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Did the Astros get any bang for their pitching-buck?

To me, the Astros' 2010 season is an anomally. It started off so badly, got worse, and then, in what seemed like the darkest moment of all, things got much better. That sentence is a gross simplification of the what actually transpired, but it isn't too far off the mark.

The season is such an anomaly to me, most likely, because there was a lot of roster turnover. Moreover, there was an infusion of youth. Although the latter is more so than the former, both had not happened in some time for the Astros. Such a season will likely always be anomalous for one who analyzes the Astros' peripheral statistics on the internets.

However, the anomaly dealt more with the aberrant trajectory the Astros' won/loss record tacked to, relative to the personnel orienting it. Prior to trading Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, the Astros posted a .422 winning percentage. After the trade, they posted a .550 winning percentage. Yes, arbitrary end points produce somewhat arbitrary results, but the point is demonstrated nonetheless.

With all this said, I am not actually going to focus on the anomaly, per se. I will, however, tackle the components that underlie the anomaly: the on-field production the Astros received. As a look to the future, I will also context that on-field production in light the cost the Astros paid for it. I will attempt this over the next few days. In doing so, I will cover the Astros' pitching, hitting, and the draw from both sides of the coin to give a full perspective.

Today, though, we start with pitching.

I'll get the methodology caveat out of the way. I am utilizing fWAR for this analysis. This can be an issue because of the way that fWAR and bWAR handle pitching. For people like Bud Norris, fWAR is a great thing; Brett Myers feels the same way. fWAR wasn't selected as a personal preference or endorsement. Instead, the decision was based solely on ease data collection. I don't want this to bar a critique of how these numbers could have played out if bWAR had been used, but I did want to note this out the outset.

Second methodological caveat: Salary data comes courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Where data was not available for a player, I substituted my best guess. There's probably a margin of error salary, and therefore difference, of about $1.5 million. I could have gone searching for the exact numbers, but writing this caveat was much less time intensive (time being a luxury for me these days).

Name WAR Dollars Salary Difference
Brett Myers 4 $16.00 $5.10 $10.90
Wandy Rodriguez 3.6 $14.40 $5.00 $9.40
Roy Oswalt 2.6 $10.40 $7.00 $3.40
Felipe Paulino 1.7 $6.90 $0.42 $6.49
Bud Norris 1.6 $6.50 $0.40 $6.10
Wilton Lopez 1.3 $5.30 $0.40 $4.90
Brandon Lyon 1 $4.10 $4.25 ($0.15)
J.A. Happ 0.8 $3.10 $0.47 $2.63
Nelson Figueroa 0.5 $1.80 $0.42 $1.38
Matt Lindstrom 0.3 $1.20 $1.63 ($0.43)
Mark Melancon 0.3 $1.00 $0.40 $0.60
Gustavo Chacin 0.1 $0.30 $0.40 ($0.10)
Brian Moehler 0 $0.20 $3.00 ($2.80)
Henry Villar 0 $0.00 $0.40 ($0.40)
Enerio Del Rosario 0 $0.00 $0.40 ($0.40)
Wesley Wright -0.1 ($0.30) $0.44 ($0.74)
Gary Majewski -0.1 ($0.30) $0.40 ($0.70)
Fernando Abad -0.1 ($0.40) $0.40 ($0.80)
Tim Byrdak -0.1 ($0.50) $1.60 ($2.10)
Josh Banks -0.1 ($0.60) $0.40 ($1.00)
Sammy Gervacio -0.2 ($0.60) $0.40 ($1.00)
Jeff Fulchino -0.2 ($0.80) $0.43 ($1.23)
Casey Daigle -0.4 ($1.60) $0.40 ($2.00)
Chris Sampson -0.5 ($2.20) $0.40 ($2.60)
Totals $63.90 $34.55 $29.36

It doesn't take an financial analyst to know that investing $34.55 million and getting back $63.90 million is a good return on investment. That's why I decided to show you pitching first.

What really becomes a positive for the Astros, however, and perhaps explains my anomaly, is who the largest net positives were. In descending order, the Astros got the most bang for their buck from five starters and two late inning relievers. As we discuss frequently here at TCB, a team needs substantial help from its late inning guys to outplay its Pythagorean record.

Further, the Astros didn't over invest in any one pitcher (Brandon Lyon sneers aside). To me, this has an important effect on the $29.36 million in surplus value. Despite cliché Ed Wade jokes, the Astros had a remarkably efficient, and savvy, allocation of their pitching dollars. Brett Myers obscures the picture slightly, but overall Wade made reasonable investments in key pieces (i.e. starters and leveraged relievers) and throw away investments in the rotating parts (i.e. middle relievers, long relief/spot starters). Wade was helped by having a number in house guys making league minimum, but the acquistions he made in the winter performed well--overall.

Dropping Roy Oswalt out of the picture does nothing but make Wade look savvier; a $9 million loss in salary only sheds $3 million in surplus value. Of course, my focus on efficiency obfuscates the on-field performance effect; losing Roy Oswalt makes the Astros a worse team, on the whole.

Because I have raised the methodlogical dilema of fWAR, I'll address it's effect on the numbers we're looking at. Norris is credited with 1.6 fWAR, but his 4.92 ERA obviously isn't the basis of that number. We can treat such sticking points two ways: 1) Go back through and remove the superlatives I used above 2) Shrug our shoulders and hope the luck represented in the differences washes out in the Astros favor in 2011. The most effective course is likely some combination of the two.

Regardless of which path one takes, a grain of truth still exists in the foregoing analysis: In 2010, Ed Wade assembled a pitching staff that cost a little, and produced a substantial amount of value. Moreover, what we know about fWAR and 2011 payroll tells us that the Astros should continue to receive bang for their pitching buck. The Astros got a lot of bang for their pitching buck; so much so that it salvaged an inefficent offense and likely allowed the Astros to perform as well as they did (that was as painful for me to write as it was for you to read).