King Felix’s new clothes

As you’ve heard by now, the Mariners are close to a deal with Felix Hernandez on a 5-year extension. The deal would run from 2015-19, his ages 29-33, and is expected to make him the highest-paid pitcher ever, with an average salary of at least $25 million per season. (Initial reports of a $27.1 million AAV have been denied, but if I were a betting man….)

King Felix was already under contract for 2013-14 at about $20 million per.

I confess: I don’t really understand negotiating a top-of-the-pay-scale, 5-year extension for a pitcher two years before his free agency, when a mound of data suggests he’ll be declining by the time the contract kicks in, and quite possibly sooner. What does the club gain by doing this now?

Since the deal comes so far before his free agency, it’s worth guessing at what he might do not only during the deal, but also in the two years before it begins — two years that represent lost knowledge in Seattle’s decision-making process. Let’s see what we can learn from recent stars at a similar age.


Grounds for comparison: Age 23-26

To best capture Felix’s current status in the game, I’ll use his last four seasons, age 23-26. That span takes in his three best years, and all of his Cy Young Award votes and All-Star nods.

For ages 23-26, Hernandez totaled 20.4 rWAR and 24.1 fWAR.

  • Note: I prefer to use rWAR because the Play Index is more robust. And trying to cover both methods in full would make even this minor study clunky. So most of the following treats only in rWAR. But we should bear in mind that Felix scores significantly better on the fWAR scale.

For retired pitchers since 1980 — approximating the universal adoption of the 5-man rotation — here are the
top 20 in rWAR from age 23-26:

Rk Player WAR ERA+ IP From To Age G GS CG SHO W L W-L%
1 Roger Clemens 29.8 148 1053.0 1986 1989 23-26 139 139 50 19 79 36 .687
2 Dave Stieb 25.9 138 1017.0 1981 1984 23-26 134 134 55 13 61 44 .581
3 Kevin Appier 24.1 147 809.2 1991 1994 23-26 121 118 15 4 53 32 .624
4 Pedro Martinez 23.9 148 886.1 1995 1998 23-26 127 127 22 9 63 35 .643
5 Bret Saberhagen 23.9 132 915.0 1987 1990 23-26 124 123 41 8 60 41 .594
6 Mark Gubicza 21.3 126 947.0 1986 1989 23-26 141 130 29 10 60 43 .583
7 Greg Maddux 20.5 129 1006.1 1989 1992 23-26 142 142 31 9 69 49 .585
8 Mike Mussina 20.3 139 806.2 1992 1995 23-26 113 113 21 10 67 25 .728
9 Brad Radke 18.8 119 904.0 1996 1999 23-26 135 135 16 2 55 54 .505
10 Javier Vazquez 18.6 123 902.1 2000 2003 23-26 133 133 13 5 50 45 .526
11 Mario Soto 18.5 126 896.2 1980 1983 23-26 147 105 44 9 53 43 .552
12 Mark Mulder 18.1 121 849.0 2001 2004 23-26 123 123 22 8 72 32 .692
13 Alex Fernandez 17.5 129 879.1 1993 1996 23-26 123 123 18 7 57 34 .626
14 Fernando Valenzuela 17.4 115 1053.2 1984 1987 23-26 137 137 58 11 64 52 .552
15 Jose Rijo 17.0 146 674.1 1988 1991 23-26 127 97 11 3 49 28 .636
16 Jim Abbott 15.7 117 828.1 1991 1994 23-26 119 119 18 2 45 48 .484
17 Jimmy Key 15.4 134 767.2 1984 1987 23-26 170 103 15 3 49 30 .620
18 Mike Witt 15.1 120 1012.2 1984 1987 23-26 139 139 39 6 64 44 .593
19 Andy Benes 14.6 112 857.1 1991 1994 23-26 126 126 12 7 49 54 .476
20 Greg Swindell 14.6 113 879.0 1988 1991 23-26 128 128 27 6 52 45 .536
Provided by Generated 2/9/2013.

This group averaged 19.6 rWAR from age 23-26. Hernandez would rank 8th in this group by rWAR.
(Using fWAR and the same search criteria, Hernandez’s 24.2 fWAR would rank 2nd compared to the top 20. That scale runs from 33.3 (Clemens) to 16.4 (Rijo) and averages 20.7 fWAR. Pedro, Saberhagen and Maddux all trail Felix by less than 1 fWAR for age 23-26.)


Age 27-28, as they might impact his market value for the new contract

Let’s take that control group and compare their average season from age 23-26 to age 27-28 — i.e., the years for which Felix was already signed:

Pitcher WAR/Yr 23-26 WAR/Yr 27-28 Change
Pedro Martinez 6.0 10.5 +75%
Jose Rijo 4.3 7.2 +68%
Greg Maddux 5.1 6.9 +35%
Roger Clemens 7.5 9.0 +21%
Brad Radke 4.7 5.0 +6%
Mike Mussina 5.1 4.3 -16%
Kevin Appier 6.0 5.0 -18%
Mario Soto 4.6 3.6 -22%
Greg Swindell 3.7 2.8 -25%
Bret Saberhagen 6.0 3.2 -47%
Andy Benes 3.7 1.8 -52%
Dave Stieb 6.5 3.1 -53%
Javier Vazquez 4.7 2.1 -56%
Jimmy Key 3.9 1.7 -57%
Alex Fernandez 4.4 1.8 -59%
Jim Abbott 3.9 0.7 -83%
Mike Witt 3.8 0.5 -88%
Fernando Valenzuela 4.4 0.4 -91%
Mark Gubicza 5.3 0.3 -94%
Mark Mulder 4.5 0.2 -96%
Average 4.9 3.5 -29%

Comparing their averages for 23-26 and 27-28:

  • As a group, their average rWAR declined 29%, from 4.9 to 3.5 rWAR.
  • 11 of the 20 declined by at least 47% of their base average rWAR —  including 3 of the 7 who topped Felix’s age 23-26 rWAR (Saberhagen, Stieb and Gubicza).
  • Four significantly increased their average rWAR (Pedro, Rijo, Maddux and Clemens), ranging from 21% to 75%.
  • One increased by 6%.
  • The other 15 all declined by 16% to 96%.

By doing this deal now, Seattle buys out the risk that Felix takes his game and his market value to another level, à la Pedro, Clemens and Maddux. But I think those three were already on a different plane than Felix. At age 25-26, Pedro averaged 7.8 rWAR, Clemens and Maddux 6.0, Hernandez 4.0.

And how much higher could his market value go, anyway? The extension already represents the highest pitcher salary ever. Suppose he were to have a great year in 2013; would he have been able to command more than $30 million per year? I can’t see it.


The contract years: Age 29-33

Now let’s check that group’s performance at age 29-33, the years covered by Felix’s extension:

Pitcher WAR/Yr 23-26 WAR/Yr 29-33 Change
Greg Maddux 5.1 6.7 +30%
Pedro Martinez 6.0 6.2 +3%
Jimmy Key 3.9 3.8 0%
Mike Mussina 5.1 5.0 -1%
Javier Vazquez 4.7 3.3 -30%
Roger Clemens 7.5 5.1 -31%
Brad Radke 4.7 2.5 -47%
Dave Stieb 6.5 3.3 -50%
Kevin Appier 6.0 2.4 -60%
Mark Gubicza 5.3 2.0 -62%
Bret Saberhagen 6.0 1.9 -68%
Andy Benes 3.7 1.1 -70%
Jose Rijo 4.3 0.7 -84%
Greg Swindell 3.7 0.6 -84%
Alex Fernandez 4.4 0.7 -85%
Fernando Valenzuela 4.4 0.1 -97%
Mike Witt 3.8 0.0 -101%
Mario Soto 4.6 -0.1 -103%
Mark Mulder 4.5 -0.2 -104%
Jim Abbott 3.9 -0.1 -104%
Average 4.9 2.2 -54%

The breakdown:

  • Maddux improved, and Pedro, Key and Mussina held their ground.
  • The other 16 all declined by at least 30%.
  • 13 out of 20 fell by at least 50%, and the group as a whole fell by 54%.
  • 4 pitchers averaged 5+ rWAR/year (Maddux, Pedro, Clemens and Mussina). No one else topped 3.8 rWAR/year.

It’s tempting to think, “Well, Maddux, Pedro and Clemens were the superstars of this group, and they remained superstars.” But that’s a hindsight analysis. What about Saberhagen, Valenzuela and Stieb? All totaled at least 30 rWAR through age 26; Sabes had two CYAs, Fernando one, and even the underrated Stieb was a 4-time All-Star. At age 26 specifically, Stieb, Key, Soto, Radke and Fernandez all topped 6 rWAR; those five totaled one 6-WAR season from age 29 onward (Key, age 32).

Looking at seasons of 5+ rWAR:

  • From age 23-26, this group of 20 pitchers totaled 38 seasons of 5+ rWAR; 19 had at least one, and 15 had two or more.
  • From age 29-33 (five years compared to four), they totaled 20 seasons of 5+ rWAR, by 10 guys; only 5 had two or more.

Some of the most costly decisions involving those pitchers:

  • St. Louis made a big trade for Mark Mulder, two years from free agency, having averaged 18 wins and 4.5 WAR from 23-26. He gave them one pretty good year (2.3 WAR) and then got hurt, but they re-signed him anyway. In all, they paid Mulder $25 million over 4 seasons, for totals of 22 wins, 5.04 ERA, and -0.4 rWAR. Dan Haren, the centerpiece of the trade, averaged 3.5 rWAR over 3 years with Oakland, then brought them a big payoff in trade.
  • Alex Fernandez signed a big deal with Florida having averaged 4.4 rWAR from 23-26. They paid him $35 million over 5 years; he got hurt in the 2nd year and totaled 6.9 rWAR in 3 seasons. His salary ranked 2nd, 5th and 11th among all pitchers in the deal’s first 3 years.
  • The Reds re-signed Jose Rijo after a fantastic age-28 season that brought his 23-28 average up to 5.2 rWAR. On a 4-year deal, Rijo’s salaries ranked 17th, 3rd, 2nd and 8th among all pitchers. He got hurt in the 2nd year, and totaled 3.6 rWAR during the contract.
  • Age 20-26, Fernando Valenzuela averaged 4.2 rWAR. His salaries for age 27-29 ranked 2nd, 8th and 7th among all pitchers, but he totaled just 0.4 rWAR. After age 26, he never had another 3-WAR season.
  • The Mets dealt for Bret Saberhagen after a strong comeback year that gave him a 21-27 average of 5.4 rWAR. After two injury-shortened but productive years (totaling 3.9 rWAR), they re-signed for 3 years at salaries that ranked 8th, 5th and 4th among all pitchers. He pitched well when able, but totaled just 330 IP and 7.3 rWAR over 3 years.
  • Greg Swindell signed with Houston having averaged 4.0 rWAR from 23-27. His salary averaged 22nd among all pitchers during the 4-year deal; he totaled -1.2 rWAR.


What about active pitchers?

For convenience, I limited the main study to retired pitchers. But a look at the active rWAR leaders from age 23-26 is no more encouraging.

Pitcher WAR/Yr 23-26 WAR/Yr 27-28 Change 27-28 WAR/Yr 29-33* Change 29-33*
Roy Oswalt 4.4 5.6 27% 4.0 -9%
Tim Hudson 4.6 5.6 21% 2.4 -47%
Johan Santana 5.5 6.0 10% 2.9 -46%
Barry Zito 4.7 3.6 -23% 0.8 -83%
Carlos Zambrano 5.0 3.4 -32%
Jake Peavy 4.2 2.7 -37%
Andy Pettitte 4.5 2.8 -39% 3.3 -27%
Jon Lester 4.4 2.3 -48%
Zack Greinke 5.1 2.4 -54%
Tim Lincecum 5.0 0.9 -82%
Ubaldo Jimenez 4.2 -0.3 -107%
Average 4.7 3.2 -32% 2.7 -42%

* Age 29-33 data presented only for those who have completed age 33.

Three of these 11 gained in value at 27-28 — but the other eight all dropped at least 20%. Does the 29-year-old Lincecum project to earn his $22 million this year, or the 32-year-old Zambrano his $19.3 mil? (As a setup reliever?) Think the ChiSox are glad they spent $48 million for Peavy’s 3-year 25-25, 4.07? Do any Tribe fans expect to see the Ubaldo of 2008-10 ever again? Would anyone take the contracts of Zito or Santana?


Similarity breeds contempt?

If all we’ve seen so far isn’t scary enough, consider the pitchers judged “Most similar” to Felix through age 26:

  1. Larry Dierker (973)
  2. Dennis Eckersley (955) *
  3. Greg Maddux (954)
  4. Frank Tanana (953)
  5. Bret Saberhagen (942)
  6. Joe Coleman (941)
  7. Ken Holtzman (939)
  8. Milt Pappas (933)
  9. Mike Witt (930)
  10. Catfish Hunter (927) *

Similarity Scores may be unscientific, but still — yikes!  From age 29-33, that group averaged 1.9 rWAR per year. Without Maddux, the average falls to 1.4.


“Don’t fence me in”

One last point: I think the M’s are missing a chance to exploit park-based illusions. They’re bringing in the fences at Safeco this year, so there’s a good chance that Hernandez’s unadjusted ERA will go up. It wouldn’t mean a thing to his real value, of course. But all other things being equal, isn’t it likely that his market value would decline just a little with a higher raw ERA?


For the sake of downtrodden Mariners fans, and for the beauty of his game, I hope that King Felix lives up to the expectations of this new deal. But, you know, a lot of my friends are actuaries, and that’s lent me a sober acceptance of risk patterns. If I were a betting man….

34 thoughts on “King Felix’s new clothes

  1. 1
    JasonZ says:

    I have to agree John. As we have previously established, the king will be past his peak when the extension kicks in.

    I foresee this ending poorly.

    The only reason I can imagine why the Mariners do this now is as a statement to their fans.

    If this happens, it will be an expensive lesson.

  2. 2
    Mike L says:

    I hope the premise of the article is wrong, but I think John is almost certainly right. The market demands that premium players get overpaid on the back end of the contracts to reel them in now. If the signing team is lucky, the player stays healthy and a peak performer in the early years, and remains productive at the back end. Realistically, that’s the best you can hope for. But, the Mariners were under no compulsion to do this. Felix isn’t going anywhere for two years, and given the haul of prospects other pitchers have brought, with even less time left on their contracts, what’s the rush? If the Yankees, with all their revenues, can be slowed down by the ARod contract, what is going to happen to the Mariners?

  3. 3
    Voomo Zanzibar says:

    Fantastic article, JA.
    So thoroughly analyzed that I really dont have anything to add.

    Other than perhaps the statement the Mariners are making to their fans is: we hope to maybe potentially be good in four or five years, seeing as we are nine position players and four starters short of a good team right now.

    • 4
      John Autin says:

      See, Voomo? You did have something to add! 🙂

      BTW, what’s the conversion rate from “X players shy of a good team” to “Y bricks shy of a load”?

      • 5
        Voomo Zanzibar says:

        Is moving the fences in the Mariners’ approach to improving on their team OBP of .296?

        Mariners’ team batting splits H/R

        .220 .291 .331 .622
        .247 .300 .403 .703

        Pitching splits:

        .229 .288 .338 .626
        .266 .328 .449 .777

        Well, they are breaking even at home and they’re the worse team on the road.
        But how is moving the fences in at home going to help?
        Are they a power team? No.
        In fact, they don’t do anything well offensively. Anything at all.
        They should just secede from the American League and join the independent circuit.

        • 6
          John Autin says:

          I guess Seattle figures, whatever works for the Mets should work for us, too.

          I jest, of course. The Mets’ HRs hit at home went +17 (from 50 to 67), but their HRs *allowed* at home went +30 (50 to 88).

          In 2011, the Mets were out-homered by 8 at home. In 2012, they were out-homered by 21.

          But hey, more fans got a souvenir. And I’m sure it did wonders for Jason Bay’s confidence.

          • 9
            Voomo Zanzibar says:

            Does anybody know what it is about Safeco that makes it so hard to get on base? I mean, opponents couldn’t crack .290 last year. What the why?

            And by the way, at the low risk of offending a Mariners fan
            (to continue a point made on a separate thread about how few championships that city has experienced)
            (and, I’ve not noticed any of the HHS posters come out and declare themselves Mariners fans, so I’ll take this crack)…

            I lived there for most of 2000-2002, when they had some success, and
            Mariners fans struck me as adult virgins who unwittingly got to third base one night, and forever after believed that they were John Holmes and that all women should bow down and go 162-0 on them.

            Or, to quote Jim Bouton, after the city lost its first franchise after ONE year:

            ‘A city that cares more for its art museums than its baseball team can’t be all bad.’

            I say, yes, it is bad.

            Pound that budweiser:

          • 20
            MikeD says:

            Voomo,just a guess. There has been speculation that pitching in a pitcher’s park (i.e. Petco) might benefit a pitcher beyond the obvious. It might make them better pitchers. Less fear the ball will be hit out might cause pitchers to be more comfortable challenging hitters, walking less hitters, and generally getting in better pitcher counts where they can put the hitter on the defensive.

            I’m not sure it would make a significant difference to a skilled pitcher like King Felix, but it might help more marginal pitchers.

        • 12
          bstar says:

          I think it’s an attempt to draw more fans by having a more exciting game. I love the occasional 1-0 game, don’t get me wrong, but having that or a 2-1 game as the norm is driving away the casual fan.

          Plus, they did get Michael Morse this offseason, so moving the fences in should help him power-wise.

          Also, JA, I think the exact opposite is going to happen to King Felix’s value. Since he’ll no longer be pitching in such an extreme pitcher’s park, it’s going to be a little easier for him to put up a higher WAR and ERA+. It’s very difficult to accumulate WAR when you’re pitching half the time in a field with a 1-yr pitching park factor of 88 and a multi-yr factor of 91. Those marks are easily the lowest in baseball. It was time for a change.

          And since deep ballparks tend to help flyball pitchers more than groundball ones, Hernandez wasn’t receiving THAT much benefit from his home park before because he’s always been more of a groundball pitcher. This has been driving his value down.

          Also, I personally think every front office has enough smart people working now to know not to use raw ERA anymore.

          • 13
            John Autin says:

            bstar, how much direct impact do WAR and ERA+ have on a pitcher’s market value?

            I agree that every front office has someone smart enough to see past raw ERA. But I don’t think they’re always the decision-makers.

            And whatever their influence, if they’re smart, wouldn’t they also be hip to the very point you’re making?

            I think that setting the market value of a top free-agent pitcher is all about “the weakest link.” And I do believe there are still decision-makers who believe in pitcher wins and unadjusted ERA.

            If the new fences led to Felix posting, say, a 3.80 ERA over the next two years — and his W-L record is already hampered by the caliber of the team — you don’t think that might scare off one or two potential suitors?

          • 15
            bstar says:

            JA, Felix is a groundball pitcher so I don’t think he’s going to be as affected by moving the fences in as a flyball pitcher.

            I guess I have a better view of front offices and their respective decisions. There’s so much more involved in every decision that we aren’t even considering.

            I would like to think that WAR, or something like it, and ERA+ are more important than raw ERA and win totals for teams. After all, Hernandez only has one season with more than 14 wins, and he’s about to get paid a King’s ransom for that.

          • 16
            Mike L says:

            Bstar, I am going to disagree with you a little. Even though Felix is more a ground ball pitcher, moving in the fences is generally bad for pitchers. He may not be as affected as less talented pitchers, but that would only show up in a comparative measure, not an absolute one. Felix isn’t competing against the league as much as he is competing against his own personal history. a handful of additional home runs and maybe a dozen additional ER’s in a season will make his traditional stats less special. He may not be much of a different pitcher, but the perception of him might be.

          • 17
            Voomo Zanzibar says:

            1-0, 6 times
            2-1, 6 times

            1-0, 3 times
            2-1, 5 times

            The Mariners scores less than 3 runs 65 times.

            Nolan Ryan must have popped a lot of Aleve after this game:

          • 19
            MikeD says:

            bstar, I believe the Mariners are moving in the fences because it’s viewed as a challenging park for hitters. Apparently they are having difficulty convincing hitters of all makes to come play for the Mariners. Some of that is no doubt is driven more by their current state of development, but some of it is purely economics (to the player). A player who makes his living with the bat is going to take pause signing with Seattle or San Diego.

            The Mariners have tried to address this by trading for potential impact bats who are young (Smoak and Montero) and obviously have little choice in where they play. Bringing in the fences may help them sign some free agents in the future. That’s the narrative, anyway.

          • 21
            bstar says:

            Right, Mike L, it may hurt his traditional stats but not his overall value. I’m arguing that front offices are not concerned with traditional pitching stats like wins and raw ERA.

            Maybe I’m kidding myself.

            MikeD, another good reason to move the fences in!

          • 22
            John Autin says:

            bstar @15 — I’m not sure why we’re so often on opposite sides lately, but anyway …

            I’ve no doubt that ERA+ and WAR generally carry more weight in front offices than Wins and ERA. But there are still varieties of opinion. The point is, it only takes one GM (or owner) with a different take to entirely skew the market.

            Do you agree that Brian Sabean is not heavily guided by cutting-edge statistical analysis? If not, how do you explain the Zito signing? — the most roundly condemned contract I’ve ever heard of, and right from the get-go.

            Mike Illitch wants a championship and hasn’t got many years left, so damn the defense and weight concerns and full Prince ahead! Nobody saw 9 years and $214 million coming there, right?

            Consider this: In 2010, Felix won the ERA crown by a slim margin — two more ER and he would have been 2nd. Does he win that CYA without that ERA crown? My opinion is, no. He did win comfortably, but I think the ERA title was the vital hook for a lot of voters who otherwise would not have been able to vote for a 13-12 pitcher who led the league in nothing but innings. If Felix is 2nd in ERA, while David Price is 3rd in ERA and 2nd in Wins and W% while helping the Rays to the playoffs … very different story.

            Just suppose for a moment that I’m right about that CYA. Will you grant me that a CYA adds market value to a pitcher? If Greinke had distributed his 2009-2012 value evenly, and not won the 2009 CYA, does he get as big of a deal from the Dodgers?

            Speaking of that 2009 CYA … Hernandez ran a clear 2nd in the voting, so if Greinke had faltered, most likely Felix would have won it. And why? Because of his 19-5 record and 2.49 ERA, right? After all, Halladay, Sabathia and Lester all topped Felix in WAR (along with Greinke), but he got more CYA votes.

            So, a couple of runs here, and a minor injury for Greinke there, made the difference between zero, one, and two CYAs for Felix. Think his market value doesn’t go up with a 2nd CYA?

            The impact of raw ERA doesn’t have to come from some front office guy saying, hey, look at that hot sexy ERA! It can be much subtler. GMs are not immune to unconscious influences. Awards, All-Star nods, leading the league in old-school stats — these things create media & fan buzz that shapes the image of that pitcher, even in the minds of some who put no conscious value on such things.

  4. 7
    JimmyD says:

    What I wonder is where does the 29-33 WAR put these former #1 pitchers. Does it make the a #2 or #3?? or worse? Does this pretty much say that you should trade away a pitcher in the 28-29 age range? Knowing that is as good as he is going to be, and will go way down from there.

    • 14
      John Autin says:

      JimmyD — I would never say that we “know” what will happen with any particular pitcher. We only know that any group of aces in their prime will, as a group, significantly decline in value looking 3+ years down the road.

      For all I know, Felix might go on and on at a high level, like Maddux or Clemens. But the odds are against it. So I don’t see why Seattle wants to commit now. Do they really gain something tangible by locking him up 2 years ahead of free agency?

      Maybe I’m not giving enough weight to the message this deal would send to their fans. But if I were running that team, I’d be a lot more concerned about preserving my ability to put a competitive team on the field, because that’s the only sure way to secure the fan base. Locking in this commitment — when they could wait until next fall and still stay ahead of the gun — seems risky. If this deal does go through, and Felix gets a serious injury this season, all the fan messages in the world won’t mean a thing if they can’t afford to replace him with another very good pitcher.

      As to whether the projected decline makes a “#1” starter into a “#2” or what, there’s no one answer. I have another whole set of tables that I left out of this piece, which suggest that the decline in value comes more from a drop in innings than a drop in effectiveness. In other words, a lot of pitchers get hurt and then are just done. But there are also some — like Frank Tanana, Vida Blue, Orel Hershiser — who hang around and rack up innings, but just aren’t nearly as good as they once were. I don’t know how to predict which of the many possible fates will befall any particular guy.

      Finally … I wouldn’t go so far as to say that every team should look to trade star pitchers before they turn 30 or before they reach free agency. Oakland has done real well with that as a de facto policy — on balance, they’ve come out way ahead on the disposition of their “Big 3”, and they’ve continued to turn over guys like Dan Haren, Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill for good value in return. On the other hand, Cleveland didn’t make out so well in dealing Sabathia and Lee.

      I don’t know how much of those results is from smarts and how much is just luck. But now that I think of it, given Zduriencik’s track record on trades, maybe overpaying Felix is the best move, after all.

  5. 8
    Mike L says:

    There’s a report out that Felix may have had problems with his pitching elbow in the pre-contract physical.

  6. 10
    MikeD says:

    Per Fangraphs, the King’s average fastball velocity:

    2007 — 96.3
    2008 — 94.5
    2009 — 93.8
    2010 — 94.4
    2011 — 93.4
    2012 — 92.4

    Down nearly four mph since 2007 and two since 2010, dropping exactly one mph per year the last couple seasons.

    Cause for concern, or does it reflect a change in approach?

  7. 11
    MikeD says:

    Following on my previous note, in the King’s average fastball velocity drop is by design, it would seemingly not impact his maximum velocity. He would still have the ability to hit peak velocity and indeed there would be times during the season he would reach back and air it out. Yet the drop in velocity can also be seen in his maximum velocity:

    2007 — 101.6
    2008 — 98.7
    2009 — 97.9
    2010 — 97.7
    2011 — 96.0
    2012 — 95.6

    His max velocity in 2012 is now below his average velocity in 2007.

    Could this be related to the elbow issue that now concerns the Mariners? It is not uncommon for pitchers to show a decrease in velocity prior to having TJS.

  8. 18
    Voomo Zanzibar says:

    I have a question.
    Been trying to learn about this RA9DEF stat this past week.

    I noticed that the year Felix won the ERA title he had 17 unearned runs.
    And his RA9DEF was 0.06
    Okay, makes sense.

    Scanning around at comparable pitchers I came to David Price.
    Great defense, that St. Petersburg.
    From 2009-2011 he was helped to the tune of

    But last year (when he led the league in ERA), his RA9DEF was only

    Okay, he must have had a lot of unearned runs.
    Three. 3 unearned runs in 211 innings.

    Does RA9DEF begin to explain this, or is it an anomaly?

    • 24
      Voomo Zanzibar says:

      1973 Orioles, RA9DEF:

      .70 Jim Palmer
      .75 Mike Cuellar
      .77 Dave McNally
      .77 Doyle Alexander

  9. 23
    Doug says:

    Bizarro stuff. For Seattle’s sake, I hope Felix has another fabulous year in 2013. Only that would make this deal look “smart” by locking him up early before he gets too expensive to re-sign. I suppose the next milestone that the elite pitcher will be demanding is a contract that averages at least $1M per start. This deal is getting within shouting distance of that mark, and could exceed it if we’re looking at a broken-down Felix at the end of the term.

    Just a wild thought, but suppose at the beginning of each season the team and the player each had to choose whether the player will be paid his stipulated base salary for that year, or x$ per game, where x is defined in the contract (there might even be a number of x-es for different years of the contract). Now, neither side knows what the other has chosen until the end of the season. If both agree, that’s what the salary is. If not, an arbitrator rules on which is the “fairer” sum based on the player’s performance for the year.

    The above is totally stream of consciousness stuff, but puts some teeth into the notion of having performance-based compensation.

  10. 25
    JasonZ says:

    That is a nice thought Doug. The problem is that you and I have a better chance of appearing in a game this season.

    As you know, the MLB players union would never let this occur.

    It will be interesting to see if Donald Fehr can similarly lift the NHL players union.

    Not being a union employee, I would guess that anybody in a union must admire what the MLB players union has accomplished since Marvin Miller took the reins about 1966.

    • 31
      MikeD says:

      Roger Clemens approach of pitching for one season, or even a partial season, at the end of his career (and is it over, or will he appear in a game again?) was an interesting approach.

      If a great player was willing to sign a one-year contract every year he should be able to demand a fairly substantial premium because he is accpeting the greater risk, while the team is reducing their longterm risk.

      Let’s use Robinson Cano as an example. He’s a free agent after 2013 and will probably command an AAV or what, 22M, 25M? Yet the team will have to commit to that for 7-9 years. That’s real danger. Regression and injury. So if Cano wanted to take greater risk, he might market himself to the highest bidder on a one-year deal. $35M for one season? $40M for one season?

      Would you rather your favorite team sign Cano for one year at $40M, or nine years at a $22M AAV? If Cano was willing to assume additional risk, is there enough incentive for him to do it, or any player?

  11. 26
    mosc says:

    I think the analysis needs to look at more of a cost benefit angle than a baseball statistical basis. In other words, what’s the best and worst that can happen? How much do you want to pay in those situations?

    Worst case for the Mariners is clearly that he’s done right now. They’d already be out $40m plus whatever they extend him. This however, from a cost benefit analysis is $0 since they have no means of getting the money back. No, the worst case for the Mariners FINANCIALLY is that he dominates in 2013 and 2014, quite the opposite. This increases the price of future years Letting a 29 year old King Felix hit free agency after two more dominating years is just going to be unsignable for the mariners. Lets say he pitches in 2013 and 2014 like he did in 2009 and 2010. You’re going to have teams lining up to pay 300m/10years for him covering age 29-38 seasons.

    On the other side, Felix’s value would be hard to drop to zero by 2015. I suppose short of some steroids related stuff coupled with ineffectiveness, he’s going to be worth tens of millions a year for multiple years for 2015 and the immediate future. It’s always possible there is zero value two years in the future but it seems very sensible to assume something.

    So what makes sense for the Mariners is clearly something in between. You protect your financial position by making a deal you can live with to keep him balancing that he clearly has value even if 2013 and 14 are bad years and you avoid the situation of not possibly being able to keep him in 2015. Splitting the difference, they work something out. He’s also your best player and the face of the franchise has quantifiable value at the turnstiles. Teams know the financial benefits of having one guy fans can count on rooting for year in and year out. That gives the team more identity, brand recognition, and repeat business.

    All that said, you know this deal is going to look ugly for the Mariners. That’s baseball too. You don’t pay free agents compared to what the average cost of a WAR in the league is. You can’t compete with the pre-arb starting guys wracking up value with almost zero MLB cost. The system is designed for free agents to be overpaid. Baseball wise, you’d like to say wait until July 2014 to see. Maybe your team sucks and you trade him off as a rental. Maybe he sucks and you can sign him for cheaper. They’re more likely than your team being good and him being better than 5year/125m. Flexibility has it’s value too, I hear ya. But when you look at the bigger picture I think it’s a no brainer for the team. 5 additional years is the savings they’re after rather than being forced into a longer deal in 2014. The 2020 Mariners will be glad for this contract.

    • 27
      John Autin says:

      Mosc — I agree that, if they don’t extend him now, the worst case for Seattle financially is that he “dominates” in 2013-14 and drives up his market value.

      But by “dominates”, I mean “pitches like he did in 2009-10.” I don’t think that simply repeating his average value from the past 4 to 6 years would do it.

      Right now, his 2009-10 peak is a fairly fresh memory and a big reason he can command $25 mil per year. If his 2013-14 were to look like 2009-10, then yeah, his free-agent price probably would be even higher than this reported deal.

      But if he has two more years like 2011-12, I think people start thinking more about all the innings he’s thrown from a young age, and whether he has any superstar years left in him.

      But let’s say he is dominant in 2013-14. How much higher would his price go? Who knows, of course, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say the current deal is for $25 mil per year, and he might break the bank for $35 mil if he hit free agency after 2 great years. In that scenario, signing him now might save the team $50 million later.

      I think doing the deal now entails more than $50 million worth of risk.

      I’d like to focus on this part of your analysis:

      “Felix’s value would be hard to drop to zero by 2015. I suppose short of some steroids related stuff coupled with ineffectiveness, he’s going to be worth tens of millions a year for multiple years for 2015 and the immediate future. It’s always possible there is zero value two years in the future but it seems very sensible to assume something.”

      To me, that severely understates the possibility that Felix’s value could plummet over the next 2 seasons, such that he would not be able to command tens of millions a year for multiple years.

      Returning to some of my examples:

      – Mark Mulder’s value fell to almost zero over his age 27-28 seasons.

      – Mark Gubicza age 25-26 went 35-19 with a 138 ERA+. At 27 he pitched poorly and got hurt. Coming back at 28 after almost a year out, he pitched even worse. He hit free agency after age 29, and signed for less than half his previous salary.

      – Mike Witt at 25 looked like a star on the rise. At 26 he was still an All-Star. He averaged 200 Ks for those years. At 27-28, his Ks plummeted and his ERA+ was 89. No way he gets significant free-agent money coming off that.

      – Fernando Valenzuela got hurt at 27, came back at 28 but was no longer a strikeout pitcher. Age 28 completed a 4-year span that was well below his peak. (The same would be true if Felix has subpar years in 2013-14.) A free agent that fall, Fernando signed a 1-year deal for the same $$$ he’d been making.

      – Alex Fernandez signed a top-of-the-market deal at 26. If his free agency had come two years later, after missing all of age 28, would he have gotten half that deal?

      These are 5 of the 20 guys in my little study. So I think there’s a decent chance that Felix’s market value falls by half or more over the next 2 years. If that happens, then Seattle will have cost themselves something like $65-$130 million.

      And, I’m sad to say, I think it’s more likely that Felix’s performance plummets than that it soars even higher.

      • 28
        mosc says:

        So lets say felix pitches 350 innings in 13-14 and has an ERA of like 4.0. Seems a little mean to him but lets say that’s what happens. The mariners let him hit free agency and teams start looking at him as a 29 year old former cy young winner. I bet he would get in the neighborhood of 7 years and 140 million.

        Lets say he pitches even worse. Lets say he needs Tommy John in 2013, misses the whole year, and pitches like 100 IP of 4.50 ERA in 2014. I bet you he gets 4 or 5 years, 15m per.

        You may think I’m cazy, but I think those are pretty close to market value. The mariners are limiting themselves in risk by getting hernandez to sign ONLY a 5 year deal. That signs him only to play when he’s 33 and hit free agency when he’s 34. That’s good risk management. That said, he’s a good pitcher and you’re not going to get him to sign for peanuts on a 5 year extension just because you’re giving it to him two years early. But expecting it to be 20 million is a little naieve. His 2012 year wasn’t so bad and even his 2011 year was still well above average.

        • 29
          John Autin says:

          I hear you, mosc. And your market-value estimates for a diminished Felix could be right. BTW, I never said his 2011-12 weren’t good; they just weren’t as good as 2009-10. They weren’t CYA-contention-good.

        • 30
          Mike L says:

          If Felix goes 350 innings at an ERA of 4, I’ll bet he’s not offered 7/140. That would be four years of a down-arc in performance, plus lower innings output. I think people would worry they were getting a Barry Zito. He would still be an above average pitcher, but not a first tier ace. Unless, of course, we could be talking about Zack Greinke, who has three years of above average but not terrific output. So, it’s possible Greinke could be the comp.

          • 32
            mosc says:

            He’d be younger than Greinke, with a wider peak, and a better “prospect” image. He also has better stuff (have you SEEN that slider? My god). He’d have to pitch pretty terribly indeed over 2013 and 2014 to not get Greinke money as a free agent in 2015. Teams will pay 10m a year for a guy they expect to throw 200 IP at 4.50 ERA.

  12. 33
    John Autin says:

    Bullcrap alert! In reporting that Felix’s contract has been settled at last, ESPN (and/or the A.P.) adds: “For his career, Hernandez has allowed two earned runs or less in 141 of 238 starts, but the team is only 99-42 in those games due to the offensive problems.”

    “Only” 99-42? A .702 winning percentage doesn’t sound so bad to me, but who knows without a reference point. What sort of winning percentage would we expect in such starts?

    Surprise! That .702 team W% is exactly the same as for all starts allowing 2 ER or less during Felix’s career (2005-12).

    For games in Safeco during Felix’s career, all non-Felix starts of 2 ER or less have a combined team W% of .704. Seattle’s W% when Felix allows 2 ER or less at home is .761 (54-17).

    Lazy, lousy journalism really pisses me off.

    But what the hell, at least they do a great job of telling us about athletes’ tastes in music.

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