November 12, 2010
THEY SHOULD NEVER GET OVER THREE YEARS:
Why Cliff Lee buyers ought to beware: The history of free agency is littered with starting pitchers who went bust (Mark Simon, 11/11/10, ESPNNewYork.com)
ESPN Stats & Information has compiled a list of all of the free-agent signings since the 1990-91 offseason.Posted by Orrin Judd at November 12, 2010 3:34 PM
In that span, there have been 52 instances in which a pitcher signed a contract of four years or more.
How many of those have been success stories? It depends on how you want to define success.
We're going to use two stats to measure it -- starts and adjusted ERA+.
Starts is self-explanatory. You figure if the pitcher is healthy and pitching well, he'll have a bunch. An injured or ineffective pitcher won't.
Adjusted ERA+ is a stat tracked by Baseball-Reference.com that measures how much better/worse a pitcher's ERA is than his peers that season, making slight tweaks for the ballpark in which he primarily pitched.
If a pitcher has an adjusted ERA+ of 120, it means he was 20 percent better than the rest of the league. That's a good rating. (For reference, CC Sabathia's 3.18 ERA matched to a 134 ERA+ in 2010; Andy Pettitte's 3.28 ERA rated a 130.)
If he has an adjusted ERA+ of 80, he's 20 percent worse (100 minus 80) than the league. Javier Vazquez (5.32 ERA) and A.J. Burnett (5.25 ERA) had ERA+ of 80 and 81, respectively.
You figure if a team gives a pitcher a four-plus year deal, it has high expectations for that pitcher's durability and skill, perhaps hoping for 30 starts a season and an adjusted ERA+ of 120 or better over the life of the contract.
How many times out of the 52 did the pitcher hit that criteria?
Two of those were pitching versions of Superman -- Greg Maddux from 1993 to 1997 and Randy Johnson from 1999 to 2002.