Comparing the Bruce and Gonzalez Extensions

Lock up your young players. That has been the theme of the past two winters. Last off-season we saw a number of prominent players, including Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez, sign extensions that will keep them in their respective towns. This year we’re seeing more of the same. The Rockies doled out perhaps the most prolific extension, signing Troy Tulowitzki through 2020. They were at it again this week, signing Carlos Gonzalez to a seven-year deal for around $80 million. That’s a pretty massive contract for a player who has played one full season and parts of two others. It also seems massive when compared to one of his peers.

Last month the Reds signed their young outfielder, Jay Bruce, to a six-year, $51 million extension. Matt Klaassen wrote that one up at the time and liked the deal for the Reds. It buys out two years of free agency at $24.5 million, and then has a $13 million option for the third year of free agency. That will help keep him in Cincinnati through at least his age-29 season, and likely his age-30 season, whereas if they failed to sign him he would be eligible for free agency entering his age-28 season, which would probably price him well out of the Reds’ range. All told the contract will likely become seven years at $62 million.

Is Gonzalez really worth $18 million more than Bruce over seven years? That’s tough to tell now, considering that both have played one full season and parts of two others. It leaves us with little track record and lots of projection. In terms of current production, Gonzalez has been slightly better.

On offense Gonzalez has been quite a bit better, a .372 career wOBA in 1,269 PA to Bruce’s .342 wOBA in 1,412 PA. But, again, we’re looking at young players with limited data right now. Gonzalez had a spectacular 2010, but no player with 1,000 or more PA over the last three seasons has sustained anything close to a .380 BABIP. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Bruce will certainly be the better offensive player, but I think it’s a bit closer than their 2010 seasons will have us believe. Bruce improved substantially in 2010, including his performance against lefties, and figures for a monster 2011 season.

On defense, the comparison doesn’t appear close. Bruce started off his career with a -5 UZR in right field (-10.4 per 150), but since then he has been nothing but phenomenal. Of right fielders with at least 2,500 innings in the last three seasons, Bruce ranks second in UZR, and first in UZR/150. If we expand those parameters to include all outfielders, Bruce ranks eighth overall. If the Reds needed him to play center field and make room for another big corner outfield bat, they could probably move Bruce to center field for a couple of years at least and not lose too much defensively.

Gonzalez hasn’t been bad in the outfield, posting a 10.3 UZR since his debut, but he appears to be on the downswing, going from 11 UZR in 2008 to 2 in 2009, to -2.7 this year. Bruce, on the other hand, has improved every year. This isn’t to say that Gonzalez is a poor defender. He can certainly play left field well enough. But if the Rockies had to move him into center field they’d lose some value there.

Again, for the third time, we’re not dealing with much data with these two players. A lot of projection goes into these contracts. How exactly do they project? Let’s turn to their 2008 Baseball America scouting reports, where they both ranked No. 1 for their respective teams. Here’s what the BA staff had to say about Gonzalez:

Gonzalez lacks nothing in the way of physical tools. He has tremendous bat speed, with a pure easiness to his swing that generates plus raw power to all fields. The strength and leverage in his natural inside-out stroke make the ball jump off his bat.

He gets himself in trouble when he tries to pull the ball too much. He’s still an erratic defender, leading the high Class A California and Double-A Southern league in outfield miscues the last two years with 12 each time.

And Bruce:

Bruce combines tremendous bat speed with an excellent swing plane. He has a knack for deciphering and correcting flaws in his swing between at-bats and sometimes even between pitches. He has the natural ability to hit for average and power even if he didn’t work hard, but he does have the drive of a baseball rat, which explains why he’s the first person to the ballpark and the last to leave. Every one of Bruce’s tools is better than average.

Bruce has few faults. He strikes out a lot, but the whiffs are an acceptable tradeoff for his production. Some Triple-A teams found him vulnerable to being busted inside, but that doesn’t appear to be a long-term problem. While he’s capable of playing center field relatively well, he still projects to end up in right as he grows older and fills out.

Those sound very similar, though the BA crew sounded a bit higher on Bruce than on Gonzalez — hence ranking Bruce No. 1 overall and Gonzalez No. 22. We know that plenty changes from year to year in these scouting reports, so we shouldn’t take them as gospel. But they’re something to consider as we search for any kind of data to help better project these players.

What we’re left with is something of a toss-up. There’s a good chance that Gonzalez continues to be the better offensive weapon — Bill James projects him to be a bit better. But there’s also a good chance that Bruce far outshines him on defense. I’d say that they’re pretty similar players in terms of overall value going forward, which makes Gonzalez’s extension a bit harder to understand. I don’t think he’ll be worth $12 million more than Bruce in the next seven years. But that’s sometimes the premium a team has to pay to keep a young star in town.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

30 Responses to “Comparing the Bruce and Gonzalez Extensions”

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  1. Mike says:

    Is it possible Coors field hurts OF UZR numbers? I thought Dexter Fowler was supposed to be a good to great defender and UZR has him as well below average.

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    • Matt says:

      Stick him in left field in SF and UZR would say he’s Willie Mays.

      I’m distrustful of outfielder UZR as well. I’ll look at it, but there is still a lot of wackiness in it.

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    • will says:

      i was going to say the same thing. fowler, by all accounts covers more ground than most yet isnt ranked as such. I find those numbers can be kinda misleading, if need be.

      also, doesn’t Gonzalez figure to go down, I mean no one can sustain his type of monster finish even at Coors, wheras Bruce only has ceiling to reach? This is kind of the point of your comparison, that Bruce can still improve and CarGo can only get marginally better.

      Great read though


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    • The Nicker says:

      The Coors numbers skewed the same way with Willy Taveras. I’d say it’s worth looking into.

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  2. NM says:

    I don’t know if I’m the only one who feels this way, but I’m not crazy for Gonzalez’s plate discipline. Being so dependent on BABIP and power would worry me. Bruce’s plate discipline hasn’t appeared to be much better, but he at least has the excellent defense in his corner (and lesser money).

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  3. ab says:

    It’s also worth mentioning that Bruce was a Super 2 in arb this year whereas Gonzalez had one more pre-arb year, which makes the Reds deal look even more team-friendly in comparison

    This contract really is somewhat crazy. Looking at it compared to contracts like the Verlander and King Felix extensions, those guys each got ~20mm per year for the 3 FA years they gave up (just like Cargo), but they also each had 4 years of ST (with corresponding outstanding performance during most of that time) at the time of their extensions. Cargo has only 2 years, one great full season

    That’s why Boras is the best though

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  4. BrewCrew says:

    Bruce is still ‘potential’, whereas Car-Go has realized it. He will have to continue to hit and maintain it moving forward. Bruce’s defense is valuable, so I am not discounting that, but the debate assumes Bruce develops into the same Gonzalez-esque numbers, which may or may not happen. Projection is just that until it’s realized. IF Bruce realizes then yes, it’s a better contract but that’s far from a given at this point.

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    • jason461 says:

      Bruce was a 5.3 win player last year, so if by “potential” you mean “already all-star caliber” with the potential to be an MVP, then yes, you are correct. Otherwise, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

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      • BrewCrew says:

        Ya, and if you wanna weigh the defense that heavily, then Andres Torres is an MVP candidate with a 6.0. If you re-read my comment, I was speaking strictly about his offence. Shad-up.

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  5. scotman144 says:

    Is there any reason to think that Carlos Gonzalez won’t have a similar career path to Alfonso Soriano? I see the combination of power/poor plate discipline/speed leading to maybe a few more amazing BABIP driven seasons and an early decline once injuries or age catch up to him.

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  6. joeiq says:

    Not even close, the Bruce contract is so much better. Cargo was a fluke. The stars are all aligned for a let down year. After that he’ll probably recover to some extent. He’ll never match 2010 again. Not that he’ll be bad but I don’t think he’s truly great like Bruce is.

    At one point Bill Hall had “realized his potential”

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    • fredsbank says:

      yeah, its not like cargo was once the top prospect of two organizations, a man traded for matt holliday and dan haren both, not to mention hits some of the hardest line drives in baseball, what a joker

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  7. razor says:

    Plenty of guys have increased their walk rate as they’ve matured. The list is so long it’s worthless to start naming them. While it’s true CarGo will likely never enjoy his 2010 BABIP success again, he probably won’t have to either. Over half his walks last year came in the last two months. I’d bet he’ll be fine. He’s going to get less to hit going forward. I’ll bet the walks follow. Whatever happens I’d bet the house he turns out better than Bill Hall.

    As for the defense CarGo may not be as good as Bruce (I don’t know), but it’s not because UZR says so. I agree with the above statements regarding defensive metrics in Coors. Something weird going on there and way too many so called “experts” are leaping to conclusions over defensive metric work that can be defined as inconsistent at best.

    Both of these guys are good, young players. I think it’s too early to say who is better of course. If it turns out to be Bruce we’ll be hearing the term renegotiate anyway…

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    • Bill says:

      I can’t ever remember a baseball player renegotiating a contract. In the NFL and NBA it’s not common, but it happens. If players could renegotiate their contracts when they over play them, the owners have no motivation to lock up young players. Can you provide examples of renegotiated contracts?

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  8. jason461 says:

    For everyone discussing fielding metrics. I don’t know about CarGo, but Bruce is a case of eyes and stats agreeing. He looks just as fantastic out there as the stats say he is. No reason to really doubt his tremendous value in the field.

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  9. Garrett says:

    Why do you make the assumption that the Rockies are paying a premium and that Bruce is paid fair market?

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  10. Mr. Red says:

    Does Bruce’s younger age (by 18 months) affect anything? I feel like that would also make his deal look a little better.

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  11. Ryan says:

    A few things to consider:

    - Nearly a quarter of Cargo’s 2010 season was spent at lead-off, with no real protection in the 2-hole.

    - After that, he was briefly moved into the 5-hole, where he still performed without protection.

    - Covered one of the biggest outfields in the majors as well as anyone I’ve seen in 15 years from all three positions (whichever the team needed on a given day).

    - Possesses an arm that is as uncannily accurate as it is strong — provided some of the most spectacular outfield assists I saw in the majors last year.

    - Really found his stride once placed in the 3-hole and had protection from Tulowitzki. Walks went WAY up, production increased.

    - Is a .380 BABIP sustainable? No, but it’s at least justifiable given his line drive rate. I don’t see a fluke; I see qualities of Vlad Guerrero with the refinement of a young Carlos Beltran. While the BABIP has to go down, I see his walk rate increasing overall and his production sustaining.

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  12. MADness says:

    Any person who labels Cargo a poor defensive outfielder clearly has not watched him play.

    Coor’s Field does screw up outfield defensive metrics somehow (Fowler and Tavarez are evidence of this as well) and 1 1/2 seasons of data spread over all three positions results in massive reliability issues due to SSS regardless.

    If you are too lazy to watch these players play then skim media reports (player comments, manager comments, scouting reports, etc.) and see if you can find anything but glowing reports about his defensive ability.

    BTW, if I recall correctly his partial season in Oakland playing CF showed him to be one of the best defensive CFers that year (though as in this case SSS applies).

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  13. CircleChange11 says:

    I was wondering about the defensive metrics for CarGo v. Bruce.

    The faster athlete has the inferior UZR metrics, and it’s all range. Fowler, speed to burn, also has -UZR. In OAK, CarGo had + UZR. All small sample sizes, but the difference btw Bruce and CarGo is 23 defensive runs (2.3 WAR). That’s huge. I can believe that Bruce is a very good defender, but 2 whole WAR better than CarGo?

    Be interesting to see if there is something to the UZR and COL, but I would think that the park factor would work that out.


    The part of the article that jumped off the page to me as if were typed in bold was this (and I wish I didn’t notice) ….

    * The tan kid is very toolsy, but gets himself into trouble at the plate and in the field. The tan kid’s swing is “pure”, “raw”, and “natural”.

    * The white kid is equally toolsy, but is also smart and (of course) works really, really hard. The white kid’s swing is also natural. Matter of fact he could hit for average and power even if he didn’t work hard. But, as we all know, he has “drive” and works very hard.

    At this point I’m not sure whether I find the cliche/stereotype aspect entertaining, ridiculous, or extremely unfortunate … or whether I’m seeing things that aren’t really there.

    I do know that Bruce is far too good of a talent and player to go attributing “knacks” to him.

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  14. CircleChange11 says:

    Sorry, I left this part out. I probably removed it when I was going back and forth on whether to actually post that last part or not.

    He has a knack for deciphering and correcting flaws in his swing between at-bats and sometimes even between pitches.

    “Knacks” are abilities we try to attribute to a person that does not have the ability.

    Considering ….

    He strikes out a lot

    … the knack to self-correct his swing during at bats and sometimes even *gasp* between pitches (oh my) comes and goes as knacks often do.

    Like I said, Jay Bruce is far too great of a talent to be attributing silly knacks to. You add fertilizer to soil that is lacking. Jay Bruce is not lacking.

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  15. AustinRHL says:

    I absolutely cannot believe the number of people entirely missing the fact that the Rockies already had him under control for peanuts (well, relatively speaking) for the next few years. Every Rockies fan appears to be looking at this as if it were a free agent deal, and that includes the “smart” fans who agree that the projection of 5.5 WAR/year on Purple Row was way too optimistic. The fact is that Gonzalez is being paid as if he’s worth more than $20 million per year over seven years (two years of free agency bought out, and then 40% + 60% + 80% of market value for his arbitration years means that the Rockies are effectively paying for the equivalent of 3.8 years of a free agent, and $80 million/3.8 = $21 million). He may be worth it, particularly with inflation likely to make that $21 million equate on average to about 3.5 expected WAR, but as so many have pointed out, it seems silly to gamble that his success will continue with his poor peripherals when the team has him locked up at a major discount for five years already.

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  16. Andrew says:

    “…but [Gonzalez] appears to be on the downswing, going from 11 UZR in 2008 to 2 in 2009, to -2.7 this year. Bruce, on the other hand, has improved every year.”

    Doesn’t the UZR primer on this site speak against this type of use of UZR?

    “Another issue that often comes up is the significance of consistent or inconsistent year-to-year UZR’s. It is human nature to look at Player A, who has a UZR of -11, +14, and -3 over the last 3 years, and be confused and unsure of that player’s true defensive skills. At the same time, we see Player B, who is +1, 0, and -1, and we feel confident that he is an average defender. Don’t be fooled by these illusions. There is virtually no difference between the two players’ stats. The fact of the matter is that both players have a 3-year UZR average (albeit non-weighted) of zero, and therefore both players are likely around average defenders. It makes very little difference what those yearly samples look like. They are merely 3 arbitrary sub-sets of a 3-year sample of data. Keep in mind I didn’t say that it makes no difference – only that it makes very little difference. If you are uncomfortable treating both of those players the same, then you can weight those 3 years (which is correct to do anyway) using a weighting scheme such as 3/4/5, and then you can ignore those year-to-year “inconsistencies.”

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  17. mike says:

    so obviously there isn’t a great sample size, but it seems possible that the fielding systems are not great for Coors field. Both Gonzalez and Fowler are considered above average to very good outfielders by scouts, but the stats suggest otherwise. Matt Holiday plays a slightly unconfident style, but is considered avg-above average by scouts. His stats suggested flat average in coors. He goes to Cardinals and all of a sudden is the 4th best fielding Left Fielder in MLB…. Not knowing how the stats and comparisons are derived I can’t really venture a guess, but it smells funny.

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  18. Scott says:

    The reason that many “rockies fans” are looking at this almost as a free agent deal is pretty obvious. I realize cargo’s BABIP will regress, but the fact is this was the rockies ONE chance to lock up cargo beyond his arbitration years. As a boras client had he hit .290/25hrs/20sbs next year (yes I know I didn’t use wOBA or WAR) it was essentially guaranteed that he would go year to year thru his arbitration years until he hit free agency. While I realize the rockies had him tied up for several years, the only way for them to keep him beyond his arbitration years was to lock him up now. It was a risk, but I’d argue a risk well worth taking.

    As for Bruce, I do think that his contract will be very team friendly, but ultimately I’d argue that isn’t out of the ordinary. Quality young players before they hit true free agency are generally a bargain. Once they sign those big free agent contracts they are often equal value for the 1st 1/2 or so of the contract and then start to be more and more player friendly towards the end of the contract. I realize I’m generalizing, but that is the case more often than not.

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  19. Mike says:

    Perhaps I don’t understand the metrics all that well, but isn’t Coors field a hitters park? While Cargo’s defensive numbers may be deflated because of Coors field, could his offensive numbers be inflated because of Coors field?

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