David Price has reportedly agreed to sign with the Boston Red Sox for a record-setting deal worth a total of $217 million over seven seasons. For many around the baseball world the immediate reaction is that this will turn out to be a bad contract for the Red Sox. Price cannot possibly continue pitching like an ace for seven more seasons. Or so the goes the conventional wisdom.
With that spirit in mind, I decided to take a look at how players most similar to Price have aged over the years. In order to find the players that are most comparable to Price, I used the similarity score feature from Baseball-Reference. I chose to use their list of pitchers most similar to Price through his age-29 season, which he just completed in 2015. (Here is a link to the list of players). The list features a number of pitchers who at one time or another were considered among the best in the game like Johan Santana and Roy Oswalt, and guys who are considered to be aces in the game today such as Max Scherzer, Cole Hamels, and until this year Jon Lester. Then using this list of ten names I decided to see how these players aged in terms of WAR.
**Disclaimer this is not an exact science or method as several of these pitchers are still active**
To determine an aging curve for Price over the length of the contract I took the average for each of these ten pitchers in their individual seasons from age 30-36 which is Price’s age range for the length of his contract. The chart below shows the average WAR at each age as well as the number of historical seasons at each age.
As the chart shows, most of these pitchers do not have data for seasons beyond age 32 so as I previously stated this approach is extremely inexact, but it does provide a gauge of exactly what the Red Sox should expect from their new ace. Based on these averages Price will be worth a total of 15.7 WAR across the seven years of his new deal. If these numbers in fact hold true, then the Red Sox grossly overpaid for Price’s services. According to this projection for Price, Boston is paying Price $13.8 million per WAR, a number significantly higher than expected market figure of around $8 million per WAR.
Now, some may argue that this type of projection does not give Price the credit he deserves as many of the comp players have not reached their mid-30s (but Jered Weaver is certainly not getting better and neither is Lester) so this can be looked at as almost a worst case scenario for a guy like Price. Actually, the past two seasons have been Price’s best in his career and actually significantly better than the average for the same age as his best comps. The below table shows this phenomenon.
**Price’s WAR is included in the averages below**
While Price’s WAR totals were slightly above the comparable average early in his career he has exceeded the average by just below four wins over the past two seasons. This could prove to be a trend of Price separating himself from his earlier career equals and a reason to believe the left-hander will exceed that projected WAR total of 15.7. Assuming Price is worth two wins more than the average of his comps for the next seven seasons would bump his projected WAR total up to 29.7 over the span of the contract. That would equate to $7.3 million per WAR, a number that actually would come in below the $8 million I previously mentioned. However, this is an extremely aggressive assumption to make and should be considered a best case scenario for Price.
As it can be seen, based off of Price’s historical comps through his age-29 season the Red Sox are most likely going to find themselves regretting this contract, unless Price opts-out after three years and signs elsewhere. With the best case scenario projection for Price, he is barely worth less than the expected market value, but as history has shown will likely not come close to such lofty expectations.