Teixeira’s Progress and Helton’s Value

Mark Teixeira looks like he’s down to the wire in terms of finally inking a contract and hoping pushing the remainder of this off-season forward. With the set of bidders narrowed down and the contracts tightening up, it appears that we can hone in on an expected contract for Teixeira, something in the eight-year, $175 million range. That’s not so much an overpay in annual average value, but rather just an overpay in years.

Teixeira is probably a 4-5 win player for 2009, worth between $20 and $25 million. Taking 10% off for a long-term discount and you have a fair value price of $18 to $23 million, which Teixeira seems about to get. That’s what you would be comfortable paying him if you felt he was going to stay a 5-win player throughout the duration of the contract. What’s not being taken into account though is aging curves. While Teixeira is young, when you sign someone for eight years, you better be factoring that in and any reasonable aging projection would have Teixeira losing a considerable amount of value over the life of the contract.

Teixeira’s soon to be inked contract got me thinking again about Todd Helton and since we’ve added some new stats to FanGraphs since I last looked at Helton, I felt like a brief revisit of him was warranted. Helton had a crummy 2008, no doubt, but even in a crummy year he posted a .391 OBP. And with his BABIP under .300 despite a 23.4% LD rate, that screams for some positive regression in 2009, which would help drive his overall line up back toward his 2005-7 numbers, which average him out to be worth around 40 runs over average with the bat if he could play a full season. Park adjusting his final line (only looking at away numbers is the wrong method), moves that number to about 34 runs. How likely are either of those things to happen? Helton’s been durable throughout his career, but you always worry about injuries to aging first baseman so there’s surely a non-trivial likelihood that he will not fully require. How much you want to knock off, I’ll leave up to you the reader.

Helton’s defense according to UZR plays slightly north of neutral with just enough positive trend for me to say that his glove plus his 12.5 run penalty for playing first base would come out to a negative 10 run total. Again, over a full season. Adding those up and throwing in replacement level, we arrive at 44 runs over replacement per season for Helton, roughly mirroring Teixeira. Helton is considered an anchor with either a three-year, $57 million or a four-year, $75 million contract. Yes, there’s a six year difference in age between the two, but if Helton returns to 2005-7 form (a safe-ish bet) he just has to be able to log between 400 and 500 plate appearances to justify his contract for 2009. Seems surprising for a guy many have written off at this point.

Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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13 years ago

I think your two points are contradicting. Sure, paying Teixeira more than $23 million per year is overpaying now and he’s certain to decline between now and year 8, but by then who knows how much teams will be willing to pay per win. If he’s a 2 win player in 2017 and by then teams are valuing wins at $15 million each, then $23 million per year would be a steal.

This is exactly what happened with Helton. Compared to how much a win was “worth” when that contract was inked, Colorado’s getting the short end of the stick these days. But as the value of a win has gone up, Helton’s contract doesn’t look so bad any more.

13 years ago
Reply to  Ian

My sense is that the inflation of sports salaries in the last ten-fifteen years is not something that can be projected into the future. At some point, teams and leagues are going to be unable to generate new revenue streams. That’s not to say that average salaries will drop significantly, but it doesn’t seem reasonable to expect the same annual growth rates in the future.

I wonder if sports salaries are experiencing a bubble like the housing market. A couple of years ago, people would have told you that, since housing prices have been rising by whatever percent every year, we can expect that they will continue to do so. It turns out they were wrong, and housing prices had become inflated beyond sustainable levels.