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.
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.
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?