Pay That Man Heez Money

(in which I write for much longer than I intended, but bear with me. I think it’s worth it.)

The biggest question the Rangers face this offseason is how seriously they should consider re-signing C.J. Wilson. Just how valuable is he to the team, and what kind of contract will it take to sign him? I have seen dozens of suggested contract values for the straight-edge racer, and they have varied from 4 years/$64 million all the way to 6 years/$115 million dollars. I don’t think either of these are the correct market value, and the final figure is more likely to land at 5 years/$90 million, give or take a million or two of AAV (average annual value).

The vocal majority of Rangers fans seem to be happy to allow C.J. to walk this offseason. I think there are 4 main reasons a Rangers fan would not want to see C.J. back in a Texas uniform – He turned 31 years old last week, he has not had very much success in the postseason (especially in 2011), he hasn’t yet earned a big starter’s contract after just two years in the rotation, or he just rubs them the wrong way.

I believe the latter 3 reasons I gave are less important than the first.

Postseason success is mostly a timing issue. Players get hot at certain times of the year, and C.J. hit his worst part of the year at a really bad time.

As for not earning a big starter’s contract, I’m not sure what more he could prove. He has made the jump from the bullpen to the rotation, and delivered two straight seasons of 200+ IP, sub 3.35 ERA, and he even increased his K/9 rate in 2011 compared to 2010.

And as for not liking him as a person, that’s a personal issue and shouldn’t factor into whether or not you want him on this team. I would not interview the way C.J. interviews, which is filled with declarative statements that could be seen as prideful or a little “douchey”. However, I like that he is not a Jeter interview. Jeter has never said a meaningful thing in an interview in his life, and only talks in clichés. I want my team to have some personality, as long it doesn’t impact on-field performance. And that is not an issue with C.J.

On to the real issue I want to discuss – the age issue. If the Rangers give Wilson a 5-year contract, he would play the last season of the deal as a 35-year old. That sounds old, but let’s take a closer look.

I want to display the performances of 4 left-handed starting pitchers from age 31 to 35. I chose Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, David Wells, and Jamie Moyer for the purpose of this analysis. I’m not sure exactly where I’d place C.J. on a continuum of the skill level amongst these 4, but I am pretty sure it’d be right in the middle. Slightly less than Johnson/Glavine, slightly better than Wells/Moyer.

Randy Johnson
Career: 4,135 IP, 3.29 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 3.30 BB/9
Up to Age 30: 1,404 IP, 3.83 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 9.36 K/9, 5.04 BB/9
Age 31 – 35: 1,004 IP, 2.71 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 12.22 K/9, 2.90 BB/9

Tom Glavine
Career: 4,413 IP, 3.54 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 5.30 K/9, 3.10 BB/9
Up to Age 30: 1,954 IP, 3.46 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 5.58 K/9, 3.06 BB/9
Age 31 – 35: 1,163 IP, 3.30 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 5.53 K/9, 3.08 BB/9

David Wells
Career: 3,439 IP, 4.13 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 5.80 K/9, 1.90 BB/9
Up to Age 30: 873 IP, 3.87 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 6.06 K/9, 2.50 BB/9
Age 31 – 35: 970 IP, 4.03 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 6.06 K/9, 1.87 BB/9

Jamie Moyer
Career: 4,020 IP, 4.24 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 5.40 K/9, 2.50 BB/9
Up to Age 30: 851 IP, 4.37 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 5.55 K/9, 3.38 BB/9
Age 31 – 35: 847 IP, 4.15 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 5.34 K/9, 2.12 BB/9

If you look at these numbers, you’ll notice that for every pitcher their Age 31 – 35 numbers are at or better than both their career numbers and their Up to Age 30 numbers.

To this point in his career, Wilson has amassed these statistics: 708 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 8.10 K/9, 3.80 BB/9. I think it is important to note that he has pitched fewer innings than the 4 pitchers we just looked at, and statistically up to age 30, he has been as good as any of them.

If C.J. is somewhere inbetween all 4 of these pitchers, the average Age 31 – 35 stat line looks like this:
996 IP, 3.51 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.30 K/9, 2.53 BB/9. Typically, I’d say that it’s a terrible assumption to think he’d actually put up these numbers just by averaging out 4 arbitrarily picked pitchers, but that looks about right to me.

If you’re still with me, all this points to the expectation that C.J. Wilson may be an even better pitcher over the next 5 years than he has been to this point. On top of all of this, he has demonstrated that he will work as hard as anyone on the field, will protect himself mentally and physically, and has a deep desire to compete and to be successful. Those character virtues may be the biggest indication of his coming success or failure in the next 5 years, not any statistical comparisons.

At this time last year, the Rangers were debating giving a contract to a 32-year old left-handed pitcher. But, in that case, they would have had to go to a 7-year contract, and an AAV of $20 million. I’m glad the Rangers didn’t extend to that far to get Cliff Lee. And the good news is it will likely only take a 5-year contract, and an AAV of $18 million to land Wilson.

Do the Rangers need Wilson? No, I don’t think so. Jon Daniels is constructing the club with the bullpen as a priority, and that puts less pressure on the starting rotation. But, if you were looking for one sure thing in the 2012 Rangers starting rotation, it’s not there right now. Signing Wilson would give you that, and in my estimation, a lot more for every year of whatever contract he signs.

Pay that man heez money. 

Peter Ellwood

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