Mickey Callaway Provides a Competitive Advantage
When determining the price of a win in baseball, stat analysts will often calculate a dollar amount based off of a player’s expected WAR (wins above replacement) statistic and his market value. Back in October, former Wahoo’s On First editor Lewie Pollis calculated that the cost of a win on the free agent market is about 7 million dollars.So how valuable is a coach whose instruction can boost a player’s WAR value over the course of a season? How many wins can he create for a club by helping players to boost the values of their contracts?
My argument is that Mickey Callaway‘s value as an upgrade over the league-average pitching coach is worth well more than his current salary to the club. This does not mean that former pitching coaches should be blamed entirely for the staff’s previous shortcomings. We should instead think of it as partially crediting Mickey Callaway with their improvements.
To provide one example, let’s look at Ubaldo Jimenez.
In 2012, Ubaldo pitched to a 5.40 ERA while striking out 7.28 batters per nine innings. Fangraphs.com rated his value to the team as barely above replacement level (0.1 WAR). The very next year, under pitching coach Mickey Callaway, Jimenez pitched to a 3.30 ERA and struck out over two more batters per nine innings (9.56 K/9), and was valued by Fangraphs at 3.2 WAR.
Now certainly there are other factors involved. Jimenez was in his free agent year and was no doubt making a push for a bigger payday than he was set to receive after his miserable 2012 season. The presence of Terry Francona could have also contributed, along with more veteran presence on the team in Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Jason Giambi. The Tribe’s outfield defense was a subtle upgrade from 2012. It’s possible even a slight change in the weather could have had a minuscule effect. I don’t know, weather.com doesn’t have a section for baseball stats. But if Mickey Callaway was responsible for even half of that improvement, his work on Jimenez alone was worth over 10 million dollars to the team.
Further than that, however, is the value of the draft pick that Cleveland gained from the departure of Jimenez after the season’s end. If Jimenez had put forth another replacement-level season, there would have been no chance of him turning down a qualifying offer in November. However, his improvement in 2013 increased his free agent value so dramatically that he was willing to forfeit a one-year, $14.1 million dollar contract with Cleveland in order to pursue a bigger payday on the open market (which he did end up finding in the form of a four-year, $50 million pact with the Baltimore Orioles).
Jimenez’s departure netted Cleveland a compensatory draft pick near the end of the first round. Also, as a little added sweetener, Baltimore had to forfeit their No. 17 overall pick to sign Jimenez, meaning the Indians’ first round draft pick moved up a peg on the board.
It’s hard to determine the value of a compensatory draft pick (let alone the value of moving a pick up one slot), but whatever the value is, it’s related to the reason Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana remain unsigned halfway through spring training. Most teams would have to forfeit a first round pick in order to sign one of these free agents due to the fact that they’re attached to draft pick compensation after turning down qualifying offers themselves, and it seems like a significant obstacle. This is value that pitching coach Mickey Callaway has added to a small-market Indians team that needs an advantage in whatever way it can find one.
To widen the scope, 2013 results showed a significant improvement not only for Jimenez, but for Indians pitchers on the whole. Justin Masterson‘s ERA was down a full run and a half, while Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber made huge improvements. As a team, the 2012 Indians pitching staff allowed 766 earned runs in 1442 innings, amounting to a 4.78 ERA, good for worst in the American League. In 2013, those figures improved significantly.
The 2013 Tribe pitchers allowed only 611 earn runs over a nearly identical 1441.1 innings, amounting to a 3.82 ERA. For those of you who don’t feel like doing the math, the 2013 squad allowed 155 fewer earned runs, improving their collective ERA by nearly a full run per nine innings. It’s difficult to say exactly how many losses the Indians turned into wins by shedding these runs, but at first glance that figure seems enormous.
Consider the fact that the Tribe won 30 games last year by just one run. Now imagine that Tribe pitchers allowed that one extra run per game. If all 30 of these one-run wins suddenly became ties, and we apply the 2013 Tribe’s 56.79 win percentage to that number, we might guess that the Indians had lost 13 of those games that were instead won by one run. Those 13 wins would collectively be valued at nearly one hundred million dollars. I digress that this is not a clean, precise way to estimate how 155 extra runs would affect a season, but by a statistical application of this variety, we can see the magnitude of the impact that this improvement in pitching might have had on the Indians’ record.
Again, it is impossible to assume that Callaway alone is responsible for this dramatic improvement, but he is certainly an easy variable to point to when comparing 2012 with 2013. No doubt we can at least partially credit the pitching advancements to the new pitching coach.
The next step is to look at this from an organizational perspective. If Callaway’s coaching can help to increase the WAR value of a pitcher, that pitcher’s trade value increases as well.
Consider Corey Kluber, for example. Last year, in his first full season with the Indians, he pitched to a respectable 3.85 ERA. In 2012, however, his ERA was 5.14 (albeit in a third of the innings pitched). Baseball-Reference rated his value at 0.6 wins BELOW replacement level in 2012, while crediting him with 1.4 wins ABOVE replacement level in 2013. Once again in reference to Pollis’ article, these two wins could be said to have a market value of $14 million, but instead Kluber was earning nearly the same salary as the year before. Similarly, Zach McAllister was valued by baseball-reference at -0.2 WAR in 2012, but improved to 0.9 WAR in 2013. What kind of return could Kluber or McAllister net in a trade after another season of improvements?
Furthermore, look at Carlos Carrasco‘s performance in Spring Training so far. Josh Tomlin had a great outing the other day, too. Could they make Kluber- or McAllister-like improvements to their value under Mickey Callaway’s coaching? If so, what kind of WAR or trade value could these players provide to the organization if they pitched a full season?
What about Aaron Harang or Shaun Marcum? Could Callaway help one of them revive their careers the same way he helped Scott Kazmir last season? How many of these pitchers could net Cleveland a compensatory draft pick upon leaving the organization? How many of those might not have under a different pitching coach? Who knows how soon his reputation might begin to help lure major-league free agents and/or international free agents to Cleveland?
We can only speculate, but with all these factors in mind, the impact of Mickey Callaway on the organization is huge. Fans should be grateful for his presence in Cleveland. I hope he remains with the organization for many years to come.