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

Last week I discussed the 1-year deals free agent starting pitchers signed last offseason, noting in the process that a lot of them happen because of the inherent health risks associated with starting pitching. As a corollary, there were only five multi-year deals handed to free agent starters last offseason. Teams understand that the more years you commit to a starting pitcher, the better the chance he'll miss significant time. Buyers beware*.

*Speaking of which, an actual clause in John Lackey's contract: "2015 club option at Major League minimum salary if Lackey misses significant time with surgery for pre-existing elbow injury in 2010-14".

A look at how they fared in baseball economics terms.

Joel Pineiro -- Dave Duncan is a really good pitching coach. After Pineiro's out-of-nowhere 2009 season in which he posted 4.8 fWAR, he signed with the Angels for 2-years, $16 million. Despite pitching only 152 and 1/3 innings in 2010--more than 60 fewer than he tallied in 2009--Pineiro managed to post 2.5 fWAR and a 54.9% GB%. Regression in both the quality of his performance (his FIP went up and his GB% went down) and his playing time were to be expected, but even so his $3.2 million dollars-to-wins ratio was the best among the group that received multi-year deals last offseason. The Angels have to be pleased with the first year of the deal and, provided he doesn't rapidly decline, the proposition of having him under team control in 2011 for $8 million.

Tim Hudson -- Hudson was coming off a rehab-themed year in which he pitched only 42 and 1/3 innings. The Braves took advantage of the situation--his recent injury and willingness to give them a proverbial 'home town discount'--and signed him to a 3-year, $28 million deal. Hudson pitched 228 and 2/3 innings in 2010 with a 3.87 FIP and a MLB-leading 64.1% GB%, good for 2.7 fWAR (which understates his value). He was a Cy Young candidate before his late-season fade, and the Braves are, without a doubt, extremely pleased with the way Hudson rebounded from his UCL replacement operation.

John Lackey -- Neat contract clause aside, Lackey was worth the AAV of his contract in 2010, pitching 215 innings with a 3.85 FIP. His command was off at the beginning of the year but he managed to put together a solid, 4-fWAR season by the end of the year. He's a fly-ball pitcher with an upward-trending BB/9 and downward-trending K/9, but provided his decline doesn't accelerate to an unreasonable pace, his performance should hold steady with inflation, making the contract an overall successful one. The $4.13 million dollars-to-wins ratio is hardly something to complain about.

Randy Wolf -- Woof*. The Brewers didn't sign up for this. Wolf signed a 3-year, $29.8 million contract coming off a 3.1-win season according to fWAR. Noted for his durability and plus command, the Brewers were looking for a solid, mid-rotation stabilizer. Wolf's walk rate increased by more than 1 per 9, his strikeout rate fell by nearly 1 per 9, and he allowed 5 more homers in 1 and 1/3 more innings, turning in a nasty 4.85 FIP. He was durable, making 34 starts and pitching 215 and 2/3 innings, and the Brewers didn't have anyone better to make those starts, but his 0.7 fWAR ain't exactly worth $10 million. Of course, there's a decent chance that in 2011--when the Brewers have a legitimate shot at winning the NL Central--he does provide what the Brewers sought when they signed him, so the jury is largely still out on this one.

*I know, I'm sorry.

Jason Marquis -- Is not a good pitcher. After an out-of-nowhere 3.8-fWAR season in 2009, the Nationals signed him to a 2-year, $15 million contract. It wasn't smart. Marquis averaged 1.2 fWAR and a 50% GB% from 2001-2009 and nothing about his repertoire suggested his so-called by many "break-out" in 2009 was real. The fact that Marquis was physically limited to 58 and 2/3 innings we'll let the Nationals off the hook for--he'd generally been durable--but it's hard to squeeze $7.5 million worth of value out of a pitcher with a career 4.85 FIP. His below-replacement-level performance in 2010 for $7.5 million is tough to swallow, especially for a team that had absolutely no hope of contending.

Thoughts

The sum of the AAV of the five contracts was $51.3 million and they provided 9.6 fWAR in 2010. The sinker-ballers were even more valuable than their FIP suggests, but that doesn't get you from the $5.34 million dollars-to-wins ratio they provided to the $4.4 million dollars-to-wins ratio the starters signed to 1-year deals provided. The lesson here is to stick to 1-year deals unless you really know what you're doing.

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