World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: November 12

This week the roundtable rolls along with just the usual StatSpeakers.  Why no guest?  Because I’m an idiot and forgot to book one.  That’s why.  This week’s roundtable is dedicated to the memory of the Voice of Summer in Cleveland, former Indians broadcaster (and 1955 AL Rookie of the Year) Herb Score, who died yesterday at age 75.  I (and any baseball fan raised in Cleveland) owe a large part of my love affair with the game of baseball to listening to Score calling games during those endless summer nights when I was a kid.  I actually choked up writing that.  That’s how much he’ll be missed.

Anyway, come and read along as the StatSpeak crew discusses Holliday-to-the-A’s, Willingham-and-Olsen-to-the-Nats, Bay-away-from-the-Pirates, and the farce that is the Gold Gloves.

Question #1: What does Billy Beane want with Matt Holliday?

Colin Wyers: Remind me in the future to stop submitting Roundtable questions that I don’t know the answer to. I do this to myself every week.

The best I can figure is that Billy Beane is like a shark – if he stops moving he dies. He’s very clearminded about what the end goal is, but he’s very singleminded about pursuing value in whatever forms it came about. I think he probably found that he could get Holliday for players the Rockies thought more highly of than he did, and is planning to figure out what to do with Holliday later.

Brian Cartwright:  Well, Holliday will be the best hitter in his lineup, about equal in total production to Jack Cust. If it were up to me, Emil Brown would be shown the door about now. Even moving from Coors to Oakland, Holliday should still hit about .300 and slug near .500. As for the cost, Huston Street is a very good reliever, Greg Smith a decent starter, and Carlos Gonzalez a below average former prospect in the outfield. Gonzalez put up some good minor league seasons when he was 18 and 19, long like he could hit 20 HRs in the majors. But over the last 3 years his power has evaporated, and he walks well below average. I think Oakland got the better talent in this trade.

Eric Seidman: Home runs, RBIs, OBP, SLG, OPS, 2B, BA, pretty much everything Holliday does well.  I’ve read two schools of thoughts on this trade.  The first is that Beane isn’t finished and he will look to acquire some more pieces.  This isn’t very likely.  The more likely school of thought is that he traded away players he didn’t really need for a player that will, in my eyes, prove to be the CC Sabathia or Manny Ramirez of the 2009 season.  Expect a team like the Phillies or Cubs or Cardinals, or some team close to contending near the deadline to spring their farm for 2.5 months of Matty.

Pizza Cutter: It’s plain to see why any baseball team would want Holliday on their team.  But why now for the rebuilding A’s?  I suppose the possibility exists that Billy Beane is going to play “Let’s Make a Deal” and flip Holliday like a downtown Chicago condo.  Considering that he gave up a closer whom he wasn’t going to be able to afford anyway (because he’s now an “established” closer), a ground-ball happy, high strikeout, low power center fielder with a low OBP, and some guy named Greg Smith to get him, it’s a low risk move.  The A’s spent all of last year trading their best chips for prospects (cf. Haren, Blanton, Harden/Gaudin), so the more likely event is that Holliday will be traded either in the next few weeks or at mid-season for a nice haul.  In doing so, Billy essentially trades guys he would likely have gotten rid of anyway for a package of guys that he does want, using Holliday as the middle man.  If Holliday stays the year and then leaves at the end of 2009, Beane gets two draft picks and a face to put out to the fans to say “see, we are playing for next year… please buy tickets.”  Either way, Beane gets to stock his farm system with cheap young talent.  It’s un-orthodox and charmingly counter-intuitive.

Question #2: After a couple months of hindsight, how do you think the Pirates did on
trading Jason Bay?

Colin Wyers: The Pirates essentially were in a corner – they had to deal Bay for value at some point, and they really weren’t certain that they were going to better value later. (It doesn’t help matters that they were also trying to shop Nady at the same time, thus shrinking the market for Bay.)

From a 2009 perspective, the next step for the Pirates to fully capitalize on this is to move McLouth out of center field and into Bay’s old spot. I think that Gold Glove voters are engaged in a sinister conspiracy to keep the Pirates (and apparently the Rangers as well) mired at the bottom of their respective divisions – how do you move a Gold Glover off his position? This is a damn shame – the Rays (and to a lesser extent the Brewers) are an object lesson in how you can upgrade a team by paying some attention to the defensive alignment.

Brian Cartwright: Still has a chance to succeed. The Pirates got four prospects for one star. Andy LaRoche put up consistently good numbers in the minors until 2008, when he suffered a hand injury in Spring Training. I’m hoping that his stats will recover next year to his previous level, which would be a good major league thirdbaseman. On the other hand, I’ve soured on Brandon Moss. After I got my program to adjust for park factors, it’s apparent that Moss has only had one even above average season (2004) out of  seven he’s played in the pro’s. Then Craig Hansen forgets how to throw a strike. 

Eric Seidman: I don’t know how we can answer this question yet.  Sure, it seems they got a decent enough return, but the prospects they received are by no means of the Evan Longoria-ilk.  I suppose they could have done worse but we won’t really know how they made out until these guys log some significant major league playing time.  In my eyes, getting a top-tier prospect from either team, Dodgers or Red Sox, would have been better than getting three or four second-tier players.

Pizza Cutter: As far as how the Pirates made out, I suppose that we can really only look at it from the perspective that they traded Bay for four prospects.  Fortunately, we have the recent trades of a couple other established corner OF types (Adam Dunn, Matt Holliday) with which to compare the Bay trade.  Both of the other trades brought three good-but-not-great prospects to trading team, so at least the Pirates got the going rate (plus one).  Clearly, they weren’t going to keep Bay, so they got something for him.  The problem with prospects is that their trajectory range is so great and we have no way of knowing what’s going to come of guys like Hansen or LaRoche.  The problem is that none of the guys received have that “sure fire” profile about them.  They all project as fair-to-middling guys, but none is really a closed case.  I’d say we need another year or two to really evaluate the hindsight of whether the Pirates did a good job on the Bay trade.  Maybe the Pirates should have focused on finding two Grade A prospects (one from the Dodgers, one from the Red Sox?) 

Question #3: An interesting point was brought up with regards to the Scott Olsen/Josh Willingham deal to the Nationals.  The point was that, on occasion, fans feel some trades look odd because the perceived value of players dealt vastly exceeds the actual value of the players.  What does Florida only getting back Emilio Bonifacio and two average prospects say about their willingness to deal Olsen and Willingham, as well as Jim Bowden’s idea of evaluating talent?

Colin Wyers: Jim Bowden redeems his earlier mistake of trading something that’s not Emilio Bonifacio for Emilio Bonifacio, at least.

Looking at the latest ZiPS projections, it’s hard for me to hate this trade from a Nats point of view – while it probably says more about the sad existance of the Nationals to date than anything else, Olsen does upgrade their rotation and is young enough to still have some upside. Putting Willingham in LF probably upgrades their offense – again, that’s no high bar.

Are these two guys a contending team goes after? Probably not. But it’s hard to say they’re expensive from any standpoints other than the Madness of Loria. And if you can get back two major leaguers for a package headlined by Emilio Bonifacio, how can you say no? 

Brian Cartwright:  I thought the Nationals did fairly well in this trade. Most anybody would be an improvement on what they have now. Bonifacio was a good field/no hit secondbaseman, while Willingham’s been a consistently above average power hitting outfielder who can also take a walk. Now 29, he’s been slowly declining for 5 years, but is still good. The Nats got more value in return, mostly because they were willing to take on potential salary increases in arbitration that Florida was not.

Eric Seidman: Many fans saw Olsen’s 4.20 ERA and thought the Nationals automatically won this trade.  Then you add in Willingham’s 20+ HR, .800 OPS production and it cements it as a done deal.  You have to factor in some other aspects of their performance, however, to understand why this trade SEEMS like a slam dunk for Washington, but isn’t.  First, Olsen lost significant velocity on his fastball that, even with a slight September rebound, saw him strikeout 5 batters per nine innings instead of 8 in 2006.  With 3 walks per nine innings, he has become a pitcher throwing to contact, with 89-90 mph velocity.  As Dave Cameron noted at Fangraphs, these types of pitchers become marginal fifth starters.  Olsen is still young, though.  Willingham is not.  While I am personally a fan of Willingham and would have liked to see him in a Phillies uniform as a platoon in LF if Burrell is not re-signed, Josh is 30, and is not the type of player a team leans on to improve significantly.  I still don’t think Jim Bowden really has a grasp for evaluating talent.  Luckily, he gave up virtually nothing, but acquiring NL East castoffs (LoDuca, Willie Harris, Olsen, Willingham) is not the way to win.

Pizza Cutter: As a therapist, you learn that when looking at an interaction between two people, there are plenty of dysfunctions that you have to consider.  There’s Florida’s extreme penny pinching ways and Washington’s desperate need to make it look like they’re doing something, anything at all.  Then, both sides were overly impressed by things that they should not be impressed by.  Like a lot of bad relationships, this was the perfect coincidence of two people with two dysfunctional sets of needs that could be filled by the other.  And like a lot of bad relationships, they’ll both live to regret this one.

Willingham is older than I am; he’ll be 30 on Opening Day of next year.  I bet you didn’t know that, because the assumption is that everyone on the Marlins is a candidate to get carded at a rated-R movie.  He’s not a bad player, but when you think of him as a 30 year old guy, doesn’t his value sink a little?  Olsen got really unlucky in 2007 (.350 BABIP, 65.6% LOB) and really lucky in 2008 (.266 BABIP), so he looked a lot better this year because it looked like the trend lines were pointing his way.  (Luck does not have a trend line.)  Olsen’s FIP, however, in both years was over 5.00.  Yes, he was the biggest Marlin in the pond, and that’s an old marketing trick.  You put something next to four other things to which the first is clearly superior, and people will actually value it higher than it really should be.  Then there’s Emilio Bonaficio (or was it Enrico Palazzo) who hits lots of grounders and runs really fast… and has a career .300 OBP.  He’ll surely end up at the top of the Marlins’ lineup… because he’s fast!

Question #4: And the award for ‘least deserving of that Gold Glove he just won’ goes to…

Colin Wyers:  I really don’t know. Nate McLouth had about as poor a year defensively in CF as one can have, and still came up with a Gold Glove, which isn’t good. But then Michael Young won a Gold Glove – and while he only put up a sub-par rather than a truly bad year with the glove, he’s been a bad defensive shortstop long enough that the voters really should have known better.

You also have to put a mention in for Adrian Gonzales. It’s not that he’s a poor defensive first baseman, per se – although he isn’t that great, either. But not knowing who the best defensive first baseman in the NL is? Really, Gold Glove voters? That’s like failing to know the question to an answer in Colors That End In Urple.

Brian Cartwright:  Nate McLouth, with runner up to Michael Young. I swear the coaches and managers who vote for these must only watch the game in person, catch some Sports Center highlights, and see who has the best fielding percentage. I read that one metric had McLouth rated dead last in centerfielders. I didn’t think he was that bad, but I would definitely say below average. At least Derek Jeter didn’t win.

Eric Seidman: The NL was almost perfect save for Nate McLouth, but then you have to remember that, for whatever reason, the Gold Gloves seemingly factor in notoriety, which comes from solid offensive production.  I can give the voters a pass on McLouth for nailing virtually every other position… however Chase Utley was so far out ahead of every other 2B that he probably should have won.  In the AL, again, very good job save for Michael Young.  Young is a 2B playing SS right now, and even his offense faltered this year.  

Pizza Cutter: I’m not entirely sure where the idea came from that Michael Young was a good fielding shortstop, but I think the balloting went something like this.  The media-types felt bad because all the attention in AL-shortstop-dom falls on Derek Jeter, despite the fact that Young is neck-and-neck with if not a little better than Jeter with the stick.  Jeter has also won a few Gold Gloves despite (also) being a bad fielder, so as a make-good gesture to Young, they figured that they would vote Young a Gold Glove for his awful defense.  I don’t have the 2008 OPA! numbers yet, but in 2004 and 2005, Young rated as 26 runs below league average (last among all MLB SS’s that year), rebounded to be 5 runs above average in 2006, but then plummeted to 15 runs below average in 2007.  Apparently in 2008, he had a Rennaissance?  For what it’s worth, he doesn’t appear on the list of shortstop bottom feeders on the 2008 Plus/Minus Fielding Bible list.

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One Response to World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: November 12

  1. Wayne DeLong says:

    I would like to know where to go to find out how many and who played MLB that were under 5′ 8″. I don’t know if its available or not but it is important. I have a grandson who loves the game and has heart, but is concerned about his size. Thank you

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