The tables below reflect twelve free agent signings this off-season. The columns show the respective players’ 2009 WAR, the average annual value of the contracts they’ve signed this off-season (in millions), and the dollars paid to the player per ’09 win.
The two tables look like they’re comprised of signings from two different eras, like one from this economy and one from those halcyon days when owners showered free agents with money, jewels, and keys to the kingdom. But all twelve signings occurred this off-season. The first table clearly shows contracts that are favorable to their respective teams. Around a year ago, free agents earned on average about $4.4 million per win above replacement and the worst of those six contracts to the team will pay the player just over three and a half million per ’09 win. The second table shows the best contract being slightly worse than the worst contract from the first table and the worst contract being…well…horrendous. Paying a player who’s only slightly better than a replacement level player $5.5 million? Why? It makes no sense.
Now I’m going to modify the two tables to reflect projected WAR based on CHONE’S projections for the 2010 season rather than the players’ WAR for ’09.
It doesn’t look much better for the group in Table 2, does it? So what explains this disparity? I’m now going to make one more change to Table 2, using last year’s numbers. Maybe this will shine a light on what’s going on here.
|**The Astros will pay the guy above the same as the Cubs will pay the guy below…for a lot less production.** (Icon/SMI)|
|Player||’09 WAR||AAV||$/WAR||’09 Saves|
The six players in table 1, whose average annual values of their salaries are roughly equal to those in table 2, are Mark DeRosa, Nick Johnson, Marlon Byrd, Mike Cameron, Chone Figgins, and Marco Scutaro. The six players in table 2 are Fernando Rodney, Billy Wagner, Jose Valverde, Brandon Lyon, Mike Gonzalez, and Rafael Soriano. The obvious reason why the six players in table 2 will be paid about the same as those in table 1 is the fact that they were signed to close baseball games, to pitch the ninth inning. Why else would the Angels pay Fernando Rodney, basically a replacement level pitcher, nearly the same as the Giants will pay Mark DeRosa or the Red Sox will pay Marco Scutaro?
Yes, I know that Rodney blew just one save last year but I also know his career BB/9 is 4.64 and his career FIP is 4.15. I also know that he was a solid ground ball pitcher last year but his 57.9 ground ball percentage was ten points higher than his career average ground ball rate. I also know that his strikeout rate was the lowest of his career last year. I also know that the average leverage index when Rodney entered the game was just eighth among AL closers. And I also know that the Angels are gambling big bucks on Rodney just a year after doing the exact same thing on Brian Fuentes and seeing it backfire. What’s the definition of insanity again, Mr. Einstein?
Let’s compare Brandon Lyon to Marlon Byrd, two men receiving the exact same contracts. Lyon will be the Astros’ closer while Byrd will man center field for the Cubs. Last year Lyon pitched to 314 batters in 78.2 innings. Byrd came to the plate 599 times AND made 341 plays in the field. Byrd affected games more on defense, even if he hadn’t taken one plate appearance for the Rangers in ’09, than Lyon did pitching for the Tigers. It’s not that Lyon’s a bad pitcher, he isn’t; it’s that by pitching only in the ninth inning, he only affects one-ninth of the game every two to three games. Byrd will affect most every inning of most every game for the Cubs this season.
Now, Byrd certainly isn’t a great player. But he is a league average defensive player at a premium defensive position as well as being about a league average offensive player. You could do a lot worse in center field than having a league average center fielder, particularly when you’re paying him the same amount as a division rival is paying someone else to pitch to 300 hitters all season.
While the economy seems to have hit some teams hard, and they’re making decisions accordingly, others are still overvaluing closers. None of these guys is Mariano Rivera or even Joe Nathan. The only one of these contracts that appears to even come close to being a beneficial contract to the team is the one doled out to Rafael Soriano. The others are examples of how some teams continue to overvalue saves. Most of them are pretty good middle relievers who just don’t do enough throughout the course of a season to earn six or seven million dollar contracts when above average shortstops and center fielders are getting the same amount of money.