Exactly five months have now passed since I rendered the C.J. Wilson-to-Ubaldo Jimenez comp (which admittedly did have a few caveats attached), and, well, it sort of ended up ringing true -- but only if you work a little after-the-fact magic and instead call Wilson a poor man's left-handed Jimenez. Their batted-ball, BABIP and homer rates are all very, very close, but the sharp strikeout/walk dichotomy between the pair has one in the midst of the National League Cy Young Award race, and the other ... well, just being very good. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you.
But it isn't my intent to devote a third morning missive to Wilson inside of a 30-day span (the first two instances of that can be found here and here, respectively), because on this day, the fifth day where we're fortunate enough to observe Cliff Lee ply his craft, I want to spend a little time discussing two "hidden" aspects of his value -- one empirical, and one more theoretical -- and how one, in particular, may be tying into what Wilson's currently doing on the pitching rubber.
There's been some discussion of a student-mentor relationship existing between Wilson and Lee since the latter's arrival in Texas last month, one presumably revolving around Lee imparting morsels of knowledge to Wilson on approach, delivery, pitch grips, mental acuity and so forth. Since then, I've noticed several single-game strike zone maps -- including yesterday's -- from Wilson where a preponderance of his pitches have been targeted towards the strike zone's outer third against both left- and right-handed batters; I've also rewound back to several of his successful pre-Cliff Lee starts earlier this season, and couldn't detect such an apparent pattern in his pitch locations.
That, of course, is a very small sample size, but it does have me wondering about something: is Wilson, by virtue of his similar handedness/arsenal, the optimal student? In other words, does he stand to gain more from Lee's presence than, say, Tommy Hunter? I'm predisposed to conservative valuation of stuff like this (stuff that pitching coach Mike Maddux refers to as the "osmosis effect"), and I'm not convinced that Lee's presence totally accounts for what we've seen from Wilson as of late, but when this many pitchers down in the trenches are heralding Lee and there at least seems to be something changing in the process, well, I can't ignore that. And if Lee's tutelage could be expected to lop something like, say, 0.10-0.20 runs off the earned run averages of guys like Martin Perez and Derek Holland during their acclimation period, then that's something you'd need to take into consideration when preparing to make a post-season run at re-signing Lee.
The second point I want to quickly make again involves the economic side of the game, something that has been capturing more and more of my attention lately: if you assume that the pitcher(s) who would be replacing Lee in 2011 and beyond would provide league-average performance (around two wins above replacement, and even this assumption is something of a stretch), and that Lee could be reasonably expected to offer 4-5 wins above replacement annually, then that's something you also need to factor into your revenue projections. In "Baseball Between the Numbers," Nate Silver found that one additional win per season equaled slightly more than $1 million in increased profits; it strikes me that Lee could offset around $2-3 million of his monstrous salary per season solely because of the enhanced cash flow that would accompany his presence.
To be clear, I still don't think I'm very much on board with the notion of re-signing Lee at a guaranteed sum beyond $100-110 million (even with the considerations presented here), but with the news that new ownership has already scrapped its old payroll projections -- which called for something in the vicinity of $77 million in 2011 and $84 million in 2012 -- in favor of more aggressive numbers, this notion of bringing back Lee is becoming incrementally more appealing. And as irrational as it might sound on the surface, another strong performance against the Rays tonight will push us all one tick closer towards wanting to keep him around for a very long time.