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June 30, 2011

The Jong Show

Crawford vs. Reyes

by Michael Jong

Remember a few weeks ago when the careers of Jose Reyes and Carl Crawford were examined to determine whether Reyes was deserving of a Crawford-like contract, a claim with which Mets owner Fred Wilpon disagreed? Well, since that article on May 30, Reyes has hit .371/.408/.614, further cementing his MVP-caliber season and pushing one MLB executive to agree with the prior statement.

When looking at the two players and their careers side-by-side, they both bear an eerily similar resemblance to each other. Both players debuted in the majors with 60-plus game cameos at age 20, separated only by a single season. Both signed four-year extensions with their initial teams with club options that carried them through their age 28 seasons. Thus, both players would be entering their first foray into free agency at age 29. Here were their stats through age 28:

Name

AVG

OBP

SLG

TAv

WARP

Crawford

.296

.337

.444

.275

33.9

Reyes

.289

.338

.439

.272

26.7

Their batting lines are nearly identical with the WARP gap the only meaningful difference between them. Part of that WARP gap is simple playing time: Reyes has yet to complete his full age-28 season, while Crawford finished his in grand style, ending up with his highest WARP total of his career. When looking at their careers prior to their age 28 year, they also appear quite similar:

Reyes's career has had more ups and downs while Crawford has been consistently good throughout his formative years. So what will be the differentiating factor between these players? There are three factors that could contribute to Reyes achieving a Crawford-sized payday this upcoming offseason.


Defense

The executive above mentioned Reyes's bat and glove as reasons for being worth a Crawford-level contract. He labeled Reyes as a “shutdown” shortstop, but Baseball Prospectus's FRAA tells a slightly different story. Reyes has not had a positive season with the glove, according to FRAA, in the last three seasons, though he has hovered around average in each of those years. This season, FRAA has him worth three runs below average, continuing the trend. The error bars around those numbers are such that we cannot be too certain about Reyes's actual defensive value number-wise, and the true answer is likely to be somewhere in between, but these data points do make it a bit more difficult to label him “shutdown,” especially coming off those various injuries.

Crawford, on the other hand, was rated a top-notch defender by FRAA in each of the three seasons prior to his move to Boston. Other metrics generally agreed, and the baseball world seemed to have caught on as well, awarding Crawford a Gold Glove in 2010. Given the agreement of scouts and observations with the statistics, it may be fair to assume that Crawford is an excellent defender at his position.

The problem is in comparing between the two positions. Crawford plays in left field, a position considerably easier to fill than shortstop. How do we value the contributions of just being capable of playing a given position? Well, BP's own Colin Wyers attempted to solve that problem this past offseason, and this chart has the details. From my reading of that chart, the average left fielder produced 0.135 runs per PA compared to a league average in 2009 of about 0.120 runs. The average shortstop produced about 0.110 runs per PA. The difference between these two numbers is about 15 runs per 600 PA, which fits nicely with the evaluations of some of the other Wins Above Replacement metrics. That means that, through 600 PA, Reyes would have to play at or around average defense to be as valuable as a Gold Glove-caliber Crawford. It seems safe to assume at least that much about Reyes.
 

Health

Health has played a huge role in undermining Reyes's value and keeping it under that of Crawford's. According to our injury database, Reyes missed a total of 352 days to injury since his career began in 2003.  In comparison, Crawford has been an iron man, missing only 98 days. While Crawford's worst injury was to his right hand that required surgery, Reyes has missed extended time for anything from a strained hamstring to a stress fracture to a thyroid imbalance condition.

The CHIPPER injury projection system sees Reyes as an obvious risk: a high-risk chance of missing at least 30 days this season. Meanwhile, Crawford was not seen as a danger to get severely hurt with a high chance to miss more than one game but medium risk to miss 30 days. Depending on what team signs Reyes, his bench replacement might be in for some significant playing time, and that could cause a dent in Reyes's value. Even if he is given an 85 percent chance to miss 30 games in a given season, that takes a 15.7 percent chunk off of his entire season value.
 

The Contract Season

We do know a good deal more about Reyes's offensive capabilities than his defensive talents or his injury risk. His current .341/.385/.514 line, good for a career-best .322 TAv, has been primarily fueled by an out-of-line .362 BABIP, way above his pre-2011 level of .308. The increased ISO is a direct effect of a drastically increased rate of doubles and triples.

Reyes

1B%

(2B+3B)%

HR%

Pre-2011

18.8

6.5

1.7

2011

21.2

9.5

0.9

Reyes has significantly improved upon his ability to avoid strikeouts, whiffing on a career-low 7.2 percent of the time this season. The primary difference has been a decrease in swings and misses; he is whiffing on 10 percent of his pitches swung at, down from his typically automatic 13 percent. With all other swing peripherals more or less constant, one can point to this as a strong, sustainable reason for continued success in Reyes's batting average. The power and BABIP are likely to go down as those statistics need to be regressed more than contact rate, but it does mean that there is some likely improvement from this monster season.

As in all breakout seasons, Reyes is due for some regression, but that should not dampen an otherwise excellent walk year. He might have to keep up a pace similar to this one, however, in order to match Crawford's three-year WARP pace prior to his new contract with Boston. Crawford came off of a three-year run worth 15.7 WARP between 2008-2010, culminating in an MVP-level 7.3 WARP season in 2010. If Reyes continues his current pace, he would be in line to finish 2011 with 7.4 WARP.  If he finishes with his PECOTA-projected 1.2 WARP for the rest of the year, he would finish with 5.0 WARP, right around Crawford's average seasonal WARP between ages 25 and 28.

Perhaps one difference in the perception between Reyes and Crawford was the idea that the shortstop had “done it before.” Reyes had two seasons with more than 5.0 WARP, and the mainstream baseball world has also recognized him with four MVP ballot finishes, including a 7th place finish in 2006. Prior to Crawford's 7th place finish in 2010, he had only once appeared on the MVP ballots and only once finished a year with more than 5.0 WARP. In other words, while Crawford has been unassumingly, consistently great during his career, Reyes has peaked to superstar levels in the past, and there is a sense that, if he could just stay healthy, he would retain that level of play once again.

It would seem that for Reyes to receive the sort of recognition Crawford got last offseason, he would have to fight an uphill battle against regression and injuries and continue his stellar year. Still, he has some positive signs in that his defense should be valuable enough at shortstop, “shutdown” or otherwise, and that the perception of Reyes as a star may not yet have faded. If he ends up with an MVP-worthy season like Crawford's from last year, expect him to receive the same sort of gaudy attention and bids we saw in the 2010 offseason; it is amazing how very similar the two players actually are in their situations.

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

Related Content:  Year Of The Injury,  Carl Crawford

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

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meanwhoogean

Last year's contracts surprised many of us as baseball's economic market shunned the gloom of the US economy. Regardless of what the numbers may suggest, I think GMs would much rather have an elite hitting average fielding shortstop than a elite fielding above average hitting corner outfielder. I think Reyes will continue to be a boom or bust type of player, bust speaking on elite level, and a team with an outside shot of making the playoffs year round should look at spending big on him, think AL Central or NL west type teams. Only one team has to make the big offer, and I think at least one will be willng to go all in for this type of talent at short. Nice read. I hate Crawfish and like Reyes, but reading your article made me realize how biased I'm being about their repsective attributes.

Jun 30, 2011 05:33 AM
rating: 2
 
BigNachos

I'm very skeptical that Crawford's defense is even "elite". As a left fielder, he's getting compared to some of the truly biggest butchers in the fielder, so providing 10 runs above average in defense isn't anything special when the bar for average is set so low. Plus, Brett Gardner's fielding metrics absolutely blow Crawford's away. If he was truly elite, why would another player be so much better?

I think a better way to look at Crawford is as a fringe-average centerfielder with an above average bat. That's valuable, but I'd say Reyes is more valuable in every way except health.

Jun 30, 2011 06:42 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Michael Jong
BP staff

BigNachos,

Since 2009, here are the players who have accumulated the most PA with their primary position as LF:

1. Ryan Braun
2. Carlos Lee
3. Crawford
4. Chase Headley
5. Matt Holliday
6. Johnny Damon
7. Juan Pierre
8. Raul Ibanez
9. Melky Cabrera
10. Alfonso Soriano

It still isn't a pretty list, but I only see two or three players who are absolute butchers in the outfield among that list. These aren't the days of Adam Dunn and Manny Ramirez roaming left field; teams are applying better defenders than in the past, and I wouldn't be surprised if the pool of defenders have improved enough over the years to overcome this stigma.

Jun 30, 2011 08:43 AM
 
formersd

Headley's been a full time 3b since 2010 although he was in LF until the Padres could trade Kouzmanoff and move Headley back to his natural position.

Jun 30, 2011 10:10 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Jong
BP staff

Formersd,

I know, I didn't particularly like having Headley on there, since I knew he moved when the Pads dealt Kouzmanoff. Headley's been solid at third base as well, and could end up the starting 3B for the NL at the All-Star Game.

Jun 30, 2011 12:59 PM
 
Robotey

Contract questions are not considered in a sabermetric vacuum. Reyes plays in a huge media market, the city that never sleeps. Crawford toiled in baseball backwater, home of the early bird special. When a NY player has a great season it's trumpeted around the baseball world. Metrics may argue one case about his glove work, but his good plays make the highlight reels. While few expect Reyes to hit .350 the rest of the year, if he finishes above .320 with 60 SB's he'll get Werth $.

Jun 30, 2011 22:05 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Jong
BP staff

Robotey,

That's kind of what I was getting at at the end. Reyes has a perception of a superstar, and part of that comes from the market in which he plays and how successful he was in the past. But being in a crappy market did not stop Crawford from getting paid handsomely, and that can only bode well for Reyes.

Of course, if Reyes regresses to where PECOTA expects him to be, I think front office types might be hard-pressed to pay him big money for a great first half. And also, any injuries from now until the end of 2011 would certainly put a damper on his value. So there are things that may still prevent him from getting Crawford money, but if he continues his pace, he's almost certain to get that kind of contract.

Jul 01, 2011 06:37 AM
 
ddufourlogger

Agreed. And some team will regret it within 3 or 4 years. He will get hurt again, and significantly enough to lose the same average number of days a year (30-ish). As we all know and statistics support, speed players don't age well, and Reyes premier value at any point is and will be tied to his legs.

Jul 05, 2011 12:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Seth

While Reyes does have something of an injury history, my guess would be that CHIPPER overstates his injury risk. Last year's thyroid issues were a freak occurrence, and his hamstring troubles the year before that were at least partially exacerbated by mismanagement on the part of the Mets. From '05 to '08 he played in 161, 153, 160, and 159 games.

This is not to say that Reyes carries no injury risk, but simply that a data-driven approach would likely not consider these additional factors that might mitigate the risk somewhat. Moreover, I imagine CHIPPER doesn't include the half-season of healthy baseball he's played so far (79 of 81 games). An 85% chance he misses 30 games this year seems extremely high, particularly since at this point, he would have to miss over 35% of the remainder of the season.

Jul 01, 2011 19:52 PM
rating: 0
 
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