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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reds sign Willy Taveras

The Reds second free agent signing of the off-season was Willy Taveras (I swear I'll get to Arthur Rhodes at some point here...). On initial inspection, Taveras looks like Corey Patterson without the power. Which is to say, he's not looking very impressive. But let's take a closer look:

2005 23.5 HOU 635 16% 4% 19% 0.345 0.291 0.321 0.341 0.051 0.300 4.04 -10.8 0.7
2006 24.5 HOU 587 15% 6% 18% 0.330 0.278 0.327 0.338 0.060 0.307 4.24 -10.7 0.6
2007 25.5 COL 408 13% 5% 17% 0.370 0.320 0.360 0.382 0.062 0.344 5.14 2.9 1.5
2008 26.5 COL 538 15% 7% 20% 0.296 0.251 0.299 0.296 0.046 0.301 3.71 -14.6 0.0
2009 27.5 Marcel 510 15% 7%
0.325 0.276 0.327 0.346 0.070 0.307
-11.1 0.5
2009 27.5 CHONE 543 15% 6%
0.323 0.273 0.328 0.341 0.068 0.303
-17.1 0.0
For all intents and purposes, Taveras was essentially a replacement hitter last year, and doesn't project to be any better next season (the +0.5 WAR Marcel projection is without accounting for the fact that he was playing in Coors' field the last few years...Marcel doesn't understand Park Factors, being that he's just a monkey and all). He doesn't really walk much, strikes out a fair amount, and has zero power.

The projections actually forecast a slight increase in power, but that's because they regress to the mean and Taveras is so far below it that it pulls him up. For those that will point to his sparkling 68/7 SB/CS ratio last season, I'll note that both his fangraphs-based wOBA and his RAR figures above include that component of his value in their calculations. They do NOT, however, include other baserunning effects, which might bump him a few more runs a season given his speed (maybe +5?).

It didn't show last season, but in the previous three seasons he did have a BABIP that was substantially better than his line drive percentage would predict. I think that this was actually indicative of skill (meaning it was repeatable) rather than luck. Two reasons: 1) he's fast as all heck, and 2) he's probably the best bunter in MLB, both of which means that he gets a lot of infield hits. This is something I've written about before in an effort to understand Norris Hopper's 2007 performance, and is probably the most interesting thing about Taveras. I'd be interested to know if his bunt rates and success rates were at the same level last year as they were the previous three years. He's shown the bunt in the past to be an effective weapon. Unfortunately, it's his only offensive weapon...

The key to Taveras's value, as Jocketty alluded to, might be his defense. According to CHONE defensive projections, my ratings of choice, Taveras rates as a very good defender at +3 runs/yr in CF or +9 in a corner slot. His bUZR had him as an outstanding defender (+9, +15) in Houston and a bad defender (-17, -10) in Colorado. The Fans still rated him highly last year, though, so I'm going to assume something strange his happening with bUZR in Colorado and go with CHONE.

Total Value
I think we can project him in 2009 at +0 RAR on offense, +3 runs/yr on defense, and +2.5 runs/yr because he plays center field. Pro-rating to 77% playing time puts his projection as a +4 runs (+0.4 wins) above replacement player next year, and replacement level in 2010. Assuming $4.8 million/free agent win, this puts an appropriate contract for him at ~$2 million this season and $400k in 2010, so ~$2.5 million overall for a 2-year deal.

I haven't seen dollar figures on the contract. I'm guessing he got more. Please send me a link if you see it.
Update: John Fay reports $2.25 million in 2009 and $4 million in 2010. That's paying for less than 1 WAR per season, which is not absurd. But I think it's probably about twice what he's worth. Still, we're within the margin of error here. If you think he's +1.5 win fielder (which is where the Fans Scouting Report would place him) instead of a +0.5 fielder (where CHONE has him), then you probably would call this a bargain.
The thing is, while Taveras is apparently being given a starting job (which is amazing given that he's projecting as barely above replacement level), he's not demonstrably better than someone the Reds already have. Dickerson projects (by CHONE) as a +5 hitter but at -6 fielder in CF, which is essentially replacement level. But Hopper projects as a +6 hitter and a +2 fielder in CF, which pushes to the +1 WAR/yr mark after position adjustment. And even after you discount to 50% playing time due to Hopper's history as a reserve and injury risk, we're still dealing with a +0.5 WAR projection next season.

So it's not clear to me that the Reds got much better with this deal. In fact, as this deal makes it less likely that Encarnacion will move to the outfield (which, as my recent snarky anonymous poster indicated, might not have been likely to begin with), this deal might even make the Reds a little bit worse. Yippie.