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Goodbye Jeff Suppan

Jeff Suppan seems to be a very good person and teammate. He was a positive influence in the Milwaukee community in his 3 and a half years as a Brewer. I wish him success in whatever he decides to do in the future.

Unfortunately, he is not a good pitcher, and was not really a very good pitcher at any point in his career. He hit the free agent market in the offseason of 2006-2007, which happened to be the most inflated market for a pitcher in my memory. Giant contracts were handed out to the likes of Barry Zito, Gil Meche, Carlos Silva, Ted Lilly, Miguel Batista, and others.

It's not Jeff Suppan's fault that Doug Melvin and the Brewer front office overvalued the future worth of a pitcher who showed he was a durable pitcher capable of putting up an approximately average ERA in most years. At the time, an average starting pitcher was going for nearly $8 million dollars. In 2007, the Brewers paid about $6 million and Suppan put up a 4.42 FIP and was an above-average pitcher. His production in 2007 was worth about $10 million on the free agent market. In 2007, the Suppan contract was a good deal.

Unfortunately, the contract was not for 1 year and $6 million dollars. The fall was fast for Suppan after the 2007 season. He lost nearly a mile per hour on his fastball from 2007 to 2008 and started throwing it much less frequently. His FIP rose a full run, to 5.51. In 2009 it increased all the way to 5.70. A replacement-level starter is generally capable of a 5.50 FIP, meaning that during the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons, the Brewers would have been better off finding the best available free agent minor league starting pitcher and throwing him on the mound instead of Suppan. This completely removed the advantage of Suppan's durability, because when he is worse than a replacement-level pitcher, each extra inning thrown actually decreases his value.

According to the Fangraphs figures for dollar value (determined by finding wins above replacement and multiplying by how much each win cost on the free agent market that year), Suppan was worth $5.7 million in his time with the Brewers. $10 million in his first year followed by negative amounts in the next three.

So what went wrong? The Brewers did not anticipate Suppan's incredibly quick decline from average to below replacement level. They also overpaid for a starter who at the time was at best average, as did many teams.

Suppan's signing was official on Christmas Eve 2006. There were some concerns about his quality then, but Eric pointed out that it made the team better for 2007, and he was correct.

Jeff (Sackmann, not Suppan) called out many of the problems that we ended up seeing with Suppan. In short, he's not a very good pitcher, he is durable, and he relies on his defense to produce a good ERA. Jeff took a neutral stance on the signing at the time. It's easy to tell he was skeptical but hoping it would work out-- the same reaction I remember having at the time, and a very justifiable one. It's hard to criticize your team for a signing right away because you want to get excited. The comments, unsurprisingly, were not overly positive. 

At the end of year 1, Jeff noted that Suppan had a good season, with all of his notable peripherals becoming better. He did mention that it was far too early to judge if the four year deal was a success. Suppan's dramatic decline after that season made the answer simple.

Since then, we've been through a lot with Jeff Suppan. He was once left in a game against the Astros to give up 7 runs in one inning of a start, and was then sent out to pitch the next inning. There was also this game, which I forgot if I imagined or if it was real, and the boxscore confirms it was real, in which Suppan's third inning went a little something like this:

J. Suppan hit Milton Bradley with Pitch

Aramis Ramirez flies out to LF.

Mike Fontenot walks.

Ryan Theriot singles to CF.

Koyie Hill walks.

Ryan Dempster grounds out.

Alfonso Soriano walks.

Kosuke Fukudome walks.

For the record, that's three bases-loaded walks, in one inning. From a pitcher who relies on control and can't quite throw as hard as my friend who was drafted in the 42nd round of the draft last year by the Brewers.

In summary, the Brewers might have been better off making like this man and lighting large piles of cash on fire for warmth in the winter. The signing was a complete disaster after year 1, and it's good the Brewers finally owned up to the mistake and are willing to use a roster spot on someone that is able to contribute and possibly help next year. Hopefully management learned some valuable lessons about backloading contracts and overpaying for soft-tossing free agent pitchers.

Jeff, it's been an interesting ride but it's time to move on. Good luck in any future endeavors. Next year the Brewers will not be cutting you a check, and that $15 million can be put towards building a more competitive team.