Table of Contents

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Who is an All-Star?

Tuesday, I had a piece run at Hardball Times that used projections to pick the participants in the All-Star Game.  The premise is to get away from just using 2-3 month samples to select our players, and instead use projections to pick the players who have the most talent.

One alternative to doing this, which came up in a round-table discussion between myself and Dave Cameron at FanGraphs on this subject, is to instead choose players based on past calendar-year performance.  The advantage here is that it's a bit more straightforward: assuming we can properly measure everything that happens on the field (that's a big if!), all a player needs to do is produce better than the other players in the league at his position to get the nod.  We don't have to worry about aging curves and regression and luck.  Just produce, and you'll be rewarded.

Here's a comparison for how the three approaches would differ (and be similar), comparing my projection-based roster to one according to FanGraphs' WAR Calendar-Year splits, as well as Vince Caramela's first-half All Star selections.

American League

PositionTrue Talent All StarPast-162 G All StarFirst-Half All Star
CJoe MauerVictor MartinezAlex Avila
1BMiguel CabreraAdrian GonzalezAdrian Gonzalez
2BBen ZobristIan KinslerHoward Kendrick
3BEvan LongoriaT-Adrian Beltre & Evan LongoriaAlex Rodriguez
SSYunel EscobarAlexei RamirezJ.J. Hardy
LFJosh HamiltonT-Brett Gardner & Josh HamiltonJosh Hamilton
CFCurtis GrandersonCurtis GrandersonCurtis Granderson
RFJose BautistaJose BautistaJose Bautista
SPFelix HernandezJustin VerlanderJustin Verlander
RPMariano RiveraJonathan PapelbonJonathan Papelbon

While you see different names in many of the positions, if you go back and look at my THT article, every single one of the FanGraphs' WAR picks are within the top tier of the projections.  The same is true if you look at the FanGraphs' WAR leaderboards.  Most of the time, even when there's disagreement, the true talent selection is very close.  Heck, at 3B and LF, they were in a tie with someone else!

On the other hand, we do see some putative small-sample selections in the first-half All Star picks.  Alex Avila's an interesting player and has had a great first half, but he ranks 7th by projections and is in a tie for second by the past-162 splits.  Howard Kendricks' even more extreme, ranking 11th by projections (behind even guys like Nishioka and Jason Kipnis) and 4th by past-162 game WAR.

National League

PositionTrue Talent All StarPast-162 G All StarFirst Hall All Star
CBrian McCannBrian McCannBrian McCann
1BAlbert PujolsJoey VottoPrince Fielder
2BChase UtleyRickie WeeksRickie Weeks
3BRyan ZimmermanChase HeadleyTy Wigginton
SSTroy TulowitzkiTroy TulowitzkiJose Reyes
LFMatt HollidayMatt HollidayMatt Holliday
CFAndres TorresMichael BournMatt Kemp
RFJayson WerthMike StantonLance Berkman
SPJosh JohnsonRoy HalladayRoy Halladay
RPMike AdamsCarlos MarmolCraig Kimbrel
There were two fairly major disagreements here between the projections and the past calendar year picks.  First, Chase Headley at 3B by FanGraphs' WAR, who ranked 10th in the projeciton rankings (Zimmerman ranked 2nd by FanGraphs' WAR).  The second was Michael Bourn in CF, who ranked 12th in the projection rankings (Torres ranked 6th in the WAR rankings).  Beyond that, again, there was good agreement pretty much across the board.

Among the first-half All Stars, the biggest outlier pick is Ty Wigginton, but Chase Headley would be my selection based on the extra playing time this season if nothing else.  You can also complain about Lance Berkman, although he was effectively in a tie with Jason Werth for the projection's choice...and a lot of his merit comes down to how good (or bad) you think his fielding is.

In the end, I have no argument with people who want to use past-162 game splits.  In most cases where they disagree with projections, they do so within the margin of error in either measurement or projection (or both).  Where they disagree, however, I side with the projections.  They seem more obviously to be selecting players with the best talent, and those are the players that I prefer to see make it to the All Star Game.

But insisting on using first-half statistics to justify an all-star game roster?  There, I just don't get it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

BPro's nFRAA: 2008-2011 Averages

Data-dump post!

I pulled together three+ year (2008-2011) nFRAA averages for all players who have played in 2011 and have at least 150 PA's during that time span. The left side of the spreadsheet just reports those totals, and a per-season rate (per 700 PA's instead of innings, since that's how BPro lists it in their spreadsheet).

I also did a very unscientific "regression" of sorts on the data. The values reported at BPro are already regressed within each season based on their performance. However, if we're trying to infer something about talent level--which is the point of a 3-year average in my view--there is even greater uncertainty than with a performance/value estimate. Therefore, I've required that players effectively have 2.5 seasons of data here before we use their straight up 3+ year average. If they have less, I regress toward average in proportion to how much data we do have. Why 2.5 seasons? It's just a wild-ass guess, but it feels about right based on the data. If you don't like it, that's ok--this is why I'm reporting all of the data. You can use whichever per-700 PA stat you wish, or come up with your own way of making an adjustment. Just please be very wary of the raw per-700 PA numbers for guys with less than a few seasons of data.

One qualifier: I was a little sloppy in that I assumed all PT occurred at the player's primary position, as listed in BPro's table. Obviously, this is not true, and for some players it will result in erroneous estimates. For most players, however, I think it's probably close enough for my purposes.

Another: I'd hope this goes without saying, but please don't just use this as the be-all end-all estimate of a player's fielding performance. I would tend to be fairly skeptical of Jose Lopez's performances, for example, given how different they are from other measures and his reputation.  But it's good data, and worth considering as you evaluate a player's fielding skills.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Five tidbits from a road trip

I've been traveling to and from Disney World this past week, which explains my inactivity just about everywhere. I've been able to keep tabs on Reds games (mostly), but that's about it. Even neglected my daily ottoneu team for a few days...

Anyway, this morning I got a USA today at our hotel. Have to say, while I look at online box scores all the time, and I love all the additions that FanGraphs (for example) has added to them, there's nothing like looking through all 15 games' boxscores at a time like you can in a newspaper.

A few things caught my eye today (though none from the boxscores!):

1. Mike Lopresti had a nice column on the end of Dolphins stadium. I hadn't realized that the new Florida stadium will be accompanied by a brand change to the Miami Marlins next year. That's going to screw up my spreadsheets. Also, does it mean the Marlins' abbreviation will be MIA? 'Cause that's funny.

2. I'm thrilled that the Reds' sweep of the Dodgers coincided with losses by the Brewers and Cardinals.

3. It's June 17 and the Pirates are 2 games over .500. I don't believe that they'll contend, but a .500 season seems far more likely for them than I anticipated in the spring.

4. The Chris Snyder story is awful: wife attacked in traffic dispute while he's helpless in car due to back surgery. Sounds like she's fine, but that would suck.

5. Former Red Zach Stewart made his debut last night for Toronto. I think it'd be hard to argue that the Rolen deal wasn't successful already given that the Reds made the playoffs last year with a substantial boost from Rolen. But this is what the Reds gave up in the deal if you assume Eddie Encarnacion was replacement level. Did the Reds give up a middle-of-the-rotation starter? Or just a fringey #5 starter? Stewart had seen his stock rise a lot in the year before the deal, and I've been thinking that the Reds sold high on him. It'll be interesting to see what happens. Too bad the Reds won't face him this weekend with Toronto in town.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

2010 Reds Draft Review

Thundering Turtle at Red Reporter has an amazing review of the players that the Reds drafted this week.  I just wanted to take a shot at couple "visuals" of the draft, based on his work.

First, drafted players by position.  Key: P=SP, R=reliever, 1=1B, 2=2B, 3=3B, S=SS, O=OF, C=C.  If there's question, I listed a player by his "more valuable" position.  This includes a lot of pitchers who may be starters but are probably actually going to end up relievers.


I haven't looked at a lot of drafts this way, but this looks like a pitching-heavy draft to me (pitchers shown in red).  Here's the breakdown by position:

SP (P) = 20
RP (R) = 8 (including at least 3 of the first 10)
C = 2
1B = 1
2B = 4
3B = 4
SS = 3
OF = 8

1B's are generally only drafted if they can hit, so we don't have a lot of pure hitters in this draft (if any).  The #2 pick (Gabriel Rosa OF) and the #5 pick (Ryan Wright 2B) are probably the best--Wright is reportedly an offense-oriented second baseman.  In a sense, this is a good thing: guys that start on the left side of the defensive spectrum can move to "easier" positions if their bat develops, but 1B's do not move up.

What about HS vs College?  Here's a list on the pitchers:


So the Reds started with a high-school arm, but then definitely leaned college most of the rest of the way.  I think it's probably normal to draft more college arms over the full draft.  There were a few HS players taken late as possible over-slot guys.



The ? is Yordanyz Perez, a 27-year old Cuban outfielder.

The Reds seemed to go pretty even between college and high school in early rounds, lean college in middle rounds, and then go high-school in late rounds.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Reds 1st pick is Robert Stephenson

Given their low draft position, I was hoping that someone would fall down to the Reds, and they in turn would pull a Pirates draft and sign their guy over slot.  That doesn't seem to be what happened here (though he may well require over-slot money), but it's not like the Reds were reaching either.

From what I've gathered, Robert Stephenson is a hard throwing right-hander with a good frame and three pitches: fastball, curve, change.  They showed a change-up on the Reds broadcast, and it had decent looking movement on it in on the hands of a right-hander, although it is reported his 3rd best pitch.  His MLB video only shows fastballs (as far as I can tell), and he reportedly sits 93-95 mph and has hit 97 or 98.  Reports are good on his control (given his age), and at least one person out there thinks that some mechanical tweaks can improve it even more.  Could be true, could just be someone talking...  Also unquantifiable is his makeup: 4.2 GPA*, reportedly works hard at baseball, is coachable, etc.

* For what it's worth, as an educator, I'm not a fan of the extra-credit-on-your-GPA classes.  I know some high schools do this for AP classes.  Others do it for A+'s.  I just find it annoying, because you really have no idea what's going on behind that GPA when someone's in the 3.7-3.9 range.  They might be taking "hard" classes, but getting B's.  That's not necessarily going to translate well into college.  But whatever.  At least in Stephenson's case, we know he did great.

All reports are that he's signable (if you pay him enough), so I expect the Reds to get this done.  Might take going a bit over slot, but I always support doing that when it's necessary to get good talent.


In general, I'm not crazy about HS pitchers from a risk standpoint.  But at the same time, that's definitely where the upside is these days.  The old Moneyball/Bill James mantra that HS pitchers aren't worth it is no longer holding true in the data, and for a pretty simple reason: signing bonuses are high enough now to convince the truly elite talent to sign out of high school, whereas they used to get comparable value from a college scholarship.*

* As an aside, this is precisely why a hard slotting system is a bad idea: the current system allows MLB to get the top athletes into baseball before they either go to college or have a chance to sign with another sport.

Kevin Goldstein has the philosophy that you draft for upside because most teams can't sign elite guys as a free agent, and trading for them requires you to give up similar amounts of talent.  There's a lot of truth in that.  And with the Reds picking at a franchise-record-lowest 27th overall this year, you're not going to find safeish, high upside picks at this point in the draft.  So rolling the dice and going after a high school arm with top of the rotation potential is an ok gamble to me.

Of course, I'm sort of making judgments in a vacuum here, as I don't follow amateur baseball at all, and I don't know what else was out there...I'm not really even qualified to have an opinion. ;)  But the last Reds' draft pick to completely bomb was Chris Grueler in 2002.***  If you look at the current Reds squad, their top picks since 2004 are a major part of what has gotten them to be where they are: Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, (soon) Devin Mesoraco, and Mike Leake.  They've clearly built up a track record, so I think they deserve to be trusted.

*** A careful reader would note that the Reds have taken two right-handed high school pitchers since 2002. One has been a modest success in Homer Bailey.  The other is Chris Grueler.  50% is pretty good performance on a HS arm, but that's what we're dealing with here.

Resources on Robert Stephenson (will add more as I go)
Marc Hulet:
Reds: Robert Stephenson, LHP (California HS): Stephenson doesn't currently have the ceiling of some of the other prep arms available but he's received first round consideration from teams looking for signability. He's said to have solid control but I don't like the all-out effort in his delivery. In one video segment on, his hat nearly flew off his head during his delivery - on more than one occasion. His curveball and changeup need a fair bit of work but his fastball can reach the mid-90s.

Friday, June 03, 2011

A WBC League (a whimsy)

Several years ago, I put together a custom OOTP baseball league file that was loosely based on the World Baseball Classic.  As I remember, it was a 28-team system (WBC teams, plus a bunch of others I added for fun), two leagues, 3 divisions each, and each team represented a different country.  It was awesome--custom team names, unis, logos, etc.  I think the file has probably vanished into the ether by now...

Anyway, with the news that the 3rd WBC has been expanded to 28 teams, I thought it would be fun to run through the exercise again.

The list of countries can be found in this's a difficult task to make it work.  The main reason is that the teams divide pretty obviously into three major geographic groups: Western Hemisphere (11), Eastern Asia/Australia (8), and Europe/West Asia/Africa (9).  That invites the creation of three separate leagues, with occasional interleague play to keep things interesting outside of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, odd-numbered leagues don't work well scheduling-wise, so I opted to move South Africa from the Europe group over to the Western group.  This is justifiable: South Africa is roughly the same distance from Israel (closest in "Europe" group) as it is to Brazil (closest in Western group).  Unfortunately, the most distant flight will be 1000 miles greater for South Africa under this system.  Sorry, South Africa!  If they opt to withdraw from the league, they would probably either invite a new Western country or just add a second USA team.

So, that gives us three leagues with two to three divisions of 4 teams each.  Here's the layout:
Eastern League
Imperial League
Colonial League
Pacific Division
New Zealand
Chinese Taipei
Eastern Division
Czech Republic
Caribbean Division
Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico
Asian Division
Western Division
Great Britain
Northern Division

Southern Division
South Africa

Here are the divisions visually:

Team Composition and Finances
  • To keep the nationalistic flavor of the league intact, teams would be required to have at least 5 players from the home country on the 25-man team roster.  The other 20 could be from anywhere (still want very high quality of play).
    • Eligibility for home country would follow rules similar to that used in the WBC (i.e. very permissive, but there has to be some legitimate claim).
    • Allowances for temporary drops below this number would be permitted in cases of injury.
  • Substantial revenue sharing would exist to subsidize the budgets of poorer teams.
    • TV contracts would be run entirely by the governing body of the league, and profits would be distributed equitably across teams.
    • The league would subsidize 10% of a player's salary when he signs with a home-country team.  If the TV contracts don't cover this, teams would need to pay into a revenue sharing system.
In-Season Play
  • Teams would compete within their own league, with an unbalanced schedule favoring division rivals.  
  • Because of the difficulty of travel, teams would face off in five-game series (Wed through Sun) throughout the season.  There would be two days off permitted between each series to allow for travel/acclimation.
  • The basic schedule guidelines would be:
    • 60 games within division (two rounds of 5 games home and 5 games away with each of the three teams within the division)
    • 60 games outside of division (six rounds of 5 games home and 5 games away, spread across 4-8 teams)
    • 20 games outside of league (two rounds of 5 games home and 5 games away, spread across three teams)
  • This gives us 140 games across 28 weeks.  That spans roughly 6.5 months, and so would be a tad longer than MLB's season (although with 22 fewer games because of the off-days).
  • The season would run from ~July through mid-January.  Teams in temperate countries, or countries with substantial wet/dry seasons, would need to play the majority of their home games when the whether is appropriate unless they build climate-controlled, covered stadiums (retractable roofs would be mandatory, of course).
Playoff Structure
  • Each division winner would be guaranteed a playoff slot.  That gives us 7 playoff teams for a traditional three-stage playoffs.  
  • The eighth team would be chosen from four wild card teams (based on best overall records of non-division winners), who would compete in a College World Series-style, two-losses-and-you're-out tournament in a single location (would rotate around the three leagues each year).  
  • The remaining playoffs would be typical best-of-7 series, again with two days off in between each game for travel.
Some notes & implications
  • Pitching rotations would be interesting.  I suspect that many teams would attempt to throw their ace starter in the first game and then on short rest in the 5th game during important series.  This could be done every third series to give the starter (alternately) three days rest, four days rest, and seven days rest.
  • Because the season is shorter, it would take a bit less skill to win a division than in MLB.  That said, the talent disparities may be greater among teams than in MLB because of the 5 home country player requirement.  I would expect better teams to win more often than not.
  • Some divisions will feature lower levels of competition than others.  The Northern, Carribean, and Asian Divisions should be very competitive.  The Imperial League divisions will probably be less so.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Musings on the World Baseball Classic Expansion

The World Baseball Classic is apparently expanding from 16 to 28 teams.  The wrinkle is that those 12 new teams, plus four of the mainstay countries in the last tournament, will compete in a "play-in" round during Fall 2012.  Four teams will emerge from this round to enter the main tournament in Spring 2013.

So, the teams guaranteed a spot in the Spring 2013 tournament are:
Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico
United States

They'll be joined by four of:
Chinese Taipei*
South Africa*
Great Britain
New Zealand
Czech Republic
* = played in 2009 WBC

The "play-in" teams will be divided into four pools.  I don't know how that is going to work, but here's a guess, simply based on time zone geography:

Eastern Europe
Czech Republic
South Africa*
Eastern Asia
Chinese Taipei*
New Zealand
Western Europe
Great Britain
Obviously the regional names are poorly chosen, as there are countries that don't fit.  But it helped me keep track of things to use a geographic name.  The biggest oddball is Canada, but I unfortunately don't see a way to put it in the "Americas" group with all of those countries being so close to one another.  Aside from that, it makes a lot of sense, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the WBC follow this very scenario.  It also has the advantage of having one "incumbent" team in each group.  Without knowing a lot about international baseball, I'd guess that they also would represent the putative favorites in each pool--although South Africa would seem to be the weakest of the bunch.  There was a small league (for a year) in Israel, and I'm pretty sure that Germany has some kind of semi-pro baseball league.

Anyway, I don't know how this will all shake out, but I enjoy thinking about stuff like this.