Monday, September 10, 2007

Mr. Jones And Me

Mark Zuckerman opines what we've all assumed: The Nationals are likely to be interested in Andruw Jones.

Needless to say, it's set off a flurry of reactions
--Primate: "I agree with the sentiment of the article, but I think Gainsay is right that Jones is not the guy for this team."
--Fanhausian: "I'm guessing he has the ability to bounce back from such a disappointing season. But are the Nationals willing to pay more than $17 million to find out?"
--Idiot Fan: "Yeah im sure the nats are going to fork out a 100 million dollar contract on a guy batting .230 when their entire payroll is probably half of that, and their attendance is towards the bottom of the league. Rowand might even be pushing it . Way to give the fans false hope washington post."
--Idahoan: "You would think that he'd be available more cheaply because of his off year, but most baseball insiders have said that he'll probably end up costing more than Soriano did last year. More than $17 million a year? Sheesh."
--BallParkGuyian: "Andruw would play a better Centerfield and give 30 plus HRs to the Centerfield position and you guys are complaining....LOL

"30 plus HRs from the Centerfield position probably will boost the Nats wins to the high 80's to low 90's and a playoff spot."

So what's the real story? What's he worth?

Just today, The Hardball Times went through the numbers, trying to explain how and why he's struggled, and trying to figure out what a baseline for future performance could be. There are a few things that don't pass the smell test for me on this, but it's a good start.

The explanation they give for his decline, for example, seems a bit too much for me; though I guess it's possible. It seems more likely to me that the guy's hurt. He's had elbow problems since the end of May, having hurt it while making a catch. He was terrible in June, batting .143/ .211/ .276. I don't think we have to overthink that one. April, July and August were excellent months, and he put up his typical numbers. I'm guessing it's been nagging injuries, the kind he's trying to play through to salvage a contract season. (see also: Guillen, Jose, 2006))

Although his poor season still counts, I'm working under the assumption that it's just a bad season, nothing more. For ease of evaluation, we'll focus in his runs created, which sums up each of the things he does at the plate and on the bases to estimate how many runs he's responsible for over the course of a season. (Background info here if you care).

Jones last five years or so have seen him create runs from a low of 89 in '04 to a high of 113 in '05 and '06. He's roughly on pace for 75 this year, the lowest total since his rookie year. I'll work under the assumption that he's just hurt this year, so we'll say he averages 100 runs created per year. a good year is better; a so-so year a bit worse.

Would that be an improvement for the Nats? Yep. As a team, Nats CFers have hit .252/ .320/ .373. If you use the quick and dirty RC estimate (obp x slg x ab), the Nats have created about 60-65 runs on offense. (Only two NL teams have worse CF production).

If we make a fudge adjustment to account for park differences, Jones is 30 or so runs better than the Nats CFers have been, in an average Jones year. Even in a down year, he has created more runs (69) than every Nats CFer so far.

Then there's defense. Some will tell you that Jones is the best thing ever. I think that was true 5 years ago. Now, it's not. He's still a good one, but there are lots of good ones, and he's much closer to average than he is to being the best. Defensive metrics range on him, but from the ones I've looked at today, they range from calling him average to saying he's 20 runs better (near the best in the league) than the average CFer. If you split the difference, he's probably 10 runs better or so, still a solid one. Just not a gold glover every single year like he was.

Of course, for the Nats, they've got some pretty good defense in center. Logan's had his issues on routine balls. And Church was maligned, but the defensive statistics loved him. I'm not really sure that Jones would be much of an improvement over Logan/Church. But, again, for the sake of argument, we'll say they're average, and say he's 10 runs better.

Add offense and defense, and a typical AJ season is probably 40 runs better -- or 4 wins -- than the production the Nats have gotten out of CF this year. That 4-win guesstimate is very close to the baseline the Hardball Times article does. Unfortunately, they were comparing to replacement level, indicating that the Nats CFers are crap. (newsflash!)

What's instructive about that is that even for a great player like Jones, it's hard for one player to make that much of a difference. 4 wins is 4 wins. But 4 wins ain't winning us the World Series next year.

Is he worth it? It depends on what 'it' is. Given his struggles this year, I wonder of Boras would have him sign one of the Jeff Weaver specials: a one-year, make-good contract? If so, would the Nats be interested? (I'd pass in that case, given the likelihood of the Braves offering arbitration and the Nats having to fork over a 2nd round pick to the Bravos).

But I can't really say at this point. A lot is going to depend on what Boras feels his market value is. I would suspect that the evil minions of the Scott Boras Corporation are preparing their binders as we speak, writing off -- as I have done -- this is just a tiny blip in what's been otherwise a terrific career. If so, the pricetag is going to climb, especially depending on who the other suitors are. At least for the past few years, what we've imagined as reasonable contracts at this point (remember 5/$75 for Soriano?) rarely are reality come January. I suspect that this will be the same for June. And for that reason, I'd be surprised if he were wearing the Curly W come next April.

(If I were in charge, I'd suck it up and deal with a Church/Logan platoon in CF and find a bat like Dunn for left, then trade for a pitcher (Burnett? or one of those other high-dollar ones that Kasten claims teams are clamoring to get rid of), because our pitching isn't nearly as good as most are making it out to be.)

But there's still three weeks left. We'll worry about all that later.

19 Comments:

  • Any chance Jones' salary is high enough this year that the Braves would fear offering arb?

    Nah, I guess not.

    By Blogger Sam, at 9/10/2007 9:22 PM  

  • He'd probably be looking at $13 million (if not more) via arbitration.

    I'd do that if I was the Braves. Short-term deals are rarely a bad thing!

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 9/10/2007 9:24 PM  

  • Yeah that's what I was realizing. They'd probably love nothing more than just a single year more of Andruw.

    Just like us!

    By Blogger Sam, at 9/10/2007 9:28 PM  

  • Burnett?? Why in the world would the Nats want him. He has a big fat salary and plenty of arm problems.

    By Anonymous phil dunn, at 9/10/2007 9:37 PM  

  • I guess the idea is that a pitcher like Burnett, warts and big contract and all, may nonetheless be undervalued right now/and or may just be a better use of available salary than paying Andruw Jones to provide the production of Ryan Church.

    By Blogger Sam, at 9/10/2007 9:42 PM  

  • Oh, come now. Even an aging, coming-off-a-bad-year superstar like A. Jones is way, way, way, way out of the Lerner-Kasten-Bowden bargain-basement price range. Whenever any free agent comes on the market, ask yourself this question: When was the last time you witnessed Old Man Lerner actually signing a check for anything? I rest my case.

    By Anonymous Friend of STAN, at 9/11/2007 12:38 AM  

  • I think the Dunn/Jones/Hunter FA chase stuff so far falls more into press speculation than FO intentions. The FO should be a few weeks away from doing a year end review of the organization and then we might see what their intentions might be. I think what they do this offseason in regards to Dunn, Jones, and Hunter will depend on how they project the ceilings of Wily Has Mo Powa, Maxwell, and Marrero and their ETA to the ML club. The FO is clearly bubbling over Maxwell and Marrero and PT has been stalking Pena since he became GM and they would be playing the same positions as Dunn and Jones. If the FO does decide to pursue these FAs the team could always package the minor league guys with a reliever or 2 and try and get a good SS or top of the rotation starter. I don’t believe any of the FAs is coming cheap. I think it will take at least 5/75 just to pay the ante and get in the game and it goes up from there. There’s just too much money burning holes in owners pockets.

    By Anonymous Tulsa Fan, at 9/11/2007 7:04 AM  

  • It is highly unlikely that it will cost the Nats a second round draft pick to sign Jones, in the event the Braves offer him arbitration, given the dismal season he is having. Only the top 20% of players are designated "Type A" based on performance over the past two years --- and I can't see how Jones will be able to retain that rating this off-season when he becomes a free agent.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/11/2007 7:33 AM  

  • "When was the last time you witnessed Old Man Lerner actually signing a check for anything? I rest my case."

    Ross Detwiler
    Josh Smoker
    Jack McGeary
    Michael Burgess
    Esmalian Gonzalez

    Did anyone in baseball spend more on draft choices in 07? Hmmm.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/11/2007 9:34 AM  

  • But--and correct me if I'm wrong--free agent status is based on a player's career, not just the prior season. Right? If so, Andrew could easily make Type A.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/11/2007 10:03 AM  

  • last two years. and playing time counts for a lot. There's a chance he'd not be an A, but I'd be surprised.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 9/11/2007 10:05 AM  

  • The Elias rankings I understand are based on a formula that takes into account plate appearances, batting average, on-base percentage, home runs and RBIs over the last two seasons. For 2005 - 2006 A. Jones ranked 11th out of 115 NL outfielders and first basemen. If he drops more than 12 spots for 2006 - 2007, it's doubtful he'd be a Type A free agent (a big consideration for Kasten & Co.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/11/2007 10:56 AM  

  • Jones is a year and three months younger than Soriano. I wonder what accounts for Jones' presumed "decline"? He is 30. Of course, next year, when the Nats are a little closer to contending, the Nats can find someone even younger than Jones. So we can't expect a 9 figure deal for Andruw.

    Johnny Damon is sometimes mentioned by the Post as a possibility. The Yankees would probably pay a large chunk of his salary to get the Nats to take him. But at 34 (almost), Damon clearly is in decline. So I hope Damon does not come here.

    From just a near-term baseball standpoint (and without worrying how to protect the Lerners' profits), Jones for a second rounder is a nice deal, especially going into the new stadium. You don't get 5 years out of most second rounders.

    By Anonymous EdDC, at 9/11/2007 11:01 AM  

  • So what happens to all that money if we don't go after Jones or Hunter??? We have a brand new stadium that the FO made damn-well sure was financed almost entirely by the city, all of our draft picks are signed, and the market for our other need(starting pitchers)is going to be thin this offseason.
    Why would we save it when we could address an immediate need? Our answer in CF is not Logan/Church, and I don't think we can't wait to see when/if guys develop from a farm system that is still weak.

    By Blogger Rob B, at 9/11/2007 11:11 AM  

  • The Nats will sign a high-priced free agent in the off-season because they want to generate as much good will as possible heading into the new stadium. The Nats would have a PR nightmare on their hands if they don't spend money this off-season. The Lerners are smart enough to know that spending money is a necessity to keep the focus on the new stadium rather than on the ownership's stinginess.

    The problem is the Nats really need a couple of starting pitchers, and the crop of FA pitchers is horrendous. That limits the Nats options. Clearly, they are not going to sign a 3B. I would also think that its not likely that they are in the market for 1B or C.

    That leaves the MI and OF. Felipe Lopez is regressing, Christian Guzman will be in the last year of his contract and Belliard is best suited for a part-time role. The best MI FA is Luis Castillo of the Mets. I'm guessing the Castillo resigns with the Mets before the signing period starts, and the Nats go into 2008 with the same MIs.

    That leaves OF. The Nats appear committed to Kearns, and there is little doubt that Wily Mo is going to get regular at bats next year. There are more CFs available than any other position: Rowand, Hunter, Jones, Patterson and Cameron. Based on the lack of other FA options and the need to make a splash, the Nats will sign either Rowand, Hunter or Jones (with an outside shot of singing Dunn with the hope that playing 3 corner OFs won't be as exposed in a new ballpark, also Dunn is the youngest of the group by more than 2 years).

    If the FA market is as over-priced as last year, I really fear that the Nats (yes, even with their apparent tight-wad tendencies) will over-pay for OF that won't fundamentally change their fortunes. However, this signing is not about winning more games as it will be about creating a buzz for the franchise.

    FWIW, the woeful stats for the Nats starters really should make that spot a point of emphasis for the team. I like the idea of trying to find a starter from a team that is looking to dump salary. Burnett is a good example. Guys, the Nats are not going to get Johann Santana or Brandon Webb this way, but I would rather have AJ Burnett and/or Derek Lowe on my staff than Joel Hanrahan and Mike Bacsik.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/11/2007 11:48 AM  

  • if we do sign him, can we stipulate in his contract that he can't eat at the pentagon city panda express?

    By Blogger Bill, at 9/11/2007 4:17 PM  

  • While I don't want to beat a dead horse, it should be noted that in 2004 - 2005 A. Jones was ranked by Elias Sports Bureau as the 21st best NL outfielder and first basemen. His 2004 season was clearly better than 2007, and his 2005 season was slightly better than 2006. I still believe he will be ranked as a Type B free agent this off-season.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/11/2007 6:10 PM  

  • http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2880979

    Saw this in one of the comments over at Nationals Journal on the same subject. It's all you need to know about Jones.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/11/2007 7:53 PM  

  • The Nats did well in signing all of their draft picks. Whether any of them will be productive at the major league level remains to be seen, and it will be some years before the results are in. Nevertheless, an impressive year on that front.

    As has been noted, the Nats are in dire need of pitching (along with 24 other clubs), and the free agent cupboard is bare. So what about the alternative? What would signing a high-profile outfielder do? Maybe get the Nats more front-page coverage in the Post? But I keep thinking of M. Tejada and his semi-disastrous stint up the road. High profile free agents are just as problematic as draft picks.

    In the end, for the Nats it looks like a long, slow uphill slog toward being competitive.

    By Anonymous JohnR (VA), at 9/12/2007 8:08 AM  

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