added 1/11/2006 by Scott Barzilla
We’ve been waiting a season and a half to analyze a significant deal, so it’s time to do this right. The Astros signed Preston Wilson to a one-year contract with a club option for three years. I will analyze the deal on two different dimensions: financial value and baseball value. The first asks if they got a good bargain for their money and the second asks whether Wilson will really help put the offense where it needs to be.
In order to analyze the financial end of this deal we need to look at the outfielders that have signed this off-season. Fortunately, most of the outfielders that signed are very similar to Preston Wilson, so this should be very easy. As usual, I will go back three seasons to look at the percentage and counting statistics. We will include AVG, OBP, SLG, home runs, and runs created.
AVG OBP SLG HR RC SAL Jeromy Burnitz .261 .327 .492 92 256 6.5 Juan Encarnacion .265 .320 .434 51 214 5.0 Nomar Garciaparra .299 .346 .498 46 207 6.0 Jacque Jones .268 .322 .433 63 220 5.3 Reggie Sanders .272 .333 .530 74 210 5.0 Preston Wilson .268 .332 .487 67 197 4.5
Preston Wilson was the cheapest out of these folks, but he also created the least amount of runs. However, when we look at the percentage statistics we notice that there isn’t a lot of difference between them (.819, .754, .844, .755, .863, and .819 respectively). For the record, Wilson appears at the midpoint with his .819 OPS. So, at first glance it would appear he should end up at the midpoint salary wise.
Before we leave this discussion I probably should look at the win shares angle. Win shares follow exactly the available wins of the club. There are two dimensions of this debate. First, we are going to look at the percentage win shares for each player. Percentage win shares are simply the percentage of the team’s win shares the player earned. This can give us a good idea of what they might do with their new club. We’ll get to the second dimension in a minute.
2003 2004 2005 Total Team PCT Burnitz 12 17 16 45 669 6.7 Encarnacion 15 12 18 45 792 5.7 Garciaparra 25 11 5 41 810 5.1 Jones 14 13 13 40 795 5.0 Sanders 18 14 11 43 840 5.1 Wilson 20 2 14 36 648 5.6
So, despite the fact that Wilson spent nearly all of 2004 on the shelf he again appeared to find the mid-point in percentage win shares. To put this in perspective, with Houston’s 89 wins, Wilson would have had fifteen win shares with the Astros last season if the three year average applies. Incidentally, that would have been nearly identical to nearly everyone here. Now, let’s take a look at the second dimension. With the Astros it’s pretty easy. They are a 90 win team and their payroll will approach 90 million dollars. So, each win should cost them a million dollars. It takes three win shares to equal one win.
Salary Win Shares 3 Year Avg Preston Wilson 4.5 13.5
According to these numbers Wilson is slightly overpaid, but it seems everyone has been overpaid this off-season. The Astros are gambling that he will remain healthy like he was in 2003 and last season. He averaged 17 win shares in those two seasons and that is what the Purpura is hoping for. However, as we know, the Astros have a three year option at eight million per season. What would he have to do to earn that contract?
Salary Win Shares Preston Wilson 8.0 24.0
Twenty-four win shares puts him in the neighborhood of Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg from last year. Lance Berkman had 25 win shares in 2003 and Morgan Ensberg had 27 a year ago. Below is a counting of their season and the kind of season Wilson would have to produce to earn that money at the Astros current budget.
PA AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RC 2003 Berkman 658 .288 .412 .515 .927 25 119 2005 Ensberg 624 .283 .388 .557 .945 36 113
You get the idea. Preston Wilson has never created more than 102 runs in a season and he did that in Coors Field. I’m all for incentive-based contracts though, but they need to be very clear about what they expect. If they are smart, they will use this season to continue to develop minor league talent or look for more permanent options. Out of the available outfielders, the Astros did a good job of picking the right one for the right price. It is enough though?
A Legitimate Concern
J-Mag Guthrie (Astro Annie) and I go back a ways on multiple sites. On Speedy’s fan page she brought up an interesting question Wilson immediately brings to mind. She asked why people make a big deal about strikeouts and whether they are worse than outs where the ball is put in play. Since Wilson struck out 148 times last year and once challenged for the single season record, this is a particularly good time to bring this question to the fore.
In order to demonstrate this concern I will take the last three years numbers for all of the players and project them over 500 plate appearances. I will include OBP, SLG, HR, runs created, strikeouts, and walks. I will include Jeff Bagwell since he will likely play every day if he is able, but obviously one of the nine guys won’t be in the regular lineup.
OBP SLG OPS HR RC SO BB Willy Taveras .324 .341 .665 2 54 82 20 Craig Biggio .338 .449 .787 16 69 73 32 Lance Berkman .425 .535 .960 21 96 74 85 Morgan Ensberg .368 .504 .872 23 80 74 56 Preston Wilson .332 .487 .819 23 68 115 40 Jason Lane .322 .504 .826 23 73 94 32 Adam Everett .307 .375 .682 9 54 77 24 Brad Ausmus .319 .315 .634 4 44 60 46 Jeff Bagwell .374 .486 .860 23 77 90 67
First, we should understand that these are not full season projections. Most players collect 600 or more plate appearances if they play full-time, but this does show that the Astros have a lot of similar hitters. The strikeouts do concern me (especially from Wilson) but they are third or fourth on my list of worries. First, only three players had more than 50 walks in this recreation. Berkman was the only one to have more walks than strikeouts.
The National League average for on base percentage was .330, so we have four regulars with OBPs below the league average (including the leadoff hitter). There were another two (Biggio and Wilson) within a few points of the league average. Simply put, if Bagwell is out of the lineup you have only two hitters that are good at getting on base. Additionally, the league average OPS was .744, so there are three regulars far below the league average in that department. Even with Wilson, this lineup is very flawed.
Unfortunately, it is a bit of a stretch to consider the strikeouts to be a major part of this equation. Certainly, most high strikeout hitters are also low walk and low on base percentage hitters, but one is not necessarily a cause of the other. Morgan Ensberg, Lance Berkman, and Jeff Bagwell averaged nearly 80 strikeouts a piece, but they also averaged nearly 70 walks a piece. All of them had OBPs nearly 40 points better than the league average or better. High strikeouts do not necessarily translate into low OBPs. In order to demonstrate this, allow me to show the following chart.
High Ks: 1303 (Reds) 1st
Low Ks: 901 (Giants) 15th
High Walks: 639 (Phillies) 2nd
Low Walks: 419 (Cubs) 9th
High HR: 222 (Reds) 1st
Low HR: 117 (Nationals) 16th
High OBP: .348 (Phillies) 2nd
Low OBP: .319 (Giants) 15th
High SLG: .446 (Reds) 1st
Low SLG: .386 (Nationals) 16th
High OPS: .785 (Reds) 1st
Low OPS: .708 (Nationals) 16th
The rank next the teams represents the team’s rank in runs scored in 2005. Obviously, home runs, OBP, SLG, and OPS correspond very well to runs scored. Strikeouts obviously don’t. It would be foolish to suggest that striking out MORE often is beneficial (based on the inverse relationship we see above), but obviously they aren’t nearly as important as the other categories.
So, we shouldn’t feel good about Wilson’s prolific strikeout rate, but it is more important that the club will have four legitimate power hitters whether Bagwell is healthy or not. We would like to improve a few more positions ideally, but the club has to wait until Bagwell proves he’s healthy. If so, we might expect a deal for more pitching, but otherwise these will be your Astros coming into Spring Training.