Look back at 2006’s free agent pitching buffet

DMZ · July 17, 2006 at 8:29 pm · Filed Under General baseball, Mariners 

To harken back to Jeff’s post of similar title, I thought it’d be cool to look at how the 2006 signings are doing, looking at the deals they got and how they perform. I’m going to lean on xFIP (glossary!) here, because it amused me. In alphabetical order:

A.J. Burnett 5 years/$55M (2006-10)
The crown jewel of this off-season. Signed with the Blue Jays. He’s had injury issues and the team’s been cautious in pushing him back, looking at to the remaining four years on his deal. He’s barely over forty innings on the year, and while the ERA’s not so hot, the 41:8 K:BB ratio’s nice. While his ERA’s 4.25, his xFIP is but 3.29.

Kevin Millwood 5 years/$60M
Millwood was probably the general second choice of fans, including us. So far this year he’s thrown a lot more innings than Burnett, and he’s been reasonably good: in 116 innings, he’s struck out 78 and walked 25, and Texas doesn’t seem to be bothering him too much. His xFIP is 4.14, and that’s not that much better than the average is good, since xFIP isn’t park-adjusted, as Dave notes in the comments.

So those were the two big guys on the market, and neither of them have been worth the money. Burnett may yet turn in a performance through the rest of his contract to make it worthwhile, but Millwood’s a little less likely to pull that off, since he’ll be in his late 30s at the tail end of his deal.

The rest:
Esteban Loaiza 3 years/$21.375M (2006-08)
Ugh. This looked like he’d gone a little higher than market (Dave’s offseason plan had the M’s taking him for 3/$18m, for instance) but then the market for pitchers went insane, and suddenly it looked like the A’s had looked forward into the market and picked off a relative bargain.

Except Loaiza has sucked. He’s gotten into off-the-field trouble, and when he’s been on the mound for all of sixty innings, he’s been bad. 29 K, 27 walks is ugly, and that home run rate isn’t helping. His xFIP’s a whopping 5.75, and after a half-season, it looks like this deal is going to join a collection of weird, expensive deals Beane’s made that didn’t work out. It’s still a tribute to the A’s ability to construct a team that they’re able to do as well as they have when they’re fielding a team on a $60m payroll and $11m goes to Kendall and $6m goes to Loaiza right off the bat.

Loaiza’s had a weird career, and I’m not going to pretend I have any idea of how to explain it coherently. Maybe he’s done, and maybe he’s not — it’s certainly been thought before. But he has been flat horrible so far.

Matt Morris 3 years/$27M (2006-08)
Oh yeah, this guy. 72/39 K/BB ratio, 121 innings pitched, xFIP’s 4.83. At least they’re getting innings out of him, even if they’re not that great of innings.

Kenny Rogers 2 years/$16M (2006-07)
With his declining peripheral stats and age, I’d have stayed away from Rogers unless he came with a 50% discount tag or something ridiculous. But he’s been even better thais year than in the last few – he’s getting strikeouts, he’s not walking guys, and it adds up to an xFIP of 4.50. Same deal as the other guys: that’s too much money for what they’re producing.

Jarrod Washburn 4 years/$37.5M
Ah, the local boy. Not doing so well. He’s the pitcher he appeared to be in past seasons if you were paying attention, and not the superficially awesome pitcher some people saw. His K rate’s the same, more or less, his walk rate’s the same, the home runs, pretty much the whole package. As a result, his xFIP is only a little higher than what it’s been the last few seasons, while his ERA has skyrocketed from last year’s deceptive 3.20 to 4.58, which is only a hair better than 2003, and from there… yeah. Top-of-the-rotation money for mid-rotation fodder.

Jeff Weaver 1 year/$8.325M
You may expect that I’m going to hold my nose while I write about how stinky a deal this was. The problem is that in every serious way you want to measure it, Jeff Weaver has performed better than Jarrod Washburn, and that earned Weaver a trade off the team and the Angels ate a huge amount of his deal.

Meanwhile, the Mariners are happily cutting Washburn checks. Eeeeeeeeeeyup.

Halfway through the first season is too early to make final determinations, of course. They could yet get injured, or become stars, or whatever. But it certainly seems that in an irrational market, it doesn’t pay to participate.

My own opinion, ill-developed, is that pitchers are a lot like first baseman: it’s extremely hard to get your money’s worth in a free-agent contract. There will be cases where a pitcher is clearly worth the money if they’re healthy (Roger Clemens’ free agent deals, for example), and that might be as close to value as you get. In terms of making the least-worst deal in free agency, you’re much better off signing Carlos Beltran, say, over AJ Burnett.


41 Responses to “Look back at 2006’s free agent pitching buffet”

  1. Dave on July 17th, 2006 8:31 pm

    Quick correction – a 4.14 xFIP, in the Ballpark in Arlington, is well above average. xFIP isn’t park adjusted.

  2. DMZ on July 17th, 2006 8:45 pm

    Whoop, got my stat definitions mixed up. So much for getting fancy.

  3. JI on July 17th, 2006 8:46 pm

    How do you think next year’s crop rates compared to this one? If I remember correctly, Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito are at the top. Do you think they’ll break the bank or do you think since they’re of better qualitym or do you think they’ll top out at $11-12m per like Burnett and Millwood?

  4. Mat on July 17th, 2006 9:05 pm

    xFIP isn’t park adjusted.

    How much does xFIP need to be park adjusted? As I understand, it’s based on K’s, BB’s, and FB%, where FB% will then tell you what the pitchers’ HR rate should be. There are park adjustments for K’s and BB’s, but they are usually pretty small, and I imagine the same would be true for FB%. At least at first glance, it seems to me like xFIP is fairly park independent to begin with.

  5. Free Dan Rohn! on July 17th, 2006 9:07 pm

    Are there any deals in pitching? Perhaps a particular type of pitcher who is undervalued relative to the performance he brings to his team?

  6. Mat on July 17th, 2006 9:08 pm

    Same deal as the other guys: that’s too much money for what they’re producing.

    Could the Tigers justify the extra money with the claim that he was the last piece of the puzzle? I don’t know a ton about their pitching depth, but one could potentially argue that Rogers is the difference between first and second place in the AL Central. At any rate, Rogers did well to put himself in a gigantic ballpark with a good defense behind him.

  7. eponymous coward on July 17th, 2006 9:09 pm

    Thanks, Derek. This has confirmed something I’ve thought for a while, and it’s part of my real reluctance to join the “OMG we can do SOOOOO much better than GIl Meche in the offseason” camp.

    Maybe not, guys. Building a pitching staff through free agency can be horribly expensive and horribly risky, and Meche would not be the first guy who took many hundreds of inings to figure it out at age 27. If you’re the M’s and you really, truly do think Gil’s one of those guys, you know his arm’s in decent shape, and he’s still pitching decently by the end of the year…I really think a resigning might be justifiable, especially if other options are ones you know much less about.

  8. Dave on July 17th, 2006 9:11 pm

    I know its counterintuitive to a degree, but some parks do have a pretty significant effect on BB%, K%, and GB/FB. Whether that’s do tue the batter’s eye, a mental adjustment made by pitchers to adjust to the surroundings, or a myriad of reasons that we don’t really understand, the data is real and can’t be ignored.

    For instance, Coors Field has a four year strikeout factor of 88, meaning that 12% less strikeouts occur at Coors than an average park. Dolphin Stadium in Miami is the exact opposite, with a K factor of 112.

    So, a strikeout in Colorado is far more rare than a strikeout in Florida. Thus, park adjustments would still have to be made.

    There’s a great article about this in the 2006 Hardball Times Annual written by Dave Studemund.

  9. LB on July 17th, 2006 9:12 pm

    #5: There’s the occasional jewel to be found in waiver-wire fodder. The Red Sox sure got a ton of value from Bronson Arroyo after they got him off waivers from the Pirate and stashed him in Pawtucket for a year.

    Also, Johann Santana was a Rule 5 draft pick. He’s worked out pretty well for the Twins.

  10. eponymous coward on July 17th, 2006 9:12 pm

    Are there any deals in pitching? Perhaps a particular type of pitcher who is undervalued relative to the performance he brings to his team?

    I hear Kevin Brown’s available…(sorry)

    Actually, we have one of those guys. Jamie. We’ve gotten a LOT for him over the years at not bank-breaking prices.

  11. LB on July 17th, 2006 9:15 pm

    #8: Wouldn’t the amound of foul territory in the park affect BB and K rates? If you foul out near the seats in Oakland, there’s a very good chance that you’d keep the at-bat alive in just about every other ballpark in MLB. But in Oakland, a PA that might end on a K or BB elsewhere would be over.

  12. Mat on July 17th, 2006 9:32 pm

    There’s a great article about this in the 2006 Hardball Times Annual written by Dave Studemund.

    Ack. Still have to get my copy. I was thwarted trying to buy it in person, and then my usual online vendor was out of copies, and my search lost momentum. I assume they probably still have copies if I try ordering straight from THT’s site.

    Mainly, I just didn’t think those park factors were that large. It does make sense, to me anyway, that there would be park factors as certain atmospheric conditions could make it easier/harder just to throw breaking balls that actually break. Other stuff could make a difference too, like if you’re in a pitcher’s park you’re throwing to fewer batters per inning and thus might be stronger for each batter making it easier to throw the pitches you want to. But I do find it intriguing that the park factors are that large.

  13. mln on July 17th, 2006 9:57 pm

    Next year’s free agent pitching crop does have one wild card who might be worth the money (if he is posted).

    That would be Mr. Gyroball himself, Daisuke Matsuzaka.

  14. chris d on July 17th, 2006 10:06 pm

    Dave,do you have any idea if the M’s would go after Zito or Schmidt?

  15. chris d on July 17th, 2006 10:08 pm

    I meant, Zito and Schmidt, as free agents not in trade

  16. noel on July 17th, 2006 10:35 pm

    (1) I’ve just discovered that my nephew’s future in-laws hail from McCall, Idaho. Corco, do you know anyone by the name of Sheila or Ronald? Please say no. 🙂

    (2) Hmmm, Daisuke Matsuzaka… I wonder how his arm is holding up. Hopefully he’s not still being worked to death by his team.

  17. David J. Corcoran I on July 17th, 2006 10:40 pm

    Yes, I do.

  18. David J. Corcoran I on July 17th, 2006 10:41 pm

    actually, scratch that.

  19. aws on July 17th, 2006 10:50 pm

    I was watching espn while reading this post and sportscenter just through out a rumor about the Mariners going after Alfonso Soriano and the Nationals scouts watching Adam Jones. Any chance Jones is in the majors right now because he is being shopped?

  20. pinball1973 on July 17th, 2006 10:56 pm

    About Daisuke, he’s having an increadible year over here, but the Lions are evidently determined to overwork his arm enough to dissuade MLB teams from signing him.

  21. pinball1973 on July 17th, 2006 10:58 pm

    Also, it would be more of a risk (though perhaps at a very reasonable price), but Kei Igawa of the Tigers really, really wants to pitch in the States, and he is a good pitcher, if not really a possible ace.

  22. aws on July 17th, 2006 11:01 pm

    make that threw out

  23. Typical Idiot Fan on July 17th, 2006 11:12 pm

    Well here’s some good news from the 2004 off season pitching acquisitions:

    Jorge Campillo:

    1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO, 3 groundball outs.


  24. noel on July 17th, 2006 11:20 pm

    Aha, Alfonso Soriano… just what we need. Another inflated ego in the clubhouse. 🙂 I’m sure he and Grover would get along just fine.

    I wonder who would suck worse in left field: Alfonso Soriano or Raul Ibanez?

    One benefit, though – it would push Carl Everett out of the DH spot.

  25. John in L.A. on July 17th, 2006 11:26 pm

    #7 – Except Meche will BE one of those guys. We’d still have to overpay him.

    Nice post, DMZ, and I agree with where to spend the bucks, as well. Ideally you could pay for FA bats and stock up on pitching prospects and overseas talent.

    There are exceptions, of course, particularly with aces, I would guess. But overpaying #3 guys just hurts.

    Quick question about the strikeout rates Dave cited… I’d never read that strikeout data… do you think that park factor tends to overrate Willis at all?

  26. nfreakct on July 17th, 2006 11:49 pm

    It seems like this year the insanity will only continue as mediocre pitchers will still continue getting contracts in the $7-10 million range. If Gil Meche continues at his current pace I wouldn’t be surprised at all if get a 3-year deal somewhere in the range of the low to mid-20 million mark. Meche seems like the kind of pitcher you would ideally sign to one year deals from here on to eternity, but the “market” will force some team to give him a long-term contract.

    Hopefully that team won’t be Seattle.

  27. Mariner1987 on July 18th, 2006 12:17 am

    #26 – Meche will without a doubt get a long term deal from someone, personally I think he ends up in San Fran with them likely losing Schmidt and Lowry being just average. They would likely offer him a similar to contract that they gave Morris (3 yrs 27 mil). I think if managment wants to bring Gil back they will have to work out a deal during the season (while we still might be able to sign him somewhat cheap) but if we wait till the year is over and he is still putting up numbers like he is now, then I would expect him to test the waters, not to mention Gil knows someone will give him a big payoff.

  28. RollingWave on July 18th, 2006 1:00 am

    Yes, building the team from FA is always risky… espically pitching..

    SI have a piece on how most relievers are extremely inconsistent year by year. and the few special exception (that are good from year to year obviously) tend to be huge brand names… (Mariano Rivera for example…)

    Looking at the Yankees. they had 4 FA pitcher and one home boy this season… out of those 4, 1 have been great (Mussina) one have been very inconsistent (Johnson) one have been okish but not particularly good (Wright) and one have been on the DL forever (Pavano..) out of those 4 only Mussina is genuinely doing better than the home boy Wang this year…

    You can see why the Yankees are particuarlly saying they will only move guys like Wang or their big young prospect Hughes over Cashman’s dead body..

    Guys to avoid in the FA this year… Gary Mathews Jr. he is a gamble at best. if you sign him it better be loaded with production incentive / insurance… or he is the biggest candidate to be the next Beltre :/

  29. Dave on July 18th, 2006 5:21 am

    Dave,do you have any idea if the M’s would go after Zito or Schmidt?

    Schmidt yes, Zito no.

  30. kenshin on July 18th, 2006 7:38 am


    I absolutely disagree with your assessment of the Giants interest in Meche. Correctly or Incorrectly, Sabean viewed Morris as a top of the rotation starter. Meche simply lacks the history of success to support such a view. Furthermore, the Giants essentially need to revamp their entire starting lineup (the only returning starters they have are Winn, Vizquel and possibly Matheny). Given that their one position of depth is starting pitching (Lowry, Hennessey, Cain, Morris, Correia and Sanchez), I believe they will try to resign Schmidt and, failing that, will focus exclusively on hitting.

  31. gwangung on July 18th, 2006 7:45 am

    It seems like this year the insanity will only continue as mediocre pitchers will still continue getting contracts in the $7-10 million range. If Gil Meche continues at his current pace I wouldn’t be surprised at all if get a 3-year deal somewhere in the range of the low to mid-20 million mark. Meche seems like the kind of pitcher you would ideally sign to one year deals from here on to eternity, but the “market” will force some team to give him a long-term contract.

    Hopefully that team won’t be Seattle.

    The “hopefully” part will depend on who’s available. I’m not seeing a whole lot coming up from the minor leagues next year (there’s a chance that Cruceta’s numbers may be a tad inflated), and you still have to have a rotation–it all depends on what’s available.

  32. bookbook on July 18th, 2006 8:01 am

    Washburn, Felix, Moyer, Lowe, Soriano

    That’s not a rotation that’s likely to take you to the playoffs, but it might beat the alternatives.

    (If Hudson’s available, I’d love to plunk him atop the rotation.)

  33. eponymous coward on July 18th, 2006 8:17 am

    If it’s not likely to take you to the playoffs, than why bother to spend the money on resigning Moyer? Is the point to go “yaaaaay, we’re spending money, even though we probably won’t win”? We can not make the playoffs with ANYONE in our rotation.

    Yeah, Meche is likely to get a multiyear deal in the mmarket. And, if he sustains his success, he’s as likely to pay off as any number of pitchers in his class. He could be Matt Clement circa 2002-2005 over his deal, or Brett Tomko, or injured. If there are better options to fill out the middle of the rotation, by all means, the M’s should use them.

  34. Mariner1987 on July 18th, 2006 8:55 am

    #30- Your probably right actually, I had a brain fart about how old their offense was and is. However it also depends on who all is going to come back for them, and your right their main focus should be offense in the off-season.

    Meche has been much better this season, but he still tends to throw alot of pitches in an inning, hes not a guy that when “off” his game can at least be an innings eater, If Meche is struggling its going to be a short outing.

  35. darrylzero on July 18th, 2006 10:39 am

    Dave, why not Zito? Concerns about salary or make-up? Or would he just not be interested? Seems durable at least, and it would be nice to actually have a legitimately good LH starter here. I’m not crazy about Zito, seems kind of flaky, etc., but it would be pretty exciting. If it’s the likely pricetag, though, I understand.

    #32, Hudson has been pretty bad this year. I’d be pretty nervous about giving him very much money.

  36. LB on July 18th, 2006 11:28 am

    #35: durable at least

    I heard an interesting fact about Zito on the radio before the Boston/Oakland game he started a few days ago: not only has Zito never gone on the DL since reaching the major leagues, he has never even missed a start.

    With Boras as his agent, the guy is very likely in for a huge payday.

  37. crazysob on July 18th, 2006 1:52 pm

    Beltran over Burnett? If hindsight is 20/20, I’d take Millwood over Beltre. Loaiza, supposedly the best of the worst, flopped. Morris turned out to be servicable. Kenny Rogers the 60 year old is an all star. It is all gambling.

  38. Gomez on July 18th, 2006 3:28 pm

    The problem is that in every serious way you want to measure it, Jeff Weaver has performed better than Jarrod Washburn….

    Wait, WHAT? Sure, you look at Ks and BBs alone, and you can make that argument in a vacuum, but Weaver’s done nothing but hang pitches over the plate and get hit hard. His ERA sat at 6.29 when DFA’d, IIRC. Washburn at least scatters his hits and keeps the run total at 4 or below.

    Unlike Washburn, who’s struggled in some starts but got robbed by the dreaded lack of run support in others… I can argue that Weaver safely earned all 10 of his Angel losses.

    Though he’s been a disappointment, Washburn hasn’t been THAT bad. Bad signing, average at best… but Weaver was positively awful with Anaheim.

  39. DMZ on July 18th, 2006 3:47 pm

    So two points – my Beltran v Burnett argument wasn’t about those two, though I think that should have been clearer, certainly. It was that, in general, it seems like you’re much better off paying premium hitters at premium positions over even the best hitters at first base, or the best starting pitchers.

    And to Weaver/Washburn — you’re essentially arguing there that scattering hits is a skill Washburn has, and I don’t see that there’s any evidence that any pitcher has that skill.

  40. Gomez on July 18th, 2006 5:10 pm

    To wit then… are all those hits and home runs Weaver surrendered as blind a coincidence as Washburn’s? Wouldn’t Washburn have done similarly bad, even with Safeco helping him here and there?

    Also, note Washburn’s somewhat tactical use of the fastball (whether or not his stuff is all that great), compared to Weaver’s throw-ball-over-plate approach to pitching.

  41. studes on July 18th, 2006 6:58 pm

    Actually, the HR/OF part of xFIP is adjusted for ballpark, the most important part, IMO. We probably don’t label it well on our site.

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