Here's a hypothetical: What would the reaction be if the Sox had signed Johan Santana to a five-year, $80 million deal — which is basically what the Red Sox have committed to Josh Beckett — this offseason? Given some of the concern I've seen expressed about Beckett's ability to be effective for the life of the deal*, I'd be curious if those same concerns would be expressed regarding Santana, who I think it's fair to say is widely regarded to be a superior — perhaps much superior — pitcher.
Let's compare the two for funsies.
Santana signed an extension with the Mets in 2008 for six years, $137.5 million. Beckett obviously would never get that much, even in free agency, considering how impressive Santana had been with Minnesota in the years before his contract. If you add the club option for 2014, Santana is locked in for the same period of time as Beckett, but at a cost from this year on of $118 million. As I said, Beckett will cost the Red Sox $80 million, and he's one year younger.
But, you will say, Santana is a better pitcher than Beckett, so obviously he should be paid more. In fact, before doing this very study, I would have said the same thing.
Since Santana's 2006 Cy Young season, his numbers have looked like this:
- 2007: 129 ERA+, 2.1 BB/9, 9.7 K/9, 1.07 WHIP, 3.82 FIP, 4.6 WAR
- 2008: 166 ERA+, 2.4 BB/9, 7.9 K/9, 1.15 WHIP, 3.51 FIP, 4.8 WAR
- 2009: 132 ERA+, 2.5 BB/9, 7.9 K/9, 1.21 WHIP, 3.79 FIP, 2.8 WAR
While Josh Beckett in the same timeframe has looked like this:
- 2007: 145 ERA+, 1.8 BB/9, 8.7 K/9, 1.14 WHIP, 3.08 FIP, 6.5 WAR
- 2008: 115 ERA+, 1.8 BB/9, 8.9 K/9, 1.19 WHIP, 3.24 FIP, 5.0 WAR
- 2009: 122 ERA+, 2.3 BB/9, 8.4 K/9, 1.19 WHIP, 3.63 FIP, 5.3 WAR
You can't make an apples-to-apples contract comparison because the two signed their deals in vastly different circumstances, but there's really no reason to believe Beckett is any worse a bet going forward than Santana, who will cost the Mets $7 million more per season.
In fact, as these numbers indicate, when you account for the differences in the leagues and Beckett's bad luck in 2008 particularly (and Santana's extraordinarily good luck that same year), there's a good case that Beckett has been the better pitcher.
*I know the concerns extend beyond just the life of Beckett's deal to the fact that the Sox also have John Lackey signed for the same period, and whether that's smart to have two starting pitchers making $16 million-plus per season, etc. And I also know the more sabermetrically inclined would not be as swayed by the cache that is JOHAN, but I think many people are, and this is a helpful reminder that Beckett is in fact an excellent starting pitcher who may actually be effective through the ripe old age of 34.
(H/t to a SOSH post bringing up this comparison).