I’m trying to hate this blog a little less, lately, and part of the way I’m gonna do that is just write stuff that I think is interesting and worthwhile to me, to be a little more esoteric and a little more weird. For most people, this may be translated as “even more self-indulgent.”
In that spirit, I’d like to propose a baseball hypothetical to you.
Suppose you had a pitcher who you knew would, unerringly, give up one run every inning. It’s irrelevant how that run gets scored, although for the sake of argument let’s say it’s always an earned run. And let’s stipulate that while he gives up one run an inning, he always gives up a run in any inning in which he appears — if you bring him in for one out after another pitcher retires the first two batters, he will unerring give up a run before getting that out. If you keep him in the game after that, he will retire the next two batters but without fail give up a run to the third batter, keeping his average of a run an inning intact.
So: is this pitcher a terrible asset? The most valuable asset in baseball? Or where in-between?
By conventional metrics, he’s terrible. His ERA is 9, after all, a number so high as to get you drummed out of baseball entirely, not just the majors. You’d never, ever want to start him; the team with the highest runs scored per game in 2015, the Toronto Blue Jays, only scores 5.48 runs a game, meaning they’d expect to lose any particular game started by this pitcher by 3 or 4 runs. In fact, the best run-scoring team in the “modern” era, the 1930 Yankees, scored 1,067 runs in a 154 game season for an average of 6.92, again meaning that you’d expect to lose the average game this pitcher started by a couple runs, and even if you only intend to trot him out there for 6 or 7 innings, he’s leaving the game out of reach of all but the best offenses.
And yet! Think about his value as a reliever: if you ever take a lead that’s greater than the number of innings left in the game, you know that you will win that game. He’s the ultimate closer, because if you have a two run lead going into the 9th, or a three run lead going into the 8th, or a four run lead going into the 7th, the game is over, regardless of what the offense does. He’s the ultimate long reliever in a game that you blow open in the early innings, allowing you to rest your starters and let him trot out there and mop up the remainder of the game. And he’s a great firefighter; if you’re in a terrible jam, with the bases loaded and the game’s most feared hitter at the plate with nobody out, you can bring him in knowing you’ll only give up the one run, even if you decide that’s the only batter he’ll face all game.
Clearly, his value changes depending on your team’s offense. He’s much less valuable on a team with an anemic run scoring ability. But otherwise, what do you think: how valuable is he? What would be an appropriate salary? What kind of assets would you give up to get him in a trade?