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betting on bradley

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if you're feeling uneasy about the transition the cardinals are in the midst of, read yesterday's post at USS Mariner:

If every postseason tells a story, then so far, the story of 2007 is the dominance of the new school of baseball executives. . . .

Cleveland, Arizona, Colorado, and Boston aren't true "Moneyball" organizations --- they're Moneyball 2.0 clubs, the ones who have successfully integrated both scouting and statistical analysis into a cohesive organization and are leveraging every good piece of information they can find into a competitive advantage. . . . .

This isn't stats vs scouts --- this is stats and scouts working together, building an organization that blends the best of both worlds. This is the blueprint for how a baseball organization should be run. And, whether the baseball men of the 20th century like it or not, this is where baseball is going.

it's where the cardinals are trying to go, too. walt's gone because he placed himself in opposition to that objective; the new guy, whatever other strengths and weaknesses he might possess, will be down with it.

the term "every good piece of information" jumped out at me, given the source of the article; USS Mariner itself, you might recall, became a source of valuable information this summer. in its june 27 post, USSM noted a counterproductive pattern in felix hernandez's pitch selection. the team's pitching coaches (allegedly) had already noted the same pattern, but it was the USSM post that got through to hernandez; after reading it, he altered his pitch sequencing habits --- and reaped the benefits. he went 10-3 the rest of the way, shaved nearly half a run off his era, and lowered his opponent ops by about 75 points.

the point being --- blog communities made up of knowledgeable fans are among the sources of information that "moneyball 2.0" organizations have begun to use. including this blog community. i've had enough interactions with jeff luhnow and his charges to know that they read the site daily --- not just the main-page posts but also the comments and the diaries. and luhnow has a history of taking fan input seriously --- back in march 2004, shortly after he joined the cardinal front office as a consultant, luhnow wrote brian gunn soliciting input about how much the cards ought to pay edgar renteria (scroll down to the march 30 post). gunn dug into the numbers and set parameters that turned out to be right on the (literally) money --- between $8m a year (the cards' top offer to edgar) and $10m a year (what renteria got from boston).

check out brian's analysis --- it's simple, logical, and based on freely available sources of information. three and a half years later there's much better information in the public domain, and we have that much more empirical data about how the baseball marketplace values certain types of performance. (see jeff sackmann's post today at the Hardball Times for a more recent example of this type of work.) so here's a little assignment --- pick a free agent you like; rough out an estimate of what he's likely to get offered this winter (with empirical data behind the estimate); and then make your case for why that player will (or might) outperform his contract --- ie, be worth more on the field than he is in the marketplace. the guy i wrote about on tuesday, ryan franklin, is a prime example of what i'm talking about --- the market valued him at a million bucks, barely above replacement level; he delivered performance that was worth about $6 million, give or take.

in my mind, a free agent with a very good chance to outperform his contract is milton bradley. baggage? you betcha. he's fragile both emotionally and physically. between injuries, suspensions, and other aggravating factors, he has averaged just 77 games and 281 at-bats a year since 2005. but he's also a gifted 30-year-old player who gets on base, hits with considerable power, runs the bases well, and plays superior defense. those virtues appear to carry more weight than bradley's faults; he has generally been a member of winning teams. bradley has started for two division winners in the last 4 years (dodgers 04, athletics 06), and his team only missed out on the playoffs this year (san diego) because trevor hoffman blew saves in games 161 and 163. granted, bradley's tantrum on the penultimate sunday of the year didn't help matters; he lost his cool, got hurt, and missed the last 8 games of the season. but the padres still should have been in, and they wouldn't have been in that position without bradley. before he joined the padres, they were averaging just 4.26 runs a game; bradley came aboard on july 7 and produced a .313 / .414 / .590 line, which helped raise the padres' output to 4.86 runs/game the rest of the way. the team obp rose 20 points after he joined them; the team slugging, 45 points.

since 2004 bradley has posted an aggregate .830 ops despite playing in three of the toughest hitters' parks in baseball --- los angeles, oakland, and san diego. one of these years he's gonna stay healthy and out of trouble and have an all-star season while making platoon-player money --- and the team that holds that contract is gonna be in contention.

what's he likely to get offered this winter? let's start with his basic output, and leave the baggage aside for a moment. over the last three years, bradley has averaged 6 win shares above bench (WSAB), which translates to roughly 2 wins above replacement level. per Baseball Prospectus' WARP (wins above replacement), bradley has been worth about 3 marginal wins a year since 2005. both these figures are unadjusted for playing time --- that's what bradley has contributed in half a season, basically. if he could ever stay on the field for 130 games, we can safely assume that he'd be worth 5 or 6 wins --- slightly better than chris duncan, if you want a comparison.

a player like that is worth $10m a year on the open market; bradley clearly isn't going to get offered $10m. so what will he get offered? given the glut of available outfielders this year, i think he'll go cheap; that's just my gut. guys like andruw jones, aaron rowand, torii hunter, and bob abreu are going to attract all the big-money offers, and still-useful geezers like luis gonzalez, kenny lofton, and moises alou will draw lots of interest on one-year pacts; there are also plenty of reliable mid-level players out there mike cameron and shawn green and brad wilkerson. given all those alternatives, teams are likely to shy away from a baggage-y player like bradley. so i think he'll slip through the cracks and go for less than what his "objective" market value is.

objectively, that value is about $6m a year --- that's the average taken from the Hardball Times win shares calculator and Baseball Prospectus' MORP estimator, using his 3-year averages of WSAB and WARP, respectively. realistically, i think the cardinals can get him for $4m a year or less. let's take a look at a few fairly comparable players:

player years avg G avg AB overall
dave dellucci 2004-06 122 343 14 7.9 .856 3 yrs / $11m
frank catalanotto 2004-06 111 368 15 11.0 .799 3 yrs / $13.5m
eric byrnes 2003-05 127 447 12 14.2 .763 1 yr / $2.3m
nomar garciaparra 2003-05 103 403 25 12.9 .844 1 yr / $6m
bradley 2005-07 77 281 18 12.0 .855 ????

these are all part-time outfielders (except garciaparra) of a similar age to bradley; the average annual salary is $4m. it's a short list of comps; if i had more time, i'd come up with more. but i think $4m a year is a pretty reasonable guess for this player.

he's worth that easy, even if he only manages to play half a season. if he plays 100 games, you're way ahead on the deal; if you get lucky and he stays out there for 140 games, you've got a gold mine. i see very little downside and loads upon loads of upside; my kind of bet.

so that's my message to the front office --- take a close look at milton bradley. sound off on him if you want (should be a fair number of "he's not worthy of the the birds on the bat!!!" comments), but better yet name somebody else who you think will be a good value buy this off-season --- and explain why.