WAR Games

The highest-paid pitchers rarely prove to be worth the investment
December 22, 2014

ON DEC. 9, Jon Lester agreed to a six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs (page 36), making him the 15th pitcher in baseball history to sign a nine-figure deal. MAX SCHERZER(left) is likely to be the 16th, and JAMES SHIELDS could join them in the $100 million club this winter.

All three hurlers are at least 30 years old, and therefore are poor bets to maintain their high performance for the length of a long-term deal. In fact, if history is any guide, that decline will be sudden and steep. This chart shows how the first 14 $100 million pitchers have fared, on average, during each year of their contracts, as measured by baseball-reference.com's version of Wins Above Replacement, as well as how 13 of them did in the season before they signed. (Masahiro Tanaka inked a nine-figure contract before his rookie season of 2014.)

[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]

Average WAR by year

Last season precontract ... 5.5

Year 1 ... 4.6

Year 2 ... 3.4

Year 3 ... 3.9

Year 4 ... 0.9

Year 5 ... 1.1

Year 6 ... 0.8

Year 7 ... -1.5

Year 8 ... 0.1

THEY SAID IT

"Well, @Dodgers we had a good run! Great to be a part of such a storied franchise. #thanksfor thememories"

Andrew Heaney tweet after the pitcher was traded from the Marlins to the Dodgers on Dec. 10, and then from the Dodgers to the Angels minutes later.

PHOTOAL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (SCHERZER) PHOTOANDREW HANCOCK FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (SHIELDS) PHOTOMITCHELL LEFF/GETTY IMAGES (HEANEY)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)