Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stretching Your Money

Recently, the White Sox signed Gavin Floyd to a four-year, $15.5 million deal with a $9 million option for 2013. If those terms sound familar, it's because they are basically identical to those of the contract the Twins handed Scott Baker earlier this month: four years, $15.25 million with a $9.25 option for 2013.

On the surface, the two pitchers may seem similar. Both put up solid numbers last year, with Floyd going 17-8 and posting a 3.84 ERA in Chicago while Baker went 11-4 with a 3.45 ERA for the Twins. On closer inspection, however, we see that Baker was the better pitcher last year, and has been a far better pitcher in general.

Baker struck out 141 batters while issuing only 42 walks for a 3.4 K/BB ratio that easily trumped Floyd's 2.1 ratio. Baker's 1.18 WHIP -- which ranked fifth in the AL -- bested Floyd's 1.26. And while Baker struggled a bit with the long ball, allowing 20 home runs in 172 1/3 innings, Floyd was worse, as he coughed up 30 gopher balls in 206 1/3 frames.

The most important thing to note, though, is that while the disparity between the numbers posted by these two players last year is not necessarily huge, Baker's 2008 season looks much less like a fluke in the context of his overall career. Last year, Baker was backing up a solid 2007 campaign in which he'd gone 9-9 with a 4.26 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, whereas Floyd had gone 1-5 with a 5.27 ERA and 1.48 WHIP that season. For his big-league career, Floyd holds a 4.98 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, while Baker stands at 4.27 and 1.29.

A quick look at the FIP (a measure which strips away extraneous circumstances and accounts only for events which a pitcher has direct control over: namely strikeouts, walks and homers) for both players in 2008 reveals the gap between performance and results. Baker's FIP was 3.85, suggesting that a bit of luck was involved with his 3.45 ERA. Floyd's FIP was 4.78, suggesting a larger gap in performance and results. Floyd's runs against average was 4.67, meaning that a whole bunch of unearned runs came across the plate against him that weren't reflected in his ERA. His home run per fly ball rate was the lowest it's been in four years, meaning that if we normalized that figure out to the rest of his career, he'd have surrendered even more than 30 bombs, a tally which already ranked second in the AL.

It seems fair to say that Baker's successful results last year were the result of pitching very well. Floyd's successful results had more to do with good run support and luck. With that being the case, a better comparison for Floyd on the Twins' staff might be Glen Perkins.

Like Floyd, Perkins was a very nice prospect coming up through the minors who has seen his strikeout rate dip since reaching the majors (though the drop-off has been much steeper in Perkins' case). Also like Floyd, Perkins pitched over his head last year, going 12-4 with a 4.41 ERA despite allowing an 837 OPS and finishing with a 5.24 FIP. As pitchers, the two are fairly similar -- both allow a fairly high number of baserunners, both give up a lot of fly balls (and a lot of homers) and neither strikes many people out. Perkins is younger and less experienced so he may have more room to grow, but Floyd probably is the better pitcher as things currently stand. Going forward, I'd say the two have a similar outlook. Either one is capable of putting together a quality season, but both have significant flaws that can catch up with them at any time. Both these possibilities were on display last season, as each starter pitched fairly well over the first half of the season but got worse as the year went on.

Anyway, all this wordy analysis is a long-winded way of making a simple point: within the past month or so, the Twins have signed their Opening Day starter and presumptive ace to the same contract that the White Sox handed a pitcher who aligns much more closely with the Twins' No. 5 starter. I'm not saying that necessarily means that Baker is underpaid, or that Floyd is overpaid, but it's the way these things work. And from the Twins perspective, it's a pretty sweet deal.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with the premise that Baker is probably a better pitcher then Floyd but Floyd was able to make 30+ starts and pitch over 200 innings last year. The Twins are hoping Baker can do that. Rate stats are great but you have to keep in mind that Floyd's advantage in IP negates Baker's advantage in rate stats. Last year, Floyd had 15 WS to Bakers 13 and that was almost solely due to his ability to remain in the lineup.

Nick N. said...

Last year was also the first time Floyd has made more than 11 starts in a season, whereas Baker made 16 in 2006, 23 in 2007 and 28 last year. It's true that Floyd deserves credit for remaining in the White Sox rotation all year last season, but Baker has shown better staying power over the course of his career.

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