Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Bye Bye ZNN

Monday, November 30, 2015

Monday Quickie - Bye Bye ZNN

Jordan Zimmermann went from unofficially gone to officially gone this weekend, signing with the Tigers.  It was a 5 year deal for 110 million which is one fewer year but more dollars per year than most people were pegging for ZNN (somewhere in the 6/20 range). That tells us that ZNN probably went to the Tigers for a little less than he might have been able to squeeze out of the market. Why?

Well, the obvious place our minds go is the whole "get to the MidWest" idea. A lot has been made that ZNN, born and raised in rural central Wisconsin, wanted to get back to that area. The four closest teams were the Brewers, Twins and Cubs/White Sox. The Brewers were not looking for a big signing, nor the White Sox, which leaves the Twins and Cubs. The Twins are expected to look for starting pitching, but haven't been linked to any big names and have only one player being paid more than 14 million. ZNN doesn't seem to fit. That leaves the Cubs as the only logical landing place but there seems to be a "Price or nothing" mindset forming in Chicago. They want Price and will try to get him but if they fail they won't spend a ton on starting pitching in free agency, either going for a cheaper deal (Samardjzia back?) or perhaps pursuing a trade instead.  With all the driveable cities out it then becomes a question of flying, preferably flying into the local airport, Central Wisconsin Airport in Wausau. That has flights direct to Detroit, making it the next best option for staying "local".

There are also other reasons though. ZNN might have preferred to get a deal sooner rather than later for security reasons. Occasionally a player can wait himself out of a good contract, as all the big money teams commit to others. When this happens players will be forced to take market value deals for one year. You get a year older, add the risk of failing, and have to run through FA all over again. While it's likely that this wouldn't happen for a player as good as ZNN, it's not impossible given the depth of the pitching available. Someone is not going to get paid. He might also want to do it sooner, rather than later, just because that's what he favors. Don't drag it out. Get a fair deal. Take a fair deal. Now he's got all winter to find a place, move his family, get situated. I don't know the guy so this is the randomnest of speculation but it's worth putting out there.

The other thing this tells us is that the Nats initial deal (5/105) was exactly what we thought it was - the lowest end of fair. Coming off his 2014 season, where he went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA, 1.072 WHIP and the best K and BB numbers of his career the Nats offered him 21 mill a year for 5 years (essentially). Coming off his 2015 season, where he went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA, 1.205 WHIP and career average K and BB numbers the market valued him at at least 22 mill a year for 5. Coming into 2015 it was likely that ZNN's market value was closer to 6/132 or 5/120. The Nats tried to get a deal. They failed. All ZNN had to do was not collapse and he was better off. He didn't.*
What does this tell us about the Nats other FAs to be? Well, I'd say for most we can expect the same sort of "low end of fair" offers.  Stammen might get offered a 3mill for 1 for 2017 if he seems healthy. Ramos might get a 2/8mill year deal if he repeats last year. Maybe they are talking to Gio about locking in 2017 (right now a team option) in return for a team option in 2019 for 15 mill or so.  But Strasburg? Bryce? These are Boras clients and the Nats don't "low end fair" Boras clients. They'll either let them walk or pay them what they deserve. For Strasburg I'm thinking walk. For Bryce I'm thinking we'll have to wait.

How is this deal for the Tigers? Pretty good assuming ZNN's arm holds up. That's the big question - how long can you rely on an TJ'd arm? The Nats have an idea that it's about 8 years meaning ZNN has about 3 years left before BOOM. But at that point, age 32, it's not like pitchers without TJ history are completely healthy. I think if the Tigers get 3 years of solid ZNN pitching they'd take it. I think ZNN has the attitude you want. He doesn't seem to be the type to get fat and happy now that he's gotten paid. Plus Comerica tends to udnerplay HRs slightly more than Nats Park and a shift back to average HR/FB rates was a big reason his stats went up. Change of venue could help. Normally I worry about NL -> AL but the AL Central offensively is not particularly powerful and ZNN didn't particularly feast on the NL East this year. I've said it before I'm bullish on ZNN

For the Nats? Losing ZNN matters. That's 200IP that needs to be replaced by Ross, who has never pitched that many** and is a second year question mark or Roark, who did pitch 200 IP a couple years ago but had a legitimately mediocre 2015. Yes he was bounced back and forth and his breif stint in 2013 and full year in 2014 were much better. But it's also true that he's 29 next year and 2009-2012 Roark looks a lot like 2015 Roark. Chances that 2013-14 were Roark's peak are pretty good. The Nats will miss ZNN. Hopefully a little, maybe a lot.

*Poor Ian. 

**152 last year most ever, wouldn't be surprised if he was on an unofficial until it becomes official 180 IP limit in 2016


cass said...

Pretty shocked the Tigers got him for that little. Seems crazy the Nats couldn't resign him if that's all it takes. Also makes me wonder if behind-the-scenes stuff makes the Nats an unattractive place to play - no matter what the players say officially. Of course no amount of money would make DC the upper Midwest.

Kinda wonder if this portends Strasburg signing with a SoCal team next offseason. No one would be surprised.

Zimmerman11 said...

Since 5/110 got it done, I am going to be pretty seriously disappointed (moreso) if we don't now keep Harper long term... preferably with an extension that gets done this offseason. That is a stern warning Lerners... you don't want this guy seriously disappointed!

Zimmerman11 said...

Also... don't let the Madoffs/Wilpons outbid you for Zobrist... I'd have to upgrade from seriously to extremely disappointed. That is not a reality you want to face, Ted.

Harper said...

cass - yeah I'm surprised too but maybe he didn't like way market shaping up. Wouldn't be surprised if someone (Cueto?) goes for 1-25 just for chance to be big boy next year.

Stras is gone unless Boras convinces Lerner otherwise.

Z11 - Zobrist will go to the first decent team to offer him 4 years. Nats won't. Not sure Alderson will either. I'll say D-backs surprise

Fries said...

I'm getting more and more nervous about the Lerners' spending philosophy. It's been talked about here before, but I always took the whole conversation about their stinginess with a grain of salt. Yeah they're stingy, but they've created a good team to this point so who's to complain?

Well now I'm ready to complain. After watching the Black talks implode and looking back at how many FAs were lowballed (that weren't a Boras client), I'm starting to think the Lerners have no business being in baseball. Baseball is not a money-making venture on an annual basis, only at sale, and I don't think the Lerners recognize that. If we don't spend money to upgrade significantly this offseason, I'm going to have to join Z11 in being extremely disappointed.

John C. said...

This was the largest contract ever signed by a pitcher who had had TJ surgery; it's not clear whether TJ surgery has an impact on long term high dollar extensions.

Also, it has to be noted that, if the reporting of the Nationals offer of 5/$105M is correct, then it wasn't really a low ball at all. It was as close to exactly the same as the Detroit offer as one can get. While valued at $5M less, it also would have bought him out of his last arb eligible year (already set at $16M) and would have gotten JZim to free agency a year sooner.

I also think the JZim extension deal came off the table the day the Scherzer deal was signed. Which, for me, is OK because I think that the Scherzer deal is a better deal overall for the Nationals (given that Scherzer is still on his first elbow, that the deferments significantly offset the overall value of the contract, and most importantly that Scherzer is simply better than Zimmermann).

John C. said...

Fries, the "LERNERZ R CHEEP" meme really has trouble grappling with a number of facts: (1) despite the fact that they are the only MLB team not in control of their own local broadcasting fees, the Nationals have one of the largest payrolls in MLB - you could look it up; and (2) on the Black talks, if the reports are correct that Nationals offer actually would have but Black in the upper tier of annual salaries for a manager - and that for one that has never managed a playoff team. That's not a good fit for "cheap/low ball" in most opinions.

As for "low ball" offers, I don't think that the offer to JZim was really a low ball offer. With one year of control remaining they offered him essentially the same deal that he received as a full free agent. Again, that's not a good fit for "low ball" as that term is generally used. As for not being willing to pay a premium/set the market, they did just that with Scherzer. You can't just throw the example out because you don't like the guy's agent. And as a fan that concerns me more than "low ball" offers, because done to excess you end up like the Phillies.

Mick said...

Did a podcast happen?

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Ok, true, but for max's price you could literally almost have two znn's. Not that I totally disagree but that should be taken into consideration. And the fact that scherzer will be paid until we have communities of people living on the moon.

Harper said...

Fries/JC - Ok let's get this understood. The Nats offered ZNN LESS money after a season where he was arguably one of the Top 5-10 pitchers in baseball, then the Tigers did after a year when he was merely ok. The timing matters. His market was higher before 2015 and yet the Nats offered less than he took here. Even if the Tigers deal involves no discount it is clear the Nats never offered Zimm his true market value. ZNN knew that. Buying out that last arb year is mostly inconsequential considering they were aiming to pay him about the same as he'd earn for it anyway, not FA market money. Basically they would assume risk if something went very wrong in 2015 and there was no signs of such things happening prior to the year.

Now, does that mean they "low balled" him? Eh. It's now how I would use the term. I consider "low ball" offering a deal that is so far under market that it's insulting. The Nats deal was under market but not to the point where I'd use that term. That's why I said "low end of fair". I think that deal represents the lowest number you'd get for an answer of "What do you think ZNN is worth"

I agree with John, the Lerners are Cheep train has passed, although we might catch up with it again. They've spent money, enough to not be considered cheap at least. Is it enough in general? That's debatable. Last year, certainly, but do they keep it up? They wouldn't be cheap at 130 or so, but I don't think it's ideal.

I agree that the Max deal was the end of ZNN. I also think it's the end of Strasburg. I think they saw ZNN/Stras time coming up and decided the future was Giolito and....? and made ?=Max. It's the choice you make if you don't want a Top 3 type payroll. Personally though I like ZNN better than Max, even still. I think Max is going to blow-up and never come back sooner rather than later.

Mick - for many others yes! For me.... ummm

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Wow your really down on mighty max. Can't totally blame you, but why?

Rob said...

I'm the complete opposite. I'm meh on ZNN but love Max. But, I guess I'm just basing that on personalities and not anything scientific. Just love Max's tenacity.

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

Max gets a lot more strikeouts and swing and misses which is a better determiner of success than jzimm relying on babip

John C. said...

Harper, I'm not sure why you think that Max is going to "blow up and never come back sooner rather than later" - particularly in comparison to JZim. Even putting aside the "no TJ (yet)" aspect of the equation, they both have been impressively healthy and consistent (since JZ's TJ, of course). I also happen to think that the Scherzer deal, given the structure and deferments, is a better deal for the team than the one that JZim signed with the Tigers.

Why? Well, let's start with the calculated present value of the Scherzer deal - the figure used by MLB and MLBPA is about $191.4M for 7 years ($27.34M AAV), so that's a solid place to start. Especially given that they have access to the contract terms and we don't. The Zimmermann deal is $110M for 5 years ($22M AAV). Allowing a certain discount for present value of JZim’s deal, and the difference is about $5.5M per year (or, as we say, 1 McLouth).

For that difference, the Nats are getting a much better pitcher. Much. It’s really lopsided. JZim is good, yes – he’s posted five straight seasons of 3 fWAR or more (3.4; 3.3; 3.7; 5.0; 3.0); although his 3.0 fWAR in 2015 was the worst of the stretch, it’s still quite good. And his average of ~3.7 fWAR is very good, with an added bit for his consistency. He’s been a little bit better overall by bWAR, averaging 3.92 bWAR. Scherzer has averaged 4.86 fWAR over the past five years, and his worst year was five years ago. Over the past four seasons, he’s averaged 5.5 fWAR/5.6bWAR. Think about that: Scherzer’s average WAR, however calculated, over that stretch is better than JZim’s career year (5.3 fWAR/4.9 bWAR) in 2014. So Scherzer has averaged about 2 WAR (1.8 fWAR/1.7 bWAR) better than JZim. Given the $/WAR used, that more than makes up the difference right there. But wait, there's more! The value of WAR increases as you go up the scale, because you can only field so many players on a team. Think of it this way - it's a lot better to have one 6 WAR player than six 1 WAR players, because you can easily replace the 1 WAR players. Having a 6 WAR player covers a team's shortcomings in other areas (see, e.g., BRYCE in 2015).

I love me some JZim. But given the choice of having JZim, on his second elbow, for five years vs. Scherzer, on his first elbow, for seven years for $5.5M more … I take Scherzer ten times out of ten. However these two deals work out, the logic is sound.

Harper said...

John C - lets leave contract value out for now (that whole "calculated value" is... interesting)

All -
Max has a higher ceiling than ZNN on a given season right now. That can't be denied. His best seasons are better than ZNNs best

You have to be careful a bit because you are basically judging these after ZNN's worst year in a while (which wasn't bad) and Scherzer's best year (which was great but not phenomenal) These have to be taken into account but don't let it swing things crazily. Going into 2015 Max might have had an ever so slight edge, now he should have a solid one but not a huge one.

Ok so Max is better with more potential? Why do I like ZNN? Because Max has thrown a lot more pitches and is almost 2 years older. I see pitching health as a combination of four things. Previous injury (Max edge), Age (ZNN edge), Use (ZNN edge) and Unknown (?). Given that I don't see Max having such an edge over ZNN that injured he'd be better, I prefer ZNN. You can disagree. There's nothing that scientific here - though later in the week we'll review that pitches thing and... well it's not good for Max. But there are always exceptions, right!

John C. said...

Fair enough; I will point out that, while Max is two years older, the age difference at the time their deals were signed is only one year. It's misleading to focus on their chronological ages at the moment vs. the relevant time frames for the deals.

And I wasn't judging based on last season, which may have been Scherzer's best of the past few years and JZim's worst. I was judging based on Scherzer's average level of performance over four seasons being not just better than JZim's average level of performance, but better than JZim's level of performance in his career year (to date).

I look forward to your break down based on "that pitches thing." Even assuming that Max comes out with a higher number of pitches, any analysis will have to account for the difference in mileage created by the fact that JZim blew out his elbow. And if you can turn up numbers for creating expectations beyond "more pitches is worse, amirite?" then that will be illuminating. And I am intrigued by your "always exceptions" comment, because that would seem to imply that you've dug up some sufficient numbers to establish a paradigm that Scherzer's continued health would be an exception to. Which would be exciting data.

As you produce a checklist of previous injury/age/use/unknown, the hard part of course is figuring out how they should be weighted in terms of projecting future injury. Because if previous injury is the #1 indicator to later injury, then the fact that JZim may have an edge in two categories vs. does not automatically make him a better injury risk than Scherzer. And that's putting aside the first elbow/second elbow thing (if Max blows out his UCL, it's a bummer and likely costs him a year; if JZim blows out his UCL again, then he's likely done). I've also seen some comments that, because JZim is essentially a fastball/slider pitcher where Max throws several plus pitches, Max is more likely to be able to adapt to declining pure stuff as he ages. Although JZim's fastball decline in velocity AND effectiveness in 2015 is certainly concerning, I'm not sure whether I put stock in that theory overall.

SM said...

@John C. and Harper:

A very compelling and entertaining back-and-forth, to-and-fro, gentlemen.

The blog is the winner, not Scherzer or JZim.

blovy8 said...

I'm a fan of Zimmerman too, but after last year it doesn't seem dumb to prefer Scherzer and the sandwich

Mattyice said...

@sm agreed. It's like watching skip bayless and Stephen a Smith go back and forth...only the exact opposite

Mattyice said...

@John c - I tend to agree with you about scherzers deal being better, but one thing you have to also take into account is the two years at the end of scherzers contract. Would you rather have scherzer nearing 40 at $27 mil or $27 mil to throw at some other pitcher? That definitely favors zim.

That said, signing scherzer last year did provide us with the benefit of having both jzim and scherzer together for a year, which wouldn't have happened if we just resigned zim.

Sammy Kent said...

The 200 IP will not have to be made up by Joe Ross if Rizzo will re-sign Doug Fister. I still think 2015's performance was an anomaly. His influence in 2014 was critical to the success and improvement of the entire pitching staff that year. SIGN HIM!!!!

Anonymous said...

Harper/John C - you're both making good points. A fascinating read.

Harper, I have to take issue with this statement: "Going into 2015 Max might have had an ever so slight edge, now he should have a solid one but not a huge one."

Let's look at Scherzer v. Zimm from 2011-2014 by ERA, FIP, and xFIP

Scherzer: 4.43, 4.14, 3.70 (2011); 3.74, 3.27, 3.23 (2012); 2.90, 2.74, 3.16 (2013); 3.15, 2.85, 3.12 (2014).

Z'nn: 3.18, 3.16, 3.78 (2011); 2.94, 3.51, 3.78 (2012); 3.25, 3.36, 3.48 (2013); 2.66, 2.68, 3.10 (2014).

Admittedly, this is much closer than I expected it to be. The reason you'd prefer Scherzer after 2014 is three-fold: (1) he sustained his big 2012-13 improvement in 2014 whereas Z'nn's post 2014 breakout is an unknown at the beginning of 2015; (2) Strikeouts; and (3) AL pitching numbers should get a bump. The reason you'd prefer Z'nn after 2014 is some combination of being younger and having less mileage. I think Z'nn's TJ surgery somewhat negates the less mileage point.

I think Scherzer's edge over Z'nn is larger than "ever so slight" but it's not the chasm I expected before looking into the numbers.

FYI, Strasburg's numbers compare favorably to Scherzer's without nearly the same innings pitched.

Flapjack said...

The upshot seems to be that in rejecting the Nat's earlier offer JZ took a calculated gamble that he'd have another great year, and he didn't. But the downside from not having one appears not to have been so great. So it was a smart gamble on his part.

Desmond, on the other hand, probably cost himself $20MM by coming undone in 2015. It will be a shame not getting him back. But when the self-styled stand-up-guy doesn't take a fair offer from the home team, it sends a bad message to everyone, from the owner, to the fans to the bat boys. If there is a premium in the free agent market for clubhouse presence (and there may not be), Desmond hurt his value there, too.

As with all dynastic clubs, the proof of the pudding is the next crop of successes. If the farm system is as stocked with pitching talent as most think it is, we'll be better off. Scherzer's signing was clearly a "win now" move, but in theory at least there's plenty of "win later" in the tank.

The book on Trea Turner remains to be written, but the Souza trade looks very solid at this point. Save, possibly, for that unfortunate late-season acquisition from the Phillies, Rizzo has proven to be a shrewd evaluator of talent. He needs to convince the Learners to spend on the next outfield star.