Caution: If numbers, statistics, and graphs make you want to jump out of the highest window of a 10 story building, please don’t read further. Save yourself now – this is your last chance.
Baseball’s always been a game of statistics. Home runs, wins, and runs batted in used to rule the day; then we moved on to ERA and OBP. The third of four eras was the era of OPS and WHIP. Up to this point, baseball statistics were fairly easy to understand. But now with the invention of “sabermetrics”, you can seemingly put together any combination of three or four letters, and it’s some measure of a ballplayer’s performance. My personal favorite is the Failure to Use Coherent Knuckleball metric; though it never really caught on for some reason.
One of the most popular sabermetrics is WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. I’ll be brutally honest, I don’t know exactly how it’s calculated. I do know it’s a combination of rate stats (for example SLG% instead of doubles or home runs), including fielding, and accounts for both position and ballpark. If you’re dying to know more, check out Beyond the Box Score’s Position Player and Pitcher WAR articles. But simply put, higher WAR = better player.
Now for the meat of the post. So far this offseason 75 players have signed new contracts for at least $1,000,000. For each of these players, I calculated the average WAR from 2007-2009. If a player missed a year for any reason, too bad, the zero counts. There is certainly an added risk for a player who missed an entire season for any reason. I plotted these WAR values against the players average yearly salaries in their new contracts. The final step was simply asking excel to create a linearÂ trendline, which is basically a “best-fit” straight line for all the given points. Check out the graph below, and then I’ll continue to ramble.
The Y-axis is WAR and the X-axis is $/year. The little equation near the top of the graph is the line’s equation. It’s also an equation we can use to calculate what a player “should” have made per season based on current market value. If you want to simplify it, multiply a player’s 3 year average WAR by 2, then add 1.5 and SHAZAM, that’s how much that player should earn per season.
I calculated how much each player “should” make versus how much each player will make, per season, and I present to you…the five best and five worst contracts of the offseason*.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â *based on WAR alone, which I don’t fully buy into
5 – Mike Gonzalez. Baltimore is supposedly paying $3.7MM more per year than they should be paying.
4 – Randy Wolf. Maybe if one good season made a player, Milwaukee wouldn’t be overpaying the starter by $4.0MM per season.
3 – Rafael Soriano. Tampa Bay will pay this reliever $4.1 more million dollars than he deserves.
2 – John Lackey. The Red Sox felt it necessary to sign a big name starter, and they had to pay $7.3MM over market value to get him.
1 – Jason Bay. Our new left fielder…who will make $10.75MM more than he deserves. (I’ll get into Bay more in a bit)
5 – Placido Polanco. Color me surprised that the Phillies actually underpaid Polanco by $3.0MM per season.
4 – Kelly Johnson. The Dbacks wisely signed Johnson for $3.2MM less than he’s worth.
3 – Ryan Church. Yarr, the Pirates made out like…well…pirates by signing this former Met for $3.7MM less than market value.
2 – Troy Glaus. Atlanta signed Glaus to help out at first, and he may pay off in dividends, as they’ll pay him $5.07 less than he deserves.
1 – Kelvim Escobar. Yep, the Mets have both the worst and the best signings of the offseason. Escobar may have missed almost all of last season, but great seasons in ’07 and ’08 allowed the Mets to sign him for $6.9MM less than he may be worth.
Jason Bay, Jason Bay, Jason Bay. Oy vei, Jason Bay. There are two reasons why Bay topped the list of failed signings. Firstly, his 2007 season was poor, to put it nicely. He finished the season with an OPS of .747, which is far below his career norm…but led to a WAR of 0.0, which was averaged into his 3-year WAR. Ouch. Secondly, Bay’s supposed poor defense led to terrible defensive metrics, which brutalizes his WAR value year after year, despite well above average offensive play. His defense isn’t that bad, so I certainly think he’s worth more than WAR gives him credit for (that’s a lot of rhyming). Even so, maybe the Mets overpaid him by a few million, but I believe he was needed in the lineup regardless.
Another notable player is Alex Cora, who is shockingly being underpaid by $400,000 by the Mets. It’s also interesting to note that Sheets would hypothetically be worth around $6MM, though his missing 2009 hurt a lot. Based on only his 2007-2008 seasons, Sheets would be worth a bit over $8MM. A fully healthy Sheets should earn a few million more after incentives. I actually believe that WAR undervalues good starting pitchers, but I’ll leave that for another lifetime.
I hope no one’s brain melted after reading this post. Feel free to head to Fangraphs and calculate various players’ market values using the “WAR times 2 plus 1.5″ equation! It’s a hoot, a holler, and a half!