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Math says, “Paxton to Red Sox Looks Like a Good Deal”

James Paxton’s new deal with the Red Sox could be both lucrative for the pitcher and low risk for the team.

Boston Red Sox Fenway Park by Doug Kerr is licensed under CC BY SA-2.0

Math says, “Paxton to Red Sox Looks Like a Good Deal”

Estimated Reading Time: 2 Minutes

“This looks like a good deal for the Boston Red Sox with minimal risk,” says a major source.

I know I am not supposed to reveal this, but my source is math.

In 2020, Craig Edwards posted a blog on Fangraphs outlining that the cost of 1 Win Above Replacement (WAR) in MLB Free Agency is equivalent to $8.6 million. So, if a team signed a player to a one-year, $8.6 million deal the expectation would be that player would be worth 1 WAR in his season with the team.

Now let’s look at the deal James Paxton just signed with the Boston Red Sox. First, due to inflation the likely cost of 1 WAR is now $9.1 million in free agency. This is a good lesson about why team building through free agency is a terrible idea, but that’s for another time.

The Red Sox are not signing Paxton to be their ace, or their #2, or their #3 (at least for right now). This is a deal about value, and math is saying the value will likely be there.

The deal is guaranteed for 2022 for $10 million. After that there are team options for 2023 and 2024 that could make Paxton’s total pact with the Red Sox a 3-year, $35 million deal. This means in order for the full deal to be considered a win, Paxton needs to be worth 4 WAR over the next 3 seasons.

Paxton is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and at best can only be expected to contribute later in the 2nd half of the 2022 season. For comparison, Chris Sale had TJ surgery in March of 2020 and pitched in a MLB game on August 14th, 2021. The TJ surgery for Paxton was in April 2021 and expecting ~4 starts in September is likely the best possible outcome.

Sale was worth 1 WAR in 9 starts in 2021 and is the superior pitcher. However, Sale’s 2021 starts were not vintage Sale by any means. To be conservative we can expect Paxton to be worth half of Sale in half the number of starts, giving us .25 WAR for Paxton in 2022.

Paxton would then need to only be worth 3.75 WAR over 2023 and 2024 to make this contract a success for the Red Sox. During Paxton’s prime from 2017-2019 he was worth 9.2 WAR as he went 38-17 with 550 K in 447 IP.

Looking for a 33-year-old pitcher coming off major surgery to replicate his prime is close to the definition of a fool’s errand. The Red Sox aren’t looking for that, nor do they need it for this deal to be a win. If Paxton comes back stronger from TJ surgery (as many pitchers do) then that’s great and he would potentially out-perform his contract.

That’s not what the Red Sox need here though. For this contract to be a slam dunk, they just need Paxton to be 2021 Eduardo Rodriguez.

Rodriguez threw 157 innings in 2021, going 13-8 with 185 strikeouts. He was worth 1.8 WAR last season. Paxton has only pitched 150+ innings twice in his career, but this still feels fairly attainable IF Paxton is healthy.

The health risk is major and it’s why Paxton received the deal he did while E-Rod got a 5 year $77 million from the Detroit Tigers. However, the Red Sox seemed to have made a very calculated risk here and according to math the outcome looks favorable.

Terry is from Massachusetts and is a passionate fan of the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins. He also will admit he only pays attention to Syracuse basketball when they're good. If there's a Twitter trade rumor even remotely associated with one of his teams, he's likely fallen for it. Finally, he believes 100% that if the Celtics had beaten the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals they would have swept the Thunder in the Finals.

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