Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bucco Bargains & Busts

With all the talk about the payroll, GW thought he'd pay a visit to Fangraphs and check out what the Pirates' 2009 performance was really worth. They place a free-market value on a player by his performance, as determined by his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) rating.

Here are some selected Pirates, showing their 2009 salary and then their Fangraphs value:

Paul Maholm (paid $3.5M; value $14.4M)
Akinora Iwamura (paid $3.25M; value $5.7M)
Matt Capps (paid $2.3M; value -$1.8M)
Zach Duke (paid $2.2M; value $11.2M)
Ryan Doumit (paid $2.05M; value $4.4M)
Ramon Vazquez (paid $1.875M; value $100K)
Ronny Cedeno (paid $822.5K; value -$2.8M)
Lastings Milledge (paid $452K; value $3.3M)
Joel Hanrahan (paid $420K; value $4.4M)
Brandon Moss (paid $414.5K; value $600K)
Andy LaRoche (paid $413.5K; value $11.4M)
Ross Ohlendorf (paid $413.5K; value $5M)
Kevin Hart ($407.5K; value $300K)
Steve Pearce ($407.5K; value -$2M)
Delwyn Young (paid $406K; value $400K)
Jose Ascanio (paid $405K; value $1M)
Charlie Morton (paid $405K; value $5.5M)
Brian Bixler (paid $404.K; value -$600K)
Luis Cruz (paid $401.5 K; value -$900K)
Phil Dumatrait (paid $401.5K; value -$3.2M)
Jeff Karstens (paid $401.5K; value $400K)
Robby Diaz (paid $401K; value $1.5M)
Virgil Vasquez (paid $401K; value $400K)
Evan Meek (paid $400.5; value $1.3M)
Steve Jackson (paid $400K; value $300K)
Jason Jaramillo (paid $400K; value $3M)
Garrett Jones (paid $400K; value $11.5M)
Andrew McCutchen (paid $400K; value $15.3M)
Donnie Veal (paid $400K; value -$1.2M)
Daniel McCutchen (paid $400K; value $200K)

First, a word of warning - Fangraphs values don't translate into what the player would get on the market to a tee, especially on the far ends of the curve.

We sorta doubt that Maholm is a $15M pitcher, McCutchen a $15M outfielder (although in a few years...?), or that Duke, LaRoche, or Jones would reel in $11M. And as much as GM's would love to write a clause that has underperforming players repay the team, that ain't gonna happen, either.

But it is a snapshot in time, and helps illustrate why the suits are so adamant about keeping players that are under their control, signing arbitration-eligible pups to team-friendly deals, and dumping guys approaching free agency.

And they do a good job of that; except for Ramon Vazquez, Ronny Cedeno, and the injured players, there's not a player earning above minimum wage that's anywhere near a bad (think Matty Mo) contract.

In fact, there are quite a few bargains - Maholm, Duke, Charlie Morton, Joel Hanrahan, Ross Ohlendorf, Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Andy LaRoche, Lastings Milledge, and Jason Jaramillo are all considerably outpacing their paycheck.

Of course, that's offset a bit thanks to guys, who according to Fangraphs, should be paying the team to play: Phil Dumatrait, Ronny Cedeno, Steve Pearce, Matt Capps, Luis Cruz, Donnie Veal, and Brian Bixler.

This list of 30 players is valued at $83.1M by Fangraphs; the actual payroll amount for them last year was $25.35M. That's how much team control means to a franchise's bottom line.

But team performance is a different matter. The Yankees got $252.2 worth of Fangraphs production from a payroll of $201.6M for their top 30 players.

In our division, the Cards got almost as much production - $219.9M - as the Bronx Bombers, and spent just $125.5M to get it. And that includes all of Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and John Smoltz's deals, plus the Redbirds basically eating the contracts of Julio Lugo, Troy Glaus, and Khalil Greene.

The difference in payroll shows why the Yankees are the big boys. Not only do they spend, but they tie up players. The Cards are looking at a boatload of free agents and retooling the 2010 club.

But it demonstrates, in a down and dirty, back-of-the-envelope way (What you expect, a MLB regression study? Hey, GW does have a day job, too!) that the higher the payroll, the higher the level of performance of the team, even though the gap between spending and producing tighten. No shocking news there.

And it shows how deep the Pirates have to dig into their pockets to match the rest of baseball if they want to compete with the alpha dogs.

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