2020 Free Agent Pitchers: AI Contract Predictions

Gerrit Cole, Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP

Previously, I laid out my approach to using AI to predict 2020 off-season contracts and predicted position player terms. The results could serve as a reality check for over-eager front offices, a negotiating point for agents, or a prediction of the future for the far-away land of March 2020.

The TLDR version of my approach is: I combined historical player performance with free agent transactions to create a giant data set going back to 2009, then ran all that data through an AI tool to create a model that predicted contracts for the 2020 off-season.

This post runs the same exercise and methodology for predicting pitcher contracts. The approach was largely the same, but with different statistics and simpler analytics since all of these guys basically play the same position and there’s no normalization needed to compare catchers to right-fielders.

2020 Pitcher Contract Predictions

Player NameAverage Annual ValueYearsTotal Contract Value
Gerrit Cole $                    39,212,159 7 $               274,485,114
Stephen Strasburg $                    34,344,168 6 $               206,065,010
Hyun-Jin Ryu $                    22,708,376 5 $               113,541,881
Jake Odorizzi $                    17,166,302 5 $                 85,831,512
Madison Bumgarner $                    17,326,121 3 $                 51,978,363
Will Smith $                    12,102,489 4 $                 48,409,955
Zack Wheeler $                    15,706,851 3 $                 47,120,554
Michael Pineda $                    13,724,281 2 $                 27,448,562
Kyle Gibson $                    10,002,114 2 $                 20,004,229
Jordan Lyles $                      8,971,695 2 $                 17,943,391
Jordan Lyles $                      8,971,695 2 $                 17,943,391
Will Harris $                      8,968,844 2 $                 17,937,688
Rick Porcello $                      8,695,958 2 $                 17,391,916
Cole Hamels $                    16,419,892 1 $                 16,419,892
Brett Anderson $                      7,446,853 2 $                 14,893,707
Tanner Roark $                    13,426,673 1 $                 13,426,673
Dallas Keuchel $                    13,375,267 1 $                 13,375,267
Wade Miley $                    12,870,482 1 $                 12,870,482
Homer Bailey $                      6,247,589 2 $                 12,495,179
Ivan Nova $                    11,584,465 1 $                 11,584,465
Rich Hill $                    11,216,050 1 $                 11,216,050
Craig Stammen $                      5,458,369 2 $                 10,916,739
Daniel Hudson $                      5,394,715 2 $                 10,789,430
Drew Pomeranz $                      5,270,091 2 $                 10,540,181
Gio Gonzalez $                    10,197,698 1 $                 10,197,698
Michael Wacha $                      9,401,437 1 $                   9,401,437
Hector Rondon $                      4,657,943 2 $                   9,315,886
Adam Wainwright $                      9,145,758 1 $                   9,145,758
Dellin Betances $                      8,501,057 1 $                   8,501,057
Alex Wood $                      8,204,937 1 $                   8,204,937
Collin McHugh $                      7,579,428 1 $                   7,579,428
Pedro Strop $                      6,310,586 1 $                   6,310,586
Steve Cishek $                      6,290,511 1 $                   6,290,511
Juan Nicasio $                      5,929,703 1 $                   5,929,703
Brandon Kintzler $                      5,795,635 1 $                   5,795,635
CC Sabathia $                      5,777,335 1 $                   5,777,335
Jhoulys Chacin $                      5,612,195 1 $                   5,612,195
Arodys Vizcaino $                      5,419,993 1 $                   5,419,993
Sergio Romo $                      5,303,010 1 $                   5,303,010
Nick Vincent $                      5,279,285 1 $                   5,279,285
Tommy Hunter $                      5,133,823 1 $                   5,133,823
Tony Cingrani $                      2,514,306 2 $                   5,028,612
Joe Smith $                      4,976,037 1 $                   4,976,037
Tyler Clippard $                      4,863,075 1 $                   4,863,075
Matt Albers $                      2,394,890 2 $                   4,789,779
Anthony Swarzak $                      4,696,080 1 $                   4,696,080
Drew Smyly $                      4,646,125 1 $                   4,646,125
Tom Milone $                      4,418,024 1 $                   4,418,024
Xavier Cedeno $                      4,265,187 1 $                   4,265,187
Trevor Cahill $                      4,204,427 1 $                   4,204,427
Matt Moore $                      4,190,006 1 $                   4,190,006
Luis Avilan $                      3,693,877 1 $                   3,693,877
Francisco Liriano $                      3,689,826 1 $                   3,689,826
Hector Santiago $                      1,839,164 2 $                   3,678,327
Fernando Rodney $                      3,637,132 1 $                   3,637,132
Darren O’Day $                      3,510,315 1 $                   3,510,315
Jonny Venters $                      3,053,717 1 $                   3,053,717
Jeremy Hellickson $                      2,992,260 1 $                   2,992,260
Jerry Blevins $                      2,966,441 1 $                   2,966,441
Josh Tomlin $                      2,932,933 1 $                   2,932,933
Clay Buchholz $                      2,858,174 1 $                   2,858,174
Ross Detwiler $                      2,811,436 1 $                   2,811,436
Felix Hernandez $                      2,734,407 1 $                   2,734,407
Tyson Ross $                      2,673,624 1 $                   2,673,624
Edinson Volquez $                      2,505,035 1 $                   2,505,035
Cory Gearrin $                      2,412,401 1 $                   2,412,401
Edwin Jackson $                      2,388,378 1 $                   2,388,378

How the AI Worked

After testing dozens of models, the best performing one valued several variables, as shown below. Amongst those that had the greatest impact:

  1. Player age
  2. Qualifying Offer (did they receive and reject one)
  3. Prior Year WAR and RAR
  4. Prior 3-Years xFIP
  5. Agent
  6. WPA
  7. Starting Innings Pitched
  8. Prior 3-Years WAR per Inning Pitched
  9. And others…

Age

As expected, the older a pitcher gets, the smaller their expected contract value.

RAR (Prior Year)

Runs Above Replacement in the prior year made a big difference in adding contract value.

Wins (Prior Year)

Unfortunately, Wins still has a big influence in the models, though I hope this is more of a correlation than causation trend.

xFIP (Prior 3 Years)

This shows longevity in performance for a stat with great predictive value pays off with higher contract value.

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