Robotic Thoughts on Jason Heyward

Friends, this is a difficult post for me to write. Maybe the most difficult one I’ve ever written. Let me cut straight to the chase: I don’t think the Braves should give an extension to Jason Heyward. Let’s collectively take a deep breath before getting into my reasons for holding such an apparently asinine opinion.

Before we get started I want to be clear about one thing. Jason Heyward is an outstanding baseball player. While there are certainly yahoos out there who think he’s been a disappointment–yahoos who have made it a point to have their voice be heard in comment sections across our interwebs–these people are simply, objectively wrong. Since 2010 Jason has accumulated the 18th most Wins Above Replacement of any player in the major leagues despite being younger than any player in the top 25 not named Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton. Looking ahead, Steamer projects him to be the 16th most valuable player in 2015, ahead of former MVPs Joey Votto, Dustin Pedroia, and Albert Pujols. I realize all three of those guys are over 30 years old and past their primes now, but my statement has more punch to it if I mention former MVPs. People who read this post but don’t follow baseball much will certainly be impressed by that fact.

Anyway, I’ve already written about what a great player he is. That’s not why I’ve gathered y’all here today. I’ve gathered you to talk about why the Braves shouldn’t make keeping him long term a priority for this season.

…Stephen takes a break from writing to eat his lunch…


I have just returned from lunch and seen the big headline: Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden have been traded to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. You have my permission to spend some time in a state of feral rage.

Let’s get the personal side of things out of the way first. This freaking sucks. I love Heyward. You love Heyward. We all love Jason Heyward. Just look at the man, damnit!

Heyward

How can you not love that face? Go back through some of my Player of the Day posts from the end of last season, and you’ll see that when the Braves started spiraling out of control I looked to Jason Heyward to bring me happy feelings. Now that source of joy is gone. This sucks. No other way to put it. This just plain sucks.

However, baseball front offices aren’t paid to behave like human beings with feelings and emotions and all of those other evolutionary inefficiencies. They are paid to make sound, logical, robotic decisions. And from that purely mechanical way of looking at things, this trade makes sense to me. If at this point you don’t want to read anymore, I totally understand. I’m not going to fault you for being upset. For the rest of us, let’s take a moment to see how this looks on the spreadsheets.

For the purposes of this article I’m going to treat Jordan Walden as a negligible asset in this trade. I think he’s a solid relief pitcher, but unless you’re Aroldis Chapman or Craig Kimbrel, good relief pitchers just aren’t worth very much. We’re just going to simplify things and look at this as trading Heyward for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins.

JHey was only on our books for one more season before reaching free agency. In 2015 he was set to to receive $7.8 million from us in exchange for around 5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) from him. 1 WAR is worth about $7 million to a team in 2015 (just trust me, I’m not in the mood to cite sources) which means Jason was set to provide us approximately $27 million in surplus value over the rest of his years of team control. Therefore, in order for this trade to make sense we would need to receive $27 million worth of player equity in exchange for Jason Heyward and his one-year contract. Follow me on a little algebra problem, keeping in mind that I’m not an economist so I might will misuse some of these terms.

Before a player reaches free agency he is under team control for six seasons. For the first three seasons of team control a player may be paid the league minimum salary of around $500,000, but teams will often pay more for a good player. After that, the player reaches the arbitration process. A rough estimate for how much a player will be paid in the arbitration process is 40 percent of his free market value in the first year, 60 percent in the second year, and 80 percent in the third year. Remember that we defined a player’s free market value as his projected WAR multiplied by 7, as each win is worth $7 million. To determine a player’s surplus value- as we did above for Jason- you simply subtract the amount he will be paid from the amount he will be worth based on his projected WAR. Got it? Stay with me.

Miller is under team control for the next four seasons, so we’ll assume he’ll make around $1 million next season then follow the arbitration model. Jenkins hasn’t made his MLB debut yet, so we’ll assume he’ll make the league minimum for two years, $1 million the third year, then follow the arbitration model for the final three. In algebraic form, the combined amount of money they will be paid can be expressed as follows:

Equation 1

where x is the average projected WAR for Miller over those four years and y is the average projected WAR for Jenkins. We can then use this to define an equation for their surplus value as such:

Equation 2where B is the surplus value of Heyward, or $27 million. To solve this set of equations we will set x and y as equal to each other, which will give us an average yearly value that each player must be worth to make the trade worth it. Plugging all of this into my handy dandy Excel spreadsheet spits out a value of 0.67 WAR. Since that average value is to be spread over ten total player seasons we can multiply it by ten and simply state that in order for this trade to make sense, Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins must combine for only 6.7 WAR during their time in Atlanta.

In order for this trade to make sense, Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins must combine for only 6.7 WAR during their time in Atlanta.

That’s it, folks. Only 6.7 WAR over ten player seasons. That’s the sort of value you expect out of the 4th or 5th guy in your rotation. We’re talking about one guy- Miller- who was once one of the most highly touted pitching prospects in the game and another- Jenkins- who is currently one of the Cardinals’ top 20 prospects in their system. Yeah, Shelby had an off year in 2014, but so what? He doesn’t need to be the second coming of Nolan Ryan for this trade to make mathematical sense. You can quibble over my math or some of the assumptions I made, but the point remains that it doesn’t take much to make up the value of one year of a player, no matter who that player is.

Update: ZiPS projects Miller to be worth a total of 13 WAR over the next four seasons.

I’m going to miss Jason Heyward. It’s going to absolutely kill me seeing him play in St. Louis. But thanks to the powers that be, the Braves don’t have the money to hand out extensions to every incredible player that comes through the system. A Jason extension would have left us with no excess money in 2016 and 2017, and this is a team with holes at the major league level and a giant pit at the minor league level. This is a tough decision to make, but it’s a decision that’s necessary. Here’s to the future.

Can I get back to raging now?

Stephen came up with the idea for this blog shortly after graduating from Tech. Realizing that life is ephemeral, he decided to put (metaphorical) pen to paper and catalogue his thoughts. His thoughts are series of numbers and spreadsheets, casually categorized as “research,” and said research is usually conducted on the margins of what is both relevant and socially acceptable.

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  1. […] news, our own srbrown bravely took upon himself the unenviable task of quickly posting on BGS an essay that would help those of us wailing and gnashing our teeth to set aside our emotions for a minute […]

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