The Old Guy Discount

Earlier in the year, I did a retrospective piece on Dave Cameron’s theory that older players were becoming undervalued in the market. Here’s what Dave wrote at the time:

Abreu was a bargain on a one year, $5 million deal with the Angels, even as he proved that he didn’t really belong in the outfield anymore. Damon, though, is basically the same hitter, just with better defensive skills, and he might have to settle for less than what Abreu got? This is a market correction gone way too far.

Last time, I looked at players at the end of June. The analysis may have been a bit premature, so let’s use the entire season’s worth of data at the same group of veterans.

LF Johnny Damon
Free agent age: 36
Signed by Detroit Tigers to 1 year, $8 million deal
2009 WAR: 3.3
2010 WAR: 1.9

Damon took a huge hit in value this year by DHing a majority of the time and only playing centerfield in four games. UZR thought he was above average for the limited time he played in the outfield, but the decline in offense couldn’t be overcome. Damon went from a .376 wOBA last year to just a .340 mark this year, and a miserable August in which Johnny had a .266 wOBA was damning. Still, a 1.9 WAR translated to $7.5 million in value, so the Tigers didn’t suffer that much in the deal.

2B Orlando Hudson
Free agent age: 32
Signed by Minnesota Twins to 1 year, $5 million deal
2009 WAR: 2.9
2010 WAR: 3.1

Nobody ever believes this guy is going to be good, but the O-Dog always has the ability to put up solid numbers and play good defense. The Twins got a steal for signing Hudson to a cheap deal which he’d equal in value easily by the All-Star break. Hudson’s .320 wOBA was low for him, but UZR and DRS both loved his defense.

OF/DH Vladimir Guerrero
Free agent age: 35
Signed by Texas Rangers to 1 year, $5 million deal
2009 WAR: 0.8
2010 WAR: 2.6

If you put Vladimir Guerrero in the Ballpark in Arlington during the hot Texas summer, good things will happen. Although Vlad teetered after an insanely hot start, he still finished with a very solid .360 wOBA, primarily playing DH. His value via WAR translates to $10.3 million, so the Rangers got more than 2:1 on their money for Guerrero.

1B Aubrey Huff
Free agent age: 33
Signed by San Francisco Giants to 1 year, $3 million deal
2009 WAR: -1.3
2010 WAR: 5.7

What more can be said? A 7.1 swing in WAR from one season to another is just downright scary for a multitude of reasons. However, while Orioles and Tigers fans may be shouting ‘What gives,’ Giants fans are just happy that the rejuvenation came by the bay area. Huff put up a .388 wOBA while playing in 157 games this year, pacing the San Fran offense. Also, he had a good year defensively with a 6.7 UZR, his first year with a positive UZR since 2004.

3B Miguel Tejada
Free agent age: 36
Signed by Baltimore Orioles to 1 year deal worth $6 million
2009 WAR: 2.7 WAR
2010 WAR: 1.3 WAR

Just like with Huff it seems that only the Orioles can complain about this deal. Tejada was terrible in Baltimore, putting up a .295 wOBA and a UZR of -6.5, adding up to only -0.1 WAR thanks to the favorable positional adjustment because he’s at shortstop. However, Tejada was much better when traded to San Diego. He put up 1.4 WAR in just 59 games due to a .268/.317/.413 slash line and a UZR much closer to zero. His value for the year translated to $5.3 million, so this was another slight loss.

1B Russell Branyan
Free agent age: 34
Signed by Cleveland Indians to 1 year deal worth $2 million
2009 WAR: 2.8
2010 WAR: 2.0

It was pretty obvious that the Indians were getting a steal for signing Branyan for only $2 million after he hit thirty-one homers last season, and a steal it was. Branyan put up 1.1 WAR for Cleveland in just 52 games before Mark Shapiro was able to swap him for some Seattle prospects. Branyan hit .215/.319/.483 for the Mariners, giving the lineup some much-needed pop, but not enough on-base ability. Branyan finished at just 0.9 WAR in Seattle in 57 games.




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Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat


17 Responses to “The Old Guy Discount”

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  1. mickeykoke says:

    Nice piece Pat.

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  2. delv says:

    Tejada played 3B with Baltimore

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  3. pm says:

    “Branyan hit .215/.319/.483 for the Mariners, giving the lineup some much-needed pop”

    How sad is it that a player who hit .215 gave a lineup much needed pop? That is the 2010 Seattle Mariners summed perfectly.

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  4. TFINY says:

    DH Jim Thome
    Free Agent Age 39
    Signed by Minnesota Twins for deal worth $1.6M (after incentives)
    2009 WAR 1.6
    2010 WAR 3.6

    However, the 2009 WAR is misleading as he actually had a 1.7 WAR with the White Sox before being traded to the Dodgers. Darn NL with no DH for our dear Jim Thome!

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  5. Dudley says:

    i wonder if the old guy discount has to do with risk premiums. there’s probably greater downside risk with an old guy (production might fall off a cliff, see, e.g., garrett atkins), but less upside risk. so even if an old guy’s expected WAR value is, say 2.5, it might make sense to value him only as a 1.5 win player to help mitigate the downside risk. there’s also probably greater injury risk with older players, so the number of expected games would need to be projected at a lower figure.

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  6. Josh C says:

    nice piece. just curious…why are you using that particular dollar per WAR value? i thought that was done for each season?

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  7. isavage says:

    Here’s my theory on Branyan. He’s much less valuable than what his overall numbers suggest. He can’t hit pitches that are even slightly elevated. Most of the damage he does is in games that are out of reach one way or the other, especially when his team is already signficantly ahead, where pitchers are more concerned with just getting the ball over the plate than anything else. When runners are on, he’s pitched more carefully and is effectively neutralized. His RISP numbers this year are .162/.268/.343 , runners on .188/.282/.406 … nobody on, he’s .277/.358/.553 … all of his clutch stats are terrible. I think this has less to do with Branyan and more to do with the way he’s pitched in those different scenarios. As long as a pitcher doesn’t give him something low and middle-in, they have nothing to worry about

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  8. brentinKorea says:

    Signing an older player also doesn’t let you have a young player developing or gaining MLB experience, so it has to be a fit. I think the motivation you provide to players in the minors if you are always trying to fill holes through your own farm system is grossly underrated. I think that has been one of the Twins greatest strengths.

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  9. JCA says:

    One more, from the pitching side.

    Livan Hernandez
    Free Agent signed by Washington Nationals
    Age “35″ $900K, 1 year
    2009 WAR 1.6 (Fng) / 0.2 (B-R)
    2010 WAR 3.0 (Fng) / 3.4 (B-R)

    $12MM value for $900K. Looks like he will become the Nationals Tim Wakefield, except cheaper, as is the Nats wont.

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  10. LongTimeFan says:

    Good research though there’s no stat for impact of experience and veteran leadership on success of team and younger players, including lasting lessons. There are many things that can’t be measured by WAR and dollars, and veteran impact is one of them.

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  11. rick11p says:

    When did Garrett Atkins get old?

    You mean Garrett Anderson??

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  12. Pope says:

    As far as I can tell Damon played the field in ~40 games. Using UZR (for which a season’s worth of data is sometimes deemed insufficient) is kind of irrelevant if you ask me.

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