I might be in the minority on this, but before this season started, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that 2012 would be Jake Peavy's last season on the South Side. While his talent was never in question, his constant injuries made it seem unlikely that he was ever going to be a reliable producer for the Sox. Throw in the fact that his option would make him the highest paid player in team history, and there really seemed to be no question that he wouldn't be back.
Obviously he's started to turn things around this season -- and has finally been the pitcher we all thought (or at least hoped) that we were getting. But in a year with more than a few amazing comeback stories, Peavy stands out. Unlike Adam Dunn or Alex Rios, he isn't bouncing back from historically bad production. His recovery has been one of good health more than of a return to form.
All of this got me thinking about what kind of year he would need to have in 2013 to make picking up his option a reasonable decision. Since the issue with Peavy during his tenure here has for the most part always been one of health rather than ability, I decided to focus on a single question: how many starts would he likely need to make for the salary to be worthwhile? Might he not end up an overpaid bum?
Based on my own rough analysis, I'd say that somewhere in the range of 22-24 starts of average (for him) quality Peavy would suffice. The rest of the post outlines my reasoning (in bone-dry detail, with charts!), but the gist of it is:
- Even in years when he has been injured, Peavy has pitched well (if not often)
- His buyout lowers the effective cost of the option
- At his average rate of value per start over the past few years, he could easily be worth the deal
Obviously a lot can happen between now and the offseason, but seeing as it's an off day, I figured now would be as good a time as any to take a look at this.
Peavy's $22MM option isn't really a Twenty Two Million Dollar question for the Sox. Because he's got a $4MM buyout attached to the option, the cost of retaining him for an extra year is actually $18MM. I'm using $18MM as the breakeven point for the rest of this post.
Using that figure as a starting point, I took a look at $/Win projections from Fangraphs (accordingly, I used their WAR numbers). To ensure an apples-to-apples comparison, I'm expressing prior seasons in terms of 2013 $/Win. Although it's a little outdated, the most recent figure I was able to find suggests that a win in 2013 is worth $5.25MM.
Obvious disclaimers about past performance not predicting future performance apply throughout. I haven't accounted for decline with age, which obviously would have an impact on final analysis.
It seems like looking at his actual production over the past few years is a decent place to start. The chart below outlines his value (adjusted for 2013 $/WAR). The black dashed line shows the breakeven point of $18MM -- what he'd need to produce to be worth his option next year.
Obviously, until this year, he hasn't provided nearly enough production to justify the 2013 option. While I hope I'm not inviting a jinx by including it, the last column shows how much he would be worth this season if he were able to complete 30 starts at his current pace.
The important takeaway from this chart is that if he were able just to reproduce the first five or so months of 2012 in 2013, Peavy would actually be worth his 2013 option. His 3.8 WAR over 22 starts means that he's been worth (on average, adjusted for 2013) $.90MM per start in 2012. At that clip, his production would be over $18MM by his 20th start.
But it goes without saying that this year has been an anomaly in terms of Peavy's production for the Sox. Not only has he started more games this year than at any point in his tenure, but he's also gotten better results when he does pitch. Since I'm trying to get a sense of how many games he would need to start for his option to be worthwhile, his overall value per start in recent years is an important piece of evidence. Here are his recent values for recent years:
|Year||Starts||WAR||Value / Start (2013 dollars)|
But What If....?
For a second, imagine that we're in a parallel universe where Peavy doesn't get hurt all the time, people wear shoes on their hands, and hamburgers eat people. But everything else is the same, including the quality of Peavy's pitching. In this McNallyverse, he pitched a full season's worth of games. The chart below plots out his overall production there (actual starts are in solid lines, dotted lines indicated the imaginary, Healthy Jake).
Obviously, if Peavy were able to stay healthy and pitch consistently, he would have been worth significantly more than $18MM in every year except 2010. I've already mentioned that he's already been worth more than his option costs in 2012, so the only new piece of information here is that at both his 2011 and 2009 rates, he would have surpassed that breakeven figure had he made just 22 starts.
All of this brings me back to my original question: how healthy would Peavy really need to be in 2013 to be worth his option. Obviously, there are many ways to answer this question, none of which are really correct. If you're confident that he can repeat his 2012 performance, he'd need just 20 starts to be a good investment. If next year is more like 2013, there's essentially no chance that he could be worthwhile.
Or maybe it's most reasonable to assume that his performance next year will be something like the average of what he was able to do from 2009-2012. In that scenario (plotted below), the option is a good investment if he can make 23 or more starts.
Of course, there are a lot of factors in play here. And obviously, numbers from FanGraphs aren't perfect. And of course, budgetary concerns come in to play: if Kenny Williams doesn't have the money available to him, all of this is a moot point.
On the other hand, the numbers do at least suggest Peavy may well be worth his 2013 option. If you think that Peavy is able to come close to a repeat performance of 2012 --both in terms of effectiveness and health-- then his production would be incredibly hard to match on the open market.