Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Carlos Silva in 2011: A Big “So What”?

Posted by dannmckeegan on March 6, 2011

There could be a reason for a team to jettison a big, fat, bloated contract, even if there is positive value of some sort to be gained from the player’s performance. The Cubs might be in such a situation this year. They owe Carlos Silva $12 million plus a $2 million buyout (less the money Seattle threw in with the Bradley trade). And Silva was good for half a season in 2010. But the Cubs have a fairly reliable set of starting pitchers in Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano and Randy Wells. No Phillies, surely, but more than competent.

They also have a stable of youngsters seen as starters in the near future: Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman, Jay Jackson, Christopher Carpenter, Trey McNutt, James Russell, and Austin Bibens-Dirkx all are at worst Triple-A starters in 2011. More than one probably has MLB-level stuff right now.

Seven names. Five spots in Iowa’s rotation. And that doesn’t include Hung-Wen Chen and a few guys bordering on filler/fading prospect. McNutt can probably thrive for a while beating up on the Southern League. Carpenter, Jackson, Russell, and Bibens-Dirkx could all use full seasons at Triple-A as pure starters. Both Cashner (power) and Coleman (sinker) showed some flashes in the majors last year and are capable of pitching at that level, if not thriving as a starter.

So now we have Carlos Silva’s big, fat contract pushing not one, but two or maybe even three young players away from the proverbial catering table. Silva’s ceiling is what he did last year: good luck on his sinker leading to some 5-6 inning starts and some time missed due to injury. His downside, we know, is a repeat of Seattle. If we consider that one of the kids will displace him at some point anyway, simply out of basic roster need, then it doesn’t make sense to keep him on the active or 40-man roster. Even if he can reproduce his 2 WAR 2010 this year, we have to weigh that (likely in 100-130 innings) against potential harm done to prospects not being challenged.

Keeping a guy like Carlos Silva around in a situation like the Cubs currently have is akin to telling a high school sophomore with an A- average that he has to repeat geometry because a senior with a C average and a case of senioritis blew off and failed world lit and didn’t graduate. You don’t punish the sophomore. You promote him normally and figure out how to accommodate the “demote” after everything else is in place. Silva’s getting his money either way. Is his projected 2011 performance (approximated as a WAR value) actually more valuable than a lesser performance by another player this year but an improved probability of stronger production (approximated by WAR value) in future years by one or more of those prospects?

If the Cubs see all of those prospects as MLB talents, then they would be doing less than due diligence if they failed to explore every means of challenging them. It’s not just for the Cubs themselves, but also to shore up added trade value. Is Player X worth more at age 23 with a 3.5 K/BB and 2.25 ERA at Double-A or a 3.2 K/BB and 3.25 ERA at Triple-A? If a guy smokes a league he has to repeat, then the response is, “He should be doing that. He’s playing too low.” It is preferable to see struggles and adjustments at the next level. Carlos Silva might be making that more difficult for the Cubs this year.

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Soriano: Not Yet an Albatross.

Posted by dannmckeegan on March 5, 2011

A quick note on Fonzie’s crazy contract with the Cubs: So far, he’s been paid a total of $56 million, according to Cot’s ($9m in 2007, $13m in 2008, $16m in 2009, and $18m last year). In that time, he has produced a total of 14.1 fWAR, for a per-win cost of $3.97 million. Considering he produced a replacement-level performance during an injury-riddled 2009 season, that’s a pretty fair price.

Even if we add his $8 million signing bonus to the $56 million paid to date, his cost is $4.54 million per win. That price appears to be within the realm of reason.

While he is highly unlikely to maintain a $4-$4.5 million/win pace through the life of his current contract, his production has actually been less of an albatross than it’s made out to be. He is under contract through 2014 at an annual salary of $18 million ($72 million still owed). He would have to produce 16 to 18 WAR over than span to keep pace.

But let’s consider $5 million per win to be an upper threshold for the per-win average cost between 2007 and 2014 (i.e., assume that the price will continue to climb slightly). Dividing the contract’s total value by this per-win cost, we see that Soriano has to produce a total of 27 WAR over the life of the contract to hit $5 million/win. 30 WAR would place him at approximately $4.5 million/win.

So to reach this ballpark, Soriano has four years to produce between 13 and 16 WAR. While it is a safe bet that he will not be able to accumulate enough playing time (given the Cubs’ OF prospects and his own aging/injuries) or have enough defensive improvement (try, try again) to put up 4 WAR/season, a line similar to his 2010 output would likely keep him close to 3 WAR/year.

If, after the 2014 season, Soriano has produced the following annual WAR tallies:
2007 – 6.9
2008 – 4.3
2009 – 0.0
2010 – 2.9
2011 – 3
2012 – 2.7
2013 – 2.2
2014 – 2.0
he will have accumulated 24 WAR in exchange for $136 million, thus earning $5.67 million per win. A 2-win season in 2014, at age 38, would be a big surprise. But it would be equally surprising to see him either forced to the bench or retirement at that point. And once the contract is down to one or two years, an AL team in need of a power-hitting DH would possibly be interested in a discounted trade. If the Cubs have Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, and Tyler Colvin (for example) penciled into their 2014 outfield, they won’t be worrying about payroll and can pay half of his final year spent elsewhere.

Barring a complete and utter late-career collapse (unlikely), Alfonso Soriano will likely end up being a noticeable but not atrocious overpay. If managed wisely, the club’s payroll won’t be negatively effected by his presence. If he can produce a simple .250/.310/.470-(20-25 HR)-(55-75 RBI) line for the next three years, he’ll have actually been a halfway decent investment. Considering the in-house options (Matt Murton, Angel Pagan, Micah Hoffpauir, Jake Fox, Jason Dubois, Matt Camp, Bobby Scales, Brad Snyder, Jim Adduci, Sam Fuld…) of recent vintage, it seems like Soriano has filled the corner outfield power gap that many teams do nowadays struggle to fill.

Remember: the albatross is a portent for good. It wasn’t until Coleridge’s mariner killed the bird that ill luck gained sway. The albatross is only hanging from around one’s neck when it is dead. Soriano: not dead yet.

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Meet Me in Saint Louis…

Posted by dannmckeegan on January 25, 2011

Chemistry Over Replacement Player. aka CARP. aka “The Kevin Millar Effect.” aka “Aaron Miles‘ Continued Employment.” And so on and so forth. You can never have too many clubhouse guys, or so the saying goes. And fortunately for the five other teams in the National League Central, no one over the years has informed Tony LaRussa that it doesn’t help if your good clubhouse guys are also guys who never should leave the dugout. Thankfully this off-season St. Louis has made it a priority to improve their CARP rather than their WAR (Wins Above Replacement) potential. With the recent signing of free agent utility man Nick Punto – whose CARP apparently didn’t outweigh his SUCC (Suckiness Under Competitive Circumstances) in CARP-heavy Minnesota – St. Louis has committed itself to an opening day infield that will contain (besides Prince Albert) some combination of Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot, Nick Punto and rookie Allen Craig. In the words of C. Montgomery Burns, “Excellent…” Read the rest of this entry »

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I thought this was a baseball blog, too…

Posted by dannmckeegan on December 31, 2010

Herein be musings on the NFL Pro Bowl, the post-season football all-star game. Also known as the most worthless spectacle of the four major Anglophone North American team sports. The idea, of course, is to bring the sport’s best players out onto the field at the same time (well, four times – offense, defense, kicking, receiving). But the only reason players used to go was because it was a free trip for their families to Hawai’i, the former permanent host of the Pro Bowl. But economic times got hard, even for the league’s billionaire owners (*cough cough horseshit cough cough*). And so they decided to spice up the week off between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl by placing the Pro Bowl in the Super Bowl’s host city and playing it on that open Sunday.

A few problems arise here. First, the Super Bowl is a week away. That’s still going to draw all the hype. The super-squads are still small potatoes, interest-wise. Related to the scheduling is the actual makeup of the rosters, which were announced earlier this week. With the playoffs still happening, the winners (i.e. Super Bowl teams’ players) and losers (reps from the other playoff teams) either can’t make it or have little incentive to try. The increased risk of injury, also, is a deterrent. Especially with an upcoming Super Bowl scheduled for the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey (in February), players see an exhibition contest with little effort put in as a trap: it is easy to pop a knee or tear a muscle on any surface at any time, just so long as one is playing football.

So with all this in mind, what can we expect from the 2011 Pro Bowl? Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick thought on “clutch”

Posted by dannmckeegan on December 20, 2010

A clutch hitter is the kind of guy you always want coming up with the game on the line. Big situations demand big-time players with big-time confidence. Or so conventional wisdom dictates. Sabermetrics has yielded many zealots both defending and denying the existence of clutch hitters. On one side is the sabermetric majority (and baseball fan minority, I presume) that accepts evidence that clutch performances exist despite a lack of long-term consistency in individual “clutch” numbers for a given player. The other side consists of the faithful, the true believers, those who want to believe in the Clutch Player in the same way one buys into historical clean-up jobs on national or sports heroes.

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus puts it beautifully when he writes:

In trying to get across the notion that no players possess a special ability to perform in particular situations, the usual line we use is that clutch performances exist, not clutch players. That’s wrong. The correct idea is that clutch performances exist, and clutch players exist: every last one of them.

What he’s saying is that, by virtue of making it as far as the big leagues, all of those guys have passed the tipping point at which pure skill is no longer the only factor. They have intangibles that go along with skill and a hefty side dish of luck. Another way of putting it is the analysis provided by Tom Tango on The Book blog:

[E]ven though we have determined that clutch skill exists in that population of players, it is simply too hard to identify the specific players that it makes any practical difference.

Basically, any reasonable amount of plate appearances from which to glean any information is too small a sample size for clutch ability to normalize. Furthermore, the difference between a clutch hitter and not-clutch hitter is pretty much the same difference you’ll get from the platoon advantage with mirror-image doppelgangers. A ten-year career for a full time player is the bare minimum for getting a legit sample size.

One shorthand statistic has been developed, however, that is pretty useful. It’s called “Clutch,” and you can find it over on FanGraphs player pages. It is simply the difference between Win Probability Added and “WPA/LI,” or the ratio of Win Probability Added to Leverage Index. That’s a fancy way of saying that, through years of analysis, sabermetricians have assigned leverage values to different game situations and win probability adjustments to play results. No one denies the existence of clutch performances. I refer anyone who questions that to game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

So What?

Well, I wanted to glance through some of baseball’s “known” clutch and un-clutch hitters to gather their 2010 Clutch stats to see what kind of variation from the public perception we get in a random year. Let’s start with the most common comparison of clutch vs. un-clutch, Yankees infielders Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez:

A-Rod: 1.44, led team by 0.90 (6th positive year against 11 negatives; career -6.72 regular season +.90 postseason)

Jeter: -0.40, 3rd-lowest on team among regulars (10th negative against 6 positive; career +1.37 regular season, -1.14 postseason)

Interesting to see not only that A-Rod was clutchier in 2010, but also that the two men have comparable year-to-year variations, but quite different cumulative tallies. Basically, when Jeter is good, he’s truly clutch, while his Mr. November moniker might not be so well-deserved after all.

Now let’s jog over to Boston to compare the reputedly clutch immobile DH and the supposedly soft, fragile and choke-prone right fielder:

David Ortiz: -0.18 (7th negative year against 7 positives; +2.44 regular season, 0.96 playoffs)

J.D. Drew: -0.17 (9th negative year against 4 positives; -2.87 regular season, -0.03 playoffs)

Drew and Ortiz were equally ineffective in clutch situations, but the difference we need to recognize is that Ortiz had significantly more WPA and WPA/LI than Drew. Thus, his lack of “clutch” was counter-balanced by his greater propensity for finding himself in such situations and coming through quite often. Drew’s opportunities were far fewer and further between. Also, Drew joins both Yankees in having a more-or-less 2:1 negative-to-positive ratio of Clutch seasons. Further study would then, perhaps, be to look across the board at long-tenured veterans with enough PA to qualify as at least close to a valid sample, and to see if such a trend emerges beyond this group. That is, might we measure clutch best as a meta-narrative for a whole career? Hypothesis: while similar approach/contact can lead to varying results, over time those variances will balance out. Whether the sum total of single or multiple seasons in positive or negative, “clutchiness” might best be found within those who outperformed expectations over the course of individual seasons at a greater frequency than their peers.

Until next time…

Remember to tune into The Dann and Twan Show on Slam Internet Radio (http://www.slaminternetradio.com/) this Tuesday at 8pm CST. Yes, it’s a special holiday edition, complete with the Festivus traditions of grievance-airing and the feats of strength.

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Sign on the dotted Mendoza line

Posted by dannmckeegan on December 8, 2010

The Chicago Cubs have their power-hitting lefty first baseman. According to Carrie Muscat, Carlos Pena will be taking his talents to Oak Street Beach for one year at $10 million. Scott Boras could get Werth a contract through his age 38 season, but Pena’s low .196 BA likely hurt his value right now. While I personally was hoping the Cubs would avoid spending money this winter and instead focus on freeing up money for a brighter long-term future, this signing might well make sense. One would assume he slots into the fifth spot in the order behind Ramirez and in front of Soto and Soriano. Castro, Byrd and Colvin would be the top of the order, and DeWitt would hit 8th. Of course, that’s the traditional way of doing it. One could organize it logically, with the 1-3-4 hitters being the team’s best; 2-5 being next, and then 6-7-8-9 going in descending order of talent. If that were the case, then the lineup would look something like the list after the break. Read the rest of this entry »

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