Author Archive

The Roy Oswalt Decision

In a tight playoff game that could be the tipping point in Charlie Manuel’s season, the veteran skipper decided to go to starter Roy Oswalt in the bottom of the ninth to face the heart of the Giants order. Oswalt, who was scheduled to pitch Game 6 (if there were to be one), was going on two days rest. Oswalt wound up only getting two outs, one of which came at the expense of the winning sacrifice fly. Playing Monday Morning Quarterback, we can now approach the question of whether the move to Oswalt was the “correct” decision.

I think the answer to this problem can be both misleading and tricky. This was undoubtedly the most important game of the series for the Phillies; if they were to win, they would tie the series at 2-2 rather than being down 3-1, and with Roy Halladay on the mound in the next game would have a fantastic chance at going up 3-2 and only having to win one of the final two games to advance to the World Series. What does this mean? That Charlie Manuel was probably justified in bringing in any non-Halladay pitcher if it were necessary. The game, and specifically the moment in the game, was just too important to leave up to a pitcher who was less than the best available.

However, that begs the question: Was Roy Oswalt the best option for Charlie Manuel in the ninth inning yesterday? The other options left were starter/long reliever Kyle Kendrick, closer Brad Lidge, and lefty J.C. Romero. Oswalt was without a doubt the most valuable pitcher left, but whether he was the best one at the moment is a different story. Oswalt had just thrown eight innings (111 pitches) two days before and has little-to-no experience on that short of rest. Besides being tired, a pitcher who has just thrown a ton a few days earlier may have a tougher time getting ready to come in as a reliever, especially when that pitcher is a starter completely alien to the situation.

Moreover, it’s questionable why Manuel went to Oswalt before he went to his closer and best left-handed reliever. Going to Oswalt is not something you want to do, and he was not the last option available. Manuel could have easily gone to his closer, the guy who is supposed to be made for these late, tight situations. If Lidge got into trouble, he had the option of going to Romero for a lefty or even bringing in Oswalt to bail him out. Still, the logic applies both ways. To go to Oswalt, Manuel really had to have a ton more faith in Oswalt in that situation over Lidge.

Finally, the question of Oswalt’s availability for Game 6 comes into play. Of course, if you lose that game there may be no Game 6, but with Roy Halladay on the hill for Game 5 you have a pretty good shot of seeing the series go at least six games. Oswalt only wound up throwing eighteen pitches, and Manuel said that he does not believe that is enough to hinder Oswalt’s next start, but Manuel didn’t know how much Roy would throw at the start of the inning. Also, regardless of exactly how many pitches Oswalt threw, his entrance may mess him up in some way for his Game 6 start.

Still, as said earlier, if Oswalt was the best pitcher available for the ninth inning yesterday, it was probably the right move by Manuel. But Oswalt’s long start two days prior, along with the other options left in the pen, makes it less likely that he was correctly pinned as Option A. However, I said earlier this problem is tricky, and there might not be a truly “correct” answer.

The Old Guy Discount

Earlier in the year, I did a retrospective piece on Dave Cameron’s theory that older players were becoming undervalued in the market. Here’s what Dave wrote at the time:

Abreu was a bargain on a one year, $5 million deal with the Angels, even as he proved that he didn’t really belong in the outfield anymore. Damon, though, is basically the same hitter, just with better defensive skills, and he might have to settle for less than what Abreu got? This is a market correction gone way too far.

Last time, I looked at players at the end of June. The analysis may have been a bit premature, so let’s use the entire season’s worth of data at the same group of veterans.

LF Johnny Damon
Free agent age: 36
Signed by Detroit Tigers to 1 year, $8 million deal
2009 WAR: 3.3
2010 WAR: 1.9

Damon took a huge hit in value this year by DHing a majority of the time and only playing centerfield in four games. UZR thought he was above average for the limited time he played in the outfield, but the decline in offense couldn’t be overcome. Damon went from a .376 wOBA last year to just a .340 mark this year, and a miserable August in which Johnny had a .266 wOBA was damning. Still, a 1.9 WAR translated to $7.5 million in value, so the Tigers didn’t suffer that much in the deal.

2B Orlando Hudson
Free agent age: 32
Signed by Minnesota Twins to 1 year, $5 million deal
2009 WAR: 2.9
2010 WAR: 3.1

Nobody ever believes this guy is going to be good, but the O-Dog always has the ability to put up solid numbers and play good defense. The Twins got a steal for signing Hudson to a cheap deal which he’d equal in value easily by the All-Star break. Hudson’s .320 wOBA was low for him, but UZR and DRS both loved his defense.

OF/DH Vladimir Guerrero
Free agent age: 35
Signed by Texas Rangers to 1 year, $5 million deal
2009 WAR: 0.8
2010 WAR: 2.6

If you put Vladimir Guerrero in the Ballpark in Arlington during the hot Texas summer, good things will happen. Although Vlad teetered after an insanely hot start, he still finished with a very solid .360 wOBA, primarily playing DH. His value via WAR translates to $10.3 million, so the Rangers got more than 2:1 on their money for Guerrero.

1B Aubrey Huff
Free agent age: 33
Signed by San Francisco Giants to 1 year, $3 million deal
2009 WAR: -1.3
2010 WAR: 5.7

What more can be said? A 7.1 swing in WAR from one season to another is just downright scary for a multitude of reasons. However, while Orioles and Tigers fans may be shouting ‘What gives,’ Giants fans are just happy that the rejuvenation came by the bay area. Huff put up a .388 wOBA while playing in 157 games this year, pacing the San Fran offense. Also, he had a good year defensively with a 6.7 UZR, his first year with a positive UZR since 2004.

3B Miguel Tejada
Free agent age: 36
Signed by Baltimore Orioles to 1 year deal worth $6 million
2009 WAR: 2.7 WAR
2010 WAR: 1.3 WAR

Just like with Huff it seems that only the Orioles can complain about this deal. Tejada was terrible in Baltimore, putting up a .295 wOBA and a UZR of -6.5, adding up to only -0.1 WAR thanks to the favorable positional adjustment because he’s at shortstop. However, Tejada was much better when traded to San Diego. He put up 1.4 WAR in just 59 games due to a .268/.317/.413 slash line and a UZR much closer to zero. His value for the year translated to $5.3 million, so this was another slight loss.

1B Russell Branyan
Free agent age: 34
Signed by Cleveland Indians to 1 year deal worth $2 million
2009 WAR: 2.8
2010 WAR: 2.0

It was pretty obvious that the Indians were getting a steal for signing Branyan for only $2 million after he hit thirty-one homers last season, and a steal it was. Branyan put up 1.1 WAR for Cleveland in just 52 games before Mark Shapiro was able to swap him for some Seattle prospects. Branyan hit .215/.319/.483 for the Mariners, giving the lineup some much-needed pop, but not enough on-base ability. Branyan finished at just 0.9 WAR in Seattle in 57 games.

Some More Risers and Fallers

Over the last few days we’ve taken a look at some of the biggest risers and fallers from 2009 to this season in terms of WAR. Today we’ll check out four players who could have made one of the respective lists but weren’t included.

OF Andres Torres
2009 WAR: 2.0
2010 WAR: 5.7

I was initially reluctant to include Torres because his wOBA has actually dropped from last season and he was on pace for 4 WAR over 150 games in ’09. However, the small sample size last year gave light to critics doubting if the former Puerto Rican track star could ever truly break out over a full season at age thirty-two and with literally no major league success before 2009. Well, Torres has certainly proven the doubters wrong with a fantastic 2010 in which he’s produced 5.7 WAR for the Giants, thanks to a .377 wOBA and an extraordinary defensive effort; UZR says he’s saved 18.1 runs this year while DRS has him at 12. Torres never really knew how to hit upon being drafted in the fourth round out of community college in 1998, but once he tuned his mechanics he was able to utilize his bat speed and began to smack line drives.

1B Daric Barton
2009 WAR: 0.8
2010 WAR: 3.9

Daric Barton was young coming into the 2010 season at just twenty-four, but there were still many who were doubting if he’d ever put it all together. After the former top prospect burst onto the scene in 2007 with the A’s at twenty-one and put up a .452 wOBA in eighty-four plate appearances, people were ready for more. However, the big lefty couldn’t produce similarly the next few years, putting up a .302 wOBA in 140 games in 2008 and a more respectable .343 last year in fifty-four games. Thankfully for A’s fans, Barton’s increased patience has made up for his relative lack of power this year; he’s hitting .284/.401/.419 thanks to a 15.8 BB% despite a rather poor .135 ISO. Still, his defense at first base has been solid (UZR says 6.1 runs saved) and his eye at the dish is outstanding. With his peak years ahead, Barton’s power may develop more and he could become Jason Giambi Lite. Now if he’d only stop bunting

OF Franklin Gutierrez
2009 WAR: 6.1
2010 WAR: 2.2

After Franklin Gutierrez’s remarkable 2009, fans were excited to see what the former throw-in from a three-way trade would do this season. Last year, Guti was solid at the bat and outstanding in the field. His .337 wOBA (108 wRC+) was driven by a .425 SLG (not too bad for a center fielder) and a .333 BABIP. He was also insanely clutch last year and had a 3.72 WPA. However, it was his defense that gave him the big value. UZR liked him for 31 runs above replacement. Yup, make him a league-average fielder and his value drops over 50% to just 3 WAR. Still, UZR wasn’t alone; DRS said he was even better, at 32 runs saved, and Total Zone liked him for 27 runs. It was truly an incredible year for Guti.

Sadly, the tide has turned in 2010. At twenty-seven, Gutierrez should be approaching his peak offensively, but his wOBA has dropped to a measly .304 this year as he’s caught whatever offensive-thwarting bug has gone around the Seattle clubhouse. Despite increasing his walk rate a percentage point (7.3% to 8.3%), his .304 BABIP has produced a .251/.311/.367 slash line, nothing to write home about. Finally, the glove hasn’t played like it did last year. UZR still thinks he’s been good for 7.5 runs, while DRS is even more bullish with 16 runs, but it hasn’t been enough to replicate, or even approach, his 2009 WAR.

OF Nyjer Morgan
2009 WAR: 4.9
2010 WAR: 0.3

I think we’ve heard this story before. Center fielder has a career offensive and defensive season which drives his value up crazy, but then regresses significantly the following year because of a much lower BABIP and worse defense. Nyjer Morgan (aka DJ Nij-Nnn-Nnn-Nnn-Nice) had a fantastic 2009 both at the plate and in the field. Morgan, who split time between Pittsburgh and Washington, hit .307/.369/.388, good for a .340 wOBA (108 wRC+). However, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Morgan had put up a .340 wOBA in 2007 and a .320 wOBA in 2008. Still, the consistent offense over a full season was surprising. What was more surprising was his defense, as Morgan saved 27.6 runs according to UZR (DRS said 15 while Total Zone said just 9).

In 2010, everything has fallen apart for Morgan. He has a .288 wOBA thanks to a .257/.317/.318 line, has a negative UZR, and is getting clotheslined by big first basemen. ZiPS still likes him for a .305 wOBA the rest of the way, but Morgan is not the solid everyday center fielder many thought he could turn out to be.

Biggest WAR Risers From 2009

Yesterday we took a look at some of the players who have seen dramatic declines from last year to this one. Today we’ll do a similar perspective on guys who have had a great 2010 compared to their relatively worse 2009.

1B Aubrey Huff
2009 WAR: -1.3
2010 WAR: 4.9

Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty big swing. In 2009, Huff was just about as bad as you can be while splitting time between the Orioles and Tigers. In forty games with Detroit, Huff mustered a .257 wOBA thanks to a pathetic .189/.265/.302 slash line. He was better in 110 games in Baltimore with a .307 wOBA, but his time DHing and poor defensive performance hurt him badly. He lost 4.9 runs in the field, 15.9 at the plate, and 12.2 due to position. For Aubrey, it was a year to forget. Luckily, 2010 has been a year to celebrate for the Huff family and Giants fans alike. At thirty-three, Huff could have continued into the doldrums of baseball aging, but his rejuvenation has been integral for San Fran; his .394 wOBA as the everyday first baseman on the bay has been a huge lift for the team. As our own R.J. Anderson put it as follows back in June:

The Giants signed Huff for $3 million on a one-year basis- meaning that just getting a combination of those projected figures probably would have made Huff worth it. Instead they have received one of the best hitters in baseball to date. It’s like a karmic refund for the Edgar Renteria deal turning into a mess.

2B Rickie Weeks
2009 WAR: 1.4
2010 WAR: 4.5

Rickie is one of those guys that you just can’t wait to play good baseball; when he’s playing well, he’s easily one of the best second baseman in the game. After posting a .235/.374/.433 line in 2007 as a twenty-four year old (15.4 BB% at that age is something else), Weeks struggled more at the plate in ’08 with only a .334 wOBA. In 2009, Rickie posted an identical wOBA as in 2007, this time with less patience and more power (.272/.340/.517), but only got 162 plate appearances due to injury. In 2010, Weeks is outplaying even his 2007 season with a .370 wOBA. After some pretty big fluctuation over his career, his walk rate is steady right now at 9.4%, right around his career average. 2010 has been a good year for Weeks.

2B Kelly Johnson
2009 WAR: 0.6
2010 WAR: 4.4

The tale of Kelly Johnson has been told many times. The former Atlanta youngin’ became an everyday player when he posted a .363 wOBA in 2007 at twenty-five years old. However, after a solid but less successful 2008, Johnson’s poor 2009 lead to the end of his days with the Braves. His .306 wOBA could be partially explained by a .246 BABIP, well below his career mark of .316; it wasn’t good enough for Bobby Cox and Frank Wren. Johnson moved on to Arizona this year and has crushed the ball, hitting .278/.368/.485, a .372 wOBA, in 125 games thus far. His UZR and DRS numbers are also the best this season out of the past three years. Patience and power can be a game of high highs and low lows, and Atlanta’s loss has certainly been the Diamondbacks’ gain.

OF Jose Bautista
2009 WAR: 1.9
2010 WAR: 5.4

If I were to have asked you during this past off season Jose Bautista’s odds of leading all of baseball in homers in 2010, what odds would you have given me? 100:1? 250:1? If you were a betting man, you could have made or lost a lot of money. Bautista, who had a .408 SLG last year and career high of .420 in 2006, has an outstanding 42 home runs this year thanks apparently to a new swing that appears to be working. At twenty-nine, Bautista is hitting .266/.382/.620 (.423 wOBA, 169 wRC+), an insane line for someone who had a career high wOBA of .339 in 2009. As Dave Cameron put it last week:

Bautista will likely never have a year like this again, but there’s no reason to think he’s going to revert back to the version we saw before last September. He has made changes that can stick, even if not quite to this degree, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Bautista hit 30 to 40 home runs each of the next several years.

For Thursday, I’ll do a split fallers/risers article on some of the guys that could have been on one of the lists.

Biggest WAR Fallers from 2009

With September fast approaching, it’s incredible to think the season is almost over. I say the same thing every year, but it really does seem like Opening Day was yesterday. As we get closer to the big 1-6-2, I wanted to take a look at some of the biggest decliners in WAR (not primarily due to injury) from 2009 to 2010 and do a little analysis as to why the drop occured.

UT Ben Zobrist
2009 WAR: 8.3
2010 WAR: 2.7

Zobrist was the name around sabermetric circles last year, putting up awesome offensive numbers while playing a variety of positions. Unfortunately for Ben and Rays fans alike, that prowess at the plate has not carried over to 2010. The 29-year-old’s wOBA dropped from .406 last year to just .330 this year, a combination of an 11.9% drop in home runs per fly ball and concurrent drops in BABIP and BB%. Meanwhile, here’s Zobrist’s defensive games started in 2009 versus 2010:

1B: 2/7
2B: 81/27
3B: 1/0
SS: 6/0
LF: 2/0
CF: 5/8
RF: 37/71

Due to Tampa Bay’s roster construction, Zobrist is playing a lot more of right field and less of premium positions that require a lower offensive performance to beat replacement level standards.

SS Derek Jeter
2009 WAR: 7.4
2010 WAR: 2.2

Jeter’s 2009 was truly remarkable, putting up the fourth highest wOBA of his career (and best since 2006) while also accumulating the most fielding runs of his career. In 2010, everything has come apart for the captain from the Bronx. Jeter’s on pace to have the worst offensive year of his career by a pretty decent margin with a .323 wOBA (102 wRC+); he’s walking 2.3% less of the time while also hitting grounders at a Tim Hudson-esque 65.8% rate. With a BABIP .63 lower than last year, there isn’t much saving Derek at the plate. On defense, UZR has him for -4.3 runs with DRS saying he’s been at -11. Either way, Jeter has disappointed given his 2009 and contract.

INF Chone Figgins
2009 WAR: 6.1
2010 WAR: 0.2

The most dramatic decrease of all, Figgins has gone from one of the best third basemen in baseball last year to one of the worst second basemen this year. In his first year in Seattle, Figgins has hit a measly .248/.336/.292 despite a modest .306 BABIP; after a .358 wOBA with the Angels last season, Figgins is at .298 this year, well below league average. Despite moving to second base, the positional advantage hasn’t mitigated enough to put Figgins where he should be. After a UZR/150 of 17.9 at third base in 2009, Chone is at -13.8 at second this season. Simply put, Jack Z can’t be pleased.

OF Matt Kemp
2009 WAR: 5.1
2010 WAR: 0.6

At the start of the season, Kemp was the big name throughout baseball. He was dating Rihanna and coming off of a stellar 2009 in which he put up a .367 wOBA while playing solid defense in center field. But everything has fallen apart since then. Kemp just hasn’t been the same player he once was with a UZR/150 of -15.6, nowhere near where he was last year. Moreover, Kemp’s .323 wOBA has been due primarily to a BABIP .49 points below his career average. Here are his peripherals for the the past two seasons:

BB%: 7.8/7.9
K%: 22.9/27.9
LD%: 21.3/20.2
GB%: 40.4/40.9
FB%: 38.3/39

Not much different. Still, Kemp’s production has been seriously disappointing, but at twenty five years old he has a lot of time to go back to his better days.

Nelson Figueroa Is Still Good

We know Ed Wade loves his former Phillies. The Astros rotation currently contains three former Phillies pitchers (J.A. Happ, Brett Myers, and Nelson Figueroa), with Figueroa being the latest to get a shot at starting down in Houston. While there have been a good amount of criticisms thrown Wade’s way over the past season, picking up journeyman right-hander Figueroa was a low cost move that will help the Astros win ballgames.

This past off season, I wrote an article entitled, simply enough, Why Nelson Figueroa is Good, hoping to draw some attention his way. The conclusion was also pretty straight forward:

What can we expect from Figueroa in 2010? Well, considering that four out of the Mets five current starting pitchers took a trip to the DL last year, we may get to see him start once again. Or, more likely, he’ll spot start here and there and split time between Triple-A and the bullpen. Hopefully, however, he gets a chance to pitch, because Nelson Figueroa is good.

The forecasters all predicted a FIP in the low to mid 4.00’s before the season, and Figueroa has beaten that this year, no doubt thanks to pitching mostly from the bullpen. The Mets put him on waivers during Spring Training (and have gone on to watch Fernando Nieve and Pat Misch start games in 2010, let alone Oliver Perez do it seven times) where he was quickly snagged up by the Phillies.

He pitched well in Philadelphia with a 3.46 ERA and 3.49 FIP (4.51 xFIP) in twenty-six innings. Considering the lack of serious depth in the Phillies bullpen, why he was put on waivers again is troubling (I guess Danys Baez’s near identical walk and strikeout numbers were just too appealing). The Astros claimed him on July 21st, where he continued to pitch out of the pen, again succeeding. He was moved into the Houston rotation last week, and thus far has pitched well. The coolest part is that he volunteered himself to become a starter when the Astros lost some pitchers to injuries. For the 2010 season, here are Figueroa’s total numbers:

IP: 48.1
ERA: 2.98
FIP: 3.37
xFIP: 3.79
tERA: 3.38
K/9: 7.26
BB/9: 2.42

For the rest of the season, ZiPS thinks he’s good for a 4.23 FIP, a solid improvement on his preseason projection from ZiPS (4.54). That’s not bad for a pitcher that seems to go on waivers more than he starts games. Fortunately for the Figueroa family, I think he’s found a home in Houston this time.

Derrek Lee to the Braves

According to multiple sources, the Braves are very close to acquiring Derrek Lee from the Chicago Cubs for a handful of prospects. For the Braves, who made a few deals at the deadline that netted them Rick Ankiel and Alex Gonzalez, this could be a move that makes them a serious threat in the playoffs.

In an article just eight days ago I detailed Derrek Lee’s poor season, ultimately concluding:

While it may be obvious to notice a lack of fly balls by Lee this year, which seems to be dangerous for a first baseman playing at Wrigley, the loss has been mitigated by an increase in line drives and a decrease in infield flies. Take those into account and Lee is actually doing better than he was last year in that regard. His HR/FB rate has been a huge problem, which is a career low for Lee. If we use the wisdom behind xFIP on Lee and adjust his HR/FB rate to his career average (16.4%), then he’d be at ~19.7 homers this year rather than just the twelve at which he currently sits. But we know that for hitters, unlike (generally) pitchers, HR/FB is not just a matter of luck but is deeply rooted in skill….Lee is “underperforming” on his BABIP on each batted ball type with the worst offender being line drives. Sure, it’s nice that Lee is hitting more of them, but if they’re not going for hits, and especially extra bases, then it’s not as important.

Lee’s HR/FB rate has jumped up to 12.9% in that time, with his wOBA up to a more respectable .330. It seems as though Lee is beginning to snap out of his season-long funk, and if the Braves can strike while the iron is hot, they’ll certainly be happy.

In terms of the logistics of bringing Lee aboard, the Braves have some maneuvering to do. It seems as though the odd man out will be Troy Glaus, who has looked brutal since the All-Star break. Glaus, who was killing the ball in May and June, is now down to a line of just .239/.343/.406, very poor numbers for a first baseman with below average defense. ZiPS does think he’s good for a .342 wOBA for the rest of the season, but the bat isn’t good enough, nor the defense strong enough, to warrant a spot at third base in the absence of Chipper Jones, who is out for the season. It seems as though the Braves lineup the rest of the way will look like this:

2B Omar Infante/ 3B Martin Prado
RF Jason Heyward
1B Derrek Lee
C Brian McCann
3B Martin Prado/ 2B Omar Infante
CF Rick Ankiel
SS Alex Gonzalez
LF Melky Cabrera/ Matt Diaz/ Eric Hinske

The Braves also have Nate McLouth coming back from his injury, but he just hasn’t shown he’s ready to be play very competitively just yet. Brooks Conrad should also see some time playing around the diamond, although his defensive gaffes at third base the other night may force Bobby Cox to use him primarily as a pinch-hitter.

Without knowing exactly what’s going back to Chicago just yet, this seems to be a solid trade for the Braves. With Lee’s contract up at the end of the year they can use Lee not only to stopgap for Freddie Freeman in 2011, but also seriously compete for a World Series title.

This Isn’t Barry’s Lineup Anymore

Remember the days when Barry Bonds would be the lone bright spot in a San Francisco lineup? Sure, he had Jeff Kent for a while, but toward the end would have to hit in front of the likes of Bengie Molina. It’s a different story today. The Giants currently sit four games behind the Padres in the NL West, a difference that can’t make the Friars all that comfortable. The Ginats, meanwhile, are tied for first in the NL Wild Card race. With a rotation that includes Lincecum and Cain, a hot offense could allow them to rack off a bunch of wins consecutively and quickly.

The biggest shot in the arm for the Giants offense has clearly been Aubrey Huff. After a miserable 2009, Huff has put up a .395 wOBA this season, providing the team with a legitimate power threat in the middle of the order. But the guy Huff has been knocking in, Andres Torres, has done more than hold his own: Torres has a .382 wOBA (139 wRC+); a slash line of .288/.370/.496 from your leadoff hitter and speedy centerfielder can do wonders for your club.

Don’t forget the new guys, either. Well, the newer new guys. Since being called up, Buster Posey has been everything advertised and then some. The rookie catcher is hitting .338/.386/.516, good for a .387 wOBA and 2.8 WAR in just 68 games. His performance has sent Bengie Molina, who was hitting .257/.312/.332, to Texas. ZiPS likes Posey for a .345 wOBA the rest of the way, although that may be a conservative estimate given his season thus far. Another new guy has been Pat Burrell, who apparently just needed to come back to the good ol’ National League. Since being released by the Rays after struggling for far too long, Pat the Bat has found his stroke by the bay, hitting .285/.378/.527 as a Giant. His power presence in the lineup shakes everything up and provides another threat to opposing teams.

Finally, there are the role players. Juan Uribe’s .327 wOBA has been solid for a middle infielder, and has made things easier with Edgar Renteria (.316 wOBA) struggling. Freddy Sanchez, meanwhile, still isn’t right since coming back from injury, and ZiPS’ projection of a .314 wOBA for the rest of the season isn’t all too promising. Still, he is capable of hitting .320 for the rest of the season. Oh yeah, and remember when Pablo Sandoval was the only dangerous bat in the lineup? The big guy is having a really rough year with a .312 wOBA after a .396 mark last season; his BABIP, however, is .55 points lower than last year, and he, like Sanchez, could turn it up real quick. Finally, the addition of guys like Mike Fontenot and Jose Guillen give the bench some depth.

If you were to ask what the Giants lineup for 2010 would look like at the start of 2009, I doubt many people would throw names like Huff, Burrell, and Torres your way. But these guys are getting it done, and it hasn’t been a fluke either. The Giants can hit.

Getting Ahead

For those of you that visit Fangraphs, wOBA has become a favorite stat of not only this website, but many other sabermetrically-inclined sites as well. The theory behind it is simple: assign value to individual offensive events via linear weights and then apply those numbers to a player’s performance. We go ahead and adjust the formula so that it looks like OBP, meaning that league average usually falls ~.333 and is properly distributed along the curve.

But there has recently been more research done into linear weights so that we can see the value of not only a single or a double, but of certain pitches. While this has been mostly popular in the domain of Pitchf/x, we can also use this information to further our understanding about hitters. For example, let’s say Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez come up to the plate consecutively. Miguel Cabrera works a 3-1 count and then lines a fastball into the right field gap for a stand up triple. Next, Magglio Ordonez hits a ball in the exact same spot on an 0-2 count and slides in safely at third. Back-to-back triples. For our purposes of wOBA, we would assign both Cabrera and Ordonez equally with ~1.56 runs, the linear weight value of a triple relative to an out.

But was that all we could gauge from those at-bats? With count-based linear weights, we can actually do more. Miguel Cabrera worked a 3-1 count before his triple; there’s value in knowing that information. Since we can say that a 3-1 count is worth somewhere around .14 runs, why not credit Cabrera in some capacity for getting into that count? Likewise, we know (based on the same run value charts linked last sentence) that an 0-2 count is worth roughly -.104 runs. Why not also take that into account? The moral here is that those triples were not made equally.

But we do have to be somewhat careful we don’t double count. A player is more likely to hit a triple (or for our purposes, get a higher run value) if he gets to a 3-1 count, and the oppposite is true for an 0-2 count. Those count-based linear weights are based on how many runs are likely to proceed from that count, so we would probably have to regress the run values somewhat so we don’t double credit a hitter. Maybe the most interesting experiment would be to just take a batter’s count-based linear weights for an entire season and compare players, or even apply their batted ball linear weights for if/when they put the ball in play to their count-based run total.

This is a thought experiment, so I’d like to see what people think. The next step may be crunching the numbers.

Derrek Lee’s Down Year

If I told you coming into this season that Derrek Lee was going to have the worst season of his career offensively aside from one half season stint as a twenty-three year old, you probably wouldn’t be shocked to hear that the Cubs were in the lower percentile of runs scored in Major League Baseball. But the Cubs have gotten steady production from a bunch of regular players this year. Geovany Soto, Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, and Tyler Colvin all have wOBA’s of over .350, with Kosuke Fukudome and Starlin Castro not too far behind. Unfortunately for those who bleed Cub blue, this hasn’t been enough to keep them competitive, and the down years of Lee and Aramis Ramirez are large contributors.

Lee, in 2009, was coming off of his second-best offensive season in the majors when he put up a .412 wOBA (153 wRC+), and his impending free agency led many to believe this would be another huge season for the thirty-four year old slugger. Let’s dig deeper into some of the peripherals behind Lee’s struggles with last year’s corresponding number in parentheses:

BB%: 11.2% (12.4%)
K%: 23.8% (20.5%)
GB%: 39.0% (35.1%)
FB%: 38.3% (45.7%)
IIFB%: 1.7% (4.6%)
LD%: 22.7% (19.2%)
HR/FB%: 10.0% (17.9%)

Some interesting stuff. While it may be obvious to notice a lack of fly balls by Lee this year, which seems to be dangerous for a first baseman playing at Wrigley, the loss has been mitigated by an increase in line drives and a decrease in infield flies. Take those into account and Lee is actually doing better than he was last year in that regard. His HR/FB rate has been a huge problem, which is a career low for Lee. If we use the wisdom behind xFIP on Lee and adjust his HR/FB rate to his career average (16.4%), then he’d be at ~19.7 homers this year rather than just the twelve at which he currently sits. But we know that for hitters, unlike (generally) pitchers, HR/FB is not just a matter of luck but is deeply rooted in skill.

Also, Lee’s BABIP is currently at .292, almost forty points below his career average and with an even wider margin than that for any year he has had since 2005. The disparity is particularly odd considering his LD rate is higher while his infield-fly rate is lower. Here are the breakdown’s of Lee’s BABIPs on batted ball types this season with last year and career averages following:

Grounders: .246, .267, .252
Fly balls: .120, .163, .134
Line Drives: .634, .756, .759

So Lee is “underperforming” on his BABIP on each batted ball type with the worst offender being line drives. Sure, it’s nice that Lee is hitting more of them, but if they’re not going for hits, and especially extra bases, then it’s not as important. I wish we had some Hitf/x to see if Lee is just hitting the ball less hard as of late, but he’s still probably been unlucky to a certain extent. How much of that decrease in batted ball performance is due to bad luck, and how much is due to skill, is a question that well have to wait for more data to roll in to answer.