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December 14, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Josh Hamilton and the End of Analysis

by Sam Miller

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Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Reportedly agree to a contract with OF-L Josh Hamilton for five years and $125 million, pending a physical. [12/13]

The first time I saw Mike Trout was in Rancho Cucamonga, when he was playing his first few games in High-A. His reactions on fly balls seemed a touch slow, maybe because it was a new park for him or maybe because he was 18. A scout I talked to brushed it aside: “He has the speed to outrun his mistakes.”

That’s what money buys a team: the ability to outrun mistakes. Gary Matthews, Jr.? Junk him, get Torii Hunter. Scott Kazmir tanks? Pfft, Matthews’ contract will be up soon, they can spend that money on Dan Haren. Spent all that money on Vernon Wells? Kazmir’s deal is over, and Torii Hunter’s contract will expire soon, so they can just use that money to get Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Those moves are both back-loaded and will restrict the Angels going forward, except that Wells’ deal expires before you know it. There’s always a bad contract or two on the books, but they’re always just a few years away from expiring. There’s always room to risk another mistake. 

Is it still okay to talk about cost when evaluating a Los Angeles baseball club’s moves? Have the Angels and Dodgers so disrupted the analysis industry that there's nothing to say but "wow," "you can't predict baseball," and "it's not my money"? A few years ago, this Transaction Analysis would be a simple discussion of marginal value and the like, but danged if I can tell you the value of a nickel anymore. I don’t know whether the $5-million-per-win paradigm still means anything, considering some teams with huge TV contracts seem to have unlimited money and others have extremely, extremely limited money. I don’t know whether scarcity of resources matters when there are just so few players available on the free agent market, so few places to spend $200 million. I don’t know whether the burden of a bad contract matters when big contracts seem so moveable—indeed, they’re now assets, capable of getting big returns. More than anything, I don’t know how much money the Angels have. What I do know is this: when news like this breaks, it’s easy to get swept up in it, think about how exciting that hour was when “talks” turned to “serious talks” turned to “confirmed serious talks” turned to “confirmed serious talks” turned to “confirmed serious talks” turned to “confirmed serious talks” turned to “confirmed what the others confirmed” turned to “close to a deal.” It’s easy to think about how great this makes the Angels’ lineup and to think about the best year of Hamilton’s career. I mean, look at this lineup!

  • Trout: .326/.399/.564
  • Kendrick: .285/.338/.464
  • Hamilton: .359/.411/.633
  • Pujols: .357/.462/.653
  • Morales: .306/.355/.569
  • Trumbo: .268/.317/.491
  • Callaspo: .300/.356/.457
  • Iannetta: .264/.390/.505
  • Aybar: .312/.353/.423

Yeah, that’s every player and what they did exactly once, but screw it, this moment is exciting! But this moment is always exciting, and it often turns out to be the moment things go wrong. It seems petty to say a move is bad because a team paid, say, $7 million to add a win; but if they spent $70 million to add a win, that would be bad, right? Improving at any cost can’t be a certain moral good. There has to come a point where it’s okay to say that a contract looks like a mistake. Signing Hamilton for five years and $125 million is probably a mistake.

The Angels aren’t paying Hamilton to match his career-best season, but at these rates they are paying him to match his second-best season, repeatedly, throughout his mid-30s. Over the past two seasons, he’s been a little worse than a four-win player or a little better than a four-win player, depending on the URL you type in. He’s in the stage of his life that carries the biggest risk of collapse with just a slim chance of improvement. As Ben wrote last week, he’s not the type of hitter who ages well:

Because Hamilton doesn't add any value via the walk, most of his offensive performance hinges on what happens when he makes contact. The outcome of a batted ball is dependent on two things: speed and quality of contact. The early 30s are when bat speed starts to slip and reaction time suffers. If Hamilton had better command of the strike zone, his ability to take walks could compensate for his inevitable declines in other areas. As it is, his offensive value is closely tied to skills that soon start to fade in free agents of a certain age.

He’s not moving in the right direction either. In 2011, he swung at 38 percent of the pitches out of the zone; in 2012, 44 percent, the second-highest rate in the game (between Miguel Olivo and Delmon Young). In 2011, he made contact on 83 percent of swings inside the strike zone; in 2012, it was 76 percent, the sixth-worst rate in the majors. (Both of the preceding based on 1,000-pitches-seen minimums.) He has averaged just 123 games per season in his career, during a six-year stretch that represented his physical peak. And he’s got the reddest flag in the sport. There are so many ways for this to go wrong.  “/whew,” I bet at least one Rangers executive is saying right now.

Had the Mariners or the Orioles pulled it off, this move might have crippled the franchise for a half-decade. For the Angels, it’s probably just a contract that’ll expire before you know it.

That takes a bit of the punch out of any review of the move, so let’s move on to the effects this will have on the Angels on the field in 2013. To recap: the Angels had the best offense in the American League in 2012 and probably the best defense. They also had famous pitchers who, unexpectedly, pitched poorly. The answer, it seemed, was to get better pitchers, but Zack Greinke spurned them and the other pitchers on the market—Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, and Kyle Lohse—are uninspiring. The good news for the Angels is that they don’t have to replace Dan Haren, three-time All-Star, or Ervin Santana, sixth-place finisher for the 2008 Cy Young award. They just have to replace two pitchers who allowed 5.2 runs per game while pitching in a pitcher-friendly park in front of the American League’s best defense. It is virtually impossible not to do that on any major-league budget.

Besides, a run scored is roughly as good as a run saved, and there are no bonus points for balance. So, unable to further upgrade the staff, further strengthening the offense is as good as anything. Hamilton is a very good hitter, in case you stumbled into a subscription-only baseball site and read this far without having ever heard of baseball. He has the 16th-best OPS+ in baseball over the past five years, the ninth-best over the past three, and posted the 17th-best last year. He has an .857 OPS on the road since moving to the American League, which is a) darned good and b) darned better when you consider more than a third of his road games are in Anaheim, Seattle, and Oakland (and none are in Texas). He replaces a man who had a very good 2012 season, and he displaces one who had a very good 2011 season, but the Angels did manage to improve:

  • Hamilton: 7.4 WARP in 270 games from 2011-2012
  • Hunter: 5.5 WARP in 296 games
  • Bourjos: 3.7 WARP in 258 games

PECOTA has Hamilton as a 2.8-win upgrade over Bourjos in 2013. (My guess, based on PECOTA and Hamilton's career trends: Hamilton produces 13 WARP over the life of this deal.) Twenty-five million dollars is an awful lot to pay to go from a two-win player to a four-win player, especially considering the reasonable possibility that the two-win player will be better than the four-win player by the end of this deal. But, of course, the Angels don’t have to make Bourjos sit on the bench. They get to trade him, if they want to, presumably for some substantial deal of value—he’s more valuable to a team without a Gold Glove finalist manning center field for the next five years. Maybe they’ll get a pitcher! Maybe this is how they get their pitcher. So here's what I'm comfortable with: 

Angels improve at one position; free up valuable trade piece to improve at another; get an unpredictable but undeniably talented player who is likely aging into a less-productive part of his career; spend more money than you thought they had, but they had it; might regret it; probably improved.

At least I think I'm comfortable saying all that. 

Jerry Dipoto has been the Angels’ general manager for 13 months, and he has now made a whopping 13 moves at the big-league level. He has shown two skills that can make for a great GM: he’s great at picking up small pieces (especially in the bullpen) for cheap, and he’s great at making the big deal happen, which can be as easy as but also much more difficult than "offer the most money." Those big ones are the moves that get GMs into trouble. From a surplus-value calculation, the Albert Pujols deal alone threatens to undo all the other small, savvy moves Dipoto has made. Yes, the Angels have the money to outrun that mistake, and they have the money to outrun the Josh Hamilton mistake, if it is one. But avoiding the mistake in the first place would be best.

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

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

BP Comment Quick Links


Short term thinking at the extreme, but if they win a World Series or two over the next three years, I am guessing that most A's fans will take the two or three years of abject humiliation that will almost certainly follow.

Dec 13, 2012 15:09 PM
rating: 0

I'm sure you meant to echo Jason Wojciechowski's earlier tweets on the subject. This A's fan will happily take one Hamilton-signing-induced Oakland World Series win. Abject humiliation is probably nearby anyway.

Dec 13, 2012 15:43 PM
rating: 2
BP staff member Jason Wojciechowski
BP staff

Bless you.

Dec 13, 2012 22:31 PM

"It's not my money"

I live in Los Angeles, so it IS my money. My cable TV bill is going up steadily as the rights for sports telecasts goes through the roof. I resent the hell out of it. At least I'm a baseball fan, so I watch these overpriced networks. For non-sports fans, cable pricing is a flat-out ripoff. At some point Congress will get involved, forcing some form of a la carte pricing - which will take more of my money.

End of rant.

Dec 13, 2012 15:27 PM
rating: 6
Richard Bergstrom

I agree with you. My cable bill goes up because of all those darned Laker games.

Dec 13, 2012 16:40 PM
rating: -1

Congress? Will do something about a la carte pricing? We are more likely to see the A's win the Series than to see Congress, which can agree on less than nothing, assert itself over the country's dominant monopoly-protected media infrastructure.

Dec 13, 2012 19:43 PM
rating: 3

First, this is a great opportunity for grandstanding, and both parties love to do that. They can get the least popular entities in America - cable companies - testifying about their rates.
And don't assume that the cable and satellite companies are opposed to this. The negotiations between TWC and Dish and Direct TV over the Time Warner Sports channel wasn't pleasant. You can bet that they would all like a situation where the assorted sports networks are negotiated on their own, without the rest of the conglomerate programming held hostage. They would love to put sports programming on separate tiers -- all of it.

Dec 14, 2012 12:11 PM
rating: 1

Yeah, the republican led congress will be ready to take on the huge cable corporations for the small consumer.

But you're right, cable is a ripoff. The only reason I still subscribe it to watch the White Sox.

Dec 14, 2012 08:46 AM
rating: -1

-1 for not being able to stop the uncontrollable urge to add political commentary.

Dec 14, 2012 11:14 AM
rating: 2
Lou Doench

+1 for being right, which is more important than your perception of good taste.

Dec 15, 2012 15:18 PM
rating: -1
Richard Bergstrom
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

+1 just because it's rare to see CNN board-style commentary on here. I'll also give a +1 to anyone that ties WARP to Romney's Five Point Plan.

Dec 14, 2012 13:05 PM
rating: -8
Richard Bergstrom

Trying to wrap my head around this. David Schoenfield said on his ESPN SweetSpot blog that, based on baseball-reference's WAR, Torii Hunter in 2012 was more valuable than Josh Hamilton (5.5 to 3.4 WAR). FanGraphs at 5.3 to 4.4. BP has the WARP at 3.9 for Hamilton vs 3.3 for Hunter. What am I missing here?

Dec 13, 2012 17:39 PM
rating: -1
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

About a 15-run disagreement about Hunter's defense

Dec 13, 2012 17:51 PM

Tori Hunter is 37 years old, and last year was the best of his career WAR wise, mostly due to defense. And I'm sure having Trout/Bourjos in center helped. But I agree, it's not a huge upgrade, although there might be some marginal benefit in adding left handed power to the middle of the order.

Dec 13, 2012 17:54 PM
rating: 0

If Hamilton remains healthy, it is a huge upgrade.

The fact that WAR calculations are all over the place shows how much more work needs to be done before it is both proven valid and reliable.

In the meantime, the chance that a 37 year old will repeat the best season of his career are far less than that a 31 year old will. Conparing the two is not even close.

Dec 14, 2012 06:28 AM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

With WAR calculations all over the place, is there a real reason to be upset that Trout didn't win the MVP?

Dec 14, 2012 10:09 AM
rating: -3

Not really. The MVP's kind of silly, anyway.

Dec 14, 2012 15:01 PM
rating: 0

Pretty sure that argument had more to it than just WAR.

Dec 14, 2012 21:40 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

Such as...?

Dec 15, 2012 07:33 AM
rating: -1

Off the top of my head:

Defense, Baserunning, OBP, OPS+.

Dec 15, 2012 08:33 AM
rating: 1
Richard Bergstrom

As I recall, most of the argument was based on Trout's WAR vs Cabrera's Triple Crown on a playoff team.

Defense and the various components of OBP and OPS such as hits, walks, home runs etc are in WAR and WARP. I think the only thing not in there is baserunning. That's why I say "such as?" since WAR/WARP are already including the offensive and defensive components.

Dec 15, 2012 12:52 PM
rating: 1

Let's get some easily-lookupable-facts straight:

(a) WAR calculations may differ, but all of them showed Trout as clearly way more valuable than Cabrera:

fWAR: Trout=10.0, Cabrera=7.1
rWAR: Trout=10.7, Cabrera=6.9
WARP: Trout=9.1, Cabrera=6.1

(b) All WAR(P) metrics include defense, OBP, AND baserunning per: http://www.baseball-reference.com/about/war_explained_comparison.shtml

(c) Another common non-WR-related argument was that Cabrera out-"clutched" Trout (big September stats), but there was a nice piece of analysis at FanGraphs that dispelled that: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/trout-versus-cabrera-offense-only-context-included/

(d) Given all this, Cabrera won seemingly due to three primary factors: he voluntarily moved to 3B, his team made the playoffs, he own the Triple Crown.

Dec 15, 2012 17:34 PM
rating: 3
Richard Bergstrom

Thanks for the breakdown.

Dec 16, 2012 12:27 PM
rating: 0

Leet me get this straight, your asking what the case for his MVP would be if you don't count the individual stats that are actually indicative of performance?

Setting aside the absurdity of that premise... did you hear the narrative about how the rookie was called up and sparked the teams turnaround? And how his team won more games in a tougher division than Cabrera's?

Dec 15, 2012 17:48 PM
rating: 1
Richard Bergstrom

Actually, I was asking what factors there were for Trout to win besides WAR(P). You were the one who listed defense, baserunning, etc which were already included inside of WAR(P).

And btw I do think Trout was the MVP, just asking a rhetorical question about why people should use WAR/WARP as a rationale for MVP voting if the metrics disagree or have a wide variance, especially on some players like Torii Hunter.

Dec 16, 2012 12:26 PM
rating: -1

In addition to the difference between Hunter and Hamilton, you need to consider the WAR this takes away from their nearest competitor. The CJ Wilson deal had a similar benefit, but the Hamilton deal is bigger because it comes on the heals of Texas losing out on Greinke and Upton, the two things that might have caused them to let Hamilton go, and the traded Mike Young and let Mike Napoli go, two things that they probably wouldn't have done had they known Hamilton wouldn't be there at the end of their "maybe we'll keep you maybe we won't" tour of other options.

Texas will be fine but the Angels have but some distance between them. I'm not confident in the Tigers getting past either team now, even with their "new" signing.

Dec 14, 2012 07:53 AM
rating: 0

I think they would have traded Young either way. He is barely playable at all at this stage.

Dec 14, 2012 12:20 PM
rating: 0

On Clubhouse Confidential, Vince Gennaro reported on a study that showed that Josh hamilton has the biggest split between his numbers against the bottom 1/3 pitchers in the league (who he demolishes like a BarryBondsBabeRuth two-headed monster) and his numbers against the top 1/3 pitchers (against whom he is less than league average against.

Enjoy the next 3 years. The 2018 Angels will be brutal.

Dec 13, 2012 18:01 PM
rating: 3

Is that supposed to imply some detrimental effect on the outcome of a season? If so, please provide some empirical evidence that shows it.

Every win counts equally, no matter who it was against.

Dec 14, 2012 06:31 AM
rating: 0

In terms of the regular season, you are absolutely right.
In terms of the postseason, this could make a difference, assuming that it is an actual effect, and not just random variation.

Dec 14, 2012 10:06 AM
rating: 1

What I take away from this is if he has any decline in bat speed, his performance should drop precipitously. Also, Hamilton's value is largely based on his slg. He is now moving from the #5 ballpark for Lhasa power to the 22nd.

Dec 15, 2012 18:19 PM
rating: 0

Is there an added value for spiting you division rival?

Dec 14, 2012 01:24 AM
rating: 0

probably not, but there's added value in removing a prime performer from your closest competitor for the division, because the WAR your adding is also being subtracted from the other competitor

Dec 16, 2012 14:19 PM
rating: 0

Angel fans, settle down. You are about to witness 2 players go over the talent cliff while on the hook for $300M or so. There are no World Series trophies in the future based on this signing.

Dec 14, 2012 04:55 AM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

Hey, at least the Angels are trying to win unlike some teams...

Dec 14, 2012 10:10 AM
rating: 0

Maybe so, but I don't believe it's money wisely spent.

Dec 14, 2012 11:18 AM
rating: 0

The interesting thing is that at least on an annual average value basis, the Angels payroll going into 2013 is roughly flat from 2012. They shed the salaries they were paying Hunter, Abreu, Greinke, Haren, Santana, Izturis and Hawkins while adding the costs of Hamilton, Blanton, Madson and Burnett.

Dec 14, 2012 09:19 AM
rating: 2
T. Kiefer

To all Angels (and Dodgers) fans: You have every right to be excited, but here's something to help you get out of your dream-state:
2008 Tigers
Chant that, and you'll remain grounded.

Dec 14, 2012 12:28 PM
rating: 0
Lou Doench

Here's what I wonder. Say this deal breaks just right and the Angels win 102 games. That just gets them in the playoffs, where they get to square off witth lesser teams iin incredibly unpredictable 5 and 7 game series.

The Giants have won 2 titles in the last 3 years with a lineup that Sabean seems to recruit from the island of misfit toys each year. It is harder than ever to buy a championship, because we have so devalued regular season wins.

Dec 15, 2012 15:30 PM
rating: 2
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