Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Return of the Value Survey

Take your instinct by the reins,
your better best to rearrange.
What we want and what we need
has been confused.
Michael Stipe, "Finest Worksong"

It's hard, getting your bearings after your dream job trots away, without warning or justification.

When that job comes on a beat that demands 24/7 attention for much of the year, there's a little bit of aimless wandering that follows. But eventually, a simple question surfaces: What sort of value can I add?

I'm not sure I've sorted that out yet. Back during the most prominent Joe Cowley controversy of the season, I started to weigh in on those circumstances. When Orlando Hudson made his admission that weeks into becoming a third baseman, he still was using his tiny middle infielder's glove on the field, I was tempted to poke a little fun at how preposterous it is that a major leaguer--a Gold Glover, at that--was still waiting on new equipment from Rawlings. And for a moment after sharing some reflections on Will Ohman at South Side Sox, I thought an extension of Jim Margalus' excellent post might jump-start some sportswriting for me.

But if there's one thing I was proud of during my time on the beat, it was attempting to do things a bit differently. And while my employer didn't quite know what to do with the diamond I was dropping in its lap every 10 games, I felt the "Value Survey" churned out all season long was something truly cutting edge. [Hell if I'm going to link to any of 'em; the burden of further whirring Comcast's page counters is solely on your shoulders, gentle reader.]

Before the season, Jim was kind enough to extend South Side Sox space to a look back at 2011 season values, as well as a look ahead at the projected values for the 2012 White Sox.

And now, with the White Sox enjoying a first half that likely topped even the most generous of projections, while I'm still contemplating what value I can add to the discourse, I thought it might be a nice time to revisit ... the Value Survey.

White Sox Bargains

Chillin' with the Phenom.

1. Chris Sale ($14,790,418)
Last year, Alexei Ramirez topped the White Sox survey with a tick more than $13 million in surplus value--over the course of an entire season. The superlatives about Sale will only increase as the season wears on--but the southpaw, under (cheap) team control for another full season and under complete (arbitration) team control for another four, figures to be a high-value lock for seasons to come.

2. Alejandro De Aza ($8,661,586)
The best statement about Sale's dominance on this list is that he nearly doubles the surplus of Chicago's No. 2, De Aza. Preseason projections of De Aza couldn't help but skew positively based on his outstanding in-spite-of-Ozzie final third of 2011. But the fleet center fielder has already surpassed his full season surplus estimate for 2012 ($8.2 million).

3. Alex Rios ($6,986,125)
Knock me over with a Wiffle bat, but Alex Rios--he of the lackadaisical center field, Frisbee throwing English, and fadeaway slider flailing--is the club's top WAR performer no matter which saber flavor you choose. Based both on his miserable, lethargic 2011 and his relatively rich ($12 million) salary, Rios was projected as the 41st-best value on the team in 2012. No one in their right mind could have imagined that just one year after the horrible performance of the 2011 White Sox outfield, two of the best three team values roamed the South Side pastures.

4. Jose Quintana ($5,786,963)
Who knew that a new Q would be on track to provide better value to the 2012 White Sox than the old Q (Carlos Quentin, $6.5 million surplus in 2011)?

5. A.J. Pierzynski ($5,305,080)
With his salary bump to $6 million, A.J. would have been lucky to post any sort of positive value for the team in 2012. That he is the fifth-best value on the club is a tribute to his career-best first half.

6. Jake Peavy ($3,619,949)
See above; even if healthy and semi-effective, Peavy was a lock to be a debit on the White Sox books in 2012 (projected 40th-best value on the club). Instead, he's the righthanded knockout punch to Sale's lefty cross. Talk of the Bulldog getting dealt at the end of the month has quickly turned to uncontrollable drooling over the prospect of a Sale-Peavy punch to lead off a playoff series.

7. Addison Reed ($2,680,470)/Nate Jones ($2,680,470)
Two rookies who aren't pitching like rookies. You'd be tempted to think that Ken Williams has discovered the key to a 21st Century bullpen (cheap, young power arms) if not for those intoxicated, chunky contracts handed out to Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton and Will Ohman. The guess here is that he'll stock the bullpen much more inexpensively from here on.

9. Paul Konerko ($2,003,077)
Paulie's profitability is such a no-brainer that, truth be told, I skipped right over him in the first draft of this survey. It's simply stunning that a player who derives his entire value from hitting--his running and defense--is on pace to be a $16 million value for the season and give the White Sox a $4 million profit.

10. Kevin Youkilis ($957,010)
As stated on South Side Sox after Chicago's sweep of AL-best Texas, Yolk provided more value in one series than the White Sox's third baseman had in the first three months of the season combined. Plus, he's bald ("aggressively" so, per Michael Schur). He sweats a ton, like, Rainn Wilson in The Rocker sweat. And he could probably down that new megadog at USCF in record time.

11. Dylan Axelrod ($703,717)
Axelrod is everything that spot starters of recent Sox past haven't been.

12. Tyler Flowers ($664,509)
Both A.J. and Flowers both were projecting too positively in the preseason, and something was bound to give. After a strong 2011 with the bat, Flowers' value this summer is exclusively via leather. 

13. Eric Stults ($564,094)
Two games + one great start - a fraction of the major league minimum salary = a half-million net value.

14. Leyson Septimo ($560,094)
The best so far of the new rookie crew in the pen.

15. Philip Humber ($465,117)
Baseball-Reference seems to have the only accurate bead on Humber (-0.4 WAR); plus-figures from Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus pushes Perfect Philip's value curiously high.

16. Dayan Viciedo ($260,015)
His decent production is mitigated by a fairly hefty salary.

17. Jesse Crain ($232,399)
If not for the yeoman work from the staff rookies (a collective 3.0 WAR), Crain's cranky muscles would be causing a real crisis.

18. Brian Omogrosso ($122,023)
19. Brian Bruney ($102,814)
20. Jordan Danks ($68,038)
Small contributions from all three, but still, positive ones, on the cheap.

21. Matt Thornton ($24,446)
Grandpa Matty is basicially giving the White Sox exactly what they're paying for.

 White Sox Busts

1. John Danks (-$3,269,883)
Factoring in Danks as an $8 million player in 2012 ($500,000 salary + signing bonus due in the second half) turns the injured lefty into the worst value on the club.

2. Brent Morel (-$3,265,029)
Perhaps Oney Guillen pegging Morel as a future White Sox has proven to be more curse than blessing.

3. Will Ohman (-$2,856,258)
From what was once an inarticulate mass of lifeless tissues, may I present a cultured, sophisticated, man about town ... and no longer on the South Side.

4. Zach Stewart (-$2,844,423)
He cut the flowing perm, and not long after, was cut away from the team.

[Anyone else relieved that all four of the worst values are no longer active on the team? Last season under Ozzie, they would all have been sufficiently butt-patted and ensured appearances for the balance of the second half.]

5. Alexei Ramirez (-$2,500,000)
The most crushing fall of the season comes from the lanky shortstop, who was projected to repeat as the top team value. All three stats houses agree: the Missile has been the epitome of a replacement player in 2012 (0.0 WAR).

6. Brent Lillibridge (-$1,584,013)
7. Kosuke Fukudome (-$1,557,010)
Two more unproductive players jettisoned, meaning that aside from Ramirez, every bad value on the club is no longer appearing at U.S. Cellular Field.

8. Orlando Hudson (-$1,302,086)
If trash-talking was factored into WAR, the O-Dog would be in the black.

9. Gordon Beckham (-$1,015,007)
The good news? Bacon is providing plus-offensive value (0.3 WAR). The bad news is that his defense (-0.6 WAR) more than offsets that "surge."

10. Eduardo Escobar (-$693,004)
Negligible negative value. Imagine, without Yolk, Esco might be the starting third baseman for the South Siders.

11. Hector Santiago (-$678,070)
Robin Ventura's handling of the closer job in the season's first month--with an alley-oop pass over the backboard from Don Cooper--is the rookie manager's first and perhaps only scar in his first half-season at the helm.

12. Adam Dunn (-$506,937)
Dunn's limited assets--potent as his power and batting eye might be--explain much of the difference here between he and Rios in their bounce-back seasons. Still, it's notable that before the season, the Big Donkey was projected as the 42nd (worst) value on the White Sox, rather than the 23rd best.

13. Gavin Floyd (-$141,460)
Despite his free-fall, Floyd is still basically giving the White Sox what they've paid for.

At no time last season did the White Sox have essentially two-thirds of their players on the plus-value side, which explains, at least in small part, why they are a first-place team at the season's midpoint.

Collectively, the White Sox offense has provided $12.5 million in surplus value, while the pitchers have contributed a surplus of $22.5 million. The $35 million in total surplus stomps last season's final figure ($20 million) and is ahead of my own sunny preseason projection for 2012 ($60 million team value surplus).

Value Survey Legend
For batters, 1.0 WAR is equal to around $4.5 million; for pitchers, 1.0 WAR equates to $4.4 million. My composite WAR per player factored in figures from Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus, and Fangraphs.

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