Valuing Kenny Rogers
At the end of last season Kenny Rogers future involved one of two paths: retiring or resigning with the Tigers. The quote was “It’s either here (Detroit) or nowhere.” But last week despite Rogers’ decision to play again, Scott Boras said they were going to explore options. Now it appears that the sides are having a tough time finding middle ground with Rogers/Boras rejecting two Tigers offers. The question then becomes how high should the Tigers go to bring back Kenny?
How to estimate value
At The Book blog, there is a method for valuing players. I encourage you to read all the comments, where various players and their recently signed/or prospective contracts are discussed. The short of it though is that on the free agent market, one win above replacement will cost $4.4 million. So how many wins above replacement would Rogers bring next year?
First let’s establish replacement level. A replacement level player is someone who can be had for the league minimum. Think a non roster invitee to spring training. That level of performance using this method is described as a .380 pitcher. But what does this mean? Take for example a situation where on average 4.5 runs are allowed per game. A pitcher that allowed less than that would have a winning percentage (using the pythagorean or pythanport equations), and a pitcher that allowed more would have a losing winning percentage. In the case of a .380 pitcher in a 4.5 run environment, it would mean they’d allow 5.9 runs per game.
Using Bill James projections for 2008 Rogers’ FIP is 4.57. Fielding Independent Pitching is calculated based on strike outs, walks, and homers – the things a pitcher has control over – and is a solid indicator of true talent level. As a comparison, the AL FIP last year was 4.51 so for all intents and purposes Rogers projects to be an average pitcher (.500) next year.
The same projections have Rogers making 23 starts and amassing 145 innings which is the equivalent of 16.1 9 inning games. As an average pitcher you’d expect him to win half of those games and so he’d be worth 8 wins to the team. (Note: these wins are not the same totals as what you’d find in the traditional won-loss record. This is looking at contribution to the team) If the Tigers didn’t spend the money on Kenny, and went with the bare minimum the replacement level pitcher with his .380 winning percentage would account for 6 wins in that same playing time.
So Rogers is 2 wins above replacement. If you stop there one could say that based on these projections Rogers should make $9.2 million next year(2 x 4.4 and .4 more for the league minimum).
The former was the scientific part, not it’s time for the non-scientific adjustments. The first adjustment is for age. Rogers is 43 and is coming off an injury filled season. Should he be valued the same as a player in his mid thirties? Probably not. Health and the ability to maintain performance are real and justified concerns. The typical age adjustment is to knock off a .5 win. That would put his value at $7 million.
Another way to guard against this, is to add performance incentives. If Rogers is healthy and productive for a full season, I think he should be rewarded. The projection has him at 23 starts. If you put in a kicker for 30 starts, how much should it be? If you assume 6.3 innings per start, and he makes 7 more starts, that would be 44.1 more innings. That works out to an additional .6 wins over a replacement pitcher. And the cost of .6 wins is 2.6 million.
But at the same time the Tigers probably value Rogers more than most other teams. Right or wrong, Dombrowski & Leyland like the familiar. There is a comfort level with Rogers on the staff. The other pitchers seem to respond to having Rogers around. Valuing this contribution is difficult. While personally I think this type of thing tends to be overblown among fans and the media, I do think some of this effect exists and don’t want to discount it.
When the news came out about Boras testing the market I called it posturing and at the time made a guess that I just pulled out of nowhere: 1 year – 7.5 million, 1 million bonus for 20 starts, 1.5 million bonus for 30 starts. That actually doesn’t look to bad right now and the only real difference is I’d give him a little more in incentives while keeping the base the same.
As a base salary Rogers should probably make $7-8 million after adjusting for age and giving him a bonus for the extra value he brings to the team. If he makes 20 starts his total contract should go to $9 million. If he makes 30 starts his total contract should go to $11.5-$12 million.