Alfonso Soriano is not overpaid

All stats current through the end of August

Alfonso Soriano is a popular totem for the failures of the Cubs’ Jim Hendry era, and he often is considered the quintessential scapegoat of excessive free agent spending by “old school” general managers who valued guts and brand names over aging curves, walk rates and other modern sabermetric standards.

He is routinely ranked among the worst contracts in baseball (did I miss any major media outlets there?). If Vernon Wells‘ contract was tradeable, what did that say about the unmoveable Soriano? Heck, even I have been guilty of Soriano contract bashing from time to time.

But you know something? The more I research the matter, the less I am convinced that Soriano is an “overpaid bum.” Let’s examine the facts.

The contract

Following a bottom-feeding 2006 season, the financially struggling Tribune Company tried to bolster the Cubs and make them a marketable asset. The team did this primarily with several major free agent acquisitions: Jason Marquis, Mark DeRosa, Ted Lilly and Soriano. Soriano was universally considered to be the top available free agent hitter that offseason following a 40/40 season for the Nationals in 2006.

Soriano’s contract with the Cubs was structured by year this way:

2007: $9 million
2008: $13 million
2009: $16 million
2010-2014: $18 million

Soriano also got an $8 million signing bonus, a no-trade clause, a suite on road trips, six “premium” tickets for each home game (including spring training and the postseason) and premium tickets to the All-Star Game if he was selected to play. Soriano’s contract also has award bonuses built in, and it calls for him to donate $25,000 annually to both the United Way & Cubs Care. There is no readily available information on how Soriano’s $8 million bonus was paid out, so let’s just assume the Cubs paid it all in 2007 (raising his 2007 cost to the team to $17 million).

The narrative

When did the feelings about the Soriano contract take a turn for the worse? I hypothesize it was after the 2009 season.

A good chunk of Soriano’s 2007 value was driven by a red hot September, but plenty of people—especially Cubs fans—forget that it was Soriano who helped the Cubs ultimately edge out the Brewers and make the playoffs after being one of baseball’s worst teams the year before. Soriano was unquestionably one of baseball’s best in 2007 (after a 40/40 season in 2006). Only eight other hitters (plus CC Sabathia) outproduced Soriano’s WAR in 2007, and all but two of those hitters (Chipper Jones and Chase Utley) did it while playing at least 20 more games than Soriano did that season.

Soriano followed up his superstar 2007 with an elite 2008 campaign that was marred by injuries. In only 109 games, Soriano racked up 4.1 WAR and 29 home runs. If he had played the same number of games in 2008 as he did in 2007, his WAR would have eclipsed 5.0. Both years, Soriano provided the Cubs with really good defense from left field and a strong throwing arm—much stronger than most would expect from a former second baseman.

Just as in 2007, Soriano was a key cog in the Cubs; dominant 2008 season that saw them again win the NL Central. (While Soriano certainly helped the Cubs reach the postseason in 2007 and 2008 with his combined 11.1 WAR, his playoff contributions in the six games (29 plate appearances) consisted of just three singles and a walk.)

Despite their postseason failures in 2007 and 2008, the Cubs were still in strong “win-now” shape heading into 2009. They signed Milton Bradley as their token lefty power bat who could walk (something the Cubs desperately needed) following his two strong seasons with the Rangers and A’s/Padres. The Cubs also were going to receive a “full” season of Rich Harden who, while quite injury-prone, had been downright dominant for the Cubs down the stretch in 2008.

The 2009 season, however, did not work out for the Cubs. It seemed that almost every player hit the DL at some point, while poor seasons from Geovany Soto, Bradley, Harden, and Soriano (he hit .241/.303/.423 following a combined .291/.340/.547 triple-slash line the previous two seasons) led to disappointment on the North Side. Most forget that the Cubs were in first place in the NL Central as late in the season as August. Instead, fans remember only the volatility of Bradley and the poor season by Soriano.

It was at this point that the “he’s overpaid” narrative began to appear in the popular press, as Bradley’s signing became even more questionable. I think the Bradley contract controversy spilled over onto Soriano and his 2009 struggles; a perfect media storm of questionable contracts (Kosuke Fukudome being another) and sentiment on the North Side turning against Hendry’s failure to produce a World Series winner fueled the “worst contract in baseball” narrative.

To be sure, several baseball writers criticized Soriano’s back-loaded contract from the start, arguing that the Cubs would regret it after several years. However, the contract put the Cubs in a strong contending position from 2007-2009. Before 2009, fans proudly wore their Soriano jerseys. He was a popular star, and had the Cubs made it to the Series one of those years, I doubt so many would call the signing a total flub the way most writers do in hindsight these days.

The numbers

First, let’s look at the raw production of Soriano during his tenure with the Cubs through the end of August 2012.

Wins wOBA wRC+ FRAR HR
2007 7.0 0.380 123 33.2 33
2008 4.1 0.374 121 16.2 29
2009 0.0 0.314 84 -2.9 20
2010 3.1 0.353 113 5.1 24
2011 1.3 0.325 99 3.4 26
2012 3.2 0.342 110 13.6 24
TOTAL 18.7 0.349 109 68.6 156
AVERAGE 3.1 0.349 109 11.4 26

A quick glance at Soriano’s six-season WAR totals with the Cubs reveals one bona fide superstar season, another elite season cut short by injury, two All-Star seasons (one still in progress), a disappointing, below-average season, and a replacement-level season. There has been much more good than bad, and Soriano’s average season production on the Cubs is pretty darn respectable: 3.1 WAR with a .348 wOBA that, adjusted for park factors, has been eight percent better than the major league average player’s offensive output.

Further, contrary to popular opinion, Soriano has been a defensive asset for the Cubs. Take 2012 as evidence. After averaging about seven errors a year with the Cubs, Soriano is the only outfielder this year with zero errors in at least 150 chances. While Soriano is unlikely the three-win defender he was in 2007, he is just as unlikely the negative defender he was in his disastrous 2009 campaign.

Fielding metrics are notoriously fickle in small sample sizes, even in single seasons. Usually you need at least three years of data before you can say something somewhat reliable about a player’s defensive talent. UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) is a flawed sabermetric tool, but it is a better defensive yardstick than fielding percentage.

Soriano’s fielding value per 150 games played (UZR/150) over the past six seasons combined rates at an elite +15.5 runs over more than 6,100 inning. That leads all qualified major league outfielders, as does his aggregate fielding runs above replacement (FRAR) value of +68.5.

Soriano’s arm is also surprisingly strong given that he was a second baseman for almost his entire career before coming to the Cubs. Only Jeff Francoeur, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Adam Jones and Hunter Pence have higher rated arms according to Fangraphs.

These numbers are all relative to the “replacement level” player; that is, how much better Soriano has been than the best guy in Triple-A in any given season. Compared to the average major league player (subtracting two wins from each of Soriano’s seasons and zeroing out any season that would have produced negative value), Soriano still has produced 9.3 wins above average in his time with the Cubs.

Before we move on, it is essential to note that no one is claiming Soriano’s production has been elite over the past six years. He is not even top 50 in cumulative WAR since 2006 among qualified hitters. However, a player does not need to be the best in order to be worth a lot, and this is the key theme.

Taking stock of Soriano’s value as a Cub—by season and cumulatively, according to WAR—the next step is to put a dollar value on a “free agency win” for each season of Soriano’s contract. The value of free agency wins is different from the average value of a win because service time-controlled players make less under the arbitration process than free agents do.

According to THT’s Dave Studenman, the value of a free agency win in 2007 was $5.1 million. Per Fangraphs’ calculations before it added stats that measured baserunning, a free agency win was worth $4.1 million in 2007. Let’s split the difference and say it was $4.6 million. We need to account for the increased cost of a win from 2008-2012, so let’s peg it at 10 percent per season. This would be about in line with Fangraphs’ free agency win value inflation rate by season between 2002 and 2008 and would put the 2008 free agency win value at close to $5 million.

However, for the sake of argument, let’s give major league teams the benefit of the doubt when it comes to smarter signings and better dollar expenditures and keep the dollar value of a win constant at $5 million from 2008 to 2012, ignoring inflation entirely after year one. Keep in mind we are using values scaled to Fangraphs’ WAR system, not any other WAR system such as the ones calculated by Baseball-Reference or Baseball Prospectus.

Using a $4.6 million free agency win value for 2007 and a constant $5 million free agency win value from 2008-2012, we get the following “value chart” (assuming the entirety of his signing bonus was paid in 2007 and pro-rating his 2012 salary through the end of August for Soriano’s contract to date).

Year Wins Win Value Dollar Value Contract Price Net (DV-CP)
2007 7.0 $4.6 $32.2 $17.0 $15.2
2008 4.1 $5.0 $20.5 $13.0 $7.5
2009 0.0 $5.0 $0.0 $18.0 -$18.0
2010 3.1 $5.0 $15.5 $18.0 -$2.5
2011 1.3 $5.0 $6.5 $18.0 -$11.5
2012 3.2 $5.0 $16.0 $15.0 $1.0
TOTAL 18.7 $90.7 $99.0 -$8.3
AVERAGE 3.1 $15.1 $17.0 -$1.4

We find that Soriano’s aggregate “overpay” to date calculates to around $8.3 million. That averages out to just under $1.4 million per season. But here’s the kicker: $8.3 million over six seasons would be the value of the overpay to the average major league team. The value of a marginal win to a playoff contender is considerably higher than it is to a non-contending team. Teams stand to gain substantial additional revenue from reaching the playoffs through additional ticket sales, additional concession sales, potential TV deals, marketing, additional branded product sales, etc. I have seen the average additional value of a playoff win range between $1 and $2 million. Let’s cut the difference at $1.5 million dollars and apply it to the Cubs’ contending seasons. But which seasons?

Without a doubt, the Cubs were a contending team in 2007 and 2008. Soriano’s hot bat was one of the main reasons the Cubs ultimately downed the Brewers to win the NL Central in 2007, while his four-plus win production in 2008 surely helped the team clinch the division again. For most of the year, 2009 was also a contending season for the Cubs, who were in first place in the NL Central standings as late as August.

On the flip side, no one is going to argue the Cubs were in any sort of competition for a playoff seed in 2011 or 2012, as they have not even had a .500 record in any of the past three seasons.

But what of 2010?

On one hand, the Cubs were never above .500 that season. On the other hand, following a collapse in 2009, it seemed the Cubs were poised to again compete for a playoff seed. By my bullish homer projections for the “last chance season” of the Chicago Cubs, the roster had the talent to potentially win 90 games in 2010 if 2009 were to repeat itself without the bad luck of injury and a dead-cat bounce from Soriano.

Obviously, hindsight tells us the Cubs were about as close to a contender in 2010 as Marlon Brando was in On The Waterfront. However, hindsight does not mean the Cubs were not spending with foresight as a potential contender. To try to neutralize my homer bias, I will not consider 2010 a “contending spending” season for the Cubs. That gives us three years of contending spending and three seasons of regular spending for the Cubs.

Adjusting the above chart data to reflect the additional marginal value of a win to a playoff contender, here is what happens to that original $8.3 million dollar overpay in a vacuum:

Year Wins Win Value Dollar Value Contract Price Net (DV-CP)
2007 7.0 $6.1 $42.7 $17.0 $25.7
2008 4.1 $6.5 $26.7 $13.0 $13.7
2009 0.0 $6.5 $0.0 $18.0 -$18.0
2010 3.1 $5.0 $15.5 $18.0 -$2.5
2011 1.3 $5.0 $6.5 $18.0 -$11.5
2012 3.2 $5.0 $16.0 $18.0 -$2.0
TOTAL 18.7 $107.4 $102.0 $5.3
AVERAGE 3.1 $17.9 $17.0 $0.9

Factoring in the value of free agency-purchased wins to a playoff contender, we see that Soriano has actually produced slightly positive value for the team. By these calculations, Soriano has been worth a little over $5 million in surplus value to the Cubs to date.

Even if we slash the marginal playoff value of a free agency win to an additional $1 million (as opposed to $1.5 million), Soriano’s contract value would be a wash relative to his cost. Using the $1.5 million figure, Soriano’s been worth just under a million dollars more per year on average for the Cubs than he has been paid by them (admitted, two-third of this surplus value is fueled by his 2007 and 2008 seasons).

Thus, by these calculations, Soriano is not only not grossly overpaid by the Cubs, he is not really overpaid at all. He’s likely been paid market value or slightly under market value for his services.

Of course, Soriano’s past production is not going to help any team that would acquire him in the future, which is a sticking point in negotiations for a player set to make $36 million over the final two seasons of his contract. But from the standpoint of the Cubs, Soriano is hardly the “overpaid bum” fans and media make him out to be.

The future

Let’s assume for a moment that my analysis is correct. Is it really likely that Soriano will continue to produce in his age-37 and age-38 seasons to justify being paid $18 million per year?

Frankly, the answer is probably no.

Standard aging curve projections for players past their peak tend to assume a 0.5 win falloff per season. With Soriano on pace for a 3.8 win campaign this season, that would mean that Soriano could be projected to produce 3.3 wins in 2013 and 2.8 wins in 2014.

Given that Soriano is on the wrong side of 35, however, let’s be a little more bearish and say that Soriano could be worth a total of five wins over the next two seasons as a left fielder. If we hold the value of a free agency win constant at $5 million, that would peg Soriano’s expected rest-of-contract value at $25 million—or $11 million shy of the $36 million he is still owed.

The first thing to note about that $11 million is that it should be offset by the $5 million in surplus value that Soriano has likely produced for the Cubs to date. If the Cubs were to try to move Soriano, they could eat that $5 million before giving away more than they have gotten. That leaves approximately $6 million dollars in “overpay” value to consider.

On one hand, if the Cubs were to trade Soriano to a contending team, that $6 million could easily be made up for by the marginal value of a win to a playoff contender. If a win is worth between $1 and $2 million additional dollars to a team trying to, and capable of, making the playoffs, then Soriano’s projectable five win production in 2013 and 2014 would cover the “overpay” in and of itself.

On the other hand, if the Cubs were to keep Soriano, that $6 million dollars is arguably offset by the surplus value of the David DeJesus signing. DeJesus got off to a very slow start to the season, but he is still on pace to produce somewhere in the 2.0-2.5 WAR range, which would put his contract surplus value at almost $5 million this season alone. DeJesus’ contract gives the Cubs additional financial flexibility with respect to Soriano without leaving a hole in left field (at least once Brett Jackson is here to stay).

It is also worth considering that Soriano provides value to the Cubs off the field, although measuring the value of these contributions to the organization is impossible. “Intangibles” have been a fun poking point ever since the Fire Joe Morgan era came and went, but as overvalued as things such as leadership, grittiness and “playing the game right” may have been traditionally, these things do have some value to the organization’s public image and internal workings.

By all accounts, Soriano is the kind of guy who leads by example and plays the game right; he is a true baseball professional. He arrives early to spring training. Some call him the “hardest-working guy in the clubhouse“. He mentors young players and even plays a role in the team signing its young cost-controlled players to long term deals. He donates money to charity and is spending his money to help provide meals to children in impoverished areas of the Dominican Republic. He takes his “boos” in stride when he is not producing. He genuinely loves Chicago. Heck, as my father likes to point out, he even “wears his socks right.”

Those qualities may not contribute to a team’s end-of-season win total, but they certainly help project a positive public image for the Cubs, it provides the team with leadership by example, and it gives the organization a positive role model for kids in an era of sports still tainted by steroids. That kind of public image marketing is not cheap.

But even ignoring all these caveats, off-sets and justifications against calling that last $6 million (or $11 million, if you want to call call Soriano’s contract-to-date a wash) on Soriano’s contract an overpay, that all pro-rates to $750,000 of overpay per year ($1.4 million if the contract-to-date has been a wash).

While three-quarters of a million bucks may not be “chump change,” when viewed through the lens of major league baseball that is barely more money than the cost of adding a quad-A player to the major league roster. Is overpaying Soriano by that amount for eight seasons really that outlandish for a franchise that is trying to buy a win-now window after what is now over 100 years since the last time it won a World Series?

Concluding thoughts

Soriano’s career is tainted by unfair popular media rhetoric. His defense is criticized, but unfairly. His contract is called one of the worst in baseball, yet he’s been one of the rare $100-million contract players who arguably has been worth his contract.

His contract might be unmovable for a variety of reasons (Soriano wants to stay in Chicago, other teams do not or cannot eat the cost of his contract, etc.), but from the standpoint of what the Cubs paid for and what the Cubs have gotten to date, Soriano gets a bum rap.

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Comments

  1. Ian R. said...

    Interesting. It seems that everyone in the baseball universe is convinced that Soriano is a bad fielder, and if you believe that’s true, he’s definitely overpaid. If you trust UZR (which, over that sample size, I do) he looks like a very very good player.

    So while the narrative about his being overpaid may be overblown, it does make quite a lot of sense.

  2. dcsmyth1 said...

    Yes, watch the games!

    I’ve seen most of Sori’s games since he joined the Cubs. In his first year he had a string of baserunner kills. This year he hasn’t made an error.  I ascribe that to luck, that he simply hasn’t had balls that were easy to bobble, etc. Maybe he has genuinely improved a bit this year. But he has never been a good fielder. In fact he has been laughably bad most of the time. I believe he has one of the very worst performances in the Dewan Misplays/Good Plays stat.

  3. Paul G. said...

    I only have a general understanding of WAR and I don’t really know the different ways to calculate it, so forgive me if I insert a howler here.  But the way I see it the baseball-reference.com WAR and the FanGraphs WAR are so starkly different that it is almost like they are not rating the same player.  First, links here:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/soriaal01.shtml

    http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=847&position=2B/OF

    If you compare the two versions, they are very similar for the pre-Cubs era: BR 17.9 WAR, FG 19.9 WAR.  But once you get to Chicago… I won’t try to describe it.  Here are the totals:

    FG: 18.9 WAR
    BR: 5.5 WAR (!?!)

    Just a bit of a difference here.  Needless to say, 5.5 WAR over 6 seasons would make him just a bit overpaid.

    Part of the difference is BR has a couple of negative WAR seasons including an abysmal -1.8 in 2009, the year FG gave him a 0.  (Does FG not do negative WAR?  The FG components are all negative and far below replacement so it appears they do cap at 0.)  But that’s really a minor point as FG WAR is, on average, 2.2 WAR higher than BR per season since he signed with the Cubs.  Take out the negatives and it is 1.9.  That’s a pretty huge difference.  That’s the difference between a solid everyday player and a warm body. 

    Best I can tell this difference is primarily fielding. FG rates him as a good to decent defensive outfielder and BR sees him as a horrible hack the past 4 campaigns.  It appears that fielding ratings continue to entertain a difference of opinions to put it mildly.

    Are such big differences in WAR common or did I just find an oddity here?

  4. Mike Zorn said...

    Jeffrey,
    As a fellow lifelong Cub fan I appreciate all the intangibles you note and am happy to see the bounce back season (switch to the lighter bat??).  I’ve always thought the way fangraphs rates was such a disconnect with reality hey should take another look at their ratings.  37 errors in 6 years is similar to Adam Dunn in his glory days in LF. He visibilty is hurting running on those knees and I have a hard time believing with that lack of range and error total all those assists and thing we “don’t see” offset what Steve Phillips, John and I do.

    Thanks,
    Mike

  5. Paul G. said...

    Jeffrey: I can appreciate that.  And I did do some research so I have a better grasp of fWAR, bWAR, and WARP.  But all three versions of WAR are supposed to be measuring the same thing and they simply do not agree on Soriano’s value.  Here’s the Baseball Prospectus page:

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/card/card.php?id=1608

    And here’s the current WAR totals before the Cubs and with the Cubs for each version:

    fWAR: 20.2 / 19.0
    bWAR: 17.9 /  5.7
    WARP: 19.5 / 12.1

    So, if you were to do the same analysis with bWAR and WARP, how does the contract shape up?

  6. mando3b said...

    Very interesting article. As a Cubs fan, I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about “Fonzie”: when he’s hot, he’s white hot, but when he’s cold, he can be frigid. And while his defense is perhaps under-valued, he’s never been confused with Willie Mays out there. But he’s a nice guy, his team mates like him, and he plays hard. Is Soriano worth all that money? Your analysis says he is, and I believe you. I think the problem Cub fans have with his contract is more an expression of intense dislike for Jim Hendry, the GM who gave it to him: I think the consensus is that he screwed the roster up completely with some of his moves and got too much money tied up in too few players whose play did not justify it.

  7. MikeS said...

    I’m going to chime in on the side of the “watch the games” crew.

    If UZR thinks Soriano is a good defensive outfielder, it is more an indictment of UZR than an indication of Soriano’s defensive skill.  He takes bad routes, gets bad jumps and blatantly misplayes balls.  His arm and (previously) his speed made up for that a little, but it is painful to watch him field.  Much of his value seems to be derived from defense so if UZR is wrong, as many people believe in this particular case, then he has been overpayed.  Other defensive regimens like defensive runs saved and baseball referrence’s metrics have him as a very negative defensive player.

  8. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @MikeS

    Thats like claiming that wOBA is faulty because it values the skills of a player with a sub-.300 batting average. UZR measures many components of a player’s defensive skills. For all of Fonzy’s errors, his arm and overall range seems strong enough to more than make up for other faults he has.

    Six years of data is a pretty large sample. Soriano over that sample rates very highly. Further, he’s rated positively in all but one season and rated elitely in half of those seasons.

    “Your eyes” and “I watch the games” are not a defensive metric, and “errors” are infinitely more flawed than UZR

  9. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Paul,

    I do not have $/WAR numbers for B-Ref handy, and am not personally aware of anyone who do to do the necessary scaling and number crunching.

    Suffice it to say, as the article mentions, B-Ref and Fangraphs calculate WAR on a different scale and using different base metrics. Fangraphs uses the wOBA scale invented by Tom Tango for batting, and UZR for fielding.

    Sean smith’s work is the basis of most of B-Ref’s advance metric calculations if memory serves

  10. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Following up on my previous reply to Adam S,

    There is simply not enough “ready MLB talent” in the minor leagues that every team can just avoid the FA market. Yes, in theory, the value of a win to a non-contending team is less than it is “on average.” However, you can’t just buy wins at a discount because you do not value them. In theory you can—by buying the “low risk” guys or “guys off a bad season”—but those purchases go into the calculations and they are lottery tickets. The essential point is you cannot really buy wins without adding your production/bust risk at a discount in the free market. All team of all Quad-A players supposedly would win approximately 35 games if memory serves. With losses that high, the marginal value of a win certainly rises on the basis of lost concessions alone.

  11. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Now again, this is not to say UZR is the be-all-end-all, but rather that the probability that Soriano is a “bad fielder” is very unlikely.

  12. Jeffrey Gross said...

    n re-reading the above, I must note that I forgot to mention the Cubs’ signing of Ted Lilly. I totally blanked there; my mistake.

    Aramis Ramirez was an intentional omission. Anyone who thinks the Cubs were legitimately pondering letting him leave in 2007 is delusional.

  13. hopbitters said...

    FWIW, FRAA has Soriano at +13 from 2007 through 2011, mostly based on his effort in 2007. I think part of the problem with Soriano is that he’s shown the potential to be a strong offensive force (2002, 2003, 2006) and a strong defensive force (2007), but he’s never been consistent on either end and never put both elements together in one season.

  14. hopbitters said...

    Sorry, I missed the FRAR numbers above. I was just intending to throw out another look at his defense. In any case, the variation is evident in whatever you metric and baseline you use. He has that potential, but rarely realizes it.

  15. MikeS said...

    In discounting people’s observations you are forgetting that the raw data from which UZR is calculated is collected by stringers. All defensive metrics are based on observations, not true outcomes. wOBA is based on more consistently measurable outcomes. A hitter hits a screaming liner in the gap that lands 30 feet from a fielder and ends up standing on second base, that’s a double. A fliner that lands 5 feet from an outfielder that got a bad jump? That one is a lot harder. It doesn’t happen enough to really affect overall wOBA in a 700 PAseason, but it happens far more frequently (rate wise) defensively which is why even 150 games is considered a small sample size for defensive stats.

    Also, you are ignoring the fact that by other defensive metrics, (DRS, whatever baseball reference uses) Soriano is a bad fielder. Why is UZR better than those? I’m not just being argumentative here, I’m genuinely curious.

    I also think it is important to point out that even if UZR is the best available defensive metric, we shouldn’t confuse “best available” with “good.”

  16. Brad Johnson said...

    @AdamS

    Assuming Nate Silver’s research in BBTN is still roughly applicable, teams earn roughly the same amount per win up until around #86. Between #86 and 99 they earn way more (the $1.5MM estimate Jeff uses).

    So for the purposes of a back of the envelope analysis, we should not expect the 2011-12 wins to be worth less. At least not enough to be worth including in the model.

    Keep in mind, this isn’t aimed at being a nuanced analysis, it’s just some chicken scratch to say maybe you all need to reconsider some things. I think the article accomplishes that.

    Frankly, I’m inclined to simply disagree with UZR and discount his defensive scores entirely, which I know isn’t very scientific of me, but a hefty positive performance is not passing ANY smell tests.

  17. Jeffrey Gross said...

    hopbitters,

    Single season fielding data is inherently unreliable. As I note in the article,

    “Fielding metrics are notoriously fickle in small sample sizes, even in single seasons. Usually you need at least three years of data before you can say something somewhat reliable about a player’s defensive talent.”

    That is why the six year figure is a better data point than any individual season which has high degrees of variance. I only present the individual season numbers out of completeness. In all honesty, I should be prorating the six year aggregate number by GP and apply that to each season. Regardless, that would not change the overall analysis one bit because I used the aggregate six year figures in my valuations

  18. Jeffrey Gross said...

    To the comment “I also think it is important to point out that even if UZR is the best available defensive metric, we shouldn’t confuse “best available” with “good.””

    I would like to point out I say this exact thing in my article and i’ve said it again in the comments above. I’m not saying UZR is right. I’m saying UZR is a good metric over large samples and his six-year rating means “he is bad” is unlikely.

    As for DRS measurements, I do not know how they are calculated so I cannot speak to how they are scaled, measured, etc. Is it scaled against average fielders? Replacement level fielders? Considering the fangraphs WAR is scaled to use wOBA and UZR and has more transparency, and literature and availability on the calculations I went in that direction.

  19. Jeffrey Gross said...

    To the question I received about it being “silly” that I used 2012 as the aging curve jumping point rather than his 2010-12 performance, the analysis remains largely unchanged:

    2010-12: .340 wOBA, 108 wRC+ (versus 109 using 2007-2012), cumulative +8.1 WAR

    That rates out to about 2.8+ WAR per season, changes the analysis by a few million bucks max.

  20. peter said...

    You are also not taking into account that the success of the 2007 and 2008 teams greatly increased the value of the team.  While the cubs may not have gotten a great return on the big contracts they signed during Hendry’s run, the Tribune certainly did.

  21. Mario Sanchez said...

    I’ll discuss the “Watch the games” comment. Soriano’s early value on defense was mostly his arm. As mentioned, he took bad routes and had late jumps. Also, he admittedly was afraid of the wall at home and on the road so he noticable slowed when backing up on fly balls. Bob Brenly infamously stated “You could throw a dart into the third base dugout” and find a better left fielder.

    This season, Soriano has been noticably better on defense. He no longer seems afraid of the wall as he took a home run away from Andrew McCutcheon on Friday in Pittsburgh, made a catch crashing into the wall recently (I can’t remember if it was in Washington or home at Wrigley) and earlier this season ranged from left center to make a fine catch in the left field corner at Wrigley. All of these plays are ones he wouldn’t have made in 2007 or 2008. In all of those cases Brenly noted the improvement in Soriano’s defense. Right now, even with the bad knee, he seems like a much improved outfielder, a slightly above average defensive left fielder.

    So yes, I agree, watch the games. And, surprise, you might find the games match the data.

  22. Adam S said...

    If Soriano’s wins are each worth $1.5M MORE in 2007-2009 when the Cubs are contenders, aren’t they worth a lot LESS in 2011-2012 when the Cubs are hopelessly out of contention?  Seems like you give him credit for being on a good team but don’t penalize him for being on a bad team, which is in part bad because they’re paying $18M to a 2 WAR player.

  23. Jacob said...

    That’s a coincedence – I did this same exercise last night, only I looked at BB-Ref WAR and concluded Soriano was indeed an albatross.

    This was actually quite disconcerting. Thing is, I’m a closet Soriano fan. I don’t get why everybody always writes him off and calls him overrated. This has been a constant throughout his career. In fact, the impetus behind my search was a re-read of the Baseball Prospectus ‘99 guide over the weekend, where they were hyping D’Angelo Jimenez and downing Soriano – both Yankees prospects back then.

    For some reason, Soriano has always attracted negativity, presumably because he isn’t much of a OBP type of guy. Remember how the interwebs howled when Washington swapped him for Brad Wilkerson?

  24. Jeffrey gross said...

    Adam:

    That logic is faulty. You dont pay less for food just because you are not as hungry as the other people in the grocery store. Teams just can’t “not buy” wins if they want people to come to the park at all. Market prices are market prices. It just so happens surplus value over market comes into play for contenders.

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