I’ve been wanting to write this one for over a week now, but haven’t found the time. Here’s a quick take.
Crawford is Over-paid
First, I was waiting all fall to see who would overpay for Crawford. I did not think it would be the Red Sox. Crawford is an athletic talent–but there is no way a player with an OPS under .900 should cross the 15 million a year mark. Especially not a 29 year old player built on speed with questionable career plate discipline.
Go look at what an exceptional speedster like Tim Raines did after his 29th birthday compared to before: from 1982 to 1988 Raines hit .306 / .392 / .447 with 75 SB, 90 BB’s, and 285 TB per 162 games. From 1989 to 1995, Raines dropped to .284 / .378 / .406 with 42 SB, 92 BB’s, and 246 TB per 162 games. Cutting off his shortened first year, from 2003 to 2010 Crawford compiled a .299 / .340 / .448 line with 56 SB, 40 BB’s, and 293 TB per 162 games.
My point in showing these numbers is two-fold–first, obviously, I expect that Crawford’s production, predicated on speed, will diminish as he crosses 30. Second, to show that Tim Raines‘ production was amplified by something that Crawford has never displayed–plate discipline. Even in his last two “big money” seasons, Crawford has only totaled 97 walks, while striking out 203 times. During the second half of his career, Raines never walked fewer than 61 times (and the 61 was in a strike-shortened 101 game 1994 campaign). Furthermore, during the second half of his career Raines never struck out more than 68 times and averaged only 62 k’s per 162 games (thus far, Crawford averages 102 k’s/162).
And, oh, by the way, does anyone think that Tim Raines was ever worth 20 million a season? Because that’s what we just paid Crawford. I’m not sure if I think Tim Raines is a better player than Crawford–but one can legitimately raise the question. And the very fact that you can entertain the question suggests the Red Sox made a big mistake (it also, I believe, suggests that Jacoby Ellsbury‘s long-term tenure with the Sox is in question, since the two are such similar players–but that’s left for another day, another post).
I’m a pretty big fan of Baseball Evalution’s Stat Geek Baseball–and they valued Crawford similar to Shane Victorino, projecting a contract of 5 years and 60 million. Everyone knew that he would get more than statistical value, but the Sox nearly doubled their projection. Boo.
The Red Sox aren’t really a comfy topic right now. So here’s a second post on the Ryan Howard deal. Fangraphs compares Howard’s contract to other historic WAR (wins above replacement) and figures that a “reasonable” projection for Howard’s contract would have been right around 77 million dollars–far below the 125 million he’s ensured.
They also look more closely at the WAR numbers for top players in their mid-30’s and conclude:
So, you have a one-third chance of being Jim Thome, a one-third chance of being Frank Thomas, and a one-third chance of being Mo Vaughn.
Ryan Howard was paid like he had a 100% chance of being Jim Thome.
Julia’s Rants has a piece up today urging Theo et al. to complete an extension with Josh Beckett before the season starts. Yesterday (Tuesday), the Sporting News reported that the Sox were close to a 4 year contract extension with Beckett that mirrored the 16.5 million dollars per season given to John Lackey. It is likely that Beckett will get his extension with Boston. There’s not really any marque free agent pitcher on the market next season other than Beckett. There’s Tim Hudson, Brandon Webb, and Cliff Lee (at least for now), but they all come with injury concerns larger than Beckett’s. In addition to Julia, there’s talk across Red Sox Nation that this is a good deal, and that I should be happy. But, to draw on Malcolm Gladwell, something doesn’t feel right about this one to me–my blink sense is tingling.
Last season, I compared Beckett to Jekyll and Hyde for his weird statistical breakdown–Beckett has very few mediocre outings. He’s either brilliant (most of the time) or absolutely terrible (about 5 outings a year). Were you to cut four starts out of last season, Beckett’s ERA drops almost a full run (from 3.86 to 2.99).
Cumulatively, there’s nothing in his statistics to outright poo-poo a long-term deal or justify 16.5 million a season. Over the past four years, Beckett has compiled a 65 and 34 record (.657 %), 4.05 ERA, and 8.2 k/9. He has 75 quality starts and an ERA+ of 116. Besides the winning percentage, all of these numbers are good–not great. And, if you believe in neutralization, then you might point out that his neutralized record during his four years in Boston would only be 46-40 (instead of the 65-34 he has actually complied). So, while his neutralized ERA is lower, sabermetrics indicate that he has benefited from the Red Sox more than the Red Sox have benefited from him… But I’m not sure that this is what makes me hesitate toward the idea of locking Beckett up for four years. He’ll still, of course, be a Red Sox and continue to benefit from our increased defense and offensive production.As many note, there are durability questions surrounding Beckett that have followed him throughout his career. But unlike with the Marlins, Beckett has been able to reach two major milestones in 3 of his 4 years with the Red Sox–30 starts and 200 innings pitched
When I think about this extension, I am haunted by the ghosts of Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt, Kevin Brown, Mike Hampton, and Mark Mulder [*question to Cub fans: one more mediocre season and we might put Carlos Zambrano and his 100 million dollar contract on this list?] All guys who signed large contracts somewhere around their 30th birthday. All got paid significant money to not pitch by the end of their contracts (ok, so Zito is still pitching, but will he be in another 6 years?). Perhaps I am paranoid, but I feel that Beckett is a prime candidate to end up on this list. Certainly, one has to wonder, given those terrible outings, if Beckett is the kind of pitcher who will be able to adjust his game as he ages and loses a few mph.
Sometimes, I honestly hope I am wrong about stuff. This is one of those times. I hope Beckett signs the extension and wins 70 games over those four years. Last year, I did argue that he was one of the best starting pitchers in baseball if you overlook his few aberrant starts every season. I guess my fear is that those aberrant starts will begin appearing with more regularity as he ages.
On a side note, here’s a great article from 2008 theorizing that slight kinesthetic differences explain Zito’s rapid decline. The distance from Cy Young to bum seems to be a few centimeters side to side.
Carl Crawford’s epic all-star catch last evening has my friend Rob rightfully ringing his cowbell. But I thought two things as I watched the slow motion replay:
- Wow, that really saved Pap’s butt. Pap, despite strong numbers, has made Sox fans nervous on more than one occasion this season…
I thought the Rays made a solid decision holding onto Crawford this offseason and building the team for a championship run. But, with the kind of season he’s having (he’s on pace to top his career highs in hits, walks, runs and steals), I can’t see Crawford staying in Tampa without a big money contract extension after this season.
I know, I know, the club has an option to pay Crawford $10mil. But that option comes with a 1.5 million dollar buy-out. Crawford could have bought out of the contract after last season (for $2.5mil), but he chose to accept the $8.25mil instead. I don’t see lightning striking twice.
First, the free agent crop for outfielders is particularly weak next season. There’s a list of great names, but nobody there is in their prime, outside of Jason Bay. The Red Sox will want to keep Bay, and I expect them to make a hard push to keep their righthanded power hitter, though the fact that Youk and Dustin are righties, coupled with the decline of Ortiz means they could look at a lefty. Particularly a fast lefty? Couple to the Rays challenge to retain Crawford the fact that the Yankees will be losing Damon; they, too, could be interested in upgrading a terrible outfield defense and getting younger.
Hey, wait, a fast, left-handed, slick fielder with a buy-out option who just won the All-Star game MVP could become a free agent in an off-season in which the Sox and the Yanks will be bidding for a starting left-fielder? CHA-CHING!
I also think you’ll see speed coming back to a premium ahead, as the Earl Weaver “get a big guy to hit the ball really hard” (note: PG rendition) strategy will whither with homerun totals. All the unquantifiable dimensions of speed on the basepaths (i.e., the slidestep, the hesitation of middle infielders, the distraction on pitchers, the gift ball of a pitchout) will come more into play.
To be clear, I think Tampa handled this right. They are getting a great season out of Crawford- if they can pick up some bullpen help, and if their starting pitching holds together, and if their middle infield defense plays better, they have a great shot at a title again this season. They will likely loose Crawford this offseason, but unlike other sports, they won’t get nothing in return. Crawford’s departure will bring them draft picks as compensation–and its likely the picks are near equivalent to anything they might have brought in through an offseason trade (I mean, this is the team that gave up Jackson for Joyce…cheap shot, sorry, sorry).