Are Starting Pitchers Worth the Big Contracts?

By Michael Collins

The Philadelphia Phillies just signed starting pitcher Cole Hamels to the second largest contract ever given a pitcher in Major League Baseball.  Right now, all the would-be contenders are trying to one-up each other in attempts to get star pitchers such as Zack Greinke and Ryan Dempster.  Even starting pitchers with losing records, like Matt Garza and Francisco Liriano, are being looked at as hot commodities at the moment.

The question is, are these big time starters really worth the big money contracts that they keep getting?

To me, the numbers say…no.

Many times, what teams fail to take into consideration when offering these lofty deals to starting pitchers, is how many wins are you really adding, versus how much are you really spending.

Almost always, clubs overspend and don’t get near their money’s worth. If you take a 12-game winner who costs you $2 million a year, and replace him with a 15-game winner who costs you $20 million a year, then you just severely overpaid for three extra wins per year.

Not to pick on the Phillies, but let’s take the aforementioned Mr. Hamels as an example.  The Phillies gave Hamels a six-year, $144 million contract.  That averages to $24 million per season, and – unlike the NFL – that’s money that will stay on the books,  and that the Phillies will have to pay Hamels.

Now let’s say for argument’s sake that Hamels matches his season high in wins (15) for the next six years.  That would give the Phillies a total of 90 wins via Cole Hamels through the end of his deal, provided he doesn’t have any slumps or injuries.  That’s the bargain price of $1.6 million per win.

I find it hard to believe that there aren’t at least a handful of starting pitchers out there who could get the Phillies 14-15 wins a year, and cost a fraction of the price they are paying Hamels.

Don’t believe me?  Here is a list of guys who all won 14-15 games in 2011, and their salaries.

Kyle Lohse ($12.2 million), Colby Lewis ($2 million), Aaron Harang ($3.5 million), Felix Hernandez ($11 million), Matt Harrison ($430 k), Rick Porcello ($1.5 million), Rick Romero ($1 million), Max Scherzer ($600 k), Jon Lester ($5.7 million), and Dan Haren ($12.77 million).

Not a lot of big name, max-contract guys on that list.  Now that’s not to say all of them were or will be available, but I’d be willing to bet more than a couple of them would or could be moved.

This, to me, is why it doesn’t make sense to lock in starting pitchers to long-term contracts for big dollars.  Why take up such a huge portion of your payroll for a guy who’s only going to help you out every four to five days, and doesn’t even hit if he plays in the American League.

I’d rather sign a “pretty good” pitcher and have the rest of that money available to lock in my star every-day player, or to be able to go out and play on the free-agent market.

A guy like Jimmy Rollins can help the Phillies win a game every night, while Hamels can only help them win once or twice a week.  The Phillies could have saved some of that $144 million they will pay Hamels to bolster depth in the bullpen and bench, and probably only sacrifice two or three wins per season out of their starters in the process.

How many games have the Phillies lost because their bullpen gave the game away?

My guess is, more than Cole Hamels can make up for.


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