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February 17, 2011

Transaction of the Day

Jose Bautista's Serious Bank

by Christina Kahrl

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with 3B/OF-R Jose Bautista on a five-year, $65 million contract, avoiding arbitration; signed OF-L Scott Podsednik to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/16]

Douglas Adams notes: We have normality. I repeat, we have normality. Anything you still can't cope with is therefore your own problem.

If, a year ago, you had suggested that Jose Bautista was on the cusp of earning a long-term deal with this kind of dollar amount attached to it, your first instinct might have been to think the nation's economic ill health had taken a nasty spin into hyperinflation; giving Bautista five years and $65 million would be followed by four years and $30 million for John McDonald, plus all the leftover hot dogs the wife and kids could eat after every ballgame. Hey, when times are tough...

But for Jose Bautista as for the rest of us, things are definitely not that rough (yet), because he's been granted a 540 percent raise to match last year's 415 percent spike in his seasonal home-run tally. Obviously, it isn't just chicks who dig the long ball. A $13 million average annual value (AAV) might have been a one- or two-year reward for last year's breakout, and a way to avoid arbitration and let Joey Bats prove that he wasn't just going to go away after last year's epic slugging feats. To commit to five years at that clip, though... well, isn't this a lot like J.P. Ricciardi's original sin(s), with Alexis Rios and Vernon Wells?

  • Rios received seven years and $69.8 million, covering his age-27 through age-33 campaigns, and people though Ricciardi was mad (let alone what they said about Kenny Williams for claiming him on waivers). At the time, he was coming off consecutive seasons with ISO above .200.
  • Wells got $126 million for seven seasons, to pay him for his age-29 through age-35 seasons; he'd just delivered his second really good season in five, in what was his age-27 season, and he cashed in by signing his extension in December 2006.

Bautista is getting this deal in time for his age-30 season, and it covers him through his 34th birthday. Initially, Alex Anthopoulos doesn't come off well—he's paying an older player with a less substantial track record for quality performance more money than Rios, but less than Wells. However, there are a couple of tweaks to consider. First, we do know that PECOTA is mildly confident about Bautista's ability to retain some of his value from last year:

Year
AVG
OBP
SLG
TAv
WARP
2010 .260 .378 .617 .331 6.6
2011 .248 .347 .491 .290 2.0

That's still a massive drop-off, but if you'd said a year ago that Bautista might bust out for a .290 TAv, that would have made him an incredibly valuable ballplayer. Making him even more valuable is his move back to third base; there, a .290 TAv would have made him the seventh-best regular third baseman in baseball, bracketed by Alex Rodriguez (.291) and Casey McGehee (.289), and trailing Ryan Zimmerman, Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre, David Wright, and Scott Rolen. Add in that Colin Wyers' new-flavor FRAA suggests that Bautista was a plus defender afield, worth 2.4 runs in about a third of a season, and you've got a man whose glove adds to his total value. Put in those terms, that's something that we here in Illinois call a frickin' valuable thing. (Beyond that link lay foul-mouthed dragons, so don't say you weren't warned.)

How valuable? Well, consider again Bautista's AAV: $13 million. Want to know the combined AAVs of the six third basemen who ranked above him in production for the deals they'll be under for 2011 and beyond? A cool $14.3 million. Well, I'll be... maybe Mr. Anthopoulos has something here.

OK, but what about Bautista's ability to sustain that performance, even if we're talking about the lower level of performance? It's worth reviewing what changed with Bautista at the bat. The slugging and the homers are swell, but they're incidental to a decidedly altered approach: Bautista's strikeout rate dropped below 20 percent for the first time since his last year as an everyday player, for the Pirates in 2007. Maybe that's a comfort thing that comes from playing every day, but it's worth noting that he started swinging much more aggressively than in the past, generating career highs in his swinging strike percentage and strikes swung at clip. He also became a much more extreme fly-ball hitter, producing twice as many flies and grounders than in any other season, generating a lot more popups, not to mention an incredible HR/FB spike, up to 21.9 percent, or nearly twice his previous single-season best.

Looking at that sort of extraordinary change, perhaps there is credit to be assigned to  hitting coach Dwayne Murphy. Since that's a matter of bringing up a childhood hero, I have to admit that the vision of Murph transmogrifying everything he touches into latter-day incarnations of his early-'80s TTO heroism is far too attractive a proposition to take at face value. It's cool to consider, but it's more important to remember that, with the huge collection of tools at players' disposal these days, you can't just put everything on a favored name. Causation was, is, and ever shall be a slippery bitch, so we're best sticking with noting the facts: Bautista is trying to hit more fly balls, he delivered on that, and he's striking out less.

This is just talking about a single season, though. What about the full spread of the deal? Well, it's still early days on PECOTA's spitting out player cards, and Colin's been awfully busy lately... but happily he turned around a park-neutral five-year forecast for Bautista's triple-slash rates. Remember, these are park-neutral, so you'll notice that his 2011 numbers here are different from his park-adjusted 2011 projection above:

Year
AVG
OBP
SLG
2011 .255 .355 .495
2012 .251 .352 .486
2013 .240 .344 .462
2014 .235 .334 .444
2015 .223 .329 .423

That's coming from the Blue Jays' third baseman, so before we start turning this into "well, he's cheaper than Jayson Werth" commentary, that's a rough sketch of a very valuable third baseman for the first three years of the deal. Add in that he boasts an interesting group of front-rank comps: Nick Swisher, Reggie Smith... Roger Maris? That's not quite so one-year wonder-y as Davey Johnson's 1973.

Borrowing from Matt Swartz's observation that teams who re-sign their players tend to profit from their inside knowledge of the guy, maybe there is an argument that a new-approach Joey Bats does even better than that, and makes this work for the first four of five years. If you'd asked me up front if I'd have bought the proposition, I'd have been skeptical; after doing the homework, and I find myself a bit of a believer.

So, if that was another exercise in crediting Anthopoulos with powers of cognition beyond the ken of normal men... wait, what's this, Podzilla? What is this, an attempt to sign up a Dave Collins historical re-enactor? Are there Dave Collins historical re-enactors? Shouldn't there be laws to stop such things? But here again, give the proposition a minute, and maybe you might find this works for the Jays in a way it wouldn't for most clubs.

As I suggested yesterday, their likely fourth outfielder was going to be Corey Patterson. Given my druthers, I'd take Pods over Patty too as a part-time alternative to Travis Snider and Juan Rivera in the outfield corners, and as a bad-glove spotter for Rajai Davis in center. It's sort of cute that last year, he produced a .272 TAv, making him a one-for-one swap-in for Fred Lewis, who also produced at a .272 clip... see, we're getting there!

But since PECOTA is projecting Pods for a .242 this year, I've taken my Pod-ly praise about as far as it can go, leaving us with the more sordid qualities of a Patty versus Podzilla cage death match, what with Patterson projected for a .236 TAv himself. And before you note the obvious grass-lessness of Podsednik's new digs, no, he is not a turf hitter, having hit just .266/.330/.389 on carpet on his career. Then again, that kind of truth goes back to some of the oldest sabermetric research I remember reading, back when Bill James was observing that speed guys aren't automatically fake grass profiteers almost 30 years ago.

Thanks to Colin Wyers and Steph Bee for research assistance.

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

Related Content:  Podzilla

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

BP Comment Quick Links

Greg Ioannou

It will be interesting to see which version Joey Bats turns up to play in 2011. Last year, he had two really bad months: April and June.

If the June version (4 hrs, 0.179 AVG) plays all of 2011, AA gets tarred and feathered for this contract. (But notice that even at that rate, Bats would get 24 HRs on the season.)

If the May/July/August/September version of Bautista shows up for the whole summer, he gets 64ish HRs on the season and bats around .300.

I don't think that either of those extremes is going to happen.

One more thing that people seem to forget. He played most of last season with a hernia.

Feb 17, 2011 05:55 AM
rating: 2
 
jetson
(660)

It seems like with Ben Zobrist and others, it's hard to overcome the notion that this is a new level of ability - there's always an explanation that sounds viable and it's hard to argue right after the fact. But history shows that almost all of these power spikes are complete flukes.

Will this be different? Possibly, of course, but my default remains that I will believe it when I see it.

Feb 17, 2011 06:04 AM
rating: 5
 
hyprvypr

Still seems like irresponsible band-wagon jumping. They're paying him almost like Adrian Beltre despite the fact his glove isn't close and his bat probably won't exceed Beltre's either.

Feb 17, 2011 08:49 AM
rating: 0
 
Greg Ioannou

Richard Griffin has some interesting things to say about the deal in his blog this morning: http://thestar.blogs.com/baseball/

Feb 17, 2011 08:52 AM
rating: 0
 
Wrigleyviller
(883)

Brady Anderson Brady Anderson Brady Anderson.

Seriously though, I think they just paid a premium for five years of about average 3B production. Not horrific or a budget-killer, but foolish nonetheless.

As a Chicagoan, I laugh and laugh at the idea of a Corey Patterson/Podzilla position battle.

Feb 17, 2011 10:52 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Much depends on the supply of potential third-base answers, of course, which isn't great for the years to come.

As for Pods vs. Patty, it's ironic, ain't it?

Feb 17, 2011 17:54 PM
 
roycewebb

Whinge in the front-page caption, that's awesome.

Feb 17, 2011 11:54 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Credit where it's due, that was Mr. Goldman's initiative.

Feb 17, 2011 12:32 PM
 
HeavyHitter

I, and I alone, predicted Bautista's breakout season before the season began. I wasn't expecting 50+ HR's but I was expecting 30+ HR's. He is definitely for real and AA has done it again.

Feb 17, 2011 11:54 AM
rating: -3
 
R.A.Wagman

You are not alone. I watched Bautista begin his transformation in late 2009. And saw a goodly number of baserunner kills from RF. Unlike most of the Toronto twittersphere, I don't hate this deal. I would have preferred a three year pact, but I don't hate this. Too many people are simply comparing his contract to others who have signed similar contracts, as if that makes them similar to Bautista. There has not been enough comparison of Bautista to other players with similar skills. He has insane power and great paitence - those age well, right? He also had very bad BABIP last year - regression there will aid his final line.

Compare Bautista instead with Sammy Sosa. Sound absurd? Maybe, but until he was in his age 29 season, he was a slugger with poor BA and OBP. He hit a bunch of homers, but nothing much else. Then he exploded. And, no - I'm not saying Bautista did anything fishy. But his game did change. At the bottom of this link (http://section203.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/the-view-from-section-203-building-an-offense/) I speculate as to what that might have been.

Feb 17, 2011 20:08 PM
rating: 2
 
R.A.Wagman

I completed a dirty study this weekend comparing Bautista to other big sudden power spikers. (http://section203.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/the-64000-question-plus-inflation-lots-of-inflation/) In short, he compares more to guys like David Ortiz and George Foster than to Davey Johnson or Brady Anderson.

Feb 22, 2011 13:12 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Cool to know, and I'll have to check it out.

Feb 22, 2011 16:34 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

Would love to know what you thought about it.

Feb 23, 2011 13:39 PM
rating: 0
 
krissbeth

Zobrist, Boggs, Mauer, Anderson... one year power spikes are not to be trusted. This will end in tears.

Feb 17, 2011 12:08 PM
rating: 0
 
Duranimal
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

One of the worst contracts ever given a position player.

He shouldn't have been offered 3 years, much less 5.

Feb 17, 2011 12:19 PM
rating: -4
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

A '+' sign if you think 3 years at 9.5 million per year sounds more reasonable! There's just no way this contract can benefit the Jays and there are a half dozen reasons it can be disastrous.

Feb 17, 2011 12:25 PM
rating: -4
 
John Hilton

There are risks in any contract for both sides. If Bautista does it again (or even just hits 30 HR), then the 12.5 million/yr will be a bargain for the Jays and a detriment to Bautista when considering what he would have received on the open market. Obviously, the reverse is true as well. That is the just nature of the business.

Feb 17, 2011 14:19 PM
rating: 0
 
John Hilton

In addition, it is NOT one of the worst contracts given. A. Rod's renewal, Werth's and what Pujols is going to get will be far worse as they involve absolutely mind-crushing dollars and very old ages.

You have to pay for something sometime if you are going to be a player in baseball. Might as well be for someone who likes Toronto, fits in well, and can play a premium position.

Feb 17, 2011 14:22 PM
rating: 4
 
Ogremace

I don't argue on the first two counts, but it seems unlikely that whoever signs Pujols will get at least 8 years of great. Can we be sure of that? no, but if there was ever someone to gamble on its him. Even if his deal is for 12 years or someting, it's gonna be so valuable for the first 2/3 I think it'll be fine.

Of course coming to the AL so he can run out his time as a DH would help nicely, but even so, I can't expect it to be one of the worst.

Feb 17, 2011 17:22 PM
rating: 0
 
Jay Taylor

Of course I think we could have all said the same thing about A-Rod when he was coming off a 9 WARP season with a .345 Tav, and now his contract isn't looking so hot.

You say that there is nobody better to gamble on then Pujols, but I would argue as of A-Rod's age 31 season he was the better bet since he had never had any real injuries to speak of. People have been talking about Pujols's elbow being ready to fall off for years, and there have also always been questions about what his real age is.

So, while I expect Pujols to give good value on his next contract, I think it is much less likely then you think.

Feb 17, 2011 18:02 PM
rating: 2
 
Ogremace

A-rod was still averaging a full WAR less than Pujols for the 6 years preceding his new contract (according to BR) and was playing a more defensively demanding position (and playing it not as well). Is the elbow a concern? Sure, but that it hasn't affected his play yet has to count for something. Maybe Hanley or Tulo would have been a better choice for my hyperbole, but I still maintain that Pujols' deal will not (ever) be considered one of the worst. That was the real point.

Feb 17, 2011 20:44 PM
rating: 0
 
irussma

The key here is that Pujols plays the least demanding position on the diamond. A decade ago, people said that Ken Griffey Jr.'s contract with the Reds couldn't possibly go wrong. Yeah, about that...

But as a first baseman, Albert has a much better shot at aging well. Whoever signs him will probably overpay, but not by a whole lot.

Feb 17, 2011 21:19 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Heh, I almost had to question my childhood A's fandom and a decade worth of baseball card collecting there.. I clicked Dwayne Murphy's name and saw a picture of a white guy.

Tip:
http://www.avsports.com/halloffame/dmurphy.asp

Feb 17, 2011 18:18 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Yikes! That's not the hero of my youth either. How mortifying.

Feb 17, 2011 23:08 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I remember a picture of the aftermath of a collision he had with Mike Davis and I was trying to reconcile my memory... I believe it was the one where Mike broke his leg.. and I was trying to reconcile that picture with a white guy.

Feb 18, 2011 09:51 AM
rating: 0
 
saint09

Why now for this contract? Couldn't AA wait 3 months into 2011, observe, and still get this same deal done? It feels rushed. I get the data supporting this deal, and the lack of 3B depth. Still, why not wait for more positive data?

Feb 17, 2011 19:13 PM
rating: 1
 
maddawgz1

a career .238 hitter before this season...with a total of 59 HRs in over 2000 ABs....age 30, hits 54 HRs practically doubling his career HRs....this was a stupid signing, no way around it

Feb 17, 2011 20:08 PM
rating: -2
 
Richie

I believe power and patience age relatively poorly, actually. Counterintuitive as it might seem, 20+ years ago Bill James began finding out that speedy players aged well, guys with "old player's skills" did not.

Feb 17, 2011 22:11 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Sure, but that's across entire populations, and Bautista isn't exactly Hack Wilson, since he's fairly athletic. Which doesn't mean he might not be a lot like Jesse Barfield (done after 30), but it's worth keeping in mind that his career was set back by getting selected in the Rule 5 draft, and I don't know if spending time in the Pirates' organization helps anyone's prospects.

Feb 17, 2011 23:17 PM
 
Moneyball16

Pretty funny that PECOTA has Scott Rolen and McGehee as close to the same hitter as A-Rod at this point. Too many of these PECOTAs have been messed up the last couple years for them to mean much at this point imo.

Feb 19, 2011 09:34 AM
rating: 0
 
Nick Wernham

I think that in order for the Jays to contend in the American League East in the near future they are probably going to take on at least a couple of financial risks. By that I mean they are going to need to sign players to multi-year deals that pay out eight figures annually. Obviously their farm system and the continued pursuit of quality prospects in the draft and internationally are going to be integral to their future success, but it seems unlikely that the team's system will be able to produce enough real stars all at the same time to win in this division if they let every one of them leave in free agency (or trade them before they reach free agency) and neglect to sign any highly priced free agents (or trade for highly priced stars).

It seems to me that this is a case where the Jays probably did their due diligence and decided that Jose Bautista is a player whom they are willing to take one of those risks on. I'm inclined to think that the team and its scouts probably know more about him as a player than any of us fans or even the analyst community do. They are privy to all of the same information that we have and also have the benefit of having seen how he trains and prepares to compete. The greatest risk with Bautista is that he is almost certain to regress and we are unsure by how much. Is it possible that the Jays, by virtue of the fact that they have more information than we do, think that the risk he will regress back to his pre-2010 norms is far less than the possibility of him coming close to his 2010 performance for several more seasons?

If I were the Jays and my scouts gave me good reason to believe that was the case then I'd think this is a worthwhile risk as well.

Furthermore, all of this talk of signing him to three years at 2/3 of the price seems a bit silly to me. There's an understandable tendency amount fans to think of every risky contract as a bad one. However, this may be a case where the upside outweighs the risk. If Jose Bautista is a .370-.380 OBP/35-40 home run (and 35-40 double) third baseman who plays about average defense then he is worth more than what he is being paid going forward. The fact that a projection like that can't even be seen as his absolute ceiling (because we've already seen him perform far better than that and keep it up for a full season even as opposing pitchers attempt to make adjustments) makes it all the better.

Personally, I'd rather see the club take a risk no a player who:
a) I have very detailed knowledge of.
b) Doesn't cost the club a draft pick to sign because he is in house already.
c) Has some upside built into his contract even if there is some risk.

Than a player who:
a) I have far less information about.
b) Will cost my team a draft pick to sign.
c) If he has the same amount of upside is going to cost more because of the way that free agency increases a player's price.

Basically, if you're going to take a financial risk on a player then it seems likely to me that taking that risk on a guy whom you like and already have in-house is often the most sensible route to take.

Feb 19, 2011 11:29 AM
rating: 1
 
Duranimal

If Jose Bautista is a .370-.380 OBP/35-40 home run (and 35-40 double) third baseman who plays about average defense then he is worth more than what he is being paid going forward.

Sure that's true, but he's not that kind of player.

Feb 19, 2011 21:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Pat Folz

One thing about Bautista's 2010 that I don't think gets talked about enough is that of his 54 HRs, 53 -- that is, fifty-goddamn-three out of fifty-four -- of them were pulled (or at least hit to the left of dead-center) according to hittracker:

http://www.hittrackeronline.com/detail.php?id=2010_162&type=hitter

I looked at a bunch of other power hitters and no one had a split nearly that extreme. That is of course by no means a scientific study, but clearly he had abnormally good luck either in getting more inside pitches than typical or in not missing the really mashable ones (or both). His OPS platoon splits bear that out too, showing a .200-point reverse advantage (.1030 vs. RHP, .842 vs. LHP).

What I read about his adjusted swing, opening his stance and all, suggests that this pull-everything approach is by design. He is certain to see a lot more low-and-away stuff this year, now that the League has had months to prepare and adjust.

All that said, clearly some significant part of his power spike is real, and PECOTA looks right on the money to me, especially in terms of ISO.

Feb 19, 2011 22:28 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Exactly. I don't think we can sell the adaptation/coaching angle short for providing some value here.

Feb 20, 2011 16:42 PM
 
smallflowers

Joe Carter didn't hit an opposite field home run for 7 years in that park.

Feb 21, 2011 07:04 AM
rating: -1
 
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