Saturday, December 01, 2007

2007 N.L. Starting Pitchers

In A.L.-only leagues on Auction Day 2007, it was Johan Santana and everyone else. In the National League, it was an open question who the best pitcher in the league would be.

Top 10 Predicted N.L. Starting Pitchers 2007
1Roy Oswalt
Jake Peavy
Brandon Webb
Carlos Zambrano
Ben Sheets
6John Smoltz
Matt Cain
Brett Myers
Chris Young
10Chris Carpenter


The market said Oswalt. But it didn't punctuate that statement with an exclamation point.

Contrast this list with the same group of American League pitchers. Santana and Roy Halladay, in terms of average salary, would be #1 on the National League list. But the third most expensive pitcher, D-Mat, would be behind the first four N.L. pitchers. In the A.L, there was a perceived drop-off from the top two pitchers to everyone else, while in the N.L. the panel of experts didn't believe that there was a definitively superior option.

However, both markets pay about the same amount for the 10 best pitchers in each league, with the A.L. buyers going $1 higher on average than the N.L. buyers for the same $22 per pitcher return.

The lists are somewhat similar. In some ways, the N.L. group is even more predictable. The A.L. bust, Jeremy Bonderman, was a bust due to ineffectiveness, while the N.L. bust, Chris Carpenter got hurt very early and didn't pitch the rest of the way. In leagues that auctioned the weekend after the season began, Carpenter was bought cheap by teams either rebuilding or looking for a high risk/high reward dump chip (the $18 average salary is due to the odd hybrid of LABR/Tout Wars/Sports Weekly predictions, and the final Patton/Rotoman predictions and the timing of both).

Otherwise, you have a group of pitchers here that give you something back on your investment. Of course you'd rather have Smoltz than Zambrano or Sheets. But you are getting something back from all of these pitchers.

Next 10 (11-20) Predicted N.L. Starting Pitchers 2007
11Cole Hamels
Aaron Harang
Bronson Arroyo
Jason Schmidt
Dontrelle Willis
16Randy Johnson
Derek Lowe
Barry Zito
Scott Olsen
20Freddy Garcia


The same most definitely can't be said here. Four of the next 10 most expensive pitchers not only fail to earn what they were paid, but they put up
negative earnings. If you take the 11th and 12th most expensive pitchers and lump them in with the top pitchers, the rest of these pitchers throw up combined negative earnings.

And this isn't a group of pitchers who are being paid on spec. They earned $18 per pitcher in 2006; contrast that with the $16 earned by the A.L. counterparts. Every one of these guys earned double digits last year, yet only three out of 10 this year could repeat that feat.

The problems with predicting pitching and spending on it, are highlighted both by this clump of pitchers and the one below...

Next 10 (21-30) Predicted N.L. Starting Pitchers 2007
21David Bush
Chris Capuano
Greg Maddux
Chuck James
Rich Hill
26Adam Wainwright
Brad Penny
John Patterson
Ian Snell
30Tim Hudson


Despite the fact that we're now starting to invest in pitchers who earned less than $10 in 2006, we almost make our money back here. Capuano and Patterson are the only negative earners here; everyone else brings back something, and six of these 10 guys are profit makers. This matches the success of the best pitchers, which should be unheard of once you start spending an average of $12 a pitcher.

Don't be fooled. On average, you still want a pitcher who earns $22 versus one who earns $11. But this group bucks the typical trend of downward earnings. Is the N.L. a good place to simply cheap out on pitchers?

Next 10 (31-40) Predicted N.L. Starting Pitchers 2007
31Ted Lilly
Anthony Reyes
Anibel Sanchez
Clay Hensley
Jason Jennings
36Tom Glavine
Zach Duke
John Maine
Roger Clemens

40Doug Davis


Er, maybe not.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, $9 for a starter is not cheap. The average pitcher earns $8.67. In a league where each team pays $85 on average for pitching, the average pitcher is paid $9.44 (For more on this, please visit Ask Rotoman's web site and check out Alex Patton's "Notes for Masochists").

Assuming a 13-team league, most of these starters are some team's #3 starting pitcher. No matter how cute you want to get with your pitching, you need at least three starters in a 4x4 league to make innings, and even then you're probably cutting it close.

As a result, the market pays $7 for Clemens, even though they know he's no sure thing to pitch in the N.L. They pay $10 for Reyes and $9 for Duke, even though neither earned even that much last year.

But this isn't just the market crossing its fingers. Glavine, Hensley, Jennings, Maine and Sanchez all get pay cuts, and some of these cuts are radical. The market knows that there will be some failure; the surprise is that the failure is this severe.

Next 10 (41-50) Predicted N.L. Starting Pitchers 2007
41Pedro Martinez
Noah Lowry
Jeff Francis
Jon Lieber
Jeff Suppan
46Randy Wolf
Orlando Hernandez
Tom Gorzelanny
Matt Morris
50Chad Billingsley


The earnings have now once again flipped into the positive territory. Looking at each pitcher on this list, this isn't a group I feel positive about on the whole, but they do pull a small profit out of thin air.

But we have finally jumped to a group of pitchers who were below average (remembering that $8.67 is average) in 2006, was paid to be below average for 2007, and finished below average in 2007. Only Pedro and Francis earned in double digits in '06, and there are good reasons to discount both.

You can see one of the most significant differences between hitters and pitchers in these last two groups. Young hitters who get paid based on potential are less likely to burn your squad than young pitchers. I can understand why the market paid Reyes, Sanchez and Duke more than it paid Lieber, Morris and Suppan, but the vets here seem to at least linger around $0. They're not exciting pitchers (and their WHIPs tell me that their ERAs should have been worse), but they're innings eaters who do a good job in Roto of filling in your 4th or 5th slot on the staff.

The problem is that the pitchers in group 31-40 turned these boring #4 starters into #3s. Not good.

Next 10 (51-60) Predicted N.L. Starting Pitchers 2007
51Oliver Perez
Adam Eaton
Livan Hernandez
Josh Johnson
Woody Williams
56David Wells
Jaime Moyer
Mark Prior

Pat Maholm
60Mike Hampton



I added a sixth group of pitchers here since the National League buys nine additional pitchers. Presumably, four or five of these extra pitchers are starting pitchers.

Judging by this list, they shouldn't be.

We're near the bottom of the barrel here, and it shows. Stick your hand into this pickle jar and you might come out with Oliver Perez, but it's far more likely that you're just going to wind up smelling like brine. There are some strong positive earners here from 2006, but the market just knows something is up with these pitchers; it refuses to pay any of them. And they're right.

The conventional wisdom has always been that the National League has a deeper pitching pool than the American League. Whereas in the A.L. you should splurge on one of the premier arms, the N.L. was where you should spread your risk and hope you got lucky with four or five quality arms.

I'm not sure if the paradigm has completely shifted just yet, but 2007 threw this logic on its head.

Fourteen American League starting pitchers earned $20 or more in 2007. Only 11 N.L. pitchers did the same. In the rarified $30 air, five A.L. starters resided. In the N.L., only Peavy and Webb sat over $30.

Consider buying an ace next year in your N.L. After the top 10-12 starters, the talent this year fell off dramatically, and there are no guarantees that Tim Lincecum or Yovanni Gallardo are going to pick up the slack in 2008.

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