Why give Bradley three years?

There’s a discussion over on Fangraphs about Milton Bradley today. Eric Seldman points out that Bradley’s comment about being more valuable in 120 games than most guys are in a season is true. He also states that Bradley is “the most talented player of the last ten years who truly deserves to sign one-year deals each season,” because he will, presumably, have trouble living up to his 3-year, $30-million contract. MB21 from Another Cubs Blog points out in the comments that Bradley only has to play about 60 or 70 games a year to be worth what he’s getting paid on his contract.

Bradley is signed for 3 years and $30 million. According to Rally’s numbers, Bradley has been worth 18.5 wins above replacement in his career, over 3285 plate appearances. That’s a win every 178 plate appearances. If you were to leave out his first two seasons, where he was pretty awful, it’s a win every 144 PAs – but since those numbers did happen, I’ll leave them in. Besides, Bradley may start declining, and we can hedge our numbers a little by including some numbers from before he hit his prime.

According to Fangraphs, the value of a win was $4.5 million in 2008. It should be higher from 2009-2011, but we don’t know exactly how high yet. So using the 2008 numbers for a moment, and Bradley’s career averages, Bradley needs to be worth 6.67 wins to live up to his contract. At his career rates, that’ll take him 1187.26 PAs. So even in a sort of worst-case scenario, Bradley needs less than two full, healthy seasons’ worth of PAs to be worth $30 million over the life of his 3-year contract. He needs to play in about 90 games a year to do that. Realistically, once you factor in what the average value of a win is likely to be, it’s more like 80 games a year. If you choose to think he’s going to play like he did once he figured out major-league pitching, it’s as low as 65 games a year.

And that’s not factoring in the buyout – if Bradley plays less than 75 games in 2010, the deal is effectively a 2-year, $20 million deal. So the Cubs are protected fairly well. I can’t help but note that that 75 games pretty close to my “once you factor in an average win value” number – if Bradley isn’t worth close to ten million in 2010, the Cubs have the option not to bring him back in 2011.

For the Cubs to really lose big on this deal, Bradley would have to be healthy enough to play but suffer a total collapse of his abilities. I guess an absolute worst-case scenario would be for Bradley to play virtually not at all in 2010, play 75 games in 2011, and then suffer a career-ending injury, leaving the Cubs on the hook for $30 million, but that seems unlikely, too. The Cubs have really done a pretty good job of protecting themselves here. Could they still lose out on this contract? Sure, there’s always some risk, but they’re pretty well hedged.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Why give Bradley three years?

  1. Bob,

    the value of the win was $4.4 million in 2008 and it increases 10% each year. It’s worth $4.84 in 2009 for example. A player at his age declines by about 0.5 WAR each season. So…

    3.9 WAR in 2009: $18.88 million
    3.4 WAR in 2010: $18.10 million
    2.9 WAR in 2011: $17.30 million

    That’s based on getting 1401 PA over those 3 years, or 467 per season. That’s a total of $54.28 million (that’s how much he is worth). Basically, as long as Bradley gets 780 plate appearances over 3 years he’s worth $30 million assuming he plays up to expectation. That’s 180 games, or 60 games per season.

    • Bob

      Two responses to that:

      1) I think we’re starting from different projections, aren’t we? Specifically, yours likely weights the last two years, which off the top of my head, I think are his best years, higher? I guess, strictly speaking, mine’s not a projection – I’m just choosing to assume that he’ll perform roughly in line with his career averages even as he comes down off his peak. Yours, of course, it probably the better way to do it, but I guess I was trying to do a very back-of-the-envelope kind of thing. Which, you know, totally deserved its own blog post.

      2) I think it was Beyond the Box Score that pointed out that with the soft economy the value of a win may not in fact increase as it has in the past. I took the $4.5 million number from here: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/win-values-explained-part-six . Unless I’m mistaken, there’s nothing sacred about the 10%/year thing, though, right? It just happens that that has been about right over the last decade or so.

      Either way, I think we’re agreed that this was a pretty good contract for the Cubs – if Bradley collapses or can’t stay healthy at all, they save a third of their money, and he doesn’t really have to take the field very much for this to be a good deal for the team.

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