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The All-Albatross Outfield Two Weeks In

I hope that FanGraphs readers don’t need lecturing on sample size, so I won’t. Scouts might be able to pick up on something a player is doing differently in the first two weeks, but I don’t have that kind of insight myself. Let’s check out the starts of three outfielders with big contracts (one isn’t quite as big, although it was arguably almost as bad an idea as the other two) who, to say the least, haven’t justified their paychecks, but two of whom are hitting surprisingly well in 2010, and a third who is not.

I’ll be using ZiPS in-season projections to look at how ZiPS projected the player’s offense before the season, how ZiPS projects the player’s offense the rest of the season (“RoS” on the player pages), i.e., the current estimate of the player’s “true talent” in context, and what that means for the player’s final 2010 offense value (ZiPS “Update”).

Your current All-Albatross Outfield:

Center Field: Vernon Wells
Contract: $126 million 2008-2014, $12.5 million in 2010 (Cot’s)
Current 2010 wOBA: .507
ZiPS 2010 Preseason Projection: .328
ZiPS Rest-of-Season (RoS): .342
ZiPS Update: .359

As horrible as Wells’ contract undoubtedly is now, it wasn’t as crazy at the time as people thought. Wells has been insanely hot (.340/.436/.787, .507 wOBA) from the very first game. Before the season, ZiPS saw him as about a league-average hitter (.328 wOBA), which wouldn’t be bad from a center fielder if he a) could field the position, b) wasn’t being paid $12.5 million, c) wasn’t in his 30s, and c) wasn’t signed through 2014 with a full no-trade clause. ZiPS is pretty impressed by the first two weeks, though, projecting a .342 wOBA for the rest of the season finishing at .359. If Wells finishes as ZiPS envisions (+15 runs offensively), he would actually be worth about what he’s being paid this season… assuming he can play average defense. This is still an albatross, of course, particularly given the Jays’ situation, but it’s a nice change in projection after only two weeks.

Right Field: Jose Guillen.
Contract: $36 million 2008-2010, $12 million in 2010 (Cot’s)
Current 2010 wOBA: .491
ZiPS 2010 Preseason Projection: .333
ZiPS Rest-of-Season (RoS): .344
ZiPS Update:.361

Some may feel that Guillen doesn’t belong on this list, given that he’s the Royals primary DH, but he insists he can still play the outfield, and was only bad in 2009 because of life-threatening blood clots in his legs. One might wonder why the blood clots also went untreated in 2006, 2007, and 2008, when he played terrible defense, or in 2006 and 2008 when he didn’t hit, but whatever the situation is, Guillen is definitely smoking the ball now (.367/.404/.755), and people have remarked that his bat looks quicker. Before the season, ZiPS (much more optimistic on Guillen than CHONE or the Fans) saw Guillen as a slightly above-average hitter, which would make him a slightly above-replacement level DH. If he finishes the season at about +13 offensively (as ZiPS projects), that’s about a 1.5 WAR DH, exceeding my wildest dreams for Guillen 2010. I’ll be glad to admit I was wrong if that happens. It’s still a disaster contract for the Royals that should never have been signed, and a 1.5 WAR season doesn’t even justify his 2010 salary, but hey, maybe the Royals will be able to offload a small portion of his remaining contract and/or get a C- prospect back, which seemed inconceivable two weeks ago. Trust the Process.

Left Field: Alfonso Soriano
Contract: $136 million, 2007-2014, $18 million in 2010 (Cot’s)
Current 2010 wOBA: .322
ZiPS 2010 Preseason Projection: .357
ZiPS Rest-of-Season (RoS): .357
ZiPS Update: .354

I’ll do a longer write-up on the Soriano contract soon. For now: it was a terrible decision at the time that somehow turned out worse. Like Wells and Guillen, Soriano was absolutely dreadful in 2009, although the other two didn’t have the benefit of having Milton Bradley as a scapegoat/distraction. ZiPS saw Soriano as the best hitter of the three going into 2010, and although he’s off to a less-than-inspiring start, still does see him as that for the rest of the season. But even if he finishes with a .354 wOBA for the season, he’ll still merely be around an average player making $18 million a season… until 2014.

Projections admit of uncertainty. I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of ZiPS (created by Dan Szymborski), but this does give a perspective on what a small hot streak may or may not mean. Even in the optimistic cases, these contracts remain albatrosses.