're welcome to posit that Pavano's 2009 season was better than any of his 2002-8 seasons, but you won't find me in that camp. Bill James, CHONE, Marcel and Fangraphs' fan projections tab Pavano for the following respective ERAs: 4.46, 4.50, 4.97, 4.64. What are we looking at here, then? A No. 3 starter, tops... more likely a No. 4 starter. I should mention here that when I say No. 3 or 4, I'm not doing so in the lens of the Twins' personnel -- I'm doing so based on Pavano's actual value. Finding someone to throw 200 innings of 5.00 ERA-ball is not difficult, and there are still some starting pitchers on the market currently that can -- and will -- do that for less money than Pavano.
Con: Of course, the difference between Street and Pavano is that Pavano will affect roughly 200 innings of the Twins' season, while Street can only hope for 70. That's really it -- that's the major con facing Street at the moment in comparison to Pavano.
Yes, innings pitched is a significant difference, and a big reason why starters are valued more than relievers and closers -- and for the most part, they should be. When we're getting to No. 4 starters and elite closers, however, the ability to replace Street is more difficult than the ability to replace Pavano. How many people can step in to replace a top closer? How about a back-of-the-rotation starter? Dave Cameron spoke about bullpen chaining and why Fangraphs' valuations of closers are so low. (Briefly: closers are valued less because if they're lost for the season, the next-best reliever steps up, not a mopup replacement... this limits the original closer's value, as his production has been replaced.) He makes a compelling argument, although I think the same concept can be applied to starters. In addition, I'm not sold on the whole "chaining" argument just yet. (Former THTer Colin Wyers tweeted about this, and I look forward to his thoughts when he puts them together.)
In the end, I'm leaning towards Huston Street. I think that No. 1 starters should always be paid far and away more money than the best closer, but I also think the best closer brings more value to a team than the prototypical No. 4-5 starter. Anyone else agree? Disagree? Would you rather Pavano or Street?
Evan Brunell is currently editor of Fire Brand of the American League, a Red Sox blog he began in 2003. He also scores games at Fenway Park for MLB. He was the co-founder and president of MVN, an independent sports media web site.