30 January 2014

In 2013, FA Hitters More Often Hit the DL and Had Worse Injuries than Pitchers

Yesterday, Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin said this on MLB Radio:

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 67% sounds like a lot, but what is the DL rate of position players?  Did pitchers disproportionately wind up on the DL?
Thankfully, these are all things we can count with ease.  I do need to define a few things though.

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:

Zack Greinke 30 Dodgers 6 $147,000,000 Y 29
Anibal Sanchez 29 Tigers 5 $80,000,000 Y 24
Edwin Jackson 30 Cubs 4 $52,000,000 N 0
Hyun-Jin Ryu 26 Dodgers 6 $36,000,000 N 5
Ryan Dempster 36 Red Sox 2 $26,500,000 N 0
Jeremy Guthrie 34 Royals 3 $25,000,000 N 0
Brandon McCarthy 30 Diamondbacks 2 $15,500,000 Y 57
Joe Blanton 33 Angels 2 $15,000,000 N 0
Hiroki Kuroda 38 Yankees 1 $15,000,000 N 2
Hisashi Iwakuma 32 Mariners 2 $14,000,000 N 0
Dan Haren 33 Nationals 1 $13,000,000 Y 14
Andy Pettitte 41 Yankees 1 $12,000,000 Y 19
Kevin Correia 33 Twins 2 $10,000,000 N 0
Brett Myers 33 Indians 1 $7,000,000 Y 116
Scott Feldman 30 Cubs 1 $6,000,000 N 0
Scott Baker 32 Cubs 1 $5,500,000 Y 141

On DL 7 44%

>50 games 3 19%

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:

Josh Hamilton RF 32 Angels 5 $123,000,000 N 7
B.J. Upton CF 29 Braves 5 $75,250,000 Y 18
Nick Swisher 1B 33 Indians 4 $56,000,000 N 9
Michael Bourn CF 31 Indians 4 $48,000,000 Y 23
Angel Pagan CF 32 Giants 4 $40,000,000 Y 87
Shane Victorino RF 33 Red Sox 3 $39,000,000 Y 34
Torii Hunter RF 38 Tigers 2 $26,000,000 N 4
Cody Ross LF 33 Diamondbacks 3 $26,000,000 Y 56
Adam LaRoche 1B 34 Nationals 2 $24,000,000 N 6
Marco Scutaro 2B 38 Giants 3 $20,000,000 N 22
Russell Martin C 30 Pirates 2 $17,000,000 N 7
Melky Cabrera LF 29 Blue Jays 2 $16,000,000 Y 72
Ryan Ludwick LF 35 Reds 2 $15,000,000 Y 116
Ichiro Suzuki RF 40 Yankees 2 $13,000,000 N 0
Jeff Keppinger 2B 33 White Sox 3 $12,000,000 N 13
Kevin Youkilis 3B 34 Yankees 1 $12,000,000 Y 132
Lance Berkman DH 37 Rangers 1 $11,000,000 Y 52
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
A.J. Pierzynski C 37 Rangers 1 $7,500,000 Y 14
Mark Reynolds 1B 30 Indians 1 $6,000,000 N 0
Mike Napoli 1B 32 Red Sox 1 $5,000,000 N 6

On DL 12 52%

>50 games 6 26%

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.

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