Another Case Where ERA Deceives

I am constantly amazed by the power of most recent season ERA. It seems to drive the perception of a pitcher’s worth more than any other statistic, to the point where it often appears to be the only thing under consideration. In the last few days, we’ve seen yet another example, as two very similar pitchers have had their market value talked about in two very different ways.

Let’s start with their career numbers.

Pitcher A: 2.51 BB/9, 5.82 K/9, 1.02 HR/9, 43.7% GB%, 4.21 FIP, 4.30 ERA
Pitcher B: 2.26 BB/9, 5.72 K/9, 1.01 HR/9, 46.0% GB%, 4.15 FIP, 4.34 ERA

Pretty similar, yes? They’re basically the same type of pitcher with similar stuff and approaches to pitching. Pitcher A is five years younger and has been healthy almost his entire career. Pitcher B has a long injury history and has spent a good chunk of his career on the disabled list. Which one would you prefer?

You may have guessed by now that Pitcher A is Joe Blanton, whom the Phillies are trying to give away in order to save money, and that Pitcher B is Carl Pavano, generally regarded as the best free agent starting pitcher left on the market. Blanton is under contract for $17 million over the next two seasons. Pavano is said to be seeking $30 million over three years. He’ll almost certainly get a larger amount than what Blanton is currently owed.

Why? Pavano had a 3.75 ERA last year, while Blanton’s was 4.82. Because of those two numbers, Pavano appears to be a solid middle of the rotation arm, while Blanton is a hittable back-end starter, even though they’re about as similar as two pitchers can be.

Any team that is seriously considering giving Carl Pavano a multi-year contract should instead call the Phillies and find out just how much of Blanton’s salary they are willing to eat in order to give him away. For what is likely a fraction of the cost, you can get a younger version of the same skillset. A GM willing to look past the hypnotic powers of ERA could save his team a lot of money.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.