Valuing The Free Agent Starters

Other than Manny Ramirez's hair and the daily Steinbrenner rants, nothing creates more buzz during the hot-stove season than fans clamoring for their teams to add quality starting pitching.  If you believe sports talk radio, it seems as though every team is a 3rd starter away from winning the pennant this time of year.  But how much does improving the pitching staff really matter?  And how much should teams be willing to spend for what Tim Dierkes considers the best starters available?

Like with the free agent hitters, these yearly salaries are not meant to be the final word.  There are more issues to consider, including age, injuries, and length of contract.  But this analysis is a good start and shows which starters will likely be overpaid and which pitchers your favorite team should be targeting instead.

To compute projected ERA, I started with tRA*, the regressed version of tRA (read the full explanation or the no-numbers explanation), weighting the past three seasons by 5, 3, and 2, respectively.  I then subtracted .35 runs to switch to the ERA scale.  Finally, I adjusted NL pitchers' numbers up to account for the DH effect.

To convert projected ERA into value, I computed runs above replacement: (5.75 - ERA) / 9 * IP, where innings pitched comes from Colin Wyers' Marcel projections.  Dividing by 10 yields wins-above-replacement (WAR).  Finally, each win is worth $4.84MM and $400K is added in for the league's minimum salary.

The last column in the table is the value of 10 innings from each pitcher.  If you disagree with Marcel's IP projection, this will help you make adjustments on the fly.

Starters IP tRA* lg adj tERA WAR Value Val/10
Sabathia 211 3.70 .10 3.45 5.4 $26 $1.3
Burnett 187 4.09 .00 3.74 4.2 $21 $1.1
Lowe 185 3.82 .40 3.87 3.9 $19 $1.0
Johnson 158 4.07 .30 4.02 3.0 $15 $1.0
Mussina 175 4.56 .00 4.21 3.0 $15 $0.9
Pettitte 183 4.60 .10 4.35 2.8 $14 $0.8
Sheets 173 4.22 .40 4.27 2.8 $14 $0.8
Dempster 141 4.17 .40 4.22 2.4 $12 $0.9
Smoltz 94 3.97 .40 4.02 1.8 $9 $1.0
Garland 179 5.31 .00 4.96 1.6 $8 $0.4
Wolf 155 4.93 .40 4.98 1.3 $7 $0.4
OlPerez 175 5.06 .40 5.11 1.2 $6 $0.4
Looper 153 5.04 .40 5.09 1.1 $6 $0.4
Penny 127 4.97 .40 5.02 1.0 $5 $0.4
Moyer 178 5.22 .40 5.27 0.9 $5 $0.3
  • CC Sabathia is obviously the number one target this off-season.  But what's surprising to me is that he appears to deserve Mark Teixeira-type money.  He probably doesn't deserve Teixeira-type years, however.
  • Ben Sheets, even with his sordid injury history, is still a good risk.  There are a few pitchers I'd want more, but to avoid him altogether is folly, especially since it's likely his agent is open to a shorter contract.
  • Randy Johnson is not finished.  Not by a long shot.
  • Derek Lowe deserves all the articles declaring him as the most underrated free agent pitcher.  And his ground ball abilities can be leveraged by an organization with a slick infield defense.  Philadelphia or Toronto, perhaps?
  • AJ Burnett is seen as a third starter option by many fans, but he's actually a very good number two or a poor-man's ace.  Notice that his projected ERA is only .40 runs higher than Sabathia's...
  • John Garland, Oliver Perez, and Brad Penny?  No thanks.
  • How about some pitcher/hitter equivalent? Sabathia = Teixeira, Burnett/Lowe = Manny, Dempster/Sheets = Dunn, Looper/Wolf = Garrett Anderson.
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