The Chicago Cubs were spurned by Anibal Sanchez in December when the free agent right hander gave the Detroit Tigers the last second opportunity to beat their five year, $75 million offer (he ended up signing with Detroit for five years and $80 million).
Mar. 13, 2012; Melbourne, FL, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Edwin Jackson (33) warms up in the bullpen prior to the game against the Detroit Tigers at Space Coast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
The Cubs, apparently, turned their attention to the well-traveled Edwin Jackson. It was officially announced yesterday that they had signed the former Detroit Tiger to a four year, $52 million deal. It seems that the Cubs were stuck with Plan B, but is Jackson on a shorter contract and $28 million less in total commitments really a worse option? Would the Tigers have been better off pursuing Jackson rather than Sanchez?
The Tigers are paying Sanchez to produce something like 16 wins over the next five years (three-ish wins per season), and the Cubs will be paying Jackson for nearly 11 wins over four years (2.5-ish per year). We have no way of knowing how each player will perform in the future, but we can see how they’ve performed in the past.
So the Tigers are paying Sanchez to be (more or less) the pitcher that Jackson had been for the last five seasons, and the Cubs are paying Jackson to be somewhat less valuable than he’d been the last four seasons. Seems like the Cubs got themselves a pretty good deal, but did the Tigers necessarily make a bad deal?
WAR gives one view. It combines quality of production and playing time into one neat number, but what we’re really seeing here is that Jackson has been more durable than Sanchez over the last four and five years, not that he’s necessarily been a better pitcher while in the game.
Durability with Sanchez is a concern, to be sure, but he clearly has more upside than Jackson does (the two players are within six months so age isn’t an issue). He wasn’t completely healthy in 2008 or 2009 so he didn’t pitch many innings, but he’s been quite effective while in the game.
If we were to limit ourselves to just the last three seasons, we would see Sanchez catch up in innings (only nine behind Jackson), lead in fWAR by a margin of 12.0 to 10.5, lead in ERA 3.75 to 4.10, and lead in FIP 3.40 to 3.75. If Sanchez can maintain that production rate, he could miss an entire year and still be “worth” his contract (though Jackson could do the same). Basically, both pitchers are being paid to perform (annually) at 75-80% of their 3-year rate.
Jackson (and his contract) appears to be the safer bet (in that he can eat innings, pitch pretty well, and stay healthy), but Sanchez has the ability to be very good if he can stay in the game. The Tigers are betting that he can. Detroit didn’t want a safe bet for the rotation; they wanted a guy that could push them over the edge. Sanchez, more than Jackson, has the potential to be that guy.