DVS Analysis: What do the top 5 highest paid pitchers in baseball have in common?

INTRODUCTION

The pitchers featured in this article are not only the highest paid starting pitchers in the game but also are a testament to the fact that avoiding injury while accumulating a significant number of innings yields the opportunity to sign the multi-million dollar, multi-year contract.

In order for a pitcher to maximize his earning potential throughout his career, he not only has to perform at a high level, but his throwing arm has to be able to endure enough innings to reach the pinnacle of his compensation. The fastball gets you drafted, but how long you can throw the fastball gets you paid. 

This article examines the commonalities that exist among the sample group, including each pitcher's DVS Score.  In this case, the DVS Score can be used as a reflection of how each pitcher's delivery has influenced their ability to make money.

The table below compiles data that is relevant to each pitcher's 2016 salary. 

2016: Top 5 Starting Pitchers By Salary

the common thread

The average salary in 2016 for the sample group is over 30 million dollars, with Clayton Kershaw leading the pack.  For an organization to give a player that kind of money, the pitcher's resume has to warrant the monetary compensation. A pitcher increases his chances to make more money by consistently performing on the field and consistently being available to do so.  Every pitcher in the table above has won a Cy Young Award, and exhibits the following additional relationships.

  1. DVS Score of 14 or higher with an average DVS Score of 16.2
  2. No major throwing related injuries or surgery
  3. Amassed over 1800 career innings pitched
  4. Average age of 30.6

CY YOUNG AWARD WINNER

Simply put, performing better than the next guy earns you more money, and a Cy Young Award certainly improves the resume. Baseball loves quantifiable data.  What factors breed a CY Young Award Winner? Talent, of course, but there are a ton of guys with top level talent in the big leagues. So what separates the best from the rest?  One could argue that the best, all share a major theme. Consistent performance with consistent availability.  This is something that is often overlooked and taken for granted, but yet at the highest level of play where everyone is a "cream of the crop" talent, health is one of the few variables that can separate a pitcher from the rest of the pack.  How many Hall-of-Famers and consistent CY Young Winners can you name that didn't stay healthy enough to accumulate a high volume of innings by being available start after start?  The answer is very few, especially in regards to starting pitchers.  So the next question is, "what separates the guys that stay healthy from the guys that don't?"  Well, there are a number of factors, but mechanics play a huge role, and that leads us into the next paragraph. 

AVERAGE DVS SCORE OF 16.2

 Sample plot DVS would generate for an organization looking to assess a pitcher's chances of getting injured over the next "X" number of innings.

Sample plot DVS would generate for an organization looking to assess a pitcher's chances of getting injured over the next "X" number of innings.

The average DVS Score for the top 5 pitchers is 16.2, with Clayton Kershaw having the highest DVS Score of 19, and David Price having the lowest DVS Score of 14.  All 5 pitchers scores are subject to change, with the largest fluctuation in change occurring in David's Price delivery (16 to 14) over a 4 year period.

The average DVS Score of 16.2 proves the sample group is less likely to get injured compared to the professional average of 12.8.  A great way to conceptualize the predictive ability of the model is by examining the plot to the right, which indicates how likely a pitcher is to get injured by percent chance over the next number of "x" innings. 

The model has to use a starting point. In this case, we have generated our plot having assumed a pitcher has already accumulated 500 innings. Lets rewind and imagine the Seattle Mariners wanted to know the long term value of their pitching prospect Felix Hernandez.  With a DVS Score of 15, the plot would indicate in the next 1000 innings ( 5 seasons), Felix would have roughly a 55% chance of getting hurt.  This information could prove extremely valuable in helping them make both short term and long term decisions between players in their organization.

NO MAJOR INJURIES, NO SURGERY

Plenty of starting pitching prospects explode onto the scene, dominate for a couple of seasons, and then undergo an event or surgery. In recent years, we have seen starting pitchers such as Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez, and Stephen Strasburg exhibit such patterns. However, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Zach Greinke, David Price, and Clayton Kershaw not only made an initial splash, but were able to maintain it by avoiding a major injury.  So what's the difference? 

We now know the average DVS Score of Harvey, Fernandez, and Strasburg is 10, and their average time to injury was 423 innings.  In comparison, this sample group's average DVS Score is 16.2, with no record of any events or surgeries.  Coincidence?  Maybe, however, our database containing hundreds of pitchers would strongly suggest otherwise.   

AVERAGE CAREER IP OF 2267

Coming full circle, what does being an elite-level talent with consistency in performance and efficient mechanics allow for?  Innings. Put simply, being available on a regular basis allows a pitcher to accumulate large amounts of innings.  Innings.  Innings.  Innings.  And innings are the equivalent to dollars in the eyes of any front office executive.  Why?  Because they reflect consistency, sustainability, and longevity.  What organization doesn't like the sound of those terms when it comes to their investment in a player.  Investors tend to flock to a proven commodity because the risk is low, and the chance to maximize on their investment is seemingly high.  Can you guess one of the best tools a front office can use to determine if a pitcher is a "proven commodity?"  You got it.  Innings.     

CONCLUSION

For all the pitchers focused on getting to the next level, remember, if your goal is to play at the highest level and play for a long time, your pitching delivery plays a huge role in facilitating that goal. The contracts and careers of the 5 pitchers mentioned in this article shed light on the pathway to financial security. Each pitcher mentioned above has a higher DVS Score compared to the average professional pitcher, consistently performed in games, stayed healthy and avoided injury.  

For organizations, understanding if a pitcher's delivery can yield more innings is essential, especially before they prepare to write a thirty million dollar check.  Many organizations don't know a bad investment until they are millions of dollars into the deal. With all the analytics now in the game of baseball, DVS hopes the one of the most valuable analytics for pitchers can be their DVS Score.

-Justin Orenduff