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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Dave on Saturday, January 31, 2004

Brandon Funston: Tons of Fun or a Ton of Garbage?

Before I start, I'd like to make the reader aware of the writers' dedication to this blog. It's 2:20 AM on Friday night and I'm starting this post. Suffice it to say that no one should be starting a post when it's "night" and the clock reads a time that ends in "AM." Actually, it's a pretty regular event around these parts - most of us here realize that living is better than unconsciousness (Next time someone tells you they enjoy sleeping, ask them if they've ever been conscious while asleep. That'll promptly shut them up). Note the dedication to post even on Friday night, the night when a majority of college students are forced asleep (read: passed out). Though I'm not a big participant (not big enough to be forced asleep, anyways), Friday night is something of my modern day Shabbat. The night of rest, the time to relax, the time when I'm not obliged to post. Most of the time, I love writing this stuff. My satisfaction writing these posts is only rivalled by my desire to read my fellow bloggers' articles. Tonight, however, my stomach is grotesquely full of pizza, I'm tired, and it's my Shabbat (my Shabbat differs entirely from the Jewish Shabbat for two reasons. First, I can turn lights on and off, carry around things, etc. Second, I'm not quite Jewish, not anymore anyways)! My main motivation for writing is to keep the consistency with Talking Baseball. I want us to be accountable for an article every day. It's idyllic, but, at the very least, I want to save my Get Out Of Jail Free card for a rainier day (or maybe a day at Rainier with Mom).

Brandon Funston, the fantasy sports expert over at ESPN.com, recently declared his top 75 fantasy starting pitchers. Mark Prior is unarguably the top fantasy hurler. He's superb across the board: 18-6, 245 K's, 2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP. These numbers also don't capture the fact that he has not had any arm trouble (other than a run-in with...some 2nd baseman last year...gold star to the reader that e-mails us with the answer) and he's also still presumably improving (generally pitchers keep improving until about age 30 - Prior's only 23. Though improvement from him is nearly inconceivable, it's certainly possible). Only one spot further down the list, however, is Funston's first flagrant fallacy: Randy Johnson. Sure, this is the same guy who, prior to last year, posted five straight 300 K seasons and (talk about effective/durable); but this is not your mom's (or, at least, your older brother's) Randy Johnson. For the amnesiacs out there, Randy Johnson was hurt last year for a significant portion of the season. This wouldn't be so much of a problem (Schilling was fine whence returning) if it weren't accompanied by a few alarming factors: Declining K/9, increasing H/9, and increasing age (a.k.a. "getting older"). This table, from Baseball Cube (check out the new links - someone let me know if there's a better Player Contract page out there), summarizes succinctly the three big problems:

Year Age H/9 K/9

2001 38 6.54 13.43

2002 39 6.82 11.56

2003 40 9.87 9.87

Randy was winning Cys in 2001 and 2002 (and 1999, and 2000, incredibly (that's four in a row - I didn't even notice)), but the world was too busy admiring him to see the start of his potential deterioration. RJ is getting older, it's easier to get hits off of him, and he's striking out fewer people. Granted, his BB/9 is decreasing as well, counter-balancing some of the effects of his worsening stuff, but it's quite probable he's lost some of his effectiveness.

His declining effectiveness is only part of the problem though - he's seemingly becoming injury-prone. The first pitcher you select in fantasy should be reliable for 200+ IP, and a solid year. I can hear it: "What about Pedro?" Well, Pedro has had a documented history of health problems, but in the last 8 years, he's failed to reach 29 starts in a season only once. That cannot be true of someone regarded as a frail pitcher. Anyways, your high draft picks need to be super-dependable people and after Randy's injury last year, he's simply not as dependable as he once was. He's getting older, his body is starting to wear, it seems. This fact, coupled with the increase in ineffectiveness certainly demerits him from his position as fantasy's #2 starter.

Why take Randy when you have these other options at your disposal:
Roy Halladay: This guy has finally fulfilled his potential after all these years. Though he only ranked 15th in ERA last year at 3.25, he'll post some solid K's (204 last year) and a nice WHIP (1.07 is nothing to sneeze at). The best part, however, is the offense he's playing for. Realistically (I'm being dead serious), he could go 25-4 this year.
Jason Schmidt: A flamethrower who finally put it together last year. Miniscule ERA and WHIP (2.34, and 0.95) and nice strikeouts (202). Has some injury concerns (he suffered from some forearm issues last year) but he's dealt with that in the past and it seems to be a non-concern. He plays for the Giants, a quality team, so he'll realistically go 20-5 this year. The best part about Schmidt, however, is the fact that he plays in a great pitcher's park, which almost insures a low ERA and WHIP for a pitcher of his caliber.
There's also Pedro, Hudson, Schilling, and Vazquez. I would place all 4 above RJ, I think. I'm simply too risk averse with those early-round picks to take a guy like RJ. It's not inconceivable that RJ could fizzle into oblivion this year, given his age. Will he? I doubt it. He'll probably finish with numbers similar to 18-7, 250 K's, 2.80 ERA, 1.10 WHIP. Are these numbers, with his added injury-risk, befitting of the 2nd-best fantasy starting pitcher? Certainly not.

I'll end with this because it's one of the incredible set of statistics I've ever seen: Harken back to 1998, when Randy was traded to Houston. He pitched flagrantly (this word favorably substitutes for "very," in my opinion. If you haven't noticed my flagrant use of it, you're flagrantly stupid) well, clearly, but check out his ERA+ during that 11 game period! 318! For those unfamiliar with ERA+, the NL Cy Young winners the past three years posted 184, 190, and 183 for ERA+. 318 is simply phenomenal. If the ERA+ doesn't illustrate RJ's domination in Houston, check out the rest of his numbers. Wow.


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Posted by Ben K. on Friday, January 30, 2004

The Hot Corner on the Hot Stove

On January 16, Aaron Boone played what will probably be the most expensive basketball game of his life. On that fateful Friday, the projected starting third basemen for the AL Champion New York Yankees decided to play basketball instead of running on a treadmill. What followed can best be described as a disaster: Boone apparently tore his ACL.

Boone, who gained fame in New York for his ALCS-winning home run in the 11th inning of game 7, will most likely have all but around $900,000 of his new $5.75 million contract voided. But I don't really care about the cost this injury will have to Boone. What he did was irresponsible and stupid. Playing basketball was expressly forbidden in his contract, and he did it anyway. But I'm not going to condemn Boone for his stupidity. Rather, I would like to look at what this means for the Yankees and the prospects at third base for the 2004 season.

As Dave showed you in his last post, Boone's injury will significantly hurt the Yankees offense. The Miguel Cairo-Enrique Wilson platoon certainly won't have the pop of Aaron's bat or his speed on the basepaths. Having watched Enrique Wilson try to play third base against the Red Sox in the ALCS, I can testify that the defense would suffer, too. And that's where I would like to pick up my analysis. What are the defensive prospects for the Hot Corner in Yankee Stadium and who's even in the running for the position?

Before I start my analysis, I would like to point out the defensive side of this problem is particularly important to one of the Yankees' newest pitchers: Kevin Brown. See, Brownie has a career groundball to flyball ration of 2.75. This number is simply astounding. Brown throws almost 3 groundballs for every flyball. So if Brown's up on the hill throwing ground balls that the Yankee infielders can't handle, it might make for a long season for arguably one of the game's best pitchers.

So let's start with the ousted incumbent:

Aaron Boone

Aaron Boone, with a little smirk on his face, was finally supposed to give the Yankees a solid third baseman since Scott Brosius retired. He can hit for decent power and average, he steals bases, and he's a good defensive third baseman. He had a .951 fielding percentage last season, good enough to place him squarely in the middle of the pack. His range factor last season of 2.96 was third best in the Majors. Furthermore, his EQR while on the Yankees was 25 and 73 for the entire season. (As a side note, EQR is a state from Baseball Prospectus that measures how many runs Boone created at bat while fielding his position.) All in all, Boone would have been a solid presence for the Yanks, and he'll be missed this season.

Now let's take a look at those who could possibly replace Boone:

Enrique Wilson

Enrique Wilson is on the Yankees for one reason: to bat against Pedro Martinez. Somehow, Wilson is a .500 career hitter off of the greatest pitcher currently playing baseball. But could Enrique really be a substitute for Boone? Dave showed his hitting wouldn't be anywhere near as good, but what about his fielding? Well in 155 career games at third base, Wilson has a fielding percentage of .955. While that's a little bit higher than Boone's, his range factor is 2.53 compared to Boone's career 2.86. Furthermore, his EQR was 4 in 17 games last year. Over a full season, that's roughly 38 runs. While Wilson would field the ball about as well as Boone, he wouldn't get to nearly as many grounders as Aaron would, and Wilson's offense wouldn't compensate for this at all. Clearly, this would not really be a satisfactory option for the Yankees.

Miguel Cairo

On December 19, the Yankees signed Miguel Cairo to a one-year contract. Cairo was supposed to be a reserve infielder, but now he could end up as the Yankees' starting third basement. If Cairo were indeed to play third for the Yanks, the hot corner, to say the least, would be a very ugly position. In 62 career games at third, Cairo has an astounding .871 fielding percentage. His range factor is a whopping 1.85, and his EQR last season was 2 in 12 games, or 27 for the entire season. Miguel Cairo makes Chuck Knoblauch seem like a golden god. Next!

Tyler Houston

Then there's Tyler Houston, who represents a visual upgrade over Miguel Cairo's sheer ugliness. But unless, you're Derek, looks don't count for too much. Otherwise, Randy Johnson would have been unemployed a long time ago. Anyway, the prospects for Tyler aren't too bad. Signed to a minor league deal, Houston has a real shot at winning the starting job at third. Yet, his .930 career fielding percentage and 2.46 range factor leave much to desired. He wouldn't be as bad as Miguel Cairo, but his 61 EQR shows that he wouldn't be offensively inept. In fact, he once even reached the mighty heights of 18 HR in a single season. If Houston ends up as the Yankee third baseman, and he can replicate his 2001 success, he would be an adequate replacement for Boone, but not a great one.

Moving right along. I'm not even going to touch the Gary Sheffield subject, except to dismiss it outright. Gary Sheffield, who will finally lend stability and offense to the right field corner in Yankee Stadium for the first time since Paul retired, once played third base. Yesterday, he kindly offered to play third this season. Brian Cashman wisely refused. Sheffield hasn't played third since 1993, and he wasn't that good. That would have been a disaster. Sheffield will play third base again the day Pete Rose is admitted into the Hall of Fame.

Then, there's the question of Drew Henson, the Yankees' star quarterback. Henson's been an utter disaster so far in the minors. He has shown that not only is his fielding horrendous but he can't hit either. His minor league average is a whopping .248 and he has struck out 556 times in 1857 ABs. Do I really need to say anything else? Oh right, how about his 28 errors at third base last season? Clearly, Henson should take the Houston Texans offer and join the NFL. His days in baseball are numbered, and slowly, football teams will lose interest in him too.

Finally, there's always the possibility of a trade. While the Yankees farm system is almost completely barren these days, the Yankees wouldn't have to trade much to get the guys on the rumor mill. One possible replacement is...drumroll, please...last season's Opening Day third baseman Robin Ventura.

Robin Ventura

Ventura was ousted by Boone halfway through last season because Robin was no longer Batman (hardy, har, har). Yet, as a replacement, Ventura wouldn't be half bad. He can field and can sort of hit. His career fielding percentage of .958 with an RF of 2.83 are on par with Boone, and last season on the Yankees, he had a fielding percentage over .970. But his RF was down to 2.57. At the age of 36, Ventura's lost a step, but his glove work is still solid. Offensively, Ventura is a nightmare. While his EQR last season projected to around 65, he hit only .242 with a .401 slugging and 14 HR in over 300 AB. Ventura would be an adequate defensive replacement and a pitiful offensive replacement.

Edgardo Alfonzo

Then, there's the question of Edgardo Alfonzo. He wants to come back to New York, and the Giants want to unload his contract. I'm not going to delve into Alfonzo's stats here because his career numbers would be distorted. A nagging back injury has resulted in a big drop in production from Edgardo's bat. In my opinion, trading for Alfonzo would only land the Yankees another injured third baseman.

So in the end, it looks like it will be a long season for the Yankees third baseman this upcoming season. Whoever plays third for the Yanks will either leave a hole in their lineup or a more costly hole in their infield. I believe that the stacked Yankees lineup can compensate for a weak-hitting man patrolling a the field solidly. Yet, the Yankee infield isn't by any means good enough to make out for a poor-fielding third basement. It looks like Tyler Houston would be the best choice for the Yankees if he can pull it all together. I just hope that the Yankees can make it through this disaster unscathed and don't turn to more drastic measures, such as Jeff Cirillo, as the solution to the most glaring Achilles' Heal of the past 9 season.


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Posted by Mike on Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Ugueth Urtain Urbina

It's not often that I will have the chance to write about a man whose initials are all the letter U so I have decided to seize the opportunity. In the past I think I've been a little unfair with my criticism of Ugueth Urbina. Today I am going to set that right today by taking a step back and trying to look at him from a reasonably objective perspective. Urbina may never again put together a season that rivals his breakout performance in 1998 but since then he's consistently been a solid reliever in both leagues. These are his numbers since the 2000 season:

.................G..........IP..........SV..........BS..........ERA..........ERA+
2000.........13........13.1.........8............2...........4.05..........115
2001.........64........66.2........24...........4...........3.65..........126
2002.........61........60.0........40...........6...........3.00..........148
2003.........72........77.0........32...........6...........2.81..........160

Urbina missed almost all of the 2000 season because of injury but since then he has been a fairly effective pitcher. He's accumulated almost 100 saves over his last three full seasons while blowing just 16 and his ERA has been well below league average. His ERA has been consistently getting better and further away from the league average. In terms of results there has not been anything wrong with the way Urbina has pitched the last few years but the problem is that there are a few disturbing trends in his statistics.

While saves and ERA are good ways to compare a pitcher's effectiveness in a certain season they possess no real implications about his the future. The number of saves and blown saves a closer accumulates depends partially on his performance and partially on the situations that he is placed in by his team. A pitcher's strikeouts and walks are statistics for which he alone can be credited. Let's take a look at Urbina's recent strikeout rates:

..................K/9IP..........K/BB
2000..........14.85..........4.40
2001..........12.02..........3.71
2002..........10.65..........3.55
2003...........9.12...........2.52

Bad news here, Urbina has shown a dramatic decline in both his strikeouts per 9IP and strikeouts per walk. A declining strikeout rate is never a good thing for a pitcher and it is made worse when the decline in strikeouts is not accompanied by a reduction in the number walks the pitcher issues. This decline probably means that Urbina's stuff has worsened over the last few years and that batters are putting the bat on the ball more often. To make matters worse, when batters do put the ball in play against Urbina they're hitting it in the air now too. Here's his declining ground-ball to fly-ball ratio:

.................GB/FB
2000...........1.00
2001...........0.83
2002...........0.51
2003...........0.37
Career.........0.78

It would seem that Urbina is ripe for a dramatic drop-off in his performance. So why was he so good this year if he's declining so much? A combination of luck and what is still above average (though quickly diminishing) ability.

I spent so much time today looking into Urbina's numbers because I found it rather odd that he would so adamantly be demanding so much money as a free agent this off-season. Is his service worth the $7+ million a year over 2 or 3 seasons he's currently demanding? Absolutely not. While still an effective reliever his declining numbers do not promote much confidence in his long term stability. At this point a multi-year deal is almost out of the question for him and even if he does back down and sign a one-year deal it will probably be well shy of the $7+ million he desires.

Also working against Urbina are the current market conditions. Keith Foulke, arguably the best reliever in the American League in 2003, signed with the Red Sox in December for $7 million a year over 3 years. Apparently Ugueth Urbina feels he should be making top-tier closer money. For humor's sake, here is a comparison of their 2003 numbers:

2003............G..........IP..........W..........L..........SV..........ERA
Urbina..........72.......77.0........3...........4..........32..........2.81
Foulke..........72.......86.2........9...........1..........43..........2.08

One step further, a look at their last 3 years combined:

...................G..........IP.........W..........L..........SV..........ERA
Urbina........197......203.2.......6..........12.........96..........3.14
Foulke........209......245.1......15.........14.........96..........2.42

Assuming Foulke is being paid close to market value by the Red Sox, Ugueth Urbina clearly does not deserve to receive a contract close to Foulke's in value. No doubt teams in need of a reliever have taken a look at Urbina this off-season. Unfortunately for Urbina these front offices have decided that he is not worth the risk after accounting for his declining strikeouts and "stuff." Numbers aside, a straight fastball and a mediocre slider are fairly easy to spot. The Red Sox after the 2002 season were so much against resigning Urbina that instead of overpaying him they decided that they were better off with a "bullpen-by-committee." While an ill-fated decision, it was proof that Urbina overvalues himself. If he keeps up his demand for a multi-year deal worth $7+ million per year he may be waiting for it to come for a very long time.


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Posted by Jon on Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Class is in Session
Posted by Jonathan Shestakofsky

It’s almost February. Transaction lists are desolate. The comforting flow of baseball news has slowed to a barely-audible trickle. And the beginning of a brand new season is only a couple of weeks away. Now, during this calm before the glorious storm, is the perfect time to reacquaint ourselves with tools that will help us evaluate the upcoming season.

Since we began posting on this blog, all four writers have been using various complex statistics to support their assertions. Sometimes, even to us, the surplus of the statistics can be overwhelming. What’s the difference between a hitter’s Batting Average and Equivalent Average? Is there a difference between ARP and AARP (not for Jesse Orosco)?

It’s not difficult to find numbers to prove almost anything. Consequently, we must understand the stats that we throw out there. So here’s a refresher course for both the readers and the writers of Talking Baseball. If Alan Schwartz’s recent article on ESPN.com can be considered “Statistics 101 – Baseball Stats for the Unindoctrinated”, then what follows is the next class: “Statistics 102 – Beyond OPS and WHIP”. What follows are explanations of important statistics that don’t get a lot of attention in mainstream baseball media, but nevertheless act as useful predictive statistics. There are many more stats out there than what I present today, but we’ll have to wait on those for the next class.


Win Shares
Bill James came up with his Win Shares system to “summarize each player’s value each season into a simple integer” (James’ Historical Baseball Abstract, 2001: pg. 331), thus providing a means for objective evaluation of players’ overall values. The Win Shares system allows for the comparison of players in different eras of baseball (comparisons between modern players to those who played in the 1800s), and allows players of every position to be compared to one another.

I won’t get into the specifics of Win Share calculation, but basically the amount of wins a particular player contributed to his team can be determined based on the entire team’s marginal runs scored (runs scored above the league average) and marginal runs saved (runs saved below 1.5 times the league average). From these numbers, a team’s record can be predicted. Knowing the ratio of marginal runs to wins for the team, we can then determine the number of wins contributed by individual players. This system allows fair comparisons of wins contributed by starting pitchers, position players, fielders, base stealers, relief pitchers, and players on bad teams.

The Win Shares system is the predominant win contribution calculation system today. Essentially, due to the ratios involved in its computation, one win share equals a third of a win. For perspective, a 30-Win Share season (responsible for ten wins) usually puts a player in the running for MVP awards. Win shares are an invaluable tool for evaluating trades and players from different eras. My source for this information was James’ Historical Baseball Abstract, pages 331-339. For more information, I highly recommend consulting this book or James’ Win Shares, also published in 2001.

Last season’s top producers, in terms of Win Shares:
1. Barry Bonds, 42
1. Albert Pujols, 42
3. Todd Helton, 36
4. Gary Sheffield, 35
5. Carlos Delgato, 33
5. Alex Rodriguez, 33

Notice that four players who most contributed to winning games were in the National League last year. But the same is not true for pitchers, who play fewer games and thus impact fewer decisions. The most Win Shares by a pitcher this season? Roy Halladay and Tim Hudson both enjoyed 24-Win Share seasons, leading the league in Win Shares for a pitcher.

Notable fact: Milwaukee Rookie Scott Podsednik ranked 8th among National League outfielders with 24 Win Shares in 2003. That’s more than Sammy Sosa, Jim Edmonds, and Andruw Jones – and a lot more than both NL Rookie of the Year winner Dontrelle Willis (14 Win Shares in 2003) and AL winner Angel Berroa (16 Win Shares).

Updated Win Share computations are available at baseballgraphs.com.

ERA+
For decades, a pitcher’s Earned Run Average was the basis of the evaluation of his talent. But ERA is a flawed statistic because it depends upon, among a number of things, luck: the luck of whether batted balls are playable by the pitcher’s fielders, something the pitcher cannot always control. A pitcher’s ERA, while providing a measure of a pitcher’s success at limiting runs allowed, cannot be relied upon as a measure of overall effectiveness. For these reasons, it is difficult to compare pitchers’ talent using ERA. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a tool we could use to compare a pitcher’s ERA to the league average? ERA+ does just that, presenting the ratio of the league’s ERA, adjusted to the pitcher’s ballpark, to that of the pitcher. An ERA+ of one hundred is league average, so an ERA+ greater than 100 is above average, and an ERA+ below 100 is sub-par. ERA+ is a statistic for which both hitting- and pitching-friendly eras are compensated. The result is a better, but not perfect, measure of pitching effectiveness.

ERA+ allows us to compare different pitchers over time and the same pitcher to his previous years, all in regards to league averages. We can postulate that Tom Glavine’s career as an effective pitcher is over because his ERA+ dropped from 139 (well above average) in 2002, to 94 in 2003. Bob Gibson experienced a similar drop-off, falling into mediocrity before he called it quits. (Source: baseballprimer.com)

Adjusted Runs Prevented
Using ERA to evaluate relief pitching is even worse than using it to evaluate starting pitching. With a smaller sample size of innings pitched, luck is bound to rear its ugly head to an even greater extent, resulting in decent relievers posting poor ERAs and poor relievers posting decent ERAs. The solution is the Adjusted Runs Prevented statistic, which gives the value of a reliever by examining “the number of runs that the reliever prevented over an average pitcher, given the bases/outs situation when he entered and left each game, adjusted for league and park” (Source: baseballprospectus.com).

Using ERA to measure a reliever’s performance works about as well as basing a batter's season solely on the number of home runs he cranked out of the park. A low ERA indicates nothing about effectiveness with runners on base who are officially credited to the previous pitcher(s). More prominent statistics are not necessarily the most useful.

The top relievers in 2003 according to ARP:
1. Eric Gagne, 32.6
2. Rheal Cormier, 30.2
3. Billy Wagner, 29.8

Earned Run Average substantially skews a reliever’s perceived performance. The following table is perfect example:

2003...............................ERA....................ARP
Buddy Groom...................5.36...................4.7
Kent Mercker....................1.95...................5.5

By the look of their ERAs in 2003, Kent Mercker appears to be a substantially better reliever than Buddy Groom. But their 2003 ARPs show that Mercker was only slightly more effective than Groom in preventing inherited runners from scoring. A pitcher’s ERA cannot be trusted to adequately express performance, especially if the pitcher is a reliever.

Equivalent Average
I find batting statistics a bit easier to deal with than pitching statistics. There are more numbers available for hitters, from batting average to slugging percentage and on-base percentage. Most of us are familiar with these more conventional hitting stats. I use Equivalent Average (EqA) as merely one example of ‘adjusted’ statistics.

The term ‘adjusted’ merely refers to compensating for unequal factors across the league or across time. Each year, we crown the player with the highest batting average in each league as the batting champion. The batting ‘champion’, though, may not have been the best hitter in the league. After adjusting for home park differences, team pitching, and league offensive levels, an adjusted batting average, referred to as a hitter’s Equivalent Average, results in a better measure of total offensive production per out.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the EqA scale is deliberately set to approximate batting average, with the league-average hitter earning an EqA of .260. By setting a baseline of .260 for average production every season, we can again compare players across different eras of fluctuating offensive production, from the deadball era and the time of the raised mound, to the power-packed 1990s. Adjusted statistics are powerful tools that level the playing field and enable objective comparison.

As an example, let’s look at the AL batting title. Bill Mueller won in 2003, with his teammate Manny Ramirez ending up a close second. But their EqAs, a measure of total offensive production per out, are substantially different:

2003..........................AVG....................EqA
Bill Mueller...................326.....................315
Manny Ramirez............325.....................340

Ramirez led the league in offensive production per out, which is more important than batting average. Hitting statistics are as variable as any other. A good ‘hitter’ (a player capable of getting hits at a high rate) may not be the best hitter (the player who produces the most per out). By adjusting for park factors and pitching, and valuing more productive offensive categories, a better idea of who may be the best hitter emerges.


There are all sorts of other statistics, from VORP to WARP (I kid you not). What makes baseball so wondrous is its intricacies and peculiarities. My hope is that “Statistics 102 –Beyond OPS and WHIP”, has laid down a new foundation for a further understanding of baseball. At the very least, I hope that I cleared up some of the vague and thorny issues concerning the computation of these complicated, yet valuable, advanced statistics. There is always more to learn about the game, and the ways in which we examine it.

Keep studying. We’re only a few weeks away from the return of baseball, as it roars back to life after its New Year’s lull of restless hibernation.


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Posted by Dave on Tuesday, January 27, 2004

"That Crossover Was So Dirty, He Didn't Break My Ankles, He Broke My Knee"
Posted by Dave Metz

I'm going to be flagrantly honest: I don't want to write about this. I wish I could judge the salary decisions made for marquee and mediocre players alike, but salary arbitration hasn't occurred yet. I wish I could rant about some contract (good or bad, I'm indiscriminate at times like these), but, really, who cares about Darrell May (by the way, he definitely got overpaid (Transaction Guy reports a 4.93 K/9? Gross.))? I wish I could also write about some false statement Rob Neyer recently wrote, but his statements are dead-on this week (and usually are). I also wish I could trash Jayson Stark a bit more, but he does that for himself enough (who entitles their articles "Useless Information Dept."?). So what am I left with? Aaron Boone playing freaking basketball.

ESPN.com has reported that it is suspected that Aaron Boone tore his ACL playing basketball. I should probably wait until the ACL tear is confirmed by physicians before I write about Aaron Boone - but, too bad. This article will have a giant "What If?" attached to it. That is to say, if Booney is out for the season, this is what will happen. With that disclaimer aside, I'll begin now.

Aaron Boone is a solid third-baseman even despite some rather significant problems getting on-base. Looking at his totals, that much is apparent. It seems that in 2002 he made the decision that making contact (instead of hitting for power) was for the birds (or the Birds, I suppose). His average fell 50 points from previous years along with his on-base percentage. Unfortunately, his slugging did as well and, though it recovered some last year, is still below his SLG in the "peak" (in quotations because it's quite debatable) years of 2000 and 2001. Anyone who has watched him play will comment on his slick fielding. Like Bret, his brother, he is one of the premier defensive players at his positions. There isn't much credence to the claim that Aaron may not be suited to the AL; After initially stinking up the joint, he turned it on as playoff time neared (look at August, then September).

What does all this amount to? I'd bet that Aaron Boone is worth a bit (or more, possibly) less than the 5.75 million he was scheduled to make this season. Still, there's no denying he's their best option at third base. Enrique Wilson, though he hits Pedro, doesn't seem to hit anyone else. Miguel Cairo, though he evokes thoughts of pyramids, is similarly inept. One wonders however, how much worse is the ineptitude of Wairo (That's the platoon of Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo, if you're confused (say "Wairo" out loud, it's a hoot))? Your favorite tool and mine, Win Shares, helps to predict how many wins the Yankees will lose as a result of Aaron's awful absence.

It seems Booney was worth approximately 17 win shares last season - that's about 6 wins. That's nothing to sneeze at - If your 8 position players, DH, starting pitchers (all four and a half of them) and your relief ace all produced that many win shares, you'd have yourself a pretty good team. I can still do arithmetic by head, I swear: (8+1+4.5+1)*17/3 = 82 wins. Not a bad team. In the AL Central, you'd threaten to win the division for most of the year if you finished 82-80 (for those that didn't catch the biting sarcasm, I think that's absolutely pitiable). What about Wairo? Cairo had 3 win shares, but if you project that to a full season he garners a whopping 5 win shares (1.66 wins). Wilson? 2 win shares, but with a full year he'd also have approximately 5 win shares. If Wairo was used ideally, maybe they'd combine for 6 win shares, or 2 wins. That's a full 4 wins that's lost if Boone goes down. With the Angels improved, the A's still dangerous, and Boston still competitive (Jon's pointed out on numerous occasions that if luck was eliminated, Boston would have finished with a better record), a loss of 4 wins could mean losing not only the division, but the wild-card as well. Maybe I was too sarcastic. This is a very significant piece of news if, in fact, Aaron will be out for the year.

I'll finish with a bit of irony: Who's the only third-baseman left on the list of free agents? None other than Todd Zeile, who flunked his tryout for the Yankee Yuggernaut.


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Posted by Ben K. on Monday, January 26, 2004

Trying to save face after a disaster

Tonight, I saw something infuriating happen in the baseball world. Alex Rodriguez, the Traitor of Texas, was named team captain. I cannot believe the Rangers did this, and I refuse to believe what anyone associated with the Rangers is saying about this.

When I first saw this story, my initial reaction was one of shock. Granted, A-Rod is the best player in baseball right now and probably the best of this generation. In these respects, he would be prime captain material. But his off-field machinations have certainly not suggested a man of tact, subtlety, or great leadership abilities. With his bank account growing by $25.2 million a year, his ridiculous contract gives him control over the Rangers almost equal to that of manager Buck Showalter.

Yet, is he happy? Of course not. Would you be happy playing for a team that has finished in last place every year you've been on the team? I wouldn't be. To make matters worse, this off-season was filled with rumors that A-Rod was going to be traded to the Boston Red Sox for Manny Ramirez and a few more players. The deal, in fact (and as we all know), would have gone through had it not been for the Players' Association's rejecting a proposed contract restructuring. (A side note: I can't blame or be angry at the Players' Association for not approving this contract. Their job is to look out for Union members, and they can't start making exceptions for anyone just because they make more money than all of their other members.) In more than a few cases, Rodriguez was quoted as saying that he would be happy to leave Texas and ecstatic to join a team in Boston that is perennially playing long past the time when the Texas Rangers have all started their off-season work regimes.

Now that the trade is finally dead, the Texas Rangers management is trying to mend fences. That's exactly what the point of this latest move was. They're not trying to tap into A-Rod's ability to lead the team; they're trying to save face in front of their fans and other players. This move is their way of saying, "We're sorry we tried to trade away the only thing on this team that makes you come to the Ballpark in Arlington everyday." It's a pathetic move on the management's part, but it only gets worse when you actually look at what A-Rod, Showalter, and other higher-ups in the Rangers organization had to say.

A-Rod imparted these words of wisdom after being named captain: "I definitely think I'm going to be here for a long time. I'm probably pretty sure it will work out for the best." Well, you know what Alex, I'm probably pretty sure that your fans will give you quite a few boos this season when you step up to the plate if that's really the best you can do. Basically, Alex doesn't even know if he himself thinks it's going to work out for the best. That's really not too comforting if you're a fan of the boys in Texas.

Alex also said that he feels "a grand responsibility not only to the Texas Rangers but to our fans." A grand responsibility to play for a winning team in Boston, based on what he had to say this off-season. I have a feeling the fans won't fall for Rodriguez's lame attempts at sucking up to them. Basically, two months ago, A-Rod was campaigning for a trade to the Red Sox; now he's saying that he feels a responsibility to be the captain of the Texas Rangers. How could anyone believe a single word coming out of this man's mouth right now?

Finally, A-Rod added that he thinks the toughest days are behind him and that he's looking forward to negotiating a contract extension with Rangers owner Tom Hicks that would last until the short stop is into his "mid 40s." Of course Alex wants to renegotiate with Hicks. What other owner would even consider giving him anywhere close to 25 mil a year? Maybe if he's lucky, Hicks will give him the ballpark and that cool roller coaster behind the center field wall as part of his next contract.

All in all, this reeks of a public relations attempt to win back to the fans to the side of Alex Rodriguez. Unfortunately, it falls flat, and if A-Rod's word don't prove this point, Showalter's praise of his prima donna short stop certainly will. Showalter was apparently pleased that A-Rod will be the captain; in fact, he's supposedly been contemplating naming Rodriguez the captain for a few months. Here's what he had to say: "It is very important as we go forward that we have someone like Alex lead our young people in the proper direction and set the tone." So Buck, what tone exactly are we setting here? The one that tells the our young people to jump ship if you have a chance to play for a team that actually might make it to the World Series? The one that says hoodwink a gullible owner into paying more than market price for a player? The one that says act like you own the team and completely disrespect any managerial/coaching system already in place? I certainly think A-Rod will set a good tone for the players in that sense.

Now, I have nothing against Alex Rodriguez as a player. There's no denying that he deserved that MVP award this year. There's no denying that he deserves a plaque in Cooperstown after he retires. And it's certainly not impossible to believe that A-Rod will be remembered as the best player ever to play in the Major Leagues. But Alex won't be winning any humanitarian awards for his efforts at bringing a World Championship to Texas. I would like to hypothetically ask Buck Showalter if he really believes the words coming out of his mouth and A-Rod's mouth. Does anyone truly think this is anything more than a public relations ploy to bring out some level of redemption from what the fans would see as a faithless, horrible off season? I don't; I bet the Texas Rangers fans don't; and I believe the Texas Rangers management doesn't either.


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Posted by Mike on Sunday, January 25, 2004

Colon Cancer Gets Roy-al Treatment?

Let's take a look two current aces, Bartolo Colon and Roy Halladay. Both are highly desirable properties amongst teams, are in their primes, and both were recently signed to pricey multi-year contracts. Colon accepted a 4 year deal worth $51 million from the Angels while Halladay resigned with the Blue Jays for 4 years and $42 million.

Per year, their contracts look like this (in millions):

.................Colon..........Halladay
2004.............9.................6
2005.............8...............10.5
2006............12..............12.7
2007............14..............12.8

It seems that the Angels were desperate enough for starting pitching that they were willing to pay $10 million more for Colon than the going rate for a reigning Cy Young award winner. Colon is now a 7 year veteran in the league and as a free agent was able to find the highest possible offer while Halladay is younger and was willing to sacrifice some money now to get a contract that gives him a little insurance on his future. The issue isn't Roy or the Jays, they're both on the level here, the problem is Anaheim’s irrational lust for Bartolo Colon. Let's remember exactly who Bartolo Colon is for a moment, he was the flame throwing wonder youth for an offensively driven Cleveland team in the late 90s. As with a lot of young power pitchers there was a lot of hype around him, most of which has never really gone away despite his lack of improvement over the years. Sometimes the awe of seeing a pitcher throw a ball harder than most everyone else in the league blinds teams to the reality that even with better tools the flame thrower is really nothing more than an above average pitcher with a little flair. Anyways, let’s look at some of Colon’s numbers the last three seasons:

................IP..........K..........BB..........ERA
2000......188.0......212........98..........3.88
2001......222.1......201........90..........4.09
2002......233.1......149........70..........2.93
2003......242.0......173........67..........3.87

Wait a second; he doesn't strike people out anymore? Nope. Colon finished 7th in the American League in strikeouts in 2003 but he wasn't even in the top 10 in K/9IP. Noteable pitchers with more K/9IP (because you wouldn't expect it) were Tim Wakefield, Kelvim Escobar, and Ted Lilly. His strikeout rate has been in decline since the 2000 season and the last two years have been the two lowest of his career. He's been developing much better control over the last four seasons but he isn't fooling batters at the rate in which he was in his prime so the improvement in command hasn't accomplished anything other than reducing the damageing effect of his decline in strikeouts.

Part of the problem may be his fastball; while it reaches the upper 90mph range it is effectively dead straight. Other pitchers with this same problem? Billy Koch and Ugueth Urbina. All that velocity isn't as effective as it would seem when the ball follows a straight path to the plate. Under the same principle Pedro Martinez is still almost as effective as he was when he could throw in the high 90s regularly. While he only throws in the low 90mph range now he has a fastball with a great deal of movement and as a result is as difficult to hit as a faster moving pitch. But Colon hasn't lost any of his velocity, he still throws as hard as he used to which probably means that batters and teams have figured him out to some degree. If this is the case, staying in the American League where teams are more familiar with him will probably produce seasons similar to 2001 and 2003 and less like 2002 when he had a stellar first half.

Now for the cheaper, younger, more Cy Young award winning Halladay's last three years:

................IP..........K..........BB..........ERA
2001......105.1.......96.........25..........3.16
2002......239.1......168........62..........2.93
2003......266.0......204........32..........3.25

For $10 million less over the next 4 years Toronto will have an ace with excellent command who can throw 230+ innings with as many strikeouts as Colon.

Personally, I think Roy peaked this year, but at age 26 there's no reason for him to decline anytime in the near future. Barring injury he should be able to produce numbers like those of his last two years for the duration of his contract. Bartolo is 4 years older, has never really lived up to expectations, and has been declining in some areas for the last 3 seasons.

Alright, Anaheim overpaid for guy who isn’t as good as what they’re going to be paying him, fine. Let’s look at this from a different angle though. Did Anaheim really have any choice but to sign Colon? No. Their rotation last year was terrible, Jarred Washburn and John Lackey were the only starting pitchers who finished the season with an ERA below 5.00. While undeserving, this team won the World Series in 2002 and still possesses many of the core players from that championship team. They needed to save face and prevent a slide and the additions of Colon and Kelvin Escobar (Kelvin might have been the better aquisition) were moves designed at getting full value for their money but rather to keep the team from sliding too far from its peak form. Good moves aren’t made out of desperation and these were desperate but they're certainly not going to hurt them.

Ugueth Urbina Upset

It looks like Ugueth Urbina hasn't received an offer for the big time closer money that he thinks he's worth. I hope he enjoys sitting at home until the 4th of July because I dont' think any teams are willing to give him the $6-7 million per year that he seems to feel he's worth. He certainly had an excellent second half of 2003 with the Marlins but that won't be enough to justify a multiyear contract. He missed almost all of the 2000 season because of injuries and is not known for being a very durable player. Most teams simply aren't willing to give a good relief pitcher Keith Foulke money for multiple years in this economic climate when that player has injury issues. In the end I'm sure there will be one team desperate enough to sign him, there always is, but until then Ugueth is just going to have to sit and wait.

Tony Womack and the Red Sox
Tony Womack signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox on Saturday. He has no bat and he can't play defense so the only reason I can think why the Sox signed him was for his baserunning speed.

Pitchers and catchers report in 17 days.


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