How much would the A's pay Clarence Darrow?

By Jason Wojciechowski on May 10, 2011 at 11:30 PM

You've read it by now, surely. CJ Wilson, lefty pitcher for the Rangers, after the A's beat him by walking him to death, said, "It's just only against their team that I do that. They take everything close. If it's not called a strike, then they walk. It's lawyer ball. That's how they roll." Much derision followed this remark, at least on Twitter.

I've made my cutting comments, however, so now I have a question: how much would the greatest lawyer of all time be worth as a baseball free agent?

Just how great are we talking? How about this, if for no other reason than to infuriate the lovely Mr. Wilson: so great that our attorney walks every single time he comes to bat.1

What's the catch? All those years of speech and debate and legal study in the library have turned our lawyer soft.2 Now, our lawyer isn't William Howard Taft -- he can go from first-to-third if the ball goes in the gap, and he'll field easy balls at first base and make the occasional scoop. He's not close to average at these things, and he's not even particularly adequate, but he can achieve the basic athletic actions required of a baseball player.

Now the details. The first question we have to ask is about playing time. A 1.000 OBP, even with zero hits, is worth having in your lineup every day, so the man isn't going to be benched. Unfortunately, our lawyer, as I said, isn't exactly a five-tool athlete. As such, we might expect him to encounter quite a number of bumps and bruises along the way that prevent him from playing. Let's say he ends up with Josh Hamilton-like playing time: 570 PAs.

Next, let's run through the offensive calculation, using a 2010 baseline. The league batted .321 wOBA last year, so we'll plug that into this:

((wOBA - lgwOBA) / wOBAscale) * PA

I'm doing some fudging with the coefficients and the scale, so the numbers won't end up being precise, but in any case, using a wOBA calculator, I find that 570 walks in 570 appearances gives our lawyer a .720 wOBA. Thus:

((.720 - .321) / 1.15) * 570

(.499 / 1.15) * 570

.434 * 570 = 247

Our lawyer is worth 247 batting runs above average. That's, uh ... that's a lot.3

Now defense. The Fans Scouting Report in 2010 rated Jorge Cantu as the dead worst first baseman in baseball, and his scouting scores translate to -10 runs in just under 1000 innings. Remember, though, Jorge Cantu is a major league baseball player. Our lawyer basically has a magic batting power. I think it's fair to say he'd be a -20 fielder at first base. (Put your Jason Giambi jokes away. Our lawyer will wish he had Giambi's arm when he goes to make his first 3-6-3 double play.)

Baserunning? The very worst runner in the league in 2010, per Baseball Prospectus's EqBRR, was Ryan Howard (of course), clocking in at a whopping -8.4 I'm not sure even our hero could top that by much. He'll be a station-to-station guy, not taking any extra bases, but he learned the value of risk-aversion in law school, so he won't get thrown out very often. He will, in short, be Ryan Howard.

On the other hand, he'll be on base so often that his lack of advancement will add up at an unprecedented rate. Given the same skill as Howard, but three times the opportunity to clog the bases, then, a -24 would not be unreasonable. On the third hand, our man will be on base so very often that he'll surely learn some of the finer points by the end of the season and be able to nab a base here and there that the Philly slugger cannot, so let's be generous and round the baserunning score to a mere -20.

With replacement level being one run per 30 PAs, that's +19 for our attorney, and we'll call the positional adjustment -12.

Adding it all up, CJ Wilson's least favorite player has clocked:

247 - 20 - 20 + 19 - 12 = 214 runs above replacement, good for 21.4 WAR.

You will not be surprised to learn that this is the greatest WAR season in history, using the FanGraphs leaderboards, coming in six wins ahead of Babe Ruth's 15.4-WAR 1923.5

To finally answer the title question, I think it'd be fair to pay our intrepid attorney $100 million per season, a slight discount on a $5M per WAR rate.


  1. How does he achieve this? Presumably by his oratorical prowess. No umpire dares call a strike because our ballplaying lawyer will simply file a motion for reconsideration. The umpire fears reversal by the appellate umpires, and our ballplaying lawyer, of course, never loses a case on appeal. 

  2. Truthfully, our hero was never much of an athlete in the first place -- maybe he'd have been a ballplayer instead of a lawyer if he had any talent to start out with! 

  3. So many, in fact, that I'm a little concerned it's wrong, but I'm not sure where I could have fouled up -- calculating wOBA and converting it to runs is dead simple. 

  4. That's right: Howard cost the Phillies almost a win with his legs. Put aside his defense and his OBP. That's astounding! 

  5. Actually, think about that for a second -- granted that we made pretty negative assessments of this guy's baserunning and defense, the gap between a fictional attorney who gets on base every single time he bats and Babe Ruth's real-life 1923 season is the same as the gap between Adrian Beltre and Aaron Hill in 2010. 

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