The Marlins locked up their most talented pitcher on Thursday, as they agreed to terms with 26-year-old SP Josh Johnson on a four-year, 39 million dollar contract. The deal will pay 3.75MM in ’10 and 7.75MM in ’11, Johnson’s last two years of arbitration, and buys out his first two years of free agency at $13.75MM per season.
Johnson is, simply put, a very talented pitcher. Despite only logging 481.1 career innings and 76 career starts, or about 2.5 seasons worth of starting, Johnson has already compiled 10.3 wins above replacement. He follows the general template of success for good pitchers – good strikeout numbers (7.95 K/9), and solid walk totals (3.27 BB/9), but most of all, he keeps the ball in the yard, as he only allows .67 home runs per 9 innings. Normally, a rate this low would signal luck, but Johnson is a heavy ground ball pitcher (48% ground balls to only 32.5% fly balls on his career), and so this is more a function of Johnson’s pitching than any sort of lucky circumstances.
Going by the standard 40%/60%/80% valuation of arbitration seasons, this contract is effectively paying for the equivalent of 3.4 free agent seasons of Johnson (.6+.8+2). With Johnson valued as a roughly 4.0 win player in his prime, the deal is paying for about 13.6 wins, and that’s a conservative estimate. That means that the deal is paying 2.9 million dollars per marginal win, well under either the $3.5M or $4.0M estimates that have been thrown around, and far under the $4.4M value of a marginal win from 2009.
The obvious comparison for this deal is Zack Greinke’s four-year, 38 million dollar contract that he received last offseason. Both players had similar paths to their deals. After putting up good numbers in ’05 and ’06, Greinke missed nearly all of ’07, but returned with a very strong season in 2008, which, much like Johnson’s 2009, was worth roughly 5 wins above replacement. Greinke’s contract bought out the same exact years of his career: year two of arbitration through year two of free agency. However, the marginal value of a win in the 2009 market was closer to 4.4 million, meaning that Johnson is actually being paid more in comparison to expected value than Greinke was back in 2009.
Obviously, the Greinke contract has been very favorable to the club so far, given Greinke’s historical 2009 season, in which he put up 9.4 WAR. It’s hard to imagine the Marlins getting that kind of return on their investment. It does look like the Marlins are getting a solid deal, however, and it can’t hurt that this news is coming out only days after the MLB released a statement regarding the Marlins’ thrifty ways with their revenue sharing income.
Overall, this deal seems like a win-win. Johnson gains financial security at a good rate for an arbitration player, and the Marlins retain a talented piece that will be a key to any possible playoff run in the next four years.
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