Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Jones Or Bust

I've alluded to it before in several posts, but I wanted to expand on it a bit. If the Nationals are going to sign a center fielder, Andruw Jones is the guy. If they don't get him, I don't want Hunter. I don't want Rowand. I sure as hell don't want Corey Patterson. I might entertain offers for Cameron. But basically, it's Jones or bust.

You say, "But the dude hit .230 last year." I say, "Don't focus on just one year unless you have evidence that his talent has dramatically changed."

I still think his down year was the result of a sore elbow, but mostly a problem with his shoulder. The injury to his shoulder tracks very closely with the months he slumped in. And his streaks -- he actually had a few torrid stretches -- coincide with cortisone shots, which would allow him to play through the pain. In short, if the shoulder wasn't bugging him, he was the same old Andruw Jones.

Now the question is, of course, is the shoulder chronic, or is it just something that needs some rest. I'm definitely not in a position to know that, but presumably the Nats would be; they'd have access to better medical information than a schmuck like me. If he's healthy, he's one of the best CFers in the league.

In the NY Sun, Tim Marchman makes a case for Jones as one of the best potential buys:
That makes Jones a very good player — a star in fact — and also a potential steal. A team could likely sign him to either a one-year make-good contract, in which they'd most likely be getting performance comparable to Beltran's for two-thirds the salary; or a longer deal that would lock him in for several years at a price somewhat lower than that while avoiding the dangerous years past 35, when aging players are most likely to just fall off a cliff. Why? Because Jones performed badly on a fluke, because he has a bad reputation, and because there is a glut of superficially similar but lesser players such as Aaron Rowand, Torii Hunter, and Mike Cameron on the market. It's a perfect confluence that obscures his worth.

In other words, because people tend to focus on the most recent, instead of a player's longer track record, there's a chance you'll be able to get him for far below what a similar type player (who was coming off a better year) would receive.

So what's his track record?

In short it's excellent. It's the track record of someone on the cusp of being a hall-of-famer.

Look at what he does well:
1) He hits for power, roughly 35 homers every year
2) He plays every day -- the last time he played fewer than 154 was his first full season, when he played in 151.
3) He's got an average batting eye, walking ~70-80 times a year.
4) He plays great defense, with strong range, at a premium defensive position.

What doesn't he do well? Well, he doesn't hit for average, which cheeses some people off. He strikes out -- but you take that with the power. He doesn't steal bases -- which is overrated.

Add up the pluses and subtract the minuses and you've still got an above-average ball player, a star.

Let's quantify him a bit.

For his career, he's a .263/ .342/ .497 hitter. Think of that as slightly better power production than we get from Ryan Zimmerman.

Let's cut that up a bit differently. Since 2004, he's been at .252/ .342/ .502. Since 2005, he's been about the same: .249/ .341/ .507. The point of that is to show that he's pretty consistent with his production, save for last year.

Take a look at his statline: Every year (save for last) his obp is around .345 and his slugging fluctuates -- especially with that one 50+ homer year -- but it's generally in the .510-.530 range.

If we want to be extra generous to him and chalk up his '07 season as a fluke, his three-year statline ('04-'06) has him at .262/ .352/ .532 with an average of 105 runs created per year.

To put that number into context, Ryan Zimmerman, who played every day, had 93 runs created last year and 99 in '06. To put that in a different context, all Nationals center fielders combined to create roughly 70-75 runs. The typical Andruw Jones season would be 30 runs better than the production they got out of that spot last year, which is huge.

Since we're all into context, chew on this: Andruw Jones terrrrrrible 2007 season resulted in 74 runs created. Even in about as terrible a season as one could imagine for the guy, he was as "productive" as the Nats regular CFers! Certainly you don't want to pay Jones prices for that level of production, but you'd likely be buying the 105 runs created guy!

Torii Hunter's a solid player, but his typical season only creates about 75-85 runs (in part because he's constantly battling nagging leg injuries -- a red flag as he grows older).

Aaron Rowand is in the same boat. He had a terrific season, a career year, and put up 115 Runs Created. But his previous two seasons were in the 50s and 70s. He can't stay healthy either. (And he was also helped tremendously by a very favorable hitter's park)

Jones has a much better offensive track record than either of those guys.

Defensively, some say that he's lost a step. That's certainly true. But he's still an elite defensive center fielder by most of the metrics. Scroll down to the Plus/Minus leaders 2005/2007 and you'll see that Andruw Jones has been the best CFer over the last few years, saving an average of 20 plays a year over a typical CFer. (Just above, ironically, Nook Logan -- you'll note, too, that Austin Kearns is rated the best RFer over that time span, too). So if he's lost a step, he's still making more plays than anyone else.

So what's it all worth?

Let's make some guesses. I love the approach taken on this thread. We know that for the last few years, the price of a 'win' has been ~$4 million on the open market. If you can make some assumptions about how many wins a player is worth, you can get a pretty good estimate of what his contract should be.

Using that approach... I'm not putting too much weight on last year because of the injuries, and I'm probably erring on the side of more wins (ie: the MOST the Nats should pay)...

Jones, on average, is about 20 runs better offensively than an average batter at all positions. That's 2 wins, but we can probably knock that down a peg because of his age (still just 29) and injury, say 1.5. Defensively, the Fielding Bible has him at 20 plays better than an average CFer, so that's about 1-1.5 wins. He gets a bit of a bonus: .5 wins because he plays a premium defensive position.

Sum it up, and Jones is about 3 wins better than an average player. You tack on 2 wins to figure out how much better than he is than a replacement-level stiff (think Nook Logan with less defense), and you've got a 5 win player -- if he's healthy.

To figure out how much that's worth, here's a quick salary guide that makes certain assumptions about player decline and salary inflation.

On a 5-year deal, a 5-win player could expect to receive approximately $105 million. I haven't heard any prices floating around Jones' name, but I can't really picture anyone offering him $21 million a year, can you? But he certainly has the ability to produce at that sort of contract. If the Nats were able to get him at something like 5/$90, it would be a 'steal', paying him far below what the market rate is for a player of his caliber.

The Nats constantly preach how they're looking for opportunities, chances to buy players at lower prices to maximize their value. It's a smart strategy and it paid dividends with guys like Esteban Loaiza and Dmitri Young. This, in many ways, is the same sort of opportunity. It's the chance to get an All-Star outfielder at a position of need for $3-4 million less per season than they'd otherwise need to spend. If there's a such thing as a $90 million bargain, Jones is it.

  • Again, unless there's evidence -- scouting or medical -- that his talent level has substantially changed, then you've gotta chalk last year as a fluke and look at the bigger picture. 12 months ago, would you have jumped at the chance to get Andruw Jones? No doubt. So what's different between then and now? One bad season? Crap happens sometimes.

    Had he not been a FA and had the Braves not been clinging to playoff hopes, he'd have likely gone on the DL and rested that shoulder and elbow. But he battled through it, his stats suffered, and now he's going to 'pay' for it in the end. In many ways his last year was Jose Guillen's 2006 -- a year lost to nagging injuries. Yet the Mariners smartly snapped him up and Guillen had a fine year, that was exactly consistent with the kind of production he had put up before.

    Let's hope the Nats do the same with Andruw.

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