Is Matt Cain a good investment?

I don't know. Ha!

But it has been a topic of conversation lately, and I always miss it in the main threads because I'm out doing things when they happen, and people have moved on by the time I show up. I don't pretend to have any unique insight, but I DO have a Baseball-Reference Play Index subscription, and I love playing with it. So this is just for anyone who wants to know.

I did a sort in the above mentioned play index to find players who would be good investments from 28-32 (i.e., Cain's age if he signed a 5 year contract at the end of this year). I put a bottom limit of 20 WAR - averaging 4 WAR per year or above over the course of a five year contract seems like a decent investment. Rather than go with the large list of players who topped that since 1901 (73, if you're wondering), I limited it to players who fit the sort from 1990 on. 'Cause, you know, I'm not made of time. This list of "good investment" pitchers came out to 15. Going from most recent on down:

Mark Buerhle
Cliff Lee
Roy Oswalt
Roy Halladay
Bartolo Colon
Pedro Martinez
Mike Mussina
Curt Schilling
John Smoltz
Tom Glavine
Greg Maddux
Kevin Brown
Randy Johnson
Roger Clemens
David Cone

Then I did a sort to find players who put up better than 20 WAR through age 27. In other words, pitchers who were young and effective (like Cain). The idea is to see if putting mileage on those young arms produced a lot of blowouts. Some on the above list won't show up on this list due to a late peak (I'd be looking pointedly at Randy Johnson here, but, ew). In this sort I limited the years from 1984 onwards, to make sure I caught anyone from the prior list that played in the 80's, but cut off anyone who turned 27 prior to 1990. This list had 32 pitchers.

Showing up on both lists we find, again from most recent on down:

Mark Buerhle
Roy Oswalt
Pedro Martinez
Mike Mussina
Greg Maddux
Roger Clemens

So, those are the success stories. The others include guys who had great careers so far, but haven't reached or finished the 28-32 part of their careers:

Matt Cain
Zack Grienke
Cole Hamels
Felix Hernandez
Jon Lester
Tim Lincecum
Jered Weaver
Jake Peavy
CC Sabathia
Carlos Zambrano

Those plus the 6 from before gives us 16 of the 32. The rest:

Johan Santana (missed the first list by .9 WAR)
Barry Zito
Kerry Wood
Tim Hudson
Ismael Valdez
Brad Radke
Andy Pettitte
Alex Fernandez
Jim Abbott
Kevin Appier
Andy Benes
Ramon Martinez
Dwight Gooden
Greg Swindell
Bret Saberhagen
Mark Gubicza

We can’t quite say half the guys on the list are busts, because several of those guys would have been, if not great investments, at least not disasters. Johan Santana, Tim Hudson, Andy Pettitte, Kevin Appier, Andy Benes and Bret Saberhagen would have all brought at least a fair amount of on the field value during the hypothetical 5 year contract. Most of the rest I’d probably consider a clear bust if given a fat contract from age 28-32, although some would have shown clear warning signs well prior.

For your perusal, in case you like to goggle at such things the way I do, I present both lists. I’m including all the data back to 1901, just in case you’re curious. First, the youngsters:

And the 28-32 crowd:

Feel free to point out whatever I may have missed.

This FanPost is reader-generated, and it does not necessarily reflect the views of McCovey Chronicles. If the author uses filler to achieve the minimum word requirement, a moderator may edit the FanPost for his or her own amusement.

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