Is Wilson the Answer?

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.