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February 16, 2011

Prospectus Hit and Run

Check, Call, Reyes, Fold?

by Jay Jaffe

On Sunday night here in New York City, I had the pleasure of showing off a shiny new copy of Baseball Prospectus 2011 on the Fox Sports Extra Show with Duke Castiglione (clip here). Over the course of our rapid-fire four-minute exchange, Castiglione—who had me on twice last season for similar discussions—quizzed me about what BP's PECOTA projections say about the likelihood of various key Yankees and Mets rebounding from subpar 2010 showings, among them Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and A.J. Burnett on the Yankees' side, and Jose Reyes and Jason Bay on the Mets.

On the topic of Reyes, Castiglione pointed out that not only is he in his contract year, but that his strengths and weaknesses don't make him a particularly strong fit given the recent regime change in Flushing. "Sandy Alderson, he's a big on-base percentage guy who doesn't value the stolen base as much. What do you think is going to happen there?" asked the host. I pointed out that our forecast wasn't particularly hopeful about Reyes returning to a star level in 2011, with a PECOTAfeaturing an OBP of .334, a point below his career mark.

Expanding upon that beyond the realm of live television, Reyes' weighted mean projection calls for a .275/.334/.407 line, this from a player entering his age-28 season—still in the midst of his prime—with a career line of .286/.335/.434. That's not horrible, by any stretch; taking his pitcher-friendly ballpark into account, Reyes is forecast for a .271 TAv. He was at .276 last year, 21 points above the major-league average shortstop at .255.

The problem is that Reyes' value is trending downward; he hasn't been nearly as productive over the past two years as he was in previous years, owing much to injury and illness. A hamstring strain knocked him out of action beyond late May in 2009, limiting him to just 36 games, while a thyroid imbalance cost him much of spring training in 2010 and shelved him for the first week of the season; later, an oblique strain hampered him just before the All-Star break, and again at the end of August and well into September. He played in 133 games, his second-lowest total of the past six seasons, and hit .282/.321/.428.

Reyes' raw rate stats over the last two years don't hold a candle to the ones he put up during his 2006-2008 heyday, though once you adjust for the impact of moving from Shea Stadium to CitiField, the difference isn't as big as it looks:

Years

AVG/OBP/SLG

TAv

WARP/yr

2006-08

.292/.355/.461

.290

6.1

2009-10

.282/.328/.421

.280

2.1

Owing to an 11-point dip in BABIP (.313 to .302) which one can chalk up to luck, the switch in ballparks, and MLB-wide falling levels of offense, Reyes has lost just a bit in the batting-average department, the equivalent of 10 hits per 162 games. He's lost much more in terms of plate discipline, with his unintentional walk rate falling from 7.6 percent to 5.7 percent, a loss of 15 unintentional passes (and five intentionals) per 162 games. He's also dropped from a prorated 68 steals at a 79 percent clip to 39 at a 76 percent clip. So in all, he's getting on base less frequently, advancing both himself and others less frequently, while showing significantly less durability than the 157 games per year he averaged in the 2006-2008 period. Owing as well to a dropoff in fielding, from 0 FRAA and a 100 Rate2in the earlier stretch to -14 FRAA and a 92 Rate2 in the later one, he's been just about one-third as valuable. PECOTA sees him rebounding only slightly in the field, to -5 FRAA and 2.4 WARP overall.

As noted on the broadcast, Reyes doesn't appear to be a particularly good fit for the Alderson regime given its emphasis on OBP and de-emphasis on the steal, though it's at least worth noting that Reyes has been successful enough in stealing (80 percent career) that he's not likely to be particularly curbed; Alderson admits that he's a big fan of the shortstop's speed.

The big danger for the coming season is that new manager Terry Collins is as beholden to keeping Reyes in the leadoff spot as the hapless Jerry Manuel was, even in the face of other options (a problem similarly faced by the other New York team). Reyes batted leadoff in 110 games for the Mets last year and got on base at a .333 clip in that role. Angel Pagan led off in 43 games, but was actually worse in that spot with a .323 OBP, even though that wasn't the case in 2009, when he got on base at a .358 clip in 77 games atop the lineup. PECOTA is actually even less sanguine about Pagan than it is about Reyes, forecasting a .279/.325/.392 line for a guy who's going into his age-29 season (albeit two days ahead of the age cutoff given his July 2 birthday) having hit .296/.344/.448 over the past two years while finally carving out a full-time job. Ouch.

With the exercise of his 2011 option for $11 million, Reyes is in the final year of what has become a five-year, $34.25 million deal. At roughly $5 million per marginal win, he's not a great bargain if he hits his mark of 2.4 WARP, and going forward, the question is whether it makes sense to re-sign him. Obviously, that decision depends in large part not only on Reyes' performance in the coming year but also that of his team, whose spending has been hamstrung by the Madoff situation as well as a dose of realism about their current payroll situation and their chances in an NL East where the Phillies and Braves are clearly stronger. A poor start could lead the Mets to explore trading Reyes in-season to save a few millions if they aren't bent on keeping him.

Then again, next winter's free agent market for shortstops isn't exactly brimming with talent, as I noted on the show. Of the 22 shortstops MLB Trade Rumors lists might make up next winter's class, very few look particularly palatable in the harsh light of the 2011 PECOTAs, and they'll all be a year older next year:

Player

Age

AVG/OBP/SLG

TAv

WARP

Rafael Furcal

33

.272/.340/.382

.265

2.8

Jose Reyes

28

.275/.334/.407

.271

2.4

Jimmy Rollins

32

.257/.316/.417

.261

2.1

J.J. Hardy

28

.261/.319/.414

.261

1.9

Marco Scutaro

35

.260/.335/.355

.252

1.5

Miguel Tejada

37

.269/.307/.378

.249

1.5

Jack Wilson

33

.249/.288/.325

.233

1.1

Edgar Renteria

35

.262/.317/.351

.246

0.9

Jamey Carroll

37

.256/.336/.311

.245

0.9

Omar Infante

29

.287/.338/.383

.261

0.9

Ramon Santiago

31

.250/.308/.336

.236

0.5

Craig Counsell

40

.239/.323/.323

.234

0.4

Ronny Cedeno

28

.250/.291/.369

.237

0.3

Jerry Hairston

35

.238/.295/.348

.242

0.3

Orlando Cabrera

36

.264/.307/.351

.237

0.2

Augie Ojeda

36

.245/.325/.327

.231

0.1

Yuniesky Betancourt

29

.259/.286/.385

.235

0.0

Nick Punto

33

.236/.313/.296

.226

0.0

Cesar Izturis

31

.247/.290/.304

.218

-0.1

Adam Everett

34

.219/.265/.294

.207

-0.3

John McDonald

36

.235/.261/.354

.216

-0.4

Reyes actually forecasts to have the second-highest WARP and the highest TAv of the bunch, and what becomes clear if you dig into the PECOTA spreadsheet is that this is a pretty grim time for shortstops in general, with only Hanley Ramirez (4.8 WARP), Troy Tulowitzki (4.7), Yunel Escobar (3.2), Furcal, and Stephen Drew (2.5) forecasting higher. Some of that is the system's inherent conservatism; only 10 first basemen are forecast to reach or exceed 2.5 WARP in 2011, followed by nine third basemen, seven right fielders, six catchers, five left fielders, four center fielders, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Among those possibilities, Furcal has a club option for 2012 which vests if he attains 600 plate appearances, Betancourt has a $6 million club option (you can stop laughing now), and Scutaro's mutual option with the Red Sox is worth $6 million if the Sox exercise it, or $3 million if triggers it himself. Furcal and Rollins, five-and-a-half and four-and-a-half years older than Reyes, respectively, have been beset by injuries in recent years, as has the ever-enigmatic Hardy. Beyond that group you're into the overly aged and otherwise incomplete offerings, guys who can't hit worth a lick or aren't really shortstops anymore.

Add to that the fact that the team has no blue-chip replacement for Reyes in their pipeline. The Mets' top internal replacements are Chin-Lung Hu and RubenTejada. The former is a 27-year-old glove wiz who flopped mightily when the Dodgers gave him a shot at replacing the injured Furcal in 2008; he's forecast for a .238 TAv this year. The latter is a 21-year-old who's forecast for a .216 TAv; last year, he graded out as a three-star prospect whose ceiling was as either a second-division starter or a utilityman. The Omar Minaya regime rushed him to the Show after injuries to both Reyes and Luis Castillo, and he hit just .213/.305/.282 in 255 plate appearances, time that a smarter regime would have let him use to shore up his game in Triple-A.

In that light, Reyes starts to look like an even better option. It's certainly possible the team could trade him mid-season or let him walk at the end of the year, and take their chances by acquiring a stopgap, but long-term solutions are few and far between. Given a season from Reyes at a level similar to last year, there's a very good chance that the Mets reach the same conclusion that I did on the air, that it may be more productive to choose the devil they know in Reyes, as opposed to the devil they don't.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

11 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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ScottyB

The lack of palatable alternatives for the Mets is probably the biggest reason they'll resign him- if they have any $ left. Remember that a lot of payroll (Perez, castillo, Beltran, KRod, Reyes) comes off the books next year, it is a question of whether the Mets will just keep the savings or not.

Feb 16, 2011 07:05 AM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

Trade him and sign Furcal or promote Havens.

Feb 16, 2011 09:13 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Furcal's just an older Reyes, right?

Feb 16, 2011 09:41 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Reese Havens is an interesting prospect, but he's already been moved off of short.

Feb 16, 2011 10:27 AM
 
amazin_mess

I hear ya. Or just play Tejada there. Either way, I don't think Reyes will be worth the money. I'd rather spend the money on Wright.

Feb 16, 2011 12:21 PM
rating: 0
 
meanwhoogean

There's never really a great market for SS, but that said, I think given the Mets' financial situation, they should try to resign Reyes at a club friendly price, and if they can't move on. The Mets need renovating at so many positions, that I wouldn't be beholden to a declining short stop.

Feb 16, 2011 09:45 AM
rating: 0
 
DDriesen

Saw the show and enjoyed it. I think the Reyes situation, assuming he is not asking for the moon, will be a real bellweather to see how bad off the Wilpons are and what to expect from this franchise going forward.

Feb 16, 2011 10:16 AM
rating: 0
 
Robotey

Let's say Reyes play 150 games, hits .290, .350 OBP and .450 SLG with 14 HR's and 60 SB's--if you're the Mets what kind of deal are you willing to make?

You can't reasonably expect him to improve on that over the next five years, and he'll likely decline, how quickly is hard to say.

Is he worth $15 million a year for five years? Will he seek more? Are there teams out there who would pay him more?

Am I off by a lot here? As a Met fan it's not easy being objective--aw, let's face it: as a Mets fan nothing is easy these days.

Feb 17, 2011 08:52 AM
rating: 0
 
BarryR

The problem the Mets are going to have with him is that if he has a really good year - Robotey's line surely in the realm of possibility if coupled with decent defense -- he becomes extremely expensive. What is he with that? Try the poor man's Carl Crawford -- adjusting for park and position, not even that far off. Do you think he won't ask for 7/130? Given the lack of SS out there, is that unlikely to be met somewhere?
Frankly, I'm not sure what the Mets are rooting for, other than a miraculous pennant run. They'll have the money to sign him, with his, Ollie's, Beltran's, and Castillo's money off the books.
The alternatives will be overpay to avoid a gaping offensive hole at SS, or go defensive with Tejada and try to spend the money on a top pitcher or OF. A lot will depend on Bay's season, what kind of pitching staff they have this year, Ike Davis' development, what 2B looks like in the future -- lots of moving parts here.

Feb 17, 2011 14:10 PM
rating: 0
 
metfanaaron2001

Baseball pundits--cough Buster Olney cough cough--have been predicted the divorce of Jose Reyes and the Mets for several years running. There are probably a number of reasons for this, from the juiciness of a negative-press story about the Mets or the exciting possibility that a major trade could go down, but none of them have much to do with reality.

This article gets to several key reasons why Jose Reyes is still valuable to the Mets: a. that there aren't any good alternatives and b. that Jose Reyes, even at less than his best, is still valuable.

The fact that the Mets haven't extended Reyes is being read as an indication that they don't want to keep him, but after some fluctations in his health and numbers, it makes perfect sense for him to re-establish what kind of player he is, be it the 2.4 WARP guy or the 5+ WARP guy.

It seems logical that Reyes' 2011 performance will determine his market price, and that either way, he's a fit for the Mets. He won't command Carl Crawford money unless he hits like Carl Crawford (or Jose Reyes circa 2006-2008), and then he might be worth it.

What no writer is saying is that if the Mets can't afford Reyes, it says less about the player Reyes is and more about the financial state of the Mets. And if the Mets can't afford Reyes, even the nine-figure contract Reyes, then the Wilpons have very clearly lost the ability to run a healthy franchise in New York. Which would probably be the scariest possibility of all.

Feb 17, 2011 14:59 PM
rating: 0
 
Robotey

Aaron- I see your point but I think there's more to it than that. If we can all agree that a 'good' Reyes 2011 puts him in position for asking for something in the neighborhood of 7/130--give or take a little on either--if the Mets don't think he'll be worth even 2/3 of that $ 4 years into the deal is that Madoff $ trouble speaking or simply a prudent GM who doesn't believe in Omar-spending to put together a good team? Just because you have the $ doesn't mean there are great things to spend it on. The last Mets WS team was put together through wise trades--Ventura, Leiter--if I'm not mistaken it was often a case of being willing to pay a player who was All Star but not superstar and taking the short term $ hit --a la Mike Hampton --and filling the rest of the lineup with Jay Payton. This seems to be a formula for many teams who actually exit October with shiny jewelry to boast of--i.e. SF Giants or Cards 2006. Not saying it works every year, but non-superpowers --teams who are not Bosox, Yanks or Phils--seem to win it all every other year. Look at it another way: when the Mets open their wallet what happens? Jason Bay. Johan Santana. Carlos Beltran. Billy Wagner. Luis Castillo. Oliver Perez. Pedro Martinez. Some of these were good risks that paid off in particular years, but overall it's been bad. C+/B- at best. Now we've got Jason Bay for $16 mil for the next 3 years in LF. Great! If Reyes isn't worth close to 7/130 then I'm ok with seeing him go--it will hurt, yes. Last two thoughts. First, recall when they let Alfonzo go? No one gives credit for the ones you let get away that you called right. Secondly the other elephant in the room is Wright's next contract. Mets may have to choose between them for the face of the franchise. Gotta figure that's a no brainer.

Feb 18, 2011 11:19 AM
rating: 0
 
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