It is easy, and comfortable for some of us including myself, to frequently talk about numbers in isolation, but sometimes I enjoy taking a step back and fitting things into a real life model that I hope anyone can relate to. One such issue that I was bantering about with fellow analyst, Graham MacAree, is how to put super valuable players into context. It’s easy to talk about Albert Pujols being worth so-and-so many wins, and the introduction of win-based stats is a boom for relating complex mathematical analysis to casual fans, but sometimes even that is not enough to get the story across.
Barry Bonds posted possibly the two most valuable seasons ever in baseball history back to back in 2001 and 2002. Bonds was worth 14 wins in 2002, garnering 116 runs above average with his bat and 10.5 with his glove. FanGraphs BIS data doesn’t cover 2001, so we cannot fully attest to his fielding back then, but given his numbers over 2002-3, it strikes me as safe to assume 2001 was around that level as well. Bonds’ increased plate appearances that year helped his bat be about eight or so runs more valuable than 2002, so Bonds was probably pushing 15 wins in 2001. That’s an mind numbing number on its own, but I think it helps to establish one more piece of information.
In logical practice, the least possible valuable member of a team would be a DH that couldn’t hit. Sort of like Jose Vidro this past season. But let us take it further than that and replace Jose Vidro with something that has a bit better running speed, like a papaya. Assuming the worst, that an umpire would simply call any pitch a strike, our new DH would post a Jason Bergmann line of .000/.000/.000. If he racked up 600 PAs, the papaya would be worth a fabulous 177 runs below average with its’ bat. It would incur a 17.5 run penalty for playing DH, and be gifted 20 runs for replacement level. All told, it would equal about negative 17 wins.
Taking it up to a spec of realism, the average pitcher in 2008 posted a .174 wOBA. Over 600 PAs, that would be 86 runs below average. So if you took the average pitcher and made him a full time DH, he would have been worth around negative 8 wins.
You could take 2001 and 2002-circa Barry Bonds and pair him with either a single papaya (or inanimate object of your choosing), or a couple of average pitchers slotted as DHs (ignoring the impossibility of that for a second), and you would still come out around replacement level. That is some kind of value.
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