Cactus League Game 8, The Value of Durability
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jeff Samardzija, 12:05pm
The M’s head to Scottsdale to face San Francisco, and their off-season acquisition, Jeff Samardzija. The right-hander signed a 5 year, $90 million deal with San Francisco despite the fact that his 2015 – his walk year – was, well, awful. After an excellent 2014, Samardzija signed with the White Sox and saw pretty much every indicator decline. His strikeout rate plummeted, he gave up some of the walk-rate gains he’d made, his HRs spiked, his ground-ball rate dropped by over 10 percentage points, and his velocity dropped. Sure, sure, the White Sox defended like they had some team-wide allergy to leather, but you can’t blame the defenders for the fact that his sinker no longer sunk. By FIP, he wasn’t bad – he was actually a bit above average – but the most important stat to the Giants, I’m guessing, was his IP total. 2015 was his third straight year surpassing 200 IP.
Hisashi Iwakuma’s topped 200IP once, and while he’s healthy now, I don’t know anyone who’d bet he’ll do it again. Given that MRIs of his shoulder have led TWO MLB clubs to back away in horror, Iwakuma’s not the kind of guy who’s going to sign a contract like Samardzija’s, especially not at his age. MLB puts a massive premium on pitcher health and durability. But looking at these two starters, you wonder if that premium’s gotten a bit out of hand.
By FIP, Samardzija’s been worth 9.5 WAR over the past three seasons. By the same measure, Iwakuma’s been worth just 8.6. But if FIP couldn’t capture how bad Samardzija’s 2015 was, it’s *never* been able to understand Iwakuma. Thanks to his HRs-allowed, FIP is reliably pessimistic on Kuma, and thus, Kuma’s consistently posted better ERAs. Meanwhile, Samardzija’s career ERA’s a bit higher than his career FIP. So what happens if we look at the recent past by fielding-DEpendent stats? Samardzija’s last three years fall to 6 WAR, and that includes his great, sub-3.00 ERA 2014. Meanwhile, Kuma shoots up to 12.3 – he had a single season that beats Samardzija’s RA9-WAR total from 2013-2015. WAR isn’t a rate stat, so these numbers are already giving Samardzija credit for his extra IP, and penalizing Iwakuma for his lack of durability. Depending on your organization, your bullpen and your position on the win curve, I can definitely see an argument that Samardzija’s age and durability make him the superior bet, and you wouldn’t want to extend Iwakuma a 5 year deal. But Samardzija, a pitcher, gets an absolutely guaranteed $90m, while Iwakuma gets a guarantee of $12m for 2016. Sure, Kuma’s got IP-based incentives that can tip a club option to a guaranteed option, and the IP-thresholds are low enough that they’re quite attainable. But by runs-on-the-scoreboard, Iwakuma’s been a much, much better pitcher. Samardzija’s been tantalizing, frustrating, he’s-figured-it-out!-oh-wait-whoopsadoodle, but healthy. Given pitcher attrition, the subject of yesterday’s post, durability absolutely should be valued, and paid accordingly. But it sure feels like the Iwakumas of the baseball world are a kind of market inefficiency.
1: Marte, SS
2: Martin, CF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Gutierrez, DH
5: Romero, RF
6: Lee, 1B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Navarro, LF
In this year’s version of one my favorite series, Sam Miller takes a look at the Rays farm system of 10 years ago and traces what happened to the players and the team. Short answer: that group of players fundamentally re-made the team from a laughingstock to a pennant winner, and they did so in a very different way than the Brewers’ great 2003 class. Whereas the Brewers held tight and built around Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and JJ Hardy, the Rays kept Evan Longoria, but traded Delmon Young at the height of his value, then traded what they got for Young. Anyway, go read it.