MLB Metrics 101: The Best/Worst Signings (So Far) of the 2016-2017 Offseason
There were dozens upon dozens of contracts signed during the 2016-17 Major League Baseball offseason. With the 2017 season now roughly halfway done, now's a good time to check in on how they're working out.
And that's a job for Bleacher Report's MLB Metrics 101 series.
Hello and welcome back. This week's goal is to round up the best and worst contracts of the winter so far. Here are the ground rules:
- Both major league and minor league contracts are permitted
- Except, major league service time is required
- Plus playing time or earnings limits depending on which side of the spectrum a player falls on
For more on how all this is going to work, read on.
Hypothetically, this is all quite simple: Take a player's production, match it to his earnings, and see where the chips fall.
As it usually is, "production" is a code word for "wins above replacement." And as always, the go-to here is Baseball Reference's version of WAR. It weighs offense, defense and baserunning for position players, and innings pitched and runs allowed for pitchers.
For "earnings," it's not good enough to simply look at each player's salary. Signing bonuses must be factored in, and how much of a player's salary has actually been paid out must be calculated .
Monday was Day 93 of a 183-day season. That's 51 percent of the season in the books. Ergo, players have earned 51 percent of their salaries.
With all this in hand, it's possible to calculate "WAR/$1M." That's WAR per $1 million earned. Higher is better. Lower is worse.
But since the results are so messy, it's necessary to attach some strings. They are:
- If on the positive side of the spectrum, position players and relievers must have a minimum of 30 games and starting pitchers must have a minimum of 10 starts. This is necessary to downplay any small sample size success stories.
- If on the negative side of the spectrum, a player's total contract must be worth at least $10 million. This is necessary to downplay contracts that are terrible production-wise, but no great loss money-wise.
For complete results, go here. Otherwise, it's on to honorable/dishonorable mentions and the top/bottom five.
Josh Reddick, Houston Astros
Josh Reddick's four-year, $52 million deal with the Houston Astros was the first big-money contract of the offseason. It's panning out quite well. He's made $6.63 million and produced 2.4 WAR, a rate of 0.36 WAR per $1 million. That's not a steal, per se, but it's a pretty good ROI as far as big-money deals go.
Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
Justin Turner's four-year, $64 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers is another big-money deal that's turning out well. He's cashed in $10.12 million and produced 3.7 WAR for a rate of 0.37 WAR/$1M.
Eric Thames, Milwaukee Brewers
Eric Thames has cooled off since a red-hot start. Without his two-homer game on Independence Day factored in, he's produced only 1.1 WAR. But with his three-year, $16 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers paying out only $2.04 million so far, that's a solid rate of 0.54 WAR/$1M.
Ivan Nova, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates fixed Ivan Nova last summer and rewarded him with a three-year, $26 million contract over the winter. For that, they've paid $5.57 million for 3.1 WAR for a rate of 0.56 WAR/$1M.
No. 5 Best: Mark Reynolds, Colorado Rockies
Contract: MiLB for $1.5M
Mark Reynolds had a renaissance season for the Colorado Rockies in 2016, posting career highs in batting average (.282) and on-base percentage (.356). Despite that, he only returned as a minor league insurance option after the club invested $70 million in Ian Desmond to play first base.
When Desmond suffered a broken hand in spring training, however, Reynolds was upgraded from Plan B to Plan A. Then he took off.
Through 79 games, Reynolds is rocking a .282/.369/.519 slash line and 19 home runs. Although he's produced only 0.8 WAR thanks to the obligatory Coors Field adjustment and his subpar defense, he's still on track for his best offensive season in years.
Meanwhile, Desmond struggled to produce following his return from injury and is now back on the disabled list. Without Reynolds in place, the rocky (sorry, not sorry) start to his contract would be a bigger problem.
“He’s been playing phenomenal,” Desmond said of Reynolds in May, per the Associated Press. “He’s been a huge part of us. He’s been carrying us. It doesn’t seem like there is any signs of slowing down, which is awesome.”
No. 4 Best: Jhoulys Chacin, San Diego Padres
Contract: One Year for $1.75M
It was clear all along that the San Diego Padres would be punting on the 2017 season. All the same, they still needed to field a team. And said team would need pitchers.
Thus, they went out onto the open market with a shoestring budget and came back with a handful of unspectacular names. Jered Weaver is the one who's flopped as expected. The others, though, are doing fine. Clayton Richard is having a solid season. Ditto for Trevor Cahill when he's been healthy.
Yet it's Jhoulys Chacin who takes the cake. He's made 17 starts and logged 95.2 innings with a 4.52 ERA.
Which is to say: Chacin has been a nice, solid, dependable starter. For a pitcher like that, $1.75 million is more than a fair price.
No. 3 Best: Matt Albers, Washington Nationals
Contract: MiLB for $1.15M
Think the Washington Nationals bullpen has been a total disaster?
Well, you're right. But at least it has Matt Albers.
The Nationals picked the veteran up on a mere minor league contract in January. He was coming off a 6.31 ERA for the Chicago White Sox in 2016, so that seemed fair.
But 31 appearances into his 2017 season, Albers has a 2.03 ERA. His peripherals raise some suspicion as to whether this can last, but he hasn't been totally dependent on good fortune. He's whiffed 10.2 batters per nine innings while walking only 2.6 per nine innings.
By WAR, Albers is Washington's fourth-most valuable pitcher after Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg. And if you take him out of Washington's bullpen, its hideous 5.19 ERA becomes an even more hideous 5.69 ERA.
“He’s awesome," fellow reliever Koda Glover told Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post in May. “He’s got over 10 years in the big leagues. He’s very intelligent. He knows how to pitch. I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s been huge."
No. 2 Best: Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays
Contract: One Year for $2.5M
The previous three contracts are low-risk deals that have turned out well. These next two are low-risk deals that have turned into absolute steals.
Starting with Logan Morrison. Although 2016 was his fifth unspectacular season in a row, the Tampa Bay Rays re-upped with him for $2.5 million anyway. He's rewarded them with a .945 OPS and (already) a career-high 24 home runs.
Morrison has always had good power. The difference this year is that he's doing a better job of tapping into it. His fly-ball rate is at a career-high 46.6 percent, which seems to be by design.
“I’ve looked at All-Stars in the league, and what they believe. I’ve heard guys say if they fly out three or four times a night, that’s a good night," he told David Laurila of FanGraphs. "I was always taught to hit the ball on the ground and run. And I’m not even fast."
Morrison has a chance to make the All-Star team if he's selected via the final vote. Understandably, however, it sure sounds like he would prefer a spot in the Home Run Derby.
No. 1 Best: Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers
Contract: One Year for $2M
Not much is going right for the Detroit Tigers this season. The modest contract they signed Alex Avila to over the winter is one thing that is.
Through 58 games, the veteran catcher is hitting .310/.431/.571 with 11 home runs. These are spectacular numbers by any standard, and downright mind-boggling by catcher standards. Nobody else at the position is even close to his level of offensive production.
It might seem too good to be true that a 30-year-old catcher could break out like this following five mostly futile seasons. But Avila was an All-Star-caliber catcher before the injury bug took a liking to him. Now he's finally healthy again.
“I would say the biggest key is that I am healthy,” he said in June, per Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. “I haven’t had any issues with my knee since 2015 and I haven’t had the concussions since 2014. Last year I dealt with a hamstring for two and a half months and I couldn’t get rid of it."
The extra wrinkle on all this is that Avila's father, Al Avila, is also the Tigers' general manager. So much for the notion that you should never do business with family.
Carlos Beltran, Houston Astros
The Astros aren't risking much with the one-year, $16 million contract they gave Carlos Beltran. Nonetheless, it's good money for a bat-only player. And with just a .689 OPS, his bat stinks. He's made $8.16 million and produced minus-0.2 WAR for a rate of minus-0.02 WAR/$1M.
Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Bautista signed for $2.5 million more than Beltran but is otherwise in the same boat. He's made $9.18 million thus far and has produced just a .754 OPS and minus-0.2 WAR. That's also a rate of minus-0.02 WAR/$1M.
Junichi Tazawa, Miami Marlins
The Miami Marlins signed Junichi Tazawa for $12 million over two years, with the idea being they would use him as part of an ultra-deep bullpen. He's among the reasons that plan has flopped. He's made $2.55 million and produced minus-0.3 WAR for minus-0.12 WAR/$1M.
Ian Desmond, Colorado Rockies
For reasons referenced earlier, Desmond's five-year, $70 million contract with the Rockies has fizzled thus far. He's produced minus-0.5 WAR.
Since he's earned just $4.08 million of an $8 million salary for 2017, however, his WAR/$1M is "only" minus-0.12. His big money doesn't kick in until 2018, so he's actually picked a good time for a bad year.
No. 5 Worst: Travis Wood, Kansas City Royals
Contract: Two Years for $12M
Travis Wood was an effective reliever for the World Series champion Chicago Cubs in 2016, putting up a 2.95 ERA in 77 appearances.
What drew the left-hander to the Kansas City Royals as a free agent, though, was the chance to start again.
“I wanted to try to get back to it,” Wood said, per Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. “And they’re going to give me an opportunity to do that. So we’re going to give it everything we got.”
As Dave Cameron of FanGraphs noted, this was a bad idea. Wood was a good reliever because he could be used exclusively against left-handed batters. A starting role would expose him against right-handed batters, who typically destroy him.
Sure enough, the Royals' attempt to stretch Wood out in spring training failed. He allowed seven runs in 13.1 innings through his first four appearances. He was shifted back to one-inning stints after that.
Three months later, Wood still hasn't gotten on track. He has a 6.06 ERA in 26 appearances, with one of his major problems being that his platoon advantage against lefty batters has disappeared.
For now, it all adds up to a failed experiment.
No. 4 Worst: Luis Valbuena, Los Angeles Angels
Contract: Two Years for $15M
The Los Angeles Angels spent their winter rounding out their depth with low-risk options all over the diamond.
Among them was Luis Valbuena. The lefty swinger had quietly averaged a .776 OPS over the three prior seasons for the Cubs and Astros, mainly by mashing right-handed pitching. He could also play both first base and third base, making him a good platoon option alongside Albert Pujols, C.J. Cron and Yunel Escobar.
Fast forward three months, and Valbuena is sputtering along with a .611 OPS in 52 games.
To be fair, it hasn't been a normal season for Valbuena. He missed the first month of the year after suffering a hamstring strain during spring training. He may also be missing Minute Maid Park, as he's hit some outs that would've challenged the park's short left field porch.
All the same, what's really marring his season is the disappearance of his ability to mash right-handed pitching. Typically well north of .800, his OPS against righties this year is just .617.
Without that, there's clearly not much to Valbuena.
No. 3 Worst: Brad Ziegler, Miami Marlins
Contract: Two Years for $16M
Brad Ziegler is another guy targeted by the Marlins to be part of their super-bullpen experiment. And indeed, his contract seemed like a fair reward for a nine-year career highlighted by a 2.44 ERA.
Ziegler started strong, allowing just one run on seven hits through 13 appearances in April. But things devolved from there, and he now owns a 6.52 ERA in 34 appearances.
Bad luck appears to be playing a part in Ziegler's struggles. His 64.6 ground-ball percentage proves he still excels at keeping the ball grounded, yet his batting average on balls in play has skyrocketed to a career-worst .382.
But Ziegler can also blame himself. He's walking 4.0 batters per nine innings and striking out only 5.3 batters per nine innings. That's no way for a pitcher to expand his margin for error.
Meanwhile, he must focus on getting healthy. He's been on the disabled list since June 22 with a strained back.
There's still time for him to turn his bad fortune around, of course. But to this point, it's been one challenge after another for the veteran reliever.
No. 2 Worst: Bartolo Colon, Atlanta Braves
Contract: One Year for $12.5M
When the Atlanta Braves signed Bartolo Colon, they were signing a 2016 All-Star and a generally reliable source of innings.
The fact that they designated him for assignment before the season even got to July pretty much says it all.
But the gory details are worth getting into anyway. Colon made 13 starts and allowed 57 earned runs in only 63 innings. That's an 8.14 ERA. And there's no playing the "bad luck" card in this instance. Opponents slugged .563 with 11 home runs off Colon.
The 44-year-old's typically pinpoint control was less than pinpoint this time around. He averaged 1.3 walks per nine innings between 2012 and 2016. He was walking 2.9 batters per nine innings before he got DFA'd.
Because teams are always in need of innings out of their starters, Colon may yet catch on elsewhere. If not, the book will finally close on a career that's spanned 20 seasons and includes a Cy Young, four All-Star appearances and one magical home run.
No. 1 Worst: Brandon Moss, Kansas City Royals
Contract: Two Years for $12M
When the Royals lost Kendrys Morales to the Blue Jays, they found themselves in need of a new designated hitter. Enter Brandon Moss for $12 million, or $21 million less than the Blue Jays gave Morales.
So far, what that's bought them is a designated hitter who can't hit.
Through 55 games, Moss owns just a .193/.263/.392 slash line and 10 home runs. This is where Kansas City's .697 OPS from the DH spot comes from. That places them ahead of only the Baltimore Orioles and the Angels among American League clubs.
Although Moss had produced just a .745 OPS in the prior two seasons, the Royals didn't have the wrong idea in hoping for good production out of him. Despite his iffy results, he put up one of the highest hard-hit rates in the majors over 2015 and 2016.
Alas, that's not carrying over. Moss' Hard% has fallen from 39.6 all the way to 33.6. His production has crumbled accordingly.
The Royals can't do much except hope he turns it around. Because as bad as Moss' deal looks now, it could look worse once his salary jumps from $3.75 million this year to $7.25 million in 2018.
Note: All statistics are current through Monday, July 3.