Archive for June, 2011

Athletics Deal Mark Ellis, Commit to Jemile Weeks

Jemile Weeks has been as advertised for Oakland. Through his first 20 games, the younger Weeks has compiled a .303/.346/.461 line to go with six stolen bases in eight attempts, adding up to a .359 wOBA and a 131 wRC+. The second baseman of the future for the Athletics has quickly become the second baseman of the present.

Just as quickly, Mark Ellis became the second baseman of the past for the Athletics. His ineffectiveness had those around the A’s discussing Weeks’s impending arrival; his early-June hamstring injury began the Weeks era. At his return, the A’s had a decision to make. The A’s decided quickly, moving the venerable second baseman to Colorado for pitcher Bruce Billings and a player to be named later. The trade sees the exit of a player who defines the Moneyball Athletics, as Ellis compiled $83.5 million worth of value for only $27.3 million in salary as an Athletic.

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Riggleman: A Beggar Who Thought He Was a Chooser

When Jim Riggleman fired himself last week after winning 11 of his last 12 games with the Nationals, it was weird at first and only got weirder the more you thought about it. Jim Riggleman isn’t a great manager. His career record is 662-824. As Tom Boswell has written, he has “the worst record in baseball history of any 12-year manager.” Some analysts suggested that Riggleman didn’t want to resign, he just wanted to bluff Mike Rizzo into picking up his option year. But Jim Riggleman is a mediocre manager of bad baseball teams. He is not a man with a great deal of leverage: he is a beggar who thought he was a chooser. And unless another team boss makes a decision as foolish as Riggleman’s, he will never manage in the major leagues again.

According to GM Mike Rizzo, Riggleman gave an ultimatum: if he wasn’t given an extension before the team left for Chicago, he wasn’t getting on the bus. When Riggleman didn’t get his extension, he explained to reporters that the reason he quit was that his one-year contract was intolerable, and “I’m too old to be disrespected.” Riggleman’s hometown newspaper, the Washington Post, spent the next several days trying to come up with an explanation for why he did what he did. They couldn’t. Dave Sheinin and Adam Kilgore quoted an unnamed acquaintance of Riggleman’s as saying, “I can’t think of a single way in which Jim’s life is going to be better because of this… And I can think of a hundred ways it will be worse.”
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Tigers Move Coke to Bullpen

When the Detroit Tigers acquired Phil Coke in early 2010, they floated the idea of using him as a starter. Although he had appeared exclusively in relief as a major leaguer, Coke worked as a starter in the minor leagues until his promotion to Triple-A in 2008. Ultimately, the Tigers decided to kept him in the bullpen for the 2010 season (although he did make one start at the end).

Coke pitched well enough as a reliever (3.76 ERA/3.23 FIP) for Detroit to re-visit the idea of moving him to the rotation again this spring. This time, the Tigers followed through on their plan and Coke made 14 starts sandwiched around a brief stint on the disabled list. After dropping to a 1-8 record with a 4.91 ERA following his last start, Tigers manager Jim Leyland announced Coke is moving back to the bullpen.

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One Week Until FanGraphs Live in Long Beach

We’re now just a week away from the west coast debut of FanGraphs Live. We’ve got a great line-up of guests coming, and yesterday, we added Sam Miller of the Orange County Register to the list of attendees. If you missed the earlier announcements, here’s the details:

We’re proud to be teaming up with SABR to host an event at the same location as their national convention, giving you the chance to take your baseball nerdery to a whole new level.

Our event will take place from 7 to 10 pm, and include three interactive panel discussions:

Jon Weisman (Dodger Thoughts), Eric Stephen (True Blue LA), Rich Lederer (Baseball Analysts), and Sam Miller (OC Register) will answer questions and converse on the status of the two local teams, so we’ll begin the evening with an interesting look at the Dodgers and Angels. You will have a chance to ask questions of the panelists, as well as hear them talk about the various topics surrounding those two franchises.

After the local teams panel has concluded, we’ll transition slightly into looking at the national landscape and the game as a whole, and will bring Rob Neyer (SB Nation) and Vince Gennaro (President of SABR, author of Diamond Dollars, consultant to MLB teams) into the discussion. We’ll talk about what we’ve seen during the first half of the 2011 season, as well as some of the more interesting aspects of the current landscape of statistical analysis of the sport.

Finally, we’ll have a FanGraphs-centric Q&A with members of our staff, including the aforementioned Mr. Keri, David Appelman (President of FanGraphs), Carson Cistulli (NotGraphs specialist), Eno Sarris (RotoGraphs wizard), and myself.

The event should be a blast and well worth the $20 admission fee. However, the goodness doesn’t end there – anyone who registers for FanGraphs Live is eligible to use the FGNonMember-41 discount code when registering for the SABR convention. That code will give you 15% off any conference registration, whether it is a one day pass ($59, pre-discount), two day pass ($93, pre-discount), or full conference registration ($159, pre-discount). Those of you who are good at math will take note that the registration discount for the full conference is actually more than the cost of attending FanGraphs Live, so if you’re planning on registering for SABR as a non-member, it is actually cheaper to register for our event and then use the discount code than to not attend our event.

Even if you can’t make the whole weekend, however, I’d highly recommend at least a one day pass if you can get away from work. There are a lot of interesting things planned for July 7th, and if you can’t get enough of me on discussion panels, I’ll be participating on a baseball media panel with Russ Stanton (Editor of the LA TImes), Sean Forman (Owner of Baseball Reference), and Bill Squadron (General Manager of Bloomberg Sports) in the afternoon, and Scott Boras will be giving the keynote speech in the morning. You could spend the whole day geeking out about baseball, and no one there would judge you.

You can purchase tickets by using the widget below. We look forward to seeing you guys in three weeks.


The Deal That Keeps Helping the Diamondbacks

Without two key moves last year, the Diamondbacks probably wouldn’t find themselves in contention for a playoff spot. While the team’s offense, fourth in the NL in wOBA, has carried it most of the way to its 44-38 record, the other components are not as impressive. Their team defensive efficiency is right at the league average, so they’re not getting help much there. The starting rotation as a whole hasn’t fared particularly well, ranking 11th in ERA, 10th in FIP, and 14th in xFIP in the NL. But two pitchers are helping keep them afloat, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. If not for one trade in the 2009-2010 off-season, they might still be crawling in the basement.

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A Baseball Argument 13 Years in the Making

Because FanGraphs wasn’t around in 1998, a golden opportunity was missed. That year, Sammy Sosa launched 20 home runs in June, the most for any month in baseball history. However, he did not have the best offensive month of all time. He was not even the best hitter in June of 1998. Hop in the time machine and follow me back to the age of steroids, The Truman Show and Master P in order to re-examine the month Slammin’ Sammy rose to stardom.

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Matt Klaassen FanGraphs Chat – 6/30/11


All-Star Game: Reward or Showcase

On Tuesday, Justin Inaz wrote an article for The Hardball Times laying out who he would like to see on this year’s All-Star team, using projection data rather than seasonal data to select the players. I found his article interesting, but disagreed with the premise, so we argued about what the All-Star Game should be. That conversation is below.

Dave: Over at THT, you relayed a sentiment about the All-Star Game, and in particular, your dislike for the way it is treated as a reward of small sample flukes. You even called the game itself a “frustrating experience” because of how much luck can influence decisions over which players are named to the team each year. In the article, you suggest that we’d be better off if the teams were chosen by systems designed to estimate a player’s current true talent levels, with 2011 year-to-date stats playing a small role in who is selected to represent their teams at the event.

First off, am I re-stating your position accurately? Is there anything you’d like to add to that summary, or an aspect of your view that I left out?

Justin: My position is that All Star Games should be about showcasing the best players, not the players who have gotten lucky. Whether we use projections or not is a matter of personal choice (maybe the alternative is scouting? Or some combination of both?), but projections are a good way to estimate player talent level.

I actually think that a lot of fans (a majority?) agree with the notion that All Star Games should be a showcase of the best talent. That is how they seem to be advertised. It’s just that we (fans, media industry, etc) put far too much weight on a player’s current-season statistics when judging talent. 2011 statistics do matter, and we absolutely should use them as part of the evaluation process. But we shouldn’t ignore what players have done, for example, in the past calendar year, or in prior years. As it is, second-half performances get almost no consideration in All Star selection, which I think is absurd.

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The Morning After: Game Recaps for June 29th

Cubs 2, Giants 1

Moving the Needle: Aramis Ramirez walks off with a single, +.368 WPA. Neither team scored through six, but in the seventh the Cubs led off with a double and a single to record the first run. The Giants added theirs in the top of the ninth, also after a leadoff double and a single. An intentional walk and a single loaded up the bases, but a ground ball double play ended the threat. That would have been the biggest WPA swing if not for Ramirez’s walk-off single with two outs in the ninth.

Notables

Ryan Dempster: 8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K. The run scored after Carlos Marmol came on in relief, though Dempster did allow the leadoff double to set up the tying run.

Tim Lincecum: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 K. One of the walks was intentional. That’s seven out of 17 starts with nine or more strikeouts.


Also in this issue: Angels 1, Nationals 0 | Indians 6, Diamondbacks 2 | Cardinals 5, Orioles 1 | Mets 16, Tigers 9 | White Sox 3, Rockies 2 | Twins 1, Dodgers 0 | Rangers 3, Astros 2 | Yankees 5, Brewers 2 | Phillies 2, Red Sox 1 | Marlins 3, A’s 1 | Padres 4, Royals 1 | Braves 5, Mariners 3 | Reds 4, Rays 3 | Blue Jays 2, Pirates 1

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Zack Greinke Can’t Catch a Break

The Milwaukee Brewers’ acquisition of Zack Greinke was arguably the biggest move of the offseason. With Greinke and Yovani Gallardo at the top of the Brewers’ rotation — and Shaun Marcum slotting in at number three — the Brewers looked like legitimate World Series contenders. Unfortunately, Greinke’s time as a Brewer has been tarnished by extremely poor luck. First, a rib injury — which he suffered playing basketball — sidelined Greinke’s Brewers’ debut until May. Since then, his performance on the field hasn’t matched up to the hype. Through eleven starts this season, Greinke carries a 5.63 ERA. A look at Greinke’s peripherals, however, reveals a pitcher experiencing one of the best seasons of his career.
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Ben Zobrist, Stealth MVP Candidate (Again)

He’s a .266 hitter, has just nine homers, and plays for a third-place team. Yet for the second time in three seasons, Ben Zobrist is emerging as an MVP candidate. A deep sleeper, no-way-in-hell-anyone-will-ever-vote-for-him MVP candidate.

With the Rays’ 4-3 loss to the Reds today in the books, Zobrist is now hitting .266/.349/.472. Yet those numbers belie his status as one of the most versatile, and valuable, players in the game.

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Red Sox Opt For Offense in NL Park

With a right-handed pitcher on the mound for the second game of the Philadelphia Phillies-Boston Red Sox series, Terry Francona has decided to rearrange his lineup and get all his biggest bats into the game. That means he has to find two places on the field for Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz, neither of which is particularly fleet of foot, and although Gonzalez has a slick glove, it’s fair to question how he could handle the outfield. These questions will be answered today, as Francona has elected to put Gonzalez in right field to open up first for the statue that is David Ortiz.

Ortiz effectively replaces Mike Cameron in the lineup. Cameron has been a shell of his former self this year, posting a miniscule 25 wRC+, whereas Ortiz has been playing his best baseball in years, posting a 165 wRC+, a difference on the order of 90 runs over the course of a full season. The true talent difference probably isn’t quite that large, but throwing in the platoon advantage it’s not difficult to imagine an offensive gain of around half a run per game with this move.

This will be Gonzalez’s first game as a right fielder since he played eight innings there for the Rangers in 2005. The worst right fielders (think Adam Dunn and Brad Hawpe) tend to be around -30 runs over a full season, and I can’t imagine Gonzalez, very out of practice and lacking outfield range, would be much better. David Ortiz has been the butt of jokes as an American League representative at first base in All-Star Games at NL parks before, which should speak to how poor he is in the field. Think Prince Fielder, but without the practice of playing the position every day, and probably with less range. The defensive difference between Gonzalez and Cameron, two above-average defenders, as opposed to Ortiz and Gonzalez, likely two of the worst fielders in the game at their position, could approach something like 50 runs over the course of a whole season, or about a third of a run per game.

So although the difference in runs per game appears negligible, just looking at these dry statistics, I think Francona is making a great decision with this lineup. With John Lackey on the mound, the Red Sox may need to score more runs than usual regardless of the quality of their defense. Also, in one individual game, there’s a chance Gonzalez may only be forced into action at RF two or three times, and Ortiz may not even have to face any challenging plays at first. Regardless of what happens in the game, though, both the first baseman and right fielder will have to hit at least three times, and likely four or five.

The Red Sox have a flexible enough bench that they can easily go to a defensive replacement at any time in the game by inserting Cameron into right field and returning Gonzalez to first base. With the heavy-hitting run-scoring lineup on the field to begin the game, the Sox may be able to sprint out to an early lead and then revert to a defensive lineup in the later innings. Francona is employing a creative and potentially risky plan, but the flexibility of his lineup and talent of his hitters suggest that it is the right one.


The Determinants of Foreign Talent

Why do so many Major League Baseball players come from the Dominican Republic (DR)? Why does economically strong, population-rich Japan produce so few MLB players? Why does baseball-loving Colombia have so few MLB alums (nine total)? Well, as it turns out, the answers are not so easy to find.

My previous two articles — one on East Asian talent, th’other on the relationship between height and OBP — have generated a lot of good discussion about what determines where a baseball player comes from.

In the first piece, I proposed that teams should invest in Chinese (and Indian) baseball academies to take advantage of the exceedingly large pool of athletes in those areas. However, several commentors suggested that baseball culture, not population size, determines the talent pool.

I found this a most intriguing analysis, so I went back to the ol’ opening day roster/injury list of foreign born players.

This is how it breaks out:

It does not require an electron micrometer to see the DR and Venezuela give the MLB lots o’ players. These two nations composed 17.5% of opening day rosters, but have a combined population smaller than Korea or Columbia individually.

So what does determine MLB talent sources? Well, it certainly does not appear to be population:

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Top Japanese Import, Matsuzaka or Kuroda?

In 2007, Daisuke Matsuzaka became the talk of baseball with his Gyroball and the over $51M paid by the Red Sox to negotiate for him. The next season, Hiroki Kuroda quietly signed with the Dodgers. Since coming over from Japan, Matsuzaka has gotten more media coverage while the less publicized Kuroda has been the better pitcher on the field.

Matsuzaka came to the U.S. under a media storm which can be seen in the number of news articles written about him. Doing a Google search for news stories shows that he has had about 25K news articles written about him. On the other hand, Kuroda has had only about 1/4 the number of online articles. The 36-year-old Kuroda has definitely flown under the radar compared to his fellow countryman.

Since joining the league, their only similarity seems to be that they were from Japan. After signing with the Red Sox, Dice-K had 15 wins and over 200 Ks, helping the Red Sox to a 2007 World Series title. He had similar production in 2008 with an 18-3 record. In 2009 is when injuries began to creep up on him. In 2009 and 2010 he went on the DL five times and missed 164 games. In 2011, the story hasn’t been much different. He managed only seven starts and has been on the DL since May 17th.

His WAR totals definitely mirror his ability to stay healthy. In 2007 and 2008, he generated 7.2 WAR. From 2009 on he has totaled only 3.2 WAR. The 30-year-old still has a chance to rebound to his previous levels, but after each injury he deals with, the chances get slimmer and slimmer.

On the other hand, Kuroda has been fairly steady with his production while with the Dodgers. He has averaged 3.3 WAR and 28 starts from 2008 to 2010. So far in 2011 he has generated 1.2 WAR for career total of 11.1 WAR in 3.5 seasons, or 0.7 WAR more than Matsuzaka has created in his 4.5 seasons with the Red Sox.

Besides the fanfare of the signing and helping lead the Red Sox to a World Series Championship, it can be easy to tell why Matsuzaka gets more media attention. His 49-30 record looks prettier than Kuroda’s 33-39 record. Also he has been able to strike out more batters (8.2 K/9) than Kuroda (6.6 K/9).

Kuroda, on the other hand walks, less than half the batters (2.1 BB/9) than Matsuzaka (4.4 BB/9). Even though Kuroda has started seven fewer games, has has generated a bit more WAR due to his better walk rate. Kuroda’s career ERA/FIP/xFIP values (3.52/3.52/3.63) are about 0.75 points lower than Matsuzaka’s (4.25/4.25/4.52) values.

Matsuzaka came over from Japan with a media blitz and once he is done pitching, there will probably be another one. Kuroda has had less hype surrounding him, but has been the better of the two pitchers.


The Bad Contract Swap Meet

While trade season primarily involves contenders raiding also-rans for useful players, we always hope for that trade that makes us go: what? When the Red Sox traded Manny to the Dodgers in 2008: What? (Which was preceded, of course, but a much louder what when it was reported they traded him to Florida.) We don’t see those very often, because they often involve high-profile players with big contracts, which complicates matters. Chances are we won’t see any jaw-dropping moves this off-season, but that doesn’t preclude us from writing about possibilities.

Today we’ll hold a bad contract swap meet. There aren’t too many huge, horrible contracts out there — that is, contracts that a team would dump if possible and not really miss the player’s production. The entrants, with the year their contracts expire and the money they’re owed beyond 2011 (assuming options declined):

Boston Red Sox: John Lackey (2014, $47.85m)
New York Mets: Jason Bay (2013, $39.26m)
San Francisco Giants: Barry Zito (2013, $46m)
Chicago Cubs: Alfonso Soriano (2014, $57m)

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The Worst in the Majors

Sports are biased toward success. That’s quite the obvious statement; players aren’t going out on the field and trying to lose, and fans don’t root for their favorite team to lose on a nightly basis. We all love a winner.

And yet, there’s something very satisfying in flipping the leaderboards on their head and looking at which players have been the worst in the majors. It’s a bit sadistic when you think about it — these players are people too, and we all know how much it hurts to perform poorly at your job — but the Yuniesky Betancourts and David Ecksteins of the world can get just many words written about them as star players sitting at the top of the game.

But schadenfreude be darned, I can’t help but want to know who the worst players in the majors have been over the past few years. Care to join me? Let’s take this category by category, as ranked by cumulative stats from 2010 and 2011.

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The Error of the Reached on Error

A hitter slaps a ground ball between second and third and it rolls just past the diving shortstop’s (let’s call him “Jerek Deter”) glove into left field. IT’S A HIT! In the official statistics, the hitter gets an at-bat (and thus also a plate appearance) and a hit. The hitter’s batting average and on-base percentage have increased.

Now imagine the exact same action by the hitter, the swing, the path, speed, spin on the ball, and speed to first base. This time, however, the defender just gets to the ball, but fumbles around and the hitter takes first base. In the official statistics, the hitter gets an at-bat (and thus also a plate appearance)… but no hit. The hitter’s batting average and on-base percentage have just decreased. Makes sense, yes? Uh, no.

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FanGraphs Chat – 6/29/11


The Morning After: Game Recaps for June 28th

Rays 4, Reds 3

Moving the Needle: Johnny Damon puts the Rays ahead in the eighth with a two-RBI double, +.602 WPA. Until the bottom of the ninth, Johnny Damon had done it all for the Rays. He opened up the scoring with a solo home run, which held up until the Reds got two in the eighth. Now down 2-1, the Rays put runners on first and second for Damon, who blooped one to shallow left. Chris Heisey went for the dive, but it ricocheted off his glove, allowing both runners to score. Jay Bruce then answered with a game-tying homer to lead off the ninth, but Evan Longoria felt he had something to prove and hit his own homer, the game-winner, to lead off the bottom half.

Notables

David Price: 7.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 12 K. He was really rolling until the eighth. The Reds got half their hits and all their runs off him that inning.

Johnny Cueto: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 6 K. A bloop double ruined everything.


Also in this issue: Angels 11, Nationals 5 | Diamondbacks 6, Indians 4 | Cardinals 6, Orioles 2 | Giants 13, Cubs 7 | Giants 6, Cubs 3 | Mets 14, Tigers 3 | Twins 6, Dodgers 4 | Rockies 3, White Sox 2 | Yankees 12, Brewers 2 | Rangers 7, Astros 3 | A’s 1, Marlins 0 | Phillies 5, Red Sox 0 | Braves 5, Mariners 4 | Padres 4, Royals 2 | Pirates 7, Blue Jays 6 |

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Q&A: Chase Headley

There is no place like home, but if you’re Chase Headley, Petco Park is anything but accommodating. The Padres third baseman is hitting .300/.397/.407 overall, and his home-road splits are glaring. In the not-so-friendly confines, his 2011 slash line [through June 27] is .248/.369/.336, while from 2008-2010 it was just .225/.310/.337. On the road, those numbers are an all-star caliber .348/.425/.474 and .298/.357/438 respectively. Headley talked about hitting in Petco, and his approach at the plate, when the Padres visited Boston earlier this month.

——

David Laurila: How do you define yourself as a hitter?

Chase Headley: I’ve actually changed quite a bit since I was called up. Originally, I would have said that I look to drive the ball a little more and hit for a little more power. When I came to Petco, I realized that isn’t necessarily the best approach to have unless you’re a big-time power guy. I went to being more of a line-drive, gap-type hitter, someone who wants to produce runs. All I care about is getting on base, scoring runs, and driving in runs. In the end that’s all that matters.

DL: Was it a gradual adjustment, or did you go there knowing you’d have to change your style?

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