How much is Mark Buerhle worth?

By the time you read this, the White Sox may already sign Buerhle to a contract extension.  Or maybe they will have traded him, if not both rumors will keep spinning.
I had to laugh when I read this post : BP unfiltered  I think its safe to say that if Kenny Williams goes to his agent with a 4 year offer for 33 million, the negotiations will be over, and Mark’s White Sox career will soon be over.
How much is he worth?  Here is the best salary calculator I have seen.  It accounts for continued inflation, which is somewhat balanced by the player’s talent declining.  Almost all free agent players should be in their decline phase, and Buerhle is no exception – he’ll be 29 next season.  So all we need to know is how many wins is he worth.
First, how good is he?  This year so far, his ERA+ is a very good 135.  Last year, it was a career worst 93, following a career best 143 in 2005.  His career mark is 122, and that seems to be a reasonable expectation of his ability.
Second, how much will he pitch? So far, he’s never missed a start, pitching over 200 innings every year and up to 245.  We can’t expect he will always pitch that many innings.  There’s pretty much no chance he’ll throw much more than 240, but there is a chance that he could hurt himself in spring training and pitch zero.  I looked at how much the average top free agent starters have pitched the year after they signed.  To get a quick list, I looked at only players who switched teams, and the old team received a compensation pick.  Their average IP after signing was 170.  If we remove the ones with obvious prior injury concerns, like Jaret Wright and AJ Burnett, we get 180.  Buerhle may be a bit better than that, having not just a good health record, but a perfect one, so we might be able to project him at 190-200.  But I can’t forget my definition of a durable pitcher:
Durable pitcher:  Noun.  A pitcher who has not been injured yet.
A good chunk of Mark’s value is just showing up and being average.  Assuming replacement level is 1.25 times the league average, an average pitcher is +24 runs in 190 innings.  Being above average around a 120 ERA+, that’s another 16 runs, so Buerhle is about 4 wins above the average pitcher.  From 2006 going back, Buerhle’s wins over replacement numbers have been 1.8, 5.9, 5.7, 3.1, 6.1, and 6.3 according to my database, so 4 seems like a reasonable figure.
The chart gives us a 59 million deal over 4 years or 71 million over 5.  The chart was designed for last year, so adding another 10% for inflation (damn you, Federal reserve!) would give us 65/4 or 78/5.
That would seem a fair deal, but if he holds out until the offseason, its hard to see somebody not overpaying and giving him Barry Zito money, as I can’t think of anything Zito had going for him that Buerhle doesn’t have.

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4 Responses to How much is Mark Buerhle worth?

  1. Pizza Cutter says:

    A few months back, in my throwing to first series, I found that MB had the best pickoff move in the league last year, to the tune of 8 runs or so above league average just based on his move alone. As I said at the time, throw in the confusion on how to spell his name, and you’ve got an extra win right there. Teams will always overpay for starting pitching and swear that they are getting a great deal. (See Meche, Gil.) You’re right though, if he wants to maximize his cash, Buehrle should hold out until the off-season. He probably won’t get Zito money, but 15-16M per isn’t out of the question.

  2. Sean Smith says:

    Is that 8 runs per year or 8 runs over a period of years? That is something else.
    I’m not using projections based on components here, but actual runs, so any benefit of his pickoff move is counted, which is good, and any benefit from above average defense is also in there, which is not so good.

  3. Pizza Cutter says:

    Sean, that was 8 runs last year alone. I only ran the numbers for 2006, so I don’t know how stable those stats are or what MB’s work has been before that. But, that’s just an engineering problem to figure it out.

  4. greenback44 says:

    I’ve looked a little bit at projecting IP a few years forward, and it gets ugly beyond the first three or four years. Even the most durable pitchers can’t be counted on for more than 150 innings.

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