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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Craig Wilson

On Saturday, the Reds signed Craig Wilson to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Wilson, 31, was a second-round selection in the 1995 amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. Wilson has been a controversial player throughout his career due his tendency to strike out. Nevertheless, his overall offensive production has been good over most of his career, as evidenced by his career OPS+ of 113.

Wilson is apparently going to get a look as a right-handed bat at first base, probably just in case Keppinger fails to hit next season. What can we expect from him? Well, here are his recent offensive stats:
2005 28 PIT 238 29% 13% 22% 0.379 0.264 0.387 0.421 0.157 0.808 0.525 5.9 12.9
2006 29 PIT/NYY 395 31% 7% 17% 0.329 0.251 0.314 0.446 0.195 0.760 0.175 4.6 8.4
2007 30 ATL 69 36% 12% 15% 0.281 0.172 0.304 0.259 0.087 0.563 0 2.9 -1.5
3yrs --- --- 702 31% 9% 18% 0.341 0.248 0.338 0.420 0.173 0.758 0.7 4.8 19.9

Wilson has posted successively poorer numbers every season since at least 2004, and arguably (just looking at rate stats) since 2003. Over the past three years, his strikeout numbers have steadily been rising, his line drives have been steadily falling, and predictably his batting average has steadily fallen. His walk rate also took a big hit in '06, which sapped a major part of his offensive value. At least his power still seems to be present, assuming that 2007 is just a case of small sample sizes.

Baseball Prospectus-types would probably point to him as a classic case of a guy with "old player skills" declining quickly. But who knows? If he can recapture something similar to his 2005 season this year (or, his 2006 season, but with walks), he could provide some nice offensive value for the Reds against left-handed pitching.


Wilson has played first base and the corner outfield slots over the past several seasons. His 2003-2007 UZR numbers put him at +4 runs/season at first base, -9 runs/season in right field, and -41 runs/season in left field. I'm guessing the latter is a sample size aberration, so I'll say ~+0.5 wins/season at first, and -1.0 wins/season in the corner outfield. In other words, he really should only be playing first base.

Projected Value

Overall, if we take his 3-year average offensive rates and extrapolate to a full season, he's about a +1.5 WAR hitter, a +0.5 wins fielder (at first base), and he gets a -1.0 win value penalty for being a first baseman. That puts him at ~1.0 WAR. If we subtract another 0.5 wins for where he is on the aging curve, that gives a fairly reasonable projection for him next year of ~0.5 wins above replacement. And that's in a full season of work.

I'd put pretty big error bars around that, however. If he can hit like he did '05, he could be a +1-1.5 WAR player. And, of course, he could be well below replacement. Certainly a fine guy to take a rider on, given that he costs nothing for the time being. We'll see what the Reds' scouts think of him in spring training.
Photo by the AP