Wilson On the Move?

Jack Wilson of the Pittsburgh Pirates has been linked to numerous teams this offseason. It seemed for a bit as though a deal shipping him to the Tigers had been completed. Reports then surfaced disproving this notion and merely adding the Tigers to a list of several interested teams, including the likes of the Dodgers, As, Royals, and Blue Jays. Jack is currently owed $7.25 mil in 2009 with an $8.4 mil club option for the 2010 season.

As of right now, however, Wilson is still a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Jack turns 31 years old in a couple of weeks and a few of his performance indicators seem to be moving in the wrong direction. He has never been an offensive force, with the +6.2 batting runs produced in 2004 the best of his career, but his patience appears to be deteriorating. His O-Swing%, which measures the frequency of swings on pitches outside the strike zone, has risen from 18.5% in 2005 to 26.9% last year.

His rate of contact on these pitches out of the zone has increased as well, from 68% to 80%. Contact on pitches out of the zone does not necessarily refer to balls put in play, so a chance exists that Jack merely may have been fouling off plenty of these pitches. Regardless, the increased swing frequency helped reduce his walk rate from 7% to just 4% in 2008.

Defensively, Wilson looked stellar last season, saving +7.4 runs with the glove in just slightly over half of a season. Injuries prevented him from playing the entire year, and over the last three seasons, he has topped out at 142 games played. The UZR defensive mark in 2008 showed great improvement over the numbers posted in 2006 and 2007.

Back in 2005, Wilson saved +13.3 runs, before declining almost two full wins defensively the next season to -7.5 runs. In 2007, he improved slightly to -2.7 runs, making him a bit below average. Optimistically averaging out his defensive performance, we can call him a +4 run defender in 2009. Since he is not very likely to play an entire season based on the past three years, his positional adjustment at shortstop is +6.0, not +7.5.

The positional adjustment is per 162 games, and Wilson is currently projected to play 130 or so games. Likewise, the +20 runs adjustment given to show value above replacement, not average, would be prorated to +12 runs, since he is not projected to come close to 700 plate appearances. Put together, Wilson is -7.5 runs offensively, +4 runs on defense, +6 runs with an adjustment for position, and +12 over replacement.

This adds up to +14.5 runs, or +1.45 wins. If Wilson were a free agent right now, with a going rate of $5 mil/win, his fair market value would be $7.25 mil. As I mentioned at the start of this post, his current contract will pay him exactly $7.25 mil next season.

Wilson is not a superstar and he certainly is not the missing piece of the puzzle for a team extremely close to contending, but he appears to be an above average defender at the toughest non-catching position to field, and is not atrocious with the bat.

He might not be the definitive answer to a team, but with 130 games and 418 PA, would be productive enough to truly merit his 2009 salary. If he ends up playing 150 games and amassing 600 PA, his value rises to +2.05 WAR, worth over $10 mil in a 1-yr deal. Given that the option for 2010 belongs to the club, and isn’t triggered mutually or by the player, and that the farm systems of potential suitors need not be mortgaged for his services, a team looking for a stopgap would be well-served to acquire Wilson. Unfortunately for Jack and the Pirates, Rafael Furcal and Orlando Cabrera still need “homes” and are higher on wishlists, making it all the more tougher to trade the pesky shortstop.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

7 Responses to “Wilson On the Move?”

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  1. Greg Foley says:

    This article sums up Wilson’s offense in one phrase, “Wilson is -7.5 runs offensively”, however this does not tell the whole story. Wilson has been up and down offensively ranging from -32 to +6.

    Year wRAA
    2001: -32.2
    2002: -19.7
    2003: -21.7
    2004: +6.2
    2005: -20.4
    2006: -15.6
    2007: +1.7
    2008: -9.7

    Even the 2009 predictions are split with Bill James coming in at -16.5 and Marcel coming in at -7.6. It seems like Wilson could hit anywhere from -20 to +6 in 2009, but a -20 season would knock him all the way down to replacement level and erase all of his value. He might not be worth 7.25 million after all.

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  2. Mike says:

    Unfortunately for the team acquiring him, they’ll be paying his fair market value plus prospects for Wilson. That makes him seem less reasonably priced.

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  3. mymrbig says:

    Excellent article, many thanks. I repeatedly tried to make this exact same point over at MLBTR during all the Wilson threads, but my arguments generally fell on deaf (or dumb?) ears. I came to the same conclusion – that Wilson was worth his 2008 salary (or a little more, depending on health), and that the 2010 option was perfect for the team who didn’t have an immediate replacement, but could dump him without too much cost.

    I think any analysis of Wilson probably needs to throw out his 2001-2003 offensive numbers. He was rushed to the majors and his bat clearly wasn’t ready. To me, it is impressive that he was able to overcome this and showed some decent improvement over his first few seasons, as his K% and ISO both increased:
    2001: 17.9%; .072
    2002: 14.0%; .080
    2003: 13.3%, .097
    2004: 10.9%; .150
    2005: 9.9%; .106
    2006: 12.0%; .098
    2007: 9.6%; .145
    2008: 8.9%; .076

    So his contact rate vastly improved over his first few seasons and now has about 10% K-rate. His power also “improved” and now sits at around .100 with big spikes in 2004 and 2007.

    Also, I think 2008 needs to be tossed out to some extent. His ISO was way down and his 1.0 HR/FB% is just crazy low (he’s usually just over 5.0%). Maybe his injuries sapped his power, but even Jack Wilson has more power than he exhibited last year.

    I like the analysis, but I think Wilson’s 2004-2007 numbers are probably the best estimate of what to expect in 2009, rather than 2001-2003 or 2008. More injuries could always change that, but I think both Bill James and Marcel give pretty good estimates for his 2009 offense, though I think he still has the “upside” of putting up another 2004 or 2007, with the only real downside being his injury risk.

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    • mymrbig says:

      Holy run-on sentence in the last paragraph batman!!!

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        Greg, I would tend to agree more with mymrbig, in that the most accurate representation is 2004-2007, as Wilson’s previous offense likely had more to do with inexperience than a true talent level. I think -7.5 runs is a solid projection for next season, that could go up or down by 3 runs depending on playing time.

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    • Greg Foley says:

      To me, it looks like he’s been lousy except for his age 26 season in which his BABIP rose by 30 or 40 points higher than all other years. He quickly reverted to -20 and -15 in his age 27 and 28 seasons. Maybe he got over his inexperience in his age 29 season just in time to start his decline.

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  4. Great blog, lots of interesting posts like this one!

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