The One With Barry Zito and Mike Hampton

Jayson Stark at ESPN.com had a great article about MLB teams going off the deep end in the past year by dishing out a bunch of long, expensive contracts. Since last April, a whopping six players (Joe Mauer, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, Troy Tulowitzki, and Cliff Lee) signed $100+ million dollar contracts.

In the 2010 offseason, only Matt Holliday signed a $100+ million contract. In 2009, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia did. Before the current season, teams had only dished out twenty such contracts in history, so the six contracts this season represents a marked increase.

Stark looks at these contracts to determine if they are worth it. Spoiler alert: they’re not.

To prove this, Stark looks at the number of productive seasons for the players with the thirteen contracts that are more than half complete. He defines a productive season as 400+ plate appearances and 125+ OPS+ for hitters and 20+ games started and 125+ ERA+ for pitchers. Only three players – A-Rod, Manny, and Pujols – had a productive season in every year of his contract. After those three, only Todd Helton and Jason Giambi had productive seasons in more than half of the seasons they were under contract.

Because I was curious to see how the rest of these contracts actually broke down, I looked at the numbers for each season for OPS+, ERA+, and Fangraph’s WAR. I kept Stark’s 125+ guideline for a productive season. However, if a player finished in the top 25 in WAR for position players (top 15 for pitchers), I also called that productive, to account for tougher defensive positions (call it the Jeter Rule).

If a player had over 150+ in ERA+ or OPS+ or finished in the top ten in the league in WAR, I called that a great season. On the other hand, if a player did not get 400 plate appearances, start 20 games, finish with below a 100+ OPS+ or ERA+, or did not crack the top 100 in WAR (top 60 for pitchers), I called that a bad/train wreck season. Crude methodology to be sure, but it’ll do for this short study.

The number in parentheses is the player’s age. The first number is OPS+ or ERA+, second is WAR with major league overall rank among qualified players, and third is the number of plate appearances or starts. Great seasons are in bold italics, good seasons are in bold, and bad seasons are in italics.

*****************

#1. Alex Rodriguez (2008-17, 10 years, $275 million) – 1 great season, 1 productive, 1 average

2008 (32): 150, 6.0 (13th), 594 PA
2009 (33): 138, 4.5 (37th), 535 PA
2010 (34): 123, 3.9 (48th), 595 PA

#2. Alex Rodriguez (2001-10, 10 years, $252 million, opted out after 2007 season) – 6 great, 1 productive

2001 (25): 160, 7.8 (6th), 732 PA
2002 (26): 158, 9.8 (2nd), 725 PA
2003 (27): 147, 9.1 (3rd), 715 PA
2004 (28): 131, 6.6 (9th), 698 PA
2005 (29): 173, 9.4 (1st), 715 PA
2006 (30): 134, 4.3 (34th), 674 PA
2007 (31): 176, 9.2 (1st), 708 PA

#3. Derek Jeter (2001-10, 10 years, $189 million) – 5 productive, 5 average

2001 (27): 123, 4.3 (44th), 686 PA
2002 (28): 111, 5.4 (18th), 730 PA
2003 (29): 125, 4.0 (47th), 542 PA
2004 (30): 114, 5.0 (25th), 721 PA
2005 (31): 125, 4.5 (31st), 752 PA
2006 (32): 132, 6.2 (8th), 715 PA
2007 (33): 121, 3.5 (54th), 714 PA
2008 (34): 102, 3.7 (51st), 668 PA
2009 (35): 125, 7.1 (6th), 716 PA
2010 (36): 90, 2.5 (86th), 739 PA

#4. Joe Mauer (2011-18, 8 years, $184 million, will be 28 when contract begins next year)

#5. Mark Teixeira (2009-16, 8 years, $180 million) – 2 productive

2009 (29): 141, 5.4 (18th), 707 PA
2010 (30): 125, 3.5 (56th), 712 PA

#6. CC Sabathia (2009-15, 7 years, $161 million) – 2 productive

2009 (28): 137, 6.3 (8th), 34 starts
2010 (29): 134, 5.1 (12th), 34 starts

#7. Manny Ramirez (2001-08, 8 years, $160 million) – 7 great, 1 productive

2001 (29): 161, 5.2 (32nd), 620 PA
2002 (30): 184, 5.9 (14th), 518 PA
2003 (31): 160, 6.0 (15th), 679 PA
2004 (32): 152, 4.1 (46th), 663 PA
2005 (33): 153, 3.3 (60th), 650 PA
2006 (34): 165, 3.3 (67th), 558 PA
2007 (35): 126, 1.8 (119th), 569 PA
2008 (36): 165, 6.3 (11th), 654 PA

#8. Troy Tulowitzki (2011-20, 10 years, $157.75 million, will be 26 when starts next season)

#9. Miguel Cabrera (2008-15, 8 years, $152.3 million) – 1 great, 2 productive

2008 (25): 129, 3.0 (68th), 684 PA
2009 (26): 144, 5.5 (17th), 685 PA
2010 (27): 179, 6.2 (12th) 648 PA

#10. Carl Crawford (2011-17, 7 years, $142 million, will be 29 when contract begins next season)

#11. Todd Helton (2003-11, 9 years, $141.5 million) – 2 great, 3 productive, 1 average, 2 bad

2003 (29): 165, 6.9 (6th), 703 PA
2004 (30): 165, 7.1 (8th), 683 PA
2005 (31): 144, 5.2 (21st), 626 PA
2006 (32): 118, 2.3 (112th), 649 PA
2007 (33): 133, 5.1 (28th), 682 PA
2008 (34): 99, 1.1 (NA), 361 PA
2009 (35): 127, 3.7 (55th), 645 PA
2010 (36): 87, 0.4 (NA), 473 PA

#12. Johan Santana (2008-13, 6 years, $137.5 million) – 1 great, 2 productive

2008 (29): 166, 4.8 (18th), 34 starts
2009 (30): 130, 2.7 (51st), 25 starts
2010 (31): 131, 3.5 (40th), 29 starts

#13. Alfonso Soriano (2007-14, 8 years, $136 million) – 1 great, 2 average, 1 bad

2007 (31): 122, 6.9 (9th), 617 PA
2008 (32): 119, 4.3 (36th), 503 PA
2009 (33): 84, 0.0 (148th), 522 PA
2010 (34): 110, 2.9 (74th), 548 PA

#14. Vernon Wells (2008-14, 7 years, $126 million) – 1 productive, 1 average, 1 bad

2008 (29): 122, 1.5 (NA), 466 PA
2009 (30): 86, 0.0 (148th), 684 PA
2010 (31): 127, 4.0 (43rd), 646 PA

#15. Barry Zito (2007-13, 7 years, $126 million) – 4 bad

2007 (29): 99, 1.7 (68th), 33 starts
2008 (30): 86, 1.4 (74th), 32 starts
2009 (31): 106, 2.2 (61st), 33 starts
2010 (32): 98, 2.1 (71st), 33 starts

#16. Jayson Werth (2011-17, 7 years, $126 million, will be 32 when contract starts next season)

#17. Ryan Howard (2012-16, 5 years, $125 million, will be 32 when extension kicks in for 2012 season)

#18. Mike Hampton (2001-08, 8 years, $121 million) – 2 average, 6 bad

2001 (28): 99, 2.9 (42nd), 32 starts
2002 (29): 78, 1.3 (78th), 30 starts
2003 (30): 112, 3.0 (44th), 31 starts
2004 (31): 101, 2.2 (59th), 29 starts
2005 (32): 121, 1.0 (NA) 12 starts
2006 (33): did not play
2007 (34): did not play
2008 (35): 87, 0.3 (NA) 13 starts

#19. Jason Giambi (2002-08, 7 years, $120 million) – 2 great, 2 productive, 1 average, 2 bad

2002 (31): 172, 7.5 (3rd), 689 PA
2003 (32): 148, 5.1 (23rd), 690 PA
2004 (33): 90, 0.4 (NA), 322 PA
2005 (34): 161, 4.5 (31st), 545 PA
2006 (35): 148, 3.5 (61st), 579 PA
2007 (36): 107, 0.9 (NA), 303 PA
2008 (37): 128, 2.5 (90th), 565 PA

#20. Matt Holliday (2010-16, 7 years, $120 million) – 1 great

2010 (30): 149, 6.9 (6th), 675 PA

#21. Cliff Lee (2011-15, 5 years, $120 million, will be 32 when contract starts next season)

#22. Carlos Beltran (2005-11, 7 years, $119 million) – 1 great, 2 productive, 3 bad

2005 (28): 96, 2.2 (91st), 650 PA
2006 (29): 150, 7.5 (2nd), 617 PA
2007 (30): 125, 5.1 (28th), 636 PA
2008 (31): 129, 7.1 (8th), 706 PA
2009 (32): 144, 3.1 (NA), 357 PA
2010 (33): 109, 0.9 (NA), 255 PA

#23. Ken Griffey Jr. (2000-08, 9 years, $116.5 million) – 2 productive, 7 bad

2000 (30): 133, 5.6 (24th), 631 PA
2001 (31): 124, 2.1 (NA), 417 PA
2002 (32): 103, 0.3 (NA), 232 PA
2003 (33): 145, 1.4 (NA), 201 PA
2004 (34): 122, 0.2 (NA), 348 PA
2005 (35): 144, 3.3 (60th), 555 PA
2006 (36): 99, -0.4 (NA), 472 PA
2007 (37): 119, 0.2 (154th), 623 PA
2008 (38): 102, 0.4 (133rd), 575 PA

#24. Kevin Brown (1999-2005, 7 years, $105 million) – 2 great, 2 productive, 3 bad

1999 (34): 143, 6.8 (3rd), 35 starts
2000 (35): 169, 6.2 (6th), 33 starts
2001 (36): 151, 2.8 (NA), 19 starts
2002 (37): 79, 0.3 (NA), 10 starts
2003 (38): 169, 6.0 (8th), 32 starts
2004 (39): 110, 2.5 (NA), 22 starts
2005 (40): 65, 1.6 (NA), 13 starts

#25. Carlos Lee (2007-12, 6 years, $100 million) – 2 productive, 2 bad

2007 (31): 125, 3.6 (52nd), 697 PA
2008 (32): 144, 3.9 (NA), 481 PA
2009 (33): 119, 2.1 (109th), 662 PA
2010 (34): 93, -0.8 (147th), 649 PA

#26. Albert Pujols (2004-10, 7 years, $100 million) – 7 great

2004 (24): 172, 7.9 (6th), 692 PA
2005 (25): 168, 7.9 (3rd), 700 PA
2006 (26): 178, 8.3 (1st), 634 PA
2007 (27): 157, 8.4 (3rd), 679 PA
2008 (28): 190, 9.3 (1st), 641 PA
2009 (29): 189, 8.7 (1st), 700 PA
2010 (30): 173, 7.3 (3rd), 700 PA

*******************

Well that was fun. Some observations:

1. The ten highest paid players in MLB history have a combined 35 seasons under their expensive contracts and not a single bad season among them. They have 15 great seasons, 14 productive seasons, and six average seasons. The six average seasons are even deceptive, because five of those are from Derek Jeter. Jeter has been ranked #1 in MLB jersey sales every year since the contract was signed, so he’s providing far more off-the-field value than the rest of the players on this list.

None of that should be all that surprising. The players in the top ten were generally considered to be the top (or close to the top) players at their respective positions. Much of the rest of the list is made up of players who weren’t the top players in the league, but got paid like they were.

2. Albert Pujols is really, really good.

3. The combined season total for players 30 and younger: 20 great, 12 productive, 4 average, and 6 bad. For players 31 and older: 12 great, 17 productive, 9 average, and 25 bad. For players 31 and older discounting alleged steroid users Manny Ramirez and Jason Giambi: 5 great, 14 productive, 8 average, and 23 bad.

You’re reading that right: players 31 and older not named Manny or Giambi are more likely to have a bad season (23) than a productive or better season (19).

The bad news for the eight Nationals fans out there? Jayson Werth turns 32 this season. He will be 39 when his contract ends.

#4. I’ll keep piling on the Nationals. Players 34 and older not named Manny or Giambi combined for 2 great, 5 productive, 4 average, and 12 bad seasons. That’s more bad seasons (12) than average or better seasons (11). Werth will be in the third year of his seven-year deal when he turns 34.

#5. Kevin Brown’s contract always gets mentioned in the bad contracts discussion, but comparatively it wasn’t all that bad. He had two great seasons in seven years. The other five $100+ million dollar pitchers (Sabathia, Santana, Lee, Zito, and Hampton) have one combined so far.

You’d think that would be bad news for Cliff Lee and the Phillies, but I’m not so sure. Zito and Hampton were insanely overpaid – I remember people ripping those contracts at the time because both were very good pitchers, but not elite. Santana, Sabathia, and Brown were all elite pitchers. Between the three of them, they have 3 great, 6 productive, and 3 bad seasons. Not a terrible track record, even considering that Lee will be 32 next season.

#6. These statistics should really make teams question the wisdom of signing players in their prime. Three players on this list – A-Rod (24), Pujols (24), and Cabrera (25) were locked in to their huge contracts before their prime. They combined for 14 great and 3 productive seasons. I’d call that a solid track record.

I think the Rockies had the right idea when they signed Tulowitzki to a long-term deal before his age 26 season (although ten years is a long time). His previous contract would have been up in 2013 when he will be 29. Instead of waiting until then, they locked him up now – before his prime.

7. How in the world did Carlos Lee get $100 million for six years at age 31? I forgot about this outlandish contract, so had to look it up. In the same offseason, 31-year old David Ortiz signed a 4-year, $48 million deal. The Brewers, Lee’s previous team, offered him a 4-year, $50 million deal before the Astros came in to double it.

Note to future MLB players reading this blog: Lee’s agent is Adam Katz. Hire him. Now. Also, the Astros have had one winning season in the four years since this signing after six straight winning seasons. Can’t help but think that money could have been better used elsewhere.

8. The biggest lesson from this, other than don’t pay old people a lot of money? Maybe ask your fans before you do something stupid. Offhand, I remember pretty much everyone ripping on the Soriano, Wells, Zito, Hampton, and Lee signings. Unsurprisingly, none of those panned out.

Tough break, Nationals fans.

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2 Responses to The One With Barry Zito and Mike Hampton

  1. jhg says:

    Couple of thoughts:

    1. The Brown contract was terrible because it was the first $100M contract. He wasn’t that transcendent type of player who deserved to break the threshold. Plus, it was in the 90s and $100M was a ridiculous sum then.

    2. When Billy Beane is willing to let a player go, it’s probably not a good idea to give him a mega-contract.

    3. Glad you mentioned Jeter’s popularity/ intangibles.

    4. If I could’ve gotten this game to work popularly, I’d have gotten at least half: http://www.sporcle.com/games/baseballs_richest.php

  2. jhg says:

    Oh and the title seems to be a cross between a Hem song used for a Liberty Mutual commercial and a Winnie the Pooh chapter. Love it.

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