Ordonez…tempering expectations

by billfer on January 26, 2005 · 7 comments

in Free Agents

While I took a look at Ordonez back in December, with the Tigers recent interest in him, I decided to take a second look. At the time, I thought he’d be a decent gamble if the Tigers could work out a fair deal and protect themselves in the event the knee becomes a chronic problem. However, after a closer look I think the knee might not be the biggest cause for concern.

There is no denying that Ordonez has been a great hitter thus far in his career, and until this past season he has been healthy. He’s a perennial .300 hitter, 30 homer, 100 RBI guy. This career OPS+ is certainly impressive. However, it is important to remember the park that Ordonez has done most of his damage. US Cellular is the easiest park in the majors to hit home runs in. Using park factors from Bill James 2005 Handbook, from 2002-2004 it was 31% easier to hit home runs in US Cellular than a typical park. During that same span Ordonez has hit 60% of his homers in his home park, and his OPS is 83 points higher at home.

Now transfer that production over to Comerica park. A place where it is 14% harder to hit homers than your typical park. It just wouldn’t be realistic to expect Ordonez to meet his career production.

The other factor is that Ordonez is past his peak seasons. I’m not saying that he is past the point of producing, but a dropoff due to age wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.

For fun, I went to Baseball Reference and took advantage of their similarity scores. I looked at the 10 most similar players to Ordonez through age 29. (I used 29 instead of 30 because last season wasn’t really representative of his production). I then looked at how those same players did from age 31 on. I’ve consolidated the information into the table below:
Comp Table

Of the 6 comp players who have retired, they average out to 4 years and an OPS+ of 104. Dave Parker went on to play 10 more years, but aside from a sensational season at age 34 (148 OPS+) he was basically an above average player. Tim Salmon has continued to be productive, albeit inconsistently. Raul Mondesi is well, Raul Mondesi. This doesn’t mean that Ordonez will follow the same path, but it does paint a discouraging picture.

In all fairness, if you take a look at the comps for the most similar players through age 30, things look better for Ordonez. A handful of the players change, and among those that have retired they average 6 years and an OPS+ of 112. Larry Walker also gets added to the list, and he would definitely boost the average production of the group.

I’m not against signing Ordonez. However, given the fact that Boras asking price (thanks to MotownSports for the link)seems to be based on a level of production built in a very hitter friendly park it seems that he will be too expensive. It sounds like he is looking in the neighborhood of $50 million. Given Dombrowski’s reluctance to hurt the team with ridiculous contracts I’d be surprised if Dombrowski would sign him at that price. This is especially true because they won’t be able to insure him given his knee complications.

 
 

{ 7 comments }

Tim D January 26, 2005 at 4:34 pm

Oliva is a good comp. He had the knee issues as well, and had to DH. 103 isn’t much for $40 mil or whatever it will cost. In fairnees they couldn’t do much with knees in Tony O’s time but to open them up and cut away. Modern procedures would likely have returned him to the field, maybe have made him a better hitter. Ordonez would be a giant upgrade from Higginson, but he needs to play the field; if not they have to find a place to hide Dmitri. I don’t think Ordonez is as good a gamble as Pudge was (or Drew, who has a lot more upside.) If somebody (Rangers, Cubs) offers him a lot of money I would stay away. They really can’t afford to get tied down to a bunch of $10 deals for guys over 30. The process of turning this mess around is going to take a long time. DD is being careful and I think that is for the best.

Tim D January 26, 2005 at 4:51 pm

PS: 3 years OPS in AL Central parks.

US Cellular .978

Jake .811

COPA .762

Kauffman .941

M-Dome .750

Good in Chi and KC, not much in the other three. Zero HR’s in 72 AB’s, .403 SLG in Detroit. Not too hot.

Jason R. January 28, 2005 at 9:06 am

Magglio popped quite a few doubles from 2001-2003 (40, 47, and 46), and going by the numbers you provided last Friday we might reasonably expect him to take a hit there as well.

So, his power numbers will likely suffer at the CoPa.

Take a peek at Pudge’s page at BR, given that he played 12 years in a hitters paradise in Arlington. Last season, Pudge posted an OPS+ of 135, the second-highest total for his career.

Pudge’s raw OPS was driven by a career-high OBA and the second-highest BA of his career, but if a 32-year old catcher can slug .510 in Detroit then I like my chances with a more powerful 31-year old corner outfielder, at least in the short term.

billfer January 28, 2005 at 1:25 pm

Jason,

That’s an interesting comparison with Pudge, and you structured it in a way that I hadn’t thought of.

I don’t mean to imply that Ordonez is a fraud by any means. The guy can flat out hit (evidenced by his 900ish OPS even on the road.

And I’d be lying if I said that purely as a fan I’m not excited it might happen. I am excited that he at least his making a counteroffer. But at the same time I’m also concerned about the terms. Then again I felt the same way last year about Pudge.

Tim D January 28, 2005 at 6:25 pm

They are talking 5 years, Boras supposedly wants 7. As usual, Boras appears to be making the lone real suitor bid against themselves. They need an out clause for the knee and they need it up front. Otherwise it’s lunacy. Just because Sosa and Bonds got better in their 30s (through chemistry or whatever) does not mean that Ordonez will be a productive player at 36 or 37. He likely won’t be and a 7 year deal at $15 mil a year will kill them the last 2 or 3 years. DD needs to drive a hard bargain. Nobody else is really in on this guy. And we can live without him. Sign him but for the right price; no more than two years guaranteed if the knee goes out, 4-5 years max.

Tim D January 28, 2005 at 6:41 pm

Interesting stuff in BB Prospectus today:

Detroit Tigers

Fun With Park Factors: After five years, it’s time to check in on how Comerica Park is shaping up as a run environment.

Year Hitting/Pitching

2000 97/97

2001 99/99

2002 93/94

2003 95/95

2004 96/97

100=neutral. Higher numbers favor offense, lower defense.

The Tigers moved the left-center field fence in from 395 to 370 feet after the 2002 season, cutting down on the enormous power alley that Juan Gonzalez complained about during his time with Detroit in 2000. Whether or not Comerica’s spacious outfield would have really driven away free-agent hitters is unknown, though Gonzalez’s public whining probably did plant some doubts in numbers-conscious sluggers. The Tigers appear to have gotten lucky–they moved the fence in, eliminating any talk that their park was too extreme, but that move has not seriously affected Comerica playing as a good pitchers’ park. Detroit needs to recognize this fact and ensure they have the appropriate speed in the outfield to capitalize on Comerica’s tendency to depress home runs (0.871 in 2004) and inflate triples (1.844, the highest factor for three-base hits of any park).

Out of the Frying Pan: There were a lot of reasons to believe Jeremy Bonderman was being set up for failure by the Detroit Tigers. He was drafted in the first round out of high school (by the Athletics, of all teams, before being traded to Detroit), a serious risk factor in the development of young pitchers. He spent just one season in A ball before breaking camp with the Tigers in 2003. He endured a brutal first major-league season with Detroit, losing 19 games for a Tigers team that dropped a franchise-record 119. Because of all that, it’s easy to forget that Bonderman is still just 22 years old, and to overlook the real strides he has made in his performance:

Year GS IP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 ERA

2003 28 162 10.7 3.2 6.0 5.56

2004 32 184 8.2 3.6 8.2 4.89

Like many young pitchers, Bonderman needs to cut down on his walk rate to take the next step. He has improved at the major-league level, though, and he appears ready to assume the mantle of staff ace. Fears that he has been overworked so early in his career seem unfounded. Despite the high total of innings he has racked up, manager Alan Trammell has kept him from having a single start above 121 pitches in his young career, and Bonderman has had a low stress rating in both of his first two years. Bonderman only got stronger down the stretch in 2004, as he had a 3.70 ERA and .211 batting average allowed after the All-Star break.

That Bonderman has largely overcome the hurdle doesn’t excuse the Tigers’ handling of their young ace. As pointed out in Baseball Prospectus 2004, Detroit’s decision to rush him to The Show will prove costly in the long-term, as Bonderman has now racked up two years of major-league service time and will hit free agency that much sooner. Clearly, having Bonderman as an “indentured servant” during his peak years instead of his developmental phase would have been better for Detroit. The Tigers are a team that can’t afford to shell out huge dollars to keep all of its homegrown talent, and so don’t have the luxury to make such a mistake.

Fifth with a Bullet: One wouldn’t expect the fifth slot in the Tigers rotation to generate much intrigue. However, this year’s back-end starter, Wilfredo Ledezma, has perhaps as much promise as any member of the pitching staff. Ledezma was a Rule 5 pick by the Tigers two years ago, nabbed from the Red Sox organization. He understandably struggled in 2003 after jumping from the South Atlantic League (A) to the majors, posting a 5.79 ERA in 84 innings for the Tigers, mostly out of the bullpen. Last season, Ledezma was able to head back to Double-A for much-needed seasoning, and he had a fine half-year in his age-23 season at hitter-friendly Erie, striking out 98 and walking just 24 in 111 2/3 innings.

Ledezma was recalled to Detroit on July 11, and pitched well enough for the Tigers (4.39 ERA, 29 K, 18 BB in 53 1/3 IP) to generate excitement about his future with the team. If Ledezma can build on the improvement he made last season, he could quickly team with Bonderman to provide a young, electric one-two punch at the top of the Detroit rotation.

Jason R January 28, 2005 at 9:41 pm

I think we all dig the idea of a healthy Magglio, but Tim, you said it best – “We can live without him.” I have to believe Dombrowski feels the same way and thus wont get the Boras Bozack.

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