Astros Fan Therapy: Losing Marwin

February 22, 2019, was a challenging day for many Astros fans. They learned that Marwin Gonzalez is officially moving on to go to the Minnesota Twins. What is most upsetting to some Astros fans is that the reported two-year deal worth $21 million seems like a price that the 2019 Astros could or even should have paid. Other players from the 2017 champions have imminent signing decisions as well. Some Astros fans are right to wonder how the Astros could let some of their champions leave. Consider this your Astros Fans’ Therapy Session.

First, let’s start with some facts:

  • Marwin has delivered at some of the most clutch moments over the past few seasons, and this has made him a fan favorite.
  • Marwin will be 30 on opening day this year.
  • Marwin had a career year at age 28 in 2017.
    • It is well documented that for most players 26-28 are their peak performance years.
    • Performance drops after age 30, and the drop accelerates with age in a non-PED-fueled environment.
  • Marwin has a career WAR of 7.8 over seven years.
    • Nearly half of Marwin’s WAR comes from his 4.0 in his career year in 2017.
    • Marwin produced at only 1.6 WAR in 2018.
    • Marwin is projected to produce at only 1.5 WAR in 2019 (0.267/0.332/0.435).
  • Most MLB teams are willing to pay for what they project a player will do, not what he has done.
  • Aledmys Diaz was traded to the Astros on Nov. 17, 2018, and can perform a utility role.

(All statistics are from FanGraphs.)

Those are some basic facts. Now, let’s apply some of the ways we have evaluated the Astros players and potential free agents to understand possible reasons the Astros allowed Marwin to leave.

In our earlier “Dead Money” article, we discussed a statistic called Cost of WAR. Marwin’s contract is widely perceived as a huge discount to what the market should be for him. Even with this discounted contract he would have been the fourth most expensive position player on the Astros from a Cost of WAR perspective.

What if the decision early in this offseason came down to Brantley or Gonzalez? At the time Brantley was willing to sign for $16MM/yr for a projected 2.4 WAR, Marwin was asking for $12-15MM/yr for a projected 1.5 WAR. What would you do?

In “Who are the Astros?” we looked at the Baseball Reference Similarity Score and applied it against the Astros to get another view of who the players can be. In that article we only focused on the top three similarity players. But Baseball Reference gives us ten to look at, so let’s consider all of Marwin’s ten. Before we do that, let’s note that Marwin’s 12.0 career WAR (by the Baseball Reference method) may be a more fair way to consider Marwin’s career so far.

The range of players similar to Marwin through age 29 spans from Ty Wiggington (who might be familiar to some older Astros fans) to Doug DeCinces. This is probably at the core of how people are responding to the loss of Marwin. Are we expecting a near MVP candidate, All-Star, and Silver Slugger player in his thirties as DeCinces was? Are we expecting a player who had one good year and then produced several negative WAR years as Wiggington did in his thirties? How you answer that probably fuels how you are feeling about Marwin going to the Twins. The truth is that either could happen. It is baseball.

If we stay committed to our similarity process, however, it shows that the ten most similar players to Marwin at age 29 ended their careers with 12.8 WAR. Let’s take Plouffe and Escobar out of the calculation because they are still active. If one does that the average of retired players that were most similar to Marwin Gonzalez after their age 29 season ended up at 14.0 WAR. This would leave Marwin to only produce 2.0 WAR on the relatively favorable Baseball Reference calculation. How much would you pay for 2.0 WAR over the remainder of Marwin’s career? The Astros were not willing to spend what the Twins did.

The last element of this decision for the Astros is roster spots. Let’s assume the Astros carry only 12 position players and two are catchers. That leaves ten spots to pick from these guys sorted by WAR and contract. For this table I am going to use the Steamer600 WAR projections which assume each player is a full-time player. This may be the fairest way to consider the potential value of each player.

Let’s count. Bregman, Correa, Altuve, Springer, Brantley – five.

White has the third lowest cost of WAR – six.

Reddick and Gurriel are dead money and, barring the kind of trade I discussed, are locked in – eight.

Diaz is relatively cheap (It’s not clear if he is $2MM or $0.6MM, but he’s significantly cheaper than Marwin) – nine.

The final spot comes down to Kemp, Tucker, or Marisnick, all at around $2MM, or far less or Marwin at $10.5MM. Which would you choose? We will run this as a poll on Twitter. The decision between the three outfielders is already challenging. Losing all three to keep Marwin is probably not viable for the 2019 Astros.

Putting all this together means it was probably best for both Marwin and the Astros that he went to the Twins. It is hard seeing your heroes leave. Let’s hope we can keep the core for many years.

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