After fruitlessly hunting around for a three year contract all winter, Carl Pavano finally re-signed with the Minnesota Twins yesterday. The two year, $16.5 million contract he signed is perhaps a bit smaller than expected, given that he was generally considered one of the better free agent pitchers on the market and teams have been pretty casual about throwing cash around all winter. Perhaps more interestingly, it’s also the exact same contract Jake Westbrook signed two months ago.
Heading into the winter, I doubt many of us had Westbrook and Pavano linked as guys who would land similar deals, but a closer inspection reveals that they actually are pretty similar: Pavano is 35, Westbrook is 33. Pavano has thrown 1,500 innings in the majors, Westbrook 1,300. Pavano has a career FIP of 4.15, while Westbrook is at 4.17. Pavano doesn’t get quite as many groundballs as Westbrook, but he makes up for the difference by getting a few more strikeouts and walking slightly fewer. Both of them have fairly recently missed seasons due to injuries, but they also both threw over 200 innings last year and have been effective innings eaters when not on the DL.
So now, I’m trying to figure out why we all thought Pavano was going to get more money than Westbrook to begin with. Pavano did post a slightly lower ERA last year while pitching in the American League, but any team who evaluated him by ERA would also have to be somewhat scared of his 2009 mark. Most true talent evaluations would have them as extremely similar, and the market ended up coming to the same conclusion. And yet, that didn’t seem to be the perception going into the off-season.
For instance, here’s Frankie Piliere’s Top 50 free agents from FanHouse – he had Pavano #12 (between Andy Pettitte and Jorge de la Rosa) while Westbrook came in at #20 (between Adam LaRoche and Jon Garland). Sports Illustrated’s list was even more extreme, as Pavano came in at #12 while Westbrook was #32 (between Ty Wigginton and Pat Burrell this time). Perhaps the most credit should go to Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors, who had them next to each other (#13 and #14) on his version of the list.
In retrospect, Pavano and Westbrook are pretty similar pitchers, and this deal for Pavano seems like a triumph of logic over narrative. While a lot of us (myself included in this) expected Pavano to land a better deal than Westbrook this winter, the underlying facts suggested that they should get similar deals, and they did. Score one for capitalism.