12-9-2010: Why Carl Crawford is (probably) worth $20M per year

As I wrote my about the signing of Carl Crawford last night, lost in the ecstasy of the moment was the realization that we had just paid over $20M/season for a guy with a career .337 OBP and .444 SLG percentage. Like many others, this morning I started thinking: was it really worth it for us to spend like a drunken sailor on Crawford? And after doing some due diligence, I think the answer is yes. Let me explain.

Defense is underpaid in today’s game

Remember Moneyball, and how teams started signing players based on OBP after it came out? The real point of the book was not so much that on-base percentage was everything. Rather, it’s that you go after whatever is undervalued in the market to gain a competitive advantage. It has been suggested, and not by a few, that today’s undervalued asset is defense, primarily because it’s hard to measure and evaluations can be so subjective.

When teams go for the long ball, home run hitters become expensive. And even if you stack up 6-7 good ones in one lineup, you start getting a decreased margin of return. Look at the Yankees of the early 2000s. Real murderer’s rows, but poor defense, age and injuries kept them from winning it all. Good team defense takes away hits, generates extra outs, and helps every pitcher on the staff. It’s the so-called run-prevention mantra that we’ve been hearing about.

Did you think Adrian Beltre was amazing last year at third base? I certainly did, and he saved us a lot of runs (if you don’t count his outfielder collisions against him). What Beltre is to third base, Crawford is to left field. He’s that good. You won’t see him diving all over the place like Manny Ramirez used to, because he gets in position quickly and doesn’t need to extend to get most balls.

His historical comparables are historically good

The list of players who have stolen at least 400 bases through age 28 is short and sweet: Rickey Henderson, Ty Cobb, Vince Coleman, Tim Raines, Cesar Cedeno, Eddie Collins and some guy named Crawford. Up to age 29, his .781 OPS (and 107 OPS+) ranks 6th out of those seven players, but he has hit the 3rd most HRs of that group, and his slugging percentage is right in line with Henderson, Raines, Cedeno and Collins.

Worried about his speed giving out? The argument is that it will hurt his offensive value on the bases, as well as his defensive value. Here are the ages for that group of their last 40+ steal seasons:

Player Age SB
Cobb* 30 55
Collins* 37 42
Henderson* 39 66
Raines 32 45
Cedeno 29 48

And they went on to have plenty of additional 20-30 SB seasons after that.

Oh, and did I mention that the three asterisked guys are Hall of Famers? I’m not saying Crawford is destined for Cooperstown, but he does look to have a long and productive career.

The market is moving, and don’t forget about inflation

This year’s free agent market is really booming compared to last year. It looks like teams are willing to pay up to $5M per marginal win, perhaps a 20% increase over last year. So if he had been on the market last year, the Sox might have gotten him for $110M. That’s a big markup, but that’s the market. Consider too that the Yankees had just changed their mind and met with Crawford the day before yesterday, and you get the picture. The Sox pounced while the pouncing was still good. So it is an overpay by today’s standards, but not an egregious one.

Another thing about long-term deals is that inflation starts to play a very large part by the latter end of the contract. Let’s say the economy improves and inflation is under control at about 5% over that time. $20M next year will only be about $19.5M in today’s dollars, and $19.25M the year after. It keeps scaling down as payrolls continue to rise, so it really only ends up being perhaps $19M per season annual value if you account for that.


One Response to 12-9-2010: Why Carl Crawford is (probably) worth $20M per year

  1. Pingback: Link 9-25-2011: Carl Crawford’s defensive woes « Red Sox Talk

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