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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

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