Undoubtedly you've heard by now that the Tampa Bay Rays inked LHP Matt Moore to a contract that will buy out his first five years of team control for $14 million dollars. The deal includes three option years that have the potential to buy out that last year of team control, as well as, two free agent years that are the key reason for the Rays to guarantee this level of money to a guy that has one regular season start in MLB under his belt. Both sides make out quite well on this deal, as others have discussed, but I want to delve into projecting just how much the Rays may be able to reap here.
Throughout his five seasons in the minor leagues, Matt Moore averaged 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings while walking 3.8 per nine innings. Even better is that he improved his strikeout rates , and more importantly, drastically lowered his walk rates as he climbed the ladder. In fact, the last two years at A+, AA, and AAA saw strikouts per nine at 12.6, but he had cut his walks per nine down to 3.2. Without the ability to peer into the future we have no idea if these rates will improve or not, but it's pretty likely that he won't be striking out batters in the Show as if he was an elite, one-inning closer. It's probably safe to assume that he'll be walking batters a bit more than during his apprenticeship as even a pitcher like Jeremy Hellickson saw his walk rate increase upon his first full season against the best talent on the planet.
The idea here is to look at how similar players performed over their first eight years so that we can get an idea of how Moore may perform over this contract. Step one is finding comparable players to the uncomparable Matt Moore. No easy task, to say the least, as we want to cast a wide net and there just aren't many players that came up with Moore's potential. With this in mind I looked at every pitcher since 1901 that debuted before 2003 that averaged six or more strikeouts per game, walked fewer than four per game, and started at least five games over his first two years combined. Ideally, we'd like to look strictly at their rookie season, but the data is tough to pull as it wouldn't include guys that got a cup of coffee the year prior to their first full season.
There were 111 pitchers that met these requirements in 2011. This collection averaged a 3.75 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and .304 wOBA against. I include this so that it is evident that these rates may seem pedestrian, but they're actually better than average. The Baseball-Reference Play Index database spits out 232 pitchers that met the established criteria from 1901 to 2003. What we care about is how these players progressed from their initial peripheral success over their first eight seasons. We can use the rWAR statistic to get an idea of how valuable each pitcher was and once we've established some estimates we can plug these figures into a value calculator to ultimately get an idea of how much money the Rays may be hoarding here. Here's a look at the top and bottom 20 guys ranked by total WAR over the period:
(Click HERE to see the entire sheet)
If you think that Matt Moore is the best pitcher of all time then you would be inclined to think that he would be worth close to 60 WAR over this timeframe. If you think he's the worst pitcher ever then you would think he'd be worth -3.6 WAR. Being that we're thinkers here, I want to break out a couple of different aggregates so that we're not just focusing on the extremes. To do this I've built a table that looks at the year-to-year and total WAR values for selected portions of the entire set of pitchers:
Average points to the average of all 232 pitchers. If you think that Matt Moore is merely an average guy compared to all these other pitchers, then you would expect him to be worth around 11 WAR over the total life of this deal. You wouldn't expect him to even have one two-WAR season. We can plug each of those WAR values into a calculator that helps us see how much value the Rays would expect to pull in:
FV stands for Future Value and indicates the amount of money that Moore is slated to earn for each year of the deal. PV means Present Value and tells us how much purchasing power that money will have by the time he's earned it. For this purpose I've assigned a discount rate of 3%. You can see his WAR values input from the table above and the average dollar per WAR that teams would be spending on the open market. These values start at $4.5 million dollars for a win above replacement with a 5% increase to each season to account for this form of inflation. Value is the number of expected WAR multiplied by the $/WAR figure. The Surplus column ultimately tells us how his expected value compares to what the Rays would be paying Moore in present value terms.
What you'll notice is that even if Matt Moore never has a breakout and just pitches like a slightly below-average MLB pitcher that the Rays will still be saving a little over $25 million dollars compared to having to by wins on the open market! So even if he ends up having the same career as Hideki Irabu or Scott Elarton then the Rays still will do much better than buying those wins with free agents.
The real savings is when we use the other levels of that table. Let's only look at the top-10 percent of the pitchers on our list. You can see almost all of them in the top-20 chart above so you know that we're talking about the Tom Seavers, Roger Clemens, and some of the other best pitchers of all time:
If Moore pitchest at the level of these hall of fame greats then you'd expect around 35 WAR over the next 8 years. A tall order for sure as the vast majority of players never get close to 35 WAR in their entire career! Hypothetically, if Moore is that kind of guy then you're talking about him being worth almost $156 million more than what the Rays will be slated to pay him. This type of value would blow away virtually every contract in MLB outside of the tremendous Longoria deal. Let's say you think Moore isn't quite up to the level of these guys, but you think that he's in the top-25% of our list:
Now, we're expecting Moore to be worth 27 WAR which is still an incredible number to throw out there. In this scenario the Rays would be locking up around $112 million dollars above and beyond the value that they're paying to Moore. What if you think Matt never really reaches the threshold of the top-25% of these pitchers, but you still think he's somewhere in the top half:
In this scenario you'd expect Moore to be worth almost 20 WAR and the Rays would be only earning close to $71 million dollars on this deal. If the floor of Moore's deal is that he turns into a slightly better than average pitcher and he still brings an additional $71 million dollars of value to the Rays above what they're paying him then there is no way this can be seen as a bad deal. If Moore does what we all think he's capable of doing while staying healthy doing it, then you're talking about the best deal in baseball while Andrew Friedman's peers are busy doling out nine figure deals to players that are already exiting their prime. Once again, thank your God that Andrew Friedman is with the Rays, and nowhere else.