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November 25, 2013

BP Unfiltered

Rereading Nate Silver: 11. Paying Pedro

by Sam Miller


In which everybody comes down on Boston.

Pedro On The Open Market
April 9, 2003

Abstract: Two days after the Red Sox picked up Pedro Martinez’s $17.5 million option for the 2004 season--making him, six months before they had to act, the highest-paid pitcher ever--Nate looks at what Pedro Martinez is worth, and whether Boston’s decision to jump the gun and pick up the option early shifts the math any. The answer: More than $17.5 million; but, yes.

Key quote:

I've mentioned before that PECOTA tends to take an actuarial view of the universe. Risk is an inherent part of life, and for someone who already is performing at as an elite a level as Pedro, it's a lot more likely that something will happen to decrease his value rather than to increase it.

PECOTA quantifies the risk in terms of the difference between Pedro's 2003 and 2004 expected value forecasts; it values him at 8.4 wins above replacement in 2003, versus 7.1 in 2004, a decrease of about 15%. Note that PECOTA doesn't expect any decrease in the quality of Pedro's performance: the difference is accounted for by his injury risk.

If Pedro makes it through this season healthy, that will not only help the Red Sox to compete with the Yankees, but it will also provide them with valuable information about the sturdiness of Pedro's right arm. To put it another way, 15% is a reasonable estimate of the premium that the Red Sox have paid to exercise Pedro's extension now. Multiply that by the $15 million that the extension will cost the Red Sox, and the price of Pedro's propriety is around $2.3 million bucks. While I'm not quite as down on the deal as Joe is, that's a lot to pay for goodwill.

Sheehan: Nate links to Joe Sheehan’s piece the same week on the Red Sox’ decision. (The background is important here; Pedro essentially demanded the Red Sox pick up the option early, or else, he vowed, he wouldn’t consider re-signing with them when he finally became a free agent. There was obviously no reason, from a financial planning perspective, to pick up the option before necessary, but the personal dynamic between Boston and Pedro arguably created some incentive.) Same general conclusion: great pitcher, commitment made too soon, but wonderfully different styles. Sheehan’s really mad at Pedro’s role, in fact:

The Red Sox have given away a strategic advantage in 2003, and assumed an unnecessary risk for 2004, all to placate the prima donna who created this entire situation.

Rather than pick up the option, Sheehan recommended Boston take advantage of their ability to go year-to-year and, well--quit coddling him, if you like, or run him into the ground, if you prefer that. “Given the short-term nature of their investment, run him out there for 35 starts and 240 innings this year. If he got through that, then they could pick up his option and do the same thing next year...”

(Sheehan’s column includes a Darva Conger reference and this sentence: “Is there any pitcher, save perhaps Mark Prior, you want to place a bet on 400 innings down the road?” There’s nothing notable about articles written in 2003 having 2003 references, but I get tickled every time.)

The outcome to the Pedro situation was its own story. He was incredible in 2003; an 8-win pitcher, the ERA title, a 211 ERA+ that has been topped only once (Roger Clemens, 2005) since. Had the Red Sox waited until the offseason to pick up his option, they still would have picked up his option without hesitation. Then, in 2004, Martinez was just a’ight, with a 3.90 ERA in the regular season, a 4.00 ERA in the postseason, his worst year since Montreal. You might even argue, World Series parade notwithstanding, that the Red Sox would have been better off not picking up the option after all! Then he signed with the Mets, and everybody in Boston was super happy in the end about that; as much as making him happy before his free agency was an asset, it ended up being an unused asset and a pretty worthless one.

As for whether the Red Sox could have used him more aggressively if they weren’t worried about his long-term sustainability, Peter Gammons pointed out in 2004 that Martinez had hugely negative splits when pitching on regular rest, instead of extra rest; and the Red Sox braintrust quite famously didn’t want Martinez pitching past 100 pitches in the 2003 ALCS. That would suggest that more Pedro would have actually been worse Pedro. But the record is more mixed than that. Martinez’s splits went the other way in 2003--he was better on regular rest--and his 100+-pitch split fluctuates all over the place, as most pitchers’ do, because of limited samples. Let’s call the validity of that idea still unresolved, if maybe a bit cynical.

Tables: 4
Graphs: 0
Equations: 0

On the Nate Silver Must-Read Scale: 1
On the Joe Sheehan Must-Read Scale: 2

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Nate Silver

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