Valverde and Arbitration

added 1/25/2008 by Scott Barzilla

Ed Wade made his most curious move this off-season (at least in my humble opinion) when he set firm deadlines for Mark Loretta and Jose Valverde. The two are due to have arbitration hearings in a couple of weeks, but the club has ceased negotiations with the players' agents. This is a remarkable change in club policy as they have not had an arbitration hearing since Darryl Kile's 1997 hearing. Of course, he left as a free agent the following season.

Loretta is nearing the end of his career, so alienating him doesn't appear to be that much of a concern. Valverde is a different story altogether. He has two years of club control left and appears to be on the verge of being a major force. He did lead the majors in saves last season (for those that pay attention to such stats). Since arbitrators aren't baseball people, they will likely be influenced by such simple stats.

I have not spent a lot of time analyzing the change in the closer situation, so I thought I would do it now as Valverde comes close to his hearing. If these numbers help him in his case then I expect an email from him and a check in the mail. If it doesn't I apologize. We will look at the simple numbers, park neutral numbers, and sabermetric numbers for Valverde, Brad Lidge, and Chad Qualls.

                 W-L    ERA    INN    SO/9    BB/9    HR/9
Brad Lidge      23-20   3.30   401    12.6     3.8     0.9
Chad Qualls     23-12   3.39   284     6.9     2.7     1.0
Jose Valverde    9-14   3.29   260    11.5     3.8     1.0

I'm sorry to say, but this is where most analysis stops. To the naked eye, it would appear that we are looking at virtually the same pitcher. After all, their ERAs are the same, all three have good K/BB ratios, and all three have similar home run rates. Qualls suffers some because of his K rate, but otherwise their the same.

Considering that we surrendered Chris Burke and Juan Guitterez in the Valverde deal, it doesn't look good for Wade. Furthermore, Brad Lidge just got more than six million from the Phillies. The hearing probably won't turn out well for the Astros if we go by these numbers. Yet, Bank One Ballpark is more of a hitters' park than MMP. So, maybe Valverde will fare better in the park neutral numbers.

                 W-L    ERA    INN    SO/9    BB/9    HR/9
Brad Lidge      25-16   3.14   403    12.6     3.7     0.8
Chad Qualls     18-11   3.21   286     6.9     2.6     0.9
Jose Valverde    18-9   2.92   265    11.4     3.6     0.9

We see how far Valverde's numbers dipped and it looks better for the Astros. The Astros get a player with closing experience who appears to be a smidgeon better than Lidge and Qualls. Lidges won-loss record improved and his other numbers improved slightly. Qualls looked to be more the same, but he is going to BOB where his numbers will surely look worse. Let's see where the sabermetric numbers go.

                  WARP2/100    VORP/100    WS/100    ERA+    FIP
Brad Lidge           6.4         24.3       12.7     132     2.80
Chad Qualls          4.7         24.8       10.2     129     3.87  
Jose Valverde        6.8         24.7       15.4     141     3.59

First, a quick glossary of terms. WARP stands for wins above replacement player. VORP stands for value above replacement player. WS stands for win shares and FIP stands for fielding independent pitching. All of these numbers were done on a per 100 inning basis. ERA+ is a simple calculation of how much better a pitcher's ERA is compared to the league average (after park effects are accounted for).

In most of these metrics, Valverde rates better than Lidge and Qualls. Qualls has been more consistent than Valverde, but just doesn't have the value. One thing to remember is that FIP doesn't account for home ballpark. It just accounts for league average fielding rates. Lidge has had bad luck with fielding, but the other two performed better. Qualls in particular doesn't look quite as dominant.

To sum up what we are seeing I will say two things. First, the Astros are making a mistake by gambling on the arbitration hearing. Valverde is a comparable pitcher to Brad Lidge, so he likely will win his case. Secondly, when comparing Lidge and Valverde we need to remember that these are pitchers going in different directions. Lidges' best seasons were 2003-2005. Valverde had his best season last year. Therefore, I feel confident that the Astros are going in the right direction where the closer's spot is concerned. Now, whether they gave up too much to get it or got enough for Lidge is a different question entirely.