Low Risk, Any Reward in 2008?

This past week I was lucky enough to have my article “Low Risk, Any Reward?” featured in the SABR statistical newsletter, By the Numbers. The article, which can be seen here, looks at the low-risk pitcher signings from 2002-2007 and analyzes whether or not the likelihood of a reward is worth the risk.
In case you choose not to read the article–which would be a shame since there are some other great articles as well–I defined a low-risk pitcher signing by parameters in contract duration and salary. For duration, the following qualified:
a) 1-yr deal
b) 1-yr deal w/option
c) Minor League deal
d) Waiver claim
With regards to salary, anything accounting for a maximum of 5.25% of the given team’s salary qualifies. The percentage is used rather than a raw figure to level the field of play between teams with significant payroll discrepancies. For example, Randy Wolf was signed to a 4.75 mil, one-yr deal by the Padres. The Padres have a payroll of 73.68 mil, meaning that Wolf accounts for 6.4% of their entire payroll. He would not qualify by these standards. The same could be said for Livan Hernandez who, despite signing just a 1-yr, 5 mil deal, takes up just under 10% of the Twins payroll. Now, the Mark Prior signing of 1-yr at 1 mil, by the Padres, does qualify. The ONLY time I broke from these parameters dealt with the Florida Marlins, who have an absolutely ridiculous 21 mil payroll.
A little over a month into the season I thought it might be interesting to take a look at this year’s crop of low-risk pitchers. Since we are still dealing with small sample sizes I will refrain from evaluating the signings via dollars per win, as in the article, but we can still see which players have been worth the risk thus far.
By my count, there were 58 low-risk pitcher signings coming into this season; so far just 32 have pitched. The others are either injured or still in the minor leagues.
In the article, I first ranked the players by VORP–Value Over Replacement Player–which, for pitchers, looks at the amount of runs saved relative to a replacement level player given the same amount of opportunities. Once they were compiled, the conversion rate of 10 VORP runs = 1 WAR (Win Above Replacement) helped in determining just how many wins a given pitcher contributed above a replacement level pitcher.
Now, in checking who has truly helped we will compare these WAR totals to the individual league average for all pitchers, not just low-risk pitchers. In the National League, the current average WAR is 0.24; in the American League it is 0.20. Essentially, as of right now, the average major league pitcher is contributing somewhere between 0.20 and 0.24 wins above, say, what Kevin Jarvis or Matt Beech would contribute. With this in mind, here are the low-risk pitchers above their league’s average:
National League
1) Odalis Perez, 0.95
2) Shawn Chacon, 0.94
3) Wil Ledezma, 0.77
4) Ron Villone, 0.69
5) Joe Beimel, 0.64
6) Doug Brocail, 0.63
7) Mark Hendrickson, 0.53
8) Rudy Seanez, 0.51
9) Phil Dumatrait, 0.48
10) Jeremy Affeldt, 0.42
11) Kyle Lohse, 0.41
American League
1) Sidney Ponson, 0.53
2) Jorge Julio, 0.27
The small number of AL low-risk pitchers that have above average WAR totals initially strikes me as odd; however, the fact that the two come in the forms of Sidney Ponson and Jorge Julio makes it even odder! Of the 58 low-risk signings, the NL had 36 to the 22 in the AL, so it was not as if the AL only had six such signings.
I am going to revisit this at season’s end in order to apply the same dollars per win method as in the original article but, as of right now, by evaluating moves based on approximately 40 team games, the above players have been worth the risk.
In the cases of Odalis Perez, Shawn Chacon, and Wil Ledezma, they have really been worth the risk; those three fall into the top 30 of the entire National League.


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