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Sunday, March 03, 2013

FanGraphs: Cameron: Robinson Cano and Second Base Aging Curves

Overall, the group lost an average of about 100 plate appearances per year and went from playing like +6 win players to playing like +4 win players when they did take the field. McAuliffe had the biggest decline, as he was essentially done as a useful player by age 34, but one guy falling apart out of five isn’t the clear trend that the reputation of aging second baseman would suggest. Even including McAuliffe, these five players averaged 3.5 WAR per season after they turned 31. Hardly a group that just fell apart after their prime was over.

If we give Cano a projection of just below the group’s average performance for his age 31-40 seasons — Utley’s further decline will likely pull the +3.5 WAR per season average down slightly as he gets older — assuming he’ll have enough leverage to land a nine year deal, the Yankees would be paying for around +30 WAR over the life of the deal. If you assume something like 5% inflation annually over the next nine years, the average price of a win during Cano’s contract would be in the $7 million per win range, which would place a fair market deal in the range of $210 million. Projecting long term inflation isn’t easy, especially with the varying television deals being struck lately, so that might even be a bit of an undershot — we saw most of the premium free agents this year sign for more than the crowd expected when the winter began.

...At some point in the near future, Robinson Cano is going to become a very, very rich man. The fact that he plays second base probably won’t hurt him in negotiations much, as the evidence that great second baseman age worse than other positions doesn’t really hold up very well. Cano won’t be a +6 win player in his 30s, but he doesn’t have to be to be worth $200+ million on his next deal. If the Yankees want to keep him from free agency, their “generous offer” is almost certainly going to have to start with a two.

Thanks to FD.

Repoz Posted: March 03, 2013 at 10:42 AM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics, yankees

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   1. Bruce Markusen Posted: March 03, 2013 at 11:33 AM (#4379686)
If the Yankees offer him anything more than a six or seven-year deal, they are insane. And even six or seven years may be stretching it with a guy who is not exactly maximum effort all the time.
   2. Brian Posted: March 03, 2013 at 11:58 AM (#4379688)
Why do 2B's age so harshly? When I was younger the thinking was that getting hit on the blind side on the DP was the culprit. If that is still the reasoning then I think Cano is a good investment. It all comes down to his arm. Because his arm is so strong for the position Cano always keeps the bag between him and the runner and with his drop-down-sidearm throwing motion it's low bridge ahead for baserunners. I watch a lot of Yankee games and I don't see Cano taking many significant hits.
   3. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: March 03, 2013 at 11:59 AM (#4379689)
I hadn't heard that before, about the effort, though admittedly I follow the Spanks only incidentally.

Iirc, someone here pointed out recently that most FA contracts were taking the signees only through their age 36 season, with 38 as the upper bound (with Pujols and Votto the exceptions). I don't see any reason why you'd exceed 38 for Cano. He's a helluva player, but he's not Pujols. Even Pujols isn't Pujols any longer.


@2: doesn't TFA and several recent threads here strongly suggest 2Bmen don't age "harshly"?
   4. gehrig97 Posted: March 03, 2013 at 12:15 PM (#4379695)
Why do 2B's age so harshly?
Bill James wrote on this recently... but in a nutshell, aside from some of the wear-and-tear endured by middle infielders, second baseman generally (Cano being an exception) have weak arms. So unless a 2B is an extraordinary hitter for his position, it's difficult to find a place for them lower down on the defensive spectrum. Their arms limit them to maybe LF and 1B, but teams can't afford to carry a 2B bat on the corners.

Appropos of nothing, Cano has the tools (it seems), to play 3B, which is unusual (not suggesting this would ever happen).
   5. RollingWave Posted: March 03, 2013 at 12:40 PM (#4379706)
Cameron's like the ultimate reverse jinxer for Cano though.
   6. NJ in DC Posted: March 03, 2013 at 12:44 PM (#4379710)
I hadn't heard that before, about the effort, though admittedly I follow the Spanks only incidentally.

Stereotypes about lazy (non-white) athletes die hard.
   7. 'zop sympathizes with the wrong ####### people Posted: March 03, 2013 at 01:05 PM (#4379717)
Coke to #5, but it still has to be done:

“I guess I should have nominated Cano in the most overrated prospect thread the other day. That he still gets talked up as some kind of top prospect (not pointing at John here, by the way) amazes me.

I’ve seen Cano play a lot, and I’m not even sure he’d be a productive Triple-A player. Let’s start with his defense; it’s brutal. He has terrible footwork and simply lacks any kind of instincts around the bag. There’s no way you want him playing up the middle. He might have the raw speed to not be awful in left field, but that’s about as kind as I can be regarding his glovework. Offensively, he’s a fastball hitter. He sits dead red on every pitch and waits for a mistake. Any good breaking ball or offspeed pitch will have him out in front. He’s mostly a gap hitter, lacking the power to drive the ball consistently over the wall. To add insult to injury, he’s also a terrible baserunner.

In his prime, I think he could hit .280/.320/.400 while playing awful defense. Yipee.”


   8. PreservedFish Posted: March 03, 2013 at 01:16 PM (#4379726)
I clicked just to see how quickly zop would show up with his favorite quote.
   9. Darren Posted: March 03, 2013 at 01:28 PM (#4379732)
To be fair to Cameron, Cano did hit .271 .305 .410 right in the middle of his prime.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: March 03, 2013 at 04:20 PM (#4379829)
We discussed this article briefly in the other Cano thread. It's a rather odd set of comps -- Sandberg, Alomar and Grich are all missing. Someone else pointed out that these guys were rather different hitters than Cano. It's also the case that, true, Carew put up 30 WAR over his last 9 years, 10 of those WAR came at 31. About half of Morgan's WAR came in his first two years (continuing his previous two). My guess for Cano is about 25 WAR for the rest of his career and probably about 20 from 31 to 36.

As to going super long-term with Cano (copied from the other thread):

Now, using Cameron's comps from 37-40:

Morgan: 11 bWAR
Carew: 3 (didn't play at 40)
Biggio: 5.5 (I dropped his age 41 season)
Utley: he's only 34 ... his age 37+ is looking close to 0
McAuliffe: DNP

As ... was it GuyM or SoSH? .... showed in that other recent thread, 2B are no different in this regard than other positions. But other reasonable comps from ages 37-39:

Molitor 8
Kent 6
Lopes 5
Brett 4
Whitaker 4
Franco 4
Kaline 3
Murray 3
Grace 2
Grich 2

and of course Sandberg 0, Alomar 0.
   11. Walt Davis Posted: March 03, 2013 at 11:12 PM (#4379943)
Working this a bit further ...

Trying to find similar batters to Cano, ignoring position. Not totally scientific but Cano through age 29 is at 308/351/503. Of course he's been better than that the last three years but it's a stretch to expect a player to hit better in his 30s than his career stats through age 30 (or 29 in Cano's case). Ideally I wanted high average, mediocre walk rate, good not great ISO from ages 31-39. Those are actually pretty hard to find so I sometimes settled for an OBP/SLG roughly similar to Cano while doing off the cuff adjustments for the fact we're still in a high ISO era. I went first by Rbat 31-39 and came up with these as rough comps.

Clemente -- 331/380/524, 245 Rbat in 7 seasons -- Surely this is Cano's absolute highside.
Kent -- 301/374/526, 243 -- better than Cano thru 29 but includes height of sillyball
Molitor -- 317/384/469, 232
Burks -- 303/381/556, 207 (only 4000 PA, Cano will beat that but these are better rates)
DwEvans -- 275/380/473, 207
MAlou -- 307/378/535, 194
Winfield -- 286/354/485, 187
Brett -- 297/375/476, 172
Reggie -- 262/354/490, 169 -- BA way off but OBP/SLG spot on
O'Neill -- 302/379/491, 148

That's the top 50 Rbat for ages 31-39, expansion era. This gives us a group who have hit about the same as Cano has to date so you can think of this as his upside group -- either he maintains his BA and ISO or he drops the BA while increasing walks and ISO. Those aren't unreasonably outcomes. For this age range, 5000 PA is clearly above average and is in line with Morgan, Carew, Winfield, Brett, Reggie ... but Cano has been durable so far so let's assume he'll remain pretty durable and give him 5000 PA. If he continued at his pace of the last 4 years, he'd put up about 215 Rbat in 5000 PA. Winfield/Alou at about 190 seems a reasonable upside projection for 5000 PA -- no dropoff from his career stats, 20% reduction in playing time.

Assuming some decline as a hitter:

McRae -- 293/353/467, 146
Cash -- 265/355/457, 143 (4300 PA, an OBP/SLG comp)
Biggio -- 285/369/455, 134 (over 6000 PA)
Perez -- 278/340/460, 118
Oliver -- 311/355/447, 115
Murray -- 280/345/456, 107
Dawson -- 281/323/493, 98

That was really hard. You just don't find much in the high BA, low walk class in the 31-39 age range. McRae, Perez and Dawson are probably the closest to "Cano loses some BA, everything else remains the same." Oliver is the "retains BA and walk rate, power declines" comp. Biggio/Perez are OK as the "lose some BA and ISO, compensate with walks" comps (ding Biggio by 15% to bring down his PAs and he's got about the same Rbat as Perez). McRae's numbers obviously need an era adjustment -- he and Murray are close on rates and Murray has 700 more PA but Murray is 40 Rbat behind. Anyway, let's go with Biggio/Perez/Oliver and call his expected Rbat from 31-39 at about 115-120.

The downside is that things fall apart and he doesn't get a lot of playing time. I'm going to arbitrarily grab Sandberg at 279/346/451, 58 Rbat in 3222 PA or Dave Parker at 277/326/450, 37 Rbat in 5200 PA as the healthy but diminished. Call it 60 Rbat.

For what it's worth, Randolph 46, Sandberg 58, Alomar had 76, Grich 106, Franco 111, Whitaker 129, Biggio 134, Carew 188, Morgan 207, Kent 243.

So an expected outcome of 115-120 Rbat over the next 9 years would put him smack dab in the middle of those 2B and with a guesstimate of 60 to 190 it's also about right in the middle of that range. I'm reasonably comfortable with that. 5000 PA is about 170 Rrep.

So now the $200 million question -- can he stay at 2B? If he stays at 2B with average defense, he does indeed project to about 30 WAR over 9 years -- I'll be hornswaggled. If he's an average 1B he loses 8-9 wins. He's been a good-fielding 2B so we'd expect him to stay there for a while or at least be an above-average 1B -- Carew added 11 Rfield in his years at 1B so, between sticking at 2B longer and maybe fielding at 1B better, let's split the difference and call it a 5-win reduction. So an expected age 31-39 projection:

Cano as 2B -- 30 WAR
Cano as 2B/1B/DH -- 25 WAR
Cano as 1B/DH -- 20+ WAR, depending on fielding

+/- of about 6 wins on each of those.

Of course this is why I'd do everything possible to keep from going past 36 or so. You can be reasonably confident he'll stick at 2B for his early 30s, you can be reasonably confident in 15-20 WAR over the first 5 years even if he collapses. (Or to put that another way, if you aren't confident in at least 15 WAR from 31-33, you don't sign him to a big contract.) But risk/reward collapses after age 35 or so. Of course that's true of any super long-term contract but I just don't think Cano is a super-duper-star and so the albatross later years are not outweighed by the excellent early years in my opinion.

   12. RollingWave Posted: March 03, 2013 at 11:28 PM (#4379948)
If those are the comp then Cano's about as good of a bet for the next 7-8 years than any current 29 year old player. even the really bad cases probably won't be a disaster , and he has shown no record of real injury problems and play in a way that is less likely to get hurt as well.
   13. SoSH U at work Posted: March 03, 2013 at 11:59 PM (#4379955)
was it GuyM or SoSH?


'Twas not I. Pretty sure it was Guy.

   14. tfbg9 Posted: March 04, 2013 at 12:59 AM (#4379969)
Is there any evidence the comp thing is reliably predictive?
   15. Dan Posted: March 04, 2013 at 02:29 AM (#4379988)
I still maintain that the team investing $150M+ into Cano's next 7 or 8 years should do so with the intention of him playing third base.
   16. RollingWave Posted: March 04, 2013 at 02:42 AM (#4379991)
@15 , of course, we're talking about a certain team that has played Derek Jeter at short for....

   17. Walt Davis Posted: March 04, 2013 at 05:02 PM (#4380465)
If those are the comp then Cano's about as good of a bet for the next 7-8 years than any current 29 year old player.

Well, they've already got him for this year (age 30) so the question is ages 31+. And yes ... and 7-8 years takes him through age 36-37. Nobody seems to be seriously questioning whether he'll be a pretty good player through that time, the question is whether you need to or should sign him for 37-39 too.

Is there any evidence the comp thing is reliably predictive?

Yes and no. All projection systems are based on regression models which is just averaging across all possible comps. Looking at more specific comps is roughly similar to a local regression and there's no particular reason to think the overall regression doesn't fit as well in this part of the data as it does elsewhere although of course that's always possible.

Besides, my use of comps here was just to provide a range of realistic outcomes. We certainly know enough about baseball players to expect them to decline in their 30s both in terms of quality and playing time.

Of course for all we know he's about to go Bonds on the league.
   18. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: March 04, 2013 at 07:22 PM (#4380550)
Nobody seems to be seriously questioning whether he'll be a pretty good player through that time, the question is whether you need to or should sign him for 37-39 too.


At what it's going to cost a team, I don't think anyone wants to sign him for his age 37-39 seasons. That takes care of "should". The market will define if a team "needs" to, and I have no idea if anyone is going to offer him an eight year deal. I suppose if David Wright gets 7 for having one great year in four, someone's going to offer Cano 8+.
   19. cardsfanboy Posted: March 05, 2013 at 02:11 PM (#4381195)
@2: doesn't TFA and several recent threads here strongly suggest 2Bmen don't age "harshly"?


Another reason to dislike Fangraphs, a study of 6 players isn't worth the "paper" it's printed on. This is beyond a useless article. Camerons defense (that secondbaseman don't age worse than first baseman) was to point to another fangraphs study with Prince Fielder, which used a sample size of 205 players... Dave, I think you are missing the entire point of sample size. (on top of the fact that the Fielder study was a joke...it wasn't about first baseman aging, it was about fat people aging, so it's not really a defense of second base vs first baseman)

Of course this is why I'd do everything possible to keep from going past 36 or so. You can be reasonably confident he'll stick at 2B for his early 30s, you can be reasonably confident in 15-20 WAR over the first 5 years even if he collapses. (Or to put that another way, if you aren't confident in at least 15 WAR from 31-33, you don't sign him to a big contract.) But risk/reward collapses after age 35 or so. Of course that's true of any super long-term contract but I just don't think Cano is a super-duper-star and so the albatross later years are not outweighed by the excellent early years in my opinion.


I'm in the group of people that assume when you sign someone long term(6+ years) that you are making the assumption that the last two years are lost years, more akin to a deferred payment, than an actual salary. If you get any performance at or above average for those last two years, you are doing pretty good. Of course I'm also in the camp that disagrees with pay being linear based, but as pointed out many times, that is the system that MLB uses, and that the compensation for great players is not in the annual pay, but in the length of the contract.

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