A Steal of A Rotation

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In an offseason that has been filled with what some fans have characterized as disappointments, you would think that signing the 4th best pitcher in baseball in 2012 to a long term deal would be something that would get fans’ attention.

That’s what Matt Harrison was last year according to his rWAR of 6.2 that trailed only Justin Verlander (7.6), David Price (6.4) and tied with Clayton Kershaw (6.2).

But it is not like you have to be a sabermetrician to appreciate what Matt Harrison has become as a starting pitcher.  The 2012 All-Star racked up a record of 32-20 over the past two years with an ERA of 3.34 over 62 starts (399 IP).

When Matt Harrison cashed in on a 5-year, $52 million deal this last week, he became the 3rd member of the rotation that has now signed a long-term deal with the club, joining Derek Holland and Yu Darvish.  Including team options, both Holland and Harrison could be under team control until 2018, while Darvish is under control until 2017.  While there is no guarantee that all three will be here nearly that long (some trade rumors would have you believe that Holland may not pitch another inning in a Rangers uniform), let’s take a look at what the Rangers are paying for.

As referenced in Peter Ellwood’s November article discussing Josh Hamilton’s monetary value, there are several different methods for valuing free agents by using their WAR as a multiple.  The most commonly seen method for valuing a win has been $5 million per WAR, while some, like former Indians GM Paul Shapiro, believe that teams are willing to pay up to $9 million per WAR for players in free agency.

By taking the average annual value of the money owed to each of the three players, we can see about the Rangers might be paying per WAR, estimated by Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections.

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Assuming Harrison, Holland and Darvish perform at the levels predicted by their respective ZiPS projections, the Rangers would be paying roughly half of what other teams pay per win-above-replacement.  However, using the AAV of the remaining years on their respective contracts assumes that all three will be with the ball club until their contracts run out, so perhaps a more relevant picture would be painted by using the actual dollars owed to each player each year.
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Now, what does this all mean?  Well, first off, the numbers here (outside of Darvish) may be a bit skewed because Harrison and Holland still had arbitration years remaining when they signed their extension, giving them less leverage than if they had been free agents.   However, there is little question that if these guys perform up to their potential that the Rangers have successfully locked up three members of their rotation at a team-friendly price, allowing the club to allocate remaining dollars towards other needs (whether those needs are extending their All-Star shortstop, or acquiring a high-cost player via trade).

Take a look at the Philadelphia Phillies.  They’ll pay their top 3 starters $64.5 million this year, dedicating over 40% of their payroll obligations to Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Halladay.  The Rangers top three starters will amount to less than 15% of their payroll in 2013.  Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for this season estimate that the additional $46.8 million dollars Philidelphia has invested in those three guys will amount to a difference of 0.4 WAR over what the Rangers have in their three core starters.

Something tells me that Jon Daniels could find more than 0.4 wins if given an additional $46.8 million to work with.

That why the types of deals like the one Matt Harrison signed, and the flexibility they create, are the reason why being able to identify and develop talent within your own organization is so much more important than whether or not free agent starting pitchers want to pitch in Texas.

When you consider that, in addition to locking up Darvish, Holland, and Harrison, the Rangers also have Alexi Ogando, who is eligible for arbitration through 2016, and Neftali Feliz, who is eligible for arbitration through 2015 – is there another organization in baseball whose rotation provides the same kind of bang for the buck?

Robert Pike is a Staff Writer for ShutDowninning. He can be reached at Robert.Pike@ShutDowninning.com or on Twitter @Bob_Pike

Robert Pike

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