Saturday, September 04, 2004

Carlos Delgado?

I meant to post this yesterday, but didn't get to it. Edgar Martinez made his pitch for the M's to pursue Carlos Delgado in yesterday's P-I, a subject I thought worthy of comment.

USSM's Dave Cameron shared his thoughts on this recently, and while I am not as down on Delgado as Dave is, I mostly agree with his view that it would be a mistake to sign Delgado. Here are the pros and cons to signing Delgado, as I see it:

Pros:

Edgar summed up many of them in the P-I article. "If they asked me, I'd definitely recommend Carlos," Martinez said. "He's got great power, he's a great hitter and left-handed hitters with power in Safeco Field do well. If anyone could come to Safeco and do well, Carlos could. He's the kind of guy who wants to play every day. He's great with younger players. He's great in the clubhouse. He's just a great teammate. He'd be a great choice, for sure."

I can't vouch for the intanglibles (though I'm sure if Edgar's evaluation is the consensus opinion, that will weigh heavily with the Mariners front office), but the rest is true. Delgado has had an off year this year (.249/.351/.501 in 369 AB, with 25 HR/43 XBH and 77 RBI), but some of that has been attributable to injury. Delgado came out of Spring Training with a nagging knee injury that bothered him right up to the point where he pulled a rib cage muscle that cost him more than a month on the DL. Since his return in mid- July, he has been much better, and hit .317/.411/.653 in August. After his MVP-runner up season in 2003, it is difficult to make the case that this season represents the beginning of his decline.

Delgado has always loved to hit in Safeco Field, too. His career line in Safeco, going into this season: in 72 AB, .389/.476/.792, with 9 doubles, a triple, and 6 home runs among his 28 hits and 14 RBI. Of course, he won't get to face Mariner pitching anymore, so take that with a grain of salt . . . but at least his Safeco numbers don't throw up a red flag.

Defensively, though not great, Delgado has improved in recent years. According to BP, he's played to a 106 Rate2 this year, a 97 last year, and was a 108 in 2002. For his career, he's a 99 -- about average -- and recent years suggest he's playing to at least that level or better now. The scouting report says he is better going to his left than his right, which is fine because Bret Boone has more than enough range to his left to cover Delgado's more limited range to his right. Certainly, Delgado is an improvement defensively over Bucky Jacobsen, and no worse than any other option the M's currently have at 1B.

Cons:

To me, the biggest reason to avoid Carlos Delgado is his age, coupled with the fact that I don't think you can realistically expect the Mariners to seriously contend for at least the next year or two. I do expect them to be better next year, but there are simply too many holes to fill, and too many that will have to be filled with very young players, to expect peak performance from the team as a whole.

Delgado will turn 33 next June. The Bill James Aging Pattern study (which I am still in the process of updating) I referred to in one of my first posts here suggests that on average you should expect a 33-year old player to play to 82% of his peak value (measured by Win Shares), a 34-year old player to play to 72% of his peak value, and at 35, to 65% of his peak value. Granted, Delgado's two best seasons (2000's .344/.470/.664 and 2003's .302/.426/.593, the combination of which represents a .323/.448/.629 over 1139 AB, with 180 XBH representing about 49% of his hits) are absolutely monster, but any GM signing Delgado would have to expect that they will be getting something between 65% and 80% of that player -- 73% of that player, over the life of a three-year deal. This is what you can expect, on average:

Year Expected % Decline From 2000 Peak
2005 18% .282/.385/.544
2006 28% .247/.338/.478
2007 35% .224/.306/.431

Obviously, as is true with anything representing an average, Delgado's actual performance might end up differing significantly -- for either the worse or the better -- but when you are considering a prospective signing, this is as good a guide as any. I actually think these projections are low (absent injuries, ala this year), but I would use them rather than any rose-colored, Bavasi-esque projection that players are almost indefinitely capable of repeating peak level performance going forward.

The downside and upside can be seen in the career paths of BP's PECOTA most similar players to Delgado: Boog Powell and Fred McGriff. Powell actually improved in his age 33 season over his age 32 year, but fell off a cliff after that. McGriff fared better -- with some notable exceptions, he declined modestly from his peak and mostly stayed there until he hit his age 39 season. How much are you willing to risk in a rebuilding phase to find out which path Delgado takes?

The other major reason not to sign Delgado is the money it will likely take. John Hickey speculated that Delgado may have to take a 25% salary cut or more from the $19.7M he made this year. While I think Hickey is still far too high (a 25% cut from Delgado's 2004 salary would still leave him making nearly $15M in his age 33 year, while Vladimir Guerrero couldn't get that last year entering his peak), I would expect Delgado to be looking for 3 years, $30-$36M minimum, and I don't expect he'll have to settle for much under $9-$10M per season.

So I ask you, is this where you want to spend your free agent dollars? The only year I would expect Delgado to approach a performance that would justify this salary is 2005, which also happens to be the season where I would least expect his performance might make the difference one way or the other. For that reason alone, I would pass.

The only way I would consider signing Delgado is if the market for him is softer than I expect both in terms of dollars per season and contract length. I wouldn't go higher than $10M in 2004, or longer than two years with a buy-out club option in the 2nd, or possibly a threeyear deal with a Guardado-esque mutual option in the second year and a club option/buyout for the third. The base salary would have to decline by at least $1M each year, too, and the buyouts would have to be no more than $1M.

The Mariners will be much better off if they focus on very good players entering their prime, particularly if they play defensive positions (well) where the kind of offensive production they offer is more rare.

4 Comments:

At September 5, 2004 at 4:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>> your con are well taken, 32 is start of the end of most careers. There was I book written regarding this subject a couple of years ago, and I was trying to find it on Google.

I googled my way onto a masters thesis from Iowa St. that dealt w/ somewhat the same subject, only it measured the rate of decline of a player's career, looking at players such as Mays, Maris, Mantle...

What jumped out was the difference in the rate of decline by ethnic group. The Caucasian guys dropped off much faster than other groups.

Is that true -- I don't know. I only know that if I were going to commit millions of $$ I'd know. There might well be a lot less risk w/ Delgado than Cirillo, Aurila, Spezio...

 
At September 5, 2004 at 5:46 PM, Blogger Pete Livengood said...

I am in the process of updating a study Bill James did on the rate of decline in performance, relative to peak (as judged by Win Shares, a James-created performance metric). I linked to another post of mine on this subject in the post. The study isolates roughly the top 300 batters of all time, judged by career Win Shares not earned via pitching, and looks at the distribution of Win Shares by age year, and percentage relative to peak, on average. I am updating it to judge it by other BP metrics like Batting and Fielding Runs above Replacement, Wins Above Replacement, and also OPS+ (the sole "rate" stat I am using). It is kind of slow going.

I had not thought to look at race in the study -- I was more interested in differences between rough "eras," difference by position, and differences between fielding and batting peaks. It wouldn't be that hard to do, though.

My guess is that there is little difference between races. A lot of decline is injury-related, but in general the march of time erodes all of us at more or less equal rates, I would think.

I expect that the updated study will pretty much confirm what James found. Great players (who James thought were a purer way to study decline, since lesser players lose playing time with only a slight decline in skill, while a great player will be allowed to play much longer as skills decline) peak at 26-28, don't fall off much until 31-32, and then begin to drop pretty precipitously, on average. Of course, there are always exceptions to this, like Edgar, but I think it is a valid guideline for a prospective signing.

 
At September 5, 2004 at 5:47 PM, Blogger Pete Livengood said...

Also, could you post a link to the Iowa State study? I didn't see it on a quick Google search.

 
At September 8, 2004 at 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my memory failed me, and Google's tweaked their algorithms -- amazing how many links take you directly to Amazon.com, but this is the link of which I was speaking (it was Bowling Green, not Iowa St..., oh well,they're both in the Midwest).

[ http://bayes.bgsu.edu/papers/career_trajectory.pdf ]

While checking links, I ran into an interesting post in Top Forums related to the same subject, pompous Dr. Detecto alluded to the racial component as in all 64 cornerbacks in the NFL are African American, which => fast twitch reflexes which => longevity in baseball.

I think Delgado would work well (if healthy) for this team, but the price has to be right. They've way overspent for mediocrities and have no "crocodile tears" budget left for real players.

 

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