Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Posts Tagged ‘baseball’

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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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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Damn, I was off the mark

Posted by dannmckeegan on October 28, 2010

I want the Giants to win the World Series. A likable staff. Mike Fontenot. The Kung Fu Panda. Juan Uribe. The Freak. Bah Gawd it’s Cain. A 21-year-old lefty who shares a name with a character in the original Bad News Bears and a closer who bears a slight resemblance to CM Punk. Not to mention Posey, Ross, and my 2002 fantasy baseball studs, Aubrey Huff and Guillermo Mota (well, Mota did help pull my WHIP down a little…)

Anyhow, at the same time, I believed the Rangers to be the slightly better team, or at least the team better able to win this series. And after two games, I’m surprised at how poorly the Rangers have played and been outmanaged. It starts with Ron Washington’s bullpen usage, really. In game one, why waste 2 innings of one of your best arms (Ogando) in the blowout? And, even assuming Ogando was unavailable tonight, why wasn’t Neftali Feliz used in the highest leverage situation possible? Bases loaded, Holland wetting a dorm’s worth of twin beds, and it’s progressively worse pitchers we see until we hear Buck and Tim mention that Tommy Hunter, the projected Game 4 starter, was on his way out to warm up. Seriously? It was the 8th, and there would be no 9th unless they tied the game in the top of the 9th. So why should the best pitcher Texas has to offer stay seated? It makes no sense. Preserving a 3-0 deficit, say, is far more important than keeping a seat occupied down by a touchdown and a safety.

Looks like I might be wrong, but I’ll happily take a National League champion. The question is, who do the Giants use at DH? Burrell, who’s struggling and also tends to perform better when playing the field? Sandoval, allowing Bochy to keep Uribe’s arm at third base and Fontenot on the bench as a U? Rowand, or is his potential defensive reputation too valuable if Torres pulls something? Interesting things to look at.

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The Cases for Adrian and Adam

Posted by dannmckeegan on October 8, 2010

Both Adrian Gonzalez of San Diego and soon-to-be free agent Adam Dunn have reportedly expressed interest in playing for the Chicago Cubs. Gonzalez, as first basemen by trade, expressed this sentiment to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmeyer last week as the Cubs were in the midst of hurting the Padres’ playoff chances. Carlos Zambrano claims, according to Bleed Cubbie Blue, that Dunn told him way back when the “first baseman”/slugger first was traded to the desert from the banks of the mighty Ohio. Read the rest of this entry »

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As the end draws near…Numbers and Ponderings

Posted by dannmckeegan on September 28, 2010

Just a quick statistical summary for the optimistic among us. Big Z has been good since coming back from the restricted list and rejoining the rotation. As the team has inserted Coleman and Samardzija into a pair of slots, and as Randy Wells has begun to get his groove back, Carlos has become – for the first time in years – the reliable workhorse the team needs him to be. On average pitching into the seventh, El Toro is as hard to hit as ever.

CARLOS ZAMBRANO:

In 10 starts since returning from the restricted list:

  • 7-0
  • 64 innings
  • 41 hits
  • 11 runs
  • 9 earned runs
  • 1 home run
  • 37 walks
  • 55 strikeouts
  • 3 hit batsmen
  • 2 wild pitches
  • 1.27 ERA
  • 1.22 WHIP

In no start has he allowed more than 2 runs (not earned runs; just runs of any type). Projected out over a full season, he’d have a line like:

33 starts; 211 innings; 135 hits; 122 walks; 182 strikeouts; 3 home runs; 10 hit batsmen; 6 wild pitches; 36 runs

Obviously we’d expect the hits and runs to regress upward towards the mean, while the walk total would level off as the high-end outliers become less statistically significant. But if he has renewed his devotion to pitching as opposed to throwing, then the depressed home run total is somewhat sustainable (not 3 on a season, but closer to 7-10 than 20). He should have one more start. It’ll be fun to see how he finishes off his season.

Another home run-related note: between Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol, only 4 balls have left the yard over 148 innings and more than 150 combined appearances. Add in their strikeout totals (134 for Marmol and 88 for Marshall) and Marshall’s low walk total (just 25, including intentional), and the Cubs have a recipe for success in the late innings that will cost them a pretty penny come arbitration. I would not be surprised, sadly, to see Marshall get packaged with Fukudome’s contract to a team in need of the two players’ skill sets. The Yankees could absorb the hit. Boston could, but Kosuke would be redundant with Drew around, while Drew would not be of use to the Cubs.

Positionally the Cubs seem largely set for 2011:

Soto C; DeWitt, Castro, Ramirez, Barney IF; Soriano, Byrd, Colvin, Fukudome OF; either Hill or Castillo as the backup backsto; gaping hole at 1B.  But how about this: get Soto some reps in Mesa in spring training at first base while also working Colvin in there. Treat the two of them as a platoon. Soto remains the primary catcher, but slides to first like Victor Martinez or Buster Posey on his days off. This would save wear and tear on his knees, core, and surgically refreshed shoulder. It also keeps him in the lineup 140-150 games per year instead of 125. That could be worth a few wins. Colvin, meanwhile, takes most of the starts at 1B while still spelling Soriano or Byrd or Fukudome/Roster RF as the team’s fourth OF. Basically, instead of having a true “4th OF” on the roster, they’d simply need a utility man who has 1st base in his arsenal, someone like Jeff Baker except good at baseball.  I’d personally like to see Castillo rather than Koyie simply because Koyie is the backup catcher for a contender now. The Cubs aren’t that. As such, develop Welly into the backup catcher for a contender tomorrow.  He’d be able to get 40-60 starts easily, and having both Clevenger and Chirinos (if the latter’s added to the 40-man before the Rule 5 Draft) at Iowa provides ample insurance.

Unless they can move Fukudome this off season, there won’t be a lot of change to the positional makeup of this Cubs team. 2011’s RF – Fukie or otherwise – is a placeholder for whoever’s ready first between organization player of the year Brandon Guyer, 09 first rounder Brett Jackson, and possibly Ty Wright. I omit Colvin as a full-time option largely because the team has no true 1B prospect in the high minors. AA Tennessee boasts both lefty Matt Spencer (acquired from Oakland with Jeff Gray in the Jake Fox deal) and righty Russ Canzler, each of whom did very well in the Southern League. But neither is seen as a big-time player. Likewise, Iowa 3B Marquez Smith, Colvin’s old Auburn teammate, is too short to slide across to first despite offensive numbers that are a bit enticing (17 HR and 26 2B in 91 games with the I-Cubs after a slower start down in Tennessee).

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Say it ain’t so, Doc

Posted by dannmckeegan on August 27, 2010

Stephen Strasburg of the Nats got the bad news from Dr. James Andrews. He’ll get a second opinion from Dr. Elliot Yokum, but that’s like asking two different choosy moms if they both choose Jif. Natstown Jesus will be going under the knife and missing, most likely, all of the 2011 season. It would hardly make sense to rush him back for a pointless September in 2011. The goal is probably for Strasburg to be ready to go on Day One in 2012. Top draft pick Bryce Harper might be ready by then; Ryan Zimmerman should still be driving the lineup; Jordan Zimmermann and Drew Storen should be integral cogs in the pitching staff. If all goes well, Strasburg will return a triumphant ace and bring Natstown deep into October, someday.

It’s funny. Mocking the Nats isn’t nearly as fun as mocking the other perennial non-contenders. I think it’s because Washington has a clear idea of what it takes to win and what they will have to do to accomplish it. Combine that with the potential for a strong fan base if they can bring home some success and star power, and they might actually have a bright future.

Maybe KC, Pittsburgh, et alii will also make an effort to compete. Pittsburgh has a lot of young players – Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Alvarez, Daniel McCutchen to name a few – but who knows how long they’ll actually be kept. Cynicism deserves its say in Pittsburgh, until proven otherwise.

And cynicism also will have its say for Strasburg and Natstown. Why? Simply because the hype was always too great. It works nicely as a metaphor that the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow in which all of D.C.’s baseball hopes were invested, is no more. It tore. It could not stand the strain. To the surgeon’s table, and under the knife. Not for repair, but with replacement. The hopes won’t be discarded, however, like so much frayed and damaged tissue. The hopes will be rekindled out of the same cloth, the same dirty laundry, that all baseball fans cheer for. The home whites with the angular font and unreliable spelling. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But someday, there’ll be a winner in D.C. For now, the wait is merely extended.

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