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Peavy: Too Overvalued, Too Soon to be a Bust
June 9, 2010

About a week ago, this question arrived in my inbox from a reader:
"Where does Jake Peavy rank on the 'biggest busts in Chicago list'?"

For starters, we definitely need to take a larger sample size before we anoint Peavy as a savior or bust in Chicago, but that doesn't mean we can't tackle the data we currently have.

In defining "bust," I'm going to assume we are talking in terms of salary and performance, not just untapped potential, because the Borchards and Ruffcorns and Carusos of the past two decades were technically draft busts, but bailing on them and drafting a replacement isn't nearly as costly as paying a high price for expected dominance and failing to receive it.  Let's look at the numbers:

Outside of spacious Petco, Peavy career numbers are as follows:

54-41 (.568), 3.73 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

The numbers clearly indicate that Peavy is a good but not great pitcher when not hanging around Philip Rivers and his family.  In 15 starts with the White Sox so far, here's what they got for their money:

7-5 (.583), 4.95 ERA, 1.26 WHIP

Great? No.  Good? Hardly.  Bust of epic proportions? Not quite.  As you can see, his numbers are as unimpressive as possible, but he hardly tops the list of biggest bust in Chicago.  Not trying to give Peavy a free pass, let's look a little deeper at the numbers.

First, keep in mind that Peavy pitched 3 games with the White Sox last season, and those can't be discounted when assessing his value to his new team because they count just the same.

In 15 starts, Peavy has had only 6 Quality Starts (6 or more IP with 3 or less ER).  Quality Starts isn't the "end all" stat, but it's better than nothing when determining if a pitcher is giving his team a chance to win.  Looking at each game specifically, there were 2 more starts not considered Quality Starts but considered in my book to be good enough to give his team a chance to win (5 IP, 0 ER and 8.1 IP, 4 ER).  That means that 8 times out of 15, Jake Peavy gave the White Sox a decent chance to win.  Chicago's record in those 15 games?  Yup, 8-7.

What do those numbers tell us?  So far, Peavy has been an average to below average pitcher.  Factor in the fact that Peavy is being paid like an ace ($15M this year, $16M next year, $17M in 2012) and much more than average is expected.  If Peavy finishes 2012 and still has a 4.95 ERA and only throws Quality Starts in half of his games, yes, he will certainly be considered a bust.  

As far as the biggest bust in Chicago, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano fall into that category in recent years because of their absurd contracts and inability to unload them, but on the South Side, I can't think of a worse long term bust than Jaime Navarro.  In the late '90s, the Sox were paying Navarro $5M per year for 3 years, which was a lot back then.  What did Navarro do for the Sox?  He started 87 tortuous games in 3 seasons, finishing his White Sox career with a 25-43 record and an embarrassing ERA of 6.06.  Don't ask how a pitcher can lug a 6.06 ERA around and still manage to pitch 542 innings in 3 years.  

While Chicago made the mistake of signing Navarro in the first place (his biggest asset was his durability, which becomes much less of an asset when the performance is bad), I consider Navarro to be the White Sox biggest bust in the past 20 years.  Oddly enough, Peavy is in a similar situation because, like Navarro, the White Sox and their fans are probably expecting a bit more out of him than he actually has to offer, based on the Petco splits.  Peavy has a long way to go before he matches Navarro, but a Quality Start every other outing at $15M+ per year would put Jake in serious contention of the big bust award.  Until then, you can make your own Dolly Parton jokes and see if Peavy can get it turned around.