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February 17, 2011

Transaction of the Day

Jose Bautista's Serious Bank

by Christina Kahrl

Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with 3B/OF-R Jose Bautista on a five-year, $65 million contract, avoiding arbitration; signed OF-L Scott Podsednik to a minor-league contract with a spring training NRI. [2/16]

Douglas Adams notes: We have normality. I repeat, we have normality. Anything you still can't cope with is therefore your own problem.

If, a year ago, you had suggested that Jose Bautista was on the cusp of earning a long-term deal with this kind of dollar amount attached to it, your first instinct might have been to think the nation's economic ill health had taken a nasty spin into hyperinflation; giving Bautista five years and $65 million would be followed by four years and $30 million for John McDonald, plus all the leftover hot dogs the wife and kids could eat after every ballgame. Hey, when times are tough...

But for Jose Bautista as for the rest of us, things are definitely not that rough (yet), because he's been granted a 540 percent raise to match last year's 415 percent spike in his seasonal home-run tally. Obviously, it isn't just chicks who dig the long ball. A $13 million average annual value (AAV) might have been a one- or two-year reward for last year's breakout, and a way to avoid arbitration and let Joey Bats prove that he wasn't just going to go away after last year's epic slugging feats. To commit to five years at that clip, though... well, isn't this a lot like J.P. Ricciardi's original sin(s), with Alexis Rios and Vernon Wells?

  • Rios received seven years and $69.8 million, covering his age-27 through age-33 campaigns, and people though Ricciardi was mad (let alone what they said about Kenny Williams for claiming him on waivers). At the time, he was coming off consecutive seasons with ISO above .200.
  • Wells got $126 million for seven seasons, to pay him for his age-29 through age-35 seasons; he'd just delivered his second really good season in five, in what was his age-27 season, and he cashed in by signing his extension in December 2006.

Bautista is getting this deal in time for his age-30 season, and it covers him through his 34th birthday. Initially, Alex Anthopoulos doesn't come off well—he's paying an older player with a less substantial track record for quality performance more money than Rios, but less than Wells. However, there are a couple of tweaks to consider. First, we do know that PECOTA is mildly confident about Bautista's ability to retain some of his value from last year:

2010 .260 .378 .617 .331 6.6
2011 .248 .347 .491 .290 2.0

That's still a massive drop-off, but if you'd said a year ago that Bautista might bust out for a .290 TAv, that would have made him an incredibly valuable ballplayer. Making him even more valuable is his move back to third base; there, a .290 TAv would have made him the seventh-best regular third baseman in baseball, bracketed by Alex Rodriguez (.291) and Casey McGehee (.289), and trailing Ryan Zimmerman, Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre, David Wright, and Scott Rolen. Add in that Colin Wyers' new-flavor FRAA suggests that Bautista was a plus defender afield, worth 2.4 runs in about a third of a season, and you've got a man whose glove adds to his total value. Put in those terms, that's something that we here in Illinois call a frickin' valuable thing. (Beyond that link lay foul-mouthed dragons, so don't say you weren't warned.)

How valuable? Well, consider again Bautista's AAV: $13 million. Want to know the combined AAVs of the six third basemen who ranked above him in production for the deals they'll be under for 2011 and beyond? A cool $14.3 million. Well, I'll be... maybe Mr. Anthopoulos has something here.

OK, but what about Bautista's ability to sustain that performance, even if we're talking about the lower level of performance? It's worth reviewing what changed with Bautista at the bat. The slugging and the homers are swell, but they're incidental to a decidedly altered approach: Bautista's strikeout rate dropped below 20 percent for the first time since his last year as an everyday player, for the Pirates in 2007. Maybe that's a comfort thing that comes from playing every day, but it's worth noting that he started swinging much more aggressively than in the past, generating career highs in his swinging strike percentage and strikes swung at clip. He also became a much more extreme fly-ball hitter, producing twice as many flies and grounders than in any other season, generating a lot more popups, not to mention an incredible HR/FB spike, up to 21.9 percent, or nearly twice his previous single-season best.

Looking at that sort of extraordinary change, perhaps there is credit to be assigned to  hitting coach Dwayne Murphy. Since that's a matter of bringing up a childhood hero, I have to admit that the vision of Murph transmogrifying everything he touches into latter-day incarnations of his early-'80s TTO heroism is far too attractive a proposition to take at face value. It's cool to consider, but it's more important to remember that, with the huge collection of tools at players' disposal these days, you can't just put everything on a favored name. Causation was, is, and ever shall be a slippery bitch, so we're best sticking with noting the facts: Bautista is trying to hit more fly balls, he delivered on that, and he's striking out less.

This is just talking about a single season, though. What about the full spread of the deal? Well, it's still early days on PECOTA's spitting out player cards, and Colin's been awfully busy lately... but happily he turned around a park-neutral five-year forecast for Bautista's triple-slash rates. Remember, these are park-neutral, so you'll notice that his 2011 numbers here are different from his park-adjusted 2011 projection above:

2011 .255 .355 .495
2012 .251 .352 .486
2013 .240 .344 .462
2014 .235 .334 .444
2015 .223 .329 .423

That's coming from the Blue Jays' third baseman, so before we start turning this into "well, he's cheaper than Jayson Werth" commentary, that's a rough sketch of a very valuable third baseman for the first three years of the deal. Add in that he boasts an interesting group of front-rank comps: Nick Swisher, Reggie Smith... Roger Maris? That's not quite so one-year wonder-y as Davey Johnson's 1973.

Borrowing from Matt Swartz's observation that teams who re-sign their players tend to profit from their inside knowledge of the guy, maybe there is an argument that a new-approach Joey Bats does even better than that, and makes this work for the first four of five years. If you'd asked me up front if I'd have bought the proposition, I'd have been skeptical; after doing the homework, and I find myself a bit of a believer.

So, if that was another exercise in crediting Anthopoulos with powers of cognition beyond the ken of normal men... wait, what's this, Podzilla? What is this, an attempt to sign up a Dave Collins historical re-enactor? Are there Dave Collins historical re-enactors? Shouldn't there be laws to stop such things? But here again, give the proposition a minute, and maybe you might find this works for the Jays in a way it wouldn't for most clubs.

As I suggested yesterday, their likely fourth outfielder was going to be Corey Patterson. Given my druthers, I'd take Pods over Patty too as a part-time alternative to Travis Snider and Juan Rivera in the outfield corners, and as a bad-glove spotter for Rajai Davis in center. It's sort of cute that last year, he produced a .272 TAv, making him a one-for-one swap-in for Fred Lewis, who also produced at a .272 clip... see, we're getting there!

But since PECOTA is projecting Pods for a .242 this year, I've taken my Pod-ly praise about as far as it can go, leaving us with the more sordid qualities of a Patty versus Podzilla cage death match, what with Patterson projected for a .236 TAv himself. And before you note the obvious grass-lessness of Podsednik's new digs, no, he is not a turf hitter, having hit just .266/.330/.389 on carpet on his career. Then again, that kind of truth goes back to some of the oldest sabermetric research I remember reading, back when Bill James was observing that speed guys aren't automatically fake grass profiteers almost 30 years ago.

Thanks to Colin Wyers and Steph Bee for research assistance.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Podzilla

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