Okay, bear with me. It’s time to talk about how much Joey Votto is likely to be worth over the course of his enormous contract. Just to be clear, this is the fourth largest contract a baseball team has ever handed out, so there is a lot of guess work involved. I’m going to take my time and give you two posts. Here’s the first:
I’ve used advanced stats before here, but I’ve never really taken the time to explain them, so I’m going to start by doing that. Primarily, in this article, I’ll be talking about Wins Above Replacement or WAR. WAR is a measure of how many more games a team should win with a player like Votto on the roster than they would with a replacement player.
Replacement means a minor leaguer. Basically, someone who could be had for free. A replacement player is worth 0 WAR. An average major leaguer is generally regarded as 2 WAR player.
So how is the “wins” part of this stat measured? A long time ago some very smart people figured out that roughly for every 10 runs a team scores beyond what it allows, you would expect that team to be an additional game over .500. That is, if a team scores 700 runs in a season and allows 680, you’d expect them to have a record of 82-80.
Thus, for batters, we’re talking about runs generated above replacement (defense is also factored in). Every 10 runs gets you 1 WAR. Last year, according to Fangraphs (there are a few versions of WAR, but I prefer Fangraphs’) Joey Votto was worth 6.9 WAR. That means he was worth 69 more runs over the course of the season than the average minor leager a team could call up in case of injury. He was 49 runs better than average (remember, average is 2 WAR or 20 runs).
The same people who calculate WAR have figured up how much one WAR is worth on the open market. Right now, that’s approximately $5M. That means an average player (worth 2 WAR) could expect to garner $10M as a free agent. Correspondingly, Votto was worth about $35M last year. Or, he would have been if he were in his free agent years.
Of course, that number changes every year. Baseball has inflation, just like the rest of us. Also, as you know, baseball players age and as they age, they become less good. Fortunately, before I could write this article, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs did most of the hard work for me. Here are his WAR projections for Votto over the rest of his career:
2012: +6 WAR
2013: +6 WAR
2014: +5.5 WAR
2015: +5.0 WAR
2016: +4.5 WAR
2017: +4.0 WAR
2018: +3.5 WAR
2019: +2.8 WAR
2020: +2.1 WAR
2021: +1.4 WAR
2022: +0.7 WAR
2023: +0.0 WAR
Total: +41.5 WAR
Adjusting for expected inflation Cameron calculates Votto to be worth $249M during his remaining time with the Reds. Meaning that the Reds are getting their money’s worth, at least, in theory. Cameron’s projections do include the next two years. Votto was already under contract for those years and they figure to be his best years.
Given that, we can, I suppose, debate whether or not this counts as a good contract. I think it does. Votto’s deal is heavily back loaded and that significantly reduces the present-day value. Monetarily, I’d guess the Reds will just about break even with this deal over the life of the contract.
That’s part one of the analysis, this afternoon, I’ll have a second post that will look at past players similar to Votto and how they performed into their 30s. There will be pretty graphs, so you should look forward to it.