Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Out with the Old?

Over at Patton and Company, TJRohr asks:
So, I'm building for 2009. The Big Unit has been hot for a couple months. I'm in a 12-team, 4x4, NL-only league. Do I keep a $5 44-year-old, or flip him now for, say, Jaime Garcia ($5) and Anibal Sanchez ($5)?
My instincts would say that you probably should do that, even if Garcia and Sanchez are no more than lottery tickets for 2009.

What do the numbers say?

I'm reluctant to look at this year's earnings until the books are closed on the 2008 season. What about 2007?

I reviewed the American League and National League's starting pitchers and ranked them by cost this past winter. What about the 12 starting pitchers who were 40 or older in 2007?

Age 40+ Starting Pitchers MLB, 2007
1Roger Clemens

David Wells

Randy Johnson
Jaime Moyer
Kenny Rogers
Orlando Hernandez

Tom Glavine
Greg Maddux
Tim Wakefield
Woody Williams

Curt Schilling

12John Smoltz


This is a much more successful group in 2007 than I would have dreamed. The problem is that almost half of them didn't answer the bell in 2008, and only Moyer and Wakefield have had any kind of sustained success this year.

There are a couple of reasons I'd move Johnson fast if I had an offer like that on the table:

1) You'd be very hard pressed to find examples of successful 45-year-old pitchers in the bigs. Nolan Ryan's 1992 (157 1/3 IP, 5-9, 3.72 ERA, 1.316 WHIP) wasn't bad, but that ERA was only slightly over league average in the 1992 context (103 ERA+ according to Baseball Reference). Baseball Reference actually only has six players who pitched in their Age 45 who even pitched enough in their careers to generate a similarity score (though I imagine Moyer will be the seventh after this year is complete).

Johnson certainly is far more similar to Ryan than he is to Charlie Hough or Ted Lyons. Coming into this season, Johnson was the seventh most similar pitcher to Ryan, and was behind some impressive names: Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, Early Winn, Don Sutton, Roger Clemens, and Phil Niekro. But even for these names, the clock eventually ran out. Johnson's an outlier, and if anyone's going to defy time and put up a quality season, it's him. But the odds aren't in his favor.

2) Sanchez and Garcia are probably going to have a more favorable trade market this winter. In my write-up on the A.L. pitchers last winter, I said:

Perhaps there's something to be said for older pitchers; many of the bombs in the last group (Sowers, Bonser, Roberston, Cabrera) are young guys with only one solid season under their belts. Or no solid seasons, in Cabrera's case.

The market certainly is more likely to give pay raises to the young guns in the previous group. They earned $9 compared to this group's $8, yet are paid $10 to this group's $6. The market is insisting on profits here and it gets them, albeit begrudgingly.
What matters to you isn't whether or not the market is right or wrong; the correct answer is going to be different every year. What matters more is what the market is paying for these pitchers.

I believe that if the market is going to pay more for young pitchers, most leagues are going to behave the same way when it comes to assessing value in carry-over leagues in off-season trades. Johnson might earn more than Sanchez or Garcia in 2009. But it doesn't matter. You'll probably get more in trade in March 2009 using a Sanchez or Garcia as a chip than you will from a Johnson. And the same thing will apply to dump trades. A rebuilding team is more likely to target a Sanchez or Garcia than it is to target a 45-year-old Randy Johnson.

The more I look at it, the more I think you should take this trade quickly...if you haven't already.


Anonymous said...

I'm trying to assess some free-agent pitchers in my NL-only league. Generally -- with hitters -- I look at the last seven to 14 days of production so I can see who has the hot bat. How should a judge pitching performance, since SPs might have only two starts in that 14-day period? How would I judge middle-relievers? Thanks.

TJ said...

I made the deal earlier this week. I got the guy to kick in Chris Coste, $1, as well. I have an enormous number of lottery tix for next spring.