Ted Lilly made a nice impression in his 12 starts for the Dodgers: Seventy-six innings, a 3.98 FIP, and a 3.52 earned run average, which are nice enough numbers that the Dodgers have re-signed the southpaw to a three-year deal worth $33 million. The deal serves as a nice follow-up to Lilly’s last free agent contract, which held a worth of $10 million annually. A value deal this is not.
Over the last three seasons, Lilly has posted Wins Above Replacement totals of 2.8, 3.8, and 2.3. Taking an average is not the best method for projection purposes. But if Lilly is a three-win pitcher then that gives him a market value of something around$12 million. Given Lilly’s age and decreased velocity – he averaged nearly 90 miles per hour on his fastball the last time he inked a contract, he’s down to 87 miles per hour now – it’s not unreasonable to say he could be in for some decline.
Let’s say he starts at three wins (and keep in mind, this does not account for any regression towards the mean) and declines at a straight-line rate of 0.3 wins per season. That’s not too aggressive, mind you, and gives us the picture of a best-case scenario. That gives us totals of 3, 2.7, and 2.4. Optimistically let’s say the market begins to perk up over these seasons, with win totals costing $4 million for next year, then increasing by 10% annually, which paints the following picture:
The margin for error is thin. What this analysis has yet to account for is the Dodgers’ placement on the win curve and the opportunity cost incurred by re-signing Lilly. The Dodgers finished fourth in the division, but the National League West seems perpetually open, meaning contention is not out of the question. Lilly is one of the better starting pitchers on the open market and the Dodgers needed to secure either Hiroki Kuroda or him, lest they head into the free agency period needing two starters with a budget saddled by divorce papers.
This deal is completely reasonable in the minds of those who think Lilly can continue to replicate his results year in and year out, but the inherent injury and attrition rate held by starting pitchers makes it a risky proposition. Once the ownership issues vanish, the salary becomes irrelevant – $11 instead of $9 is not going to get anyone fired. The length, though, is the most questionable aspect and will continue to be so.
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