No Supp For You? 

Jeff Weaver, Mark Mulder, David Wells, Steve Trachsel, and a few other pieces of bellybutton lint are still floating free, but the last big FA pitching acquisition for several teams has come down to Barry Zito and Jeff Suppan. The former will probably get $17 million a year or more, the latter in the $10 M per year range. That's a big difference. The question is, will they perform all that differently in the next three or four years?

According to BP's PECOTA projection system, yes, they will, but it's the difference between Ugh and Double Ugh.

PECOTA on Zito: He'll post 4.2 WARP in '07 and decline to 2.9 WARP in '10. That's worth annual paychecks in the $4-6M range (or, to parallel the decline, in the $6-4M range), not $15-20M.

PECOTA thinks even worse of Suppan's near future: he'll contribute 2.9 wins above replacement (WARP) in '07 and fall steadily from there. In dollar terms, he'll be worth $3.7 M next year, not $11 M. In non-geek terms, for the rest of the decade he'll post ERAs in the mid-4s or worse and see his K/BB rate fall to Rueter-esque levels.

[As a point of comparison, Jason Schmidt posted ace-like WARP scores of 8.7 and 7.9 in '03 and '04, then 3.5 in his injury-plagued '05.]

One thing Suppan has been the past four years is consistent, with IP ranging from 188 to 204, HR allowed from 21 to 25, walks from 51 to 69, and Ks from 104 to 114. In that time his OPS against has ranged from .754 to .781.

Zito has also been consistent, just up a couple notches: IP from 213 to 231, HRs from 19 to 28, BBs from 81 to 99, and Ks from 146 to 171. He's been more inconsistent in how hard he's been hit.

With the payroll escalation this winter, perhaps Zito's good (but declining) K rates and past stretches of brilliance are worth $15M-plus annually. Perhaps Suppan's workmanlike consistency will continue for three or four years and provide a 190-inning certainty for his employers.

With either guy, you're paying big bucks essentially for innings. Let's not pooh-pooh innings too much: injuries can force replacement level pitchers into the rotation, or force young guys up too soon. But when an organization's strength is its young pitching, and the gameplan is to rebuild (even though the brass won't use that word) around that strength, why sink megabucks for megayears into guys who will simply block the door in a year or two?

The Giants would be much better served either signing a cheap veteran (for those sick of that strategy, sorry, but in this case it makes sense), or giving a homegrown kid the job (Hennessey, Misch, even giving Correia another chance to start). Then fortify the bullpen, and either spend the outrageous fortune on offense or plow it back into the farm system. Hell, overspend a little on Mark Mulder, give him lots of incentives and an option that locks in if he hits health and performance milestones. If his arm is toast, it's toast, but if he recovers to pitch anything near his former levels, voila, you have better than Suppan and perhaps as good as Zito.

Of course, as soon as I hit the "publish" button on this post, I'll find out the Giants have signed Suppan to a 4-year, $48 million deal. To which I'll say, Welcome to Stem Cell Ville, Jeff.


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