Replacement Level On Two Feet

If you’ve hung around here very long, you’ve heard the term replacement level. We often refer to a players performance in terms of his Wins Above Replacement, which is based on the replacement level baseline. Despite significant inroads in acceptance, replacement level can still be one of those murky things to try to explain to someone. Fans, and even some GMs, will often find it hard to believe that you can get decent performances from guys for the league minimum, and constantly want examples of guys who prove the replacement level baseline.

Well, today, we got yet another walking example. The Twins designated Luis Ayala for assignment, as Minnesota becomes the third team to get rid of him in the last 12 months. Here’s how he’s performed over the last three seasons.

BB/9: 2.55, 2.83, 2.23
K/9: 5.95, 5.95, 5.83
HR/9: 1.06, 1.07, 1.11

Or, if you want to see it expressed in terms of wins above replacement: 0.0, 0.0, 0.1.

Ayala’s settled in as an extremely consistent 4.4 FIP reliever. He throws strikes, givese up a few home runs, and gets some strikeouts, but he doesn’t do any of those things exceptionally well or poorly. He throws a 91 MPH fastball, an 83 MPH slider, and an 82 MPH change – about as average in terms of stuff as you could find.

There’s nothing that stands out about Ayala. He’s just a run of the mill strike throwing reliever with nondescript stuff. The Wins Above Replacement metric things he’s essentially the baseline against which all other relievers should be measured, and MLB teams agree. Ayala’s performance is good enough to keep landing him jobs and bad enough for those teams to decide they could do better.

Luis Ayala defines replacement level.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

13 Responses to “Replacement Level On Two Feet”

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  1. Tom B says:

    if he keeps getting dropped, isn’t he being viewed by teams and below replacement level?

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    • Tom B says:

      yay for grammar! :(

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    • greenmachine says:

      I think the point of the article is: the Twins thought Ayala had the potential to be above replacement level (or weren’t sure they had other options that would be at least at replacement level). But now they think Ayala’s potential is gone/illusory and that they have an option that may be better than replacement level waiting.

      If no other team picks up Ayala, maybe you could say that teams no longer view him as replacement level. But part of the replacement level notion is that there are plenty of these types of players available to be picked up at little cost, not that all of them get picked up (I think). That’s why the Twins were able to get him pretty cheap and could also put several other similarly performing free agents in AAA to see if any had a chance of being better than replacement.

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    • alskor says:

      Well… no… there’s no point keeping a replacement level guy on your 40 man – no point in protecting his rights. He’s not worthy of a role on a decent team, and as an injury insurance/back up there’s no need to worry about retaining his rights because he is, by definition, completely replaceable by freely available talent in the minors or off the street.

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  2. Michael says:

    Great find! I never really saw Ayala play, but he seems like a pitcher version of Willie Bloomquist. Ladies and gentlemen, your Walking Replacement Level Examples!

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  3. big baby says:

    remember when he was closing for the mets last year? that was awesome.

    been a great couple of years for met fans.

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  4. Mike I says:

    Yeah, but there’s no way to measure the positive effect his veteran presence had on such a young team. He’s the kind of guy any manager would love to have – hard worker, shows up on time, does his exercises every day, doesn’t get in fights. A true leader.

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  5. twinsfan says:

    What’s sad is that Ayala was the Twins “answer” to the bullpen woes in the offseason.

    Which makes their ridiculous handling of relief prospects Slama and Delaney all the more painful.

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    • alskor says:

      I dont know… its not that terrible a move, if only because he was a) cheap; and b) relievers are incredibly unpredictable year to year. Take a flier and see if it works. There’s no point overpaying for the middle class relievers (cough Farnsworth cough). On a budget, Id rather take a cheap shot on losers I see something I like about.

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      • twinsfan says:

        You mean like actually promoting your 24-year-old relief studs out of the low minors in time to find out if they can help you?

        When Ayala is your answer, you’ve been asking the wrong question.

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  6. PhDBrian says:

    Man I remember how ungodly he was for years for the Expos. Blew out his arm during the first WBC and he has never been the same since. To bad! He was on the short list of the best setup men in the game in the early part of this decade. Hope he finds a job and can be useful for someone.

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    • wobatus says:

      You are getting in the way of viewing all players as simple capital inputs. :)

      Totally out of left field, but I am kinda reminded of the idea of index investing. Someone has to be making actual investment decisions or else the index is meaningless. Hey, SOMEONE has to be your replacement level player. Sure, someone else could do better. Someone else could also do worse. replacement level. Everybody has one. :)

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