A new framework for offensive evaluation: Total Production

If you’ll apologize with me being brief with you, I have some (you guessed it) linear weights for your edification and entertainment.

This is an update to the “RE from zero” method I introduced a while back. There are two key differences:

  1. Instead of doing the entire Retroera, I simply used what I am calling the modern offensive era, 1994-2007. (I don’t have 2008 Retrosheet data yet, because nobody does.)
  2. I have made some corrections to the way I was figuring out the negative run value of the out.

Here is the run expectancy table, 1994-2007:

OUTS
RUN1
RUN2
RUN3
0
0.395
0.613
0.842
1
0.265
0.412
0.658
2
0.131
0.229
0.287
3
0.000
0.000
0.000

And now, the linear weights, broken down by component:

SHORTNAME
LONGNAME
NUM
RUN
RBI
OUT
LWTS
Out
Generic Out
1223130
0.005
0.028
-0.132
-0.099
K
Strikeout
419719
0.001
0.003
-0.117
-0.114
SB
Stolen Base
35402
0.170
0.000
0.000
0.170
CS
Caught Stealing
19585
0.036
0.000
-0.271
-0.236
NIBB
Walk
203512
0.256
0.065
0.000
0.320
IBB
Intentional Walk
17489
0.196
0.005
0.000
0.201
HBP
Hit By Pitch
22391
0.265
0.082
0.000
0.347
1B
Single
395520
0.272
0.206
-0.004
0.474
2B
Double
117508
0.426
0.337
-0.002
0.761
3B
Triple
12505
0.606
0.429
0.000
1.036
HR
Home Run
69809
1.000
1.401
0.000
1.401

And now I have some ‘splaining to do. These are “absolute” linear weights, as compared to linear weights above average (the usual presentation). These are not derived from a standard run expectancy table, and so no additional effort was made to reconcile them with absolute runs scored and as such I have no method employed. (Since converting LWTS from above-average to absolute runs is a topic of some confusion and no little controversy – or at least that’s how it feels to me – I really need to do a longer write-up of the issue at some point.)

I’ve arranged the values so that they match up with the three basic elements of scoring runs: providing a baserunner, advancing a baserunner and making outs. You’ll note that I am double-counting the home run; this is because doing so provides us with linear weights values that match up well with a player’s runs scored and runs batted in, at least for the population as a whole.

The benefit of this approach – at least to my thinking – is that you can present linear weights as context-neutral runs scored and runs batted in, with a third component – a player’s negative contribution by making outs.

I’m calling it Total Production, because to be quite frank I can’t come up with anything better and I should be in bed already. I am throwing myself on the mercy of you, the reader, to give me a better name. Please give me a better name.

And… here is your Total Production leaderboard from 1994-2007, minimum 300 PAs. (For no other reason than the size limit of a table I can publish via EditGrid.)

From here, you could do a lot of things with the numbers – add in park adjustments, provide versions for different baselines like above average or replacement level, combine them with some defensive metrics so that the “total” part of the name isn’t an absolute lie.

I should note that I’m not claiming any benefit from using these weights over any similarly capable set of linear weights appropriate to the time period involved. The only potential benefit I’m claiming here is in the presentation of the data – it occurred to me that some people might have an easier time approaching linear weights if they were presented in the guise of the traditional counting stats. Let me know if you think so, too.

World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: October 29

Unlike the World Series, the roundtable doesn’t care what the weather is like.  This week, the special chair has in it Chris Dial of Baseball Think Factory’s Dialed In.  Chris joins the StatSpeak crew mostly to talk about the World Series, which the Phillies are currently leading 3.5 games to 1.5 games (only in Philadelphia!).  Plus we talk about the new Mariners’ GM and that rascally Manny Ramirez.

Question #1: With his apparent attitude change in LA, and getting away from the Green Monster (most data indicates he was “just” somewhat below average), and averaging an OPS+ in the 150s the last four seasons, is Manny worth the money (4yr $80 mil)?

Chris Dial: Manny, to me, looks like he’s going to post a 160 OPS+.  Yes, if he posts a 130 OPS+ and plays his worst defense, he’ll only be an average LF, and not worth $20 mil, but I think he’s going to be worth it.  He also wasn’t a terrible fielder in Cleveland, and really saw his defensive numbers nosedive after his first few years in Boston.  There may well have been a larger psychological component to that than was originally thought.  His play in LA wasn’t terrible.  It wasn’t many innings, but he wasn’t terrible.  If he stays in the NL, and Bonds doesn’t sign, I think he’ll be the best LF, and that’s worth $20 mil a year.  I also think he’ll age well enough to warrant that contract.

Brian Cartwright: I’ll give him two years with an option. Desppite the production, at his age I will not commit past age 38, although would probably have to give him just about $20m each for those seasons.

Colin Wyers: Due to the yeoman/apprenticeship setup of MLB, it’s impossible for teams to adequately compensate players during what is arguably their overall prime, once defense and baserunning are taken into account. Because of that – and the related fact that there’s a lot of money seeking a mate – teams will overpay players based upon future production in free agency; they’re paying for past production, essentially paying a player money he should have made years ago.

The problem for whoever signs Manny next is that Manny already got that compensatory money, and then some. They’re not even going to overpay for the elite Manny that the Red Sox got to overpay for; they’re going to get to overpay for the Manny who probably won’t even be very good in 2-3 years. (Yes, defense matters.)

Eric Seidman: Well, it depends how we phrase the question.  Is he worth 20 mil a year?  Probably, based on the merchandise and tickets that he adds to whatever teams he goes to as well as his ridiculous offense.  If he goes to an AL team and can be a DH then he is definitely worth the 20 mil in my eyes.  The four years is where I would draw the line, though.  Boras was on Jim Rome’s show today and spoke of how Barry Bonds got a 5-yr deal at age 37, and I kept thinking to myself that, well, they are not the same person.  Manny is one of the best offensive players of all time… Barry Bonds IS the best offensive player of all time.

Pizza Cutter: Someone will give it to him, because for some reason, contract value is determined by what Scott Boras says rather than some sort of logical calculation of what a player’s actual value will be.  This reminds me a lot of the Pedro Martinez situation a few years ago.  Pedro was coming off a fantastic run of years, but the contract he signed was excessive, especially going four years for an old pitcher, and sure enough, the Mets looked like fools in the last two years of the deal.  Manny is a really good player, but betting on a 36 year old is a really bad idea.

Read more of this post

Pitch F/X Audit: Seattle Mariners

Last week marked the introduction of my year in review series using the tremendous Pitch F/X data to examine the splits and frequencies of pitchers in different situations.  Since Pizza Cutter and I decided to base our order on reverse Pythagorean wins, we began with the Nationals.  Just like last week, you will see Pizza’s year in review on Monday, with my Pitch F/X audit of that same team today.  While we began with the Washington Nationals, who play in Washington, DC, we now move to the state of Washington, to take a look at the Seattle Mariners, one of the most disappointing teams of 2008. 

They spent the off-season trading the farm for Erik Bedard and inking Carlos Silva to an absolutely ridiculous contract in an attempt to build upon their success in 2007.  Unfortunately, Bedard missed half of the season while Silva produced one of the worst pitched seasons in all of baseball.  Add in a poor season from the washed up Jarrod Washburn and extremely poor performances from Miguel Batista and there was not too much production out of the rotation after Felix Hernandez. 

A big problem with the Mariners rotation can be found in some pitiful strikeout to walk ratios.  King Felix posted a solid 175/80, but Washburn (87/50), Bedard (72/37) and Batista (73/79) walked too many in relation to their punchouts.  On top of that, even though Silva’s K/BB rose above 2.0, he fanned just 69 in 153.1 innings, a K/9 of 4.05.  I discussed at Fangraphs last week how, of the five worst bullpens via controllable skills, the Mariners relievers were actually somewhat solid at fanning hitters, with a K/9 above 7.0, and they finished tied for fourth with a 0.78 HR/9, but they, just like the starters, struggled with walking hitters.  Ryan Rowland-Smith, Sean Green, and Mark Lowe all produced K/BB ratios below 2.0, and JJ Putz chimed in at exactly 2.0.  The only standout in this regard amongst their relievers was Brandon Morrow, who was groomed into a starter at the end of the season.  Let’s get into the Pitch F/X data and frequency splits.

Overall Velocity
First up, let us take a look at the overall velocities for the ten most prominent pitchers on the Mariners staff this season.  I decided not to include the overall frequencies of pitches because it is much more interesting to see how they are broken down in specific situations, which we will see later on.  To view the velocities, click here.

King Felix still has a very lively fastball, in the 94-95 mph range, and throws his offspeed pitches at least seven miles per hour less, which helps with regards to differences in relative velocity, or how another pitch looks due to the velocity of the preceding or subsequent delivery.  Washburn has never thrown particularly hard, but has been able to stick around this long due to movement and a somewhat nice mixture of offspeed pitches.

We see a nice mix of velocities amongst the relief corps, as Morrow, Putz, and Lowe all through fastballs at 94+ mph, while Rowland-Smith and Green average below 90 mph.  They exhibit a bigger dropoff in velocity from fastballs to offspeed pitches, though, which could make their heaters look much faster.

Frequency Splits by Hitters
Next up, we will take a look at how the frequency and percentage of certain pitchers differs to left-handed and right-handed hitters.  To view the spreadsheet, click here.

Felix Hernandez was consistent with fastball usage, but threw more curves and changeups to lefties, significantly more sliders to righties.  Washburn jumped from 57% to lefties to 68% fastballs against righties, simultaneously decreasing his usage of curves and sliders to those same right-handed hitters.  Against righties, he basically became a fastball-changeup pitcher, whereas he was much more balanced against those on the left side of the batters box.  Against lefties, Silva was a fastball-changeup pitcher, but when the batters went to the opposite side, he replaced half of his changeups with sliders.

Bedard was primarily a fastball-curveball pitcher regardless of who he faced, though he did throw a higher percentage of heaters to lefties.  Batista threw just 47.8% fastball to lefties and remained below 50% against righties, relying much more on offspeed pitches than anyone else on the staff.  In fact, against righties, he threw his slider 42.3% of the time.  Rowland-Smith, who we previously established does not have a very lively fastball, also hovers around the 50% mark to both lefties and righties, but Sean Green is actually the opposite: he threw fastballs 79% to lefties and 72% to righties, despite failing to break 90 mph in average.

Morrow was a fastball-changeup pitcher to lefties and a fastball-slider guy to righties.  The same can be said for Mark Lowe and JJ Putz: they primarily threw fastballs, but their offspeed frequencies shifted from the secondary changeup to righties to the slider against lefties.

Bases Empty vs. Runners On
One aspect of the pitch frequency splits that always piqued my interest was how someone’s repertoire changed with runners on base.  To view the spreadsheet of frequencies with runners on vs. bases empty, click here.

In case you do not view the spreadsheet, Felix Hernandez was virtually identical in frequency with or without runners on base.  He didn’t increase offspeed usage or rely more on the fastball.  The same can be said for Jarrod Washburn.  Carlos Silva threw a higher percentage of changeups, but nothing earth-shatteringly drastic.  Bedard tended to rely more on the curveball with runners on than the bases empty, increasing his usage from 30% to 37%.  Miguel Batista, however, showed some very drastic splits.  With nobody on, he threw 53% fastballs, 3% curveballs, 32% sliders, 10% changeups, and 2% cutters.  With ducks on the pond, he threw 41% fastballs, no curveballs, 49% sliders, 5% changeups, and 5% cutters.  Essentially, he became a different pitcher when runners reached base.

Morrow, Green, and Lowe were all fairly consistent in their approach with runners on vs. bases empty, but Putz and Rowland-Smith had interesting shifts.  With nobody on, Putz threw 14% sliders and 12% changeups, however this shifted to 6% sliders and 15% changeups when runners reached base.  Likewise, Rowland-Smith dropped from 59% fastballs with nobody on to 48% fastballs when runners reached base, replacing the lost fastballs with an increased dosage of curveballs and changeups.

Progression Splits
Lastly, how did the repertoires of the Mariners starting staff differ as the game progressed?  As in, did the percentage of offspeed pitches for, say, Jarrod Washburn, increase from innings 4-6 compared to the first three innings?  To view the progression splits for Felix, Washburn, Silva, Bedard, and Batista, click here.

King Felix, as Dave Cameron pointed out last season, relied heavily on the fastball in the early stages of the game, throwing it upwards of 80% in the first three innings.  This frequency dropped to 71% through innings 4-6, and 63% from that point on, as his usage of curveballs and sliders gradually increased.  The same results can be found in the frequencies of Erik Bedard: he gradually reduced his fastball usage throughout the game from 66% to 57%, replacing them with curveballs, which rose from 31% to 40%. 

Washburn, Silva, and Batista all fell into a similar boat, one which involved a pretty big dropoff in fastballs from innings 1-3 to 4-6, but a regression after that point.  Unfortun
ately, the data is not really significant at this level due to the rarity of their starts lasting longer than six innings.

Moving Forward
Morrow will be in the rotation next season, giving King Felix some adequate help.  Though his results during the five starts at the end of the season were less than stellar, his “stuff” is too good not to succeed on some level.  He might not be an ace pitcher, but there is really no reason why he could not be the Matt Cain to Felix’s Tim Lincecum, an ironic analogy given the fact that Morrow was drafted before Lincecum… sorry, Mariners faithful.

Bedard is going to miss half of the season, and it will be interesting to see if their new general manager Jack Zduriencik opts to move him or keep him around.  Unfortunately, Silva, Washburn, and Batista are all signed through 2009, and while Silva and Batista could not possibly be worse than they were this past season, this triumvirate is not what a team trying to rebuild itself wants in their rotation.  It will be interesting to see what Trader Jack does with the rotation, but if the bullpen can reduce their walk rates and sustain the solid strikeout and home run rates from 2008, the M’s might have at least one bright spot moving forward.

As always, if there is anything specific with regards to pitch frequency splits that piques your interest, write me and let me know so I can add to this review, or incorporate into future audits.

  

2008 Sabermetric Year in Review: Seattle Mariners

The tour bus moves along to another city that probably wants to forget that 2008 happened.  I have to wonder what it takes to be a fan of the Mariners.  Consider the following.  The Baseball Reference page for the 2008 Mariners is sponsored by an Angels blog.  Am I the only one who finds that funny?  Anyway, stop #2: Seattle.

Record: 61-101 (4th place, AL West)
Pythagorean Projection: 66.67 wins

Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs

MVN Blog:
Caffeinated Confines

Other Mariners Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors

Overview: To think that before last season, there was serious talk of the Mariners, who had just picked up Erik Bedard from the Orioles, as a possible playoff team.  How quickly things change!  The Mariners became the first ever 100 (million dollars in payroll)/ 100 (loss, OK actually 101) team in baseball history.

What went right:  Raul Ibanez has officially reached that guy status.  Ask a casual fan of the game about Ibanez and he’ll search his memory banks for a moment.  Then you’ll point out that he’s the guy who consistently puts up a .350 OBP and 20-some home runs and plays a decent left field for the Mariners.  He’s never been an All-Star, but your friend will think for a minute and go “Oh yeah!  That guy!”  Raul Ibanez is the best player that no one cares about.  Sadly for the Mariners, he’s a free agent.

Ichiro had 200 hits again.  And stole 43 bases.  And played a really good outfield.  And played in 162 games.  I actually saw him at a Mariners-Indians game this year.  Now I understand why the folks over at U.S.S. Mariner have a hard time being objective about him.  He’s fun to watch.  That might not be the same thing as “good”, but he sure is fun.  

What went wrong: Carlos Silva.  Somehow, signing a guy who puts up a .500 record with an ERA of 4-somethng to a four year contract worth eight digits per year didn’t turn out so well.  How weird that no one at all anywhere saw that one coming a mile away.  Someone call Kyle Lohse’s agent and congratulate him on having the foresight to cash in for his client before that particular lesson sunk in.

Yeah, that about sums it up: On June 23, 2008, in an interleague game in Shea Stadium against the Mets, Felix Hernandez came to the plate twice.  In the second inning, he took the first pitch that he saw (from Johan Santana!) over the wall in right-center for a grand slam.  In the fifth, he bunted Willie Bloomquist over from first to second.  In these, his only two plate appearances of the year, Felix Hernandez accumulated 0.30 WPA on offense.  This put him in fourth place on the team overall behind Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez, and Ichiro.   

Wlad the impaled: Is there something about this guy that I don’t get?  I understand that it’s fun to say Wladimir, but honestly, what’s the big deal with this guy?  We got to see him for 260 PAs in 2008 and he had a .250 on base percentage.  In AAA, of course, he hit like gangbusters.  What’s the difference between his AAA and MLB numbers?  He struck out in 32.5% of his plate appearances in the majors (and “only” 21% in his halcyon AAA days.)  OK, so he wasn’t ever going to be a singles hitter, but could he make it as a big bopper in the bigs?  Take a look at these swing numbers.  He swung at about 31% of the pitches thrown to him that were outside the strike zone, putting him well above the league median, and 65% of pitches in the zone, putting him well below the league median (min 250 PA).  My guess is that he’s got a lot of physical strength, but can’t read the strike zone.  That sort of approach might work well against inferior pitching (like the kind you’d find at AAA), but not at the big league level. 

What part of DH don’t you understand?: Will someone please explain the following list to me.  Jose Vidro 69, Jeff Clement 21, (list continues, and oddly, includes Miguel Cairo for a game.)  Those are the top two entries on the list of “who started the most games at DH for the Mariners in 2008″ list.  DH, for those of you who don’t know stands for designated hitter.  Maybe there’s a word in there that stands out.  I’ll give you a hint.  It’s not “designated.”  Yet, Vidro had a .274 OBP and Clement didn’t make it to .300 either.  Vidro did appear to have a weird outlier with a .254 BABIP, and most of his other peripheral stats were unchanged, so that might just be a freaky happenstance, but still…

Last year, I wrote: Sexson actually dropped his K rate from 2006 to 2007, increased his BB rate, and his batted ball profile was pretty much unchanged (he hit a few less line drives, and instead beat them into the ground.)  His BABIP was the culprit.  A gentleman who has normally put up a .280-.320 BABIP over a number of years suddenly saw it drop to .217.  In statistics, that’s called an outlier.  Sexson gets paid to hit 35 HR.  He also usually checks in with an equal number of doubles.  This year, he not only dropped to 21 HR, but he also only hit 21 two-baggers.  The other thing that changed was that he saw about a quarter of a pitch less (3.97 to 3.74) per plate appearance from 2006 to 2007.  Sexson needs to relax.  Assuming that there wasn’t a huge major injury that wasn’t made public, Sexson should revert to form.

Can I get a mulligan on that one?  (Oh, the Mariners already tried to use one on the Bedard trade…) Indeed, Sexson’s BABIP did rebound to a more characteristic .275 for the year (including his time with the Yankees).  But what no one really saw coming was that he would stop swinging (his swing rate dropped from 47 to 43%).  Worse, when he swung, his contact rate went down.  Not surprisingly, his strikeout rate shot up above 30%.  The real danger though is that Sexson has become a ground ball hitter.  While he used to hit about an equal number of FB and GB, his ground ball numbers are trending toward 50% now, and Sexson is a guy who needs to be hitting home runs to be valuable.  Sexson was either doing something different this year (and it didn’t work) or he’s toast.  My guess is that he’s toast. 

Here’s an idea:  I was going to write about the Mariners’ search for a GM.  It’s hard to argue against the guy who built the Milwaukee farm system, even if I can’t pronounce or spell his name, but I was hoping for something more.  I had hoped that a more Saber-savvy GM might get his call to the big time, but alas, alack, anon, it was not to be.  It’s a sensible strategy to build the farm first, but let’s hope that the new guy learns from the past and doesn’t commit a lot of money in a foolish way.

Outlook: I suppose that the Mariners are in the same position now as they had been last year.  A lot of really bad contracts, even if Sexson is gone.  Bedard is out for half of next year anyway.  It would be nice to suggest a total root canal, but it’s never quite that easy.  To do that, the Mariners would have to off-load some of those awful contacts, and it’s not like people are in line to take them.  This looks like it’s going to be a slow re-build.

Quiz show

Let’s play a game – you like games, don’t you? That’s fantastic.

Here’s the game I want to play today. I’m going to ask you a series of simple questions, multiple choice. You can answer them any way you like, doesn’t really matter. Just know that I’m basing everything off what’s available from the Baseball Prospectus statistics page, based upon performance in the 2008 season. Then, after the jump we’ll meet up and see what we’ve got. Ready? Great!

  1. Who was the most productive hitter in the American League, adjusting for position?
    1. Alex Rodriguez
    2. Joe Mauer
  2. Which qualified starter on the Tampa Bay Rays was the best hitter per plate appearance, ignoring position?
    1. Carlos Pena
    2. Evan Longoria
  3. Who of the following was the best hitter per plate appearance, ignoring position?
    1. Jack Cust
    2. Jorge Cantu
  4. Who of the following was the more productive hitter, adjusting for position?
    1. Jack Cust
    2. Jorge Cantu
  5. Who was the most productive relief pitcher, in both leagues?
    1. Mariano Rivera
    2. Brad Lidge
  6. Who was the most productive starting pitcher, in both leagues?
    1. Cliff Lee
    2. Johann Santana

Read more of this post

Error: Scorekeeper?

Ground ball up the middle, second baseman backhands it, the throw to first beats the runner by a step, but hits in the dirt and skips by the firstbaseman. The call goes up on the scoreboard: HIT.

If you think you’ve seen this play more frequently the last few years, your probably right. Play by play data, courtesy of RetroSheet, shows that the rate of runners reaching base on errors has been steadily decling from 1975 right up to 2007. From 1954 to 1970, the percent of balls in play that resulted in the batter reaching on an error was very steady at either 1.8 or 1.9%. In 1972 and 1974, it dropped slightly to 1.7%, but again reached 1.9% in 1975. From 2005 to 2007 the rate has been 1.3%.

Is it possible that the decrease in errors is due to an increase in quality of the infielders? I am inclined to say no, as during the same time that errors have been decreasing, the number of hits allowed has been increasing. In 1975, the last season before the decline in errors, the percent of batters who reached on hits was .282, errors .019, for a total of .301. In 2007, batters reached on hits at a rate of .302, errors .013, for a total of .315.

Instead of the percent of balls in play, let’s look at errors as a percent of batters who reached base by hit or error. From 1954 to 1958, this was steady between 6.0 and 6.1%. It then increased to a peak of 6.6% in 1963, and then started a decline. There was another bubble, from 5.1% in 1981, up to 5.8% in 1984 and 1985, then back to 5.2% in 1988. From there it has been a fairly steady decline, down to the low of 4.0% in 2007.

Nearly 40% of the balls that were ruled errors in 1963 were ruled hits in 2007. This accounts for 6 of the 29 point increase in BABIP over that time period. As for the other 23 points, that’s another study.

Year BHE% ROE% OBE%
1954 0.293 0.018 0.061
1956 0.292 0.018 0.061
1957 0.293 0.018 0.060
1958 0.295 0.018 0.061
1959 0.296 0.019 0.064
1960 0.294 0.018 0.061
1961 0.298 0.019 0.065
1962 0.299 0.019 0.062
1963 0.292 0.019 0.066
1964 0.298 0.019 0.063
1965 0.292 0.019 0.064
1966 0.294 0.019 0.063
1967 0.291 0.018 0.061
1968 0.287 0.018 0.064
1969 0.295 0.018 0.062
1970 0.299 0.018 0.061
1971 0.292 0.016 0.056
1972 0.290 0.017 0.059
1973 0.299 0.018 0.060
1974 0.299 0.017 0.058
1975 0.301 0.019 0.062
1976 0.298 0.017 0.057
1977 0.304 0.017 0.056
1978 0.296 0.016 0.055
1979 0.302 0.016 0.053
1980 0.303 0.016 0.054
1981 0.295 0.016 0.055
1982 0.297 0.015 0.051
1983 0.302 0.017 0.057
1984 0.304 0.018 0.058
1985 0.298 0.017 0.058
1986 0.303 0.017 0.056
1987 0.305 0.016 0.054
1988 0.297 0.015 0.052
1989 0.299 0.016 0.053
1990 0.302 0.016 0.051
1991 0.297 0.016 0.053
1992 0.298 0.013 0.045
1993 0.309 0.016 0.050
1994 0.315 0.015 0.048
1995 0.313 0.014 0.046
1996 0.317 0.015 0.048
1997 0.316 0.014 0.046
1998 0.314 0.014 0.045
2000 0.316 0.016 0.049
2001 0.311 0.015 0.048
2002 0.307 0.014 0.046
2003 0.308 0.013 0.044
2004 0.311 0.014 0.044
2005 0.308 0.013 0.042
2006 0.314 0.013 0.041
2007 0.315 0.013 0.040

World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: October 22

Those of you who read StatSpeak on a regular basis (Thank you!) have probably noticed a few changes in the design of the blog, and perhaps some chaos in getting things to work.  Us too.  MVN has recently upgraded to Movable Type and like all great things, it will take a little bit of time to all shake out.  Please be patient.

Today, the roundtable is covered with sawdust, but welcomes Brandon Isleib of The Hardball Times for some rolicking discussion of that Peavy guy, contracts in general, contracts for Mark Ellis and Manny Ramirez, and whether or not Brad Lidge will lose his head in the World Series.

Question #1: If the Padres trade Jake Peavy, pulling a Beane-on-Haren but with more chutzpah, does that raise the bar for this genre of trade, and will the genre catch on and/or reach absurd levels in the same way that megacontracts did around 2000?

Brandon Isleib: I think these deals will be in a one-per-year mold until it’s seen whether they actually work out. The return Oakland’s had at the major league level for Haren is looking good so far, but it takes a few years to assess things in full, and the Peavy trade would be Exhibit B in whatever teams decide to do. I don’t think the bar will be raised as much as possibilities will be explored that were unthinkable previously. I think other teams will see how the A’s and Padres fan bases react before making the same sort of decision themselves. Normally, a lot of PR has to follow up trading one of your best players, and some teams might be scared to do it.

Bottom line, I think this type of trade typically will work for astute GMs with educated fan bases. The danger is that the Haren and Peavy trades if they work long-term will spawn imitators who don’t understand the value of their best players and will trade a good contract on a great player for a sorry lot of prospects. Beane and Towers understand that pitching is fragile by definition, and they know they can get a lot of secure position players and some pitching upside by trading a high-risk commodity. If other GMs understand that when they make these deals, then fine. If not, then it’s going to wreck somebody’s franchise down the road.

Brian Cartwright: I think Haren was a little unique in that he was a well above average pitcher with three more years under contract at below market rates. That drove up his selling price. The Mets only get to keep Johan Santana for one year under his current contract. I think that’s a major factor, how long is the current contract and at what price.

Colin Wyers: I think this is less akin to the Harden deal – simply given the number of years involved – and more akin to the Santana deal. The Padres have a lot of holes to fill right now, and Peavy can only fill one of them. What they’re looking for is a team that has a lot of surplus value – as in, more than 25 useful ballplayers – who are willing to chip in 2-4 ballplayers that as a whole contribute more to the Padres than Peavy can.

Eric Seidman: This is tricky, because it is a solid type of move for teams who won’t realistically compete for quite some time; the Padres could go 72-90 without Peavy, and even though he is a great pitcher, if the Padres can get the return the A’s got for Haren, they will likely be in a better position a few years from now than if they kept Peavy. At some point, however, you have to figure other teams will catch on and realize that their prospects may be worth more than the star player they could acquire, but there are many more factors to consider, such as attendance. I would say if the Peavy trade emulates the Haren deal, we may see a flurry of similar moves over the next couple years but it will not become a norm.

Pizza Cutter: The easiest sell in baseball, and indeed in humanity, is the quick fix, and there’s no quicker fix than the “ace starting pitcher.”  Consider though that trading “aces” or even just good starting pitchers for a boatload of talent isn’t exactly a new genre.  Baseball culture works in cycles, just like the rest of culture (whatever happened to Paris Hilton?), and in five years, we may chuckle about “that era” in baseball.  But the problem, like with the mega-contracts, is that there aren’t a lot of aces that are being shopped around on a yearly basis.  So, it will probably die a natural death.

Question #2: So did Mark Ellis get taken to the cleaners or what?  

Brandon Isleib:  No cleaner trip here; maybe he stays unclean or just goes under “what,” but I think his contract was reasonable. Ellis is one of those guys who’s always frustrated my efforts to evaluate him. Is he the .276/.336/.441 (including 19 HR) guy of 2007 or the .233/.321/.373 guy of 2008? You get good defense either way, but he’s got a Saberhagen-type pattern to his offensive output, and that’s hard to gauge. I think the A’s are in a much better position to figure out that type of player (in large part because they’ve seen him for 6 years) and throw a moderate contract out there than other teams are. He’s hurt a fair bit, he’s not remarkably productive when he’s not 100%, and you just don’t know what you’re getting in any given year. If I’m running a team with a hole at 2B, it’s a slippery case to make that Ellis is a solid upgrade to the tune of more than the 2 year, $11 million contract he got from Oakland. I think that’s about his reasonable value, and I think few teams are able to build with him the way Oakland can. It works well for both sides. More power to ‘em.

Brian Cartwright: Ellis has a very good glove, but I don’t think he’s much as a hitter. He projects at 254/335/418, and will be a little lower than that as he ages for 2009. I think Oakland built in that he would be diminishing. Maybe Ellis wasn’t confident going on the free agent market, but I think it’s usually worth it to establish your market value.

Colin Wyers: I really don’t think people understand how valuable Ellis is, and that includes Ellis. Is it because defense is underrated? Is it because second base is the least glamorous position in the majors? Is it because he isn’t flashy in the way that a, say, Derek Jeter is? The baffling part is that he chose right now to sign that deal. It’s hard to complain about how someone else handles their money, but it is very puzzling.

Eric Seidman: I’m curious if Ellis just does not realize how much he is worth, or if the shoulder injury is a bit more serious than we thought; serious in the sense that it could be a recurring injury. If not, then his offensive numbers are bound to regress, making him the league average hitter he is, while playing arguably the best defense at the position. At Tom Tango’s blog, a discussion arose about how the player’s union should be having fits over this deal, and I agree. It will be interesting to see what Orlando Hudson gets on the market, given they are very comparable players.

Pizza Cutter: Ellis has become a fly-ball happy guy over the past few years, and his dip in his slash stats seems to be an outlier, but he’s also one of the best fielding 2B’s in the game.  In 2007, according to OPA!, he was worth about 21 runs above the average 2B… but that’s “hidden” talent (or at least still undervalued talent).  All that people, and apparently Ellis and his agent are two of them, see is the batting line, which is respectable, and maybe there is some vague idea of his defensive worth.  Ellis is worth more, but it’s not yet polite for a good defensive player to ask for a big contract. 

Question #3: Multi-year contracts normally escalate – more money in later years. But we know that once a player hits 30 it’s likely that he’s going to be producing less in those years. It doesn’t seem like a good idea business wise, but are there any practical alternatives that would be accepted by the player?

Brandon Isleib: Not until arbitration and free agency rules change. Take a player like Ryan Howard, who didn’t start accruing service time seriously until he was 25. The Phillies have him under contract until he’s 30 just from when he came up, so his first megapayday will be at 30, assuming no injuries, etc. Thus, it’s around 30 that players have the most leverage of their careers. None of the players will want less money as inflation rises and they get older, and they probably won’t want an even pay rate either, for mostly the same reason. The rush of free-agent talent is primarily on 28-to-30-year-olds, and as such, all but the gutsiest of owners would set things up the way they want to do, so as not to scare away their coveted prizes. So no, I know of no alternative players would accept on this multi-year system unless the ages at which players typically become free agents changes, owners collude, or something to that effect

Brian Cartwright: Giving a multiyear escalating contract to a player over 30 almost guarantees that the payments will be going up as the production goes down. I really don’t see a player willing to sign a contract that offers him less each year, even if it’s in line with his expected production. Even with a player like Manny Ramirez, I would not offer more than a two year contract. Not that he won’t still be good in the third year, but he won’t be worth that much money. Pay for two, then negotiate another contract. Only problem is, the new one may be with your competitor.

Colin Wyers: There’s a hidden little wrinkle to consider – over time, the average free agent salary you can command in free agency increases at a dramatic pace, I want to say about 10% each offseason. By backloading a contract, you are essentially compensating them at the rate at which (supposedly) they could get a free agent contract at that point. The incentive for teams in backloading deals is that (due to inflation and investment opportunities, among other things) it’s beneficial to spend tomorrow’s money in preference to today’s, because tomorrow’s money is worth less than today’s money and you should be planning on having more money tomorrow than today. Really, the problem isn’t backloaded contracts, it’s just bad contracts. Andruw Jones was only signed for two years, and that has to be a bigger albatross right now than any backloaded deal for 5-7 years. Well, except for Barry Zito. Zito forgot to backload his decline phase and ended up paying all of it out in the first year of the contract.

Eric Seidman: Well, if a player signs a 5-yr deal but won’t be productive towards the end, a player might be interested in having his contract frontloaded so that he makes a good portion of the contract during those productive years and then is easier to trade or be sent elsewhere in the latter years when he may otherwise be sitting on the bench, unable to prove his worth. I feel like as long as the player is making the money, making more in the early stages and less later on would not be a big deal and may arguably be better for the player than, say, a Griffey Jr situation where he is making 15 mm to play league average or below average baseball.

Pizza Cutter: There probably aren’t any alternatives that would be accepted by the players, other than maybe front-loading the contract, but there are a lot of GMs who have to think short-term rather than long-term.  I could see a system of incentive-based contracts.  Maybe a team could run a business model of having a standard “contract” based with set stipends for different events (say $200 for a double, $300 for a triple, although they’d be better served going a little more sophisticated than that…)  Every player on the team has the same contract (or at least all the hitters have the same contract and the pitchers have the same… although what to do about the whole starter vs. reliever thing).  But then I could imagine knife fights breaking out over managers who decide to bench a player or something like that.   

Question #4: Will Brad Lidge blow a save in the World Series or will he go a whole season without? 

Brandon Isleib: I don’t think he’ll blow a save this series, in large part because there are so many variables. Obviously, if the Rays sweep, he doesn’t blow a save, and there are only 7 opportunities to blow one at maximum. That being said, the Rays have as good a chance as anyone to get to Lidge because they don’t stack right-handed batters in their lineup at any meaningful point. Lidge v. RH: .105/.227/.175. Lidge v. LH: .273/.354/.345. Game 7 of the ALCS had a Rays lineup that did not repeat right-handed batters at any spot except for Baldelli and Bartlett at the bottom (and Baldelli can be substituted easily with LH Gabe Gross if necessary). Plus, their main RH batters – Upton, Longoria, Baldelli, and Bartlett – were all reasonably good at avoiding double plays, which would be the main danger of an isolated RH batter. I think the Rays lineup is well-suited to getting to Lidge if any team is. Does this mean he blows a save? Not likely, but it’s more likely here than elsewhere.

Brian Cartwright: I’d like to think so, but one fastball at the letters may be enough to do him in, and possibly the Phillies. He got in the doghouse in Houston for being all or nothing.

Colin Wyers: There’s no guarantee that he’ll see any official “save opportunities” at all in the series. I don’t see why he couldn’t – at most four saves for him?

Eric Seidman: No. He will go perfect, and my Phillies will win the World Series. That is all.

Pizza Cutter: I’m wondering what the over/under is in Vegas for the number of times that they show the Scott Podsednik homerun in 2005.  Lidge got really lucky on the HR/FB this year, and his FIP is a little above his ERA, but his FIP is 2.41 this year.  I’ve actually wanted to do a study for a while on whether Brad Lidge Disease really happens.  After blowing a crucial save, do closers have a tough time closing?  Lidge’s record over the last few years shows that he’s certainly still an effective pitcher, and frankly, my guess is that Lidge’s “problems” in critical games are actually the frayed nerves of the fans who followed the Astros.  There’s no way to know exactly what will happen, but the odds of Lidge imploding in the Series probably have very little to do with what happened in 2005.

Question #5: Does Manny Ramirez really deserve an “iconic” contract, as Scott Boras has suggested?

Brandon Isleib: No, no, a thousand times no. Boras’s work with Alex Rodriguez in 2000 will forever be the iconic mark until he has a player better than Rodriguez to flaunt. Manny’s not better than A-Rod except for “clutchiness,” perhaps. Adjusting for inflation, A-Rod’s contract in 2000 would be worth $32 million a year; Ramirez’s contract from the same offseason would give him $25 million a year. Has he gone up in value 20% from age 28 to 36? At least when the big one was signed in 2000, he was coming off consecutive years of at least .663 SLG. At age 28, it’s not unreasonable if you’re a big spender to say he keeps that up. He hasn’t quite reached that since then, and while his numbers have still been great, I can’t think of any reason to say he’s 20% better now than he was coming off those two massive years. That doesn’t even touch the other Manny issues, but I don’t need to; I’m just not going to pay more for less.

Brian Cartwright: No. As good as Manny is at the bat, (projecting 314/395/584 he’s still better than he was in 1998) he is going to be 37, and there can’t be that many more seasons at that level left. I cannot see a team rationally offering him $25 or $30m for Manny’s age 41 season. If he’s still playing, he may be good, but not that good.

Colin Wyers: The problem is figuring out how long his bat will play at this level, because it’s pretty certain that his defense is a massive problem that won’t get any better. Here’s a question for you – I want you to try and picture Manny playing first base. How often do you think he would forget that he’s supposed to be receiving a throw from the other side of the infield? I exaggerate, sure, but the biggest mistake you can make in free agency (of course everybody does it) is to pay for the past, not the future. Boras wants teams to pay for the past.

Eric Seidman: Manny is an incredible hitter, one of the best hitters in the history of baseball, but his defense is abysmal and teams undervalue the importance of defense. Manny costs teams plenty of runs defensively which is often just touched upon instead of fleshed out in the full light it deserves. Manny does not deserve a 5/150, especially given that he would be making a ridiculous amount of money as a 42-yr old. A 4/100 is what they were originally seeking, and while I still believe it is too much, that would be much more realistic.

Pizza Cutter: Boras made those comments comparing Manny to A-Rod, with the assumption that Manny would get slightly less than A-Rod and fewer years.  On the surface it sounds about right, with both being elite hitters right now.  For the fan who doesn’t think beyond next year (and let’s be honest, how many of us really do?) it makes sense that Manny would get about as much as A-Rod.  The problem is that Manny is older than A-Rod by four years and a 32 year old is a much better bet to sustain things over a few years (although I shook my head at ten years for A-Rod…), than Manny.  Before the season started, PECTOA actually had him out of baseball in a couple of years, and nothing more than a 2-3 WARP guy, although that’s sure to be revised upward.  GMs have to think about multiple years, although some of them have to do stupid things because if they don’t “play for this year,” they’ll be fired.  My guess is that Manny gets his iconic contract, or something close, and that he puts up just enough to make it kinda/sorta/but-not-really worth it.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.