Sunday, September 11, 2011

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By Andre Castillo - AngelsWin.com Feature Writer

The Angels are making a strong playoff push this year. Even if they make it to the playoffs, they'll be looking at some important decisions next year. What to do with Vernon Wells, Mike Trout, Bobby Abreu and the crowded Angels outfield? Where does Kendrys Morales fit in, with Mark Trumbo playing as respectable as he has?

And what about third base?

I want to take an early look into some of these questions. First, third base. David Wright has gotten a lot of discussion around this board, and I want to just put it out there that I'm against acquiring David Wright, or really anyone at this point, to replace Alberto Callaspo. Let's look at the evidence:

Credit: Fangraphs


As you can see, even though they're the same age, they're headed in the opposite directions in terms of production. David Wright was great, yes, but he hasn't been a star for three years. And this year Callaspo has been the better of the two. But I don't think you can fairly compare them until you compare their salaries and the risks that come attached to them.

Salary (credit: Cot's Baseball Contracts)


2011
2012
2013
David Wright
$14m
$15m
Voided if traded
Alberto Callaspo
$2m
?
?

When I look at risk in terms of projecting a baseball player, I think of what is the likelihood that they will over perform their contract, and compare that to the likelihood that they will underperform their contract. A good signing is where the risk of them underperforming is at least equal to the risk of them overperforming (e.g. Jeff Weaver). A bad risk is one where the risk of them underperforming is greater than the risk of them overperforming. One way to get a sense of this risk is to look at their past history in terms of their contracts, and how likely that is to continue.

For this analysis let's look at how Callaspo and Wright and performing under their contracts, going back 5 years.  Let's assume that 1 WAR is worth $5 million. This is generally the amount that 1 WAR is worth on the free agent market.

David Wright

2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
Salary (millions)
$1
$5
$7.5
$10
$14
WAR
8.9
7.1
3.5
4.0
2.0
Value (WAR * $5m)
$44.5
$35.5
$17.5
$20
$10
Surplus (value - salary)
+$43.5
+$30.5
+$10
+$10
-$4

As you can see Wright's value and salaries have been headed in the wrong directions -- he's going paid more as he's producing less. In 2011 -- unless he goes on a power binge the next two weeks -- he won't even be worth his salary.

Alberto Callaspo

2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
Salary (millions)
$0.38
$0.39
$0.42
$.46
$2
WAR
-.7
1.3
2.2
1.3
2.7
Value (WAR * $5m)
+$0
+$6.5
+$11
+$6.5
+$13.5
Surplus (value - salary)
-$0.38
+$6.1
+$10.6
+$6
+$11.5
(Value minimum = +$0, since the team can always DFA the player)

To make it a little easier on the eyes, let's look at those surpluses again:


2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
David Wright
+$43.5
+$30.5
+$10
+$10
-$4
Alberto Callaspo
-$0.38
+$6.1
+$10.6
+$6
+$11.5

David Wright is clearly the more talented player historically, putting up monster seasons in 2007 and 2008. But who's the safer bet to outperform their contract going forward? It's not David Wright. His salary is rising while his value is plummeting, producing a negative surplus in 2011. Part of this is his defense -- Fangraphs UZR rates Callaspo significantly better, giving Wright -10 UZR ratings each year for the last three years. At that rate, and given his injury history, he may not be a third baseman for that much longer.

Callaspo on the other hand has significantly outperformed his contracts every year since 2008, producing the highest surplus of his career in 2011. So why gamble on David Wright when the likelihood that you'll lose $5 million or more in value is at least as high as the chance that you'll gain that? The odds that David Wright will return to the defense, power, and hitting combination that he showed in 2007/8 remind me of looking at the odds that Vernon Wells would reproduce his 2010 stats this year. Yeah it could happen, but is it worth the risk?

With Callaspo, you're not getting all that much, but you're at least getting more than you pay for. If the Angels can re-sign him for $5 million or less he's a steal. I also think it's smart policy to have a productive stop-gap like Callaspo hanging out at 3B year to year while you develop your farm. It also gives you the option of promoting a young 3B one day if you happen to get lucky in the draft.

Now I turn to my favorite and yours...

Vernon Wells

...and Barry Zito?

The Angels don't have a lot of flexibility going into 2012. We all know they have to start Bourjos and Trout in the outfield. Let's also assume that Kendrys and Trumbo are around (or the Angels sign a free-agent 1B), using up the 1B and DH slots. That leaves Wells, Hunter, and Abreu left for one outfield slot. Hunter is clearly the best player of the trio. But if you bench Wells and Abreu, that leaves two $30 million salaries doing little more than pinch hitting. Not a great use of resources.

One idea that I've been kicking around, however, is dumping Wells for another bad contract at a position that is less crowded than the Angels outfield. The Angels could use a another 5th starter or lefty out of the pen, so why not Barry Zito?

According to Cots, Zito has $46 million left on his contract from 2012-13 (this includes a $7 million buyout for 2014). Sounds better than Wells, right? Well, maybe. Zito has been pretty awful this year. He's 33 years old and his ERA, even in friendly AT&T park, has ballooned to 5.62. Advanced stats don't have him much better either, his FIP is 5.46. The only silver lining is that his HR/FB is significantly above league average, and if you regress it to the league average his xFIP says he should have a 4.60 ERA.  So, there's a chance he may bounce next year to at least a mediocre pitcher. But he could also be done. His WAR for this year is -0.2.

Wells is doing about the same in terms of production. His WAR this year is 0.0. They're both worthy of a DFA at this point, but those are some tough salaries to swallow. Wells is also carrying even more dead weight than Zito is, with $63 million left on his contract, compared to Zito's $46 million.

All things being equal, this means the Angels should definitely swap Wells for Zito. They're equally worthless, so that leaves the Angels with a savings of $17 million. With that kind of money they can ink an extension to Haren or Santana. Plus, there is a chance Zito can at least be an above-replacement level pitcher that wouldn't have to take a spot from an actually valuable player, like Hunter or Trout. Heck, even in the bullpen as a LOOGY (lefty one-out only guy) he could help the Angels more than Wells would.

The only arguments I see against this are that Wells has a better chance to bounce back than Zito does, first, and second, whether or not the Giants would do the deal. The Giants have the opposite problem of the Angels though, too much pitching and not enough hitting. And I think that Wells does have a better chance of bouncing back than Zito does. So that makes me think the Giants would consider it.

But is it worth the $17 million difference to the Angels to do the deal? I don't think so, but let's put some numbers on it.

Let's estimate this risk. Now, when you estimate risk, you want to err on the side of caution and not get too rosy with your projections. So, At Zito's age and given his long downward trend into non-productivity, I think he has only a 30% chance of being a 1-2 WAR starter or reliever per year over the duration of his contract (he has been 1-2 WAR every year since 2006, with the exception of this year). I give him 70% odds, however, that he's just done and ready for DFA.

Wells on the other hand I give a 40% chance that he's a 1-2 WAR player the next three years. His defense isn't going to get better, though his bat might. I still put it at 60% that his career as a productive major leaguer are gone for good. He's a little younger than Zito so he gets slightly better odds, even though he has no track record of producing competently in Angels stadium, or really outside of Toronto for that matter.

To put some math to it, I'm assuming that Zito's production will be worth 1.5 WAR each year for two years, or 3 WAR, times 30%, going forward, which equals 1 WAR total. 1 WAR is worth $5 million. For Wells, I'm assuming that his production will be worth 4.5 WAR * 40% going forward, which equals 1.8 WAR, or $9 million.

So who's contract is more UN-valuable?

Zito's contract, in terms of value - salary, is $5 - $46 = -$41 million.
Wells' contract, value - salary, is $9 - $63 = -$54 million.

So, even assuming that Wells will produce more than Zito, I estimate you would still save $13 million by trading him for Zito straight up.

And you would open up a spot for Trout and Hunter, to boot!

Get it done, Reagins.
Love to hear what you think!

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