Archive for December, 2008

Anaheim’s New Closer

Luck and a poor free agent economy paid off for the Angels as they managed to avoid being hamstrung to a long-term deal with Francisco Rodriguez put on the table early in the 2008 season and when the winter rolled around, the once boggling contracts for closers that were in vogue during the previous winter were now already out of style.

Rodriguez got considerably less from the Mets than he was hoping for and with few other teams bidding, the Angels have found their replacement in Brian Fuentes. According to Buster Olney, the contract is for two-years, totaling $17.5 million and comes with a $9 million option for 2011 that vests depending on 55 games finished, which is probably about a 50/50 shot.

Evaluating the deal on the premise that the option will vest leaves us with a three-year, $26.5 million and the Angels’ first round draft pick as the cost to Anaheim. This covers the age 33 through 35 seasons for Fuentes so there has to be some concern about age-related decline in the mix.

Fuentes rebounded last season to post a 3.25 xFIP. His more reported rates, FIP and ERA, were artifically low thanks to a unsustainable home run per fly ball ratio. All in all, 2009 projections for Fuentes are going to land between his 2007 and 2008 numbers, and look a lot like his 2006 season. We have a nice (but not so nifty) way of determining the value of relievers thanks to Tango (links here and here). Please refer back to Tango’s threads for the worhtwhile explanations and to point any mistakes that I am likely about to make.

Projecting pitchers is difficult and messy so I like to gather inputs from a variety of sources, much like on defense, to see if I can establish a reasonable consensus. Looking at Marcel, tRA and others and throwing in pixie dust for the NL to AL switch, I get a projection of 3.71 against a league average of 4.49. Plugging that into the winning percentage formula (reproduced below) leaves us with a .585 winning percentage. I looked at only RP when coming up with my league averages, so I need to deviate slightly from Tango’s stated 0.470 replacement level down to 0.451. Taking the difference between those two figures and multiplying by his projected playing time yields 0.92 wins.

Fuentes is going to be used as a closer, so his expected leverage is about 2. Chaining that (refer to the second of Tango’s links) adds a 50% bonus to his win total and we arrive finally at a 2009 projection of just under 1.4 wins. Knock off 10% for the security of the contract and for aging and over the brunt of the contract, it appears that the Angels are paying Fuentes at a rate of $7 million per win.

The contract initially looks like a bargain because of the numbers that were bandied about last winter and the start of this one, but the simple truth is that relievers have to be very, very good to warrant big salaries and while Fuentes was superb in 2008, he was average in 2007 and merely good in 2006.

The formula for computing a pitcher’s winning percentage:
A = (RA + leagRA) ^ 0.28
B = (leag RA / RA) ^ A
Win%= B / (B + 1)


Here We Go Again – Phillies & Mets

Since 2006, the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets have held fort atop the NL East. The Mets ended the Braves streak of 138 consecutive division titles three seasons ago, coming within one game of reaching the World Series. The following season, both the Mets and Phillies battled down to the wire, with the Phils winning the division on the final day of the season. Last season, both teams again battled into September, with the Phillies clinching the division right before the season ended. This time, they went on and actually won the World Series.

The offseason has proved to be very active for both Omar Minaya and Ruben Amaro, Jr, even though Minaya’s transactions have meant more to his team.

With the vast majority of last season’s squad returning, Amaro’s moves have primarily come in the form of little pieces here and there. He brought in Ronnie Paulino from the Pirates to challenge Chris Coste for the backup catcher spot. Scott Eyre and Jamie Moyer both re-signed. Chan Ho Park joined the team to either take on a similar role to that of Chad Durbin last season and/or battle for the fifth rotation spot. And Raul Ibanez, in a much-maligned deal by many, replaced Pat Burrell in left-field.

Minaya acquired Francisco Rodriguez, J.J. Putz, and Sean Green to sure up a bullpen that ultimately cost the Mets the division last season. The lineup will return, in tact, and Derek Lowe may even be added to the rotation. Minaya has made a 3-yr/$36 mil offer to Lowe, though I would bet my bottom dollar that Lowe eventually signs for closer to 3-yr/$45 mil.

How do these teams stack up in 2009? Even though the Marlins are young and offensively talented, and the Braves acquired a solid pitcher in Javier Vazquez, the Phillies and Mets are still the top two teams in the division. Does one have a projected advantage over the other? Let’s break the analysis down into different facets of each team. And, for the record, the projections I arrived at were derived from the results of several different systems, weighted and merged, not just one system.

LINEUP
Both the Phillies and Mets have very potent offensive lineups. Both are also quite solid defensively. Chase Utley, the best player on the Phillies, had surgery following the World Series and may or may not be available for opening day. In calculating these projections, I placed Utley at around 130 games and 520 PA. His offensive and defensive contributions are also lessened due to the likelihood that he will miss some time.

The Phillies starting lineup, not in Charlie Manuel’s exact order, will feature the following players: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pedro Feliz, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Carlos Ruiz. As poor as Howard looks with the glove sometimes, he has actually been eerily close to average over the last few seasons, and projects to just barely below average next season. If he is considered to be a league average first baseman with the glove, then only Raul Ibanez projects negatively on defense for the defending champions.

Likewise, the Mets only project to feature one negative defender: Carlos Delgado. Luis Castillo could prove to be a poor defender with his injury history, but I currently have both he and Daniel Murphy as league average defenders. The remaining starters—Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Ryan Church, and Brian Schneider—all project positively on the defensive front.

All told, the Phillies project to +80 runs offensively in their lineup and +40 runs defensively. After adjustments to value production above replacement level as well as for their positions, the lineup comes out at +26.0 WAR. The Mets offense projects to +93 runs while their defense clocks in at +19 runs. After the same adjustments are taken into account, their lineup proves to be worth +26.1 WAR. Eerily similar.

STARTING ROTATIONS
Yesterday we examined the Mets rotation under a few different scenarios regarding whether or not they sign Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, Randy Wolf, or Tim Redding. With an actual contract being presented to Lowe, and the likelihood that he will eventually sign, the Mets rotation should feature Johan Santana, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Derek Lowe, and Jonathan Niese. Assuming roughly 150 innings from Niese at a 4.45 FIP, this rotation projects to +14.3 WAR.

The Phillies will bring back Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. The fifth spot is going to be up for grabs between J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Carrasco, Chan Ho Park, and (gasp) Adam Eaton. As I mentioned yesterday, Happ is my pick to win the spot, which would place the Phillies rotation at +11.8 WAR. The teams may be virtually even in the starting lineup department, but the Mets have a +2.5 win advantage in the rotation.

BULLPEN
The Phillies re-signed Scott Eyre and brought in Chan Ho Park, leaving the rest of the relief corps in tact. Players like Gary Majewski and Dave Borkowski were invited to Spring Training, but would only take the spot of Clay Condrey if either were to make the team. Brad Lidge returns as the closer, with Ryan Madson setting him up. After these two, the Phillies will rely on J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, Eyre, Park, and Condrey. This bullpen projects to be worth +3.4 wins next season.

The Mets replaced Billy Wagner with Francisco Rodriguez; Aaron Heilman with J.J. Putz; and added a solid piece in Sean Green. These three will join the likes of Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez, Brian Stokes, and Bob Parnell to form a much more formidable bullpen. This relief corps looks like it could be worth +3.6 wins next season. Though this advantage over the Phillies is slight, the ‘pen was a major achilles heel for the Mets last season.

BENCH
Benches are tough to project, again given the small samples of playing time as well as the uncertainty surrounding who will fill certain spots. Assuming Paulino beats out Coste for the backup job, the Phillies will feature some combination of: Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, Geoff Jenkins, Eric Bruntlett, Ronnie Paulino, and Jason Donald. Donald may be the odd one out of this group. Dobbs is the best pinch-hitter in baseball but is still likely worth under one win next season. Without Donald, these five project to +1.5 WAR.

The Mets will have Fernando Tatis and Jeremy Reed on their bench, as well as Ramon Castro. After that, it does not seem that any backup infielders are on the roster, and the only other bench players that seem like viable candidates to make the team are Angel Pagan and Nicholas Evans. Their bench could range anywhere from +0.6 to +1.2 wins. We can call it +0.9 for now, though this will need to be updated before the season starts. The Phillies have over a half-win advantage here, but this is the only area where they come out on top.

TOTALS
For the Phillies, we are looking at +26 wins from the lineup, +11.8 from the rotation, +3.4 from the bullpen, and +1.5 from the bench. This adds up to +42.7 wins. Given that a team chock-full of replacement players would win 47-48 games, the Phillies are projected to win 89-90 games in 2009.

The Mets will get +26.1 wins from the lineup, +14.3 from the rotation featuring Lowe and the aforementioned Niese projection, +3.6 out of the ‘pen, and +0.9 from the bench. This adds up to +44.9 wins, which we will round up to +45 wins. Added to the replacement wins total, the Mets are projected to win 91-92 games next season.

Once again, the teams are extremely close, and 2009 should treat fans to another stellar battle between the Mets and Phillies.


Northsiders Make a Ton of Moves

The Cubs posted the National League’s best record in 2008, before being defeated in the playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite ongoing ownership issues, Jim Hendry and crew began the off-season looking to upgrade their team, and dominos appeared close to falling as the Cubs flirted with acquiring Jake Peavy. Weeks later, the tipping point has struck, as in the past two days the Cubs have traded Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis – the latter which is “done in principle” just unannounced – receiving in return three prospects and Luis Vizcaino, signed Aaron Miles, and seemingly reached an agreement with Milton Bradley. Oh, and they still seem interested in Peavy.

We’ll begin with the contract swap. Marquis is owed roughly 10 million next season, the final of his current dealt, while Vizcaino receives 3.5 million in 2009, and has a club option for 2010. Both teams motives are pretty clear; the Cubs wanted financial flexibility and to clear a starting pitcher logjam, the latter being something the Rockies could use.

Marquis had a so-so season in 2008. On one hand, his FIP did improve by 0.3 runs meanwhile Marquis strikeout and walk rates moved the wrong way, leading to a poor K/BB ratio. Marquis did allow fewer homeruns, yet are those the results from improved processes, or simply the product of homerun per flyball rates below his career norm? Hitters swung out of zone against Marquis more than in recent years despite nothing changing in his approach

Vizcaino continued having walk and homerun issues. As you can imagine, those two don’t mix well when placed within Coors Field. To his credit, Vizcaino did strike out quite a bit less season, and he was a victim of some BABIP bad luck. Vizcaino is somewhere between 4 and 4.5 FIP moving forward.

CHONE has Vizcaino worth ~0.2 WAR, and Marquis worth ~1 WAR. Marcels has Marquis closer to 2 WAR and Vizcaino again around ~0.2 WAR If you call the difference around ~1.3 WAR you’re talking about a difference of ~7 million, which coincidentally is almost exactly the difference in salary. The Cubs are trading from an excess with the intention of putting the difference towards a player superior to both, making this move understandable, if not perfect in return value.

The signing of Miles was simply a precursor to the DeRosa deal. The Cubs again are losing some value in their major league tradeoffs. Working with the assumption that Miles rarely (if ever) stands in at short, the Cubs are signing an average defender with a below average bat. Miles will be paid 2.2 million in 2009 and 2.7 in 2010, which is beyond questionable. 2008 was Miles first decent offensive season, driven by unsustainable BABIP and line drive totals. Once that regresses, Miles is an ordinary middle infielder. I won’t go as far as to say players like Reegie Corona and Ray Olmedo are better, but Miles simply isn’t worth an average of 2.5 million. That salary also assumes Miles will reach 0.5 WAR, something accomplished once in his career.

Plus where’s the need? Given Mike Fontenot’s placement on the roster and Ronny Cedeno sitting in purgatory, Miles offers nothing above those two. Even if Fontenot or Cedeno is part of a package for Jake Peavy, I’m still not sure the Cubs couldn’t have paid less and acquired the same level of talent as Miles, who also can’t play the outfield, something DeRosa brought to the table.

DeRosa has been a solid ~3-3.5 WAR player the past three seasons and could step in as the Indians starting second baseman, completing a left-ward shift of Tribe middle infielders – Jhonny Peralta to third and Asdrubal Cabrera to short – and is owed 5.5 million in the final year of his contract. The return on DeRosa consists of a package of minor league arms: Jeff Stevens, Chris Archer, and John Gaub. Stevens appears to be the closest to the majors, and could make his debut in the Cubs bullpen next season.

Finally, we reach the probable Milton Bradley signing. Since there’s a lack of concrete details out, we’ll assume this makes him the starting right fielder and not in center. This leaves Reed Johnson and Kosuke Fukudome (along with Joey Gathright) fighting for the center field job. The biggest concern about Bradley is his durability and volatile nature. Expecting 100+ games from Bradley in the field seems a bit reckless. We’ll wait on the contract details before providing further analysis, but one things for sure: the Cubs are becoming aggressive.


Win Values Explained: Part Five

For the last couple of days, we’ve been talking about the different components of the Win Value system. However, you may have noticed that we’ve been dealing entirely in runs. wRAA, UZR, the position adjustment, and replacement level are all expressed in terms of runs, not wins, and that’s why the sum of those numbers is categorized under Value Runs.

So, if all of our metrics deal in terms of runs, but we want to get to wins, we need to know how many runs it takes to make a win. This is actually quite a bit easier than it sounds, thanks to the pythag formula for expected win-loss records. For those not aware of pythag, you can get a good estimate of a team’s winning percentage by dividing the square of runs scored by the sum of the square of runs scored and the square of runs allowed. Or, in formula terms:

RS^2/(RS^2 + RA^2) = Pythagorean Winning Percentage. So, if a team scored 775 runs and allowed 775 runs, they’d have a .500 Pythag Win%, or 81 wins and 81 losses – even amounts of runs scored and runs allowed should lead to something like an even record. Not as scary as it sounds.

What happens if we subtract 10 runs from the runs scored column, so that we now have a 765 RS/775 RA team? Pythag spits out a .4935 win%, and .4935 * 162 = 79.95 wins. So, instead of 81 wins, you’re now expected to win just barely less than 80. By subtracting 10 runs, you lost a fraction more than one win.

Same thing happens if you add 10 runs to the runs allowed column – 775/785 RS/RA spits out .4935 as well. How about if you add 10 runs, so we have a 785/775 team? .5064 win%, or 82.03 wins. Again, 10 runs added equals one win gained.

For an even more precise look at the issue, you could use the improved PythagenPat method, which places a better exponent in the calculation, but the conclusion is going to be the same; 10 runs = 1 win.

So, when you see value expressed in runs, but you want it in wins, just divide by 10. Likewise, if you see it in wins but you want it in runs, multiply by 10. It might sound like a cheap trick, but it’s reality – 10 runs add up to a win. A +20 run player is a +2 win player.


The Littlest Giants

The San Francisco Giants’ infield could be a very interesting place in 2009. Eric touched on the organization’s 25-man roster earlier this week so I am going to now take the opportunity to focus on the young players in the infield. The club will feature an entirely remade infield and young players will be front and center in the remodeling.

New shortstop Edgar Renteria will be the veteran stabilizing influence at the shortstop position. His OPS slumped to .699 in 2008, along with a wOBA of .308 (down from .381 in 2008). Renteria’s defence is also on the slide with a UZR in the past two seasons of -1.7 and 0.9.

The other middle infield spot is still up in the air – although the 2008-09 off-season is far from over. If the season were to begin tomorrow, a group of young players would have the opportunity to fight for playing time. Those players struggling for scraps of at-bats would include Eugenio Velez, Emmanuel Burriss and Kevin Frandsen.

Velez can fly like the wind, but he is best suited to a utility role and pinch runner. He hit .262 in 275 at-bats in 2008, while also posting a wOBA of .297. Just under 60 percent of his batted balls were hit on the ground so he understands how to take advantage of his speed. He just needs to walk more (4.8 BB% in 2008).

Burriss hit .283/.357/.329 with a .318 wOBA in 240 MLB at-bats in 2008. He also has speed and stole 13 bases in 18 attempts. He has played more shortstop in the minors but he was more impressive at the Major League level at second base. He has the highest ceiling of the young middle infielders.

Frandsen appeared all over the diamond in 2007 but missed most of 2008 with a torn Achilles’ tendon. He returned at the end of 2008 and appeared in the Arizona Fall League where he dominated with a line of .333/.392/.421 in 133 at-bats. After stealing 10 bases in 13 attempts, Frandsen even showed that his Achilles tendon was feeling better.

At third base, Pablo Sandoval likely has the inside shot at this point. The catcher-third baseman hit .345/.357/.490 with a wOBA of .361 in 145 MLB at-bats last season. He held his own in the field at third base and did not make an error in 85 innings.

Minor League free agent Jesus Guzman, signed out of the A’s organization, is a sleeper option for 2009 at third base. His defence is nothing to write home about but if he continues to hit, he’ll earn his shot. Currently this off-season in Venezuela, Guzman is dominating with a line of .349/.435/.616 in 232 at-bats. He also recently broke the winter league’s 35-year-old RBI record with his 67th of the season.

At first base, the Giants will have former Jays top prospect Josh Phelps in camp on a minor league deal. He held his own for the Yankees and Pirates in 2007 but was a victim of numbers despite a .306 batting average and seven homers in 157 at-bats. He hit .265 in 34 at-bats for the Cardinals in 2008 but was playing in an organization that really didn’t need a back-up first baseman very often.

John Bowker, 25, also has a shot at playing time at first base in 2008 after spending 71 games there in 2008. Defensively, he was nothing special with a RF/9 of 7.96. Offensively, Bowker batted .255/.300/.408 with a wOBA of .307 and an ISO of .153 in 326 at-bats.

Travis Ishikawa will battled Bowker for time from the left-handed batter’s box. The 25-year-old hit .274/.337/.432 with a wOBA of .337 in just 95 MLB at-bats in 2008. He had a very nice minor league season split between Double-A and Triple-A, after a putrid 2007 season. He needs to come out and have a hot start to the season to put the doubters’ whispers to rest.

All-in-all, the Giants organization likely will not receive above-average offensive or defensive production from the infield in 2009. But it should be interesting to watch and one or two of the players will likely stick around in San Francisco for a number of years to come.


Pitching the 2009 Mets

Omar Minaya made one of the first big offseason splashes when he signed Francisco Rodriguez to a 3-yr deal. K-Rod may be showing signs of decline, but with Billy Wagner on the shelf for most, if not all, of the season, the new single-season saves recordholder is a definite improvement over the likes of Luis Ayala and Aaron Heilman. Minaya then sent the aforementioned Heilman to the Mariners in a three team traded that netted the Mets two solid relievers: Sean Green and J.J. Putz.

His focus to date has been spent on the bullpen, which makes sense, given their struggles last season. Their starting rotation still has a spot or two to fill, though, and several players have been linked to the team.

Johan Santana, John Maine, and Mike Pelfrey will all be returning. After these three, several Mets bloggers believe that Jonathan Niese will win the final rotation spot. If not Niese, the Mets still have options in the forms of Brandon Knight and Nelson Figueroa. With 140 innings out of Niese, the current fearsome foursome may look like this next season:

Johan Santana     3.45 FIP     220 IP     +4.5 WAR
John Maine        4.35 FIP     180 IP     +2.1 WAR
Mike Pelfrey      4.08 FIP     185 IP     +2.8 WAR
Jonathan Niese    4.55 FIP     140 IP     +1.4 WAR

Before even adding the final piece to the puzzle that is their starting rotation, these four project to +10.8 wins. The four pitchers heavily linked to the Mets are: Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, Randy Wolf, and Tim Redding. Here are the projections for these four:

Derek Lowe       3.67 FIP     185 IP     +3.7 WAR
Randy Wolf       4.35 FIP     175 IP     +2.0 WAR
Oliver Perez     4.60 FIP     180 IP     +1.7 WAR
Tim Redding      4.77 FIP     159 IP     +1.3 WAR

With Lowe added to the mix, which may come to fruition very soon, the Mets rotation jumps from +10.8 wins to +14.5 wins. If you recall the post yesterday on the Giants’ chances of contending, their solid starting rotation projects to +15.4 wins. Adding Lowe places the Mets right in the thick of perhaps sporting the best rotation in the senior circuit.

Adding Wolf bumps them up to a respectable +12.8 wins; Perez shifts the rotation from +10.8 to +12.5; and Redding adds +1.3 wins to put the starters at +12.1 wins. If they were to sign Lowe and then resign Perez, Niese theoretically gets bumped and the rotation would project to +14.8 wins.

Essentially, if Niese can manage 140 innings with a 4.55 FIP, his value will be incredibly similar to that of Oliver Perez. Of course, nobody knows if Niese can produce these numbers, but adding Lowe while keeping him in the mix produces +14.5 wins; spending plenty of money on Perez, while signing Lowe, adds a mere +0.3 wins. Given that Perez will likely command a salary upwards of 20 times that of Niese, it makes more sense to give the kid a shot.

Regardless, signing Lowe to an average annual value of $15-16 mil makes sense. If he declines by a 0.7 wins each year, given his age, then he goes from +3.7 to +3.0 to +2.3 wins. If we assume a conservative 7.5% inflation rate, his fair market values in these years would be $18.5 mil, $16.5 mil, and $13.8 mil, respectively. Added together, that equates to 3-yrs/$49 mil. The contract reportedly on the table is for 3-yrs/$45-$48 mil.

The next question is: How does this rotation compare to the Phillies? The defending champs will bring back Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. The fifth spot will be up for grabs between J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Carrasco, Chan Ho Park, and Adam Eaton. My pick is Happ to win that contest, which would peg their rotation to be worth +11.8 wins.

If these projections hold true, and Niese can manage the aforementioned workload/production, then the Mets could realistically sign Redding and still have an equal rotation to the Phillies. Bringing aboard Perez and Wolf elevates them. Signing Lowe gives the Mets approximately a +2.5 win advantage in this department.

Minaya has done a good job in strengthening the ‘pen with the additions of K-Rod, Putz, and Green. Bringing Lowe to The Big Apple will further strengthen their rotation and, in my eyes, make them the team to beat in the NL East next season. It hurts me to say that, as a Phillies fan, but it will sure feel that way if Lowe signs.


Win Values Explained: Part Four

Okay, so, in the first three parts, we’ve covered Batting, Fielding, and Position Adjustments, and hopefully you’ve been able to see how we’re arriving at the values used for each component. By combining those three parts, you get runs above or below average. However, as I mentioned at the end of the last post, we don’t really know how much average costs, but we do know how much replacement level costs, so we prefer to value players above replacement, as that gives us a fixed baseline of $400,000 in salary – the league minimum.

For a great read on replacement level, check out this article by Sean Smith. In it, he uses his CHONE projections to figure out the offensive production that a team could expect from players not projected to be good enough to make a major league roster next year. These guys have fallen into that Four-A category, where they show more ability than your average Triple-A veteran but not enough to hold down a major league job. They’re usually available every winter as minor league free agents, via the Rule 5 draft, or as cheap trade acquisitions where a team can acquire one of these players without giving up any real talent in return.

As Sean showed in his article, and has been shown elsewhere, the expected value of a replacement level player is about negative 20 runs per 600 PA. Or, to phrase it a bit differently, if you lost a league average player and replaced him with a freely available guy, you’d lose about two wins. That’s why the replacement level calculation in our Win Value formula is 20/600*PA. If you get exactly 600 PA during a season, your replacement level adjustment will be +20 runs. If you get 700 PA, your replacement level adjustment will be +23.3 runs. The more you play, the higher the replacement level adjustment, because you’re filling a larger quantity of playing time and that chunk won’t need to be filled by anyone else.

The replacement level calculation serves to do two things in our calculations – adjust the scale so that the baseline value is $400,000 at zero wins, and rewards players who stay on the field. For instance, Chipper Jones was outstanding in ’08, posting a .446 wOBA and a +4.9 UZR. However, he only racked up 534 PA, so the Braves had to give approximately 66 PA to people who weren’t Chipper Jones. Therefore, Chipper’s replacement level adjustment is just 17.8 runs – we presume that the folks who filled in for him were about 2.2 runs below average in those 66 PA, and that comes out of Chipper’s replacement level adjustment. Players who stay healthy and can take the field everyday have value above and beyond their rate statistics, and scaling the replacement level adjustment to plate appearances rewards them for that extra value.

If you’re having a tough time visualizing what a replacement level player looks like, there’s probably not a better example in baseball than Willie Bloomquist. Over the last three years, he’s racked up 644 PA – just barely more than one season’s worth – and accumulated the following totals:

-16 batting, -3.8 fielding, +0.9 position adjustment = -18.9 runs below average. He’s not a very good hitter, but he can play a bunch of positions, run the bases okay, and doesn’t cost much. He is, essentially, the poster boy for replacement players. By adding in the replacement level adjustment, we’re simply adjusting from saying that Chase Utley is +58 runs above average to +78 runs above Willie Bloomquist. And, since we know that players of Bloomquist’s quality are available for $400,000, we can then value Utley’s performance based off that baseline.

So, that’s wRAA+UZR+Position+Replacement. It comes out as Value Runs, and tells you how many runs above a replacement level player each position player was. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the runs to wins conversion and the wins to dollars conversion.


Win Values Explained: Part Three

Continuing on with our series explaining win values, today, we get back to positional adjustments. We spent a lot of time talking about them the last few weeks, so if you haven’t read those articles, I’d suggest catching up first. A basic summary of the need for position adjustments follows below, for those who want a short version.

Since we started off with wRAA (which is offensive runs above or below league average) and UZR (which is defensive runs above or below league average at a specific position), we need to calibrate the scale to make up for the fact that some positions are significantly harder to play than others. It is much harder to find a +5 SS than it is to find a +5 2B, and we need to represent that in the Win Value system. That’s what the position adjustments are there for.

Traditionally, offensive position adjustments have been popular, which aligns the positions by adjusting on the basis of the difference in offensive runs. However, due to the variability in offensive performance from year to year, that can lead to miscalculations, such as believing that an NL 2B and an NL SS were equal in 2008 because they had the same batting line. Clearly, shortstops are better defenders than second baseman, and we have to reflect this in their value.

That’s why we prefer a defensive position adjustment. The position adjustment scale we use is as follows:

Catcher: +12.5 runs (all are per 162 defensive games)
First Base: -12.5 runs
Second Base: +2.5 runs
Third Base: +2.5 runs
Shortstop: +7.5 runs
Left Field: -7.5 runs
Center Field: +2.5 runs
Right Field: -7.5 runs
Designated Hitter: -17.5 runs

To read more about how these were arrived at, check out these threads at The Book blog.

The position adjustments are then scaled to match the games played at each position for a particular player. This way, players that spend time at multiple positions get a hybrid adjustment based on their playing time at the respective spots.

Once you add the wRAA, UZR, and position adjustment together, you have the sum of a player’s value above or below league average. If we used Chase Utley as an example, he gets 37.1 wRAA, 19.2 UZR, and 2.3 Position Adjustment for a total of +58.6 runs. In 2008, Chase Utley was 58.6 runs better than a league average player. If you want to start handing out credit for the World Series title in Philly, give him the most, because that’s outstanding.

However, now we have value above or below average, but what is average worth? Clearly, it’s worth more than zero, as teams pay significant cash for league average players every winter, and a team full of league average players would win 81 games and generate positive revenue for their franchise. But, in terms of dollar values, we don’t have a fixed baseline for what a league average player is paid.

However, you know what we do have a fixed baseline for? The league minimum player. MLB has set $400,000 as the least any player can get paid, so we know that a player who is completely replaceable is worth $400,000. That makes replacement level a good target to calculate value off of. So, this afternoon, we’ll talk about replacement level and how that is defined.


Barrett Back to Canada

One sunny afternoon not long ago, Michael Barrett punched his way into baseball culture while paying homage to legends of the past like Ty Cobb and John McGraw. Two seasons removed, Barrett has joined his second new organization since the beginning of 2007, and for the first time in quite a while, Barrett’s checks will total less than one million dollars. Barrett can thank elbow and nose injuries for that.

In December of 2003, the Montreal Expos traded to the Oakland Athletics, who then traded him to the Chicago Cubs, who then non-tendered Barrett a week later, and re-signed him later that day. That is quite a whirlwind of transactions, but alas, the Cubs would reap the reward, seeing Barrett produce three consecutive seasons with on base plus slugging percentages over .820. In 2007, Barrett would get off to a slow start and feuded with starter Carlos Zambrano, leading to a trade with the San Diego Padres.

One-and-a-half injury riddled seasons later; Barrett signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. It is interesting to note Barrett’s steady decline in plate appearances. The peak of appearances coming in 2004 at 506 – his first season with the Cubs – and dropping to 477, then 418, then 367, and a lowly 107 last season, that’s nothing if not consistent. Not too much can be taken from that outside of noting the injuries that have lead to a decline, including a concussion and intrascrotal hematoma. For those unfamiliar with the latter, I strongly urge against researching it. Trust me on this one.

When Barrett has played recently, he has faced bad luck on batted balls, with BABIPs of .270 (2007) and .224 (2008), both are below his career average (.282), and generally unlucky given the amount of liner drives hit. Barrett’s plate approach has become more aggressive since 2005, swinging at an increasing number of pitches outside of the strike zone, while still making similar amounts of contact overall. With only 22% of attempted thieves caught, and a couple of double-digit passed ball seasons, Barrett is not known as a good defender behind the dish. If the Jays do call on him, it will be as a back up to Rod Barajas and a replacement to Gregg Zaun.

Interestingly Zaun and Barrett have seen the same number of attempted steals, but Zaun has caught nearly 30 more. As a straight replacement for Zaun, Barrett would seem capable of giving 300 plate appearances of near league average offense. If nothing else, the Jays can always turn to youngster Curtis Thigpen, who had a down 2008 in the minors, OPSing .577 and throwing out 16% of baserunners. Neither of which screams Thigpen’s readiness.

The Jays agent of choice this off-season has been an infirmary clerk, first adding Matt Clement and now Barrett. Undermining their low-risks, medium reward moves would be a mistake, but at the same time you have to wonder if the Jays will make a run at one of the designated hitter types available.


OF Drama in LA… Again

Following the 2007 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers seemingly had their outfield in order. Juan Pierre had signed a 5-yr/$55 mil deal prior to the season and was not about to sit on the bench. Flanking him would be prospects Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Ned Colletti then proceeded to sign Andruw Jones to a 2-yr/$36.2 mil contract, creating a logjam in the outfield and relegating someone to the bench in the process. With all of the money invested in Jones and Pierre, the odd man out had to come from Ethier and Kemp.

Jones produced a .234 wOBA and, despite a +3.7 UZR rating in centerfield, proving his worth to be -0.4 wins. He missed most of the season, opening up a spot for all three of Pierre, Ethier, and Kemp.

Manny Ramirez soon joined the team, once again creating a surplus of outfielders. Fans screamed for Pierre to sit on the bench and Ethier to receive plenty of playing time. Though Joe Torre did not immediately react to these please, he soon found it too difficult of a task to keep Ethier out of the lineup. Pierre became disgruntled, but Kemp and Ethier needed to play every day, and you do not acquire Manny Ramirez to sit on the bench.

Jones may have missed a good portion of the 2008 season, but he is still technically under contract. Pierre also has three more years remaining. Kemp and Ethier are pretty much guaranteed starting jobs next season, but who takes over the remaining outfield spot?

Manny Ramirez does not appear to be heading for as big a payday as he expected, meaning the initial 2-yr/$45 mil offer that the Dodgers withdrew may make the most sense. Should he re-sign with the Dodgers, Colletti will have the outfield that helped propel the team into the playoffs returning n tact. He will also have around $30 mil in outfielders sitting on the bench/not living up to their paycheck.

The most recent reports have Jones heading to the Mets. Unless the Dodgers are willing to take on a bad contract like the one belonging to Luis Castillo (of whom they have no interest), Colletti will have to pay the large majority of Jones’ salary. If Ramirez rejoins the team and Jones is dealt, then Juan Pierre may not be happy, but you could do much worse in the fourth outfielder department. The big issue there is that he will earn plenty of money to make contributions that do not necessarily merit that fee.

An even newer report has Adam Dunn talking to the Dodgers. I cannot imagine Colletti would sign both Dunn and Ramirez, meaning he will go for either one or the other. Both are all-hit/no-field corner outfielders. Their 2009 projections call for +3.5 wins for Manny and around +2.8 wins for Dunn. Dunn is several years younger than Ramirez and will cost less, as well. From an owner’s perspective, however, ManRam puts butts in the seats, and Dunn does not.

Regardless, Pierre could be very useful as a pinch-runner who stays in the game as a defensive replacement, occasionally garnering starts. For most Dodgers fans, it seems the ideal solution is to cut ties with both Pierre and Jones while bringing back Ramirez to play left-field. The Jones part of that solution may come to fruition very soon, but I would fully expect to see Pierre in Dodger-blue as a fourth outfielder come Spring Training 2009. Either way, Colletti definitely loves him some outfielders, as four are currently under contract already and two more have been heavily rumored to be signed.


AL West: An Overlooked Division?

There is still a lot of off season to go, but as it stands right now the AL West division might be a tougher battle than most would think given how it shaped up this past season.

The key to understanding that is to go back to the season in reviews that I did earlier, which ranked teams based on their BaseRuns Pythagorean record. According to those, here is the revised 2008 AL West Standings:

1. Anaheim 83-79
2. Texas 82-80
3. Oakland 78-84
4. Seattle 66-94

The Angels will get some players back from injuries in 2009 but they have also lost their 1B combo of Casey Kotchman and Mark Teixeira and their closer in Francisco Rodriguez, who although he had an over-rated season because of his saves total, was still an asset. Vladimir Guerrero and the rest of the Angels’ outfield being a year older doesn’t bode too well either. All in all, the Angels profile around a 83-88 win team by talent at the moment.

The Rangers are likely losing Milton Bradley, but should be looking at some regression from their starting rotation and more at bats to Chris Davis. Other than that, they’ll remain close to intact from their 2008 squad, so them holding around the .500 mark seems likely, in the 80-85 win range.

The Athletics benefit from the extra year as that goes to development rather than aging as is the primary case for Anaheim. They lose the innings from Harden and Blanton, but also should have a more robust offense this time around rather than the one that many were hard pressed to pick out of collegiate lineup. Along with Texas, 80-85 wins is about where they look right now. If they can pick up a Jason Giambi on the cheap you could add another win or two to that spread.

Those three alone wouldn’t make for much of a story, but the Mariners are now no longer fit to be completely left out of the question. Due for some pretty massive positive regression in both the lineup and starting rotation, new General Manager Jack Zduriencik also did a makeover on the defense. They are likely not finished dealing, but as it stands now, they appear to be in the 75-80 win range.

What we have is all four teams being within about a 10-win spread of each other heading in to the new year. Whether that gap stands when Spring Training rolls around is obviously yet to be determined, but for a division that the Angels won by 21 games last season, there is merit to paying attention again.


Can the Giants Contend?

Brian Sabean has been lampooned in the past for a wide array of his transactions. This offseason, however, he has done a very decent job in terms of bringing in the right personnel. Josh Phelps joined the team in order to platoon at first base with Travis Ishikawa. Then, Sabes inked Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry to fill out the bullpen. Edgar Renteria, coming off of a down year bound to regress, signed to replace Omar Vizquel. And, most recently, Sabean brought Randy Johnson to the rotation, finishing up quite the formidable pitching staff.

This all leads to one of the hottest topics on the inter-webs these days: can the Giants contend in 2009?

The simple answer is a yes given the context of the division. The Padres are in full rebuilding mode. The Diamondbacks have lost three key pieces in Orlando Hudson, Randy Johnson, and Adam Dunn. The Rockies traded away Matt Holliday and have been actively shopping Garrett Atkins. Even with a healthy Troy Tulowitzki, the Coors Gang is not all that threatening.

Lastly, even though the Dodgers will likely bring back Manny Ramirez, they will be losing ace Derek Lowe and relying on Jason Schmidt to help fill the void. The Dodgers will be the team to beat in the division, but they might not be as scary as some would think.

With this in mind, it seems that ~85 wins could net the division title for any of these teams. Do the Giants have what it takes to reach that threshold?

Their starting rotation, as mentioned above, is extremely stellar. R.J. called it potentially the best in the National League. Though this seemed like a stretch to many commenters, the projections for Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Randy Johnson, Jonathan Sanchez, and Barry Zito, range from +1.4 to +5.4 wins. Summed together, this quintet projects to be worth about +15 wins next season.

Affeldt and Howry joined a bullpen featuring the likes of Brian Wilson, Keichii Yabu, Billy Sadler, and Merkin Valdez among others. All of these relievers add up to around +3 wins. Considering that a team full of replacement players would win 50 games, before even venturing into the lineup, the Giants are up to 68 wins.

The lineup, however, is widely considered to be their achilles heel, as they do not really possess any terrific hitting talent. Phelps/Ishikawa look to platoon at first base. The projections for these two do not really tell the whole story, as they will be facing only opposite-handed pitchers. Ishi’s minor league equivalency is not all that sunny, either. These two combine to be about a league average hitter playing -5 run defense. This results in approximately +0.3 wins.

At the keystone corner, Emmanuel Burriss will apparently be logging most of the playing time. With only one year of data, we do not know all that much about Burriss. He appears to be a bit above average in the field while lacking any true offensive prowess. With adjustments for his position and production relative to the replacement level, not average, Burriss could range anywhere from +1.2 to +1.5 wins.

Renteria is a very interesting case, due to his disappointing 2008 campaign. Shifting back to the senior circuit should help his cause, and one would figure he could not perform any worse than he did last season, anyway. I’m calling Edgar a +2-run hitter and +1-run fielder for next season. After adjustments are thrown in for playing time and position, this amounts to +2.8 wins.

Pablo Sandoval will man the hot corner next season. A top-tiered prospect if there ever was one, Sandoval has all the tools to become a household name next season. Weighting his projections gives us a +7-run hitter and +1-run fielder, pitting Pablo at +2.5 wins. All told, this gives the Giants +6.8 wins in the infield. Solid production out of Burriss could bump that up to +7 wins very easily. And, if not from Burriss, a more optimistic projection for Sandoval could do the very same trick.

In the outfield, the Giants will bring back Fred Lewis, Aaron Rowand, and Randy Winn. Winn, one of the most underrated players in the game, has a +2.9 win projection next season, which actually leads all offensive players on the team.

After moving to the bay, Rowand struggled both offensively and defensively in 2008, in no way earning his $12 mil average annual value. Prior to last season, Rowand had posted +14, +3, and +8 marks in UZR, and +0, -6, +25 offensive runs respectively. In 2008, he produced like a league average hitter while costing the team -12 runs relative to an average centerfielder. Assuming both of these marks regress a bit, Rowand’s worth will be somewhere in the +2.3 win range.

Last, but not least, Fred Lewis combines some good pop with slick fielding. His 2009 projections call for +4 runs offensively and +5 with the glove. Playing a corner outfield position hurts his value, but overall, Lewis looks to be a +2 win player. These three combine to be worth +7.2 wins. Summing the infield and outfield results in +14 wins. Add Bengie Molina’s +2.3 win projection and we have +16.3 wins for the Giants offense.

The 2009 Giants will be getting approximately 18 wins out of their entire pitching staff and 16.3 wins out of their lineup. If we round that up to +17 for bench contribution or as “insurance” if certain players vastly outperform their projections, we are looking at an 85-win team.

Some of these projections may be a bit too optimistic for their owners, but the Giants appear to be talented enough to win anywhere from 78-85 games next season. Even a 78-win team could jump up to 85 wins a decent portion of the time, meaning that the Giants are in no way locks to win the NL West, but are definitely capable of contending next season.

If Sandoval really pulls his weight, Renteria shows that last season was a fluke, the bullpen holds fort, and the rotation meets their projections, there is no reason this team could not win the division. In the playoffs, we then are looking at a Lincecum-Cain-Unit rotation that could definitely scare some teams. A few key aspects of player performance will need to come to fruition for the team to surpass 80-wins, but it is not out of the realm of feasibility.


Win Values Explained: Part Two

This afternoon, we looked at the offensive side of the Win Value equation. Linear weights are pretty widely accepted now, and since wOBA and wRAA match up so well with what people understand about offensive value (Albert Pujols had a good year, Jeff Francoeur did not), it’s not a big surprise that there isn’t much questioning that part of the formula. We get into a bit stickier water when we move to the Fielding side of things, however.

In the Win Values calculations here, Fielding is fairly straight forward – it’s simply a player’s total UZR at all positions for the given year. We talked a lot about UZR the last few weeks after it was added to the site, but if you’re looking for a more detailed explanation of the system, the introduction can be found in part one and part two. Essentially, it’s the best fielding metric publicly available, and while it’s not perfect (I generally give it an error range of five runs in either direction, meaning that a +10 could be anything between a +5 and +15), it’s a big step forward in defensive evaluations.

UZR, unlike the offensive component wRAA, is relative to the league average of the position for that player. We talked about this a few weeks ago in talking about how to read the UZR numbers. +15 in LF is simply not an equal performance to +15 in CF, as the players they are getting compared to are drastically different. This creates the need for position adjustments to account for the difference in quality between positions. However, when displaying the Win Values here, we’ve broken them out into separate components to be as transparent as possible, so the Fielding numbers do not include the position adjustment. We’ll get to those next. The fielding total is simply a sum of the players UZR from each position he played in the given year.

The current version of UZR on FanGraphs does not include a few minor things, such as the value of arm strength and turning double plays. Some of these will be added in soon as MGL updates the data, but the changes are going to be minor – despite the emphasis put on it by many, there just isn’t a huge difference betwee most major league players in terms of the runs saved through their throws from the outfield. However, if you feel like a particular player has an exceptional arm and should be rewarded for it, feel free to add in a couple of runs to make up for the fact that UZR doesn’t include that portion of his defensive value.

The other important point to make here is that you’ll notice that catchers have no values entered in the Fielding portion of their Win Values. Evaluating catcher defense is something we’re simply not very good at right now, and while there are strides being made (including a great article by Tom Tango in the 2009 Hardball Times Annual), there’s a lot of things that we haven’t figured out how to quantify yet. So, we’ve just left catchers alone, ranking them all as league average, and will let you all adjust their final win value however you’d like to reflect their defensive value relative to other catchers.

If you think Joe Mauer’s catching abilities and leadership are worth one win, just add one win to what we display as his win value here. Quantifying catching defense is something that we just haven’t figured out yet, and so we’re not pretending that we have. Consider it an opportunity to fill in the blanks.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the position adjustments and how the wRAA, UZR, and position adjustments add up.


Roster Additions: The Boston Red Sox

With the rumored signings of both right-handed starter Brad Penny and catcher Josh Bard, the Boston Red Sox organization has begun to make some changes to its 40-man roster at the Major League level. Prior to those two (upcoming) additions, though, the Red Sox also added three prospects to the 40-man roster: pitchers Felix Doubront and Hunter Jones, as well as catcher Mark Wagner.

Doubront is a left-handed Venezuelan who has been state-side for the past three seasons. He recovered from a terrible 2007 (which included an 8.93 ERA in 11 A-ball starts, but just a 5.89 FIP) to post a 3.67 ERA (2.90 FIP) in 115.1 A-ball innings in 2008. Doubront allowed 115 hits and posted rates of 1.87 BB/9 and 9.21 K/9. The 21-year-old hurler finished the season in High-A ball and posted a FIP of 2.13 in 14 innings of work. Doubront features a curveball as his out-pitch, as well as a modest fastball in the low 90s, a slider and an occasional change-up.

Hunter Jones, 24, was originally signed as a non-drafted amateur free agent out of Florida State University in 2005. Despite his modest beginnings, Jones has never posted an ERA above 3.19 in pro ball. In 2008, the left-hander split time between Double-A and Triple-A. In Double-A, Hunter allowed 21 hits in 22.2 innings of work and posted rates of 1.59 BB/9 and 10.32 K/9. At Triple-A, he allowed 55 hits in 50.2 relief innings and posted rates of 2.49 BB/9 and 8.88 K/9. In the last two seasons, just eight balls have left the yard against Jones in 162.2 innings. His repertoire includes a sinking fastball that sits in the upper 80s and touches 91 mph. He also has a curveball and change-up.

Wagner was originally drafted in the 29th round out of high school by the Atlanta Braves, but chose to attend the University of California-Irvine and jumped up 20 rounds in 2005. The 24-year-old hit more than .300 in his first three pro seasons before slumping terribly in 2008 at the Double-A level. In 342 at-bats, the right-handed batter hit just .219/.297/.363 with a .143 ISO and a .294 wOBA. He posted rates of 10.0 BB% and 22.8%. In the past, Wagner maintained near-even walk and strikeout rates. On the encouraging side in 2008, his BABIP was just .256. Defensively, he is at least average, with the potential to be above average.


Win Values Explained: Part One

So, you’ve probably noticed that the Big New Thing around here is Win Values for position players. David has added them to the player pages, the team pages, and even the leaderboards. Now, instead of sounding like a total nerd by telling your friends that Pujols is awesome because he had an .843 wOBA (not his real number, but not out of the question), you can simply tell them that he was a nine win player last year, worth about $40 million in 2008 salary. Nine wins. Forty Million. Everyone understands these numbers.

That’s the beauty of win values – we can express a player’s contribution to his team in ways that are both meaningful and easy to understand. As much as I love WPA/LI, it’s just never going to be something that the casual fan is going to understand without a good bit of explanation. Win values, though – I can tell my mom that Adrian Beltre is a four win player and she’ll understand in 30 seconds. And, without too much more explanation, I can explain that those four wins are worth about $18 million in salary, and so not only is Beltre worth his salary, but he’s actually something of a bargain.

Win Values are a big open door to acceptance of our particular brand of analysis among non-statheady fans, and even within our little insulated community, they’re still a big step forward over the commonly accepted performance metrics of the last few years. However, rather than just telling you that and having you trust us, we figured it’d be a good idea to explain how the win values are calculated and break down each part of the formula for you to see. So, this week, we’ll be looking at the calculations of each part and walking everyone through the steps to create a win value for a particular position player.

This afternoon, we’ll start with the “Batting” component. Sticking with the Adrian Beltre example, we see that he hit .266/.327/.457 last year. However, while that’s interesting, do you know how valuable that is just by looking at it? Me either. That’s why there’s wOBA, which takes all the results of a player’s plate appearances throughout the year and uses run value weights to sum up a player’s production at the plate in a number that is easily converted to runs above average. That number, wRAA, is found right next to wOBA on each player’s page. It is, essentially, a player’s value that he produces at the plate relative to a league average hitter. You can read more about wOBA in The Book, and we went into detail about it a while ago.

However, you may notice that a player’s Batting value doesn’t match his wRAA value on the player cards. That’s because the wRAA numbers on the site are not park adjusted, but to build a proper win value, you have to include the effects of a player’s home environment. Getting back to Beltre, he plays in a park that depresses run scoring, so the runs that he creates are more valuable than they would be if they came in a park where runs were more plentiful. So, while his raw offensive line may have only been worth 3.9 runs, when we adjust for Safeco Field, his Batting value goes up to 5.9 runs.

That number – the 5.9 in Beltre’s case – represents the amount of runs above or below average that each player created with their bat for a given year. This number is not position adjusted, as I detailed my issues with offensive position adjustments back in November. We’ll add the position adjustments in later, so it gets included in a player’s total value, but I think it’s incorrect to add it to the offensive total.

So, when you’re looking at the Win Values section, that’s Batting – offensive runs above or below average, not position adjusted, but adjusted for the run environment of his home park.


Sox Add Bard & Penny

It appears the Boston Red Sox are not going to wait until 2009 before securing a new battery. Theo Epstein and company have agreed to terms with free agents Brad Penny (1 year, 5-8 million) and Josh Bard (1 year, 1.6 million).

Just a few days ago I noted Bard as a smart addition for the Sox. Considering the relative small risk involved, and the potential for a decent reward, you have to like the deal for the Red Sox. At 1.6 million, the Sox are paying for less than a half of a win, an investment likely to produce profit, especially considering that Bard has averaged ~1 WAR per season over his career.

Bard’s addition would seemingly lower the chances of Jason Varitek returning. Given that neither Bard or Varitek should catch knuckleballer Tim Wakefield along with George Kottaras familiarity with the pitch thanks to Charlie Zink. I guess if nothing else the Sox could either carry three catchers, which seems excessive, or simply release Bard if Varitek does return, but reading between the lines neither seems overly likely.

Right-shoulder ailments ruined Brad Penny’s 2008. Actually, that’s a bit unfair, Penny’s stubbornness towards those injuries ruined his 2008. Rather than do the sensible thing by not attempting to pitch through such aches, Penny “soldiered on” and hurt both the Dodgers and his free agent stock in the process. Penny’s walk per nine rates were the highest of his career, his strikeout per nine the lowest, and his FIP the highest by a little less than half of a run. It’s safe to call 2008 the nadir of Penny’s career.

Only a slight change occurred in Penny’s velocity and pitch usage. Penny still threw ~70% fastballs that sat around 92-93, along with a good number of curveballs. 2008 did see Penny’s change, a pitch he used heavily in 2007 and no other year, fade into the back of his arsenal. It doesn’t appear Penny’s pitches were more hittable in 2008 either, despite increased homerun rates, Penny’s batted ball variety hovered around his career averages.

Penny’s contract calls for a three million dollar bonus if he reaches at least 160 innings. There’s a pretty decent chance Penny cashes in on that. Marcels says 127 innings and a 4.11 FIP, placing Penny around 2.5-3 WAR, or in other words, earning more than what his contract is worth. This suggests Justin Masterson will remain in relief and Michael Bowden along with Clay Buchholz won’t be in the rotation initially.

The Red Sox cadre consists of highly intelligent baseball folk, so to see chances taken on players like Bard and Penny makes sense, just as it did with Bartolo Colon last season.


Free Willy

Walt Jocketty and the Cincinnati Reds signed Willy Taveras to a two-year deal this weekend. The financial terms of the deal have not yet been disclosed, but the team plans on leading Taveras off and putting his glove in centerfield. Taveras will be replacing Corey Patterson, who, in 392 PA last season was worth -25.5 runs with the bat while supplying league average defense in center. Patterson made $3 mil in salary in spite of his -$5 mil fair market value. Essentially, by playing Patterson for 135 games, the Reds would have had to spend $5 mil more just to get back to zero wins above replacement from his roster spot.

Taveras had a disappointing 2008 season, posting a .301 wOBA while playing -7 run defense in centerfield. He, too, “cost” his team money, though not nearly as much as Patterson. Willy earned $2 mil in actual salary despite being worth -0.8 mil. He did, however, manage to steal 68 bases.

In 2007, Taveras hit .320/.367/.382 for the Rockies with a wOBA of .344. He only played 97 games but still managed to match his 2006 stolen base total of 33 swipes. His offense has never been superb, but Taveras could always stake claim as a menace on the basepaths. And, prior to 2007, his UZR ratings pegged him as a very solid fielder.

Taveras’ defense has taken a turn for the worse recently. After posting +7 and +13 UZR ratings in 2005 and 2006, Taveras was worth -10 runs in 2007 and -7 runs last season. His lack of offensive prowess may not have mattered as much while he stole a ton of bases and manned centerfield ably. In 2008, only the baserunning facet of these skills seemed evident.

For the 2009 season, Taveras projects to be at -12 offensive runs and between -2 and +2 runs with the glove. For the sake of this analysis, let’s call him a -12 run hitter and 0 run fielder, deeming him average at the tough position. Playing around 140 games with 540 PA, Patterson would receive an additional +20 runs for value above replacement level as well as adjusting for his position.

Added to the offense and defense, this makes Taveras +8 runs, or roughly +0.8 wins, next season. This would mark an improvement over the -0.2 wins in 2008 and the +0.6 wins the year before.

At the 2009 fair market value of $5 mil/win, this makes Taveras a $4 mil player. He signed for a two-year deal, which would be valued at anywhere between $7-8 mil based on these projections. We will know more about the contract’s terms this week, in order to compare his actual received salary to the fair market value.

If Willy can find and harness his offensive numbers from 2007 while reverting to the defensive performances seen prior to the same year, these numbers vastly shift. With a .332 wOBA and +5 run defense, and the same number of plate appearances, Willy becomes a +2.4 win player. His fair market value in this case is closer to $12 mil.

By signing Taveras, Jocketty and the Reds are likely paying him somewhere in the vicinity of the +0.8 wins while holding out plenty of hope that his actual value inches closer to the +2.4 win mark. A few aspects of his performance will need to revert to prior instances of success for this to take place, but it still seems more sound than throwing Patterson out there for another season. Well, more sound assuming that they are not paying Taveras an exorbitant fee.

As long as the deal stays much lower than the $12 mil fair market value based on his “extremely optimistic” projection, it isn’t an awful signing.

The deal does, however, depend a lot on the hope that the Taveras from 2008 is not truly Willy. Two-year deals based on a hope are awfully risky, so this will be considered a win for the Reds if and only if his production improves. It might not be considered a loss if the average annual value is even lower than the $4 mil fair market value based on his actual projection if the production fails to improve. Still, for an organization with some nice young pieces in place, a two-year deal based on a hope seems like an odd move.


Year End Thank You

This has been FanGraphs’ 3rd full year in production and I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge all the hard working people that make FanGraphs possible:

Our Writers – Dave Cameron, Eric Seidman, Marc Hulet, Matthew Carruth, R.J. Anderson, David Golebiewski, Peter Bendix, and Brian Joura have become in my opinion one of the best writing teams in the business.

Tom Tango – The creator and inspiration behind many of the stats on FanGraphs including, but not limited to wOBA and everything Win Probability. His support of FanGraphs has been invaluable.

Mitchel Lichtman – Who graciously provides us with UZR fielding model to bring you the most advanced fielding metrics possible.

Our Projection Providers – Sean Smith (CHONE), Dan Szymborski (ZiPS), Baseball Info Solutions (Bill James), Tom Tango (Marcels), and Jeff Sackman (MINER) for allowing us to display their innovative projection systems.

Steve Moyer and Damon Lichtenwalner – Our go-to stats providers at Baseball Info Solutions are continually working to provide us with the best and most accurate data in the business.

Our Supporters – Anyone who has ever linked to a story or player on FanGraphs this past year, we could not continue to exist without your support and I’m grateful you feel our content is worth informing your readers about.

Our Readers and Visitors – In the past year you have turned the site into not just a destination for baseball stats, but a growing baseball community. It is you who inspire us with your contributions and visits to continue to try and make FanGraphs the best it can possibility be.

Happy New Year!


Giant of a Steal

Brian Sabean needs to do something silly soon. Like, trade Jonathan Sanchez for Jorge Cantu or Tim Lincecum for Alexis Rios silly, otherwise, the Giants are having an amusingly solid off-season. It started by adding Josh Phelps, next signing Jeremy Affeldt, and then inking Bob Howry and Edgar Renteria, but Sabean may have topped himself today by signing Randy Johnson for one year and eight million. Okay, there are some jokes to be made concerning the Giants and Johnson’s advanced age, but he’s still pretty good.

In fact, Johnson was one of the better starters in the league last season, even at 44 years of age. Johnson threw 184 innings while maintaining a 3.76 FIP, an 8.46 strikeout per nine ratio, and walking only 2.15 per nine. Johnson’s .316 batting average on balls in play is a bit higher than you would expect from a pitcher who allows 18.2% line drives, but not high enough that you can claim bad luck.

Marcels punishes Johnson for his age, but still has him throwing 158 innings with a 4.11 FIP. That’s a ~2 win improvement over 158 innings than a replacement level starter, or a slightly worse version of Kevin Correia’s 2008. If Johnson pitches to that level, he’s earned his contract, and that speaks more to the quality of the contract than the Giants expectations of Johnson. This is a far better contract than the one given to fellow senior hurler Jamie Moyer.

Johnson’s velocity was down from previous years – from 92-93 to 90-91, but even that didn’t stop the Big Unit from helping to form an outstanding rotation in Arizona. Speaking of which, now the Giants rotation is something like: Lincecum, Matt Cain, Johnson, Sanchez, and Barry Zito. That very well could be the best rotation in the National League.

Dave and Matthew have written extensively about Johnson being a bargain and Arizona mistakenly letting him walk, but both points need to be touched upon again. At the time, Matthew wrote: “[Arizona] made a huge, potentially division-costing mistake…” at the time, Johnson to the Cubs was the rumor du jour, now Johnson has landed with a division rival. Pardon the awful pun, but the Diamondbacks might be snake-bit by this move multiple times in 2009.

Congratulations to the Giants fans who’ve endured a post-Bonds world, this Giants team is looking like a potential contender for the division crown. Now, just prepare yourselves for all of the witty “Giants/Big Unit/Giant of a Pitcher” headlines sure to follow.


Dollars Earned vs. Dollars Made

Earlier this week, the wins above replacement and fair market value calculations were added to the player pages. The additions enable us not just to view the productivity levels of certain players, but also how much money they could have commanded on the open market. The numbers are now available on the leaderboards, too, offering up the capability to find players worth the most/least in a given season or period of time.

One of the most interesting aspects of this data involves comparing what a player earned to what he actually made. For instance, in my Jayson Werth post, the data indicated that, from 2007-09, Werth would make something like $6.55 mil while actually providing $54 mil in wins above replacement. The next logical step would be to show the actual salary next to the deserved salary. This step recently came to fruition, meaning that we can now compare, on a player’s page, what he actually made to what his production merited.

With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to take a look at a few players and see how they are valued compared to what they deserve. As an example, we will once again turn to Werth. From 2005-2008, he produced +9.1 WAR. He actually earned $2.9 mil in this span despite being worth $38.5 mil. Sure, he has been under team control, but the numbers here are fascinating. Essentially, Werth has been paid 13.28 times less than his production would indicate over this four-year span.

How about teammate Chase Utley, who has been the second most productive hitter over the last three years? Chase has been worth +30 WAR from 2005-08, a total worth the lump sum of $118.2 mil. Due to being under team control and having some arbitration years bought out in his 7-yr deal, Utley has actually made just $13.4 mil over the last four seasons. Utley has made 8.82 times less than he deserves.

Perhaps some form of this could be parlayed into an analysis of General Manager’s, as getting $118.2 mil worth of production for just $13.4 mil is no small feat.

How about Alex Rodriguez? Would you believe that A-Rod has actually been underpaid relative to his production over the last four years? Sounds ludicrous given his contract, but it is true. A-Rod has been worth +28.5 WAR in this span, which translates to $110.6 mil. His actual salaries add up to $98.4 mil, a full $12 mil below his fair market value.

And, as good as Manny Ramirez may have looked recently, he has actually been overpaid. ManRam has amassed +14.8 WAR since 2005, worth $59.5 mil. He actually made $76.2 mil, just about $17 mil more than his production merited.

These are just a few examples, and it would be extremely interesting to see how an entire roster stacks up in this regard, but all of the data we have used in our dollar valuations is now available on this site. And, even better, we can compare the fair market values with actual money earned to really see who has or has not earned their salaries.