George Springer - Is He Worth It?
This offseason, George Springer hit free agency this offseason after he declined Houston's $18.9 million qualifying offer. He's regarded as the best player out of the free agents that are available. Springer has had a stellar career. Since breaking into the majors in 2014, this center fielder has gathered three All Star appearances, two Silver Sluggers, and one World Series MVP (2017). He's a career .852 OPS hitter averaging 35 homers per year. Let's break down Springer and find out how he compares to others at his position.
Springer is an above average center fielder. He's one of the faster players in terms of sprint speed, ranking in the 82nd percentile last year. His jump (meaning reaction to the ball off of the bat) is also above average, ranking in the 62nd percentile. When any player comes up for a new contract, you want to compare them to the best person at each skill for the position. When we talk fielding in center, Jackie Bradley Jr is consistently in the top 95th percentile for outs above average, a tool used to measure a position players ability to make every play ranging from the routine plays (0 stars) to the outstanding plays (5 stars). Here's how Springer holds up against JBJ:
You'll notice a lot of "noise" on Springers chart towards right field. When he first hit the big leagues, Springer was a right fielder. Since 2017, Springer has shifted over to center for a majority of his innings in the field. Most of this was due to the log jam that was at that position in Houston with players like Jake Marisnick and Josh Reddick being on the roster. Even last year, Springer did have some time in right with 53 innings which drags the right side of the zone out. The red line around shows the average range covered. The ovals that are red signify sprint speed. As you can see, JBJ gets the slight nod in all aspects. Still, this comparison is a lot closer
Center Fielders Can't Hit, Right?
Typically, you want your fastest, most athletic player in center. It's essentially the shortstop of the outfield. Players that have above average fielding ability typically lack in putting wood on the ball. Last year, center fielders killed it. Here's the leaderboard from last year for center fielders that played more than 70% at that position, sorted by OPS (league average .750):
We're not shocked to see the best player in baseball at the top. Phenom Ronald Acuña Jr grabbed second, and Springer was right behind in third. Springer is towards the older part of this list with JBJ being the other 30 year old. Since last year was more of an anomaly for the position, let's look at the past three years. Remember, 2017 was the first year Springer played mostly center field:
Now this is what center fielders offensive numbers typically look like. Springer ranked second in practically every category behind Trout. Also not mentioned is the WAR numbers. Trout is number one at 26.9 and Springer is second with 16.2.
One of the more impressive traits that Springer has is his consistency. He usually fluctuates between .260-.280 BA and typically averages 35 homers per year. Most of his Statcast numbers show that as well. I do have my eye on launch angle though. He typically hovers around a 9 degree launch angle, but last year he bumped it up to 18.3. With the increased launch angle came the higher line drive percentage (30.1% up from his average of 24.6%) and a higher pop up percentage (12.4% up from 6%). What's weird about it is that he really didn't improve any statistics. He was still on pace for roughly 38 homers, still had the same pace for RBIs, and still was around .265 for a batting average.
What's Springer Asking For?
Springer is reportedly asking for a five year, $175 million contract. Here are the top ten outfielder salaries currently:
At it's face, Springer is asking for an Average Annual Value of $35 million. That would put him only behind Mike Trout in terms of salary per year. As I've shown, he'd make a great center fielder, even the second best out there, but to make as much as the best player in baseball is a little bit of a stretch. What saves the contract to make it more appeasing for a team is that he only wants five years. The Braves got away with extending Acuña when they did, because he should be commanding way more if Springer wants the same as Trout.
Springer is a great center fielder. I'm all for confidence in yourself, but you cannot ask the same amount as the best player in baseball and expect that. What ruined a lot of these outfielders chances at a bigger contract is Trout signing for what he did. What would scare me as a team signing Springer is that he's a center fielder now, but we all know he will regress sooner rather than later, planting him in right field. Once you do that, the contract that he's asking for is not worth it at that point. Mookie, Harper, and Blackmon are all better hitters than Springer and make less than the AAV he's asking for. I would be ok up to $150 million for five years if I'm a team looking to add Springer. You could shorten the years to three and then pay the $35 million per year, but that's not what Springer is looking for. I cannot stress enough that moving Springer to right field will not make this contract worth it.