No CY for BW: is Webb's biological clock ticking?

Tim Lincecum deservedly won the 2008 Cy Young award for the National League, with Webb finishing second.

Pitcher, Club 1st 2nd 3rd Points
Tim Lincecum, SF 23 7 1 137
Brandon Webb, ARI 4 15 8 73
Johan Santana, NYM 4 8 11 55
Brad Lidge, PHI   1 7 10
CC Sabathia, MIL 1 1 1 9
Ryan Dempster, CHC     4 4

I can't really argue with the top three, though it seems somebody can - one writer opted to leave Lincecum off his ballot entirely. Mind you, five chose to dump Webb too. I suspect it may have been the same idiot who voted for Sabathia as number one, and likely also for someone who threw less than seventy innings, in Brad Lidge. Lidge threw more innings, with a better ERA and an OBA twenty-four points lower, in 2004, and got only a single third-place vote, because he didn't have the gaudy saves to show for it.

[Edit. I was wrong. It was actually a former Giants season-ticket holder, Chris De Luca of the Chicago Sun-Times, whose ballot apparently went Webb, Santana, Lidge. His reasoning was: "I thought Webb's victories (22) stood out to me more than anything, and Lincecum didn't have the victories. Twenty victories was a big deal. We had a stretch there where no one was hitting 20." A mob with pitchforks and torches is leaving San Francisco for Chicago as we speak]

Webb's second-place could theoretically end up costing the team more money down the road, as the buyout for the team option year (2010) goes up by half a million dollars, each time Webb finishes in the top five for Cy Young voting. With three consecutive top two finishes, the buyout now sits at two million, though it would currently seem like insanity for any team to use that, rather than paying Webb $8.5m to pitch in 2010.

On the other hand, it would seem likely his non-victory will maybe shave a bit off the price of any Webb contract extension, though finishing so high three years in a row [the first NL pitcher to do so, since the Big Unit's four straight victories from 1999-2002] means he won't come cheap. But better one win and two runners-up spots, than two wins and one runner-up, from the team's points of view. A report last week has occasional SnakePitter Jonathan Maurer saying that the previous offer, yanked by the team for unspecified [but, I suspect, medical] reasons during the season, would not longer cut it.

That contract was supposedly three additional years, plus a team option for 2014, at a cost of $54m, but there's no information on whether that also included a structuring of the current one [$6.5m next season, plus the $8.5m team option in 2010] to include more money for those years. Maurer points out that Webb turns 30 in May, and will be 32 when he becomes a free-agent. "This is the contract; this is the deal for him. The next deal we do is his big deal."

However, an unpalatable part of the equation for the Diamondbacks is, at what age will Webb cease to become worth ace money, as he gets older? When should the team step away and let someone else pay for his decline? Clay Davenport looked at this, and found that the average age of a pitcher's best season was 27.21 years - seems surprisingly young, to me, but the figure agrees with other studies. He found that only 16% of pitchers had their best year when they were aged older than 30. Of course, someone like Webb, whose peak performance puts him among the very best pitchers in baseball, the decline will take longer, since he has further to go. It likely also helps that his pitching action does not appear to be particularly stressful.

Contracts typically do not take this into account. Johan Santana, for example, will be 34 in 2013, but gets the highest-paid year of his current deal, at $25.5m. Similarly, the same year will see Barry Zito get his big payday, even though he turns 35 in May of that season. The odds are very much against either man having seasons commensurate with their salaries at that point.  Now, to some extent, this counters underpayment earlier in the contract, and is a necessity required to get pitchers to sign. And I'm not suggesting we implement a Logan's Run-style policy, eliminating everyone over the age of thirty. But one wonders about the fiscal efficiency of paying too much at the end of a contract, for a pitcher who is probably no longer going to be worth it.

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