Weekend BlogDecember 08, 2007
Center of Attention in So. Cal
By The Baseball Analysts Staff

One year after committing big money to centerfield, both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels have committed big money to, uh, centerfield.

On its own, I am not against this. If a team determines a given player to be an improvement and it makes sense financially to acquire the player regardless of positional incumbents, more power to them. Frankly, in the Dodgers case, ignoring the disaster that is Juan Pierre would be crazy. Unfortunately, I fear they may do something crazier; move Pierre to left.

But let's look with some historical perspective to try and deduce the likelihood that the Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones transactions work out.

Hunter has a career OPS+ of 104 and a figure of 112 since the 2004 campaign. He will be 33 years-old for the 2008 season. He was signed to a five year contract, so let's have a look at how some other center fielders have fared in their 33-37 campaigns.

Centerfielders with an OPS+ above 104 in their 33-37 Seasons

             Years      OPS+
W. Mays     '64-'68     158     
J. Edmonds  '03-'07     137
B. Butler   '90-'94     120
B. Williams '02-'06     110
R. Yount    '89-'93     110
B. Anderson '97-'01     109
S. Finley   '98-'02     106
**Minimum of 600 games played

As you can see, since 1957 only three centerfielders in their 33-37 seasons have matched or bettered Hunter's 112 OPS+ that he put up from 2004 to 2007. Just seven have even managed to reach his 104 career mark during these years.

Jones will be 31 for the 2008 season and he is coming off a year in which he posted an 88 OPS+. He signed a two-year deal with the Dodgers. Since 1957, nineteen centerfielders who have managed to play at least 225 games in their 31 and 32 campaigns have equaled or bettered Andruw's 116 OPS+ that he notched from 2004 to 2007. Just three managed the feat coming off of a sub-100 OPS+ year in their 30 year-old season while just one had an OPS+ below 90 as Jones did.

             Season      OPS+
B. Anderson   1994        96     
D. Henderson  1989        98
W. McGee      1989        76

There are those out there crediting the Dodgers because they did not make a long-term commitment to Jones. I am not sure I agree with this, however. $18 million is a lot of money tied up in one player for a given season, and there is no guarantee that Jones bounces back to his old form. If history is any guide whatsoever (hint; it tends to be) Jones will have a tough time becoming the player he was before 2007.

Finally, and this applies to both players, it should go without saying that their respective defensive value figures to plummet as they get on in years. Jones may retain a good chunk of his skill but as Hunter approaches his mid-30's it's hard not to imagine a very painful decline phase that the Angels will have to endure.

I think both signings were a mistake.

- Patrick Sullivan, 12/8/2007, 5:22 PM EST

For my upcoming article on Monday, I used a metric (SLGSWING) that measures the value of a swing based on total bases per swing. While I don't really go in depth with the metric in the article, I think it's pretty neat, so here are the top and bottom 10 for the stat, which is just total bases/total swings taken. The top of the list is mostly populated by the usual good hitting suspects, especially guys who don't swing and miss too much, while the bottom is also pretty typical.

Name            SLGSWING    Swings
Moises Alou     0.252        559
Alex Rodriguez  0.251       1188
Albert Pujols   0.245       1032
Chipper Jones   0.244        972
Barry Bonds     0.243        630
Jeff Keppinger  0.241        390
Hanley Ramirez  0.239       1154
James Loney     0.239        624
Jorge Posada    0.238        902
Scott Hatteberg 0.236        568
Chris Woodward  0.118        272
Ryan Langerhans 0.117        426
Joe Borchard    0.117        392
Carlos Quentin  0.116        508
Paul Bako       0.115        305
Jerry Hairston  0.114        325
Jason Phillips  0.111        297
Andy Gonzalez   0.109        359
Adam Melhuse    0.107        206
Jason LaRue     0.082        404

A hitter has three major jobs when he is at-bat. He has to recognize if the pitch is a ball or strike, make contact with the strikes he swings at, and drive the pitches he makes contact with. I think that this stat gives a more granular picture of both bat control and strike zone judgment than other metrics because it's based on the individual swings rather than at-bats. Players scoring well with this measurement are getting the most out of each individual swing they take. I think somehow incorporating called strikes and balls into the value would give a better indicator of batting eye.

There's one odd name at the top, and I might be late to the party on this one, but I've never heard of Jeff Keppinger. Maybe he's near the top of this list because MLB pitchers haven't figured out how to pitch to him yet, but for a utility infielder with his minor league track record, it seems like he would warrent a consistent spot on an MLB roster somewhere.

- Joe Sheehan, 12/8/2007, 6:30 PM EST


Sure, but what if you look at the signings as a one-year deal? The Angels won 94 games -- maybe Hunter really helps them in his first year and they could go to the World Series. I don't know what a World Series is worth to Arte Moreno, but I'd guess ... a lot. Maybe enough to say he'll throw money at a no-longer-useful Torii Hunter for a few years if he gets the trophy. For the Dodgers, Andruw's an offensive and defensive upgrade over Pierre, even based on Andruw's dreadful '07 season, and the Dodgers could win that division with 90 wins.

I think Andruw is a great signing... just not for the Dodgers. Matt Kemp can play a little, or so I've heard.

As for Jones, he is still relatively young, still retains most of his defensive value, and except for his batting average, has been extremely consistent from year to year in his other stats. Okay, so he was hit-unlucky in 2007 (and was dealing with an hyperextended elbow all year). His strikeouts and walks stayed constant, the power is still there. Plug him in for .265, .350, .550 next year (Dodger Stadium and the Ted are pretty similar for right-handed power hitters).

If it weren't for the fact that the Dodgers already had a stud centerfielder (who they were playing out of position), this is the best signing of the off-season to date.

Sticking with the theme of the post, there have been only seven CF's that have managed a .900 OPS in their 31 year-old season since 1957. Jones is a HOF caliber talent so it is possible but to just plug those figures in as though it is a foregone conclusion ignores a lot of history suggesting otherwise.

With respect to the first two comments, everybody is entitled to their opinions but Sully's findings are based on facts and historical precedence (or lack thereof). The point is that center fielders generally don't age particularly well and those who perform well for an extended period in their 30s are few and far between.

If money is no object, then, sure, both Hunter and Jones are good signings. But if money is an object - and, let's face it, it usually is (if not now, then down the road) - I would submit that these signings may not have represented the highest and best use of these funds.

The Hunter and Jones contracts represent two of the highest average annual salaries in the history of the game. AJ is a little bit less risky because of his age and the fact that his deal is for only two years. However, Jones is coming off the worst season of his career, yet is being paid as if he is going to duplicate his 2005 campaign.

As for Jones hitting .265/.350/.550, do you realize that he has only slugged that high ONE time out of 11 seasons? Why would one expect him to do it a second time coming off his worst season ever and now at the age of 31? Unless his decline last year was solely due to an injury and he is now as healthy as ever, I would not expect him to slug .550.

Furthermore, Jones has only matched those AVG and OBP marks four times in his career. Maybe he can hit .260-.265, but I believe he is more likely to put up a .250 AVG than .275.

Lastly, Matt Kemp may be able to play center field, but he's not particularly skilled at it. You won't get an argument from me about his offensive prowess (other than his poor BB/SO rates), and I believe the Dodgers should open up a full-time corner outfield spot for him this year.

In summary, Hunter and Jones are good - but not great - players, and it seems unlikely (as Sully has demonstrated) that they will put up better numbers over the life of their contracts than they have in the past. Granted, Jones is a "plus" defensive player but Hunter is no longer the CF he was earlier in his career. He's certainly adequate but is living off a propensity to make a couple of highlight reel catches and a reputation developed many years ago more than anything else.

I think we have to look at the Jones signing in terms of opportunity cost. If they do not sign him, who plays CF? Are there better alternatives right now?

True, the real problem is that (if?) Pierre remains a starter, but at least now the Dodgers have better options. If they come to their senses and bench or trade Pierre, the team is better.

As for money, that evaluation has to account for the team. Will the signing inhibit LA from doing other things to improve the team? My guess is not much. If Minnesota signed him, for example, they are essentially putting all their eggs in one basket for the next 2 years, but with LA they likely still have flexibility to spend elsewhere if need be.

So on balance, I think the Jones deal was a good one for LA. If the alternative is Pierre in CF or Rowand signed for 5 years or Kemp out of position, they made the right choice.

Jones coming off a .222 season and getting a raise is mind blowing. What does it take to get a salary cut these days? I expect him to do better in '08, but he's not worth $18 million. At least the deal is a tolerable two-year contract.

Hunter should have a couple of good years before declining. Teams that are foolish enough to offer five-year deals (especially to pitchers) usually get burned.

Keppinger appears towards the top because he NEVER strikes out. If a player never swings and misses (and obviously there are called strikeouts, too), his SLGSWING will look really good because there are rarely "negative" points, and anything he does will look good. I'd rather have missed swings by A-rod going with 450ft. bombs than a 5% K-rate by keppinger. Keppinger is certainly a good player, but he obviously shouldn't be between Hanley and Bonds on any list.

What I'm saying, if badly, is that Sully is looking at these contracts as individual items -- comparing the player's production to his salary. On that basis I entirely agree with him. Torii Hunter's production is certain to decline over the next five years, and there will be many players who produce far more while being paid far less.

But Hunter's first year is likely to be more productive than the fifth, and if that happens the Angels have a reasonable chance to win it all. The Hunter signing is similar to the J.D. Drew signing last year, and no one is complaining about that one right now.

Oh contraire rfs1962. Many Sox fans complained, kept complaining and still complain about the Drew signing. The money never really bothered me, it was the length. He finished nicely and the salami at the end was sweet, but for 6 months his teammates carried his arse.

Now we all know he had some personal issues to deal with last year and as a father I have an idea of how these things can effect your performance, so we are all hoping he can rebound a little bit this year.

However, the 5 yrs, $75mil was derided by pretty much the entire Red Sox support community and still gets plenty of negative feedback on most baseball sites.

IMO the Jones signing isn't bad and improves the Dodgers and like most I'd love to see Kemp manning left full time. The Hunter contract is way too long.

Please tell me you are joking when you say you have never heard of jeff keppinger, its not like dude is some prospect in rookie league, he was in the actual major league.

I shouldn't have said no one is complaining. Someone is always complaining. But most people would cheerfully take on a bad contract in exchange for a World Series ring, and now it's a four-year contract. If it's their worst contract, and it might be, they've managed their operation pretty well.

I understand what you're saying, rfs1962. A World Series championship goes a long way in relieving management of any bad decisions. But what about all those poor contracts involving the other 29 teams? If - and that's a big IF - the Dodgers win the WS, then the Jones' signing will be hailed as a smart move and perhaps rightfully so. However, if - and that's a small if - they come up short, will it be viewed as a mistake?

With re: Hunter's signing:

If it's their worst contract, and it might be, they've managed their operation pretty well.

Worse than Gary Matthews Jr's contract? Only time will tell for sure, but I doubt it.

Kyle -- I meant Drew's contract.

Rich -- At least Jones' contract will be up in two years. I think it's likely Andruw will never get it back. I would not be surprised if he underperformed and the Dodgers missed the playoffs both years and he set back the development of some younger players. That would make it a bad contract, wouldn't it?

That would make it a bad contract, wouldn't it?

Yes, if Jones "underperformed and the Dodgers missed the playoffs both years and he set back the development of some younger players," that would definitely be a (very) bad contract.

I guess time will tell.

What about if Jones performs quite well? Say a .250/.350/.495 line with 30 HR and around 100 RBI with good defence in CF, but the Dodgers still miss the playoffs, would the contract be considered bad then? Over payment for sure, but really, is overpayment synonymous with bad?

I'm pretty sure anytime a player signs a lucrative contract then underperforms, and the team doesn't achieve great team success, it's considered a bad contract. That's fairly obvious. But what about overpaying when the player does what could reasonably be expected?

The only saving grace for the Drew contract is that the Sox did win the world series.

Delwyn Young can hit too... though i'm not quiet sure how he does outside of Vegas, but there's at least a reasonable chance that he puts up .800 OPS in the bigs next year.

THe problem with this signing is that Juan Pierre might not be the guy that lose playing time, but it might be Matt Kemp. which just isn't right.

This signing seem to repeat the theme over the last couple of year for the Dodgers, they have a greatttt farm, but their kids keep getting blocked by scrub vets . (See Nomar .. who not only managed to block Loney , but also Laroche WTF? ) they could always sort of contend in the weak division but if they are willing to let it go for one year and let the kids play they could easily dominate in the next few year, but now it looks it might be Arizona who'll do that.

A question for Sully -

You provide a lot of data concerning older CFs. But I'm not sure that really addresses a major issues regarding center fielders: that, with the position being as defensively-demanding as it is, some (many? few?) move from center field as they age.

For example, take Duke Snider (probably the best Dodger CF of all time. By 1959 (his age 31 season) he was playing fewer than half his games in center, yet he continued to be a very good hitter basically until his final season. Now granted, your 600 games requirement would have prevented him from being on your list anyway (I think he played around 500 games years 33-37). Even so, I think the concern is a valid one.

My guess is, there are plenty of players who could still hit that stopped playing center field, and though you don't describe whether or not you included players within that bracket, my guess is 'no.' Not that your conclusions are necessarily incorrect - just that I think the methodology might be lacking (and of course if you DID somehow factor this concern in, my apologies).

Thanks, Joe, for pointing out Keppinger, an obvious candidate for the 2008 Ken Phelps team. The man can hit, and apparently can field second or third base well enough.

cool stat, Joe. I like it!

Underbruin -

The issue here is that when a CF moves to a corner outfield slot, the same output he was contributing in center field becomes that much less valuable because left fielders and right fielders are better hitters. To wit, have a look at MLB average outfield lines in 2007:

LF: .276/.346/.452
RF: .281/.350/.453
CF: .272/.337/.420

As for the PA minimum, it is only there because I can't imagine that either club signed these players to this sort of money to have them injured or relegated to part-time duty. Both players should be solid MLB contributors well into their late-30's, but there is a lot of room between solid contributor and among the most well-paid players in the game.