Saturday, January 24, 2009

Brian Roberts

Peter Schmuck penned a column yesterday stating that "the Orioles need to sign Roberts and sign him now." With the news yesterday that the club has offered Roberts a 3-year, $30 million extension, the Orioles appear to be making a serious effort to do just that. Schmuck speculates that the current offer won't be enough to get a deal done. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Brian will play 2009 under the second year of a 2-year, $14.3 million contract extension signed before the 2007 season. Thus, the Orioles current offer represents a significant raise for Roberts.

As reported yesterday, a "source" told Fox's Ken Rosenthal that Roberts is seeking a fourth year. In his column, Schmuck suggests that a 4-year, $45 million offer would be enough to get a deal done, which is quite likely considering the news from Rosenthal. Considering that Roberts will play the 2009 season at age 31, a four year deal would pay Roberts an average of $11.25 million through age 35, the 2013 season. Does Roberts deserve that kind of money, and should the Orioles commit to him through his mid-30s?

Brian established himself as an everyday player for the Orioles in the midway through the 2003 season, so let's take a look at his number since that time (all numbers below reflect this adjusted career statistic):

Batting average: .288
On-base percentage: .363
Slugging percentage: .426
OPS: .789
Weighted Average OPS+: 107*

*Note: I cannot calculate his actual OPS+ for the time in question, so I calculated a weighted average of each season's OPS+.

These numbers likely undersell Brian's true offensive abilities since he has been a better player than this baseline for three of the past four seasons. Still, these provide a good starting point for comparison, and would seem to indicate that his true level of ability lies at almost exactly what he produced in each of the past two seasons: .296/.377/.441. Checking out his PECOTA card over a Baseball Prospectus, this seems eminently reasonable: his production fell in line with his 60% forecast. BP can also provide some valuable information about Brian's defense. It seems as though Brian is very much an average major league second baseman; he was -4 FRAA in 2006 and +2 FRAA in 2007, and his forecasts for 2008 (I can't find his actual numbers; if someone could steer me in the right direction, it would be much appreciated) point to him being a slightly below average defender.

What does all this mean? Well, in 2005, which is far and away his best season, Brian was worth 9.2 WARP. In 2006, he fell to 4.9 WARP, posted 7.6 WARP in 2007 and would seem to be in the 7.0 range again for 2008. That's a total of 28.7 WARP for his peak seasons, a very good total. But we aren't especially interested in what Brian has done; we care only about what we can expect him to do over the life of his coming contract. Here again, Baseball Prospectus comes in most handy.

Since we can agree he performed roughly in-line with expectations for 2008, let's look at his projections for the next four seasons. BP projects WARP values of 5.9, 5.3, 4.3 and 3.7, a total of 19.2. Still good, but not nearly as good as the past four seasons. Considering the likely aging curve, this seems like a very reasonable projection. But what does that make him worth to the Orioles?

Based on the Orioles initial contract offer and the projections for Brian's next three seasons, they seem to place a value of roughly $2.0 million on each 1.0 of WARP. Based on other research that exists, this seems to be a reasonable valuation. Extending the contract to four seasons would mean paying Brian about $37.5 million, quite a bit lower than Schmuck's hypothetical offer. So while Schmuck is probably right--$45 million over four years would get a deal done--that doesn't make his contract proposal a smart one for the Orioles. Instead, if MacPhail & Co. feel comfortable guaranteeing a fourth year, and I would given his injury history and skill set, 4-years/$40 million (thus taking into account the off-field and community goodwill value Roberts has to the club) is better way for me to spend Peter Angelos's money for him.

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