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Making dollars and “sense” out of the Marlins’ outfield value

Using WAR and surplus value, we reverse engineer the contracts of our outfielders to see if the Marlins are getting as much production as bargained for

Colorado Rockies v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Last week, Joshua Diemert of our sister site, Pinstripe Alley, proffered in an article that the Yankees may hold the most valuable outfield in Major League Baseball based off WAR and surplus value. Although I am familiar with the concept of WAR, as an ever-learning student of advanced statistics, I was curious to see how Joshua applied the concept of surplus value to assert his point. The article is pretty descriptive, and if you’re curious to see how Miami’s outfield matches up with others in terms of this indicator, you can do so yourself.

After taking my own deep dive into these subjects, I wanted to put my recently gathered knowledge to the test to evaluate some of the Marlins talent. Despite how much I really really wanted to use these numbers to just make another Stanton versus Judge argument, I decided to frame the numbers compiled in a different light.

This year has been, and still is, a whirlwind for the Marlins. Having dealt with the looming shadow of an ownership change for much of the season, there has been a great amount of uncertainty concerning Marlins transactions. Rival factions have grown amongst Marlins Nation based on who the Marlins should keep or trade, and when. The status of every player on the Marlins has perpetually been in question. While many agree that change is coming — and change has come this season — there is still uncertainty regarding who will stay and who will go when Jeter & Co. take the helm after the season.

Of most concern is the outfield. As highlighted in Diemert’s article, the Marlins outfield is one of the game’s elite groups, and certainly the powerhouse of the Marlins value. With that said, the statuses of the outfielders’ contracts are all very different. While two of them are locked in for the long-term, two other outfielders may be gone by the year’s end. Some of the contracts are a bargain, while one is particularly weighty.

The concept of surplus value is premised around figuring out whether teams are getting bang for their buck through their player contracts, and more importantly, getting more than they bargained for. By averaging out statistics and contracts for MLB players in 2016, Neil Weinberg of Fangraphs.com was able to roughly compute that one Win Above Replacement was worth $8 million. However, given it’s now 2017, and after taking inflation into account, Joshua Diemert valued a Win Above Replacement at $9 million. For comparison’s sake, throughout this article, we will use Diemert’s figure of $9 million as our dollars-per-WAR value.

After calculating a player’s WAR, surplus value is the difference between the value of the WAR a player is contributing and what they are actually being paid. Weinberg, in his article, gives an example of how we can value players’ contracts in respect to their WARs.

$/WAR is basically a measurement of how much teams are paying for players on the free agent market according to how many wins they will add over replacement level players. Right now, we think teams are paying about $8 million per every WAR they add to their roster. For example, a 2 WAR player signed for three years would theoretically provide his team with 6 WAR, so a team might want to pay him anything up to $48 million. If the team pays less than $8 million for each expected WAR, we call this a “good deal” and if they pay more, we say they “overpaid.”

It’s possible to reverse engineer the above problem in order to determine how many wins a team should expect out of a player for the salary they are paying them. For example, after showing prowess at first base, if the Marlins were to sign Tomas Telis to the example contract above without speculating on his WAR, they could just sign him for three years and $48 million. By dividing the $48 million by Weinberg’s dollars-per-war of $8 million, you find that Telis has to get you six wins over the three years for you to receive exactly the amount you bargained for, and more than six wins to get you a surplus.

Clearly, the Marlins – or any other professional baseball organization – would never so arbitrarily construct a contract without looking at a player’s average WAR, combined with other metrics. However, for the purpose of the exercise, we are going to reverse engineer the Marlins outfielders’ contracts in order to analyze how much they have contributed to the team and how much they still have to contribute for the Marlins to get the benefit of their bargain. This will give us a new view on the players’ values.

Surplus Value of Marlins Outfielders.csv

Player Total Contract $ Total Contract Years Avg. $ per Year Total Expected WAR* Avg Expected WAR per year WAR Accumulated on contract to date Present Surplus Value WAR left to accumulate Years left 2017 WAR 2017 Surplus Value
Player Total Contract $ Total Contract Years Avg. $ per Year Total Expected WAR* Avg Expected WAR per year WAR Accumulated on contract to date Present Surplus Value WAR left to accumulate Years left 2017 WAR 2017 Surplus Value
Ichiro Suzuki $4 million 2 $2 million 0.44 0.22 1.2 $6.8 million -0.7 0 (Club option for 2018) -0.2 -$3.8 million
Christian Yelich $49.57 million 7 $7.08 million 5.5 0.79 9.4 $63.6 million -3.9 4 (5 with club option for 2022) 2.6 $16.32 million
Marcell Ozuna $3.5 million 1 $3.5 million 0.39 0.39 3.6 $28.9 million -3.21 0 (Arbitration eligible) 3.6 $28.9 million
Giancarlo Stanton $325 million 13 $25 million 36.1 2.78 10.4 $18.6 million 25.7 10 (11 with club option for 2028)** 4.8 $18.2 million
Totals $382.07 million 23 $37.58 million 42.43 4.18 24.6 $117.9 million 17.89 14 (16 with options) 10.8 $59.62 million
*Total contract $ divided by $9 million **Stanton has a buyout in 2020 Stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com | Contract information courtesy of Sportrac.com | Stats current as of 8/24/17

Ichiro Suzuki

Miami Marlins v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Ichiro signed on with the Marlins in 2015 to a one-year deal. After putting people in the seats at Marlins Park and marching to the precipice of 3000 hits, the Marlins signed Ichiro to another one-year deal in 2016, with an option for 2017. Both the contract and the option were for $2 million, and after amassing a surprising WAR of 1.4 in 2016, the Marlins exercised their option and signed Ichiro on for 2017.

This year, Ichiro has gotten less playing time, as the three main outfielders have stayed relatively healthy. As such, Ichiro is often coming off the bench cold to pinch-hit. It is never easy to add value on the basis of such inconsistent playing time. However, the graph shows that due to Ichiro’s surprising 2016, the Marlins are still getting their money’s worth out of him.

With just two contract years of $2 million each, the Marlins have only needed .44 WAR out of Ichiro. Despite the fact that he is in the red this season, Ichi outperformed his two-year requirements in just one season, thanks to his role filling in for injuries. For Ichiro to make his contract hurt more than help, he would have to accrue a -.6 WAR by the end of the season — something I would deem unlikely, unless he GIDP’d in every single one of his pinch-hit at-bats for the rest of the season. Thus, even though Ichiro isn’t helping the Marlins outfield in the race against the Yankees, in the greater scheme of things, Ichiro has fulfilled the obligations of his contract.

Christian Yelich

Cincinnati Reds v Miami Marlins Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Despite the fact that Yelich had presumably only accrued about one year’s worth of service at the time, as a final attempt at buying Fish fans’ solidarity, the Marlins front office signed Yelich as a core player to a long-term contract in 2015. Worth $49.57 million over seven years, Yelich’s contract pans out to pay an average yearly salary of $7,081,429. Thus, for Yelich to make his contract worth it to the Marlins, all he needs to accrue is a 5.5 WAR over his seven years with the team, (that’s $49.57 million divided by the $9 million dollars-per-WAR value). As you can see, in the first three years, Yelich has passed this benchmark by a wide margin.

Yelich’s name has probably come up in trade talks the least out of any Marlins players, and the reasoning is clear. His contract is incredibly lucrative. Looking at just this season’s numbers in relation to his teammates, Yelich’s value is the lowest amongst the regular outfielders. Yet when Yelich’s WAR requirements — as dictated by his lower salary — are compared to his true accrued value over these first three years, it becomes clear that out of the existing contracts, the Marlins are getting the most surplus value out of Yelich. That number will continue to grow as long as Yelich stays healthy and produces for the Fish.

Marcell Ozuna

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Represented by the notorious Scott Boras, in contrast to his teammate Yelich, Ozuna has not signed a long-term contract with the Marlins. Instead, because Ozuna has less than six years of MLB service, he is still in his arbitration years with the Fish, and will continue to have his salary determined on a year-by-year basis until he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

This year, Ozuna is playing for the Marlins on a one-year, $3.5 million contract. For the Marlins to get their bang for their buck out of The Big Bear, Ozo needs to end the season with a WAR of just .39. Given his red-hot start and his continued success in the middle of the order, Ozuna has surpassed that mark with ease, and has racked up a surplus value of $28.9 million for the Fish — the most of any Marlins outfielder this year.

This illustrates the importance of good young players. While they are still controllable, players with less than six years of service like Yelich and Ozuna are left to the whim of their front offices to determine their contract. It’s very much up to the front office, depending on a team’s plans going forward, to determine how much they want to pay and how they want to be remembered by their up-start, young players when they become free-agent eligible.

Yelich and Ozuna represent opposite ends of the spectrum here. Although Yelich could be making a similar amount as Ozuna, as mentioned earlier, the front office in 2015 wanted to make Yelich a centerpiece in Miami. Yelich was perceivably open to the opportunity, and as such, the Marlins increased his pay by a large margin and offered him a contract that would secure the left-handed hitter through his arbitration days.

Ozuna could have very well been that centerpiece player that the Marlins brass wanted to lock up, instead of Yelich. However, probably due to the fact that Scott Boras has had prior success securing huge deals for his players in free agency, the parties seemingly deemed it better that Ozuna sweat it out for his arbitration years.

Despite the low pay, Ozuna is creating value in spades for the Marlins, and the Boras Corporation is carefully recording him doing so. When 2020 rolls around, Ozuna’s cumulative surplus value over these arbitration years will presumably be very high (barring an injury or a major decline) and as such, the Marlins will have to really pay back Ozo his fair share if they don’t want him to go to another team.

Giancarlo Stanton

MLB: Miami Marlins at New York Mets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, we get to Big G. As the Marlins most valuable player with the biggest contract, Stanton’s name has seemingly been put on and taken off the proverbial trade block thousands of times. The hallmark of Stanton’s controversial contract is that it’s incredibly back-loaded; as Stanton gets older and accumulates more miles, his per year salary will actually increase.

With new ownership coming in and a potential rebuild on the horizon, the question often posed is whether the front office should keep Stanton as the centerpiece of the organization, or unload the salary burden to facilitate the rebuild. That’s a question to be answered by the front office; however, let’s look at Stanton’s current value and how he has to perform for the Marlins to get the benefit of their bargain.

Due to the aforementioned back-loading of the contract, Stanton’s yearly salaries during these beginning stages are much lower than they will be towards the end. Nevertheless, $325 million is $325 million, and so as I have done for the entire article before, I am going to use the average yearly salaries rather than the actual yearly salaries to determine value.

At the going rate for wins, over the course of his contract, Stanton will be indebted 36.1 wins above replacement to the Miami Marlins. While it’s not recommended, if you divided up the 36.1 wins over this 13 years, you would find that Stanton needs at least a 2.78 WAR every year to fulfill his contractual obligations. Stanton has gotten ahead of the buck in the first three years of his contract, totaling a WAR of 10.4 with an average of about 3.5.

The fact that Stanton still has WAR to accumulate is another testament to the significance of a true big-league contract. This contract is an investment in Stanton. As the crown jewel in the organization, the Marlins want to ensure that their star player is being treated like royalty, while also motivating him to fulfill his burden. Just by having his name in the lineup 150 games a year, the Marlins are relying on him to contribute at least three to four more digits in the W column. Thanks to his torrid home run pace, Giancarlo is getting ahead this year — he’s worth $18.2 million in surplus value this season. However, because his salary is so large and his expected WAR per year is almost a full two points higher than the next highest value on the table, his surplus value is not the highest in the Marlins outfield this year.

Looking at stats like surplus value and WAR tell you a lot about a player. While these stats aren’t necessarily predictive tools, they are good evaluative measurements of how well a front office spent their money. We now see that in three completely different ways, the Marlins have in their lineup three undeniably productive outfielders.

This wasn’t meant to serve as some hot take; if you asked a regular Marlins fan whether they thought having Yelich, Ozuna, or Stanton on the team was good or bad, they could probably tell you without looking at any numbers that all three outfielders are worth their contracts. However, when trade talks start swirling, people like to become their own GMs. One day, Ozuna should be traded and Stanton should stay. The next, Stanton is our rock, and Ozuna is fringe salary that we can shed.

While it’s easy to cast judgment on Miami’s front office for their decisions or indecisions, it’s necessary that we check the numbers to see whether unloading a contract is beneficial or not. Thanks to WAR and surplus value, we can see what deals we should hang on to, and which ones we should let go.


Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com

Contract information courtesy of Sportrac.com