Wickman and Smoltz

In the past two days, the Braves made moves to keep two veterans on the roster for 2007. On Wednesday, the Braves announced the signing of Bob Wickman for $6.5 million. On Thursday, the Braves picked up Smoltz’s option that will pay him $8 million. Both moves have been hailed by the media and fans as great moves. The funny thing is, all this praise comes without the discussion of compensation. Though both of these pitchers have been excellent for the Braves, one of these deals is bad, the other good.

Bob Wickman is not worth $6.5 million, especially on a team that complains its budget is stretched. First, Wickman’s time in Atlanta is probably a poor indicator of how he’s going to pitch next year. So far, he’s thrown a grand total of 23 innings, all excellent. He should be commended for that, but his career performance indicates he’s not that good. In 2004 and 2005 he posted FIP ERAs of 4.37 and 4.53—that’s average— compared to his excellent 2.9 in 2006. What’s the big difference? Home runs—the least stable of the DIPS triumvirate—surrendering 1.28 per 9 innings in the previous two seasons compared to 0.34 in 2006. Both his strikeouts and walks are up, too. I’m scared.

Second, he’s neither young or in shape. Thank goodness the Braves only signed him for one year.

Third, I estimate that Roger Clemens is worth about $70,000 per inning pitched. If he pitched Wickman’s 2005 62 innings he’d have generated about $4.3 million for his team. Wickman isn’t as good as Roger, either. Of course, this may all change given the increased revenue flowing to owners. Once the free agents signings start, we may find out that these guys are worth a lot more money. In any event, I don’t think Schuerholz got a deal by signing him early.

Yeah, I understand that the Braves need a reliable reliever, but they need a lot of other things too. I don’t think this is the most efficient way to increase the teams difference in runs scored and runs allowed. So, once again I’ll be the dissenting Braves fan who doesn’t like the move. What do I know? I guess I’m just a stat-geek with a pocket protector.

Smoltz, on the other hand is a bargain. He’s getting older and will fall off some, but 200 innings of Smoltz-quality pitching is worth way more than $8 million—heck, that’s only $1.5 million more than Wickman. I value Smoltz at close to $14 million. It was certainly a no-brainer for the team to pick up the option. I suspect Smoltz knew that when he complained, but I think it’s more frustration with the management. There’s a lot of tension in that clubhouse, which isn’t surprising with a losing team.

15 Responses “Wickman and Smoltz”

  1. Marc says:

    I understand your point, JC, and you may well be right. And, they are paying a lot for him. I suspect Wickman will not be this good next year. But the fact is, they couldn’t go into another season without some stability in the bullpen and it seems to me, there aren’t that many options out there. I think building a bullpen is extremely difficult and requires a lot of luck. So, while I don’t necessarily disagree with you, I understand why JS signed Wickman.

  2. flournoy says:

    There are options out there. The Braves have a lot of tradeable pieces, many of whom they really ought to trade this offseason. Bullpen stability through a trade or two is my preference.

  3. Johnny says:

    I don’t disagree with you but I don’t see what choice Schuerholz had given recent history and what he thinks are the important parts of a team. He is truly in the closer as most important reliever camp. See his signing of Kolb and hot pursuit of every and all ‘closers’ last season. Recent experience for the Braves has been that when Smoltz was anchoring the bullpen we had had good relief pitching all around. Therefore despite statistical evidence to the contrary he sees the closer as the foundation for the relief corps. I’m guessing that 6.5 will look cheap when the price of pitching this fall is established.

  4. flournoy says:

    $6.5M may be cheap compared to the rate this winter, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good deal for the Braves. You need to compare the Wickman deal with the Braves other options (like a trade), not a price that the Braves can’t afford anyway.

  5. studes says:

    Wickman is a crazy animal of a reliever. I actually feel that topflight aces, like Ryan and Wagner, deserved the contracts they got last winter. Proven ability in ace situations is very valuable. But Wickman is unpredictable.

    One thing to feel good about: his key to success is his groundball rate, which was extremely low in Cleveland this year, but back to his norms with Atlanta. I’d guess an ERA in the high 3.00′s next year — just a wild guess.

    Actually, I think the Wickman deal is less of a bad deal than the Smoltz deal is an absolute steal.

  6. Adam says:

    J.C.,

    Any idea what the cost to the Braves would be if the team doesn’t have a league-average closer? Considering that Wickman was one of the best of the few closers available for next year, does that change the analysis?

  7. Johnny says:

    Flournoy, like every other rare commodity pitching is going to be expensive. The trade option is better than ‘over paying’ 6.5? In what way? Are you one of those guys that proposes stuff like HoRam for Scott Linebrink and crap like that? As if the Padres are stupid? Who do you propose trading if it is value for value? Our most tradeable player is Giles and he is having a down year. Just asking.

  8. Brian J. says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with you too on the Wickman signing.

    There’s been a reassessment on the importance of closers in the last couple of years- mostly because analysts have changed their models from looking at the number of runs the pitcher saves to the number of wins he adds.

    Preserving a one-run lead in the top of the 9th is about .5 run above average (in a league scoring 4.5 runs per game), which has usually been counted as about .05 win. However, that inning increases a team’s probability of winning from about 85% to 100%, an increase of .15 win. And the downside disparity is even greater- giving up two runs in that situation had been counted as being -1.5 runs or -.15 win below average; now, since it reduces your probability of winning from 85% to about 15%, we see that that performance costs -.7 win.

    Given that disparity, it’s worthwhile to pay almost as much for a really good closer as for a good starter.

    And the “trade option” wasn’t likely to get a closer as good as Wickman. It can get us some middle relievers, which would be nice, but let’s not assume we’re going to get a closer.

    (And yes, I realize this is succumbing to some extent to the “closer mystique.” But a premium for reliability is worth paying, given the results of not having a trustworthy pitcher closing.)

  9. flournoy says:

    Andruw Jones.

  10. Andrew says:

    JC, I think your comparison of Clemens’ worth per IP and Wickman’s is slightly misguided b/c if Clemens were a closer, his value would be tremendously greater per IP given the importance of each inning pitched. But honestly, would we rather have another 2005/2006 season with horrible closers or overpay for a guy we can decently trust?

  11. Jake says:

    The problem with trading Andruw is Chipper.

    If you have no Andruw, and Chipper can only be counted on for 90 or so games…how do you score?

    I don’t trust Francoeur and LaRoche to lead the charge just yet.

    The Wickman signing is fine. 6.5 million for a guy who throws strikes and is rarely hurt is a lot better than the Hampton or Hudson deals.

    That’s my $.02

  12. LGofannon says:

    Is it too late, foolish, or beside the point to ask if the Braves might have been wiser (or might still be wise) to go after Brad Lidge?

    Was this season merely a fluke for Lidge, or the start of long decline?

  13. Johnny says:

    You’d trade Andrew Jones for relief pitching?

  14. flournoy says:

    I’d expect a good young reliever or two (strong emphasis on good) to be part of the return package for Andruw Jones.

  15. John Salmon says:

    Isn’t it about time for Schuerholz to retire? he’s completely lost any sense of how to put together abaseball team.