Friday, February 13, 2015

Determining the Value of Three True Outcome Players


How Much are Home Runs Worth?

Russel "the Muscle"...
Every once in a while, and perhaps increasingly more so in this decade where runs scored are on the decline, a guy makes a career out of just one traditional tool: power.  These players are more accurately known as the three true outcome players.  It’s not a very long list of guys that make a career out of this, either; trust me, I checked.  You can count on one hand the number of guys that have made a (relatively) substantial living over the past fifteen years off of just hitting the long ball and taking walks.  So I figured it might be fun to see how much the home run is worth, at least from 2000-2014, in terms of a dollar/dinger ratio.

I’m going to preface the rest of this blog post with two points.  First, take this article with a grain of salt.  It’s supposed to be fun.  I think it would be interesting to see how much home runs were worth to front offices by digging into free agent contracts and extensions of players whose value hinges mostly on putting the ball in the seats, but this method ain’t it.  Second, this whole thing was inspired by seeing Russel Branyan’s face pop up on my Twitter feed.  So that’s usually a good indicator of a half-brained idea.

Half Brained Idea

First I decided to narrow down the field to the past 15 seasons, for a few reasons.  One was because I wanted player’s salaries to all be relatively similar.  Another was that, even though the early 2000s were still a booming time for giant men with power strokes, the later part of the decade and a half in which I’m focusing on would feature a lot of the guys that made their debuts in the early part of the century.  Therefore, their peak years were a bit closer the present and recent past. 

My other two criterion were that they had to truly be one tool players that hit below league average for those years (.262/.330/.415 being the average slash line from '00-'14) and that they needed to have at least 150 home runs over the past 15 seasons.  That would mean that they’d need to average at least 10 homers per season if they were to play all of those years (math!).

Of these five 3TO players, Dunn, Pena, and Branyan are the trifecta of one tool goodness.  Not only have they graded poorly defensively at first, which is generally considered an easy position to play (not by me, but by people much more athletically gifted than me) but they've never consistently hit for a decent average.  Burnitz had the benefit of playing the outfield for his entire career, and so his bat had a lot more value in that he wasn't clogging up first or DH.  He also didn't strike out anywhere near as much as the other sluggers on this list, so putting him on here may be a bit of a stretch.  But he definitely wasn't paid for his defense or ability to hit for average.  Reynolds, meanwhile,  has at least graded as league average at first in his past two seasons.

"You ain't seen Dallas Buyers Club!?"
These are all guys that front offices spent varying amounts of millions in USD to put the ball in the seats, take a walk, or strikeout.  The average value per HR among them?  $152,527.286.  Granted, it's a small sample size, but that's a lot of money to do three things.  I mean, it's one of the hardest things on the planet to do, but still.

Determining Value

So what's the key difference between the two outliers in this group?  Adam Dunn made a killing over the course of his career by consistently hitting home runs, while Branyan's blasts netted him a relatively modest sum.  It's nothing earth shattering to say that health and consistency were two of the main factors when it came time for these guys to put pen to paper and sign.

After his rookie season, Dunn never missed more than 122 games in a year, and that didn't come until his 11th season.  Leading up to his big free agent contract following the 2010 campaign, Dunn had averaged 35 home runs a season.  By comparison, Branyan's career high in games played came in '02 when he played in 134 (he wouldn't crack 100 games played again until the '09 season).  This was a guy that could hurt himself trying to open the curtains in his hotel room.

Of course, 3TO players also get paid for their on base skills, and I think that comes through from the data above.  They're all in the same general ballpark in terms of OBP other than Dunn, and he clearly separated himself from the pack in terms of pay-scale.

The Future of 3TO Players

Power swing of the future.
Mark Reynolds and Carlos Pena will keep getting opportunities to stick on rosters just because of their sheer power and strong HR/FB rates.  It's kind of like catching lighting in a bottle, if the front office can stomach the strikeouts.  But the next wave of three true outcome players are already on the rise; look no further than what's going on in baseball's western divisions.  Mark Trumbo has already knocked out over 100 HR in his first four seasons while striking out over 27% of the time.  His walks appear to be on the rise, taking free passes 54 times in '13 and 28 last season over just 88 games.  Over in Houston, Chris Carter has put up seasons of 29 and 37 home runs in '13 and '14, respectively.  He's taking his walks (126 over his last 1157 PA) and striking out a ton (38.9% of his ABs) since arriving with the Astros.  It will be interesting to see what teams are willing to pay 3TO players for their services through extensions and free agency in an offensively starved era.

With that, here's Dunn doin' his thang via a Vine courtesy of the guys at Cespedes Family BBQ:

Sound off in the comments below if you think I missed any three true outcome players of the past 15 years!

Photos courtesy of Keith Allison (Branyan, Dunn) and Not That Bob James (Trumbo)

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