What should the Blue Jays do? VORP in action!

 

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 player’s yearly salaries by 75%, as that is an approximation of the amount of the season that has already been played.

American League VORP       Salary           VORP Pts per
     Adjusted at 75% $1 Million
NY Yankees 15 9.75 1.53846
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
Baltimore Orioles 16.5 6 2.75
Minesota Twins 61.6 0.975 63.1795
Cleveland Indians 37.5 0.9975 37.594
Chicago White Sox 9.3 3.45 2.69565
Detroit Tigers 15.9 8.55 1.85965
Kansas City Royals -10.1 0.525 -19.238
Seattle Mariners 10.4 5.4 1.92593
Oakland A’s -0.6 9.1875 -0.0653
Texas Rangers 15.8 0.975 16.2051
LA Angels 12.7 0.825 15.3939
Total 195.2 63.885 3.05549
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 to 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 catcher’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. 

 

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 to 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 fighting 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. 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?

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has written for mopupduty.com since 2006. Follow Matthias on Twitter, Facebook and Google +

  • Early

    K – I agree with you 100% but I do not have time to do my own research. Most of the time I am simply using SABR principles with a minimum of statistical research to prove my point that in my response to Cal’s post that the Jays are getting great value out of a realitivly inexpensive catching duo.
    I do not think that too many teams are going to be lining up to sign Zaun for $4-$5mil. I beleive that the Jays can resign both for under $8mil unless Benji wants more playing time and looks elsewhere.
    I also like the idea of signing a bouceback catcher. This reminds me of Darrin Fletcher a couple years ago who had great seasons at the plate for the Jays as a vet catcher. The sort of replacement catcher I am worried about is the washed up type. Ken Huckaby, Sal Fasano etc. Old, career MiL catchers can handle young pitchers wel (see Bull Durham). I remember a couple years ago Pat Borders coming up to play with a LAST PLACE Mariners teams. I thought, the Mariners system must be in shambles if they can not find a young catcher that can play out the stretch when Dan Wilson went down.
    Otherwise, good stuff K, Go Jays Go.

  • Early

    I agree with that. I do not have enough time to do alot of research on these topics but I have read much of the theory that backs up these ideas. My response to Cal’s posting on the Molina & Zaun saga was cut off at the bottom but the above posting proves my point that:

    Molina Varitek + Mirabelli + 3rd string
    Molina + Zaun > Posada + Fasano

    I do not think that Zaun will go for as high as $5mil. He is not a bona fide starting catcher while Molina is. Also, the $7.5mil option will never see Molina. This is a nice platoon situation and like I said in my response to Cal the Jays should sign them both…if it is economical.

    The worst situation is to bring up an ‘old’ replacement level catcher. The sight of seeing Crash Davis catching for the Jays next year after Molina or Zaun go down is frightening.
    I remember (no time to look into it right now) a bad Mariners team a couple years ago playing out the string with Pat Borders as their everyday catcher. Crash Davis might have value to minor league prospects but is unable to hold his own. Readily available talent, yes, but I hope JP and Gibbons find a 23yr old with “readily available talent” rather than old talent.

  • I disagree with you when you say Zaun is not a bona fide starting catcher while Molina is. It has been proven that both players are comparable offensively and defensively. What is your reasoning behind that statement?

  • Early

    I see my equations still did not work. Must be the charaters I used.

    Until Zaun came to the Jays as a 33yr old in 2004 he played in 100 games once in 9 years and usually in the 60-70 game range. He also never had 300AB until 2004. In 1998 he played 106games for a woeful Marlins squad and his line was .188/.274/.292. Zaun is comparable to Molina this year and has performed around replacement level since 2004. Maybe he is a late bloomer and may continue to plateau/improve as his catching knees age.
    Molina has won two Gold Gloves, is 31yrs old, was the man in California/Anaheim/Los Angeles for 4 years. Since he became a regular in 2000 he has never seen less than 300 AB and has never played less than 96 games. Has put up offensive numbers above replacement level since 2000. He is putting up stats this year above his career average.

    And…like I have noted before I beleive these players complement each other nicely. Molina does not have to play every game and does not have to finish each game. Keeps him fresh and fat. Zaun can fist fight with struggling starters or with saucy teammates or get in Clubhouse Texas Death Matches and doesn’t have to worry about getting bloodied or a suspension hurting the team on the field. Last year Zaun played the most games and most AB in his career to the tune of .251/.355/.373 – these are respectable numbers but for him to play 130gms next year as 36yr old making $2-$3mil is a disaster waiting to happen.

  • I suppose your reasoning makes some sort of sense. But I am not going to say a guy is a stud for the work that he did 6 years ago or chastise his line 8 years ago. Zaun used to be a booze hound extraordinaire but he gave up the booze last year and his numbers improved. Maybe Bengie should give up the pizza and cokes. In baseball, much like anything else, it is “What have you done for me lately?” In the year 2000 Tona Batista hit 41 HR for the Jays!!!!! Bona fide starter? no.

  • Significant figures

    The concept of significant figures originated from measuring a value and then estimating one degree below the limit of the reading; for example, if an object, measured with a ruler marked in millimeters, is known to be between six and seven millimeters and can be seen to be approximately 2/3 of the way between them, an acceptable measurement for it could be 6.6 mm or 6.7 mm, but not 6.666666… mm as a recurring decimal. This rule is based upon the principle of not implying more precision than can be justified when measurements are taken in this manner. Examiners in mathematics, physics and engineering courses in some cases deduct points when scoring papers if excessive significant figures are given in a final answer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Significant_digits

  • You gotta be kidding me, right? I just punced the numbers into an excel database. I hope you don’t expect me to go back and
    change all of the numbers manually. Also, running 5 decimals deep isn’t going to kill anybody. Do you have a comment FillyBoo on the catching situation or are you just seeing red due to the decimal points?

  • Kelekin

    I can understand FillyBoo’s point if I’ve read correctly, not everyone who would read this might understand statistics and there is a lot of people out there who rather see simplied stats. That goes under the category of people who pay attention to “AVG, HR, RBI” and “W, L, ERA” as the only important statistical categories.

    I like all the data. It’s not the most worthwhile formula, but it is uncommon and interesting.

  • Is there a more effective catching platoon in baseball right now? Sign them both! Or, sign Molina PLUS a solid defensive prospect. It’s too bad Quiroz or Phillips didn’t work out…

  • Early

    Molina is so bad.
    Even he could steal on himself.
    Get rid of them all.

  • daperman

    It is interesting that last weekend Molina did steal on Molina
    OH That was Benjie stealing on his brother Jose. Can any Molina
    throw anybody out. Jose should have tried to steal. I thought Benjie
    must have had help from the Angel pitchers last year and his
    inablility to throw out runners this year must have been due to poor
    Blue Jay pitching not holding runners on. But the Angel pitchers
    could not even hold Benjie. this is so bizarre that I don’t even know
    what I am talking about anymore. Benjie is an adventure on the base
    paths as well as behind the plate. However Molina/Zahn is better
    than last year’s Zahn/Hockaby or Zahn/Kevin Cash etc.

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