FanPost

So You Wanna Sign a Big Bat? In Search of Patterns from Last Year's Marquee Free Agent Hitters

We need bats. Bats cost a lot. So should Sandy spend all his dough on a single bat that could be a piece for the anticipated 2015/2016 "win-window"? Even if it means treading water on the rest of the 2014 roster and risks underperformance in the out-years? Or should he beg for patience yet again from a dispirited fan base?

If he goes for the big kahuna, what kind of hitter should it be? A top guy that requires 5-6 years or a lesser pedigree that you might get for 2-3 years but is less of a risk of becoming a long-term albatross?

Does last season's hitter market offer any lessons? Let's take a look.

Below are the eleven position players (including DH) that signed FA contracts with an AAV of $10m or more.

Player

Years

Total Value

AAV

2013 Season Age

Josh Hamilton

5

$125m

$25m

31

B.J. Upton

5

$75m

$15m

28

Nick Swisher

4

$56m

$14m

32

Torii Hunter

2

$26m

$13m

37

David Ortiz

2

$26m

$13m

37

Shane Victorino

3

$39m

$13m

32

Kevin Youklis

1

$12m

$12m

34

Adam LaRoche

2

$24m

$12m

33

Michael Bourn

4

$48m

$12m

30

Lance Berkman

1

$11m

$11m

37

Angel Pagan

4

$40m

$10m

31

$13.636m

32.9

We find that there was one mega-deal in Josh Hamilton's 5/$125m, another 5 year deal that gave BJ Upton a $15m AAV followed by seven deals that AAV'd $12-$14m, one $11m AAV and one $10m AAV.

Two of the eleven were for single years, three were for two seasons, one for three seasons, three for four years and the two five year deals that went to Upton and Hamilton.

So how did those shiny new toys turn out? Let's look at their career fWAR prior to signing the deal, the fWAR they delivered in 2013, plate appearances, the cost/2013 fWAR and finally their Steamer prediction for 2014.

Player

AAV

2013 Age

Prior Career fWAR

2013 PAs

2013 fWAR

Cost per fWAR

Steamer 2014

Josh Hamilton

$25m

31

24.3

621

1.9

$13.16m

2.6

B.J. Upton

$15m

28

21.9

446

-0.6

Neg fWAR

1.1

Nick Swisher

$14m

32

25.3

635

2.4

$5.83m

2.9

Torii Hunter

$13m

37

40

652

2.5

$5.2m

1.9

David Ortiz

$13m

37

37

600

3.8

$3.42m

2.8

Shane Victorino

$13m

32

24.8

532

5.6

$2.32m

3.3

Kevin Youklis

$12m

34

28.8

118

-0.4

Neg fWAR

1.4

Adam LaRoche

$12m

33

10.2

590

0.9

$13.33m

1.2

Michael Bourn

$12m

30

19.7

575

2

$6m

2.6

Lance Berkman

$11m

37

56

294

-0.2

Neg fWAR

1

Angel Pagan

$10m

31

13

305

1.3

$7.69m

2.7

$13.636m

32.9

27.4

488

1.7

$7.81m

2.1

The contracts have been ordered from highest AAV to lowest. So the guys at the top of the list should have delivered better performances. So how about those performances?

Well, the best that can be said is that all but three made at least 440 plate appearances. After that it's a very mixed bag.

The one bona-fide great season came from every Mets fans out-of-town favorite (ital = sarc font) . . . Shane Victorino who posted 5.6 fWAR for the World Champion Red Sox who paid a mere $2.3 million/Victorino fWAR.

The next best performance was also found on the Red Sox and came from David Ortiz and his 3.8 fWAR at a cost of $3.4m/fWAR. So it turns out that if you sign a couple of high-dollar free agents that deliver you can win a World Series. No shock there. Of course Ortiz was a re-sign, the David Wright of the Red Sox if you will. What about the other guys?

Three of the eleven managed to post 2-2.5 fWARs at a cost of $5.2m-$5.8m/fWAR for their clubs. They were Torii Hunter, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Good values all - less that the $7m/fWAR some suggest is the going rate - but not exactly the type of season's that can lift a team out of mediocrity. But that's only five guys out of eleven. Could over half of them actually been below average?

Yep.

Josh Hamilton was just shy of average (1.9 fWAR) for $25m and Angel Pagan at least was above 1.0 fWAR (1.3fWAR). Hamilton's production cost over $12.5m/fWAR while Pagan was $7.7m/fWAR though injuries meant he only logged 305 plate appearances. If he can remain healthy he showed he still had the tools to deliver very good value.

Now it's time to close your eyes. Four of the eleven were bombs. Adam LaRoche posted 0.9 fWAR for his twelve-million clams. BJ Upton, Kevin Youklis and Lance Berkman all posted negative value while earning $10m or more.

So are there lessons to be learned?

Is a long track-record of success the key? Lance Berkman lapped everyone with 56 career fWAR but at age 37 his body betrayed him, he only logged 56 pate appearances and delivered negative value. Now he's likely to retire.

The next two guys with elite careers were Torii Hunter (40 career fWAR) and David Ortiz (37) and they were two of the top three performers despite both being 37. And both were had for identical 2/$26m deals. Not the type of deal that would help the Mets beyond the first year of what we hope to be a new win-window. And it's hard to imagine that digging back several years that there wouldn't be several cases of 37-year old stars suddenly falling off a cliff. I'm going to call small-sample bias on that one.

Next was Youklis (28.8 career fWAR) who was injured and posted negative (-0.4) fWAR value. Then there were four players whose career fWAR fell in a narrow band (21.9 - 25.3) in BJ Upton, Nick Swisher, Hamilton & Victorino. That group features the best (Victorino) two average to slightly above guys (Hamilton 1.9 and Swisher 2.4) and the worst (Upton).

The remaining three guys with the lowest career to date fWAR ranged from LaRoche (10.2 career/0.9 in 2013), Pagan (13.9 career/1.3 in 2013) and Bourn (19.7 career/2.0 in 2013). No superstar 2013's here but no abject failures either.

How about age? Of the four bombs one (BJ Upton - 28) was the youngest player, one was 33, one 34 and one was tied for oldest at 37. But as we noted earlier, the other two 37 year-olds were Torii Hunter and David Ortiz who posted 2.5 & 3.8 fWAR respectively. And the two next youngest guys were nearly exactly average:. Bourn (30 yrs. old - 2.0 fWAR) and Josh Hamilton (31 years old - 1.9 fWAR).

But given this season's free agents seem to be dominated by 31 and 32 year olds let's take a quick look at that subset.

Player

AAV

2013 Season Age

Prior Career fWAR

PAs

2013 fWAR

AAV Cost/WAR

Steamer 2014

Josh Hamilton

$25,000,000

31

24.3

621

1.9

$13,157,895

2.6

Nick Swisher

$14,000,000

32

25.3

635

2.4

$5,833,333

2.9

Shane Victorino

$13,000,000

32

24.8

532

5.6

$2,321,429

3.3

Angel Pagan

$10,000,000

31

13.9

305

1.3

$7,692,308

2.7










$15,500,000

31.5

22.1

523.3

2.8

$5,535,714

2.9

Are we on to something here? Maybe - but is it enough? When viewed collectively this group averaged 2.8 fWAR for an average of $5.5m/fWAR. Nothing wrong with that - but remove Victorino's star season and the other three average 1.4 fWAR with an asterisk for Pagan being out with injury. But then again, some guys always get injured . . . But at least Steamer likes these guys - it pegs them all to post between 2.6 and 3.3 fWAR in 2014. Of course, I'd love to see what Steamer said about these guys 12 months ago . . .

The only lesson that really leaps out is to sign the guy that your hard-core fan base finds most offensive - with bonus points if he's Hawaiian.

Actually, the biggest take away that I see is that "sure things" are fewer and further apart than I would have guessed.

  • Eleven guys averaging $13m+ wound up delivering an average of 1.7 fWAR .
  • Last season there was an equal 36% chance of getting a 2.4 or better fWAR player as there was of getting a 0.9 or negative fWAR player.
  • There was a 27% chance you signed a guy that created negative value.
  • There was an 18% chance of getting a guy to post an outstanding fWAR of 3.8 or 5.6.

Of course with a sample size of eleven a translation to percentages serves to overstate both the good and bad of a sample. The again, the $10m AAV hitters market probably doesn't ever get to a reliable sample size in a given year. If I can find the time and a resource I might try to re-do this with a three year sample. I know that 2012 would pick up Pujols deal but off the top of my head have no idea whether or not the outcome would be much different.

So where does that leave Sandy? So much depends on whether the Wilpon's have given him a three year budget that expands the pie substantially for 2015/2016. Without knowing that it's hard to know what's an acceptable risk. If the longer-term mediocre to failure rate for high-dollar hitters is similar to 2013 then I'd again look hard at taking out a mortgage for Cano. If there's a one in three chance you're going to strike out - try to give yourself a one in three chance of hitting a home run. But with the recent reports of active negotiations with the Yanks that option may not be on the table. Is it time for Sandy to double-down on the trade market? If not maybe he needs to take a page from the Beatles songbook and Koo-Koo-Ka-Choo.

This FanPost was contributed by a member of the community and was not subject to any vetting or approval process. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions, reasoning skills, or attention to grammar and usage rules held by the editors of this site.

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