« Archive for the ‘Player Valuation’ Category

We’re done talking about Walt Jocketty, but being that this is the second part of a series, we figured we would keep the name.

In the first part, we determined that the market for pitching is irrationally expensive, and contemplated some solutions to get around it. But up to this point we have mostly been discussing starters, when they are only responsible for about two thirds of all innings pitched. Filling these other innings with solid, dependable, cost efficient arms can go a long way toward offsetting the potentially bloated costs of a team’s rotation. For a number of reasons reasons, talented minor league (or even major league) relievers often slip through the cracks, toiling away in obscurity when they could be helping a big league team win games.

While several teams have been particularly adept at finding free talent relievers to stock their bullpens, the leaders in the clubhouse are the San Diego Padres. Year after year, GM Kevin Towers continues to find diamonds in the rough. Scott Linebrink. Doug Brocail. Rudy Seanez. Akinori Otsuka. Alan Embree. Scott Cassidy. Cla Meredith. Heath Bell. All of these men have found success in the Padres pen over the last four years while pulling in salaries at or near the league minimum. […]

Consider the plight of a modern day general manager. His team needs pitching, but a somewhat consistent league-average starter will cost him at least $30 million in present value, and possibly upwards of $50 million. He knows this is too much to spend, but the idea starting the season with Mark Redman in his rotation is keeping him up at night. What to do?

Say a married couple of reasonable means is looking to buy a house, but the market is irrationally high at the moment (as we have already discovered the market for pitching currently is). They have three main options: 1) buy an overpriced house; 2) continue to rent, hoping that the market comes back down soon enough; 3) acknowledge that the market is inefficient, and look for alternative ways to beat it.

Viewing starting pitchers in the same manner, teams have generally acted in one of these three ways with different levels of success. Jeff Suppan, Barry Zito, and Gil Meche (among others) were, essentially, the irrationally expensive houses on the market. Greg Maddux, signed to a one-year deal by the Padres, would be the equivalent of renting, in the sense that he fills a pressing need but is not a long-term asset. […]

“The market right now is kind of silly, and it may continue to be silly.”
- St. Louis Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty (ESPN.com; November 28, 2006)

So just how silly is the market?

Quite, actually, but particularly when it comes to pitchers.

But doesn’t defense win championships? Isn’t that the idea that we’ve all been taught, weaned on, suffocated with, what have you? Shouldn’t there be a premium on pitching, if it is really that important?

Let’s consider. Wins can be broken down and credited to three major factors: runs scored, runs allowed, and luck. Pitchers have almost no effect on how many runs their team scores, but a substantial hand in how many their team allows. Substantial is the key word here. Most fans and, incredibly, team execs seem to believe that a pitcher is almost entirely responsible for the runs he lets up, hence the reliance on ERA to evaluate performance. […]