Thursday, January 04, 2007

Zito's Contract Might Be Economical

As regular readers know, I don't care for the length and size of Barry Zito's contract, though I think his signing is great for the Giants over the next 2-4 years. Looking at his contract structure, it struck me how reasonable it was in the first couple of seasons, so I got the idea that it would be interesting to compare Zito's contract year by year versus the going market rate for a middle rotation starter, like Meche and Padilla this same off-season: both got contracts averaging $11M per season.


Talking 'Bout My Calculations

What I wanted to do was to look at Zito's contract in a number of different situations. Assumptions I'll use are that a middle rotation pitcher this off-season gets $11M and then I will grow that under a number of different scenarios.

First, if the 10% growth that a number of saber-sites says is the inflation rate normally for salaries hold up over the 8 years the contract runs (you'll soon see why I say 8 and not 7), then as long as Zito is even a middle rotation pitcher, the Giants will pick up his option, he would have to be Russ Ortiz bad for them not to pick it up (all figures in millions of dollars):

Data - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013 - 2014
Zito - 10.0 - 14.5 - 18.5 - 18.5 - 18.5 - 19.0 - 20.0 - 18.0
Avg. - 11.0 - 12.1 - 13.3 - 14.6 - 16.1 - 17.7 - 19.5 - 21.4
Z/Avg - 91% - 120% - 139% - 126% - 115% - 107% - 103% - 84%


As one can see, the Giants overpay by a fair amount in years 2 through 5, but the other years are actually pretty economical with a big "IF": if he can be at least a middle rotation starter in years 6 to 8.

Next, I check out what happens when salaries rise 20% for 2008, but continue at 10% afterward (all figures in millions of dollars):

Data - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013 - 2014
Zito - 10.0 - 14.5 - 18.5 - 18.5 - 18.5 - 19.0 - 20.0 - 18.0
Avg. - 11.0 - 13.2 - 14.5 - 16.0 - 17.6 - 19.3 - 21.3 - 23.4
Z/Avg - 91% - 110% - 127% - 116% - 105% - 98.3% - 94% - 77%


As one can see, the Giants now "only" overpay by a fair amount in years 3 and 4, but the other years are actually pretty economical, again with a big "IF": if he can be at least a middle rotation starter in the other years, particularly years 6 to 8.

Most interesting to me is when the inflation makes Zito appear to be a steal, with a 30% increase for 2008 but 10% afterward (all figures in millions of dollars):

Data - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013 - 2014
Zito - 10.0 - 14.5 - 18.5 - 18.5 - 18.5 - 19.0 - 20.0 - 18.0
Avg. - 11.0 - 13.8 - 15.1 - 16.6 - 18.3 - 20.1 - 22.1 - 24.4
Z/Avg - 91% - 106% - 122% - 111% - 101% - 94.4% - 90% - 74%


In this scenario, the Giants really only overpays in the third year. Zito is only being paid a middle rotation (#3) salary (roughly, to me, 90-110%) in years 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7, and would be paid like a back of the rotation starter (#4/#5) in year 8.

Giants Thoughts

The only way this contract appears to make sense is if the Giants anticipate another large rise in salaries in the next off-season for middle rotation guys like Meche, Padilla, and Lilly. In that last scenario, the Giants are paying for 1 #2 starter season, 6 #3 starter seasons, and 1 #4/5 starter season. I think it would be a reasonably good assumption that Zito will put in a #2 type season (ERA from 3.78 to 4.31) in the next few seasons and that he can probably put together another 3-4 #3 starter seasons (4.31 to 4.84). The question is whether he can stretch it out to 7-8 seasons at reasonable performance.

One thing I will investigate next is if the Giants is paying for a middle rotation guy, how much is he expected to garner over his contract? I'm now thinking, sum up his expected performances forecasted ahead, then compare it to what the Giants are paying for.

For example, say I'm using Win Saves Above Bench, like The Hardball Times did, and a #2 starter gets 8-10 WSAB and a #3 starter gets 5-7 WSAB and a #4 starter gets 2-4 WSAB. Lets call them 9, 6, and 3. In the third scenario above, that works out to 48 WSAB being paid for by the Giants over the lifetime of the contract, whereas the second scenario works out to 51 WSAB. So that is roughly 50 WSAB the Giants are paying for.
  • If I project him out to be a #2 for the first 5 seasons (ERA from 3.78 to 4.31), which is not likely but is possible, that works out to 45 WSAB earned already, with 2-3 more seasons to go.
  • More probable, I can see him being a #2 for three seasons (ages 29-31; prime physical years), which earns him 27 WSAB, then fading off to middle rotation or lower. 3 seasons of #3 pitching would get him another 18 WSAB for a total of 45 WSAB over 6 seasons. I can see this happening and he would essentially earn the money he would be paid for the whole 8 seasons. This is still high expectations, and while more probable, still seems to me to be a stretch for one to reasonably assume he would mean such expectations.
  • That leaves him doing well in the short-term, poorly in the long-term.

Thus I don't see how Zito could perform well enough and long enough to justify this contract. Meanwhile, I can see him perform well enough in the short-term (3-4 years) and hopefully he can anchor the rotation while the young guys - Cain, Lowry, Lincecum, and Sanchez - mature and hopefully develop.

The Giants are basically paying him to be the bridge from the Bonds era to (hopefully) the Cain-Lincecum era. By then hopefully the cheap pitching that the Giants seem to be cultivating will be enough so that we could release him and not be too affected by the cash drain. Or better, he could pitch well enough that we can trade him and get other players and contracts in return, much like how the Rockies got rid of Hampton.

KNBR Interview

Zito was on KNBR Wednesday afternoon. As the new face of the Giants going forward (at least until Cain takes over :^), he knew he had to "press the flesh", that is, show up on the team's radio station and talk with the fan base and present himself to the masses. I did not hear the whole thing (had things to do), but I was particularly intrigued by one segment of the chat.

Basically, he painted himself out to be similar to Barry Bonds, always working out year round and having a physical regimen that is supposedly intense. He blamed his drop in the second half in 2006 (which I showed with his steep drop in DOM% in a previous post) to, get this, his fitness instructor took off for some reason, leaving Zito alone, so Zito just threw to keep in shape and he thinks that he threw too much during the off-season, resulting in his loss of arm strength late in the season and leading to his drop in performance. Having learned his lesson (plus getting a huge contract so maybe he can hire an instructor full-time), he vows to keep himself in tip-top shape this off-season without wearing out his arm by throwing too much during the off-season.

OT: Kirk Rueter

All the talk about #2 vs. #3 starters got me thinking about Kirk Rueter. I remember arguing on-line with other people that Rueter was a #2 starter and the way I did it was similar to what the Hardball Times author did: I took the top pitchers by ERA and ranked them, the first 16 were Aces #1's and the next 16 were #2's and Rueter fell in that bucket that season so I said that while Rueter may not pitch like a true #2, he certain performed like one. I was totally blasted for that one (A's fan at that).

Looking at his seasons, in 1997, his first full season here, his 3.45 ERA would have been #1 quality (obviously these numbers don't hold exactly through the years, as the runs scored environment has changed a bit since then, but they should be roughly good still). In 1998, he was a strong #3. In 1999, he was a poor #4. In 2000, he was a solid #2. In 2001, he was a strong #3. In 2002, he was a strong #1. In 2003, he was an average #3. In 2004, he was a poor #3. And in 2005, he was a good #5. That's 2 #1, 1 #2, 4 #3, 1 #4, and 1 #5. That is not too bad for a pitcher who is maligned by sabermetricians for his poor walks and strikeout stats and yet always seemed to pull a rabbit out of his hat. He had seven decent to very good seasons. That's seven more than most pitchers drafted.

Rueter's prime years were from age 26 to age 31. His career was over by 34, but didn't really start until he was 26. Glavine's prime years were from 25 to 32. He is still going strong at age 40, after starting his career at age 22, which happens to be the age Zito joined the majors too. However, he has been a different pitcher than Zito: he has never struck out that many people, unlike Zito, and his main strengths have been keeping his BB/9 under the key 3.0 mark and always keeping the longball in the park, with a HR/9 much under the key 1.0 mark for much of his career. Zito is pretty wild, walking too many, and giving up too many HRs.

Jamie Moyer's were from age 33 to 40. However, for him, it was hard to tell because he were at high offense parks like Boston and Baltimore and Texas before enjoying Seattle's homepark for his best seasons, and jumped around, unlike Rueter or Glavine, until he was with Seattle. And he was not a full-time starter (30+ starts) until he joined Seattle.

I've always like Rueter and thought he was ace-worthy when he took the mound, unlike when Livan or Russ Ortiz took the mound, when I would fear something would happen. Rueter always manned up and I admired him for that. Too bad his meager skills couldn't match his heart, else he would have been a sure HOFer.

3 comments:

  1. Very interesting - and very relevaqnt - information on Reuter. When you look at a lot of guys, Maddux comes to mind, they are all ove r the place - 2.7 ERA one year, 4+ ERA a year or two later, then a 3.4.
    AI think Zito will be something like Reuter. He is not the power pitcher # 1. He is a co-#1 - and we are lucky to have Cain, who, we all hope, will be a worthy co-#1.
    I just think it is kind of ridiculous to assume Zito goes to hell in a year or two. His career has not been like Moss or Ortiz - he has history, which demonstrates skill, success, health, durability. Sound more like Maddux, Glavine, REuter to me. I think you get something like 2 yrs #1 (co#1), 2 yrs #2, 3yrs #3, 2 yrs #4, 2 yrs #5. And, as you point out, barring catastrophic injury, he becomes more and more tradeable, as well as more and more desireable, as his relative salary falls.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, that's one thing that always bothered me about saber-heads, they turn up their nose at Rueter's stats and deride him but year after year, he just performed and performed well. And I'll admit I was a bit guilty of that with Zito, until I got more familiar with his stats.

    It is like the bumblebee with scientists. By all scientists knew, there's no way a bumblebee could fly and yet it does. So, just because the scientists cannot understand the phenomenon, does that mean the bumblebee doesn't exist?

    Same with pitchers like Rueter. Some people with rudimentary knowledge of DIPS and peripherals would deride his stats. However, Tom Tippett of Diamond Mind did an extensive study and found that while DIPS did hold for most pitchers, there was a class of pitchers who succeeded, despite poor peripherals, which he named "crafty lefties": http://www.diamond-mind.com/articles/ipavg2.htm. Here is his description: "This is a list of left-handed pitchers with below-average strikeout rates. Most had very good control, but six of them were at least as susceptible to the long ball as the average pitcher. A significant part of their success is/was the ability to keep hitters off balance and keep their in-play batting averages down."

    Where Zito falls down in this description is his high walk rate, but I'm curious how a move to the NL would affect that plus it really isn't that high, just higher than the ideal 3.0 and under, but at least he keeps it in the 3's. I think he fits the description otherwise, though I don't have time to check his 2006 stats.

    BP 2006, though, notes: "... he's a very valuable pitcher. He helped his cause by adding a two-seamer toward the middle of the 2004 season, a pitch that doesn't overwhelm anyone but allows him to generate a few extra double plays, something that had been a problem in the past. For some better sense of context, that 30.8 VORP projects him to rate as the 32nd best pitcher in the majors next year [2006], so he's just on the fringe between being a plus #2 and a true #1." However, his BP2005 report noted, "Vida Blue didn't age that well either, and he had more talent than Zito." However, "Still, PECOTA seems to like his odds of taking a step back in the right direction, probably in part because he made up lost ground in striking people out."

    And looking at BP's predictions for him on rate stats and actuals, they have overestimated his ERA 3 out of 4 seasons: 2003, 3.78 vs. actual 3.30; 2004, 4.02 vs. actual 4.48; 2005, 4.37 vs. actual 3.86; and 2006, 4.07 vs. actual 3.83. That's +.48, -.46, +.51, and +.24. So that shows how the current state of saber-analysis misinterprets Zito's abilities.

    So the more I look at Zito in-depth, the more I like the chances for the Giants near-term. But the Giants are playing Russian Roulette by signing him to 7, maybe 8, years, as no one can forecast out that far with any real certainty. They are making a calculated guess/bet that because Barry Zito appears to take his health as seriously as Barry Bonds, he can be the pitcher counterpart to Bonds in terms of longevity of career and extended excellence. While that is all well and good, as recent as a couple of years ago, Giants fans were still lamenting losing Russ Ortiz and hoping the Giants resign him and look what he did to the D-backs, lucky they have a deep farm system so that they can absorb a $10M hit to the budget (I think their total budget was $60-70M tops) and still be relatively competitive.

    Oh, lastly, been meanging to highlight this in a post, but a Yankee blog used Diamond Mind and the CHONE projected stats to generate 100 seasons for the current rosters of each team (how he determined who would be in our bullpen, I have no idea) and the Giants averaged 88.6 wins and ran away with the division: http://yankeefan.blogspot.com/2006/12/extremely-early-projections.html. They won the division in 57% of the seasons and the wildcard in 9% of the seasons, making the playoffs in two-thirds of the simulated seasons. From the numbers, it looks like our offense is much better than average, in fact, it averaged out to be better than all other teams in the NL. Hmmm, maybe this is not that significant then, he probably played Barry Bonds in every game when we know he's only going to play 100-130 games, at best. But it is certainly food for thought.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh, just checked FanGraphs for Zito's BABIP. The mean is suppose to be .300, but some pitchers are able to keep it low. His career BABIP is .269 and his worse season was 2004 with a BABIP of .300, which, uncoincidentally was his worse career season ERA. So maybe he is a crafty lefty after all, despite his early high K/9 rates.

    Rueter looks like the prototypical crafty lefty: low K/9, BB/9 at or below 3 for all the years he were effective in keeping his ERA low, HR/9 that is pretty high, basically at or above the key 1.0 rate you want to keep it under. In fact, his HR/9 actually went down as he got less productive, oddly enough. However, his BABIP was pretty normal though, a little under .300 but not by much usually and he had a .290 BABIP over his career.

    So while Rueter did it by not walking many batters, Zito has been doing it by keeping his BABIP way down low. Whatever works.

    ReplyDelete

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