Melvin on Garza: "Last year, 67% of all FA pitcher signings ended up on the DL, and you always need to be aware of it, and cautious."It is an interesting statement. Two out of every three free agent pitcher signings ended up on the DL. You always need to be aware and cautious. However, I would challenge a few things with this statement:
— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) January 29, 2014
- I assume all free agent pitchers includes relievers as well as lowly paid starters with enough questions behind them that they have a high fail probability. If we are talking about a starting pitcher like Garza, do we really want to include all of these other players in the mix.
- 67% sounds like a lot, but what is the DL rate of position players? Did pitchers disproportionately wind up on the DL?
Population: I included starting pitchers and position players who either signed a multi-year deal in excess of 10 MM or a single season in excess of 5 MM. This left me with 16 starting pitchers and 23 position players.
Disabled List: This may not really need to be defined, but I wish to be explicit here. I am only counting trips officially on the DL and I am not counting a player leaving the team for a funeral, a birth, or some other personal reason. This may be somewhat unfair as some position players may be able to hide on the bench with an injury while a starting pitcher typically needs to pitch or will go on the DL. One example of a player who misses a lot of games, but does not find himself on the DL is Marco Scutaro. Last year, he missed 22 games due to day-to-day issues, but never gave up his active roster spot.
2013 Starting Pitcher Free Agents
Below is the list of pitchers we are including in this post:
|Ryan Dempster||36||Red Sox||2||$26,500,000||N||0|
Among these pitchers, only 44% wound up on the disabled list. That seems to me to be quite a departure from the 67% Melvin cited. To be fair, I imagine he also included relievers and pitchers below the 5 MM mark. I think it might be fair to provide some conjecture here. I would imagine relievers are injured more often than starters because relievers tend to he hard throwing pitchers with violent deliveries. Those characteristics tend to mean that mechanics are somewhat poor and that probably leads to a higher injury rate. Additionally, I imagine starting pitchers who fetch less than 5 MM have significant questions attached to them and health might be one of those.
That all said, Melvin made that comment in context with Matt Garza. That seems to me to be an unfair comparison. Pitchers who teams think are worth significant contracts tend not to suffer an injury rate as high as the quote suggests. But, is it high?
2013 Position Player Free Agents
Using the same contract stipulations, here is the position player list:
|Shane Victorino||RF||33||Red Sox||3||$39,000,000||Y||34|
|Melky Cabrera||LF||29||Blue Jays||2||$16,000,000||Y||72|
|Jeff Keppinger||2B||33||White Sox||3||$12,000,000||N||13|
|Jonny Gomes||LF||33||Red Sox||2||$10,000,000||N||0|
|Maicer Izturis||2B||33||Blue Jays||3||$10,000,000||Y||36|
|Stephen Drew||SS||30||Red Sox||1||$9,500,000||Y||25|
|Mike Napoli||1B||32||Red Sox||1||$5,000,000||N||6|
For this season, both the percentage of players who spent time on the DL and the percentage of players who spent lengthy stays on the DL were greater than those for pitchers. The quote now seems to break down on both of the points I suggested. Of course, this is with my stipulation of only considering players with large investments being made by the team. In other words, Melvin is probably being 100% truthful, but he may be altering his population to fit his needs. For instance, it might be more beneficial when talking to an agent to bring up a statistic that suggests that pitchers are incredibly brittle.
All in all, this might be a situation where the cart might be leading the horse. What I mean to say is that players who appear healthy wind up get a large salary because teams are confidant they will get proper value out of the player. That probably is not true all of the time, but it likely is a major factor when teams think about how much money to offer.
A second point not explored in this post is what exactly happens after year 1 in a multi-year deal? We would need more seasons of data, but it would be interesting to see how much value is retained into year 2, 3, 4, and 5 as a contract progresses. Is there a higher injury rate for pitchers over several years? Do hitters tend to retain their performance to a higher degree than pitchers.
Regardless, the take home here is that you might want to reconsider repeating Melvin's quote because it certainly appears misleading.