Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/20/14
Before all our attention is focused on the post-season, I thought I’s take a quick look back at free agent signings from the past year and how those deals worked out in 2012. The focus here is just on what teams got for their money. In other words: Did the players meet or exceed the expected value of the contracts they signed?
I focused on major league signings only, so the analysis does not include myriad minor league deals — many of which resulted in players accumulating playing time in the majors this year.
To get a sense of the how the deals turned out, I compared players’ expected values — which are based on their positions and the annual average value (AAV) of their contracts — to their actual values. I uses Matt Swartz’s research on the differences in dollars per Wins Above Replacement (WAR) by position, rather than assume an average dollar-per-WAR, as is typically done.
For reference, here are the positional averages from 2007 through 2011:
$/WAR 2007-11 POSITION $10,700,000.00 RP $6,300,000.00 CF $6,100,000.00 1B $4,900,000.00 LF $4,600,000.00 DH $4,400,000.00 RF $4,000,000.00 SP $3,900,000.00 3B $3,100,000.00 C $3,000,000.00 SS $2,500,000.00 2B
Using these multipliers, I calculated expected WAR for 2012 by dividing the AAV of each player’s contract by the estimated $/WAR based on their position.
On balance, teams did a pretty good job of valuing players and signing them to appropriate deals. The 111 signings under examination here were expected to produce 102.8 WAR and so far have produced 115. Fifty-one of the signings produced more value than expected, while 60 produced less value. Looking at the frequency of differences between expected and actual WAR, we see that there were more players outperforming their expected WAR by greater than 1 WAR than there were players who underperformed by more than 1 WAR (18 versus five).

Let’s take a look at how the signings turned out when considering positions:
POSITION N Exp WAR Actual WAR Difference 3B 8 0.8 1.4 0.7 LF 10 0.5 1.1 0.6 2B 6 1.2 1.6 0.4 DH 3 0.6 0.9 0.3 CF 2 1.0 1.3 0.3 RF 7 1.4 1.6 0.2 SP 18 1.6 1.7 0.2 RP 30 0.3 0.3 0.0 C 11 0.5 0.3 -0.2 1B 7 1.5 1.2 -0.3 SS 9 1.9 1.5 -0.4
Shortstop was expected to produce the most average WAR — driven mostly by the Marlins signing Jose Reyes. Reyes was initially valued at 6.2 WAR this year, but he’s only accounted for 4.5 WAR. And while Reyes was the biggest disappointment at his position, he wasn’t the only shortstop to underperform his contract. Clint Barnes, Alex Gonzalez and Jack Wilson all underperformed by 1.1 WAR.
The greatest additional value this year has been provided by third basemen (+.7), followed by left fielders (+.6). Eight third basemen were signed and were expected to produce .8 WAR, on average. Outside of Aramis Ramirez, no other third basemen was expected to produce more than .8 WAR. Ramirez has certainly outperformed his expected WAR this year (+3) — but right on his heels, in terms of additional value, has been Tampa Bay’s Jeff Keppinger (2.7 WAR versus .4 expected WAR). Greg Dobbs has been the biggest disappointment, giving -1.2 WAR while Miami assumed .4 this year.
The Twins grabbed one of the greatest bargins out of left field with Josh Willingham and his 3.8 WAR — 2.5 more than expected. Ryan Ludwick has been huge for the Reds this season, considering the team’s offense has been average (+2.5 WAR). The New York Mets resigned Scott Hairston for $1.1M, but have been treated to a 2.1-WAR season (+1.9) thanks to his production against left-handed pitching (137 wRC+). On the negative side of the ledger, Endy Chavez was supposed to produce roughly .3 WAR for Orioles but posted -.9 WAR for the season.
We can also look at how teams did, overall, looking at their signings as a portfolio:
Team # of Free Agents Average WAR above Expected Texas 2 1.8 Oakland 4 1.4 Boston 3 1.0 Cincinnati 2 0.8 Tampa Bay 5 0.7 Milwaukee 3 0.6 Arizona 8 0.5 Chicago Cubs 4 0.4 NY Mets 4 0.4 Minnesota 6 0.4 Detroit 4 0.4 NY Yankees 3 0.3 Seattle 4 0.2 LA Dodgers 9 0.1 Kansas City 4 0.1 Philadelphia 7 0.1 Baltimore 5 0.0 San Diego 2 -0.2 Pittsburgh 4 -0.3 Toronto 2 -0.3 Chicago Sox 1 -0.3 San Francisco 4 -0.3 Houston 1 -0.4 St. Louis 3 -0.5 Washington 4 -0.5 LA Angels 3 -0.6 Cleveland 2 -1.1 Atlanta 1 -1.1 Colorado 3 -1.2 Miami 4 -1.3
The Rangers, Athletics and Red Sox were the only teams that averaged at least 1 additional WAR per signing. Suprisingly, Oakland’s numbers were not fueled by Yoenis Cespedes – who has been about even in terms of expected and actual WAR — but by Jonny Gomes (+1.3), Coco Crisp (+1.5) and Bartolo Colon (+2.1). Boston benefitted mostly from batt-flipping Cody Ross (+2.0), who posted almost 3 WAR manning right field for the Sox. Texas saw the most additional value from its two free-agent signings: Joe Nathan (+1.1 WAR) and Yu Darvish* (+2.4 WAR) have both been outstanding — posting a 60 and 74 FIP-, respectively.
Miami’s spending spree didn’t work out as planned. There will be no postseason games for the Marlins, partly due to the fact that every one of their free-agent signings underperformed, relative to their contracts: Mark Buehrle -2.0, Jose Reyes -1.4, Greg Dobbs -1.2 and Heath Bell -0.4.
Splitting up the signings by those where players were re-signed and those who switched teams, we see something interesting. Contra Matt’s hypothesis (backed by analysis by MGL) that teams that re-signed players tended to see better value — relative to signings where players switch teams — 2012 saw players who switched teams produce an additional 12.2 WAR above expectations (96.9 versus 84.7). Players who re-signed produced almost exactly what they were expected to (18.1 WAR). This isn’t to say Matt is wrong (hint: he’s not), just that in this particular year the league did a pretty good job of getting value from players that switched the teams. The Diamondbacks re-signed six players — and thanks mostly to Aaron Hill‘s 5.5 WAR — benefitted from an additional 4 WAR above what they expected.
All things considered, 2012 was a pretty good one for free-agent signings. Considering that there were some players who didn’t get a chance to step on the field this year — like reliever Ryan Madson — it’s reasonable to say that the numbers could have been even better.
——–
Data for this article is current as of Sept. 27, 2012. Free agent signings compiled mostly from ESPN.com.
*Darvish’s AAV does not include the posting fee. If it did, Darvish would still be outperforming his expected WAR (+.2), and the Rangers would drop to fourth overall in terms of average WAR above expected.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

UNC to honor Coach K's 1,000 wins prior to game with Duke

Peterson’s dad: Vikings are trying to inflate trade value

Joint with Aaron Hernandez’s DNA found at murder scene

Report: Lynch agrees to new contract with Seahawks

Marques Colston restructures contract, will remain with Saints

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Syracuse loses scholarships, vacates 108 wins, on probation

Bryce Harper on Nationals: ‘People want to see us fail’

Gary Bettman on shootouts: 'Fans like the way the game is'

Indianapolis Colts to part ways with Reggie Wayne

Report: Jets to release Percy Harvin

NFL teams shed Top 5 salaries, eye free agency

WATCH: Hawks pregame tribute to Dominique Wilkins

Bucs cheerleaders win $825K in lawsuit with team

Small conference tourneys: this weekend of madness

NFL Draft prospect decapitated a Sports Science dummy

Jeanie Buss says Lakers will celebrate Kobe’s 20th season

Winners and losers in the Brandon Marshall trade

Photo of plane by Giants' Larry Donnell in NY Times

WATCH: Matt Harvey looked fantastic for the Mets on Friday

Timeline of Yankee captains

Reggie Miller shares great Jordan trash talking story

Winston's film vs. Oregon is why scouts love him

Ndamukong Suh: Show him the money

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

WATCH: Hawks tribute to Nique

Small conference tourneys: this weekend of madness

Winners, losers in Marshall trade

Timeline of Yankee captains

Reggie Miller shares great MJ story

Ndamukong Suh: Show him the money

Winston's film vs. Oregon is why scouts love him

Report: Jets acquire Brandon Marshall

With Pence out, Giants have options

Analyzing the top-five free agent QBs

NBA players set to make biggest impact

Larry Bird trash talks Dominique Wilkins’ statue

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.