World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: September 17

Well now this is getting fun.  The roundtable rolls into a particularly entertaining week in the baseball season.  The pennant races are heating up.  The Brewers fired their manager.  I got to see two baseball games for the price of none this weekend!  Well, joining us to talk about it all is Jeff Sackmann of Brew Crew Ball and Minor League SplitsWe also talk about Carlos Beltran, Pedro Alvarez, and K-Rod!
Question #1: Ned Yost was just axed with 12 games to go in the Brewers regular season.  Knee-jerk overreaction to an ill-timed slump, long-overdue firing, or what?
Jeff Sackmann: It’s certainly a surprise. I haven’t been as anti-Ned as some Brewers fans, especially this year, but it’s hard to argue that he’s a good manager. There’s at least a bit of a panic button in this move, and it might be justified on that basis alone. The one anti-Ned rumbling from players has been that he’s always nervous, tight, stressed, etc. The Brewers are fighting a really bad slump at an even worse time, and as far as an outsider can tell, Yost seems to be an awful skipper for that kind of situation.
Brian Cartwright: The Sabathia trade, and the prospect of both he and Sheets leaving via free agency at the end of the season, left the Brewers management in a must win this season mode. Reading about how Yost apparently lost a game against the Phillies with lousy bullpen management, it appears that the ownership and front office have lost faith in Yost, and are in a situation where even one more loss that shouldn’t have been might be enough to eliminate them from the playoffs. It might seemed like a panicked move, but this is their attempt to avoid any further mental mistakes.
Colin Wyers: I really don’t pretend to know whether or not Yost is a good manager. When it comes to strategy I’m not really convinced that there’s a lot of difference between managers. I can tell you I feel more comfortable watching Lou manage than Dusty but I couldn’t put a number on how many wins that means, and I’m rather obsessed with putting numbers on things.
If they were going to get rid of Yost at the end of the year anyway – and signs point to yes – I guess they may as well try to send a message to the team, for all the good it will do. But I don’t see it being a big factor – Dale Sveum didn’t seem to know what buttons to push against the Cubs tonight, either.
Eric Seidman: My reaction is that any manager in the thick of a pennant race who brings in a lefty specialist to intentionally walk a lefty hitter and then face righty hitters might not have his mind right.  In all seriousness, the Brewers were underachieving for the last couple of weeks and if they thought bringing in a new manager would “show” the team how to win, or light a spark, so be it.  With 12 games left, it’s not like Dale Sveum is going to channel his inner-Vince Lombardi and lead the Brewers to the promised land.  If they make the playoffs it will be because they remembered how to hit and score runs, not because their former 3B coach is now giving bunt or hit and run signs, or deciding where to bat Rickie Weeks.
Pizza Cutter: Hey, the same strategy “worked” for the Mets earlier this year, right? 
Let’s see if we can diagnose the Brewers’ problem.  From September 1st to the 14th (the day before Yost was fired), the Brewers lost 11 of 14 games.  In those 14 games, they’ve scored: 2, 5, 2, 2, 3, 1, 1, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, and 1 runs.  Maybe you’re sensing the same pattern that I am.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s not exactly the manager who’s at fault here.  According to their Pythagorean record, the Brewers are about a .533 team.  Over any 14 game stretch, the chances that such a team would lose 11 or more is about 1.5%.  The problem is that there are 148 different 14 game series in a team’s season, meaning that we’d expect this to happen in the course of a year for such a team.  Panic on the streets of Milwaukee!  Hang the DJ!

Question #2: What’s your opinion of the Pedro Alvarez situation, and any predictions on the arbitrator’s decision?
Jeff Sackmann: I have always had a lot of respect for Scott Boras–not necessarily for some of his tactics, but for his obvious skill at his job. But this is taking things too far. To the extent Alvarez is on board with Boras’s move, it seems incredibly dumb. This is a guy who could conceivably plow through the minors in a year and half, and fighting over a few million right now could end up costing him a year of free agency.
Brian Cartwright: I believe the real situation is that Boras is trying to punish the Pirates for going around him to get an agreement from Alvarez. Snubbed, Boras probably then told Alvarez not to sign the verbal agreement, that he could
get him more money. If it was only about signing late why didn’t Boras say anything about his other client, Eric Hosmer, who reached an agreement after Alvarez? The Pirates press statement went out of it’s way to condemn Boras and kiss up to Alvarez and his family. The Pirates want the player and don’t want to get him ticked off. Meanwhile, the Union complaint is about extending the deadline, and doesn’t name any players (Alvarez and Hosmer are not union members). If it were up to me, what’s done is done. I would validate Alvarez and Hosmer’s contract, Alvarez would get what he agreed to. Boras shouldn’t be allowed to profit from a situation he helped create. Then tell MLB that starting next year, there can be no more time extensions. Don’t serve up anymore potential loopholes.
Colin Wyers: The teams and the unions have been collaborating on keeping players in the amature drafts in a state of near-indentured servitude since, oh, about the start. Now they’re basically having an arguement over the fine details of that collaboration. A lot of people seem to have the idea that Scott Boras is what’s wrong with baseball, but he is the guy that’s trying to make sure that some of the absurd amounts of money being raked in by baseball are going to the people who actually play baseball, and if nothing else I appreciate Boras for that.
Eric Seidman: I think it was Tom Tango at his blog that summed up my thoughts on this nicely, in that his new employers are going to own him for the next seven years, and get to manipulate service time, etc, so that we shouldn’t get too morally upset over him wanting a better signing deal.  The idea of a team having a player that long before he is eligible for free agency is almost just as egregious as the player holding out for a better deal.
Pizza Cutter: To be honest, I’ve tuned that out.  Scott Boras is involved, so I’m already suspicious.  Scott Boras is an agent, and agents are men who don’t like to be known by their real names: lawyers.  To try to offer an opinion on the subject would be the same as me offering an opinion on the recent collapse of Merrill Lynch.  I probably know just enough to sound like an idiot.
Question #3: Looking at the next five years, what position player is likely to be the worst value for the money?
Jeff Sackmann: I’ll go with Derek Jeter, followed closely by Alfonso Soriano. Jeter’s current contract only runs through 2010, but if he has a nice contract year, and/or the Yanks go deep into the playoffs (on his super-clutch back, of course), it’s easy to imagine him signing a 3-4 year deal somewhere–probably to stay a Yankee–and quickly making the fans yearn for 2007 Johnny Damon.
Soriano seems like the best bet to turn into Ken Griffey Jr., sometimes great, sometimes mediocre, and often injured. And compared to the Jeter argument, we *know* Sori will be making the big bucks through the five-year window. I know there are plenty of Cubs fans who think the signing–all eight years of it–will be worthwhile if the team wins a World Series, but it may be tough to remember that in 2013.
Brian Cartwright: Todd Helton is signed for the next four years, ages 35-38. He’s missed some time this year, but if he’s healthy I expect him to be out there 140 or more games each of those years. Unfortunately, Coors Field helps mask that much of Helton’s value has evaporated since he peaked in 2004. His power is gone. At best he’s a league average firstbaseman on offense. For that Helton will get paid $75.3 million for four seasons.
Colin Wyers: Michael Young is signed to a deal through 2013. So let me ask you – what do you do with an $80 million man with a career 102 OPS? At age 31 it’s only a question of which is going to decline quicker, his offense or his defense. Did I mention his defense? He’s the rebuttal to the arguement that Derek Jeter is the worst defensive shortstop in the AL. There is not a lot of room for hope here.
Pizza Cutter: Here’s what’s funny.  Carlos Gomez will point out that he is a) an over-hyped former Mets outfield prospect, b) really fast, and c) was traded for Johan Freaking Santana.  He will hit a vein of good luck at some point and somehow parlay this into a seven-figure contract, despite the fact that he has little discernible talent for actually hitting a baseball.  In other words, he’s the second coming of Juan Pierre.  Gomez, this year, has the third lowest OPS in baseball (among qualifiers… behind fellow speedsters Willy Taveras and Michael Bourn), the second lowest WPA (behind Jeff Francoeur), and third lowest WPA/LI.  But, because he’s “athletic” (i.e., fast), he’ll get another chance.  Maybe LA could sign him and play him in an outfield with Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones.  That would be the perfect outfield right there. 
Question #4: Joe Posnanski recently wrote that Carlos Beltran was, overall, the best all-around baseball player in the game today.  Give me an argument for or against this.
Jeff Sackmann: I think it takes a weird definition of “all-around” to make this work. If you assign equal weighting to offense, defense, and baserunning, I’m willing to accept Beltran as the best (maybe), but obviously a weighting like that is just bizarre.
Beltran’s OPS+ is 129 this year, 126 last year. Compare that to Pujols and his eighth consecutive year above 150. Beltran surely has more defensive and baserunning value than Albert, but this year their raw OPS difference is about 250 points. Pujols may be a first baseman, but he’s as good at his position as Beltran is at his, so giving the nod to Beltran means valuing a couple dozen stolen bases and positional importance over 250 points of OPS. That seems ludicrous to me.
Brian Cartwright: It is hard to find any weaknesses with Beltran. Every part of his game is good to excellent, except for maybe batting average. He gtes on base, steal bases, hits for power, and plays good defense. However, I believe that the sum of the parts does fall short of being the bext player overall. Chris Dial’s Offense Plus Defense (OPD) has Beltran at +32.1 thru Sept. 2, good for 6th in the NL, led by, of course, Albert Pujols at +70.1. Dial has Grady Sizemore, a player who profiles very similarly to Beltran, leading the AL at +44.7.
Colin Wyers: He’s been the top defensive center fielder from 2003 to 2007, based on UZR. And unlike top defensive shortstops, he can also hit like a monster, too. So I guess you could make a case, except for the fact that Alex Rodriguez exists and is Alex Freaking Rodriguez. (We can have the A-Rod versus Pujols arguement some other time; it’s a fascinating arguement to have.) Rodriguez is essentially outhitting the entire AL save for Milton Bradley, and he does this basically every season.
Eric Seidman: Beltran is/has been the best fielding centerfielder via the +- system over the last few years, is a perennial 20-20 guy, who posts an OPS around .900.  He definitely has all of the tools capable of making him the best all around player in the game, and if we exclude factors like age, I would take him over guys like Sizemore and Granderson, but we cannot exclude factors like that.  If I was building a team, and was given free choice for any CF, Sizemore would be my pick.  It might have been Beltran in 2004, or 2006, but I think he is past the stage of being the best in the game.  Definitely in the top ten when we consider everything he is able to do, but #1 is a bit much.
Pizza Cutter: Is Carlos Beltran even the best center fielder in baseball?  This year, on VORP, he’s being outdone by Grady Sizemore and Josh Hamilton (and Curtis Granderson is in fifth).  Last year, Sizemore and Granderson outperformed Beltran.  That just covers offensive production.  Since the question is “all around”, we need to look deeper.  On fielding measures, Beltran is being outdone this year by both Sizemore and Granderson on Fielding Runs Above Average.  Looking back to last year, Granderson outdid Beltran on OPA!, although Sizemore was just a pedestrian CF.  However, Beltran outdid both on the Fielding Bible Awards, although only slightly over Granderson.  Granderson and Sizemore were both better baserunners than Beltran in 2007.  So, leaving aside the difficulties in comparing center fielders to shortstops and third basemen, I would find it hard to make a case that Beltran is now even the best center fielder in baseball, much less the best all-around player in baseball.
Question #5: K-Rod breaks the save record.  Your reaction please…
Jeff Sackmann: Context stats make me angry. Rodriguez should be thrilled that he’ll go down in history with the likes of single-season RBI leader Hack Wilson.
There’s no question K-Rod is a great reliever. He’s as good a bet as any to be the best late-inning guy for the next five years. But record or no, Rodriguez is arguably not the best reliever in baseball this year, and maybe not even the best reliever in his division in the second half. Going by WXRL, he’s about 0.7 wins behind Brad Lidge, and he’s only beating Brad Ziegler by the same amount, despite more than half again as many appearances.
Brian Cartwright: Rodriguez is very good, and should get his due credit for breaking an all-time record, but it helps perpetuate mismanagement. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, saves are misunderstood without holds. Closers don’t have some inate quality not present in middle relievers. If you can hold a lead in the 7th or 8th, you should be able to do so in the 9th. John Russell of the Pirates showed some clear thinking when his closer Matt Capps went on the disabled list. When asked who the new closer would be, Russell responded that he would just continue making matchups until the end of the game. Of course, when Capps returned, all that went into the waste bucket.
Colin Wyers: The biggest problem with the save stat, at least as I understand it, is that it isn’t very good at measuring what it purports to measure, the importance of the situation a pitcher faces. But K-Rod has the second highest leverage of all AL relievers.  He’s tied for the AL lead in appearances. I don’t want to call him underrated, but I think he’s one of the top-5 relievers in the AL if not all of baseball right now, and that’s a very good player.
Eric Seidman: Those who know me understand how much I despise the Saves statistic not because it is a rite of passage for an analyst but rather because the closer has no control over how many opportunities he is given.  The Angels play a ton of close games, and K-Rod has been very valuable in securing those wins, but on the season his WPA/LI is still below 1.0, meaning he is under one win better than an average player.  Not that that is terrible, especially for a closer who deals in high leverage situations, but his overall numbers have dipped (K/9, BB/9, WHIP) and he is going to demand a huge contract in the off-season.  He was going to get paid either way, saves record or not, so let’s not kid ourselves.  Honestly, I always liked that Bobby Thigpen was the leader because it basically made my point for me that it was an overrated metric; the fact that someone barely anybody else remembers today held the record was kind of nice.
Pizza Cutter: He just became the most valuable player in the history of fantasy baseball.  Which is nice.  Keep your eye on where Frankie lands this off-season.  The team that signs him has no idea what they’re doing.  K-Rod will probably save 60 games, primarily because he’s been given 60-something opportunities.  I’ve shown before that ninth inning pitchers hold leads of 3 runs or less at a rate of about 86-87%.  Sixth inning pitchers (whether the tired starter or the fourth-option reliever) have a rate of about 81%.  Let’s say the Angels end up giving K-Rod 64 chances at saves in the 9th inning.  An average sixth inning pitcher would convert 52 of those.  Yes, K-Rod is a good reliever and has done much better than the average pitcher, but let’s keep some perspective here.


2 Responses to World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: September 17

  1. Sky says:

    I really enjoyed the round table this week, guys.
    When “fielding runs above average” was mentioned, that’s surely not BPro’s FRAA stat, right? The one that’s not based on play by play data?
    By combined STATS/BIS zone rating, Beltran’s slightly ahead of Sizemore in range both in the mid teens, while Granderson’s like 7-8 runs back. FWIW. I think Beltran is definitely one of the least appreciated players in the game, but there are 6-8 guys I’d take ahead of him, with Pujols, Berkman, Arod, Chipper, Utley, and Sizemore being no-brainers.

  2. terpsfan101 says:

    Keep in mind that K-Rod has not had a single appearance this year where he has pitched more than 1 inning. In early August Mariano Rivera pitched 1+ innings 5 times in a span of 6 appearances.

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