Sunday, October 18, 2009

Replacing Jason Bay

The Jason Bay sweepstakes will be one of the big stories of the 2010 offseason. In trying to understand why every free agent slugger story involves Bay and Matt Holliday take a look at the 2009 OPS stats. (OPS is On base percentage Plus Slugging average.) The following spreadsheet has every player with over a 900 OPS and 200 at bats in 2009 and includes their age and contract status:

Notice that there are only 30 players in baseball with over a 900 OPS!

There are two free agents in this bunch: Jason Bay and Matt Holliday. Every team looking to spend big money on a slugger will have two choices in free agency.

Two players on the list are already on the Red Sox roster: Kevin Youkilis and JD Drew.

Looking for other options there are five players whose contracts expire after next year: Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Derek Lee, Manny Ramirez, and Adam Dunn. It is hard to believe that the Twins would give up Mauer who is one of the best players in the league, is a great hitting catcher, is 26 years old, and a local boy. Lee is 34 and plays for the big market Cubs so is probably not someone that is likely to change teams unless the Cubs are out of it next year right before the trading deadline. Manny is a persona non grata in Boston. That leaves Fielder who plays for Milwaukee and might not be able to be signed the following year and Adam Dunn who plays for the worst team in baseball. The Nationals may be willing to dump Dunn’s salary for the right package of prospects. The Sox passed on Dunn in the past offseason although they didn’t have a spot in the outfield for him then.

Note: All ages in this post are as of 4/1/2010.

There are six solid gold players on this list; young players that are either under team control (meaning they play for close to minimum salary and won’t be free agents for years) or are arbitration eligible whose contracts are still owned by the teams but an arbiter decides their salary each year: Joey Votto (CIN, 1B, 26), Ben Zobrist (TB, 2B, 28), Pablo Sandoval (SF, 3B, 23), Garrett Jones (PIT, OF, 28), Adam Lind (TOR, DH, 26), Kendry Morales (LAA, 1B, 26). These are the guys that small market teams work so hard to get and keep and big market teams use to balance their payroll. It would be shocking if any of these players changed teams before their last year or two of arbitration eligibility.

Hanley Ramirez will be paid $7 million in 2010 with his contract escalating to $11 million in 2011 and then $15 million in 2012. The Marlins will not want to move him this year without a big package of prospects. In 2011 and 2012 they may consider getting rid of Ramirez and his salary which could account for 25% of their payroll.

Other small market players who have very reasonable contracts and thus will require Theo to give up the farm are Ryan Braun (MIL, OF, 26, $1 million), Troy Tulowitzki (COL, SS, 25, $3.5 million), Jason Kubel (MIN, DH, 27, $4.1 million), Brad Hawpe (COL, OF, 30, $7.5 million)

We can probably ignore the rest of players on the list - good and great players on large market teams. The only exception might be Miguel Cabrera who seems to be talented at getting into the news for off the field incidents. Would Detroit be willing to trade his antics and $20 million salary? Maybe a better question is would Theo and Tito be willing to put up with those same antics and how would he fare with the Boston press?

Who is better for the Red Sox, Bay or Holliday?

While conventional wisdom has Holliday as the better fielder and he may be, statistically Bay has a small advantage. Bay has a career .988 fielding percentage and a 2.04 range factor. Bay’s 2009 stats are a 1.000 fielding percentage and a 2.29 range factor. Holliday has a career .980 fielding percentage and a 1.91 range factor. Holliday’s 2009 stats are .983 fielding percentage and 1.88 range factor.

Range factor is a Bill James statistic adding putouts and assists multiplying by 9 innings and dividing by number of innings played. A higher number is better. The last full year Manny Ramirez was in Boston (2007) his range factor was 1.72. MLB league leaders for the past five years in left field range factor are Adam Dunn’s 1.97 in 2008, Geoff Jenkins’s 2.30 in 2007, Alfonso Soriano’s 2.28 in 2006, Cliff Floyd’s 2.12 in 2005, and Jason Bay’s 1.97 in 2004 according to Wikipedia:

There are a number of other considerations for Bay fitting in well in Boston. He does not shrink in the limelight, hits well against American League pitching, and has had some of his best games against the New York Yankees. In Bay’s 14 games against the Yankees in 2009 he hit .392 with 13 RBI and 3 HR.

Holliday has a smaller sample size in the American League but had a relative unsuccessful few months in Oakland before going back the National League and feasting on National League pitching.

The bottom line is that Bay is the superior choice for the Red Sox. There are few good choices if they don’t resign him. The Yankees will likely make a run at him to replace the aging Matsui and to run up the Sox payroll.

The Red Sox free agency strategy should be to sign Bay. If that fails they should go after Holliday.

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