Is Jose Reyes Suffering From Crawford Backlash?

Last week, the Marlins made an offer to every free agent with a pulse. At the heart of their “Sign Everyone!” plan is Jose Reyes, who reportedly received a six year, $90 million offer to move to Miami. While this was just an initial offer and Reyes will likely extract a bit more from whoever ends up signing him, it seems likely that he’s going to end up getting significantly less than Carl Crawford received from the Red Sox last winter.

That seems a little odd to me, given that they’re almost identical players.

Source: FanGraphsCarl Crawford, Jose Reyes

Both reached the Majors at age 20 and became free agents after their age 28 seasons, and both players rely on the same basic offensive skillset to provide value. Here are Crawford’s numbers from 2002 to 2010 compared with Reyes’ same numbers from 2003 to 2011.

Crawford 5395 5.40% 14.20% 0.148 0.331 0.296 0.337 0.444 0.347 113 21
Reyes 4840 6.90% 10.50% 0.149 0.314 0.292 0.341 0.441 0.346 112 18.5

Low walk, high contact, gap-hitting speedsters with nearly identical offensive results over 5,000 plate appearances. You really don’t find two more similar hitters than this very often, and for them to hit free agency at the same age in back to back years makes the comparison even easier. In reality, there are only two differences that should significantly affect their value:

1. Health. Both have had leg problems and experienced periods of down performance directly related to their inability to run at full speed, but Reyes’ injury problems lingered a bit more than Crawford’s did, causing him to spend a bit more time on the DL overall. He also had a DL stint in his walk year, which Crawford did not, so there’s a recent health issue with Reyes that Crawford didn’t have.

2. Position. While Crawford was considered an elite defensive player for his position, he was still a left fielder, and those are easier to find than shortstops. While our framework shows that they’ve accumulated similar defensive value over their careers (Reyes’ UZR+POS is +60.1 compared to Crawford’s +58.9), defensive value that comes from playing an up-the-middle spot is still more easily accepted than premium defensive performance at a corner outfield spot. You don’t have to buy into something like UZR to believe that Reyes’ defense is a significant asset, so his defensive value is perhaps a bit more of a known quantity.

Obviously, the former difference works against Reyes, while the second one works in his favor. Both essentially are tied to risk tolerance, and deal with how certain teams feel about making projections of future value due to some specific uncertainty. In Reyes’ case, the uncertainty is playing time, while in Crawford’s case, it was the predictive nature of defensive metrics. Both players essentially had established themselves as elite players, but their value came with one caveat.

In Crawford’s case, that caveat didn’t stop him from landing a seven year, $142 million contract. In Reyes’ case, it seems unlikely that he’s going to get very close to that number, and could come in with an overall guaranteed dollar figure that is just 65-70% of what Crawford got. Is the health risk with Reyes so much more of a concern than the questions surrounding Crawford’s defensive value, or perhaps more likely, is Reyes suffering from the fallout of Carl Crawford’s miserable 2011 season?

Given that there’s such a natural comparison between the two, it’s not hard to imagine that teams are re-evaluating whether or not players with this type of skillset are worth investing significant money in after Crawford’s face-plant in Boston last year. If teams see Crawford as Reyes’ most comparable player in the sport, then having just watched the worst case scenario play out in front of a national audience would understandably make them a bit gun shy. Any big contract is going to come with risk, but it’s harder to justify the risk when you’re watching the last guy who just jumped out of the same airplane still fumbling around with his parachute and hoping to God that it opens pretty soon.

It isn’t often that we see salaries for similar free agents retreat from one season to the next. Given the contract that Matt Kemp just got, as well as the spending we’ve seen on lower-tier free agents to date, it seems unlikely that we’re about to see a total market reversal from last year’s established prices. Instead, it seems that Reyes is simply not getting the same offers that rolled in a year ago because Crawford was a miserable failure in his first year in Boston.

I’d argue this probably isn’t fair to Reyes, and may actually be serving to make him something of a bargain relative to other free agents. After all, at $90 million over six years, the Marlins are essentially valuing Reyes as about a +4 win player going forward. Given that he was a +6 win player in 126 games last year, that kind of contract would allow Reyes to earn the money even if he experienced significant regression and continued to miss a decent amount of time.

It’s understandable why teams would hold Crawford’s 2011 failures against a nearly identical free agent a year later, but it’s hard for me to see how Reyes’ market value could actually be $50 million below what Crawford was worth just 12 months ago. Crawford’s failures might highlight the possible downside of signing Reyes, but his collapse doesn’t mean that Reyes is going to follow in his footsteps.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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11 years ago

I didnt get the Crawford deal from the get-go. Never could have predicted such a dropoff, but it still didnt make sense on a long term basis

Game-changing speed is not something that ages well. Take away the speed and in both cases here you are left with guys with pretty blah OPS’s and diminishing defensive value

Tim Raines and Ricky Henderson forged on for years after their breakaway speed diminished because they were still very good at other things (namely getting on base). Guys such as Eric Young faded away because they didnt have enough other skills to overcome the loss of the blazing speed

Carl Crawford is one blown quad away from becoming Marlon Byrd
Jose Reyes is one blown quad away from becoming a less powerful Michael Young

11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

Take a look at all the 30/30 guys throughout history
Regress a little for age and look for the last time each guy posted either a 25HR or a 25SB season

Notice a pattern?

Which do you think is more likely for Ryan Braun at age 35, 30 HRs or 30 SBs? Heck, how about 30HRs or 15SBs? I’ll take the 30 HRs both times

11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

I did read it.
Is Carl Crawford exceptionally good at getting on base? NOPE
Is Carl Crawford exceptionally good at hitting for power? NOPE
There is one thing he is exceptionally good at
and guys usually arent as good at that at 33 as they are at 27

When Crawford becomes a 20 SB guy, what is he supposedly going to be good at?

did you see Carlos Beltran and his 4 SBs this season?
Soriano has 16 over the last 3 years combined
Both can still hit with power no problem though. Crawford wont have that luxury and neither will Reyes

11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

“Evaluating players by HR/SB is a really great way to be wrong about something.”

With all due respect, Mr. Cameron, you’re not always right about everything, either. (Ahem, Robinson Cano. Ahem.)

I must say that while I appreciate the time and effort you have put into your research, I find the snarky attitude as embodied in the selected quote above to be a little toxic to enjoyable discussions about baseball.

If you have something to say to educate us, that’s great. But just telling someone something like “Evaluating players by HR/SB is a really great way to be wrong about something” is a snide comment that might do something to serve your own ego, but does nothing to educate us about how different profile players might be expected to age.

The only reason I bring this up is that you influence so many people. Again, I mean this sincerely when I say I think it’s great that people emulate your research and analysis. People are having far more intelligent discussions about baseball do to your work, and the work of Fangraphs, THT, USS Mariner, etc…

However, many readers also emulate your snark and condescension. You were completely dismissive of the point the other person was making, and that’s someone who took the time to visit your site, read your article, and respond. It’s not as though the point he was making about Ryan Braun was completely ludicrous, and that’s how you treated it.

11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

THat walk rate is going to have to improve alot

no matter how you slice it, Crawford is a guy with 15-20 HR power and a 333 career obp getting paid like a superstar

By your logic, Shannon Stewart should have been a stud well into his 30’s

11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

Dave, regardless of mister_rob’s misunderstanding, he does have a legitimate point about not “getting” the Crawford contract.

I mean, how much of this is Reyes being underpaid, and how much of this is Crawford being overpaid? I think it’s a combination. You’re also comparing a 6-year deal to a 7-year deal. If Reyes gets $121/6, the total value may look very different, but it’s the same AAV as Crawford’s deal.

11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

I appreciate what Tango is trying to do there, but I think that there are two fairly major problems with his approach.

The first is that he’s using stolen base runs to decide who is a “speed player”. The problem here is that there are a lot of guys that rely on their speed, but at the same time are terrible base runners. I just looked at the last four years real quick, and guys like Nyjer Morgan, Scott Podsednik, and Juan Pierre would not be considered speed players even though by any normal definition they would be considered speed players. I realize that he was only looking at great players and that these guys aren’t that, but I don’t have a database handy to look up who is and isn’t a great player, so I was pretty much just looking at stolen base runs over the last four years to get an idea of what kinds of guys could be left off the study.

Secondly, he’s treating all people with speed as one group, which I don’t think is fair. If Barry Bonds never stole a base in his career, he would have still been a Hall of Famer because he had other skills. However, when you are looking at a Carl Crawford or Jose Reyes, a lot more of their value is tied up in their legs.

I’d like to see a similar study done that looks at how well players that rely primarily on speed age versus players that have speed, but also have some power, or a good eye.

11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

We brought this up around AA several times when that deal was announced, but it would be really interesting to see that same study done after removing all catchers from the data pool. If memory serves, there is a study out there that showed catchers aged significantly faster than other position players, and I’d guess that 99% of all catchers have probably fit into the non-speed based players section of that study. Just a hunch, but I think without catchers you’d find very little difference in the aging patterns of those two groups (but I’d be ecstatic to see the results sometime).

11 years ago
Reply to  mister_rob

Game changing speed is exactly what ages well.

Plate discipline tends to get better as players get older, as does power, while contact ability and speed get worse.

Guys who are already marginal in contact ability and speed tend to fall off a cliff. Guys who are great with those things get worse with them, but it tends to be more than offset by the increases in power and discipline.

IsoP is largely multiplicative (not additive, like people assume).

So, when your .250/.350/.500 hitter drops to .200, he turns into something like .200/.290/.400

Guys who rely entirely on power are the guys who age poorest.

Antonio Bananas
11 years ago
Reply to  RC

I agree with OBP, but how much is power really going to increase after age 27?

Greg H
11 years ago
Reply to  mister_rob

I disagree with your assertion that speed doesn’t age well because the numbers prove you wrong. But I thought it was a bad deal for Boston at the time because Crawford wasn’t a good fit. I know I wasn’t alone. As Dave points out, Crawford’s value was tied up in his ability to run and play defense in LF. And the effects of Fenway Park diminish the value of those skills. If Boston had been able to get a leftfielder with Carl Crawford’s skill set for a bargain, then fine. But sinking $142 million and the attached opportunity cost on a guy who will play deep shortstop 81 games a year and in all probabilty won’t be given the green light to steal bases like he did in Tampa made no sense to me. And I came to this conclusion with the assumption that Carl Crawford would continue to play like Carl Crawford instead of turning into Doug Glanville.

11 years ago
Reply to  mister_rob

I’ll tell you what would make Crawford age better after watching him for a full 162 last year. Fix his swing. The man strides directly torward first base with his right foot when swinging the bat. The man is big, strong, fast and has remained remarkably healthy over the course of his career. Whatever the statistics say these things should allow him to age well if he works on some basic fundamentals. He never has had great hitters hands and never will yet his approaach could be greatly improved upon. I also think Fenway plays different than most ballparks and although his arm is not elite he should be roaming the vastness of right field at Fenway even if a few extra runners go first to third. Especially if the other corner outfielder for the Sox ends up with a strong arm. Strong arms in Left at the Fens can turn doubles into singles or outs. Keeping men off second base obviously keeps double plys in order. Crawford has a chance to age well if he is willing to change his identity at the plate. He has the body to age well. Does he have the drive and the mind to make it happen?

11 years ago
Reply to  sheath1976

He had that swing when they gave him the contract. He had the swing when he was putting up great numbers in Tampa. If the swing is his problem, then it should have come to fruition before 2011.

Walter Guest
11 years ago
Reply to  sheath1976

I didn’t see much of Crawford but when I did, the swing surprised me. It did look kinda weird. Of course, as the man said, that’s what got him here. If the swing is the problem then it’s a big, big problem.

Try telling a guy who’s been ultra successful that he has to change something.

Won’t happen.