The Winter of Pitching’s Discontent

Looking back on it, the winter of 2006 might go down as the worst offseason of all time concerning free agent pitchers. A smattering of the contracts signed that winter:

Danys Baez – 3 years, $19 million. Produced -0.5 WAR.
Miguel Batista – 3 years, $25 million. Produced 1.3 WAR.
Adam Eaton – 3 years, $24.5 million. Produced 0 WAR.
Keith Foulke – 1 year, $5 million. Didn’t throw a pitch.
Orlando Hernandez – 2 years, $12 million. Produced 0.9 WAR.
Kei Igawa – 5 years, $20 million plus $26 million posting fee. Produced -0.2 WAR so far.
Daisuke Matsuzaka – 6 years, $52 million plus $51 million posting fee. Produced 7.7 WAR so far.
Guillermo Mota – 2 years, $5 million. Produced 0.1 WAR.
Mark Mulder – 2 years, $13 million. Produced -0.4 WAR.
Vicente Padilla – 3 years, $34 million. Produced 4.5 WAR.
Jason Schmidt – 3 years, $47 million. Produced 0 WAR.
Scott Schoeneweis – 3 years, $10.8 million. Produced -1.5 WAR.
Justin Speier – 4 years, $18 million. Produced -0.2 WAR, released in 2009.
Jeff Suppan – 4 years, $42 million. Produced 1.6 WAR so far.
Jamie Walker – 3 years, $12 million. Produced -0.6 WAR.
Jeff Weaver – 1 year, $8.5 million. Produced 1 WAR.
Woody Williams – 2 years, $12.5 million. Produced -0.1 WAR.
Barry Zito – 7 years , $126 million, full no trade clause. Produced 5.3 WAR so far.

Kudos to the Cubs for Ted Lilly, and half kudos I guess to the Royals for Gil Meche. Though based on their subsequent track record, and given the information known at the time, I’m betting that they simply got lucky with Meche’s 2007 and 2008.

That’s a grand total of 18.9 wins, thanks in large part to Barry Zito and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who have produced 13 WAR so far. For that, teams have paid roughly $440 million dollars in contract value so far, with Zito, Igawa, Matsuzaka and Suppan still active. That’s a whopping $23 million per marginal win. If you take out Zito and Daisuke then you’re left with 5.9 wins and about $314 million spent for an earth-shattering $53 million per win.

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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.

45 Responses to “The Winter of Pitching’s Discontent”

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  1. Nick says:

    The Royals would have had another good year of Meche if not for Hillman Dustying his arm.

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  2. Gary says:

    This is kind of astounding.
    Homegrow your talent!

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  3. Tony says:

    Soooooo should we assume the ROyals just got lucky in signing Greinke to a long term contract too?

    And what exactly has Hendry done that has been so much more productive in their FA signings than the Royals.

    I know the Royals have made some bad moves, but when 1 out of every ten articles written some how traces back to some half ass insult about Dayton Moore it seems to water down the impact of prior articles.

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    • Brendan says:

      Hendry has made some bad moves, but he never traded two prospects for Yuniesky Betancourt in the midst of a -2.1 WAR season. Hendry overpays, but he overpays for guys who contribute — just not enough to justify their contracts. Moore seeks out guys who barely belong in MLB, let alone at contracts above the minimum.

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      • Joe R says:


        Soriano (when healthy) for $18 million a year is far less damaging than giving a bunch of name brand AAA player $3MM / Yr.

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    • chuckb says:

      You have to dig pretty deep to see this post as being a swipe at Dayton Moore. If you’re going to dig that deeply, I’m betting you will see 10% of the articles written as being swipes at the Royals.

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      • Tony says:

        Not really,

        Meche has been a decent signing and all the other signings listed on this list were viewed in a vacuum except for one…

        It’s not secret that FanGraphs doesn’t think Dayton Moore is smart. I’m a Royals fan and I have more than enough doubts myself.

        It just reeks a bit of childish piling on when little snide marks like this are made.

        Critism of Dayton Moore moves should be reserved for when he does make questionable moves. And there will be plenty more opporutnity for that.

        It doesn’t need to be mentioned in an article about a poor free agent pitching class when Dayton Moore actually out performed his peers.

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  4. Josh says:

    I realize Matsuzaka hasn’t been the ace he was billed to be, but if we’re valuing a win at 4.4 million for 2009, we can assume that during 2006-2009, a win was worth roughly 4.2 million or so, just for the sake of this argument.

    Matsuzaka has produced 7.7 WAR to this point in three seasons. Saying that the Red Sox paid market value per win, that would make him worth 32.34 million in 3 years of the contract.

    If you double that to account for the 6 years of the contract, projecting him forward(and we’re not taking into account the value of a win, which likely increases) his contract will be worth 64.68 million, or 12.68 million more than their actually paying.

    So if he really does produce 15.4 WAR in 6 years(which I believe is entirely possible, especially considering the injury plagued year last year being factored in, the lack of a WBC to throw him off, and him finally getting comfortable in the US) the Red Sox would be paying just over 3.37 million per win, obviously better than market value which hovers around 4.

    Excuse my elongated parentheses, but I think this is reasonable. It does ask that we assume he gets better and his 2008 year wasn’t just a flukey year where the runners he put on base didnt score. However, we are factoring in his off year last year in which he only pitched in 12 games.

    Zack Greinke he is not. But he’s no Jeff Suppan.

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    • Mike K says:

      Except you don’t get to *not* count the $51M posting fee.

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      • Travis L says:

        Seriously! That bit of intellectual dishonesty was pretty blatant.

        It is interesting to note, however, that Dick-K has almost earned what he’s been paid, but has been a disaster compared to what he’s cost the Red Sox.

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  5. BIP says:

    So if you made an entire team with contracts this bad, it would only cost $2-4 billion dollars to contend for a season!

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  6. Josh says:

    You’re absolutely right, I didn’t add that into my post at all, but there are two theories regarding that.

    a) The $51M posting fee was taken out of a separate budget and was/is being recouped by several factors. One of their main sponsors now is a Japanese company. Their games are broadcast overseas now. Merchandise sales in the Asian market have skyrocketed. And finally, and not to be underestimated, they have established a presence in Japan that has allowed them to acquire talent like Hideki Okajima and Junichi Tazawa.

    b) You disregard the factors stated so far and just add it in as part of his salary. Then, he’s got a 6 year/103 million dollar contract, or $17.17M annually. Under this scenario, you’re paying $6.68M per win over the life of the contract. While this is an obvious overpay, it is simply an overpay and not a bust-type contract that is seen in the rest of this list.

    Zito, for comparison, projects to about a 12.4 WAR(not accounting for likely regression as he ages) which would be $10.16 million per win.

    All of this said, I believe that what I said in Part A is at least somewhat true, if not completely.

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  7. NBarnes says:

    I disagree with Josh’s decision to not count the posting fee against Matsuzaka’s contract value, but this is a good example of why I don’t mope about the money the Sox ‘wasted’ on Daisuke. It could be better, but it could be worse, and Daisuke had ridiculous amounts of upside compared to the mediocrity that was the rest of the pitching market. Hell, he still has some upside.

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    • Joe R says:

      If he can get his damn walk rate under control, maybe.

      Dice-BB shows why sometimes strikeout pitchers aren’t a good thing. Sure, he strikes out 8.5 per 9 innings. He’ll just do it at the expense of walks and actually staying in the game long enough.

      His career Pitches / Batter Faced is right at 4. League average in 2009 was 3.83. So not bad, but a lot of that is 1 and done relievers. Dice-BB’s style flies in the pen, not in the rotation.

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  8. Josh says:

    NBarnes I agree. I’m definitely not saying the contract is a steal, by any means. That’s a serious investment in both money and years, whether you want to include the posting fee or not.

    I think the underlying point I’m trying to make is that the deal isn’t as bad as the other contracts that could be seen as comparable on this list. Obviously the 1 year – 5 million contract Keith Foulke had isn’t comparable, but Zito, Suppan, Schmidt and Eaton certainly are.

    And it goes without saying that a team with the resources the Boston Red Sox have can afford to overpay for wins at a few positions.

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    • Basil Ganglia says:

      When you are replying to someone’s post, it’s good form to use the “Reply” link (as I am doing now). That makes it much easier to follow the flow of comments. Just a hint, as I’m sure that you’ve simply overlooked the presence of the “Reply” link when posting your previous replies.

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      • Josh says:

        I was wondering how to do that. Of course it would be sitting right in front of me the whole time. Thanks for the help

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    • Steve says:

      I think the underlying point I’m trying to make is that the deal isn’t as bad as the other contracts that could be seen as comparable on this list.

      Don’t disagree with this. It’s the “best” contract on the list. And you are right, the Sox can afford to overpay at times. Also, it’s not finished yet, and there is a chance he could bounce back this year.

      My only beef is with the posting fee.

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      • NBarnes says:

        Part of my point is that even if you spread out the posting fee over the six years of the contract, it’s still the best contract on that list, and not by a little.

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  9. Steve says:

    Wow this actually makes the Zito contract seem kind of excusable.

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  10. gnomez says:

    Wasn’t Bonderman’s extension then too?

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  11. Al Dimond says:

    Wait, so what’s the point of the math here exactly? Maybe a lot of bad pitching contracts were signed that winter, but coming up with a value per marginal win of just the bad ones doesn’t really prove much. Add in Lilly’s 9.3 wins and $26 mil, then Meche’s 10.9 wins and $30.2 mil, and you get $12.69 million per WAR.

    But even that isn’t all the free-agent pitcher signings that winter, is it? So the number still isn’t very meaningless — it’s dollars per win in a cherry-picked sample.

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    • Al Dimond says:

      (should read “still isn’t very meaningful” in the last paragraph)

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    • I didn’t try to prove anything and I said right from the start it was a sample of the contracts signed. It was simply a look back at some of the more awful contracts in hindsight.

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      • Al Dimond says:

        It seems to me that the article claims that the winter of 2006 might go down as the worst free-agent pitcher-signing winter of all time — of ALL TIME!

        Given the impressive list of big-dollar signings you’ve listed, and the complete failure of many of them, it could well be true. But without (a) adding in the good contracts signed that winter as well and (b) maybe giving the numbers for other free-agent pitcher-signing winters we just don’t know. It’s just gawking at bad contracts… if you took the worst contracts of every season and added them up you’d probably get a number similar to $53 mil/win.

        Aaron Miles, Yuni Betancourt, and Ronny Cedeno combined for a wOBA of .225 last year (made-up number). I wouldn’t include that fact in an article about how 2009 was a terrible year for middle infielders, I’d look up the numbers of all 2009 MI.

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  12. WPJ says:

    IF I remember correctly, Keith Foulke surrendered all of his salary in 2006 because he ‘retired’.

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  13. Joe R says:

    Who would’ve thought Dice-BB would be one of the better pitching contracts of the 2006 offseason? Should’ve just went after Lilly.

    Oh well.

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  14. geo says:

    Why do the Cubs get full kudos for Ted Lilly, but the Royals only get half kudos for Gil Meche? Meche has produced 10.9 WAR in the three seasons since, Lilly has produced 10 WAR. Meche has been paid $29 million so far, for $2.67 million per marginal win. Lilly has been paid $28 million, for $2.8 million per marginal win. Seems pretty close to even so far.

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    • Steve says:

      well, according to the author:

      Though based on their subsequent track record, and given the information known at the time, I’m better that they simply got lucky with Meche’s 2007 and 2008.

      feel free to agree or disagree with this, but that is “why” he said this.

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  15. Mitch says:

    You forgot Chad Bradford (3 years, $10.5m, 1.9 wins).

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  16. Jimbo says:

    In light of this, I’m astonished at the lack of incentive-based contracts. Not for the big budget teams…they can make a bad deal and brush it under the rug with another player.

    But for the mid and small market teams, isn’t it theoretically possible to give so much in incentives that you actually might attract “slightly” better talent? And if your guaranteed salaries come in under $30M, with the potential to wind up three times that amount–of course, that would likely result in contention.

    Basically, I’m wondering why smaller budget teams haven’t been more creative in finding ways to pay-per-win.

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    • nmh says:

      Just off the top of my head, it would seem that some small market teams (Royals, Nationals, Pittsburgh) could not get away with this “incentive” tactic. In fact, the reason that Meche received the payday he got probably had a lot to do with the fact that it was the Royals who were courting him. If a team like the Cubs or maybe even the Giants were offering him a contract, it could ostensibly take less money because the location/situation is more desirable. Again, this would be on a case to case basis, but we need only to look at the most recent Bengie Molina contract. Molina supposedly took less money and possibly time to play in a place he was comfortable.

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    • nilodnayr says:

      Some of the players were failures due to injuries, but many just sucked. Incentives can only be placed on things like games played, etc, not performance metrics. Therefore, the incentives that you are talking about would be a violation of the CBA.

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      • Nathaniel Dawson says:

        “Therefore, the incentives that you are talking about would be a violation of the CBA”

        I’m not seeing anywhere where he said that the incentives would be based on performing metrics. Are you reading something into it that isn’t there?

        As for the highly incentive based contracts, most players don’t like them because there’s less guaranteed money. The players most likely to accept such deals are players that have had recent injury problems, such as Glaus, Sheets, Harden. You wouldn’t be able to attract most free agents with that kind of approach.

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  17. CircleChange11 says:

    2 things jump out at me on this list …

    [1] Does Dave Duncan get a % of the money he helps guys get in FA? (Suppan and Weaver).

    [2] Did OAK know that Zito and Mulder were hurt or on their way down?

    The cardinals traded Haren for Mulder, which in hindsight looks horrific. At the time StL had all 5 starters throw 200 IP. Still Haren’s minor league ‘control’ and ‘hard to hit’ numbers were there, with just a cup of coffee in MLB. Mulder was supposed to be the new version of John Tudor and turned out to be damaged goods, like the time StL signed Danny Jackson.

    I also see Woody Williams who the cards let walk after ’04. Williams had a decent season with SDP in 06 (12-5 3.68), but saw his IP and K’s fall significantly in his SDP years. HOU was likely putting too much stock in the Woody they saw with the Cardinals up to the 04 season, and ignored the drop-off in 05 and 06.

    When are teams going to ralize that when you sign a “Dave Duncan project”, he’s not going to perform as well for you as he did for him? Maybe they have, Pineiro is still unsigned.

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