15 April 2004

Old and In the Way...

I went to the movies to see The Alamo on Friday night with my wife. Everybody dies. Sorry if that ruins it for you.

Speaking of dying, on our way in, there were some teenagers there as well. OK, so it seemed like every teenager on the East Coast was there, but maybe that's just me. Don't worry, the teenagers don't die in this story.

So as Sunny and I were on our way into the theatre, I held the door for a couple of the teenage girls coming in behind us, and then continued walking to catch up with my wife, at which point I overheard one of the teenage girls speaking to her friends. (Teens don't develop the Volume-Control Gene until about 22.) She said, and I quote,

"See? That old guy..."

Now I didn't catch the rest of that sentence (guess my hearing is going...) but I think it had something to do with my politeness in holding the door for her. Frankly, I wouldn't much care if the sentence went,

"See? That old guy is really hot and I think I'll give him this one million dollars in cash just for being so tall."

Doesn't matter. The harm is done. Period.

In my defense, I'm only 29 years old, which, while no longer at my peak as a hitter, is still not 30, at least. And it's certainly not old. My wife held me back from trying to defend my self to (and doubtlessly embarass) this girl, though I suspect that if I had done so, I'd have only dug the grave deeper. It seems that I am probably almost twice the girl's age, and you'd have more luck finding hair on a half-eaten peach. Maybe I am old? Oh well.

Hey, speaking of old guys...

OUR TOP STORY TONIGHT!!! The Anaheim Angels have given Garrett Anderson a 4-year, $48 million contract extension, and Francisco Franco is still dead.

I'm not a huge Garret Anderson fan, though Garrett Morris, well, that's another story. Anderson's certainly a good enough player. He's got decent power, plays good defense in whatever outfield spot he's assigned, stays healthy and doesn't complain.

However, Baseball Prospectus' list of Anderson's most comparable players is led off by the following ten names:

Hitter EQA@31 Games EQA Drop
Oliva, Tony 0.284 471 0.262 -0.022
Oliver, Al 0.300 561 0.302 0.002
Pepitone, Joe 0.252 34 0.255 0.003
Cooper, Cecil 0.316 370 0.290 -0.026
Hall, Mel 0.272 25 -0.105 -0.377
Kluszewski, Ted 0.301 341 0.268 -0.033
Rice, Jim 0.278 540 0.285 0.007
Gonzalez, Juan 0.318 76 0.279 -0.039
Dawson, Andre 0.287 575 0.293 0.006
Chambliss, Chris 0.276 530 0.277 0.001
Bell, George 0.277 259 0.244 -0.033
Alou, Felipe 0.312 577 0.271 -0.041
Cepeda, Orlando 0.274 392 0.287 0.013
Horton, Willie 0.310 528 0.270 -0.040
Hendrick, George 0.298 485 0.272 -0.026
Bichette, Dante 0.291 622 0.267 -0.024
Parrish, Larry 0.263 401 0.269 0.006
Garvey, Steve 0.287 533 0.268 -0.019
May, Lee 0.269 570 0.272 0.003
Scott, George 0.303 538 0.268 -0.035
Wt. Avg. 0.288 421 0.255 -0.016

The first column in the table lists the players' Age-31 EQA (Baseball Prospectus' comprehensive measurement tool, configured to roughly equate batting average in terms of the measurement scale). What follows is the number of games they each played over the next four seasons. Gonzalez has only played two seasons since, and Hall and Pepitone only played a handful of games after age 31 before retiring. The next column is the aggregate (weighted) EQA for those four seasons, and then the change in EQA in the last column, with the weighted average change at the bottom.

The list is not a bad one. It's composed almost entirely of players who were All-Stars at some point in their careers, and even a marginal Hall-of-Famer or two (Cepeda and possibly Dawson or Gonzales, when elligible). What it doesn't include is a lot of players who aged well. Of the 20 players on the list, half of them didn't even manage to average 125 games per season for the next four years, and seven of them couldn't even suit up 100 times per year. Twelve of the 20 experienced a ~20-40 point drop in EQA in the following 4 seasons (Mel Hall is a special, small-sample-size case, so we'll mostly ignore him). Of those who did improve, only Orlando Cepeda did so by more than 0.006, and that modest 13-point increase occurred in fewer than 400 games over four years. And in all honesty, it probably looks even worse for Anderson than this, since the extension we're discussing doesn't kick in until 2005-2008, his age 33-36 seasons, and I evaluated the 20 guys above for ages 32-35. But I'm not going back to do it again. So there.

To Anderson's credit, he has been the model of health and consistency, racking up over 600 at-bats and 150+ games played each of the last eight seasons. In the last four, he has hit between .286 and .315, with 28-35 homers, 39-56 doubles, 116-123 RBI, and 80-93 runs scored. That's pretty damn consistent.

Oh yeah, by the way, he only walks about 25-30 times a year, and nearly a third of those are probably intentional. And he doesn't steal bases either. So what we've got here is a guy who's consistently productive, but also somewhat limited in his ability to develop any further, given his age and his skill set. Thirty-something year old hitters with no base-stealing speed who hardly ever walk tend not to last very long, or at least not to continue to produce at the same level for long.

Nevertheless, the Anaheim brass saw fit to reward the guy who's gotten more hits in an Angel uniform than anyone else in history with at least $51 million, including the $3 mil buyout they'll have to pay him if he's hurt or sucky by 2009. So they'll be paying an average of almost $13 million per season for a guy who's only hit 30 homers in a season once in his career, who's never walked more than 34 times in a season, and consequently has never had an OBP above .345 in a full season. And though he certainly drives in runs, his inability to get on base as often as Ron Belliard has prevented him from ever scoring more than 93 runs in a season.

Why might the Angels have done this?

Well, maybe they realize Anderson's limitations and the possibility of him getting injured (if only due to the law of averages), but they think that the market is going back up soon and that $13 million will be market-price for a centerfielder who hits like a good shortstop. Or maybe Travis Lee. Didn't see many general managers beating down Lee's door to offer him $13 million this off-season, did you?

Maybe they know he'll decline somewhat in production with age, but they think he won't ever get hurt (it's never happened before...) and this way at least they know what to expect in CF.

Maybe they think that there's no reason that the next four years won't be exactly like the last four years were for Anderson, and that this contract will atually be a bargain.

Or maybe they just think that loyalty is a higher value to fans than winning, and they think it's necessary to sign someone so closely associated with the franchise long-term to make sure they don't lose their fanbase. Maybe they fgure they'll score enough runs with Glaus, Guerrero and Salmon hitting around Anderson, so he doesn't have to become Sammy Sosa circa 1998 to make this a good deal.

On the other hand, this is the same team that gave Darin Erstad a 4-year, $32 million extension while he was in the midst of a season of hitting .283 with little power, at an age when he should have been at his best (27). Someone needs to explain to the Angels' front office that locking up players for the sake of locking them up is not the same as locking up the right players in an effort to win games and save money in the long-run.

The Angels are likely to have the third highest payroll in the majors in 2004, after picking up Bartolo Colon, Jose Guillen and Vlad Guererro in the offseason. Anderson may very well continue to be the backbone of the franchise's offense for the next half a decade, but if the wheels come off and they recede into mediocre obscurity despite the $100+ million payrolls in the next few seasons, well, let's just say that they can't blame it on the Yankees, for once.

Pretty soon age is going to catch up with Anderson, robbing him of his batspeed and ability to amass 180+ hits in a year, and/or robbing him of his otherwise spotless health record. And when one or both of those things happens, Anderson's disdain for the walk is going to catch up with him, and turn an aging .300/30-homer/100-RBI guy into a .275/20/80 guy, and who wants to pay $13 million for that? Especially when we've already got one in the NL, for only $17 million!

Wait, never mind. Maybe this will be a bargain after all.

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