Position Players are the way to go

added 7/14/2007 by Scott Barzilla

The Astros could have as much as 40 million dollars to spend next off-season. There are still quite a few attractive players that could be available even after Ichiro Suzuki and Mark Buerhle officially left the market. Last time, we looked at the history of big time free agent pitchers (10 million or more). It didn't look too good. Let's see if hitters do any better.

                    2004   2005   2006   2007   AVG   CPWS
Carlos Beltran       31     23     38     25     29    2.0
Barry Bonds          53      2     27     27     27    1.8  
Richie Sexson         4     27     20     15     17    1.1
Bobby Abreu          37     28     28     11     26    1.7
Jim Thome            22      4     26     19     18    1.1
Todd Helton          31     26     23     23     26    1.6
Carlos Lee           24     24     25     21     24    1.4
Manny Ramirez        27     34     29     19     27    1.6
Alfonso Soriano      16     16     30     23     21    1.2
Derek Jeter          26     26     33     31     29    1.3
Jason Giambi          8     25     23      9     16    0.7
Alex Rodriguez       30     37     25     35     32    1.1

Notice that only one player had fewer than one win share per million. Compare that with the pitching list and you can definitely see why hitters are the better bargain. Furthermore, all but two of the players averaged 20 or more win shares and there were only five seasons with under ten among all of the players. Carlos Lee's line is a perfect representation of what you are looking for. Essentially, you know what you're getting.

Everyone loves to dog the Yankees. Notice they have four different players on this list (including the three highest paid) and three of them are among the lowest on the list. Paying big time money for free agent hitters isn't a great way to go, but it is better than pitchers. Still, it would cost between 150 to 200 million to buy yourself a title.

So, where does this put the Astros? The 40 million in excess cash has the Astros in a good and bad position. With freedom comes responsibility. The history of Tim Purpura and Drayton McLane doesn't bode too well on this front. The 2004 and 2005 playoff runs would seem to point towards making a run at Carlos Zambrano. Certainly, you don't have to look further than everyone of his pitching performances against the Astros to justify such a decision. Zambrano would be fool's gold.

Think back to the big ticket free agent history of the Astros. You can look at five names in Astros history. Carlos Lee's history is still being written, so we will look at three big time pitchers and one big time hitter. Notice which one came closest to producing at the prior level.

                   Before      After
Nolan Ryan           147         96
Doug Drabek           68         35
Greg Swindell         38         19
Jeff Kent             55         42

Okay, forget the fact that Nolan Ryan is a living legend and a great draw. The three pitchers averaged a collective 12, 9, and 6 win shares a season during their Astros run. If you are paying (then) big money for a player don't you expect more than 12 win shares? By comparison, Jeff Kent averaged 21 win shares a season in Houston. That's not great, but it's a lot better than 12.

Does this mean pitching isn't important? Heck no, everyone knows that pitching wins championships. It just means that when you pay for someone else's stud, you normally don't get what you pay for. Zambrano looks really tempting right now. However, we're probably better off paying for a big time hitter or acquiring middle class pitching.