Nationals Arm Race

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Best contracts in the game right now


Sal Perez is the best value contract in the game right now. photo via

Sal Perez is the best value contract in the game right now. photo via

Inspired by Steve AdamsMLBTR chat on 11/18/14, I thought this was a fascinating topic.  What players have the best value contracts in the game right now?

For several years, the answer here was Evan Longoria, who signed a 6yr/$17.5M contract in 2008 and promptly put up three straight seasons north of 7.0 bWAR.  We’re into the option years on that original deal, which are still pretty affordable, and Longoria did get a 9-figure extension, so he’s not entirely in this discussion any longer.  Call him the “godfather” of ridiculously good value contracts.

Using the obvious websites ( and Cots’ salary database now at, lets take a look at some candidates.  Note; I refer to a “valuation” of $6M per win above replacement as a way to “value” production.  There are some known limitations to equating salary to this figure, and there are others who estimate it even higher, but $6M per is still a decent estimate to use as a quick estimate of a player’s “monetary” production on the field.

Note: we are NOT including the litany of pre-arb players who are putting up huge seasons.  This is mostly trying to focus on those players who have signed for affordable contracts but who are delivering huge value.  Thus players like Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon, Kyle Seager, Corey Kluber and Starling Marte are not included here.

Candidate contracts: I’ve arranged these in my opinion of the order of value:

  • Sal Perez: 5 years/$7M (2012-16), plus 2017-19 club options worth just a *combined* $14.75M.  This for a guy who has made the all-star team and won the catcher Gold Glove two years running.  Wow.
  • Chris Sale: 5 years/$32.5M (2013-17), plus 2018-19 options of $12.5M and $13.5M.  This for a guy who led the AL this year in ERA+ and has received significant Cy Young votes 3 years running.  His bWAR in the last three seasons: 5.9, 6.9 and 6.6.  That’s crazy.
  • Jose Altuve: 4 years/$12.5M (2014-17), plus 2018-19 options at $6M and $6.5M.   Two-time all-star, led the AL in both hits and batting average in 2014.   Just put up a 6.6 bWAR season … and the Astros got it for just $1.25M in salary.
  • Jonathan Lucroy: 5 years/$11M (2012-16), plus 2017 option at $5.25M.  this late bloomer signed an incredibly affordable deal, then had a break out 2014 season where he posted a 6.7 bWAR, made the All-Star team, finished 4th in the MVP voting and should have won the gold glove as the best framing catcher in the game.   His total salary for the remaining three years of his contract is just $12.25M.
  • Madison Bumgarner.  Current contract: 5 years/$35M (2013-17), plus 2018-19 options at $12M each.  Bumgarner was 4th in Cy Young voting this year with a 4 bWAR season but (as we all know) dominated the playoffs, single-handedly handing the Giants their 3rd World Series title in the last 5 seasons.  A 4-war season is worth at least $24M on the open market these days, but he earned just $3.75M this year.  His options can vest and increase with certain achievements, but even at their max $16M value he’s still a massive bargain.
  • Yasiel Puig: 7 years/$42M (2012-18).  Everyone thought the Dodgers were crazy to commit $42M to an unknown; now it looks like a massive bargain.  For $2M salaries the last two years he’s put up 4.9 and 5.4 bWAR seasons.
  • Julio Teheran: 6 years/$32.4M (2014-19).  This contract gets expensive later, but in 2014 he was paid just $800k to put up a 4.0 win season.  If Teheran continues to be the #2 pitcher he showed this year, the Braves have great value on their hands.
  • Jose Quintana: 5 years/$21M (2014-18).  Thanks to the crummy team he toils for, Quintana’s exploits have gone unnoticed.  But he’s now got a career 117 ERA+ and has reached 200 innings both of the last two seasons and is signed for a song going forward.  Its no wonder analysts scoff when his name is mentioned in trade talks.
  • Michael Brantley: 4 years/$25M (2014-17), plus 2018 option of $11M).  This is preliminary, but based on his 7 bWAR season in 2014 (for just a $1.5M salary), this could be a huge bargain.  Is he a flash in the 2014 pan or is he for real?  If he’s for real, the Indians have a fantastic value going forward.
  • Ben Zobrist: 4 years/$18M (2010-13), plus 2014-15 options of $7 and $7.5M.  This was the poster child for years of affordable contracts (once Evan Longoria got his extension).  He’s averaged 4.75 bWAR over the past four seasons while playing six or seven different positions for the Rays.  Even in the final 2015 season at $7.5M, he’s projecting at 4 bWAR, still a significant under-value.  Keith Law calls  him “the best contract value” in MLB history; maybe he should be higher on this list.
  • Mike Trout: 6 years/$144.5M (2015-20).  No, a $33.25M salary in 2020 isn’t really a bargain, but the Angels are still getting the best player in baseball for $1M in 2014 and $5.25M in 2015.  Even if Trout declines to “just” a 6 bWAR player for the next 6 years … the Angels are still coming out ahead on the $6M/WAR evaluation technique.
  • John Lackey: 1yr/mlb minimum (2015).  He had a quirk in his previous contract that vested a MLB-minimum year thanks to an injury a couple years ago, so the Cardinals get the benefit of a veteran innings-eating 100 ERA+ starter at the league minimum.  Nothing to sneeze at, even if its just a one year contract.  On the open market you have to think he’s worth $8-$10M/season.
  • Steve Pearce: 1 year/$850k (2014).  This isn’t really a true candidate like the other players here, but Pearce’s story is worth noting.  He was DFA’d and *released* in April and re-signed a couple days later, but still posted a 6 bWAR season for Baltimore this year.  He’s arbitration eligible for 2015 but how far could his salary really rise after an 850k salary?
  • Jonathan Singleton: 5yrs/$10M plus 3 club options.  He may not profile as being worth this contract now … but if he lives up anywhere close to expectations, those later option years at $2-$2.5M are going to look pretty darn good.  No wonder the players union howled when he signed this deal.
  • Adam Jones: 4yrs/$62M is nothing to shake a stick at, even if his “gold glove” defense is rather suspect.
  • Edwin Encarnacion: 3 years/$29M (2013-15), plus 2016 club option of $10M.  Yeah that’s a pretty good deal.
  • Jose Bautista: 5 years/$65M (2011-15), plus 2016 option of $14M.   $14M for a guy who probably would have gotten 33% more had he been a FA two years ago.

How about the same analysis for the Nats?  The clear best value players on the team are Anthony Rendon and Tanner Roark.  Both Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister delivered pretty good WAR/pay value.  Denard Span just gave us a 3.6 bWAR season for $6.5M in salary; a pretty good deal.  But none of these contracts really contend with the above list.

Did I miss anyone obvious?  Do you agree with my rankings above?

2/24/16: Dan Szymborski posted his own updated version of this topic here: .  He goes by surplus projected WAR.  Carlos Correa #1, Trout #2, then a bunch of pre-arb high-end rookies.

Gold Glove Awards versus Defensive Metrics Review for 2014

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Alex Gordon was one of the best defensive players in baseball, by any measure in 2014.  photo

Alex Gordon was one of the best defensive players in baseball, by any measure in 2014. photo

Last year, I created a little spreadsheet upon the announcement of the Gold Glove winners, to see how they compared to various defensive metric leaders (2013 xls link here).  And I threw in the “Fielding Bible” award winners, since that has now taken over as the “accepted” list of the year’s best defensive players, thanks to the Gold Gloves continuing to pick inexplicable players (this  year’s repeat “I cannot believe he won” player again being Adam Jones).  But, as we’ve seen, the Gold Gloves are getting better, and the days of picking someone like a statue-esque Derek Jeter and/or a nearly permanent DH in Rafael Palmeiro seem to now be over.

So, now that we’ve announced the 2014 Gold Glove winners, lets also look at the league leaders in various defensive metrics.

This data is in the following spreadsheet for 2014 on Google Docs.

First, your 2014 Gold Glove winners: bold are also Fielding Bible winners, and red are the most egregiously bad selections.

Pos AL GG Winner NL GG Winner
C Salvator Perez, CLE Yadier Molina, STL
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Adrian Gonzalez, LAD
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS DJ LeMahieu, COL
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Kyle Seager, SEA Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Christian Yelich, MIA
CF Adam Jones, BAL Juan Lagares, NYM
RF Nick Markakis, BAL Jason Heyward, ATL
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU Zack Greinke, LAD

As with last year, the league still remains obsessed with Adam Jones despite his possessing negative defensive rankings across the board.  Kyle Seager wasn’t “bad” but wasn’t nearly as deserving as Josh Donaldson.  The only other real “bad” selection was Molina, not because he’s not a great defensive catcher (he is), but because he missed a ton of time and there were better options in the NL this year (namely, Jonathan Lucroy).  Otherwise every Gold Glove winner listed here was deserving.

Repeat Gold Glove winners from last  year: Molina, Hosmer, Pedroia, Hardy, Simmons, Arenado, Gordon, and Jones.  So, 8 of 18.

Here’s the 2014 Fielding Bible Awards, which (if you’re not aware) is a Bill James-driven website that uses a committee of national writers to select the winners (the site is here and you can read about their methodology).  Bolded are also GG winners:

Pos 2014 Fielding Bible Winner
C Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
1B Adrian Gonzalez, LAD
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS (repeat)
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL (repeat)
3B Josh Donaldson, OAK
LF Alex Gordon, KC (repeat)
CF Juan Lagares, NYM
RF Jason Heyward, ATL
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU
Util Lorenzo Cain, KC

They selected Lucroy over Molina, and Donaldson over Seager.  They’ve also added a 10th position for “Utility,” to recognize the excellent work of Lorenzo Cain playing multiple outfield positions.

Now, here’s the league leaders by various defensive stats.  The links to get any of these leaderboards are in the Google xls.  First: UZR/150.

Pos AL UZR/150 NL UZR/150
1B Albert Pujols, LAA (9.3) Anthony Rizzo, CHC (8.2)
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS (20.4) DJ LeMahieu, COL (11.0)
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL (15.4) Andrelton Simmons, ATL (18.4)
3B Josh Donaldson, OAK (13.3) Todd Frazier, CIN (8.9)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (22.6) Christian Yelich, MIA (14.1)
CF Jackie Bradley JR, BOS (22.6) Juan Lagares, NYM (25.3)
RF Nori Aoki, KC (7.7) Jason Heyward, ATL (20.5)

I like UZR as a measure and use it often. UZR/150 somewhat standardizes the scores across a 150-game average to represent the figure for a full-season for apples-to-apples comparisons.  A good number of these leaders also earned Gold Gloves and/or Fielding Bible awards.  Josh Donaldson was the clear AL 3B leader.  Otherwise there’s a lot of similarities to the lists we’ve already seen.  I was surprised as heck to see Albert Pujols on this leader board.

For a quick point of reference to the above scores, the BEST UZR/150 of any Nationals player this year was Anthony Rendon‘s uZR/150 of 4.6 while playing 3B.  Span and LaRoche (our two GG finalists) both scored *negative* UZR/150 scores … perhaps an indictment of their nominations in general as being based on reputation and not actual on-field performance this year.

Next: DRS; Defensive Runs Saved.  Some like this stat a lot; I struggle with it because single plays (like an outfielder reaching over the wall to take away a homer) result in huge swings in the numbers on plays that aren’t necessarily the hardest to make.

1B Chris Davis, BAL (8) Adrian Gonzalez, LAD (12)
2B Ian Kinsler, DET (20) DJ LeMahieu, COL (16)
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL (10) Andrelton Simmons, ATL (28)
3B Josh Donaldson, OAK (20) Nolan Arenado, COL (16)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (27) Christian Yelich, MIA (13)
CF Leonys Martin, TEX (15) Juan Lagares, NYM (28)
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA (2) Jason Heyward, ATL (32)

Dustin Pedroia had one of the highest UZR/150 ratings in the league … but he was not the top-rated 2nd baseman in the AL.   We have our third different AL center fielder in three lists.  Otherwise this is a pretty good list.

Next: FRAA: Fielding Runs Above Average, a Baseball Prospectus measure that attempts to remove the bias present in zone-based data and also tries to factor in the tendencies of the pitcher on the mound (ground-ball guy, fly-ball guy,

1B Steve Pearce, BAL (7.7) Adrian Gonzalez, LAD (11.4)
2B Jason Kipnis, CLE (9.5) Chase Utley, PHI (6.9)
SS Alexei Ramierez, CWS (8.1) Jean Segura, MIL (23.6)
3B Kyle Seager, SEA (20.5) Nolan Arenado, COL (14.3)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (12.2) Khris Davis, MIL (6.6)
CF Jacoby Ellsbury, NYY (12.0) Ender Inciarte, ARI (11.0)
RF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (8.3) Jason Heyward, ATL (26.4)
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU (6.7) Tyson Ross, SD (3.7)

Interestingly, Jean Segura shines highly here (the supposed “best defensive player in the league” Andrelton Simmons only scored a 10.0 in FRAA).   And this stat really favors the play of some random players: I had no idea who Kevin Kiermaier or Ender Inciarte were before doing this post, nor did I know what position they played.

Adam Jones scored a -8.1 FRAA; ranking him 1187th out of 1212 players for 2014.  I’m not kidding.  That’s how bad a selection for the Gold Glove Jones was.

Last stat: Baseball Reference’s Total Zone Fielding

Pos AL Total Zone Total Fielding NL Total Zone Total Fielding
C Salvator Perez, CLE (12) Wilson Ramos, WAS (8)
1B Steve Pearce, BAL (13) Justin Morneau, COL (11)
2B Jonathan Schoop, BAL (16) Anthony Rendon, WAS (12)
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL (14) Jordy Mercer, PIT (21)
3B Kyle Seager, SEA (23) Chase Headley, SD/NYY (18)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (25) Khris Davis, MIL (13)
CF Lorenzo Cain, KC (18) Billy Hamilton, CIN (14)
RF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (12) Jason Heyward, ATL (30)

Check it out: our own Wilson Ramos is on this list as the “leader” for the NL.  Which, no offense to Ramos, makes you question at least the catcher rankings for this stat.  Rendon also factors in for his partial season at 2B.  But overall, this seems like the least reliable defensive stat.

As mentioned above, both our GG finalists (LaRoche and Span) seem to have been nominated on reputation only; neither of them appeared near the top on any of these statistical measures (unlike last year, when Span at least was a leader in Total Zone)

Did I miss any good defensive metrics?  Do you have one you like more or less than these?  I know there’s other stats out there; I can update this analysis with more of them.

So, how did the Gold Gloves do this year in selecting the most deserving winners?  Pretty good.  Alex Gordon was the AL leader for left fielders in every stat.  I think they picked the two correct short stops.  Catchers are difficult to measure.  They absolutely screwed up the AL Center fielder (though to be fair; there were four statistical measures presented and four different AL center field leaders.  Excellent defensive players who jump around (Lorenzo Cain, Ben Zobrist) make the awards somewhat challenging in some cases.