Archive for January, 2011

Does Carl Crawford’s Platoon Split Matter?

Carl Crawford was widely considered to be the biggest prize among position players this offseason, and it was no surprise that he got the big money from the Boston Red Sox. However, historically he has had a lot of trouble with left-handed pitching. It’s one thing to point out that platoon splits can be expected to regress pretty heavily to league average. But beyond that issue, how much does his platoon split really matter, anyway?

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Thanks Rob

While I generally prefer to write about baseball rather than baseball writers, today, I’m making an exception, because as you may have heard by now, today is Rob Neyer’s last day with ESPN. And, in many ways, we owe Rob a huge debt of gratitude.

For myself and those in the 30 and under category, Rob Neyer was our Bill James. When my family got AOL in the mid-1990s, one of the first places I headed for was ESPNet SportsZone. It took forever to load, but it was a place devoted solely to sports, and far more interesting than anything I could get from the local papers, especially on the baseball side. They even had a column called Chin Muzak, written by some guy I’d never heard of, and he said crazy things.

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Adventures in Swinging Strike Rate vs. K Rate

A few weeks ago, Eno Sarris took a look at a few batters with high swinging-strike rates and average strikeout rates, showing that a batter with a penchant for (or weakness in) whiffing on pitches doesn’t necessarily post as a high number of strikeouts as you would expect. Josh Hamilton, Delmon Young, and Vladimir Guerrero were identified as players who combine decent strikeout rates with high swinging-strike rates. These batters are characterized by their below-average walk rates while being known as free-swingers. Their aggressive approach presents both fewer strikeout opportunities and fewer walk opportunities as they try to put the ball in play early in the count.

This got me thinking: Since there are batters who can avoid strikeouts who presumably swing early, are there batters who get too many strikeouts because they don’t swing enough? I mean, clearly swinging strikes are not the only way to strike out a batter, and a batter who leaves his bat on the shoulder too often will get lots of called strikes. A conservative approach with few swings at anything in the hopes of drawing a walk could backfire. Such batters do exist — it’s just about identifying who they are.

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Position Players by WAR: Expansion Era

Baseball Prehistory | Deadball Era | Liveball Era | Post-War
Expansion | Free Agency | Modern Era

The Expansion Era saw the Major Leagues grow from 16 teams in 1959 to 24 teams in 1975. The Washington Senators moved to Minnesota in 1960, and MLB decided to expand earlier than planned at risk of losing its anti-trust exemption. The new Washington Senators would become the Texas Rangers in 1972. They were joined by the Los Angeles Angels in the same year. 1962 saw the Houston Colt .45s and the New York Mets join the Majors, followed by the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Pilots (later to become the Milwaukee Brewers), San Diego Padres, and the international addition of the first Canadian Team, the Montreal Expos.

I cut off the Expansion Era at 1975, right before Free Agency took hold, but there were two new teams formed in 1977: the Seattle Mariners, and the Toronto Blue Jays.

If you looked at a map of the MLB in 1950, this is what it would look like:

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Who Would Want Jose Reyes?

Over the weekend, the following passage was found in Buster Olney’s column (sorry, “Insiders” only)

By the way: Some rival executives are convinced that the Mets’ financial situation all but ensures that Jose Reyes — who stands to be in the running for a nine-figure contract as a free agent next fall if he stays healthy and has a good year — will be traded before the July 31 deadline. That’s all speculation at this point.

This rumor may seem a bit dubious to some. After all, Reyes isn’t the only Met heading into the final year of his contract. Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo qualify here as well, and all but Castillo are slated to make more than Reyes, so if a straight salary dump is the order of the day, the Mets have plenty of options. But let’s pretend for a minute that there’s something to this – who would want Reyes in 2011?
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Finding Value on the Relief Market

Teams’ perpetual need for bullpen help turned into a bull market for relievers this winter. To date 17 relief pitchers have signed multi-year contracts, totaling $202.6 million. Only three of those pitchers — Mariano Rivera, J.J. Putz, and Kevin Gregg — will serve as his team’s regular closer. They account for $50 million, meaning that the remaining 14 middle relievers have combined for a $152.6 million pay day, and that just counts the multi-year crew. Finding value on the relief market has proven a bit tough this year, but there are a couple of remaining players who could provide a team with quality relief innings on the cheap.

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A Look Ahead: The Braves And Free Agency

This is the first of a series of guest posts that we’ll be publishing from Ben Nicholson-Smith, one of the lead writers for MLB Trade Rumors. The guys over at MLBTR have an interesting perspective on things, and we thought it would be fun to give Ben a chance to share his views on a few different topics with the FanGraphs crowd.

Frank Wren hasn’t relied on free agency since taking over as the Braves’ GM; he handed out just two multiyear free agent deals in his first three offseasons in charge. This winter, as division rivals like the Nationals and Phillies committed hundreds of millions to the top available players, the Braves have spent a modest $2.65 million on Major League free agents – less than Jayson Werth or Cliff Lee makes in a month.

The Braves are approaching free agency like a small-market team, but unlike the Indians and Royals, the Braves have sustained payrolls in the $85-100 million range for the past decade and are built to contend in 2011. It’s not that they can’t spend on free agents, it’s that they didn’t have to.

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Choosing Up Sides for MLB’s All-Star Game

Welcome to the 2011 MLB All-Star draft! Here at FanGraphs, we were so impressed by the cool format of the NHL All-Stars selection that we’ve decided to appoint two captains and choose sides in the same way. Dave Cameron and I will be the captains, with Dave going first, and each captain picking two at a time thereafter, until each team has 25 players (we refuse to pick a bloated 90-man roster, or whatever roster size they’re using this year).

The requirements are that you fill out a 25-man roster. You draft your starters the way you would a typical ballot – every position is specific except outfield, where you can take any combination of outfielders you like. Each team must also select at least 11 pitchers, to mimic real life. We’re using Chase Field as the game’s venue, since that’s where the 2011 All-Star Game is being held. Finally, the idea is that every player (or darn close) should play, same as the real All-Star Game.

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Customizable Heat Maps!

At FanGraphs we’re big fans of the heat map. And now customizable heat maps are now available in the pitchf/x sections for all pitchers. Much thanks to Dave Allen for helping me out!

The thing about heat maps is that one size does not always fit all. Depending on the density of pitches and how many pitches are thrown, it’s not always a clear cut case how to display the data. Sometimes you want the points bigger, sometimes you want the “intensity” of each point to be more and sometimes you really want a different color scheme. For instance here’s the same chart, but with the settings changed.

And here is a third chart, with the settings changed one more time, where the points are made smaller but very intense in monochrome.

There’s a lot to play around with here and a lot of options to try and get the best picture possible.

Can Oakland mean a Revival for Andy LaRoche?

Simply looking at Andy LaRoche’s player page, it’s easy to see why the Pittsburgh Pirates non-tendered the third baseman this season. For the second time in three seasons, the younger A. LaRoche was significantly below replacement. In both of those seasons, LaRoche posted a 50 or lower wRC+, a completely useless performances at the plate. Although LaRoche certainly wasn’t bad with the leather, an average-fielding third baseman with no bat gives a team no reason to retain him. For that reason, it’s also no surprise that the best LaRoche could manage was a minor league contract, which he received from the Oakland Athletics last Monday.

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Dickey Stays With Mets

There’s a popular phrase that claims, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Last season, R.A. Dickey turned that phrase on it’s head. Dickey reinvented himself as a knuckleballer, and at the ripe age of 35 managed to post the best season of his career. Dickey capitalized on that success Saturday, agreeing to a two-year deal with the New York Mets. The deal, said to be worth $7.5 million over the two seasons, also contains a club option for a third year. Dickey, however, doesn’t have a history of success in the majors outside of last season. With that in mind, the Mets are hoping Dickey has some new tricks up his sleeve this season.
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More Than Longoria

Since his debut in 2008, Evan Longoria has been one of the most valuable players in baseball according to Wins Above Replacement. Even scarier: Evan Longoria is only 25. But the main reason he’s most likely going to be at the top of Trade Value Leaderboard again this season is his ridiculous contract. The contract has been discussed many times, so I’ll just list the years and payouts of his contract as reported at Cot’s (in millions of dollars): 2008: $0.5, 2009: $0.55, 2010: $0.95, 2011: $2, 2012: $4.5, 2013: $6, 2014: $7.5 club option ($3 buyout), 2015: $11M club option, 2016: $11.5M club option.

There is no need to repeat how incredible the contract is for the team, the circumstances under which it was signed, or the effect it might have had on agent malpractice insurance premiums. It is generally understood that when pre-arbitration players get “locked up,” the contracts are almost always favorable to the team. Such players will be paid far less than less-talented, older players on the free agent market. However, for a different perspective on how much value this contract gives Longoria, let’s take a look at some of the lesser free agents of 2011 who will be getting paid more than Longoria in the coming season, while giving readers a chance to weigh in on how they are likely to perform.

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Joe Beimel Improves Bucs’ Bullpen

The Pirates announce the signing of Joe Beimel today, giving the organization a decent left-handed reliever since they traded Javier Lopez at this past summer’s trade deadline to the eventual World Series champs Giants. Beimel was originally drafted by the Pirates out of Pittsburgh-based Duquesne University (shout-out to former RotoGraphs author and friend Dan Budreika), debuting with Pittsburgh in 2001. As reported by MLB Trade Rumors, Beimel had several Major League offers and one two-year offer, but he chose to return to Pittsburgh for a minor league deal. He’s expected to make the Pirates’ Opening Day roster.

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Roy Halladay & Cliff Lee: Efficiency Experts

When Cliff Lee spurned both the Rangers and Yankees for the Phillies earlier this offseason, it set up the Phillies rotation to be akin to the Miami Heat starting five, except without all the reality shows/live tv specials and hatred, but with state income taxes (albeit a low one). Now teamed up with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and (for the time being) Joe Blanton, everyone outside of the NL East is looking forward to the potential dominance of this rotation. And together, Halladay and Lee could also form one of the most efficient duos ever.

When I think of efficiency for a pitcher, I think of BB/9 and K/BB. You could easily make a case for BB%, K%, strike % or even P/PA, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but BB/9 and K/BB would be the two I pick, especially since they have readily available yearly leaderboards on baseball-reference. And looking at those two, we see that Halladay and Lee could be on the way to some serious history. Halladay has ranked in the top 5 in the Majors in each category each of the last three years, and Lee has almost matched him (he finished seventh in K/BB in 2009). In fact, last season, Lee ranked first in both, with Halladay right behind him, and no one was even remotely close to them:
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A’s Might Not Upgrade Greatly With Figgins

To call the Oakland A’s off-season aggressive might understate the fervor with which Billy Beane has rebuilt his roster. Already he has signed four major league free agents, exercised two options, and traded for two starters. They add up to nearly $50 million total. Beane would have spent more, too, if he had his way: the A’s reportedly had a $64 million offer to Adrian Beltre. This morning we learned that Beane might not be finished. Reports circulated that the A’s are interested in a swap with the Mariners: Kevin Kouzmanoff “and perhaps a pitcher” for Chone Figgins. Despite the Figgins’s name value, this trade might not greatly benefit the A’s.

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Review of Hitting Prospects, James Player Rater 1995

View a spreadsheet of all 81 prospects by clicking here.

Last week, I submitted for the readership’s consideration a review of the hitting prospects from the 1994 edition of the Bill James Player Ratings Book.

In what follows, I do something similar for the 1995 edition.

The reader might remember that, in the ’94 edition, there were many rookie-eligible players who (a) didn’t receive grades but (b) were still very clearly being regarded as prospects by James — Carlos Delgado and Manny Ramirez being two notable cases. The 1995 edition of the book goes even futher in this direction: there are 81 players whom James seems to indicate as prospects of one stripe or another, but only 20 receive grades.

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Top 10 Prospects: Minnesota Twins

1. Aaron Hicks, CF
Acquired: 2008 1st Round (Southern California HS)
2010 Level: Low A
Opening Day Age: 21.6

Notes: Prospect aficionados have a tendency to get a little antsy with highly-touted prospects. When a player doesn’t immediately light the world on fire he can be unfairly criticized, and, to some extent, I think Hicks has been subjected to this. When he was drafted, he was billed as a 5-tool player with solid power and speed highlighting his game, but the returns in those two areas have been just fair so far. In just over 1,000 career plate appearances, Hicks has only hit 16 home runs and has stolen only 42 bases. Those modest returns on top of the Twins’ decision to have him repeat the Midwest league in 2010 have some jumping off the bandwagon, but a look past those counting stats reveals a lot for Twins fans to be excited about.

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Do We Need More Home Field Advantage In MLB?

Yesterday, I was perusing Rob Neyer’s blog, and he did a post about a part of the new book Scorecasting. In the interview Rob linked to, Jon Wertheim discusses part of his findings on home field advantage, and how he believes they are mostly related to the subconscious desire of referees and umpires to avoid getting booed. Now, I don’t know if he’s right or wrong, but thinking about the ramifications if it were true led me down a thought path that I found interesting.

Unequal officiating is inherently not fair, and on the surface is a problem we would like to see resolved. But would any of us actually enjoy baseball – or any sport, really – more if there were no home field advantage?

I went to a lot of games in Seattle when I was a kid – mostly baseball, but also some basketball and a few football games. I remember having a distinctly different level of excitement about attending a Sonics game, both because the team was good and because the home team in basketball is a huge favorite, meaning I was far more likely to go home happy. The higher prices kept NBA games from being a family staple, but if that had not been a factor, I could have easily become infatuated with hoops instead of baseball.

What is the benefit in having more equality for the road team? While some fans certainly go for the experience, many go for the chance to see their team win, and leave disappointed when that doesn’t end up as the final result. If we were able to identify and alleviate any officiating biases that caused the home team to win more regularly, wouldn’t we just be degrading the enjoyment of the product for most of the people in attendance?

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Commenters Are $#!%ing Evil! (And Other Respectful Thoughts)

“I suggest this article is so bad that you should not only be fired but live-sacrificed on an altar to a pagan god of pestilence and your remains fed to gremlins.”

— bc, in response to my 12/30 article, “NHL Winter Classic: I’m Glad Selig Didn’t Think of That”

“Alex, your sabermetrical analysis continues to amaze me. Keep up the good job of destroying FanGraphs with this political bullshit.”

— Part-Time Pariah, in response to my 4/30 article, “Should You Boycott the Diamondbacks?”

If there’s a way to win a popularity contest by writing about baseball online, I haven’t figured it out. In fairness to the collective wisdom of the Fangraphs community, many of the lumps I take are at least somewhat justified — the harshest language is usually reserved for when I speak from ignorance or err in a statement of fact — but few of the insults are quite as well-thought out as bc’s gem, which remains my favorite burn that I’ve ever received. Other commenters don’t seem to really care whether the piece is good or not, and are simply opposed to the simple fact that my columns aren’t statistics-based, like the above from Part-Time Pariah.

Obviously, my experience isn’t particularly unique. Everyone knows that anonymity can bring out the worst in people online, and the longer a comment thread, the more likely it is to fall prey to Godwin’s Law or descend into a morass of personal attacks. Yet despite all that, there is an internal logic to comment threads, whether it’s in the wilderness of unmoderated message boards or a smart blog with smart readers like Fangraphs. The issue came to the fore recently, when Sports Illustrated’s Jeff Pearlman wrote a piece about confronting a few of his online attackers and discovering that they were much more reasonable on the phone than on their Twitter feed. But one of them responded with his side of the story, indicating that Pearlman had somewhat distorted the facts — they hadn’t tweeted @jeffpearlman, they just wrote about him; instead, he had gone after them, confronting them by phone even though they hadn’t directly contacted him.

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Position Players by WAR: Post-War Era

Baseball Prehistory | Deadball Era | Liveball Era | Post-War
Expansion | Free Agency | Modern Era

I mentioned in the Liveball Era article that over 500 MLB players served in WWII. Those gaps are a lot more apparent in many of the post-war players. Not only did players miss years (like Ted Williams), but they also had partial seasons due to service in the military. With so many players going off to serve, the quality of the Major Leagues dropped, and scoring dropped as a result. While I’m jumping from the Liveball Era to the Post-War Era, please keep in mind that players on the edges were more likely to be affected by the war.

If anyone has a full list of players that served, and the years they served, I would love to add that information to the charts to make the impact more obvious.

After the war, baseball started to change again. In 1947, Jackie Robinson was the first black player since the 19th century to play in the National League. He was joined 11 weeks later by Larry Doby in the American League, and baseball started integrating. 1947 also saw the first televised World Series. Baseball’s popularity soared after the war. During the Liveball Era it had been relatively stable, but the end of the war brought far more spectators than ever:

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