What Does Dan Duquette Know About Pitching?

 

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I’ll be honest – I don’t really know what to make of Dan Duquette.

Since being named Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for the Orioles a little more than five years ago, Duquette has been something of a lightning rod for fans.

If you walk up to any orange-clad fan walking toward Camden Yards and ask what he or she thinks of Dan Duquette, you’re bound to get one of two possible answers:

Answer #1: “Duquette is great…he and Buck have brought winning baseball back to Baltimore and I couldn’t be happier – but I’m still waiting for that World Series title!”

Answer #2: “Dan Duquette is horrible at his job…he always shops on the bargain racks…and he’s lucky Buck Showalter is able to turn his annual batch of lemons into reasonably interesting lemonade.”

My experience has been that more fans hold the second opinion than the first.

The national media doesn’t seem to know what to make of Duquette, either.  About the biggest compliment most writers pay Duquette is that he is “patient” or “willing to wait out the market” and sign players late in the off-season.

But…is he any good at his job? 

That’s the question I’d really like to get an answer to – but I’m not sure that answer is as simple as it seems.

Duquette built a winning team on a shoestring budget in Montreal…and he assembled the pieces that became the 2004 World Champion Red Sox.

But keep in mind – Duquette was actually fired by the Boston’s incoming ownership group before the 2002 season.  So how much credit should he receive for a championship that was won a full 2 ½ years after his departure?

What Is Dan Duquette’s Track Record When it Comes to Pitching?

During his time in Baltimore, one of the more consistent criticisms of Duquette has been that he hasn’t been able to acquire top-notch pitchers for the Orioles on a consistent basis.

Many of the key pieces of the 2017 roster – Zach Britton, Chris Tillman, Darren O’Day and Dylan Bundy – were acquired during Andy MacPhail’s regime.

So what about the arms that Duquette has brought to the team since he’s been here? 

I decided to try and take an objective look at the pitchers Duquette has acquired to see if I could draw any simple conclusions.

Before I show you what I came up with, though, let me make it clear…I’m not a Duquette hater.

The fact that the Orioles have the best record in the American League since the beginning of the 2012 season – Duquette’s entire tenure here – means a lot.

And I fully recognize the constraints placed upon him by ownership and the competitive disadvantage (in terms of payroll) the O’s must contend with as compared to some of their division rivals.

But – when it comes to acquiring pitchers…is Duquette any good?

Let’s take a year-by-year look at the pitchers Duquette has acquired, using BaseballReference.com’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and salary data to determine the success of each transaction.

What follows is a quick summary of each year followed by a brief analysis…and a tiny bit of math.  If you’re interested in seeing all of the data, you can view the spreadsheet where it was assembled by clicking here.

A couple of quick notes on the data.

First…for the sake of this exercise, we’ll say that a new season begins immediately after the final out of the previous season.  So, for example, a player added in December 2012 would be included as an addition to the 2013 Orioles’ roster.

And second…you’ll notice that I didn’t include every pitcher Duquette has acquired.  So, I’m sorry but you won’t see names like Stu Pomeranz, Mike Belfiore and Odrisamer Despaigne in the analysis below.  For the sake of brevity, I tried to focus on “significant” additions – either in terms of value or salary.

The basic idea, as you’ll see, is to look at the “wins” Duquette has acquired…and consider how much he paid for them.  Is he any good at acquiring impactful pitchers?  Does he overpay (as compared to the league average) for the value he acquires?

The answers aren’t quite as clear as I had hoped.  Let’s take a look…

Season 1 – 2012 – Final Record: 93-69 (Wild Card berth)

Pitchers acquired before or during the 2012 season:

Pitcher Years WAR  Salary  $/WAR
Miguel Gonzalez 4+ 7.80  $6,062,098  $777,192
Jason Hammel 2 3.00  $11,500,000  $3,833,333
Wei-Yin Chen 4 10.0  $15,466,000  $1,546,600
Matt Lindstrom 1 0.7  $1,800,000  $2,571,429
Dana Eveland 1 0.2  $750,000  $3,750,000
Joe Saunders 1 0.8  $2,000,000  $2,500,000
Tsuyoshi Wada 2 0  $8,150,000 #DIV/0!
Total 22.5  $45,728,098  $2,032,360

Without question, 2012 – Duquette’s first season in Baltimore – was his best in terms of adding quality pitchers without overpaying.

We know that in 2017, Major League teams are paying roughly $8 million per WAR in the free agent market…so we’ll use that figure as a guide throughout that examination. (The figure was closer to $6.5 million per win back in 2012 but let’s just use the $8 million as a general guide.)

No matter how you look at it, Duquette’s addition of 22.5 wins in the 2012 class of pitcher acquisitions – at a cost of just over $2 million per win – is fairly remarkable.

Jason Hammel was a key piece of the 2012 Wild Card-winning team and he was acquired at a reasonable price (in terms of both salary and trade, as he was obtained for Jeremy Guthrie.)

But Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez were the two additions that have delivered the most “wins” – and at the best value.

Gonzalez’s value would be even greater had the Orioles not paid $1.25 million for him NOT to pitch for the club in 2016.  The O’s opted to “eat” that $1.25 million at the end of spring training in 2016 rather than keep Gonzalez on the roster and pay his full $5.1 million salary for the season.  That proved to be a mistake, as Gonzalez was a 2.0 WAR pitcher for the White Sox last season…meaning that $5.1 million salary would have been a bargain.

We should also keep in mind Duquette’s international signings weren’t exactly perfect – as the $8.15 million investment in Tsuyoshi Wada proved to be a total bust.

But, again – that 2012 class of new pitchers gets high marks for the addition of two pitchers who delivered four years of value to the team at bargain-basement prices.

Season 2 – 2013 – Final Record: 85-77

Pitchers acquired before or during the 2013 season:

Pitcher Years WAR  Salary  $/WAR
Scott Feldman 1 0.7  $3,000,000  $4,285,714
T.J. McFarland 4 0  $2,037,500 #DIV/0!
Bud Norris 3 0.6  $15,600,000  $26,000,000
Kevin Gausman 4 6.2  $2,059,000  $332,097
Francisco Rodriguez 1 0.1  $1,600,000  $16,000,000
Total 7.6  $24,296,500  $3,196,908

The biggest name on this list, obviously, is Kevin Gausman. And while Gausman was a draft pick – not a trade or free agent acquisition – he was drafted and developed during the Duquette era…so we must give him the credit.

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Gausman was the number four overall pick in the 2012 draft – and it was the poor record of the 2011 team that put the O’s in position to draft him. So if you were to take Gausman out of the equation…the pitchers Duquette added to the team in 2013 were not of much value.

Scott Feldman and Francisco Rodriguez did not help the 2013 get back to the postseason, combining for less than one “win” in added value. And while Bud Norris was a valuable member of the rotation in 2014, that contribution is offset by his negative value (-1.5 WAR) and $8.8 million salary in 2015.

Season 3 – 2014 – Final Record: 96-66 (Division Champion)

Pitchers acquired before or during the 2014 season:

Pitcher Years WAR  Salary  $/WAR
Ubaldo Jimenez 3 2.2  $36,500,000  $16,590,909
Ryan Webb 1 0.1  $1,750,000  $17,500,000
Brad Brach 3 5.0  $2,282,500  $456,500
Evan Meek 1 -0.9  $800,000 -$888,889
Andrew Miller 1 0.9  $950,000  $1,055,556
Total 7.30  $42,282,500  $5,792,123

Yikes…the Ubaldo Jimenez signing.  Who doesn’t remember it fondly?

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But keep in mind – the Orioles gave up a first round draft pick to sign Jimenez…which then made them more willing to give up a second round pick to sign Nelson Cruz.  And without Cruz, the O’s don’t win the 2014 division championship.

Of course…that doesn’t factor into our pitching-only analysis here – and it doesn’t make the Jimenez signing look any better in hindsight.

While the inconsistent Jimenez has shown flashes of brilliance, his struggles – and his large contract – have been impossible to ignore.

The best value from the 2014 class of new pitchers is clearly Brad Brach. His 5.0 WAR – at a modest salary to date – adds another name to the list of Duquette bargains.  And while the Andrew Miller acquisition was certainly important in the 2014 ALDS against Detroit, his brief stay in Baltimore means he doesn’t have a huge impact in this analysis.

Overall, the 2014 class of new pitchers is a mixed bag.  Acquiring Brach in November 2013 and trading for Miller mid-season were great moves.  But the Jimenez signing – Duquette’s most significant free agent acquisition among pitchers – has been a total disaster.

Season 4 – 2015 – Final Record: 81-81

Pitchers acquired before or during the 2015 season:

Pitcher Years WAR  Salary  $/WAR
Chaz Roe 2 0.4  $1,243,000  $3,107,500
Wesley Wright 1 0  $1,700,000 #DIV/0!
Jason Garcia 1 -0.1  $523,000 -$5,230,000
Total 0.3  $3,466,000  $11,553,333

The winter leading up to the 2015 season was the time when Duquette was rumored to be interested in the Blue Jays’ vacant club president position:

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Did that have an impact on Duquette’s activity that winter?

It’s hard to look at this list of acquisitions and say that it didn’t.

Chaz Roe was a nice discovery, while Jason Garcia was a Rule 5 selection who hasn’t quite panned out yet.  That leaves left-handed reliever Wesley Wright – the only significant free agent acquisition – as the year’s “big” addition to the club…and Wright’s inability to stay healthy made his $1.7 million contract a failure.

While it’s true that Duquette’s hands may have been tied a bit by the 2014 addition of Jimenez and the re-signing of 2013 addition Bud Norris at more than $8 million, the offseason heading into 2015 was clearly Duquette’s worst.  He simply didn’t add any real pitching value to the club.

Season 5 – 2016 – Final Record: 89-73 (Wild Card berth)

Pitchers acquired before or during the 2016 season:

Pitcher Years WAR  Salary  $/WAR
Yovani Gallardo 1 0.2  $9,000,000  $45,000,000
Vance Worley 1 1.4  $2,600,000  $1,857,143
Odrisamir Despaigne 1 0.2  $507,500  $2,537,500
Wade Miley 1 -0.3  $3,000,000 -$10,000,000
Donnie Hart 1 0.9  $507,500  $563,889
Logan Ondrusek 1 -0.3  $650,000 -$2,166,667
Brian Duensing 1 0.2  $2,000,000  $10,000,000
Total 2.3  $18,265,000  $7,941,304

Duquette was clearly more active in 2016 than he was the previous year, but I’m not sure he was any more effective.

The signing of Yovani Gallardo turned out to be a bust – though its impact is lessened somewhat by his relatively short one-year stay in Baltimore.  And the trade for Wade Miley at mid-season didn’t exactly pay any dividends either.

Vance Worley, however, proved to be a valuable bullpen piece – and Donnie Hart did solid work as a left-handed reliever after Brian Matusz was finally sent packing in May.

But unless Miley has a great season in 2017, this looks like another class of new pitchers that don’t provide much of anything in the way of value for the second year in a row.

So What Does It All Mean?

Let’s take a quick look at the year-by-year totals:

Year WAR  Salary  $/WAR
2012 22.50  $45,728,098  $2,032,360
2013 7.60  $24,296,500  $3,196,908
2014 7.30  $42,282,500  $5,792,123
2015 0.30  $3,466,000  $11,553,333
2016 2.30  $18,265,000  $7,941,304
Total 2012-2106 Additions 40.00  $134,038,098  $3,350,952

I think what we have here is a split decision.

If you want to look at the glass half-full, you can point out that Duquette has added 40 WAR since 2012 at a cost of just $3.35 million per win.  That’s a bargain when compared to what the rest of the league pays for wins on the free agent market.

But that’s just it.

Not all of these wins were acquired via free agency.  Those who look at the glass half-empty would point out that Kevin Gausman’s 6.2 WAR – at $332k per win – shouldn’t be counted because home-grown pitchers are designed to be cheap before they hit their arbitration and free agent years.

It’s also impossible to ignore the trend here.  After a hugely successful 2012 – where Duquette signed Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez while also trading for Jason Hammel – what exactly has Duquette done for us lately?

More than half of the WAR Duquette has added to the pitching staff during his tenure – 20.8 total WAR out of 40 – came from those 2012 additions of Gonzalez, Chen and Hammel.  That sure feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

And since then?  It’s not pretty: 2013 looks like a good class – but that’s largely a mirage because of Gausman…2014 was defined by the disastrous Ubaldo signing…2015 featured no significant upgrades…and 2016 also looks pretty terrible.

To me, that $3.3 million per win figure, while impressive, is largely a factor of the value associated with four pitchers – Gonzalez, Chen, Brach and Gausman…and it’s worth noting that none of those additions came after 2015.

So what does it all mean?

Is Dan Duquette great at evaluating and acquiring pitchers because he’s done so at a cost below what the league typically pays?

Or is Dan Duquette terrible at his job because he hasn’t added any pitchers of value since trading for Brad Brach in November 2013?

I think the answer is somewhere in the middle…but the trend is clearly negative over the past three years.

 

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