Monday, December 08, 2008

2008 A.L. Starting Pitchers

Was 2008 a disappointing year for starting pitchers? It felt that way to me, but what do the numbers say?

Ten Most Expensive A.L. Starting Pitchers 2008
1Erik Bedard
2CC Sabathia
3Justin Verlander
4Josh Beckett
5Felix Hernandez
6Scott Kazmir
7Daisuke Matsuzaka
8James Shields
9John Lackey
10Roy Halladay$44$21+23$29$22$23


Compared to 2007 it was when it came to the pitchers we spent our money on. Despite the fact that A.L.-only owners lost Johan Santana and Dan Haren to the N.L. and Kelvim Escobar to injury, we still spent an additional $2 per pitcher on this group.

Part of that could be due to the fact that six of these pitchers are repeaters from last year's most expensive list. In terms of cost, Shields is the only pitcher who came from out of nowhere; the other three new additions to this list (Beckett, Kazmir and Verlander) were in last year's Top 20.

Losing Haren and Santana to the N.L. certainly didn't help, either. Santana went for $40 in the N.L. while Haren went for $25. Assuming that both pitchers would have sold for comparable amount in the A.L. means that $65 worth of salary would have been chopped off of other pitchers. It's not definite that it automatically would have been the top pitchers who would have been nicked, but some of them likely would have went for $1 or $2 cheaper. At the very least, an owner who spent $40 on Santana would have likely sat on his hands when someone like Bedard closed in on the $30 barrier.

Ten Most Expensive Pitchers by Tout League
Sportsline (11): Verlander $28, Bedard $27, Lackey $27, Beckett $26, Kazmir $26, Sabathia $26, Hernandez $25, Matsuzaka $25, Halladay $24, Fausto Carmona $20, Jered Weaver $20.
LABR (10): Bedard $30, Sabathia $28, Beckett $27, Kazmir $26, Verlander $26, Shields $25, Hernandez $24, Lackey $24, Javier Vazquez $23, Matsuzaka $22.
Tout Wars (10): Bedard $33, Sabathia $31, Verlander $29, Beckett $26, Hernandez $23, Matsuzaka $23, Shields $22, Vazquez $21, Halladay $20, Kazmir $19.

There are some differences in the pecking order, but this is Stage Three Rotisserie baseball at its best - or worst. The expert leagues agree on nearly all of the Top 10 pitchers, even if they don't agree exactly on the bids. Carmona/Weaver sneak into the Top 10 in Sportsline (in favor of Shields), while Vazquez cracks the Top 10 in LABR and Tout (replacing Halladay in LABR and Lackey in Tout).

I believe that last year's relatively robust pricing reflects the fact that Rotisserie players are much more reactive than we like to admit. Expert leagues and touts also fall under the spell of last year's stats. Sports Weekly and Rotoman only put $20+ bids on four starters in 2007. In 2008, SW threw up eight $20+ projections, while Mike Fenger (ably subbing for Rotoman's 5x5 prices in the Patton software) threw up 10 $20+ bids.

After earning $26 per pitcher in 2005 and $27 in 2006, the 10 best pitchers in 2007 averaged $30 in earnings.

No wonder the market was confident! The trend was going up!

What actually happened, though?

Top 10 A.L. Starting Pitchers 2008
1Roy Halladay
2Cliff Lee
3Ervin Santana
4Mike Mussina
5Justin Duchscherer
6Joe Saunders
7James Shields
8Daisuke Matsuzaka
9Jon Lester
10John Danks


The earnings of the Top 10 starting pitchers last year was only $1 lower per pitcher than 2007. The relative predictability of 2008's top 10 is reflected in the prices. Only three of the 10 most expensive pitchers crack this list, while the six most expensive starters are nowhere to be found. Three of these guys are at the bottom of the barrel, going for $3 or less. You could have walked into one of the expert leagues and grabbed Saunders, Lee, and Danks for $8.


Patton's back in business now with his prices. In the most expensive group, he buys Sabathia, Verlander, Beckett, Halladay and his share of Felix. Sports Weekly is still hanging back, getting its share of Bedard and Felix but no one else. Patton does even better with the best starters. The tout leagues buy Duke, Shields, D-Mat, and Danks; Patton gets Halladay, Lee, Santana, Moose, and Lester. SW is left with Saunders.

If I had to predict, the volatility of this list will send pitching prices down again. With Johan now pitching for the Mets, Halladay is the pillar of A.L. consistency, earning $20+ four years running. Yet everyone in my league was not obsessed with him, but with Cliff Lee, one of the three negative earners from 2007 who would have blown the rest of this field away if not for Halladay.

The result in 2009 is going to drive the price of pitching down. Why pay $28 for Lee this year when the 2009 edition of Lee is lurking in the weeds?

I prefer to believe that the lesson of Halladay is a stronger one. Pay for consistency.

Heck, the 5x5 expert leagues were more enamored with the potential of Felix, D-Mat, and Kaz than they were with Halladay's lock to put up solid numbers.

Pay for Halladay. Pay for our old friend CC Sabathia this spring.

You still might stumble into the '09 version of Lee later.

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