Eric Byrnes’ 2007 Deal: A Contract Retrospective

As you’ve almost certainly read by now, former Arizona outfielder Eric Byrnes signed with the Mariners this past Friday after having been previously released by the Diamondbacks. There’s plenty to read about Byrnes’ current abilities (for example here, here, here, and my favorite here). Briefly: he’s an oft-injured 34-year old outfielder with a bad bat and a good glove. He’s probably 0-0.5 WAR, but at the league minimum, it’s a virtually risk-free signing.

What is more interesting is that the Diamondbacks are still on the hook for almost $11 million dollars of the last year of the three-year, $30 million dollar contract to which they signed Byrnes in 2007. During Byrnes’ disastrous, injury-plagued 2008 and 2009 seasons, many a snide comment about “grit” and “veteran leadership” was made about Arizona’s decision to lock up a corner outfielder in his early 30s during a “career year,” especially since they then traded Carlos Quentin, who immediately started mashing for the White Sox.

It is easy (and fun!) to mock a decision after it has obviously turned out badly. The more interesting question is how the contract looked when it was signed — hence my occasional series of “Contract Retrospectives.” Step into the time machine…

We all remember where we were when we heard heard the big news: Rosie O’Donnell was forced off of The View. But that shouldn’t overshadow other happenings from 2007: The Phoenix spacecraft left for Mar’s North Pole. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, inspiring millions of children all over the world to read and have terrible literary taste. Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” made us all wonder if we would be better off dead. And on August 7, Barry Bonds, ever the narcissist, hit home run number 756, deliberately overshadowing Byrnes’ contract signing on the same day.

What were the Diamondbacks paying for? The market was very different “back in the day.” During the 2007-08 offseason (Byrnes contract was for 2008-2010), the estimated market price for a win above replacement was about $4.4 million. Figure in 10% annual salary inflation and a half-a-win a season expected decline, and one gets this chart. Looking across the top row of the chart for years and and then down for closest figure to Byrnes’ contract, you will see that 3 years, $28.7 implies a 2.5 WAR player for 2008. Add in the $400,000 per year league minimum (“replacement salary”), and you have a nearly perfect match with Byrnes’ contract.

Was 2.5 WAR a reasonable expectation? From the standpoint of 2007 (it’s difficult to split up the season for “retrojections”), from 2004-2007 Byrnes had put up WARs of 3.4, 0.6, 3.3, and 4.0. The four year average is about 2.8, and the three year average is about 2.4. So Arizona wasn’t (necessarily) sucked in by Byrnes’ 2007 performance. Let’s break things down a bit more precisely.

In past installments, I’ve done my own, deliberately crude “retrojection.” This time I’ve utilized archived projections from CHONE, ZiPS, and everyone’s favorite monkey, Marcel. Converting Byrnes’ projected 2008 lines to the appropriate linear weights, over a full season (700 PA), CHONE projected +16 runs, ZiPS projected +14 runs, and Marcel (ever the pessimist) projected +5 runs. The simple average is about +12 runs. Arizona’s ballpark is very hitter-friendly, so the adjusted value of those projections is about +7/700 PA.

Fielding is more complicated, since Byrnes played multiple positions. Fortunately, the adjustments for CF(2.5) and RF/LF (-7.5) is meant to reflect the relative difficulty of the positions. Thus, I simply added Byrnes’ UZR fielding runs to his positional adjustment for each season to get a “position neutral” fielding rating. After weighting, regressing, and adjusting for age, the projected 2008 position-neutral defensive value for Byrnes is +3 runs (i.e., average in CF, +10 on the corners).

Putting it altogether: +7 offense +3 fielding + 20 NL replacement level = 3 WAR times 85% playing time = 2.6 WAR. Pretty much right on the money.The Quentin issue aside (and it isn’t has if he had torn it up prior to the trade), perhaps one can quibble over details such as the no-trade clause. Still, while the contract looks bad now, it was right in line with the market at the time it was signed.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

25 Responses to “Eric Byrnes’ 2007 Deal: A Contract Retrospective”

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  1. rh146 says:

    Everytime an Eric Byrnes throws its bat on the ground and yells an obscenity for the children to hear, an angel gets its wings (and another hole materializes in the wallet of the Diamondbacks)

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  2. Joser says:

    What were the Diamondbacks paying for?

    From the evidence: pop-ups. Lots and lots of pop-ups.

    And some D, often paired with L.

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  3. Will says:

    So the question is, how do we get from where we are today (the contract looks and has been bad for multiple seasons) to where we were, which you conclude was a reasonable deal?

    Because, clearly, that contract was, in the main, a terrible one for the club.

    I wonder if, as you get closer to replacement level, it’s less and less wise to pay premium rates for mediocre talent. As a ratio it may work out mathwise, but I just can’t shake the notion that paying the going FA rate for a 2.6 WAR guy (in GOOD scenarios) is really the way to go.

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    • Everett says:

      Will, you’re exactly right. A number of looks at the issue has shown that teams tend to pay for wins linearly. Instead, they’d be much better off if they were a bit more exponential in looking at it, given the extreme availability of low-WAR guys, and the fact that you have a limited number of spots available.

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    • Good points, Will. There’s a lot to talk about here, and I’ll discuss more below in response to others.

      First of all, let’s keep in mind that the primary reason the contract turnedout to be terrible was onforeseen injuries — something Byrnes had never had problems with before. Yes, his performance might have tanked if he hadn’t been hurt, but we have no way of knowing. You project and do the b

      Moreover, “2.6 WAR” isn’t mediocre — it’s above average. Indeed, including Marcel makes look worse than it is — if you drop Marcel, he’s closer to a 3 WAR player. And 2.6 WAR isn’t anywhere close to replacement level. Mediocre would be 2 or below, if you ask me.

      Still, they probably should have had more faith in Quentin (although given Quentin’s projected performance [see below], there’s tons of hindsight at work there). But, yes, in general, smart teams pay below market value as much as possible. My point here is simply that this wasn’t an especially dumb deal we people treat is with hindsight.

      More below.

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  4. CircleChange11 says:

    Byrnes also had a whole lot of “hustleandstuffedness” and had the crowd holding up “22″ signs continually.

    The things I can think of that could have had it referred to as a bad contract at the time was that so much of Byrnes value was tied to being able to run well, and an injury decreased that quite a bit, and the “hustle n stuff” is valuable if it results in fan appreciation (spending money) and any impact/influence it might have on teammates (inspires them to hustle some more). Both of those are somewhat minimal, IMO, because fans have to cheer for someone and they’ll often cheer for “whoever’s hot at the time”.

    The post does make a case that Byrne could have been expected to earn his contract, but given the age of the player and the particular skill set, a lot of things have to have “gone right” for him to be able to do that, because he’s not going to provide value with walks and the like.

    Basically, if he cannot run well, he loses a lot of his value, and his hamstring injury did that …. but injuries almost always cause one to lose the value of their contract if they are paid for being at their “peak level”.

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    • NBarnes says:

      I believe I recall that speed players are supposed to age better than ‘old skills’ players. Byrnes might reasonably have been expected to age tolerably well. At least, as opposed to falling off a cliff.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I’ll state for the record that I’ve never been an Eric Byrnes fan, and I’m generally a fan of the “underdog” type player (like Ryan Ludwick).

        But, when I read SI’s article on Byrnes and watched him play, it seemed that his “personality” was a WWE-like self-creation and on the field the two words I thought of most were “fake hustle”.

        Either way, he laughed all the way to the bank.

        Carl Crawford would be another guy, albeit a lot more talented than Byrnes, that if he lost a step or two due to injury, his value would decrease significantly. He doesn’t walk, his range would be less, he would be less of a threat on the bases and for extra bases, and he doesn’t hit with much power. I only mention Crawford because he’ll soon be due for a MAJOR payday, and a serious injury will be the risk that a team has to consider when acquiring Crawford. I wouldn’t wish an injury on anyone like Crawford. But a serious knee/hammy injury would cost him bigtime in production for a few years.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Sorry, I got on an roll and didn’t respond to your point.

        All I’ll say is “aging well” and “being destroyed by a leg injury” are two different things.

        A guy like Crawford should provide excellent OF range and quality threat on the bases, and for extra bases, for quite a few more years … unless he suffers major/leg injury.

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  5. cpebbles says:

    My recollection is that the internet as a whole considered it a bad deal despite it being roughly market value because Arizona had lots of cheap young outfield alternatives that were blocked by the deal. It’s easy to dismiss Quentin circa 2007 if you look at the lousy .647 OPS, but through his minor league career and in limited playing time the year before he had looked like a star.

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  6. Coby DuBose says:

    CPebbles has provided the correct response.

    Simply dismissing the Carlos Quentin side of the deal is a big mistake, because that was a huge part of what was wrong with the deal. Prior to signing Byrnes, Arizona had managed to trade both Quentin and Scott Hairtson for a bag of marbles collectively. Not only that, but they had Carlos Gonzalez coming up the pipeline and likely to contribute well before the Byrnes contract ended.

    Therefore, the Diamondbacks shouldn’t be graded on whether Byrnes could reasonably be expected to perform at a level that justifies his contract (this is debatable anyway). They should instead be graded on their ability to get the best value for wins at their LF position. If they had handled Quentin reasonably (and he did underperform because of injury in that season), they could have gotten at least as good of value from him as they would for Byrnes…and at a fraction of the cost. Plus he’s younger, so there’s little risk, whereas Byrnes age and history of second half fall-offs made him a huge risk.

    So not only did the Diamondbacks lose $10mm/year in the deal, but they also lost a high-value MLB-ready prospect in Quentin. The two things go hand in hand, which is why anyone with a pulse wondered what in God’s name Moorad was thinking when he forced the contract.

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    • Christo says:

      Exactly. It’s about what they had, what they let go and what they kept.

      Good for them. They paid for a reasonably-expected WAR.

      What they really paid for were 50 stolen bases in 2007, which are pretty much merely pretty (and double anything he’d ever done…in a contract year).

      Meanwhile, they traded a guy that put up a .429 minor-league OBP, walking 176 times while striking out 189 times in nearly 1700 PAs.

      The deal was a bad one for a guy going into his age 32 year. His 2007 reeked of outlier in the worst sense.

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      • [<Note: 5:05 pm EST -- forgot to park-adjust Quentin's projected offense the first time I wrote this, so I've corrected it now]

        Replying to the general Quentin issue:

        I generally agree, and the primary reason I didn’t discuss it more was because the post was already a bit long, and what was I going to do, cut out a dumb joke about Rosie O’Donell?

        As I’ve said before, paying approxiamately the market rate isn’t dumb or smart, it’s average… Teams should always give priority to young, cost-controlled talent. and even without hindsight (which I think is still operating for many here), Arizona should have been more cautious.

        But let me play the devil’s advocate, just to see where is takes us.

        If I do _exactly_ the same combination of projecting Quentin as I did for Byrnes, I get about a 1.7 WAR with 85% playing time. That’s about a whole win. As I wrote above, Brynes had been durable through 207. However, 85% seems high for Quentin if you’re Arizona — in 2006, he played about 130 games on both levels, in 2007, he played 114. So one could see why they might only be willing to pencil Quentin in for 70% playing time… which takes him to about 1.4 WAR.

        Also keep in mind that Arizona could reasonably see themselves as high up on the “win curve,” having made the won the west and the NLCS in 2007, and that might have played a factor as well.

        Anyway, again, this isn’t exactly the analysis I would have done for Arizona (if they were dumb enough to hire me), I just though it was in interesting way of trying to get into their mindset.

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      • Sorry, forget one thing…

        1) Arizona was _not_ paying for an outlier season. As I pointed out — they were paying him for measurably less performance than he had put out in 2006 and 2007. If anything, his dreadful 2005 is the “outlier…” if that means anything…

        more importantly

        2) Projections take care of that “outlier” stuff, to the extend it is meaningful at all:

        http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/outliers-breakouts-and-the-owl-of-minerva/

        thanks for the comments

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    • Levski says:

      Coby DuBose,

      What you are saying is all high and mighty… but I can’t shake this feeling that back in the day, when the extension was announced, you were firmly in the “Support the Eric Byrnes extension!” camp and were too busy telling everyone who would listen that the extension was a great move for the Dbacks and that all the naysayers didn’t know what the hell they were talking about…

      Then again, there’s a slight chance I might have you confused with someone else…

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      • Coby DuBose says:

        Levski,

        I gave you a thumbs up, because you’re right. In 2007, I was just a simpleton plowboy from the rural part of South Carolina, equipped with only a love for Orlando Hudson and a hope (burning light, really) that the Diamondbacks were on the right track. I had no comprehension of what FanGraphs (or BP, or BBTF, or any other site) was and if you asked me who Bill James was, I would have told you he was a deacon at the First Central Baptist Church of Dovesville, SC.

        I actually credit you to some extent with turning me on to sabermetrics. You and some others used to post different data from this exact site, and I had pretty much no basis for understanding it then.

        Now, I’m about 7 Bill James books in, I’ve done some of my own studies, and I’m a pretty devoted member of the church of sabertology.

        When I say “anyone with a pulse”, I’m most certainly not referring to myself, because I was about as fanboy as you can get. I do remember one individual who was pretty unwavering on the dynamics of the deal, though. Credit to you, friend.

        Coby

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    • Levski says:

      Coby,

      This is a very classy post. I certainly didn’t mean to sound negative in my original post (and pardon me if I did). Your original point was very good – the Eric Byrnes extension cannot be evaluated solely on the basis of WAR and $ per win; you have to consider the talent that was blocked and then traded away because of that extension. Quentin, Hairston, CarGo – all of them were traded away in the aftermath, as you point out. And all of them are cheaper, younger and better than Eric Byrnes. Granted, some of them were used to acquire Haren – but the extension prompted such a rapid dissipation of major league ready talent from the system that when injuries hit in 2009, the Dbacks were left with huge holes in the outfield and at first base.

      Cheers,
      Levski

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  7. pounded clown says:

    “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, inspiring millions of children all over the world to read and have terrible literary taste.”

    Because kids just can’t get enough Melville.

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    • walkoffblast says:

      I always talked down to Harry Potter fans until I did a novel thing and actually read one of the books. The movies are junk but the books shockingly live up to the hype IMO.

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      • Johnny Rainbow says:

        Well that just makes you a dick.

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      • Xavier says:

        “until I did a novel thing”

        I see what you did there.

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      • I actually read all the books, and thought they were decent until I read the last one right when it came out… In short, it was a “make or break” book for me, and on reading it, I realized just how lame the series as a whole was. There was stuff there to work with, but it really progressively fell apart with each book and each dropped plot point and cliched resolution for the ones she kept.

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  8. PhD Brian says:

    I like these retrospectives alot!

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