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:
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.