by Brian Todd
All it costs is money. Jim Crane may have told us to pony up our own $10 million last year, but this year the purse strings are a bit more open. The money flows more freely. And, according to that $60 million limit the Astros announced at the beginning of the offseason, there’s still money to be spent in the budget.
There’s a lot of winter left. But thus far, money has, indeed and finally, been spent.
Dexter Fowler will cost the Astros $7.35 million. Chad Qualls runs a paltry $3 million. Scott Feldman is going to get paid $10 million a season for the next three years. And Matt Albers returns to the fold with a deal that’ll pay him either $2.25 million or $2.45 million depending on whether he is picked up for 2015 out the club buys him out at $200,000. That’s an additional $22.6 million added to the 2014 payroll not counting little moves out there like trading for Anthony Bass or signing Peter Moylan to a minor league deal.
So, what did Houston get for its Hot Stove Spending Spree? Well, it depends on how you measure it.
What is it good for? Well, it’s a decent approximation of whether you’ve done better or not. Of course, not all WAR is measured equally. I’ll use Baseball Reference’s WAR.
- Dexter Fowler: Fowler has averaged 2.4 WAR (Wins Against Replacement) for the past three years.
Chances are Fowler will play centerfield, at least to start the season. That means if the Astros had average centerfield play last season, then this team is up to 53 wins thanks to the Fowler trade. Of course, Houston’s centerfield production was well below average last year.
- Chad Qualls: The former Astro is a bit up and down on WAR. Over the last three seasons, he’s totaled 1.1 WAR for a grand total of about 0.4 WAR per season.
Which Chad Qualls do the Astros get in 2014? Well, that’ll determine if he’s worth $3 million or not. But if money is no object (I know some of you believe that), then picking up nearly half a win—something that doesn’t translate well for a bullpen piece—Qualls is definitely worth the money. Frankly, though, any positive WAR in our bullpen is an improvement over 2013.
- Matt Albers: When it comes to WAR, Albers actually is a better buy than Qualls. The former Astros draft pick has posted a total WAR of 1.8 since 2011, and that includes the first year where he was the literal definition of Replacement Value. With an average WAR of 0.6, Albers is a good deal. And considering anything above “league average” is an improvement, he certainly makes this bullpen better.
- Scott Feldman: By keeping to my pattern of looking at just the last three years, Feldman looks like a good pickup. Especially when you consider we’re not even looking at his best WAR year (or his worst). Over three years, he’s put up a 2.1 WAR. Most of that came last year, so if you believe in What Have You Done For Me Lately, he looks really great.
Like the other two we’re looking at, it’s hard to judge just who Feldman replaces. But let’s say, for example, he’s the replacement for Bud Norris. Norris’ three-year WAR is 4.2. That’s twice the WAR of Feldman. Yep, money well spent.
OPS and ERA
All that said, WAR is an advanced metric that has problems in my book. Baseball Reference and Fangraphs calculate it very differently. You pick up a player with, say, 2 WAR, and depending on where he plays, it either makes no difference or a much bigger impact that two wins.
Personally, I’m still a fan of OPS for hitters and ERA for pitchers. Both stats have more advanced analogs (OPS+ and ERA+, which are weighted for ballpark differences). That said, I’m old-school.
Dexter Fowler: From just an offensive point of view, Fowler is a HUGE upgrade in centerfield. His .776 OPS last year—his lowest in the past three years—dwarfs Barnes’ .635 OPS and the Astros’ cumulative centerfield OPS of .584. Yes, you read that right.
Chad Qualls: Combined, Astros relievers had the worst ERA in the AL at 4.92. Want a different metric? How about WHIP? The Astros bullpen was by far the worst at 1.52. Qualls, meanwhile, posted a 2.61 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. Yep, that looks like better than a half game improvement to me.
Matt Albers: Last year, Albers posted an ERA of 3.14 and a WHIP of 1.27. Both are decent stats and show that he limits base runners and does his part to keep them from touching the pay station. Again, compared to the 2013 Astros bullpen, Albers looks like Mariano Rivera.
Scott Feldman: Feldman’s 3.86 ERA was pretty decent, but his 1.18 WHIP was even better. The average Astros starter in 2013 posted a 4.72 ERA (surprisingly not the worst in the AL) and a 1.47 WHIP. That’s a big improvement over the average Astros starter. If you think that Feldman is replacing Norris—one “ace” for another—then the metrics you’re replacing are a 4.18 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP.
- How many wins are these new guys worth?
- Do Qualls and Albers produce a ripple effect through the bullpen?
- What does replacing the poor CF hitting with Fowler do to the lineup?
- What about Fowler’s defense compared to Barnes’ defense?
Feldman for Norris is not a zero-sum game, but does Feldman make the Astros’ rotation better or worse than it was with Norris?
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Brian Todd lives in Rochester, Minn., where Hot Stoves are appreciated and Astros’ fans are thin on the ground–unlike the snow by Christmas.