Thursday, December 11, 2008

2008 A.L. Starting Pitchers: Part II

If the 10 most expensive American League starting pitchers in 2008 weren't as good as the ones in 2007, you would think that the next batch of pitchers would make up the difference.

Next Ten (11-20) Most Expensive A.L. Starting Pitchers 2008
11Javier Vazquez
12Fausto Carmona
13Dustin McGowan
14Jered Weaver
15 (tie)
A.J. Burnett

Francisco Liriano

17 (tie)
Jeremy Bonderman

Kelvim Escobar


Chien-Ming Wang$8$14
20Clay Buchholz-$14$12-26$12$9$7


But they don't. Not only do they lose their owners money, they practically fail to deliver positive earnings.

Three of these guys posted negative earnings, while Escobar does nothing at all. Only Burnett and Weaver earn in double digits. All in all, there isn't a single pitcher here who turns a profit. That's incredible; there wasn't a single grouping of 10 pitchers in the American League in 2007 that pulled off this ignominious feat.

The market chases these failures a little more than Patton and Sports Weekly do, but that's because they have to fill their rotations with something. In a three-way battle with the predictors, the market gets Vazquez, Weaver, Escobar, and Bonderman. Patton grabs Carmona, Burnett, and Wang, while SW only gets Liriano outright. The market and Patton tie on Buchholz and McGowan.

In retrospect, Buchholz jumps out as a speculative play here, but these pitchers averaged $16 in earnings in 2007, matching what their 2007 counterparts did in 2006. It's not a surprise that these pitchers lose money, as these second tier guys often do lose money. What's surprising is how much they lose.

You have to assume that it has to get better in the next batch. And it does.

Next Ten (21-30) Most Expensive A.L. Starting Pitchers 2008
21Phil Hughes
22Zach Greinke
23 (tie)
Joe Blanton

Rich Harden

Gil Meche
Dontrelle Willis
27 (tie)
Matt Garza

Kevin Slowey
Mark Buehrle
30 (tie)
Scott Baker


Not by much. These guys barely break even.

That's entirely because of Hughes and Willis, though. Seven of these guys turn a profit, which is a higher number than any of the groupings of 10 from 2007. They're not huge profits - and none of these guys will turn up on the Top 10 bargains list this year - but you definitely need one or two guys like this on your staff if you're spending 35% of your budget on pitching and expect to win.

Unlike with the hitters, Patton is keeping up with the market here. However, the only pitchers he gets are Hughes and Harden, while tying the market on Greinke. SW gets Buehrle, while the market gets everyone else.

You can't give everyone the thumbs down. SW's tentative calls on Buchholz and McGowan look savvy in the 11-20 grouping and their $4 limit on Wills looks prescient now. But you can't just tout the calls you like; $4 on Slowey and $7 on Greinke look way too conservative.

Does SW rally? They're running out of warm bodies, so they had better.

Next Ten (31-40) Most Expensive A.L. Starting Pitchers 2008
Andy Pettitte
32Shaun Marcum
33 (tie)
Ian Kennedy

Jon Lester
Jon Garland
36 (tie)
Boof Bonser

Ervin Santana

Andy Sonnanstine

Jake Westbrook
40Justin Duchscherer


Alas, they don't. They come out of the gate strong, tying Alex on Pettitte and grabbing Marcum. After that, though, it's Garland and a three-way tie on Westbrook. Patton gets his share of Pettitte and then gets Kennedy, Lester, Santana (sweet), and his half of Westbrook. The market is starting to run out of cash (as it must), getting Bonser, Sonnanstine, its third of Westbrook and Duchscherer (sweet).

The 2007 column tells you that the market and the touts are both speculating based on prior earnings. Only Marcum, Pettitte, and Garland take pay cuts; everyone else gets a raise, in some cases because there's nowhere to go but up.

This is the most successful group so far. Yet there's something about these pitchers that doesn't exactly inspire trust. Five of them turn a profit, five lose money. Ian Kennedy and Jon Lester receive the same average salary, and while hindsight makes that look incredibly stupid, I can understand why both pitchers were single-digit bets and not double digit sure things.

I don't know if you noticed, but the same number of pitchers (26) cracked double-digits in 2008 that did in 2007. The market is establishing a pecking order and allocating a certain amount of money to starting pitching. It doesn't matter that the 31-40 grouping here only earned $3 per pitcher while the 2007 group earned $8 per starter. The market has an idea of how much pitchers will earn so they'll spend it. It doesn't matter that they'll be wrong on some of these guys. They'll worry about that later.

Next Ten (41-50) Most Expensive A.L. Starting Pitchers 2008
41 (tie)
Brian Bannister

Jeremy Guthrie
Mike Mussina
Nate Robertson
Daniel Cabrera
Aaron Laffey
47 (tie)
Miguel Batista

John Danks

Chad Gaudin


Kevin Millwood-$7$3-10$4$6-$7


The fact that the market spent so much on hitting is only seen here at the very bottom of the pile. The comparable 2007 pitchers cost $1 more per pitcher even though they actually lost money in 2006.

Just like last year, though, this is a crummy group of pitchers. In some ways, they're even worse. At least Bartolo Colon, Odalis Perez and Jeff Weaver had the good grace to stop pitching in 2007. Batista and Robertson kept right on trucking. This list at the bottom is why Rotisserie owners spend their money on Javier Vazquez and Jered Weaver if they missed out on Daisuke Matsuzaka.

There are a couple of nice surprises here (Mussina and Danks) that keep this from being even more of a train wreck. On the whole, though, you would have been better off spending $1 on Cliff Lee or Gavin Floyd.

OK, I'm just being mean to you Batista and Robertson buyers out there.

Seriously, though, you would have even been better off with Kenny Rogers or Jason Jennings. You still would have bought a turnip, but you would have had another $2-3 to spend elsewhere.

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