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.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Three quarterbacks who could be traded this offseason

Wolves trade Corey Brewer to the Rockets

Yankees trade Prado to Marlins for Eovaldi in 5-player deal

Brandon Browner fined $8K for throwing Brandon Gibson to turf

Report: Sharper, NFLers called spiked drinks 'horny juice'

Rex Ryan: My wife could coach Tom Brady

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Jim Harbaugh won in laser tag by 'hunting' 10-year-old kid

Eddie Lacy is ‘very blind,’ refuses to wear goggles

Michael Phelps pleads guilty to DUI, gets probation

NFL scouts not in love with Amari Cooper?

Report: No teams interested in trading for Lance Stephenson

It is not Chip Kelly's fault if Eagles miss playoffs

Video: Swaggy P elbows Steven Adams in throat, gets ejected

Video: Grizzlies buy car for assistant who had his stolen

Video: LeBron takes pass to the face from Dion Waiters

New video of Ray Rice incident emerges

President Obama calls James Franco “James Flacco”

NBA games of the weekend: Rondo's Dallas debut, Bulls-Grizz

Tuscaloosa students will have two days off if Bama plays in National Championship

Brady scares the **** out of his teammates celebrating

Longhorn Network’s yule log? Five hours of BEVO

Will a Chiefs WR finally catch a TD in Week 16?

Jon Lester and the Cubs

The Toronto Raptors reveal their new logo

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.

Three quarterbacks who could be traded this offseason

Jon Lester and the Cubs

Report: NFL players used 'horny juice'

Top 10 worst NBA related commercials of all-time

Phelps gets probation for DUI

NFL coaches on hot seat in Week 16

The Roy Williams-Terrell Owens horse collar turns 10

Most underpaid NFL players in 2014

Gronk jokes about Brady compliment

In Matt Kemp, did the Dodgers find a pigeon in Padres?

Why the Saints are legit playoff threat

Impact of U.S.-Cuba relations on MLB

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.