FanPost

Finding Average Outfielders - Not as Easy as You'd Think

Having rooted for a team that's managed to play .500 baseball for the last 60 games it's easy to get excited about the coming off-season in the hopes that a few shrewd moves could position the Mets for a 2014 playoff run.

A recurrent theme is that the club will need to upgrade the outfield in addition to filling other needs. It's not an uncommon perception to believe that suitable free-agent outfielders are abundant. So, this line of thinking goes, finding free agent upgrades for the outfield shouldn't require too much heavy lifting on Sandy's part.

I figured I'd take a look at last seasons free-agent outfielder class to see if we can glean any lessons as to whether or not this would have been the case last off-season.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, the 2012/2013 off-season saw 21 free agent outfielders sign big league contracts with new clubs while three re-signed w/their old club (Pagan, Ichrio & Granderson). Several others inked minor-league deals including Flushing's favorite - Marlon Byrd.

Here's a look at the guys that got big league deals:

Outfielder

Deal

Josh Hamilton

5/$125m

BJ Upton

5/$75m



Nick Swisher

4/$56m

Michael Bourn

4/$48m



Shane Victorino

3/$39m

Cody Ross

3/$26m



Torii Hunter

2/$26m

Melky Cabrera

2/$16m

Ryan Ludwick

2/$15m

Jonny Gomes

2/$10m

Scott Hairston

2/$5m



Raul Ibanez

1/$2.75m

Nate Schierholtz

1/$2.25m

Nate McLouth

1/$2m

Andres Torres

1/$2m

Reed Johnson

1/$1.75m

Juan Pierre

1/$1.6m

Matt Diaz

1/$1.2m

Jason Bay

1/$1m

Delmon Young

1/$750m

DeWayne Wise

1/$700k

As we can see, eleven of the twenty-one got multi-year deals though five were only two-year contracts while six got deals that lasted at least three years. Those are obviously the "elite" guys that are generally considered to still be in their prime and would be expected to provide above average production for a good chunk of their contract.

Right away it's clear to see that last off-season did not feature a ton of "elite" guys that clubs were clamoring to lock up for 3+ years. If a club wanted to fill two OF spots with that type of player they'd only have six to choose from.

Could you fill one of those slots with a guy only worthy of a 2-year deal? Sure. But if you're truly banking on upgrading your outfield via free-agency, you get a much greater risk of lack of production from that group.

Here are the same 21 outfielders along with their 2013 fWAR and fWAR rank among OFers for those w/300+ plate appearances.

Outfielder

Deal

2013 fWAR

Rank 300 PA+

Josh Hamilton

5/$125m

0.2

70

BJ Upton

5/$75m

0.0

72





Nick Swisher

4/$56m

1.6

1B-572/OF-131

Michael Bourn

4/$48m

1.8

42





Shane Victorino

3/$39m

3.4

11

Cody Ross

3/$26m

1.6

47





Torii Hunter

2/$26m

2.0

34

Melky Cabrera

2/$16m

-0.9

78

Ryan Ludwick

2/$15m

0.1

2 PA's

Jonny Gomes

2/$10m

0.9

296 PA's

Scott Hairston

2/$5m

-0.7

136 PA's





Raul Ibanez

1/$2.75m

0.5

68

Nate Schierholtz

1/$2.25m

2.1

29

Nate McLouth

1/$2m

2.4

22

Andres Torres

1/$2m

0.8

280 PAs

Reed Johnson

1/$1.75m

0.4

126 PAs

Juan Pierre

1/$1.6m

-0.4

296 PAs

Matt Diaz

1/$1.2m

-0.2

19 PAs

Jason Bay

1/$1m

-0.1

236 PAs

Delmon Young

1/$750m

-0.9

291 PAs

DeWayne Wise

1/$700k

0.1

66 PAs

Well as we just noted, once you get into the 2 year deal guys, you've got a pretty high risk of buying below average production as defined as 2.0 fWAR. Only Torii Hunter has already reached the 2.0 fWAR benchmark which means he's on pace for a 3fWAR season. None of the other five are even on pace to have "average" 2fWAR seasons. Two have negative fWAR, one has been injured all season and one has 0.9 fWAR in just under 300 PA's - if he were healthy he'd be on pace for 2.0 fWAR - but he's not.

So last off-season's 2-year guys would generally have been very affordable - but each and every one of them would be a downgrade from the season Marlon Byrd is currently posting. And only one of them has posted a better fWAR than Juan Lagares has in only 229 PAs.

In fact the 11 guys that got multi-year deals have combined to post all of 10fWAR!

But even among the guys that got deals for 3 years or longer there's only been one "star" - Shane Victorino who's posted a 3.4 fWAR to date. Every other guy is at least 0.6 fWAR behind Marlon Byrd! No one else even projects to reach 3 fWAR and the two biggest deals, Josh Hamilton & BJ Upton have been complete busts as a value proposition.

Let's re-organize our table and sort it by 2013 fWAR to date instead of contract size and see where the Mets 3 starting OFers fit in.

Outfielder

Deal

2013 fWAR

Rank 300 PA+

Shane Victorino

3/$39m

3.4

11

Marlon Byrd

Minor League

2.8

17

Nate McLouth

1/$2m

2.4

22

Nate Schierholtz

1/$2.25m

2.1

29

Torii Hunter

2/$26m

2.0

34

Michael Bourn

4/$48m

1.8

42

Nick Swisher

4/$56m

1.6

1B-572/OF-131

Cody Ross

3/$26m

1.6

47

Juan Lagares

League Min.

1.4

229 PAs

Jonny Gomes

2/$10m

0.9

296 PA's

Andres Torres

1/$2m

0.8

280 PAs

Raul Ibanez

1/$2.75m

0.5

68

Reed Johnson

1/$1.75m

0.4

126 PAs

Josh Hamilton

5/$125m

0.2

70

Ryan Ludwick

2/$15m

0.1

2 PA's

DeWayne Wise

1/$700k

0.1

66 PAs





BJ Upton

5/$75m

0.0

72





Jason Bay

1/$1m

-0.1

236 PAs

Matt Diaz

1/$1.2m

-0.2

19 PAs

Eric Young

League Min.

-0.2

74

Juan Pierre

1/$1.6m

-0.4

296 PAs

Scott Hairston

2/$5m

-0.7

136 PA's

Melky Cabrera

2/$16m

-0.9

78

Delmon Young

1/$750m

-0.9

291 PAs

Suddenly, it doesn't look like just signing a couple of free agent outfielders is much of a guarantee for improvement. You're just as likely to get lucky by taking a flyer on a 1-year guy as you are from someone on a multi-year deal.

But was last season a particularly weak class? This is already too long so I'm not going to go back in time but let's take a look at FA outfielders that will be available in the coming off-season according to MLBTR - age in parenthesis.


Jeff Baker (33)
Carlos Beltran (37)
Marlon Byrd (36)
Shin-Soo Choo (31)
Coco Crisp (34) - $7.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Nelson Cruz (33)
Rajai Davis (33)
David DeJesus (34) - $6.5MM club option with a $1.5MM buyout
Jacoby Ellsbury (30)
Curtis Granderson (33)
Franklin Gutierrez (31) - $7.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Corey Hart (32)
Austin Kearns (34)
Jason Kubel (32) - $7.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout

Nate McLouth (32)

Mike Morse (32)

David Murphy (32)

Hunter Pence (31)

Nate Schierholtz *

Andres Torres (36)
Chris Young (30) - $11MM club option with a $1.5MM buyout

There are several additional free agents to be that I'm taking the liberty of crossing off the list due to age or circumstances. It's not impossible that we'd sign one of the "cross-offs" but I'll suggest they can't reasonably be expected to be average performers. Sure we could get lucky a la Marlon Byrd but that would be by happenstance as opposed to design.

Alfredo Amezaga (36), Rick Ankiel (34), Jason Bay (35), Mark DeRosa (39) Matt Diaz (36), Jeff Francoeur (30), Tony Gwynn Jr. (31) - in AAA, Raul Ibanez (42), Reed Johnson (37) - $1.6MM club option with a $150K buyout, Nyjer Morgan (33), Xavier Nady (35), Laynce Nix (33), Juan Rivera (35), Delmon Young (28)

Schierholtz isn't listed on MLBTR list but both MLBTR & Cot's have him listed as on a one-year deal.

2013 Free Agent OF Class

2013 fWAR

Current/Projected

2013 wRC+

Career fWAR

Jacoby Ellsbury

4.3/6.0

115

22.1

Hunter Pence

3.4/4.8

118

22.6

Shin-Soo Choo

3.2/4.5

148

21.6

Marlon Byrd

2.8/3.9

128

17.6

Nate McLouth

2.4/3.4

112

10.3

Nate Schierholtz

2.1/2.9

126

6.6

Carlos Beltran

1.9/2.7

139

64.0

Coco Crisp

1.8/2.5

99

27.1

Corey Hart

2.2 (2012)

124 (2012)

15.2

Nelson Cruz

1.5/1.5(suspension)

123

13.3

Andres Torres

0.8/1.1

82

11.9

Top 11

26.4/35.5







Rajai Davis

0.7/1.0

86

6.3

Jeff Baker

0.5/0.7

172 (110 PAs)

2.5

David Murphy

0.5/0.7

76

10.5

Curtis Granderson

0.3/0.4

98

32.2

Franklin Gutierrez

0.2/0.3

139 (63 PAs)

13.1

Chris Young

0.1

80

14.6

Austin Kearns

0.0

41 (31 PAs)

18.1

Mike Morse

-0.4

105

3.8

Jason Kubel (option)

-1.4

71

3.0

Let's put the two classes side by side listed in descending order by prior year fWAR. Is one class much stronger than the other?

2012 Free Agent OF Class

2012 fWAR

2012 Free Agent OF Class

2013 fWAR

Michael Bourn

6.1

Jacoby Ellsbury

4.3/6.0

Torii Hunter

5.2

Hunter Pence

3.4/4.8

Melky Cabrera

4.5

Shin-Soo Choo

3.2/4.5

Josh Hamilton

4.2

Marlon Byrd

2.8/3.9

BJ Upton

3.9

Nate McLouth

2.4/3.4

Nick Swisher

3.8

Nate Schierholtz

2.1/2.9

Shane Victorino

2.9

Carlos Beltran

1.9/2.7

Cody Ross

2.3

Coco Crisp

1.8/2.5

Ryan Ludwick

2.6

Corey Hart

2.2 (2012)

Jonny Gomes

2.0

Nelson Cruz

1.5/1.5(suspension)

Scott Hairston

1.6

Andres Torres

0.8/1.1





Top 11

39.1

26.4/35.5

The 11 guys that got multi-year deals last off-season had combined for 39.1 fWAR the season before hitting the free agent market. The top 11 in this year's class project to accumulate 35.5 fWAR by season's end. So even if this year's class closes strong they're very unlikely to surpass the class of 2012.

What about stars vs. depth? Last year beats this year at every "slot" except #8 where it trails by 0.2 fWAR and slot #4 where it's a dead-heat. Again we're using projections and of course fWAR isn't perfect and is there really a difference between 0.2 fWAR etc. etc. etc. but ...

  • It seems safe to conclude that this year's free agent class is not measurably "stronger" than last year. It could be argued that the class of 2012 was stronger.
  • The class of 2012 has been a huge flop. The top 11 guys project to post a cumulative fWAR of 13.8 vs. the 39.1 they notched while "playing for their next contract."
  • If you want to land two above average OFers from the free agent pool - good luck. Only 4 of last seasons top 11 guys are on pace to break 2.0 fWAR. You're going to have to get lucky on a one-year guy and hope your long-term investment beats the odds.

This is not an argument against going after a free agent outfielder or two. It's more a caution that it may be a good idea to keep expectations in check. Tons of free agent guys back-slid after signing multi-year contracts - in fact all but 2 of the 11 will likely post much lower fWAR than the year before. It's also an exercise to see how much we're possibly "giving up" by rolling the dice on a Lagares or a Lagares/MDD job share etc. Looks to me like 2 fWAR outfielders are a lot tougher to buy on the market than you'd expect.



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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