August 3, 2002

Erstad's new deal

The Angels and Darin Erstad agreed to a 4-year/$32 million dollar contract extension today.

This is certainly an interesting deal, mostly because Erstad is an interesing player.

Erstad was the #1 pick in the 1995 draft (out of the U of Nebraska, where he was also a Punter/Kicker on the 1994 National Championship football team).

He quickly got to the major leagues, playing in 57 games in 1996, all of them in the outfield and most of them in center field.

In his first full season, 1997, he hit .299/.360/.466 and played first base almost the entire time.

In 1998 he made his first all-star team, hitting .296/.353/.486 while splitting time between 1B and LF.

He once again split time between 1B and LF in 1999, but only hit .253/.308/.374.

Then in 2000 he made his 2nd all-star team and had his best season. He hit .355/.409/.541, this time playing primarily LF, with a little time in CF.

Last season his offense once again tailed off, as he hit only .258/.331/.360 while playing almost entirely CF.

And so far this season his offense has not been very good. He is currently hitting .283/.321/.388.

So, basically...

He was a #1 to the majors very quickly...hit pretty well in his first two seasons and appeared to be a future his 3rd full season he pretty much his 4th year he was his 5th year he pretty much stunk...and in his 6th year he hasn't hit very well and he just signed a 4 year/$32 million dollar deal...all while playing a great CF and spending a lot of time in LF and at 1B. You don't see a lot of gold glove caliber CFs, in their prime, playing 1B.

So, the question is, is this a good deal for the Angels?

I think the answer to that depends on a couple of things.

#1) What position is he going to play? The past 2 years he has been a full-time centerfielder. His defense in center is absolutely great, I think he is one of the top handful of CFs in baseball, defensively. His hitting can potentially be an asset to the Angels as a CF. As a 1B he is pretty useless, unless he puts up his 2000 numbers consistently. And if he is playing LF, they might as well play him in center.

#2) Which hitter are the Angels going to get for the next 4 years? I don't really see a pattern in his offense. Two good, 1 bad, 1 great, 2 bad. While his batting average is up about 30 points from last year, he has stopped drawing walks. Up until this season, he has consistently had about 1 walk per 11 ABs. Not great, but a lot better than the 2002 version, which has 22 walks in 407 ABs. Also, after hitting 16, 19, 13 and 25 homers in his first 4 years, he has completely lost all power, hitting 9 last year in 631 ABs and only 7 this season in 407. An added bonus is his base stealing, which has consistently been pretty good. 126 SB and 45 CS in his career, including 15/18 this year.

You are probably saying, "Hey, he didn't answer the question, did he?" No, not yet. I am still sort of thinking about it.

Ok, here goes...

If the Angels continue to play Erstad full-time in centerfield and he can keep his batting average at about the same level it is now (or higher, of course) and either get his walk rate back up to where it was before this year or get his power back to where it was prior to last season...the Angels will get their money's worth.

Of course, those are big ifs. In 2001 and 2002 combined he is hitting about .270/.325/.375, which, no matter how great his D in CF is, is not going to be worth $8 million a year for 4 years.

I sort of like the deal for the Angels, mostly because it has a better chance of being a bargain price than it does being a horrible, Greg Vaughn sized mistake. Locking him up for his age 29, 30, 31 and 32 seasons for $8 mill per is not a bad gamble. If he stays in CF, at worst, you get a good defensive CF with a slightly below average bat (for CF). Plus, he is a good "leader" and all that other junk.

At best, the Angels get a great defensive centerfielder for,likely, most of his remaining good years, who might hit around .290/.350/.450, which would be pretty valuable.

But, if he doesn't stay in CF, "at worst" could be pretty bad. I have heard talk about putting him back at 1B, which would be absolutely idiotic. Not only is he a great defensive CF, but his current level of hitting would make him one of the worst (if not the worst) 1B in the league. So, the worst, of course, would be if the Angels stick him at 1B and he continues to hit like he has in 1999, 2001 and 2002 and not like he did in 1997, 1998 and 2000.

Some stats to consider:

Major League First Basemen in 2002: .270/.359/.458

Major League Left Fielders in 2002: .269/.353/.450

Major League Center Fielders in 2002: .269/.339/.429

Also, the Angels currently rank #1 in the AL in Baseball Prospectus' Defensive Efficiency, which helps to explain some of the Angels good pitching. Erstad is, of course, a huge part of that.

Assuming he can play great defense at all 3 of the positions, it is a pretty simple choice, at least in my mind. I think he is a good bet to average close to .269/.339/.429 (CF) over the life of the contract, but I am not sure I would be so confident in him keeping his OBP over .350 and his SLG over .450 (1B and LF).

Certainly not a great signing for the Angels, but I think it will end up being a good one. I will be interested to see how the "stat-head" community views it. I would guess they won't be too favorable to the Angels, but I could be wrong.

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