Friday, October 8, 2010

Kerry Wood in 2011 Or: Why You Should Never Pay Relievers

This morning, my friend (an unabashed Yankee fan) emailed me an article from today's NY Post, headlined "Perfect setup job by Yankees' Wood."

I replied, "In 2003, if you told me that Kerry Wood would be the Yankees' setup guy, that would have been the equivalent of saying you would have, I don't know, Barry Bonds, as your backup left fielder."

He came back with, "He is a FA and currently making $10 mill a year. Where do you see him, in what role, and at how much?"

Excellent question! ($1, Bill Simmons) Let's start with a quick list:

The highest-paid active relief pitchers, by average annual value (thanks, Cot's, though you should update the chart because Ryan is no longer active, to say nothing of Wagner and [ahem] Hoffman):
  1. Mariano Rivera, $15,000,000 (2008-10)
  2. Brad Lidge, $12,500,000 (2009-11)
  3. Francisco Rodriguez, $12,333,333 (2009-11)
  4. Joe Nathan, $11,750,000 (2008-11)
  5. Francisco Cordero, $11,500,000 (2008-11)
  6. Billy Wagner, $10,750,000 (2006-09)
  7. Kerry Wood, $10,250,000 (2009-10)
  8. B.J. Ryan, $9,400,000 (2006-10)
  9. Brian Fuentes, $8,750,000 (2009-10)
  10. Trevor Hoffman, $8,000,000 (2010)
  11. Jose Valverde, $7,000,000 (2010-11)
  12. Danys Baez, $6,333,333 (2007-09)
  13. Trevor Hoffman, $6,000,000 (2009)
    Mike Gonzalez, $6,000,000
  14. Octavio Dotel, $5,500,000 (2008-09)
    Fernando Rodney, $5,500,000 (2010-11)
Wow... You look at that list and you see a bunch of guys who teams wish they weren't paying. K-rod? In jail. Nathan? BJ Ryan? Injured. Then there's the whole group of "closers-who-aren't-anymore" like Wood, Fuentes, Hoffman, Baez, Gonzalez, Dotel, and Rodney.

The *best* aggregate performance over the life of any of the above contracts was, of course, Mariano Rivera's, as he gave the Yankees 6.9 WAR for $45 million over his 3-year deal, or about $6.5 million per win. Trevor Hoffman's 2009 was a good deal for the Brewers, as he produced 1.5 WAR for $6 million, or $4 million per win. Unfortunately, the Brewers brought Hoffman back in 2010 at $8 million, and he proceeded to give back minus-0.6 WAR. Oops.

Ten of the 16 guys on that list are not worth the money they're paid. And that doesn't even count Brad Lidge, who was absolutely awful last season, or Billy Wagner, who was hurt for most of last year. A full 75% of these relievers were terrible signings. In 2008, when many of these contracts were signed, teams paid an average of about $4.5 million per win on the free agent market. Only Mariano and Hoffman (in 2009) were even close to that. Most expensive reliever contracts are busts, even for "great" closers.

Take Joe Nathan. At $11.75 million per year, the Twins pay him like he's a 2-win player. And he was exactly that, in 2008 and 2009. But, as we know, Nathan hasn't pitched at all in 2010. That drives his value down from 2 WAR/year to 1.333 WAR/year. So the Twins have paid $8.8 million over 3 years for each of Nathan's wins, instead of the $5.875 million they would have paid per win if Nathan had put up 2.0 WAR this season too.

Reliever (Yrs) WAR WAR/year AAV years total $ total $/WAR
mariano (08-10) 6.9 2.30 $15.00 3 $45.00 $6.52
lidge (09-10) -0.4 -0.20 $12.50 2 $25.00 -$62.50
k-rod (09-10) 1.7 0.85 $12.33 2 $24.67 $14.51
nathan (08-10) 4 1.33 $11.75 3 $35.25 $8.81
cordero (08-10) 2.7 0.90 $11.50 3 $34.50 $12.78
wagner (06-09) 5 1.67 $10.50 3 $31.50 $6.30
wood (09-10) 0.6 0.30 $10.25 2 $20.50 $34.17
ryan (06-10!) 1.8 0.36 $9.40 5 $47.00 $26.11
fuentes (09-10) 0.7 0.35 $8.75 2 $17.50 $25.00
hoffman (10) -0.6 -0.60 $8.00 1 $8.00 -$13.33
valverde (10) 0.6 0.60 $7.00 1 $7.00 $11.67
baez (07-09) -0.4 -0.13 $6.33 3 $19.00 -$47.50
hoffman (09) 1.5 1.50 $6.00 1 $6.00 $4.00
gonzalez (10) 0.7 0.70 $6.00 1 $6.00 $8.57
dotel (08-09) 0.7 0.35 $5.50 2 $11.00 $15.71
rodney (10) 0.3 0.30 $5.50 1 $5.50 $18.33

Combined, every reliever on that list, over the life of those contracts, produced 25.8 WAR. Teams paid these relievers a total of $343 million over 35 player-seasons, or $7.6 million a year. 25.8 wins divided by 36 seasons is 0.72 wins per year. Teams are paying $7.6 million a year for 0.72 wins a year? I respectfully suggest that -- aside from Jeff Francoeur -- closers are the worst investment in MLB, even accounting for their higher leverage appearances.

(And if you take out the singular Mariano's 6.9 wins, teams paid $298 million for 18.9 WAR, or $15.77 million per win. #Fail)

Back to my friend's query. What happens with Kerry Wood? If I'm a GM I stay far away from any reliever who wants more than $5 million a year. Yes, even Mariano going forward. Relievers get hurt. They flame out. They're flaky. Some are even violent, right Omar? It's folly to claim that any closer is worth $10 million a year. What will *some* GM pay Kerry Wood? I'm guessing about 2 years for $8 million a year, to be a closer. And that will be an awful contract the instant it is signed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The All-Roy Team

We're nearly two weeks into the Two Roy era in Philly. I'm frankly shocked that nobody who a Google search turned up has put together the MLB All-Roy Team. (Apologies to Cistulli's All-Joy Team.)

One look at the All-Roy team explains why Phillies GM Ruben Amaro traded away Cliff Lee so he could later employ Roy Oswalt. As befits the high-level analysis permeating today's MLB, here is the statistically significant takeaway from today's post: The last team to employ two Roys on the same roster won the World Series.

To be fair, this team does not consider any of the prestigious Royces such as Clayton, Ring, and, of course, Lint. Without further ado, let's start with the pitching staff since it inspired this post.

SP1: Roy Halladay
A sure-fire Hall-of-Famer if he retired today, Halladay finished first or second in AL pitcher Wins Above Replacement in six of the last eight years. His NL 2010 is on pace to make it seven of the last nine. Halladay's first name fits him well. The name "Roy" originated as a nickname for someone with red hair or a reddish complexion.

SP2: Roy Oswalt
Oswalt's numbers suffer in comparison to Halladay's, but the long-time Astro finished in the top-five of Cy Young voting five of his first six years in the majors. His reputation would benefit from a strong second-half performance that propels the Phillies into the playoffs.

SP3: Roy Smith
Smith earned a World Series ring by pitching 16 innings for the 1987 Twins, although he saw no postseason action. He picked up a win in his only start that year. The native of Mt. Vernon, NY (birthplace of Denzel Washington and former home of the author) started 49 games for the Twins in 1989 and 1990. But an ERA+ of 96 in those two seasons foreshadowed that he'd be out of the league after he put up a 5.60 ERA for Baltimore in 1991.

SP4: Roy Patterson
"Boy Wonder" pitched for the White Sox during the dead-ball era. How dead was the dead-ball era? Patterson's 2.63 ERA in 1907 signaled his demise, as it was seven percent worse than league average. According to the Baby Name Wizard, "Roy" peaked as a boy's name in the 1890s, when it was the 19th most-popular name.

CL: Roy Face
Face was a diminutive (5'8") righty and one of the first to use the forkball. He didn't reach the majors to stay until age 27, but he dominated for more than a decade out of the Pirates' bullpen in the '50s and '60s. Fun With Useless Stats: Face was 18-1 as a reliever in 1959.

RP: Roy Jackson
Jackson's best year came for the 1982 Blue Jays, when he threw 97 innings, striking out 71 and walking 31 over 46 relief appearances and two starts. He appeared in 280 games, only 18 of them as a starting pitcher, in his 10-year big league career.

RP: Roy Corcoran

Included more for his having pitched recently than for pitching well, Corcoran put up a 3.22 ERA for the 2008 Mariners, which masked an unhealthy 39/36 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In '09 he got lit up to the tune of a 6.16 ERA with 17 walks in 19 IP. Now 30 years old, he's struggling in Triple-A for the Astros.

C: Roy Campanella
An 8-time All-Star and 3-time MVP, Campanella debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, one year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969.

1B: Roy (Squirrel!) Sievers
Sievers led the American League with 42 homers and 331 total bases for the 1957 Washington Senators, a team that also featured .167-hitting center fielder Dorrel Norman Elvert (Whitey) Herzog. That team must have spent all its energy coining nicknames because they lost 99 of 154 games.

2B: Roy Smalley

The second Roy on the 1987 World Champion Twins, Smalley played all over the infield like a mid-'80s Omar Infante. Sorry: "All-Star Omar Infante." And like Infante, Smalley was a one-time All-Star, when he hit .341/.424/.535 the first half of 1979.

SS: Roy McMillan
Your prototypical all-field, no hit shortstop, mostly for the 1950s Reds. McMillan played 16 seasons in the big leagues despite a career OPS+ of 72. His glove was thought of so highly that he received down-ballot MVP recognition in seasons he posted OBPs of .306, .308 and .305. McMillan knew how to take a walk but just couldn't hit for average: he averaged 51 bases-on-balls per 592 plate appearances.

3B: Roy Howell
The 4th pick of the 1972 draft, Howell got a cup of coffee in September 1974 with the Texas Rangers as a 20-year-old third baseman. Over the next two years he provided league-average offense but not much in the way of glovework (49 errors in 245 games). After starting the 1977 season 0-for-17 (with 2 walks!), Texas traded Howell to Toronto, where he hit .302/.374/.430 the rest of the way. Howell made his only All-Star Team in 1978 with a .298 first-half batting average. He would go on to play 11 MLB seasons, retiring at age 30 with a career .261/.321/.389 line.

LF: Roy White
White peaked just before the late George Steinbrenner brought Catfish and Reggie on board. White's age-24 to -32 seasons produced a solid .278/.370/.418 line. Then White became an ice cube in the drink stirred by Jackson's straw. When the Yankees won the World Series in 1977, White produced a 109 OPS+ as a 33-year-old left fielder. The following year White became more of a utility guy behind Lou Piniella as the Yanks repeated. He was out of baseball by 1980.

CF: Roy Thomas

Another Roy from the deadball era, Thomas led the National League in walks for the Phillies seven times from 1900 to 1907. More deadball fun: Thomas' career OBP (.413) was 80 points higher than his career SLG.

RF: Roy Cullenbine
Cullenbine played for six teams in ten MLB seasons, including the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, and Brooklyn Dodgers. Like Roy Thomas, Cullenbine liked to take a walk. His 1941 OBP (.452) was second in the AL to some guy named Ted Williams.

So that's the All-Roy Team. In case you're disappointed at the paucity of modern Roys on the squad, take heart: The Mets have a 24-year-old southpaw at Triple-A named Roy Merritt. He's been a decent reliever this year, with a 3.22 FIP over 80 innings. He may have a future as a LOOGY given his 8.9 K/9 and zero home runs allowed against lefties this season. If the Mets can get Merritt to the bigs and get Ike Davis to change his name to Roy...