Blue Jays trade for Glaus

The Toronto Blue Jays traded for Troy Glaus yesterday, sending Orlando Hudson, Miguel Batista, and Sergio Santos to the Arizona Diamondbacks. It seems to me that this is a good deal for both teams.
Glaus is a great offensive player. He created 25 runs above average last season, according to Lee Sinnis. I would project him at +13 using a 5/4/3/2 weighting for the last three seasons and the league average (which, of course, is equal to 0). Defensively, I’d project him at just about average. He was +8 RAA according to Range last season, and -2 in limited playing time in 2004. From 2000 tto 2003, he was somewhat below average according to UZR, -7 runs per 162 games. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll call Glaus a -3 defender, and project him to be +10 runs above average overall.
Hudson isn’t much offensively. Using the method I used with Glaus, I’d project him to be -6 RAA next season. Defensively, he’s awesome. He was +14 RAA last season according to Range, and +27 in 2004. Using a 4/2/3 weighting for 2005/2004/Average, I’ll project him to be +12 RAA in 2006, or +6 RAA overall.
Batista is a pretty solid, somewhat above-average pitcher. Using a 3/2/1/2 weighting for the last three seasons and the league average, I’d put him at +3 runs above average. I know I’m not adjusting for age effects here, but let’s ignore them for now. I don’t know much about Santos, so I won’t comment but he seems like a throwaway prospect based on his minor league numbers.
So basically, the Blue Jays don’t get much if Glaus indeed misses time due to injury. But if he plays about 150 games, the Jays probably get about 10 extra runs in 2006, which is good for an extra win. Based on their offseason moves, the Jays should win about five games more than they did in 2005. Based on their second-order W/L record in 2005, I’d project them to win 84 games, maybe 85 with Roy Halladay coming back for, hopefully, a full season. With a little luck, the Jays could contend in 2006.

Sox’s Flaherty signing raises questions

The Yankees may have won the Johnny Damon sweepstakes, but the Red Sox signed their own defector yesterday. Boston signed John Flaherty to a one-year deal worth $650,000. The 37-year-old gets an additional $100,000 if he makes the Red Sox Opening Day roster.
While $650,000 isn’t a lot of money for the Red Sox, I don’t understand this signing. John Flaherty served as the Yankees back-up catcher last year, but the numbers show that he is far from a good option as a back-up catcher. In fact, John Flaherty was one of the least valuable catchers in the Major Leagues last year.
On the Yankees, Flaherty served as Randy Johnson’s catcher for the better part of the season. In those games, he had 138 plate appearances, accounting for 2.2 percent of the Yanks’ plate appearances on the season. In 47 games, Flaherty hit .165/.206/.252. He had 6 runs created last season for an RC/27 of 1.42. In other words, from Baseballl-Reference’s perspective, a lineup of Flaherty’s would eke out less than 1.5 runs per game.
The picture gets worse when you consider some other numbers. Of the 103 players who caught last season, Flaherty’s -9.6 VORP ranked him second to last behind Miguel Olivo. In other words, for $650,000, the Red Sox are paying for a catcher who is not only a weak offensive producer but is significantly worse than a replacement level catcher. Flaherty’s negative VORP means he would actually cost the Red Sox a win during the course of the season.
While it is no sure thing that Flaherty will become Doug Mirabelli’s replacement, the Sox are on the hook for the money no matter what. The team has Kelly Shoppach ready at the AAA level to step in behind Varitek. Why they would waste their money by guaranteeing Flaherty a contract is beyond me.

Johnny Damon

People who regularly read this site know that while Benjamin is a Yankee fan, I’m a Sox supporter, so we’ll often come in on different sides of a debate. But because we’re talking about statistics, the evidence is in the numbers, and we both have access to the same exact statistics, so I’m surprised our takes are so different. (This isn’t really foreshadowing my eventual conclusion so much as me telling you where my opinion will lie).
Here’s the method I chose to evaluate Damon: I looked up his ten most similar players through age 31 on, and then looked at their numbers between ages 32-35. Don’t worry about park or era adjustments — because players are compared based on raw numbers, those are unimportant. In other words, since Damon plays in such a high-scoring era, and for the last few years has been in a great hitter’s park, he’ll probably end up being compared to slightly better players, though they’ll have similar raw numbers. Anyways, this was my basis for comparison, that is, I assumed that their numbers would be a good predictor of Damon’s stats over the next four years.
Then, I calculated the linear weights for his Damon’s projection — his runs above average. I projected him to post 19.2 runs above average over the next four years, or 5.3/year. You’ll notice that 5.3 multiplied by 4 is considerably more than 19.2. The reason is that Damon’s chance of playing in each of the next four seasons is 90%, or that he has a 10% chance of dropping out of the major leagues within the next four years. Baseball Prospectus calls this “drop rate” in its projections. So Damon is projected to only play 3.6 seasons over the next four years.
Linear Weights are great, but for the purpose of doing salary stuff, especially for batters, I think introducing replacement level is a good choice. So I converted my linear weights into a value over replacement level using the replacement level of -17 runs per 150 games. Damon’s four-year projected VORP was 64.5.
Then I decided to add in defense. That’s definitely the toughest part of doing this projection, and will probably be the most derided. Basically, based on his UZR numbers in 2003 and Range numbers for 2004 and 2005, Damon’s established defensive performance level is +10 runs per 150 games. I expect him to decline by about 5 runs per year, but you have to factor in that he’ll play less and less games over the four years. So here’s what I did: Since my projection said that Damon would play 400 games over four years, I decided to say that he would play 130 games in 2006, 110 in 2007, 90 in 2008, and 70 in 2009. Accordingly, I placed him at +5, 0, -5, and -10 runs in each year respectively. He came out at -3.3 runs over those four years. Based on his UZR arm rating of -1/162 games from 2000-03, I also subtracted 2.5 runs over those four years (my assumption, right or wrong, being that arm strength doesn’t really change compared to range), making Damon a -5.8 run defender.
Adding together his offense and defense, Damon’s projected value of replacement is 58.7. The reason I’m adding together batting runs above replacement and fielding runs above average is that replacement-level batters tend to be average fielders. So how much is 58.7 runs above replacement worth?
Well, the a replacement-level player would get about $1.2 million over those four years, and with a value of about $330 K per marginal run on the free agent market, I’d say Damon is expected to be worth $20.6 million over the next four years. Even factoring a 10% rate of inflation each year, Damon is worth about only about $27.4 million. The Yankees paid double that.
Now if Damon helps New York win a World Series that they would not have with Bubba Crosby/Torii Hunter/Whoever in center, maybe he’s worth it. Otherwise, the Yankees didn’t end up with a savior — they ended up with a just-shaven bum.
Edit: Discussion on Baseball Primer

Damon adds hair, wins to Yankees

I’m not here to opine on the Yankees’ acquisition of Johnny Damon. If you want to read my thoughts on this signing, you can do so here or here. Rather, I want to take a quick look at Damon’s effect on the Yankees’ win total.
Damon will take over the leadoff spot and center field in the Yankees lineup in 2006. In 2005, Damon turned in a VORP of 49.2. As 10 VORP points is approximately equal to one win, that means Damon contributed just a bit under 5 wins to the Red Sox.
Meanwhile, the 2005 Yankee centerfielders were, well, a disaster. Omitting the woeful Tony Womack from the picture, the Yankees used Bernie Williams, Melky Cabrera, and Bubba Crosby to fill in that third outfield slot. The three combined for an overall VORP of 5.0. Only Williams has a positive VORP. In other words, the center fielder position on the American League East championship team did not even contribute one full win to the cause.
By replacing a triumvirate of subpar centerfielders with Johnny Damon, the Yankees could gain as many as five more wins in 2006. Building off of 2005, that would give them 101 wins on the season and a sure American League East crown.

Pitchers and Stuff

I’ve done some work in the past looking at stuff for pitchers, but today I took my first statistical look at it on The Hardball Times. Here is a link. If you’re too lazy to read it, my basic conclusion is that in doing projections, you want to weight past performance 60%, and stuff 40%, or so.

Poll: How many games will the Mets win in 2006?

Yesterday, I wrote about the 2006 Mets and their chances of capturing an NL East crown. Using a basic win share analysis, I predicted that the current Mets, a few players short of a full roster, would win at least 89 games. If you recall, I said 95 wins would earn them an NL East title.
Today, it’s your turn to chime in. How many games will the new-look New York Mets win in 2006? I voted for 93-96 games.

Finally, the results from Friday’s poll are in and you, my readers, don’t think Alfonso Soriano will do all that well in the vast confines of RFK Stadium. Here are the voting results from my poll asking how many home runs Soriano would hit in RFK Stadium:

Home Runs Votes
11-15 12 (39 %)
16-20 9 (29 %)
21-25 5 (16 %)
Fewer than 10 4 (13 %)
More than 25 1 (3 %)

Can the new-look Mets win the NL East?

First, some housekeeping: A big thank you to all the folks who voted in my poll about Alfonso Soriano. It’s not too late to vote. So if you’re interested, click here to vote. I’d appreciate the votes. At least it lets me know that people are reading!
One of the most aggressive teams this off-season has been the New York Mets. They went out and landed a new first baseman, a new catcher, a flame-throwing lefty closer, and a 47-year-old back-up first baseman. But will it be enough to unseat the Atlanta Braves and win the NL East?
I hate to speak out against the Braves. For the last three years, I’ve been predicting the end of the Braves’ run and every year the Philadelphia Phillies or Florida Marlins, the two teams I’ve recently picked to win the division, have fallen short. But for all of the Braves’ past success, I wonder if maybe the Mets could win the first NL East division crown not awarded to the Atlanta Braves.
In 2005, the Braves won the NL with 90 wins, hardly an imposing number. And they edged the Phillies by just two games. Their margin for error is slim. So how many games would the Mets need to win? Well, since the advent of the three-division system and the first crowing of a division winner in 1995, the Braves have won the division with an average total of 97 wins. To me, that total seems slightly on the high side. Considering the more division-centric schedules baseball currently employs, I would expect that the Mets would have to win around 95 games to secure the division crown.
To see whether or not they would get to 95 wins, I want to take a look at the 2005 win share totals of the 2006 Mets to see, hypothetically, how the 2006 Mets would have fared in 2005.

Player 2006 Age 2005 Win Shares
Paul LoDuca 34 11
Carlos Delgado 34 29
Kazuo Matsui 30 5
Jose Reyes 23 16
David Wright 23 26
Cliff Floyd 33 24
Carlos Beltran 29 21
Victor Diaz 24 7
Xavier Nady 27 8
Ramon Castro 31 7
Julio Franco 47 7
Chris Woodward 30 4
Tike Redman 29 5
Jose Valentin 36 2
Pedro Martinez 34 19
Tom Glavine 40 14
Kris Benson 31 10
Steve Trachsel 35 1
Victor Zambrano 30 7
Jae Seo 29 9
Billy Wagner 34 18
Aaron Heilman 27 10
Juan Padilla 29 6
Total (23 Players) 31.3 266

So then, my projected Mets roster, two players short of full, has the Mets at 260 Win Shares. As 3 win shares is equal to 1 win, this leaves the Mets with just a shade under 89 wins on the season. While this total leaves them a few short of the projected 95 wins it’ll take to win the division, a few observations are in order.
First, some of these players will not be injured next year. Jose Valentin had just 2 win shares because he missed much of the season. Jae Seo only made 14 starts due to an injury. Projecting him to 28 starts would give him 18 win shares. That’s three more wins for the Mets without even adding another player. (Of course, some players on that list may miss time due to injury. Who knows who will fill in form them?)
Second, I have a feeling that this list won’t be the first 23 pieces of the final Mets roster. From rumors around the Internet, the Mets have an interest in bringing in Javier Vazquez or Barry Zito. Manny Ramirez and his 33 2005 Win Share total are always appealing to Mets GM Omar Minaya. Ramirez alone could be enough to push the Mets over the magic number of 95 and he brings an additional 11 wins to the table and would ostensibly be replacing Nady and Diaz who bring just 5 wins combined. There are your missing six wins.
Third, as these numbers are for 2005, it is incredibly unreasonable to expect every team member to duplicate those numbers. Some of the younger guys may put up a higher win share total; some of the older guys may be up a lower one. Some of the new guys may benefit from a better lineup or a better ballpark in which to hit. Some of the 2005 Mets will certainly enjoy the added protection of Carlos Delgado and Delgado will enjoy the added benefits of having more than just one other truly potent offensive force in the lineup.
So currently, the Mets look to be around 90 wins. They’re also the deepest team right now in the National League. With a few more tweaks, I think the 2006 Mets will be as competitive as anyone else and should probably win the division. Of course, as Minaya likes to say, the games aren’t played on paper; they’re played on the field. But this exercise on paper gives Mets fans reasons to hope.
Look for a poll on Tuesday about the 2006 Mets win totals. Come back and vote then!

Poll: Alfonso Soriano in RFK Stadium

In light of yesterday’s critique of the Nats’ move to acquire Alfonso Soriano, I thought I would try something new today: a poll. Considering that RFK deadens home runs and Soriano hit 25 of his 36 home runs at home last year, how many home runs do you think he’ll hit in RFK Stadium in 2006? My money is on 12. Now it’s your turn. Vote!

Nats take a chance on Soriano

Alfonso Soriano, more than anyone else in Major League Baseball, hates walking. Who knows why, but one thing’s for certain, no one walks less than Soriano, the latest member of the Washington Nationals. In 3490 plate appearances, Soriano has just 157 walks.
With a career on-base percentage of .320, Soriano, who led off with the Yankees, has long defied normal expectation. While Soriano is often an all-or-nothing, home run-or-strike out hitter, he has a career .500 slugging percentage, and his .512 mark last season was good for third among all second basemen.
With such drastic numbers, Soriano is an enigma when it comes to attempting to assess his worth to a team. He had a VORP of 47.8, placing him fifth among second basemen. But his WARP-3 (a measure of how many wins above replacement level a player contributes) of 4.9 placed him squarely in the middle of the pack among those at his position.
Now, it seems, the Washington Nationals have acquired this enigma. In a trade for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and a player to be named later, Soriano moves from Texas to Washington. It also seems that Soriano will be moving from second base to left field. This move slightly decrease Soriano’s value. He falls to the bottom of the pack among left fielders in on-base percentage and his slugging would be seventh among left-fielders.
Furthermore, Soriano, who turns 30 in January, won’t be enjoying the cozy confines of Texas anymore. This, more than a position move, could have a negative effect on Soriano’s production. This year, Soriano’s home-road splits illustrate a compelling story. In Ameriquest Field, he hit .315/.355/.656 with 25 home runs in 311 at-bats. On the road, Soriano hit just .224/.265/.374 with 11 home runs in 326 at-bats.
So now what happens when Soriano is playing all of his home games in RFK Stadium without Mark Teixeira and the rest of the high-powered Texas offense in front of him? A quick glimpse at some raw park factors could clue us in to Soriano’s future. Ameriquest was number two big leagues behind Coors Field in inflating scoring all around. The Rangers hit 153 home runs at home, compared to 107 on the road. That’s an astounding 50 percent more home runs at home than on the road.
Meanwhile, RFK in the Nation’s Capital wasn’t nearly as friendly. The Nats hit just 46 home runs at home and 71 on the road. So RFK dulled home runs by nearly a third for the Nationals.
Soriano, a big fly ball hitter, now moves to RFK where his Ameriquest home runs will become RFK outs. He, along with his low career OBP, join a team that was in the bottom third of the league in terms of getting on base last year. He’ll slide into a line up with very little protection in a team that isn’t expected to finish higher than fourth next year.
Long gone are the days when Soriano could hit with Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and Hideki Matsui behind him. Gone are the days when Soriano could hit behind Michael Young and Mark Teixeira. Now, at the age of 30 and with one season left before free agency, Soriano will face his toughest challenge yet. He’ll want a large contract after this year, but he has to play in an extreme pitcher’s park in left field instead of at his normal position. He won’t be thrilled about switching positions, and a player of his make won’t be successful in Washington.
While the Nationals with GM Jim Bowden love making moves, I sometimes wonder why the brain trust of the Nationals decided that Soriano would be a good fit. He isn’t, and I expect him to struggle mightily in 2006.
Meanwhile, in the same week, the second baseman with the lowest on-base percentage – Alfonso Soriano – and the second baseman with the highest on-base percentage in 2005 – Luis Castillo – were both traded. I can only wonder if that’s ever happened before.

Book Review: Questioning a “New” Blueprint for Winning

The folks at Baseball Prospectus like to set lofty goals for themselves as they constantly challenge the long-time paradigms in baseball thought. There latest book is no exception, and with a lengthy title – Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series, and Created a New Blueprint for Winning – this opus on the 2004 Red Sox serves as an interesting inside look into one of the game’s most storied teams.
Mind Game, edited by one of the foremost Yankee bloggers on the Internet, Steven Goldman of Pinstriped Blog fame, is a joint effort with bits and pieces written by all of the BP members from Jim Baker to Derek Zumsteg. The book catalogs the 2004 Red Sox season chronologically, highlighting different sabermetric aspects of this team as they created an alleged “new blueprint for winning.” For the most part, this joint authorship approach works well as each writer offers a unique spin on the Red Sox season. Will Carroll, known for his “Under the Knife” columns, discusses the famous (or infamous, depending upon at which end of the Merit Parkway you happen to reside) Curt Schilling Cadaver while Baker brings out his favorite lists, this one of happy moments in Red Sox history.
While sharing the writing load worked to a certain extent, the books, switching from author to author, loses some of the flow that a single author would have brought to the table. Maybe this is the fault of the overall editing, but hearing another BP writer define VORP or EqA for the fifth time in six chapters gets a little tedious. Each chapter could stand on its own this way, but for those who choose to read the book chronologically, the repetitiveness gets a little, well, repetitive.
Overall, though, I can’t fault the writing. For those readers familiar with Baseball Prospectus, the book offers the same high level of insight and research found on the writing. Rather, my main complaint with the book lies in the overall premise: Did the 2004 Boston Red Sox really establish a new blueprint for winning or did they simply use a pre-existing blueprint, along with a whole lot of very good luck in Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS, to win?
Mind Game starts with the premise that the Boston Red Sox were not the cursed. The curse was a marketing ploy made up by Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe. Rather, the Red Sox simply suffered through years and years of poor upper management. The team suffered through racist owner Tom Yawkey and his desires to please his favorite players rather than allow better men onto the team.
Leaving Yawkey and the past behind, the book arrives at the Theo Epstein Era. Epstein is clearly the Golden Boy of the book, and by the end, I was left wondering if maybe Epstein wasn’t too prominent of a character in the story. While he had a big role in putting the team together, a lot of his moves – such as the Nomar trade – were gambles that could have easily backfired. In my mind, it wasn’t so much Epstein’s sabermetric mind that allowed the Red Sox to succeed. Rather, it was his willingness to pull the trigger on unpopular deals that could potential benefit the Red Sox. No one knew Orlando Cabrera would .379/.4242/.448 against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.
The book then charts the 2004 season through a series of seemingly outside-the-box and sabermetrically-minded innovations. The writers explore how closer-by-committee didn’t work and how Keith Foulke was, through certain metrics, more valuable than Mariano Rivera during a five-year stretch. It explores the machinations of the A-Rod trade and the Red Sox’s willingness to pursue high-ceiling, low-salary guys like David Ortiz, Bill Mueller, and Kevin Millar in an effort to develop an OBP machine that could test whether or not an oppressive offense could make up for a less-than-stellar pitching rotation. The book dispels the notion that the Jason Varitek-Alex Rodriguez brawl made much of a difference in the season and explores how the Red Sox were able to wear down Mariano Rivera enough to make him merely good instead of great.
Yet, for all of the analysis, all of which I found to be dead on, I thought the book was missing a few glaring needed explanations. First, it’s undoubtedly the case that the Red Sox won in 2004 because they had Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez pitching 40 percent of their games. Yet, the book virtually ignores the Curt Schilling trade. I still have never heard a satisfactory explanation of that trade. The Red Sox gave up four guys who will never amount to anything near a Curt Schilling. They seemingly pulled the wool over the eyes of the Diamondbacks, and no one has blinked at this very lopsided trade. How do baseball economics end up in a such a state that one team can basically give away their best pitching all in the name of shedding payroll?
Meanwhile, as the book went on, I kept returning to this idea of a new blueprint for winning. Have no teams ever thought to put together an on-base machine using some homegrown talent, some discarded parts, and some chances? I thought back in baseball history all the way to the 1998 Yankees, a team that assembled a mean on-base machine and actually sustained their winning ways for nearly four years in a row.
The 1998 Yankees were first in the AL in runs scored and on-base percentage, and they accomplished this with a mixed lineup. They had homegrown talent in Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada. Paul O’Neill, their cornerstone, number three guy in the lineup was acquired via a trade that at the time it was made in 1992 was something of a gamble. Their third baseman, Scott Brosius, was actually a player to be named later in a trade for Kenny Rogers. He would go on to have his finest season that year hitting .300/.371/.472 and would garner World Series MVP honors that year. While critiques could say this Yankee team achieved greatness through spending, I say the Red Sox in 2004 with the second-highest payroll in baseball did the same as well. Does spending a lot qualify as a new blueprint for winning?
Finally, there is this issue of luck involved in the 2004 Red Sox World Championship run that is hard to capture in statistics. Had Dave Roberts been a half a step slower, the Red Sox would have lost in four games to the Yankees. Had Tony Clark’s ground-rule double hit the wall, Ruben Sierra probably would have scored the potential game-winning run in extra innings of game five. Had the Yankees challenged the knuckleball-challenged Jason Varitek or dared use Kenny Lofton as the Red Sox used Roberts, the outcome of the series could have swung back in favor of the Bronx Bombers. Luck led the Red Sox over the Yankees; pure talent got them to the World Series.
In the end, my complaints of Mind Game may come from my biased perspective on the 2004 Red Sox. As a die hard Yankee fan, I died hard when they lost games four and five of that ALCS. But as an objective baseball fan, I think history is littered with teams who pursued a plan similar to the one the Red Sox followed in 2004. Mind Game, then, offers great insight into the methods of statistical analysis and the minds of baseball front officer administrators. It’s an interesting tale honoring an incredible team. While I think it’s safe to say the Red Sox got smart and it’s undeniable that they won the World Series, I just don’t think they created a new, groundbreaking blueprint for winning.
But that’s just my opinion. Go read the book and find out for yourself. It’s well worth it and a fun read during the dark days of the offseason.


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