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Breaking Down 2014 WAR (Part 1)

What better to do in the middle of winter when there are still a couple weeks until pitchers and catchers report than to look at WAR. In particular, I was curious about WAR in 2014. What positions had the most WAR? What age group? How did younger pitchers compare to older pitchers? So many WAR questions…

I started with the breakdown of WAR by position.

Using FanGraphs’ terrific leaderboard tools, I found statistics for all players who played at each position in 2014. The following numbers apply only to the time spent at that position. Buster Posey, for example, accumulated 462 plate appearances at catcher, 128 at first base, and 9 at DH, so his plate appearances in those amounts are included for those positions in the table below.

For position players, I calculated WAR per 600 plate appearances. For starting pitchers, I used WAR per 150 innings pitched. For relievers, I used WAR per 50 innings pitched. Here is the table:

HITTERS

POS N PA WAR WAR/600 PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
C 102 19391 80.3 2.5 .245 .309 .380 .306 94
1B 171 20548 50.4 1.5 .255 .331 .426 .332 112
2B 156 20470 66.4 1.9 .256 .313 .373 .304 92
3B 148 20302 75.5 2.2 .259 .318 .397 .316 101
SS 124 19983 73.5 2.2 .255 .310 .368 .301 90
LF 208 20492 58.1 1.7 .257 .322 .402 .321 104
CF 140 20959 98.0 2.8 .265 .325 .394 .319 103
RF 200 20670 63.1 1.8 .261 .324 .411 .324 107
DH 261 10132 8.4 0.5 .247 .317 .420 .323 107
P 308 5491 -3.8 -0.4 .122 .153 .152 .141 -19
PH 574 5483 -0.9 -0.1 .213 .291 .322 .275 74

 

PITCHERS

SPs N IP WAR WAR/150 IP ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
SP 289 28992.0 345.2 1.8 3.82 1.27 7.4 2.7 0.9

 

RPs N IP WAR WAR/50 IP ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
RP 537 14620.0 84.8 0.3 3.58 1.28 8.5 3.3 0.8

 

Some things that stand out for me are listed below. These aren’t earth-shattering insights, but interesting nonetheless:

  • You can see the influence of the positional adjustment and defensive value by comparing some positions. For example, left fielders and center fielders had similar offensive numbers in 2014 (LF: .321 wOBA, 104 wRC+; CF: .319 wOBA, 103 wRC+), yet there was a 1.0 difference in WAR/600 PA.
  • The three weakest-hitting spots—catcher, second base, and shortstop—make up for it with their defensive chops and the defensive adjustment.
  • Players at first base had the best hitting numbers (.332 wOBA, 112 wRC+) but the lowest WAR total among all position players (DH not included).
  • Players in the Designated Hitter spot accounted for just 8.4 WAR and three players accounted for 8.8 WAR (the rest accumulated negative WAR): Victor Martinez (3.9 WAR), David Ortiz (2.7 WAR), and Chris Carter (2.2 WAR).
  • Starting pitchers had a better ERA than relievers (3.82 to 3.58), which isn’t surprising, but relievers had a higher WHIP (1.28 to 1.27), which did surprise me. Relievers struck out more batters (8.5 K/9 to 7.4 K/9) but also walked more (3.3 BB/9 to 2.7 BB/9).

 

NEVER TRUST ANYONE OVER 30

The following tables show the breakdown for all hitters, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers by age; specifically, the group of players aged 29 and younger compared to the “30 and over” group.

 

HITTERS N PA% PA WAR% W%-PA% WAR WAR/600 PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+
<29 975 60.8% 111817 64.2% 3.4% 365.8 2.0 .250 .310 .388 95
30 & up 535 39.2% 72111 35.8% -3.4% 204.2 1.7 .252 .319 .383 98
SPs N IP% IP WAR% W%-IP% WAR WAR/150 IP ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9
<29 207 65.3% 18935.7 72.2% 6.8% 249.1 2.0 3.78 1.27 7.5 2.7
30 & up 82 34.7% 10056.3 27.8% -6.8% 96.1 1.4 3.90 1.29 7.0 2.6
RPs N IP% IP WAR% W%-IP% WAR WAR/50 IP ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9
<29 385 65.3% 9540.3 75.2% 10.0% 63.8 0.3 3.51 1.27 8.7 3.4
30 & up 152 34.7% 5079.7 24.8% -10.0% 21.0 0.2 3.71 1.28 8.0 3.1

 

Not surprisingly, players 29 and under were better than players 30 and over and this was true for hitters and pitchers. There was a big difference in the magnitude, though. For hitters, the difference was about 0.3 WAR/600 PA. This is true even though the older group of hitters had a better wRC+. Defense matters.

For starting pitchers, the difference was 0.6 WAR/150 IP, with starting pitchers 29 and under accumulating 65.3% of the innings pitched by starting pitchers and 72.2% of starting pitcher WAR. Starting pitchers 29 and younger had a K/9 of 7.5, while those 30 and older saw their K/9 drop to 7.0.

Relief pitchers showed the greatest difference between the two age groups in WAR% – IP%, with the younger group finishing at +10.0% (65.3% of the innings pitched, 75.2% of the WAR). There was a big difference in strikeout rate for the two groups, with the younger relief pitchers getting more strikeouts (8.7 K/9 to 8.0 K/9).

POSITION BREAKDOWN BY AGE (29 AND UNDER vs. 30 AND OVER).

C N PA% PA WAR% W%-PA% WAR WAR/600 PA AVG OBP SLG
<29 59 57.8% 11200 61.1% 3.3% 49.1 2.6 .247 .308 .394
30 & up 43 42.2% 8191 38.9% -3.3% 31.2 2.3 .243 .311 .360

 

Young catchers had 0.3 more WAR/600 PA than older catchers. On the offensive side, young catchers outslugged older catchers (.394 to .360) but had a lower OBP (.308 to .311).

Best catcher 29 and under: Jonathan Lucroy, 28 (6.3 WAR)

Best catcher 30 and older: Russell Martin, 31 (5.4 WAR)

Dishonorable Mention: Jose Molina, 39 (-1.3 WAR)

 

1B N PA% PA WAR% W%-PA% WAR WAR/600 PA AVG OBP SLG
<29 103 49.4% 10141 57.9% 8.6% 29.2 1.7 .254 .331 .434
30 & up 68 50.6% 10407 42.1% -8.6% 21.2 1.2 .256 .331 .417

 

First base had a near 50-50 split in plate appearances for players 29 and under and 30 and over, but the younger players were 0.5 WAR/600 PA better.

Best first baseman 29 and under: Anthony Rizzo, 24 (5.6 WAR)

Best first baseman 30 and older: Miguel Cabrera, 31 (4.9 WAR)

Dishonorable Mention: Jon Singleton, 22 (-1.1 WAR)

 

2B N PA% PA WAR% W%-PA% WAR WAR/600 PA AVG OBP SLG
<29 108 61.7% 12623 57.6% -4.1% 38.2 1.8 .255 .311 .375
30 & up 48 38.3% 7847 42.4% 4.1% 28.2 2.2 .259 .315 .370

 

Second base was one of four positions (DH included) at which players 30 and over had more WAR/600 PA than the younger group.

Best second baseman 29 and under: Jose Altuve, 24 (5.0 WAR)

Best second baseman 30 and older: Ian Kinsler, 32 (5.5 WAR)

Dishonorable Mention: Stephen Drew, 31 (-1.0 WAR)

 

3B N PA% PA WAR% W%-PA% WAR WAR/600 PA AVG OBP SLG
<29 104 73.5% 14925 63.5% -10.1% 48.0 1.9 .253 .311 .399
30 & up 44 26.5% 5377 36.5% 10.1% 27.5 3.1 .276 .335 .392

 

Third base had the biggest discrepancy between players 29 and under and 30 and over when it comes to WAR/600 PA, with a difference of 1.2 WAR/600 PA in favor of the older group, even as the younger group had almost three times as many plate appearances.

Best third baseman 29 and under: Josh Donaldson, 28 (6.5 WAR)

Best third baseman 30 and older: Adrian Beltre, 35 (5.7 WAR)

Dishonorable Mention: Matt Dominguez, 24 (-1.7 WAR)

 

SS N PA% PA WAR% W%-PA% WAR WAR/600 PA AVG OBP SLG
<29 91 65.8% 13154 59.8% -6.1% 43.9 2.0 .252 .306 .363
30 & up 33 34.2% 6829 40.2% 6.1% 29.6 2.6 .261 .319 .377

 

Shortstop was another position at which players 30 and over had more WAR/600 PA, thanks in part to a better hitting line across the board.

Best shortstop 29 and under: Troy Tulowitzki, 28 (5.2 WAR)

Best shortstop 30 and older: Jhonny Peralta, 32 (5.3 WAR)

Dishonorable Mention: Josh Rutledge, 25 (-0.8 WAR)

 

LF N PA% PA WAR% W%-PA% WAR WAR/600 PA AVG OBP SLG
<29 133 60.3% 12355 65.2% 4.9% 37.9 1.9 .260 .318 .410
30 & up 75 39.7% 8137 34.8-% -4.9% 20.2 1.5 .253 .328 .390
CF N PA% PA WAR% W%-PA% WAR WAR/600 PA AVG OBP SLG
<29 100 77.1% 16149 82.5% 5.4% 80.7 3.0 .265 .324 .398
30 & up 40 22.9% 4810 17.5% -5.4% 17.3 2.1 .265 .329 .381
RF N PA% PA WAR% W%-PA% WAR WAR/600 PA AVG OBP SLG
<29 123 51.8% 10714 61.0% 9.2% 38.5 2.2 .258 .321 .413
30 & up 77 48.2% 9956 39.0% -9.2% 24.6 1.5 .264 .327 .409

 

You can see how youth plays a role in the different outfield positions by observing the plate appearance percentage for each position. In left field, the split is roughly 60-40 in favor of players 29 and under. In centerfield, where speed is more important, 77% of the plate appearances were given to player 29 and under. In right field, it was much closer to 50-50. All three outfield positions saw more WAR/600 PA from the younger group of players in 2014.

 

Best left fielder 29 and under: Michael Brantley, 27 (4.5 WAR)

Best left fielder 30 and older: Alex Gordon, 30 (6.6 WAR)

Dishonorable Mention: Domonic Brown, 26 (-1.6 WAR)

 

Best center fielder 29 and under: Mike Trout, 22 (7.5 WAR)

Best center fielder 30 and older: Jacoby Ellsbury, 30 (3.9 WAR)

Dishonorable Mention: Junior Lake, 24 (-2.5 WAR)

 

Best right fielder 29 and under: Giancarlo Stanton, 24 (6.2 WAR)

Best right fielder 30 and older: Jose Bautista, 33 (6.1 WAR)

Dishonorable Mention: Oscar Taveras, 22 (-1.2 WAR)

 

DH N PA% PA WAR% W%-PA% WAR WAR/600 PA AVG OBP SLG
<29 154 37.1% 3763 10.7% -26.4% 0.9 0.1 .245 .305 .412
30 & up 107 62.9% 6369 89.3% 26.4% 7.5 0.7 .248 .323 .425

 

The DH spot is an older player’s spot, with 63% of the plate appearances at DH given to players 30 and over. This group accounted for 89% of the DH WAR, with a higher batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

Best DH 29 and under: Chris Carter, 27 (2.2 WAR)

Best DH 30 and older: Victor Martinez, 35 (3.9 WAR)

Dishonorable Mention: Kendrys Morales, 31 (-1.5 WAR)

 

P N PA% PA AVG OBP SLG
<29 219 64.8% 3558 .125 .158 .159
30 & up 89 35.2% 1933 .118 .144 .140

 

Pitchers are just terrible hitters, old and young, fat and skinny, tall and short. They stink at hitting. Older pitchers are a little more stinky at hitting than younger pitchers.

Best Pitcher (hitting) 29 and under: Travis Wood, 27 (1.0 WAR)

Best Pitcher (hitting) 30 and older: Madison Bumgarner, 30 (1.2 WAR)

Dishonorable Mention: Bartolo Colon, 41 (-0.7 WAR) Colon was 2 for 62 with 0 walks and 33 strikeouts. Somehow, he managed to score 3 runs. That’s kind of mind-boggling, really.

 

PH N PA% PA AVG OBP SLG
<29 379 58.9% 3230 .219 .289 .332
30 & up 195 41.1% 2253 .204 .293 .308

 

This might surprise some people. When I think of pinch-hitters, I picture the aging veteran who calmly comes off the bench to deliver a big hit, like Manny Mota in the 70s or Rusty Staub in the 80s or Matt Stairs in the 00s. Last year, though, pinch-hitting was a younger man’s game. Players 29 and under had 59% of the pinch-hitting plate appearances and a slightly better triple-slash batting line.

Best Pinch-Hitter 29 and under: Delmon Young 28 (0.6 WAR)

Best Pinch-Hitter 30 and older: John Mayberry, 30 (0.8 WAR)

Dishonorable Mention: Greg Dobbs, 35 (-0.5 WAR)

That’s probably enough for now. More likely, it’s way too much. Either way, if you notice anything interesting about these numbers, please make your observations known in the comments. Next up is a more involved breakdown of WAR by age group for hitters and pitchers.


The Giants’ Offense Doesn’t Care About the Platoon Advantage

As many articles have pointed out over the last few weeks, the Giants are going to be at a loss for power in 2015. Steamer projects only three players to have double-digit homers, and they’re the usual power suspects from the team: Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt. Brandon Crawford is close with nine, but the Giants might have to look into every possible crevice they can to find that power in an environment where power is scarce in the first place.

Except maybe the Giants have already hit their peak in production, regardless of a lack of power. While for most teams it would be a cause for concern and employing someone like a Dayan Viciedo would be a worthwhile addition to help against lefties, the team looks like even Viciedo’s power success against lefties isn’t necessary. Take a look at the totals from the left-handed batters the Giants will employ in 2015 with a minimum of 50 2014 PA, sorted by wRC+ (forgive my rudimentary table in my maiden voyage):

Player PA OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+
Brandon Crawford 178 .395 .484 .879 .163 .404 .383 152
Nori Aoki 124 .428 .435 .863 .073 .398 .386 150
Joe Panik 84 .381 .458 .839 .084 .437 .369 143
Gregor Blanco 138 .346 .384 .730 .088 .363 .325 112
Brandon Belt 71 .324 .391 .715 .125 .306 .318 108

That’s five left-handed hitters who were above-average against southpaw pitchers in 2014. Nori Aoki’s highly vaunted league-leading .363 batting average was a talking point during last postseason with him being able to slot into the #2 spot in the Royals lineup regardless of who was pitching, but on his new team, he wasn’t even the best player against same-handed pitching. Crawford routinely crushed southpaws, yet Bruce Bochy kept him down in the lineup a majority of the time regardless of who pitched. Panik’s arrival and success against lefties also came with a giant flashing “BABIP! SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!” sign, but his contact-based approach should serve him well. Aoki’s arrival probably pushes him down in the order, but Panik’s early success is obviously a good sign even if his BABIP comes back down to Earth (as it is for all the players on this list).

The most interesting part of the chart is Belt. When Brett Pill was still a Giant and hitting homers off Clayton Kershaw, there was scuttlebutt about whether or not Pill should step in and hit when a lefty was on the hill. Then Pill showed off just how much talent he had and the Giants turned to Belt on an everyday basis anyways. Much like his fellow Brandon, Belt has done very well against lefties in his career with a .338 wOBA and a 120 wRC+. Those are numbers where the platoon advantage isn’t really necessary, but Belt has yet to put together a full season worthy of what many have expected of him. An injury-free 2015 season for him could go a long way in telling if the 350+ PA against lefties throughout his career will hold up or will fall by the wayside.

The other (unfortunately) obvious part of the Giants not needing to utilize the platoon is because they have possibly the worst bench in all of baseball. Outside of Andrew Susac, who could start for any other catcher-deficient team in the league, the Giants employ a light-hitting, defensive-oriented bench outfit. That plays well in AT&T Park, but when you need to give guys a day off here and there, lefties facing Juan Perez and Joaquin Arias aren’t going to be as afraid as they would be if any available Brandon is standing in the box. That’s where Blanco’s bat comes into play, as giving Aoki, Pagan or even Hunter Pence a day off doesn’t lead to a huge drop-off in production even if a lefty is on the hill.

While the Giants aren’t as flexible as other teams (with their cross-bay rivals leading the charge in mix-and-match lineups) their distinct lack of platoon advantage doesn’t necessarily hurt them. Their lack of depth and betting on a full season of Pagan, a full season of Belt and Aoki shoring up left field might be gambles, but if everything works (and it’s a rather large “if”), the Giants might have been able to replace the production of the departed Pablo Sandoval in their weird, unique way.


American League Team Depth

A couple of weeks ago Jeff Sullivan looked at a quick depth check for all the teams in baseball.  Depth is a hard thing to measure, so I would prefer to look at it in another way and see if anything else shows up or if I can corroborate what Jeff saw.  This is the result from the AL, as I got in an hour or two and realized I wouldn’t have time for all 30 teams this week, so I will get you the rest next week.

What I did was look at the front-line players for each team and their projected WAR from Steamer.  Then I looked at the backups to see theirs.  Front line includes all eight position players, DH, five starters and six relievers.  Second includes a backup at each position (sometimes one player for a couple), 6th and 7th starter, and three relievers beyond the first six.  Here are the outcomes:

Front Line Second
Angels 31.1 3.6
Astros 24.2 1.7
A’s 32 3.7
Blue Jays 33.8 1.6
Indians 30.1 2.3
Mariners 35.7 2.6
Orioles 31.8 2.8
Rangers 28 1.3
Rays 31.1 3.2
Red Sox 33.9 6
Royals 32.3 3.8
Tigers 33 1.4
Twins 22.7 2.7
White Sox 24.7 0.1
Yankees 33.5 1.4

From a depth perspective two things can be relevant, total production expected from the second line and the difference between the first and second lines.  For the difference I want to talk about the difference as the front line being a multiple of the second to keep from the absolute gap looking bad when it is only relative to a strong first string.

You can see what teams Steamer really likes, like the Mariners, who some might not have expected.  They have three high level front line players carrying them in Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Felix Hernandez along with a bunch of 1 to 3 win guys in Hisashi Iwakuma, Austin Jackson, Nelson Cruz, etc.  I don’t like Logan Morrison as much as them but they do have a pretty good mix of talent.  Their second line is not as strong, but it is still around the middle of the pack but the bulk of that coming from Chris Taylor so maybe slightly misleading.

The Red Sox are the clear winners in the second line and the White Sox, who upgraded the front line considerably in the offseason, are clearly not deep based on Steamer’s assumptions.  The Red Sox have Xander Bogaerts backing up shortstop and third, Allen Craig for left and first base, and Ryan Hanigan at catcher.  Pitching is not nearly as deep for them, but their rotation is starting from a solid foundation and they have a reasonable front line bullpen.

In Chicago, injuries to front line starters are expected to be crippling.  Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, and Jose Quintana make for a good front of the rotation, but beyond them you are looking at John Danks, Hector Noesi, and Erik Johnson who combine for a negative WAR projection.  That is what makes their depth look so weak.  They are also missing a good backup everywhere except for Emilio Bonifacio who will help out at several positions.

I’m not going through each team, but I do want to match this up with what Jeff found in his.  I ranked them by the multiples method I already described, so the most depth would be the lowest multiple for front line over second.  Both systems put the Red Sox number one and the White Sox last.  Doing an AL ranking they also agree on the Twins (2nd), Orioles (7th), Blue Jays (11th), and Rangers (12th).  There are only a couple of teams on which we really disagree.

Jeff had the Yankees’ depth as 5th and my system had them at 14th.  They have 15 front liners above the 1 WAR threshold he used, but they have little else to go on so in my system they look pretty shallow.  The Royals are the other team on which we disagree.  Again, the Royals front line is full of useful players, but only one of their backups is above that level in Jarrod Dyson.  That gave them a middle of the pack ranking for Sullivan.  In mine Dyson’s rather large number for a second line player along with Erik Kratz, Christian Colon, Kris Medlen and a couple other little guys added up to a pretty decent set of second tier players.

Depth does not make a team good, but for some of the contenders this could become a very big deal.  I would be especially concerned as a fan for Detroit or Toronto who I would think are expecting to contend but have very little behind their studs.  A good team has more than depth, but a potential good team can be completely derailed without it.


Big Papi vs. Father Time

I have to start with a confession: I love David Ortiz. I’ve had him on my fantasy team in my most important league in three of the last four years. I like his stats, of course, but I also like the way he claps his hands when he’s preparing to hit, the way he sets up in the box, the way he rambles around the bases after launching one into the outfield. I like the big smile on his face when things are going well. There may not be such a thing as a clutch hitter, but I like to think that when it comes to the mythical clutch hitter, Big Papi is the clutchiest of them all. In short, Big Papi es mi hombre.

Unfortunately, David Ortiz will be 39 years old in 2015. In Major League Baseball, 39-year-olds generally do not hit well. They generally don’t field well, either, but that doesn’t matter to me and Big Papi. We’re all ‘bout that bat, ‘bout that bat, no fielding…

Last year, there were two 39-year-old position players in MLB—John McDonald (.171/.256/.197, 38 wRC+) and Jose Molina (.178/.230/.187, 23 wRC+). There were three 40-year-old positions players in MLB—Bobby Abreu (.248/.342/.338, 100 wRC+), Ichiro! (.284/.324/.340, 86 wRC+), and Derek Jeter (.256/.304/.313, 73 wRC+). There were zero 41-year-old positions players, one 42-year-old—Jason Giambi (.133/.257/.267, 48 wRC+), and one 43-year-old—Raul Ibanez (.167/.264/.285, 61 wRC+). Overall, in 2014, players aged 39 and up combined to hit .220/.280/.281, for a wRC+ of 60. They were just terrible at hitting, is what I’m saying.

Of course, just because those chumps were terrible at hitting at an advanced age doesn’t mean my boy Big Papi will be terrible at hitting at an advanced age. He’s already at an advanced age and he has been pretty darn good over the last few years, unlike the Jose Molinas and John McDonalds of the world.

David Ortiz hit .263/.355/.517 last year, good for a .369 wOBA and 135 wRC+. He was worth 2.4 WAR. The previous year, he had 3.8 WAR, so last year was a somewhat significant drop-off (63% of his previous year’s total WAR). That .369 wOBA was the lowest for Ortiz since 2009 and second lowest since 2003. In other words, in 2014 David Ortiz had the second-lowest wOBA in the 12 years he’s played with the Red Sox.

So what does that mean for 2015? Can Big Papi hold off Father Time once again or will he fall off a cliff at 39 years old?

To get to the bottom of this all-important question, I decided to start with the Similarity Scores list for David Ortiz that can be found at Baseball-Reference.com, along with his #1 ZiPS comp.

Baseball-Reference.com’s most similar batters to David Ortiz through age 38:

Frank Thomas

Fred McGriff

Paul Konerko

Willie McCovery

Willie Stargell

Jason Giambi

Todd Helton

Jim Thome

Reggie Jackson

Gary Sheffield

 

ZiPS top comp: Rafael Palmeiro

Paul Konerko has retired, so he’s no good to us. We’ll use the other players in a not-overly-mathematical attempt to determine how David Ortiz might do in 2015.

First, here are David Ortiz’ relevant statistics from last year, when he was 38 years old:

YEAR PLAYER PA R HR RBI AVG OBP SLG ISO wOBA wRC+ WAR
2014 David Ortiz 602 59 35 104 .263 .355 .517 .254 .369 135 2.4

 

And here are his 10 comparable players in their age 38 seasons:

YEAR PLAYER PA R HR RBI AVG OBP SLG ISO wOBA wRC+ WAR
2006 Frank Thomas 559 77 39 114 .270 .381 .545 .275 .392 139 2.5
2002 Fred McGriff 595 67 30 103 .273 .353 .505 .232 .366 125 2.5
1976 Willie McCovey 251 20 7 36 .204 .283 .336 .132 .279 76 0.2
1978 Willie Stargell 450 60 28 97 .295 .382 .567 .272 .415 161 3.6
2009 Jason Giambi 359 43 13 51 .201 .343 .382 .181 .328 98 -0.1
2012 Todd Helton 283 31 7 37 .238 .343 .400 .162 .327 88 0.0
2009 Jim Thome 434 55 23 77 .249 .366 .481 .232 .368 119 0.8
1984 Reggie Jackson 584 67 25 81 .223 .300 .406 .183 .315 95 0.0
2007 Gary Sheffield 593 107 25 75 .265 .378 .462 .197 .368 123 2.8
2003 Rafael Palmeiro 654 92 38 112 .260 .359 .508 .248 .369 119 2.5
  AVERAGE 476 62 24 78 .252 .353 .471 .219     1.5

 

Four of these players were coming off much worse seasons than Ortiz just had, so perhaps they are not great comps, but we’ll keep them in the mix for now.

Here are these same 10 players in their age 39 seasons:

YEAR PLAYER PA R HR RBI AVG OBP SLG ISO wOBA wRC+ WAR
2007 Frank Thomas 624 63 26 95 .277 .377 .480 .203 .373 127 1.9
2003 Fred McGriff 329 32 13 40 .249 .322 .428 .179 .324 98 0.4
1977 Willie McCovey 548 54 28 86 .280 .367 .500 .220 .372 129 2.1
1979 Willie Stargell 480 60 32 82 .281 .352 .552 .271 .385 137 2.7
2010 Jason Giambi 222 17 6 35 .244 .378 .398 .154 .343 97 0.0
2013 Todd Helton 442 41 15 61 .249 .314 .423 .174 .322 87 -0.9
2010 Jim Thome 340 48 25 59 .283 .412 .627 .344 .439 177 3.1
1985 Reggie Jackson 541 64 27 85 .252 .360 .487 .235 .368 129 1.5
2008 Gary Sheffield 482 52 19 57 .225 .326 .400 .175 .322 92 0.0
2004 Rafael Palmeiro 651 68 23 88 .258 .359 .436 .178 .340 105 0.3
  AVERAGE 466 50 21 69 .261 .356 .473 .212     1.1

 

As a group, these players had better triple-slash numbers in their age 39 seasons, but with an average of 10 fewer plate appearances and less production in runs, home runs, and RBI, along with a drop in WAR from an average of 1.5 to 1.1.

That’s not too bad, though. They didn’t fall off a cliff, like one might expect from a 39-year-old player. Taking what these players did from age 38 to 39 and applying it to Ortiz’ stats from last year, you would get a line in the vicinity of this for David Ortiz in 2015: 589 PA, 48 R, 32 HR, 91 RBI, .272/.359/.519.

(Note: David Ortiz scored a ridiculously low number of runs last year—just 59 despite getting on base over 200 times. It would be unlikely that he would score at such a low rate two years in a row, especially with the Red Sox’ improved line up).

Okay, let’s go back to those comparable players and whittle down the sample size to ridiculous levels. Let’s use only those players who had between 1.5 and 3 WAR in their age 38 season. Say goodbye to 1976 Willie McCovey (0.2 WAR), 1978 Willie Stargell (3.6 WAR), 2009 Jason Giambi (-0.1 WAR), 2012 Todd Helton (0 WAR), 2009 Jim Thome (0.8 WAR), and 1984 Reggie Jackson (0 WAR). That only leaves us with four players, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

One of those remaining four players is Gary Sheffield, who stole 22 bases when he was 38 and 9 bases when he was 39. That doesn’t seem like something David Ortiz could do, so I’m going to reluctantly toss Gary Sheffield aside as a comparable player to Big Papi. Down to just three comps, I went looking for others. I found Carl Yastrzemski and Brian Downing. Yaz had 2.4 WAR at age 38, just like David Ortiz, and is left-handed, like David Ortiz, and played some first base, like David Ortiz. Yaz also played left field and even center field at age 38, so he’s not the best comp, but he’ll do for now. Brian Downing was a full-time DH at age 38 and had 1.9 WAR, close enough to Big Papi’s 2.4, so I’ll keep him also, despite his right-handedness. That gives us five comparable players look at.

Here is David Ortiz’ age 38 season again in case you forgot from a couple minutes ago:

YEAR PLAYER PA R HR RBI AVG OBP SLG ISO wOBA wRC+ WAR
2014 David Ortiz 602 59 35 104 .263 .355 .517 .254 .369 135 2.4

 

And the five comparable players when they were 38 years old:

YEAR PLAYER PA AB R HR RBI AVG OBP SLG ISO wOBA wRC+ WAR
1978 C. Yastrzemski 611 523 70 17 81 .277 .367 .423 .146 .355 115 2.4
1989 Brian Downing 610 544 59 14 59 .283 .354 .414 .131 .348 120 1.9
2006 Frank Thomas 559 466 77 39 114 .270 .381 .545 .275 .392 139 2.5
2002 Fred McGriff 595 523 67 30 103 .273 .353 .505 .232 .366 125 2.5
2003 Rafael Palmeiro 654 561 92 38 112 .260 .359 .508 .248 .369 119 2.5
  AVERAGE 606 523 73 28 94 .273 .362 .477 .205     2.4

 

So, how did this group of four perform in their age 39 season?

YEAR PLAYER PA AB R HR RBI AVG OBP SLG ISO wOBA wRC+ WAR
1979 C. Yastrzemski 590 518 69 21 87 .270 .346 .450 .180 .349 105 2.2
1990 Brian Downing 390 330 47 14 51 .273 .374 .467 .194 .376 138 2.1
2007 Frank Thomas 624 531 63 26 95 .277 .377 .480 .203 .373 127 1.9
2003 Fred McGriff 329 297 32 13 40 .249 .322 .428 .179 .324 98 0.4
2004 Rafael Palmeiro 651 550 68 23 88 .258 .359 .436 .178 .340 105 0.3
  AVERAGE 517 445 56 19 72 .266 .358 .453 .187     1.4

 

This group lost 1 WAR and saw drops across the board but, again, it wasn’t a cliff dive. They retained some value. If David Ortiz ages like these four players, he would have a 2015 season that looks a bit like this: .257/.351/.491, 45 R, 25 HR, 80 RBI.

So, based on this minimally-scientific study that is by no means meant to replace Steamer or ZiPS or the Fans projections, it would appear that David Ortiz will hit somewhere between the two following batting lines in 2015 (shown along with the average of the two projections from above):

 

COMPS PLAYER PA R HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
10 Comps David Ortiz 589 48 32 91 .271 .359 .519
4 Comps David Ortiz 514 45 25 80 .257 .351 .491
Average David Ortiz 551 47 28 86 .264 .355 .506

 

Or if you prefer a much more mathematical model, there’s always Cairo, Davenport, Marcel, Steamer, ZiPS, and the Fan projections, along with the average of this all these projections:

SOURCE PLAYER PA R HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Cairo David Ortiz 569 69 23 69 .296 .376 .509
Davenport David Ortiz 492 61 20 79 .266 .355 .459
Marcel David Ortiz 561 67 28 87 .276 .362 .513
Steamer David Ortiz 601 84 26 91 .277 .366 .496
ZiPS David Ortiz 537 59 29 88 .277 .363 .526
Fans (32) David Ortiz 590 89 28 92 .280 .369 .507
Average David Ortiz 558 72 26 84 .279 .365 .502

 

And there you have it—David Ortiz in 2015, not over the hill just yet.


Bartolo Colon: The Run-Scoring Machine

On his FanGraphs player page, Bartolo Colon is listed at 5’11” and 285 pounds, or roughly the size of a soda machine, I’d guess. On the one hand, that’s five pounds less than CC Sabathia, so they could sit on opposite ends of a teeter-totter and have a jolly good time, as opposed to Bartolo Colon on one end and Dustin Pedroia on the other, which would look like this: / . On the other hand, CC Sabathia is eight inches taller, so Bartolo Colon’s BMI would be 39.7 to CC Sabathia’s 32.7. It’s not exactly the case that they would make the number 10 if they were standing next to each other. It would be more like this number: 00.

Bartolo Colon is not a very good hitter. In his career, Bartolo Colon has 12 hits in 158 at-bats, for a batting average of .076. Half of those hits came in one season, the glorious 2002 season when Bartolo Colon was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the Montreal Expos still existed, Twitter had not yet been invented, and young Bartolo Colon hit a magnificent .133. On August 9th of 2002, Bartolo Colon had an epic day at the dish. Playing for the Montreal Expos (RIP), Colon come up to the plate in the top of the second inning with one out and nobody on. He was facing Ruben Quevedo, who pitched four big leagues seasons with a career ERA of 6.15. Ruben Quevedo, it should be noted, is listed at 6’1” and 257 pounds. Bartolo Colon probably wasn’t his full-figured 285 pounds back in 2002, but he could have been pushing 250, so there was likely 500 pounds of player squaring off in this at-bat. Colon came out on top, singling a ball into short left field. Brad Wilkerson followed with a walk, moving Colon to second (he eschewed the steal attempt). A rally was starting! Unfortunately, it ended quickly, with a pop-out by Jose Macias and a ground out to the right side by Jose Vidro, which was a preview of about 400 similar Jose Vidro at-bats with the Mariners during the last two years of his career.

In the third inning, Colon was at it again. With two outs and runners on second-and-third, Colon singled up the middle, driving in two runs (40% of his career RBI). Brad Wilkerson followed with a double and Colon made it all the way to third base (“Oxygen! We’re gonna need some oxygen here!”). Jose Macias then doubled him in and Colon had not only driven in two runs on the day, but also scored a run (25% of his career total). The excitement was almost too much for Colon. In his next two at-bats, he struck out swinging, but he had already made his mark with the bat that day.

Bartolo Colon does not have a discerning eye at the plate. He has come to bat 173 times in his career and has yet to take a walk. He’s a free swinger. He likes to take his hacks. Most of the time, he does not make contact, as his 51.4% strikeout rate can attest to. Even though he’s yet to walk in his big league career, Colon has earned first base by sacrificing his body on a hit by pitch. It was back in 2002, the peak of his hitting career, in a game against the Florida Marlins on July 28th. The pitcher was Julian Tavarez, who hit 15 batters that year, just 2 fewer than the league leader, Chan Ho Park. It was in the bottom of the 4th inning, with the Expos leading, 2-1. Colon came to the plate with two outs and runners on first-and-second and took one for the team on an 0-1 pitch, loading the bases for Brad Wilkerson. Unfortunately, Wilkerson grounded out to end the inning, so Colon’s bodily sacrifice went for naught.

Despite the 285 pounds of full-bodied force behind his swing, Bartolo Colon has not been much of a power hitter in his big league career. In fact, of his 12 career hits, just one went for extra bases. That extra base hit came in 2014, which brings me to my point. And here it is: last year, Bartolo Colon had 2 hits in 62 at-bats, struck out 33 times, never walked or was hit by a pitch, and scored 3 runs. How is this possible? How can a 285-pound player who has just 2 hits and no walks in the entire season manage to score 3 runs? I had to find out how Bartolo Colon accomplished this feat.

Colon’s first hit of the 2014 season came on June 18th. Coming into the game, Colon was 0 for his last 43, undoubtedly bitten by the BABIP bug. With the Mets losing 1-0 to the Cardinals, Bartolo Colon led off the top of the 6th inning with a double to deep left field off Lance Lynn. The next batter, Eric Young, Jr., doubled to deep right-center field and Colon chugged on home with his first run scored of the season and the second of his 17-year career. In his two other plate appearances, Colon laid down successful sacrifice bunts, making him 1 for 1 on the day with a run scored. That’s a batting average of 1.000 for those scoring at home.

In his next start, June 24th versus the A’s, Colon kept his hot hitting going. He laid down another successful sacrifice in his first at-bat, then singled to left field in his second at-bat of the game, making him officially 2 for his last 2. The man was hot! Unfortunately, his teammates let him down and he was unable to come around to score.

On July 5th, Colon utilized his speed to score his second run of the season. With no outs and Ruben Tejada on first, Colon tapped a weak grounder to third base, but Adrian Beltre’s throw to second was off the mark and Colon made it to first on the error. Curtis Granderson followed with a double to deep left field, scoring Tejada from second and allowing Colon to get to third base. Daniel Murphy followed with a single to left field, but Colon was obviously still catching his breath after going first to third on Granderson’s double, so he stayed on third and the bases were loaded (true story). David Wright then flew out to center field. In his younger days when he was full of passion and desire, Bartolo Colon may have tried to score. He’s older and wiser now, though, and chose to remain on third base, comfortable and cozy. When Bobby Abreu singled to right, Colon had no choice but to run home, as there were runners on all the bases behind him. And thus, Bartolo Colon had scored his second run of the season.

It would take another two months for Bartolo Colon to get a chance to score again. On September 5th versus the Reds, Colon came to the plate against Alfredo Simon with no outs and Wilmer Flores on second. Colon hit a ball to the shortstop, who appeared to tag Flores for the out. Upon further review (an instant replay challenge by Mets’ manager Terry Collins), it was ruled that the shortstop missed the tag and Flores was ruled safe at third, with Colon standing contentedly at first. Juan Lagares followed with a grounder to third, getting Flores thrown out at home but allowing Colon to meander down to second. After a strikeout from Matt den Dekker, David Wright hit a ground ball single into right field. Colon came motoring into third, eagerly looking at the third base coach for the windmill sending him home, but getting the hands-in-the-air stop sign instead. The bases were juiced for Lucas Duda. The count ran full and with two men already out, that meant Bartolo Colon would be running on the pitch, giving him a much better chance to score from third on a single, should there be one. Instead, Duda took ball four and Colon slowed to a trot, walking home with his third run scored of the season.

In 2014, Bartolo Colon had 2 hits, 0 walks, 0 HBP, and reached on error one time . . . and scored three runs. It was mighty impressive. Compare him to Mike Trout, who had 173 hits, 83 walks, 10 HBP, and reached on error 7 times, for a total of 273 times on base of his own accord, and only scored 115 runs.

When it comes to runs scored as a percentage of times on base, Mike Trout, good sir, you are no Bartolo Colon.


Fantasy: Three Undervalued Catchers

These three catchers are being woefully under-drafted in 2015 fantasy leagues:

Brian McCann

McCann was a trendy fantasy pick in 2014 as fantasy owners were feasting on his HR potential with the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium in play. He didn’t have a horrible season, finishing 7th among catchers in 5×5 fantasy leagues but he did underperform his draft position as many were expecting more from him.

As many players often do when switching leagues, McCann got off to a slow start, hitting just .239 with 10 HRs in 330 PAs. However, despite dealing with a foot injury that restricted him to 55 games in the second half of the season, McCann began to show off the power in his new venue. He reeled off 13 HRs in only 208 PAs the rest of the way.

Despite hitting for a lower average in the 2nd half, the underlying peripherals all look strong.

Split PAs SwStr% ISO HRs
1st Half 330 6.3% 0.138 10
2nd Half 208 5.1% 0.232 13

He’s being drafted as the 5th catcher off the board with an overall ADP of 108 in the highly competitive, high-stakes NFBC leagues. These are leagues that require two catchers so position scarcity is an important factor.

On the per-600-PA Steamer Projections, McCann is rated 2nd best catcher, and 69th best 5×5 hitter overall with a .251, 24 HR, 62 R, 70 RBI, 1 SB projection well ahead of the four catchers getting drafted in front of him Jonathan Lucroy (91st Steamer-600 5x5 hitter), Devin Mesoraco (112th), and Yan Gomes (117th).

The opportunity to use McCann as designated hitter – he got 13 starts at DH last year – helps ensure extra plate appearances over his NL counterparts. If he’s hitting, Girardi will keep his bat in the lineup anyway he can. He even managed to grab 11 starts at first base last year.

As the hype on McCann has cooled this year, it might be the right time to move in and take him.

Russell Martin

Martin has hit double digit home runs in 7 out of his 9 seasons in the big leagues and has also been a decent bet for a surprise half-dozen stolen bases. His move back to the American League also opens up some designated hitter opportunities.

His 2015 Steamer line of .242, 16 HR, 61 R, 59 RBI, 6 SB doesn’t quite stand to McCann’s projections, but based on where he’s getting drafted, Martin could end up providing more net value. The noise around him has been quiet as he’s the 11th catcher being taken, an absurd 171 ADP. Martin projects better 5×5 production than several guys being taken higher; Lucroy, Mesoraco, and Gomes just to name a few.

A key factor in his value this year will be a change in venue. Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is graded as the worst in the league for right-handed power. He will flip to the other end of the curve as Toronto’s Rogers Centre rates as the 4th best for right-handers to hit home runs in.

Fly ball distance has remained an impressive 292 feet for Martin over the last two seasons and at 31 he’s in the prime years for major league catchers. There is a lot to like here and Martin has a good chance at being a top-5 catcher this year.

Carlos Ruiz

Seeing a theme here? The old, boring catchers continue to slide down draft boards in favor of young upstarts who haven’t proven much yet.

Ruiz is being drafted as the 25th catcher, 341 ADP overall but he probably deserves consideration in the 15-20 range. In a two catcher league you could do a lot worse than adding this reliable veteran. Steamer expects him to out-produce Miguel Montero (15th C/207 Overall ADP), Derek Norris (17th/231), Dioner Navarro (19th/282), Tyler Flowers (20th/299), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (21st/302), John Jaso (22nd/309), and Kurt Suzuki (24th/328)

The key to Ruiz value is that he will churn out valuable batting average that few bottom-tier catchers can. Reliable plate appearances to accumulate the counting stats are also very important. At that point in the draft it’s often difficult to find catchers who can give you PA’s and a healthy batting average but Ruiz should do that this year. Over his 8 year career as a full-time catcher, Ruiz has average 411 PAs per season and showed no signs of slowing down last year with 445.

The key to Ruiz getting PAs is that the Phillies really have no youngsters to push him for playing time. As long as they are paying him, they are going to be playing him. The only interesting prospect you might want to handcuff him to is Tommy Joseph, who the Phillies acquired in the Hunter Pence trade a few years ago. However, Joseph is probably a late-season proposition at best.

A trade to another team is always a possibility, but Ruiz is still a good enough player that nobody is going to trade assets and pay his $8.5 million for him to sit on the bench.


Analyzing the FanGraphs Early Mock Draft from an Outsider’s Point of View – RPs 1-30

The following is a look at the first 30 relief pitchers taken in the FanGraphs Early Mock Draft, with a comparison to their rankings based on 2015 Steamer projections.

Relief Pitchers: 1-10

Relief pitchers started being drafted slowly, with Craig Kimbrel being the first taken towards the end of the 4th round, followed three picks later by Aroldis Chapman. There was a bit of a gap until Greg Holland was taken in the 6th round, then another bit of a gap until reliever started going quickly. Six relievers were taken over thirteen picks in rounds 7 and 8.

The table below shows the first 10 relief pitchers drafted in this mock, along with their Steamer rank and the difference between their Steamer rank and the spot they were drafted. Pitchers with a positive difference were taken higher than their Steamer projection would suggest. Those with a negative difference were taken later than Steamer would have expected.

FanGraphs Mock Draft RPs 1-10 vs Steamer Rankings
PCK RND $$ RP-Rnk NAME Steamer Rank Difference
46 4 $23 1 Craig Kimbrel 2 1
49 5 $28 2 Aroldis Chapman 1 -1
71 6 $19 3 Greg Holland 4 1
82 7 $20 4 Kenley Jansen 3 -1
83 7 $13 5 David Robertson 10 5
85 8 $13 6 Trevor Rosenthal 11 5
92 8 $11 7 Dellin Betances 16 9
93 8 $17 8 Sean Doolittle 5 -3
94 8 $14 9 Mark Melancon 9 0
126 11 $5 10 Zach Britton 26 16

 

Based on Steamer projections, Chapman and Kimbrel are ahead of the pack, then there is a large group of reliever that could easily move up or down the rankings based on a few saves here, a slightly higher or lower ERA/WHIP there, and small adjustments to their strikeout numbers.

In this grouping, Dellin Betances is ranked 16th by Steamer, mainly because he is projected for only 23 saves as we don’t yet know what the Yankees will do with both Betances and Andrew Miller at the back-end of their bullpen. With more saves, he moves up.

The big overshoot here appears to be Zach Britton, ranked 26th by Steamer among relievers thanks to a pedestrian 3.21 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and sub-par 7.7 K/9. Britton is projected for 34 saves. Last year, he had 37 saves even though he didn’t get his first one until May 15th. As a team, the Orioles had 53 saves, tied for third in all of baseball. They were tops in MLB in saves in 2013 and second in 2012. If they continue to get saves at that pace, Britton should easily beat that projection.

Relief Pitchers: 11-20

The next 10 relief pitchers were taken over rounds 12 through 15. Here’s the chart:

FanGraphs Mock Draft RPs 11-20 vs Steamer Rankings
PCK RND $$ RP-Rnk NAME Steamer Rank Difference
140 12 $11 11 Cody Allen 13 2
152 13 $5 12 Huston Street 25 13
154 13 $17 13 Koji Uehara 6 -7
156 13 $1 14 Steve Cishek 14 0
157 14 -$3 15 Francisco Rodriguez 65 50
158 14 $6 16 Drew Storen 24 8
161 14 $8 17 Fernando Rodney 19 2
165 14 $12 18 Glen Perkins 12 -6
175 15 $6 19 Jonathan Papelbon 23 4
178 15 $15 20 Joaquin Benoit 7 -13

 

Based on Steamer projections, Joaquin Benoit looks like a bargain, as he was taken 20th but is ranked 7th. The risk with Benoit is a potential trade during the season. He’s in the final year of a 2-year contract (with a club option for 2016) and Padres’ GM A.J. Preller is not shy about making trades. If the Padres aren’t in contention come June or July, Benoit could be shipped out.

Koji Uehara and Glen Perkins were also taken a bit later than Steamer would suggest. Uehara will be 40 years old and has a career-high of 26 saves (last season). Perkins may not get many save opportunities with the Twins this year because of their last-place projection for the AL Central. With these two relievers, it’s perhaps not surprising to see them both drop a bit.

Francisco Rodriguez had 44 saves last year but has not found a team to play on in 2015. Despite that, he was the 15th reliever drafted, taken ahead of guys with set jobs like Storen, Rodney, Perkins, and Papelbon.

Relief Pitchers: 21-30

FanGraphs Mock Draft RPs 21-30 vs Steamer Rankings
PCK RND $$ RP-Rnk NAME Steamer Rank Difference
192 16 $9 21 Brett Cecil 17 -4
196 17 $8 22 Addison Reed 21 -1
198 17 $3 23 Santiago Casilla 30 7
201 17 $8 24 Hector Rondon 20 -4
222 19 $15 25 Jake McGee 8 -17
230 20 $1 26 Jonathan Broxton 37 11
232 20 $1 27 Neftali Feliz 35 8
234 20 $1 28 Joe Nathan 34 6
238 20 $9 29 Brad Boxberger 18 -11
239 20 $2 30 Jenrry Mejia 31 1

 

Jonathan Broxton looks like an overdraft here, but he is expected to be the Brewer’s closer at this point, so he could easily finish higher in the relief pitcher rankings than Steamer’s current projection of 37th.

Jake McGee (taken 25th, ranked 8th by Steamer) and Brad Boxberger (taken 29th, ranked 18th) are teammates in Tampa Bay. McGee finished last season as the Ray’s closer but had surgery in December to remove loose bodies from his shoulder. He is expected to miss at least the first month, which may allow Brad Boxberger (14.5 K/9 in 2014) to get some early-season saves, although veteran Grant Balfour is still in the mix. If one of them gets off to a good start, McGee may go back to a setup role.

Relievers in the Steamer’s Top 30 who were not drafted among the top thirty relievers drafted in this mock:

Andrew Miller (15th)

Wade Davis (22nd)

Hunter Strickland (27th)

Jason Grilli (28th)

Ken Giles (29th)

The chart below shows each owner’s reliever picks.

Owner Reliever Pick # Round RP-rnk Stmr-Rnk Difference
Blue Sox David Robertson 83 7 5 10 5
Blue Sox Drew Storen 158 14 16 24 8
Blue Sox Jonathan Broxton 230 20 26 37 11
ColinZarzycki Hector Rondon 201 17 24 20 -4
ColinZarzycki Neftali Feliz 232 20 27 35 8
cwik Huston Street 152 13 12 25 13
cwik Fernando Rodney 161 14 17 19 2
DanSchwartz Aroldis Chapman 49 5 2 1 -1
DanSchwartz Brett Cecil 192 16 21 17 -4
enosarris Sean Doolittle 93 8 8 5 -3
enosarris Glen Perkins 165 14 18 12 -6
enosarris Addison Reed 196 17 22 21 -1
jhicks Zach Britton 126 11 10 26 16
jhicks Santiago Casilla 198 17 23 30 7
jhicks Jake McGee 222 19 25 8 -17
Paul Sporer Dellin Betances 92 8 7 16 9
Paul Sporer Cody Allen 140 12 11 13 2
Pod Greg Holland 71 6 3 4 1
Pod Jenrry Mejia 239 20 30 31 1
Scott Spratt Jonathan Papelbon 175 15 19 23 4
Scott Spratt Joe Nathan 234 20 28 34 6
wiers Trevor Rosenthal 85 8 6 11 5
wiers Steve Cishek 156 13 14 14 0
wiers Francisco Rodriguez 157 14 15 65 50
wydiyd Kenley Jansen 82 7 4 3 -1
wydiyd Koji Uehara 154 13 13 6 -7
wydiyd Joaquin Benoit 178 15 20 7 -13
Zach Sanders Craig Kimbrel 46 4 1 2 1
Zach Sanders Mark Melancon 94 8 9 9 0
Zach Sanders Brad Boxberger 238 20 29 18 -11

 

  • Colin Zarzycki waited longest to take a closer, not drafting Hector Rondon until the 17th round, then adding Neftali Feliz in the 20th.
  • Zach Sanders, on the other hand, took a couple of top relievers in round 4 (Kimbrel) and 8 (Melancon), then added a guy with potential in the 20th (Boxberger).
  • Steamer most likes the reliever picks of wydiyd. Kenley Jansen was the 4th reliever taken (ranked 3rd by Steamer), Koji Uehara was 13th (ranked 6th by Steamer), and Joaquin Benoit was taken 20th (ranked 7th by Steamer).

What Can We Learn from the 1959 Chicago White Sox?

The terms “scouting” and “player development” are so frequently seen together that they should probably just get a room. It is axiomatic in today’s game that S&PD is the best, and perhaps only sustainable, route to baseball success.  This seems particularly true for the so-called small-market teams who are far too cash-poor to fish in Lake Boras. Which makes the recent antics of A.J. Preller (and the slightly less recent antics of Alex Anthopolous – see #12 and 13) so surprising. These are teams that play in the shadow of giants – figuratively in the Blue Jays’ case and both figuratively and literally for the Pads. If any teams should be S&PD-ing, its these, yet sweeping trades indicate that the two franchises have been less than fully successful at filling their major league roster holes with home-grown talent.

However difficult it is to be a GM in today’s AL East or NL West, few GMs have labored in a more unforgiving environment than those damned souls condemned to compete in the AL in the late 50s and early 60s, during the last of the pre-division-era Yankees dynasties. From 1947 through 1964 the Evil Empire missed the World Series just three times: in 1948 (Indians), 1954 (Indians), and 1959 (White Sox). Of these three, the 1959 “Go-Go” Sox have always stood out as the least probable Yankee-killers.

In an era when offense and power were essentially considered synonyms, the 1959 White Sox hit just 97 homers, not just last in the AL, but last in the majors. It took just four Indians to reach that total in 1948 (Gordon, Keltner, Boudreau, and Eddie Robinson). Yes, the 1959 Sox had three Hall-of-Famers (Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, and Early Wynn), but only one (Fox) was arguably in his prime.

All this said, the 1959 White Sox did a lot of things well. They got on base at a .327 clip, 3rd best in the AL. They stole 113 bases, leading the league, and totaling almost as many as the next two teams combined. They led the league in ERA (3.29), though the advanced metrics were less impressed with this staff. And they defended. Oh, did they defend.  They led the majors in Total Zone, and only the Spiders were even close. The White Sox had four of the top ten players in the majors, as rated by FanGraphs’ Def stat. And they were the four guys in the middle of the diamond (catcher Sherm Lollar, Fox at second, Aparicio at short, and Jim Landis in center).

So far, so small market. But of the 15 players with a WAR of least 1.0, just three were home-grown (Aparicio, Landis, and backup catcher Johnny Romano). Aparicio would end up in the Hall, and both Landis and Romano would have respectable careers (just over 20 WAR each), though Romano would spend most of his career with the Indians. The rest of the 1+ WAR players on the 1959 team were acquired by trade, with the exception of three aging but effective relievers, two of whom were signed off of waivers and one of whom was purchased.

And these were no ordinary trades. Let’s look at a couple of the more significant ones (many of these were multi-player deals – I’m focusing on the most significant players going each way):

Sox acquire Nellie Fox from the Philadelphia A’s for C  Joe Tipton in 1949.

Fox was just 21 in 1949, and his 300 or so plate appearances to that point had produced nothing of note, except one interesting harbinger of things to come: 34 career walks against just nine strikeouts. Fox would finish with 719 walks  and just 216 Ks in a career spanning over 10,000 plate appearances. No player with that many PAs has struck out less often.

As for Joe Tipton, you can admit you’ve never heard of him – you’re among friends here. Tipton spent one miserable year with the White Sox as a punchless 27 year old backup catcher before being sent to the city where it’s always sunny. He would develop into a useful backup bat, and amass a career war of 5.4. Fox had a WAR of 6.0 in 1959 alone.

Sox acquire Sherm Lollar from the St. Louis Browns for OF Jungle Jim Rivera and assorted Cracker Jack prizes in 1951.

Lollar was a bit of a late bloomer, with both the Yankees and Browns giving up on him before he found a home on the South Side at age 27, where he would be named to the all-star team six times.  This was probably a little generous, but he was a durable contributor at a position not normally associated with “durable” or “offense.” Rivera, for his part, would go on to a modest career WAR of 6.9. Even better, the Browns traded him back to the South Side the following year, where he would remain for the rest of his career.

Sox acquire Early Wynn from the Cleveland Indians for LF Minnie Minoso in 1957.

An exchange of one Hall-of-Famer for anoth- oops! Sorry about that. At age 37, Wynn looked like he might be done, with his ERA jumping from 2.72 in 1956 to 4.31 in 1957.  He was still durable, though (263 IP), so the Sox decided to get him in exchange for their star left fielder whose power had seemingly collapsed (sliding from 24 homers to 12 in the same two years). This one didn’t work out quite as well for the Sox, who got 6.5 WAR from Wynn in 1958-59, while a resurgent Minoso clobbered the ball to the tune of a 10.5 WAR for the Spiders. Wynn was nevertheless the Sox clear ace in 1959, going 22-10 with a 3.17 ERA (3.66 FIP) and leading the league with 255 IP. Minoso would return to the Sox in 1960, and he still had a couple of good years left, but he would never get that World Series ring.

Sox acquire P Bob Shaw from the Detroit Tigers for OF Tito Francona in 1958.

Shaw was the Sox’s second-best pitcher in 1959, behind only Early Wynn. He was 18-6 with a 2.69 ERA (though his FIP, at 3.36, was less kind). His career looks a little like Ervin Santana’s – basically a slightly above average pitcher with wild year-to-year ERA swings. The Sox would deal him just three years later, and he would pitch for seven different teams in his 11-year career, but he came through for the Sox when it counted most. Tito (whose real name is John Patsy Francona) had a forgettable year in a part-time role in Detroit, but showed the on-base skill that would propel him to three superb years in Cleveland before lapsing back into a bench role, albeit a long and fairly productive one, for the remainder of his career.

There were several other trades that went into building the 1959 Sox, but you get the idea. And it wasn’t just this year – the wheeling and dealing continued from 1957 through 1965, during which time the Sox would finish worse than second just three times. It was the White Sox’s misfortune that their dominance of the AL West ended four years before the division was created.

While the White Sox weren’t especially adept at developing players, they were extremely adept at finding them, and this is where scouting comes in. The Sox appear to have been very good at scouting both other teams’ rosters and their own. The only whiff in the transactions above involved Minoso, a player who was not quite done tormenting baseballs, and even in that trade the Sox received a very effective starter. This is what scouting without player development looks like. And it’s not bad if, you know, you like that sort of thing.

There are obviously only so many lessons today’s front offices can learn from those of yesteryear. While the Sox’ strategy may bear some superficial similarity to A.J. Preller’s, the Sox were able to ruthlessly exploit the reserve clause to pay quality veterans vastly less than any reasonable conception of their market value. Trading for veterans was a lot less costly back then. And while Preller was perhaps unimpressed with prospects he traded away, it is safe to say that he benefited to some extent from the Padres’ previous player development machine, in the sense that other teams were impressed enough with the young Padres (what do you call Padres prospects? los hijos?) to take them off A.J.’s hands.

But the broader point, as suggested by a commenter on my previous post, is that not every successful team has achieved that success by following whatever the then-current orthodoxy prescribes. Small market teams may be better off thinking outside the box than getting spent to death in it.


Vegas vs. Steamer

Apparently, there’s a big game in another popular American sport coming up in a couple weeks and many fans of this other sport head to Vegas this time of year to lay down a proposition or two on this big game. Actually, big game doesn’t really do it justice. It’s more like a great game or a fantastic game or maybe even a . . . super game (so as to not be sued for violating any trademarks or licensing agreements, I will leave it at that).

If you’re a baseball fan and you happen to be in Vegas laying down some moolah on this . . . super game . . . you might want to consider throwing a few Benjamins on your favorite baseball team. The most-recent Las Vegas odds to win the World Series are out and there could be some money to be made here. Caveat: I’ve never bet on baseball, nor have I ever been to Vegas, but I would like to go someday because I’m a big fan of The Blue Man Group. I did win $175 on a $5 bet on number 11 the first time I ever played roulette, so I’m not a total novice when it comes to gambling.

Anyway, using the Vegas odds of winning the World Series and the Steamer projected Standings, there are some strong plays on the board. Let’s look at each division, in chart form, starting with the NL West:

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

Odds Team W L W% RDif RS/G RA/G
13 to 2 Dodgers 91 71 .561 84 4.01 3.50
20 to 1 Giants 83 79 .513 17 3.79 3.69
25 to 1 Padres 79 83 .487 -18 3.76 3.87
120 to 1 Rockies 77 85 .474 -42 4.50 4.76
120 to 1 Diamondbacks 74 88 .454 -66 3.80 4.21

 

It’s interesting that Vegas is really excited about the Padres, at least compared to the Rockies and Diamondbacks, who don’t project to be that much worse but who face significantly longer odds. With the Giants’ recent success, they are probably the best play here. Even if you don’t think they can beat out the Dodgers for the division, they’ve proven that they can make a run if they get into the playoffs as a wild card team. Of course, this is an odd-numbered year, so you might want to save your money and look elsewhere.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Odds Team W L W% RDif RS/G RA/G
14 to 1 Cardinals 86 76 .533 46 4.02 3.74
30 to 1 Pirates 85 77 .527 38 4.06 3.82
14 to 1 Cubs 84 78 .517 24 4.10 3.95
60 to 1 Brewers 76 86 .468 -47 3.99 4.28
70 to 1 Reds 76 86 .468 -46 3.76 4.04

 

The play here is the Pittsburgh Pirates. They are projected to be just a game off the division lead, but with odds at 30 to 1. In a world full of parity, every team in baseball would have a .500 record and 30 to 1 odds and there would be no supermodels. That would be a sad, sad, world. In this world, the Pirates are projected to be better than .500 and should have better odds than 30 to 1. Meanwhile, Vegas is excited about the Cubs, giving them 14 to 1 odds (they opened at 45 to 1). Some of you may remember that in Back to the Future, the Cubs won the 2015 World Series (in a 5-game sweep over Miami) after starting the year with 100 to 1 odds. This could be the Cubs’ year, McFly!

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Odds Team W L W% RDif RS/G RA/G
5 to 1 Nationals 91 71 .561 86 4.19 3.65
30 to 1 Marlins 81 81 .500 0 3.93 3.93
25 to 1 Mets 78 84 .482 -24 3.77 3.92
60 to 1 Braves 71 91 .439 -85 3.58 4.11
300 to 1 Phillies 68 94 .421 -112 3.53 4.22

 

There aren’t any real good plays here. As good as the Nationals look now, especially after acquiring Max Scherzer, it would be foolish to put any money on a major league team at 5 to 1 odds to win the World Series. There’s just too much unpredictability come playoff time. None of the teams in this division have appealing odds, unless your name is Lloyd Christmas, in which case you have to jump all over the Phillies at 300 to 1 (“So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”).

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Odds Team W L W% RDif RS/G RA/G
14 to 1 Red Sox 88 74 .546 70 4.67 4.24
30 to 1 Blue Jays 84 78 .516 24 4.49 4.34
75 to 1 Rays 83 79 .511 16 4.00 3.90
25 to 1 Yankees 82 80 .508 11 4.14 4.07
20 to 1 Orioles 79 83 .485 -23 4.23 4.37

 

There’s no love for the Tampa Bay Rays in Vegas, with odds of 75 to 1 in what still looks like a tight division. The Rays opened at 35 to 1. Apparently, Las Vegas does not like their recent moves. Based on Steamer projections, the Rays look like your best longshot option of any team in baseball.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Odds Team W L W% RDif RS/G RA/G
20 to 1 Tigers 85 77 .526 39 4.42 4.17
25 to 1 Indians 84 78 .521 30 4.15 3.97
25 to 1 Royals 81 81 .498 -2 4.06 4.08
20 to 1 White Sox 77 85 .478 -32 4.11 4.31
100 to 1 Twins 76 86 .467 -50 4.13 4.44

 

No team jumps out here, but if I had to pick one, I’d take the Indians at 25 to 1. They look to be right there with the Tigers to win the division, but with slightly worse odds, so you’d get a bigger payout if they went all the way.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Odds Team W L W% RDif RS/G RA/G
14 to 1 Mariners 89 73 .547 68 4.20 3.79
60 to 1 Athletics 84 78 .519 28 4.20 4.02
10 to 1 Angels 84 78 .517 25 4.28 4.13
50 to 1 Rangers 78 84 .483 -26 4.29 4.45
60 to 1 Astros 77 85 .477 -34 4.18 4.39

 

I guess when you lose Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester, and Derek Norris, your odds to win the World Series should get worse, but 60 to 1, really? Steamer still has Oakland in the mix for the AL Wild Card and just 5 games back of the Mariners for the division.

Here is a look at the teams in each league who are projected to be in contention, along with their Vegas odds:

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Odds Team W L W%
5 to 1 Nationals 91 71 .561
13 to 2 Dodgers 91 71 .561
14 to 1 Cardinals 86 76 .533
30 to 1 Pirates 85 77 .527
14 to 1 Cubs 84 78 .517
20 to 1 Giants 83 79 .513
30 to 1 Marlins 81 81 .500

 

The Pirates have worse odds than the Padres and Mets, neither of whom are projected to contend for the Wild Card or even finish .500. Aye, this be the National League team you should wager your doubloons on and win some booty!

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Odds Team W L W%
14 to 1 Mariners 89 73 .547
14 to 1 Red Sox 88 74 .546
20 to 1 Tigers 85 77 .526
25 to 1 Indians 84 78 .521
60 to 1 Athletics 84 78 .519
10 to 1 Angels 84 78 .517
30 to 1 Blue Jays 84 78 .516
75 to 1 Rays 83 79 .511
25 to 1 Yankees 82 80 .508
25 to 1 Royals 81 81 .498

 

In the American League, your best options are the Athletics and Rays, and possibly the Blue Jays. The A’s are right in the mix for the wild card, yet have the same odds as the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves. The Rays are projected to be nearly as good as the A’s and have even worse odds, better than only four teams in all of baseball—the Phillies, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Twins. The Blue Jays don’t look to be as good a play as the A’s and Rays but, like the Pirates, they have longer odds than other similarly competitive teams.

So, if you’re down in Vegas wagering on that super game coming up on the 1st of February, think about putting some money down on the A’s and don’t forget to see The Blue Man Group.


Making Sense of a Strasburg-for-Betts Trade

Now that the Washington Nationals signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year deal, they have an open opportunity to make a blockbuster trade involving one of their aces. The Nationals for all intents and purposes have two aces, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. The idea is that since they’ve acquired a third ace one of these two pitchers will become available in a trade. Zimmermann is on the final year of his contract so he was always available. Strasburg however has only recently became available, as several reports have suggested, due to the signing of Scherzer.

There are very few teams who could potentially create a package attractive enough to the Nationals, for them to trade Strasburg. One of them is the Boston Red Sox and there seems to be an ideal fit. The Red Sox have a glut of outfielders but one of them can also play second base. He’s also young, cheap, and was a highly-touted prospect. By this time you’ve probably guessed that the player is Mookie Betts. The Nationals need a second baseman and while they have Yunel Escobar and Danny Espinosa, Betts is probably a better player already than both of them and he’s younger and cost efficient.

The Red Sox are in need of a front-of-the-line starting pitcher. They’ve added several pitchers this off-season (Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson) but none of them would be described as an ace. Clay Buchholz certainly has the potential of being an ace but he’s never pitched 200 innings and has always dealt with a bunch of injuries. Combine that with the fact that he had the worst season of his career last season, posting a 5.34 ERA, the Red Sox simply cannot bank on him being a reliable front-of-the-rotation starter. Then there’s Joe Kelly who is questionably a viable starting pitcher. Many people have argued that he belongs in the bullpen. He’s also never thrown more than 200 innings; as a matter of fact the most innings he’s pitched in a season is 124 in 2013.

Strasburg last year threw 210 innings all the while keeping his K/9 above ten (10.13). He also had the lowest walk rate of his career, at 1.8 BB/9. It was essentially the best year of his career and at the age of 26 he is entering his prime. The Red Sox are currently in a win-now mode. They’ve also acquired Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, this offseason, to beef up the offense, essentially making it one of the best in baseball. The Red Sox have a glut of quality position players with Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, and Brock Holt who can all potentially claim that they deserve significant playing time and at this point there simply is not enough room for them on the Red Sox roster. The Nationals have a glut of quality starting pitchers with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, and Tanner Roark.

If the Red Sox trade Mookie Betts they could have a bunch of creative options for RF. They could try Victorino again in RF and hope he is healthy. In 2013, when Victorino was healthy, he was one of the best players on the Red Sox, with a 119 wRC+ and a 5.6 fWAR. If that doesn’t work out and Victorino can’t stay healthy, then the Red Sox could always have a platoon of Allen Craig and Daniel Nava. Nava had a career year in 2013, with a 128 wRC+, but he came back down to Earth in 2014 with a 100 wRC+. Nava though was still excellent against righties, even in a down year, posting a .372 OBP and 118 wRC+. If the Red Sox don’t let him hit against lefties Nava should provide considerable value offensively. As for Craig, he had the worst year of his career last season but he had a low BABIP and traditionally has been great against lefties in his career, notching a 130 wRC+. Combining this platoon the Red Sox would probably have above-average offensive production out of RF. Even if they don’t the rest of the lineup is plenty good enough to carry the load.

If the Nationals lose Strasburg, well, they have Scherzer, who has been one of the best pitchers in the game over the past 3 years plus he will be going to the National League, which is an easier environment to pitch in than the American League, as there is no DH. They also have Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Fister and Roark who all, apart from Gonzalez, had an ERA under 3, and it’s not like Gonzalez had a bad ERA as his was 3.57.

There probably would be a lot more moving parts in a deal of this magnitude and I’m still not 100% sure this deal would be beneficial for the Red Sox. Betts is only 22 and while almost every rookie last year struggled, Betts had a 130 wRC+ in 213 AB. He also rated somewhat favorably when playing the outfield, with 3 DRS. The sample size is small for the outfield but Betts seemed to be able to handle his own out there and if he hits the way he did, he could prove to be a franchise player for many years to come. Betts also does not have a history of injury, while Strasburg had Tommy John in his rookie year; another one could prove to be fatal to his career. Betts is also under team control for a much longer time, while Strasburg has already hit his arbitration years; he is therefore more expensive than Betts, and is set to hit free agency in 2017.

The deal may and probably will never happen but it is fun to fantasize about a deal of this magnitude and all the moving parts in it. If both teams were to execute it, the Nationals would inevitably retain their status as favorites to win the NL and the Red Sox would become the favorites to win the AL. It would be a perfect blockbuster to end an offseason full of blockbuster trades.