Is Adrian Gonzalez Worth It?

adrian-gonzalez

This winter will be abuzz with rumors surrounding San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Some think his breakout 2009 season is a fluke, while others believe he’s on the brink of superstardom. In a well-researched article, contributing stathead Matt Himelfarb answers the question: Is Adrian Gonzalez worth it?

Virtually all reports leading up to this past year’s trading deadline indicate the Padres will seriously consider trading Adrian Gonzalez this winter. If so, San Diego will almost certainly demand a young, talent-laden package; Gonzalez is young, inexpensive, and most importantly, coming off a monster 2009.
After taking over as the Padres everyday first baseman in 2006, Gonzalez, entering this year, was a very good, albeit unspectacular player. He posted an OPS. of .861, .848, and .871, respectively, while providing overall average defense. He was worth about 3-4 wins per year, or around $14 million dollars.

Then Gonzalez decided it was time to join baseball’s elite in 2009, posting a .277/.407/.551 line. Combined with improved defense (3.4 UZR/150), Gonzalez is now mentioned in the same breath as Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, etc. — and rightfully so; he was worth 6.4 wins in 2009, or about $29 million dollars.
Thus, a consensus has seemingly developed that Gonzalez, coming off a career year, is generally overrated, and the Padres will demand (and receive) far more talent than he is really worth. Despite the sheer inconsistency of Gonzalez’s performance, nothing about his 2009 performance really strikes me as flukish; his walk rate (17.5%), exploded this year, but he had been steadily improving his ability to draw walks since arriving in the big leagues in 2004, and hitters have a tendency to increase their BB rate as they get older. He hit more fly balls than usual, and more of them left the park; for hitters, this is within their control.
If anything, he might have been unlucky, given his .280 BABIP. According to Derek Carty’s excellent xBABIP tool, Gonzalez’s xBABIP in 2009 was .314. His adjusted line looks something like .302/.426/.611, which would have given him the second best OPS in baseball, behind Albert Pujols, while his new wOBA (.438), would have tied for second with Joe Mauer. When you adjust for Petco Park, Gonzalez was worth around 8.35 wins, or almost $37.5 million- on par with both Mauer and Pujols. That is potentially a $10 million dollar difference between his perceived value and his actual net worth.

In other words, a case can be made that Gonzalez was the best player in the game in 2009.

Than I took a look at his Home/Away split over the last three years, and I started feeling even more bullish about his trade value:

(OPS)
2006: .815/.905
2007: .760/.928
2008: .788/.946
2009: .859/.1.045

Four seasons is a pretty large sample size, and you have to consider the fact players generally perform better at home than on the road. Yes, I know WAR accounts for run environments, and the people who invented wRAA (weighted runs above average, the offensive component of WAR), are a lot smarter than me. But given the instability of park factors from year-to-year, perhaps Gonzalez was more than a very good player all those years?

Just for kicks, I decided to see what his WAR would look like from 2006-2009, only using his away numbers for offense and adjusting it for a full season. As I did with his xBABIP, I used the standard formula for wRAA: ((wOBA-lgwOBA)/Scale)*wOBA- the league average is usually around .330, and the scale is around 1.15. The purpose of the actual scale is to normalize run environment, but in this case it is just to convert wOBA into wRAA.

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It is worth noting that, in 2007, Gonzalez was almost a full run better, and was worth almost $4 million more. Perhaps Petco Park played as more of a hitter’s environment that year, or WAR failed to adjust properly. Aside from that year, however, the difference in wRAA was negligble- in fact, Gonzalez’s away wRAA was actually worse than his park adjusted wRAA according to by .21 (my WAR is only a fraction better due to a few decimal differences in the calculation).

Despite my suspicions, it appears WAR does, in fact, do a very good job of adjusting for park differences. It reflects that from 2006-2008, Gonzalez was, indeed, an offensive force, but still around 3-4 wins. Usually, Gonzalez’s wRAA is increased by about 5-6 runs per season for playing in Petco. From 2006-2009, he was 3.18 runs per season better on the road. As I mentioned, though, players generally play better at home than on the road.

Nevertheless, assuming Gonzalez, offensively, posts numbers somewhere in-between his 2006-2008 totals, and his adjusted 2009 campaign (about a .401 wOBA)- my guess is he will accumulate about 700 plate appearances- and provides average defense (his career UZR/150 is 0.1), he will be worth about 6 wins in 2010, or around $27 million dollars.

Again, those numbers are right in between his 2009 season and the previous three years, which is what I think most people expect out of Gonzalez and is a reasonable rate of regression. I personally think he can be worth more than that estimate, since last year’s performance is hardly unrepeatable.

In other words, he is easily one of the top ten-fifteen offensive players in the game, and potentially top five. Overall, he is certainly comparable to Miguel Cabrera, Kevin Youkilis, or Mark Teixeira- I will put his floor between 5 and 6 wins- and has an MVP ceiling that is not far out of reach. Not to mention you can have him during his peak years- Gonzalez should maintain this level of production for at least the next five seasons- at the price of a platoon player for the next two ($4.75 million and $5.5 million respectively).

It is hard to overrate the guy.
Unlike Roy Halladay, the competition for Gonzalez will be much stiffer due to his auspicious contract. Now you know why San Diego would have received Brandon Morrow, Phillipe Aumont, Carlos Triunfel, and several top Boston prospects for Gonzalez at last year’s deadline. Mets fans are probably looking at Fernando Martinez, Ike Davis, and Wilmer Flores, plus more. It is well worth it.

You can read more from Matt Himelfarb at his blog. Most recently he has posted some thought-provoking analyses regarding minor league free agents

Matt is a high school student in New Jersey and avid Mets fan. He occasionally updates his blog at: matthimelfarb.wordpress.com
  1. Tommy2cat November 6, 2009 at 8:37 pm
    I’d rather sign Matt Holliday and Chone Figgins and hold onto our prospects, give Daniel Murphy a full year at first base while Ike Davis continues to develop.

    Our Farm System needs to replenish, which should be a major priority over the next two seasons. I think our first-round selection is protected in next year’s draft – I could be wrong.

    I would also be nice to add Wolf and Lackey to the rotation, move Maine to the pen to join K-Rod, Parnell, Nieve, Stokes, Feliciano & Figueroa or Bostick.

    Reyes
    Figgins
    Holliday
    Beltran
    Wright
    Murphy
    Francouer
    Santos/Thole
    Pitcher

    Santana
    Lackey
    Wolf
    Pelfrey
    Ollie or Niese

    Bullpen: K-Rod, Maine, Parnell, Stokes, Feliciano, Nieve, Bostick or Figueroa

    Bench: Pagan, Tatis, Cora, Evans or Chris Carter, Santos/Thole

    Minor Leaguers: F-Mart, Davis, Havens, Tejada, Holt, Mejia, Familia, Beaulac, Niewenhuis, Bowman, Stoner, Broadway, Carter

    Other than Santana, Wolf, Beltran, Tatis, Cora & Figueroa, the entire roster is comprised of young ballplayers just developing or just entering their prime.

    We definitely need to get younger, and Adrian Gonzalez, for all of his attributes, depletes our farm system unnecessarily.

  2. Mic November 7, 2009 at 9:42 am
    THE first statement was great enuff.

    The WS champs basically set the mark by doing just that last yr.

    As for the rest… not so much EXCEPT that between Murphy, Duda, Ike Davis, and Shawn Bowman SOMEONE will take 1st base.

    There are a handfull of players I trade for …Carl Crawford being one. BUT with the Bosox getting Hermida I think Bay is that much more attainable. IOW Bosox have a target amt and so the Mets pretty much know a 5yr-70M (ish) amt will land the player.

  3. Barry Duchan November 7, 2009 at 10:52 am
    Gonzalez was traded by the Texas Rangers with Terrmel Sledge and Chris Young to the San Diego Padres for Billy Killian, Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. What’s my point ? The Mets have to give up 3 or more top prospects now to even think about getting Gonzalez (or Halladay or Crawford, etc.) because they are already established stars. Any 10-year old who follows baseball can tell you they’d like one of these star players. The point is that it’s an astute GM who can deal for these players BEFORE they reach their potential and the Mets’ failure to ever be able to do that (they are quite good at doing just the opposite e.g. Jason Bay or Heath Bell) is why they are so far away from contending.
  4. isuzudude November 7, 2009 at 12:07 pm
    Matt, you really lose me amongst all the abbreviated terms and stat calculations. And I really think you’re overthinking your analysis.

    You want to know why Gonzalez walked so much this year? It’s because the opposition knew Gonzalez was the only guy in the San Diego lineup that could consistently hurt them, and so they pitched around him more often. Runner on 2nd base, would you rather pitch to Gonzalez or Kevin Kouzmanoff, or Chase Headley? In fact, among Gonzalez’s 119 walks this season were 22 intentional passes. So it’s not so much that Gonzalez developed this keener eye in 2009, but instead other teams chose to not pitch to him, and he decided to keep the bat on his shoulder rather than swinging at garbage out of the strike zone. If you put him in a lineup, however, in which David Wright or Carlos Beltran is hitting behind him, I’d be willing to bet that his plate discipline would revert back to his 2007/2008 days in which he’s a lock for 140+ strikeouts and only about 70-80 walks.

    There’s also no doubt he’s an elite power hitter, but a few things about his splits spook me. For one, while hitting 40 homers in ’09, only 12 came at home at Petco Park; a park that is compared similarly to CitiField in its dimensions. That same trend, to some degree, was also evident in 2008 when he hit just 14 of his 36 homers at home, and in 2007 when he his just 10 of 30 at home. So, essentially, for 81 games per season while he plays in Flushing, Gonzalez will hit for power like James Loney or Nick Johnson – which isn’t awful, but certainly isn’t helpful considering Gonzalez is the meat in your Wright-Gonzalez-Beltran sandwich, and he’s going to be striking out quite often while failing to hit .300+; qualities that Loney and Johnson have exhibited. I’m not saying I’d rather Loney or Johnson, but instead that their lack of power is made up with the ability to hit the ball in play consistently and hit for higher average. Gonzalez, on the other hand, will be hitting for less power than needed at home, while continuing to strike out a lot and not hitting for high enough average to make up for it.

    Also, Gonzalez has shown extreme weakness vs LHP, which, again, is a big deal considering he would be projected to be the everyday cleanup hitter. Gonzalez was just .234/.339/.431 vs LHP in 2009, and those numbers are comparable to having Ken Griffey or Jack Cust as your cleanup hitter when there’s a lefty on the mound. That’s not acceptable, especially considering the Mets would have to trade 3 to 5 top prospects to land him from San Diego, and would only have 2 years of exclusive ownership remaining on his contract.

    And, to me, that’s the big hangup. The Mets farm system, after years of neglect and dismantling, is finally starting to rebound, but a trade for Gonzalez would put it right back to where it was 2-3 years ago. And the likes of FMart, Ike Davis, Brad Holt, Ruben Tejada, Wilmer Flores, or Jenrry Mejia would be dealt for a player that is not as flawless as you describe in your analysis above. By all accounts it appears he would struggle at CitiField, would be awful against LHP, and would demand a monster contract after the 2011 season to retain, which is not that far off. I think the far better plan would be to keep the prospects and let Ike Davis emerge as your own Adrian Gonzalez. According to the scouts Davis has Gonzalez-like potential of hitting 30+ homers while hitting in the .270 range. The only problem is you have to be patient with him. However, if/when he does develop, you have a much cheaper 1B power hitter who is under your control for much longer than Gonzalez will be. In the meantime, you can see if Murphy can get any better, or go after a short term solution that isn’t going to cost the farm to obtain.

  5. isuzudude November 7, 2009 at 12:22 pm
    Tommy:
    Again, I disagree with signing Figgins, though I’ve already stated why. Also, if you think it’s realistic the Mets sign Holliday, Figgins, AND Lackey, then I got some news for you. If the Mets sign just ONE out of that group I’d think they’d be pretty fortunate. It’s not as if the Mets are the only team this winter who will be trying to recruit their services. You really need to come up with a better plan than just plucking all the best players off the free agent market to fix what ails the Mets. The only team with the financial ability to do that is the Yankees, and even they have had trouble making it work successfully for almost a decade until they spent $300-million+ last offseason.

    If I had my pick out of the 3, I’d go with Lackey. The Mets need the pitching and he’s as good a fit for a team looking for a bulldog competitor as you can find. I’m really not hot on either Holliday or Bay, because I don’t think either could play LF at CitiField adequately enough, and I don’t think either will be worth the bloated amounts they’re likely to recieve as free agents this winter. There are worse ideas than letting Angel Pagan, FMart, Chris Carter, and Nick Evans compete for the job, or scouring the market for this offseason’s Bobby Abreu, either thru trade or free agency.

  6. [...] but even a 20-30 point difference can make a significant difference in a guy’s value (see Adrian Gonzalez). Overall he was worth 3.5 wins, or about $16 million [...]
  7. joejanish November 8, 2009 at 11:59 pm
    ‘dude – your analysis of Adrian Gonzalez’s walk / OBP numbers really have me thinking. Good points.

    The Mets definitely, positively, need pitching. However I’m worried that Lackey is the next Bret Saberhagen or Kevin Appier. The Mets needed to go after starting pitching when there was depth in the market. Now there are working in their typical knee-jerk fashion, and will have to overpay for whomever they sign. Even though they need a pitcher like Lackey, I’d be more inclined to overpay for someone like Bay or Holliday because it feels like less risk. When a pitcher is injured, he’s worthless, has no value, and tends to regress (Pedro, anyone?). In contrast, a player who gets injured *usually* can rebound — as long as he’s not older than Father Time (i.e., Moises Alou).

    Lackey is far better than anyone on the Mets’ staff not named Johan, but I’d be leery of giving him the 5-year contract he might command.

  8. Mic November 9, 2009 at 10:15 am
    Why get Lackey? He’s not injured or coming off injury…hence be ready to pay 100M. Know that in May he WILL be injured IF the Mets sign him.

    As a counter I say Rich Harden (a possible non tender), Ben Sheets and Beddard are better signings asking more in terms of incentives.

    If I overpay its for a slugger.