Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Is Cueto + Samardzija a Better Deal Than Price or Greinke?

Since the Giants were believed to be in the market for David Price and Zack Greinke, it is reasonable to ask the question, would they be better off with either of those two contracts than with the two players they ended up with, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija?  Of course, it may not be strictly either/or.  The Giants might have signed a second pitcher after a Price or Greinke signing, or they may have gone after the trade market, but given the likely limits of their internal budget, it's a good bet that either Price or Greinke would have ended up as their only major additions.  So let's break it down:

WAR seems to be the closest approximation to player value we have right now.  It's not perfect, but it works close enough that it is reasonable currency for comparisons of deals like this.  So let's look at the contracts:  The contracts are not strictly comparable, because they are for different lengths with different details such as opt outs.  We'll just use Total Cost and AAV as shorthand for the size of investment and assume parallel aging curves for all 4 pitchers.  We will compare the value of each pitcher by last year's fWAR, last 3 year's average fWAR's and next year's Steamer projected fWAR's:

David Price:

Total Contract:  $217 M
AAV:                $31 M
2015 fWAR:     6.4
3 Yr Avg fWAR:  5.6
2016 Steamer:  5.0
Projected Cost/fWAR:  $6 M

Zack Greinke:

Total Contract:  $206 M
AAV:  $34.3 M
2015 fWAR:  5.9
3 Yr Avg fWAR:  4.6
2016 Steamer:  4.2
Projected Cost/fWAR:  $8.2 M

Cueto + Samardzija:

Total Contract:  $220 M
AAV:  $39.6 M
2015 fWAR:  6.8
3 Yr Avg fWAR:  6.2
2016 Steamer:  5.9
Projected Cost/fWAR:  $6.7 M

There are other caveats to be aware of such as the replacement production and cost of 2 pitchers for the Giants vs the BoSox and D'Backs, but really, that all approximately balances out, at least in my mind.  The current approximate average market cost/fWAR is around $8 M.  It appears the D'Backs paid full cost for Greinke's projected production while the BoSox and Giants got slightly below market rates.  The Giants end up with the best absolute production regardless of cost.

How about risk?  The Giants spread their risk over two pitchers.  While it is more likely for 1 pitcher to get injured than 2 pitchers, it is more likely for 1 of 2 pitchers to get injured than 1 pitcher by himself.  The Giants have less risk of a total loss and a greater risk of a partial loss on the contracts.

The other factor is had the Giants ended up with just one top tier pitcher rather than 2 second tier pitchers, they still would have had 3 big question marks making up 3/5's of their rotation.  They really needed that second pitcher to push one of those questions marks into the bullpen.

In summary:  The Giants appear to have maximized their projected absolute production for a reasonable cost(in today's market) while decreasing their risk of a total loss at the cost of increasing their risk of a partial loss.


  1. I can hardly wait till spring training. Thanks again Dr. for your great reads.
    Richard in Winnipeg

  2. I think the big three -- Cueto, Price & Greinke -- were weighted a bit too much on their 2015 performances. I think if you try to establish a reasonable baseline by getting into 3-year and 5-year histories, Cueto is better than both. And that only Kershaw has been better over the past few years. Yet he had that blip at KC and it cost him big money and drove down his perceived worth.

    I think if all three pitch to their 3-year/5-year averages next year, the Giants clearly won. Simply put, Greinke & Price have excellent baseline ERA+s, ERAs, etc. and are very, very good pitchers. And they also had great 2015s where they went way over their baselines which drove up their market values and perceived worth.

    But Cueto, over all, has out-classed both over the past few years while doing it on a fairly bad team and in a bad park. So, considering I think we won with just Cueto, Samardzija is like a bonus prize that we got on the cheap.

    1. I think Cueto's health blips also contributed a lot to his drop in value, he had elbow issues early in 2015 and missed much of 2013.

      I agree with you regarding prior year's averages, and would add that Cueto has beaten his peripherals (FG normalizes everything based on peripherals, so they miss the good players who can beat peripherals, under the logic that it's hard to verify them, so let's ignore them, some of the best pitchers around), which bWAR takes into account, actual performance, and if he continues, he could be the ace of the rotation, ahead of Bumgarner, in terms of performance. I would not be surprised if Bochy decides to go with rotation of Cueto then Bumgarner, Samardzija, Peavy, Cain.

      As many people have tweeted, over the past 5 years or so, only Kershaw has outperformed what Cueto has delivered. However, I would note that however bad GAB is, Cueto had it figured out, he has a much lower ERA there than on the road. Good news is the he has dominated here in SF, even with our better lineups in recent years. I'm hoping that Cueto shows up.

      Yeah, exactly, bonus prize, going in, the expectation was a #2 starter (maybe #1 with Greinke) plus Leake, and now we got Cueto who at his best is a legit #1 starter, and Samardzija, while he don't have Leake's track record, he has the tremendous upside of his 2014 season repeating, which would give us a #2 level performance. This would be a return to the glory years of Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner that we had all too briefly.

    2. Good stuff. thanks. the question is, as always, is past prologue? as a Giants fan, i'm going to say yes for Cueto!

  3. This post meshes nicely with Dave Cameron's piece in the Dec 15 as to how Cueto/Samardzija stacks up as a strategy against a Greinke/Heston alternative, taking into account the superior hitting of G/H as against C/S, and the supposition that over 30, pitchers might be supposed to decline in effectiveness, so that C/S offers two pitchers declining in WAR whereas G/H offers only one, because of H's youth. I should think that Greinke's 2015, when he was 31, illustrates how shaky the supposition is that one can reasonably calculate a pitcher's decline with age, at least to a degree that it's useful in an argument like Cameron's.

    I'm going to predict that a combination of personnel, chiefly Righetti and Posey, plus the pitcher-friendliness of AT&T, will buoy the C/S combination considerably. If healthy, C should benefit from being free of Great American Smallpark and the glove work of S. Perez; and S will learn how not to tip his pitches and how to be grateful that flies end up in the gloves of his outfielders rather than the eager fingers of fans. I don't trust the projection systems' projections, that is, for these two pitchers, and my doubts rest on two changes of venue that's applicable to them but is not applicable to Greinke in Arizona rather than LA or to Price in Boston rather than Toronto.

    1. Samardzija stated that he has already learned how to not tip his pitches, see his last two starts: 1.13 ERA, 16 IP, 9K/0BB.

      I don't trust the projections because they are taking into account things that I think has no bearing on future performance, per se. Cueto's factors in his decline in KC, as well as his injury year in 2013. Samardzija factors in his poor performance with White Sox that I think will not repeat, he was very good from 2012-2014 per his peripherals.

      I just realized that the two of them counters the other. Cueto beats his peripherals whereas Samardzija rarely matches his.

      Greinke to AZ should cost him, LA is well known pitchers park, D-backs well known hitters park.

  4. DrB,
    I think another small thing to consider is that both Shark and Cueto will likely be playing for another contract - Shark is young and signed for 5 years, Cueto, if he pitches well, will opt out and cash in again. There is a monetary motivation involved for both, whereas Greinke is on his last major deal (I'm not sure about Price, thoughts?)

    One last question for you. Because the Giants have already lost their draft pick because of the QO's, do you think it's possible a guy like Dexter Fowler will have his market driven down down down because of the QO he turned down? It seems like if his market shapes up smaller than maybe he had hoped, he might be in the market for a quick 1 or 2 year deal at a lower rate just to try to boost his value? In that case, could you see the Giants going after him (they wouldn't face the question of losing a pick because they already lost them). Are there any other players that could potentially fit that profile too?

    Andy, No longer in San Dieg

  5. I would add the cascading impact on the bullpen, since this was a major downfall of the Giants last year.

    C/S = given both pitchers history of 200+ innings pitched, the Giants gain by reliably resting their bullpen 3 out of 5 starts. A fresh pen means more season-long, shutdown innings which Bochy will be very happy about.

    G only = leaves three starters potentially not making it out of the 5th inning. We know where this leads.

    Also carrying one less pitcher means carrying one more bench player. RH power bat anyone?

  6. Great analysis DrB, really enjoyed it! Another reason to love the deals!!!

    I can't remember being so happy about deals before, especially big ones like these. Even Bonds I was worried about, that was a lot for a 42 YO player. I understand the risks of C/S (I like that short name!) but all the other deals always seemed like worse risks, until we started giving our young guys the long term deals, and I did like the Pence deal, though even that one I was on the edge, I thought we overpaid some, but been very happy since.

  7. People talk about Greinke/Heston like it was the plan. I am not so convinced. After letting Petit go I think they saw Heston to fill that long relief role. So, they might have signed another SP to fill the 5 spot on a 1-2 year deal such as Fister. With Heston's second half struggles I am thinking that it wasn't a sure thing that he was in the rotation.

    1. Heston never was a "sure thing". Last year he was a surprise in the early season. While he might do good things in the coming years, young sinker pitchers with mediocre velocity are not a great bet. It usually takes years to develop the finesse to succeed with the kind of "stuff" Heston throws. So 'swing man' is a good, safe place to use him for now. (Nothing personal against him).