Rating the Free Agent Starters
Here's a little free homework for Jim Bowden on this year's free agent class. I compiled two statistics for each of the major free agent pitchers that are out there (throwing in Kris recent signee Benson): ERA + in 2004 and BABIP in 2004.
ERA+ is defined by Baseball-Reference.com as "the ratio of the league's ERA (adjusted to the pitcher's ballpark) to that of the pitcher. [Greater than] 100 is above average and [less than] 100 is below average. lgERA / ERA" The all-time leader in career ERA+ is Pedro Martinez, who, based on that statistic, it could be argued is the best pitcher of all time (his 1st place career ERA+ of 167 is a mind-boggling 13% better than the next best, Lefty Grove. Pedro will get worse as he gets older...but I digress).
BABIP is a measure of the Batting Average allowed by that pitcher when balls are put into play. As explained by Voros McCracken, a pitcher has little control over what happens to a ball once it is put in play. A pitcher only really has control of the situation when he walks a hitter, strikes the hitter out, hits the hitter with a pitcher, or allows a home run (fielders can't screw that up). McCracken proved that, in the aggregate, a low BABIP in one season doesn't translate into low BABIPs in other seasons, all other things being equal. Pitchers simply don't have much control over how many balls their fielders turn into outs. Thus, a very low BABIP means a pitcher has gotten especially lucky with the play behind him. A very high BABIP means the opposite.
Without further ado, here is the 2005 starting pitcher free-agent class, ranked according to how I think they performed in 2004:
I've color-coded the BABIPs - green means that the pitcher was likely relatively unlucky last year, the blue means that their BABIPs were in line with the league average, gold means that they may have been a bit lucky last year (a warning sign), and red means that they were most definitely lucky last year.
And if you think the Mets may have been damn foolish for signing Kris Benson to a $7.25 million per year deal, well, you should take that up with Mets management. I don't feel like getting into an argument with you. However, signing Kris Benson apparently has benefits for his teammates.
It's no surprise that Radke, Pavano, Wright and Martinez are the cream of the free agent crop. But Radke and Wright both seem to be better values than Pavano and Martinez based on their 2004 performance. Either one would be a terrific signing for Bowden provided that he had the budget for it. And I remain high on Matt Clement, but he does seem to be a rung down from the top starters.
A couple of points about those I would stay away from. Odalis Perez got very lucky in a forgiving Dodger Stadium in 2004. Al Leiter got extremely lucky in a very forgiving Shea Stadium in 2004. Whatever temptations a GM may have, I would think long and hard before giving either of them significant deals.
Finally, Derek Lowe simply is not as bad as he pitched last year. His .342 BABIP was absurdly unlucky, and he's likely a guy who could come back with an ERA 1 run lower next year just through getting average defensive support behind him. He does not give up many homers, and would likely pitch well in RFK stadium. At the right price, Derek Lowe could be a big benefit to the 2005 DC-9.