Sunday, January 31, 2010
Saturday, January 30, 2010
For those who don't know, the names of these stats are acronyms that stand for Value Over Replacement Player and Wins Above Replacement Player, respectively. They attempt to measure the number of runs, or entire wins, any player in baseball can be expected to contribute to his team above the level of production that same team would have gotten from a minor league player called up to fill in for that starter if he were injured. Put another way, Albert Pujols has an enormous VORP because he gives the Cardinals a lot more offense than any player they would have to ask to step in for an injured Albert Pujols.
My fascination with these stats came from their supposed simplicity, their ability to provide a single number describing a player's total value (at least in the case of WARP; VORP is offense-only). For example, in 2006 Derek Jeter put up slash stats of .343/.417/.483 with 14 home runs, 97 RBI and 34 steals. That same season Justin Morneau put up .321/.375/.559 with 34 home runs, 130 RBI and 3 steals. Both players had incredible years, but Morneau narrowly defeated Jeter for the MVP.
To choose between Jeter and Morneau that season baseball writers needed to look at the strengths and weaknesses of their seasons and make a subjective judgment between, essentially, power and getting on base. In the end the writers felt that Morneau's larger power numbers were more valuable than Jeter's better on-base numbers.
If WARP or VORP were as widely accepted in the baseball media as, say, batting average, then the writers would only have to consider a single number, instead of applying arbitrary weights to a series of numbers. In the case of 2006, the writers got it wrong. According to BP, Jeter was worth 5.4 wins to the Yankees while Morneau was worth 3.9 wins to the Twins. It was information such as this that drew me to these kinds of stats: a single number, capturing an entire player.
That fascination is waning. I recently ran a post comparing the 2010 projected Red Sox to the 2010 projected Yankees (these are the things I do when no actual baseball is being played). I used the 2009 WARP and WAR statistics from Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs to determine which teams would be better in 2010. Something unexpected happened. The two sites didn't agree. I won't go back and rehash the numbers, but I'll give the example of 2B. Baseball Prospectus felt that Robinson Cano was worth more wins than Dustin Pedroia, but Fangraphs felt that Pedroia was worth more wins than Cano. Say what now?
Anyone who read the article may recall that I was openly disappointed to learn that two well-respected baseball analysis sites would come to different conclusions about the number of wins the same player contributed to his team. It detracts greatly from marketability of these win-based stats. Applying this outcome to a different statistic shows how ridiculous it is:
Larry: What a season. Mark Teixeira hit 39 home runs.
Me: Wait, what? My tally has him at 46 home runs. What games were you watching?
The method of calculating a given stat needs to be universally accepted if that stat is to be meaningful. Otherwise, we're trapped in a semantic debate over the value of fielding, or how heavily to weigh OBP. The point is not to argue the calculations, but to agree upon better ways of evaluating baseball players. With WARP (or WAR), clearly, we're not there yet.
For a while I have wanted to examine the RP in these stats, the method of calculating Replacement Player. My goal was to do this for VORP since offensive statistics are more widely available than the defensive statistics that inform WARP. My criticism came from the adjustments these statistics make for each position. To calculate replacement level the stats are reported to take the average offensive production in each league at each position, and then multiply it by 80%, or 75% for a catcher, or 85% for a first baseman or a DH.
If you're like me, your response to the above should be, "say what?" The idea of calculating league average production at a given position is fine. That's what these stats are meant to do. But it is arbitrary, and frankly sloppy, to say that a replacement level shortstop is 80% of league average, while a replacement level catcher is 75%. These replacement level players are known quantities. In any given season we know who these guys are. There are excellent ways to separate the regulars from the replacements to determine if the players qualified to play short or third are in fact better hitters than those available to catch. Because I'm still single, I set out to recalculate VORP to determine how much variance would occur if we juggled the replacement level. Given my criticism of its sister stat, WARP, this seemed like a good time to hack away.
Herein lies the divorce from these statistics. I couldn't calculate VORP. The fact that I couldn't calculate VORP is irrelevant (except to me, since I spent hours trying to do this). The reason I couldn't is much more telling. I never found the calculation. I was appalled to learn that Baseball Prospectus considers VORP to be a proprietary statistic. Its actual calculation is a well-guarded secret.
The launch codes for America's nuclear arsenal should be a well-guarded secret. The Fed's discussions on interest rate policy should be a well-guarded secret. The combination on the lock to Natalie Portman's bedroom should be a well-guarded secret. The VORP calculation should be easily accessible to, at the very least, Baseball Prospectus subscribers.
The problem with guarding the calculation to VORP (aside from the fact that its categorically insane) is that it prevents the validation of the statistic. If VORP is as good as BP says it is, then what's the secret? Release the code. Let mega-dorks like me mess around with it. If I draw the same conclusions BP did then I most certainly will keep my subscription.
Preventing the release of the statistic, on the other hand, leaves it open to criticism and speculation as to why respected sites can't agree on how to calculate their advanced stats. If we don't actually know what a win is, or how many additional runs a player is worth, then how can we trust these stats? In the case of Pedroia v. Cano the difference was material. If you were drafting a fantasy team and wanted one of these guys at 2B one site says Dustin and the other says Robinson. Thanks guys! Appreciate the input. Glad I spent that $34.
It's possible that a big chunk of my criticism here is off base. It's possible that Fangraphs and BP can't agree on WAR versus WARP because they calculate the two stats differently and I'm getting pissed off about the different weights put on doubles versus home runs. If, however, that is the case, then it adds incredible weight to my second criticism. We need to agree on this stuff.
For my part I'm abandoning these stats. My new personal preference is to go back to the established statistics, and appreciate them correctly. The combination of the slash stats with homers, steals and caught stealing tells us an incredible amount about a ball player, so long as those stats are weighted correctly. OBP is much more important than slugging; getting caught stealing more than 25% of the time is bad. And so on.
This adds credence to statistics like wOBA, or EQA if you're a BP fan. The above is precisely what those stats are trying to do. And the calculation isn't some well-guarded secret.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Moving on, SG posted extremely early 2010 MLB CAIRO-projected standings the other day, and while we obviously can't read too much into it, it's still pretty awesome to see the Yanks projecting as a 916-run-scoring, 102-win team with a 57% chance to win the division before a single game is even played, even with Randy Winn and his .384 OPS against lefties last season Betemiting up the place (couldn't help myself there, but I promise I'll stop ragging on Winn, at least for the time being). As SG mentions, we probably need to dock the Yankees a few wins and add a few to Boston's tally, but even so I'm pretty sure an eight-game gap on paper is the widest margin of victory I've ever seen in a CAIRO preseason projection.
Elsewhere, the AL Central once again looks boring as hell, while the Mariners unsurprisingly project to finally overtake the Angels' iron grip on the AL West. I'd also love to see the Rangers make their presence known again in 2010 so I can bust out my supervillain cackle when the Halos tumble to third place.
I was somewhat surprised to see the Mets project to have a winning record given the disastrous state the franchise currently finds itself in, but I suppose full seasons from David Wright, Jose Reyes and Johan Santana will go a long way in carrying the team in Quadruple A. Elsewhere in the NL everything looks almost exactly the same as it did last year; my only hope for the Senior Circuit is that they produce a different foe than the Phillies for the Yanks to face in the 2010 World Series.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
You've treated us Yankee fans oh so well during these last two offseasons. You purchased CC Sabathia and overpaid for A.J. Burnett, both of whom played critical roles in winning the 2009 World Series. You gave us the greatest Christmas present of all in landing Big Tex seemingly out of nowhere. This offseason, you reacquired two talented players both of whom you previously traded away--including in a deal for each other--in Nick the Stick and Home Run Javy.
Simply put, you've been on a roll, and though you kept telling us you only had $2 million to spend on left field, I don't think any of us actually believed that. Nor did we think you'd go and take that $2 million and spend it on Randy Winn. Words cannot describe how much I hate this move, so I will show you in numbers:
For kicks, here are the last four years of Tony Womack's career:
And here are Winn's 2010 projections:
Randy Winn sucks. He may have at one time been a reasonable ballplayer, but that was back when Honus Wagner was suiting up for the Buccos. I know he's coming aboard as the fourth outfielder/platoonmate, but sweet Jesus we'd have been better off flushing the money directly down the toilet. It would've taken what--an extra $3-$4 million to get Damon back into the fold? We couldn't do that, but we could spend a third of the presumed cost of Damon on an absolute and utter complete waste of space like Winn? Better to have let Gardner at least try to hold the position down--I'm not even much of a Gardner fan but I'd still rather Grit in there every day than waste any at-bats on the second coming of Wilson Betemit.
Honestly, Brian Cashman knows better than this. Signing Randy Winn and his sub-.700 OPS in 2009 for any amount is craziness. It doesn't make any sense nor fit with the Yankees' work-the-pitcher, high-OBP MO.
In the grand scheme of things I can't imagine Winn playing a particularly large role on the 2010 Yankees, but the mere fact that he's even a possibility to steal at-bats at all either underscores just how putridly depressed the market for outfielders is; shows that the Steinbrenners weren't actually kidding about a budget; that Cashman went out on a raging bender last night and offered Winn a contract in the midst of a severe alcohol-induced stroke; or all of the above.
While I've been very pleased with Yankeeist's output (big ups to Mike and Jason), it's been a bit of a challenge to come up with content given that the Yankees haven't done anything for over a month since trading for Vazquez, and this late-January lull is starting to really rear its ugly head.
A few newsworthy items:
Interesting move by the A's picking up Ben Sheets. Despite the Yankees having no room for him, I've been coveting Sheets forever, and am definitely jealous to see him on another American League team. Feels like a bit of an overpay for a team like the A's, but hey, Billy Beane probably knows what he's doing.
The Cubs added Xavier Nady as a fourth outfielder on a contract that could be worth as much as $5.3 million in incentives. If that's the kind of deal a guy who played all of eight games last season is getting, you have to figure Damon is worth at least that much.
The Twins picked up Jim Thome for their bench. I was going to make fun of this, but Thome's actually still a fairly productive hitter, and for $1.5 million he should be a good weapon for a team that hasn't always been known for its pop.
The offseason is especially long for someone like myself who doesn't give a crap about football, but this year, perhaps more than ever (although I'm sure I say this every year) spring training cannot come soon enough.
A list of players with legitimate Hall-of-Fame resumes whose association with steroids might prevent their election would look roughly like this:
The above list isn't meant to be exhaustive, but at a moment's notice that is the list of players most fans would probably think of whose accomplishments on the field would get them elected into Cooperstown on the first ballot, except for the steroids implications.
All but two of these players are retired. Of them, Sosa is the only one who didn't either lie to Congress (really, never a good idea) or put himself into a legally treacherous position. And if you believe his "me no speak English" excuse then I have a bridge in Alaska I'd like to sell you.
The combination of dishonesty and inactivity makes it difficult for these players to work their way back into the game's good graces. They are no longer playing in what is now perceived to be a cleaner MLB. These players can't point to several years of solid numbers and good behavior to make the (probably true) argument that steroids helped them heal, but didn't help them hit big league curveballs. That each one of them decided to lie despite solid evidence of PED abuse adds fuel to the fire in this witch hunt.
Manny Ramirez is active, and probably the best all-around righthanded hitter of the last 40 or so years. He's also universally reviled in the baseball media. Even before the steroids taint hit him articles had been published arguing against Manny's HOF cred for his reputation as a bad teammate. Then, he committed the only sin I'd hold against a PED user: he got caught, and missed 50 games. This seems worse than being implicated in the scandal five or six years after the fact, which Manny was; the combination of failed tests leaves him looking like more of a cheater than many of his peers.
That leaves A-Rod. There is no silver bullet to extricate one's self from the steroid scandal in the eyes of a crazily hypocritical baseball media, but the next best thing is to admit it, move on, and for the love of god don't get caught again. So far A-Rod is 3-3. He's also continuing to put up HOF numbers now that he is hopefully clean. Unlike Manny, no one has also ever accused A-Rod of being a bad person for any other reasons. He may not be the most popular guy in the clubhouse, but being a prima donna is a far cry from mailing in entire games, at least as far as baseball's MSM is concerned.
The BBWAA votes on the Babe Ruth Award. That's why it's interesting to see A-Rod, and not, say, Hideki Matsui, walking away with it. Receiving this award is a far cry from being enshrined in Cooperstown, but it does offer some evidence that great players have a path to redemption, again, as far as the touchy-feely baseball writers are concerned.
Well done, Alex. Now, for the love of god, don't get caught.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
It seems more and more -- with the possible exception of a few minor deals -- that the Yankee roster is set for the season. And what a season it should be. This offseason, the Yankees seemed to have improved on a champion team, while simultaneously getting younger without raising payroll. It's a hard trifecta to pull off, and Brian Cashman -- for whom I gain more respect every day -- accomplished it mainly through trades, while largely avoiding the free agent market.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Never one to be out-bad-GMed himself, Dayton Moore signed Rick Ankiel -- he of the herculean .672 OPS in 404 plate appearances in 2009 -- to the Royals for $3.25 million.
And of course, as per The Contest, Omar Minaya simply can't allow a bad Moore move to occur without a corresponding one of his own, which last week came in the form of the acquisition of Gary Matthews, Jr. While I've heard some try to defend this move given that the Angels will be picking up most of Matthews' salary, it still doesn't change the fact that Matthews is awful, being paid $19.8 million to post OPS+'s of 77 and 83 during the last two full seasons.
ESPN's Buster Olney apparently spoke to several people around baseball about the Mets picking Matthews up, and the general thought is that he "can't hit for average, can't hit for power, his defense ranks statistically among the worst outfielders in the majors, and, to top it off, rival scouts have been reporting that in recent years he has been a clubhouse negative." So not only does he suck, but he's also a jerk.
Additionally, according to Fangraphs, Matthews has actually been worth negative $7.4 million to his team the last two years. I know Beltran won't be available to start the year, but jeez. All I can say is I continue to be elated that I was not raised a Mets fan.
Anyway, the Ankiel signing -- along with the rest of Moore's genius acquisitions this winter -- resulted in a bit of a chatter on my daily Yankee e-mail list about just how futile the Royals offense will be in 2010, so I wanted to take a quick look at what one could reasonably expect their hypothetical lineup to do this year. I'll use last year's wOBAs and Marcel's 2010 wOBA projections, since Marcel seems to be the most amusingly pessimistic projection system:
Yikes. That's a rough team, although two of their three (!) sub-.300 wOBA players from 2009 are expected to bounce back somewhat. However, there's still plenty of time for Moore to inflict additional damage to his squad before the season starts -- Preston Wilson's looking for a job, and his .316 wOBA in 501 at-bats in his last full season in 2006 and .257 in 64 at-bats for the Cards in 2007 would fit right in with the 2010 Royals.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Nady was in the midst of a career year. He'd been a slightly better than average hitter his entire career, until the first half of 2008 when he put up an OPS+ of 143. Meanwhile, Marte was one of the most coveted left handed relievers in baseball. Dating back to 2002, Marte had never once put up an ERA+ below 100, and had at times been dominant to the tune of an ERA+ of 292 in 2003 and 182 in 2007.
Both guys regressed in pinstripes. The fans, myself included at the time, embraced Nady as a solid bottom-of-the-order bat. But he'd fallen tremendously from his heights as a Pirate. After putting up a breathtaking .330/.383/.535 with the Bucs, Nady went back to being just slightly better than average, posting a .260/.320/.474 with the Yankees. To quote Dom DeLuise from A History of the World Part 1, "Nice. Not thrilling, but nice." The same could not be said of Marte. Damaso quickly became replacement level as a Yankee. His ERA+ fell to just 82 in 18 innings of work.
The Yankees saw something in Marte that no one else did. Despite the fact that Nady at leasy performed to big-league expectations, the Yankees offered Marte a three-year extension. (The Yankees may have hesitated on Nady due to his injury history; if that is the case then it proved prescient.) Marte turned around and thanked the team with a god-awful 2009 regular season. His ERA was 9.45. No one needs to see his ERA+ breakdown to know that's bad.
While Nady is trapped somewhere between the Yankees (perhaps) and another team, Marte is with the Bombers for at least two more seasons. Injuries were offered as the explanation for his terrible 2009 performance -- and while he did improve dramatically in the second half of the season, that didn't make it any less terrifying to see Joe Girardi hand him the ball so often in the playoffs. That the Fox and TBS announcers insisted on explaining to the national audiences that, no, really, Marte is good when he's healthy, and Joe Girardi is still in complete control of his faculties, added a wonderful element of hilarity to his appearances.
Marte didn't make any friends in his appearance against Minnesota. He gave up 2 hits and recorded 0 outs -- that's bad. But Girardi stayed with him and, the most amazing thing happened. In 4 innings of high pressure work in the ALCS and World Series Marte was -- wait for it -- perfect. He allowed no hits. He walked no batters. In the World Series he struck out 5 (FIVE!). Most importantly, he allowed no runs. A pitcher who had previously been an opposite field line drive waiting to happen turned into a clutch, shut 'em down performer (with a little help from Ryan Howard).
Will the real Damaso Marte please stand up? On the one hand, there is a pitcher who has been abysmal as a Yankee -- bad in 2008 and execrable in 2009. On the other hand, all you need on this team is a sterling postseason resume and all is forgiven. 2009's zero runs allowed postseason performance brings Marte's postseason career ERA down to ... well, zero. He didn't give up any runs when he was in the postseason with the White Sox in 2005, either.
The Yankees are betting that Marte is healthy, and will return to his pre-2008 form, which was amazing. For the past two seasons the Yankees have needed to retool their bullpen as the season went on. (Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez, anyone?) This year figures to be different. Mariano Rivera is still, well, Mariano Rivera, and with either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Huges taking on 8th inning duties, the Yankees bullpen figures to be exceptional, with Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, David Robertson and Alfredo Aceves all vying for work. Marte is the only lefty specialist on the team now that Phil Coke is gone (good riddance). With his postseason brilliance etched firmly in our minds, we the fans seem to be fine with this. Hopefully Marte is as well.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
While the deadline seems silly and the report seems to think Damon won't settle for $5 million guaranteed, this could be encouraging news for those looking to see Damon back in pinstripes -- which is probably most of the fanbase -- as I just can't see any of the other rumored interested parties (Atlanta, Detroit) trumping that offer.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Take a ride with me as I review some of the best superstitions from Major League Baseball.
1) Two of the best baseball movies of all time, Bull Durham and Major League portray the superstitious nature of baseball players to a T. In Bull Durham, Tim Robbins' Nuke LaLoosh attributes his dominance on the mound to his abstinence in the sack. Meanwhile in Major League, power hitting Pedro Cerrano has a shrine dedicated to Jobu. Offering Jobu cigars and rum, Pedro believes it will take the fear from his bat and allow him to hit curveballs. Granted these are just movies (and comedies to boot), but as I delve deeper in to the superstitions of baseball players these silver-screen-borne superstitions don't seem all that farfetched.
2) There are two famous superstitions that have plagued the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox. The Curse of the Billy Goat, and the Curse of the Bambino. I hope I don't have to dig deeper into these "curses" but if you want more information feel free to read up on their Wikipedia entries. Other forms of superstition that have taken form as a good luck charm for fanbases include the Angels Rally Monkey and Pedro's little buddy.
3) Jason Giambi's gold thong. This one was a layup with no real research needed. As all Yankee fans know, Giambi was known to wear a gold thong to break out of slumps. He even passed along the magic thong to Jeter, Bernie, Damon, Cano and Robin Ventura. I'm not too sure I'd want to be passing around a thong amongst teammates, but hey, whatever works. Not quite this kind of slump buster, but a slump buster none the less.
4) Larry Walker is obsessed with the number “3”. He sets his alarm for 33 minutes past the hour, takes practice swings in multiples of three, wears No. 33, was married on Nov. 3 at 3:33 p.m., and bought tickets for 33 disadvantaged kids when he played in Montreal, to be seated in Section 333 at Olympic Stadium. His last contract included a joint $3,333,333 donation to children’s organizations in British Columbia and Colorado.
5) Greg Swindell would bite the tip of his fingernail off and hold it in his mouth for the entire game. Jorge Posada and Moises Alou are both known to toughen their hands by peeing on them. Turk Wendell is one of notably one of the stranger characters in all of baseball. He chewed four pieces of black licorice when he pitched, spit them out after each inning and then brushed his teeth in the dugout. When he was on the mound, Wendell stood if the catcher was squatting, and squatted if the catcher was standing.Turk insisted that the umpire roll the ball to the mound rather than simply throw it to him. (If an umpire had mistakenly thrown the ball at him he let it bounce of his chest, or would let it go past him and pick it up off the ground). To add some more fuel to the weird fire that is Turk Wendell, lets not forget the necklace that adorned his neck; consisting of claws and teeth from animals he had killed.
6) Wade Boggs a.k.a the Chicken Man: What can't be said about Wade? In fact he is the reason why I thought of doing this post. As most people know, he ate chicken before every game garnering the nickname Chicken Man from Red Sox teammate Jim Rice. He woke up at the same time every day, took exactly 150 ground balls in practice, took batting practice at 5:17 and ran sprints at 7:17. He drew the Hebrew word “חי-Chai” in the batter’s box before each at-bat. He always ended his pregame infield practice by stepping, in order, on the third-, second- and first-base bags, stepping on the baseline, taking two steps in the coach’s box and trotting to the dugout in exactly four steps. A little off topic but definitely worth mentioning is Wade's penchant for drinking on cross-country flights. He's rumored to have downed 64 beers in one trip. While he doesn't admit to the number 64 in this clip on PTI, he certainly doesn't deny that he liked to drink on cross-country trips. Fact or fiction? I'll let you decide.
The list can go on and on for baseball players and their strange idiosyncrasies. Whether you think it does anything or not, that is up for debate. Unfortunately for you, you'll never find out the empirical truth because they'll continue to perform their strange rituals until the day they hang up their spikes.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
There was a time, not long ago, when I would have sooner argued that Nick Swisher become a permanent part of the Yankee bullpen than post in support of Joe Girardi. Throughout most of his tenure as Yankee manager Girardi had looked overmatched for the role. His micro-managing style may have worked well on a low payroll National League club like the Marlins, but in New York it looked heavy-handed and uncertain. Girardi looked like the kind of manager who was good only in specific settings and incapable of altering his style to reflect his new surroundings. Then the playoffs happened.
Clueless Joe seemed to be earning his nickname through the first series in Minnesota. Even when the Yankees were winning, he seemed to be managing every game as though it were his last, tinkering too much with the pitchers and the lineup. Nowhere was this more evident than in Game 3, when Joe pulled a brilliant Andy Pettitte after only 81 pitches.
Adding insult to injury, no one believed Joe was up to the task of taking the Yankees all the way. ESPN ran fan polls before each of the Yankee playoff series. In each poll fans were asked which of the two managers they'd rather have. Girardi lost all three.
Things changed as the postseason advanced. Ron Gardenhire outmanaged Girardi, but lost because of a lack of talent on his ballclub; however, Girardi clearly outwitted the much-hyped Mike Scioscia in the ALCS. Scioscia's club looked sloppy, and the manager didn't seem to understand his pitchers. Girardi seemed to occasionally understand when to use his pitchers, but other times apparently completely lost his mind.
Girardi also out the Yankees at a disadvantage in the ALCS when he would do things like using pinch runners too aggressively. Game 3 in particular stands out when he pulled Hideki Matsui for Brett Gardner after Matsui got on base in the late innings. Gardner was picked off moments before Jorge Posada hit a home run.
Heading into the World Series, Girardi was once again seen as inferior to his counterpart, Charlie Manuel. Thankfully this time Girardi seemed to be learning as the postseason progressed, having finally grown comfortable with the players available to him and which moves to make when. He stuck to his guns with the three-man rotation, and came away looking smart because of it.
Charlie Manuel, on the other hand, looked completely lost. He deserves to be second guessed as much as possible for declining to pitch Cliff Lee in Game 4. Giving the ball to the aging Pedro Martinez was a poor enough decision, but he also kept the righthander in far too long in Game 2, when even a basic scouting report would have said to take Pedro out after 100 pitches.
No articles have bee written i- at least that I've come across -i praising Joe Girardi. Perhaps they're overdue. Sure, he has the pleasure of managing the best team in baseball with incredible resources, but those expectations come with incredible pressure. In 2009, when the pressure was at its apex and his job was probably on the line, Girardi responded in the face of fierce criticism. Heading into the 2010 season its only fair to list Girardi among the Yankees' many assets. He's a postseason tested manager who leveraged a high risk situation into a World Series victory. Hopefully he'll continue to improve.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Mussina's name kept on popping up during the research. In 2008, he posted an ERA of 3.37 and a WHIP of 1.223. In 2006, his ERA was 3.51 and his WHIP was an astonishing 1.110. In ... you get the idea.
I've never thought of Moose as an ace on the Yankee staff. It always seemed that he was a bit of a disappointment. One of the best pitchers in baseball in his Baltimore years, I just took it as a given that he lost a gear when he put on the pinstripes. Read all this as a confession that I hadn't done my homework on Mussina until researching a post on CC Sabathia.
The last few years of Moose's tenure in pinstripes dominates my memory of him. He was one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball, but he didn't perform that way. From 2004 through 2008 Mike posted ERA+'s below 100 three times, and was nearly sent down to the minors in 2007.
Those few poor seasons overshadow some true dominance. In eight years in pinstripes Moose put up ERA+'s above 100 five times, including 2008, his last professional season. He put up an ERA+ above 125 in four seasons as a Yankee, including a 142 mark in 2001 when his actual ERA was 3.15 and his WHIP was 1.067 in 228 innings of brilliance. By comparison, Andy Pettitte has only broken 125 in ERA+ four times in his entire career, never mind his Yankee years.
For some reason Mike Mussina doesn't crack the list of favorite, dominant Yankees, at least when I do a completely informal check, but that doesn't seem deserved. Although its true that he was better when he was an Oriole, he still had seven solid seasons as a Yankee, four of which were outstanding.
I once watched Moose's Yankeeography because I watch that stuff. In the piece Mussina explains that he was tempted to call a biography about himself "Almost" because he almost pitched a perfect game, almost won 300 games, and until his last season almost won 20 games. He was also the ace on two Yankee teams that almost won the World Series, first in 2001 and later in 2003.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Nice move by the Mariners, who have shown continually throughout this offseason that they're ready to field a contending ballclub now.
Here's what Igawa has given the Yankees in the Majors during the first three years of this deal (by the way, he's incredibly signed for two more seasons!):
I remember his one outing against the Tigers in 2008. 13 hits in four innings! I went over to my brother's place to watch that game and we couldn't stop crying from the moment Igawa took the hill, due to a combination of agony and laughter.
And here's what Igawa has done in parts of three seasons at AAA:
A career FIP over 4 in the minors. Sure paints a pretty picture, doesn't it? I guess $45 million just doesn't buy what it used to.
While Brian Cashman takes his share of crap for Carl Pavano, at least there was something of a track record involved, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I think Kei Igawa has a strong case for worst free agent signing in Yankee history. Igawa had a questionable track record at best, and the signing was clearly a knee-jerk reaction to Boston landing Matsuzaka.
Just imagine if the Yanks hadn't blown over $40 million on a guy who will pitch the remainder of his contract in triple A. Not that they necessarily needed Chapman, but without the Igawa debacle perhaps the Yankees feel a bit more confident about venturing back into international waters. They'd at least have had the money to strongly consider doing so (of course, assuming that it wouldn't have gotten spent on something else in the last three years, which in all likelihood it probably would have) with enough left over to bring Johnny Damon back as well.
Monday, January 18, 2010
The usual caveats apply here with the FIP projections -- some of the older projections -- James and CAIRO -- may not have been updated to reflect Vazquez's move to the AL East. Additionally, Hughes is likely being projected as a reliever.
CHONE and Marcel seem much harder on the Yankees' three horsemen, although 4.15-4.25 FIPs out of Burnett and Pettitte -- while not ideal -- should still be enough to put the Yankees in position to win plenty of their starts. Sabathia is unsurprisingly being predicted to be a huge badass again, although CAIRO is the only system that has him bettering his 2009 effort.
Unsurprisingly, no one is expecting Vazquez to come anywhere close to his superb 2009 FIP. While a mid-3s FIP would be great, I think we're going to have to expect something closer to 4.00 for ol' Home Run Javy. Thankfully for Joba he has nowhere to go but up, although he still has a lot of work to do to become the elite pitcher the Yankees and fanbase hope he blossoms into.
And finally, I'm assuming these Hughes projections are either as reliever or are presumably as some kind of starter/reliever hybrid. If CHONE and Marcel are actually predicting his FIP as a starter, I'd be overjoyed for anything under a 4.00 FIP over a full season of starts from Phil.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
What is known is that the Yankees got considerable production from two of the 3 players they've lost. They appear to have replaced that production (and I'll go so far as to say improved upon it, as the likelihood of Matsui and Damon repeating their 2009 efforts are slim) but next year's squad won't hit as many home runs as the 2009 guys. In order for Johnson and Gardner to be productive they'll need to get on base, and have others in the lineup knock them in. That's a big change from an '09 team that featured a lineup full of double-digit home run guys.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Now that we have four systems to compare, we may be able to get a clearer idea of what to expect from our starting nine this year. I'm going to look at wOBA, my stat du jour, because I like stats that try to accurately encapsulate a player's entire offensive performance. I'll also include 2009's actual wOBA along with career wOBAs for a frame of reference. For the pitchers, which I'll probably post later today or tomorrow, we'll use my other favorite stat, FIP.
So far this offseason I've primarily been looking through the prism of the James numbers simply because they'd been the most readily available, but it's no secret that James' projections tend to be wildly optimistic. This also won't be a completely true comp because James' version of wOBA includes stolen bases (and it looks like a few of the others do, too) -- which somewhat accounts for his inflated numbers -- but it's better than nothing.
Anyway, here are the projected wOBAs for the Yankees' projected starting lineup:
And for kicks, here's Damon:
A couple of things jump out at me. For starters, the top seven batters in the Yankee lineup put up wOBAs of .370 or better in 2009. We all know they were an offensive juggernaut, but sweet Jesus.
Marcel seems to be the most bearish of the projection systems. While another .390 campaign is unlikely, I'm somewhat surprised that all four systems feel Derek Jeter won't even match his career wOBA. Nick the Stick should be good for somewhere in the neighborhood of a .370 wOBA. Tex and A-Rod look like they'll continue to be absolute beasts. Posada, turning 39 this season, seems primed for a bit of a regression, although people have been expecting Posada to decline every year for the last several seasons and he keeps defying the odds, so hopefully we can get a mid-.360s wOBA out of catcher.
Cano should better his career wOBA, although no one has him matching the glorious high of last year's .370 mark. Swisher will likely experience a slight regression after a terrific 2009. All four systems have Granderson rebounding from his weak 2009. And if Grit Gardner can actually manage somewhere in the .340s, I think we'd all take that.
With the exception of James, who has Damon out-wOBAing Gardner by a mere 0.001, Damon looks to be anywhere from a 0.017 to 0.023-point wOBA upgrade in left. As examined on Wednesday, the difference between Gardner and Damon on the offensive unit as a hole seems pretty negligible, and this data generally bears that out as well.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Derek was, and still is the face of the Yankee franchise so there was little chance of him relinquishing shortstop. There was much ado about the relationship between Alex and Derek and how it would affect the chemistry in the clubhouse with the strained relationship after Alex's infamous Esquire interview in 2001. Needless to say, Derek handled the acquisition with open arms like the captain and class act that he is. Who wouldn't want one of the best players in the past 50 years -- potentially of all time -- on their team?
Alex handled the move to third base gracefully and he did quite well manning the hot corner for his first full season. That season was his best season defensively according to defensive sabermetrics, as he posted an UZR/150 of 11.6. The combination of his range and the strong arm that made him such a great shortstop was a major reason why he was able to command the position with great ease. His offensive numbers clearly showed he belonged as a power-hitting third baseman, while defensively he was proving the critics that he could indeed handle the hot corner. Meanwhile, Jeter went ahead and won three consecutive gold gloves, bewildering many a statistically-inclined baseball fan.
Most pundits thought Alex would be able to switch positions with no problem, as many professional players that began their minor league careers as shortstops eventually had to relinquish that position in order to realistically make the cut and stay in the big leagues (See Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera). Unfortunately, it seems as though 2004 was a defensive fluke. Sabermetricians rank third base as an easier position to play versus shortstop on the defensive position scale, so it seemed as though the transition should be easy.
In 2005, Alex's range dropped significantly. In 2004 his range had a rating of 7.0 runs saved compared to 2005 with a rating of -2.6. That loss of range alone cost the Yankees a game in the win loss column. However, what he lost in defensive prowess he clearly made up for with his bat. His WAR in 2005 was 9.4, the second-highest total of his six-year Yankee career, garnering Alex his second career MVP award, barely edging out David Ortiz in in a highly contested battle.
2006 was by far his worst season as he continued to add more weight to his frame and became a liability at third. He led all AL third basemen with 24 errors and had the lowest fielding percentage in the majors (.924). His range diminished as he now cost the Yankees 5.3 runs over the course of the season. His UZR/150 was a career low -12.4. Offensively it was a down year for Alex's standards, but above average for most players. He had a wRC+ of 140 in 2006, one of the lowest of his career, which obviously speaks volumes to how much of a dominant player he truly is.
Alex turned it around in 2007 after losing a significant amount of weight in the offseason, trimming his body fat from 16% down to 9%. This was the year Alex declared that he and Derek were no longer as close as they once were. 2007 was also the year that he absolutely tore up the month of April. Alex made some swing adjustments by shortening his swing and reducing his leg kick and the results were phenomenal. In the month of April he hit 14 home runs and drove in 34 runs. That, my friends, is more than some players put up in an entire season. (See Jose Molina, Tony Womack, Enrique Wilson).
Whatever Alex did wrong in 2006 he undoubtedly made up for it in 2007. He took home his second MVP award in three years and had an absolutely ridiculous wRC+ of 179. His defense didn't much matter that season -- when you're that much of an offensive powerhouse you could wear cement shoes in the field and still help the team. Alex actually had a good season at third, posting an above-average fielding percentage and an UZR/150 of 2.3.
According to Gary Palmer's btWins statistic, Alex provided 6.3 wins with his bat that season. In case you don't remember his 2007 statistics, I'm happy to remind you:
.314/.422/.645 (for the highest OPS of his career), and 54/143/156 with 24 SBs.
He had a career-high ISO of .331 that season. Coincidentally, this was also the season where Alex opted out of his record-setting $252 million dollar contract. After some deliberation and a falling out with Scott Boras, Alex ended up signing another record-setting 10-year deal for $275 million.
2008 seemed to be a non-factor season for Alex. The most attention he received was due to his extramarital affairs. Alex's wife left him and these off the field distractions really seemed to get the best of him. Many people were shaking their heads as to why the Yankees gave him such a monster contract when he never performed when it counted and seemed to be the second coming of Mr. May. He was the goat of New York for his continued failure in the postseason and he would never become enshrined by Yankees fans until he could prove it in October.
Of course, despite any perceived shortcomings, Alex still had a great season in 2008, with a line of .302/.392/.573 and 35/104/103, a wRC+ of 157, a WAR of 6.0 and a UZR/150 of -3.2. I'd take that season each and every year from any third basemen. It seems 2008 got lost in the shuffle and buried away by Yankees fans since it was the first full season since 1993 that the Yankees did not make the playoffs. Between scads of injuries, the team losing Jorge for a good portion of the season and Cano having a brutal year, the Yankees found themselves in a hole they ultimately couldn't get out of.
Which brings us to the 2009 season, which certainly had its fair share of ups and downs. First Alex declared that he would play for the Dominican Republic in the WBC, spurning the United States. (To me this wasn't a big deal, and I personally don't think Major League players should play in the WBC). Alex then pulled himself out of the WBC due to a cyst on his hip, one thing led to another and it was found that he had a torn labrum. Alex would require immediate arthroscopic surgery to repair his right hip with hopes of getting back on the playing field for some time during the season.
Questions about coming back healthy for the season were all that any fan could think of, especially after doling out $275 million one year earlier. Despite normally requiring a recovery period of three to four months, Alex came back from surgery in a mere nine weeks. There were still questions of whether or not Alex would need a second surgery but everyone knew that if the Yankees could hold out for the month of April without Alex in the lineup, that they would have a good chance at a championship in 2009 even with Alex at 75%.
The next fiasco was the leak of a sealed test from 2003 that Alex had tested positive for a banned substance Primobolan. Alex's press conference seemed contrived and practiced but he was able to field all of the questions and seemed to take responsibility for his actions like a man. During that same time Sports Illustrated reporter Selena Roberts published a book chronicling Rodriguez's life. Roberts claimed that he had taken steroids while with the Yankees after he had failed the 2003 test as well as while a teenager in high school.
It seemed as though Alex couldn't stay out of the news and what he needed was a couple of months away from baseball. That time off spent in rehab was exactly what Alex needed, not to mention that Manny Ramirez, the other premier righthanded slugger of the same generation tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended for 50 games.
Alex started the season on May 8 against the Baltimore Orioles in perfect fashion, clubbing a three-run home run on the first pitch of his first at-bat. After missing the first month of the season injecting Alex back in to the Yankee lineup was exactly what the doctor ordered. Mark Teixeira finally started hitting once he had protection and the team looked sharp. Alex had another fine season and capped the season just the way he started it, in grand fashion. In his final game on October 4, he hit two home runs and drove in seven runs to make him the only player in MLB history to have 30 HRs and 100 RBIs in 12 consecutive seasons, 13 overall. Alex finished the season with this line: .286/.402/.532, 30/78/100 with a wRC+ of 151, a WAR of 4.4 and a UZR/150 of -11.7. It may seem pedestrian for Alex, but it's truly phenomenal when considering that he only played in 124 games and came off a major surgical procedure.
As the Yankees strolled into the playoffs and watched a one-game playoff decide their ALDS opponent, it seemed as though Alex used that final regular season game as a spring board to a momentous 2009 playoff performance. He manhandled the Twins to the tune of a .429 batting average with three home runs and 6 RBI, and of course, no home run was bigger than the one hit in Game 2 of the ALDS.
Down two runs coming into the bottom of the ninth, Mark Teixeira ripped a single down the right field line against Joe Nathan. Alex then came to the plate and delivered a monster home run to right center field to tie up the game. The Yankees would eventually go on to win the game in extra innings on a Teixeira home run, but from that day onward every Yankee fan wanted Alex up at the plate instead of wishing it was anyone but him. This was truly the turning point in the game as the Yankees had their backs to the walls and fought their way to a gripping 2-0 lead instead of a 1-1 series going back to Minnesota.
Next stop was the ALCS to play their achilles' heel, the Anaheim Angels. Alex's hot bat continued and the late game heroics followed once again. This time, while facing Brian Fuentes during a frigid Game 2 he hit a game-tying home run with two outs in the bottom of the 11th, recording his third game-tying home run in six games. The Yankees went on to win that game in the same nail-biting fashion as Game 2 of the ALDS and you could tell this team was destined for it all.
He continued his hot hitting into Philadelphia and drove in the go-ahead runs in the ninth inning against Brad Lidge in Game 4. Of course, nothing comes without a cause; many were giving credit to new girlfriend Kate Hudson on Alex's new found success in the post season. I for one didn't care -- as long as the Yankees were winning why not go with what works.
Hey, we all know how superstitious baseball players are, but I'll save that for another post. With all of the personal records and accolades that Alex has racked up in his storied career, I found it highly satisfying that he was finally able to earn the elusive championship that had evaded him for the previous 13 seasons.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
We know who will occupy the top four spots in the lineup. However, I'm just guessing on the order of the 5 through 9 hitters -- while I think Posada batting fifth makes the most sense, Granderson, Cano and Swisher could probably be plugged in anywhere from 6-8.
And so the Yankee lineup with Brett Gardner starting in left field is projected to score a mouth-watering 5.97 runs per game. This of course assumes that everyone will play at the very least to their career averages, not to mention takes nothing about the opposition into account, so take it with several grains of salt.
How about the lineup with Johnny Damon, you may be asking yourself? I would guess a Damon return to the Yankees also means a return to the two-hole, which would bump Nick the Stick down to presumably fifth, unless the Yanks want a little more power protecting A-Rod. For this particular analysis we'll toss Nick in the five spot. And what do we get? A lineup that averages 6.015 runs per game.
Again, this is obviously a rudimentary analysis, and I have to imagine that subbing Damon in for Gardner would impact the lineup more significantly than a measly difference of 0.045 runs per game, but perhaps the perceived upgrade from Damon isn't as dramatic as we in Yankeeland might think.