Monday, December 26, 2011

Call to the Pen: the Gio Gonzalez Trade

The Gio Gonzlez trade suggests that the Nats believe they're ready to compete for DC's first World Series in 87 years. The last time Washington brought home a championship, it was on the back of a Game 7 victory by inner-circle Hall of Famer Walter "The Big Train" Johnson to win the 1924 Series.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Future of SBTB

Hey everyone,

I've been asked to begin writing for a new site, the Fansided network's Call to the Pen. Call to the Pen has nearly a dozen impressive writers covering baseball from a number of angles, and has been consistently putting up 100,000+ hits/month, so it's an exciting opportunity for me. Unfortunately, I won't be able to post my SBTB posts on CttP or vice-versa, so it will likely mean I'll be slowing down my posting schedule on here a bit, but I'll always throw out a SBTB post, tweet, and facebook link whenever I put up a new article. I will still be posting on SBTB, especially when I have a feature article I'm putting out that I've done a lot of work on. I hope you'll follow me over and continue reading my work at CttP. I'll be posting regularly on Sundays and intermittently otherwise.

My new post is on the Latos trade, which I don't feel was a great fit for either side. The Reds got a flyball pitcher who will hate Cincy's home park, while the prospects the Padres picked up directly block two key pieces of the team's future. Click here to check it out.


Monday, December 12, 2011

What’s the Best Player in Baseball Worth?

In a twist reminiscent of last year’s Cliff Lee negotiations, what appeared to be a two-team race for the services of Albert Pujols between the Cardinals and Marlins was upset by the entrance of a third “Mystery Team.” Though many believed the Mystery Team was simply a tactic Pujols’ agent, Dan Lozano, was using to squeeze every possible dollar out of Pujols’ suitors, buzz around the mystery team rumor continued to grow. In the course of roughly 12 hours on Wednesday night and Thursday morning of the Winter Meetings, headlines such as “Pujols Deciding Between Cardinals, Marlins” and statements such as “Angels are definitely not in on Pujols” gave way to news that Pujols’ pact with the Angels was confirmed. Pujols will receive $254M over the next ten years, with his contract expiring in his age 41 season.

Signing a once-in-a-generation player to a Free Agent deal is always a difficult proposition because, almost by definition, there are very few players who can be invoked as comparables to the 31 year old Pujols and used to determine his long-term value. In analyzing Pujols’ contract, I will look at the aging curves of players approaching Pujols’ caliber to estimate a reasonable expectation for Pujols’ future production and determine whether he is likely to produce enough value to be worth the value of his massive contract.

I used Baseball-Reference’s Play Index (a nifty tool, if you haven’t played around with it) to find all expansion-era (post-1961) players who produced >50 WAR in their first 11 seasons while playing an offense-heavy position (1B, 3B, LF, RF). In his first 11 seasons, Pujols has put up an incredible 89.1 WAR, but looking at players in this group who eclipsed that mammoth total would leave you with… well, Pujols. Though he’s an outlier among outliers, the rest of this group is populated with Hall of Famers and all-time greats, and I believe the aging curve established by these players will provide some insight into how Pujols may age. Overall, this group included 20 players, but I removed Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki, as both have just completed their 11th season in the Majors. I then looked at the average production among the players for each subsequent year after their 11th. Comparing this average production to the players’ three-year weighted (standard 5-4-3 weighting) average from their 9th to 11th seasons, we can determine how quickly a player’s contributions diminish as they age. Then, using Pujols’ 3-year averages as a starting point, we can depreciate his value based on these ratios and estimate his production in each year of his contract. Multiplying these values by $/WAR, with a 5%/year inflation rate added, gives us Pujols’ total expected value over the length of the contract. Got all that? Let’s dive in.

The 18 players included in the data set are: Barry Bonds, Mike Schmidt, Wade Boggs, Ricky Henderson, Jeff Bagwell, Carl Yastrzemski, Frank Thomas, Reggie Jackson, Ron Santo, Dick Allen, George Brett, Bobby Bonds, Todd Helton, Eddie Murray, Sal Bando, Pete Rose, Scott Rolen, and Chipper Jones. Most of these players, unsurprisingly, were not able to finish their 21st seasons in the Majors, so players are not included in the average for any year after their retirement. This may understate the likelihood that Pujols retires before the end of his contract, but I don’t see this as a major risk, especially considering Pujols’ incredible durability. Pujols has played 1705 games in his first 11 seasons, the best total for any player included in this data. Several active players also have not completed their 21st seasons, which was treated similarly to players who retired. Regardless, it’s difficult to project much production as Pujols nears and passes age 40, so these data aren’t as important as trying to estimate production for the first few years of Pujols’ contract.

Overall, the players averaged almost exactly 5 WAR in their 9th through 11th MLB seasons. After this point, their production dropped off by an average of 15% per year until the end of their careers. In total, taking the average production from each year produces an expected 27 WAR for players’ 12th to 21st seasons, or 5.44 times the players’ three-year average baseline.

Click to see data from comparables

Pujols’ three-year weighted average is 6.9 WAR, so we’ll use that as our starting point. The projected first six years of Pujols’ contract, through the 2017 campaign, seem to be something like what the Angels have in mind in signing Pujols, as this model suggests he will be in the 4-6 WAR range each season. After 2017, however, Pujols’ expected value drops precipitously, as the model projects less than 10 WAR total over the final four seasons of Pujols’ deal. After multiplying these WAR values by the $/WAR inflation rates, Pujols’ total expected value over the course of the deal comes out to $222M, $32M short of the total value of his contract. Although this is a fairly rough calculation, it offers a clear indication that Pujols could have trouble living up to the total dollar value of his massive deal.

Click to see the model's predictions for Pujols' production

So, if that’s the case, what’s the reasoning behind the Angels’ huge bid? Well, first of all, there are a ton of ways to calculate Pujols’ expected future value, and each one results in a slightly different evaluation. Additionally, since more recent data are weighted more heavily to improve the accuracy of our projections, Pujols' "down" (5.1 WAR) year has a large effect on Pujols' initial value and every subsequent value. If Pujols can prove 2011 was a fluke and return to producing 7+ WAR per year, as he did in nine of his first ten Big League seasons, his projected value will see a big jump throughout the life of the contract. However, even if Pujols doesn’t produce a full $254M worth of value over the course of his stay in Los Angeles, there are still reasons to believe this contract could be a win for the Angels.

Pujols’ value off the field, especially to the Angels, is huge. Since purchasing the Angels in 2003, owner Arte Moreno has positioned the team as a representative of the city’s massive Latino population, to fantastic results in attendance and revenue. If there’s any player that can be leveraged to market to that population, it’s Pujols. The team just signed a 20-year, $3 Billion TV contract with FOX Sports. While the deal was signed before the Winter Meetings, it certainly provides the funds needed to make big Free Agency splashes, as the Angels did with Pujols and CJ Wilson. It’s also not outside of the realm of possibility that the Angels and FOX had an understanding that, once their deal was agreed upon, some of the Angels’ new revenue would be infused into their future Major League payroll to increase TV viewership and fan interest. Additionally, Pujols will contribute as a veteran presence and respected leader, assisting with the development of the team’s young players both during his contract and afterward, as his contract includes the stipulation that he will serve as a consultant to Moreno for a decade after his retirement.

Although Pujols is unlikely to produce at a high enough level to justify his contract based on his on-field value alone, he provides so much added value in his other attributes that it’s easy to see why the Angels felt comfortable offering this huge deal despite his advanced age. Pujols is a franchise-changing talent, and the Angels hope that his total value to the franchise will far exceed the dollars he’ll be paid over the next decade.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mets' Decision to Keep Reyes Backfires

Just before the trade deadline, Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson faced a dilemma; Trade his shortstop, best player, and the face of the franchise, for prospects that could help the team in the future, or hold on to him and receive draft pick compensation if Reyes were to go elsewhere in Free Agency. Alderson decided Reyes had more value to the team as a shortstop than a trade chip, and decided to allow Reyes to finish out his contract with the Mets.

When Reyes hit the market this offseason, his departure seemed quite likely, and at this point is certain. The Mets’ offered Reyes five years at $80 million, which was not enough to prevent Reyes from inking last night with the Miami Marlins on a six-year, $106M deal.

From the Mets’ perspective, Reyes signing with the Marlins is basically a worst-case scenario. On the field, they’ll have to see Reyes suit up for their division rival 18 times per year for the foreseeable future. That’s not even the worst of it, though. At 72-90, the Marlins finished in the bottom half of MLB teams, meaning they have a pick in the first half of the first round that is protected from being given up as compensation for Free Agent signings. Additionally, the team has already signed Heath Bell, who is a higher-ranked Free Agent according to Elias’ rankings, despite Reyes receiving a contract for more than double the guaranteed money. Because of the new CBA’s reordering of Type A and Type B Free Agents, the Marlins will not need to give up their second round pick to the Padres, although the Padres still receive a compensation pick directly before the Marlins’ second-rounder. So, since Bell was a higher-ranked free agent under the old system, he bumps the Reyes compensation pick back a round, while the Marlins won’t have to actually give up that pick because of the changes to arbitration rules for relievers under the new system. This is a coup for the Marlins, who have exploited the shift in CBA arbitration policies perfectly, while the Mets get the short end of the stick, as their compensation pick for Reyes will be no higher than the Marlins’ third rounder, and could very easily drop from there.

The buzz around baseball suggests that the Marlins aren’t done spending. If they go on to sign another Type A Free Agent ranked higher than Reyes, the Mets’ compensation pick could be bumped back even further. The Marlins are still considered players for Albert Pujols, and to a lesser extent Prince Fielder and CJ Wilson, all of whom receive a better Elias score than Reyes and the signing of any of whom would result in the Mets’ compensation for their best shortstop in franchise history being a fourth round pick.

While trading Reyes might have been tough to swallow for the Mets’ fanbase, holding on to him has resulted in yet another obstacle to their returning to contention. The Mets should be looking to restock their farm system and add young talent through any means possible, in order to set themselves up to compete sometime around 2014 or 2015. By trading Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez at the deadline, they did so to a certain extent, but by hanging on to Reyes the Mets may have missed out on most of the value they could have gotten from their best trade chip.

This situation is quite unique, as it required the change in compensation systems and the Marlins’ decision to push for most of the top-tier Free Agents to line up. However, it offers a reminder of the uncertainty surrounding any Free Agent market and the old Elias Ranking compensation rules. For a team that needs young talent as badly as the Mets, holding on to Reyes to appease the fanbase for a few months was simply a risk they couldn’t take. Although I’ve been impressed by Sandy Alderson’s tenure with the Mets so far, taking the PR hit at the deadline would have been worth trading Reyes, as it now represents the difference between the prospects that might have been available in a deadline deal and the third- or fourth-round draft pick the team will now receive. If Reyes had signed for a team that would have resulted in the Mets’ receiving a first-round pick as compensation, the Mets still probably could have gotten more value for him in a trade. With a first-rounder as the best-case scenario, and the possibility for that pick to drop further, the team should have taken Reyes’ value in prospects when they had the opportunity. Instead, Reyes’ compensation represents another setback for the Mets in their push to return to the playoffs and emerge from the shadow of their crosstown rivals.