Breaking Down the Angels’ $330 Million Men: Pujols and Wilson

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Christmas has come early for Halo fans. In about 3 hours, the Angels will introduce two new members to the ball club that hopes to contend for their second World Series title in the franchise’s fifty year history. Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson are on their way to Anaheim; a combined $332MM richer than they were a mere 48 hours ago. The new acquisitions are a breath of fresh air for Angel fans who have become all too familiar with being the runner up in recent attempts to land a marquee free agent.

In 2009 the Angels made a run at premier free agent starter C.C. Sabathia as well as switch-hitting slugger Mark Teixeira. To our dismay, the Yankees outbid the Halos for both players who went on to play key roles in leading the Yanks past the Angels in the ALCS en route to a World Series title.

Two years later the Angels were considered the front-runners for Carl Crawford until Boston swooped in to steal our top target. Tony Reagins turned his attention to third base, a dire need for the Halos who received zero production out of their third basemen in 2010. Reagins made a play for Adrian Beltre only to see him sign with the division rival Texas Rangers. After missing out on Beltre the inept Reagins hit the panic button and traded away the league’s best hitting catcher to Toronto for Vernon Wells and his albatross of a contract. Beltre went on to put up a monster season helping the Rangers to their second consecutive American League pennant while Wells recorded one of the worst offensive seasons from an outfielder in major league history.

2011 marked the first time in a decade the Angels failed to qualify for the post season in two consecutive seasons. However, the addition of a brilliant GM with a knack for baseball analytics and a gigantic TV deal on the horizon have dramatically changed the outlook for Angels baseball.

Excitement is riding high in Anaheim, but there has been plenty of criticism surrounding the 10-year deal for the soon-to-be 32-year-old Albert Pujols. C.J. Wilson’s 5-year deal has drawn some criticism as well. Let’s take a look at each contract and breakdown whether or not the Halos moves to win now will end up harming the franchise down the road.

Let’s start with Albert Pujols. Albert will be 32-years old on opening day and is under contract through his age 41 season. There is concern around the baseball community that Pujols will break down as he approaches the latter years of that deal. While this is generally true for most big leaguers, this is Albert Pujols we’re talking about. He’s a once-in-a-generation player. If anyone is going to be able to hit into his 40’s, it’s “The Machine.” The eventual move to DH will help Albert stay healthy and in the lineup where he should be able to contribute as an above average DH throughout the duration of the contract.

You don’t think so? Check out these slash lines…

.337/.447/.554
.324/.423/.579
.306/.423/.543

No, those are not Albert’s slash lines. Those lines belong to Edgar Martinez in his 36, 37, and 38-year old seasons. Great hitters can hit, even past their prime. If Edgar can do it, I know Albert can do it.

Is $25MM per season for the last ~4 years of Albert’s contract worth it for an “above average DH?” Not necessarily. But at the rate baseball salaries are inflating, Albert’s production and salary won’t be too far off.

Lead Fangraphs writer, Dave Cameron, recently put together this piece about the escalating Cost Per Win. Cameron’s model gives us an idea of how we can expect free agent salaries to grow over the coming years. Let’s take a look at Albert’s deal using Cameron’s Linear Dollars Per Win model.

Before we break it down, here is a little background on the model:

  •  2012 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement) was calculated using Bill James’ projections for the 2012 season.
  •  This model assumes the player’s fWAR will drop 0.5 each season beginning with their age 31 season.
  • This model assumes the Cost Per Win will increase at 5% each season.
  • This model assumes Albert will play the first six years of his contract at first base before sliding into the DH spot for the remaining four seasons.

As you can see, James projects Pujols to rebound to his 2010 numbers.

Many critics were quick to label Pujols “down year” as a sign he’s aging. It’s possible. However, we cannot ignore the fact Pujols had some down luck with with his Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP). His .277 BABIP was about 25 points below his expected BABIP based on his batted ball data.

Also, are we forgetting Albert suffered a fractured wrist on a fluke collision that was supposed to keep him out about six weeks? Being the gamer he is, Pujols was back in the lineup two weeks later. Needless to say he wasn’t 100% when he returned to the lineup. Who really knows how long his wrist bothered him as he played through the pain?

If James’ projection is in the ball park, Pujols figures to put up a 7.3 win season which is valued at $36.5MM on the open market in 2012. As we scan down the chart we see even though Pujols is due for regression each year, the increasing Cost/fWAR places his value well above his average annual salary throughout the 2017 season.

As Pujols enters the latter part of the deal in his age 38 season he makes the shift to DH which causes an additional drop in his fWAR. Still, a 3.8 win season is worth over $25MM as the Cost/fWAR has risen to $6.7MM.

According to this model, it’s not until the final year or two of Pujols’ mammoth deal that he would qualified as “overpaid.” But by that point, the Halos would have already received enough production to justify their $254MM investment. In fact, by the time it’s all said and done Albert figures to provide over $290MM worth of production for the Halos. It sounds crazy, but it’s possible the Angels picked up the greatest player of this generation for a $35MM discount.

Now let’s take a look at the other big acquisition, top free agent starter C.J. Wilson.

The Wilson signing has also drawn criticism from some members of the baseball community. Critics question the idea of handing out a five year deal to a 31-year old with a brief two year track record as a big league starter. While Wilson’s resume is short, it’s damn impressive. In his tenure as a starter, C.J. has posted a 3.14 ERA while making half of his starts in the launching pad that is the Rangers Ballpark of Arlington.

Signing any pitcher to a long-term deal comes with inherent risk. Wilson’s mechanics are some what of a cause for concern. The lefty loads into the “inverted-W” which has historically put pitcher’s at higher risk for an arm injury. On the other hand, unlike most 31-year old starters, Wilson has logged a mere 700 innings on his arm due to spending the first portion of his career as a reliever. Needless to say, less mileage on his arm eases some concern of a potential injury.

Bill James doesn’t expect Wilson to repeat his stellar 2.94 ERA/206 strikeout campaign from a year ago, but he still figures to be one of the top starters in the American League which will give the Halos the premier rotation in the league. Let’s take a look at Wilson’s contract using the same model we applied to the Pujols deal.

This looks like a great deal for the Halos. The model suggests Wilson should have received the $100MM contract many assumed he would get this winter. It appears the Angels were able to sign C.J. for nearly $25MM less than his true market value. This discount is key in minimizing the risk of the contract. In theory, Wilson could miss a full season with an arm injury (knock on wood) and still produce enough over the other four seasons to justify his $77.5MM salary.

It’s an exciting time to be an Angel fan. Arte has opened up the wallet to propel the Halos back into baseball relevancy. Combine the huge free agent acquisitions with new GM Jerry DiPoto’s savvy pick ups of a very underrated catcher in Chris Iannetta as well as a crafty veteran reliever in LaTroy Hawkins and it’s no wonder Vegas lists the Angels as one of the favorites to take home the World Series crown in 2012.

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