Posts Tagged ‘Balking Traditionalism’

Can Alcides Escobar Produce At 2B In 2009?

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

With Rickie Weeks done for the season, the Brewers must find a replacement. For now, it appears to be Casey McGehee and Craig Counsell, but anybody can tell you that won’t cut it. Casey McGehee is barely a major league player, much less a starter on a contender, and Craig Counsell himself has said that he can’t play every day. The Brewers have called up Hernan Irribarren, but he also likely does not posses the talent necessary to play 2B every day for a team contending for a playoff spot. One in-house option that has been bandied about and the Brewers are indeed preparing is top SS prospect Alcides Escobar. I have no doubt that Escobar will be a productive major leaguer in the future. However, is he ready to produce, and at 2B, a position that requires a better bat than SS?

Escobar earned a cup of coffee in the majors last year in the form of a September callup, but there’s really nothing for us to learn from that. Instead, let’s examine his minor league numbers. Defensively, Escobar shined last year, producing a +24 runs above average year with the glove in AA, his first year above average. Adjusting for the move from AA to the major leagues, I would say a fair estimate for Escobar as a ML SS would be between +5 and +15 runs at shortstop over 150 games. Although 2B is an easier position to play in general, the adjustment would likely knock down our projection to +0 to +10, which is still excellent.

Of course, fielding is not and never has been the issue with Escobar. The question is what kind of offensive ability can he produce. Before examining that, let’s take a look at what kind of offensive numbers it will take for Escobar to be produce at the level of an average major leaguer, given his defensive skills. An average ML player produces 2 wins above replacement over 600 PAs. We know that over 600 PAs, a 2B with average defense and fielding is worth 22.5 RAR. So then this table below shows the wOBA necessary for Escobar to be an average player.

Defense

wOBA necessary for 20 RAR

+0

.327 (-2.5 BRAA)

+5

.318 (-7.5 BRAA)

+10

.308 (-12.5 BRAA)

Now, let’s examine Escobar’s hitting ability. Escobar has shown limited ability at the plate in the minors, never posting an OPS above .707 until last year with AA Huntsville. Then, in 2008, Escobar broke out offensively. In just under 600 PAs, Escobar compiled a line of .322/.367/.440, for a .807 OPS, a full 100 points better than his previous career high. However, this line was created by an unsustainable BABIP of .380 and a LD% of 19.3, 4% higher than his career mark. We are seeing some of this regression this year with Escobar’s advancement to AAA Nashville. With only a .313 BABIP, Escobar’s line has dropped to .268/.315/.357, a .672 OPS.

Two stats that I especially like to look at with minor leaguers are Isolated Power and Isolated Discipline, or ISP and ISD as I will abbreviate them (ISOP and ISOD are also used for these; some people use ISO simply for isolated power). Both operate on similar principles - ISP is SLG - AVG, and ISD is OBP - AVG. Basically, these stats remove the impact of batting average on two stats that help us determine value most, OBP and SLG. The ability to hit for a high average declines as a player moves up the organizational ladder, due to both better defense and better pitching, and also varies due to luck. However, plate discipline and power, what ISP and ISD measure, are skills that are independent of the massive swings that we see in AVG. Below are Escobar’s stats over his career in the minors.

YEAR

LEVEL

ISP

ISD

2005

A

.091

.032

2006

A+

.059

.038

2007

A+/AA

.061

.026

2008

AA

.108

.035

2009

AAA

.089

.047

CAREER

-

.081

.034

Escobar’s isolated discipline and power stats have not shown improvement over his career in the minor leagues. As such, I have no reason to suspect that Escobar would magically see a rise in walks or power upon promotion to the big club.  As a result, similarly to what we’ve seen in the minors, Escobar will need a high batting average to sustain offensive production.  If Escobar can put up a .300 average in the majors, he can be productive. Anything below .275 and his bat is likely not ready to play 2B.

Let’s finally answer the question of whether or not his bat can be good enough to play in the major leagues, and for this year, especially at 2B. I think what we can expect from Escobar in the majors is something between his line at AAA and his Major League Equivalent statistics from AAA. Major League Equivalents, or MLEs, are formulas used to adjust for parks and skills of leagues to predict a minor league player’s performance in the major leagues. Here is the comparison of Escobar’s AAA performance to the corresponding MLE, obtained at Brew Crew Ball editor Jeff Sackmann’s website Minor League Splits.

LINE

PA

1B

2B

3B

HR

BB

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

bRAA

AAA

175

33

6

1

2

11

.315

.357

.672

0.289

-22.43

MLE

175

31

5

1

1

8

.274

.300

.574

0.248

-43.83

2008

AA MLE

597

127

21

4

5

25

.309

.361

.670

0.292

-20.87

As the OPS numbers make obvious, Escobar does not project as a very good hitter. I don’t believe that Escobar is as bad as his AAA MLEs would predict. If he were that bad, he would need to be over +20 with the glove to get back to replacement level. Perhaps, if Escobar can hit at the level he has at AAA and that he showed he could last year in AA, he would be ready to be a stopgap. Still, this level of production essentially caps Escobar’s value at 2B for the rest of the year at a 1.1 win player. Only if he is able to field at a truly elite level (+20 runs or better) could Escobar play as an average major leaguer, which is the likely level of production the Brewers need as a contender.

In my opinion, Escobar needs to remain at SS to retain his value, and still needs seasoning in AAA. Hopefully Hernan Irribarren can fill in, but I firmly believe that Escobar is not the answer at this point in time.

ESPN Projects Mark DiFelice As All-Star

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/playerrating?type=allstarprojections&team=mil&position=all&season=2009&ratingId=0

Their player rater has DiFelice as one of the top pitchers in the NL so far.   I have a strong feeling that this is due mainly towards DiFelice’s shiny 3-0 record, but he has been very strong by any measure.  He may not be an all-star, but he certainly is a valuable cog in what, over the last few weeks, has been a well-oiled Milwaukee winning machine.

Prior to today’s game, StatCorner’s tERA (which is a fancy sabermetric stat based on batted ball profiles, walks, Ks, and HRs) has DiFelice at 1.60, and he’s been worth 5.3 runs above average by this measure, and an astounding .8 WAR.  .8 WAR, for the record, is roughly equal to 4 million dollars, or 10 times the league minimum that the Brewers are paying DiFelice.

Fangraph’s FIP has DiFelice at a still-impressive 2.49, worth .6 WAR, or roughly 3 million dollars.  That ranks him 4th in the NL among relievers.  #45 may have had a rocky path to the big leagues, but with this kind of production he is certainly here to stay, and he may even have claim to being an all-star before too long.

Producing Under The Radar

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Certainly, it’s impossible to ignore the great start Mike Cameron has provided the Brewers in April and the early days of May this 2009 season. We shouldn’t ignore, however, the starts of three other Brewer hitters in the top third of qualified (3.1 PA/team game) NL position players by Value Wins this season.

Unsurprisingly to all Brewer fans, Ryan Braun is one of these three players. Braun’s 7.4 value runs through 25 team games projects to approximately 48 value runs for the whole season, for 4.8 value wins, eclipsing last year’s 3.9 wins. Braun’s production has come nearly entirely with the bat, as between positional adjustments and UZR, Braun has been worth -3.3 runs in the field. Thanks to 3.5 playing time runs and 7.2 batting runs, Braun still possesses a high amount of value. His value at the plate is elevated this year due to higher plate discipline (a 14.0% walk rate more than doubles his 2007 and 2008 values) and 9 extra base hits in 104 PAs.

One spot above Braun on the list is Rickie Weeks. After multiple years with multiple analysts claiming it was Rickie’s Breakout YearTM, Weeks is showing the signs of being the all-star caliber player we’ve hoped for. Weeks does Braun 0.1 better, with 7.5 value runs after 25 games and similarly projects to 48 value runs and 4.8 value wins. Weeks has made strides in all facets of his game, most notably defensively, where Rickie has been 2.9 runs above average already with the glove. Rickie’s been a bit above average with the bat (+0.6 runs), and that combined with plus defense at a premium position makes Rickie a solid player through 25 games.

Easily the most unlikely player of the three to make this list is Bill Hall, but he’s managed to do so with 6.7 value runs. Hall has been solid at defense wherever he’s played over his career, with a positive career UZR at SS, 3B, and CF. This year, Hall is at +0.4 runs at 3B, for a total +0.8 fielding number with the position adjustment. Of course, what’s been surprising about Hall this year is the revival his bat is seeing. Hall’s seen a boost in power so far, with a ISO at .198 about 30 points higher than the last 2 years, is striking out less and is walking slightly more. Hall’s fast start, however, has been powered by a .356 BABIP, and could be due for some regression. Still, it’s been an encouraging start for Billy and even with some regression, we’re still due for a much better season than last year.

These three Brewers have been integral in keeping the Brewers near .500 early. If they can keep up their production, and some of the stragglers (Fielder, Kendall) start to produce closer to their true talent level, this team could catch fire and string together some wins.

Dissecting Mike Cameron’s Hot Start

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Taking a look at FanGraph’s Value Rankings, we see Mike Cameron currently leads the NL, tied with Albert Pujols. With 1.3 value wins so far, Cameron has already been worth 6 million dollars to the Brewers this season. So what’s behind this great start for Cameron?

First, let’s take a look at Cameron’s basic line. Through 72 plate appearances, he has 9 1B, 7 2B, 4 HR, and 11 BB, leading to a .328/.431/.639 line. His 1.070 OPS places him 4th in the NL, behind Albert Pujols, Kosuke Fukudome, and Adrian Gonzalez. His high power numbers combined with the ability to get on base has resulted in a .462 wOBA for Cameron, worth 7.6 runs above average.

Quite often, when we see hot starts like this, it is due to abnormally high BABIPs, or Batting Average on Balls In Play. A ball in play is any result that isn’t a strikeout, walk, or homerun. League average BABIP is .300, and there is usually heavy regression towards the mean. Occasionally, players will hit for higher BABIPs for their career if they’re very fast and can beat out bunts and ground balls (Ichiro has a .356 career BABIP, a top 10 career mark), as well as those who hit a very high amount of line drives (Matt Kemp’s .363 BABIP in 2008 was driven by a 23% LD%, 3% higher than average).

An example of a hot start fueled by a high BABIP in 2009 is Freddy Sanchez. So far, Sanchez is hitting .351/ .377/.608 to start the season, with slugging numbers powered by 13 extra base hits in 74 ABs. With his 2 HRs and 15 Ks, that means that Sanchez is 26/57 (.421) on balls hit in play. If Sanchez’s BABIP was consistent with his career mark of .328, we’d assume Sanchez would have 19 hits on these 57 balls in play. So Sanchez would have 7 fewer hits, and based on his rates so far, that would be 3 fewer 1Bs, 2 fewer 2Bs, and 2 fewer 3Bs. Judging by this, we would expect to see Sanchez have a line of 19/74 with 7 2Bs, 0 3B, 2 HR, and 2 BB. This performance would be good for a .257/.276/.432 line. Simply put, Freddy Sanchez will not continue this performance throughout 2009, and we can expect a slump from Sanchez sooner rather than later.

Let’s take a look at Mike Cameron’s performance on balls in play. In 61 ABs, Cameron has hit 4 home runs out of his 20 hits and has struck out 12 times. So Cameron has 16 hits on 45 balls in play, good for a .356 BABIP. If he had a BABIP of .300 to this point, we’d expect 14 hits on 45 balls in play, taking away 1 single and 1 double. So his total line would be 18/61 with 6 2Bs, 4 HRs, and 11 BBs, reducing his slash line to .295/.402/.590, for a .992 OPS. So yes, Cameron has been a little bit lucky, but for the most part his performance looks real, at least based on BABIP.

Still, I’m not convinced that Cameron will put up a .992 OPS, especially considering that Cameron’s highest career OPS was a .837 mark in 2006. So what else can we look at to see if his performance is real? Taking a look at Cameron’s batted ball data, we see that Cameron has an abnormally high 28.6% line drive rate (career average: 20%) coupled with an abnormally low 20.4% ground ball rate (career average 34.9%). We should expect to see Cameron to hit more ground balls as the season progresses, and as a result hit fewer line drives and slightly fewer fly balls. This will reduce his HR rate and likely his double rate as well.

Looking at this data, we see that some of Cameron’s production is real. Although the Brewers shouldn’t expect Cam to continue putting up a 1.000 OPS, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that Cameron improves upon last year’s .809 OPS. Combine that with the best CF UZR in the NL at +3.5 runs above average, and the Brewers can be very happy with their decision to keep Mike Cameron around.

What is Wrong With Jeff Suppan

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

Jeff Suppan is not a very popular player right now among Brewers’ fans. After a below average 10-10 campaign last season capped off with an 0-3 September, Suppan has shown nothing encouraging whatsoever in his first 2 starts of 2009, losing both of them. Here’s Suppan’s total line to open the season.

2 GS, 7.2 IP, 8 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 2 HR 7 BB, 3 HBP, 2 SO

Honestly, it’s hard to find the most alarming thing about this line. 3 HBPs? 10 total walks in less than 9 innings? 2 HRs already? Only 2 strikeouts? This comes out to a 10.03 FIP, so it’s not even a point of Suppan being unlucky. He’s just pitching terribly, worse than he did at any time last year. What’s driving this problem, and is it the same thing that drove his decline in 2008?

First, let’s look at 2007, a productive season for Jeff Suppan. In his first year with Milwaukee, Suppan was a relatively unimpressive 12-12 with a 4.62 ERA over 206.2 innings pitched. However, Suppan’s 114 Ks, 68 BBs, and 18 HR allowed (a product of an unsustainable 7.3% HR/FB rate) translated to a 4.42 FIP, which is very close to league average. In 2008, Suppan took a bit of a dive, going 10-10 with a 4.96 ERA. Fortunately for the Brewers, his ERA was much higher than his FIP which skyrocketed to 5.51 due to significantly worse rates in all 3 statistics tracked by FIP.

Thanks to the great Pitch F/X technology installed in MLB parks, we can get a really good look at what Suppan’s stuff is doing. I’ve pulled data from 4 games from the gameday archives.

Game 1:September 20, 2007 vs. Atlanta

Game 2: August 17, 2008 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Game 3: September 14, 2008 vs. Philadelphia

Game 4: April 12, 2009 vs. Chicago Cubs

The first two were from periods in which Suppan was pitching well. The second two are from the current period in which Suppan can’t get anybody out. Let’s see if there’s anything distinguishable in the pitch_fx data.

First, this graph shows the movement on Suppan’s pitches. The movement is relative to a ball that is thrown at the same velocity but without spin. This sounds like a knuckleball, but think of it more as a ball that is pushed or shot out of a cannon as opposed to gripped like a 4-seam fastball or a curveball (because of the natural spin put on a 4-seam fastball, it effectively rises but we don’t see it as rising because of the effects of gravity). The point here, though, isn’t to see the kind of movement that Suppan has on his pitches but to see if there are any noticeable differences between these 4 starts.

Looking at this graph, we see there are a few outliers in the September ‘08 start, but the movements are mostly clustering around the same general area. It appears that perhaps in September ‘07 that there was slightly less horizontal break on the fastball (the top left corner) and more vertical break, but outside of that, it’s hard to say anything definitive. If something was truly off (especially with this April’s start), we’d expect to see possibly less horizontal break (indicating a straight fastball). No, it doesn’t appear that there’s been much of a drop-off (if any) in Suppan’s movement. However, Suppan has seen a 1 MPH drop off in fastball velocity since 2007 according to fangraphs, dropping off from 87.9 avg in 2007 (and most of his career) to 86.9 in 2008, which has carried through to this year. Although this drop off likely has hurt Suppan, he has never had an impressive fastball, and I can’t see it being the fuel behind his implosion to start the 2009 season.

No, the truth is most likely contained in this next graph, which is a plot of Suppan’s pitch locations.

Here we see Suppan threw a good deal of strikes in September of 2007, and that most of his misses were in an area near enough to the strike zone that they could’ve been strikes. He pounded the zone even more in August, which was a theme for Suppan. However, you’ll see that many of the yellow pitches from August ‘08 weren’t painting the corners - they were decent pitches to hit. Somehow, despite this, Suppan managed to compile a 3.00 ERA based on a completely unsustainable .214 batting average on balls in play (batting average on all plays not resulting in a K or a HR). Over 131 balls in play, we’d expect 39 hits whereas Suppan allowed 28. These 11 hits would’ve raised his BAA to .303, which means we probably could’ve expected a month more like April (5.19 ERA) or at best June (4.33 ERA). In his September 2008 and April 2009 starts, everything started to hit the fan. Suppan started to combine unimpressive stuff and a lack of command with the inability to hit the zone.

Here are some conclusions that I think we can safely draw from this data.

  1. To have ever expected Jeff Suppan to be anything more than an average pitcher with his stuff would be expecting too much (which is why his career FIP is 4.81).

  2. The only reason Suppan ever compiled a successful season was an ability to command the strike zone. The data compiled from his starts in September 2008 and especially April 2009 suggest that this ability has all but disappeared. Of course, this is a very small sample size to base decisions on, so we have to be careful.

  3. Even if Suppan does regain his control and command, it still may be unreasonable to expect a year as good as 2007 (4.42 FIP, 2.7 WAR) for two reasons:

    1. Suppan benefited from a ridiculously low 7.3% HR/FB rate in 2007. His previous low was 10.8%

    2. Suppan’s average fastball velocity has fell from 88 to 87 mph. This doesn’t sound like much, but at the same time, his changeup velocity held at 80 mph last year and has risen to 82 mph this year. If Suppan can’t blow batters away, he needs to both paint corners AND change speeds to be successful.

I’m not saying it’s necessarily time to boot Suppan out of the rotation, but the leash is getting short in a hurry.

Mike Cameron and Plate Discipline

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

While listening to the broadcasts for the first two games, I’ve noticed that a big deal has been made over Cameron’s 4 walk game on Tuesday. Yes, it is encouraging to see any Brewers hitter walking after having only one regular with an OBP over .360. However, their was a definite implication out of the Brewers announcers (as well as a few casual fans here that I’ve watched the first two games with) that Cameron has poor plate discipline. This is just plain wrong.

Yes, Mike Cameron does strike out quite a bit. Over his career, he’s struck out in 27.8% of his plate appearances, ranging from a season high of 32.3% with SEA in 2002 to a season low of 24.5% with SEA in 2000. For reference, the league average strikeout rate is around 19.0%. Cameron’s high strikeout rate tends to lead fans along the following logical path.

Mike Cameron strikes out a lot. Therefore, he must swing and miss at a lot of pitches. It is probable that many of those pitches are out of the strike zone, and so he must have bad plate discipline.

Let’s examine this line of reasoning. Our assumption is certainly true, as we’ve established. Cameron struck out in 32.0% of plate appearances last year, compared to a league average of 19.0%. Over 500 PAs (roughly what Cameron had last year), that means he struck out 65 more times than the average batter. So yes, he strikes out a ton. Does this, however, mean that he’s swinging and missing at a high rate? Luckily, FanGraphs tracks these stats. Cameron was actually below average in Swing%, O-Swing% (O refers to outside of the strike zone) and Z-Swing% (Z refers to inside the strike zone).

Not only does Cameron not swing a whole lot at pitches outside of the zone, he’s just patient in general. Cameron’s philosophy appears to be to wait for the mistake and drive it, which he has shown he can do quite well over his career (241 HR). So why does he strike out? Likely, it’s because of his low Z-Swing% combined with his below average Contact%. As a result, Cameron will end up taking strikes, go deep in counts, and occasionally swing and miss at pitches in the zone. It is not a lack of patience or discipline that causes the high strikeout rate for Cameron, but rather a patient philosophy that leads to deep counts combined with low contact.

If you want to see a lack of discipline, check out Pablo Sandoval, who we’ve seen with the Giants over the last two games. Here’s a chart of all Sandoval’s at bats on Tuesday (except for his first, where he was hit by a pitch on the first pitch). Data from MLB Gameday.

There are maybe 6 pitches here out of 14 that are bordering the strike zone, and he took 3 balls.  He did take a couple of strikes in here, but still, wow.

Jake Peavy for JJ Hardy?

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

As mentioned in the news yesterday, rumors (quite possibly unfounded) have surfaced about a package including SS JJ Hardy heading to the San Diego Padres for SP and Team USA ace Jake Peavy.  Let’s take some of the complication out of valuing this hypothetical deal and just look at a straight up Hardy for Peavy swap.

First, let’s take a look at this deal from a win-now, 2009 or bust perspective.  Taking a look at the last 3 years, Peavy’s line is tremendous.

JAKE PEAVY 2006-2008
2006 202.1 IP, 11-14, 4.09 ERA, 9.56 K/9, 2.76 BB/9, 3.51 FIP, 4.0 WAR
2007 223.1 IP, 19-6, 2.54 ERA, 9.67 K/9, 2.74 BB/9, 2.84 FIP, 6.2 WAR
2008 173.2 IP, 10-11, 2.85 ERA, 8.60 K/9, 3.06 BB/9 3.60 FIP, 2.8 WAR

Peavy has consistently shown the ability to get batters out, posting high K rates and a very good K/BB ratio.  It’s important to keep in mind that every number here (except for WAR) is not park-adjusted for the pitcher-friendly confines of PETCO park.  PETCO has even been found to have a very pitcher-friendly park factor for K’s and BB’s, but regardless, Peavy’s numbers are impressive.  The thing that worries me is the sharp jump in BB rate in 2008, combined with a full strikeout lower K rate.  Perhaps it’s an outlier, but as a prospective buyer, it is cause for concern.  Let’s take a look at some projections.

JAKE PEAVY 2009
CHONE : 3.31 ERA, 8.90 K/9, 2.90 BB/9, 3.40 FIP
PECOTA: 3.17 ERA, 8.78 K/9  2.88 BB/9, 3.44 FIP
ZIPS  : 3.23 ERA, 9.29 K/9, 2.73 BB/9, 3.41 FIP
MARCEL: 3.22 ERA, 9.00 K/9, 3.04 BB/9, 3.38 FIP

The 4 projection systems seem to agree that Peavy will not repeat his insanely good 2007, which saw a great K/BB combined with a low HR rate.  3 of the 4 agree that the jump in BB rate is at least partially real, while ZiPS sees a return to 06 and 07 levels.  PECOTA and CHONE see the drop in K rate as real as well.  Either way, Peavy retains a lot of value, but something more like 2006 as opposed to 2007 should be expected, so I would expect a 3.5-4.5 win season for Peavy, even in a neutral park like Miller Park (slightly pitcher friendly).

JJ Hardy put together a great season for the Brewers last year, flashing the leather repeatedly while putting up one of the top hitting lines among SS in the NL.  Here are Hardy’s numbers from 2007/2008 (2006 was injury shortened).

JJ HARDY 2007-2008
2007: 638 PA, .277 AVG, 26 HR, 80 RBI, .323 OBP, .463 SLG, +3.5 BRAA*, +15 UZR, 4.5 WAR
2008: 629 PA, .283 AVG, 24 HR, 74 RBI, .343 OBP, .478 SLG, +13.5 BRAA, +8 UZR, 4.9 WAR

*BATTING RUNS ABOVE AVERAGE

These are two great, all-star caliber seasons.  Hardy’s value comes from putting plus batting together with plus defense at a premium position.  Assuming Hardy’s defense stays in the +5 to +15 range (in a mere 35 game campaign in 2006, Hardy put up a +6 UZR, which over 150 games would equate to a +33 season), he only has to be a league average hitter to be a 3 WAR or better player (3.5 WAR last year: Justin Morneau.  3.0 WAR last year: Miguel Cabrera). Let’s look at Hardy’s offensive projections.

JJ HARDY 2009
CHONE : .278 AVG, .343 OBP, .463 SLG, +11 BRAA
PECOTA: .284 AVG, .344 OBP, .459 SLG, +10.5 BRAA
ZIPS  : .277 AVG, .337 OBP. .479 SLG, +11.5 BRAA
MARCEL: .267 AVG, .336 OBP, .459 SLG, +6 BRAA

Marcel unfairly judges Hardy based on his injury shortened 2006 season, so we can basically throw it out and focus on the 3 projection systems which are in alomst complete agreement on Hardy’s value - he’ll be worth somewhere in the +8-+13 range with the bat.  Combine that with his +5-+15 defensive range, and you have a player that is worth 3.3-4.8 wins.  So this year, the difference between Hardy and Peavy is basically a wash.

However, the deciding factor with this trade is its effect on the future.  Clearly, the Brewers pitching staff is a little weak right now.  However, with Gallardo, Parra, and Bush, the Brewers have a solid base that will be in place for at least the 2009 and 2010 seasons and be quite affordable, as they are all still in their cost-controlled years.  JJ Hardy is also still in the cost-controlled stage, as he still has one arbitration year left.

The 28-year-old Peavy is due a relatively cheap 8 million dollars in 2009.  After this year, a contract extension for 3 years and 52 million kicks in.  Here’s what we’re looking at as far as cost in this trade.

MILWAUKEE GIVES
J.J Hardy 2008 (Age 26, 4.65M) and 2009 (Age 27, likely in the 7M-10M range, depending on the market).
Money Due: 12-15M
Expected Worth: 30-45M*
Expected Value: 18-30M

*Range roughly based on CHONE projections, including any expected decline.

MILWAUKEE ACCEPTS
Jake Peavy 2009 (Age 28, 8M), 2010 (Age 29, 15M), 2011 (Age 30, 16M), 2012 (Age 31, 17M), 2013 (Age 32, 22M or 4M buyout)
Money Due: 60M (buyout of 2012), 78M (including 2012)
Expected Worth: 56-66M (buyout of 2012), 70-80M (including 2013)*
Expected Value: (-4)-6M (buyout of 2012), (-8)-2M (including 2013)

*Range roughly based on CHONE projections, including any expected decline.

This analysis suggests that 2 years of cost-controlled Hardy are approximately worth 20-30M more than 5 years of an expensive Jake Peavy.  The problem here is that Peavy will likely decline over the course of this contract and is leaving a pitcher friendly environment.  At this point, Hardy is already worth about as much as Peavy, and is entering his peak years. It should be obvious that this isn’t a good deal for the Brewers.  The fact that the Brewers would also be expected throw in prospects just puts this deal completely out of the question for me.  The Padres would almost certainly have to throw in a top hitting prospect at a premium position (CF, 3B, 2B) to make this trade work in the Brewers favor or even be properly balanced.  Hopefully all rumors on this front are false, as Doug Melvin has suggested over the previous week.

Prior year stats/CHONE/ZIPS/MARCEL projections from www.fangraphs.com

PECOTA projections from www.baseballprospectus.com

Contract data from http://mlbcontracts.blogspot.com

My Thoughts On Rickie Weeks, In Graphical Form

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

I’ve been hearing a lot of how much Rickie Weeks sucks lately, and I wanted to lay out my personal thoughts on weeks.   I couldn’t really think of a good way to put it in words, so here’s a graph with my thoughts on Rickie’s offense.   This graph compares Rickie to the top 40 second basemen in the league by plate appearances.  So this compares him to all starters plus some platoon players or players who filled in with injuries.  The thick lines are the league averages, the dotted lines are Rickie’s stats.  To see the graph in a larger form, right click on the image and click “view image.”

He doesn't suck. Stop saying he does.

Now I realize this doesn’t address the aspect of defense, but he’s much better now than his early career (-9.1 UZR in 2006, -4.7 in 2008).   With improvement this year, we could be looking at a very good Rickie Weeks in 2009.  Even if he doesn’t improve, we still have a league average second basemen, which is more than a lot of teams (such as the Chicago Cubs) can say.

The 4th Outfielder Competition

Friday, March 13th, 2009
We all love him, but is he ready?

We all love him, but is he ready?

One of the major storylines entering Brewers camp this year is the competition to fill Gabe Kapler’s spot as the 4th outfielder.  The four competitors at this stage of spring training are Chris Duffy, Tony Gwynn Jr., Brad Nelson, and Trot Nixon

The two homegrown kids out of this group are Tony Gwynn Jr. and Brad Nelson.  With TGJR, much of the issue rests with the fact that he is out of options, and will likely be put on waivers at the end of spring training if he does not break camp with the team.  Unfortunately for the Brewers, they will likely not receive anything more than a C level prospect for him, if anything.  Gywnn has not shown any ability to hit like his father, failing to post a batting average above .260 in either of his 3 short stints with the Brewers.  Gwynn’s best stint, in 2007, resulted in a .260/.331/.317 line.  Pro-rated over 600 plate appearances, this line comes out to 19 runs below the average hitter, or right around replacement level. PECOTA and ZiPS see Gwynn as a -16 run hitter, while CHONE pegs him at -18.  Gwynn does have a history as a solid fielder in the minor leagues, posting a Total Zone (devloped by Sean Smith) score of 8 runs above average in AAA.  However, CHONE projections do not like Gwynn’s prospects as a CF, projecting Gwynn as 11 runs below average in CF and 1 run below average in the corners.  Let’s be generous and assume Gwynn is +5 in CF (which is highly unlikely).  Then Gwynn is worth

-17 (offense) + 20 (replacement) + 2.5 (position) + 5 (fielding) = 10.5 runs above replacement over 600 plate appearances, or 1.05 wins.

That’s not bad.  However, pro-rated to the 200-300 plate appearances that Gwynn would be likely to receive, that pushes his value back to the .5 win range.  Still, all his value is dependent on if he is a +5 fielder.  If the CHONE projection is correct, he’s worth -.5 wins per 600 plate appearances, and has no value whatsoever.

Brad Nelson was the Brewers big first base prospect before Prince Fielder.  Now he may get a chance to break camp with the big club.  The big question here is his defense.  Can he play RF?  Also, if he plays and Cameron sits, that forces Hart to RF, because Big Brad is NOT playing center field.  Let’s look at projections for Nelson.  PECOTA has Nelson at -4 runs hitting, ZiPS has him at -8, and CHONE has him at -3.  The average of these projections is -5, so we’ll use that.  With fielding, it’s hard to say where Nelson will be.  I find it unlikely that he will be average - I think he’d fall somewhere in the -10 to -5 range over a full season, at best.  For our purposes, we’ll use -7.5.  This puts his value at

-5 offense + 20 replacement - 7.5 position - 7.5 fielding = 0 runs above replacement, or 0 wins.

Nelson clearly needs another year to develop, because at this point, he has no value at all to the Brewers.  His hitting would be fine at a premium position, but it doesn’t work at any of the positions he plays just yet.

Next, we look at the veterans, Duffy and Nixon.  Chris Duffy is a Pirates castoff who has speed and a good glove in the outfield, but not much of a bat.  Over his career with the Pirates (160 games), Duffy hit .269/.328/.361, but stole 41 out of 48 attempted bases (this is worth ~4.17 runs) and has a career UZR of +4.5 runs.  Since fielding peaks early and Duffy didn’t play in the majors last year, let’s slot him in as a +2 CF.  For hitting, CHONE has Duffy at -7.5 runs/600 plate appearances, and PECOTA and ZiPS don’t have him listed, so I’ll just use CHONE for Duffy.  This assumes he’d play most of his games in CF, but this assumption should work for the corners anyway because he’d be about 10 runs better in a corner, whereas the position adjustment is 10 runs lower.

-7.5 offense + 20 replacement + 2.5 position + 2 fielding = 17 runs above replacement, or 1.7 wins over 600 PAs.  Assuming 300 PAs, Duffy coming off the bench would be worth .8-.9 wins.

Trot Nixon is another veteran name, this time coming over from the Red Sox, where he patrolled right field for 11 years.  Nixon is the best hitter of this group, with a lifetime .841 OPS.  PECOTA projects him as a +6 hitter, ZiPS has him at -2.5, and CHONE has him at +2.5.  The average of these 3 projections places Nixon as a +2 hitter.  However, as the oldest, he is likely a liability in the field.  For his career, Nixon averaged +6 runs per season in RF, but in his last stint with the Indians in ‘07, he posted a -6.6 UZR in 87 games.  CHONE projects him at -1 in the corners this year, which seems reasonable given his above-average track record - it’s likely the -6.6 was a fluke.  So we have

+2 offense + 20 replacement -7.5 position - 1 fielding = 13.5 runs above replacement or 1.35 wins above replacement, or roughly +.6-.7 WAR over 300 PAs.

Summarizing, in table form, we have:

Player Offense Replacement Position Defense Total WAR/600 WAR/300
Gwynn -17 20 2.5 5 10.5 1.05 0.53
Nelson -5 20 -7.5 -7.5 0 0 0
Duffy -7.5 20 2.5 2 17 1.7 0.85
Nixon 2 20 -7.5 -1 13.5 1.35 0.68

It appears that Duffy is the best choice, according to the numbers.  Just thinking about it, I agree.  I prefer to have a 4th outfielder who has the ability to play all 3 outfield positions at a plus level, and I think that Duffy is the only one who is able to do that (I don’t think Gwynn is a +5 CF, or even an average CF).  He doesn’t kill you with the bat like Gwynn does, either.  However, if Nixon has a Kapler-esque resurgence, he wouldn’t be a bad choice either.  Nelson clearly needs another year in AAA.

On DIPS Theory, Defense, and the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

In 1999, Voros McCracken developed what he called Defense-Independent Pitching Statistics, or DIPS. DIPS theory is based on the idea that a pitcher has very little control on what happens to a ball once it is put in play – then turning that ball in play into an out becomes the responsibility of the defense. This new way of thinking has had an extraordinary impact on the way the sabermetric community views pitching. Most notably, DIPS theory has led to the development of FIP, currently the metric used by www.fangraphs.com, and tRA, used at www.statcorner.com, which has been quickly catching on and has the potential to become even more valuable as bugs are worked out.

I’d like to turn the attention of this post now to FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching. I feel like I’ve been referencing this stat quite a bit lately and that now would be a good time to go a little bit more in depth. FIP is the essence of DIPS theory. FIP looks at three components of pitching statistics: HR rate, K rate, and BB rate. None of these three outcomes include balls in play, and as such they are mostly controlled by the pitcher. The formula for FIP is as follows

FIP = (13*HR+3*BB-2*K)/IP + N

Where N is some factor (usually 3.20 or so) to make sure that the league average FIP is the same as the league average ERA. That is, that’s why the FIP scale and the ERA scale are the same. What’s important to note here are the ratios. A home run is 4.33 times worse than a walk, and 6.5 strikeouts approximately cancel out the effects of a home run. Let’s take a look at how this correlates to defense.

For now, let’s take a look at the differences between team FIP and team ERA. The graph above shows the run difference between FIP and ERA (earned runs minus expected earned runs from FIP) on the x-axis and team UZR on the y-axis. There’s a pretty decent correlation here (r = .7). However, the Brewers, in yellow, appear to be somewhat of an outlier. They allowed 76 runs fewer than FIP projected, with only a 14.7 UZR. A team with 76 runs fewer than FIP projects should have approximately a +45 team UZR. So why the 30 run (or 3 win) discrepancy? I’m not sure I can answer that question right now, to be honest. Spray charts for Brewers pitchers would help. The Brewers were much better at fielding on the left side of the field than the right side, so maybe that has something to do with it. Also, it’s possible that Suppan and Bush had abnormally high FIPs because they had career high (in a bad way) HR/9 numbers. Clearly more observation and analysis is needed here to complete these ideas, but I think it’s at the least an interesting think piece at this point, and we can clearly see that yes, defense does matter.

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