Max Scherzer is a hell of a pitcher, and he’s worth a whole bunch of money. He’s been waiting out the off-season thus far, in the way that Boras clients tend to, seemingly holding out for every last penny.
You really can’t fault the guy. This is his pay day. This is very probably the highest his market value will ever be. He just watched Jon Lester reel in 6 years and $155 million. That’s a cool $25.8 mil a year! Now, Scherzer turned down a 6-year, $144-million offer from the Tigers earlier this year, which would have paid him $24 million a year, and word is he’s looking for upwards of $200 million. As you probably know, that’s Clayton Kershaw territory, he of the 7-yr/$215m contract. But as good as Scherzer is, he’s not Clayton Kershaw! And he’s several years older. All of this brings me to the big question: So just what is a Max Scherzer worth?
Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs did an exhaustive analysis of the cost of WAR a couple years ago, and it’s really complicated, and I read it three times, and I can’t say I fully understand it still, but he boiled it down to $5 – $7 million per win, calculating in a 5-10% discount for each year of the contract based on inflation. This year, he’s averaged it up to about $7 million per win. But I wonder how the clubs do their valuation of a player. Do you pay for past performance? The most recent performance? Projected future performance? I would guess it’s some complicated combination of all those, but I don’t have a formula for it! So that leaves me guessing like everybody else.
Let’s start by looking at a halfway decent comp for Max Scherzer, and that’s Jon Lester. Lester put up a ridiculous 6.1 WAR (I use Fangraphs WAR as a habit) in 2014, and he was paid handsomely for his work, and, I would assume his accumulated body of work. So multiply the 6.1 by Cameron’s assumed value of WAR ($7 m) and you come up with a ridiculous $42.7 m! That’s a lot more than Lester is being paid next year, so we have to assume the value of Lester’s WAR is more of the averaged, regressed, and projected variety.
So, for argument’s sake, let’s say maybe the Cubs are paying at least in part the Cameronian price for Lester’s 2014 WAR, but then regressing downward each year forward, ultimately arriving at $155m over seven years. Lester’s average WAR over his nine seasons in the league is 3.93 WAR per year. Steamer projects him to accumulate 3.6 WAR next year. At Cameron’s rate, that’s $27.5m/year for Lester’s average WAR, and $25.2 M for his projected WAR next year. Now, I don’t have access to fancy machines that can project Lester’s age-related decline, but you can assume some drop in performance as he ages, especially since he’s already 31 years old. So if you look at a gradual decline, the numbers kind of add up. Roughly.
So what about our buddy Max? He’s a couple months younger than Lester, and put up a comparable 5.6 WAR in 2014. He strikes out a few more guys, but like Lester, Steamer projects him to enjoy a WAR regression down to 3.8 WAR in 2015. So do you pay him like Lester? How do we know what a 33-year-old Max Scherzer looks like? Some projection systems use historical comps, and Scott Bline over at The Natty Dugout generated this list of comps from Baseball-Reference’s Similarity Score by Age, which gives us David Cone as the best comp for Scherzer. He could do worse!
So, for fun, David Cone from his age 30 season on averaged 3.4 WAR a year for the next eight years. That’s a a pretty good aging curve! If that’s what we can expect from Scherzer, that’s worth roughly $24m a year, which is about what Lester’s being paid over the next seven years. So maybe you give Max a little bump up front for past performance, where he’s been a little better than Lester, and then you get maybe $25m/year? So now you’re looking at 7/$175. That’s not chump change! It’s not Kershaw money, but then again, Scherzer’s not Kershaw.Next post: EW Rewind: Episodes 11 and 12
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