Friday, May 13, 2011

Just how much impact has Carlos Lee had?

The first thing you think about when hearing the name, "Carlos Lee" is likely his huge contract. The second thing is probably about how terrible he's been over the last two seasons.

Just for some perspective, when the Astros signed him to the dreaded six-year $100m contract, they got a player who, over the course of seven seasons, was averaging a .284/.337/.488 line, getting one extra-base hit for every 10PAs, and with a 1.88 K:BB ratio. His OPS+ was 111, and he was averaging 95 RBI each year. He was a year removed from his final year in Chicago, where he hit .305/.366/.525 (4.6 WAR) - all are still career highs - before coming back to earth, and getting traded twice in 2006.

But still, he was a player with a proven track record who, the thought was, would crush the ball into the Crawford Boxes 30-35 times a year.

And for the first three years of his tenure in Houston, things were going well. He hit .305/354/.524, with 163K:131BB, 86HR, and 321 RBI - getting 100+ RBI in each of those first three seasons.

Then 2010 happened. In years where he played 150+ games, he set career lows in hits, doubles, homers, RBI, batting average, OBP, and SLG.

From Opening Day 2010 through today, Lee has averaged a .243/.287/.408 line, with an OPS+ of 90, and four fewer GIDPs (23) than he has homers (27). He has an extra-base hit for every 13PAs now. But he's still making all that money.

In games where Lee starts, the Astros are 12-21, meaning the Astros are 2-2 without him (May 3-5, May 11). That's hardly a sample size to work from, but let's see what we can.

In games where Lee is in the lineup, the Astros hit .263/.335/.375, scoring 134 runs in 33 games for 4.06 runs per game. In those four games without Lee, the Astros got 20 runs (misleading with half of those coming in the 10-4 win over Cincinnati in G29). Yet the Astros hit .237/.382/.450.

Is that indicative of anything? Well, in one game Carlos Lee played in, the Astros scored double-digit runs for just the second time this season, and in another they drew nine walks, which just so happened to be two more than they had drawn in the previous four games combined.

What about defense, you say? We've already mentioned the 134 runs scored with Lee in the lineup, but Astros pitching allowed 177 runs (of course, Lee only sort of factors into this, with eight other guys on the field). In those four games where Lee did not play, the Astros scored 20 runs, but also gave up 20 runs (allowing half of them in a 10-4 loss in G31).

The obvious limitation is the sample size. But since the beginning of 2010, BaseballProjection (who provides the formula for Baseball-Reference's stats) Lee has a WAR of -1.7 (currently at a 0.2 WAR). And that's a replacement-level player on a team with a .320 Win%. The Astros, at 14-23, have a .378 Win%.

The Astros are clearly a better team without Carlos Lee, but this is the grave they dug (digged?) by giving him the contract. It was risky, and for the first half of the deal, it worked out well enough. But over the last 199 games? Not so much.