For an MLB player, value has two elements:
- Production: A player can be considered valuable based on how well they perform on the field. Alternately, as advanced statistics and analytical tools emerge, a player can be considered valuable based on their underlying elements — stuff, mechanics, plate approach, command, etc. Both of these metrics, traditional or advanced, judge value according to production.
- Scarcity: A player can be considered valuable based on the rarity or singularity of their performance skillset. Furthermore, a player can be considered valuable based on their contract, which at the MLB level is ostensibly a reflection of service time achievement (ex., veteran free agents earn more than reserve-controlled rookies). Here, a player’s raw production is arguably prorated against their veteran status (or lack thereof) and cost.
Yesterday I hosted a Twitter chat for BPMilwaukee, and Matt Garza’s rotation spot continued to be a hot topic among Brewers fans. The veteran is the second-most expensive player on the Milwaukee roster, and certainly the least valuable in terms of total surplus: a three-year depreciation window values Garza at 0.42 WARP ($2.9M value), and depending on how one calculates the $8 million in deferred payments owed to the veteran, the righty will cost anywhere between $10.5 million and $18.5 million to the Brewers. At best, that leaves the Brewers with a total surplus of -$10.5 million, which means that the Brewers would actually gain roster value simply by cutting Garza and paying the full extent of his contract.
@BPMilwaukee 4.33 FIP, 4.16 ERA after AS break, toughest competition in NL, 4.29 DRA, 1.4 WARP in ~1/2 season, could provide trade value.
— David (@dgo151) January 23, 2017
If Garza’s performance resembles his strong second half and the righty faces more justly distributed competition — which is the best argument offered in defense of keeping the veteran righty, and one presented by Dylan Svoboda at BPMilwaukee — Milwaukee will need to spend half a season in salary to reach that point and arguably send $8 million cash to cover the deferred salary in order to return a prospect resembling even 45-to-50 Overall Future Potential. Given that the historical surplus of such a player is around $10 million total, spending at least $13 million to acquire such a prospect is quite a stretch of the term “value play.” Adding $13 million spent against, say, 1.5 WARP ($10.5M) from a great Garza first half and the $10 million surplus from the prospect return nets the Brewers approximately $7.5 million in total value — that’s a lot of effort for an extra future win or so.
Gambling on Garza to become a valuable trade chip is problematic for historical reasons, contemporary reasons, and organizational opportunity cost.
(1) Historical Value
Historically, if a player posts a replacement-value season with more than 100 innings at age-32, that player is likely at the very end of their career path. Prior to 2016, 33 such pitchers worked seasons of 100 IP (or more) with WAR between -0.1 and -1.0 during their age-32 season (similar to Garza’s campaign). Along with Garza, Edinson Volquez also pitched such a season in 2016. Those 33 historical pitchers represent a wide range of career WAR values, but almost uniformly decline or complete their careers with that bad age-32 season.
Using Baseball Reference Play Index, here are the age-32 pitchers comparable to Garza (ex., within a one win range). It must be emphasized that Baseball Reference’s WAR statistic is at odds with DRA & WARP assessments of Garza. Still, this is some historical perspective:
|Age 32 -0.1 to -1.0 WAR||Previous Performance||Following Performance|
|2000 Ramon Martinez||1880.0 IP / 26.5 WAR||15.7 IP / -0.4 WAR|
|1977 Stan Bahnsen||2196.0 IP / 22.6 WAR||332.7 IP / 1.3 WAR|
|1982 Randy Jones||1933.0 IP / 18.9 WAR||0.0 IP / – WAR|
|2004 Esteban Loaiza||1663.0 IP / 18.7 WAR||436.0 IP / 4.4 WAR|
|1982 John Montefusco||1444.3 IP / 18.5 WAR||208.0 IP / 3.0 WAR|
|1974 Fritz Peterson||2162.7 IP / 17.9 WAR||223.3 IP / 0.9 WAR|
|1994 Tim Belcher||1404.3 IP / 17.0 WAR||1038.3 IP / 9.9 WAR|
|1978 Jim Colborn||1597.3 IP / 16.3 WAR||0.0 IP / – WAR|
|1985 Pete Vuckovich||1310.3 IP / 16.3 WAR||32.3 IP / 0.6 WAR|
|2000 Omar Olivares||1481.7 IP / 14.8 WAR||110.0 IP / -1.6 WAR|
|1969 Gary Bell||2015.0 IP / 14.4 WAR||0.0 IP / – WAR|
|1993 Kirk McCaskill||1543.7 IP / 14.3 WAR||185.3 IP / 0.0 WAR|
|2016 Matt Garza||1596.0 IP / 14.1 WAR||???|
|1985 Rick Camp||942.3 IP / 13.4 WAR||0.0 IP / – WAR|
|1999 Jamie Navarro||2022.0 IP / 11.4 WAR||33.3 IP / -1.6 WAR|
|2004 Brian Anderson||1516.3 IP / 11.1 WAR||30.7 IP / -0.2 WAR|
|1991 Tim Leary||1160.0 IP / 10.8 WAR||331.3 IP / -0.2 WAR|
|1975 Mike Marshall (!!!)||940.7 IP / 10.5 WAR||446.0 IP / 6.9 WAR|
|1982 Doug Bird||1146.0 IP / 10.2 WAR||67.7 IP / -1.0 WAR|
|2013 Joe Saunders||1344.3 IP / 9.7 WAR||43.0 IP / -1.0 WAR|
|1986 Bob Shirley||1390.7 IP / 9.6 WAR||41.3 IP / -0.2 WAR|
|2000 Pat Rapp||1217.3 IP / 9.0 WAR||170.0 IP / 1.7 WAR|
|2000 Bobby Jones||1518.7 IP / 8.2 WAR||0.0 IP / – WAR|
|1987 Mike Smithson||1086.0 IP / 7.5 WAR||270.3 IP / -1.2 WAR|
|2011 Jason Marquis||1675.7 IP / 7.1 WAR||292.7 IP / -2.5 WAR|
|1961 Art Ditmar||1245.7 IP / 6.1 WAR||21.7 IP / -0.5 WAR|
|2016 Edinson Volquez||1432.3 IP / 5.9 WAR||???|
|1993 Kelly Downs||963.7 IP / 5.1 WAR||0.0 IP / – WAR|
|2006 Jason Johnson||1327.7 IP / 4.8 WAR||29.3 IP / -0.2 WAR|
|2013 Roberto Hernandez||1100.0 IP / 4.7 WAR||258.3 IP / 0.7 WAR|
|2010 Nate Robertson||1152.3 IP / 4.6 WAR||0.0 IP / – WAR|
|1961 Ryne Duren||350.0 IP / 4.6 WAR||239.3 IP / 1.3 WAR|
|1970 Ron Herbel||842.3 IP / 3.7 WAR||51.7 IP / -0.1 WAR|
|1975 Jackie Brown||527.0 IP / 2.4 WAR||365.7 IP / 0.3 WAR|
|1998 Mark Petkovsek||469.3 IP / -0.6 WAR||240.7 IP / 1.3 WAR|
Among this group of pitchers, the historical average after a 100+ IP / -1.0 WAR to -0.1 WAR age-32 season is 167.0 IP and 0.7 WAR. To correct for outliers (such as Tim Belcher, and the set of pitchers that did not work whatsoever after age-32), the median is 170.0 IP and -0.2 WAR from age-33 onward. Not an inspiring group in terms of value, and this type of performance shows one particular stop on the aging curve: if a pitcher is likely to be an elite or even valuable pitcher deep into their 30s, they did not pitch a 100+ IP negative WAR season at age-32.
So, analysts cannot look to history for age-based comparisons for Garza’s 2016 in order to determine some level of future value that renders that contract valuable.
(2) Contemporary Value
In contemporary value, MLB teams started 217 pitchers that were worse than Garza in 2016 (among pitchers that worked at least 10.0 innings, which helps to cut out one-start emergency pitchers). This produces an interesting tension between Baseball Reference WAR (which grades Garza as below-replacement in 2016) and WARP (which rates Garza at 1.25 on the strength of a 4.29 DRA). Among the 138 MLB pitchers that worked at least 100 innings in 2016, Garza’s 4.29 DRA rates slightly below the median mark of 4.15 DRA.
There is a sense that Garza’s skillset is valuable insofar as he is a veteran that generally works a lot of innings, and a veteran that can make adjustments to improve his performance during a given season (as is evident by his second-half surge in 2016). Still, it is worth pushing back on Garza’s value here: that $10.5 million 2016 salary and $8 million deferred payment still are not equivalent to 1.25 WARP, or even a 4.29 DRA. Thus far the offseason has proven that such a performance does not bring trade value, which does lend some credence to the position that the Brewers must pitch Garza for at least the first half of 2016 to make a deadline deal (or perhaps float him through waivers as an August waiver trade).
(3) Opportunity Cost
The remaining issue with Garza’s contractual surplus and lack of transactional value is that the Brewers have a 40-man roster stacked with pitchers that could potentially create more cost-controlled value with a solid 2016 campaign. Chase Anderson, Jimmy Nelson, Brent Suter, and Taylor Jungmann appear to be replacement level depth to some degree, but their extended control years and generally low cost contracts mean that a turn in the right direction yields significantly more value for the club. Tom Milone is an intriguing trade value candidate himself (cf. Scott Feldman…), for if the Brewers develop a strategy with the southpaw to recoup some value from his arm, that $3.0M+ maximum contract will look solid during the trade deadline season; approximately 1.0 WARP from Milone produces better trade value than 1.5 WARP from Garza, in terms of sheer transactional surplus.
|Brewers SP||Reserve Years||2016 DRA||2016 WARP||Contract Depreciation (Surplus)||2017 Contract|
|Zach Davies||Reserve+Arb||3.58||3.3||4.32 ($30.2M)||$0.5M+|
|Junior Guerra||Reserve+Arb||4.43||1.3||1.52 ($10.6M)||$0.5M+|
|Wily Peralta||Arb2 & Arb3||4.47||1.3||1.45 ($10.2M)||$4.3M|
|Taylor Jungmann||Reserve+Arb||5.30||0.0||1.28 ($9.0M)||$0.5M+|
|Tom Milone||$1.3M + Bonus||4.66||0.5||0.42 ($1.7M)||$1.3M+|
|Brent Suter||Reserve+Arb||4.54||0.1||0.1 ($0.5M)||$0.5M+|
|Jimmy Nelson||Reserve+Arb||5.71||-0.7||0.0 ($0.5M)||$0.5M+|
|Chase Anderson||Arb1 – Arb4||5.66||-0.5||0.0 ($0.5M)||Under Arbitration|
|Matt Garza||$10.5M + Deferred||4.29||1.3||0.14 (-$9.5M)||$10.5M+|
Of course, then there remain the three rotation spots that probably should be locked down: Zach Davies was the best starter for the Brewers in 2016 in terms of DRA and WARP; Junior Guerra pitched ahead of a DRA and WARP, but was still quite valuable via WARP; and Wily Peralta rode a surging second half to a strong WARP himself, making him one of the most intriguing “comeback” candidates for the 2017 Brewers. Beyond these starters, of course, are notable 40-man roster prospects such as Josh Hader and Jorge Lopez, who combine for more than $20 million in organizational surplus even if one takes the 45 OFP-to-50 OFP route for these hurlers (instead of Lopez’s 2015 top OFP and Hader’s 2017 top OFP, which immensely increases the value of these pitchers).
In terms of surplus value, the opportunity cost for each Garza start (prorated to 33 starts) is $0.3M, prior to considering the value of Milone, Jungmann, Suter, and Nelson (another $0.3M per start excluded as a group) or Hader+Lopez (at least another $0.6M per start excluded as a group, and as much as $1.1M per start excluded as a group that keeps Hader & Lopez from realizing their Top OFP in 2017). The best case scenario holds that the Brewers basically eat one win in 2017, and hang on long enough to Garza to trade him for a 45-50 OFP prospect with cash headed out the door; a more likely scenario is that the Brewers eat at least one win in 2017 due to Garza’s lack of surplus value, and those starts truncate value for another group of potential starters (to the tune of another lost win). Once one reaches into the territory of Garza (or, to be fair, several other starters on the 40-man roster) starts blocking either Hader or Lopez, there is some chance that the Brewers could eat yet another win in surplus value in that scenario.
The question here must be to what extent eating one-to-three wins is a valuable outcome for a developing ballclub. This is especially salient given that the Brewers improved in 2016, and also that Milwaukee does not have a very good development environment one level removed from the MLB (meaning that there is a sense that Milwaukee should simply start Hader and Lopez at the MLB level, which would be an incredible attempt to materialize future value). To this end, the Brewers front office will show their truest interpretation of what an “analytical” front office means. Is David Stearns ready to use the club’s $80 million revenue cushion from 2016 and 2017 to eat $18.5 million dollars in a move to materialize future surplus value?