Huston Street or Carl Pavano?

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.


Twins Pavano pitches during game 3 of the ALDS in Minneapolis

Pro: For all of Pavano’s faults, he made 33 starts last year, albeit with just 199.1 innings, a poor 6.03 innings per start. Pavano split the 2009 season between the Indians and Twins, the former allowing him to pitch just 5.96 innings per start, likely due to his overall poor performance for the club. The Twins were kinder, allowing Pavano to pitch 6.1 innings per start. Over 33 starts, that would translate to 201.1 innings. A reason for Pavano’s durability has to do with his actual performance, posting a 5.37 ERA for the Indians and 4.64 ERA for the Twins (5.10 total). His xFIP and tERA are kinder to his overall production, claiming his ERA should have been in the high 3s (xFIP: 3.96, tERA: 3.65). Pavano’s WAR was 3.7, which is a great number and his BABIP was .335, so he was decidedly unlucky.

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.


Atlanta Braves vs Colorado Rockies in Denver

Pro: While I’m not sold on Fangraph’s valuation of closers, the 1.5 WAR credit Street gets directly translates to Street being worth $7 million on the free agent market, using the idea of $4.5 million per win. Thusly, at the very least, Street is worth his contract. The 26 year old posted his best K/BB ratio (5.38) of his career in 2009, doing so in Colorado. He had a very low BABIP of .257, and while that ascribes a fair bit of luck to Street’s production, I have noticed that BABIP in elite closers tends to stay low. Street’s xFIP was 2.92, with a tERA of 2.24.

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?

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  1. ecp said...

    Yeah, Bob, but wow, Pavano sure pitched significantly WORSE against the Royals than he did against the best of the league.  And while they may not be the amongst the Twins’ prime competitors in 2010, they still have to play them as many times as they do the Tigers and the White Sox.

  2. GWR said...

    I just don’t see why paying Huston Street $7.5 million is a problem. I really don’t. He has very solid skills and is what I would call a solid closer on a team that can win their division.
    To me it makes far more sense than the Tigers paying Valverde.

  3. Ralph Kramden said...

    “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”

    But the 70 that Street will pitch will be more critical than most of Pavano’s innings.

    Like GWR, I have no problem with the Rockies valuation of Street.  Pavano has something to prove, though.

  4. Bob said...

    Your logic is very sound and I agree that a top tier closer has much more value than a number 3 or 4 starter, however, Pavano provides extra value to the Twins that is not evident in his overall numbers. For whatever reason he pitched significantly better against the Tigers (4-1, 3.00 ERA)and White Sox (2-1, 2.42 ERA)than he did against the rest of the league. Since these two teams are the Twins prime competitors in the AL Central his performance against these teams provides extra value and I believe this is why the Twins traded for him and offered him arbitration.

    As you point out, he is actually a fairly mediocre pitcher, however, he actually can play an important role in the Twins chances to win their division.

  5. Eric Cioe said...

    You could conceivably count on Street for 60 innings this season.  You cannot possibly count on Pavano for anything, given his history.  Pavano might throw 200 innings, but he might throw 35.  Street is going to throw 50-70.  For that reason, I’d rather have Street.

  6. D Leaberry said...

    If I could go back over thirty-five years, you could ask whether Ken Holtzman or Rollie Fingers was more vital to the Oakland A’s.  Holtzman was a fine starting pitcher who was durable until his early thirties and Fingers is in the Hall of Fame.  Slight edge to Fingers perhaps and maybe not.  If Holtzman did not flame out at 33, he may have won 250 games instead of the 175 that he did win.  But Pavano is not as durable as Holtzman(only 3 years of 200 or so innings) or as excellent.  So Street gets the call over Pavano.

  7. DonCoburleone said...

    Even though I understand the bullpen “chaining” argument, I totally agree with you here.  Give me a Papelbon-Broxton-Nathan-Street over a Pavano-Piniero-Garland-Padilla any day of the week.

  8. Ed Norton said...

    I’m w/ Ralph on this one:  I think getting anything over 150 innings from Pavano would be a miracle.  His injury history is too deep to ignore.  I’d take Street over Pavano any day, but would’ve rather gone for 2 years instead of 3.

  9. Ed Norton said...

    To DonCoburleone—- I don’t think Pavano should even be in the same class with the Pinieros-Garlands-Padillas of MLB.  Those guys probably average 175 innings/year.  Pavano averaged more like 75 or 100 over the past 5 or 6 years.

  10. DonCoburleone said...

    I see your point Ed, but the reason I put those guys in the same class as Pavano is that at their best, I’d take Pavano over any of those 3.

  11. Bob said...

    Ecp – Pavano was shelled for 9 runs in 4.2 inn against the Royals which distorts the numbers a little. He still ended up with a 4-3 record against them and was 10-6 against the AL Central (ignoring his loss to the Twins) in 18 starts. Assuming he stays healthy (big assumption) they signed him to pitch against the other teams in the division.

    GWR – How is Street a better closer than Valverde? Street’s save % is under 80% for 3 of his 5 years while Valverde has never been under 80%. Street has 2 more BSv than Valverde while finishing 71 FEWER games. Valverde looks like a bargin compared to Street.

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