Dr. D Gets Washburned

I/O:  Jarrod Washburn performs like Jamie Moyer for two games.

Crunch: It's a Bill James principle, from way back in the 1980's, that certain types of veteran starters look absolutely terrible on 100-loss teams, but look quite good on 100-win teams.  Bill noticed, by simply watching baseball, that Jarrod Washburn types get blamed way too much for terrible seasons and get credited too much for pennant seasons.

It's a Zen insight into baseball history.  And it suddenly dawns that we might be seeing it in Washburn's case.

You might object, reasonably, that ALL pitchers are subject to this, but they are not.  Erik Bedard was known as an ace no matter how bad the Orioles were.  Horacio Ramirez is going to be thought of poorly, however his team does.  No, there are certain kinds of "tough", competitive low-BB, low-K, smart veteran pitchers who get overrated and underrated depending on context.  Everybody knows that Francisco Liriano is good and that Ryan Rowland-Smith, as long as his fastball is MIA, is not.

In my day, Freddy Norman had this kind of career.  A 98 ERA+ guy lifetime, he was regarded a complete meatball when going 3-12 and 1-7 for the hapless 1970's Padres.  However, the Big Red Machine (my heroes) traded for Norman midseason, when he was 1-7 with a bad ERA ... and immediately started running records like 12-4 for the Reds.


Washburn is indeed throwing better, with another foot or so on his FB and a much-improved changeup.   In his first start, he benefitted from fine defense, although in his second he didn't even require any interesting defense (the flyouts were all skied).

He's even got an 8/1 control ratio -- somebody juice up the paddles for me -- and is being praised by Mike Sweeney for his attitude.  (Well, okay, Keith Olbermann would be praised for his attitude by Mike Sweeney.)


The fact is, we've all been too tough on Washburn from a performance standpoint.  We've taken out a lot of our frustrations on the club with him, when the fact is, his context has made him look worse than he is.  Now, that will be misunderstood, so lemme do this in self-defense:

A PAINFUL ALBATROSS, BAD STARTER, 16-GAME LOSER -- what we thought Washburn was


I'm not saying Washburn is great now.  I'm saying he wasn't bad before.   He's a guy who can help a team win 95 games -- from the #3 or #4 slot -- and he's obviously also a guy who can help a team lose 100.  His personality seems to morph with the standings.

This guy ain't going to win any more games 2-0.  But he can give the M's a very consistent run of quality starts, playing in front of a good defense and in a big park and in a close game.  One thing Washburn is comfortable with, is pitching tough in big games.  He'll challenge anybody.  Even losing 100 games, Washburn would always take the fight to the opposing batters.


=== Dr's Prognosis Dept. ===

With Washburn's (1) 10%-sharper-pitches this year, (2) a park that suits him, (3) the improved defense behind him, and (4) the important games that he relishes .... sure, his fans can hope for a 100-115 ERA+ this year.

Hey, his career ERA+ is 108, and now that you look at it, he's NEVER had an ERA over 4.69.

Had you noticed? that Washburn has never had an ERA over 4.69 in nine full seasons as a starter?  Measuring an SP by his WORST season is a valid, and important way, to look at a pitcher -- and there would be VERY few ML starting pitchers who have run 8-9 consecutive seasons of 150+ IP at an ERA

Funny how DIFFERENT a pitch-to-contact, low-K low-BB innings-eater like Washburn looks -- when he's in front of a team that is playing well.

All of a sudden, Washburn is looking like a plus #4 starter on a 90-win team -- it's not his fault that the M's #3 starter asked for lighter weights on the bar -- and if so, many of us especially me, will owe Armstrong (and Bavasi) an apology.

Somebody said that 3/5 of the Mariners' rotation is broken.  With Jaka ready to parachute in, it might actually only be 1/5.


Dr D


glmuskie's picture

Washburn was looking awfully good for a while last year two. Finished the season pretty poorly.
Maybe you're right and as the M's go so goes Washburn. And good to point out he's not that bad.
I just would prefer to get his production from someone who doesn't
-throw his teammates under a bus
-give lame excuses for poor performance
If Wash continues this level of performance for a while, the M's will be able to move him and get something good in return. I hope they capitalize on it. And I hope Z and co. don't take his performance at face value and assume, as previous regimes have, that he's jumped a plateau and is now a different pitcher than he's been all his life.


Would agree m'friend...
Playing devil's advocate, we might say that when a new administration comes in, and changes the culture, all those guys who "turn over a new leaf" and get with the program ... for our own good we're obligated to pretend they were never bad apples... :- )
This keeps them on the positive and productive vector...
As for trading Washburn ... a good org ought to be able to produce 100 ERA+ rookie starters out of their minor leagues. Such as Jakubauskas, hopefully.
If the M's can fill the back of their rotation from within, and flip a rejuvenated Washburn, I'm there with you 100% amigo.

Taro's picture

As far as his performance is concerned, hes been clearly overpaid for three years straight (no debate there since its a numbers game). Hes been consistently overpaid by roughly $2.5-2mil a year even by FA market standards.
THIS year though with the addition of a new change he looks like a new pitcher. The changeup is just great for Washburn's game since RHB were continuing to mash him year-to-year.
His fastball actually has gotten even worse (check fangraphs), the change has been key.
With a change to keep them honest and an off the charts OF D, Washburn could pitch like a #3 this year. Sometimes pitchers just suddenly get better out of the blue, and it looks Washburn might be one of those guys.


When Dr. D says Washburn has an extra foot...he's not talking about MPH...he's talking about the resulting swing-timing. Hitters are late on his fastball for the first time since about 2003. And they're late on his fastball becasue he's got a new off-speed pitch that he is actually confident in using.
I don't even think Silva is "broken"...he's not great, but he's not going to be as bad as he was last year (in terms of ERA result)...I expect all three of Jaka, Washburn and Silva to keep their ERAs under 5. That's all this team really needs to stay in lots of games.


Appreciate your taking the counter-point Taro m'man. Recapping my volley at MC:
1) AS IT TURNS OUT, Washburn's 2008 was a poor return on the dollar. That doesn't mean that Washburn should necessarily be assessed at his 2008 ERA+, as opposed to his career ERA+.
If Washburn tosses out a 100-110 ERA+ over 200 innings, it's a much different subject.
2) We want to watch that assumption that the AVERAGE dollar-per-win paid is the CORRECT dollar-per-win in all situations.
Present company excepted, it never ceases to amaze me how even the best 'net rats overlook their false assumption on this point.
The average $-per-square-foot on family houses in America is $20/sf. Does that mean that Joe Sweeney was "incorrect" to pay $23/sf for his tri-level in Wichita considering that he's a dentist with a mother who had special needs?
It's just real sloppy thinking, and a lot of intellectual arrogance, that has the mainstream fangraphs guys making that leap from "average dollar paid" to "correct dollar paid in all situations." General Manager Shlabotnik might be hemorrhaging losses at the back of his rotation, or might have a worse stoploss than somebody else, or might have more money to burn than somebody else, or 100 other things. Average does not equal "correct."
3) That $4.5m per WAR is the average number. Others have it as high as $5.3.
4) We want to watch the assumption that the stoploss, if you do not sign a league-average veteran, is going to be a "replacement" 5.10 ERA for all teams with all minor league systems.
5) etc etc.
I'm not trying to quibble; if Washburn is going to run a 90 ERA+, I don't want to pay him $10M. I'm a Stars & Scrubs guy.
But Jarrod Washburn might very well go 15-9, 4.20 this year for the Mariners, help the ballclub, and by-the-way earn his salary.

Taro's picture

Ya Doc, I was just arguing that hes been overpaid over the last three years by pretty much any scale you use.
If you change $/WAR you'd also have to change the way you calculate WAR and RL. Its all relative. Using the scale Tango uses Washburn is overpaid by at least $4mil just last year.
When guys like Chad Gaudin are getting DFA'ed I can't see how you can justify $10mil to a 4.60 ERA and 170 IPs.
Still, moving forward if Washburn pitches well with his new change and the Ms OF D, it'll all be good. 2006-08 is in the past now.


While one can talk about guys who get DFAed, who turn around things in a new location, this is the exception.
I think to properly put Washburn's contract into perspective, consider the money that Jeff Weaver got for his one year.
Ryan Dempster got 4/52 in 2008
Oliver Perez got 3/36 in 2008
BOTH of these guys currently have a 95 career ERA+.
Silva 4/48 was a bad contract - yes. But, who else was out there THAT YEAR? Silva ended up being the *ONLY* SP that was signed to multiple years by *ANYONE*. Of course, that could be used as evidence of the dumbness of the Silva deal -- but every season is not identical. Yes, there will always be castaways -- they are castaways for a reason, and while there are some successes -- the failure rate is likely as high or higher than that of your random prospect, (if you've got one near ready).
Zito went 7/126 in 2006 -- was THAT well spent?
Schmidt got 3/47 in 2006 - was THAT well spent?
Why complain about Washburn, when Suppan got 4/42 in 2006?
Heck, Vicente Padilla got 3/33. and Adam Eaton got 3/24 when Batista was getting his 3/25.
In truth - the MONEY was not the problem with *ANY* of these contract, (Wash, Batista, Silva). The problem was the YEARS. Washburn was the only one of the bunch where the years/money combo actually made sense based on his track record. He was an average pitcher with no glaring health dangers - in the middle of his career -- not likely to swoon due to age -- and the rotation *AT THE TIME* in Seattle was miserable. He was actually a very low risk contract, who has performed roughly as expected - but who suffered a bit due to a defense that completely went south.
Batista was dumb (and I said so at the time), because his age AND his recent years indicated that he was ALREADY in late-career swoon before he arrived. It was HIGHLY unlikely that he could be productive for another 3 years, because his control was borderline good enough to compete to begin with. ANY slip in consistency for Batista would result in a loud thud of suckage -- which is exactly what happened.
Silva was dumb because his career had been all over the place. His age wasn't a factor. The years/age for Silva wasn't unreasonable by itself -- but considering his Jeckyl/Hyde history, it was a horrible combination of years/money, for a guy with NO track record whatsoever in regards to consistency. It was even dumber because of the bad defense that had ALREADY been demonstrated before his arrival. But, the truth is, THAT particular FA crop was putrid.
Frankly, Washburn's contract is pretty much exactly what I would expect to pay ANY "average" pitcher to come play in Seattle (at the time of the deal). Given the choice between paying a series of Jeff Weaver's 8 million a year to suck, or paying Wash 10 per year to be average -- Wash is the better choice.
But, I wonder, given the Seattle defense, how bad would've Meche been had he stayed in Seattle for 5/55.

Taro's picture

Bringing up a bunch of terrible contracts doesn't exactly endorse the Washburn deal (he hasn't managed 'average' in the past three years - check out the MC thread). Still, I think we'd be better off just moving on from that argument..
Hes BEEN overpaid, but hes looking great so far this year.

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