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  1. Confirmation bias is the reason why this guy is still a starter

    Comment by riverboatgambit — April 20, 2011 @ 9:37 am

  2. Ironically, (well perhaps not given the promotion of Sands) baseballprospectus.com has a Loney article as well. They bring up his home/road platoon splits. He’s a much better hitter away from Dodger Stadium:

    Home: .265/.329/.371 – 18 HR

    Road: .303/.357/.488 – 38 HR

    Comment by riverboatgambit — April 20, 2011 @ 9:41 am

  3. I was basically screaming the BP viewpoint all winter before the Bucs signed Lyle Overbay to play 1B. Loney could be had for almost nothing and has been a solid league average 1B with the bat away from Chavez Ravine. Why not take a chance on a 27 year old, rather than waste money on Overbay?

    Comment by PiratesHurdles — April 20, 2011 @ 9:50 am

  4. Loney has been viewed as a “run-producer” because he usually has decent RBI totals.

    But he usually has decent RBI totals because he’s usually among the the league leaders in PAs with runner on base / in scoring position / bases loaded, and his RBI totals have actually been quite low relative to his opportunities.

    On a related note, the Dodgers’ GM is a nincompoop.

    Comment by D4P — April 20, 2011 @ 10:08 am

  5. While a WAR-to-dollars computation would suggest that being slightly more than a win over replacement would justify his current salary, would you want to pay that much for literally one win?

    If you won’t pay ~$5 million for ~1 WAR, what’s the point of the entire WAR valuation framework?

    Comment by Boomer — April 20, 2011 @ 10:34 am

  6. Outrageous. The Dodgers obviously won the Casey Blake for Carlos Santana trade.

    Comment by Anon — April 20, 2011 @ 10:42 am

  7. Looked back at the 11/16/10 fangraphs (RJ Anderson) article on Loney and once again, no home/road splits were mentioned. I’m not sure why two different authors are missing what seems like a key point regarding Loney.

    Comment by PiratesHurdles — April 20, 2011 @ 10:43 am

  8. They decided to dump Russ Martin after a couple of 2 WAR seasons, rather than pay him $4M-$5M. Yet they were willing to pay Loney $4.875M after a couple of 1 WAR seasons.

    Wha?

    Comment by Yirmiyahu — April 20, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  9. That’s the value of a win on the FA market. You would assume that the players under team control would be cheaper. So, the argument would be to trade Loney for something cheaper, and use a much cheaper player who can get you close to the same WAR. Then you can spend the $$ you save somewhere else. Or you could even argue the shouldn’t even offer Loney arbitration, let him go and spend the money elsewhere. Regardless, the Dodgers will have to make this decision this year, when he seeks a raise in arbitration.

    Comment by Dave — April 20, 2011 @ 10:47 am

  10. I’m not missing it, per se, but there’s only so much information you can cram into an article while staying on point. The point here is to examine Loney in relation to the Dodgers. A discussion of home/road splits and how they relate to Loney is another post.

    Comment by Eric Seidman — April 20, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  11. Precisely. Paying $4-$5 mil per win for a FA is one thing. Paying almost $5 mil for a team controlled player averaging 1.1 wins/yr since 2008 is not optimal, especially for a team supposedly under financial restraints.

    Comment by Eric Seidman — April 20, 2011 @ 10:50 am

  12. Interesting. Home/away, his BB, K, LD/FB/GB numbers are all pretty similar. The difference is all in his BABIP, HR/FB, and IsoP– which speaks to it being a legitimate park factor.

    Comment by Yirmiyahu — April 20, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  13. Of course it’s not optimal. But they already made the decision before the season. So NOW, what should they do?

    They need his 1 WAR if they want to win the West.

    It’s unlikely they get much of anything in a trade. He has no surplus value. It would be a pure salary dump.

    I can’t envision a scenario where trading him results in more expected wins than just keeping him, short of fleecing another team, which isn’t a Ned Colleti trademark.

    Comment by Boomer — April 20, 2011 @ 11:04 am

  14. That’s odd your first line is “James Loney isn’t good enough to be a big-league starter”, not JL isn’t good enough to play for the Dodgers.

    Comment by PiratesHurdles — April 20, 2011 @ 11:06 am

  15. They don’t need HIS 1 WAR at all. Trading him for nothing other than salary relief could free up money that could be spent elsewhere. And getting 1 WAR isn’t that difficult. Sands could probably do it. Thames could probably do it at 1B. Platoon Thames/Sands/Gibbons and I bet that would equal or surpass 1 WAR for 1/3 the cost.

    Comment by Eric Seidman — April 20, 2011 @ 11:06 am

  16. You are correct. They do not need his 1 WAR.

    But with no surplus value, I don’t see any team even offering the Dodgers salary relief.

    If the Dodgers can probably duplicate his production (which is admittedly not very high), why couldn’t any team that would trade for him?

    Comment by Boomer — April 20, 2011 @ 11:20 am

  17. Suffice it to say that Ned Colletti does not know what WAR is good for.

    Comment by D4P — April 20, 2011 @ 11:29 am

  18. As I mentioned at the end of the article, there will likely be a few teams willing to take the chance, an idea even furthered by his home/road splits.

    Comment by Eric Seidman — April 20, 2011 @ 11:30 am

  19. “Ironically, the next closest player on the trailerboard is Lyle Overbay, who I have always felt personified the replacement level for the position.”

    Lyle Overbay’s WAR since 2004
    2004 – 2.4
    2005 – 2.5
    2006 – 2.5
    2007 – 0.1
    2008 – 2.0
    2009 – 2.4
    2010 – 1.5

    Only in 2007, was he a replacement value player.

    Comment by bluejaysstatsgeek — April 20, 2011 @ 11:38 am

  20. I said replacement level for the position, which is different than overall. Most first baseman who get 500 PA in a season can get to 1.5-2.0 WAR.

    Comment by Eric Seidman — April 20, 2011 @ 11:41 am

  21. I’m amazed the author didn’t mention his home/road splits. He’s definitely good enough to be a big-league starter if you account for half his games being in Dodger stadium.

    Comment by mattmaison — April 20, 2011 @ 11:54 am

  22. Not replacement level ones.

    Comment by mattmaison — April 20, 2011 @ 11:56 am

  23. Oh god…this might be the worst thing I’ve ever read about WAR – on Fangraphs, of all places. You must know that WAR is adjusted for position, right?

    Comment by Oscar — April 20, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

  24. I was involved in the development/creation of WAR. I know what goes into it. WAR factors in position in the form of positional adjustments based on the relative level of difficulty. But that is from a broad perspective to normalize the merits of positions compared to each other. If we’re just looking at First Baseman, you don’t need a positional adjustment.

    What I’m saying is that if you take all regular first baseman, say 450-500 PA a season, each year over the last, I don’t know, 6-7 seasons, and adjust WAR based only on their numbers, the average is much higher, as is the replacement level. You can be a league average player, overall, but replacement level compared to all of the regular starters at the position.

    Look at last year as an example. Of the qualifying 1B, who were regular 1B (Ty Wigginton, Daniel Murphy, and Jorge Cantu don’t count), the lowest WAR was 1.0, for Carlos Pena. The average of the bottom four was 1.4. The replacement level for full-time starters at the position was in that vicinity, even though those players were above the overall replacement level. If you rack up 500+ PAs as a first baseman you should be able to produce a total of 1.3-1.5 WAR.

    Comment by Eric Seidman — April 20, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

  25. Not so odd as all that, given that — as has been demonstrated more than once — you can’t just grab road numbers and proclaim them to be a guy’s true talent level.

    Comment by The Ancient Mariner — April 20, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

  26. Eric, isn’t that just because if a player is playing so badly that he is literally replacement level (i.e., 0-ish WAR), then he’s not going to be allowed to accrue those 450-500 PA’s?

    I assume you’d see the same thing at any position. It’s not often that a true replacement level player accumulates that much playing time.

    If that’s *particularly* true for 1Bmen, it’s probably only because defense comes into play less, so the traditional offensive stats do a pretty decent job of estimating value.

    Comment by Yirmiyahu — April 20, 2011 @ 12:31 pm

  27. Yeah, exactly. All I was saying is that for *full-time starters* Overbay is pretty much the replacement level for 1B. Not a replacement level player overall, but relative to the guys that actually play a full year at the position he’s close to the bottom.

    Comment by Eric Seidman — April 20, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

  28. So you shouldn’t say ‘replacement level’, when you actually mean, ‘average big league starter’…

    Comment by mattmaison — April 20, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

  29. There was the severe injury after being piss awful for two and a half years.

    Comment by regfairfield — April 20, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

  30. If most teams have free talent available at first base capable of hitting well enough to earn 1 WAR or more, then why is replacement level for 1B set so low — why isn’t their positional adjustment more strongly negative?

    As I understand it, positional adjustments are set based on average offensive production at a position… so shouldn’t the adjustment for 1B come out so that a player that hits and defends averagely for his position has league-average WAR? I can see how replacement level could vary per-position based on the distribution of hitting talent… so the actual empirical replacement level for 1B might be higher than that for SS because hitting talent drops off quicker from the positional average at SS than 1B. But average-at-a-position should be about the same WAR at all positions, shouldn’t it?

    Or was it that positional adjustments were set based on studies of the relative defensive performance of multi-position players? If so, this result makes considerably more sense to me…

    Comment by Al Dimond — April 20, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

  31. No. Not “average” big league starter.

    Give it some thought.

    Comment by Matt L — April 20, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

  32. No, we should say that he is approximately the 30th best starting first baseman, aka a replacement level starter. When looking at “replacement level starters”, we should consider all first baseman good enough to be on an ML bench, but not good enough to start every day, as below replacement level. Thus, 1.0 WAR is still replacement level for starters.

    Comment by Jason — April 20, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

  33. I started to misread the “Either way” at the end of the article and wondered whether Ethier might be a good 1B if they found Sands to be a better defensive OF than Ethier and as good a hitter as Loney.

    Comment by gdc — April 20, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

  34. That Dodger offense is not decent. It is bad. Here are the projected wOBA going forward:

    Ethier – .368
    Kemp – .357
    Furcal – .327
    Thames – .324
    Loney – .318
    Uribe – .318
    Blake – .317
    Barajas – .307
    Carroll – .307
    Gwynn – .299
    Miles – .269

    They have two good hitters. And Thames is a useful hitter against lefties. All of these outfielders also give back a ton of value on defense. And how many games will Furcal be healthy for?

    This group of position players sucks.

    Comment by Tito Santana — April 20, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

  35. I didn’t want to discuss the WAR points, but rather the “decent” lineup. Two caveats: Jerry Sands could make a difference in LF and platooning at first, and Furcal could make a difference if (big if) healthy.

    Still, when your leaders in PAs after the awesome twosome of Kemp and Ethier followed by the aforementioned Loney are as follows:

    Juan Uribe (last three years wOBA – .322, .351, .296)
    Jamey Carroll – 37 years old (last three years wOBA – .329, .317, .319)
    Rod Barajas – 35 years old (soon to be 36, last three years wOBA, .310, .282, .307)
    Tony Gwynn Jr. (last three years wOBA – .276, .311, .235)
    Casey Blake – 37 years old (soon to be 38, last three years wOBA – .317, .354, .347)
    Aaron Miles – (last three years wOBA – .275, .212, .331)

    For completeness: Loney: last three years wOBA – .315, .332, .333. With this lineup’s age and past records, he still might be the third best hitter on the team. That’s how bad this lineup is.

    I got to see them play a lot this past weekend. It is a small sample size at this point in the season, but I see no reason to ever pitch to Kemp and Ethier, which makes Sunday’s actions by LaRussa even more baffling.

    Comment by jtorrey13 — April 20, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

  36. Oscar,

    What you fail to be incorporating is Availability. A replacement level 1B is 0 WAR, but why in the world would anyone use such a player when you can literally take any good hitter/bad-fielder from the OF or 3B and move him there? And it isnt like 1B are 5-8 & done like so many other positions around the league – a good hitting 1B will generally stick around for years.

    Its much easier to locate a well-above replacement 1B then it is say 2B, because you can always just make an above-average 1B yourself. But, if you were to call up a random scrub or use one of the many scrap-heap 1B types that float around on benches yearly, you will likely end up with your 0 range WAR

    Comment by JoeyO — April 20, 2011 @ 1:30 pm

  37. Arizona would be a fun landing spot for Loney but would the Dodgers deal him in division? Chase Field is a launching pad. Arizona has a lot of corner infielder mashers on the farm, but this would be an interesting fit to say the least. Perhaps deal Loney for Matt Davidson or another of the gaggle of corner guys the Diamondbacks have? The Dodgers lack skilled corner infield prospects.

    Loney could absolutely be a 3+ WIN 1B in Arizona. Kevin Towers is very, very familiar with the division. I wouldn’t be shocked if he hasn’t already kicked the tires on this one. Let’s face it, Juan Miranda stinks and Big Russ Branyan – one of my favorite righty mashers – is old and injury prone.

    Comment by riverboatgambit — April 20, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

  38. Eric, I understand what you’re saying, but what’s misleading is the word “replacement.” If you’re not referring to a 0 WAR player, then you must be referring to someone who is readily available for negligible cost. But the worst starting 1Bman in the league ISN’T readily available for the league minimum or a PTBNL.

    Lyle Overbay (your example) has made $5M-$7M a year for 4 years now. Loney is being paid almost $5M. Adam LaRoche is making $8M a year. Conor Jackson cost $3.2M in arb plus a prospect.

    The worst starting 1Bman in the league isn’t readily replaceable.

    Comment by Yirmiyahu — April 20, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

  39. Replacement level MEANS replacement level for the position. Maybe you just meant “Loney is a below-average (although above-replacement-level) player and paying market value for a below-average player is futility.” But everything you’re saying to try and clarify is just more and more wrong…

    Re: Accumulating 500+ PA: that’s like the definition of selection bias. Better players get more playing time. That entire line of reasoning is invalid.

    Re: JoeyO and availability: your argument makes no sense. Availability is the key concept in replacement level to begin with. And having a greater pool of potential first basemen is what makes the position adjustment for 1B so harsh.

    Comment by Oscar — April 20, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

  40. But that’s not the definition of replacement level, even in spirit.

    Comment by Oscar — April 20, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

  41. Words can mean multiple things.

    Comment by Yirmiyahu — April 20, 2011 @ 3:10 pm

  42. We’re talking about a specific concept with a specific definition. He’s saying the definition should be (or is) something else. This IS semantic, so the fact that’s it’s “only” a semantic question really means nothing. There’s no need to snark.

    Comment by Oscar — April 20, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

  43. There is no James Loney Situation. The OP just picked someone from the pile to subject criticism to. While I don’t know any off the top of my head, he isn’t the only overpaid, underperforming player around that could be replaced.

    Comment by G-Air — April 20, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

  44. I am intrigued by this possibility as well.

    Comment by Chair — April 20, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

  45. Baloney

    Comment by Chair — April 20, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

  46. The Dbacks have no need for Loney. Why would a team that isn’t expected to be in contention pay a guy $5M when they have quite a few other players that can probably play the position about as well as Loney, and the team still has serious financial issues. It would be stupid for the Dbacks to spend the money or give up prospects, so either way, I don’t see how this trade would be workable.

    How do you know Miranda stinks? He hasn’t exactly had a lot of opportunities to prove himself.

    Comment by David K — April 20, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

  47. This is true, and I enjoyed watching you wrestle Don Morocco back in the day.

    Comment by Jason B — April 20, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

  48. “While I don’t know any off the top of my head, he isn’t the only overpaid, underperforming player around that could be replaced.”

    You’re absolutely correct. We should never subject any of them to analysis, or (God forbid) criticism, ever. *Eye roll*

    Comment by Jason B — April 20, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

  49. Except Eric has already explained that he’s *not* talking about that specific concept with that specific definition, but rather he means something different with his word choice.

    He clearly understands what “replacement level” means, he clearly is not referring to a readily-available 0 WAR player, and he explained that he meant someone around the talent level of the worst starting 1Bman (about a 1.3 WAR player).

    Words are symbols for underlying ideas. If you are able to communicate the underlying idea, it shouldn’t really matter what words you choose to do so.

    Comment by Yirmiyahu — April 20, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

  50. Always with the semantics, oy vey.

    Comment by My echo and bunnymen — April 20, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

  51. That is….. very interesting.

    Comment by My echo and bunnymen — April 20, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

  52. yes, and that Availability is the likes of Garrett Atkins, Ben Broussard, Mike Jacobs, Richie Sexson, Jeff Clement, Kevin Millar, Chad Tracy, Richie Sexson, etc – ie, all players which will provide your 0 WAR if you played them.

    That is your regularly available “replacement player” at 1B, a group generally providing the expected “replacement level” production. That is the scrap-heap you expect to provide 0 WAR production when you tap it, and it will.

    But why would you do that when you can could ways call up a 3B from AAA who hits like crazy but probably wont stay at third very long? Or have a future star hitting OF you can call up and shuffle your roster around?

    a true 0 WAR 1B replacement will almost certainly be yanked because, while he is providing what you would expect a replacement level guy to provide, he just isnt good enough to warrant using at that specific position. If you have one, you will likely continue to shuffle the endless deck of possibilities at 1B until you can find someone who can produce at a level at least in the 1.0-1.5 WAR range – anything less is just unexceptionable over periods of time, and that is even pushing it a bit…

    So while replacement level for the position is still zero, you can always get creative and make something better if its needed for the long run. Ultimately, there is rarely a need to use a true, readily available replacement level 1B for periods of time – the working acceptability replacement at 1B then gets pushed to a much higher 1.5 range like Eric said.

    And because 1B is not very demanding, players generally last longer meaning you are less likely to even have the need for a replacement level guy anyway. Does that mean the replacement level goes up? Nope – it just means you are even less likely to see the available true replacement level guys getting any playing time.

    Comment by JoeyO — April 20, 2011 @ 7:32 pm

  53. JoeyO: This idea of “working replacement level” is meaningless. Think through what you’re saying here. Replacement level is DEFINED as whatever’s freely available. So if you want something better, you’re going to have to pay for it. You can’t get a great hitting minor league 3B who won’t stick for nothing…you can’t get this star OF you call up to reshuffle your roster for nothing…the best hitters you can get for nothing are the ones you listed. If Loney was cut today, he wouldn’t sit there for months waiting for a team to offer him league minimum. There would be competition for his services, in part because he’s above replacement level and therefore by definition valuable.

    Also, you’re acting like it’s surprising that you rarely see replacement level 1B sticking around. It’s not. You don’t see replacement level players at any position getting much playing time. That’s irrelevant.

    Comment by Oscar — April 20, 2011 @ 10:34 pm

  54. No, he’s talking about “the replacement level of full-time starters”. This has no meaning.

    Comment by Oscar — April 20, 2011 @ 10:42 pm

  55. Okay, go ahead – please fill me in on all the teams without a strong hitting 1B, 3B or OF prospect on the verge of the majors.

    Similarly, tell me all these theoretical teams you somehow have lining up for Loney’s services right now. Because when I count, I can maybe see the Rays after their recent issues, but they already have a pair of Loney’s already (Johnson and Kotchman) so… and otherwise?

    Its real easy to sit back and say “lots of teams would love to have him” (or similar); but when it comes down to it, its just not always the case. In fact, why don’t you tell that to Ryan Garko and Matt Murton – I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to hear there is actually a new found run on light hitting, average-ish fielding 1B types to provide 1 WAR seasons…

    Comment by JoeyO — April 21, 2011 @ 12:55 am

  56. Nobody “loves” to start a 1 WAR player. But they’re not available for nothing. They’re just not. James Loney would have multiple suitors in FA if he were released.

    Comment by Oscar — April 21, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  57. Confirmation bias works in both directions. Kila Ka’aihue has been somewhat unlucky thus far on balls in play and every numbers guy runs to his defense. Loney has been extremely unlucky on balls in play thus far and everyone wants to take his job away. It’s true that Loney’s overrated and Ka’aihue’s underrated, but Loney’s only “overrated” by the dwindling few who look at RBI and RBI alone. Loney’s a Major Leaguer, just more of a Lyle Overbay complimentary type than everyone thought after his superb rookie year.

    Comment by Mike G. — April 21, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

  58. Seems like kind of a hatchet job here. Sure, Loney’s numbers are weak (too weak for my taste), but the dude plays in one of the tougher offensive ballparks in baseball. Generally, unless a player is platooned, they will play an equal amount of home games and road games. The fact that Loney is statistically much weaker at home matters because he plays HALF his games at home. I mean, what would Loney’s numbers be if he played for the Rockies? Or the Reds? Or Yankees? Seriously, think about it. If half of his games were played in Coors field and the other half were played on the road I’m thinking he’d be good enough to be a “big league starter”. And let’s not forget the fact that the Dodgers haven’t been that great of an offensive team from 2008-2010 (ok, I’ll admit, Loney hasn’t helped). Great offensive teams allow all their hitters to have more statistically meaningful at bats. That is, to come to the plate with more players on base and see better pitches.

    Comment by Mr. Big — April 23, 2011 @ 12:59 am

  59. Yeah it was truly confounding.
    Russ Martin is now giving the Yankees a lot of quality innings, and will probably start somewhere else in 2012, while the book seems to (finally) be coming out on Loney.

    Comment by Joe R — April 23, 2011 @ 1:50 am

  60. I remember a lot of people I know were eager to call James Loney a Mark Grace type. It’s all bias, seeing a tall, athletic 1B that “looks good” playing and project him at something he’s not.

    In a way, they were right. Loney is a lot like Mark Grace was, except a bit worse in about every aspect. Loney has a bit more power, but other than that, it’s just another case of someone that many people wanted to see become a star. From Joe Morgan’s mancrush on the guy that was painfully obvious during every Dodger game on Sunday Night, to the praise he received for his fluid swing. At this point, though, I’d almost rather give John Lindsay the 1B job while Sands gets more seasoning than continue playing Loney.

    Comment by Joe R — April 23, 2011 @ 1:57 am

  61. Is WAR adjusted for park? If it is adjusted, there should be no comments about Loney’s home/road splits (which are pretty normal for a Dodger player, btw) — as using WAR would already incorporate the park effect. If it is not adjusted, the stat is truly useless.

    Comment by evo34 — April 23, 2011 @ 2:04 am

  62. “legitimate park factor”? What intelligent baseball fan in unaware of the legitimacy of the Dodger Stadium park factor? I have no idea where the home/road split comments are coming from. Of course he has a huge home/road split. Just about every Dodger player has one. Doesn’t do a thing to change his value, as long as you are using adjusted statistics.

    Comment by evo34 — April 23, 2011 @ 2:08 am

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