Economics of Baseball: 2010 in 1-year deals for free agent starters

Free agent starting pitchers usually get multi-year deals unless they're a) bad, b) old, or c) coming off of an injury-plagued season. You may be aware of this, but pitching--especially starting pitching--is extremely difficult and frequently leads to injuries. In that regard, there are usually around a dozen free agent starting pitchers that receive 1-year deals each offseason.

According to baseballprojection.com's Free Agent Tracker there were 12 such free agent starters to receive 1-year deals during the 2010 preseason (excluding Jose Contreras, who was used exclusively as a relief pitcher last year, and Mike Hampton, who was signed to a minor league deal in August of 2010 and went on to pitch only 4 and 1/3 big league inning). A look at how they performed.

The Very Good

Livan Hernandez -- Hernandez signed a split-contract deal that paid him a pro-rated $900,000 while he was in the majors. He spent the entire season in the majors, earning the full $900,000 and pitching 211 and 2/3 innings with a 3.95 FIP, good for 3.0 fWAR. The $0.3 million per win was easily the lowest ratio among the dozen pitchers in my sample and, without checking, probably one of the best of the 2010 offseason.

Brett Myers -- I did not expect this to work out, but Myers rebounded nicely from his disaster of a 2009 (6.14! FIP in 70 and 2/3 innings), pitching 223 and 2/3 innings with a 3.56 FIP--racking up 4.0 fWAR. Myers signed a 1-year, $5 million deal with the Astros last offseason and pitched at least 6 innings in each of his first 32 starts before being given a hook after recording 17 outs during his last outing of the year. He had already thrown 114 pitches that day and the Astros had previously extended his contract--guaranteeing him $21 million over the next two years--so you can hardly blame Brad Mills for pulling him after allowing 8 runs in 5 and 2/3 innings, even if a neat novelty was at stake.

Carl Pavano -- Technically, Carl Pavano did not sign as a free agent. Rather, he accepted the Minnesota Twins' arbitration offer, forfeiting his right to become a free agent and sign with any team. The Twins rewarded him with a 1-year, $7 million deal and Pavano rewarded the Twins with 221 innings of a 4.02 FIP, good for 3.2 fWAR. $2.2 million per win is an excellent return on an investment and the Twins should be very happy Pavano accepted arbitration.

The Not So Good

Vicente Padilla -- Say what you want about Vicente Padilla's character. There's certainly a lot to say. Regarding his performance, he probably wasn't worth the $5.025 million the Dodgers paid him for his 2010 services. He managed to pitch 95 innings with a 4.20 FIP, accumulating 1.0 fWAR in the process. He wasn't useless and someone had to make the 16 starts he did, but it wasn't a very efficient use of $5 million.

Andy Pettitte -- Pettitte pitched only 129 innings with a 3.85 FIP, making him a 2.3 win pitcher in 2010. The Yankees paid $11.8 million for those 2.3 wins. Of course, he's Andy Pettitte and the Yankees have the $11.8 million, so it's extremely easy to look past the $5.1 million/win ratio.

Jon Garland -- Yeah, yeah, he posted a 3.47 ERA in 200 innings. He also pitched in an extremely pitcher-friendly park and posted a 1.56 K/BB ratio. His 4.41 FIP and 0.8 fWAR are utterly uninspiring, and for the cost of $5.3 million the contract was a 'successful-in-luck-only' one.

Brad Penny -- If Penny had made more than 9 starts the Cardinals would have been on to something. Unfortunately he made only 9 starts and 55 and 2/3 innings with a 3.40 FIP is not worth $7.5 million unless it occurs during extremely high-leverage situations.

The Unmitigated Disasters

Justin Duchscherer -- I guess the fact that he was owed only $2 million mitigates it a bit, but Duchscherer made only 5 starts in 2010, pitching 28 innings with a 4.58 FIP. 0.2 fWAR for $2 million is not much of a bargain.

Ben Sheets -- Ouch, two in a row for Oakland. Sheets had generally been an excellent pitcher when (infrequently) healthy. In 2010 Sheets managed to pitch 119 and 1/3 innings in 20 starts, which is probably more than most expected, but was bad when he pitched, posting a 4.71 FIP. He allowed too many homers in a park that generally suppresses homers and his strikeout rate took a major turn south. The A's paid $10 million for the 0.6 fWAR Sheets provided.

Rich Harden -- This one might be the worst. While Sheets was paid $2.5 million more, Harden wasn't just bad, he was actively destructive. Every time he took the mound he hurt his team's chances, posting 6.31 FIP in 92 painful innings for the Rangers. His -0.7 fWAR suggests the Rangers would've been better off paying him $7.5 million to spend the entire year on the DL.

Doug Davis -- Davis pitched only 38 and 1/3 inning with a 5.22 FIP for the 2010 Brewers. He was paid $5.3 million for his efforts, providing no value in return.

Erik Bedard -- Bedard was guaranteed $1.5 million, but didn't throw a single big-league pitch in 2010.

Thoughts

Overall the group was guaranteed $68.8 million and provided 15.5 fWAR ($4.4 million per win). Only three pitchers' dollars-to-win ratios were lower than 4.4--Livan Hernandez, Brett Myers, and Carl Pavano. Though others like Andy Pettitte and Jon Garland weren't total disasters, the group, as a whole, was slightly disappointing.

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