The Toronto Blue Jays have a dilemma. And it has nothing to do with John Gibbons and a tunnel.
Heading into this season General Manager JP Riccardi signed Bengie Molina to complement current catcher Greg Zaun. While some may have questioned this move at the time, it has in fact worked out quite well for the Blue Birds. The dilemma? Both players will be heading into the free agent market this off-season (Molina has a $7.5 million team option clause but this will not be exercised.) The question that the Blue Jays have to ask themselves heading into this off-season has many different facets. How effective has this duo really been? How strong of a value have they delivered? Is it feasible to resign both players? If so, then what value will they yield next season? These questions and more will be covered by using a sabermatical stat named VORP.
In baseball, value over replacement player (or VORP) tells how much a player contributes offensively and defensively to his team in comparison to a fictitious “replacement player,” who is an average fielder at his position and a below average hitter. A replacement player performs at “replacement level,” which is the level of performance an average team can expect when trying to replace a player at minimal cost, also known as “freely available talent.”
Based on research conducted and published in Baseball Prospectus, replacement level is set at 80% of the positional average rate of offense for most positions (85% is used for catchers, 75% is used for 1B/DH).
The VORP value changes daily and accumulates over the course of the season. To account for this I have divided playerâ€™s yearly salaries by 75%, as that is an approximation of the amount of the season that has already been played.
|American League||VORP||Â Â Â Â Â Salary||Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â VORP Pts per|
|Â Â Â Â Â Adjusted at 75%||$1 Million|
|Boston Red Sox||1.2||11.625||0.10323|
|Tampa Bay D-Rays||-5.7||1.5||-3.8|
|Toronto Blue Jays||15.7||4.125||3.80606|
|Chicago White Sox||9.3||3.45||2.69565|
|Kansas City Royals||-10.1||0.525||-19.238|
|Average Per Team||13.9429||4.56321||3.05549|
Some may say that the data is skewed due to the high value that the Minnesota Twins are receiving from their catching duo. The opposite can be said of the Oakland A’s, who are receiving virtually no production for their large salary investment. Typical, in each year there will be winners and losers when it comes to value vs. salary, so we will not alter the values in any fashion. Also note, as outlined above that salaries are currently at a 75% value toÂ reflect the amount of the season that has already been played. Let’s move on.
Currently the Blue Jays rank sixth in the American League with 15.7 VORP from the catching position. The Jays also rank fifth in terms of value, earning 3.806061 VORP points per million dollars of salary at the catchers position (VORPper$M). This is great news for Jays fans, as the value is approximately 0.8 points over the league average (3.05549). The Jays are doing this by paying a total of $5.5 million in salary this season ($4.125 million at this juncture in the season). Therefore, what we’ve learned so far is the Jays have been able to maintain an above average catching situation by employing this two catcher system. The advantage of this system isn’t so much in its monetary savings; it is in fact a protection against an injury. When one catcher goes down the other can replace him, thus minimizing the potential damage to the positions production. A clear example of this has been shown in Boston following the Varitek injury, leaving the Red Sox with 0.103 VORPperM$.
Let’s take a very quick look at the defensive side of catching. The above VORP does not take into account defense, which is a huge factor for the catching position. To document defensive productivity we will turn to fielding Win Shares. The Jays fielding Win Shares for catcherâ€™s is currently 5.7, which places the team is 7th in the AL, so they do an adequate job defensively. One would assume that this statistic would remain relatively constant if the Jays signed both players for next season.
Now if the Blue Jays were to spend $10 million on resigning both Zaun and Molina they would earn only 2.0933 VORPperM$ next season. The league average would drop to 2.976509 VORP per million under this example. This VORPperM$ would only drop to the Jays to 6th the the AL but they would end up being almost a full point below the league average.Â
Assuming a projected payroll of $75 million, the catching tandem would eat up a little over 13% of the payroll. This is clearly too much for a smaller/medium market club. The goal of the Blue Jays should be mainting a VORPper$M around 3.5 or to even repeat this years rate of 3.8. To do this the Jays would most likely not be able toÂ spend more than $6 million. I propose two options that will allow the Blue Jays to fall within their budget;
1) Sign Molina (who has a more consistent offensive track record) at around $5 – $5.5 million and trade for a backup catcher that is either a veteran fightingÂ for playing time or stuck in someone’s minor league system. With careful selection the Jays should be able to land someone who has similar statistical potential to a Zaun type player. One recommendation would be to acquire Rob Bowen of the San Diego Padres or a player of a similar skill set.
2) Sign Zaun for around $4 – $5 million and attempt to sign a free agent catcher that may be due for a bounce back year.Â Something along the llineof the deal Mike Piazza signed with the San Diego Padres ($1.25 million). An example of a free agent in this mold would be Mike Lieberthal.
What would you do?