Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Max Scherzer and the Amazing, Deferred Contract


Yeah, I'd also be pretty happy with this contract
Seven years, $210M.

That is the official terms of the contract that former Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer signed with the Washington Nationals. A contract that not only gives the Nats the nastiest rotation in the majors, but allows Scott Boras to say that Scherzer makes almost as much as Clayton Kershaw.

Except both those things aren't exactly true.

The second point first. While Scherzer will get paid $210M, half of that is deferred money for another seven years. So what he really gets is $15M over the next fourteen years, with his massive $50M bonus paid up front.

Now, this sounds like semantics until you take into consideration two things; inflation and the increasing money that comes from television contracts. Money today is (unless the global economy utterly collapses) worth more than money 10 years from now. And the Nationals will most likely have more money to spend in the future than they have today. So while the yearly hit over the seven year deal is somewhere in the 20s (the bonus structure isn't available yet) the financial hit isn't as extreme as you would think.

However, it is more than the Nationals were paying at this time last year. Even using a rough estimate of $22-23M (15+ 1/7 of the bonus), that is a large chunk of change that the Nats cannot use now.

Which brings us to the first point.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

HOF Voting Needs to Change

With the results of the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot coming out yesterday, I think three things are clear:

  1. The Johnson/Martinez/Smoltz triumvirate is one of the best group of pitchers ever elected in a single year. Maybe the best.
  2. The four players who were elected to the HOF deserved the honor
  3. The process of electing players to the HOF has got to change


The bigger story leading up to this vote wasn't about the players on the ballot as much as it was about the process by which they could be elected.

We should be talking about Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio. But instead we are discussing why some people didn't vote for them. Or didn't even cast a ballot.

If the process of electing people to the Hall of Fame is such that voters feel the need to not vote for players considered locks so other deserving players get in...that's a sign that a problem exists.

The 10-player limit on the ballot is an artificial construct that has no real logical defense. It also implies a distrust of voters to do the right thing, that if there was no limit then Aaron Boone would have been elected to the HOF yesterday.

Some voters, to be fair, don't help themselves either with their own illogical "rules" about whether someone deserves to be a "first ballot" electee. Either you are a worthy HOF member or you aren't; that doesn't change by spending a couple of years on the ballot.

This year, at a minimum, should have seen Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines join the club. Instead we had to watch voters twist, bend and do mathematics to try and get them in the HOF. That shouldn't be the case.

The voters should be trusted to make the right decision. Just make it an up-or-down ballot. "Yes" or "No". And let's get back to focusing on the players and their records, rather than the process by which they are elected.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Thoughts on Lester and the New Rotation

I decided to take a lot of time to think about Lester going to Chicago and what it means for the Red Sox. Especially because my gut reaction was "Lucchino is an idiot."

I still feel that way to a degree, because in the end one deal wasn't dependent on the other. The Sox could have re-signed Lester and still brought in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson. And having those three guys with Lester at the top of the rotation...I think most Boston fans would feel good about that.

But after Lucchino essentially blew off Lester with that pitiful offer in the spring of 2014, it was going to be an uphill climb getting him back here. And that ended, as we all know, with Lester going to the Cubs for an average of a little over $24M a year over six years with a $25M team option in 2021. The odds of which being exercised are slightly greater than me ever wearing a Yankees hat.

Boston would never have paid him that no matter what, a price that makes him the second highest-paid pitcher in the majors behind Clayton Kershaw. And this is where it gets weird with Lester.

Lester was Boston's ace, but he has never pitched in the regular season like an ace. He has never won 20 games in a season. He has only had a season-long ERA under 2.50 once. He has never led the league in innings pitched, strikeouts or ERA. He has never won a Cy Young, or been a runner-up. And I say this as someone who loves Lester, but it's hard to look at that and then justify paying him $24M into his late 30s. $18-20M I can see, and here's why.

Look at his comparables. The top three similar pitchers to Lester (thanks to the awesome baseball-reference.com) are Jered Weaver, John Tudor and Tim Lincecum.

Lincecum is hard to compare to Lester because of his transcendent first three seasons and then his fall to mediocrity over the last five. Lester has been a much more consistent pitcher. Tudor...different pitcher, different time. Weaver is the interesting one. He has one 20-win season under his belt and led the AL in strikeouts and WHIP once. But that aside, they are very similar in makeup and production. And right now Weaver is making 18M this year and 20M next year at the end of his current deal. And that is where Lester's value lies. Paying out $24M a year...it's a stiff premium.

Similar pitchers through the age of 30? Top three are Tim Hudson, Jack McDowell and Andy Pettitte.

After age 30, Hudson averaged a 12-8 record with a 3.36 ERA (117 ERA+). McDowell barely pitched after hitting 30, starting only 24 games over the last three years of his career. And Pettitte...he pitched another 10 years, averaged a 13-8 record with a 3.77 ERA (116 ERA+).

So going forward, if Lester averages between 12-14 wins with an ERA between 3.30 and 3.75 (his career average is 3.58 right now)...is that worth $24M a year? I think it is hard to argue that it is.

So Lucchino's screw up was in the beginning. I think a fair offer (6, 120M) might have gotten Lester to the table to sign up. But once that window was lost, the Sox were right not to chase the dollars that the Cubs were willing to give Lester. $4M may not seem like a lot in baseball, but that is how you sign key bench players and live arms for your bullpen. That $4M can be the difference between success and failure.

Of course, that leaves the Sox without a top starter. And that brings us to the other deals.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Bumpy Ride

Just when it looked like the Red Sox had figured everything out, it turns out they haven't figured out much of anything. Losing four in a row and five of their last six has dropped them into fourth place once more, three games out of first.

Dropping a 10-inning game to the Twins followed by a 1-0 loss to Scherzer and the Tigers was tough but not inexplicable. Scherzer is 6-1 now and one of the best pitchers in the AL. Lester would have to have been at his absolute best to out-duel him and he simply wasn't. It happens.

It's the next two losses that were a bigger problem. Because in those two games the Sox looked borderline inept.

The starting pitching was atrocious, with both Lackey and Peavy giving up five earned runs while not getting past six innings. The Tigers got 26 hits in two games while the Sox only managed 13. Boston was only 1-9 with runners in scoring position over the two games. That is bad not only because they got only one hit but it means they couldn't even get people into scoring position to begin with.

It was a bad home series. And it continued a disturbing trend where the Sox do not play well against good teams. They are 0-6 against the Tigers and Brewers, both of whom lead their respective divisions. If you add the Yankees in the mix, that record becomes 2-11.

Do the math. Take those three teams out of the picture and Boston's record is 18-12. The fact that Boston is still in the AL East race has more to do with the mediocrity of the overall division than it does with the Sox being a solid team.

I said earlier that maybe 2014 will be the bridge year we all thought 2013 would be. A year where the Sox never hit great heights but never really plummet either. They are beating the teams they should beat, for the most part. But they struggle with the leaders like the Tigers. It feels more like a 84-78 season than a 96-66 one at this point.