How Much Does Jim Thome Improve the Twins?

...and how much could we improve by signing Orlando Hudson?

In December, I posted an article with my "Wins Above Replacement" (WAR) projections for the expected Twins 2010 roster at the time (including Carl Pavano signing and the J.J. Hardy trade), as well as a promise to revisit these projections as additional signings and roster moves occurred. Now that DH Jim Thome is in the fold, how much did the Twins improve themselves? Was it worth the $1.5M plus incentives?

Based on a number of roster and playing time assumptions described after the jump, I project that the addition of Thome will add 1.3 wins to the Twins expected total, now up to 87.9 wins. At a generally accepted market rate cost per marginal win of over $4M, it appears to be a slam dunk that Thome's contract is worth the cost.

But should we be finished wheeling and dealing this off season? As I will discuss below (and as we all have discussed ad nauseum over the last few months), there are easy and relatively cheap opportunities to upgrade our infield and break through the 90 projected win threshold. According to my calculations, signing Orlando Hudson (+2.39 WAR), Felipe Lopez (+2.29 WAR) or Jose Lopez (+1.86 WAR) would all be significant improvements, especially considering the expected cost of less than $5M.

As the table shows below, I project the roster at this point to be about 1.4 wins better than it was in December. 1.3 wins are due to the Thome signing, as I'll explain below. The other 0.1 WAR improvement is due to dropping Bobby Keppel and replacing him with Clay Condrey.
Date C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF DH SP RP Hit Pitch WAR Wins Notes
10 Dec 2009 6.1 2.9 1.2 0.6 2.9 0.3 2.7 1.7 2.3 13.5 5.4 20.7 18.8 39.5 86.5 Pavano, Bonser
28 Jan 2010 6.1 3.5 1.2 0.4 2.9 0.5 2.9 1.7 2.7 13.5 5.5 22.0 18.9 40.9 87.9 Thome, Condrey

 

What do I project from Jim Thome? Last season, he got a total of 434 PA between the White Sox and Dodgers. Considering that over the last month with LA, he had a total of 17 PA (all pinch hitting appearances), he could easily have been around 500 PA if he had stayed in Chicago all season. I conservatively projected 400 PA at the DH spot, leaving room for Mauer and Kubel to get at bats when Thome rests. For wOBA, Thome has batted .370 and .367 the last two seasons. Since a .235/.235/.235 line in LA likely pulled his wOBA down a few points last year, I projected Thome at .370 this year. Not as conservative as most of my wOBA projections, but I also suspect that at 400 PA, Thome will have a lower percentage of his at bats against left handed pitching, which will bump his overall numbers a bit.

Obviously, Thome getting 400 plate appearances at DH will displace others at that position. In my previous projections, I expected Jason Kubel (375), Joe Mauer (150), Justin Morneau (75), and Brendan Harris (75) to split the team's DH appearances. With Thome around, I project that his 400 PA will displace all but 150 of Kubel's, and all of Morneau and Harris DH appearances. I believe Mauer will still get his DH time to rest his legs over the long haul. Considering that Kubel and Morneau are two of our best hitters, we would want to ensure that they get the same overall number of PA as before Thome. So their total PA are not affected by Thome, only the splits between different positions. The actual players affected by Thome getting a projected 400 PA at DH are:

  • Luke Hughes: 150 PA backing up Morneau at 1B. With Morneau getting more time at 1B, and Kubel's extra OF availability allowing Cuddyer to backup 1B, Luke Hughes no longer projects to get time at 1B, injuries notwithstanding of course.
  • Jason Pridie: 75 PA backing up Span in CF. Kubel's ability to play LF and RF without affecting the DH position means that Denard Span is now projected to get all of his time in CF. 
  • Matt Tolbert: 75 PA backing up Harris at 3B. Since we wouldn't expect Harris to get time at DH, he gets more time at 3B. Interesting, according to my projections, Tolbert actually outperforms Harris by about 1.4 WAR per 700 PAs, so this change affects projections in a negative way.
  • Delmon Young: 55 PA as the every day left fielder. I was a bit surprised that my projections still gave Delmon 500 plate appearances in LF with Kubel moving from DH, but that's how it worked out.

You'll probably note that this adds up to 355 plate appearances compared to 400 for Thome. Where are the other 45? To put it simply, Thome's high OBP means the team gets more total plate appearances for the same total number of outs. Another advantage of not making outs.

Looking at the three most talked about options for infield additions, acquiring any of Orlando Hudson, Felipe Lopez, or Jose Lopez would be a significant improvement for the expected cost. To keep the "what if" comparisons simple, I made the following assumptions. As a result of these two assumptions, the Twins improve by +0.65 WAR regardless of which of the three players are signed.

  • Project each of the three players to get a total of 600 PA as the primary second baseman.
  • Nick Punto becomes the primary backup at 2B (150 PA), SS (125 PA) and 3B (200 PA), replacing Casilla and Tolbert at all three positions. 
  • I'm not considering the potential trade pieces we'd lose by acquiring Jose Lopez. Too much speculation involved there.

The table below shows the projections for all three second baseman, the total WAR that they would contribute as an individual, and the total WAR improvement for the Twins as a result of signing. As you can see, Hudson and Felipe Lopez project pretty close to each other, with Jose Lopez a step behind.

Player PA wOBA Base Running Def WAR Improvement
Orlando Hudson 600 .340 0.25 (0.25) +2.62 +2.39
Felipe Lopez 600 .330 0.25 0.25 +2.52 +2.29
Jose Lopez 600 .330 0.00 0.00 +2.09 +1.86

 

Considering the expected cost to sign F.Lopez or Hudson as a free agent is less than $5M, either signing would be a smart move for the Twins in 2010. Jose Lopez is more questionable, considering the value we'd have to give up in a trade. In any case, it's obvious that the Twins have a number of options to further improve the roster for 2010. Whether we are willing to take on an additional $4-5M in payroll is another matter.

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