Friendly Reminder – I’ll be on KJR with the Groz at 2:20 this afternoon. I’ll try to resist the urge to just yell Adam Jones’ name repeatedly for eight minutes.
One of the main things you’ll hear over the next few days, during the run-up to the trade deadline, is that so-and-so has a track record of success. They’re veterans, they’re proven commodities, and they’ve shown that they can perform in the major leagues before. These statements will often be made to mask the fact that there’s a reason the other team was willing to trade you the guy in the first place.
The Mariners, probably more than almost any other team in baseball, love track records. Bill Bavasi is fond of saying “Managers hate kids. Young players get managers fired.” This pro-veteran belief is widespread in baseball, but even more so in Seattle. Guys with track records hold their perceived value for a long time, often far beyond the point of having actual skills to contribute.
This is especially true with pitchers. If a pitcher has a successful season, especially as a starter or a closer, he inherits a label that takes all kinds of work to remove. If he has two successful seasons, he’s essentially guaranteed to pitch until his arm falls off. Teams will always be willing to take a chance on guys with track records.
You can probably guess where I stand on the projection value of a track record in many cases. As I laid out in the Evaluating Pitcher Talent post, pitching success can often have very little to do with repeatable skills and an awful lot to do with factors beyond the pitcher’s control. However, it is still completely in vogue for teams to acquire players simply because they’ve succeeded before, ignoring their current skill levels in projecting what they’ll do going forward.
So, despite the fact that I’m preaching to the choir, I figured I’d make a point about how well track records predicted pitching success in the AL in 2007 so far. What follows is a list of starting pitchers in the American League that have pitched at least 50 innings, their ERA+, their xFIP, and how they came to be members of their current team. This list is sorted by ERA+ (park adjusted ERA where 100 is average) so that those of you who still think I’m wrong about how to evaluate pitchers can have one less thing to complain about. On to the list.
1. Lenny Dinardo, 183 ERA+, 4.47 xFIP, Claimed on Waivers
2. Dan Haren, 183 ERA+, 4.15 xFIP, Acquired as minor leaguer in trade for Mark Mulder
3. Jeremy Guthrie, 152 ERA+, 4.05 xFIP, Claimed on Waivers
4. Johan Santana, 152 ERA+, 3.72 xFIP, Rule 5 selection
5. Kelvim Escobar, 148 ERA+, 4.14 xFIP, Mid-Tier Free Agent Signing
6. Erik Bedard, 144 ERA+, 3.02 xFIP, Developed by Team
7. Mark Buehrle, 141 ERA+, 4.41 xFIP, Developed by Team
8. Josh Beckett, 140 ERA+, 3.53 xFIP, Aquired in trade for Hanley Ramirez
9. Fausto Carmona, 133 ERA+, 3.98 xFIP, Developed by Team
10. John Lackey, 132 ERA+, 4.19 xFIP, Developed by Team
11. Jered Weaver, 131 ERA+, 4.84 xFIP, Developed by Team
12. Justin Verlander, 127 ERA+, 4.35 xFIP, Developed by Team
13. Javier Vazquez, 123 ERA+, 3.90 xFIP, Acquired in trade for for Chris Young
14. Chien-Ming Wang, 122 ERA+, 4.23 xFIP, Developed by Team
15. Brian Bannister, 122 ERA+, 5.03 xFIP, Acquired as minor leaguer in trade for Ambiorex Burgos
16. Gil Meche, 122 ERA+, 4.12 xFIP, Mid-Tier Free Agent Signing
17. Chad Gaudin, 121 ERA+, 4.79 xFIP, Acquired as minor leaguer in trade for Dustin Majewski
18. Daisuke Matsuzaka, 121 ERA+, 4.18 xFIP, Top-Tier Free Agent Signing
19. Joe Blanton, 120 ERA+, 4.07 xFIP, Developed by Team
20. C.C. Sabathia, 119 ERA+, 3.61 xFIP, Developed by Team
21. Shaun Marcum, 119 ERA+, 4.37 xFIP, Developed by Team
22. Jeremy Bonderman, 118 ERA+, 3.59 xFIP, Acquired as minor leaguer in trade for Jeff Weaver
23. Roger Clemens, 117 ERA+, 4.17 xFIP, Top-Tier Free Agent Signing
24. Andrew Miller, 115 ERA+, 4.84 xFIP, Developed by Team
25. Roy Halladay, 111 ERA+, 3.95 xFIP, Developed by Team
26. Scott Kazmir, 110 ERA+, 4.37 xFIP, Acquired as minor leaguer in trade for Victor Zambrano
27. Jon Garland, 110 ERA+, 5.01 xFIP, Acquired as minor leaguer in trade for Matt Karchner
28. Curt Schilling, 109 ERA+, 4.29 xFIP, Acquired in trade for Casey Fossum, J. de la Rosa, and Brandon Lyon
29. A.J. Burnett, 107 ERA+, 3.74 xFIP, Top-Tier Free Agent Signing
30. Felix Herandez, 106 ERA+, 3.19 xFIP, Developed by Team
Breaking it down by category:
Developed by Team: 13
Acquired as minor leaguer in trade: 6
Top-Tier Free Agent Signing: 3
Acquired as major leaguer in trade: 3
Mid-Tier Free Agent Signing: 2
Claimed on Waivers: 2
Rule 5 Selection: 1
Take a look at this list. A grand total of six of them were considered upper echelon established pitchers at the time they were acquired and have pitched at a level consistent with their track record. An equal number of them were acquired in a move that cost the organization nothing of value – a $25,000 waiver claim, a $50,000 rule 5 fee, or a minor trade for a spare part. These guys – Lenny Dinardo, Jeremy Guthrie, Chad Gaudin, Brian Bannister, Jon Garland, and some guy named Johan Santana – all came from the pool of talent that we often refer to as freely available talent. These guys cost essentially nothing, and they had no track record of success when they were acquired.
Beyond that, over half of the list, 16 of the 30, were either developed internally or were acquired as somewhat highly though of minor league pitchers. They also had no track record of major league success when they were acquired.
Add it all up, and you’ve got 22 of the 30 guys on this list who were acquired without a major league track record. Two of the top 3 were claimed on waivers within the past year! Only 1 of the top 10 was acquired in a trade as an established major league pitcher, and he cost his team Hanley Ramirez in the process.
This isn’t anything of an in depth study, but it does make one point abundantly clear – the pool of potential pitchers with which to find a quality starter is not limited to guys who have a track record of being a quality starter. Teams who pigeonhole themselves into believing that the way to build a successful pitching staff is by acquiring successful pitchers are ignoring a massive populous of pitchers that could help them, and they’re usually dooming their franchises to making some terrible trades and giving out horrible free agent contracts in the process.
The Mariners are shopping for an arm and the list of potential available pitchers being discussed are guys like Jose Contreras, Matt Morris, Jon Garland, and the pipe dream is Dontrelle Willis. Why? Because they all have track records.
I’m guessing the A’s are quite happy with the fact that their entire freaking rotation is on the above list, and not one of them had a track record when they were acquired.
Baseball needs to wake up. Chasing past success is a great way to become the Pittsburgh Pirates. Forget proven veterans – go find guys with talent and acquire them. If you need a name to push you in the right direction, call the Devil Rays about J.P. Howell. He’ll cost a fraction of what the big names are going to command and he’s every bit as good.