An Act of Desperation

26 01 2011

Posted by BaconSlayer09

After watching the Red Sox ink Carl Crawford to a 7 year deal and the division rival Rangers sign Adrian Beltre to a 5 year contract, the Angels front office must have gotten a bit jealous.  While that’s understandable, by no means does it justify the actions that Tony Reagins and company pulled off this past weekend.  In a true move of desperation, the Angels took on the $86 million contract of Vernon Wells, one of the worst contracts in all of baseball, in exchange for Mike Napoli, Juan Rivera, and $5 million.

Vernon Wells bounced back in 2010 with a .362 wOBA. His highest mark since 2006.

It doesn’t matter how you view this trade, the bottom line is that the Angels made an incredibly irresponsible financial move in order to make some noise this off-season and appease the common fan. Nevertheless, the noise from the trade has been all but positive and even the average fan will realize just how horrendous of a trade this is in the very near future.

Vernon Wells is not a bad player. He’s definitely flawed, but he has his strengths. For one, he’s a pretty good hitter. He’s not the hitter he was when he initially signed his current albatross contract back in 2006, but he’s still a solid hitter, especially for a center fielder. The problem is that he’s not really a center fielder anymore. Ultimate Zone Rating points out that Wells has been worth -36 runs in center field during the past three seasons, Defensive Runs Saved has Wells at -28 runs over the past three campaigns, and Tom Tango’s Fan Scouting Reports have Wells at -19 runs over the past two years. In terms of raw numbers and the eye test, Vernon Wells is no longer the legit center fielder he once was in the early 2000s. In fact, he’s probably one of the worst full-time defensive center fielders in baseball. In order for Wells to live up to the rest of his contract, he’d have to produce somewhere around 20 wins above replacement at $4.5 million per win. The only problem is that Wells has only been worth 25.1 WAR in his entire 12 year career. At 32 years old and past his prime, qualitative analysis tells us that Wells isn’t going to live up to the rest of his contract.

We can, however, approximate how much value Wells will most likely produce over the next 4 seasons by using a combination of Bill James, CAIRO, and FanGraphs Fan Projections. According to these three systems, Wells is going to sport a .340 wOBA in 632 PAs for 2011. These would be very good offensive numbers for a center fielder. The only problem is that Peter Bourjos, fielding extraordinaire,  has center field locked up. With Torii Hunter in right and Bourjos in center, the only position for Wells to play is left field. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because playing left field requires a lot less range. Wells’ lack of range has been his greatest flaw as a defender in the past three years, where he’s racked up a total of -40 range runs. The move to left field will most likely turn Wells into an average defender. The curse is that he reduces his value by nearly 10 runs due to the positional adjustment. With his .340 wOBA in 632 PAs and league average defense in LF for 148 games, Vernon Wells is projected to produce 2.3 WAR in 2011. If we take this figure as a measurement of his current talent level, we can then regress this number by .5 wins for his first two seasons and .7 wins for his last two. I am doing this because the regression level at age 32 compared to age 34 is not the same (see why here).  To make this more accurate, I will also inflate the value of a win by 6% every season. By doing this, we can see just how much Wells will contribute during the 4 years left on his contract.

  • 2011 (32) – 2.3 WAR ($10.4 million)
  • 2012 (33) – 1.8 WAR ($8.6 million)
  • 2013 (34) – 1.1 WAR ($5.6 million)
  • 2014 (35) – 0.4 WAR ($2.2 million)

This model is not extremely accurate, it’s just a well thought-out guesstimate. But what it tells us is that Wells will be an average player for about two seasons, a very good bench player for one, and then a replacement level player for the last season of his $86 million contract. In the 4 years that Wells might spend in Anaheim, he is projected to produce 5.6 WAR and $27 million in value. That’s $59 million short of what he’s being paid. Even if we pegged Wells as the player he was last season (a 4 WAR player) for the next 4 seasons, he will produce 16 WAR, which comes out to $78 million in value. Still $8 million short of what he’s being paid. So even in an almost perfect scenario where Wells does not regress a single bit during his age 32-35 seasons, he will still be overpaid.

Napoli's shortcomings as a catcher have limited his playing time under Mike Scioscia.

What’s even worse about this trade is that the Angels gave up a good player to get a mediocre one. For whatever reason, Mike Scioscia dislikes Mike Napoli. On one hand, I understand why. Napoli’s a bad defensive catcher and Scioscia, being a former catcher himself, really wants a guy who can save his pitchers some wild pitches and call a good game. However, when the guy who will replace Napoli is a .195 hitting Jeff Mathis, you have to wonder if Napoli is sleeping with Mike Scioscia’s wife. Napoli has averaged 2.8 WAR over the past three seasons and has shown he can be an adequate defender at first base. Combined projections have Napoli at 2.9 WAR for 2011. The other piece of the deal is Juan Rivera, who had a down year in 2010 in comparison to his solid 2009. Rivera will most likely get decent playing time as a left fielder in Toronto. He’s probably a guy with a 3 WAR ceiling, but will  most likely produce 1 to 1.5 wins based on playing time. So in a sense, the Angels gave up 4 wins of talent in exchange for 2 wins of talent. In the process, they also took on $81 million in salary and only shed $11 million. So they lose about $9 million in the exchange of talent alone for 2011. Then there’s the $70 million gap in salaries. If Wells will only earn $27 million of that $70 million back, that’s a loss of $43 million. Bringing us to a net loss of $52 million for the Angels. Talk about financially irresponsible.

In a period where every team is trying to squeeze the most value out of their dollars, the Angels seem to be doing the exact opposite. Sure, teams like the Red Sox have spent far more this off-season, but at least they’re spending their money in a responsible way by acquiring pieces that will at least yield enough value to match the contract. We’re talking about a $50 million net loss for the Angels right now. That $50 million could have gotten them 4 years of Adam Dunn or Victor Martinez this off-season. Hell, the $81 million investment they made by trading for Wells could have gotten them Adrian Beltre. Instead, they’re stuck with a very average player on the brink of a sharp decline. If the Angels follow up their first losing season since 2003 with another bad season in 2011, heads will turn in management and Tony Reagins might find himself in the job hunting market.

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36 responses

26 01 2011
Teix4MVP

Fantastic work as usual, Bacon.

26 01 2011
Wilchiro

Great article, Bacon, probably one of you’re best.

26 01 2011
Michael

I don’t think anybody can really tell what is going to happen until the season starts. Too many people are using stats as a projection, but how many times has a player surpassed what was expected of him. Let’s just see what happens.

Go Angels!

26 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

We can’t predict exactly what will happen, but we have an idea. The likelihood of Wells producing a decent amount for the next two seasons isn’t unlikely at all. It’s very possible he puts up 8 WAR for the next two seasons and that might be a best case scenario given his age.

Thing is, Wells’ recent history has shown he’s inconsistent and extremely injury-prone. So his regression factor might be higher than your average player. There’s a reason why all these sabermetric blogs are blasting the Angels for this trade. The trade doesn’t make sense for the Angels. On average, the Angels will most likely lose $50 million in this investment. That’s just unacceptable. If the White Sox could get Alex Rios and his $60 million contract for virtually nothing, the Angels should have gotten Wells + money back. Not Wells for Napoli, Rivera, and $5 million.

26 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

This trade would be like a team taking on Alfonso Soriano’s contract, something that Cubs fans have been dreaming of since last season.

26 01 2011
Teix4MVP

But Soriano is at least productive, more than Wells is.

26 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

Wells just came off a 4 WAR season. Their stocks are about equal if you ask me.

26 01 2011
Teix4MVP

Yeah, but like you said, I think Wells’ injury concerns and age make his less valuable as Soriano.

27 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

Soriano hasn’t been the healthiest guy around either. Less injury-prone than Wells, but certainly below average in terms of staying healthy.

27 01 2011
WAMCO

Not to mention that with Soriano you have to endure that stupid ‘hop when he catches a fly ball….

28 01 2011
agentwengweng

Not so sure this is the “great article” everyone says it is. First, the Angels are not comfortable with handing out a seven year contract to a player that takes them into their late 30′s. That in itself is a risky proposition. Which is why this trade makes sense for the Angels with that perspective in mind. Second, I lol at your premise that the Angels traded a good player away for a mediocre one. Say what you will about Well’s “albatross” of a contract but he is not a mediocre player and Napoli is not a good player. Napoli, a one dimensional player, is lousy on defense, hitting with runners in scoring position and hitting in general are not his forte. At 29 its safe to say what you see is what you get with Napoli. Not surprised to see Toronto flip Napoli in another deal. I am surprised the Rangers would sacrifice pitching for a player who probably won’t see much playing time in Arlington.

28 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

It’s also stupid to trade for a player who is coming out of his prime and on the cusp of decline. Especially when that player is going to make an average of $21.5 million for the next 4 years. No position player this off-season has gotten that much money annually. Not Carl Crawford, not Jayson Werth, not Adrian Beltre. Not to mention all of those players are far superior in comparison to Wells and all of them are younger. The Angels missed out on Crawford, they also offered him 7 years. It’s obvious they felt like they were left out and decided to make a bold, yet really stupid move.

Go look at what Wells has done on average in the past three seasons. It’s not all that impressive. When you take into account his regressing defense and his barely above average offense in the last three seasons, he’s been an average player. Napoli, on the other hand, has been above average for each of the past three seasons, where he’s put up an average of 2.8 WAR every single season. That + his versatility is very impressive. That is why I say Napoli is a good player and Wells is a mediocre one. Toronto flipped Napoli because of Arencibia and they probably didn’t see the need for him at 1B since they plan on playing Adam Lind there. Plus, they got salary relief by trading him for Francisco, who adds to their thin bullpen.

28 01 2011
StatMaster

A valiant attempt at statistical analysis, but you let your personal opinion guide the number instead of vice versa. I suggest in the future you start with a neutral standpoint.

28 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say. The reason why I had a personal opinion in the first place was because this trade didn’t make sense from a financial and statistical standpoint. After all, I’m trying to present my opinion and then use numbers to back that opinion up.

28 01 2011
StatMaster

To expand on my comment a bit, take a look at Jayson Werth’s contract and the current state of the outfield market and then tell me that Vernon Wells in ridiculously overpaid for a .270 30 hr 40 2b OFer.

28 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

Jayson Werth can play defense.

Vernon Wells can’t and has been extremely inconsistent over the past three seasons.

Jayson Werth’s wOBAs in the past three years: .382, .382, .397
Vernon Wells’ wOBAs in the past three years: .357, .314, .362

Wells has a total of 5.5 WAR over the past three years, Werth has almost 15. It’s not even a valid comparison.

I’m not sure I liked the Werth deal, but past history says he’s at least consistent at producing value.

If I were to do the same analysis I did on Wells in the case of Werth, this is how the win values will breakdown.

2011 – 5 WAR
2012 – 4.5 WAR
2013 – 3.8 WAR
2014 – 3.1 WAR
2015 – 2.4 WAR
2016 – 1.7 WAR
2017 – 1 WAR

That’s a total of close to 22 WAR over the 7 years of the contract. I don’t have time to inflate the dollar values of a win, but even at 5 million per win, which is undervalued, that’s $110 million. If we were to take inflation into account, that is at least close to the $126 million figure he got paid. It’s not $50 million off like Wells’ was. So at least there’s an argument to back up Werth’s contract. I’m not sure you can do the same for Wells.

28 01 2011
StatMaster

Vernon Wells is a top OFer. Its easy to pick a side and “prove” it using “stats”, its harder to remain impartial and present results. Is he overpaid? Yes. Is he better than Jayson Werth? Yes. Is Jayson Werth overpaid? Yes.

Why did you use the time frame you did? To prove your point. If you’re not impartial you have no credibility. Thats my point.

Look at David Bush’s career stats. You can create some pretty gnarly unbiased stats pegging him as one of the best pitchers in the game.

28 01 2011
StatMaster

*biased

28 01 2011
Harley

Bottom line is that Vernon Wells is an Upgrade over Mike Napoli. I would rather have Mathis and his pitch calling/game managing abilities with Wells over Napoli’s .240 batting average. Most people forget that even though Mathis cant hit, pitchers throwing to him have an ERA of a full run better than Napoli. Thats just as good an RBI per game in comparison. The Angels wouldnt try to land Adam Dunn because of this guy named Kendry Morales yea hes pretty good…And if the reason they got rid of Naps is because he couldnt catch/manage a game then why are we even bringing up the name Victor Martinez? They arent the type of team to spend 50mil on a DH. As for the CyberMetrics they said the same thing about Torii but the one thing they can’t calculate is leadership and how they veterns help the younger players i.e. Trout and Borjous

28 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

You totally missed the point of the entire article.

The Angels probably did get better because they weren’t going to use Napoli the right way anyways. But that being said, they also spent about $70 million extra just to get marginally better.

This article isn’t really talking about whether or not the Angels got better or worse, it’s talking about the way they did it, which was incredibly stupid from a financial standpoint. They’ve already been screwed once by Gary Matthews Jr. and the Hunter contract hasn’t worked out the best either (it’s been alright). You’d think they would have learned by now not to acquire aging outfielders with large contract commitments.

28 01 2011
Harley

The point of the article is that they made a move out of desperation. With 4 catchers on their 40 man roster and a guy playing LF part time they made a move for a full time All-Star. Im pretty sure that Arte Moreno and Tony Reagins took into account the contract of Vernon Wells. It appears that they’d rather “overpay” Wells then pay Naps 7mil and Rivera 5mil to split time.

28 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

Vernon Wells has made the all-star team twice in the past 5 years. Congratulations on your full-time all-star.

28 01 2011
Harley

Thats twice as many as Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera combined now isnt it?

28 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

You’re also paying Vernon Wells $70 million more in salary. Once again, this article isn’t about Wells vs. Rivera and Napoli.

28 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

@StatMaster

I’m not sure what kind of StatMaster you are, but you certainly don’t know what sabermetrics are or how it really works.

There is no way you can call Dave Bush one of the top pitchers in the game. That’s insane.

I chose a 3 year time-period because that’s the time period that UZR is most accurate. Fielding stats are best used in multi-year samples and three years is the number most people use. There’s a reason why I used 3 years, I didn’t just pull it out of my ass to make sure it benefits my article.

I also don’t know how you can say Wells > Werth unless you’re looking at basic counting stats or archaic ones like batting average and RBI.

28 01 2011
StatMaster

You probably don’t even know how to calculate WAR. I’m a statistician with no opinion on this article other than the poor use of statistics.

Look at 2006-2008 David Bush’s home splits, when people who abuse stats (like you) were hailing him as an up and coming star.

3 years of statistics are not enough to be statistically relevant. Use monthly stats and scale them, and use all of the data that you have available. You can even use simulation, but Wells is clearly a $15+ million player on the open market and is going to make the Angels a better team. To top things off, they got him from a team more desperate to dump his salary then get prospects in return so they gave up very little in terms of upside.

28 01 2011
Teix4MVP

He is clearly not a 15MM player on the open market. He is a mess with the glove. Although he hit better than the previous years during his huge contract, you want to sign a soon to be 33 year old who is as injury prone as he is and faces a serious decline during the next 4 years for that much money? Go ahead. It doesn’t make sense at all.

28 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

You’re trying to argue with the wrong person bro, especially about WAR.

I know WAR inside-out and I’ve made my own programs that calculate WAR in my spare time.

Position player WAR = replacement + batting + fielding + positional.

Replacement is 20 runs per PA
Batting is wRAA, which is calculated from wOBA with a wOBA scale that changes every year based on league average performances. It is then adjusted to home park by dividing by the square root of that park’s park factor.
Fielding is straight up UZR.
Positional is +12.5 for C, -12.5 for 1B, 2.5 for 2B, etc…

Adding all four components and dividing by the Runs to Wins conversion formula gives you WAR.

Runs to wins conversion = (R/G + 1.5) * 2

I don’t think I need to prove myself when I cite WAR, because I know where it comes from and what it involves.

Why would you only look at the home splits for a pitcher? The sample size of only home innings pitched is half of what a pitcher should have, so it makes no sense for me to even cite that. I would only cite such things if the pitcher’s home park had an absolutely tremendous effect on a pitcher’s ERA ie. Petco or Coors field. Dave Bush has had one well above average season and that was 2006. Outside of that, he has been league average at best, no matter what stat you look at – ERA, FIP, whatever. I have never, at any point, hailed Dave Bush as an up and coming star. Whoever did that must have been really delusional.

3 year data is relevant because, like I said, UZR is based on 3 year cycles. Plus, when you look at a player’s recent resume, you usually look within three years. A 27 year old and a 24 year old should be different in terms of their talent levels. Same for a 27 and a 30 year old. Two years seems a bit too small. A lot of variation can still happen in 1000-1200 PAs. But when you get up to nearly 2000 PAs in the case of 3 years, then variation starts to become less. The point of using multiple years of sample size is to get an idea of the player’s current talent level while trying to get the least amount of variation.

If you mean simulation as in projection, sure. But there is no way Wells is worth $15 million on the open market. He’s had one solid season in the past 4 years. No team will pay an aging, defensively bad outfielder $15 million. That’s crazyshit.

28 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

And just so we’re clear, I calculated the projection WAR figures myself.

28 01 2011
Harley

Dont take it the wrong way. Im not saying you dont know what your talking about, and I couldnt agree more about the GMJ contract. Im just saying that they needed to unload players from a potentially full roster and in return were able to get Vernon Wells. Im in the minority here. I dont dislike the trade and im not overly excited for it either.

28 01 2011
BaconSlayer09

What I’m saying is that if they wanted Wells so bad, they shouldn’t have given up anything and they also should have gotten a lot more money back. If they had gotten $43 million back, or even a quarter of the contract, then this deal might be okay (well, if they got $43 million back, it probably would be okay).

The point isn’t that Wells is bad or that he doesn’t help the Angels, the point is that the Angels shouldn’t have settled for so little. They were in a position of power in this deal, but they didn’t make it that way.

28 01 2011
WAMCO

VW’s biggest downfall from an offensive standpoint is his on-base ability, in my opinion. This is the main reason he isn’t worth what he is paid. When you factor in his declining defense and his likely declining age, there is no question that he is overpaid.
Bacon has added to this by demonstrating that not only is VW unlikely to provide enough WAR to justify his contract, he hasn’t produced enough in his entire career to this point to justify it. There are many, many measures to evaluate this other than WAR, but it is a good one, and I think Bacon has made a valid argument here.

29 01 2011
mykers

I am a troll under a bridge.

My act of desperation = long wood. :)

I am a complete idiot. Bacon, I am a huge homer and I regret to say that I am too ignorant and foolish to realize that my argument against this is completely wrong in any case.

29 01 2011
Teix4MVP

You are missing the entire point of the article dumbass. The point was, the Angels gave up an at least decent player in Napoli for a guy who was okay in 2010, but before that wasn’t good at all and has a huge tab left on his contract.

Bacon’s point was that the Angels acquired a player with still 20MM+ a year for 4 more years left on his contract that will not be worth it for that financial restriction. Also, your grammar and spelling was laughable between your two posts. Please grow up and learn to not troll.

11 11 2011
BaconSlayer09

Looks like this article was mostly right…:)

19 04 2013
Dolores

I think they are awesome..

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