Learning from Al Leiter

When the Florida Marlins signed Al Leiter this off-season, they saw a pitcher with five consecutive seasons of under-4.00 ERAs. A pitcher who had gone ten straight years without a losing record and double digit wins. A pitcher who was with Florida for the franchise’s first championship, and who, they hoped, would help the Marlins get another one in what was likely to be his last season. And for that they gave him an $8 million contract.
Of course, what they didn’t care to notice was a pitcher with a declining K-rate, rising BB-rate, and a guy who had never been particularly good at preventing home runs. Leiter was getting old fast, and those low ERAs were as much a product of defense and luck as anything. His peripherals the last three years looked like this:

Year

HR/9

BB/9

K/9

2002

1.01

3.04

7.58

2003

0.75

4.67

6.9

2004

0.83

5.01

6.04

But because his ERA didn’t drop with those peripheral numbers, Florida looked and saw a solid veteran instead of a guy whose numbers were about to dive. My projection system predicted that Leiter would have a 5.17 ERA. Certainly that wasn’t worth $8 million. And indeed, his ERA rose. And it rose, and it rose, and rose. It rose to 6.67 and the Marlins cut him. He wasn’t as bad as he looked: his DIPS ERA was 5.74. But that’s still pretty damn bad. It’s wholly replaceable. And it certainly isn’t worth $8 million.

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2 Responses to Learning from Al Leiter

  1. Rob Bonter says:

    Even had Leiter squeezed one more decent season out of his aging body, the Marlins deserve criticism for their “short term patching” approach. Better to sign someone 10 years younger who can be a mainstay for a few years, than to keep signing guys you know you will have to turn over in the next 1-2 years. It’s called STABILITY, and winning organizations put more emphasis on its importance.

  2. Dan says:

    You know, now that the Yanks have signed him, I hope your system proves to be correct, and he does end up with a 5.17 ERA at seasons end. Because that means over, if he plays, 17 more games, his ERA would be 3.70.. Which is just fine by me. 😀

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