Sunday, November 14, 2004


Was the Omar Vizquel signing as bad as it looked? Maybe not. First, let's look at Vizquel's 2004 season. Since this was a rebound year offensively for Vizquel, no doubt many predict a substantial decline next year. I'm not sure that I'd agree. Vizquel was not a recipient of extraordinary luck on balls in play, as his .317 batting average on balls in play is about right given his high 21.1 LD%. Furthermore, his 2004 season was, by segment, pretty much in line with the average of his last six seasons:

1999 664 10.0606 13.3 103 0.343 0.0909
2000 717 7.21739 9.96 88 0.31 0.0886
2001 693 11 9.63 79 0.277 0.027
2002 663 10.3594 10.4 143 0.296 0.1795
2003 285 9.82759 14.3 82 0.252 0.0909
2004 651 11.2241 10.5 97 0.302 0.1014

612 9.94818 11.3 98.67 0.296 0.0964

The segments there are Plate Appearances, Plate Appearances per Walks/Hit By Pitches, Plate Appearances per Strikeout, Isolated Power (BA - SLG), Batting Average on Balls in Play (for which I included sacrifices), and Batting Average on Balls Out of Play (HR/(HR + K)). His 2004 season fits pretty much right in line with the mean, and that mean would produce a .348 OBP and .365 SLG, good for a .248 Gross Production Average. By comparison, the average AL shortstop in 2004 had a .251 GPA and the average NL shortstop had a .240 GPA. And while it's not likely Vizquel will maintain the same level of performance he had over that period, chances are his decline will be gradual enough that his production will stay reasonably close.

Furthermore, many argue Vizquel's fielding skills appear to be diminished. I'm not sure that this is particularly accurate, either:

Rate2 ZR
1998 110 0.881
1999 91 0.862
2000 103 0.838
2001 109 0.84
2002 106 0.832
2003 113 0.892
2004 100 0.84

Vizquel's 2004 with the glove wasn't his best work, but given the year-to-year variance in Rate2 and Vizquel's steady zone rating, I think it's legitimate to argue that Vizquel will be several runs above average at shortstop over the next few years.

So Vizquel might be good, but is he worth all that cash? One way to evaluate that comes from the hard work of Studes over at the Hardball Times and his creation of Net Win Shares Value. Using Studes' calculator, I tried out a few models for what we can expect from Vizquel and his contract. Vizquel's 2004, in which he was paid, was worth about $503K according to Studes' calculator, as his 17 win shares versus his expected 16 win shares (i.e., what an average player would contribute with his playing time) were good for about 5 win shares above replacement level. Here's a few basic projections:

2005 19 16 4.25 3,439,457
16 15 4.25 1,541,076
2006 18 16 4 2,751,847
13 13 4 431,604
2007 16 15 4 1,697,191
10 11 4 -833,984

53 47 12.3 7,888,495
39 39 12.3 1,138,696

2005 14 15 4.25 -146,374
12 14 4.25 -1,201,030
2006 12 13 4 -201,190
10 12 4 -1,466,778
2007 9 11 4 -1,677,709
6 9 4 -2,943,296

35 39 12.3 -2,025,273
28 35 12.3 -5,611,104

So if Vizquel is significantly above average over the next few years, Sabean's made a very good deal. If he's pretty much average but plays with declining frequency, this deal is just about average, maybe even good. If he declines and is consistenly subpar, the deal is bad, but not stupefyingly so.

What all of the above analysis doesn't account for, however, is the particular situation Vizquel would be in in San Francisco. For one thing, the Giants' other shortstops, Deivi Cruz and Cody Ransom, are right-handed batters without significant historical platoon splits while Vizquel is a switch-hitter who's done much better against right-handed pitching (at least over the last several years), hitting .262/.311/.371 against southpaws over the last three years versus .282/.356/.400 against northpaws. Cruz' numbers against lefties over the last three years are about as valuable as Vizquel's, so if the Giants start Cruz against lefties they wouldn't derive a huge advantage but they would be able to keep Vizquel somewhat rested. So if Vizquel's plate appearances are distributed in the 4:1 RHP:LHP ratio of a lefty like Trot Nixon, his gross offensive production over the next three years could easily better what he did with Cleveland over the past several years. And if he were to be rested against LHP, then his defense could improve as well.

So let's try to take a stab at what Vizquel's production could look like versus his would-be replacements. Here's a chart I made based on somewhat arbitrary estimates of the productivity of Vizquel, Cruz, and Ransom, assuming that Vizquel sist against southpaws:


2005 Ransom 1 0.8 0
Ransom 6 5 421,863

Cruz 7 6 320,564
Cruz 16 14 1,375,220

Vizquel 14 16 2,173,870

22 19

22 24

2006 Ransom 8 6 0
Ransom 16 13 843,725

Vizquel 14 15 1,468,260
RLSS 6 4.5 0

22 21

22 17.5
2007 Ransom 8 6 -93,669
Ransom 16 13 625,164

Vizquel 14 13 -201,190
RLSS 6 4.5 0

22 19

22 17.5



I should note here that to make these calculations, I estimated Ransom's salary as $300,000 in 2005 and 2006 and then $650,000 in 2006 absent Vizquel's presence or $450,000 with Vizquel's presence since in the former case he would have earned more in arbitration. "RLSS" is, of course, a replacement-level shortstop earning the league minimum. The results slightly favor Brian Sabean's decision, but not by a very substantial margin. Keep in mind, of course, that there were a ton of subjective (though educated) guesses involved in these projections.

But to say that the signing is slightly better than just making do with Cruz, Ransom, and the mysterious replacement level shortstop is not necessarily to say that Sabean made the right decision. For one thing, all of the NWSV figures I used assumed 2004 contract values, and it's likely that the market correction will continue and that that would sap much of the marginal value from the Vizquel deal. Furthermore, Sabean made this signing in the context of a deep free agent shortstop pool, so arguably finding a better deal should have been easy, although I'm not sure of that argument since my cursory thinking on the subject indicates that the demand mostly matches the supply for free agent shortstops. Most importantly, perhaps, is that Net Win Shares Value is measured against average; I'm guessing that playoff teams will, outside of Club Steinbrenner, tend to average in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions per position per season in NWSV. Meaning that, if my analysis above is a good rough approximation of the value to be earned by signing Vizquel, then the Giants have done something to make themselves competitive but have not made the kind of decision that makes the difference in whether a team makes the playoffs. And if the Giants end up with a bullpen next year that approximates what they had in 2004, the Vizquel signing will likely have been a mismanagement of resources that could have been spent finding superior relievers.

Of course, Sabean's backers will argue that he's got a great eye for veteran talent and that his more aged free agent signings have typically outperformed expectations. That might be true, but then again my analysis above already presupposes a bit of a rebound for Vizquel.

Overall, this signing is not, to me, an offensively bad one. But neither is this the kind of signing which indicates a team is playoff-bound. Paul DePodesta is Sabean's new competition, and DePo has a bigger budget and, at this point, a much better crop of talent in the minor leagues. The Barry Bonds advantage is huge, but it can only go so far. The time has come for Sabean to be creative, and I don't think uninspired Omar Vizquel signings are going to do it.

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