After signing a six-year, $127.5 million contract with the San Francisco Giants earlier this month, Cain pitched a complete game shutout in a 5-0 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He surrendered one hit and struck out 11.
He got knocked around in his second start though, giving up 5 runs on 6 hits in 6 innings of work as the Giants dropped a 7-6 decision to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Two starts does not a season make, but if Cain finds a middle ground, which he’s apt to do, he’ll be the model of consistency the Giants hoped he’d be when they signed him.
Last week, in light of the Cain signing, we looked at some of the biggest contracts handed out to right-handed pitchers and examined their performance before and after their paydays. As one reader pointed out, some of the stats that were brought up – wins, specifically – weren’t the best measure of pitching acumen.
That’s partly correct, considering Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez have a combined 29-20 record in their Cy Young winning seasons. In 2009, Greinke’s winning year, the anxiety-prone hurler’s .667 (16-8 record) win percentage was 10th-best in majors, but he led with a 9.0 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and a 2.16 ERA.
In 2010, Hernandez’s winning year, his .520 winning percentage (13-12 record) was 37th best in the majors, but his 2.27 ERA was tops. He also faced 1,001 batters that season, more than any other pitcher and the only one to break the 1,000 mark. Dan Haren was second, facing 994 batters pitching for the Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Angels.
That Hernandez won as many games as he did was a feat, considering the Seattle Mariners were dead last in the majors in almost every offensive category, including batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, home runs, RBIs, runs scored and total bases.
So win-loss records aren’t the end all be all. But the four pitchers we looked at last week all had solid ERAs to accompany their record.
Zambrano was 59-32 with a 3.14 ERA, Beckett was 41-34 with a 3.46 ERA, Lackey was 102-71 with a 3.81 ERA and Verlander was 65-43 with a 3.92 ERA.
Were some of them helped by an explosive offense and airtight defense? Absolutely. Every pitcher is at some point. Mark Buerhle’s perfect game against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays wasn’t without its incredible defensive plays. But it’s not like Zambrano, Beckett, Lackey or Verlander posted huge win numbers with an ERA over 5.00.
Together, those four pitchers average a $16.95 million annual salary. For a team like the Atlanta Braves, who ranked 15th in the majors last year with an $87 million payroll, $16.95 million would tie up almost 20% of that.
What have you done for me lately?
But the Braves and the Boston Red Sox met the same fate in 2011, losing on the last day of the season and ending their bid for a playoff berth. The Braves spent $39,415,000 on pitching that season.
The Red Sox spent $76,785,333 in that department.
Boston’s three winningest pitchers – Beckett, Lackey and Jon Lester – combined for 40 wins and collectively made $38.7 million.The club paid $967,500 for each of those 40 wins.
Atlanta spent $12.7 million on their three winningest hurlers – Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson – and also got 40 wins out of them. They spent $317,500 for each of those 40 wins- a third of what Boston spent.
Boston finished 90-72 last year, while the Braves were 89-73. Same result, similar wins, different payroll.
You’re killin’ me, Smalls
For fans, casual or hardcore, it’s easy to forget that a huge contract isn’t necessarily a smart one, nor is it an indicator of future performance. Clubs obviously spend big money on players based on past performance in hopes that that player continues to shine in the future.
Despite the outcome last season, the Braves spent their money wisely on those 40 wins, though the same can’t be said for some of their other contracts. Derek Lowe definitely didn’t earn his $15 million paycheck, going 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA and a 1.5 WHIP. There’s no “it’s-not-as-bad-as-it-looks” analysis with that one – the man just didn’t pitch well.
Contracts are such a crapshoot that it’s hard to blame Boston for saddling themselves with millions in dead money (Lackey) and underperforming players (Beckett). But certain players, like Verlander, have proven so far that they’re the model of consistency and have earned their big paydays.
And with his record-breaking contract, Matt Cain now has to do the same.
No pressure, big guy.
I promised in my last entry I’d look at huge contracts given to left-handed pitchers this week, but last week’s data needed more analysis. Keep an eye out next week for the lefty portion.