Before the ink even had time to dry on the dotted line of their lucrative contracts, it seemed like concerns over Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke were already growing.
In a town like Los Angeles, where performance concerns are magnified when it comes to heavy spending, the Angels’ and Dodgers’ communities probably feel less like they are on their way to be champions of the world and more like they are heading to a bad rewrite of Water World.
Hey, it happens.
For Greinke, it was the Los Angeles Dodgers that won the sweepstakes for the right-hander’s services, signing the Cy Young hurler to a six-year, $147 million deal. It was big news.
What did the Dodgers get in return for their investment? Medical bills, currently.
By mid-March, Greinke had elbow discomfort, leading to rehab starts in the minor league camp. Though it was not made into a big deal, a pitcher’s elbow is…well, a pitcher’s elbow; it’s always serious.
He did heal, however, blanking the Pittsburgh Pirates over 6.1 innings of work in his first start. But after a linebacker's stand on the mound against Carlos Quentin that broke Greinke’s collarbone, landing him on the DL, he has totaled only 14.1 innings of work since.
For Josh Hamilton, following his dysfunctional ending in Texas, it was the Los Angeles Angels that shelled out $125 million over five years ($2 million going directly to Hamilton's charity), landing the 2010 AL MVP’s service.
It was also big news, though a questionable signing.
What seems like 45,000 swings and misses to breaking pitches on the outside corner since then, the new star in Anaheim has clearly struggled to find consistency. In his first 50 games, Hamilton has a .223/.285/.399 line, with eight home runs and 18—yes, 18—RBI.
Sure, there have been signs of improvement in recent games for Hamilton, just as Greinke has pitched well—when healthy—for the Dodgers (3.48 ERA). However, with the amount of cash in their respective pockets, it’s difficult to toss out an optimistic reach like that and call it a day.
The truth: They are both risks, with deals that basically equate to over a quarter of a billion dollars of uncertainty. It’s a gamble that would make even Vegas blush.
But which is the bigger risk for the future?
Undoubtedly, both players have overcome issues off the field, though Hamilton has been in the media substantially more for them. (In fact, some have questioned why Hamilton’s battle/overcoming drug addiction often overshadows Greinke’s battle/overcoming depression.)
But they have also produced over their 15-plus years combined, which always erases the off-field struggles—in any sport.
Greinke has gone 43-26 since his Cy Young-winning season in 2009, while averaging over 200 innings pitched. Hamilton is averaging 35 home runs and over 100 RBI per year since 2007, while hitting just below the .300 mark.
If they kept that kind of line, respectively, for the duration of their new contracts, neither would be considered a larger risk over the other—no question.
However, judging the future performance of a player based on past performances, especially around the Los Angeles area, always causes me to look back at players like Gary Matthews, Jr., Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones and quickly point out that scenario holds little value.
Regardless, there is a more solid assessment. It’s as simple as looking at failure—and looking at the catalyst of that failure.
Filip Bondy used a great analogy in his book, “Who’s on Worst,” for determining pressure in baseball.
In the book, he explained that if a hitter is considered successful while still failing 70 percent of the time, then it is the pitcher, who is expected to only fail 30 percent (or less) of the time that inherits more pressure.
If you believe in such an analogy, Greinke would then be the bigger risk—not to mention the breakdown the unnatural throwing motion causes on the arm.
If you don’t, think about this: Greinke’s success only has a chance to impact the team every five games. Because he isn’t an offensive threat, moonlighting as a position player on his non-throwing days, Greinke would then only be meaningful in the 30 or so starts every season.
Take the 130 to maybe 140 games Hamilton starts this year, and his 30 percent success rate will most likely have more of an impact. Rocket science aside, it is really just more games to have an opportunity to do more things to help the team win.
Who is the bigger long-term risk?
It’s more bang for your buck. It’s the buffet versus fine dining, and it has nothing to do with loyalties to one team or the other—think of me as purple.
Which, oddly enough, is the color both Angels and Dodgers ownership will turn in the face if their risky expenses don’t prosper.
But, eh, you tell me…
Note: All Stats were provided courtesy of baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Follow Rick on Twitter@rick_suter