There has been a poll up on Joe Posnanski’s blog for quite some time now asking his Brilliant Readers which pitcher they would rather have for four years if they were an MLB owner with $100 million burning a hole in their pocket – Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, or Yu Darvish. The question arose due to the expectation that Yu Darvish would cost whichever team acquired him a number in this range. In the end, the Rangers ended up shelling out $111 million over six years for the Japanese star.
Obviously, a poll can only display so much information because it does not allow voters to lay out their arguments for and against each pitcher. Fortunately, we here at FanGraphs can provide that opportunity through our comments section. What follows below will be a brief summary of each pitcher, and then hopefully a spirited debate in the comments.
For the record, King Felix is way ahead in the Posnanski voting at 53%, trailed by Kershaw (34%), Strasburg (11%) and Darvish (1%).
Tango has the same poll on his site, and the results are a bit tighter: Hernandez (42.5%), Kershaw (39.7%), Strasburg (15.9%), Darvish (1.9%)
Felix is the elder of the group at 26, and has by far the most robust Major League resume. He has tossed almost 1,400 innings over his seven year big league career, including at least 233.2 innings in each of the last three seasons. Durability is a very important factor for a pitcher, and Felix has shown no signs of wearing down, despite not having the most athletic body.
He is still popping the mitt in the mid-90’s, and his peripherals have been very stable over the last three seasons, with his K% ranging between 22.2% and 23.0%, and his BB% between 7.0% and 7.3%.
Of the four, Hernandez is likely the safest bet to provide 900 innings over the life of a four year deal, as he is proven that he can handle a heavy workload season after season. At his age, there isn’t as much tantalizing upside as there is with Kershaw or Strasburg, but that is getting pretty nit-picky.
After striking out at least 25% of the batter’s he faced in both 2009 and 2011, Kershaw made the jump to superstardom last season by finally getting his walk rate under control, down from 13.0% in 2009 to 5.9% in 2011. This was the thirteenth best mark in the National League, and his K/BB of 4.59 ranked third.
Kershaw comes with a bit more risk as he has only shouldered a heavy workload once, and at age 24 we still haven’t seen how is body will react to multiple seasons of 225+ innings. Other than that, his stuff is elite as he pairs a mid-90’s fastball with a slider which last year was the most valuable in baseball at 22.9 runs.
With Strasburg we begin to enter the wildcard territory. While there is no denying his stuff or his results, the fact is Strasburg has only pitched 92 Major League innings over two seasons due to injury. Also of interest is the fact that he wasn’t quite the same pitcher following Tommy John surgery. In his first season, Strasburg struck out everyone and their dog, fanning 33.6% of the batters that came to the dish against him. Following his injury, the Nationals emphasized more of a pitch to contact strategy, which would allow him to go deeper into games. This decreased his K% to 27.3%, but also limited his walks (2.3%). Unfortunately, we are in dangerously small sample size territory, so these results have to be taken with a grain of salt. It would be an incredible outlier for a pitcher to post a 2.3% walk rate while not allowing a home run over a full season.
One other thing to note on Strasburg is something I have heard a fair amount in baseball. “He has already had his Tommy John surgery.” This implies that the big injury is already out of the way, and the risk of him missing another 12 consecutive months is low, although multiple Tommy John’s isn’t unheard of, and there are many other arm injuries out there.
There has been plenty of Darvish analysis here on FanGraphs/RotoGraphs which I will not re-hash. Here are some links:
So, $100 million dollars, who’s your guy?