The Poor Man’s Analyst

Replacement Level Pitching, in English

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There’s been a lot of talk around the internet recently about replacement level players. This seems to have been sparked by FanGraphs adding a whole bunch of new features, exposing fans with a passing interest in stats to some of the more complex sabermetric ideas and concepts. I say FanGraphs is responsible because most of the conversation has been focused on hitting, which is expected because most of the new stats there have been hitting stats (and their accompanying articles/explanations).

So here today, I’m going to be talking about replacement level, and how it can be applied to pitching. To illustrate the concepts, I’ll be using some guys like Kei Igawa, Sidney Ponson, Joba Chamberlain, Chien Ming Wang, and Andy Pettitte. Each one of these pitchers represent a portion of the concept that may raise a question. So while Igawa might not serve a purpose on the field, he will in this article. [Edit: This got kind of long, so I’m breaking it up into two parts. I’ll have something else up tomorrow, and then part two should be up on Friday]

Everybody knows the kind of value that stars like CC Sabathia provide. It’s obvious that he deserves to be paid obscene sums of money when he’s throwing 230+ innings with a sub-3 ERA. You don’t need some funny-sounding stat to tell you he’s damn good. There are other pitchers to compare him to that will help determine his salary–guys like Johan, Peavy, Oswalt, etc. But how do you determine the value of pitchers that aren’t like Sabathia? Is Oliver Perez worth $8 million per year or $14M? What about the value of a guy who’s really good, but can only pitch for half a season, like Roger Clemens of ’06?

Enter the concept of the replacement level player. In baseball terms, these guys are the players who might bounce around from team to team, essentially acting as roster fillers. They can be easily acquired and will only earn the major league minimum. But when a player gets hurt, isn’t he usually replaced by a bench player? While that is true, bench player’s don’t provide a good baseline for teams to use. Bench players aren’t so easy to find, and aren’t paid the minimum salary. Just look at the Yankees opening day bench, which included former All-Star third baseman Morgan Ensberg ($1.75 million), Jose Molina ($1.88 million), the powerful (if nothing else) Wilson Betemit ($1.17 million), and Shelley Duncan (minimum salary of $400K). These guys are paid salaries significantly higher than the major league minimum and can’t be acquired with just one phone call. As you may have noticed, the examples given in this paragraph are all bench hitters, and the title of the article is about pitching. So now, I’ll go through the different “types” of pitchers in attempt to provide a clearer view of what replacement level means, and how to use it to value players.


Kei Igawa. You probably saw that coming a mile away. Igawa has been flat out awful in the time he’s pitched for the Yankees. He’s thrown 71.2 innings to the tune of a 6.66 ERA the last two seasons, which includes the whopping 4 innings he threw this past season. Various studies have been done on defining replacement level pitching for both starters and relievers, and the general consensus is that a replacement level starter would give up 5.5 runs per 9 innings (5.50 ERA), and a replacement level reliever would give up around 4.5 per 9. So Igawa has thus far provided negative value for the $8 million the Yankees have paid him, plus the $26 million posting fee. Yikes.

Replacement Level

With all the injuries to the starting rotation this season, 2008 was the year of the replacement pitcher for the Yankees. Luckily (or not, depending on your point of view), the Yankees employed not one, but two replacement level pitchers this past season, in Darrell Rasner and Sidney Ponson. Rasner might not be the “traditional” replacement level pitcher since he’s in his first 6 years of service, but he was DFA’d by the Yanks last off-season, and was therefore available for any team to sign him, so we’ll count him. Ponson, and his 5.45 ERA the last two seasons, is the definition of replacement level, so he’s the better example. When the Yankees signed Ponson, he was available for any team to sign him, and got paid the minimum once he was signed. When you’re wondering how much better (or worse, in the case of Igawa) a pitcher is then the “free” alternative, just think about it in terms of Runs Saved Over Sidney.

That’s it for now, since this is getting really long already (and this wasn’t even the epic post I was describing in the previous post). I’ll continue with part two in a couple days.


Written by dcn29

December 31, 2008 at 5:55 PM

Posted in Player Value

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  1. […] Part II Posted in Player Value by dcn29 on the January 2, 2009 Tags: replacement level In part one of this, I talked about why we compare players versus the baseline of a replacement player instead […]

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