Poll: Four-Year, $50MM Starting Pitcher Investments

It is not often that things line up quite so cleanly as this, but after a roller-coaster offseason, three of the market's top starters all landed quite similar overall guarantees. It would be too much, perhaps, to argue that the market valued them identically; after all, each signed at different points in an always-changing market, agreed to various terms that impact the overall value of their contracts, and had differing situations with regard to qualifying offers. Nevertheless, it seems fair to suggest that Ricky Nolasco, Matt Garza, and Ubaldo Jimenez were each valued in rough proportion to one another. 

Yet each pitcher brings a very different set of risks and benefits to their new deals. (Player name links are to MLBTR's Free Agent profile series; deal links are to reported signing, which includes contract details.)

Ricky Nolasco (age 31; received four years, $49MM from Twins) — Nolasco is durable and solid, having made at least 31 starts in each of the last three regular seasons while consistently maintaining a walk rate hovering just above 2.0 BB/9. While his overall results have been less than stellar, Nolasco has tended to post much better ratings by advanced metrics than ERA, and finally saw the results to match last year. Has he been unlucky, or does he just give up a lot of solid contact? Either way, Minnesota has put its money into a pitcher who has about as good a record of durability as could be hoped.

RISK: disconnect between advanced metrics and results

BENEFIT: durability

Matt Garza (age 30; received four years, $50MM from Brewers) — Garza has been consistently above-average … when healthy. Striking out batters consistenly in the range of about eight per nine, and holding down walks to less than three per nine since maturing as a pitcher, Garza's results are hard to argue with. (He has not ended a season with an ERA above 4.00 since his rookie year.) But a string of injuries held him to 103 2/3 innings in 2012 and 155 1/3 in 2012. If healthy, there is every reason to believe that Garza will continue to be an excellent (albeit not dominant) starter, but therein lies the rub.

RISK: health

BENEFIT: reliably above-average performance

Ubaldo Jimenez (age 30; received four years, $50MM from Orioles) — Unlike either of the previous two hurlers, Jimenez has at times been amongst the most dominant starters in the game. He has been an unquestioned ace over complete seasons (earlier in his career, with Colorado) and parts of seasons (the second half of last year, with Cleveland). In between, however, Jimenez has posted some genuinely unsightly stat lines. While his 2011 campaign may have taken a downturn due to some bad luck, he was terrible in most respects over the entirety of 2012, as he lost both his control and his ability to register strikeouts. Like Nolasco, Jimenez has been supremely durable. But if his new club can count on at least 180 innings, of what quality will they be? Jimenez showed flashes of both good and bad last year, and it remains to be seen which side defines his tenure in Baltimore. [Note: Orioles also gave up a first-round draft choice to sign Jimenez.]

RISK: inconsistency

BENEFIT: durability, upside

So, MLBTR readers: putting aside the particulars of their new teams' situations, which of these three similarly-priced investments do you think was money best spent?

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18 Comments on "Poll: Four-Year, $50MM Starting Pitcher Investments"

1 year 7 months ago

Jimenez has best upside. Just dunno when you’ll get it… or if

1 year 7 months ago

and 50 MM plus a first rounder is a pretty steep price to pay for that many question marks. I went with Garza – less questions and I’ve always thought he was grossly underrated.

1 year 7 months ago

Yeah 50 mill sounds like a lot but compared to Edwin Jackson, I’d say all these deals were just due to supply and demand in the current market

1 year 7 months ago

Well, it’s a risk management thing. Take in the whole risk portfolio perspective. It’s not about these players in a vaccuum:

Hypothetically, if you’ve spent your last, say, 5 yrs making solid high-percentage low risk bets, you can probably take (maybe absorb) a long (hopefully educated) gamble. Pick Jimenez.

That said, if your portfolio is filled with many gambles, you may want to add a shrewd low risk reliable bet. Pick: Garza.

1 year 7 months ago

Nolasco is the clear laggard of the three. The real debate is b/w Jimenez and Garza.

Conner David Boyd
1 year 7 months ago

Garza. Easily. He’s proven, he’s always pitched well in the NL Central, he didn’t come with draft pick compensation, and the Brewers did a good job of protecting themselves against injury concerns with that option year and performance bonuses. He throws in the mid-90’s with good command and his slider wipes hitters out. Jimenez is streaky. His velocity is everywhere, and he can 10 pitches without throwing a strike. The Orioles are obviously hoping for the 2013 Ubaldo, but they’re bringing him into one of the most offensive-heavy leagues in baseball. It’s a major gambit.

Nolasco shouldn’t even be part of this conversation. The top pitchers in this free agency period were Tanaka/Garza (pairing them together because of Garza’s upside and the fact that Tanaka hasn’t proven himself yet), then Ervin Santana, then Jimenez, then some others, then Nolasco. He was wildly overpaid.

1 year 7 months ago

This is a real toss up between Jimenez and Garza

Garza you have the health risk, but you know you will get a very reliable starter if healthy.

Jiminez has the better upside, but he is inconsistent and can be a total dud at times.

I went with Garza because an injured Garza is better than a Jimenez in the high 5ERAs. The way I think of it is rather have my pitcher injured than doing bad. Because at $10+ mil a year you won’t bump Jimenez out of the rotation…so you’d be stuck with a guy giving you a 5+ERA. The Brewers have Thornburg who could really come in for an injured Garza and do just as good.

In a nutshell Garza is less of a risk for his team.

1 year 7 months ago

Agree, if Garza gets hurt you at least have the chance to find an adequate replacemet. When Jimenez pitches you don’t know if its Jekyll or Hyde.

1 year 7 months ago

I went with Garza because it would have been a toss-up between him and Ubaldo without taking the draft pick into consideration, so he wins when you add the fact that he came without the need to give up a pick.

1 year 7 months ago

People seriously think Ulbado has upside? The guy is 30, got his last big multi-year contract that sets him up for the next 4 years, and is pitching in the AL East where he has been pounded by the Red Sox, Yankees, and somewhat by the Blue Jays throughout his career (will probably get pounded by the Rays now as well). Ubaldo has little to no incentive to put up the numbers he did in what was clearly a contract year. Wish the guy good luck but there is no way he puts similar numbers to the 2013 season. The O’s got burned with this FA signing.

1 year 7 months ago

More GMs have been fired for “upside” than anything else. Sometimes, while less, consistent performance brings more value than the dreaded “upside” that never fails to tease, but more often than not fails to deliver.

1 year 7 months ago

I really do not like the Nolasco deal. Ubaldo deal has a ton of upside. Garza has been the best pitcher, and if can stay healthy is the best deal.

1 year 7 months ago

None of the above.

Jim Clark
1 year 7 months ago

My thoughts exactly..

1 year 7 months ago

None of these three signing were “wise investments.”

Garza will only pitch about 2/3 of his starts over the four years, probably about 90 starts, with a few being excellent. So he’s getting paid for 4 years but only pitching about 3 years worth of starts.

Jimenez is wildly inconsistent. He’ll look like bench fodder at times, and lights-out at other times.

Nolasco will be consistently ‘meh’ while chewing up innings with a .500 record.

I honestly dislike all three signings, with the Garza signing being the least dislikable by a wide margin. The other two are going to be highly regrettable signings by the O’s and Twins.

1 year 7 months ago

Why would anyone even vote for Nolasco? Decent enough pitcher but career stats arent close to Jimenez and Garza

Jim Clark
1 year 7 months ago

Jiminez has stated that the Indians pitching coaches were the ones that turned him around… now he will not have those coaches. Kazmir has also credited Indians pitching coaches for turning his career around… I predict that both will really miss those coaches this year.