A replacement-level player represents value that is considered to be on par with what is freely available in Triple-A. Players who perform at this level typically do not retain starting positions for long because this level of performance is considered readily available. However, some players are afforded the opportunity to rack up a great deal of playing time over several seasons even though they put up underwhelming numbers.
How does that happen? Let’s look at some examples, using the three-lowest WARs from regular starting pitchers from the past three years.
Derek Lowe, Braves/Indians/Yankees (0.2 WAR, 523 1/3 IP)
Lowe’s innings likely come from the reputation earned from a very successful career and that he was being paid $15 million per year. After a horrible 2011, the Braves decided to cut their losses and dealt Lowe to the Indians, along with picking up $10 million of his salary. He never got back on track in 2012 and finished the last third of the season pitching out of the Yankees’ bullpen. Lowe is currently on the free-agent market and it remains to be seen what teams will be willing to offer him.
Clayton Richard, Padres (1.1 WAR, 520 IP)
Richard has been able to keep himself on the mound despite his marginal success largely due to his being a co-headliner in the Jake Peavy deal, his low salary and the fact that the Padres really have not developed much pitching depth to push him out of the rotation. Last year, his 0.7 rWAR made him the team’s second-best pitcher. It seems unlikely that the Padres will be able to bring in enough quality arms to force Richard out of the rotation anytime soon.
Rick Porcello, Tigers (1.3 WAR, 521 IP)
Porcello is an interesting name to see come in as the third-worst pitcher by rWAR because it seems that his ability to stick in the rotation is somewhat due to his talent not exactly being matched well with the defense behind him. Baseball Reference’s WAR (1.3) and FanGraphs’ WAR (7.6) measure him quite differently because the latter mark assumes that a better defense behind Porcello would bring out his true level of performance. Simply put, pairing a ground-ball pitcher with a poor infield is not going to end well. If the Tigers’ philosophy leans to holding Porcello responsible for his below-average production, then he might be an excellent “buy low” trade target. However, if the front office has kept Porcello in the rotation on these very competitive Tigers teams, then it may believe in his talent.