Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nationals Best and Worst Values

Fangraphs has added a category of stats called "value" to their player pages for non-pitchers. You can read more detail here, but the basic idea is to quantify a player's contributions in monetary terms. That way, you can get a very clear sense of how effectively teams are using their resources.

Here are some things I found somewhat interesting clicking through the new player pages:
  • Young stars in baseball get hosed. Ryan Zimmerman for instance has given the Nationals $49.8 million in value while getting paid just over $4 million, including his draft signing bonus. Elijah Dukes was third on the team with $12.6m in value while getting paid just over the league minimum at $400k.
  • Zimm's 2007 was the most valuable season by a National since 2005 at $21.7m. Nick Johnson's 2006 is next at $18.4, followed by Soriano's '06 at $17.3.
  • Six veterans (Felipe Lopez, Wily Mo Pena, Rob Mackowiak, Aaron Boone, Lo Duca, and Estrada) cost a combined $15m while providing a total of $13m less than replacement level value. Subtract the $2.4m that six replacement guys would cost, and you're looking at a total net loss of $25.6m on these six mistakes, almost half the Nationals '08 $54.9m payroll.
  • In his CBOY year of 2007, Dmitri Young gave us a very strong $8.3 million in value for the cheap cheap rate of $500,000. There isn't a better example of Jim getting production from the bargain bin in his time in DC. But last year we paid him $5 million and got just $1.8 million in value. Next year we're committed to paying him another $5 million, and in what now seems like a pretty likely scenario that he doesn't play much or at all, the three-year Dmitri Young experience could come out to a net loss, despite the incredible value he was in 2007.
  • Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada were paid a combined $6.3 million in 2008 and provided $1.6 million less value than replacement. Meanwhile, Wil Nieves and Jesus Flores gave a combined $7m in value for less than a million between them.
  • Cristian Guzman's 4-year, $16.8 million contract provided a whopping $3.2 million in value over the first three seasons (he was $2.6m less valuable than replacement in '05). But his all-star season of 2008 provided $14.4 million, for a total of $17.6m over the life of the contract. In other words, that much-maligned contract actually turned out to be a fair value.
  • Alfonso Soriano gave the Cubs $12.3m in value last year for $14m in salary. Imagine what an albatross he'll be at $18m at age 38 in 2014.
  • Of the four position players involved in the Austin Kearns deal in 2006, Brendan Harris provided the most net value in 2007-08, giving the Rays and Twins $13.8m of value for $800k. Kearns provided the most gross value at
    $19.6m for the price of $8.5m (he is still owed $8m for 2009). Felipe Lopez provided $6.7m of value for the price of $8.8m.
  • Ronnie Belliard has given us $16.9m in value over the last two seasons for the price of $2.6m.
  • The most valuable National of all in 2008? You know the answer--Super Willie Harris at a $15.4 million for the low, low price of $800k. And why did it only cost $3m to resign him for two years? MLB undervaluing defense.


James Bjork said...

I get the concept of these statistics, but I would have preferred to see them expressed differently, without an absolute dollar amount. Something like a percent above or below salary mean per win share.

Using the absolute dollar amounts makes my head spin, because payrolls are so bloated due to the overpaying of free-agents for what you actually get in terms of win shares-- considering albatrosses like Richie Sexson and his ilk. Willie Harris is only worth that astronomical amount as a spill over effect.

I really hope as the offseason drags on, that free agents whose net value over a AAA call-up (or whatever constitutes a "replacement player") can be signed for less. I hope too that across the league, management will also use these more advanced sabermetrics to show why a Pat Burrell in the outfield is only worth half of what his agent and his union thinks he is. It's not collusion-- it's common sense.

John said...

Merry Christmas to us all! It looks like the Reds signed Taveras to a 2 year deal.
Although if Patterson breaks camp with the big club, this minor joy will be rendered moot.

John O'Connor said...

John beat me to the punch. News odf the day is the Reds spare us a year of Willy Taveras.

Steven said...

@John and John--ditto.

@James--Agreed. I grudgingly acknowledged the "fairness" of the Guzman contract even thought that guy killed the team for the one year that mattered and helped not a whit for 2 years that didn't and then slapped his way to average for the one year that did...

Anyway MLB salaries are so unfair to players in years 1-3 and so absurd in years 7-whatever that it's hard to peg the values. Maybe I'll come up with a metric that gets at all this.

Or maybe you will and we'll all read your blog.

Hendo said...

Great analysis, Steven, especially pointing out how young guys get the shaft. It's tempting to try to diddle the formula to be more equitable, but such an attempt might have unfortunate and unintended effects.

For one thing, if salary "fairness" from year 1 of a player's career were ever embraced by MLB, the small-budget teams (of whom -- let's get it straight right now -- the Nats are not one) would stand even less of a chance than they do now, absent a severe reratcheting of the luxury tax.

The other thing that keeps me from leaping to a facile solution here is that it's hard to judge a player's potential from a few years in the minors or majors. Of course, what often ends up happening is that stellar youthful play gets overcompensated in the years of free agency -- which situation may yet be the least of evils.

James Bjork said...

While the math is unassailable that new players are the bargain of the league, I nonetheless bristle when I hear someone asserting that somehow player salaries are not "fair" for the first years of their careers.

Setting aside the obscene amount of money even the MLB minimum is at a time when my best friend and countless others across our fruited plain have been laid off...

Yes, new players get paid a pittance for win shares at the time, but as Hendo astutely notes, this salary cocoon- preceding the brutal metamorphosis into anything goes free-agency- is the ONLY way all but the largest 8 or so market teams can make a go of it in the absence of a salary cap (which will never happen).

Really, if MLB cannot implement a salary cap, the way it is now might be the best work-around to enable us to watch the likes of the Rays in the World Series. To paraphrase Winston Churchill's comment about democracy, the existing system is the worst scheme possible, except for all those other possible schemes.

I have no illusions that I could cobble some kind of fine-grained baseball analysis. Rather, anyone who is interested in adopting children from Russia is welcome to check out my blog to see what you're in for.

Steven said...

The current system is certainly good for competitive balance.

I can understand the general point that it just doesn't seem right that ballplayers make hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars when school teachers and firemen make less. But that's really a comment on our priorities as a society. The reality is that MLB is making tons of money, and I can't see why that money should go into Ted Lerner's pocket instead of Ryan Zimmerman's.