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January 22, 2010

Prospectus Hit and Run

O-Dog Waits, Edmonds Campaigns

by Jay Jaffe

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Among the handful of interesting comments on my piece about the Dodgers' off-season spending, I found one of them, from reader ofMontreal, worth expanding upon:

I disagree with the idea that Hudson wouldn't have accepted arbitration. He most likely would have and would be due a raise. And would Wolf really be off the market right now were he not free? I don't think we can say that either. I think Collett [sic] is rather more justified with a little hindsight. The Dodgers can do better than those 2 for a lot less.

We don't know the answer to what might have happened had either or both of these players been offered arbitration by the Dodgers. But let's examine them in the context of the 10 Type A free agents who were offered arbitration this year:

Player             Pos  Age  WARP   Old         New         Yrs Dollars
Chone Figgins       3B   32   7.2   LA Angels   Seattle      4  $36 mil
Matt Holliday       LF   30   6.7   St. Louis   St. Louis    7  $120 mil
Marco Scutaro       2B   34   6.5   Toronto     Boston       2  $12.5 mil
Orlando Hudson*     2B   32   6.1   LA Dodgers  --    
Jason Bay           LF   31   4.7   Boston      NY Mets      4  $66 mil
Randy Wolf*         SP   33   3.8   LA Dodgers  Milwaukee    3  $29.75 mil
John Lackey         SP   31   3.3   LA Angels   Boston       5  $82.5 mil
Rafael Soriano      RP   30   3.1   Atlanta     Tampa Bay**  1  $7.25 mil
Jose Valverde       RP   32   3.1   Houston     Detroit      2  $14 mil
Mike Gonzalez       RP   31   2.2   Atlanta     Baltimore    2  $12 mil
Rafael Betancourt   RP   35   2.1   Colorado    Colorado     1  $7.5 mil
Billy Wagner        RP   38   0.6   Boston      Atlanta      1  $7 mil

*: Not offered arbitration
**: Via trade after signing

I've ranked the players according to 2009 WARP to serve as a reminder that both Hudson and Wolf had strong seasons. Hudson made the All-Star team for the second time in his career, won his fourth Gold Glove, and set career bests in both EqA (.286) and WARP even with the September sitdown which soured his relationship with Joe Torre. Wolf, despite being credited with just an 11-7 record, set personal bests for starts (34) and innings (214 1/3), posted his best ERA since 2002 (3.23), tied for fourth in the league in quality starts (24) and finished 11th in the league in SNLVAR (I've written those credentials in so many contexts this winter that I've practically memorized them).

At this point, all 10 of the Type As have signed contracts for 2010. Seven of them did so with new teams, thus costing their signing teams either a first-round or second-round draft pick. Of those seven, Wagner's was the only one-year deal, though it included a vesting option for 2011. The questionable exchange of the expected yield of a first-round pick was canceled out by Gonzalez's departure. Boston's potential loss of a first-rounder was canceled out, too (and wow, the reports surrounding Bay's exit are starting to paint an unpleasant picture). Of the remaining three Type-A free agents, Holliday signed a huge multi-year pact with his previous team, and Betancourt and Soriano accepted arbitration and signed with theirs. The latter's acceptance caught the Braves by surprise after they'd signed Wagner and Takashi Saito, so they quickly flipped him to Tampa Bay.

The sample sizes are obviously small here, but I think we can make some inferences. Let's start with the guy who signed. Given the perception that Type-B free agent Andy Pettitte had no plans beyond returning to the Yankees, Wolf was clearly the second-best starting pitcher on the market after Lackey. He'd even had a better year than Lackey both by traditional standards (the latter was 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA in 27 starts) and the more advanced metrics. The next tier down, both performance and dollar-wise, appears to be Joel Pineiro (two years, $16 million with the Angels) and Jason Marquis (two years, $15 million with the Nationals), a pair of Type B free agents who are both low-strikeout worm killers coming off their best seasons in at least half a decade. As is Wolf for that matter, though he's considered less of a one-year wonder because the perceived value of his 12-12, 4.30 ERA, 0.5 WARP 2008 showing is boosted by his late-season run with the Astros.

The team that signed Wolf was the Brewers, who managed to go 80-82 while finishing last in the league in starter ERA (5.37) and SNLVAR (8.0), and thus in dire need of rotation help. As it happens, the Brewers finished with a record more or less at the point of inflection where the marginal dollar value of an additional win starts to climb, so it doesn't take too great a leap of faith to suppose that they might have been willing to rationalize the punting of the draft pick handcuffed to Wolf had he been offered arbitration. Perhaps that would have lowered their bid on the pitcher somewhat, but I don't think it would have lessened their desire for a multi-year deal. Even if the entire Milwaukee option wasn't on the table if Wolf had been offered arbitration, it's certainly possible that another team which fancies itself a contender (correctly or not) might have been willing to make that same choice. The Mets come to mind, and in a world where they also sign Bay, Wolf would have only cost them a second-round pick. Perhaps the Angels, who having lost two Type As were already going to net compensation picks, would have valued his services more highly than Pineiro. All it takes is one team.

As for Hudson, while he lacks the versatility of Figgins and Scutaro-the other infielders in this set, neither of them perfect comps-he's got a longer track record of above-average play than either. He's stuck in a strange market, though. Consider that the Giants, who at 88 wins finished near the summit of the marginal dollar value of a win curve, chose to lock up the similarly aged but significantly inferior Freddy Sanchez for two years before the World Series even ended, rather than wait to see how the market unfolded. Then, of course, Brian Sabean moves in mysterious ways. Sanchez underwent season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and the word on the street this week is that he just underwent shoulder surgery, threatening his opening day availability. Maybe they should have had Boston's doctors give him a physical.

The Twins still have a rather sizable opening at second base after getting a combined .209/.302/.267 performance with sub-par defense (-3 FRAA) from their keystone kops (an article on such lineup dead spots is in the pipeline for Monday), though as Steve Goldman reminded the other day, "With the Twins asking for a professional-level infield is apparently like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel. It's just unthinkably demanding and presumptuous." The Nationals have been sniffing around the O-Dog's house, too, though it's not like signing him makes great sense.

At this juncture, Hudson probably would have been better off had he been offered arbitration and accepted. His comments about Torre weren't over the top by any means, but were critical and certainly fueled the impression that he had no desire to return. The Dodgers may have taken them too personally, leading to a suboptimal business decision. Hudson found himself in the bargain bin last winter because he (and/or his agent, Paul Cohen) misread the market by searching for a long-term, big-dollar deal during an exceptionally tough winter. He's apparently seeking a larger payday to make up for last year's shortfall, though he did wind up making about $8 million thanks to his performance bonus. A report linking him to the Nationals suggests he's asked for $9 million for 2010. It's not that he's not worth it. At an average of 4.3 WARP per year over the past four, he is. But with none of the big-money contenders particularly in need of a second baseman, the O-Dog is out in the cold.


Jim Edmonds, who incidentally has the same agent as Hudson, made headlines earlier this week by announcing his intention to make a comeback, whether with the Cardinals or another team. The 39-year-old sat out last year after spending 2008 with the Padres and Cubs, hitting a combined .235/.343/.479 with 20 homers in 401 plate appearances. That season was a real tale of two cities. After being traded out of St. Louis over the winter, he looked totally done in San Diego (.178/.265/.233 with one homer in 103 PA) before drawing his release in early May, but enjoyed a strong rebound in Chicago (.256/.369/.568) in helping the Cubs to a division title.

Strong enough that it was rather surprising he didn't play in 2009, at least until one considered the toll Edmonds' all-out style of play had taken on his body over the years; from 1995 (his first full year as a regular) through 2007, he averaged just 131 games per year, most notably missing more than 100 games in 1999 due to a shoulder surgery that had it been undertaken earlier the previous winter would have cost him far less time. A four-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, Edmonds compiled a helluva highlight reel with his play as a center fielder for the Angels (1993-1999) and Cardinals (2000-2007), becoming particularly famous for his diving catches but also drawing criticism for hotdogging and malingering.

Joe Sheehan advanced the notion that Edmonds had a shot at the Hall of Fame a couple of times in recent years, and he's not the only one. In terms of JAWS, Edmonds scores very well, ranking among the top 10 center fielders of all time thanks to a very strong peak capped by a monster 2004 in which he helped St. Louis win the pennant, finishing third in the league with 9.7 WARP (one win ahead of teammate Albert Pujols) via a .341 EqA (.301/.418/.643 with 42 home runs). Here's the center field leaderboard:

Player             EqA   RARP   RAP  FRAA  Career   Peak    JAWS
Willie Mays*      .330   1227   872   217   161.3   75.0   118.2
Ty Cobb*          .330   1207   847   -10   139.1   70.3   104.7
Tris Speaker*     .320    932   604   114   122.6   61.0    91.8
Mickey Mantle*    .342   1067   804   -58   112.5   66.3    89.4
Joe DiMaggio*     .326    705   494    54    87.0   60.1    73.6
Ken Griffey       .301    791   467   -83    79.7   51.9    65.8
Jim Edmonds       .300    548   327   102    72.2   51.1    61.7
Billy Hamilton*   .305    453   250    56    66.2   46.5    56.4
AVG HoF CF        .306    563   308    19    68.3   44.0    56.1
Andruw Jones      .278    366   127   182    61.3   47.4    54.4
Richie Ashburn*   .288    399   124   121    61.6   46.9    54.3
George Gore       .294    337   164    88    62.5   44.6    53.6
Carlos Beltran    .290    422   219    95    57.1   48.1    52.6
Jimmy Wynn        .304    521   285    -2    57.1   47.6    52.4
Andre Dawson*     .285    527   190   -11    59.6   40.2    49.9
Bernie Williams   .291    533   274   -32    57.3   40.9    49.1

The bottom five here have been hot topics lately. Gore and Wynn you met last week, a couple of days before Beltran underwent a surgery which caught the Mets with their pants on the ground. Dawson, of course, was elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this month, and Williams, well, everybody wants to know what I think about his chances at reaching Cooperstown. There are 10 other center fielders in the Hall below the ones shown; after Duke Snider (47.0) the quality quickly drops off as guys with short careers (Larry Doby, Kirby Puckett) mingle with ill-considered Veterans Committee picks such as Lloyd (the Wrong Poison) Waner and Hack Wilson.

As for Edmonds, his case is strengthened because he was the real deal defensively. His 93 FRAA in center field (he accumulated the remainder in right field) is tied for 17th all-time, and on par with a pair of his overlapping contemporaries in Beltran and Mike Cameron:

Player         FRAA
Willie Mays     220
Andruw Jones    167
Paul Blair      164
Curt Flood      160
Chet Lemon      139
Devon White     138
Richie Ashburn  115
Tris Speaker    112
Dom DiMaggio    103
Mike Griffin    103
Willie Davis    101
Fielder Jones   100
Gary Pettis      99
Carlos Beltran   94
Mike Cameron     94
Garry Maddox     94
Jim Edmonds      93
Jim Piersall     93
George Gore      91
Jimmy McAleer    91

Edmonds' problem is that on the traditional merits, his Hall case is a very mixed bag. The biggest problem he faces at the moment is that he has "just" 1881 career hits, and as noted in the Bobby Grich comment last week, the BBWAA hasn't elected a player from the expansion era (1961 onward) who compiled less than 2000 hits. Furthermore, like Grich and other qualified candidates such as Tim Raines and Ron Santo, who have been underserved by the electorate, Edmonds derived a great deal of his value from his high walk rate; he drew unintentional passes in 11.5 percent of his plate appearances, and topped 90 four times. His 382 homers are tied with Jim Rice and Frank Howard for 56th on the all-time list, sandwiched alongside two other recent early retirees, Larry Walker and Albert Belle. That's not enough to be a plus.

Edmonds does get a boost from his post-season performances. He made trips with six Cardinals squads (two pennants, one world championship) as well as the Cubs, and hit well (.274/.361/.513, a good match for his career triple-slashes of .284/.377/.528). Of his 13 post-season homers, 10 came in his first seven series, with at least one in each; His 12th-inning walkoff homer off Dan Miceli in Game Six of the 2004 NLCS forced a Game Seven, which the Cardinals won, thus advancing to meet the Red Sox. Edmonds had a lousy World Series, though, going 1-for-15 as the Cards were swept.

Edmonds finished in the top five in MVP voting in 2000 and 2004, but never won the award. Despite winning Gold Gloves for two pennant winners, he scores below average on the Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor measures, and never led the league in anything (the Black Ink test). Such numbers suggest he's not likely to get much traction in the Hall of Fame voting, and it's difficult to see how his return could change that. Having averaged just 85 hits over his final two seasons, he'd need two more years to get to 2000 (and to 400 homers) particularly if he takes on a platoon role, which he's reportedly willing to do.

The guy proved he could still play during his final season, and if he still has the ability to do the job at a high enough level after laying off a year, why not make a comeback? At the very least I'd bet my nickel he outhits former Angels teammates Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad. Maybe even Troy Glaus, who's younger but with an even spottier health history. Of course, any veteran on such a comeback trail is probably one hamstring, back or shoulder strain away from packing it in during a spring comeback, but I hope we get to see whether Edmonds has anything left.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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