Author Archive

Fredi Gonzalez’s Decision-Making Is Not Helping the Braves

The Atlanta Braves have followed up their 2011 collapse with an 0-4 start to the 2012 season. The Braves have simply been terrible in 2012. Their .229 wOBA is 29th in the majors, they rank 29th in BABIP against, and they are tied for 29th in run differential. Not all of this can be blamed on the manager and it is only four games, but Gonzalez is in line for criticism for his bullpen usage and playing time decisions.

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2012 Organizational Rankings: #18 – Colorado

Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.

2012 Organizational Rankings

#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York Mets
#19 – Los Angeles Dodgers

Colorado’s 2011 Ranking: #10

2012 Outlook: – 50 (17th)

The Rockies has a disastrous 2011 season, finishing 4th in the NL West, 21 games behind the Diamondbacks and 17 games off the wildcard pace. The Rockies led the NL West in runs scored with 735, but the Astros were the only team in the NL to give up more runs than the 2011 Rockies. The team threw in the towel on the season at the trade deadline, sending its ace pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, to the Cleveland Indians for a package of prospects including highly regarded pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Alex White.

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Projections Differences Part I: Hitters

This is the time of year I begin my annual ritual of collecting and merging together various player projection systems in preparation for my Scoresheet draft. This is often a long and arduous process that involves lots of merging on string variables — thanks to no common id — and lots of data cleaning. Thankfully, FanGraphs provides a number of projection systems free of charge on the website that are both exportable and available with a common id number!

In this post I’ll focus on three projection systems — Steamer, Marcel, ZiPS — to see if there are significant differences in how they project various players to perform in 2012. Read this post by Matt Schwartz to see how this systems performed in the aggregate for 2011 and be sure to visit the websites of the authors of these systems to learn more about the details of how they are estimated.

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Ryan Braun and Type I vs. Type II Error

I’ll echo Dave Cameron and start by saying I do not know if Ryan Braun cheated. What we do know is that he will not be facing a suspension based on his October 2011 drug test. The independent arbitrator determined that the irregularities in the process were serious enough to warrant tossing out the apparently positive test. It is worth noting that the arbitrator did not declare Braun “innocent,” rather he simply refused to uphold the “guilty” result. In social science terms, the arbitrator decided the risk of making a Type I error was greater than a Type II error. A Type I error occurs when a null hypothesis –- in this case that Braun was clean –- is rejected despite being true. The flipside is a Type II error where a null hypothesis is maintained –- again Braun is clean –- when rejection of the null is warranted.

The fact that the arbitrator decided to potentially commit a Type II error is certainly good news for Braun and the Milwaukee Brewers, but is this good for Major League Baseball? I would argue yes. Our society has a long history of preferring Type II errors to Type I errors. The best example is our criminal justice system. Defendants are assumed innocent until proven guilty. A defendant does not have to prove that he or she is innocent of the crime he or she has been charged with, he or she simply has to raise enough reasonable doubt to prevent the state from proving that they did in fact commit the crime. This bias towards Type II errors is often controversial, as there are cases where many people believe that a guilty defendant was freed through the trial process (i.e. e.g. Casey Anthony, O.J. Simpson), but our society still supports a system that attempts to minimize the extent to which innocent individuals are falsely convicted.

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Braves Bet on Regression to the Mean

With Spring Training approaching the Atlanta Braves claim to have put their historic 2011 collapse behind them. Unlike their brethren in collapse — the Boston Red Sox — the Braves made very few changes to the team or baseball organization in the wake of the collapse. Significant off-season transactions were limited to the firing of rookie hitting coach Larry Parrish, trading Derek Lowe to the Indians in a salary dump, and allowing shortstop Alex Gonzalez to leave as a free-agent and replacing him with Jack Wilson (and Tyler Pastornicky, as noted below).

The lack of moves by the Braves stands in contrast to the rest of the N.L. East where all of the other teams made major moves. The Marlins, Phillies, and Nationals all added major pieces through the free-agent market, while the Mets cut payroll and allowed Jose Reyes to move to the Marlins. While claiming to have an open mind about adding players later in the Spring, Braves GM Frank Wren seems to be betting that the Braves will be competitive without a major addition, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Bradley:

If everyone bounces back, then we’ve got a good ballclub that doesn’t have a major need.

In essence, Wren is betting on regression to the mean. Hoping that players who struggled last year will revert to their normal performance level. In 2011 the Braves were generally quite good at preventing run, as there 605 runs allowed was second in the N.L. behind the Phillies. Scoring runs was the problem for the Braves, as they finished 10th in the N.L. with 641 runs scored. At what positions can the Braves expect increased offensive production this year?

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Back in Valentine’s Day: Bobby’s Take On Pitch Counts

For fans wondering how new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine will run the team, his recent comments on pitch counts and pitcher health could make fans of the Red Sox and/or logic cringe and make Red Sox pitchers fear for the health of their pitching arm. In a recent interview, Valentine made it clear that he was neither a fan of pitch counts nor innings limits on his pitchers. On the topic of pitch counts, Valentine offered:

The one thing that doesn’t compute is less is better. It doesn’t match. More is better.

Valentine is partially correct that there is little evidence to demonstrate that strict adherence to a pitch count prevents injuries to adult pitchers, but at the same time I am not aware of any studies that demonstrate that having a higher pitch count actually reduces the risk of injury.

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Red Sox Need Outfield Help

The end of the 2011 season does not seem to have ended the Red Sox spell of misfortune as two-thirds of their projected everyday lineup outfield is now out with injury. It was reported earlier this offseason that rightfielder Ryan Kalish would be out until at least June as he recovers from shoulder surgery. This week came that Carl Crawford will likely miss the start of the regular season due to wrist surgery. Crawford is not expected to miss a lot of playing time, but wrist injuries can linger and sap a player’s bat control for an extended period of time. That leaves the Red Sox with exactly 3 outfielders who (a) are on the 40-man roster, (b) have played an inning in MLB, and (c) project to be healthy on opening day.

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Cubs Acquire Anthony Rizzo From Padres

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer continued their makeover of the Chicago Cubs roster by acquiring first baseman Anthony Rizzo and minor-league pitcher Zach Cates from the San Diego Padres for pitcher Andrew Cashner and minor league outfielder Kyung-Min Na. Cashner is 25 year old former first round draft pick who has great stuff, but one who has struggled with injuries and control in his time with Cubs. Rizzo is a familiar player for Epstein and Hoyer as the Red Sox drafted him when Epstein was GM and was acquired by the Padres during Hoyer’s tenure as Padres’ GM as a major player in the Adrian Gonzales trade. Rizzo’s 2011 was mixed, as he combined a breakout year in Triple-A with a horrendous cup of coffee in San Diego as he “hit” .141/.281/.242 in 153 plate appearances. Given the horror that Petco Park is for left-handed sluggers, the move to Wrigley Field should sit well with Rizzo.

Despite his struggles at the big league level last year, Rizzo has rocketed through the minor leagues reaching Double-A as a 20 year old and seeing the majors at age 21. Rizzo’s 2011 was one of the best offensive seasons in the Pacific Coast League despite him being the youngest everyday player in the league at age 21. As Noah Isaacs demonstrated nicely, very few players make it to AAA at such a tender age. A quick look at the new minor league leaderboards demonstrate that most of the best offensive performers in the PCL last year were several years older than Rizzo. In fact, the offensive performance that most closely mirrors Rizzo’s was that of Cubs farmhand and fellow first baseman Bryan LaHair. As the table below demonstrates, the only significant difference between Rizzo and LaHair last year was age, with Rizzo looking like a prospect and LaHair profiling as a classic AAAA hitter.

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Will Atlanta’s Youth Movement Doom 2012 Season?

The Atlanta Braves are entering unchartered waters with their youth movement in 2012. With their lack of interest in re-signing Alex Gonzalez or any other potential starting shortstop, the Braves seem likely to enter the 2012 season with rookie Tyler Pastornicky as their everyday shortstop. If this comes to pass, it would mark the third consecutive year that the Braves have begun a season with one of their farm system products as an everyday starter with Jason Heyward (RF-2010) and Freddie Freeman (1B-2011) being the other two. The fact the Heyward, Freeman, and Pastornicky will all be 22 years old on opening day 2012 started an interesting conversation between the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Dave O’Brien and his Twitter followers due to the claim that no team in recent history has made the postseason with three starting position players under the age of 23.
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Is Pujols an Injury Risk?

With their 10-year, $250 million commitment to Albert Pujols, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are making a huge bet that Pujols will continue to be one of the game’s premier offensive threats and be healthy enough to be in the lineup through his age-41 season. His health history to date provides reasons both for optimism and concern on the part of the Angels and their fans.

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The Case for Jacoby Ellsbury

Today, we’re writing up affirmative arguments for each of the three primary MVP candidates, and I get to make the case for Jacoby Ellsbury‘s candidacy. On the surface, arguing for Ellsbury is something easy case to make – after all, he led the majors in WAR, and even though it is not a precise measure of value that should be taken as gospel, the guy with the best WAR in baseball is obviously a serious candidate for the award. That said, you don’t have to buy into WAR to see that Ellsbury was probably as good as anyone else who played the sport this year.

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Why Trade Martin Prado?

It seems that the Atlanta Braves are intent on dealing Martin Prado this offseason. So far, Prado has been mentioned in trade talks with Kansas City (along with Jair Jurrjens for Lorenzo Cain and Wil Myers), with Colorado (for Seth Smith and a prospect) and with Detroit (for Delmon Young). Braves GM Frank Wren hasn’t found the right match for the 28-year-old yet — the Young rumor was shot down quickly — but a number of teams are likely to be interested in Prado if Wren continues to shop him. In fact, ESPN’s Buster Olney quotes an AL team’s official who favorably compares Prado to free-agent outfielder Michael Cuddyer. Trading Prado surely should be easy, but it begs the question: Why is Wren so anxious to get rid of his super-utility player?

The answer perhaps is difficult to understand, considering that Prado is a versatile defender who also has been productive offensively. He has a career wOBA of .337 and has compiled 10 WAR in three-and-half seasons of full-time play. He’s serviceable at both second and third base and is an above-average left fielder when you look at data from this past season. Prado is under team control for at least two  years, and he’s projected to make a budget-friendly $4.5 million in 2012. Additionally, the Braves don’t have an immediate replacement for Prado in the outfield — or in his other role as a  third base fill-in when the aging, oft-injured Chipper Jones needs time off. The Braves were in the bottom half of the N.L. in runs scored in 2011 and their outfielders’ combined .300 wOBA was last in the league. Needless to say, it’s not like the Braves are overstocked with productive outfield bats.

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Diamondbacks Corner Market on Backup Infielders

The Arizona Diamondbacks re-signed free-agent Willie Bloomquist on Tuesday, agreeing to a two-year, $3.88 million contract with the 33-year-old utility player after Bloomquist had rejected his side of his mutual option for 2012. Yes, you read that correctly, the Diamondbacks voluntarily committed almost $4 million to a player who has compiled a total of 1.3 WAR in his 10-year major-league career — more than half of which was accrued when Bloomquist hit a torrid .455/.526/.576 over 38 plate appearances in September 2002.

Given that Bloomquist appears to be a walking definition of replacement player, why did the Diamondbacks think it was a good idea to pay him approximately $3 million more the league minimum over the next two years? Having a guy like Bloomquist on the roster is not necessarily a bad idea. He is a versatile defender and potential roster expander who has played all four infield positions and all three outfield positions at various times in his career. He doesn’t offer much in the way of power, but he is not totally inept with the bat (.297 career wOBA) and he did steal 20 bases last year in 97 games.

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Indians Bet on Derek Lowe – and FIP

The Braves and Indians consummated the first trade of the off-season today, with the Braves trading Derek Lowe to the Indians for a minor-league pitcher Chris Jones. As a 23-year-old reliever who spent the year in A-ball, Jones is not exactly a premium prospect – this deal was all about money, as Atlanta also agreed to pay $10 million of the $15 million owed to Lowe for the 2012 season.

For the Braves, Lowe was a surplus part given their existing rotation members (Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, and Brandon Beachy) and their quartet of MLB ready pitching prospects (Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, and Arodys Vizcaino). In addition, Lowe’s 2011 did nothing to endear him to Braves fans; he was arrested for DUI in April, went 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA in 187 innings of work on the season, and contributed more than his fair share to the Braves’ September collapse by allowing 25 runs over 23.2 innings in his last 5 starts.

For the Indians, Lowe represents a relatively low cost addition to a rotation that includes Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, and Fausto Carmona. Clearly, Cleveland likes ground-ballers, but what can the Indians expect out of Lowe in 2012?

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Cubs Fans Will Need Patience

Former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein received a hero’s welcome in Chicago on Tuesday as he took the reins of the moribound organization. Epstein’s exploits in Boston – most notably two World Series rings – have Cubs fans hoping that Epstein will end the curse of the goat and deliver the Cubs’ first World Series championship since 1908. The parallels between the Cubs of 2011 and the Red Sox of 2002 that Epstein inherited are numerous. Both are large markets, with high revenues. Both play in revered, but decrepit and small ballparks. Both are allegedly cursed, with excruciatingly painful postseason scars – Bartman, Buckner, Bucky “Bleeping” Dent – intermingled with decades of mediocrity or worse.

Unfortunately for Cubs fans, the parallels between the 2002 Red Sox and the 2011 Cubs end when comparing the talent on hand. The 2002 Red Sox won 93 games and finished 10.5 games behind the New York Yankees in the A.L. East and missed the wild card by 6 games. As the table below indicates, Epstein inherited a roster that included a trio of starting pitchers – Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Tim Wakefield – that combined for 17.6 WAR in 2002, and a core of offensive players led by Manny Ramirez (5.4 WAR), Nomar Garciaparra (4.8 WAR), Johnny Damon (4.1 WAR), and Jason Varitek (2.5 WAR). Out of this group only Garciaparra (0.5 WAR) failed to make a significant contribution to the Red Sox 2004 World Series winning team.

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Free Agent Market: Center Field

Oh, put me in, Coach – I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, Coach – I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be Centerfield

Unfortunately for teams in need of a center fielder, very few free agents can sing along to this 1985 John Fogerty classic with conviction. This is a group of aging, injury prone guys who either never were very good, or now are in steep decline.

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Will a New Stadium Solve Rays’ Attendance Woes?

In my previous post on Tampa Bay’s attendance woes, I established that the Rays attendance has not responded to the team’s on field success as well as we would expect. Most teams see large attendance bumps when they win a lot of games and reach the postseason, but this has not been true for the Rays. Potential explanations for the attendance discrepancy vary widely. Many point to the stadium’s poor location and the newness of the franchise, others blame Florida’s snowbird population for keeping their [old] hometown allegiances, some cite the economy and low median income in the area, while others claim Tampa Bay is just not a baseball town. All of these and more could be factors, but we can simplify the attendance problem by lumping all potential explanations into one of two categories: (1) the location/ambiance of Tropicana Field and (2) the size of the fan base.

If the biggest problem is the stadium, it is fixable. Getting a stadium built is certainly not an easy or cheap process, but most teams — even the Marlins — manage to get it done through some combination of public and private financing. If the problem is the lack of fans though, the team could be facing years of low attendance, low television ratings, and as a result, low payrolls even if they get a new stadium.

How can we know if a new stadium would solve the Rays’ attendance problem? Ideally (warning: entering social scientist mode), we’d randomly assign half the Rays’ home games to a new, centrally located stadium, while playing the other half at Tropicana Field. We could compare attendance across the two venues and be able to make accurate causal inference. A controlled experiment such as this would allow us to parse out the “true” effect of Tropicana Field on the Rays’ attendance. Unfortunately, my proposed experiment would likely cost in excess of $500 million dollars and is entirely unfeasible.

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Rays Succeed on the Field, But Fans Don’t Show

The Tampa Bay Rays have been remarkably successful on the field the past four seasons. Despite playing in the most competitive division in baseball, they have averaged 92 wins per season, won the AL East twice, and appeared in the playoffs 3 times. Despite this run of success, in an interview, principal owner Stuart Sternberg was pessimistic about the Rays following their elimination from the playoffs on Tuesday. He lamented the lack of connection between winning and attendance noting, “When I came here, I was confident we could put a winning team on the field, and that would do it. We won, and we won, and we won and we won … and it didn’t do it.” He went on to claim that the Rays, “…just don’t have the $12 million to put into a hitter” and predicted that at some point MLB “is going to vaporize this team.”

Whether the Rays truly can afford more bats is a question for another post, but Sternberg is correct that Rays fans have not voted with their feet in response to the team’s recent success. The Rays finished 28th in attendance for 2011 with slightly more than 1.5 million fans turning up at the Trop. Only the Florida Marlins and Oakland A’s had fewer fans show up this year and neither had as good a current product or recent track record of success.

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