Contract Crowdsourcing Results: Cliff Lee

Well, the market might be expecting inflation, but it doesn’t seem like FanGraphs readers are. The results for Cliff Lee‘s contract estimate is in, and it’s quite a bit lower than I expected.

Average length: 5.37 years
Average salary: $20.73 million

Median length: 5 years
Median salary: $21 million

Standard deviation, length: 0.84 years
Standard deviation, salary: $2.84 million

$105 million over five years is a lot of money, no doubt. Only CC Sabathia and Johan Santana would make more per season among starting pitchers, and both signed their deals with New York teams before the economic downturn took hold. But, still, it seems light for the best player on the market, especially when the Yankees are known to be among his most serious suitors.

A year ago, John Lackey got $83 million over five years from the Red Sox, without the Yankees being very involved in the bidding. Is Cliff Lee, who has put up +20.8 WAR over the last three years, really only worth a 20 percent premium over Lackey, who had put up 11.8 WAR in the three years preceding his free agency?

I’m just speculating here, since we didn’t have a box indicating which team you thought he was going to sign with, but I’m guessing that there’s a decent block of voters who are expecting Lee to spurn the Yankees, and they submitted lower figures to account for him signing with Texas or another club without unlimited financial resources. If you took the Yankees out of the picture, then I could see 5/105 as a realistic figure for what he might get from the Rangers.

I’d be shocked if he wasn’t offered more than that by New York, though. In the end, I’m guessing whoever lands him will have to pony up more than this expectation. I’d guess he’ll end up somewhere closer to $140 million over six years. $105 million over five would be a relative bargain.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


75 Responses to “Contract Crowdsourcing Results: Cliff Lee”

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  1. airlifting says:

    just a note; this is the 2nd article in the past week where johan santana’s name-link has been shortened to johan santa. while funny, johan santa appears to be a slap hitting MI for the texas rangers low-a club.

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  2. D Wilson says:

    The two factors I considered the most are: (1) Lee’s age (at 33, he is one year older than Lackey was last year); and (2) the economy is not in better shape–not to mention baseball is in worse shape in relation to its popularity to other major sports. A five year contract to a 33 year old pitcher is a huge risk, especially given the innings Lee pitches while healthy. I also think the Lackey signing is accepted as overpayment for a pitcher, and will not be used as a model for compensation.

    If Lee insists on 6 years, I find it hard to believe that any team will risk 20 million on Lee’s arm through his age-39 season.

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    • MikeS says:

      I felt the same way about his age. It’s a really important variable when it comes to length of the deal. How much do even the Yankees want to be paying a 39 year old pitcher. Maybe he put up 20.8 WAR in the three year prime of his career, but he put up only 10 in the rest of it. If you are writing a six year contract do you believe you are getting 7 WAR/year over that time? Also, his win totals* won’t let anybody confuse him with Greg Maddux.

      *No, I don’t put stock in pitching wins but some do, even some that write contracts for players. Even if a GM doesn’t believe it is a useful number, a good negotiator would use that to try to get a better deal for himself.

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    • baty says:

      I’ll pass. 5-6 years at 20M per beginning at the age of 33? That’s a ridiculous gamble for any organization that doesn’t have money to burn.

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    • chuckb says:

      Baseball is in worse shape relative to other major sports? What makes you say that? Baseball is awash in money and I think Dave’s reference to the Lilly contract, the Arroyo extension, and the Kubel extension substantiate that.

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      • D Wilson says:

        Baseball is falling in popularity, while basketball and football are surging. For one example, just take a look at baseball’s ratings in the playoffs. It’s an epidemic popularity failure that has been trending for five or more years. If you do not see it then you have blinders on.

        The commish needs to change things soon, for example: fine umpires for being Joe Westy, shorten games (by either cutting time between innings or speeding up pitchers), and institute instant replay (from a three-umpire booth looking at replays off-site for all games).

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  3. pm says:

    I don’t get where you got 105 Million. I got 111.3 Million from the crowdsourcing data.

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    • Fan says:

      That’s if you multiply the average years by average money. Dave was using median.

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      • pm says:

        Using the median in this situation is moronic for so many different reasons. We aren’t measuring house prices here, just a simple contract. The fact that he won’t even use average contract shows that Dave Cameron is simply out of touch with reality.

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      • Bob B. says:

        Using 105M instead of 111M seems neither moronic nor out of touch with reality.

        Commenting about it, however, does seem to be.

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      • Steve says:

        wow, overreaction of the year?

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      • Jason B says:

        “Using the median in this situation is moronic for so many different reasons.”

        Reasons which are, apparently, so super secret that the enlightened one won’t even share them with us, the great unwashed…

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      • Trebecois says:

        105 instead of 111….Burn The Witch!!

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  4. Luke in MN says:

    It’s just so hard to pay much more than 5/105 for a 32-year-old pitcher. He certainly could average more than 5 WAR for 5 straight years while plowing through his mid-30s, but the downside on that bet seems a lot deeper and darker than the upside. The Yankees can absorb that kind of risk, but who else can? (And if the answer is “No one,” why would the Yankees bid against themselves?) There are just so many cautionary tales with big pitcher contracts out there.

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    • Mike says:

      Thats exactly right. Its a small chance, but this deal could look exactly like the barry zito deal. He’s been above average and healthy for the last 3 years and very inconsistent before that. And its pitching, Anything happens to anyone. Age 33-39 isn’t the time to leave to chance.

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      • Doug Lampert says:

        I agree. I went for only 3 years, because the fact is that in a long career he’s only had three good years. If I’m a GM then why should I bet heavily that his downside years will be all that much better than he was for his entire previous career?

        Someone may do it anyway, but three good years out of a 34 year old’s career doesn’t seem to me to offer good hope for a really long contract for big bucks.

        If you take a sufficiently small sample of years prior to the contract then Zito looked like a good bet. If you look at only three years then Lee looks like 6 years at something like $30 million a year would be reasonable. Is anyone actually picking 6 years at $30 million? Pitchers have a big downside, and Lee’s heading for the mid thirties NOW.

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      • brendan says:

        lee the last 3 years has been a lot better than barry zito ever was

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      • Cheese Whiz says:

        Pitcher attrition is definitely a risk, but the comparison to Zito is absurd. Even Zito’s Cy Young season doesn’t come close to to any one of Lee’s last 3 seasons. I was skeptical about Lee after his remarkable 2008, but the fact is he is one of the top 2-3 pitchers in baseball right now, no question about it.

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    • Charles says:

      Didn’t the Yankees essentially do this with Sabathia? They made a bid that everyone, including themselves, knew that no one could even approach.

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      • JimNYC says:

        Yes, but Lee won’t get a contract remotely approaching Sabathia’s. Lee is four years older than Sabathia was going into free agency. Lee has had three very good years and a career of mediocrity before that. You don’t pay for 2008-2010 Cliff Lee when it’s just as possible you’ll be getting 2004-2007 Cliff Lee. While nobody expected Sabathia to repeat his numbers with the Brewers, Sabathia could be counted on to pretty much produce the type of numbers that he has the last two years. It’s entirely possible that the last three years were a fluke, and the Cliff Lee you’ll be getting will be a league average pitcher.

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      • Steve says:

        Wait, the last THREE years were a fluke? Of course it’s *possible*, and I wouldn’t try to argue that Lee will definitely be as good going forward simply b/c he is getting older, but exactly how much evidence do we need to believe that Lee has made a real improvement???

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      • Cheese Whiz says:

        Yeah, I’m getting tired of people acting as though Lee’s last 3 seasons were a fluke. He certainly did figure it out a little later than some, but there is NO question that he is an elite talent at this point. And yes, he is better than Sabathia.

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  5. Mr Punch says:

    What Lackey was worth may be more relevant than what he got.

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    • B N says:

      Exactly. Lackey was a significant overpay and one that I’d say the Red Sox are really going to regret unless Lackey manages to have Petitte-like career path. Something less years than Sabathia with similar annual pay seems about on the mark (though I would take the under on if he’d perform enough to be worth that if the contract goes 5).

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  6. Hank says:

    I don’t understand the “arbitration” logic… which is to take a potentially bad contract (Lackey) and argue that as a baseline (for Lee). It’s not about whether he is worth just 20% more than John Lackey, it’s about what Cliff Lee is worth.

    I do think he’ll get paid more because of the “it only takes one GM” theory… and as soon as one GM offers a 6th year and a different on offers an extra few mil with fewer years, it’s just a matter of time before his agent expects folks to put the two together.

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    • Charles says:

      I understand it completely. Lackey was the highest paid FA pitcher last year and a similar age. That Lackey may be looking like a bad contract is irrelevant. What matters is what Lackey was perceived to be worth last year. that ~4 WAR/year was worth 83 mill. Lee is worth a whole lot more.

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  7. Travis says:

    Do you guys vote for what you think he’ll get, or what you think he should get? Because I vote for the former, and always try to remember that it just takes 1 crazy GM to blow other offers out of the water. Just curious how other people do it.

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    • Fred says:

      If the Yankees are involved maybe CC’s contract is a better comp than Lackey? CC came into that contract with a similar 3 year WAR (20.2) and also happened to be 4 years younger entering that contract.

      Granted there might be some inflation over the last 2 years but given Lee is 4 years older (at the time of the contract) should he even get the same $ per year over the life of the contract when you consider the age differences even if you factor some WAR inflation?

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    • Jason B says:

      Travis’s question is a good one – maybe the crowdsourcing polls should have two parts, with one asking what we think he *will* get and one what he *should* get.

      The latter question I think would have a VERY wide standard deviation because it opens responses up to “I wouldn’t give that bum more than a million per season, he’s toast” all the way to “loosen the purse-strings, we should pay $30M per year to sign that dude!” and all points in between.

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  8. Temo says:

    According to this site, the going rate for wins last year was $4M/win.

    $105M over 5 years for Lee buys you 26.25 wins from his age 32 – age 36 seasons.

    A sample of pitchers and their WAR from age 32 – age 36 who had Cliff Lee-like WAR (6.5 WAR/year or better) in the years before their age 32 season:

    Greg Maddux- 31.1 WAR
    Roger Clemens- 33.5 WAR
    Curt Schilling- 35.8 WAR
    Randy Johnson- 35.8 WAR
    Pedro Martinez- 15.0 WAR
    Mike Mussina- 24.8 WAR
    John Smoltz- 12.4 WAR
    Kevin Brown- 31.5 WAR

    That sample right there averages out to 27.5 WAR. Sure, if he stays completely healthy he’ll probably outproduce this contract, but there’s no guarantee of that. I mean, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz had some fantastic years before arm problems struck. And Mike Mussina just got old after his age 32 season.

    Personally, I voted a bit higher: 5 years/$115 million. But Somewhere in that range seems appropriate.

    The John Lackey contract calls for him to earn about 20.75 WAR over the next 5 years, or about 4 WAR/ season even though he’d only averaged 3.3 WAR/season in the 3 years prior to free agency. The Lackey contract just seems bad.

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    • Temo says:

      Sorry, Lackey had actually earned 3.83 WAR/season in the 3 years prior to FA. So that contract seems ok as well.

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    • Temo says:

      Actually, I guess since Lackey will only get older, expecting him to continue producing 4.0 WAR/season would be an overshot, so it’s still a bad contract.

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      • Alireza says:

        Lackey missed time with injury in the 2 previous seasons before his big contract. If he is to stay healthy, he could produce 4 WAR without being as good as he was.

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      • Jason B says:

        But his likelihood of not getting injured, and/or playing full seasons, won’t get any better as he gets older…

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  9. YankeesJunkie says:

    If Lee wants six years it will be tough for him to get 23 million a year like CC or Santana due to how much older he is. However, what Lee has is four great pitches with great command. This guy does not walk batters and he knows where his pitches are going. While stuff will diminish over six year time span his command won’t to that extent. He is a far superior version of Pettitte who has done well in his mid 30s.

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  10. BurleighGrimes says:

    I went significantly higher than the median — 6 years/126mil — because of the hype surrounding Lee’s free agency and the Yankees’ seemingly desperate need for another pitcher. Some of the sound logic used on this forum to question whether Lee deserves the 6th year or the extra millions will likely be thrown out the window given the above factors.

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  11. Baron Samedi says:

    Dave,

    Another great article. Now, how about getting rid of that Texas-San Francisco graph? I know you have the power.

    I believe in you.

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  12. waynetolleson says:

    I think it will be five years in the $110-120 million range. In fact, five years and $115 million – $23 million per year – would be my best estimate. For tax reasons, however – Texas has no state income tax and NY does – the Yankees might end-up offering more money to compensate for what he’d lose to the government if he chooses to pitch for the Yankees over the Rangers (or another team that plays in a state with no state income tax).

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    • Shane says:

      Doesn’t that depend on where his residence is not where he works? If I recall NY tried to get Jeter to pay a bunch of taxes because his residence was Florida, but they said he spent so much time in NY he was a defacto resident.

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      • Alireza says:

        Neither one of those is true. Professional athletes pay taxes on a pro-rated basis based on how many games they play in each state. A Ranger will pay taxes in CA for every game they play against a team in CA. A Dodger will pay (or not pay) taxes in Texas when they play the Astros (and the Rangers in interleague). Thus, Jeter has to pay NY taxes on half his baseball salary because he plays for the Yankees. Naturally, it does make a difference where you play, but not as much of one.

        The real issue with Jeter is that he domiciled in Florida because of the taxes on his endorsements and the like, which are calculated based on your residence. New York said that Jeter basically had a vacation home in Florida and used it as an anchor for tax purposes, and that he spent his off-season living in New York and should be taxed in New York on his non-baseball income. AFAIK, they settled.

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  13. Patrick says:

    I went from CC’s contract, took off a year for Lee being older, and took off a couple of million off for the lack of durability compared to Sabathia.

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  14. troy v says:

    This may sound crazy,but because the Yankees are involved and they our aware of Texas boost in revenue and the fact that Texas has no state income tax they may bid 25 million for 5 to start the bidding and go as high as 27 million for 6 years…believing he will be worth it for 5 of those 6 years.

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  15. ???WELCOME
    —–http://www.stefsclothes.net~ ¤ ??? ???
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    ,????,”?~~ ,”~?

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  16. this guy says:

    By the time the players are granted these contracts, they have already earned the money they are being given. By seemingly overpaying for those that attain Lee’s status (extremely rare), baseball is able to get away with severly underpaying the rest of their labor force, while keeping them sufficiently motivated to generate a quality product. I say seemingly overpaid, because even at Lee’s level, these are profitable investments for baseball, which plays a greater role in the countries economy than most of you have the capacity to comprehend.

    The fact that so many of you purport to be able to identify what is overpaid in this sport, with no perspective of the cash flows these players generate and the economic impact of this sport, is merely a reflection of the ignorance with which you people exist everyday. You have been spoon fed so much bullshit your entire lives, you’ve lost all appreciation for genuine understanding of anything before you speak.

    The rich (the owners) have been doing this to the poor (me, you, the players) since the beginning of time…….and no, $20 mil per year is not “rich”. Rich is self sustaining wealth. Rich is the guy(s) that pay Lee’s salary. There is a massive class of wealthy people that you barely know exists, yet you worship everyday. Rich are the people that have the audacity to develop our dependency on natural resources to fuel our daily existance and survival, only to force us to labor for them as if they were God. Rich are the people that profit off of your mere existance.

    We’re fighting for their scraps. Cliff Lee just happens to be one guy who did enough to get a shred of fair value.

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    • this guy says:

      Excuse the spelling errors. (“existence”, “country’s”) You get the point.

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      • PTS says:

        Cliff Lee’s contract is our gateway into The Matrix, and ‘this guy’ is Laurence Fishburne. I don’t know which color pill I’m supposed to take, but I know the Yankees own both of the pills so it doesn’t really matter.

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    • Locke says:

      Thanks for the crazy lesson, pal. I feel like I wanna rage…

      Right.

      Now.

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      • this guy says:

        Pay the man.

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      • Locke says:

        You seriously have a twisted view on life. Even if what you’re saying is mostly true, what can you do about except live a happy life and not want what you can’t have?

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      • this guy says:

        Spoken like a true peasant.

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      • Locke says:

        Spoken like someone who spends his life wanting and wanting and wanting, never realizing that all you ever need to be truly happy is always in reach.

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      • this guy says:

        More ignorance. How do you even pretend to know anything about me? Ah I see, we’re resorting to name calling.

        Ok fine. You’re a poo poo head.

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      • Locke says:

        You clearly have thoughts about the state of the world and money and your place within it all, but instead of reflecting inward and attempting to process and come to conclusions on those thoughts, you lash out at anons on fangraphs. Everyone grapples internally with it in some way, with their existence and their place in the world, whether they know it or not. It seems like you have some work to do inside your brain to get where you’re going. I sincerely wish you good luck.

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      • this guy says:

        Oh, so now you can speak on behalf of everyone else. What are the chances I would hear from someone on a baseball site, who is able to speak on behalf of everyone and can speak on the psychological state of everyone on earth?

        Do you really think people give a shit about your personal rant against me? I think we’ve had enough of you trying to play my shrink. Thank you for exemplifying the ignorance I referred to. You serve as the perfect “Exhibit A”.

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      • this guy says:

        I presume we will hear from you again. Do us all a favor and stay on topic. It’s pretty clear that you don’t know shit about any of the points I discussed, and instead chose to respond to some barbaric impulse that can be summed up as, “I don’t like what I’m hearing, so let me try to offend the author some how.”

        We really don’t need to be exposed to your babaric impulses. I couldn’t care less about your personal evaluation, and I doubt anyone else is interested.

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    • Nats Fan says:

      $20 million is very self sustaining wealth. US government 10 year bonds pay roughly 5%. 5% of $20 million is a million per year. You have serious mental problems if you can’t be happy forever being paid $1 million per year.

      If you gave me $10 million dollars I could easily live the standard of living I wish to live the rest of my life and never have to work one second at some job. I would be totally financially independent and very happy. I would travel and see the world. Have reasonable season tickets. Have a decent suburban lifestyle with a 3,000 square foot house that was fully paid off. I would drive a BMW. Send my kids to college worry free of being able to pay for it. Complete and total freedom and happiness. plus, the amount I left my kids adjusted for inflation would far exceed $10 million dollars in today’s dollars. That would be real easy to do!!!

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    • Cheese Whiz says:

      What would it take to get you to never post on Fangraphs again? Would $20 million do it? Perhaps if everyone on Fangraphs donated a dollar to this worthy cause we could be free from this crap.

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    • Jimmajamma says:

      learn2 Marginal Revenue Product of Labor

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  17. Jason says:

    Do you think that the max possible annual salary in the drop down box being $25 mil ended up skewing the results downward at all? At least with average salary, anyone who wanted to go significantly under 20 mil annual could, but no one who wanted to go above 25 could. Was there a wall in the polling data at 25 million? Or even seeing the 25 mil max could have skewed some voters downward.

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  18. maqman says:

    It is conceivable that he could get $25-$30MM per year for four or five years. If either the Yankees or Rangers don’t get him their chances of getting to the WS for next season will take a big hit. Fear of failure will drive his price up.

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  19. YANKEES27!!!! says:

    HE IS YANKEES PROPERTY, BITCHES!!

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  20. Anthony says:

    Maybe innings pitched isn’t the best way to judge how much a SP throws:

    2010 Inn. & Total Pitches

    John Lackey: 215 3599
    Tim Lincecum: 212.1 3437
    Mark Buehrle: 210.1 3306
    Jon Lester: 208 3357
    Cliff Lee: 212.1 2980

    Lee threw far fewer pitches with similar innings. I don’t know how that trend will continue……worth thinking about.

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    • D Wilson says:

      Interesting. I assumed Lee threw less pitches in 9 innings than many pitchers would over seven plus, but I didn’t think the disparity was that large. Every arm is different though, and every arm is a huge risk when you pay 20 million a year for it.

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