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an attempt to make lemonade

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the cubs' signing of jacque jones for 3 yrs / $16.5m elicited laughter among card'l fans and head scratching at Beyond the Boxscore. "Why would you let Jeromy Burnitz go," BtB asked, "if you were just going to replace him with Jacque Jones?" the accompanying charts, summarizing three years' worth of data, showed burnitz to be jones's equal with the bat -- and considerably cheaper. the still-unsigned free agent played for 1 yr / $5m last season and, after a pedestrian 2005, will prob'y make less than that in 2006. though jones is four years younger than burnitz, his skills seem to be eroding more rapidly; even if jones does outplay burnitz by a bit (and that's an if), you have to wonder if the margin is worth the extra two years / $12m.

the cardinals might ask a similar question: why let reggie sanders go if you're only going to replace him with juan encarnacion? cardnilly had the charts for that comparison, less expansive but no less conclusive than the ones at BtB: sanders is a) better, and b) cheaper than the new guy. so here's a variation on that question: if you're going to replace reggie sanders, why bring in juan encarnacion when you already have a taguchi - rodriguez platoon?

i can't replicate the charts that BtB used in its jones-burnitz comparison, because gooch+rod don't have three-year data holes to mine. instead i'll publish this little table, which contains 2005 data only. see if you can tell which line has gooch-rod's combined production and which one has encarnacion's:

ab r h 2b 3b hr rbi bb avg obp slg ops r.c. r.c./
27
VORP win sh
A 545 60 158 27 4 13 77 39 .290 .337 .418 .755 76.9 5.4 26.3 19
B 506 59 145 27 3 16 76 41 .287 .349 .447 .796 76.8 5.7 28.3 19

gee: .287, 16 hr 76 bi on the one hand, .290, 13 hr, 77 bi on the other. and there's not much difference vis-vis the more advanced numbers, either; encarnacion slugged the ball a little better (he's player B), but that's the only thing separating him from the putative platoon he is replacing.

anybody think that wafer-thin advantage is worth a 3-yr / $15m commitment, as opposed to the 1 yr / $1.5m combined on taguchi and j-rod?

then of course we have to consider the fact that encarnacion in 2005 played far above his established level of performance, making him a likely candidate to regress back toward the mean in 2006. so the cardinals may well ahve shelled out $13.5m in marginal dollars for a guy with a negative marginal impact. it's exactly the type of move the cardinals pride themselves on not making. just two weeks ago the front office was preaching patience, assuring one and all that bargains would shake free as we got closer to spring training; above all else, jocketty told joe strauss in a short interview, the cardinals would not panic. "Just to throw money around like some of these other clubs is stupid," he said. "It's dumb business. We're not going to do that, because I don't want people criticizing me."

to tie this up into a neat little loop, you know who might have been a better option than encarnacion? jeromy burnitz. here's an abbreviated table with some cut-to-chase 2005 data:

ops obp r.c. r.c./27
burnitz .757 .322 84.6 5.1
encar'cion .796 .349 76.8 5.7

mind you, i'm not suggesting that jeromy burnitz is a good baseball player. he put up worse numbers than encarnacion last year (though he's a better hitter if you expand the data back beyond 2005), he played in a hitter's park (vs en'cion's pitcher park), and he is 7 years older and pushing retirement. but encarnacion's bat simply isn't that much better -- the margin is at most a win a season. you have to balance that out against the fact that you can get burnitz on a one-year deal -- which, when you're dealing with players as mediocre as these, is far more valuable than three years. you bring in burnitz for one corner and let gooch/rod/bigbie handle the other until you can trade marquis; then you deal jeromy for bullpen help, or you stick him on the bench and dfa bigbie, or whatever.

in case you're wondering, by the way, burnitz's defense is ev'y bit as good as encarnacion's -- or ev'y bit as bad, depending on who you ask and what defensive metric you trust. if you like UZR (discussion here), then you like burnitz: he and encarnacion tied in 2005 as the best rightfielders in the game, saving their respective teams 14 runs with the glove. (read comment #22 from this thread at baseball think factory -- straight from the horse's mouth.) if you like bpro's rate2, burnitz is slightly better than en'cion. in all the other advanced glove metrics -- pinto's pmr, gassko's Range, james's win shares -- burnitz and en'cion track each other.

the biggest diff'nce between them is that encarnacion can play a decent centerfield . . . . .and that simple fact might bring us as close as we can get to a rational explanation for this signing. maybe en'cion's arrival means edmonds is gone after this year; he will not be renewed, and encarnacion will take over in cf in 2007. at that position his bat would no longer be a liability; he'd be instantly transformed from a dead-weight corner outfielder, hardly better (if at all) than freely available backups, into a centerfielder who can hit 15-20 homers -- a pretty worthwhile commodity. he still wouldn't be an all-star nor a great bargain, but as a centerfielder he'd at least be valuable enough to earn his keep.

hey, it's a theory -- and a far more comforting one than "jocketty panicked." if it works out that way, then encar'cion's contract might not be so unforgivable in the end.

plus, now that i've got edmonds nudged toward the door, i can revert to my favorite parlor game and trade him this spring -- to boston for manny ramirez; to cleveland for coco crisp and francisco cabrera; back to anaheim for scott shields and casey kotchman; to the white sox for jose contreras . . .