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May 27, 2009

Transaction of the Day

Peavy Planning

by Christina Kahrl

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Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Noted that RHP Jake Peavy rejected being dealt to the White Sox. [5/22]

Last week, we were treated to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Jake Peavy would finally get dealt to Chicago after months of speculation. The surprising twist was that he'd be headed to Chicago's South Side for a package of good stuff, as White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams gunned for a successful title defense with a top-line improvement. With Chicago seeing their hopes of defending their AL Central division crown dip below 12 percent, the timing seemed right: Why wait until the trading deadline when the difference needs to be made right now? Perhaps sadly for the Sox, Peavy rejected the deal, as is his right, preferring instead to stay with the Padres while his agent, Barry Axelrod, noted his client's probable preference for staying in the National League.

In considering his options carefully, Peavy's eye towards his future place of employment probably reflects that just getting out of San Diego's rut of non-contention to come doesn't automatically make things all that much better for him. Raising the stakes, for him and for any acquiring team, is the fact that he's not a rental bound for free agency after the season, he's an ace-caliber starter with a relatively sound record for durability signed through 2012 (with an option for 2013). That ups the ante as far as what the Padres can get for him-even due $56 million from 2009-12 with a $4 million buyout on that $22 million option for 2013, an annual average value of $15 million per season for this and the next three seasons is a bargain compared to a free-agent market that saw the less predictable A.J. Burnett get $16.5 million per year through 2013. While PECOTA's financial value metric, MORP, suggests that Peavy's performance might not be worth much more than $40 million over that time, there will be very few pitchers of his caliber eligible for free agency for 2010 or 2011, say John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Brandon Webb. So getting an ace in place at a salary you can budget around is a virtue in long-term planning, one that you can add to the benefits of going after a flag right now in 2009.

The "problem," as far as it goes, is that Peavy and his advisors realize what's at stake as well. Setting aside the question of relative league strength should he leave the weaker National League, moving out of the pitcher's haven of Petco Park and into the homer-happy Cell on Chicago's South Side, with the additional burden of having to face the DH instead of the pitcher's slot, would almost automatically entail a decline in performance in terms of his raw numbers.

Regardless, adding an ace of Peavy's caliber notionally bumps everyone else in the rotation down a peg, effectively replacing any acquiring team's fifth-best options, which can have an outsized impact on a team's shot at running up a flag or scheduling golf dates come October. With that in mind, and looking at the teams with playoff aspirations and problems in their rotations that Peavy might patch, let's take a look at what the Padre was projected to do in a full season if he were on any one of a number of other teams, first focusing on his league of choice, the senior circuit, but throwing in the White Sox to give you a sense of what he'd be worth to the team in 2009, and the Padres to see what you could expect in the first place:

Team          ERA  EqERA   VORP SNLVAR  Playoff Odds*
Padres       3.23   3.66   38.4   5.4      2.9%
Phillies     3.61   3.73   36.9   5.2     58.7%
Mets         3.40   3.70   38.5   5.4     58.5%
Brewers      3.46   3.70   39.8   5.5     56.3%
Cardinals    3.50   3.69   36.4   5.2     34.4%
White Sox    4.07   3.81   29.8   4.5     12.3%

*: Through 5/26, includes the odds of winning the wild card.

The distinction between Peavy's park- and league-influenced projections for his ERA and his Equivalent ERA-which takes out park effects and adjusts for the defense behind him-is important. Going to the Cell should make a pretty major difference in terms of his performance, as an ERA bump of eight-tenths of a run reflects. While his translated performances aren't radically different-in an ideal world, whatever the environment, Peavy's going to average around a little more than seven strikeouts per nine and a homer allowed per nine-in his raw projections you'd see his numbers zag from nearly a full strikeout per inning with the Brewers to 7.9 K/9 on the White Sox. Small differences, sure, but the sort of thing that reflects that pitching in the AL is just that little bit more difficult, even if we weren't talking about proposing to Peavy that he leave the game's best pitchers' park.

Looking at the National League teams who have the need and the opportunity, consider the starters he'd potentially replace and their performances in the early going:

           Team     NL
Team       SNWX   Rank    Worst Starter(s)  SNLVA_R
Phillies    1.5    15     Jamie Moyer       .374
                          Chan Ho Park      .387
                          Joe Blanton       .421
Mets        5.3     8     Oliver Perez      .320
                          Tim Redding       .465
Brewers     4.7    10     Manny Parra       .451
                          Jeff Suppan       .445
Cardinals   6.8     4     Todd Wellemeyer   .454
                          Peavy             .576

By way of explanation, SNLVA_R is a pitcher's rate of value on a per-start basis; if every team starts off at .500 in any given ballgame, this reflects how much more or less likely the pitcher is able to move the dial towards more of a sure thing as far as a win. That difference per start, with the benefit of a good offense, especially ones as good as the Mets or Phillies, who rank first and third in Equivalent Average in the majors, becomes even more likely an outcome. Taking an extreme example like putting Peavy on the Phillies, and you can see where he'd add 15 or 20 percent to the chances of a win over the alternatives per time out; with over four months and 20-23 more starts on the season that Peavy might make, that becomes a massive difference in terms of wins on the year, perhaps three or four in a league where the difference between advancing and elimination has been a single game in determining nine of the last 12 playoff slots over the last three years.

The stakes are high enough as is, so the question is whether any of these teams with playoff hopes and major issues in their rotations can either deal or move aside some big-money underperformers, such as the Mets' Perez or the Brewers' Suppan in particular. The Cardinals, already skating on thin ice with Chris Carpenter's on-again/off-again availability, might be best served, and Wellemeyer's only under contract through the season besides; for the sake of argument, were they to get Peavy, there's no reason he couldn't be moved to the pen to help from there until or unless Carpenter breaks down again. The Phillies make the most interesting example, as they're dealing with the unhappy combination of Moyer's advanced age, Blanton's basic mediocrity, and their unfortunate bit of wishcasting that Park would be able to be a rotation regular. However, whether any of these clubs can put the packages together to make the deal happen, and woo Peavy, are subjects for another day.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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

Related Content:  Jake Peavy,  Playoff Rotations

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