Justin Verlander Is The Latest Proof That Long-Term Contracts For Pitchers Are The Biggest Gamble In MLB

Just Verlander had to be pulled from his last start after just one inning because of “right shoulder soreness” and now he will need to have an MRI to see the extent of the damage according to John Lowe of USA Today Sports.

This is a huge blow to the Detroit Tigers as Verlander is in just the second season of his 7-year, $US180 million contract. He is still owed at least $US140 million over the next five seasons.

Even without a diagnosis of Verlander’s injury, which has “been lingering for a while,” there were already signs of trouble. Now, the contract signed prior to the 2013 season looks like a huge mistake for the Tigers.

The most troubling sign is the velocity on Verlander’s fastball. The pitch which routinely averaged 96-97 mph in 2009, 2010, and early in 2011, was down to 94-95 last year. This year it was still 94-95 to start the season, but is now down to less than 93 over the last two months.

The $US180 million contract is the second-largest ever given to a pitcher, trailing only Clayton Kershaw’s 7-year, $US215 million contract with the Dodgers.

But while Kershaw’s contract looks like a bargain so far, many more look like Verlander’s deal.

Here are the pitchers who have signed long-term contracts with an average annual value of at least $US20 million. Keep in mind that each win in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is worth $US4.5-5.0 million. Therefore, for a pitcher to be worth just $US20 million per year, he would need to average ~4.0-4.5 WAR per year.

In other words, only Kershaw and Felix Hernandez have been worth their contracts so far and both of those players still have a ways to go on their deals (6 years and 5 years, respectively).

A team cannot win in Major League Baseball without strong starting pitching. But giving pitchers long-term contracts with huge amounts of money attached is also the biggest risk in baseball. Verlander is just the latest to come up as a dud.

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