Bobby Jenks & Kyle Farnsworth
Well, this is post number two this week provoked by Dave Cameron's writing. The funny thing is that I really liked both pieces. I touched on a subtle point about tone with regard to defense and Wins Above Replacement on Wednesday. This morning, I want to address Dave's latest. As I mentioned, it's a good piece. Dave compares Kyle Farnsworth and Bobby Jenks, their respective last two campaigns, the contracts they signed, and the general reaction to both. I am Exhibit A for Dave. I loved the Jenks deal, I panned Tampa Bay's Farnsworth signing. I should also mention I am a Red Sox fan.
News Item #1 – AL East team with strong sabermetric leanings signs free-agent reliever. His peripherals are better than his ERA, and he’s considered to have some personality baggage. Reliever gets $12 million over two years – reaction is mostly positive.
Go read the rest of it. He touches on changes in Farnsworth's delivery, and it's a nicely written and evidenced post about how there may not be much difference at all between Jenks and Farnsworth. Here is how he concludes it, however.
Once you factor in the size and length of their respective contracts, it seems pretty clear to me that the Rays got a better deal with Farnsworth than the Red Sox did with Jenks.
I find this conclusion problematic for a few different reasons. The first has to do with the innings Jenks and Farnsworth have been pitching. Let's first look at Leverage numbers, a metric tracked at Baseball Prospectus. 1.00 is the Leverage situation at the start of the game when the first pitch is thrown, and then from there it's driven by Win Expectancy. We will limit our look to Dave's comparison of 2009 and 2010 for obvious reasons. Going back further overwhelmingly favors Jenks, and it does seem that Farnsworth may have turned a corner with regard to mechanics. So 2009 and 2010 only it is.
As you can see, Jenks has been pitching very important innings over the last few years. Farnsworth, not so much outside of a handful of key appearances for the Royals in 2010. It's important to remember, too, that Jenks has been closing games for a perennial contender while Farnsworth has pitched for the Royals. His ~20 innings with Atlanta in a pennant race were often low to medium leverage situations. If there were a playoff expectancy or championship expectancy figure, the gulf would be even wider.
Farnsworth's high leverage innings have come amid a push for 70 wins, while Jenks's have come in a pennant race. But let's set that aside for the moment and just look at how they have performed in their respective high leverage situations. Here it is, presented as OPS against.
Let's remember that Dave's conclusion on its face makes the narrow point that $3.5 million guaranteed for one season to Farnsworth is better than $12 million guaranteed to Jenks over two seasons. It's not terribly provocative in the context of how he presents it. They have similar peripherals, and there's reason to believe Farnsworth's improvement in 2009 and 2010 is real. Over and above the leverage point I have made above - both the innings pitched in those situations and how they have performed once there - there are additional considerations.
A $3.5 million investment for the Rays accounts for a greater percentage of their payroll than a $6 million annual investment does for the Red Sox. It's great that Tampa Bay has carved out a niche developing talent and finding undervalued assets but, just like the Boston Red Sox, the Rays are in the winning business. I understand they do not have the luxury of ponying up $12 million for someone like Jenks. In that context, given their similar output in 2009 and 2010, Farnsworth makes for a nice proxy. But let's not jump to the conclusion that the market is out of whack, or that Boston missed on Farnsworth by paying up for Jenks. Jenks comes at a premium for a number of reasons, and it's not just because professional evaluators only remember Farnsworth's failures as a Yankee.
Jenks is 30, Farnsworth 35. Jenks has five career postseason Saves, including two in the 2005 World Series as a rookie. Jenks has a quality track record extending back to 2005, while Farnsworth optimism hinges on 102 largely meaningless innings in 2009 and 2010. I don't like to overemphasize "clutch" statistics but when it comes to evaluating relief pitching I think all the information we can get is relevant. It's particularly so in the ultra-competitive American League East. In this light, when you consider age, leverage and career quality, even if the Rays have unearthed another gem in Farnsworth, the respective contracts look about right to me.