Rolling Snake Eyes

Erik Bedard made it all the way to, what was supposed to be, his lone Triple-A rehab start before breaking down again. Bedard had progressed so far that he even had a scheduled start for the Mariners before suffering from shoulder pain after his Triple-A outing. Medical imaging and three surgical opinions later and Bedard heads back under the knife today. Though no official word came out, it appears from quotes that the procedure aims to clears out some bone spurs in Bedard’s shoulder. A normal recovery for that procedure would put Bedard on track to be ready for Spring Training in 2011 but it is difficult to put faith in the normal time line at this point.

The Mariners invested $1.5 million guaranteed dollars in Erik Bedard this season. That investment has not paid off. The Mariners are used to that this season, but in the case of gambling on an injury-prone pitcher they are not alone in the AL West this season. The Rangers gave $7.5 guaranteed million to Rich Harden coming off his two reasonably close to full seasons and the Athletics gave a whopping $10 million to Ben Sheets even though he hadn’t thrown a competitive Major League pitch in 18 months.

Neither team has had the risk rewarded. Harden became a shell of his former self with half his swinging strike rate and a career high walk rate. Over 72 innings pitched so far, he’s been below replacement level. Rehabbing another injury, Harden is likely to end up in a relief role if he manages to make it back.

Ben Sheets is also spending his days on the disabled list right now. Seeking other opinions on his elbow injury, Sheets is hoping to avoid missing the remainder of 2010 but the picture remains murky on that front. In his 119.1 innings tossed before being shelved, Sheets also suffered from a reduced swinging strike rate and a career high walk rate. A pitcher once renowned for his strikeout to walk ratios posted just a 2.0 ratio in 2010. His 0.7 WAR is valued at just under $3 million leaving Oakland currently with a $7 million shortfall.

The conclusion isn’t that injured pitchers aren’t worth the risk. All pitchers are risky, even the seemingly healthy ones and getting anyone with talent at a discount is always an avenue worth investigating. The point is to remember why teams consider these pitchers high risks to contribute in the first place. It’s to remember the other side from the too-easy story of redemption and coming back. Sometimes people don’t get off the mat. And it’s because not everyone does or even can that makes those that do special.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

10 Responses to “Rolling Snake Eyes”

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  1. dickey simpkins says:

    Jake Peavy and his 33 million guaranteed could trump all of them if he can’t make a full recovery from that muscle injury.

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  2. Dann M says:

    It would appear that these three AL West teams rolled snake eyes. When we’re looking for a good roll of the dice, the best example I can think of is Jim Hendry’s signing of Ryan Dempster in January of 2004 to a one year, $0.5 million contract with a $2 million option for 2005. The $0.5 million was pretty much equivalent to Dempster’s WAR value upon returning for 20 relief innings. As a reliever, Dempster was a decent (but…exciting) closer, certainly out of place in the role compared to his success starting.

    His eventual return to the starting rotation in 2008 after 3.5 years of relieving saw a career year and back-to-back 200 inning seasons (with 150 already passed in 2010). 811 innings, 741 hits allowed, and a 1.321 WHIP over seven years now in Chicago, in which time the team twice won its division, are a good return on investment. He has earned about $30.5 million to this point, including what he’s earned this year. According to FanGraphs, he’s produced 14.0 Wins Above Replacement since 2004. The Cubs have practically received a double return on their investment. 14 wins on the open market over the past seven years are worth about $59 million, as distributed over Dempster’s production.

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    • cpebbles says:

      The Dempster signing reminded everyone at the time of the Cardinals signing Chris Carpenter a year earlier. Despite Carp having a few more injury issues since, his healthy years have more than made up for it, for a similar surplus value of around $30 million since signing with the Cardinals.

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      • Dann M says:

        From 2004 to the WS year in 2006, Carpenter gave STL 15.2 wins – $51.9 million worth of value – for $7.3 million according to FG, $8.5 million including bonuses according to Cot’s. Given they won the World Series, the team probably didn’t feel too horribly about giving away 5 wins/$19 million during his lost 2007 and 2008 seasons. However, in 2008, when Carpenter was a virtual nonfactor (0.4 WAR in 15 IP), he left $8.72 million on the table, approximately 2 wins. St. Louis finished 4 GB of Milwaukee for the Wild Card and likely could have made a run at CC Sabathia if those resources were free. Sabathia, by the way, produced 4.6 wins for the Brewers alone in 130 post-trade innings. STL had a much-better pen than Milwaukee, too.

        So, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. 24 wins for the Cardinals since 2004, with 73.6% of those concentrated to 2005, 06, and 09 alone.

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  3. Todd Doug says:

    “Sometimes people don’t get off the mat. And it’s because not everyone does or even can that makes those that do special.”

    Brad Penny, somewhere, solemnly nods.

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  4. Dan says:

    Actually, Harden started July 31st and went 7 innings, giving up just one run. He also starts tonight. Maybe look into that before writing specifically about him.

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    • BX says:

      Well, Matthew was just vindicated when Harden was given an early shower after 2.1 innings today, and 5 walks

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  5. maqman says:

    The risk/reward ratio makes Bedard’s contract reasonable, while Harden’s was less so and Sheet’s was beyond the bounds of logic. Maybe when they do the next CBA they can base reward on results such as seasonal WAR. Maybe not – in my lifetime.

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  6. NBarnes says:

    Losing 1.5 on a gamble on Bedard really shouldn’t make any Seattle fans think badly of the decision to make that gamble. Especially compared to the bath Oakland took on Sheets.

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  7. Rally says:

    Don’t forget Justin Duchsherer. Oakland didn’t get much out of him either. Angels did the safer thing, and picked a pitcher without injury issues in Joel Pineiro. And now he’s out for the season, or at least most of it.

    Reminds me of my definition of a durable pitcher: A pitcher who hasn’t been hurt yet.

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