Archive for December, 2008

Anaheim’s New Closer

Luck and a poor free agent economy paid off for the Angels as they managed to avoid being hamstrung to a long-term deal with Francisco Rodriguez put on the table early in the 2008 season and when the winter rolled around, the once boggling contracts for closers that were in vogue during the previous winter were now already out of style.

Rodriguez got considerably less from the Mets than he was hoping for and with few other teams bidding, the Angels have found their replacement in Brian Fuentes. According to Buster Olney, the contract is for two-years, totaling $17.5 million and comes with a $9 million option for 2011 that vests depending on 55 games finished, which is probably about a 50/50 shot.

Evaluating the deal on the premise that the option will vest leaves us with a three-year, $26.5 million and the Angels’ first round draft pick as the cost to Anaheim. This covers the age 33 through 35 seasons for Fuentes so there has to be some concern about age-related decline in the mix.

Fuentes rebounded last season to post a 3.25 xFIP. His more reported rates, FIP and ERA, were artifically low thanks to a unsustainable home run per fly ball ratio. All in all, 2009 projections for Fuentes are going to land between his 2007 and 2008 numbers, and look a lot like his 2006 season. We have a nice (but not so nifty) way of determining the value of relievers thanks to Tango (links here and here). Please refer back to Tango’s threads for the worhtwhile explanations and to point any mistakes that I am likely about to make.

Projecting pitchers is difficult and messy so I like to gather inputs from a variety of sources, much like on defense, to see if I can establish a reasonable consensus. Looking at Marcel, tRA and others and throwing in pixie dust for the NL to AL switch, I get a projection of 3.71 against a league average of 4.49. Plugging that into the winning percentage formula (reproduced below) leaves us with a .585 winning percentage. I looked at only RP when coming up with my league averages, so I need to deviate slightly from Tango’s stated 0.470 replacement level down to 0.451. Taking the difference between those two figures and multiplying by his projected playing time yields 0.92 wins.

Fuentes is going to be used as a closer, so his expected leverage is about 2. Chaining that (refer to the second of Tango’s links) adds a 50% bonus to his win total and we arrive finally at a 2009 projection of just under 1.4 wins. Knock off 10% for the security of the contract and for aging and over the brunt of the contract, it appears that the Angels are paying Fuentes at a rate of $7 million per win.

The contract initially looks like a bargain because of the numbers that were bandied about last winter and the start of this one, but the simple truth is that relievers have to be very, very good to warrant big salaries and while Fuentes was superb in 2008, he was average in 2007 and merely good in 2006.

The formula for computing a pitcher’s winning percentage:
A = (RA + leagRA) ^ 0.28
B = (leag RA / RA) ^ A
Win%= B / (B + 1)

Here We Go Again – Phillies & Mets

Since 2006, the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets have held fort atop the NL East. The Mets ended the Braves streak of 138 consecutive division titles three seasons ago, coming within one game of reaching the World Series. The following season, both the Mets and Phillies battled down to the wire, with the Phils winning the division on the final day of the season. Last season, both teams again battled into September, with the Phillies clinching the division right before the season ended. This time, they went on and actually won the World Series.

The offseason has proved to be very active for both Omar Minaya and Ruben Amaro, Jr, even though Minaya’s transactions have meant more to his team.

With the vast majority of last season’s squad returning, Amaro’s moves have primarily come in the form of little pieces here and there. He brought in Ronnie Paulino from the Pirates to challenge Chris Coste for the backup catcher spot. Scott Eyre and Jamie Moyer both re-signed. Chan Ho Park joined the team to either take on a similar role to that of Chad Durbin last season and/or battle for the fifth rotation spot. And Raul Ibanez, in a much-maligned deal by many, replaced Pat Burrell in left-field.

Minaya acquired Francisco Rodriguez, J.J. Putz, and Sean Green to sure up a bullpen that ultimately cost the Mets the division last season. The lineup will return, in tact, and Derek Lowe may even be added to the rotation. Minaya has made a 3-yr/$36 mil offer to Lowe, though I would bet my bottom dollar that Lowe eventually signs for closer to 3-yr/$45 mil.

How do these teams stack up in 2009? Even though the Marlins are young and offensively talented, and the Braves acquired a solid pitcher in Javier Vazquez, the Phillies and Mets are still the top two teams in the division. Does one have a projected advantage over the other? Let’s break the analysis down into different facets of each team. And, for the record, the projections I arrived at were derived from the results of several different systems, weighted and merged, not just one system.

Both the Phillies and Mets have very potent offensive lineups. Both are also quite solid defensively. Chase Utley, the best player on the Phillies, had surgery following the World Series and may or may not be available for opening day. In calculating these projections, I placed Utley at around 130 games and 520 PA. His offensive and defensive contributions are also lessened due to the likelihood that he will miss some time.

The Phillies starting lineup, not in Charlie Manuel’s exact order, will feature the following players: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pedro Feliz, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Carlos Ruiz. As poor as Howard looks with the glove sometimes, he has actually been eerily close to average over the last few seasons, and projects to just barely below average next season. If he is considered to be a league average first baseman with the glove, then only Raul Ibanez projects negatively on defense for the defending champions.

Likewise, the Mets only project to feature one negative defender: Carlos Delgado. Luis Castillo could prove to be a poor defender with his injury history, but I currently have both he and Daniel Murphy as league average defenders. The remaining starters—Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Ryan Church, and Brian Schneider—all project positively on the defensive front.

All told, the Phillies project to +80 runs offensively in their lineup and +40 runs defensively. After adjustments to value production above replacement level as well as for their positions, the lineup comes out at +26.0 WAR. The Mets offense projects to +93 runs while their defense clocks in at +19 runs. After the same adjustments are taken into account, their lineup proves to be worth +26.1 WAR. Eerily similar.

Yesterday we examined the Mets rotation under a few different scenarios regarding whether or not they sign Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, Randy Wolf, or Tim Redding. With an actual contract being presented to Lowe, and the likelihood that he will eventually sign, the Mets rotation should feature Johan Santana, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Derek Lowe, and Jonathan Niese. Assuming roughly 150 innings from Niese at a 4.45 FIP, this rotation projects to +14.3 WAR.

The Phillies will bring back Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. The fifth spot is going to be up for grabs between J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Carrasco, Chan Ho Park, and (gasp) Adam Eaton. As I mentioned yesterday, Happ is my pick to win the spot, which would place the Phillies rotation at +11.8 WAR. The teams may be virtually even in the starting lineup department, but the Mets have a +2.5 win advantage in the rotation.

The Phillies re-signed Scott Eyre and brought in Chan Ho Park, leaving the rest of the relief corps in tact. Players like Gary Majewski and Dave Borkowski were invited to Spring Training, but would only take the spot of Clay Condrey if either were to make the team. Brad Lidge returns as the closer, with Ryan Madson setting him up. After these two, the Phillies will rely on J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, Eyre, Park, and Condrey. This bullpen projects to be worth +3.4 wins next season.

The Mets replaced Billy Wagner with Francisco Rodriguez; Aaron Heilman with J.J. Putz; and added a solid piece in Sean Green. These three will join the likes of Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez, Brian Stokes, and Bob Parnell to form a much more formidable bullpen. This relief corps looks like it could be worth +3.6 wins next season. Though this advantage over the Phillies is slight, the ‘pen was a major achilles heel for the Mets last season.

Benches are tough to project, again given the small samples of playing time as well as the uncertainty surrounding who will fill certain spots. Assuming Paulino beats out Coste for the backup job, the Phillies will feature some combination of: Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, Geoff Jenkins, Eric Bruntlett, Ronnie Paulino, and Jason Donald. Donald may be the odd one out of this group. Dobbs is the best pinch-hitter in baseball but is still likely worth under one win next season. Without Donald, these five project to +1.5 WAR.

The Mets will have Fernando Tatis and Jeremy Reed on their bench, as well as Ramon Castro. After that, it does not seem that any backup infielders are on the roster, and the only other bench players that seem like viable candidates to make the team are Angel Pagan and Nicholas Evans. Their bench could range anywhere from +0.6 to +1.2 wins. We can call it +0.9 for now, though this will need to be updated before the season starts. The Phillies have over a half-win advantage here, but this is the only area where they come out on top.

For the Phillies, we are looking at +26 wins from the lineup, +11.8 from the rotation, +3.4 from the bullpen, and +1.5 from the bench. This adds up to +42.7 wins. Given that a team chock-full of replacement players would win 47-48 games, the Phillies are projected to win 89-90 games in 2009.

The Mets will get +26.1 wins from the lineup, +14.3 from the rotation featuring Lowe and the aforementioned Niese projection, +3.6 out of the ‘pen, and +0.9 from the bench. This adds up to +44.9 wins, which we will round up to +45 wins. Added to the replacement wins total, the Mets are projected to win 91-92 games next season.

Once again, the teams are extremely close, and 2009 should treat fans to another stellar battle between the Mets and Phillies.

Northsiders Make a Ton of Moves

The Cubs posted the National League’s best record in 2008, before being defeated in the playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite ongoing ownership issues, Jim Hendry and crew began the off-season looking to upgrade their team, and dominos appeared close to falling as the Cubs flirted with acquiring Jake Peavy. Weeks later, the tipping point has struck, as in the past two days the Cubs have traded Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis – the latter which is “done in principle” just unannounced – receiving in return three prospects and Luis Vizcaino, signed Aaron Miles, and seemingly reached an agreement with Milton Bradley. Oh, and they still seem interested in Peavy.

We’ll begin with the contract swap. Marquis is owed roughly 10 million next season, the final of his current dealt, while Vizcaino receives 3.5 million in 2009, and has a club option for 2010. Both teams motives are pretty clear; the Cubs wanted financial flexibility and to clear a starting pitcher logjam, the latter being something the Rockies could use.

Marquis had a so-so season in 2008. On one hand, his FIP did improve by 0.3 runs meanwhile Marquis strikeout and walk rates moved the wrong way, leading to a poor K/BB ratio. Marquis did allow fewer homeruns, yet are those the results from improved processes, or simply the product of homerun per flyball rates below his career norm? Hitters swung out of zone against Marquis more than in recent years despite nothing changing in his approach

Vizcaino continued having walk and homerun issues. As you can imagine, those two don’t mix well when placed within Coors Field. To his credit, Vizcaino did strike out quite a bit less season, and he was a victim of some BABIP bad luck. Vizcaino is somewhere between 4 and 4.5 FIP moving forward.

CHONE has Vizcaino worth ~0.2 WAR, and Marquis worth ~1 WAR. Marcels has Marquis closer to 2 WAR and Vizcaino again around ~0.2 WAR If you call the difference around ~1.3 WAR you’re talking about a difference of ~7 million, which coincidentally is almost exactly the difference in salary. The Cubs are trading from an excess with the intention of putting the difference towards a player superior to both, making this move understandable, if not perfect in return value.

The signing of Miles was simply a precursor to the DeRosa deal. The Cubs again are losing some value in their major league tradeoffs. Working with the assumption that Miles rarely (if ever) stands in at short, the Cubs are signing an average defender with a below average bat. Miles will be paid 2.2 million in 2009 and 2.7 in 2010, which is beyond questionable. 2008 was Miles first decent offensive season, driven by unsustainable BABIP and line drive totals. Once that regresses, Miles is an ordinary middle infielder. I won’t go as far as to say players like Reegie Corona and Ray Olmedo are better, but Miles simply isn’t worth an average of 2.5 million. That salary also assumes Miles will reach 0.5 WAR, something accomplished once in his career.

Plus where’s the need? Given Mike Fontenot’s placement on the roster and Ronny Cedeno sitting in purgatory, Miles offers nothing above those two. Even if Fontenot or Cedeno is part of a package for Jake Peavy, I’m still not sure the Cubs couldn’t have paid less and acquired the same level of talent as Miles, who also can’t play the outfield, something DeRosa brought to the table.

DeRosa has been a solid ~3-3.5 WAR player the past three seasons and could step in as the Indians starting second baseman, completing a left-ward shift of Tribe middle infielders – Jhonny Peralta to third and Asdrubal Cabrera to short – and is owed 5.5 million in the final year of his contract. The return on DeRosa consists of a package of minor league arms: Jeff Stevens, Chris Archer, and John Gaub. Stevens appears to be the closest to the majors, and could make his debut in the Cubs bullpen next season.

Finally, we reach the probable Milton Bradley signing. Since there’s a lack of concrete details out, we’ll assume this makes him the starting right fielder and not in center. This leaves Reed Johnson and Kosuke Fukudome (along with Joey Gathright) fighting for the center field job. The biggest concern about Bradley is his durability and volatile nature. Expecting 100+ games from Bradley in the field seems a bit reckless. We’ll wait on the contract details before providing further analysis, but one things for sure: the Cubs are becoming aggressive.

Win Values Explained: Part Five

For the last couple of days, we’ve been talking about the different components of the Win Value system. However, you may have noticed that we’ve been dealing entirely in runs. wRAA, UZR, the position adjustment, and replacement level are all expressed in terms of runs, not wins, and that’s why the sum of those numbers is categorized under Value Runs.

So, if all of our metrics deal in terms of runs, but we want to get to wins, we need to know how many runs it takes to make a win. This is actually quite a bit easier than it sounds, thanks to the pythag formula for expected win-loss records. For those not aware of pythag, you can get a good estimate of a team’s winning percentage by dividing the square of runs scored by the sum of the square of runs scored and the square of runs allowed. Or, in formula terms:

RS^2/(RS^2 + RA^2) = Pythagorean Winning Percentage. So, if a team scored 775 runs and allowed 775 runs, they’d have a .500 Pythag Win%, or 81 wins and 81 losses – even amounts of runs scored and runs allowed should lead to something like an even record. Not as scary as it sounds.

What happens if we subtract 10 runs from the runs scored column, so that we now have a 765 RS/775 RA team? Pythag spits out a .4935 win%, and .4935 * 162 = 79.95 wins. So, instead of 81 wins, you’re now expected to win just barely less than 80. By subtracting 10 runs, you lost a fraction more than one win.

Same thing happens if you add 10 runs to the runs allowed column – 775/785 RS/RA spits out .4935 as well. How about if you add 10 runs, so we have a 785/775 team? .5064 win%, or 82.03 wins. Again, 10 runs added equals one win gained.

For an even more precise look at the issue, you could use the improved PythagenPat method, which places a better exponent in the calculation, but the conclusion is going to be the same; 10 runs = 1 win.

So, when you see value expressed in runs, but you want it in wins, just divide by 10. Likewise, if you see it in wins but you want it in runs, multiply by 10. It might sound like a cheap trick, but it’s reality – 10 runs add up to a win. A +20 run player is a +2 win player.

The Littlest Giants

The San Francisco Giants’ infield could be a very interesting place in 2009. Eric touched on the organization’s 25-man roster earlier this week so I am going to now take the opportunity to focus on the young players in the infield. The club will feature an entirely remade infield and young players will be front and center in the remodeling.

New shortstop Edgar Renteria will be the veteran stabilizing influence at the shortstop position. His OPS slumped to .699 in 2008, along with a wOBA of .308 (down from .381 in 2008). Renteria’s defence is also on the slide with a UZR in the past two seasons of -1.7 and 0.9.

The other middle infield spot is still up in the air – although the 2008-09 off-season is far from over. If the season were to begin tomorrow, a group of young players would have the opportunity to fight for playing time. Those players struggling for scraps of at-bats would include Eugenio Velez, Emmanuel Burriss and Kevin Frandsen.

Velez can fly like the wind, but he is best suited to a utility role and pinch runner. He hit .262 in 275 at-bats in 2008, while also posting a wOBA of .297. Just under 60 percent of his batted balls were hit on the ground so he understands how to take advantage of his speed. He just needs to walk more (4.8 BB% in 2008).

Burriss hit .283/.357/.329 with a .318 wOBA in 240 MLB at-bats in 2008. He also has speed and stole 13 bases in 18 attempts. He has played more shortstop in the minors but he was more impressive at the Major League level at second base. He has the highest ceiling of the young middle infielders.

Frandsen appeared all over the diamond in 2007 but missed most of 2008 with a torn Achilles’ tendon. He returned at the end of 2008 and appeared in the Arizona Fall League where he dominated with a line of .333/.392/.421 in 133 at-bats. After stealing 10 bases in 13 attempts, Frandsen even showed that his Achilles tendon was feeling better.

At third base, Pablo Sandoval likely has the inside shot at this point. The catcher-third baseman hit .345/.357/.490 with a wOBA of .361 in 145 MLB at-bats last season. He held his own in the field at third base and did not make an error in 85 innings.

Minor League free agent Jesus Guzman, signed out of the A’s organization, is a sleeper option for 2009 at third base. His defence is nothing to write home about but if he continues to hit, he’ll earn his shot. Currently this off-season in Venezuela, Guzman is dominating with a line of .349/.435/.616 in 232 at-bats. He also recently broke the winter league’s 35-year-old RBI record with his 67th of the season.

At first base, the Giants will have former Jays top prospect Josh Phelps in camp on a minor league deal. He held his own for the Yankees and Pirates in 2007 but was a victim of numbers despite a .306 batting average and seven homers in 157 at-bats. He hit .265 in 34 at-bats for the Cardinals in 2008 but was playing in an organization that really didn’t need a back-up first baseman very often.

John Bowker, 25, also has a shot at playing time at first base in 2008 after spending 71 games there in 2008. Defensively, he was nothing special with a RF/9 of 7.96. Offensively, Bowker batted .255/.300/.408 with a wOBA of .307 and an ISO of .153 in 326 at-bats.

Travis Ishikawa will battled Bowker for time from the left-handed batter’s box. The 25-year-old hit .274/.337/.432 with a wOBA of .337 in just 95 MLB at-bats in 2008. He had a very nice minor league season split between Double-A and Triple-A, after a putrid 2007 season. He needs to come out and have a hot start to the season to put the doubters’ whispers to rest.

All-in-all, the Giants organization likely will not receive above-average offensive or defensive production from the infield in 2009. But it should be interesting to watch and one or two of the players will likely stick around in San Francisco for a number of years to come.

Pitching the 2009 Mets

Omar Minaya made one of the first big offseason splashes when he signed Francisco Rodriguez to a 3-yr deal. K-Rod may be showing signs of decline, but with Billy Wagner on the shelf for most, if not all, of the season, the new single-season saves recordholder is a definite improvement over the likes of Luis Ayala and Aaron Heilman. Minaya then sent the aforementioned Heilman to the Mariners in a three team traded that netted the Mets two solid relievers: Sean Green and J.J. Putz.

His focus to date has been spent on the bullpen, which makes sense, given their struggles last season. Their starting rotation still has a spot or two to fill, though, and several players have been linked to the team.

Johan Santana, John Maine, and Mike Pelfrey will all be returning. After these three, several Mets bloggers believe that Jonathan Niese will win the final rotation spot. If not Niese, the Mets still have options in the forms of Brandon Knight and Nelson Figueroa. With 140 innings out of Niese, the current fearsome foursome may look like this next season:

Johan Santana     3.45 FIP     220 IP     +4.5 WAR
John Maine        4.35 FIP     180 IP     +2.1 WAR
Mike Pelfrey      4.08 FIP     185 IP     +2.8 WAR
Jonathan Niese    4.55 FIP     140 IP     +1.4 WAR

Before even adding the final piece to the puzzle that is their starting rotation, these four project to +10.8 wins. The four pitchers heavily linked to the Mets are: Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, Randy Wolf, and Tim Redding. Here are the projections for these four:

Derek Lowe       3.67 FIP     185 IP     +3.7 WAR
Randy Wolf       4.35 FIP     175 IP     +2.0 WAR
Oliver Perez     4.60 FIP     180 IP     +1.7 WAR
Tim Redding      4.77 FIP     159 IP     +1.3 WAR

With Lowe added to the mix, which may come to fruition very soon, the Mets rotation jumps from +10.8 wins to +14.5 wins. If you recall the post yesterday on the Giants’ chances of contending, their solid starting rotation projects to +15.4 wins. Adding Lowe places the Mets right in the thick of perhaps sporting the best rotation in the senior circuit.

Adding Wolf bumps them up to a respectable +12.8 wins; Perez shifts the rotation from +10.8 to +12.5; and Redding adds +1.3 wins to put the starters at +12.1 wins. If they were to sign Lowe and then resign Perez, Niese theoretically gets bumped and the rotation would project to +14.8 wins.

Essentially, if Niese can manage 140 innings with a 4.55 FIP, his value will be incredibly similar to that of Oliver Perez. Of course, nobody knows if Niese can produce these numbers, but adding Lowe while keeping him in the mix produces +14.5 wins; spending plenty of money on Perez, while signing Lowe, adds a mere +0.3 wins. Given that Perez will likely command a salary upwards of 20 times that of Niese, it makes more sense to give the kid a shot.

Regardless, signing Lowe to an average annual value of $15-16 mil makes sense. If he declines by a 0.7 wins each year, given his age, then he goes from +3.7 to +3.0 to +2.3 wins. If we assume a conservative 7.5% inflation rate, his fair market values in these years would be $18.5 mil, $16.5 mil, and $13.8 mil, respectively. Added together, that equates to 3-yrs/$49 mil. The contract reportedly on the table is for 3-yrs/$45-$48 mil.

The next question is: How does this rotation compare to the Phillies? The defending champs will bring back Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. The fifth spot will be up for grabs between J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Carrasco, Chan Ho Park, and Adam Eaton. My pick is Happ to win that contest, which would peg their rotation to be worth +11.8 wins.

If these projections hold true, and Niese can manage the aforementioned workload/production, then the Mets could realistically sign Redding and still have an equal rotation to the Phillies. Bringing aboard Perez and Wolf elevates them. Signing Lowe gives the Mets approximately a +2.5 win advantage in this department.

Minaya has done a good job in strengthening the ‘pen with the additions of K-Rod, Putz, and Green. Bringing Lowe to The Big Apple will further strengthen their rotation and, in my eyes, make them the team to beat in the NL East next season. It hurts me to say that, as a Phillies fan, but it will sure feel that way if Lowe signs.

Win Values Explained: Part Four

Okay, so, in the first three parts, we’ve covered Batting, Fielding, and Position Adjustments, and hopefully you’ve been able to see how we’re arriving at the values used for each component. By combining those three parts, you get runs above or below average. However, as I mentioned at the end of the last post, we don’t really know how much average costs, but we do know how much replacement level costs, so we prefer to value players above replacement, as that gives us a fixed baseline of $400,000 in salary – the league minimum.

For a great read on replacement level, check out this article by Sean Smith. In it, he uses his CHONE projections to figure out the offensive production that a team could expect from players not projected to be good enough to make a major league roster next year. These guys have fallen into that Four-A category, where they show more ability than your average Triple-A veteran but not enough to hold down a major league job. They’re usually available every winter as minor league free agents, via the Rule 5 draft, or as cheap trade acquisitions where a team can acquire one of these players without giving up any real talent in return.

As Sean showed in his article, and has been shown elsewhere, the expected value of a replacement level player is about negative 20 runs per 600 PA. Or, to phrase it a bit differently, if you lost a league average player and replaced him with a freely available guy, you’d lose about two wins. That’s why the replacement level calculation in our Win Value formula is 20/600*PA. If you get exactly 600 PA during a season, your replacement level adjustment will be +20 runs. If you get 700 PA, your replacement level adjustment will be +23.3 runs. The more you play, the higher the replacement level adjustment, because you’re filling a larger quantity of playing time and that chunk won’t need to be filled by anyone else.

The replacement level calculation serves to do two things in our calculations – adjust the scale so that the baseline value is $400,000 at zero wins, and rewards players who stay on the field. For instance, Chipper Jones was outstanding in ’08, posting a .446 wOBA and a +4.9 UZR. However, he only racked up 534 PA, so the Braves had to give approximately 66 PA to people who weren’t Chipper Jones. Therefore, Chipper’s replacement level adjustment is just 17.8 runs – we presume that the folks who filled in for him were about 2.2 runs below average in those 66 PA, and that comes out of Chipper’s replacement level adjustment. Players who stay healthy and can take the field everyday have value above and beyond their rate statistics, and scaling the replacement level adjustment to plate appearances rewards them for that extra value.

If you’re having a tough time visualizing what a replacement level player looks like, there’s probably not a better example in baseball than Willie Bloomquist. Over the last three years, he’s racked up 644 PA – just barely more than one season’s worth – and accumulated the following totals:

-16 batting, -3.8 fielding, +0.9 position adjustment = -18.9 runs below average. He’s not a very good hitter, but he can play a bunch of positions, run the bases okay, and doesn’t cost much. He is, essentially, the poster boy for replacement players. By adding in the replacement level adjustment, we’re simply adjusting from saying that Chase Utley is +58 runs above average to +78 runs above Willie Bloomquist. And, since we know that players of Bloomquist’s quality are available for $400,000, we can then value Utley’s performance based off that baseline.

So, that’s wRAA+UZR+Position+Replacement. It comes out as Value Runs, and tells you how many runs above a replacement level player each position player was. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the runs to wins conversion and the wins to dollars conversion.

Win Values Explained: Part Three

Continuing on with our series explaining win values, today, we get back to positional adjustments. We spent a lot of time talking about them the last few weeks, so if you haven’t read those articles, I’d suggest catching up first. A basic summary of the need for position adjustments follows below, for those who want a short version.

Since we started off with wRAA (which is offensive runs above or below league average) and UZR (which is defensive runs above or below league average at a specific position), we need to calibrate the scale to make up for the fact that some positions are significantly harder to play than others. It is much harder to find a +5 SS than it is to find a +5 2B, and we need to represent that in the Win Value system. That’s what the position adjustments are there for.

Traditionally, offensive position adjustments have been popular, which aligns the positions by adjusting on the basis of the difference in offensive runs. However, due to the variability in offensive performance from year to year, that can lead to miscalculations, such as believing that an NL 2B and an NL SS were equal in 2008 because they had the same batting line. Clearly, shortstops are better defenders than second baseman, and we have to reflect this in their value.

That’s why we prefer a defensive position adjustment. The position adjustment scale we use is as follows:

Catcher: +12.5 runs (all are per 162 defensive games)
First Base: -12.5 runs
Second Base: +2.5 runs
Third Base: +2.5 runs
Shortstop: +7.5 runs
Left Field: -7.5 runs
Center Field: +2.5 runs
Right Field: -7.5 runs
Designated Hitter: -17.5 runs

To read more about how these were arrived at, check out these threads at The Book blog.

The position adjustments are then scaled to match the games played at each position for a particular player. This way, players that spend time at multiple positions get a hybrid adjustment based on their playing time at the respective spots.

Once you add the wRAA, UZR, and position adjustment together, you have the sum of a player’s value above or below league average. If we used Chase Utley as an example, he gets 37.1 wRAA, 19.2 UZR, and 2.3 Position Adjustment for a total of +58.6 runs. In 2008, Chase Utley was 58.6 runs better than a league average player. If you want to start handing out credit for the World Series title in Philly, give him the most, because that’s outstanding.

However, now we have value above or below average, but what is average worth? Clearly, it’s worth more than zero, as teams pay significant cash for league average players every winter, and a team full of league average players would win 81 games and generate positive revenue for their franchise. But, in terms of dollar values, we don’t have a fixed baseline for what a league average player is paid.

However, you know what we do have a fixed baseline for? The league minimum player. MLB has set $400,000 as the least any player can get paid, so we know that a player who is completely replaceable is worth $400,000. That makes replacement level a good target to calculate value off of. So, this afternoon, we’ll talk about replacement level and how that is defined.

Barrett Back to Canada

One sunny afternoon not long ago, Michael Barrett punched his way into baseball culture while paying homage to legends of the past like Ty Cobb and John McGraw. Two seasons removed, Barrett has joined his second new organization since the beginning of 2007, and for the first time in quite a while, Barrett’s checks will total less than one million dollars. Barrett can thank elbow and nose injuries for that.

In December of 2003, the Montreal Expos traded to the Oakland Athletics, who then traded him to the Chicago Cubs, who then non-tendered Barrett a week later, and re-signed him later that day. That is quite a whirlwind of transactions, but alas, the Cubs would reap the reward, seeing Barrett produce three consecutive seasons with on base plus slugging percentages over .820. In 2007, Barrett would get off to a slow start and feuded with starter Carlos Zambrano, leading to a trade with the San Diego Padres.

One-and-a-half injury riddled seasons later; Barrett signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. It is interesting to note Barrett’s steady decline in plate appearances. The peak of appearances coming in 2004 at 506 – his first season with the Cubs – and dropping to 477, then 418, then 367, and a lowly 107 last season, that’s nothing if not consistent. Not too much can be taken from that outside of noting the injuries that have lead to a decline, including a concussion and intrascrotal hematoma. For those unfamiliar with the latter, I strongly urge against researching it. Trust me on this one.

When Barrett has played recently, he has faced bad luck on batted balls, with BABIPs of .270 (2007) and .224 (2008), both are below his career average (.282), and generally unlucky given the amount of liner drives hit. Barrett’s plate approach has become more aggressive since 2005, swinging at an increasing number of pitches outside of the strike zone, while still making similar amounts of contact overall. With only 22% of attempted thieves caught, and a couple of double-digit passed ball seasons, Barrett is not known as a good defender behind the dish. If the Jays do call on him, it will be as a back up to Rod Barajas and a replacement to Gregg Zaun.

Interestingly Zaun and Barrett have seen the same number of attempted steals, but Zaun has caught nearly 30 more. As a straight replacement for Zaun, Barrett would seem capable of giving 300 plate appearances of near league average offense. If nothing else, the Jays can always turn to youngster Curtis Thigpen, who had a down 2008 in the minors, OPSing .577 and throwing out 16% of baserunners. Neither of which screams Thigpen’s readiness.

The Jays agent of choice this off-season has been an infirmary clerk, first adding Matt Clement and now Barrett. Undermining their low-risks, medium reward moves would be a mistake, but at the same time you have to wonder if the Jays will make a run at one of the designated hitter types available.

OF Drama in LA… Again

Following the 2007 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers seemingly had their outfield in order. Juan Pierre had signed a 5-yr/$55 mil deal prior to the season and was not about to sit on the bench. Flanking him would be prospects Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Ned Colletti then proceeded to sign Andruw Jones to a 2-yr/$36.2 mil contract, creating a logjam in the outfield and relegating someone to the bench in the process. With all of the money invested in Jones and Pierre, the odd man out had to come from Ethier and Kemp.

Jones produced a .234 wOBA and, despite a +3.7 UZR rating in centerfield, proving his worth to be -0.4 wins. He missed most of the season, opening up a spot for all three of Pierre, Ethier, and Kemp.

Manny Ramirez soon joined the team, once again creating a surplus of outfielders. Fans screamed for Pierre to sit on the bench and Ethier to receive plenty of playing time. Though Joe Torre did not immediately react to these please, he soon found it too difficult of a task to keep Ethier out of the lineup. Pierre became disgruntled, but Kemp and Ethier needed to play every day, and you do not acquire Manny Ramirez to sit on the bench.

Jones may have missed a good portion of the 2008 season, but he is still technically under contract. Pierre also has three more years remaining. Kemp and Ethier are pretty much guaranteed starting jobs next season, but who takes over the remaining outfield spot?

Manny Ramirez does not appear to be heading for as big a payday as he expected, meaning the initial 2-yr/$45 mil offer that the Dodgers withdrew may make the most sense. Should he re-sign with the Dodgers, Colletti will have the outfield that helped propel the team into the playoffs returning n tact. He will also have around $30 mil in outfielders sitting on the bench/not living up to their paycheck.

The most recent reports have Jones heading to the Mets. Unless the Dodgers are willing to take on a bad contract like the one belonging to Luis Castillo (of whom they have no interest), Colletti will have to pay the large majority of Jones’ salary. If Ramirez rejoins the team and Jones is dealt, then Juan Pierre may not be happy, but you could do much worse in the fourth outfielder department. The big issue there is that he will earn plenty of money to make contributions that do not necessarily merit that fee.

An even newer report has Adam Dunn talking to the Dodgers. I cannot imagine Colletti would sign both Dunn and Ramirez, meaning he will go for either one or the other. Both are all-hit/no-field corner outfielders. Their 2009 projections call for +3.5 wins for Manny and around +2.8 wins for Dunn. Dunn is several years younger than Ramirez and will cost less, as well. From an owner’s perspective, however, ManRam puts butts in the seats, and Dunn does not.

Regardless, Pierre could be very useful as a pinch-runner who stays in the game as a defensive replacement, occasionally garnering starts. For most Dodgers fans, it seems the ideal solution is to cut ties with both Pierre and Jones while bringing back Ramirez to play left-field. The Jones part of that solution may come to fruition very soon, but I would fully expect to see Pierre in Dodger-blue as a fourth outfielder come Spring Training 2009. Either way, Colletti definitely loves him some outfielders, as four are currently under contract already and two more have been heavily rumored to be signed.