The Potential Yankees Super-Rotation

Yesterday, the New York Yankees signed CC Sabathia to a 7-yr deal worth approximately $161 mil. With a +5.5 win projection for 2009, and the more realistic $4.8 mil/win given the current economy, Sabathia’s fair market value would have been around $26 mil. Factor in a 10% discount rate for a long-term deal and a 7-yr contract comes out to $164 mil, extremely close to the actual terms of the signing. Brian Cashman mentioned how serious he felt about pitching and getting Sabathia definitely cemented that feeling in the minds of Yankees fans.

The signing of Sabathia piqued the interest of Derek Lowe, whose interest in pitching in New York grew following the move. On top of that, the Yankees reportedly have a 5-yr offer on the table for A.J. Burnett worth about $85 mil. Yes, the Yankees are apparently the front-runners for three of arguably the top four free agents in this class. If I see a report placing them atop the list off potential suitors for Mark Teixeira, my head just might explode.

A couple of weeks ago, I discussed what a potential new look Atlanta Braves rotation would produce, given their acquisition of Javier Vazquez and supposed guaranteed fifth-year for Burnett. Let’s do the same for the Yankees. For the sake of this post, we are going to assume all of the following:

1) Cashman signs Lowe and Burnett
2) Wang is fully recoverd and makes 30+ starts
3) Chamberlain pitches at least 140-150 IP in 25+ GS
4) Andy Pettitte does not return

The Yankees rotation in 2009 would then consist of: CC Sabathia, Derek Lowe, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, and Chien-Ming Wang. Can anyone say super-rotation even before looking at the numbers?

Sabathia, Lowe, and Burnett have been discussed here before in dollar valuation articles. CC is a +5.5 win pitcher in 2009. With a 3.80 FIP in 187 innings, and a few more runs added for logging innings, Burnett would be +3.5. Lowe is projected to post a 3.67 FIP in 185 IP, but the switching of leagues from the Dodgers to the Yankees should bump that up a bit. If we call him a 3.80 FIP pitcher in 185 IP, he is virtually the same as Burnett, +3.5 wins.

Wang previously established himself capable of a heavy workload, and, if healthy in 2009, I see no reason why he couldn’t meet his Bill James projection of 200 IP at a 3.90 FIP. This makes Wang, with a few more runs for amassing 200 innings, a +3.5 win pitcher. And if Joba can manage a 3.30 FIP in 145 IP, he would also be a +3.5 win pitcher. For those keeping score at home, that gives the Yankees a +5.5 win pitcher and four +3.5 win pitchers in their potential super-rotation.

Put together, that is +19.5 wins. How does that compare to the 2008 rotation?

Well, due to injuries and such, the 2008 rotation was piecework at best. Outside of full contributions from Pettitte and Mussina, the Yankees got 12 starts from Joba and 15 from Wang. They received 105 Rasner-innings, 34 from Hughes, and 36 from Kennedy. Ponson managed to pitch 79 innings as well.

Mussina was top dog in 2008, at +4.7 wins. Pettitte came in second at +3.9 wins. Wang and Chamberlain, albeit in limited starting duty, were worth +1.9 wins each. Rasner was a +0.9 win pitcher and Hughes came in at +0.5. Ponson and Kennedy were the definition of replacement level. All told, this 2008 starting staff combined for +13.8 wins.

If we round 2009 up to +20 wins and 2008 up to +14 wins, then putting together this potential rotation would add six whole wins to their 2008 total, in the rotation alone. We aren’t even talking about defensive upgrades or other moves for the offense. You might think that six wins doesn’t seem like all that much given the quality of Sabathia, Burnett, and Lowe; however, if all other things remained constant, those six wins would have given the Yankees 95 wins in 2008, not 89. They are still making moves elsewhere to strengthen other facets of the club, but if Cashman can pull this off, the 2009 Yankees will be very, very good.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

14 Responses to “The Potential Yankees Super-Rotation”

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  1. Steve Sanders says:

    I realize that last year Lowe’s ERA was much better than Pettitte, but Pettitte didn’t really pitch THAT poorly according to rest of his peripherals. Given the Yankees infield defense, is Lowe really likely to pitch THAT much better than Pettitte? I know FIP is an isolated statistic, and that Lowe was about a half a run better, but over the course of 200 innings, what is that, 10 runs difference? Is that 10 runs really worth the extra years/salary? If the Yankees miss out on Burnett, maybe he makes sense, but I don’t get why, if given a choice, you would sign Lowe INSTEAD of Pettitte.

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  2. Samg says:

    10 runs is equal to 1 WIN. And don’t forget, the value for a contract is a bell curve: the closer you all to making the playoffs, the more each extra win counts. The Yankees are at that point.

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  3. t ball says:

    The AL East is going to be ridiculously competitive next year. All 3 top teams will arguably be better than last year.

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  4. Gleb says:

    I would personally rather sign Sheets(30) instead of Lowe(35).
    That is a very dominant rotation(Dynasty-esque?) with 5 pitchers who could be #1 type starters on other teams.
    *Average age would be 28.
    *Aceves/Giese become long men/relievers
    *Hughes+Brackman+Mcallister have time to develop.

    As a Yankees Fan I’m personally excited.

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  5. Tom Clancy says:

    What if we assume the Yankees sign Burnett and give him Carl Pavano’s old locker?

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  6. Eric Seidman says:

    Steve and Marco,

    Here is the reasoning behind why 10 runs = 1 win, from TangoTiger himself:

    10 runs is a win: why?

    The basic idea is that if you look at all teams in baseball history that have scored 1 more run than they allowed, per game (+/- 0.1, to increase the sample size), you will find that they have a .600 win%. And similarly if they allowed one more run than they score, they will have a .400 win%. That means each additional run leads to 0.100 additional wins, above the .500 mark. And 1 divided by .1 is 10.

    The lower the run environment, the more impact each run has. And the higher the run environment, the less impact each run has. So, the 10/1 ratio is not fixed, but dependent on the run environment.

    Here is a chart that shows the various win%, for various run environments, at various run differentials:

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  7. Eric Seidman says:

    Steve, also, you’re comparing Lowe’s 2009 to Pettitte’s 2008, which is a no-no. Pettitte wanted the same fee or more than last year’s $16 mil, whereas Lowe would likely command something like 3-yr/$42 mil, which is a difference of $2 mil or so for someone with a better projection and better peripherals.

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  8. Steve Sanders says:

    I understand about the 1 win, you make a good point about the bell curve aspects, and ordinarily I would agree, but I just don’t know if all those extra years/dollars will be worth it – especially because I also don’t expect the difference between Lowe and Pettitte in FIP this year to be half a run. Lowe seems to be coming off something of a career year. I don’t know that I have reasonable expectation that he will necessarily outperform Pettitte next year. Even if he does, I expect that it might very likely be by LESS than 10 runs. So to me, I’m not sure it is worth the difference in extra years and money; in my view, maintaining payroll flexibility has value as well.

    Thanks for the info about the various run environments; I’ve never seen that data.

    I would say, though, that when noted “I know FIP is an isolated statistic, and that Lowe was about a half a run better, but over the course of 200 innings, what is that, 10 runs difference?” I was citing both Pettitte and Lowe’s numbers for 2008, trying to compare similar data sets because I imagine that someone would come along and cite Lowe’s FIP and Pettitte’s FIP.

    But as I mention to Samg above, I think Lowe is coming off a career year, and I am not entirely sure that Lowe will outperform Pettitte. If you take a look at their 2009 Bill James and Marcel Projections on their fangraphs pages and calculate runs:

    James projects:
    Lowe: 206 Innnings, 3.80 FIP = 87 runs
    Pettitte: 192 innnings, 3.66 FIP = 78 runs + (14 relief innings @4.5 FIP) = 85 runs, which is fairly comparable if ever so slightly in favor or Pettitte

    Marcel projects:
    Lowe: 185 innings, 3.67 FIP = 75 runs
    Pettitte: 182 innings, 3.98 FIP = 80 runs + (3 relief innings @ 4.5 FIP) = 81.5 runs, which means a 6 and a half run difference in favor of Lowe.

    (I am something of neophyte, so my math here may be completely off; any corrections in my calculations or things I am ignoring would be extremely helpful). So I guess my point here is that I think it is at least up in the air about who might be a better bet to produce next year. And, to me, if it is up in the air, why not go with the guy willing to sign a shorter term deal in order to preserve payroll flexibility.

    For what it’s worth, I haven’t seen a whole lot suggesting that Pettitte is looking for a raise over last year’s $16 million, just that he doesn’t want to take a pay cut, nor have I seen anything suggesting that Lowe will sign a 3 year deal. I thought he was set on 4?

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  9. Eric Seidman says:

    Steve, with all due respect to Bill James, his projections are skewed. We like to use Marcel or CHONE here because they are a bit more realistic in some regards. I only tend to use James when it’s a situation like Wang, who was injured in 2008 and therefore only logged that small amount of innings due to health, not ineffectiveness.

    When we’re talking about the runs above replacement for pitchers, we are comparing the pitcher in question to 150 IP at 5.50 FIP for a replacement starter (a replacement starter won’t log 206 innings), and the difference goes to a 4.50 FIP reliever.

    So, Lowe is projected for a 3.67 Marcel FIP, but I adjusted that to 3.80 given that the AL is a superior offensive league. 3.80 FIP at 185 IP is worth 78 runs.

    A replacement starter with a 5.50 FIP in 150 IP is 92 runs. The remaining 35 IP go to a 4.5 FIP reliever, for 18 runs. The difference here is 110 for replacement, 78 for Lowe, which is +32. Then we add on 3 runs because he’s pitching these innings, not the relievers, so he’s a +3.5 win player.

    Pettitte, at 182 innings and a 4.00 FIP (round it up to make it easier) would be at 81 runs. For him the replacement would be 92 runs (150 IP at 5.5 FIP) and 16 runs from a 4.5 FIP reliever. That is 108 vs. 81, for a Pettitte advantage of +27 runs. Add on three runs and Pettitte is a +3.0 win guy.

    Lowe is about a half-win better than Pettitte in this regard for 2009. Therefore, via fair market value, Lowe should make about $2.75 mil more than Pettitte. Andy wants at least a $16 mil deal. Lowe is going to get a 3-4 yr deal for something like $14 mil/yr. It makes sense to sign Lowe over Pettitte if Andy isn’t taking a pay cut.

    If Andy accepts the $10 mil contract, then it is a good deal, because he is only a half win worse than Lowe, and has a FMV worth more than $10 mil.

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  10. Steve Sanders says:

    PS. I guess the only other component I am not factoring in is the value Lowe’s contact might have over whoever would take the Pettitte/Lowe rotation slot in 2010 (Hughes? Kennedy? 2010 Free Agent X) if the Yankees were to sign Pettitte for 1 year instead of Lowe for 4 years. I suppose you could make an argument that Lowe will still be better than 2010; unreasonable to expect he might still outpitch Hughes in 2010. Given Hughes’ age, minor-league track record and what I’ve seen in some starts (granted, this last part is anecdotal, non-quantifiable aspect that shouldn’t carry much weight in my analysis), I don’t think it completely crazy to think that Hughes might be better in 2011 and 2012.

    This, obviously, is tough argument to have because we’re missing 2009’s data. We don’t know if Lowe will tail off at all or if Hughes will be able to stay healthy. That said, I’m not ready to tie Hughes/Kennedy to a tree a shoot them – a lot of players struggle in their first time on the merry-go-round. Given that, as well as other intriguing arms in the Yankees’ farm system and other free agent pitchers that may come available (Lackey, Harden, etc) I don’t know if it is crazy to think that in years 2010 and 2011 the Yankees could find an arm to give them what Lowe could. So why tie up money in Lowe if you a rough comparable in 2009 and an expectation that in 2011 and 2012 they’ll have a chance to find another arm to give them what Lowe can give them or more?

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  11. Steve Sanders says:

    PPS. Thanks for the details about projection systems and the and info about comparing runs. Not having been a math major, is there a reason why one cannot compare Pitcher A to Pitcher B directly using FIP and innings rather than comparing them to a replacement player? Also, I presume that you add 3 runs in each case since “he is pitching these innings and not the bullpen” because it keeps the bullpen fresh and thereby makes them slightly more effective over the course of the year, right? How do you come up with the 3 runs?

    Conceptually, I understand the points you are making and wouldn’t quibble too much with what you’ve said. I think my only beef here would be that if you are rounding numbers and estimating what Lowe’s FIP would be in a harder league, I guess I have a hard time expecting that the numbers include the type of precision where one can definitively say Lowe is a half a win better than Pettitte. As I say, I’m just a neophyte trying to learn. Maybe the projection numbers are reliable enough and precise enough that a projected half win difference is a sizeable difference. I realize that trying to find out what relative value a player has based on their peripherals is an instructive exercise and can have important implications. I can understand that you can confidently say someone is 1 or 2 wins better than someone else. But at some point I think you reach point where parsing things in to ever more minute differences in projected value with any certainty or precision becomes difficult. Maybe it’s a quarter of a win. Maybe it’s an eighth of a win. I don’t know. But to me, it seems difficult for me to say with any sort of p=95% that a half a win based on projections portends any real, meaningful decision making tool. I suppose I could be convinced, otherwise.

    Is Lowe really only going to wind up at $14 million for 4 years? I’d be surprised if he wound up that low given the rumors of Burnett’s alleged 5 year, $85 million deal.

    One other point I would make, too, is that your average/fair market value analysis makes sense, but only if you do so in a vaccum. Sure, if they were both on one year deals and Pettitte was making $16 million and Lowe were making $14 million, Petittie would be overpayed. But if Pettitte makes $16 million next year and Lowe makes $14 million a year for 4 years, I’m buying of value something for that extra $2 million next year – namely the payroll flexibility of not being tied up for the next 3 years. For other teams, maybe they need to maximize value per dollar, but if I am Brian Cashman and running the Yankees, I would be willing to overpay Pettitte by $2 million just so that I don’t have extra years of contracts choking me. Collecting unmovable contact after unmovable contract put the Yankees in position over the last few years where turning over the roster was a near impossibility. So if I were Cashman, I would be willing to pay an extra $2 million for a comparable pitcher like Pettitte if it meant that he could maintain a more flexible payroll/roster.

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  12. Eric Seidman says:

    Steve, yeah we generally add some runs because they are keeping the bullpen fresh/healthy and because the starters would potentially be more effective in those innings, so they are preventing a poor reliever from coming in the game. For pitchers with like 210+ IP we tend to tack on a half-win, thus why CC is +5.5 wins, not just +5.0.

    As far as comparisons, the advantage to calculating it about replacement level is we can see what the fair market value is in terms of salary. Without doing so, we get Lowe at +35 runs next year and Pettitte at +30, which is a difference of 5 runs, or 0.5 wins.

    We cannot definitively say Lowe is a half-win better than Pettitte but based on their true talent levels, this is the case.

    The reason Lowe might not get Burnett money is the fact that he is 37 years old. Burnett is younger. I think I’ll turn this into a full post and we can talk about it there.

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  13. Great article. This rotation would get the Yankees back to the top of the AL east. I’m surprise so many people are saying they still wont make the playoffs.

    My analysis of the Burnett acquisition:

    I really hope they get one more pitcher, Lowe or Sheets. Hughes could be great some day, but we need to make sure he’s ready. He’ll probably get his shot this year with Burnett and possibly Sheets in the rotation.

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  14. Matt B. says:

    I think the ‘haters’ or ‘doubters’ of AJ Burnett are looking a bit smarter (to this point). Sometimes FIP doesn’t take into account the 10-cent heads out there… I’m sure he’ll turn it around, but he looks pretty awful.

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