Buying Low: Nate Robertson

As we head into free agency, one of the things we can be pretty sure of that pitching is going to be expensive. Even when you’d think teams would learn from examples such as what the Cardinals were able to do with Kyle Lohse (signed for $4.25 million just before the season started, turned in a solid season), that same team turns around and gives Lohse $41 million to be the exact same guy they got for 1/10th of that the year before.

Free agent pitching is the bubble that just won’t burst. Mike Hampton couldn’t bust it. Barry Zito couldn’t bust it. Carlos Silva couldn’t bust it. Teams are going to spend a lot of money on mediocre pitching, leaving the smart teams to mostly look elsewhere.

So, smart teams, I’ve got a suggestion. Call the Tigers about Nate Robertson.

Yes, the same Nate Robertson who just posted a 6.35 ERA for the Tigers last year, and is owed $17 million over the remaining two seasons on his contract. I know, $7 million this year and $10 million next year for a guy coming off the worst year of his career doesn’t sound like a wise investment, but there might not be a better buy-low candidate this winter.

Here are Robertson’s FIPs since 2004, when he became a full-time starter:

2004: 4.52
2005: 4.73
2006: 4.72
2007: 4.65
2008: 4.99

Yes, 2008 was his worst year, but by a pretty small margin. A .3 FIP difference over his career norms would translate out to about seven extra runs per season. A seven run dropoff is far more marginal than what the perception of Robertson’s collapse is, considering how bad his results were in 2008.

Robertson pitched mostly the same as he’s always pitched, but due to a remarkably worse defense (importing Miguel Cabrera and moving Brandon Inge off third will do that to you), his results made it look like his skills fell apart. In reality, he’s still the same league average starter he’s always been, and in this market, $17 million over two years is a bargain for a league average starter.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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15 years ago

Nate Robertson isn’t the type of pitcher who will take a team from something’s missing to a competitor. Is he really worth that much money? Then again, lots of pitchers raking in the bucks these days aren’t worth the money. There are quite a few guys making 10 mil a year who should frankly be in the minor leagues, or out of baseball.