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Fresh baked Zito

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So, as the roster matrix below establishes, the Cardinals are sitting relatively pretty if Jocketty is honest about the $100M+ payroll that the team is going to be enjoying. The bench is relatively full, we have a servicable starting eight, and enough parts in the 'pen that something could be set up.

So Walt basically has $20M-$25M to spend on two starters, and perhaps a big bat for the lineup. The obvious thing to spend it on is one of the two frontline starters, and then one of the middling arms that will probably go for $9 per or so.

So, which one of the frontline starters do we go with? Zito or Schmidt?
Schmidt has had a bit of an inconsistent performace recently, though with a much better peak--that very high quality 2003 season indicating the best of what he can do, though the low point involved him posting a 4.40 ERA in an injury-shortened 2005.

Zito, on the other hand, has been more consistent recently--hovering around an ERA in the high threes, but dropping off significantly from his much more dominant younger years. He hasn't been Cy Young caliber since he won in 2002, but he has been a very solid starter.

So, at first face, it looks like we have a choice between two players, one with a higher recent peak, and the other with a more consistent recent past (though they are closer once you factor in the fact that Zito plays in the AL west). So, which one makes more sense to go with?

Zito will probably command something like 5/$70M, while Schmidt will be somewhere in the range of 4/$60. I took a look at the ERA+ posted by each pitcher's top four comparables at baseball reference. I averaged this for the players age 29-34 seasons for Zito, and for their age 34-38 seasons for Schmidt (I added Bruce Hurst, Schmidt's number five to this study, as Bartolo Colon, his number three comparable, just finished his age 33 season).

The first thing that I noticed was that only two of Schmidt's comparables were still in baseball at the age of thirty eight. They also were more injury prone, suffering four seasons that were clearly shortened by injury or ineffectiveness. While there was some of this with Zito's comparables, even with the larger time frame being looked at, the shortened seasons, by the large, resulted in 100 inning seasons, not 27 inning seasons.

But, interestingly, when their actual ERA+'s were computed, Zito's comparables ended up with a 102 ERA+, while Schmidt's put up a 96. That is somewhat sobering--if we sign these guys, over the course of the contract, we shouldn't expect much difference from league average. Regardless, this analysis indicates that Zito, mostly due to age, is likely the better investment than Schmidt, even with the greater risk of committing more guaranteed money to get Zito.