Saturday, November 29, 2008

TotalZone, 2008, Shortstops

In this season of giving thanks, let us be grateful that Retrosheet has released the 2008 season play by play files. Although the hit location field is for the most part blank (as it has been other than for the 1990's when project scoresheet data was used), batted ball type and fielded by information are complete for just about every play. This allows me to continue to calculate TotalZone the same way as I have for the 2003 to 2007 seasons.

My first step was to update my park factors, and step number 2 to produce run values for the shortstops.

If you don't care for the details, or have looked at this before, feel free to skip the details in this paragraph. I find how many plays each shortstop makes on groundballs. If he fields a groundball, and an out is recorded on the play, it counts, regardless of whether it's a throw to first, flip to second, or the SS steps on 2B himself. Next, how many hits and errors did the shortstop allow? Errors are easy enough. Hits are charged to the shortstop if it's an infield hit to short, a groundball single to left, or to center. Shortstops are charged with 39% of singles to left, and 55% of those to center. Next, combine the hits and outs for each SS into a zone, or, a TotalZone, and compare this to league average. Not all opportunities are created equal however, so I break down this data into buckets, depending on what side of the plate the batter hits from (pulled balls are easier to convert into outs) and whether or not 1st base is occupied, as a potential forceplay at 2nd affects positioning. We are comparing each bucket to the league average for each situation. Finally, a park adjustment is applied. To improve sample size, I use one park adjustment for all infield positions.

I can't, and won't, claim that TotalZone data is as detailed as UZR, plus/minus, or PMR. It does not distinguish between easy and hard plays. What it simply means, is that a player with a very good rating has fewer hits and makes more outs than normal for the portion of balls hit into his area, and a poor TZ fielder has more hits and fewer outs in his area.

Finally, here are the top and bottom lists for 2008. Once I do all the positions, I will post a spreadsheet with all the results. For 2008, there were no extreme rankings. There were a few head-scratchers as well.

Best SS:
+19, JJ Hardy
+12, Jack Wilson
+12, Marco Scutaro
+11, Yunel Escobar
+9, Cesar Izturis
+9, Cristian Guzman
+9, Michael Young
+6, Jimmy Rollins

A few years ago Young had a rating near -30, so this is a surprise.

Bottom SS:
-7, Ryan Theriot
-8, Jason Bartlett
-9, Brendan Harris
-9, Yuni Betencourt

Bartlett is a surprise as he has rated well in the past, and has received quite a bit of credit for Tampa Bay's defensive turnaround. Derek Jeter rated just below average at -4.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Best Free Agent Pitchers

These are based on CHONE projections for an average team, and 4.84 million per win above replacement. Replacement level is set at a 4.55 ERA for relievers and a run higher than that for starters, in a league with an average ERA of 4.43. I'll show the projected ERA, innings pitched, one year value, and 3 year value. For the 3 year value, the projection is advanced by the appropriate aging factors, an assumption that $ per win keeps rising 10% per year, and that expected innings drop 10% per year. I have a formula to estimate a reliever's leverage rating, and it is considered for the closers.


8. Ryan Dempster, 153 IP, 4.30 ERA, 1Y 10.3, 3Y 29.3. Signed for a bit more, 13 per season, on a 4 year extension, but it's not too much of an overpay. Dempster is a tough one to project as he defied the norms, he threw harder, pitched better, and was more durable starting than he had been as a reliever. I can't criticize the Cubs.

7. Kenshin Kawakami, 136 IP, 4.04 ERA, 11.5, 33.3 34 year old pitcher coming over from Japan, should be a solid middle of the rotation guy with good control, like Hiroshi Kuroda

6. Randy Johnson, 152 IP, 4.11 ERA, 1 year, 12 million. I'm not putting a 3 year dollar value out there because it ain't happening. Johnson will get a one year deal to get his 300th win and another shot at the playoffs. D-Backs could have kept him for significantly less than this amount.

5. Andy Pettite, 180 IP, 4.34 ERA, 12 mil, 34.8 mil. Doesn't want a pay cut from his 16 million. Still solid, but probably not worth it.

4. Ben Sheets, 167 IP, 3.84 ERA, 15.7 mil, 45.9 mil. Yankees could probably get this guy if they waved Andy's 16 million around. But fear of signing another Pavano like injury case might deter them.

3. Derek Lowe, 180 IP, 3.78, 17.5 mil, 51.5 mil. A lot of us laughed 4 years ago when the Dodgers gave him 36 million over 4 years, but he earned every penny, and has been one of the most reliable and best pitchers in baseball.

2. A.J. Burnett, 187 IP, 3.67 ERA, 19.8 mil, 57.5 mil. What can I say, projection systems like strikeouts, especially from a pitcher who does it in baseball's toughest division. I don't think I'd want to pay him quite that much, but if he gets a deal for 5 years and 80 million, it would be a fair one. Part of my apprehension is his health record. He pitched a ton of innings last year, and when it comes to projecting playing time, my system is very what-have-you-done-lately.

1. C.C. Sabathia, 214 IP, 3.22, 27.7 mil, 81.8 mil. A case can be made that he has passed Santana and is the best pitcher in baseball right now.


4. Juan Cruz, 47 IP, 3.50 ERA, 3.8 mil, 12.6 mil - A strikeout machine, a bit wild though.

3. Kerry Wood, 46 IP, 3.50 ERA, 3.9 mil, 11.8 mil - he was great last year, but the health record says to be cautious on him.

2. Brian Fuentes, 62 IP, 3.34 ERA, 5.8 mil, 16.4 mil - The system is projecting a leverage in the 1.4 range. That's a new feature that I may need to tweak a bit, but fact there just aren't enough 2.0 leverage roles to go around. Fuentes is a good pitcher but not a great one, so his projected leverage comes short of the K-Rod's, Riveras, and Papelbons of the world. Also, Jeremy Affeldt signed for 4 million. Fuentes is a better pitcher, but I don't think he's that much better, not enough to be worth 2-3 times as much, as some rumors seem to indicate.

1. K-Rod, 69 IP, 3.01, 10.4 mil, 30.8 mil. He's not worth the 5 year, 75 million dollars that were initially talked about. Doesn't look like anyone really wants to pay that anyway. Reports are that the Angels are moving on, but if he comes back with reasonable demands - say 4 years, 40 million, he might stay an Angel after all.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Yankees going after every pitcher on the market

Rumor has it that if the Yankees get Sabathia, they will also go after one or both of AJ Burnett and Derek Lowe. I hope they succeed, and without a Yankee bid Mark Teixiera decides to stay put.

If they sign with the Yankees, here are the projections for these pitchers:

Pitcher ERA Innings
Sabathia 3.45 212
Burnett 3.88 185
D-Lowe 3.90 179
Mussina 4.43 164
Pettite 4.77 178
CW Wang 4.54 138
Joba C 3.76 99
Hughes 4.38 85
Kennedy 4.60 120

Good luck Yankees, and don't bother spending a lot on a first baseman.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gregg is a Cub

Our old buddy Kevin Gregg is a pretty good pitcher, and since he's likely due a raise after closing most of the last 2 years, the Marlins had to deal him. He projects for around a 3.50 ERA, close to a strikeout per inning, but with a fairly high number of walks. Marlins get Jose Ceda, a 22 year old pitcher with a run of the mill relief projection. Ceda gets good scouting marks, he's 6'5, 250 with an upper 90's fastball so he might turn out pretty good.

Gregg's days as a closer are probably over though, as Carlos Marmol will most likely replace free agent Kerry Wood at the end of games. Facts about Carlos Marmol:

1. Projection: 3.08 ERA, 80K in 61 innings
2. Marmol is a Mammal
3. Carlos Marmol strikes people out ALL THE TIME
4. The purpose of Carlos Marmol is to totally flip out and throw fastballs past everybody.

Yankees get Swisher

Another trade, another guy I think the Angels could have used, and the Yankees didn't even give up that much. Yankees get Swisher and a minor league pitcher named, believe it or not, Texiera. White Sox get Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez. None of the pitchers have projections worth writing about, Marquez is the only one ranked well by Baseball America last year, but he's nothing great, a pitch to contact guy. Betemit will take over third for Joe Crede. I wonder if a couple of generic pitching prospects + Matt Brown could have gotten a deal done for the Angels, maybe go as high as offering Sean Rodriguez, or try another route and offer a speedy major leaguer like Figgins.

Swisher, like Josh Willingham, could have filled one of the 3 lineup holes the Angels have, with 1B, DH, and a corner OF spot open.

Projections: Betemit 256/323/433, about a league average 3B, not that good a defender.

Swisher: 242/358/440, 24 HR, 76 RBI, 85 R, 86 BB, 132K, about 3 wins above replacement as a corner outfielder, though for the Yankees he'll likely play center or first. In the past, the Yankees have had other weird split position guys like Lee Mazilli, CF/1B, and Roy Smalley, SS/1B. Johnny Damon in 2007 played 48 in center and 5 at first base.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Catchers and Game Calling

Keith Woolner really broke the ground here with his article several years ago, Field General or Backstop? He didn't find anything, but set a framework that can be modified, and looked into with further detail. I started a similar study, focusing on things catchers might have an effect on if game-calling were a skill - strikeouts, walks, HBP, homeruns, line drives allowed, and popups. I figure groundball and flyball results are heavily dependent on the defense, but since linedrives are almost always hits, and popups are as good as strikeouts, let's see if a catcher has any effect on these.

But this study is a lot of hard work. To even begin to see if there's a skill, I'll have to control for park and league effects. Kevin Brown's record with Paul Lo Duca in LA and Jorge Posada in NY makes Jorge look like a terrible catcher, but it's probably just the difference of pitching in the AL East vs Dodger stadium.

I think Tango Tiger has a catcher study coming up in this year's Hardball Times (I have an article as well on History's greatest defenders). I'll wait to see what he does before putting too much effort in this.

The first question remains, is catcher game-calling a skill? Can we expect certain catchers to be better than others? And if we ever find that it is, the next question is, how much does it matter? Are we talking 2 runs a year, or 25?

I'm sure if Scott Boras had his team do a study and found a big skill for Jason Varitek, we'd have heard about it, but with the unadjusted numbers, Varitek looks pretty bad. Probably not his fault though, pitching in Fenway Park is not easy.

Nationals Trade for Willingham, Olsen

This is pretty much your typical Marlins salary dump, as both players were about to go to arbitration for the first time. Willingham will either play left field or first base for the Nationals, and he's a pretty good hitter (264/360/471 projection), but a bad outfielder. Olsen is not that good a pitcher (4.59 projected ERA in the easy league) but at least he's been able to make 30+ starts each of the last 3 years. These are the kind of middle of the pack players who get 7-10 million when they are free agents, you'd think they would command more in a trade when a first year arbitration guy is only going to make 3 million or so.

Marlins get Emilio Bonifacio, who can't hit (252/301/325) but is fast, and the scouts say he has the 'good face'. They also get two guys in the low minors.

Seems like the Angels could have gotten in on this one, the Washington offer looks easy to beat, and the Angels could consider Willingham for multiple roles - left field, DH, 1st base. He wouldn't block Kendry Morales, or be blocked if Teixiera comes back, and provides a middle of the order bat for a fraction of the price that guys like Pat Burrell will get. Olsen could have filled out the rotation as a younger, lefthandier Jon Garland.

If Bonifacio starts in the Marlin's infield, with Cantu going to first and Uggla to third, that's bad news for our old buddy D-Mac, who might just have to stay in Albuquerque and chase Crash Davis's minor league homerun record. Or maybe it's Hector Espino's.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Matt Holliday, reason to worry?

I don't think so, at least not yet.

If the trade goes through according to the reports I've heard, he will be traded for Greg Smith, Huston Street, and Carlos Gonzalez. The trade makes Oakland better for 2009, but not so much better to put them in contention - yet. What's worrisome is the idea that Oakland might all of a sudden start spending money for good players - if they bring in Furcal, Giambi, and a good starting pitcher then the Angels will have some competition. And it doesn't make sense to think Beane traded for free agent to be Holliday merely to turn a 77 win team into an 81 win team for one year.

Holliday will not find hitting in Oakland as easy as hitting in Colorado, obviously. His CHONE projection slips from 316/390/549 to 286/355/484. That's still an excellent player, and despite being a big dude (6'4, 235) Holliday is a good defender and an excellent basestealer (28/30 last year). He's worth about 3-4 wins above Oakland's other outfield options. Losing Greg Smith hurts little - I had him projected as the 5th best starter on the team, but there is little dropoff to #6, and the projections don't even account for a possible rapid advance from guys like James Simmons, Trevor Cahill, or Brett Anderson. Street is an excellent reliever, best on the staff, but they have several very good relievers, and each will move up the leverage ladder in 2009. Given their pitching depth and options for replacement, losing Street & Smith costs them maybe one win on the pitching side. For this improvement, the A's spend 13 million on Holliday for a year, then get his free agent comp picks.

For the Rockies, it's a good trade. Ryan Spilborghs (292/370/450) takes over left, and in fantasy ball will be pretty close to Holliday in value. That's just a park illusion, of course, and he's actually 2-3 wins worse than Holliday. Greg Smith joins the rotation, with a projected ERA of 5.07. He probably should beat that, at least for a little while, as he'll probably pick off a bunch of runners in a new league before they learn to watch out for him. His strikeout to walk numbers are 105 to 72, and he gets hit around a bit more in Coors. Still, an ERA just over 5 is respectable for Colorado, and he's a win better than alternative options to fill out the rotation. Street gets back to a closer role, and should excel - Rockies relievers have had a lot less trouble sustaining success that their starters. I have him at a 3.20 ERA, with a 72-22 K-W in 64 innings. He's worth another win.

Then there's Carlos Gonzalez, he'll look like a decent hitter in this park, though he has a ways to go. The projection is 268/314/428, with 13 HR and 74 RBI. He's an excellent defensive centerfielder, and at age 23 has plenty of room to grow. For now, he's a bit better than Willy Tavares, but in the long run he could really make this trade.

The Rockies overall stay even on the field in the short term, while moving salary and gaining longterm options - 2 more years of Street, 5 of Smith, 6 of Gonzalez, while giving up only the last year of Holliday.

The A's haven't made the kind of super efficient wins for dollar move that the Beaniacs love to slobber over, but what they've done is a bit scarier, if it means they are going to start spending the money to actually compete.

One day ago I thought the Angels could let go of all their free agents, give more time to Wood, Morales, Rodriguez, Matthews, Bulger, and Moseley, take a substantial hit in the standings, but still win the division with 85 wins or so. Now, I'm not so sure. This puts pressure on us to get a deal done with Mark Teixiera.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Minor League Fielding Stats

Are they a waste of time?

Actually, no. I looked at infielders who had at least 100 zone chances (using averaged zone rating between the STATS and BIS numbers) who last year played in the minors. 21 players qualified, including Evan Longoria, Mike Aviles, Yunel Escobar, and Mark Reynolds. The minor league numbers I'm looking at are Dan Fox's simple fielding runs (SFR), which is similar to my TotalZone.

The correlation between Major League 2008 and Minor League 2007 was .54, which is higher than I expected, and higher than I would have expected between two major league seasons when the sample of chances (153 average) is so small. That may be a fluke, maybe I pick 20 players who fit the same criteria next year and get .07 or even a negative number. Fox did publish ratings for 2005 to 2007, so I could look at 3 years to see if the correlation holds up.

If it does, super cool, we can project fielding for minor league infielders as well as we can for major leaguers. Interestingly, the players had slightly better fielding ratings in the majors than they did in the minors - as a group they were +5 per 500 chances in the bigs and +2 in the minors.

The only problem now is getting the data - I'd have to take the time to build a PBP database from the MLB gameday stats. I doubt that will happen this year.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Pujols' Value, an Illustration

In my last post, I said that Albert Pujols was worth 41 million dollars per season. That is an extraordinary figure, and I don't expect people to accept that without some question. As the free agent season heats up, the biggest contracts are rumored to be the ones Mark Teixiera and C.C. Sabathia will sign, and they will likely be for more than 20 million per season. Johan Santana last year signed for an average value of 23 million per season, with Alex Rodriguez breaking his own record with a 10 year, 275 million deal that will pay him more than 30 million for the 2009-2011 seasons.

So how could Pujols be worth so much more than these other superstars?

If you think Pujols not worth that much, there are many arguments you can make. How can a guy playing a baseball game for half a year be worth so much more than Doctors, let alone teachers or firefighters? Question the amount spent on baseball from a societal viewpoint and I won't disagree with you. Point out that ballplayers are the end recipients of taxpayer subsidized stadiums and you'll have a good point - The owners get the extra ticket money and spend less on construction costs, but they eventually tend to spend all that cash to bring in better players.

But given that the public is willing to spend the amounts of money that they do on baseball as an entertainment, there is no question in my mind that Albert's share, were he not under contract, should be somewhere close to 41 milllion.

What else could you do with 41 million? Why, you could buy yourself a superstar 1st baseman like Mark Teixiera, spending 23 million, and a superstar centerfielder, like Torii Hunter. Arte Moreno bought half that package last year and I think he'd like to keep the other half this offseason.

The guy who spent all the 41 million on Albert would have to settle for replacement level in center field. Replacement level might look something like the awful season Jeff Francoeur put up for the Braves.

Add them up, and your production is almost identical:

Player Tandem AB hits 2b 3b hr bb BA OBP SLG
Mark & Torii 1125 330 78 2 54 147 0.293 0.375 0.510
Albert & Jeff 1123 330 77 3 48 143 0.294 0.374 0.496

Albert Pujols is worth that much money because having him on your team is as good as having two normal superstars.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Most Valuable Position Players in Baseball

Based on 2008 projections, and a rate of 5.25 million dollars per win above replacement level.

13. Hanley Ramirez, 22.6 million He'd rank higher if his defense was better, though he did show improvement from 2006-07.
12. Lance Berkman, 22.8
11. David Ortiz, 23.4
10. Mark Teixiera, 23.7 We NEED to resign him, unless something like trading for Carlos Beltran is any kind of possibility.
9. Miguel Cabrera, 26.1 A better fit at 1B, where his defense doesn't hurt you.
8. Carlos Beltran, 26.1
7. Chipper Jones, 26.5, still going strong after all those years. Defense at third as good as ever, only knock is lack of durability.
6. Joe Mauer, 28.6 - Great hitter and great defensive catcher, if he added power he might be the best player in baseball.
5. Chase Utley, 30.4 World F**kin Champions!
4. David Wright, 32.2 No weaknesses in his game
3. Alex Rodriguez, 33.0 The others are worth this kind of cash, A-Rod actually makes it.
2. Grady Sizemore, 33.8 Power, speed, walks, and gold glove defense
1. Albert Pujols, 41.0 - He's just on another level.

Worst hitter in the top 4 levels of Pro Baseball

He's an Angel.

His name is Anderson Rosario, and he plays outfield. I've run projections on anyone who had significant playing time at MLB, AAA, AA, or A+ for the 2008 season, and Rosario is the single worst hitter of the bunch. His projection is 157/205/235, which would actually be quite an improvement on his batting from last year, and there are probably many pitchers who hit better than him. He must be one heck of a defensive outfielder, but for this year, I'm proud to present him with the 2008 Rubi Koko award.