How Have $100 Million Pitchers Fared After Signing Their Big Deal? Were They Worth It?

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How Have $100 Million Pitchers Fared After Signing Their Big Deal? Were They Worth It?

Analysis and Commentary

zack greinke dodgersThe exclusive club of nine-figure-salary pitchers is expected to grow this offseason.

Between FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing guesstimations and the ever-increasing cost of pitching, the question isn’t if the group is going to grow, but instead it is how much will it grow?

It seems inevitable that a group that was born in the winter of 1998 and added two members as recently as last offseason will be getting some new members this season. But, before that happens, here is a look at how each member of the $100 million dollar pitcher’s club has fared after signing his deal.

Pretty good, but…

Cliff Lee, Phillies (2011-15): Five years, $120 million

Lee’s deal was the third biggest for a pitcher when it was signed. He was tremendous in the first three seasons, going to two All-Star games, finishing third (2011) and sixth (2013) in Cy Young Voting while posting a 2.80 ERA/22.84 FIP/138 ERA+. Injuries in 2014 and 2015 derailed Lee’s quality run.

For what it’s worth, FanGraphs has Lee’s production valued at $124.6 million in the first three years of his contract, alone. Lee accumulated 17.3 fWAR in those 93 starts from 2011-13, which was the third most in baseball in that span.

Zack Greinke, Dodgers (2013-18): Six years, $147 million

Greinke flourished after signing with the Dodgers, posting a 2.30 ERA/2.97 FIP/156 ERA+ in 92 starts in three seasons before exercising an opt-out clause this offseason. He finished in the top-10 in Cy Young voting in each of those seasons, earned All-Star status in the last two years and accumulated 13.6 fWAR — the eighth highest number since 2013.

FanGraphs pegs Greinke’s three-year run at $105.2 million. And while that is good value, considering he made $64 million, the opt-out clause exercised by Greinke after season’s end highlights one of the risks that kind of contract can have.

So far so good…

Felix Hernandez, Mariners (2013-19): Seven years, $175 million

King Felix’s big payday comes with a caveat, as it was built as an extension on top of his five-year, $78 million deal from 2010. The 2015 season was rough by Hernandez’s standards as his numbers (3.53 ERA/3.72 FIP/107 ERA+) were well off from what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.

Hernandez’s fWAR since 2013 is 14.4, the sixth best among pitchers in that time frame, but his 2.8 in 2015 was his lowest since 2005.

Over the first three years of the extension, FanGraphs calculates King Felix’s worth at $109.6 million.

Cole Hamels, Phillies (2013-18): Six years, $144 million

Hamels’ extension (signed in July 2012) kept him from testing free agency. Before he was traded to the Rangers in 2015, he was definitely earning his money in Philadelphia. Since the extension began in 2013, Hamels has a 3.25 ERA/3.27 FIP/119 ERA+ and even finished sixth in the Cy Young voting in 2014.

He has three years and $67.5 million left on his deal, plus a vesting option worth $19 million (or a buyout worth $6 million). FanGraphs has his WAR number at 12.9 since 2013 and his dollar value at $99 million in that span of 95 starts.

It’s too soon to tell, but…

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (2014-20): Seven years, $215 million

Kershaw’s extension locked up the three-time Cy Young winner through his age 32 season in 2020. And all he has done in his first two years is post a 1.96 ERA/1.91 FIP/138 ERA+ in 60 starts.

FanGraphs had Kershaw valued at $69 million in 2015, a year in which he finished third in the Cy Young vote. And in the first two seasons of his extension, he has been worth $127.4 million, as he has posted a MLB-leading 16.4 WAR since the start of 2014.

Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees (2014-2020): Seven years, $155 million (plus $20 million posting fee)

Tanaka has been good when healthy, posting a 3.16 ERA/3.54 FIP/124 ERA+. However he has only made 44 starts, missing time with various injuries. He followed up a 3.1 fWAR rookie season with a 2.2 in 2015.

FanGraphs valued his first two years at $41.4 million. Tanaka made $44 million in his first two seasons. Or, to look at it in a different way, he has been paid $1 million per start.

Brett’s work in the aftermath of the Tanaka signing was really excellent.

Max Scherzer, Nationals (2015-21): Seven years, $210 million

Scherzer threw two no-hitters in 2015 and was one pitch away from throwing a perfect game. He finished fifth in the Cy Young race and led the MLB with 33 starts and posted a league-best 8.12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He posted a 2.79 ERA/2.77 FIP/144 ERA+, while his 6.4 fWAR and his contributions in 2015 were valued at $51.2 million.

The contract structure here is very unique.

Jon Lester, Cubs (2015-20): Six years, $155 million

Lester inked the biggest contract in Cubs history when he signed last offseason. He posted a 3.34 ERA/2.92 FIP/117 ERA+ in his first season under the microscope at Wrigley Field. He saw his K/9 rate grow to 9.1 in his first year against NL line-ups, while posting a respectable 4.4 K/BB.

There is some question in his value. Baseball-Reference’s WAR had him at 3.1, while FanGraphs pegged him at 5.0. If we go with FanGraphs’ valuation, his 2015 was worth $40.1 million.

Brett’s post in the wake of the news is worth re-visiting, if only for the .gifs.

Surprisingly good

Kevin Brown, Dodgers (1999-2005), Seven years, $105 million

History has been kind to Brown, who was the first player to sign a $100 million dollar deal. What makes this deal so remarkable (in retrospect) is that it locked up Brown for his age 34-40 seasons. Yet, the Dodgers still got good value out of Brown, whose 23.8 fWAR in the first five years of his contract was the seventh most in baseball from 1999-2003.

Brown posted fWAR numbers of 7.3 (1999), 6.8 (2000) and 6.1 (2003) — and might have had another had he not missed time in 2001 where he accumulated 3.0 fWAR in 20 games (19 starts).

The last two years of the contract were played for the Yankees (4.95 ERA/3.88 FIP/89 ERA+ and were excruciatingly painful for Brown, especially in the 2004 ALCS where he was 0-1 (in 2 starts) with a 21.60 ERA in 3.1 total innings. Brown has the dubious distinction of being the losing pitcher in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, in which the Red Sox completed their epic comeback from being down 0-3.

Overall, he pitched to a 3.23 ERA/3.30 FIP/130 ERA+ over the life of the contract.

Injured pitchers

Johan Santana, Mets (2008-13): Six years, $137 million

Santana’s extension, which came after being traded from the Twins to the Mets,  paid immediate dividends. He started 88 games in his first three years, pitching to a 2.85 ERA/3.59 FIP/143 ERA+. Santana finished third in the Cy Young race in 2008 and was an All-Star a year later.

Things started to fall apart when he missed the entire 2011 season. He came back in 2012, threw a no-hitter against the Cardinals, but bottomed out after that. Santana hasn’t pitched in a big league game since.

FanGraphs values Santana’s first three seasons at $74.6 million, a stretch in which he made $60 million.

Matt Cain, Giants (2012-17): Six years, $127.5 million

Cain signed an extension with the potential to pay him $141 million over seven years in April 2012. But getting all of that looks doubtful as Cain has been bitten by the injury bug and his performance has suffered.

He was an All-Star who finished sixth in the Cy Young vote on the strength of a 2.79 ERA/3.40 FIP/129 ERA+, but Cain has pitched to a 4.37 ERA/4.40 FIP/80 ERA+ since, making only 26 starts the last two seasons after making 30 in 2013.

FanGraphs pegged his 2012 value at $24.4 million. But after his performance was valued at $11.2 million in 2013, he has been in the red each of the last two seasons, performing at a negative value (-$4.8 million).

Justin Verlander, Tigers (2013-19): Seven years, $180 million

Like Hernandez, Verlander’s deal was structured on top of a previous extension. The Tigers tacked on an additional five years to Verlander’s extension through 2019 and the results have been mixed. Since 2013, he has pitched to a 3.84 ERA/3.50 FIP/104 ERA+.

Verlander accumulated the third highest fWAR (36.7) between 2006-12 before signing the extension, but has been worth 10.6 fWAR over the first three years of the extension. FanGraphs has valued those three years from Verlander at $80.5 million.

CC Sabathia, Yankees (2012-16): Five years, $122 million

Sabathia has actually landed two deals worth more than $100 million. After signing a seven-year contract worth $161 million, Sabathia was given a new deal, which kept him from opting out of the final four years ($92 million) of the first deal.

Since re-working his deal, Sabathia has pitched to a 4.35 ERA/4.06 FIP/93 ERA+. It has been rough for Sabathia, who battled knee injuries in each of the last two seasons and seasons and checked himself into alcohol rehab in Oct. 2015.

Sabathia has accumulated 8.5 fWAR in 97 starts since 2012.

Homer Bailey, Reds (2014-19): Six years, $105 million

Even though Bailey posted a 4.1 fWAR the season before signing his extension, the deal was a bit of an eyebrow raiser, considering he had pitched to a 4.25 ERA/4.00 FIP/95 ERA+ in 143 career starts.

Bailey has been hit hard by the injury bug, making only 23 starts in 2014 (tear in the flexor mass tendon in right arm) and two in 2015  (undergoing Tommy John Surgery). What complicates matters is that the bulk of Bailey’s payday is still to come. He is scheduled to make $81 million over the next four years.

The worst of the worst

Mike Hampton, Rockies (2001-2008): Eight years, $121 million

As Phil Rogers noted in a Tribune piece in 2000, Hampton was 28, left-handed and coming off a season in which he pitched the Mets into the World Series. He was clearly the crown jewel of his free agency class. However, the shine wore off shortly after he signed.

Hampton’s performance was so poor, he only lasted two years with the Rockies as he pitched to a 5.75 ERA/5.36 FIP/88 ERA+. Over the life of his contract, he owned a 4.81 ERA/4.74 FIP/96 ERA+, accumulating a total of 8.1 fWAR — which ranks 86th of 92 qualifying pitchers between 2001-08.

And to think, he was almost a Cub. Andy MacPhail and Tribune executive Dennis FitzSimons flew to Houston to woo Hampton — who was expected to get a six-year contract in the neighborhood of $15 million annually, according to Tribune reporter Teddy Greenstein.

The Cardinals and Braves were also reportedly in on the Hampton sweepstakes, as were the Rangers, Astros and Mets. But the Cubs reportedly were willing to offer more money than any of those teams.

FanGraphs put Hampton’s value for years two through eight of his deal at $27.5 million — $19 million of which came in 2003-04 with the Braves.

Barry Zito, Giants (2007-13): Seven years, $126 million

Zito had one season with the Giants (2009, 105) with an ERA+ at or above league average, which came after he posted an ERA+ of 100 or better in each of his first seven seasons with the Athletics. After signing with the Giants, Zito pitched to a disappointing 4.62 ERA/4.61 FIP/87 ERA+.

However, Zito tried to make up for his lackluster regular season with two excellent pitching performances in the 2012 postseason. He shut out the Cardinals over 7.2 innings in Game 5 of the NLCS and tamed the Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series.

FanGraphs valued Zito’s performance with the Giants at $39.5 million.

The chart


*Estimates that the price of 1 WAR from 1998-2002 was around $4.5 million

Interesting to note the average contract length (6.4 years) and salary ($146.5 million) for the 16 pitchers — and average WAR (3.1) over the life of the contract for pitchers who completed at least two years of their deal.


Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.