Valuing the 2011 free agent class: Cliff Lee

During the summer I tried making this a series, but the only player I covered was Victor Martinez. Oh well, there’s still plenty of time to do this, so I’ll get the ball moving along with Cliff Lee.

Obviously, Cliff Lee is the biggest name on the market. He will be the most sought after pitcher this off-season, although as of today it seems like he has only two bidders: the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees. So lets get into the dirty work.

Despite missing all of April with an injury, Cliff Lee still threw 212 innings en route to a 7.0 WAR season, arguably his best season as a professional. Lee posted his best K/9, BB/9, FIP, and xFIP since becoming one of the game’s premiere pitchers in 2008. In fact, Lee’s BB/9 was an epic 0.76. Yeah.

He will be 32 for most of next season and most people think he’ll sign about a five year deal. In 2008 he was worth $32.4mil according to WAR, $29.6mil in 2009, and $28mil this past year. So he should be looking at nine figures easy.

Cliff Lee has been about 7 WAR per season for the past three seasons, so I will start him out at 7 WAR with $4mil per win. From 2011 on he will decrease by 0.5 in WAR and the $4mil per win will increase by $.5mil increments each season. So in 2012 he will be worth 6.5 WAR at $4.5mil per win and so on.

So according to the table, to the average team Cliff will be worth $147.5mil over five years, or $29.5mil per year. By far that would make him the richest pitcher in baseball. Granted, my WAR estimates might be a tad high, but Cliff Lee profiles as a guy who can age well. He relies on stuff and location, not speed and power. He is a smart pitcher and hasn’t logged too many innings in his career yet.

Considering the teams in the running, it’ll come down to how much they value Cliff Lee themselves. If Texas doesn’t think Lee is worth nearly $150mil, they should let him pass to New York. And the same goes for the Yankees. If you had to ask me, I’d say the Yankees sign him for around $150mil. I just feel they value him more than the Rangers will, financially.

And if I were the Yankees, with the resources to sign Lee long-term, I would go for it. Granted in a few years they will have a ton of money tied up in old players, but I think Cliff Lee might be the only one of those old players who will earn his paycheck. As for the Rangers, not so much. Lee would be a great player, but for their franchise $150mil might be too high a price. They are a young team and that money could be allocated to pay for the costs of more players and younger players.

Either way, come December, let the bidding begin!

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5 Comments on “Valuing the 2011 free agent class: Cliff Lee”

  1. yankeecountry13 Says:

    Nice post Hill.

  2. Doug Bies Says:

    Well done. I want to see more of these. Like you mentioned, i think you WAR estimates are a bit too aggressive. It would have been nice to see age in the chart you created. @ 32, i think you have to almost account for regression immediately starting in 2011, instead of using his 3 year WAR average of 7. I would have started it at 6.5, but you know this stuff much better than i do.

    • Disco Says:

      I was thinking about starting him at 6.5 or 6.

      But he has just been so good, I can see him having another year as good as any year from 2008-2010. Sure he will regress some (higher BB rate) but it will still be amazing and because he throws so many innings, it will boost his WAR.

      I wish I had the time to do the math and analysis needed to actually project and forecast. Plus I dont really have the tools for it so I just have to guess.

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