Top 10 Predicted A.L. Starting Pitchers 2007
At the very least, we get our money back. And, when it comes to starting pitching, that's a huge dividend.
The most surprising thing about this list isn't the fact that the pitchers nearly break even. I'm surprised by the fact that they get a pay raise over 2006, especially since we know that pitchers tend to disappoint.
Has conventional wisdom about this fact finally been turned on its head? True, much of this raise is D-Mat, whose Japanese stats don't get assigned a value for the purposes of this exercise. Even without D-Mat, though, the pitchers here get paid as much for 2007 as they earned in 2006.
We used to give every pitcher a pay cut, spread the wealth across the second and third-tier, and then slap our foreheads in shock when it turned out the best pitchers were bargains and the next best pitchers were big-time busts.
In a sense, though, the best pitchers are getting pay cuts.
Top 10 2006 A.L. Starting Pitchers IN 2007
The 10 best pitchers from 2006 earned $27 per pitcher and only get paid $18 per pitcher, for a steep $9 pay cut. More importantly, the market is deciding that their 10 best bets for 2007 (the first chart) will get $4 less per pitcher than what the 10 best pitchers earned in 2006.
The market's conservatism on this group of pitchers seems to be well founded. Only Wang carries over his 2006 success to 2007. The marketplace predicts a fall off for Mussina, Rogers and Weaver and, when all is said and done, actually doesn't go far enough. Liriano obviously doesn't figure, though in freeze leagues he does, as teams looking ahead to 2008 pay anywhere from $5 to $15 for his future potential.
These five pitchers are replaced by D-Mat, Hernandez, Bonderman, Haren and Bedard. The market is paying for potential over experience and, while the market makes some bad calls on an individual basis, the market's rationale here is correct.
Top 10 2007 A.L. Starting Pitchers
In reality, the 10 best pitchers are even better in 2007, earning $30 per pitcher to the same group's $27 in 2006. And 2006 wasn't the abberation; the 10 best A.L. pitchers in 2005 earned $26 on average.
But we don't review these tables because we like looking back. Roto owners are constantly looking forward. Was 2007 a blip on the radar or a sign of things to come?
26, 27, 28, 28, 23, 26, 28, 30, 31, 24.
Those are the ages of the 10 best pitchers last year as of July 1, 2007. Their average age was 27.1. The 10 best pitchers in 2006 averaged 29.6 years of age, in 2005 28.0 years.
This is a possible sign that most of these pitchers are here to stay, and that you should invest heavily in most of these arms next year.
The wild card here is Johan Santana. At $39 in 2005 and $45 in 2006, he was the closest thing owners had to a Greg Maddux or Pedro Martinez in his prime: a pitcher who would earn $10+ or more over the rest of the market. I don't want to overstate Santana's value compared to Maddux's peak season at $68 or Pedro's peak year at $72. However, paying $45 for Santana to get the best pitcher by $10 of earnings or more was worth it.
Up until this year.
In real baseball, being the fourth best pitcher in the American League isn't disappointing. And, as I discussed in the hitter comments, taking a loss on a stud player isn't the end of the world. Only three other starters surpassed what Santana did. To put this in different terms, it is safe to say that at least eight other owners in your league did not own a starter who put up stats as good as or better than Santana's.
The downside of this is that the impact of a $32 season last year was less than it would have been in 2005 or 2006. In both those years, the 10th best pitcher earned $21. Last year, that same ranked pitcher earned $25.
If you plugged the 2007 Santana at $32 into 2006, he would be the third best pitcher, behind the 2006 Santana and Roy Halladay. In 2005, he's the second best pitcher, behind the '05 version of Santana.
So the problem isn't just that Santana struggled (for him). It's that the arms around him got better. If you believe that this improvement will hold (and I, for one, do believe this), then you've got to nick a few dollars off of Santana's price in next year's auction. Even if Johan jumps back up to $40-45, you can bet that there will be at least a couple of pitchers who will earn into the $30s in 2008.
I'll review the next few tiers of starting pitchers in my next post.