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    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Re-Run: Is Fred Wilpon Right to Criticize His Players?

    I'm a little too busy for a new article this week, so I'll be rerunning some of my last posts before I started Hot Corner Harbor. This is a piece about Fred Wilpon's recent comments about some of his players.

    So, apparently, in a recent interview with the New York Post, Mets owner Fred Wilpon was given a fairly positive portrayal (I haven’t gotten a chance to read the full thing yet, but I’ve heard some good things about it).

    Except for the end, in which he bashed several of his star players.

    This likely will not help an any future free-agent signings. If the Mets haven’t already substantially outbid other teams for a player, an owner who openly badmouths his players could easily be a tie-breaking factor. 

    But really, I want to focus less on whether Wilpon has a right to criticize his players. Realistically, they are his employees, and he does pay their salaries (although, again, an owner who openly condemns his workers will likely find it hard to attract new ones). There’s also the whole “fish stinks from the head down” issue too, but again, I’ll leave that to speculation (knowing your boss has given up on you can’t instill much confidence, though).

    What I’m more interested in is, was Fred Wilpon right to blame his players?

    Let’s start with his comments on Jose Reyes. Wilpon seems fairly certain that Reyes has overestimated his worth. Wilpon seems to think Reyes won’t get a contract that will earn him “Carl Crawford” money, so we’ll start with that.

    Crawford’s recent contact with the Red Sox was for $142 million over seven years. Reyes is about one year younger than Crawford, so he’ll enter free agent at the same age Crawford was last off season.

    Right away, Reyes enters with two strikes on him: he’s a middle infielder and he’s much more injury prone. Middle infielders, due to the difficulty of the positions, seem to break down physically much quicker than most other players, particularly corner outfielders like Crawford. Also, Reyes hasn’t played nearly as much as Crawford; in his last two seasons, he’s played in 133 and 36 games. Obviously, the rest of this season will determine what the verdict is on his health.

    Crawford, meanwhile, in the three seasons prior to his free agency, played in 109, 156 and 154 games. Even with missing time in 2008, his track record looks a lot stronger, as every other season he’s played in at least 143 games.

    The other more damaging reason, though, is that Crawford has simply been a better player. Wins Above Replacement accounts for a player’s hitting, fielding, base running, playing time, and position, and accounts for how much of a team’s success is due to that player in the form of Wins. These wins can then be estimated into a price value based on how much free agents cost-current estimates place a win via free agency at about $5 million.

    So, Carl Crawford would have to be worth about 28 wins over his contract to “earn” it, or about four wins per year. From 2008 to 2010, he put up WARs of 2.5, 5.7 and 6.8 (all WAR numbers from Fangraphs). In Jose Reyes' last two seasons, he’s been worth 0.9 and 2.8 wins. However, he’s already amassed 2.3 wins this year in only 46 games, meaning he could quite possibly make five or six wins. In fact, he’s already the most valuable shortstop in the majors.

    Shortstop is a rather weak position right now, and most of the best ones are locked up long term. All it takes is one or two teams with a hole at short and a lot of money to drive up his price. I wouldn’t expect Reyes to get a seven-year deal with his recent injury history. But, I would say he has a good shot at making the same amount as Crawford does per year.

    As to whether he’ll be worth it, I’m inclined to say no, just because it seems like the safer bet, but he could easily be a four-win per year player, particularly with a shorter deal. So, we’ll say this Fred Wilpon assessment comes out even; there’s a decent chance his prediction will come true in part, but he also seems to have underestimated his shortstop and the bidding habits of other teams.

    Wilpon then goes on to knock Carlos Beltran, calling himself an idiot for signing the center fielder and saying he’s “65 to 70 percent of what he was.” Really, the second part of his statement is probably not too far off; however, that’s more a function of Beltran’s age, as he’s now 34. Very few players in their mid-30s will be as good as they were in the mid-to-late-20s. It’s a simple fact.

    However, has Beltran been worth his $119 million, seven-year contract? Well, again, it’s fairly simple to check using WAR. For the life of Beltran’s contract, one win was much closer to $4 million, as recent inflation moved the rate up to $5 million. So, Beltran, during his time with the Mets, would have to be a little less than a 30 WAR player.

    His first year in Queens was a bit of a disappointment, and he only posted 2.2 wins. However, he went on a tear the next three years, putting up WARs of 7.4, 5.1 and 7.1, bringing his Mets total to 21.8. Injuries hit the next two years, and he put up 3.1 and 1 wins, respectively. So, we’re up to 25.9 total. So far this season, the now-right fielder has posted 1.7 wins, sixth in the Majors among right fielders.

    So, if he plays the rest of the year, he could easily put up the remaining 2.4 WAR he needs to officially move onto “surplus” value. If he doesn’t quite make it, there’s a good chance that he’s closer than I calculated, as I would think the inflation has been somewhat gradual, meaning I’m underestimating his value.

    So, again, this statement is a draw for Wilpon. He’s wrong about Beltran not being worth his salary, but he’s also wrong about himself being an idiot, so I guess it’s technically a wash.

    Wilpon’s last statement, about David Wright, is probably the most baffling. I’m not really sure what makes the difference between a “very good player” and “a superstar.” The terms are really kind of subjective. But, going by WAR, Wright is the best position player in Mets history (going on only what each player has done as a Met). He’s .4 ahead of Darryl Strawberry and still has one more year under contract (as well as an option).

    He’s off to a bit of a slow start (only 0.5 wins in 2011), but he’s also having a bit of bad luck, and should see his numbers increase as the year goes on. But the more more egregious thing, in my opinion, would have to be the bad-mouthing of what is essentially a franchise player who is both still young and still with the team.

    I’m not sure what he thinks makes a superstar, but by most definitions, I would think David Wright would have to count. Even in a down year in 2010, he was still the sixth-best third baseman in the majors. He isn’t that far removed from MVP-caliber years, and at only 28, it’s a little difficult to write him off entirely. I kind of tried to give Fred Wilpon the benefit of the doubt on the other two, I’m really not quite sure what he was thinking on this one.

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