Beckett and Santana

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.

Is he? 

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).

11 comments… add one

  • People can say whatever thay like, but what I know is that it’s not easy to find reliable, effective starters who live in the AL East, and are happy being there.
    How many times over and over again have we seen guys come into this division only to not be what they were elsewhere?
    Give me a guy who puts up good numbers in this division v. a guy who puts up excellent ones in some other division everyday.
    Give me the guy that faces NY and Tampa ten times a year, and still has respectable numbers in the end.
    Yeah, it’s a lot of money, but does anyone on this blog think for a second that it’s not worth it to make the move? Outside of a pure injury concern, is there anyone who thinks Beckett is going to fall off his game so exponentially that the deal is a total waste of money?
    I look at this the same way I looked at Burnett (look it up) – a suprememly talented pitcher when he’s on; capable of simply dominating the other team when he’s on his game, and if he’s able to stay healthy, he’s a force to be reckoned with every single time he takes the bump. Period. It’s not my money, and I’ll take Beckett of a 10M dollar Westbrook or Johnny Retread every day of the week.

    Brad April 6, 2010, 3:39 pm
  • *supremely.
    When I think about Beckett, I have to think about it as part of the whole.
    Beckett, Lackey, Lester, Buchholz, Bard, Pedroia, Ellsbury, and Youkilis are all locked up. That’s a very good front three, the future closer, and three position players (two of which are complete all stars) right now. The move, while increasing payroll, does remove some of the free agent stress in the years to come.
    Sans injury of course.

    Brad April 6, 2010, 3:46 pm
  • I DO NOT MEAN THIS TO START A FIGHT…but doesn’t it seem like Josh’s best days are behind him? Not because of Sunday obviously, but it’s been a few years since he was the dominant pitcher that he was in the ’07 playoffs, right? I mean, he’s still better than most, no doubt, but one of the best? I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve the money, just wondering if he is still really that good…

    krueg April 6, 2010, 4:14 pm
  • I certainly don’t think Josh’s best days are behind him. He hasn’t lost the fastball, and he hasn’t lost the fire to compete.
    I think that somewhere in Beckett’s resume, people look at the New York games – uninformed people – and assume what he is.
    You’re right to assume that it’s been a couple years since his 07 year, two exactly, and neither of which were bad by any means. I think when folks look at him, they see the guy from 2007, and run that comparison, which is fair, but not really.
    Would you be surprised if at the break Beckett is 9-2 with a 3.6 ERA? I wouldn’t. He’s still the same guy that can go out and dominate on any given night – including against the Yankees, where most of the people draw their comparisons from.
    I think he’s still a top ten pitcher, easily, and probably the second best pitcher on his own team – and that’s close. If you told me that Beckett had to be the ace for next four years, I’d say Boston is in trouble, but if he is, I won’t be too surprised. There is a reason he’s gotten the reputation he has – he can go on a run as good as anyone in baseball, and when he’s on fire, he’s on fire. His problem is that when he’s not – he’s really not.

    Brad April 6, 2010, 4:28 pm
  • In addition, I think people draw on the “ace” card too much when it comes to Beckett.
    How many pitchers, in the last ten years, called that AL East home and were true aces? I’ve seen Boston and the Yankees just beat the shit out of Halladay and Clemens. I’ve seen Pedro rocked out of his shoes. I’ve seen CC, Beckett, and the rest of them implode on the regular in the confines of this division. Fact is, the best offenses in baseball reside within this divison, and the numbers are going to be skewed.
    Does anyone here doubt that Roy Halladay is going to put up numbers like you can’t imagine this year? Or that Cliff Lee is going to regress in Seattle?
    I think the AL East as a whole has to be given a handicap when rating pitchers, and I don’t just mean a ballpark skew or a team v. team skew.
    If CC or Beckett or Lackey pitched in the NL West, or even the NL East, they would be exponentially better than their numbers suggest. The fact that any pitcher is able to achive some level of success while playing Boston, Tampa, and the Yankees on the regular basis is amazing in itself. Now take a few guys who have years that are amazing (last year CC, and 07 Beckett), and you’ll realize what they’re both truly capable of.

    Brad April 6, 2010, 4:34 pm
  • Beckett hasn’t been as good as he was in 2007 certainly, but he has been remarkably consistent. The ERA goes up and down, but for three consecutive years he’s been between 8.5-9 K/9, around 2 bb/9 and allowed baserunners at a 1.15 per inning rate. I doubt he’ll ever have another 2007, but his 2008-09 were a lot closer to that than he gets credit for, thanks in large part to bad luck. At 5.5-6 WAR a season, he could slide quite a bit — by around 1.5 WAR — and still be worth that contract.

    Paul SF April 6, 2010, 4:35 pm
  • You guys know better than me, I don’t watch the Sox and you’re right Brad, I do judge him mostly based on what he does against us I guess…

    krueg April 6, 2010, 4:40 pm
  • I wouldn’t express those concerns about Santana because he’s in the NL East.

    El Notational April 6, 2010, 4:43 pm
  • The Beckett deal is good for both sides. He’s making maybe a bit more per year than the Sox would prefer, but that’s probably the price for not giving him the fifth year.
    FWIW, I would take Beckett over Santana going forward too. Santana’s playing against weaker competition in a much more pitcher-friendly park, and frankly I think his stuff has declined a bit, whereas Beckett’s stuff is about the same.

    Mark (YF) April 6, 2010, 4:52 pm
  • Very interesting comparison. One of the arguments against the stats cited above, especially the WAR and FIP numbers for Beckett, is that he always seems to underperform those numbers as reflected by his ERA numbers. So over that time Santana’s ERA+ will have been better despite Beckett’s similar to superior peripheral numbers. Another pitcher, Javier Vazquez, also fares well during this same stretch compared to Santana, especially when looking WAR totals. But looking at his ERA+, you get a whole other read on him. My only point is that there seem to be pitchers who always underperform their FIPS. That said, I think Santana’s game has declined a bit to the point where he’s probably not among the top tier. And Beckett and him seem to be on the same level now, in that tier below pitchers like Lester and Sabathia.

    Nick-YF April 6, 2010, 11:18 pm
  • How can you justify leaving 2006 out? The comp looks slot different with that reality included.
    Good deal for the Sox. Now if only the defense would cooperate!

    Paul from Waltham April 7, 2010, 6:28 pm

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