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Final Month Fantasy Fun With Excel

The Major League Baseball season is just past the three-quarter mark, which means just under one-fourth of the season is left to be played. If you play fantasy baseball, you should know by now whether you have a chance to win this year. If you’re still in contention, now is the time to really take a good look at the important categories for your team. If you’re not in contention, don’t be a chump and just give up. At the very least, play an active lineup each day as a courtesy to the other owners in your league.

By this point, trades may no longer be an option. Most leagues have trade deadlines set before late August, so you are more likely looking at waiver-wire additions and setting your lineup in a way to optimize the points you can gain and minimize the points you can lose.

The vast majority of fantasy baseball leagues have both counting stat categories (runs, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, wins) and rate-stat categories (batting average, ERA, WHIP). In general, it’s easier to see how many points you can gain or lose in the counting categories. With so much of the season done, some of the counting-stat categories have taken on greater importance. Perhaps steals is a very tight category in which you have room to move up or down and could gain or lose a few points. It’s clear that you have to make add/drop moves and set your lineup to address steals, while also keeping an eye on any other hitting categories that would suffer with the addition of a low-power basestealer.

With rate-state categories, it’s a bit trickier than just looking at the standings and making an estimate of how much you can move up or down. I’ll use pitching as an example. In my standard 12-team Yahoo league, there is an innings limit of 1250 innings. In this league, the top team in innings pitched has used up 1037 innings (83% of the limit), while the bottom team has just 932 innings (75% of the limit). Moving forward, this will make a difference in the counting-stat categories of wins and strikeouts. It will also make a difference in ERA and WHIP.

I like to have an idea of how much my team can move in ERA, WHIP, and Strikeouts, so I created a spreadsheet to track this. Even though this leagues uses raw strikeouts, I want to figure out my K/9 so I can more easily compare my strikeouts to teams with different innings pitched totals (you could also use K/IP).

Below is my spreadsheet. In this spreadsheet, ER stands for “Earned Runs,” BR stands for “Base Runners,” and K stands for “Strikeouts.” I plug in my current innings total (955), with my current team ERA, WHIP and Strikeouts, then calculate ER [(ERA x IP)/9], BR [WHIP x IP], and K/9 [(K/IP)*9].

In the row labeled “Remaining IP,” I use the same formulas as above for ER and BR, then use this formula in the K column: ((K/9)*IP)/9.

For the “Projected Stats” row, I add up the INN, ER, BR, and K columns, then use formulas to figure projected ERA, WHIP, and K/9 (the yellow squares).

This gives you the framework of the spreadsheet. Now it’s time to get an expectation of how your team’s pitching numbers will play out.

In the grayed-out cells, I put in various projected ERA, WHIP, and K/9 numbers. I start with an optimistic view of my team’s future pitching abilities and work down to a pessimistic view. My team currently has a 3.44 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 8.94 K/9. In the top of the chart, I put in 3.00, 1.00, and 9.20 in the grayed out cells for ERA, WHIP, and K/9. This tells me that if my team puts up a 3.00 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and a 9.2 K/9 from this point forward, my final ERA will drop to 3.34, my final WHIP will drop to 1.14, and my final K/9 will rise to 9.0. This could be considered a best-case scenario.

On the other hand, if my pitchers post a 4.00 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP, and an 8.6 K/9 from this point forward, my final ERA will be 3.57, my final WHIP will be 1.21, and my final K/9 will be 8.86.

Here is the spreadsheet with various levels of projected performance:

The main idea is to get an estimate of how much your ERA, WHIP, and K/9 can change over the final five weeks of the season. If I use the numbers from this example, I can expect my final ERA to be between 3.34 and 3.57, while realizing a more realistic estimate would be between 3.40 and 3.50 unless I’ve made some big changes to my pitching staff. It’s a similar story for WHIP, with a likely estimate being a final WHIP of 1.16 to 1.20. The range for K/9 would be from 9.0 to 8.85. As you can see, there isn’t much movement available in these pitching categories. The particulars of your league’s standings will tell you how many points you can gain or lose based on rest-of-season expectations.

Once you’ve created the spreadsheet, you can take a closer look at ERA, WHIP, and K/9 and make the moves that will help you the most.


Analytics Are Good, But Psychometrics Can Make Them Great

This is not about a relief pitcher resting horizontally on a comfy couch as he spills his deepest darkest secrets to a furrowed, bearded psychologist, nor is this about prescribing medication to a team’s severely depressed kicker who just missed the game-winner. We’re talking about sports psychology, but not the kind of stereotypical psychology you’re used to. Instead, we’re talking about psychometrics – how to measure the ways that a player’s psyche (thoughts, feelings, opinions) relates to the most important thing imaginable for sport teams: performance.

Seeing is believing

Counting the yards that a running back gains after contact or the runs prevented by pitching independent of defense are advanced numerical methods of breaking down a player’s performance. Most of the traditional analytics work the same way; a player’s previous performance is charted, observed, and dissected to make a projection about how that player will perform in the future. A team’s forecasted performance is usually the sum of the individual players’ projected performances. This is (generally) the state of analytics in a nutshell.

Not only have analytics shown that previous performance predicts some level of future performance, it also just makes sense. Watching a player hit a 3-point shot, scoring pad-side against the goalie, and hitting a home run are visible to everyone; it’s what makes sports, sports. You know that Mike Trout is a good baseball player because you can see his performance. You can see him make ridiculous plays in the outfield and then watch him hit a home run into a fishing net in the center-field bleachers. You can check the box score the next day and you can see the numbers immediately reflect his awesomeness. You can visit FanGraphs and read about a sabermetric stat that further corroborates Trout’s awesomeness, and then you can use that same stat to find out about another obscure player’s performance and realize he’s kind of awesome as well. Analytics makes sense because most of it is overtly visible – above the surface, leaving everything else that can’t be seen as “intangible”.

What lies beneath

 Even if analysts were to measure more “intangible” characteristics, like a player’s leadership, grit, or mental toughness, they don’t seem to amount to the same numerical accessibility as traditional performance metrics, nor do they seem to be relatable to future performance. However, with carefully designed tools, psychometrics can not only measure these “intangible” characteristics, but can help predict future performance in the same way as traditional analytics. Ideally, psychometrics from players and teams can help complement performance analytics that are now readily being used.

In fact, measurement of the human mind and behavior isn’t anything new – over 100 years of psychological research has shown that the human psyche is quantifiable in the same way that previous performance is quantifiable. Psychologists have measured and quantified aggression across different cultures[1], charismatic leadership in managers[2], intrinsic motivation in children[3], and team cohesion within collegiate and recreational sports teams[4]. What’s more, these numbers can even fit nicely into the same models, projections, and predictions that have been used with traditional analytics. Yet despite the depth and breadth of this research, professional sports teams have been slow to tap into this area of study, pooh-poohed by pundits as “intangibles,” unseen and unrecognized by professional sport team brass.

You won’t know unless you try

If the results of these measurements help to win more games, what do teams have to lose? Teams should not fear the minuscule amount of time that their players would spend filling out a carefully designed survey if it means understanding more about them – and, ultimately, understanding more about their team. Teams should not fear the analysis of dugout, sideline, team bus, or hotel conversations between players, all of which include rich amounts of data that can help to explain the relationships between players. Teams should not fear the measurement of a player’s comments, quotes, tweets, or posts, their spoken or written words might reveal hidden emotions or intentions. The analytics movement is far from over, and if teams are looking for more numerical insights, look no further than psychometrics.

 

[1] Ramirez, J.M., Fujihara, T., & Van Goozen, S. (2001). Cultural and Gender Differences in Anger and Aggression: A comparison between Japanese, Dutch, and Spanish students. Journal of Social Psychology. 141, 119-121.

[2] Conger, J.A., Kanugo, R.N., & Menon, S.T. (2000). Charismatic leadership and follower effects. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 21, 747 – 767.

[3] Marinak, B.A. & Gambrell, L.B. (2008). Intrinsic motivation and rewards: What sustains young children’s engagement with text? Literacy Research and Instruction, 47(1), 9 – 26.

[4] Carron, A.V., Colman, M.M., Wheeler, J., & Stevens, D. (2002). Cohesion and performance in sport: A meta analysis. Journal of Sport and Exercise Pscyhology. 24, 168 – 188.

 


A Theory and A Challenge

I love this site. It covers the full spectrum of baseball, from classical scouting all the way to the most esoteric of baseball analysis. At times I envy the analytical abilities of our writers, as well as their access to granular data, that I likely lack the technical competence to gather. Today, I would like to propose a a theory, as well as a challenge to the numerous writers on this site to put the theory to the test. It is also likely that this has been proposed before and answered before, in which case, point me in that direction please.

THE THEORY:

We can measure command by compiling a pitcher’s xISO and xBABIP based solely on where they locate their pitches, in the context of the hitter’s preference to location. In other words, the ability to “pitch to the corners” is only valuable if one is pitching to corners that the hitter can’t get to, which is batter-specific. An 80-command pitcher will be able to maximize the xISO of his pitches, simply by pitching to “cold” areas of the hitter’s strike zone.

There are a few of ways to approach this (I’m sure more than three, but I digress). The first question is what sample size to use to estimate the player’s preference within the strike zone? Evidence suggest certain players make rapid adjustments (Trout) which would indicate a SSS would be ideal, whereas other players exhibit strong long-term tendencies (Dozier? just a guess, not founded in data) that would indicate a LSS would be ideal.

The second axis would be to evaluate a player’s effective strike zone, i.e. if we looked at the hitter’s swing probabilities, what type of strike zone would we construct, given only data concerning the hitter’s propensity to swing. We could then tease out whether the pitcher is maximizing the player’s effective strike zone (pitchers only throwing balls to Vladdy Guerrero comes to mind). This analysis may be redundant, as this can probably be captured if we are able to incorporate the third axis:

What are the thresholds for considering a pitch well-located? I.e. if a pitcher throws a ball way outside, but the hitter swings, then this is a well-placed pitch, thus at what probability of swing% is a ball a well-commanded pitch?

THE CHALLENGE

Test it! (or show me where this has already been fully fleshed out.) I’ve always wondered if there was a way to build up a command ERA to see if a pitcher is able to put it where hitters have to swing but don’t want to and I look forward to reading about it.


Don’t Sleep On These Post Hypers

NL West Edition

We’ve all been there and done that, our dynasty/keeper league(s) haven’t gone as planned. Perhaps you went for it in the offseason, ditched your prospects for grizzled productive vets and it all went south from there. No matter your story, the rebuild can be difficult in the sense of valuing the players you want. You could fall into the “shiny new toy trap” and end up with a bust or broken player (envision a Joc Pederson type in an AVG league instead of OBP). In this upcoming series, I will be highlighting players based on positions and pointing out whether I’d go for them in separate leagues (NL/AL only) or mixed.

So without further ado, here’s the first segment.

Read the rest of this entry »


Falling Starlin

He could be playing (Saturday). I’m not sure yet. I want to see how it plays today, but I wanted to be upfront with him and just let him know it’s not just a day off.

– Joe Maddon

And with those words on Friday, August 7th, the Castro Regime fell in Chicago. Starlin Castro has earned the pine, posting an abysmal .268 on-base, around 50 points worse than the MLB average. Power has been even more of a problem; Castro’s ISO of .068 is sixth worst in MLB among qualifying hitters. It is also the worst of Castro’s professional career. Maybe he contributes with speed? Nope, not since 2012, when Castro stole 25 in 38 tries. He’s had only 23 ineffective attempts since then. His defense, long and loudly criticized, hasn’t been all bad; the metrics differ on him, but add them all up (metaphorically, anyway) and he seems to grade out about average.

Castro is striking out only a bit more this year than he has in his career (16.8% vs. 15.7%), but he’s making weaker contact. His infield fly percentage is at a career high of 12.9%, a full 5% higher than his career average. It was high last year, too, but he made up for it with a line-drive rate of over 22%. The line drives are gone this year, with Castro hitting a career low of 15.8%, which is, like his ISO, sixth worst among qualifiers.

Castro isn’t obviously being pitched differently this year. He’s seeing a few more strikes, but that’s probably an effect of his power outage rather than a cause. It doesn’t seem that pitchers have found some sort of secret recipe to deprive him of hits. Rather, it appears that fastballs are simply overwhelming him. According to his PITCHf/x data, Castro’s done pretty well against most offspeed pitches, but he has a league worst -2.70 runs above average/100 against four-seamers, and he’s 4th worst against two-seamers (-2.74). There are some decent hitters who have struggled with one of those pitches this year, but no one has been as bad as Castro at both.

Castro has been known to travel with a rough crowd, and more recently there’s been some ADD speculation. The Cubs organization is hinting that conditioning is a problem, which would explain the loss of power and his inability to hit the fastball. Perhaps, but Castro is 10th overall in total plate appearances since 2012. Whatever his problems may be, durability hasn’t been one of them.

And it’s worth remembering that Castro plays the most difficult position in what is arguably the most difficult team sport. He’s still only 25 years old, and by the standards of young shortstops, Castro has done quite well so far. He’s 29th in career bWAR (8.1) in the divisional era for shortstops through age 25. There are some great players in the top 50, and some not-great players, but there’s only one real disaster: Bobby Crosby at #40. (Ok, Rafael Ramirez at #39 was pretty bad too.) So Castro could have a Crosby-Ramirez future, in which he rapidly descends into mediocrity and irrelevance. But the vast majority of players with achievements similar to his at age 25 did not.

This suggests that either patience or a change of scenery could help Castro, as Grant Brisbee suggested in refuting the ADD speculation in the post linked above. Patience would not, however, seem to be the right move for the Cubs at the moment. Theo Epstein correctly eschewed the splashy megamove at the trade deadline: the wildcard game isn’t worth surrendering prospects. But it makes sense to to take less costly steps to improve this roster for the stretch run, and Castro is easily the biggest hole on the 25-man roster, with arguable exception of the 5th starter slot, now filled (for the moment, at least) by Dan Haren. The Cubs have been more than patient with Castro, and the performance hasn’t been there. Maybe they can give him more at-bats if they fall out of contention, but right now the team’s immediate future matters more than Castro’s.

That said, maybe the Cubs could spend a few minutes rethinking their approach to Castro. He’s has had three different managers in the last three years, each using a different approach with him. Dale Sveum’s tough love didn’t work, and Maddon’s zany zen isn’t working either. It was Rick Renteria’s more personal approach that seemed to get the most out of Castro. The karmic wheel spins in unpredictable ways, and Castro’s collapse may simply be the earthly price the Cubs are paying for Renteria’s defenestration, but it also suggests Castro can be reached, because someone was able to do it. Maddon is intelligent enough to realize this, and flexible enough to recognize that the shtick that works for most players doesn’t work for all. If Castro’s benching is coupled with some creative efforts to get him re-engaged, the Cubs may still be able to get value out of the player.

Diets, workouts, Ritalin, and perceptive coaching will be for naught if Castro is in fact the second coming of Rafael Ramirez. At some point his relatively reasonable contract will begin to look like an albatross, and the Cubs will cut him loose or trade him for minimal return. It would be helpful if players came equipped with little red crystals in their palms that glowed when the player reached his ceiling, but that won’t happen until at least the next renegotiation of the CBA.  So yes, it is possible that Castro has plateaued, and neither he nor the Cubs have figured that out yet.

But the Cubs have a little time. They can jury-rig their infield until they’re ready to press Javier Baez (or even Arismendy Alcantara) into service. They can see how the rest of the season develops, and how Castro progresses as they attempt to rebuild him in place, much like they’re doing with Wrigley Field.  As many have observed, his trade value can’t get much lower, so it doesn’t hurt the Cubs to take a little more time to see what they have. Burning a valuable roster spot on an unproductive player is dangerous, but the biggie-sized September roster is nigh.

If I had to bet, I’d bet that Castro will be moved in the offseason in exchange for someone else’s disappointment (Jed Gyorko, anyone?). But it’s not impossible that, in the top of the 12th inning of Game 7 of the 2015 World Series, Castro comes in from the end of the bench to hit the game-winning homer.  On what started as a day off.


Career Opportunity With the Atlanta Braves

Position: Analyst
Reports to: Director of Baseball Operations

The Analyst position will provide systems analyst functions for the Baseball Operations department’s statistical & technology-related initiatives.

Responsibilities include but are not limited to the following:

  • Oversee the in-house technological efforts associated with the development of Braves’ new internal player evaluation application
  • Daily maintenance and continued development of internal applications, including a robust Microsoft SQL Server database
  • Development and on-going adjustment of proprietary statistics and systems
  •  Understand internal baseball processes in order to develop functional requirements (specifications) for outside vendors and application developers—includes requirements, system impact, data flow diagrams special considerations, etc.
  • Must have a good understanding of the back-end data structures in order to make sure any front-end Tool/Application changes will meet the needs of Baseball Operations
  • Identify and diagnose data quality issues and provide recommendations
  • Translate unstructured baseball data into valuable analytical information
  • Maintain and expand upon the current Baseball Operations analytical strategy including developing and supporting new reports, dashboards, and data integrations
  • Develop and support ETL mappings, procedures, schedules etc. This includes the integration of multiple data sources (internal and key 3rd party external data sources) into a single data repository
  • Provide data management expertise to the Baseball Operations team by evaluating requirements and developing solution design proposal
  • Troubleshoot and resolve data/ system/application issues
  • Discuss technical issues with the software and hardware vendors
  • Continue to advance the department’s use of technology and analytics
  • Additional duties as assigned by Director of Baseball Operations

The ideal candidate will possess the following:

  • BA or BS degree in CS, IS, or an Engineering/Technical Major
  • A minimum of 5 years professional experience in a technical role
  • Strong knowledge of Data Warehousing, Data Modeling and Reporting
  • Experience with creating and understanding SQL concepts
  • ETL knowledge is a plus
  • Previous experience working with Microsoft products preferred
  • Database system knowledge and proficient SQL skills.
  • Experience in the use of the Microsoft SQL Server Platform tools (Integration Services, Analysis Services, and Reporting Services) is a plus.
  • Logical and Physical Data modeling experience using data modeling tools.
  • Relational and Data Warehousing design and development.
  • SQL Server Database Administration skills, including performance and query tuning, debugging.
  • Candidate should have strong communication, organization, project management, and problem solving skills.
  • Experience architecting KPI’s and Performance Management solutions for Baseball Operations users.
  • Strong customer facing skills and ability to manage multiple challenging projects simultaneously
  • Ability to interact professionally with all branches of Baseball Operations department in fast-paced environment
  • Must successfully pass a criminal and credit background check

 

Qualified candidates can should submit an application and salary expectations online at www.braves.com/employment.
Please note that no phone calls or emails will be accepted regarding application status.

ANLBC, Inc. is an Equal Opportunity Employer


Ode to Willie Bloomquist

After 14 years in the Major Leagues, longtime utility player Willie Bloomquist was designated for assignment by the Mariners on Thursday. If this is truly the end, you have to agree that Willie Bloomquist had an amazing career when you stop to think about it. He lasted 14 years in the big leagues, played in over 1000 games, had more than 3000 plate appearances, and finished his career with a grand total of 1.0 WAR. As Tom Tango has pointed out many times, Willie Bloomquist has been “Mr. Replacement Level” for many years.

The highest WAR Willie B ever had in one season was 0.7 and that came in a 12-game stint as a September call-up in his rookie year of 2002. He hit .455/.526/.576 that year, thanks in large part to a sky-high .484 BABIP. In his last seven games that season, Bloomquist had a four-hit game, two three-hit games, and two two-hit games. He was the Fred Lynn of the 2002 Mariners (with apologies to Fred Lynn). Lynn had a sizzling 15-game stint in September of 1974 when he hit .419/.490/.698. Lynn, of course, followed up that torrid September with a terrific .331/.401/.566 year in 1975, winning the Rookie of the Year award and the AL MVP. Bloomquist followed up his scalding cup of coffee by hitting .250/.317/.321 over 89 games in 2003.

Imagine if Bloomquist never had that incredible BABIP-fueled 12-games stretch at the start of his career. How much did those 12 games affect the Mariners’ opinion of him, perhaps leading to more opportunities than a career-long replacement level player would normally get? Would he have had the career he had if not for that 12-games stretch of hot hitting?

It seemed destined for Willie Bloomquist to play for the Seattle Mariners. He was originally drafted out of nearby South Kitsap High School in Port Orchard, Washington in the eighth round of the 1996 amateur draft, but he eschewed the Mariners’ offer to go to Arizona State University. With the Sun Devils, he was named ASU On Deck Circle Most Valuable Player, just like Dustin Pedroia, Ike Davis, Paul Lo Duca, and Barry Bonds. That’s like a Mount Rushmore of Arizona State MVPs, plus Willie Bloomquist. At ASU, Bloomquist hit .394, the third-highest batting average in school history, and was the first Sun Devil to have back-to-back seasons with 100 or more hits. College Willie Bloomquist was pretty damn good.

After his junior season, Bloomquist was again drafted by the Mariners, this time in the third round. He signed and began his career with the Everett Aquasox in the Northwest League. He hit .287/.366/.410 that year while primarily playing second base. One of his teammates on the 1999 Aquasox was a 17-year-old Australian named Chris Snelling. Snelling was the youngest player on the team but hit .306/.388/.498 and looked to have a bright future. Unfortunately, he turned out to be the anti-Willie Bloomquist. Snelling was like a meteor that flashed quickly across the sky and disappeared after just 93 games in the big leagues across five injury-marred seasons. Willie Bloomquist was a slow and permanent planet who played 1055 games over 14 years at slightly above replacement level.

In 2000, Bloomquist was moved up to the High-A Lancaster JetHawks in the California League. This was a hitter’s league, with teams averaging 5.3 runs per game. Bloomquist had his best season, hitting .379/.456/.523 with 22 steals in 64 games, then was bumped all the way up from High-A to AAA. He was clearly overmatched and struggled mightily as a 22-year-old in AAA, hitting .225/.249/.277.

In 2001, while the Mariners were winning an amazing 116 games, Bloomquist was sent down to AA and hit .255/.294/.310, although with a career-best 34 steals. Despite his struggles hitting AA pitching, the Mariners aggressively moved Bloomquist up to AAA in 2002. He hit .270/.331/.383, then had that amazing 12-game stretch in September and the legend of Willie B was born.

Being able to play multiple positions was a big part of the baseball longevity of Willie Bloomquist. The only position other than pitcher that he never played was catcher. He never once donned the “Tools of Ignorance” but played at least 47 games at every other position, finishing his career with a negative UZR at every position he ever played. That’s consistency, my friends.

Bloomquist played the first seven years of his career with the Seattle Mariners, hitting .263/.322/.324 over that stretch, good for a .291 wOBA and 76 wRC+. He usually filled in at multiple positions, playing 80 to 90 games per year. He was like that bachelor uncle that always shows up at the family reunion but doesn’t do anything particularly memorable. Crazy aunt Alice will get into a heated argument with cousin Ashley over her too-revealing tank top, while ancient grandpa Ray loudly complains about whomever is currently occupying the White House, but uncle Willie just sits off to the side, casually eating some chips and drinking his beer. Everyone agrees he’s a good guy and nice to have around. If they need someone to man the grill for an hour, Willie’s the guy. If you’ve got a game of horseshoes going, or Bocce Ball or Cornhole or badminton or Frolf, Willie’s game. He never seems to win but isn’t the worst one out there either. He’s just a reliable guy, like mashed potatoes but without the gravy. Sure, you’d much rather have the gravy with the mashed potatoes but you’ll settle for just the spuds if there’s not a better option.

Bloomquist joined the Mariners at the tail end of their last real good stretch of baseball. From 1995 to 2001, the Mariners made the playoffs four times in seven years. Those remain their only four playoff appearances ever. Then Willie Bloomquist showed up in 2002 and they haven’t made the playoffs since (not that it’s his fault). From 2002 to 2008, Willie Bloomquist was reliably Willie Bloomquistian. He never had fewer than 1 WAR or more than 1 WAR in a season. This would hold true for his entire career:

There’s that consistency again. Willie Bloomquist—reliably replacement level. Of course, minor league baseball promotions directors don’t care about WAR, so in 2004 the Everett Aquasox had Willie Bloomquist Bobblehead Doll Night. The resemblance is uncanny:

After the 2008 season, Willie B took his talents to Kansas City, signing a two-year, $3.1 million contract with the Royals as a free agent. Through six-plus years in the Major Leagues, Bloomquist had accumulated 1.4 WAR plus an unknown amount of intangibleness that likely added to his value. As Dayton Moore said at the time, “He’s an on-base guy, a speed-type player and a hustler. He’s a Craig Counsell-type player who really plays hard, hustles, and knows how to play.” If you were to bullet-point Moore’s statement, it would look like this:

  • On-base guy
  • Speed-type player
  • Hustler
  • Craig Counsell-type player
  • Plays hard
  • Hustles
  • Knows how to play

That reads like the five paragraph essays I used to write in high school. I always wanted three examples but sometimes couldn’t think of three, so I would bust out the thesaurus and find synonyms (hustler, plays hard, hustles) so I could make the required word count. Bravo, Dayton Moore, bravo. Also, there’s this:

In his first year in Kansas City, Bloomquist played in a career-high 125 games, getting 468 plate appearances and hitting .265/.308/.355. He lived up to his “speed-guy” label by stealing a team-leading 25 bases. He was worth -0.1 WAR, almost exactly replacement-level, but WAR doesn’t measure intangibles, so we really don’t know his true value that year. He may have led the league in Hustle WAR and Knows How To Play WAR while likely finishing second to Craig Counsell in Craig Counsell WAR.

Other than the ample playing time, this 2009 season is the epitome of Willie Bloomquist. His triple-slash line, his walk rate, his strikeout rate, they were all very close to his career numbers. He also played every position except pitcher and catcher that year. Yep, in 2009 Willie Bloomquist was about as Willie Bloomquist as Willie Bloomquist could be.

His second year with the Royals did not go as well and he was sold to the Reds in September of 2010. I don’t know how much a 2010 Willie Bloomquist went for, but hopefully the Reds got a good deal.

In January of 2011, Willie Bloomquist got another free agent deal, this time signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks for one year. This was another quintessential Bloomquistian season. He played 97 games, had 381 plate appearances, and hit .266/.317/.340 (nearly a match for his .269/.316/.342 career batting line). He was worth 0.0 WAR.

This 2011 season was also the only season Willie got a taste of postseason play. In a five-game Division-Series loss to the Brewers, Bloomquist hit .318/.348/.318 with three steals. Yep, Willie Bloomquist has a career .318 average in the postseason, 10 points higher than Derek Jeter (yeah, I know there’s a difference of 153 games played. It’s not Willie’s fault he didn’t get the opportunities Jeter had. Don’t be a hater).

After Bloomquist’s 0.0 WAR season with the Diamondbacks, he re-signed with the team on a two-year, $3.8 million contract and had seasons worth 0.4 and 0.5 WAR. When Bloomquist’s contract expired after the 2013 season, the Diamondbacks didn’t look like they had room on the roster for Willie B, which led to this headline from the AZ Central: “Arizona Diamondbacks brace for departure of Willie Bloomquist.” I wonder how one braces for the departure of Willie Bloomquist? Does it involve eating chips and drinking beer?

According to the article, the Diamondbacks wanted Willie back for 2014, but the market for his services was moving quickly. “We like him a lot and would love to have him back,” Towers said. “But my sense is there are going to be some clubs after him aggressively early.” Hmm. A free-agent battle for a 36-year-old Willie Bloomquist. Well, I’ll be.

Apparently, the booming market for Willie Bloomquist resulted in the Seattle Mariners outfoxing their competition by signing Bloomquist to a two-year, $5.8 million deal. That’s not a bad chunk of change for “Mr. Replacement Level” (when the Moneyball-like film comes out about “Mr. Replacement Level”, Bloomquist will be played by Ben Foster, the Willie Bloomquist of Hollywood. If you don’t know who Ben Foster is, well, that’s why he’s the Willie Bloomquist of Hollywood).

Bloomquist was close to his typical self in his first season back with the Mariners, accounting for 0.1 WAR despite an ugly .297 OBP (and that was with a .356 BABIP). Once again, he was tabbed to fill in at every position on the diamond except for catcher and center field. He only stole one base, though, and had the lowest walk rate and highest strikeout rate of his career. It almost looked like age was catching up to Willie Bloomquist, but that could not possibly be true because Willie Bloomquist had seemingly not aged in more than a dozen years.

Sadly, it may be the end of The Willie Bloomquist Experience. His intangibles couldn’t make up for a .159/.194/.174 batting line and the Mariners have designated him for assignment. Maybe he will be picked up by another Major League team (or the Phillies) and he’ll bang out a .265/.315/.340 stretch one last time.

Despite his 14 years of ever-so-slightly-above replacement level play, I have to give credit to Willie Bloomquist. He played hard and he was willing to man most any position on the diamond. If you needed a bunt, Willie would bunt. In his early days, he could pinch-run and steal you a bag in a high-leverage situation. He must have been a great guy in the clubhouse to last as long as he did and he may not be done just yet. Jeff Francoeur hasn’t been above replacement level since 2011 and he’s still playing. As long as Francoeur continues to get work, there’s hope for Willie Bloomquist. If he isn’t signed by a Major League team (or the Phillies), he can be proud of what he accomplished in the big leagues.


Best and Worst of the Offseason Acquisitions Thus Far

As we hurtle toward the season’s midpoint, it may be worth pausing to assess how some of last winter’s player moves have turned out. Herewith, the five best and five worst players to date (by fWAR) who changed uniforms during the off season.

Top 5

Josh Donaldson (4.4)

When asked last October whether the A’s would trade Josh Donaldson, an unnamed A’s official said “That would be stupid!” (h/t MLB Trade Rumors). But then suddenly it wasn’t. Maybe Billy Boy really did trade Donaldson in a fit of pique, or maybe the trade was yet another example of the man’s Machiavellian genius. Either way, there’s no getting around the fact that Donaldson is tied for 4th in WAR in the charted universe as of this writing. Donaldson is a key contributor to an MLB-leading offense that has scored 70 more runs than its nearest competitor. Toronto’s mighty +94 run differential bestes even that of the mighty St. Louis “Marked” Cards (+91), and the Blue Jays’ Wins per FBI Interview stands at infinity, blowing away the Cardinals’ ratio. It’s possible that Beane doesn’t regret the Donaldson move; it’s certain that Alex Anthopolous doesn’t.

Max Scherzer (4.2)

Max Scherzer has 130 Ks this season, which would place him 71st on the all time Expos/Nats single season list. And the season, as discerning readers will have already realized, in only half over. The same readers will have divined that Scherzer is on a pace for 260 Ks, which would put him second on the all time list behind Pedro Martinez, who racked up 305 in 1997. Scherzer is absolutely blowing away every one of his career rate stats this season. Can he keep the regression demons at bay until he gets a World Series ring? The Nationals certainly hope so, as do these guys. More evidence for the theory that playing at the top of the free agent market can be costly, yet cost-effective.

Dee Gordon (3.0)

Dee Gordon’s OPS is 60 points above his career average. Dee Gordon’s BABIP is 70 points above his career average. Dee Gordon’s closest comp through age 26, according to Baseball Reference, is Chippy McGarr. So no, it isn’t going to last, but it’s been a fun ride. One can only wish that Gordon’s magical half-season had been in the service of a better cause than this one. To be fair, a variety of defensive metrics are in agreement that Gordon has become an asset at second, and of course he’s got those wheels, so he’ll still have value even when his Inner McGarr ultimately gets the better of him.

Russell Martin (2.9)

The second Blue Jay on this list – yes, this might finally be Anthopolous’ year. Martin’s contract will rapidly move from buzz to hangover, but right now the party is still hot. Only Buster Posey is putting up better numbers behind the plate, and unlike Martin, he’s not behind the plate all the time, instead getting a fair number of starts at first. Like the others mentioned above, Martin is having something of a career year, but his numbers this year aren’t wildly above his career stats (.363 wOBA this year vs. .336 for his career). His BABIP this year (.298) is just a little higher than his career mark (.289). So there’s reason to believe his success will continue as long as he avoids injury. And he’s Canadian.

A.J. Burnett (2.7)

Don’t tell him it’s a young man’s game. Burnett, at age 38, is the 4th oldest starter in the majors, behind Bartolo Colon (42), R.A. Dickey (40), and Tim Hudson (39). He has the highest K/9 among this group (7.7), and by far the lowest FIP (2.97). Burnett’s fastball velo is sitting at 91.1, off of his career mark of 93.5, but it’s not a yawning gap. Burnett is kind of the anti-Scherzer, a bargain free agent that Neal Huntington was able to sign for a 1-year, $8.5m deal. Like Dan Duquette, Huntington has done a good job shoring up his roster with effective store brands such as Jung-ho Kang, Francisco Cervelli, and Burnett. The Pirates have stars too, more than next year’s Orioles will, but they do a better a job than most in making sure that no roster slot gets left behind.

Bottom 5

Matt Kemp (-1.0)

Kemp is putting up the worst triple slash (.244/.279/.365) and ISO (.122) numbers of his career. His defense remains R-rated. The Dodgers are paying Kemp $32 million to play for division rival San Diego. So far, it’s been a stellar investment.

Melky Cabrera (-1.0)

Not all dumpsters have stuff worth diving for. Skim Melk has returned to his bad old (pre-PED?) powerless ways. His ISO is a microscopic .067, lowest of his career and 8th lowest in the Show. Most of the other 7 guys are middle infielders. Rick Hahn has made a valiant effort to paper over the White Sox’ roster holes with veterans until he can rebuild a desolate farm system, but with mixed results. Adam LaRoche and Geovany Soto have been pretty effective, but Cabrera and Emilio Bonifacio have generated outs at the same rate the Dan Ryan generates traffic jams.

Kyle Kendrick (-0.9)

Ok, raise your hand if you think putting a fly-ball, high-contact pitcher in Coors is a good idea.

Pablo Sandoval (-0.6)

In 2011 Panda put up a .315/.357/.552 line. In 2012 he lost 100 points of slugging. In 2013 he lost 30 more. In 2014 he lost 20 points of OBP.  This year, he’s lost 10 more, along with another 15 missing SLG. His UZR/150 is at -26.2, which approximates the performance of an actual panda. This long steady performance collapse looks like something that happens to players in their early to mid-30s, but Sandoval is only 28. As Dayn Perry has noted, “Sandoval’s relationship with basic conditioning is complicated,” and it’s not clear that a manager on the bubble like John Farrell will be able to convince Sandoval to put his shoulder to the workout wheel (uh … the UZR/150 of that metaphor is probably -26.2). Sandoval has through 2019 to find a Red Sox treadmill routine that works for him. Which I’m sure makes Sawx fans ecstatic.

Billy Butler (-0.4)

In 2014 Butler put up a wRC+ of 97, craptastic for a player who has no non-hitting skills of note. This year, his wRC has surged to … 97.  The good news is that he’s held his ground despite playing half his games in the Mausoleum. The bad news is that the ground he’s holding isn’t worth much. At 3 years/$30m, Butler’s contract is reasonable by today’s standards. But it appears that the other Billy may have made a basic roster management error here by signing a middling free agent for middling money. Until the Oakland A’s become the San Jose PayPals, this is the kind of mistake the franchise can ill afford.


The Mets, Third-Base Uncertainty, and Troy Tulowitzki

The New York Mets are a team in need of upgrade.  With their playoff odds now at 16%, while every additional win is still important, there should be a large focus on 2016, and beyond, as well.  The question is where to upgrade.  A team should be willing to upgrade anywhere (a win is a win, is a win, is a win).  However, considering the type of depth and high-end talent the Mets have in their rotation, it seems unlikely they will attempt an upgrade there.  Both corner outfield spots could use an upgrade, but it is probably unlikely that the Mets will move, or bench, either Michael Cuddyer or Curtis Granderson.  Catcher has young talent.  First base is set.  Second base has a couple of capable providers in Daniel Murphy and Dilson Herrera. This leaves us with shortstop and third base.

Shortstop was a hot topic around Metland during the off-season, mainly in regards to Wilmer Flores’ questionable defense.  As he did things like this:

Ahhh, that never gets old.  However, he has also done things like this:

Ultimately, Wilmer now has a 1.7 UZR/150 in 561.2 innings this year to supplement his 12.5 UZR/150 in 443.1 innings in 2014.  This now gives him a cumulative 5.9 UZR/150 in 1005 innings!  While this is still not a huge sample size it is becoming increasingly likely that Flores can stick at the position.  Flores’ apparent ability to play shortstop coupled with his current 93 wRC+ (projected for more of the same from ZiPS and Steamer) makes him about an average player.

This is where it gets interesting.  The Mets’ third-base situation is probably the most variable in baseball.  It is basically impossible to know what they will get from David Wright at this point, if anything at all.  Spinal stenosis is a harsh mistress.  Time will tell what becomes of Wright.  Though, every cloud has a silver lining.  Other clichés.  The Mets will not bring in a strict third baseman, but it would be nice to have someone who can play there for a prolonged period of time if things go bad.

This leads us to Troy Tulowitzki.  Tulo is currently projected for a 128 wRC+, and 2.4 WAR, in 68 games for the rest of the season according to FanGraphs Depth Charts.  Tulowitzki is the type of 5-WAR star the Mets are in need of, as he would be a major upgrade over Flores in 2015 and beyond.  Additionally, Tulo would be able to move over to third base in the case of a prolonged absence from Wright, giving the Mets more malleability in terms of adding impact players.  In this case Flores can either be traded or used in a different capacity.  Tulo has long seemed to be a great fit for the Mets, and the uncertainty concerning David Wright seems to strengthen this fit.  Or, maybe this doesn’t affect the Mets’ decision-making process at all and I’m just writing nonsense.  Tulowitzki is a good fit regardless.  Though he would command a package such as Matz, Plawecki, Rosario, and Conforto, this may very well be worth it for the Mets.


Can Toronto Keep Rolling?

I decided to do a little experiment today and put the first third of the season under a microscope. I thought, what better way to compare MLB teams then by using a fantasy baseball format? Using seven offensive stats (AVG, wOBA, BABIP, OBP, ISO, K%, BB%) and seven pitching stats (BB/9, HR/9, BABIP, HR/FB, ERA, WHIP, K/9) I compiled the numbers from around the league. After getting the numbers, I went through and noted where each team stood in the overall standings for each stat. For every top-10 a team had in a given category, I gave them a point; the teams with the most points, theoretically, should be in the mix for the 10 playoff spots this September. Three teams — the Cardinals, Dodgers and Tigers — had the highest scores with 10 overall points. The next highest was the upstart AL West leading Astros and the red-hot Blue Jays. Both teams are interesting cases but with the Blue Jays sitting in third place in a, let’s say, competitive AL East, I have to wonder, how good are the Blue Jays and how far can they go?

This isn’t the Blue Jays of old; with the addition of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin and the emergence of young, productive players like Kevin Pillar, Devon Travis (before he got hurt), Chris Colabello and Danny Valencia, the Blue Jays have a balanced and deep offense. We know teams that live and die by the home run generally have trouble staying consistent throughout the season. This has been the problem with the Blue Jays in the past, waiting for Bautista and Encarnacion to heat up and then when they do, watch out. This year however, has been much more of a consistent team effort. With the top offense in baseball the Blue Jays are third in AVG, first in wOBA, 10th in BABIP, third in OBP, second in ISO, seventh in K% and seventh in BB%. All of that adds up to scoring runs, which they do very well, leading the league with 5.47 RPG. In my fantasy reality projections, the Blue Jays received a point for every offensive stat, the only team to do so. It’s the pitching categories however that raise my questions.

Although they had a total of 8 points, the Blue Jays were in the top 10 of only one pitching category: they’re third in BABIP. This isn’t to say that their pitching has been bad, as they’ve actually been pretty decent so far this year. Mark Buehrle has been his same old self, Drew Hutchison with his 5.33 ERA is 6-1, Aaron Sanchez has recovered nicely from a rough start of the season, Marco Estrada is a nice piece to have and although R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball hasn’t been as good as in years past, he’s still keeping them in the game and at least saving the bullpen. Speaking of the bullpen, it’s been a lot better as well this year. Brett Cecil, Roberto Osuna and Liam Hendricks all have K/9 above 9.0 and the bullpen as a whole has an ERA of 3.38, lower than the league average of 3.50. But is all of this enough to win the division or at least get a wild-card birth?

The AL East has been a mixed bag this year. Every team, besides the Red Sox, seems to be a hot or cold streak away from dominating or falling off the face of the earth. The Rays are currently leading the AL East by 1 game over the Yankees and 2 games ahead of both the Orioles and Blue Jays. The Rays are pretty much the opposite of the Blue Jays, as they don’t hit a lot of home runs and where the Blue Jays lead not only the division but the league in runs scored per game, the Rays are last in the division and 26th in the league with 3.73 RPG. The Rays have an AL East best 3.26 ERA and the Blue Jays, of course are at the opposite end of the spectrum, ranking fourth in the division at 4.26. These numbers bring into to play run differential, where the Blue Jays lead the division at +69 and the Rays are fourth with a +7 run differential. Anything is possible but it just feels like the Rays won’t be able to hold on throughout the season, especially facing the offenses in the AL East. Speaking of the other teams not named the Red Sox, let’s look at the Yankees and Orioles and see how their success may impact Toronto.

Both the Orioles and Yankees have mostly played good baseball throughout the season. The Yankees have definitely exceeded expectations and the Orioles have been a streaky team but are still hanging right in there. I think these two teams pose the biggest threat to any potential Toronto success. With the AL Central as loaded as it is, it’s entirely possible that two AL wild-card teams come from that division. It’s also highly possible that one could come from the AL West — the Rangers are playing better, the Angels have a similar record to the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles and I know it sounds crazy but I’ll never count the A’s out until it’s mathematically impossible.

All that being said, I think it will be hard for Toronto to secure a wild-card birth; I think they have to win the division. The Yankees and Orioles are second and third in the AL East in RPG with 4.53 and 4.50 respectively and both have a better team ERA than the Blue Jays do. The Orioles have a run differential of +35 and the Yankees are at +12, so it’s certainly possible if the numbers stay where they’re at that the Blue Jays can just outscore everyone more often then not. But pitching wins championships — just ask the Giants — and if the Blue Jays want to have the success they’re looking for, they’ll need to improve their starting rotation.

The question then becomes, where do they get the help? We saw what happened to the A’s last year when they went for everything and broke up a successful offense to secure their starting rotation. I’m not suggesting the Blue Jays do exactly that but I do think they need to make a move to get a proven starter. Toronto is invested in young starters Hutchison and Sanchez who have performed well but not great, and veterans like Buehrle and Dickey are a good presence for a young staff, but they seem to lack that workhorse, front-of-the-rotation guy. Filling the void from within is always the preferred method but it doesn’t appear that the Blue Jays have anybody waiting in the wings.

Perhaps R.A. Dickey can regain his form and become the ace that he was with the Mets, but that’s a lot to hope for. Toronto’s farm system was ranked 19th in MLB going into the season, making it difficult to trade for a top-tier starter without dealing major-league talent but surely they could put something together for a major-league starter without breaking up their core players. If they can make a move, I think they’ll greatly increase their chance of winning the division. If they don’t, they’ll have to hope everyone stays healthy and the offense keeps rolling. One thing is for sure, it’s baseball and anything can happen at any time. For now we’ll just have to wait and see, and of course, enjoy the dingers.