Richie Sexson: Albatross

Dave · November 13, 2006 at 12:03 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

I’ve talked about this in other posts the last few months, but never laid out a complete case for it to the point where I feel people actually understand where I’m coming from. Talking with other Mariner fans, I certainly don’t get the sense that very many people agree with me on this issue, so, let me lay it out as plainly as I can and see how many of you I can convert:

Richie Sexson isn’t worth anything close to the $28 million he’s owed the next two years. His contract is an anchor that the Mariners should be actively trying to unload on someone else, and the sooner he’s removed from the roster, the better this team will be. Trading Richie Sexson for a bag of baseballs would be addition by subtraction. If you can con someone into giving you something of value for him, all the better, but just removing his contract from the roster should be a priority.

Let’s take a look at his production and what we should expect the next two years. We’ll begin with the sole strength of his game; hitting.

Sexson’s last three healthy seasons, he’s posted EqA’s of .308, .307, and .280. He turns 32 next month, so he’s likely at the end of his prime and entering the decline phase of his career. That said, his raw power is still among the best in the game, even if its only 90% of what it used to be, so we shouldn’t expect Sexson’s value to collapse over night. A reasonable projection for the next two seasons would be a .295 EqA, or something in that range. He should be better than he was in 2006, but a little worse than he was in 2005.

That kind of offensive performance is worth about 90 to 100 runs, depending on what kind of run conversion formula you want to use. We’ll go with 100 because it makes the math easier, and I always like giving the benefit of the doubt to the side I’m not on. Replacement level for a first baseman is the highest of any position in baseball, and you should be able to find a player who can create about 70 runs with his bat without too much of a problem. That makes Sexson worth something like 30 runs offensively each of the next two years. As we talked about yesterday with Beltre and Ramirez, 30 runs is a pretty valuable player.

But we’re not done with Sexson just yet. He’s about +30 offensively, but he also takes the field and runs the bases. And he does both very poorly. His UZR for 2006 was -7, and most other systems have him in the -5 to -10 range. He’s among the worst defensive first baseman in the game. And he’s also a lousy baserunner. Mitchel Lichtman’s calculations had him as costing a team two runs over the course of a season running the bases, so his defense/baserunning are probably in the -10 range, give or take a couple of runs.

That makes the total package worth about 20 runs. For the next two seasons, the Mariners are going to pay Richie Sexson something like $7 million per win. $7 million per win! That’s one of the worst values in baseball. Based on his actual run production, Sexson should be making something like $6 or $7 million next year. His salary is double what it should be.

One of the common responses to this is “who cares what he’s paid – he produces, and it’s not my money” or something to that effect. But, of course, this argument is foolish, because the Mariners operate on a budget, and every decision comes with an opportunity cost. The $14 million that Richie Sexson will earn next year is about 15% of the entire team’s payroll, and his occupation of first base fills a position where it is easy to find major league quality hitters. The opportunity cost of having Richie Sexson far outweighs his actual onfield value. It’s not even close.

The Mariners need to capitalize on this market and trade Richie Sexson. A first baseman who is worth 20 runs over the course of a season isn’t worth anything close to $14 million, and that money could be easily allocated to any number of other, better players. Take whatever you can get for him. Just trade Richie Sexson.


126 Responses to “Richie Sexson: Albatross”

  1. tangotiger on November 14th, 2006 12:51 pm

    I’m sure there’s contamination, and that’s the case for any kind of survey that requires someone’s opinion.

    The key is to construct the survey so that the responder focuses on components, rather than an overall assessment. Survey don’t ask you if you are a “Type A” personality, but rather ask you 30 or 50 questions, of which an overall assessment determines if you are Type A or not.

    While I would have loved to ask 20 questions instead of 7 for each fielder, that wouldn’t be possible if I want the volunteer readers to participate.

    Whether Sexson is truly below average for a 1B, who really knows. But the evidence, however tainted by both observers and the data, does show that. It’s up to the reader to determine whether to convict on that evidence. But, certainly, a single observer’s opinion is almost completely worthless, since I have no way of knowing if that observer was in a sensory deprivation chamber or not (unless that Mariner fan is Michael Jackson).

  2. dado on November 14th, 2006 4:44 pm

    Hi there, first time poster. I’m an old businessman and Mariners fan, and really enjoy your site and exchange of ideas/opinions. I have a masters degree with a quant background, so I can follow some of the stat talk.

    The following comment prompted me to comment:

    “If you want to define fair market value as what GMs are willing to pay, sure. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. His actual value, produced by the results he creates on the diamond, is closer $6 to $7 million. He’s a two win first baseman, and those just aren’t very hard to find.”

    In my opinion, this is an example of a common mistake that many of us quant types make too often — we allow stats (a very useful tool) to overcome reality. Bottom line, even though the stats may say otherwise, what GM’s are willing to pay is market value. You can respond to that by saying that the GM’s are nuts and that it will come back to bite them in the ass in the future, and that’s possible (Matsuzaka?). However, you can also watch the world pass you by on opportunities as you hold onto your statistical studies showing that they are all crazy to be bidding higher.

    In this case, I suspect that we are guilty of the latter when it comes to Sexton’s “value”. Is he worth $12-14 MM? Probably not, but I suspect that he is “worth” more than the $6-7 MM that the pure stats supposedly tell us. I know that this statement has zero factual support, but with all the money being thrown around these days (look at the Meche situation!) it seems that Sexton could easily command $8-10 MM per year over the next couple of years in the open market. How many GM’s would bid more than $6-7 MM? I don’t know but I suspect that it would be more than one, and therefore arguing this point is moot.

    So in summary, I say beware of over-reliance on stats when discussing values. In the investment world stats are a very useful tool but not a formula.

  3. DMZ on November 14th, 2006 4:51 pm

    a) It’s Sexson
    b) The “opportunities pass you buy” is frequently used during market bubbles, runs on tulips, Florida land schemes, and so forth. If you can reasonably show that the market is way out of whack, and it goes further out of whack, that’s not the time to jump in. You don’t want to be the last person to buy an overvalued anything, be it stock, pitcher, or bulb

  4. dado on November 14th, 2006 5:04 pm

    I am a professional fund manager and am very familiar with market bubbles, having managed investments in cycles over more than two decades. The problem with bubbles is that with few exceptions (the tech bubble in the late 90’s for example) it is not easy to make the call.

    If you are saying that the market for the current free agent signings and extensions are a bubble to be avoided at all costs, then I understand your point. In that case the Mariners should boldly take a pass on this market, with the view that prices will eventually fall and we will scoop up values on the downside. In the meantime, we are not players and the team will suffer accordingly. It’s a valid point and approach. In that case what would you do with Ichiro? I doubt that this bubble will “pop” in one short year.

    You are right in saying that you don’t want to be the “last person to buy an overvalued anything”, but the trick is knowing when you are in that position. Easy to say, very very difficult to execute.

  5. Dave on November 14th, 2006 5:07 pm

    Bottom line, even though the stats may say otherwise, what GM’s are willing to pay is market value.

    Fine. Let’s say Richie Sexson’s market value is $14 million a year. That still doesn’t matter, because MLB is not an efficient economic market. It’s not designed to be. Only a fraction of the available players have their salaries determined by market forces. A huge majority have their salaries imposed upon them.

    Let’s use an analogy. Let’s say you want to buy a widget. EBay is selling thousands of widgets every day via auction. The auctions clearly establish that the market value of the widget is $20. That’s what everyone around the world is paying for this widget. Some days its $19, other days its $21, but it’s always right around $20.

    However, as luck would have it, you also live right next to a hobby shop that sells widget-making kits for $5. All the same parts, but you just have to use ten minutes of your time to put them together, and then you’ll have a widget of your very own.

    Your options are to pay $20 for a widget on EBay, which is clearly the market value, or to pay $5 at the hobby shop. You have hours and hours of free time, but you’re working on a tight budget. What should you do?

    If you answered “pay market value at Ebay”, I don’t know what else to say.

  6. DMZ on November 14th, 2006 5:10 pm

    I think that’s what Dave and I, in different fashions, have been saying: essentially, because of the huge influx of new money in baseball, and some strange market conditions, free agents and especially pitchers are hugely, hugely overvalued, and teams are much better spending that money on international signings/player development/undervalued hitters.

    Now, the market may never calm down, and we may find that a win is now worth $3-4m (or whatever the new number is). But right now, teams can get way more wins for their dollar out of player development than they can free agent hitters, and more for hitters than they can out of pitchers. So even if it turns out that the price/win is now much higher because everyone’s got more money, making the relative value play is still the smart move.

  7. dado on November 14th, 2006 5:46 pm

    #105: You are mixing a few economic concepts — efficient markets, labor, time — all major subjects in and of themselves. I can’t really respond to your hypothetical example.

    #106: Clearly stated and I’m on board with that, with the possible exception of “undervalued hitters” which gets us back to valuations. Maybe you’re saying that valuations are much more reasonable for the non-big name free agents? The caveat is that this approach (international, player development, “undervalued” players) takes time & patience, but I think that it’s a very reasonable and legitmate approach.

  8. taro on November 14th, 2006 5:58 pm


    The teams in your list are mostly teams that either have a firstbaseman or an in the NL (and don’t have the option of a DH). If Sexson were a free agent, how much do you think he’d command?

    The problem with using an ‘average’ first baseman as your baseline, is that an ‘average’ first baseman has value. An ‘average’ first baseman doesn’t have ZERO value, an average first baseman has SOME value. Thats why the $6-7million you’ve pegged for him makes no sense.

    How much did the established major league ‘average’ first baseman make in 2006? Thats a reasonable baseline – then proceed to add the $6-7mil and then the $2million or so to add for for the inflated market.

    After that Richie doesn’t look so overpaid anymore, and in some ways his short-term 2 year contract is even preferrable if this is indeed a ‘market bubble’ period.

    Is Richie overpaid? Sure, but not nearly by as much as you are trying to make him out to be. And theres certainly no reason to go dumping him off until you can find a viable replacement for his offense.

  9. taro on November 14th, 2006 6:04 pm

    Hi Tango,

    Thanks for the response. I’d rank Sexson somewhere in the latter part of the top ten firstbasemen in baseball. There are maybe six to eight first basemen in baseball that could outhit him at Safeco in the AL.

  10. Dave on November 14th, 2006 6:04 pm

    The teams in your list are mostly teams that either have a firstbaseman or an in the NL (and don’t have the option of a DH). If Sexson were a free agent, how much do you think he’d command?

    Honestly, I don’t care. The fact that Mike Flanagan is bad at his job doesn’t really matter to me.

    The problem with using an ‘average’ first baseman as your baseline, is that an ‘average’ first baseman has value. An ‘average’ first baseman doesn’t have ZERO value, an average first baseman has SOME value. Thats why the $6-7million you’ve pegged for him makes no sense.

    I’m not using average as a baseline. Richie Sexson is about 2 wins better than replacement. I’ve made that clear through the whole thread. Tango and MGL have both backed up this assertion. Whether you want to believe it or not, the difference between Richie Sexson and a run of the mill, ordinary, replacement level first baseman is about 2 wins a year.

  11. Dave on November 14th, 2006 6:11 pm

    Thanks for the response. I’d rank Sexson somewhere in the latter part of the top ten firstbasemen in baseball. There are maybe six to eight first basemen in baseball that could outhit him at Safeco in the AL.

    Okay, which of these eight guys do you think is worse than Richie Sexson?

    Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee, Travis Hafner, Jim Thome, David Ortiz

    Good look trying to get Sexson into that group. Honestly, you can’t even get him into the Thome, Giambi, Morneau, Teixeira, Johnson, and Delgado group.

    Sexson’s in that third tier of guys, hanging out with Todd Helton, Paul Konerko, Nomar Garciaparra, and Frank Thomas.

  12. taro on November 14th, 2006 6:19 pm

    Very abitrary word there, replacement level, a replacement level player needs to truly be a player that can be picked up at any time for literally NOTHING (no prospects of any value, no money).

    Lets ask Tango since hes here already.

    How many wins above “replacement” level (not league average) due you have Sexson’s offense at?

  13. taro on November 14th, 2006 6:22 pm

    Nada. Thomas is a DH.

    And the rest of those third-tier guys have NO shot at outhitting Sexson at Safeco in the NL. Lets get real.

  14. Dave on November 14th, 2006 6:22 pm

    Very abitrary word there, replacement level, a replacement level player needs to truly be a player that can be picked up at any time for literally NOTHING (no prospects of any value, no money).

    It’s not arbitrary – it’s a well established concept easily explained by factual evidence. There have been so many millions of words written on the idea of replacement level, and it’s such a vital part of understanding how to value a player, that you really need to understand the concept.

    Nada. Thomas is a DH.

    So is Richie Sexson.

    And the rest of those third-tier guys have NO shot at outhitting Sexson at Safeco in the NL. Lets get real.

    Paul Konerko has no chance of outhitting Richie Sexson in the AL? You think his .313/.381/.551 line happened in another world?

  15. Hit and Run on November 14th, 2006 6:22 pm

    “If Sexson’s market value truly is $10-12M then from my vantage point, Bavasi should be fired if he fails to trade Sexson because not only would he gain payroll flexibility but he also should be able to get useful talent in return. . . ”

    Keep in mind that Sexson’s contract was back loaded. So he made an average of $11M over 2005-2006. The average over his four years was $12.5M. Bavasi would make one great used car salesman if he could trade his final two years, despite Sexson coming off a bad year, AND get talent in return. Probably in the real world he could only get back minor league filler and would still have to pay part of Sexson’s salary. Then he would still have to pay some one else to play first, maybe two players, and pay a new third player to make up production elsewhere. There may be plenty of things to fire Bavasi for, but not being able to trade Sexson’s contract at this stage isn’t one of them IMHO.

  16. scraps on November 14th, 2006 9:18 pm

    Taro hasn’t cared for any of the numbers that argue Sexson isn’t an excellent player, so he probably won’t care for this one, either — no doubt VORP is yet another measure that somehow after all these years and checking still fails to adequately account for home runs — but what the hell:

    Sexson’s 2006 VORP: 24.9

    Rank among all players: 98

    Rank among first basemen: 16

    The first baseman surrounding him on the list: 14, Nomar Garciaparra; 15, Wes Helms; 17, Ty Wigginton; 18, Prince Fielder.

    Positional MLV (“Runs contributed by a batter beyond what an average player at the same position would produce in a team of otherwise league-average hitters.”): -2.3. In other words, below average. Please note before objecting: VORP takes ballparks into account, but does not take defense into account, so unless you insist that Sexson is a better than average first baseman, he was actually worse overall than VORP rates him.

    In 2005, of course, he was much better. His 2005 VORP rank among among first basemen: 9. That’s about as good as you can hope for him to be, and I think even Sexson’s advocates would have to admit that’s a very optimistic hope.

  17. dado on November 14th, 2006 10:19 pm

    Man, talk about bandwagon thinking. As I read Taro’s comments, I don’t see him saying that Sexson is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It seems to me that he is just saying that his market value is worth more than $6-7 MM per year, which got some of the stat people up in arms. That’s what prompted me to post in this forum for the first time ever. I don’t have the time to follow all of his comments or the replies, but the discussion is definitely wandered into the “forest vs. trees” area. Come on folks, if we’re to be taken seriously by a broader base then we have to be able to allow your opinions, studies, biases, etc. to be challenged. This means turning off the reflexive “attack mode” when challenged. I read this forum for new thinking and different ideas, not for a soap box.

    Sexson? Probably overpaid, but also probably with a market value of more than $6-8 MM even though the stat studies may say otherwise — there you go!

  18. scraps on November 14th, 2006 11:44 pm

    Man, talk about bandwagon thinking.

    Hello, fallacy! A sure sign that a dismissal will follow, completely ignoring any of the actual arguments made.

    Come on folks, if we’re to be taken seriously by a broader base then we have to be able to allow your opinions, studies, biases, etc. to be challenged.

    And there it is!

    reflexive “attack mode” when challenged

    Look, another!

    stat people

    Collect the set!

    I don’t have the time to follow all of his comments or the replies

    Okay, words fail. You aren’t actually even reading the argument? No time to listen, but time to mouth off and condescend to people who actually think about this stuff before posting?

    All opinions are not equal. A “challenge” is not inherently valuable. Responding to unsupported assertions with facts — repeatedly, yes, because the assertions keep being made as though the facts had never been presented — is not “attack mode”, unless establishing minimum standards of rationality in argument counts as an attack. What do you want Dave, or other folks, to say after supported arguments are repeatedly ignored? “Okay, I guess you must have a point, since you keep repeating it”?

  19. terry on November 15th, 2006 4:28 am

    #115: My point was that IF his market value TRULY was $12M, then trading him wouldn’t be that difficult….his remaining contract would roughly be in line with his perceived worth….

  20. terry on November 15th, 2006 4:35 am

    This is an absolutely awesome thread BTW….

    I guess it should be said that these kind of debates are EXACTLY why a *broader base* would take places like USSM and TangoTiger etc seriously…

  21. tangotiger on November 15th, 2006 9:39 am

    Terry/119 is spot on. Get rid of him if you can. Should be easy if you have a house worth 25 million$ with 24 million$ mortgage to find someone else to send you a piece of property worth 9 million$ with an 8 million$ mortgage.


    “Market” value: to the economists in the group, the free agent market is not the only market, and that’s the difference between the real world and baseball. You can do what Terry/119 is suggesting, and trade Sexson for guys still in the slave-wage market. The choice to avoiding the free agent market is that you can concentrate on player development.

    Look at the Marlins. They had three bona-fide rookies of the year this year, and the ROY was… gasp… traded for, by giving up… gasp … Sexson-like players who were… gasp… fair (free agent) market value, but overpriced in an overall (free agent + arb-eligible + slaves) market. The Expos and many small-market teams operate in this manner.


    Repl/average: there’s no reason at all to talk about replacement level. I’ve already said that Sexson is +1 win above average 1B. Go back to my post 90.

    In any case, an average player is +2 wins above the replacement level player. But, you can’t just say “ok, 4 million per win x 3 wins = 12 million”. That only makes sense if the free agent market is your only option (meaning, you are the Yanks, Mets and Redsox).

    As Dave and Derek are trying to hammer, you don’t have to go to one place, if you have a chance to go somewhere else. And, getting a +1 above average 1B does NOT require you to go to the free agent route.

  22. DMZ on November 15th, 2006 9:47 am

    It’s okay to take a break, there, tango, it seems like you’re running out of breath. Hee hee.

  23. taro on November 15th, 2006 12:40 pm

    Thanks Tango,

    So you’ve pegged Richie’s current market value at somewhere around $12mil if he were a FA.

    I know many of you would rather the M’s offload Sexson and get a player for better value, but this is the same market that the M’s are going to have to deal with if they want to aquire players via FA or trade (the price is UP).

    Sexson is overpaid, but not outrageously so. Whether or not to trade him would depend on whether the M’s are able to find a replacement for his production elsewhere on the club through either FA or trade.


    Look at Konerko’s road splits over the past three years (since he hit his prime) and/or over his entire career – Sexson has a whale of a lot more pop and he hits the ball with topsin (which is why he can still hit reasonably in Safeco despite the RHandedness). How many HRs would Sexson hit playing half his games in Cellular Field/how would Konerko hit in Safeco (with warning track pop in Safeco and a backspin enducing swing)? I’d def slot Sexson into your list of second top tier firstbasemen. Stats like OPS+, EqA and VORP don’t catch the whole story (even though I realize EqA/VORP adjust for park/they don’t adjust for specific player types and skill sets).

    Again, these are just my reads on the subject. If Dave, Tango, etc, think Sexson is overpaid to the point that he needs to be offloaded at any cost, thats cool. Maybe you all are right. I disagree, and we’ll just leave it like that.

    You guys can have the last word..

  24. tangotiger on November 15th, 2006 1:26 pm

    Did you not see my post about park factors? Instead of asserting how Safeco affects various hitters, how about some statistically significant numbers to back you up?


    Sexson’s free agent price is 12 mill per year. That’s *not* the market (FA+arb+slave) value for a +1 win above average 1B. Pujols free agent price would be over 40 million per year! If it came to that, I’d trade Pujols for an entire farm system.

    Free agent price does not equal market value.

  25. studes on November 16th, 2006 4:50 am

    I’m checking in late here, but it seems to me that the key is whether or not you believe Sexson is in a serious decline phase. Two years ago, he was 5 wins above replacement (or 15 WSAB). Last year his performance declined a lot, three wins above replacement (8 WSAB), and his contract was about breakeven by my estimates.

    So if you believe he’ll continue to decline, then his contract becomes an “albatross” as David says. Or you believe there was some normal fluctuation in the last two years and he’s likely to improve next year, but not to the level of 2005.

    Also, evaluating a single contract is one thing, but evaluating a team strategy is another. Even if a contract is “fair” according to a legitimate yardstick, that doesn’t make it the right thing for the team to do.

    Lastly, I do believe that reaction of the fans is a very important consideration for general managers, and one that we baseball analysts don’t often take into consideration.

  26. terry on November 16th, 2006 4:57 am

    #123: uhhhhhh…..ya…..ok…..thats what he said….

    #125: I think the real issue is that his salary is so dramatically higher than ’05. I think most would be comfortable with the notion that Sexson can be better next year than he was in ’06. The question though is how likely is he to *be better enough* in ’07 given his salary….

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.