Prioritizing Boring with David DeJesus

To be presented shortly: some statements, each of them more or less inarguable.

The Tampa Bay Rays are one of the best teams in baseball. This past season, they lost in the ALDS to the Red Sox. They’ve won at least 90 games four years in a row, they’ve won at least 84 games six years in a row, and in 2008 they advanced to the World Series. In terms of sustaining success, the Rays are a model organization.

The Rays are considered likely to part with ace David Price this offseason, not because he’s a free agent, but because he’ll be under expensive team control. In short, Price is going to cost more than the Rays would like to pay any one player, so the probability is that they’ll exchange their ace for youth, as they did with James Shields.

This coming season, the Rays, by choice, will pay several millions of dollars to outfielder David DeJesus. It appears the same could be said for 2015 as well. One of the more financially strapped organizations in the league is opening the wallet for a guy they picked up in exchange for a PTBNL in late August.

Here’s the deal: the Rays held an option for 2014, and they chose to exercise it. Now they’re about done with a multi-year contract that will keep DeJesus signed for two years, with a third-year option. DeJesus turns 34 in a month and a half. It’s unknown what the contract extension will cost, but the 2014 option the Rays exercised is worth $6.5 million, so that should work as an estimate. Given the way DeJesus was shipped around late last year, and given the Rays’ limited resources, this might on its face seem like a strange relative overpay.

But there are two considerations, one of them small, one of them less small. Firstly, the Rays’ $6.5 million option for DeJesus came with a $1.5 million buyout, meaning the effective cost of keeping DeJesus for 2014 is $5 million since they would’ve had to spend $1.5 million anyway. In your head, you might still think of $5 million as representing a lofty sum, but in baseball dollars that’s hardly anything, somewhere in the neighborhood of being the value of one win. There are disagreements on how to calculate what a win is worth on the open market, but nothing deviates too far from $5 million right now, and the Rays are at such a location on the win curve that wins to them mean a hell of a lot more than wins to, say, Miami.

And then, more importantly, there’s the matter of David DeJesus being a fine baseball player, even still. This might’ve been easy to forget, considering his August treatment by the Nationals, but DeJesus is all right in just about the most boring way possible.

Offense? Over the last three years, DeJesus has posted a combined 101 wRC+. League average, of course, at least for non-pitchers, is 100.

Baserunning? Over the last three years, DeJesus, by our estimates, has been worth +1.5 runs over average, or a fraction of a run a year. A negligible difference if I’ve ever seen one.

Defense? Again, over the last three years, DeJesus has put up a “defensive value” of -2.3 runs. This accounts and adjusts for his time in both center and the corner outfields, and the impression you get — rightly — is that DeJesus is versatile in the field without being a standout.

Walks? Strikeouts? Power? Hits on balls in play? Steals? DeJesus is average, incredibly average, almost impossibly average. There’s no one area where he stands out, and what he gives off as a consequence is a distinct fourth-outfielder vibe. DeJesus would make for a good fourth outfielder, but he also makes for a fine third outfielder for a team with some flexibility. You can be fine if you’re not great at anything, provided you’re also not awful at anything. DeJesus is awful at one thing, but it can be controlled.

The guy can’t really hit lefties. It’s hard to say where his true talent is, at this point. Through 2010, he wasn’t good against lefties, but he could hold his own. Since then, over 308 plate appearances, lefties have held DeJesus to a league-worst 29 wRC+. The next-worst, among players with 300 plate appearances, is Justin Morneau, at 41. DeJesus looks like he should be platooned, and where you’d think maybe the Rays would see his platoon issues as more of a sample-size thing than anything, they platooned him heavily themselves after picking him up, and they stand to platoon him going forward. Because DeJesus will be a platoon outfielder, it’s misleading and wrong to just extrapolate his WAR totals to bigger sample sizes.

For example, Steamer projects DeJesus to have as much value per 600 plate appearances next season as Torii Hunter. That’s not fair, because Hunter can play every day, and if DeJesus did that he’d be exposed more often against southpaws. But DeJesus can still play a lot, even if not every day, and average is valuable. Flexibility is valuable, as is a willingness to sit on the bench sometimes. If it seems weird for the Rays to commit so much money to DeJesus, it’s not the Rays who’re doing something wrong — it’s on you for not yet appreciating how much money there is in baseball right now. What seems like a lot of money isn’t.

It’s fun to look up some DeJesus comparables, by finding adequate offensive outfielders who have played center, but who have not played center primarily. The Padres have a couple candidates in Will Venable and Chris Denorfia, although Venable might have broken through with the bat just last season. Michael Brantley seems exactly the type. There’s Gregor Blanco, there’s Nate McLouth, there’s Brian Bogusevic and Reed Johnson and Ryan Sweeney and Casper Wells and..right on the list, you find Alex Rios. Next season, the Rangers will pay Rios $13 million, or about twice what the Rays will pay DeJesus. The last three years, Rios has been worth one more WAR, in about 350 more plate appearances. They’ve been offensive equals, and Rios’ advantage on the bases has been negated by DeJesus’ advantage in the field. What Rios does is hit more dingers and steal more bases. Rios is the flashier player, but he’s not the conclusively better player, and DeJesus will cost a lot less. The Rangers can afford Rios just fine, but the Rays should be pleased with their own cheaper approximation.

Granted, last summer, Dave already highlighted the differences and similarities between Rios and DeJesus. But everything still applies today, with the Rays making to DeJesus a longer-term commitment. They’re rewarding him for being boring, consistently and reliably boring, and that boringness keeps a player like DeJesus within the Rays’ tight budget. After this sentence, I don’t want to type “market inefficiency” ever again, but perhaps boring is a little undervalued. Just by WAR, DeJesus seems worth a bit more than he’ll actually be paid. It’s not a massive savings, but it seldom is. It’s about the little savings that add up, and the Rays have demonstrated several times over that they have a good grasp of these principles.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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steex
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steex
2 years 8 months ago

“This past season, they lost in the ALDS to the Rangers.”

I suspect this is a statement that would be described as less inarguable rather than more inarguable.

Mike D
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Mike D
2 years 8 months ago

Rays lost to the Red Sox.

tleehaug
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tleehaug
2 years 8 months ago

I think a lot of the incorrect assumption about DeJesus’ worth was due to him being essentially dropped for scraps by the Cubs late in the year. But that was mostly because they had 2 of the other players you listed there Bogusevic and Sweeney. They resigned Sweeney to a 2 year 3.5 mil contract at the end of the season. So DeJesus was a good player just something the Cubs had multiples of at cheaper.

Plato
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Plato
2 years 8 months ago

The Rays know what they’re doing. Dejesus is valuable if used properly.

Fabian
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Fabian
2 years 8 months ago

Fun fact: David DeJesus has more career WAR than Ryan Howard.

nil satis nisi optimum
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nil satis nisi optimum
2 years 8 months ago

my mind is blown.

Scott
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Scott
2 years 8 months ago

You have won the baseball related Internet for the day. Well played!

tz
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tz
2 years 8 months ago

At least Howard still has more career WAR than Bill Buckner…

NATS Fan
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NATS Fan
2 years 8 months ago

big deal, Yunel Escobar has more career WAR than Howard, and he entered the league two years later.

rustydude
Member
rustydude
2 years 8 months ago

“The guy can’t really hit lefties.”

This is what I don’t get. They already have a guy who can’t hit lefties who plays a corner outfield position in Matt Joyce. Joyce has better ISO, better BB%, slightly worse defense. They average out to be the same guy. And it just seems to me that a team can paint themselves into a corner with too many guys they need to platoon to the point where they simply have to start guys more and more against same handed pitchers.

And here’s the thing, Joyce is 4 years younger. I simply don’t get the Rays’ fascination with DeJesus. Lots of teams can use an average, “boring” corner outfielder who can’t hit lefties. The Rays simply aren’t one of them.

Add to all of this, they had Kelly Johnson who also is a LH hitter, played corner OF, and put up similar #’s to DeJesus and Joyce. By the end of the year they were trying to platoon all 3 guys, not so successfully.

Glorpo
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Glorpo
2 years 8 months ago

The presence of DeJesus doesn’t necessarily preclude Joyce from playing. The Rays currently needs someone at 1st/DH and Joyce could conceivably fill that role.

Possible Lineup vs. Righties 2014:

C Lobaton
1B Joyce
2B Zobrist
SS Escobar
3B Longoria
LF DeJesus
CF Jennings
RF Fuld
DH Myers

rustydude
Member
rustydude
2 years 8 months ago

Wow, that has to be the lightest hitting outfield in the entire big leagues. And I shudder to think what it might look like if DeJesus goes into age based decline.

buddaley
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buddaley
2 years 8 months ago

I think you are reacting too soon. The off-season has just begun. Perhaps Joyce (or DeJesus) gets traded. Perhaps Joyce is used in the DH role a lot. We don’t know yet who plays 1B. Perhaps a Price trade brings a power hitter there. Perhaps his acquisition makes it possible to be more flexible in finding a prospect or player match for Price.

The point is there is nothing wrong with accumulating useful talent. There are all sorts of ways to use it-whether through platooning, creating a strong bench, having trade chips, manipulating lineups to get maximum matchups or provide rest to key players or any number of other creative ways.

As a matter of fact, as presently constructed, the Rays lineup is pretty RH heavy. The only lefties we may assume will get regular or semi-regular time are Zobrist (SH) and Lobaton (SH). The primary starters, Longoria, Escobar, Jennings and Myers, are RH. K. Johnson is probably gone. Scott is almost definitely gone. Fuld may be gone, and is not there for offense anyway. Loney is probably gone.

As the probable long side of a LF platoon, DeJesus is likely to get 400-500 PAs, and while decline may come into play, his history suggests he will provide 1.5-2 WAR, a good deal for $5 million next year. (I say $5 million since the $1.5 million was sunk cost.) And it leaves plenty of opportunity for Joyce as well as perhaps the long side of a DH platoon, as an occasional sub for Myers in RF and as a bench bat and depth in case of injury.

In any case, until we know the opening day roster, we can’t say that DeJesus is simply duplicating what the Rays have. We can recognize that he provides flexibility to help build that roster.

LaLoosh
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LaLoosh
2 years 8 months ago

yeah it may have been seen as an opportunity to get DDJ cheaply and presents the ability to deal Joyce for something (Duda?). It’s hard to believe there’s a real problem with Joyce’s D and he will certainly outhit DDJ so I think he’s a little underrated down there.

As someone may have mentioned they’ll need to add someone like Chris Young to platoon with DDJ raising the cost for that position…

Again, they’re likely to address some of these issues with the yield for Price, but let’s not make it seem as if they won’t miss Price… they will.

Sleight of Hand Pro
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Sleight of Hand Pro
2 years 8 months ago

is it possible were at the point where we look for ways to justify any rays move because theyre the rays? sort of “the rays did this, it must be smart”

if another team has made this signing, would there be an article about it being shrewd?

not criticizing jeff, i love your work, just curious about the motivation of this.

MFG
Member
MFG
2 years 8 months ago

Was Dejesus gonna get $6.5M on the open market?

Yuniesky Betancourt
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Yuniesky Betancourt
2 years 8 months ago

Wat?

MFG
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MFG
2 years 8 months ago

Was Dejesus gonna get $6.5M on the open market?

Gricomet
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Gricomet
2 years 8 months ago

I think that is a good question. His profile suggests a mostly ignored free agent that signs for very little. Certainly if you decline the option there is the chance someone else gets him but it would seem in most scenarios you get him for the 5M a year or less.

jim S.
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jim S.
2 years 8 months ago

After watching many of the Rays’ games with DeJesus aboard, I think he really enjoyed his time there and was good in the clubhouse — which, of course, is very important to Joe Maddon. Another plus: he can bat leadoff.

tz
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tz
2 years 8 months ago

What about a Price for Puig trade, with the Rays chipping in DeJesus as a necessary 4th outfielder and the Dodgers chipping in a pitching prospect?

TK
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TK
2 years 8 months ago

What is Chris Youngs market? Becuase I really see him as the perfect platoon partner with DeJesus

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