Peter Gammons: Buying and developing starters in an inefficient market

We all get it. There is Chris Sale and Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner, when they are healthy, but wins are not what they were when Bob Welch won 27.

But begin an analytical lecture with the Astros, because they used the first pick in two drafts to take Mark Appel and Brady Aiken and when this regime took over they believed Dallas Keuchel was a fungible organizational guy.

Look at Boston. No one knows how much David Price’s elbow has played in his sometimes quizzical, often criticized clashes with media and HOF media, but attached to every question about him is his adopted name $217M and, besides his performance prior to signing with the Red Sox, he was a necessary sign because the team simply has not signed and developed starting pitching. They are in first place, and have had five starts and two starters’ wins out of pitchers they either drafted or signed at the July 2 International Deadline, all by Brian Johnson.

In fact, two starting pitchers who were signed and developed by their teams have a dozen wins, Kershaw, 15, James Paxton 12.

Now, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer appreciated the chance involved in using their high first round picks on pitchers. They made wise free agent signings in Jon Lester ($155M) and John Lackey, they used superior professional scouting to get Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta and used their position player minor league inventory to trade for Jose Quintana this July, Aroldis Chapman and the World Series last season. The big international signings from Japan, Korea, and Cuba do not get included in the drafted/signed/developed category, and not only did they win that World Series without one starter victory from one of their self-developed pitchers, but this season they are in first place without a start from anyone they signed and developed.

The Indians were within a bobble of the world championship last season and are back in first place in 2016, and have 11 wins from starters they developed; John Tomlin is their leader at 7, and he is out for the season.  Now Danny Salazar looms vital in their run at another pennant. Arizona has six wins from organizational starters. Houston has nine wins from their Cy Young, Keuchel, 11 from Lance McCullers and Joe Musgrove.

Then go back to what it costs on the free agent market. Boston had to pay $217M to Price, several elite prospects for Chris Sale. It can work. Max Scherzer may have two Cy Youngs by the end of this year for $210M, well spent. Lester was a wise investment.

But think of the 5/$90M to Jeff Samardzija, 5/$80M to Anibal Sanchez, 5/$110M to Jordan Zimmerman, 5/$75M to C.J. Wilson, 7/$126M to Barry Zito

In reality, developing starting pitchers has become baseball’s most costly market inefficiency. Granted, whether it’s Appel, Aiken, Tyler Kolek (Miami’s 2014 pick with the second selection, who went through Tommy John Surgery and this year in 5 games has a 3.2 4 13 12 14 1 line, there inherent physical and emotional risks. “Part of it is that we are too impatient developing pitchers,” says one NL GM. “We try to get them to the big leagues quickly based on raw talent, then if they don’t win right away they’re the reason the team doesn’t win. A position player can struggle if the team is winning. Same with a reliever. Not with a starter.”

“We’re also too quick to see good young arms and project them as relievers because they’re easier quick fixes,” says a personnel director. “Patience is a key to letting starters develop. Pittsburgh is doing a great job. Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Tyler Glasnow have been given time to learn, and next year they might have the best rotation in the National League, with Felipe Rivero a big-time young power closer they got in a smart trade. It will be fun to watch the White Sox patiently develop all their young pitchers with Don Cooper.”




BAL:    46,    19,        Bundy 11

BOS:     5,       2,        B. Johnson 2

NYY:    46,    17,        Severino 9

TBR:    52,    15,        Cobb 9

TOR:    31,    11,         Stroman 10

(AL:    178,   64)



HOU:   62,   15,         Keuchel 9

CLE:     34,   11,         Tomlin 7

KCR:    35,    9,          Duffy 7

SEA:     38,   18,        Paxton 12



WSH:    31,   10,        Strasburg 10

CHC:      0,    0,         none

MIL:      32,  12,        Nerlson 7

STL:      89,  35,        Wainwright 11

LAA:     28,   15,        Kershaw 15

COL:     48,   25,       Freeland 11

ARZ:     19,     6,        Godley 5

One more element to this is that while the Royals and Indians have been so successful in post-seasons with their bullpen usage, the Indians’ run last season raised the issue of how much the ups, downs, innings, and leverage situations wear on them when they virtually pitch to November.

Andrew Miller was willing to remain active in the Indians bullpen, but his right knee had been aching, he was exhausted. Everyone understood that, hence their run at Zach Britton in the final hours before last Monday’s trading deadline; Dan Duquette had indicated the names were close to what the Orioles required, they exchanged medical information, but the Orioles general manager went dark and neither the Indians or the Dodgers, who also thought they were close, could reach Duquette. If this was a Peter Angelos decision, we’ll see if he wants to pay Britton $14M to close in 2018.

Miller is expected back in plenty of time for the post-season, but think of the wear on him beginning with last October. He pitched in 10 games with 30 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings on the run through Game 7 of the World Series, then he pitched in March in the World Baseball Classic, and is back pitching anytime and anyplace they want him.

His earned run average is up only from 1.45 to 1.67, but his strikeout-walk ratio down from 13.67 to 5.20, and if they maintain their American League Central lead, the feeling is that this time off can be a blessing.

Check the other prime Indians relievers who went through October, as well as Aroldis Chapman:

Pitcher:  2016 ERA—-2017 ERA

Cody Allen:     2.51——-3.22

Bryan Shaw:  3.24——-3.53

Dan Otero:      1.53—-3.46

Chapman:       1.55——-2.87

Chapman’s strikeout rate is down, his walk rate down, testify to the affect of the way bullpens are used today in October.

The Yankees have an astoundingly deep bullpen for an October run. They have developed a front end starter in Severino. If Boston is without Price, whose career is 25-8 in September, they face the reality that neither Drew Pomeranz or Eduardo Rodriguez has ever thrown 175 innings in a full season. Hence, they went and got Addison Reed—who since going to the Mets at the deadline in 2015 has a 1.61 ERA, allowed two steals and not made an error, to go with Joe Kelly, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, et al.

But the idea was to have Sale, Price and Rick Porcello getting 19-21 outs in every one of their starts. If Price’s elbow is a longterm issue, they don’t know where the unknown takes Pomeranz and Rodriguez and whether their bullpen—which has been very good—can pitch four or five leverage innings a game in the stretch and in October. And if Price needs surgery, no one knows if they can pay the market price for a replacement starter.

Because the market is inefficient.


  1. Should teams build pitching staff forward w/starters or backwards from closer since we now ask only 6-7 innings from starters?

  2. GhostOfFenway says:

    Its crazy when you look at how many pitchers each team runs through each season, and what teams are willing to pay for below average expected results.

  3. Rick Berger says:

    Peter G. forgot to mention the most critical element in regards to patience when farming pitching:
    FREE AGENCY. By the time half of the 6-year window is over, starters are at a point where they really just begin to understand the nuances of the art. Starting pitching is the single most difficult art form to achieve in sports due to the level and degree of efficiency to be successful.

    And the game’s current structure inhibits a steady steam of patience for home-grown moundsman.