KC Royals set pretty high expectations for Bobby Witt Jr.

Can Kansas City's star measure up to his new deal?

Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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Bobby Witt Jr. is expected to be a WAR machine

According to a FanGraphs study released in 2022, the average cost per fWAR of projected 2+WAR players over a few preceding seasons ranged from $7.8 million-$9.5 million. At $288 million for 11 years, Witt would need to accumulate between 2.75-3.35 fWAR per season to meet the minimum threshold to justify his hefty contract. Witt managed 5.7 fWAR in 2023, but in 2022 his 2.3 failed to meet the threshold.

WAR is, of course, not a perfect stat. Much has been written about the differences between Fangraphs' fWAR and Baseball-Reference's WAR, including Samford University's easy-to-digest Sabermetrics 101: Understanding the Calculation of WAR. revealing how certain players can benefit greatly from one or the other stat.

To illustrate, consider Salvador Perez. The Royals have paid Perez for 13 seasons (he's played in 12) and he's produced 33bWAR and made made $83,427,930; essentially, the Royals have paid him $2.7m per bWAR. However, Perez has only been worth 17.7 fWAR, or $5.3m. Thus the conundrum: Witt has produced 8 fWAR over two seasons and been worth 5.3 bWAR.

In order for Witt to return the same fiscal value from this investment as Perez has over his 13 years, Witt needs to produce 106.7 bWAR, or a 9.7 per year over the length of his deal. To hammer this notion home, George Brett only came close to 9.7 bWAR once in his 20-year career. It's all but impossible. So if we look at this through the bWAR prism, Witt's deal seems pretty expensive.

So, just what expectations do the Royals have for Witt? Consider Brett, without question the best Royals position player of all time. In 20 seasons, Brett produced 88.6 bWAR and 84.6 fWAR, or 4.43 and 4.23 per season.

Brett's career numbers are a good baseline for expectations. If Witt plays 11 years, averaging 4.43 bWAR and 4.23 fWAR per season, he'll produce 48.73 bWAR and 46.53 fWAR at an average cost of $5.9-$6.19 million per WAR. Witt did reach 4.5 bWAR and 5.7 fWAR last season, suggesting it's possible for him to average such a number over his career. Obviously, the key to the success of his deal will be closely tied to how he performs during his peak years.

During Brett's age 24-35 seasons, he produced 62.4 bWAR and 65.7 fWAR, or 5.67 and 5.97 per season. While Royals fans will be pleased with Witt if he performs at 4.5 bWAR and 4.23 fWAR levels over 11 years, team expectations for his peak seasons are probably closer to those it had for Brett. Why? It's unlikely the frugal Royals handed Witt a risky $288 million contract for 4-ish-type WAR. The Royals can easily get that kind of WAR from a combination of two players, and less expensively.

This means it's highly likely the Royals are banking on big numbers from Witt during his peak years, maybe even at Brett levels. For Witt to match Brett, he needs to finish this contract with a total WAR of around 67.67 for an average cost of $4.25 million per WAR. That would get Witt's annual cost down into the same range as many of the free agents the Royals have pursued in recent years and bring him within an acceptable range of Perez' team-friendly deals.

But regardless of what WAR we use, there are pretty high expectations for Witt.

And a lot of risk —he'll need to stay healthy and produce constantly...