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June 16, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Sunk Costs

by Joe Sheehan

Here are the 2000 performances of three pitchers:

             G     IP    ERA   BB/SO    BA/ OBP/ SLG   SNWAR
Pitcher A   10   50.1   4.47   31/48  .254/.363/.477    0.21
Pitcher B   13   73.1   5.28   36/60  .299/.352/.503    0.03
Pitcher C    7   17.2  10.70    8/10  .360/.408/.507   -0.14

Pitcher A has been better than Pitcher B, while Pitcher C has pitched like an old man. Which he is: that's the remnants of Orel Hershiser, who was battered from pillar to post before accepting a demotion to A ball in late May. Hershiser, signed by the Dodgers over the winter, is past the point of being able to contribute in a meaningful way to a good team. His primary value is as a replacement-level innings sponge, a role he's performed admirably for the past three seasons. This Dodger team, however, has no problem finding starting pitchers.

Nevertheless, Hershiser is back in the major leagues as a Dodger, a tribute to the value of being a good guy and a good quote, as well as a pretty good pitcher during the Reagan and Bush administrations. The financial investment--the sunk cost--in Hershiser is small, but the emotional one is large, and keeps the Dodgers from simply cutting him loose.

Knowing who Pitcher C is probably gives away the rest of the game, so we'll talk next about Carlos Perez. Perez, acquired as part of the Dodgers' ill-fated 1998 push, stays a Dodger for one reason and one reason only: an incredibly stupid contract given him in the 1998 off-season by Kevin Malone. He was one of the worst pitchers in baseball last season, and has just barely been above replacement level in 2000. His contract and performance make him comic relief in anything resembling serious trade talks, so rather than bite the bullet and release the left-hander, the Dodgers run him out there every fifth day and hope they can get to the bullpen down only a couple of runs.

If Perez had his job because he was the best available option, perhaps it would be hard to criticize the boys in blue. But there is a better pitcher who is being jobbed by this decision. Eric Gagne--Pitcher A--has performed better than Perez this season despite being used in a less consistent manner (just six starts on rotation). Gagne was also very effective in his cameo last season, and has a 3.59 ERA in 15 career outings. He's a major-league pitcher, a good one, and would help the Dodgers more than Perez or Hershiser will.

One of the persistent problems that crops up in baseball front offices is a refusal to cut bait on the worst decisions. Perez was a bad signing, and he's going to cost $15 million whether he's hurting your playoff drive or at home helping brother Pascual use Mapquest. If the Dodgers are serious about winning the NL West this year--and the title is well within their reach--Kevin Malone needs to concede that the money is gone and make his roster decisions based on ability and performance, not tax bracket.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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Related Content:  Orel Hershiser

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