Monday, July 21, 2014

It's more expensive to replace Jon Lester than to sign him

Against the Royals Sunday, Jon Lester threw 8 scoreless innings, allowing only 4 hits and striking out 8. It was his 10th win of the season for a team that's had difficulty reaching .500. Lester is 4th in the AL in ERA (2.50), 8th in WHIP (1.12), 6th in strikeouts (142), 4th in innings (137.0), tied for 5th in quality starts (15), and 8th in opposing OPS (.634).

The Red Sox are 13-7 (.650) when he pitches, 33-45 (.428) when he doesn't. This year if you have tickets to a Jon Lester game, you're 52% more likely to see a Red Sox win. Even though he's 41st in run support (3.35 runs per game). Only 3 other full-time AL starters get worse run support (Jake Peavy is one of them).

With each victory, his impending contract grows fatter and fatter.

But is he worth the years? Is he worth the dollars? What if the cost is $150 million for 6 years? What if it's more?

Wrong questions. The question isn't "Is Jon Lester worth X?" The question is "What would Jon Lester cost to replace?"

You might replace Jon Lester with another ace-like pitcher, which would require a similarly juicy contract. So unless you acquire someone better, what's the point? Or you could also replace him with a combination of pitchers and hitters that improve the team, spreading that money among several arms and bats. However, buying enough arms and bats to make up for Lester's absence would cost more than keeping Lester.

It's usually unwise to take a team that needs a complete overhaul, like the Red Sox, and do something that makes them worse. It's like being out of food in your house, and deciding to throw out your refrigerator before you go get groceries. You're giving yourself a much bigger problem to deal with.

This team's lineup is in horrible shape. Two starters in Sunday's game had averages below .200. Six had averages below .250. The 2015 Sox will need a catcher, two guys on the left side of the infield, along with a couple of outfielders. Looking farther ahead, David Ortiz turns 39 in a few months. So that bat will need to be replaced someday.

Taking Lester out of the equation would put more onus on the offense to carry this team. Which means the team would need to spend money to fill these holes in the lineup. Lots of money. The Red Sox seem to want to give young, inexpensive talent a chance to find a place in the Majors. Without Lester, however, an offense like that will be losing games 5-3 instead of winning them 3-2.

The offense needs work. Keeping Jon Lester will ensure that the cost of that work doesn't need to be catastrophically expensive in order to win.

Lester's leaving would also affect the bullpen. He's averaging 6.85 innings per start. If you assume the 9th being pitched by the closer, on average Lester's starts require a mere 0.15 innings of middle-relief work. Remove Lester from the rotation and now the bullpen is forced to use another set-up guy once a week. Add that to the cost of not signing Lester.

The most obvious area affected by Lester's departure would be the rotation. The unfortunate truth of Boston baseball in 2014 is that the Sox rotation after Lester and John Lackey is weak and unreliable. And Lackey turns 36 in October. He also has a potential payday ahead of him, or a retirement.

The Sox are 12th in team ERA this year at 3.76. Remove Lester and the team ERA increases to 3.99, 21st in baseball.

The Sox are 7th in quality starts with 58. Lester's 15 are slightly more than a fourth of those. Without them the Sox have 43, which would put them in 25th. Even if the Sox replaced Lester with a guy who had 10 quality starts at this point, the Sox would fall from 7th to 14th.

Lester lifts the rotation, balancing out the weakness and unreliability at the bottom with strength and consistency at the top.

Replacing Jon Lester with another pitcher of his caliber will cost the same as signing Jon Lester. If the Sox let Lester walk, they'll spend more money in other areas to make up for his absence. Another starting pitcher would need to be signed, the bullpen would need to be bolstered, the offense would need to be dramatically improved to make up for the weaker starting pitching.

The less expensive thing to do is to sign Jon Lester. Even if the money seems absurd, even if he's 36 at the end of the deal and the Sox are weighed down by a $25M/year salary, it will be cheaper than trying to improve the team once he's gone.

-The Captain

Photo Credit:
Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

10 comments:

bosoxfaninatl said...

unless they decide to just roll the dice with henry owens.

it seems like the prospects at catcher make it a safe bet to not sign a starting catcher. david ross every fifth day or so should be fine with the youngsters

rob said...

If we learned anything in 2014, it's that prospects are not safe bets.

bosoxfaninatl said...

let's give them until the end of the season before closing the book on them. pedroia struggled initially, too.

that said, i am by no means trying to imply that i want to replace lester with owens next year. i hope that they should sign lester.

MIke said...

I entirely agree that the Red Sox can't afford to let Jon Lester walk. I don't care if it's an overpay, just get it done. Low balling him and allowing it to draw on this long was already a big mistake.

I would disagree that this team needs a complete overhaul. I'm also unwilling to throw in the towel on this team just yet. I don't think the gaps on this team are quite as big as you are making them out to be.

Christian Vasquez is currently your starting catcher. The plan was always for Pierzynski to give you a bridge to get to him and Swihart. He's calling a good game and getting it done at the plate. He'll have the remainder of the season to prove he's the man for the job.

I understand that Bogaerts has been short of the rookie phenom we were hoping for, but don't lump him in with JBJ either. Barring injury or completely bombing the rest of the season he will be either your starting 3B or SS.

Brock Holt has absolutely earned a starting job on this team. With Stephen Drew out of the way next year I think Holt could take over at either 3B or the outfield.

Lackey and Lester are both crucial to the rotation, but I don't think the back of the rotation is as dire a picture as you're painting. I think between Buchholz, De La Rosa, Workman, Doubront and Owens you should be able to come up with a solid 3-5 in the rotation.

bosoxfaninatl said...

who is this 29 year old tommy layne in AAA? 5-1 with 1.50 era?

rob said...

I don't lump in Bogaerts with JBJ. JBJ can actually field.

Pedroia did get ample time to prove himself, but he had done very well in AAA in 2006 to force the Sox to give him time in 2007. And he could field his position.

The '07 Sox also had Ortiz, Manny, Youkilis, and other guys to assume the offensive burden. They didn't NEED Pedroia to hit the way the 2014 Sox have relied on young players to hit.

JBJ and Bogaerts have looked completely overmatched at the plate in the Majors. I'm not giving up on them, but you can't just put 3 or 4 prospects in the lineup and hope 2 of them work out because of the law of averages. You can't rely on young, unproven, minor leaguers in order to win.

It should be hard to earn a permanent starting job on this team. It shouldn't happen just because it's part of a development plan.

We sign veterans to short-term deals to make room for prospects down the road, then promote the prospects because there's room because the veteran is gone. The prospect doesn't have to do much to get up to the Majors. Just keep playing. Prospects should force the Sox to promote them or keep them up in Boston with their play.

Vazquez, for instance, has done well in a handful of at-bats up here. But the guy has been an offensive dud his whole career. He doesn't hit for power. He got promoted because Pierzynski sucked, and we signed Pierzynski so we'd have room to promote Vazquez one day.

We fall in love with these prospects and I don't know why. Prospects, by definition, are not safe bets. They're potential Major Leaguers, not sure things.

The bottom of the rotation isn't a big deal so long as the top is strong. Lester, Lackey, and I'd like someone besides the names Mike listed. Buchholz is dead to me. Even if we got a guy to be a solid 4, that at least would give stability, so if nobody worked out, the rotation wouldn't just be a two-man show.

bosoxfaninatl said...

i don't think anybody (jbj) that has hit over .350 in the last ten games can be described as overmatched. they obviously put too much stock into sizemore's spring performance. and hoped that victorino would play more than 25% of the games.

nava was not unproven. he showed last year (and since coming back to the majors) that he can hit major league pitching, as well.

and bogaerts was hitting fine before they moved him to third base.

rob said...

So Bogaerts not hitting is because he was moved to an easier fielding position? Why is it Brock Holt can play 7 positions a week and hit fine, but Bogaerts can't adjust to moving a few feet to his right? And the reason they moved him was because he was awful at short.

Players change positions all the time. Pedroia played SS in single-A and Pawtucket and with the Red Sox in 2005.

Congratulations to JBJ on batting over .350 in the last 10 games. That's raised his average to .234. He's gotten that OBP over the .300 hurdle up to a whopping .310, and his SLG is up to .322.

I don't mean to be rude or mean, but we can't just select the most positive set of facts, and then project them for an entire season's worth of baseball. We can't take Bogaerts' April and May, combine it with JBJ's July, add Vazquez's 18 at-bats, take out Bogaerts' defense, multiply JBJ's defense, and then divide 3 young pitchers hoping 2 work out, and have it all equal a contending team in 2015.

bosoxfaninatl said...

no, but it does indicate that they can hit at the major league level.

all player's psyches are not the same. i would like to see bogaerts get moved back to shortstop with holt at third, and hopefully middlebrooks will make it back to the majors. it would be great to find a buyer for drew.

bosoxfaninatl said...

and bradley's recent numbers may indicate that the game is slowing down for him. i hope so at least.