Friday, January 14, 2011

Utility Bill

(AP Photo/Newsday, Audrey C. Tiernan)
Willie Harris can't buy a starting job anywhere but he may be
your team's new utility man next season.

  My last post was about the mid January doldrums of the MLB off season and I focused on the starting pitching aspects of it.  This time I’d like to take a minute to examine the mythical creature known as the utility player.  Is having a “utility player” on your roster a necessity or just one of those old school baseball clich├ęs?  In recent times the notion of a utility player has been hyped more and more, culminating in Omar Infante actually making the NL All Star team last season.

Having a player on your roster being able to play multiple positions is probably a good thing to have.  What isn’t a good thing is signing one with a guaranteed contract and a 40 man roster spot.  Year in and year out teams continue to sign the Willie Bloomquists (not meaning to single him out, just the most recent utility signing) of the world for $1-2 million and year in and year out these players perform at a replacement level or lower.  So why give out these contracts in the first place?  Why not take a player from you AAA roster and allow them the opportunity to make the team at the league minimum instead?  After all, utility player really just means “We don’t like you enough to let you start everyday at one position.”

Last season Bobby Crosby, Willie Bloomquist, Willie Harris and Nick Punto all saw time in the utility role for their respective teams.  All four of them had contracts of at least $1 million, with Punto topping the group at $4.0 million.  Let’s take a second to compare each players WAR (Wins Above Replacement) to their contracts and the perceived value (according to of their play at the end of the season.

Player                             WAR                Contract                Value

Willie Bloomquist -          -0.9                     $1.7m                 $-3.6m
Bobby Crosby -                -0.6                     $1.0m                 $-2.4m
Willie Harris -                     0.0                     $1.5m                 $-0.1m
Nick Punto -                       1.4                     $4.0m                  $ 5.6m

The only one of this quartet that posted a positive value is Nick Punto.  Punto even was more productive than his contract cost but not by a lot.  The other players were all well below average and the contracts look even worse when compared to their perceived values.  The other thing these four players have in common is they started the year on teams with notoriously smaller payrolls.  While the Twins have jumped out of the small market category recently they still do not have a lot of payroll flexibility and there really is no reason to pay a player like Punto $4 million a year. 

On the flip side of this let’s take a look at four players who were still in their pre-arbitration years and made around the league minimum.  Alberto Gonzalez (Nationals), Jayson Nix (White Sox/Indians), Chris Getz (Royals) and Ryan Roberts (Diamondbacks) all played multiple positions for their teams and could have been used even more extensively in the utility role.

Player                       WAR                Contract                Value

Chris Getz                    -0.1                 $414,500               $-0.3m
Alberto Gonzalez -       0.4                 $415,000               $ 1.7m
Jayson Nix -                 -0.1                 $420,000               $-0.3m
Ryan Roberts -             0.0                  $400,000               $-0.1m

Once again, none of the numbers are fantastic but when evaluating a utility role these players were all FAR more cost effective than the veteran players.  None of these players were worth large negative amounts and are controllable commodities for their organizations.  While Willie Harris added some pop off of the bench for the Nationals, Jayson Nix made a 3rd of what Harris did and provided the same number of home runs.  Nick Punto is a very good fielder at multiple positions but for 10% of his contract the Nationals got similar defense from Alberto Gonzalez.  While the Royals had both Getz and Bloomquist on their roster they should have just gone with Getz.  His glove is at least league average and his base running skills are much better than Bloomquist's.  Bloomquist is known as a scrappy player who can swipe the occessional base but last year he was thrown out 5 times in his 13 attempts while Getz was only thrown out 2 times in route to his 15 thefts. With that said, think about this when the rumors pop up about another utility player signing a major league contract and ask yourself why?


  1. not sure how I did this but it looks like I can now comment.

    Peyton, thanks for this new blog and good luck to you!

    Go Nats!

  2. Thanks for reading. Glad the comment section is working correctly now.

  3. actually, its different then Mark's

    with his you had those first 6 and then a space followed by name/url and anonymous. I use name/url for "insider" but that is not offered here. I tried all the others and with aim it let me register and that is how I got in. Not a big deal but I thought you should know.

  4. Ahhhh. I will see if I can set up the name/url option. Mine just prompts my google log in since I'm signed in.

  5. Ok. I fixed that problem. Now anyone can post.

  6. Good and relevant blog. More ammunition for those who think AG is a plus to the Nats.