Why Did C.J. Wilson Sign for Cheap?

Thursday morning C.J. Wilson, the consensus top free agent starting pitcher, signed a five-year, $77.5 million contract with the Angels. His new contract has an average annual value of $15.5 million, which is only $1 million more than Mark Buehrle‘s four-year, $58 million deal signed less than 24 hours earlier.

Wilson is younger — 31 to 32 — and better — career FIP- 83 to 92 — than Buehrle, so why did he sign such a similar deal?

In this year’s FanGraphs contract crowdsourcing, the readers predicted Wilson’s final contract to the penny — 5 years, $15.5 AAV. Looking at this, one could conclude that Wilson got market value. However, the crowdsourcing results have been fairly conservative thus far, with Albert Pujols, Jonathan Papelbon, CC Sabathia, Jose Reyes, and Buehrle getting more years and/or AAV than the crowd predicted. Seemingly, the market has been set higher this offseason, and thus Wilson could have gotten more.

In interviews this morning, Wilson confirmed two facts that gives more insight to how the market valued him. Reportedly, Wilson had a six-year offer for over $100 from Miami. He also revealed that the Rangers’ offer was about half in total value of the Marlins’ offer. It is unclear, but likely that the Marlins offered a higher AAV than the deal he eventually signed with the Angels.

Wilson will become teammates with Pujols, who signed a massive 10-year, $250 deal earlier this morning. If you assume that Pujols will be an six WAR player over the next ten years, which is admittedly a rough estimate, then the Angels essentially paid him about $4.1 million per win. Wilson tallied 5.9 WAR last season, so an estimate of his average WAR would be about five per season. At that level, he would earn about $3.1 million per win, a full million dollars less than Pujols.

To recap, Wilson’s contract is favorable in comparison to the next-best pitcher, which was signed a day ago, and favorable in terms of $/WAR to a contract that his own team signed earlier this morning. Either the market did not value Wilson as highly as expected, or Wilson took less to play for the Angles. Let’s quickly run through some factors that could have contributed to those two scenarios.

– Wilson’s playoff struggles. It is unlikely that this changed Wilson’s contract by more than a few million, but it is impossible to know if more teams may have been involved if he had a dominant postseason.

– Wilson’s unconventional career path. Wilson was only made into a starter in 2010, so there may have been some concern about his workload as his career progresses.

– Playing in Los Angeles. Wilson, who was born in Newport Beach, has made it clear that he highly valued the opportunity to return to his hometown. In fact, Wilson said that he would love to play for the Dodgers in the National League, but that their current situation did not allow them to be serious contenders.

– Weaver and Dan Haren. Wilson also expressed that he was excited to join a rotation which already featured two ace-caliber starters.

– The Pujols factor. Wilson expressed that he considered the Cardinals as a possible destination, if only because he wanted to play with Pujols. When Pujols signed with the Angels this morning, that certainly helped attract Wilson as well.

It is likely that all of these factors played some role in Wilson’s contract offers as well as his choice of a destination. Also, if Wilson was desperate for more money, he could have held out longer — there was no deadline to sign today. Whatever the reasons, the Angels have a potential third ace to anchor their pitching staff, and they signed him at a very team-friendly rate.



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Jesse has been writing for FanGraphs since 2010. He is the director of Consumer Insights at GroupM Next, the innovation unit of GroupM, the world’s largest global media investment management operation. Follow him on Twitter @jesseberger.


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david
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david
4 years 9 months ago

“Wilson tallied 5.9 WAR last season, so an estimate of his average WAR would be about five per season.”

If CJ Wilson reaches 5 WAR in even two of the seasons on this contract, it would be pretty surprising.

Kev
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Kev
4 years 9 months ago

Surprising? Really? Strongly disagree.

OrgoneDonor
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OrgoneDonor
4 years 9 months ago

Pitchers have to be really good to get to 5 WAR. For a 31-year old guy with two season of 200IP, getting 2 of 5 years to produce at 5WAR would be quite the success. At this point, they’re paying him for 3WAR/year, which I think is a reasonable expectation for the life of the contract.

LRG
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LRG
4 years 9 months ago

3 WAR a season??? That is just ridiculous.

Marshmellow
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Marshmellow
4 years 9 months ago

LRG, he was saying the Angels are PAYING him 3 WAR/year ($5 million = 1 win; $15 million = 3 wins) , not what they’re expecting from him or what is expected from him.

Personally, I think he will provide a lot more value than his contract is paying him for.

Adam R
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Adam R
4 years 9 months ago

He’s the same age as Haren, less mileage and playing in a friendlier pitcher’s park. I think 4+ WAR is a very reasonable guess.

LRG
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LRG
4 years 9 months ago

Yeah I think that’s just a ridiculous comment too. This guy has a lot left in the tank (just 708 IP in his career) and he showed significant improvements across the board from 2010 to 2011. CJ Wilson was the steal of the offseason. Excellent acquisition by the Angels. I could easily see him being a 23-27 WAR player over the life of his contract which would be much more than what the Angels paid for.

Joe
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Joe
4 years 9 months ago

LRG – So you see him ‘easily’ averaging ~5 WAR over the next 5 years? To put it another way…. basically show no decline between now and his age 36 season?

There are 6 pitchers who have topped 27WAR over the last 5 years (Halladay, CC, Velrander, Haren, Linceum, Lee).. so you’d have him just below this level in his age 32-36 seasons?

Here are the guys in the 23-27 WAR range over the last 5 years that Wilson should “easily” reach: Felix, Greinke

While he certainly could post something in that range, that he easily does that I think is a bit of a reach given his age.

Of course he only needs about ~15 WAR for the deal to make sense which seems like a pretty good chance of happening, but I’m not sure about the surefire bargain narrative… I don’t think people are accounting for the probability of him (or any pitcher) being healthy all 5 seasons…

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 9 months ago

~15 WAR (what the contract pays him) is something that only 30 pitchers did in the past 5 years. Do we expect CJ Wilson to be one of the top 30 pitchers in baseball over the next 5 years? He’ll be 31-35 over those seasons.

Probably, but if you think about it in those terms, this deal is far from a surefire bargain. If you were to make a list of your projected top 30, or if we were to hold a draft auction, I think he’d end up near the bottom of the list of top-30-pitchers-over-the-next-5-years.

Eric
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Eric
4 years 9 months ago

He averaged 5.3 WAR in his two seasons as a starter. I don’t see how it would be surprising if he maintained that level for at least a few years. He’s improving not getting worse (unlike his new teammate)

cs3
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cs3
4 years 9 months ago

to be fair, all his teammates are new

Colin
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Colin
4 years 9 months ago

Agree, people are taking CJ’s ONE really good year too far here, he’s already 31, calm down. I’ll give you that he has developed some quality stuff in recent seasons. It’s probably a fair deal relative to what he is likely to produce.

Jonathan
Member
Jonathan
4 years 8 months ago

If he’s really found himself in keeping his pitches in the zone (a nice 2.98 BB/9 last year), I think we can expect similar quality and efficiency. I do have doubts as to whether he’ll be able to maintain K/9 level (8.3 last year) as a starter for much longer.

With that said, I think he’s a safe bet for about 4.1 or 4.2 WAR with upside towards 5 or even 6. The Angels made a smart move.

Corvelay
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Corvelay
4 years 9 months ago

Inasmuch as the market price in free agency is the amount that one team is willing to pay and thirty-one are not, then the Angels did get a good deal. It’s less than what some other teams would allegedly have paid, though not quite as comparable to Buehrle’s contract as the article makes it, at 33% more ($20 million) for an extra year. But whether guaranteeing almost $80 million to a 31-year old with exactly 2 good seasons as a starting pitcher (and 2 as a reliever) is a wise allocation of money that could be used elsewhere – on drafts, trades, or free agents down the road – is another story.

Slartibartfast
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Slartibartfast
4 years 9 months ago

California.

cliff lee's changeup
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cliff lee's changeup
4 years 9 months ago

so the angels are really good now

Jon L.
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Jon L.
4 years 9 months ago

Yeah, that’s my takeaway.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 9 months ago

Wilson is younger — 31 to 32 — and better — career FIP- 83 to 92 — than Buehrle, so why did he sign such a similar deal?

Not so fast. There’s a number of things wrong with using FIP- here. Wilson was a reliever for 5 of his 7 seasons. FIP is unfair to Buehrle, because it doesn’t account for his proven ability to outperform his peripherals. And a ton of Buehrle’s value comes from the fact that he is arguably the most durable pitcher in baseball.

If you look at who is “better” in terms of WAR, Buehrle is the clear winner. Going by fWAR, it’s 45.9 vs 13.8. It’s an even bigger gap in terms of bWAR (which takes into account Buehrle’s xFIP-defying magic): 46.6 vs 10.5. On a rate basis (per 200 innings), Wilson has a slight edge in fWAR (3.7 vs 3.9), but Buehrle has a big edge in bWAR (3.8 vs 3.0).

M
Guest
M
4 years 9 months ago

>>Going by fWAR, it’s 45.9 vs 13.8<<

You're taking Wilson's totals as a reliever and two years as a starter and comparing it to Buehrle's career totals as a starter?

Uh, OK?

M
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M
4 years 9 months ago

>>On a rate basis (per 200 innings), Wilson has a slight edge in fWAR (3.7 vs 3.9), but Buehrle has a big edge in bWAR (3.8 vs 3.0).<<

Pointless. You're accumulating Wilson's innings as a reliever.

Cliff
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Cliff
4 years 9 months ago

Which would give Wilson an edge…

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 9 months ago

M, that’s the whole point. Just because he’s has 2 years as a good starter doesn’t mean that he didn’t spend 5 seasons as a mediocre reliever. You can’t ignore those seasons.

Ketchup
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Ketchup
4 years 9 months ago

Wilson wasn’t a mediocre reliever. Check those numbers again.

Bobby Ayala
Member
Member
4 years 9 months ago

From 2006-09 he walked over 4/ip and gave up about 1hr/9. Pretty unspectacular. At the very least he was inconsistent and unable to get a firm hold on the closer role that was his to lose.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 9 months ago

Okay. 2005-2009: 280 IP, 4.30 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.12 FIP, 3.88 xFIP, 3.3 fWAR.

jake
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jake
4 years 9 months ago

To be fair, he was good reliever in 2007 and especially 2009.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 9 months ago

My point here isn’t that Buehrle will be better than Wilson going forward, but simply that using career FIP- alone to show that Wilson is better is extremely misleading. If you’re going to look at career numbers, Buehrle’s undoubtedly been the better pitcher.

Over the next 5 years, I think Wilson will be better, but it’s at least worth having a discussion. You know what you’re getting with Buehrle and he’s as safe a bet as there is to give you 200-240 innings a year. With Wilson, there are question marks about his consistency, whether he’ll continue to be his 2010/2011 self, and whether he’ll be able to handle the workload. But he definitely has more upside.

Michael
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Michael
4 years 9 months ago

“In fact, Wilson said that he would love to play for the Dodgers in the National League, but that their current situation did not allow them to be serious contenders.”

This is probably the only reason Arte signed him, just to spite the Dodgers.

jordan_s
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jordan_s
4 years 9 months ago

uh, he signed for cheap cuz he wanted to play in california. said it himself.

bill
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bill
4 years 9 months ago

Gee, proven durability is actually worth money in pitchers? Shocking…

Buerhle has pitched over 200 innings every year for 10 years, granted since he’s a pitcher there’s risk, but less than Wilson even given he’s probably not as talented a pitcher.

cpebbles
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cpebbles
4 years 9 months ago

I think a lot of teams aren’t as sold on Wilson as FanGraphs is. He’s dominated for two years on the strength of a fastball that appears below average. Combine that with the whole two-years-starting thing, and how much do you really want to gamble on him?

GVeers
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Yeah, I think this is pretty crucial. His swinging strike rate suggests a K/9 regression, but maybe he gets around that by mixing up pitches with his Halliday-esque selection. He’s definitely not a nice, safe player, but I think that means the reward is there as well as the risk.

ake
Guest
ake
4 years 9 months ago

Josh Beckett from 06-10 (5 years) had a 8.5% swinging rate and an 8.23 K/9. He’s one of many examples of pitchers who can maintain a good K rate despite a swinging strike rate that is nothing special.

The ability to get strikeouts is a controllable skill and not all dependent by the rate a pitcher gets swings and misses, and this is well documented. Some pitchers know how to mix up their pitches, set hitters up, and really go for it with two strikes.

GVeers
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Interesting, ake, I did not know that. I’m pulling for guy, if only because I have him on the cheap in my keeper league.

Random Guy
Guest
Random Guy
4 years 9 months ago

Wilson considered signing with the Cardinals? I wish he had, if only for the joy of watching the Internet explode with conspiracy theories.

channelclemente
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Why he signed for that deal.

1. He’s a #3 and not worth as much as he’d hoped. His mother’s POV as well.
2. He’s from CA, and wanted to come home.
3. When he remembered Ozzie’s contract was for four years, he knew that Miami doofus would tear the team up after 3 years anyway, and he was in the wind to god knows here.
4. He got out of that oven in Dallas and will actually have something left in the tank for post season.

Bill
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Bill
4 years 9 months ago

I have to think that Florida’s past played a larger role in both C.J.’s and Albert’s decision. If they lose, they’ll blow the team up.

SchmidtXC
Guest
SchmidtXC
4 years 9 months ago

I would assume the Marlins offer was no longer an option once Buehrle signed, so he had no choice but to leave it at that point (as did Poo-holes). Since we were still using the Elias compensation system (albeit modified slightly) teams could only sign three compensatory guys unless they lost more than three themselves. The fish got their three out of the way early, so by rule they couldn’t have signed either Pujols or Wilson without backing out of the Buehrle deal at the last second. Those agents probably realized what the MSM hasn’t picked up on yet and took the Angels money ASAP.

hildebeast21
Member
hildebeast21
4 years 9 months ago

I prefer SIERA to FIP/xFIP, and I’m not a huge fan of using league average runs per game as the standard. All else being equal, I feel it’s reasonable to use 4.5 SIERA as the benchmark, without getting into too much detail why. Anyway, based on my method he was a 2.97 WAR guy in 2010, and a 5.11 WAR guy in 2011. Assume a starting point of median 2010 and 2011 (4.0 WAR for 2012) and then -0.5 per year until age 35 and -1 per year after that. Assume $5million per win this year and 5% inflation thereafter. That puts his “worth” over the next 5 seasons at $82.42million. I think the Angels did well with this contract, but I don’t think it’s some great bargain.

Damian
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Damian
4 years 9 months ago

your method isn’t good, and you assume too much

Art
Guest
Art
4 years 9 months ago

Can folks stop using the arbitrary 5mil/WAR baseline?

Last year it was 4.5mil/WAR… if you are going to assume inflation is 5% over the contract than why is next year’s baseline also not 5% of this year.

Or mention why it makes sense to assume 11% one year and then 5% the rest.

Sadly Dave has been driving the 5mil/WAR bus for tTWO offseasons now and it is slowly becoming entrenched despite having absolutely no analysis behind it.

Sour Bob
Guest
Sour Bob
4 years 9 months ago

Wilson is a self-described “straight edge” guy from the SoCal punk scene. You have to figure that made going home even more resonant, as it’s not like there were a ton of sympatico people in Arlington or South Beach.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 9 months ago

Exactly. Los Angeles is a straight-edge, clean living, healthy, drug-free community.

Alex Remington
Member
4 years 9 months ago

Yeah, but he’s going to be in Anaheim. That’s about 30 miles — and hours of frustrating gridlock — from Los Angeles.

Sour Bob
Guest
Sour Bob
4 years 9 months ago

Are you under the impression that everyone in a city lives an identical lifestyle?

Or are you just generally expressing doubt that a guy from the SoCal straight edge scene will feel comfortable living in… the SoCal straight edge scene?

Matty Brown
Member
Member
Matty Brown
4 years 9 months ago

California Love, wut???

harry k
Guest
harry k
4 years 9 months ago

+/- 90 walks next year for CJ? maybe he’ll learn some control from haren and weaver… maybe the angels ballpark will help mask some off his flaws, after all its much better than playing in arlington.

peachesnnuts
Member
peachesnnuts
4 years 9 months ago

my takeaway from this is how ridiculously accurate the FG contract crowdsourcing has been. This is like the 3rd or 4th guy we’ve nailed in both length and dollars.

MatManz
Member
MatManz
4 years 9 months ago

Five-years, $77.5MM (15.5MM p/y AAV) is not cheap. It’s market value. Add in the fact that neither the Red Sox nor Yankee were bidding to raise the price and there you have it. It’s exactly what he’s worth if not a bit of an overpay.

Kaiser
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Kaiser
4 years 9 months ago

Marlins offered 6/100. He took less because of his desire to come home.

MatManz
Member
MatManz
4 years 9 months ago

Believe what you want. I believe that deal was never on the table.

MikeS
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MikeS
4 years 9 months ago

I wish someone would sign me for “cheap.”

dirtbag
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dirtbag
4 years 9 months ago

You have no talent, so “cheap” means something totally different.

cs3
Member
cs3
4 years 9 months ago

” Wilson is younger — 31 to 32 — and better — career FIP- 83 to 92 — than Buehrle, so why did he sign such a similar deal? ”
=======================================

since when is $20 million and 34% more in guaranteed money considered “similar”

Eric
Guest
Eric
4 years 9 months ago

Per year salary…$15.1/yr for CJ, $14.5/yr for Buerhle. That is fairly similar.

cs3
Member
cs3
4 years 9 months ago

the entire premise of this article is that theyre being paid about the same, but thats not true at all.

so by ignoring the extra year and $20 million thats comes with it youre essentially twisting the facts to fit the storyline.

besides, CJ mentioned several times (and i saw his interview with Chris Rose and Kevin Millar with my own eyes) that the biggest reason he signed with the Angels was to come home. he said he was offered 6 years AND an option for a 7th year for significantly more money by Miami, but for him it was worth sacrificing the extra money to play in LA where he lives.

Eric R
Guest
Eric R
4 years 9 months ago

I suppose it is similar in the way that if I was looking at a BMW 128i convertible– with 48 payments, nothing down and 5% interest, I’m looking at $845 per month. While I am at the dealership, I might say to myself– “Hey self, you can get a 328i convertible instead for $895 per month, with 60 payments.

The 328i is a bit nicer of a car [costs over $10k more], and $895 and $845 are pretty similar payments. In fact just as similar as $15.5M and $14.5M [the latter numbers in each set are 94% of the former].

Looking at it from the perspective of what I’m pulling out of my wallet every month they are pretty similar, but only because I’m tacking on an extra year of payments.

cs3
Member
cs3
4 years 9 months ago

exactly.

very nice analogy too

Eric R
Guest
Eric R
4 years 9 months ago

I suppose lease payments, rather that the payments for buying the car would have been more appropriate, since the two deals you don’t own the players after they are done paying :)

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