Comparing the contracts for Shaun Marcum and Mike Pelfrey

Earlier today Frank Gray wrote a piece about the Mets’ decision to sign Shaun Marcum rather than Chris Young. Never my favorite pitcher to begin with, Young didn’t endear himself to me in his time in Queens, so I agreed with the article’s conclusion. But Frank’s piece got me thinking about a different angle on basically the same topic. Why Marcum over Mike Pelfrey?

First, let’s start off with the contracts that both pitchers signed. Each got a one-year deal with a $4 million base salary. Each has incentives built into their contracts. Pelfrey can earn an additional $1.5 million based on IP, as he receives a bonus starting at 150 IP. Marcum also has an incentive-laden deal, but he can earn up to an additional $4 million. He earns extra money based on two separate criteria: Innings and being on the roster without an injury to his right arm.

Here’s how much each player would have earned each year since Pelfrey became a full-time player in 2008, assuming they played each year under the terms of their 2013 contracts:

Player 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Marcum $5.25 $0 $7.5 $8.0 $4.625
Pelfrey $5.5 $4.75 $5.5 $5.0 $0.0

Marcum would have earned $25.375 million or just over 63% of the potential $80 million he could have made if he met all of his incentives. Meanwhile, Pelfrey would have earned $20.75 million or just over 75% of the $27.5 million he could have made if he met all of his incentives.

From 2008 to 2012, Marcum earned 9.8 fWAR. At his 2013 rate of pay, Marcum would have been paid $2.6 million per each unit of fWAR he delivered. Meanwhile, Pelfrey earned 8.7 fWAR in the 2008-2012 period and at his 2013 rate of pay, he would have been paid $2.4 million per each unit of fWAR he delivered.

On the surface, that’s pretty darn close.

When Pelfrey signed, it seemed like the conventional wisdom was that it was a fair contract or perhaps a slight overpay for the Twins. When Marcum signed, the conventional wisdom was that the Mets got a good deal. It’s hard for me to balance those viewpoints given the health and production history of the two pitchers.

To me, it seems on average that Pelfrey is more likely to be healthy but if they are both healthy, then Marcum is likely to deliver better results. And the Mets paid a slight premium for Marcum’s results upside.

That seems like a defensible decision. If Marcum gets injured, the Mets have Jeremy Hefner, Collin McHugh, Jenrry Mejia and Zack Wheeler as potential fill-ins. A best-case scenario would be Marcum pitching an entire season and delivering a 3.6 fWAR, like he did in 2010. But it could also be a win for the Mets if Marcum was able to stay healthy through July, allowing Wheeler four months of starts in Triple-A to continue harnessing his command.

Of course, it’s not so cut and dried. Marcum pitched more innings last year than Pelfrey, yet down the stretch after he returned from a two-month DL stint, Marcum was not a very good pitcher. He returned on August 25th and in his final eight games Marcum had a 4.32 ERA and a 4.98 FIP. Now, Marcum consistently outperforms his FIP but a 4.32 ERA is nothing to get excited about.

And while Pelfrey made just three starts, he appeared like a different pitcher then the guy who stunk up the joint in 2011. He posted a 2.29 ERA with a 2.38 FIP, thanks to throwing strikes and pounding batters with his sinker. He had a 1.83 BB/9 and a 53.0 GB%. Essentially, Pelfrey was doing exactly what he needed to do to succeed with a dismal strikeout rate.

Time will tell if the Mets made the right decision to cut ties with Pelfrey to sign Marcum. Certainly, the majority of the fan base thinks so, as very few people remained Pelfrey fans by the end of his tenure with the club. Perhaps getting away from the hitter’s parks he’s called home for his big league career will be just what the doctor ordered for Marcum.

And a new start in a new city might be a magic elixir for Pelfrey, too.

12 comments for “Comparing the contracts for Shaun Marcum and Mike Pelfrey

  1. Frank
    February 5, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Good points Brian. I will certainly not miss the hand licking. With that said, Pelfrey was an innings eater for a bullpen that needed it. If Marcum come anywhere close to that AND stays healthy, he could be a long-term answer. The Mets will need a veteran for the young rotation. After next year Johan will be gone and Niese will be the longest tenured Met. They will need someone to pair with him for that veteran presence to groom Harvey and Wheeler at the big league level. If Marcum works out this year, they will be in a prime position to sign him longer and he would fill that void. Again, excellent read.

  2. Name
    February 5, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Pelfrey had TJ in May. He keeps insisting he will be ready by the start of the regular season(and of course he would say it to drive up his price), but i don’t believe it. Even if he is able to come back healthy, i’m not so sure what kind of results he would produce. I think it’s been studied that the pitcher doesn’t start to have better results until the 2nd year after the surgery.

    I usually look at bWAR, but the stats you used here were fWAR so i decided to take a look… and i have serious doubts about that stat. 1.6 fWAR for Pelfrey in 09 when he posted a 5.03 ERA? Gotta be something wrong there. We all know Pelfrey was useless and disastrous that year.

    • February 5, 2013 at 4:01 pm

      I don’t think the proper response when you see something that doesn’t make sense from a reputable site like FanGraphs should be, “Gotta be something wrong there.”

      I think a better response would be – Why does that number differ so much from my expectation?

      The reason is that FG does not use ERA but rather uses FIP in its calculations for pitchers. Here’s their explanation:

      “FIP removes defense from the equation by only looking at three factors that a pitcher has demonstrable control over – walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed. By using FIP, we’re isolating the pitcher’s core abilities and evaluating him based on those skills. Now, we’re not claiming that FIP captures everything a pitcher is responsible for. It is not the perfect context-neutral pitcher run modeler – we know that. But when confronted with a choice of including way too many non-pitcher inputs or leaving out a few minor actual pitcher inputs, the latter was the better choice. You will get more accurate win values for a pitcher using FIP than you will ERA or RA.”

      Pelfrey had a 5.03 ERA but a 4.39 FIP in 2009. A 2.0 fWAR is usually considered an average rate, so even using FIP he was below-average for the year.

      It’s fine to disagree with their choice. But their decision to use FIP was not done on a whim and fWAR in my opinion is the better way to evaluate a pitcher’s season.

  3. AJ
    February 5, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Comes a time when you have to cut someone loose… patience wears thin, hope gives way to perpetual disappointment, and you finally decide you can’t go on forever giving one more chance. Seems that’s the place the Mets got to with Pelfry, and as you noted, few fans shed any tears about it. It’s possible Pelf turns it around this year and becomes the pitcher the Mets always hoped he be, but if so, maybe that turnaround was contingent on his getting a fresh start with another team. Maybe if he had come back with the Mets it would turn out to be more of the same. We can’t ever know about these things.

    One thing I feel pretty certain about – the Mets showed a lot of patience with Pelfry. They gave him years of opportunity to define himself as a pitcher, and the results were mixed at best. Now they’ll give Marcum a shot and I hope the results are better.

    • norme
      February 5, 2013 at 5:49 pm

      AJ, I agree with you 100%. Pelfrey needed a new place, new pitching coach. Hope he succeeds, but it was probably never going to be in NY.

  4. February 5, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Pelfrey needed a change in scenery. As a Met fan I just got tired of his meltdowns and dealing with his tongue lashings. He is a sinker ball pitcher who was progressively getting worse.You want a mediocre pitcher who has a tendency to self destruct then by all means re-sign him. We all remember the one good year he had when I believe he got off to a 10 and 1 start.But other than that he’s just average and it was time for the Mets to move on.

  5. February 6, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Great comparison Brian!

    I find it kind of odd that Mets’ fans were so quick to give up on Pelfrey when he actually gave them a lot of innings from 2008-2011.

    Sure, his ’09 and ’11 seasons were pretty bad, but I still think he had value, especially at the price the Twins got him for.

    I’m a pretty big Marcum supporter and think the Mets did a good job landing him, but I didn’t agree with them letting Pelfrey go.

  6. Chris F
    February 6, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    It was time for Pelf to move on. His course ran its distance in Flushing. Im not gonna shed a tear over his departure. He caused me plenty of runs to the store for TUMS. A change of scenery is best for him and Mets fans. Big Mike was not part of the solution, which means he was part of the problem. Im cautiously hopeful for Marcum. At the least it’ll be a new name to swear at for the year!! Lets hope we can cheer more however!

    Good luck in Minnesota Pelf.

    • February 6, 2013 at 6:25 pm

      Agreed. I really just became tired of him, honestly. It was definitely his ACTUAL performance. But it was also I guess that I got tired of waiting for the light bulb to go on for him. He just had/has enough potential to be a great pitcher. He just hasn’t “gotten” it yet (you could argue he was rushed). That very well may happen in Minnesota. But hey, not like that’s something new for Mets fans….

  7. MarkB
    February 6, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    This is the problem with these advance statistics. Mike Pelfrey SUCKS, it’s just that simple. We don’t need WAR and PIF to tell us that. We’ve been watching him for years; we’ve seen the best out of him, and it’s not very good. I don’t know much about Shaun Marcum, but he can’t be worse than Pelfrey, regardless of what these meaningless statistics say.

    • MarkB
      February 6, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      Oops, I meant “FIP.” See how much I care about these things?!

  8. February 6, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    But pitching in Minnesota where there will be no pressure or expectation since he’s coming back from injury should at least give him a fresh start and a better chance at success. Sometimes a player just needs a change in scenery to regain his confidence.

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