With the Free Agent market opening up, I thought it would useful to look back at the Free Agent Class of 2012-2013 and see how they performed in 2013. After you commit a significant sum of money to one player, you need to look back and see if that was a wise investment.
Here’s what I did:
1. I started with Jeff Passan’s Ultimate Free Agent Tracker. I didn’t care about the rankings. I just liked that it had 175 players listed. Strangely, it was missing both Hunter Pence and Nate Schierholtz.
2. In excel, I added in the Average Contract Cost. For the Average Contract Cost, I used the average cost for multi-year contracts. For Edwin Jackson, the Average Contract Cost is $13 million. Signing bonuses, front-loading, and back-loading are just a cash flow technique for this exercise. I obtained the signing team and dollar figure data from Cots Contracts and/or Baseball Reference.
3. After the season was over, I downloaded the 2013 season batting and pitching stats from Fangraphs. This provided me with the 2013 WAR values.
4. I wanted to determine the value of each free agent players relative to their cost. The Value % is calculated as: (2013 WAR * $5,500,000)/Ave Contract Cost. To use Edwin Jackson as an example again, his Value % = (2.0 * $5,500,000)/$13,000,000 = 84.62%. So by fWAR , Edwin Jackson provided 84.62% of Average Contract Cost. I think Fangraphs does this or a similar calculation in their Dollars calculation.
To put this in High School Yearbook terms:
Worst Value: Part-time Cub Kameron Loe gave up home runs early and posted -1.2 WAR and a value of -628%.
Biggest Bust: I was going to say Josh Hamilton - $25M Average Contract Cost, 1.8 WAR, and a value of only 40% of his contract. But I need to give the nod to B.J. Upton - $15M Average Contract Cost,-0.6 WAR, and a value of -22%!
Best Value: Part of the Pirates 2013 playoff run was the comeback season of Francisco Liriano. With a guaranteed salary of $1M and producing a 3.1 WAR, Liriano had a 1705% value. Liriano provided the value of a $17M player. Liriano did end up making more than $1M with bonuses but he was still a tremendous value. Brian Bogusevic was next up with approximately 1100% value – a 1.0 WAR and league minimum salary will do that.
Best Salary Tier: I broke up the salary tiers into $5M groups, and then below $1M. The best bang for the buck in 2013 was the $1M to $5M salary range. With four of these players posting 3+ WARs and plenty at 0.5 WAR and above, it’s easy to see why this group posted a 104% value.
Best Position: While a few Positions – 1B, 2B, catcher - produced positive value (costing an average of less than $5,500,000), the sample sizes are small. The real contrast is in Pitching with larger sample sizes. The results show that free agent Starting Pitcher is worth the value and free agent Relief Pitcher is probably not. But I can see a case where a team will overpay for Relief Pitching when they determine they are in a contending window.
Best Age Years: Prime Years - age 29, 30, 31 - provided positive value. Past-Prime Years – age 33, 34, 35 – provided terrible results.
Best Team Free Agents: While the A’s and Orioles got the cheapest WAR - $769K and $869K – they each only had 1 free agent signing. But right after them comes 3 playoff teams, the Pirates ($1.91M), the Red Sox ($2.86M), and the Rays ($2.89M). The Cubs overpaid a little for their 7 WAR from free agency - $6.16M. But there were numerous their teams who overpaid greatly for the free agent WAR.
With less than half the free agents producing a positive WAR value (100% or greater), I wonder if judging free agents by WAR is unfair. The nature of baseball is that multiple players will contribute to the game, win or lose. Star players may be able to take over a single game, but not a whole season. But free agency provides players with greater income while they are still compared via WAR with their fellow players who are under cheaper team control.
Here's a link to the spreadsheet in Google Docs.