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A Second Look at a Team Full of Free Agents

At the beginning of February, Travis Sawchik wrote a piece about the viability of a team consisting entirely of unsigned free agents. I enjoyed the exercise as it underscored the extent to which players had been waiting to sign deals. Even that late in the year it was easy to field a competitive team, albeit an expensive one. Free agency is always considered to be more expensive than a homegrown team, hence the reason small market teams have to trade free agency bound players and retool, so it was no surprise that to create a decent team, the payroll had to be exorbitant. If you assume one WAR is worth $8-9 million dollars, then you would predict a 40 WAR team to cost over $300 million dollars in payroll. Sawchik’s team ended up costing $245 million dollars for the first year and was projected for 37.1 wins above replacement. While this was good for only $6.6 million dollars per WAR, it would still be the most expensive team in baseball and have to fight to stay in the wild-card race.

At the time I thought this was a good reminder of why the offseason was so slow; it just didn’t make sense for teams to meet players contract demands when it was so inefficient. In the following weeks though, players started signing at a faster rate, and again and again, I was taken aback by how little they were receiving. The $4 million dollar contract for Neil Walker was the most surprising of all for me. With seven straight seasons of at least 2 WAR and no qualifying offer, it seemed obvious to me that he deserved considerably more this. If you were to plug one year of Neil Walker into the surplus value calculators that Dave Cameron used to commonly employ, it estimates that Walker has $16 million in value for 2018, this is nowhere near what he ended up receiving.

Because of this, I decided to do a different spin on Sawchik’s team building exercise, using the contracts players actually signed, as opposed to projected contracts. Here is the team I came up with:

Team of Signed Free Agents

Batters Position WAR DC Proj. $/Year (mil) Years Total $ (mil) $/WAR (mil) QO
Lucroy C 2.9 $6.5 1 $6.5 $2.2
Duda 1B 1.7 $3.5 3 $10.5 $2.1
Walker 2B 2.6 $4.0 1 $4.0 $1.5
Moustakas 3B 2.7 $6.5 1 $6.5 $2.4 Y
Cozart SS 3.4 $12.7 3 $38.0 $3.7
Gomez LF 1.4 $4.0 1 $4.0 $2.9
Cain CF 3 $16.0 5 $80.0 $5.3 Y
Martinez RF 3.4 $22.5 5 $112.5 $6.6
Alonso DH 1.8 $8.0 2 $16.0 $4.4
Avila C 1.2 $4.2 2 $8.3 $3.5
Nunez UT 1.3 $4.0 2 $8.0 $3.1
Rasmus OF 1.2 $0.5 1 $0.5 $0.4
Pitchers Position WAR DC Proj. $/Year (mil) Years Total $ (mil) $/WAR (mil) QO
Darvish SP 4.2 $21.0 6 $126.0 $5.0
Cobb* SP 2 $12.0 4 $48.0 $6.0 Y
Minor SP 1.9 $9.3 3 $27.9 $4.9
Sabathia SP 1.6 $10.0 1 $10.0 $6.3
Vargas SP 1.5 $8.0 2 $16.0 $5.3
Swarzack RP 1.2 $7.0 2 $14.0 $5.8
Gregerson RP 1.1 $5.5 2 $11.0 $5.0
Hernandez RP 0.7 $2.5 2 $5.0 $3.6
Petit RP 0.5 $5.0 2 $10.0 $10.0
Albers RP 0.4 $2.5 2 $5.0 $6.3
Watson RP 0.4 $3.5 2 $7.0 $8.8
Benoit RP 0.1 $1.0 1 $1.0 $10.0
Liriano RP/SP 1.2 $4.0 1 $4.0 $3.3
Total 43.4 $183.6 57 $579.7 $4.2
*MLB trade rumors projection

DC Proj. are the Fangraphs depth chart projections

QO is whether or not the player had a qualifying offer attached

As you can see, the result of this team is much more successful than the team using projected contracts. I managed to stay under the luxury tax threshold ($197 million minus $13 million projected for player benefits) while creating a team that would be eighth in major league baseball in projected WAR just ahead of the Cardinals and behind the Nationals. Think about that, a team with no prospects, no homegrown players, and no assets to trade from could create a competitive baseball team from scratch through one year of free agency. And the team isn’t completely sacrificing its future either, as only four of the contracts are for more than three years. I can’t stress enough how surprising this is.

Instead of showing that free agency is completely inefficient for teams, this shows how easy it would be for a team to be projected for a playoff spot in the year’s offseason. Adding even a couple homegrown players, which every team has would boost this team into the ranks of other division leaders. So why is this the case? How was an entire team of free agents created for $4.2 million dollars per projected WAR? What happened to the accepted value of $8-9 million dollars per WAR?

I found both of these questions kind of perplexing since I could not find a good reason why the price of a win had dropped so quickly, but I decided to compare some of the most surprising contracts with similar players who were traded, and what the return was. All of the following free agents received considerably less than expected salaries based on their projected WAR and the following traded players were traded this offseason and have played a similar position and projection to the selected free agents.

Selection of Signed Free Agents

Name Age WAR DC proj. Contract
Mike Moustakas 29 2.7 1yr/6.5 mil (QO)
Todd Frazier 32 2.5 2yr/17 mil
Neil Walker 32 1.9 1yr/4 mil
Carlos Gomez 32 1.4 1yr/4 mil
Jonathan Lucroy 32 2.9 1yr/6.5 mil

Selection of Traded Players

Name Age WAR DC proj. Contract Return
Evan Longoria 32 2.8 5yr/68 mil + option Christian Arroyo (81 on MLB Pipeline), 2 other prospects, Denard Span (1yr/9 mil + option)
Dee Gordon 29 1.9 3yr/37 mil 2 prospects (both top 20 in Marlins system)
Yangervis Solarte 30 0.9 1yr/4.1 mil + options (5.5 and 8 mil) Edward Olivares (top 20 in Padres system), 1 other prospect
  1. Contracts according to Spotrac 2) Prospect rankings according to

While these are only specific examples, all three comparisons, between Longoria and Moustakas or Fraizer, between Gordon and Gomez, and between Walker and Solarte, show a higher value placed on traded players than on free agent ones. Even with Longoria’s $68 million owed, he still returned three prospects in a trade. The Rays did take on Denard Span’s contract, but this salary dump was made up for by Arroyo alone, who is worth $20.2 million according to the Updated Version of MLB Prospect Surplus Values. Despite this, Moustakas received a tenth of the guaranteed money, and Frazier, who didn’t have a qualifying offer, a quarter of Longoria’s contract. So while Longoria had surplus value in a trade to the Giants, Frazier, and Moustakas, whose projections are very close to Longoria’s, couldn’t get anything close to his contract.

Similar situations occur with the other two comparisons. Dee Gordon was worth two prospects in surplus value, but Carlos Gomez, who is only projected to be a half-win worse, couldn’t even get 15% of Gordon’s guaranteed money. Also, the Blue Jays traded two prospects for Solarte this winter, even though he is making slightly more money than Neil Walker, and is projected to be only half as valuable. These both seem to be huge gaps between the value on the trade market, and value on the free agent market.

Then there is Jonathan Lucroy. While there were no significant catcher trades this offseason, comparing Lucroy’s Fangraphs projection to his contract is absurd.He has the fourth highest projected WAR for catchers in all of baseball, meaning that 27 teams could have upgraded by signing him, and yet he received $6.5 million. Granted, this projection seems high, but it’s easy to forget that two years ago he was a 4.6 win player. It seems to me that he would be worth much more than $6.5 million.

It is hard to know what all of this means. Do our WAR models overestimate mid-level talent? Do teams have projections very different from what is in the public sphere? Does it really have a lot to do with what teams think they can do with a player as opposed to their present value as was brought in a recent piece by Jeff Sullivan? Was the $8-9 million per win phase really just a contract bubble that has burst? While it is true that the gap in value between trade candidates and free agents is what you would expect if there were to be collusion from general managers, I think there is little other evidence of that, but it is still confusing why some player values seem to have dropped so quickly when compared to previous markets. I feel like I have brought up more questions than I have answered, but one thing is clear to me. If the trends from this offseason continue, looking to free agency for mid-level players will be much more efficient than it once was for teams. It seems unlikely that contracts for these types of players stay this low, however, since as any economics textbook can tell you, demand drives the price up. I would guess that plenty of teams will once again realize the value of Neil Walker for $4 million a year in the coming weeks, months and years ahead.

Playing Probability: Drew Pomeranz and Anderson Espinoza

The Drew Pomeranz-Anderson Espinoza trade has plenty of unknowns. With Pomeranz in the midst of a breakout season and blowing by his previous innings totals and Espinoza at the age when you normally would be graduating high school it is hard to know what to expect. Will Pomeranz continue to dominate or will he return to his previous self where he was either injured or mediocre? Will Espinoza blossom into the pitcher everyone sees when they watch his stuff, or will he fail to get his command under control and turn into the pitcher that his 4+ ERA in Single-A might seem to predict? To evaluate a trade like this you would have to do a lot of guesswork on the futures of these players. So instead of digging into the details it can be best to zoom out, and play the probabilities.

Predicting the futures of prospects is one of the most difficult tasks. Not only do you have to deal with the small samples of short minor-league seasons, but you have to project how those statistics will translate one, two or even three levels above their current competition. Additionally, you have to predict how the player will grow and mature as he enters his prime years. While some try to discover the answers to this question on an individual scale, it can be more effective to embrace the randomness present in each individual human being and create an average performance level for similar groups of players. To do this I tried to think of ways to quantify what makes Espinoza such a noteworthy prospect.

First, I thought that maybe the combination of age and strikeout rate that Espinoza has produced at Single-A Greenville this year might stand out and place him in a small group of notable players. A quick look at even his same team however seemed to prove this hypothesis wrong, as his teammate Roniel Raudes has almost identical statistics to Espinoza this year and is the same age. Raudes however is ranked 24th in Baseball America’s Red Sox preseason rankings, demonstrating that Espinoza’s stats this year are not anything incredibly special by themselves, even when accounting for age.

Next I examined how starters who have debuted for at least 50 innings in a year by age 21 have fared in the major leagues, since Espinoza is predicted to arrive in either his age 20 or 21 season. There are 44 pitchers that meet these qualifications and debuted between 1990 and 2005, some of which are big names (such as Hernandez, Sabathia, Greinke and Kerry Wood) while others not so much. In the time before they were scheduled to reach free agency, these players accumulated on average a total of roughly 8.2 wins above replacement of production over that span. There are some problems with this calculation, however. For one, almost a third of starters debut by age 21, so it is not terribly extraordinary. For every Felix Hernandez in this group there in a Rich Hunter who had one good minor-league season, which prompted a promotion to the big leagues. In his case, his career lasted only that one season. There are also pitchers such as Bud Smith in this group who were once top prospects but faltered in the big leagues. In his case he was once ranked first in the Cardinals’ system, a spot ahead of Albert Pujols, which can work as a friendly reminder that not all big name prospects pan out.

Another way of looking at Espinoza’s value is just to take his prospect ranking for what it is. Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli have done research to try to put a trade value on prospects using Baseball America’s prospect rankings. The following table outlines their findings.

Tier Number of Players Avg. WAR Surplus Value
Pitchers #1-10 22 14.6 $69.9M
Pitchers #11-25 43 8.3 $39.0M
Pitchers #26-50 85 6.4 $29.8M
Pitchers #51-75 104 3.7 $16.5M
Pitchers #76-100 113 3.5 $15.6M


Analyzing data on Baseball America lists from 1994 to 2005, the two men created this table to calculate the average surplus value of players from each tier of the rankings. (Their process is fairly complicated, so it is worth it to take a look at their process here in an earlier version of the study). This can be a very simple yet effective way to evaluate prospects based on both their stats and scouting report (since both are used to create the rankings) while also eliminating as many individual biases as possible (of course the prospect rankings are subject to those same problems).

In Espinoza’s case, he was just recently ranked 15th on the Baseball America midseason top-100, a five-spot jump from his preseason rank (though six players ahead of him have now graduated to the big leagues). This ranking puts him in the second tier of pitchers on the BA rankings and in line to have an average surplus value of 39 million dollars with a projection of 8.3 wins. This is almost exactly the 8.2 wins calculated earlier, though found through a very different method. While these rankings are in no way perfect, it is about as close as you can get to putting a concrete value on Espinoza’s skills (especially since both methods seem to agree), so we will use the $39 million value as a benchmark to compare with Pomeranz.

Moving on to Pomeranz, it is important to find a way to factor in all the different scenarios. You might have multiple ideas about how to take into consideration both this year’s statistics and those of the past, to try to come up with some sort of middle ground. While this is the right idea, this method is going to rely on assumptions that are unlikely to be made completely accurately. Instead we can use projection systems are much better at doing these calculations for us. For Pomeranz, this is the best way to include all the information about the many aspects of his performance and boil it down to one number.

Based on the depth chart projection on FanGraphs (the average between ZiPS and Steamer weighted for projected playing time), Pomeranz is projected to be worth about 1.3 wins the rest of the way. This is considerably worse than he has been so far this year, though much better on a per-inning basis than previous years, and still a valuable player. Using this projection, you can also project out the final two years of his contract assuming that he will continue pitching up to the same standard, by just doing a little math.

With roughly 46% of the season remaining at the All-Star break, you can use his rest-of-season projection to estimate his value over a full season, which ends up being 2.8 wins. First, though, you must use the same process as in the prospect ranking analysis to discount future performance since production today is considered more valuable than years down the line. Multiplying the value of each subsequent season by 0.92 you can account for the future discount rate of 8% (used in the prospect evaluation). Performing this adjustment results in 2017 and 2018 being valued at 2.6 and 2.4 wins respectively for a total of 6.3 wins over the three years with the Red Sox. At eight million dollars per win this totals to be around $50.4 million worth of production.

Finally, we must account for surplus value by subtracting how much Pomeranz is projected to make in arbitration. This year he is only making $1.35 million, but that should see a substantial increase after an All-Star season. I have little experience projecting arbitration but it seems reasonable that he would see his contract jump up to around $6 million in 2017 and see a more modest improvement up to around $10 million after a decent but somewhat less valuable season.  These estimates would total to around $17 million going to Pomeranz from the Red Sox in the three years, and subtracting this from the $50.4 million, you end up with around $33 million in surplus value.

In the end these surplus values are very similar. Espinoza’s value comes in a little higher at $39 million compared to Pomeranz at $33 million, but the $6 million gap is nothing the Red Sox would have to lose sleep over. In reality though that gap is just the gap in average outcomes for both players and it is more likely to be much more lopsided toward one side or the other. While this seems to show that the Padres are getting a slightly better deal, you can easily rationalize this trade for the Red Sox by saying that wins today matter more now for the Red Sox than for the average team since they are in the midst of a tight wild card and division race where they are favored over the division leader in the playoff odds on both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus. That way of looking at it does make it much more appealing for Boston. It was a trade that they had to make given their situation. Not a great trade, not a bad trade, but an adequate trade that could turn out either way.

The real takeaway from all this however is on San Diego’s side of the deal. For them it wasn’t just an adequate deal, and it wasn’t even just a good deal. It was a great deal! For them, the pushing of wins down the road is a net gain for them as opposed to a net loss as it is for the Red Sox. They pushed Pomeranz’s average outcome of 6.3 wins (which was being wasted on an noncompetitive team) down the road to a time when they may be competitive and wins will matter much more. Not only that, but they also increased the projected output to 8.3 wins. While it is possible that Espinoza could flop and be a major bust, that is all part of the math that works in the Padres’ favor. For every underwhelming Espinoza, there is a great Espinoza; one that was acquired in exchange for a player that had little value to the club at this point in time and someone the team will get to watch for years to come.

Could Greinke Have Hit in Boston?

When I started this piece the Red Sox were going hard for David Price, but they hadn’t signed him yet, and it still wasn’t anywhere close to being a guaranteed deal. Now Price has signed with the Red Sox and Greinke is headed to Arizona (who saw that coming), so this piece is no longer realistic (as though it ever was). I still think it is interesting to think about however, so here you go.

Situation: Price signs elsewhere and the Red Sox are forced to pursue Greinke. As some have hypothesized, Greinke is inclined to stay in the National League so he can continue to hit. To sign him, the Red Sox will have to overpay by a significant margin. Either that or let him hit?

Okay, first a clarification: Greinke would not be the new DH (could you imagine replacing Ortiz on his retirement tour with Greinke). No, he would be given the opportunity to bat, say, in twenty-five of his starts next year (in the contract it would then be determined, the number of games Greinke would get to hit the following years, based on how he hit in the previous year). A few of those starts will be inter-league games, possibly a couple of them would be to give Ortiz a day off, but mostly Ortiz would hit for another player on the field. You might say that wins are money and that since this would cost you wins you should just cough up the money to get Greinke to come to Boston. But what if this would hardly cost you any wins at all? What if the team could be just as good when Greinke hit?

The first thing to do is to find out how good Zack Greinke has been at hitting. In hit National League career he has a wRC+ of 67, though over the last three years he has seemed to improve, hitting to a wRC+ of 87. To give a comparison, Madison Bumgarner, known as a very good hitting pitcher who has even pinch-hit on occasion, has a career 49 wRC+ and a 73 wRC+ over the last three years. It does seem like Greinke has improved, hitting-wise, lately, but he is a pitcher, and you can’t expect too much out of him, so we will take his median wRC+ over the last three years, 74, as a reasonable true talent. So this was a starting point to compare this to other players.

The first name that seems interesting is Ryan Hanigan. Unlike some other Red Sox players who haven’t hit that well of late, no one really expects him to improve. Over the last three seasons he has a wRC+ of 75. This is basically equal to Greinke’s prescribed true talent, so it seems as though we could break even. Against righties however, Hanigan had a wRC+ of 69 over the three-year span, and it was even worse last year at 62. So, it seems that against righties, Greinke, whose wRC+ hardly drops in his three-year sample size, might even be the better hitter. Additionally, Greinke is actually the better baserunner as well. Over the last three years, Greinke is the best baserunning pitcher in baseball, with a BsR score of 0.5, slightly above average. He joins only four other pitchers as above-average baserunners over that time period. Hanigan on the other hand is a below-average baserunner, with a BsR of -4.0 over the last three years. This is just another reason for Greinke to hit instead of Hanigan.

If Hanigan really was the backup catcher, then, assuming Greinke was the better hitter against righties, the Red Sox would already be close to working out a good way for to hit Greinke. Hanigan would become Greinke’s personal catcher, and Greinke would hit instead of Hanigan against righties. Hanigan though is only the backup catcher until Vazquez is healthy. While he has had a setback in playing winter ball, he is expected back early next year. So Greinke hitting for Hanigan may only be an option for around a month.

Vazquez, Castillo and Bradley are all other options to hit for against righties. Bradley and Castillo have had 65 and 69 wRC+’s against righties, respectively. These would seem like great options to pinch hit for, except for the fact that they are supposed to be good candidates to improve. Depending how they do early in the year, both could be able to be hit for by Greinke, though it wouldn’t be great for their confidence. Vazquez actually hit slightly better against righties in his very limited tenure in Boston, though that could reverse itself, since he is right-handed. So it seems as though the Red Sox can piece together 10-15 games where, because of personnel or days off, it makes enough sense to have Greinke hit against righties. They still need 10-15 more starts however.

This brings us to facing lefties, and Pablo Sandoval. Last year was a bad year for Sandoval, but even before that he was bad against lefties. Over the last three years he has had a wRC+ of 61 against lefties. Last year it was even more horrendous, however, as he had a score of 21. Pair this with his -15.1 Def rating last year, and it seems obvious he should not be playing third base with a righty on the mound. The Red Sox may sit Sandoval against lefties anyway, but this could be an opportunity to hit Greinke and get better defense. If the Sox were planning on having Greinke hit, they would do well to try to find a cheap, good-fielding third baseman. If the Red Sox could find someone like Gordon Beckham, who is an inexpensive, above-average defender at third base, that would be a big upgrade on defense. He had a positive 5.5 Def rating playing mostly third last year, and cost the Braves only $1.25 million plus incentives. There are probably countless others, though, that could fill this role.

Sandoval had a wRC+ of 99 against righties last year, so it doesn’t seem like he would be hit for against righties, but if his defense or hitting doesn’t improve, he could be a candidate to be hit for once in a while, even against righties. This is especially the case, given the importance of third base defense when Greinke is pitching. Looking at Greinke’s batted ball spray chart, you see a lot of ground balls. Focusing on those ground balls, you can see third base got a decent amount of attempts, especially ranging left and right, which is Sandoval’s weakness. So, at the rate Sandoval played last year, though he is expected to improve at least slightly, Greinke could hit for him all the time, with a good defender at third.

One other thing that should be mentioned is what will happen once Greinke leaves the game. When bullpen pitchers come in, they would then occupy Greinke’s batting spot. This is not as big an issue as it may appear, because bullpen pitchers will usually get pinch-hit for, but it would force Farrell to manage more of a National League game. It is unfortunate that the DH cannot be moved around in the batting order like every other position, but the Red Sox would just have to make use of their fairly deep bench.

Additionally, since 2010 the National League has only scored around six fewer runs per year than the American league from the seventh inning onward. This is the time in the game when the starter is generally out of the game, so National League teams can pinch-hit for their relievers. Since Greinke would only bat in 1/6th of the games, this averages out to be a run per year, or about 1/10th of a win. It could be even less than that since the Red Sox have a quality bench. So the disadvantage of having bullpen pitchers with lineup spots seems to be incredibly minuscule, even almost unnoticeable.

On average, around a third of pitchers are lefty. If the Red Sox try to line up Greinke against lefties, you can probably assume that it will happen around a dozen times. If Greinke gets six starts in April, he will probably face a righty in about four of those games. Greinke will bat for Hanigan on those occasions and for Sandoval against lefties, leaving nine more batting days for Greinke. The Red Sox could probably find nine more days to both take the defensive upgrade and have Greinke bat, rest a slumping player, or simply give starters a day off here and there. These might be slight disadvantages for the team, but could possibly be neutralized with the possible upgrades when Greinke bats for Hanigan and Sandoval.

Overall, if Greinke continued to be the great pitcher he is, a great offense would not be as important to the Red Sox on his pitching days. While on the whole it is probably a slight disadvantage to have Greinke bat, it seems to be very small, and not worth shelling out a few more tens of millions of dollars. The biggest question mark in this is Greinke’s true batting talent. While he has hit well in his career, he has totaled less than 400 plate appearances over his entire career. Anything could happen in this small sample size, so it is hard to know. This probably will never happen, but it is interesting to think about. For now though the Red Sox have Price, and the Diamondbacks just shelled out $206 million for Greinke, so the Red Sox are just as well not even thinking about him hitting in Boston.

We might as well wait until 2020, when Bumgarner will hit the open market, until we think about this again.

The Ray Searage Effect

Much has been made of Ray Searage, and his ability to get the most out of Pitchers. In April Jeff Sullivan wrote an article on FanGraphs about Ray Searage’s work on Arquimedes Caminero and his rise in fastball velocity. Another article was written on Rant Sports last October about how the Pirates are lucky that Searage has not been offered a manager’s job due to his proven ability to get the best out of his pitchers. There have definitely been numerous examples of pitchers who have improved once they got to Pittsburgh, including Burnett, Liriano, Volquez, Worley, Caminero (as mentioned in Sullivan’s article) and this year J.A. Happ. Happ was the pitcher who motivated me to do this article, since he has had so much success after coming over from Seattle, with another great outing last Friday night against the Cardinals. With all these examples of pitchers improving on the Pirates, it seemed like there might be something here that could be quantified.


I wanted to use Jonathan Judge’s new statistic cFIP (FIP in Context) to quantify the pitchers’ success, since it adjusts for ballpark, league, defense and many other things, including opposition quality which many other statistics fail to do. cFIP, much like FIP-, is set to a scale on which 100 is average, and 100 – x means the player was x% above average. If a player is x above 100, they would be x% below average (For example, a cFIP of 90 would be 10% above average, and a 110 would be 10% below average). This stat will account for almost any advantage you can think of when switching teams, so whether it was a hitters or pitchers park, strong or weak division, it should not matter. Not only that, but this article by Judge for the Hardball Times shows how cFIP is better than pretty much every alternative in predicting future performance, and shows what the player’s true-talent level is. If there is a consistent improvement in cFIP for these pitchers, it would point to a change in skill which could be attributed to Searage. On the other hand, if the cFIP did not seem to change considerably, then it would be more likely that either the Pirates were good at finding players who had an unlucky season (which cFIP can show) the year before and the uptick in success could be them preforming at their true-talent level. Either that or as always possible, the Pirates could just be getting lucky. Of course this could also be the case, if the pitchers did see an increase in cFIP.

The Process

First, I found all the pitchers who played one full season with the Pirates and one full season not with the Pirates in consecutive seasons. I grouped them based on whether or not they played with the Pirates on the first of the two seasons. Their Pirates season had to occur in 2011 or later, since that was Searage’s first full season as pitching coach. I limited the group to just starting pitchers who had started at least 10 games both seasons. I found the players cFIP on Baseball Prospectus and put it in an Excel spreadsheet. Unfortunately, players like Happ who switched to the Pirates mid-season could not be included, since cFIP was not recorded for players before and after they were traded, and only for the full season of data. I found the difference in cFIP between the Pirate and non-Pirate seasons (first season minus the second season), and used that to find a weighted difference based on their total games started between the two seasons (cFIP Difference * Games Started). I then averaged all players weighted differences in the group, to get the averaged weighted difference. For example, let’s say pitcher A has 50 total games started with a cFIP difference of 4 and pitcher B has 25 games and a difference of -6. The weighted average would be pitcher A’s games * difference + Pitcher B’s games * difference all divided by total games (You could add in a third, fourth, fifth pitcher and so on). This would turn out to be (4*50) + (-6*25) / (50+25) = 50/75, which is a 2/3% improvement.


Here are the two tables of results with the weighted average difference in the bottom right corner.

Pitchers Joining the Pirates

Name Year Team GS cFIP Total GS Weighted Net cFIP Average cFIP Improvement
A.J. Burnett 2011 NYA 32 102
A.J. Burnett 2012 PIT 31 97 63 315
A.J. Burnett 2014 PHI 34 113
A.J. Burnett 2015 PIT 21 95 55 990
Edinson Volquez 2013 TOT 32 112
Edinson Volquez 2014 PIT 31 111 63 63
Francisco Liriano 2012 TOT 28 92
Francisco Liriano 2013 PIT 26 84 54 432
Kevin Correia 2010 SDN 26 117
Kevin Correia 2011 PIT 26 122 52 -260
Vance Worley 2013 MIN 10 124
Vance Worley 2014 PIT 17 101 27 621
Total 196 856 4.37

Pitchers Leaving the Pirates

Name Year Team GS cFIP Total GS Weighted Net cFIP Average cFIP Improvement
A.J. Burnett 2013 PIT 30 81
A.J. Burnett 2014 PHI 34 113 64 -2048
Edinson Volquez 2014 PIT 31 111
Edinson Volquez 2015 KCA 26 105 57 342
Erik Bedard 2012 PIT 24 100
Erik Bedard 2013 HOU 26 102 50 -100
Kevin Correia 2012 PIT 28 123
Kevin Correia 2013 MIN 31 116 59 413
Paul Maholm 2011 PIT 26 106
Paul Maholm 2012 TOT 31 105 57 57
Total 287 -1336 -4.66

As the tables show, when pitchers joined the Pirates, they gained a little more 4% on the league, but when pitchers left, they lost that 4% and even a tiny bit more. If these results were accurate, it would seem that the Pirates helped their pitchers in a way that could not be attributed to anything on the field, such as defense, since that is accounted for in cFIP. It could have to do with some sort of chemistry or some other sort of edge, that didn’t stay with them when they left. One hypothesis is that it could be attributed to the fact that they are one of the few teams to have a clubhouse traveling statistician who relays information to the players from the front office. I decided to take a little bit further look at these tables, however, and I found some other interesting results.

In the first table, the only pitcher to pitch on the Pirates in 2011 was Kevin Correia. This was Ray Searage’s first year as pitching coach, and you could easily say that he was still learning on the job, and that if he was giving some sort of edge, he had not mastered his skills yet. If you take out players who pitched for the Pirates in 2011, here is the new table.

Pitchers Joining the Pirates 2012-2015

Name Year Team GS cFIP Total GS Weighted Net cFIP Average cFIP Improvement
A.J. Burnett 2011 NYA 32 102
A.J. Burnett 2012 PIT 31 97 63 315
A.J. Burnett 2014 PHI 34 113
A.J. Burnett 2015 PIT 21 95 55 990
Edinson Volquez 2013 TOT 32 112
Edinson Volquez 2014 PIT 31 111 63 63
Francisco Liriano 2012 TOT 28 92
Francisco Liriano 2013 PIT 26 84 54 432
Vance Worley 2013 MIN 10 124
Vance Worley 2014 PIT 17 101 27 621
Total 144 1116 7.75

You can see that the results are changed pretty dramatically, as now pitchers are improving by about 8% compared to the average pitcher. This is very significant, and we will get back to it later. Another change you could make to the Leaving Pitchers table is to take out Burnett, who seems to be an outlier (-2048 cFIP). This could lead to some interesting results, although there isn’t as much of a reason to take him out. After removing Burnett, as well as Maholm who pitched for the Pirates in 2011, you are left with only 3 players, but here are the results.

Pitchers Leaving the Pirates 2012-2015 (minus Burnett)

Name Year Team GS cFIP Total GS Weighted Net cFIP Average cFIP Improvement
Edinson Volquez 2014 PIT 31 111
Edinson Volquez 2015 KCA 26 105 57 342
Erik Bedard 2012 PIT 24 100
Erik Bedard 2013 HOU 26 102 50 -100
Kevin Correia 2012 PIT 28 123
Kevin Correia 2013 MIN 31 116 59 413
Total 166 655 3.95

This time the results change even more significantly then before, as now pitchers improve by 4% on the league when they leave the Pirates. I am not suggesting that you can just remove Burnett from this list, as he definitely counts, but the fact that the results do a 180 reversal by removing one player (Maholm would have made the pitchers improve even more) shows two things. 1) That the data isn’t very conclusive, but also 2) that it looks like there is not much of a trend.

Putting this new information together, you can come to another conclusion. It seems recently that pitchers improve rather significantly when they come to the Pirates, but there isn’t much evidence they regress back to their original performance when they leave. This points directly to the option that Ray Searage is improving these players in ways that stick with them once they leave. There is by no means conclusive evidence with such a small data set and there are many other possible hypotheses, but by weeding through this data, it certainly looks like a strong possibility. The Pirates definitely should be thrilled that Searage has not gotten a job as a manager, even though he may provide more of an advantage as a pitching coach, where he can focus solely on helping his pitchers. If he keeps this up however, and a bigger sample size of data backs up these results, you can bet that he will at least get some interviews for a manager’s job.

Questions or comments are much appreciated.