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The Economic Stimulus Plan That Is Ray Searage

Ray Searage has brought smiles to a lot of pitchers' faces when they see their bank accounts Photo by Gene J. Puskar/AP

Ray Searage has brought smiles to a lot of pitchers’ faces when they see their bank accounts
Photo by Gene J. Puskar/AP

Ray Searage makes good money.  I’m not entirely sure how much money he makes, but doing some cursory research (OK, I Googled it) I found this article from a year ago on Fangraphs that put pitching coaches in the $150K to $350K range.  That range makes sense to me.

But Searage’s salary pales in comparison to the rate of return he has provided to some of his recent reclamation projects.  Five of Searage’s most successful projects have reaped significant free agent contracts thanks to his tutelage.

Edinson Volquez

Volquez came to the Pirates in a December 2013 deal for 1 year/$5M.  At the time, I made the comment that if you ever wanted to experience what $5M smelled like when it was set on fire, drive past PNC Park during one of Volquez’s starts.  After a ghastly 2014 Spring Training (never trust Spring Training stats, positive or negative), Volquez went on to be the Pirates’ most consistent starter in 2014.

After putting up a 5.71 ERA in pitcher-friendly San Diego in 2013, Volquez sliced that to 3.04 in 2014.  He was the only Pirate starter to make 30+ starts and provided 192 quality innings to the staff.  Because of the mad dash put on to try in vain to win the division, Volquez ended up starting the 2014 Wild Card game as the sacrificial lamb to the postseason god of pitching, known as Madison Bumgarner.

When the season concluded, Volquez signed a very reasonable 2 year/$20M deal with the Royals for the 2015-16 seasons.  It comes with a $10M option ($3M buyout) in 2017 that will be certainly exercised as long as Volquez’s right arm remains attached to his shoulder by the end of the season.  In essence, the Royals will have to decide if Volquez is worth a $7M net decision.  In an age where pitching prices are premium, that answer will be yes.

So Searage provided Volquez with +$15M of new money, assuming that $5M was Volquez’s baseline number.  And in essence, barring injury, it will be more like +$25M, but let’s stick to certainties for now.

JA Happ

In rather inconvenient fashion, AJ Burnett went on the disabled list on July 31st with a flexor strain in his elbow.  Considering that was the non-waiver trade deadline day, the Pirates needed to scramble for a replacement.

They plucked JA Happ off of the scrap heap from the Mariners, who had designated him for assignment a few days earlier.  The Mariners had resigned themselves to potentially letting him go for nothing, but the Pirates traded back-end pitching prospect Adrian Sampson for Happ.  To me, it looked like a panic move at best and a move precluded by cheapness at worst.

After a rough first start, Happ and Searage sat down and Searage made some tweaks.  From that point on, Happ went on to have the best stretch of his career (7-2, 1.85 ERA, 63 IP, 52 H, 69 K, 13 BB).  It would have been a surprise on the surface, but not based on the numbers, if Happ would have either started the Wild Card game against the Cubs or Game 1 of the NLDS if the Pirates won the Wild Card game.

It would have pleased me greatly if the Pirates could have retained Happ on a Volquez-esque deal, but he got a guaranteed third year from the Blue Jays and headed back up north for a 3 yr/$36M deal.  Considering that Happ was pitching on a $6.7M salary in 2015, but was DFA’ed in July, it’s not hard to say that his offseason could have been more like Mat Latos or Doug Fister’s (both still unsigned) offseasons.  Or maybe he could have received a 1 yr/$6M deal like Colby Lewis or Rich Hill.

Instead, Searage put a potential +$30M in Happ’s bank account.

Charlie Morton

Perhaps this is cheating a touch, since this wasn’t a pure free agent contract, but Morton did receive a 3 yr/$21M extension from the Pirates after being rescued from the abyss by Searage and Jim Benedict.  Morton was a sub-par pitcher, got Tommy John surgery in 2012, then came back in 2013 with a rebuilt delivery eerily similar to Roy Halladay’s.  Morton experienced enough success with new groundball-heavy repertoire that the Pirates saw fit to give him the deal.

Considering that Morton was coming off of a 2012 that saw him very hittable to the tune of 11.1 H/9 IP and a 4.65 ERA, that 3.26 ERA he put up in 2013 was eye-opening, especially for a team on the cusp of defensive shifting that relied on ground balls.  It’s not inconceivable that Morton could have been either out of the league or fighting to get a 1 yr/$4M deal like Trevor Cahill just received from the Cubs.

Ray Searage (and to be fair, Jim Benedict, too) allowed Morton to reap a +$17M swing in his future earnings.

Jason Grilli

For all intents and purposes, Jason Grilli was on his way out of baseball.  After a terrible 2009 season with both the Rockies and the Rangers, resulting in a 5.32 ERA and 5.3 BB/9 against 9.7 K/9, Grilli was shunted off to the minors in 2010.  In 2011, recovering from a quad injury and pitching for the Phillies’ AAA team, the Pirates scooped him up after being released in July.

Grilli went on to pitch outstandingly and turned in a 2.32 ERA with a pared-down 4.1 BB/9 (still too high) against an increased 10.2 K/9.  He continued to improve as first the setup man and then the closer, culminating in a 2013 All-Star season that saw him produce a 2.78 ERA with just 2.3 BB/9 and a staggering 13.3 K/9.

The Pirates traded him in 2014 when his attitude got a little too big for the clubhouse, but by then they had extracted maximum value from him.  Likewise, Grilli had resurrected his career and the entirety of his earnings should be credited to Ray Searage, as he was at best looking at minor-league deals without him in 2011.

He earned $7.85M while with the Pirates and signed a 2 yr/$8M deal with the Braves prior to last season.  So that is +15.85M thanks to Uncle Ray.

Mark Melancon

Early in his career after being drafted by the Yankees, Melancon was tagged as a possible successor to Mariano Rivera.  That didn’t come to fruition because 1) Rivera was made of magic and pitched forever, and 2) Melancon was traded to Houston for Lance Berkman.  Melancon did well as the closer for Houston for a year and was then sent to the Red Sox for Jed Lowrie in December 2011.  The 2012 season…did not go well for Melancon.  After posting a 6.20 ERA and spending considerable time in the minors, Melancon was part of (but not the perceived primary piece) in a trade that sent Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox in December 2012.

The 2013 season, pitching as a minimum salary player, Melancon put forth a microscopic 1.39 ERA.  His K/9 peripherals were roughly the same, but his homers allowed per 9 innings dropped precipitously and he barely walked anyone (1.01 BB/9).  The primary cause for this rapid turnaround appears to be his complete and utter faith in the cut fastball, as his usage doubled from 26.3% in 2012 to 56.1% in 2013.  He induced weak grounder after weak grounder, but could also finish people off with a nasty curveball.

If Melancon was unable to correct his path under Ray Searage, it’s difficult to envision the Pirates taking him to arbitration, so I’m going to credit Searage with all of the monies earned by Melancon during his last three seasons here, a total of +17.65M all told.

***

I’m not going to include contracts like Antonio Bastardo’s 2 yr/$12M deal with the Mets, as Bastardo was a solid reliever before he got here.  Perhaps Searage helped him get an extra million or two, but I think he was going to get paid with even a moderately good season.  There were other relievers, like Jose Veras for instance, that also went on to sign quality deals, but I feel that they would have found those deals on their own.

All told, Ray Searage helped five pitchers increase their earnings by $95.5M.  There’s no shady investment banker alive that could guarantee you that kind of return.  All hail Ray Searage, personally responsible for keeping pitchers employed since August 2010.  He’s a true job creator.

About Kevin Creagh (316 Articles)
<p>Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.</p>