10 January 2013

The Cost and Value of Joe Saunders



by Stuart Wallace
How Do I Baseball | @tclippardsspecs

If there is a phrase that can sum up the 2012 offseason, it could be The Offseason of the Three Year Deal. From so-so relievers, middle of the pack starters, and what seems to be every free agent target of the Boston Red Sox, unless your name is Adam LaRoche, and there’s a signing, it is of the three year variety.

While the signing of Joe Saunders remains a high priority for the Orioles as they prepare for pitchers and catchers reporting to Sarasota on February 12th, there is some reluctance on the Orioles part to sign Saunders to one of the these en vogue three year deals. In spite of an inspired stretch of pitching wearing the orange and black, offering Saunders the three year deal he desires remains a risky proposition for the Orioles, not only in terms of the money involved for what amounts to a back end of the rotation starter, but also regarding his production during the end of his potential deal, which would come in his age 34 season.

While signings of the multiyear variety are inherently risky, are the risks involved with locking up Saunders to the deal he is looking for palatable for the Orioles? Are there other options should a multiyear deal for Saunders not be the right fit for Baltimore?

To answer those questions, let’s compare Saunders to a couple of pitchers who were also mentioned in the linked article who have been on the receiving end of some generous contracts this offseason, Jeremy Guthrie and Edwin Jackson. As you may recall, Guthrie is the proud owner of a 3 year (see?), $25 million deal from the Kansas City Royals, while EJax just had the ink dry on his 4 year, $52 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. Let’s start with the career numbers, courtesy of Fangraphs:
                                                                       

Yrs
W
L
GS
IP
H/9
K/9
BB/9
HR/9
WHIP
BABIP
HR/FB
ERA
FIP
xFIP
WAR
Saunders
8
78
65
189
1161.1
9.58
5.13
2.74
1.12
1.37
0.292
10.6 %
4.15
4.56
4.48
12
Guthrie
9
55
77
183
1202
9.13
5.44
2.65
1.26
1.31
0.276
10.6 %
4.28
4.74
4.63
12
Jackson
10
70
71
204
1268.2
9.41
6.87
3.53
1.01
1.44
0.306
10.0 %
4.4
4.26
4.29
16.9

In general, all three players have had similar careers in terms of stats and overall production, with the only glaring difference between the three being career winning percentage, with Saunders being the only player with a winning record for their career.

OK, so we are barking up the right tree comparing these three with one another, let’s go a little further and see how their 2012 seasons fared, since this is what will make or break a player’s leverage for signing the contract of his liking. I also included Saunders’ Baltimore split season stats for perusal, since this is what the Oriole front office is more than likely using as their ground truth, with respect to projecting stats in accordance to making a decision on how many years to offer Saunders. Guthrie himself had a 2012 split season, between Colorado and KC, but those splits will be left out of the argument, for the sake of clarity and brevity.
                                                                       

Team
W
L
GS
IP
H/9
K/9
BB/9
HR/9
WHIP
BABIP
HR/FB
ERA
FIP
xFIP
WAR
Jackson
WSH
10
11
31
189.2
8.21
7.97
2.75
1.09
1.22
0.278
11.7 %
4.03
3.85
3.79
2.7
Saunders
- - -
9
13
28
174.2
10.05
5.77
2.01
1.08
1.34
0.305
10.2 %
4.07
4.08
4.25
2.5
Guthrie
- - -
8
12
29
181.2
10.21
5
2.48
1.49
1.41
0.294
13.5 %
4.76
5.1
4.75
1

















Saunders
BAL
3
3
7
44.2
9.87
4.63
1.61
0.81
1.28
0.302
7.1 %
3.63
3.77
4.44
0.8

So here is what the O’s powers that be are looking at with Saunders - a 44+ inning sampling as an Oriole to figure whether the ghosts of small sample size will haunt their dreams if they were to give him a multiyear deal, in the hopes that he mimics the numbers he had for the team in 2012, or whether they pat themselves on the backs for a job well done in the evaluation of Saunders’ chances of being a capable backend starter for the foreseeable future.  From the table, we see that Saunders did a good job preventing the big inning as an Oriole, with the help of the solid O’s defense. His Baltimore numbers more or less look similar to his career numbers, in that he doesn’t strike many people out, or walk many in the process; he is your standard pitch to contact lefty. We also see that he did a better job than his career average in preventing walks and the big fly in those Baltimore innings.

So, what is a pitch to contact, keep it in the ballpark type of pitcher worth to Baltimore? Is there value in this type of player in the rotation? In the right situation, you can do a lot worse than Saunders as your #4 or #5 guy for the next three years. If a team is going to give him the three years he so desires, they do so knowing that his success lies in outpitching his peripheral stats, which can be a precarious proposition. However, with the likes of J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones behind him to scoop and snag most of the mistakes he leaves over the plate to hitters, it isn’t a completely unbearable proposition to give Saunders three years, especially if he is agreeable to an average annual value closer to what Guthrie makes in his new deal (~$8 million) than Jackson’s ($13 million). Even at $8 million, Saunders would be seeing a reasonable raise from his last contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and its $5.75 million AAV.

As encouraging as the stats might be, there is the reality that the courting of Saunders could have both parties walk away unfulfilled, in the form of Saunders walking away from an Oriole offer that’s less than three years, and the team searching for other options to take Saunders’ slot in the rotation.


For better or worse, the LA Dodger lefty is a spitting image of Saunders in terms of productivity, as his 2012 numbers...


W
L
GS
IP
H/9
K/9
BB/9
HR/9
WHIP
BABIP
HR/FB
ERA
FIP
xFIP
WAR
Capuano
12
12
33
198.1
8.53
7.35
2.45
1.13
1.22
0.284
11.1%
3.72
3.95
3.97
2.1
Saunders
9
13
28
174.2
10.05
5.77
2.01
1.08
1.34
0.305
10.2 %
4.07
4.08
4.25
2.5

...and career stats...   
                                                           

W
L
GS
IP
H/9
K/9
BB/9
HR/9
WHIP
BABIP
HR/FB
ERA
FIP
xFIP
WAR
Saunders
78
65
189
1161.1
9.58
5.13
2.74
1.12
1.37
0.292
0.11
4.15
4.56
4.48
12
Capuano
67
72
184
1129
9.19
7.54
2.85
1.27
1.34
0.298
0.12
4.26
4.31
4.11
11.8

...can attest.

With Capuano, we again have a lefty that hits his spots, and makes the most of the defense behind him to get outs. One thing Capuano has an advantage over Saunders is his higher K/9; however, this is offset by a slightly higher HR/9 and BB/9 compared to Saunders, so in some respects, the added ability to get the strikeout is a wash. Beyond performance, another perk that Capuano has over Saunders, which is probably more attractive to the Orioles front office, is his contract status. The deal he signed with the Dodgers has under team control for 2013, with an option year for 2014; compared to giving Saunders a three year deal, it’s a bargain. If the Orioles were to look to trade for Capuano, whom the Dodgers are looking to move, they would be on the hook for $6 million in 2013, with a 2014 option paid to the tune of $8 million, or a $1 million buyout. Overall, Capuano’s contract is fairly team friendly, if Baltimore were to look for other pitching options in light of lukewarm negotiations with Saunders.

How would a possible deal look from the LA side? Their need for a right handed outfielder and backup first baseman still has Los Angeles as active buyers this offseason, and an attractive potential trade partner for Baltimore, considering the glut of talent the O’s have at the corner outfield positions, as well as at first base and designated hitter. Players like WilsonBetemit, or the newly acquired Trayvon Robinson, along with an additional piece, could be an alluring offer to take Capuano off of the Dodgers hands, should Saunders’ time as an Oriole be over before it had really begun.

So far, the 2012 offseason has been highlighted by small, measured moves for the Orioles, which flies in the face of what many other teams have done with their offseason moves. However, for the first time in many years, the successes of last season didn’t require much tinkering or overhauling of the roster to keep the team in hot in pursuit of an AL East title and World Series run in 2013. Thus far for Baltimore, it was definitely has not been the Offseason of the Three Year Deal.

Much to the chagrin of Joe Saunders.

3 comments:

Ching said...

Saunders babip is even higher as an Oriole. He is not benefitting from the defense. He is benefitting from less of his fly balls going for homeruns, which is unlikely to hold up given that camden yards is a homer prome park

Jon Shepherd said...

Ching, that is a good way of putting it. If Saunders had the same rate of HR/Fly as he did in Chase (another HR prone field) then his ERA would have been projected to be 4.23. That would be 0.01 greater than his ERA at Chase.

Defense behind him in Chase was solid on the first base side and average on the other side, so kind of the opposite for the Orioles.

Stuart Wallace said...

Hi Ching - thanks for your input. Saunders' BABIP as an Oriole is lower than that as a DBack in 2012 (.302 vs. .306) per Fangraphs, but not appreciably so. That being said, it is higher compared to his career BABIP, and his 15+ win seasons with the Angels.

In spite of this, like you said, his success at Camden will be tied to his HR rates, and Saunders did see a dip in this stat, for the better, compared to career averages. In terms of park factors, Camden and Chase are #5 and #6, respectively - 1.173 vs. 1.171 runs- so his lower HR/9 as an Oriole will greatly benefit him, if he can keep it up, which like you said, is unlikely. Camden has a similar environment to Chase in terms of fly balls leaving the park, so the combination of small sample size as an Oriole, along with history, tell us that a full year at 0.8 HR/9 probably isn't going to happen.

While as a whole, the Baltimore fielding prowess is a tad suspect, I do believe if Saunders can replicate his GB% as a DBack and Angel (roughly 44% an up), it will benefit him in the long run; as Jon mentioned, the O's are strong on the left side, and if he can get hitters to beat balls in the ground at Hardy and Machado, he stands to have a fighting chance to have an above average season.