Table of Contents

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Reds trade Hamilton for Volquez & Herrera -- Initial Impressions

Checking in from Cincinnati on my mom's computer, and just saw the trade.

Initial thoughts:

First, Hamilton's going to hit the crap out of the ball in Texas.

As for the Reds' return on him, Volquez looks like a pretty exciting arm. Granted, he's got control issues, but I'm sure Krivsky et al. think they can fix that. But here we have a guy who's already pitched a few innings in the big leagues, just turning 25, and can throw the ball a million miles an hour. He's the sort of guy who could step in and over the next year or two become a dominant starter. Sure, he might not. But this kind of pitcher is exactly the sort of pitcher that smart ballclubs go after. Between he, Bailey, and Cueto, you have to think that at least one of them will pan out to be a quality guy. And it's not unreasonable to hope that two of them will. That, plus another modest splash from someone like Maloney, Wood, Watsin, or whoever, and the Reds have a great shot at a very, very good young rotation in the coming years.

Herrera is kind of a surprise to me, because Doug's reports indicate that he's pretty small and throws a trick pitch (screwball/change). ... Sounds like Guevara (the guy we lost in the Rule 5 draft), and that's the sort of pitcher that Krivsky doesn't seem to value much. But hey, he's another warm body, and I'm never against the Reds acquiring young pitchers with good performance histories.

Anyway, I'll take a closer look at these guys when I get back. But my initial impressions are that this is a pretty reasonable trade--Hamilton's an outstanding talent, and the safe guess (given that he's a position player) is that he'll outperform both of the Reds' new pitchers. But at the same time, he's not without substantial risk (injury and drug abuse histories), and the Reds are getting a young pitcher with good upside who is probably major league ready. Oh, and another pitcher with good minor league numbers. This addresses a need of the Reds, they're dealing from a position at which they have depth, and it has the potential for a great payoff. So initially, as much as I hate to lose Hamilton--especially a year before Griffey and Dunn may walk--I pretty positive about this trade.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Holidays

My family and I are packing up and heading home for the holidays tomorrow night--red eye to Cincinnati with a 19-month old. Ugh. We're desperately hoping she sleeps...because if not...oh, man, I don't even want to think about it.

Anyway, I'm not taking the laptop home, so contact via email, this blog, etc, will be shaky at best until the New Year. Though I may try to chime in briefly if Wayne makes a deal of some sort. I'm hoping for an incentive-heavy contract to Mark Prior or Kris Benson right now. But hey, a Bedard trade could be neat, as long as the price is right. :)

So, in case I don't get another chance, have a great holiday and be safe, everybody! See you next year...I have to say, I have a good feeling about 2008...


....oh, and from our Shameless Commerce Division, if you're looking for a last-minute gift idea for someone who's impossible to shop for, you can get them an gift card. It might be too late to have them sent via snail mail, but they can send e-cards. Click on the banner to get one:

Was David Ross Just the Victim of Bad Luck?

I posted this over at Red Reporter a few days ago, but I thought I'd repost it here for safe keeping and because I think it's an interesting take on a player I've dissed a bit lately. If you're interested, you can also read its complementary article, Is Jason LaRue Just the Victim of Bad Luck, from the '06 season. That, and a glance at LaRue's 2007 stats, should remove any trace of credibility I have with respect to these sorts of claims. :) But it also explains some of the methodology I use to evaluate luck in hitters.

Anyway, here you go:

I've been thinking some about Ross lately, and he's an interesting case.

Compared to 2006, while his ground ball % was up slightly last year (bad), his line drive percentage was actually up substantially, and his strikeout rate was down.

He didn't walk nearly as much (pressing?), and his home run per fly ball rate (a stat subject to random fluctuations) was down quite a bit. But one of the biggest differences between '06 and '07 is that his BABIP was unusually low (0.226) for a guy with an 18.5% LD rate (eBABIP = 0.305).

If you give me a guy who increases his line drive percentage from 16.8% to 18.5% while at the same time cutting down on his strikeouts, I'd most certainly predict that he'd have a higher batting average the following year. That didn't happen with Ross. And his BABIP indicates to me that the reason for his struggles last year had more to do with bad luck than a change in skill.

FWIW, PrOPS agrees with me, giving him an expected OPS based on his batted ball stats of 0.808, quite a step up from his true OPS of 0.670. PrOPS matched up to his actual OPS quite well in 2006 (0.967 v. 0.932), so it's not the case that it always massively overestimates Ross's performance.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that Ross is going to revert to his 0.900+ OPS form next year. But a high 0.700's/low 0.800's OPS is not out the question, and that's acceptable production from a defensive-oriented catcher.


Thing is, I said almost the exact same thing about LaRue's performance in 2006. And that didn't turn out so well. So I dunno, maybe I'm wrong about Ross too. But everything I see about his batted ball stats indicates that he was hitting the ball much better than his batting line would suggest.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

More Burton vs. Rivera Comparisons

Quantifying player similarities--and thus, perhaps, gaining insight into why players vary in performance, and how they might perform in the future--is an approach that dates back (at least) to Bill James. His formulas for finding similar players are actively used at Baseball-Reference. Similar work on similarities is the basis for PECOTA, which is probably the best publicly-available projection system.

Joe P. Sheehan has a neat article out yesterday that takes the next step in comparing players. He calculates similarity scores on individual pitches using pitchf/x, allowing him to find pitchers that are similar in the actual pitches they actually hurl at batters. The similarity scores know nothing of effectiveness--they just use velocity and break (both x and y) from the pitchf/x data.

One of the pitchers that Sheehan investigated was Mariano Rivera and his cutter. Here is the list of pitchers who had a comparable cutter in MLB last season, according to Sheehan's system
Name Pitch Throws MPH pfx_x pfx_z Score
Mariano Rivera FB R 93.4 2.72" 7.72 100*
Jared Burton FB R 93.4 1.57" 7.58 98*
Brandon Medders SL R 91.2 2.27" 9.40 95
Juan Salas FB R 90.9 1.02" 8.05 95*
Jon Lester FB L 92.1 4.50" 9.56 95
Jason Isringhausen CT R 90.3 1.69" 7.92 95
Randy Flores FB L 90.0 1.79" 7.41 95
Jonathan Broxton CT R 96.3 1.03" 8.40 94
Brian Wolfe CT R 92.6 -0.39" 6.97 94
Kevin Cameron FB R 91.9 -0.11" 6.64 94
Yep, that's Jared Burton, coming out well above everyone else in the similarity scores. This is consistent with some previous work that John Walsh did for us in September, which also showed qualitative similarities between Burton and Rivera. It's pretty neat to see just how similar they are, relative to other pitchers in baseball.

Now, as Sheehan makes clear, Rivera's pitch moves a good inch horizontally more than Burton's. And small sample sizes could be a factor here as well. But I think it's darn interesting that we keep seeing Rivera pop up as a comparable pitcher to Burton. As I've said before, it's very unlikely that Burton will come anywhere close to having something like Rivera's career. But having a pitch that is similar, at least in some ways, to Rivera's can't hurt either...

On a broader note, this line of work has tremendous potential in a variety of fields, perhaps most significantly in our ability to identify player similarities. As PECOTA has shown, comparisons to similar players is an extremely effective way to predict future player performance. Using quantitative "scouting" data like pitchf/x should eventually allow us to greatly improve our ability to identify similar pitchers, and thus predict their performance.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Mitchell Report

I just listened to the George Mitchell Report press conference on XM. While I am sure that it is not going to go away, I've downloaded and--largely for my own future reference, but feel free to download it--hosted the PDF of the report on my Google Pages server space.

After listening to the press conference, I have to say that I came away from it very impressed. Based on the build-up to this report, I was concerned that it was primarily going to be used as a witch-hunt to identify ballplayers who had used steroids in an era in which, while their use was illegal under federal law, were something that Major League Baseball had clearly decided to ignore.

It is true that this report's primary goal is to give a comprehensive overview of the history of steroid use and abuse in baseball. It details not only the players for which Mitchell and colleagues have found evidence of steroid abuse, and the resistance of the Players' Association to implementation of a drug policy, but also discusses the culpability of Major League Baseball owners and the commissioner in not attacking this problem aggressively.

It is interesting to see who has been implicated as a steroid user in this report. I have only skimmed the 400+ page document at this time, but here are a few names of former players that are fingered in this investigation as likely having purchased and used steroids or HGH that I found particularly notable: Barry Bonds (of course), Benito Santiago, Hal Morris, Andy Pettitte, Mo Vaughn, Denny Neagle, Ron Villone, Ryan Franklin, Kent Mercker, Miguel Tejada, Mike Stanton, Kevin Brown, Eric Gagne and probably most notably, Roger Clemens. I haven't read the evidence for each individual, but in many cases the charges are backed up by cancelled checks and/or mailing labels. Still, I would prefer to think of the cases against these players as allegations, rather than convictions for the time being.

As Mitchell stresses, however, the focus of baseball (which, I believe, includes both the fans and the media) moving forward should NOT be to dwell on the past in terms of attacking these players, but rather to focus on eliminating drug abuse moving forward. In terms of tone and message, I believe the following is the single most important passage in this report, and it was read verbatim in George Mitchell's press conference:
I urge the Commissioner to forego imposing discipline on players for past violations of baseball’s rules on performance enhancing substances, including the players named in this report, except in those cases where he determines that the conduct is so serious that discipline is necessary to maintain the integrity of the game. I make this recommendation fully aware that there are valid arguments both for and against it; but I believe that those in favor are compelling.

First, a principal goal of this investigation is to bring to a close this troubling chapter in baseball’s history and to use the lessons learned from the past to prevent the future use of performance enhancing substances. While that requires us to look back, as this report necessarily does, all efforts should now be directed to the future. That is why the recommendations I make are prospective. Spending more months, or even years, in contentious disciplinary proceedings will keep everyone mired in the past.

Second, most of the alleged violations in this report are distant in time. For current players, the allegations of possession or use are at least two, and as many as nine years old. This covers a period when Major League Baseball made numerous changes in its drug policies and program: it went from limited probable cause testing to mandatory random testing; since 2002, the penalties under the program have been increased several times; human growth hormone was not included as a prohibited substance under the joint drug program until 2005. Under basic principles of labor and employment law, an employer must apply the policies in place at the time of the conduct in question in determining what, if any, discipline is appropriate. Until 2005, there was no penalty for a first positive drug test under the joint drug program, although the Commissioner has always had the authority to impose discipline for “just cause” for evidence obtained outside of the program.

Third, and related, more than half of the players mentioned in this report are no longer playing in Major League Baseball or its affiliated minor leagues and thus are beyond the authority of the Commissioner to impose discipline.

Fourth, I have reported what I learned. But I acknowledge and even emphasize the obvious: there is much about the illegal use of performance enhancing substances in baseball that I did not learn. There were other suppliers and there have been other users, past and present. Many of those named in this report were supplied by Kirk Radomski. Yet plainly he was not the only supplier of illegal substances to major league players. Radomski himself said that some players told him they had other sources. And the evidence demonstrates that a number of players have obtained performance enhancing substances through so-called “rejuvenation centers” using
prescriptions of doubtful validity.

Fifth, the Commissioner promised, and I agreed, that the public should know what I learned from this investigation. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that this is a serious problem that cannot be solved by anything less than a well-conceived, well-executed, and cooperative effort by everyone involved in baseball. From my experience in Northern Ireland I learned that letting go of the past and looking to the future is a very hard but necessary step toward dealing with an ongoing problem. That is what baseball now needs.

The Commissioner should give the players the chance to make a fresh start, except where the conduct is so serious that he must act to protect the integrity of the game. This would be a tangible and positive way for him to demonstrate to the players, to the clubs, to the fans, and to the general public his desire for the cooperative effort that baseball needs to deal effectively with this problem. It also would give him a clear and convincing basis for imposing meaningful discipline for future violations.
This report also pokes major holes in Bud Selig's argument that baseball's testing program is "state of the art." That's not to say that it's irrelevant--it is a good start--but clearly there are additional steps that need to be taken, and Mitchell outlines these in his report.

Perhaps most important, in my view, is the creation of an independent entity that is outside the control of both MLB and the MLBPA, and yet is still both transparent and subject to audits. This would result in drug testing and prevention programs less something being done to players by the owners, but rather something that both owners and players must contend with. Given the us vs. then nature of MLB and MLBPA, this would seem to be a very important step.

I do think that, if Selig follows Mitchell's recommendations, this report can be a very positive thing for baseball. They can now, in effect, declare victory over the past and move forward. Hopefully that is exactly what everyone--the commissioner, the owners, the players, the media, and the fans--will do.

Update: The tone of Bud Selig's press conference indicated that he's largely going to ignore the entire section of Mitchell's report that I quoted above. This is a mistake. But at least he's planning to implement all the material suggestions regarding the drug testing and prevention program that Mitchell made, so there's that. Hopefully the MLBPA will go along with those suggestions--I expect they will, but you never know.

Photo by Stan Honda/Getty Images

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cubs sign Fukudome

The Cubs have apparently signed Kosuke Fukudome, so we Reds fans will get a nice chance to see this guy play. I first heard about him during the WBC. In my "review" of Japan's roster, I wrote this about him:
Centerfielder Kosuke Fukudome is probably the best-rounded player in their lineup, having hit 0.328/0.430/0.590 with 28 HR's (515 AB's) and 15 steals. He also had a 1.000 fielding percentage and 12 assists from the outfield. Sounds like a 5-tool player to me.
It'll be interesting to see how that translates into performance in MLB. But I think the Cubs just got a nice addition to their outfield.

I have to say, I really liked the WBC, and I'm really looking forward to the next one in '09. Despite the fact that it's held at the wrong time of year, and despite the stupidness of its tiebreaker system, we got to see some great baseball. And what's more, we got a preview of a bunch of Japanese players who are now players in the major leagues: Matsuzaka, Iwamura, recently Kobayashi with the Indians, and now Fukudome.

Fishing for Bedard: how much is too much?

The Reds are in a remarkable position right now in that they currently have 4 prospects who are considered by many to be ~Grade A prospects: Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Homer Bailey, and Johnny Cueto. They also have another player in Josh Hamilton who, while entering his age-27 year, is similar to these players in that he has a high ceiling, some significant risk, and still has many more years until free agency. Given that several of these players keep popping up in trade discussions, especially with respect to Erik Bedard (right), it's worth it to try to quantify how much the Reds should get in return for their prospects should they decide to trade them.

In the recently-published August '07 edition of the SABR newsletter, there's a good study by Victor Wang investigating the value of prospects. He makes the important point that as free agent salaries increase, the relative value of a prospect also increases, because the performance of those prospects costs so much less than that of a free agent or near-free agent. I thought I'd summarize his findings and then try to apply it to the Bedard situation.

Breakdown of his methods
  • You can probably skim this part unless you get hung up below.
  • Wang estimated the total value of the prospect as the player's actual production plus the monetary savings that the team gets by using the cheap young player instead of a free agent for that production.
    • Player Production Estimate:
      • He looked at hitters and pitchers separately, and followed those ranked as 1-10 prospects, and those ranked as 11-25 prospects by Baseball America from 1990-1999. Therefore, this study only investigate the value of elite prospects.
      • He then quantified their contributions by WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player from Baseball Prospects). The use of WARP creates some problems for translation to actual wins, as WARP uses a much lower baseline than any other replacement stat I know of. But as long as we stick to WARP numbers when applying the findings of this study, we'll be fine.
    • Monetary Savings:
      • The idea here is that the performance that players contribute during their first six years costs the teams less than the same performance by free agents. So if you have two teams with identical payrolls, but one is composed exclusively of free agents, and the other is composed of 50% league-minimum players and 50% free agents, the latter team will perform better because the performance of those young players is much more inexpensive.
      • To estimate financial value, Wang essentially took the difference between player salary during their first six years in baseball and the free agent cost for that level of performance.
      • He then converted that dollar figure into a WARP figure using average free agent $/WARP values ($1.69 million per 1 WARP). This is essentially the additional production that you can buy on the free agent market if you use a young player instead of an equivalent free agent player, and yet keep the payroll the same. So, if a young player makes an average of $1 million a year over six years, but produces at the same level as a $4 million/yr free agent, then you essentially can spend an additional $3 million/yr on another player if you employ the young player.
    • Total Value
      • By summing the WARP value of the six-year production + 6-year monetary savings (converted to WARP by average WARP per $), you get the total average value of a prospect type. This is the total value that you should demand in a trade for such a prospect, extended over the number of years you can expect to control the acquired player(s).
Wang's findings:
  • Hitters
    • Top-10 prospects averaged 24 WARP in their first six years, or ~4 WARP/yr. This performance came at a savings of $5 million/yr relative to how much you'd spend on an equivalent free agent, which was the equivalent of ~3 WARP/yr of free production.
      • The total trade value of a top-10 hitting prospect therefore came to 24 + 3*6 yrs = ~42 WARP.
    • 11-25 prospects averaged 19.3 WARP in the first six years, or ~3.2 WARP/yr. This performance came at a savings of ~$4.1 million/yr relative to a free agent, which was the equivalent of ~2.4 WARP/yr of free production.
      • The total trade value of an 11-25 hitting prospect therefore came to 19 + 2.4*6 yrs = ~34 WARP.
  • Pitchers
    • Top-10 prospects averaged 12.9 WARP in their first six years, or ~2.2 WARP/yr. This performance came at a savings of $2.7 million/yr relative to how much you'd spend on an equivalent free agent, which was the equivalent of ~1.6 WARP/yr of free production.
      • The total trade value of a top-10 hitting prospect therefore came to 19 + 1.6*6 yrs = ~22 WARP.
    • 11-25 prospects averaged 11.1 WARP in the first six years, or ~1.9 WARP/yr. This performance came at a savings of ~$2.3 million/yr relative to a free agent, which was the equivalent of ~1.4 WARP/yr of free production.
      • The total trade value of an 11-25 hitting prospect therefore came to 11 + 1.4*6 yrs = ~19 WARP.
Clearly, pitchers were less valuable than hitters, which was largely due to pitchers' high "bust" rates. Wang found that an alarming 54% of top-10 pitching prospects turned out to be "busts" (meaning that they contribute less than 2 WARP/yr over their first six years) compared to just 21% of top-10 hitting prospects. But I think what is more impressive is how valuable even the average 11-25 pitching prospects tended to be, despite their risk (61% bust rate). 19 WARP over six years is the equivalent of a $32/6 million contract, using Wang's $1.69/WARP conversion. Top hitting prospects, on the other hand, are valued the equivalent of a 6 yr/$71 million free agent. That's the average, not just the ones who pan out!!

Application to the hypothetical Bedard trade

So, what does this mean for the Bedard trade we keep hearing about? Well, Bedard's a phenomenal pitcher, with a WARP value over the past two years of 7.1 and 8.0. This means that he netted the Orioles ~8 wins above a hypothetical replacement-level pitcher last year, which is the difference between them going 69-93 (0.426) and going 61-101 (0.377)--an enormous difference (again, WARP probably overestimates this value, but my guess is not by more than a win or two). Bedard has two years remaining on his contract, and has stated that he very much intends to test the free agent market, which means that any team acquiring him can really only count on controlling him for two more years. This is a key point that seems to be missing from a lot of the discussions I've seen regarding Bedard.

Now, in terms of future value, I think Bedard's likely to regress slightly from his outstanding performance rates in '07, but counteracting that, he missed some time when the Orioles very cautiously shut him down early last season, reducing his total value to the team. So it seems reasonable to predict that he will produce between 7 and 9 WARP each of the next two seasons, for a total performance value of 14-18 WARP. Obviously, he could perform well below that if he gets injured or something (and he does have some history with injuries), but 14-18 WARP over two years seems like a reasonable optimistic performance forecast.

Also, he's not yet making free agent money, as he's just now entering his 5th year. So given that, we probably need to give him some bonus value to match up . Tom Tango estimates that players make 40%, 60%, and 80% of free agent value in their 4th, 5th, and 6th years in MLB (their arbitration-eligible years). So, as a very rough approximation, let's add 40% and 20% to Bedard's value over the next two years to his extra monetary value, which puts his approximate "trade value" at 18-23 WARP.

Ok, let's now compare his value to some of the Reds prospects:
  • Jay Bruce - a 1-10 prospect as a hitter, total value of 42 WARP. Note, he's really a top-2 or top-3 hitting prospect, which probably should have a higher value, but we'll run with this for now.
  • Joey Votto - a 11-25 prospect as a hitter, total value of 34 WARP.
  • Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto - I'm going to be slightly conservative and peg them as 11-25 prospects as pitchers, which gives them a total value of 19 WARP. But either could probably be a top-10 prospect depending on who you ask, which would bump up their value to 22 WARP.
  • Josh Hamilton - As a quick'n'dirty estimate, I'm going to rank him as equivalent to Votto, but only over 5 years instead of six, so 28 WARP. My feeling is that this is conservative, but probably not by more than 5 wins or so given the uncertainty surrounding his health.
So, if Bedard's value is 18-23 WARP over two years, he would make a reasonable one-for-one trade for Bailey or Cueto, with perhaps an additional lower-tier prospect or two thrown in. You might also be able to justify a one-for-one trade for Hamilton or Votto if you give Bedard's value an additional bonus because his performance will happen sooner rather than later. But that's assuming that the Reds are going all-in over the next two years, and I don't think the club is at the point that they should be doing that, as much of their best talent is still young.

Nevertheless, what this analysis indicates to me is that a package of any two of the Reds' prospects would be severely overpaying for two years of Bedard. Now, Bedard's trade value could be greatly improved if you could extend Bedard beyond the 2010 season. But the potential for such an extension seems questionable given Bedard's comments about wanting to test free agency. Furthermore, pitchers don't tend to make particularly good investments in the long term because of how unreliable even great pitchers tend to be past age 30.

Given that a one-for-one trade of any of the Reds' prospects for Bedard is apparently very unlikely, I have to say that I'm really hoping the Reds do not end up making this deal. So good luck to the Dodgers, Mariners, and anyone else who might want to step in and try to outbid Krivsky.

Friday, December 07, 2007

John Sickels on the Reds

Note: I bumped this up from Tuesday after today's release of his top-20 list. -j

Reading through bloglines today, and came upon this post by John Sickels:
Working on the Reds farm system today.

Good Lord.

This system is loaded. You have the top quartet of Bruce/Cueto/Votto/Bailey, but even beyond them there is a good combination of performance guys and projection guys. My initial run through came up with 49 names worth writing about. I have narrowed that down to 39, which is the most I can put into the book. Even that, some of the guys I cut I wish I could put in.

Take heart, Reds fans. You have a lot to look forward to.

Ok, I've read that three times, and it really does say what I think it says. It does, doesn't it?

How long has it been since someone outside of the Reds' organization has said something like that? Much less a respected talent evaluator like Sickels? The guy isn't perfect, but he's about as good a resource as we non-baseball folks have available to us when it comes to minor league prospects...

Update: Here's his top 20 list:
  1. Jay Bruce, OF, Grade A (I'm not worried about the strikeouts given his age and performance)
  2. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Grade A-
  3. Joey Votto, 1B, Grade A-
  4. Homer Bailey, RHP, Grade B+
  5. Todd Frazier, SS-3B, Grade B+
  6. Matthew Maloney, LHP, Grade B (I have always liked him, has component marks of a power pitcher not a finesse guy even though he doesn't throw hard)
  7. Devin Mesoraco, C, Grade B
  8. Drew Stubbs, OF, Grade B-
  9. Neftali Soto, SS-3B, Grade B-
  10. Kyle Lotzkar, RHP, Grade B- (a long way off but a good intuitive feeling)
  11. Daniel Dorn, OF, Grade B- (major sleeper)
  12. Jared Burton, RHP, Grade C+
  13. Tyler Pelland, LHP, Grade C+
  14. Pedro Viola, LHP, Grade C+ (sleeper!)
  15. Travis Wood, LHP, Grade C+ (health??)
  16. Josh Roenicke, RHP, Grade C+
  17. Scott Carroll, RHP, Grade C+
  18. Chris Valaika, INF, Grade C+
  19. Adam Rosales, 1B, Grade C+
  20. Sean Watson, RHP, Grade C+
  21. Brandon Waring, 3B, Grade C+ (the strikeouts scare me)
Pretty exciting. To show how ignorant I am about the Reds' system, I had absolutely no clue who Daniel Dorn was. That power surge in Chattanooga last year was kinda neat, but low sample sizes, ya know? Still, the kid could arrive in Louisville next year, so it's time to start watching him.

I also have to say that the '07 draft class is looking mighty good. It's too early to know much about Mesoraco's outcome, which is no surprise for a high school catcher. But Frazier is looking like a steal, and it's great to see guys like Lotzkar and Soto being ranked so favorably. Unfortunately, the class of '06 isn't doing quite as well...though I tend to think that Watson, at least, is a bit better than his rating would indicate. But what do I know? :)

Reds transactions since the end of the season

I'm working up something for THT, and wanted to try to get a handle on all the Reds' player transactions since the end of the season. I'll throw in scattered commentary here and there too. If you see that I missed a transaction, please let me know.
  • 10/11/07 - Lost Mark Bellhorn, Jason Ellison, and Kirk Saarloos to free agency. All are ~replacement players, so no big deal.
  • 10/15/07 - Signed Dusty Baker. My thoughts here and here.
  • 10/18/07 - Lost Ryan Jorgensen to free agency. Jorgensen had one great game, and then shortly thereafter flunked a drug test. Shame.
  • 10/26/07 - Pedro Lopez and Michael Gosling claimed off of waivers by Toronto. I'm just glad Lopez is ok after his scary accident in July. Gosling had one of the stranger k v. bb profiles I've ever seen (8+ k/9, but just 1.1:1 k:bb ratio), especially for someone with a history as a soft-tossing lefty. Both are replacement players.
  • 10/27/07 - Phil Dumatrait claimed off of waivers by Pittsburgh. Dumatrait seemed to be universally overrated by a lot of fans, but I don't see this as much of a loss.
  • 10/30/07 - Lost Eric Milton to free agency. Too bad it never worked out, but at least he's off the payroll.
  • 11/1/07 - Exercised options on Adam Dunn, Javier Valentin, and Scott Hatteberg. Declined option on Eddie Guardado, which immediately made him a free agent. My thoughts on all these moves are here.
  • 11/20/07 - Added Richie Gardner, Tyler Pelland, Ramon Ramirez, Daryl Thompson, Paul Janish, and Craig Tatum to 40-man roster to protect them in the Rule 5 draft. I'm doubtful that any of these guys can help us next year except in a very limited role, but a few of these guys could potentially contribute in a bigger way in '09.
  • 11/28/07 - Signed Francisco Cordero. My thoughts are here.
  • 12/5/07 - Traded Buck Coats to Jays for PTBNL or cash - Meh.
  • 12/5/07 - Released Jorge Cantu - This one surprised me, as I had penciled him in as the platoon-mate for either Hatteberg or Votto next season at first base. My guess is that this means that Keppinger will get some time at first base, which the Fans think is probably the only position where he's an above average fielder (edit: I wrote that before seeing Krivsky's comments confirming this). Or, we could see Encarnacion over there against left-handers... This does answer the question of how Hatteberg can make the 25-man roster, and frees up the Reds to make a Rule 5 pick if they so desire. It also makes the loss of Calvin Medlock even more annoying.
  • 12/6/07 - Reds lose Carlos Guevara to Marlins, but pick up Sergio Valenzuela from Braves in Rule 5 draft. My thoughts here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Reds draft Valenzuela, Lose Guevara in Rule 5

The Reds effectively "traded" Carlos Guevara for Sergio Valenzuela in today's Rule 5 draft. Let's do a comparison.

What they got.

Sergio Valenzuela is a fairly big (6'3", 200 lbs) 23-year old right-hander who has bopped between starting and relief throughout his minor league career. He was signed as an undrafted free agent at in '01 by the Braves (he would have been ~17), but didn't appear in a game on US soil until 2004. Here are his most recent stats and minor league totals:
Year Age Team Lvl IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP ERA FIP BsR/G
2005 20 ATL Rk 35.0 4.1 1.0 0.3 --- 0.294 3.60 3.17 3.0
2006 21 ATL Rk 51.0 5.1 3.2 0.9 --- 0.337 6.00 5.04 5.5
2007 22 ATL A/A+ 72.0 4.8 4.6 1.0 44% 0.385 7.00 5.63 7.7
MiTot --- ATL Rk-A+ 179.0 5.0 3.1 0.9 --- 0.340 5.58 4.79 5.6
Not particularly inspiring. Despite claims of having two plus pitches, Valenzuela's strikeout rates have been below-average (especially relative to those of prospects), while his walk rate is nothing special...and last year was a big part of his struggles. Hasn't given up a ton of homers, but I wouldn't call that a strength of his either. FIP tends to like him a bit more than his actual runs allowed rates (though I haven't standardized FIP in this case to these leagues, so that can be misleading), and BABIP behind him has been a tad high. But not enough to make the rest of his line look attractive.

Still, if the scouts see something in him, and think he can improve a great deal, it might be worth a shot getting him into the organization. Scouts have the ability to see things in players that I can't possibly hope to catch with my little bag if stat tricks. Even so, I'd be shocked if the Reds actually break camp with this guy on the roster--anyone posting a 5+ ERA without getting out of A ball is going to need more than one spring to make the adjustments necessary to get big league hitters out. He could do a lot of damage, even as a mop-up guy.

My guess is that they'll "find" a minor injury near the end of camp and get him on the 15-day disabled list, and then keep him demoted as long as they possibly can. And, if he hasn't shown progress by the time they have to bring him back onto the 25-man, they can just sell him back to the Braves. Or, do as Doug suggests and make a minor trade to retain him.

What did they lose?

Carlos Guevara
is a 25-year old right-handed reliever who was the Reds' 7th-round selection the 2003 amateur draft. While he's started 5 games in the minors, he's been used almost exclusively in relief since his arrival. And he's done nothing but produce. Recent stats:
Year Age Team Lvl IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP ERA FIP R/G
2005 23 CIN A+ 50.7 11.5 2.5 0.4 --- 0.305 2.45 2.09 2.6
2006 24 CIN AA 77.0 10.4 3.2 0.7 --- 0.356 3.74 3.03 4.0
2007 25 CIN AA 62.0 12.6 3.3 0.6 40% 0.362 2.32 2.49 3.3
3yrTtl --- CIN A+-AA 189.7 11.4 3.0 0.6 --- 0.344 2.94 2.60 3.4
Guevara walks his share of guys, but his strikeout numbers have been phenomenal throughout his career. The knock on him, of course, is that he's a trick pitcher, and gets the majority of those strikeouts with his screwball...and that those might disappear when he faces better quality hitters. That, coupled with his relatively small stature (~5'11", 175 lbs), apparently allowed the Reds to feel ok not protecting him this season.

He was a bit old to be in AA last season, but his numbers suggest he'd earned an AAA promotion in '07. I suppose he could have been held down to make his numbers look more attractive to prospective teams...not that losing him via the Rule 5 draft helps the Reds very much, but I guess he could have made an attractive throw-in for a trade if that had come to pass.

Look, I don't know if the scouts are right about Guevara. But I sure would have liked to see him tested against AAA hitters last year to find out. At least we'll get a chance to see how he actually fares this spring. Part of me hopes that he gets rocked so that a) I don't have to feel annoyed by this move, and b) the Marlins opt to sell him back to the Reds.


The thing that's interesting about today's moves is that they show something about the Reds' heavy emphasis on scouting, at least with respect to evaluating younger players. Guevara's numbers look phenomenal, but scouts don't like him at all, so the Reds don't protect him. Valenzuela's numbers look terrible, but at least one scout, "J Harrison," thinks he's swell, so the Reds take him. It'll be interesting to see how these moves look a few years from now. The most likely scenario, of course, is that both pitchers will never amount to anything. But hey, maybe the Reds will score themselves a #5 starter with this move.

Update: Here's BPro's Kevin Goldstein on the Reds' pick. Umm...he doesn't much like it. FWIW, he's not high on Carlos Guevara either (see article).
6. Reds select RHP Sergio Valenzeula from the Braves. This pick is a joke right? Valenzuela pitched 72 innings this year, split between Atlanta’s Low- and High-A teams. In those 72 innings, he gave up 102 hits while nearly walking (37) as many as he struck out (38). Sure, he’s got plus velocity, but he’s not fooling teams that have maybe, maybe three or future big leaguers on them, so what makes you think he’s going to suddenly have any chance in hell of getting an entire lineup full of big leaguers out?
Chances To Stick: Seriously, they really took Sergio Valenzuela?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Player Value, Part 5b: Leverage and Relievers

Among the biggest concerns that folks had about the first piece on pitcher value is that I was missing something about the value of relievers because I wasn't accounting for the leverage of the situations in which they are used. While this is getting into an area in which I'm not particularly well-read, I think those criticisms are correct and I'm going to take an initial stab at making this adjustment.

What is leverage?

If someone hooked me up to a heart-rate monitor during a ballgame, they'd note that my heart rate varies quite a bit over the course of the game. One run lead in the top of the third inning? I'm into the game, but fairly relaxed. Down eight runs in the fourth inning? I'm falling asleep. Tying run on third with no outs in the 9th? I'm on the verge of a heart attack.

The reason for the variation in fans' heart rates, degree of white-knuckleness, etc, over the course of a game, of course, is that different situations have different impacts on the outcome of the game. With a man on third with no outs in the 9th, every single pitch has a high likelihood of determining the outcome of the game. Down eight runs in the 4th? Well, in that case, the other team's chances of winning are so high that whatever happens next on the field is almost irrelevant to the outcome of the game.

Leverage is the term that baseball statisticians use to describe the importance of game situations. High leverage situations are those situations that are highly influential on the outcome of a game, whereas low-leverage situations don't mean a lot to the outcome of the game.

We can quantify the actual impact of events in a game by looking at changes in win probability. In this approach, folks have created a model of how likely teams are to win games based on the score, the inning, the number of men on base, and the number of outs. We can then monitor how this win probability changes over the course of the game. Let's say that the Reds are down by three runs in the bottom of the ninth, but load the bases with two outs. Certainly that's a situation that would still have the Reds losing more often than not (90% of the time, according to the model), but it's also a high leverage situation in that the Reds have a chance to pull out a win with one swing of the bat. Now, if Adam Dunn comes up and hits a grand slam to win the game, that's a huge improvement in the Reds' win probability, which changes from ~10% to 100%. In other words, with one swing of the bat, Adam Dunn's performance contributed 90% of a win to the team (we would credit him with +0.90 Win Probability Added [WPA] for that plate appearance).

Leverage Index (LI) is an effort to quantify the importance of game situations, as is essentially calculated as the relative spread of how much win probability could change, given different situations. This spread, divided by the average spread of all possible game states, is leverage index. Under this convention, a leverage index of 1.00 is, by definition, a situation with average leverage. The situation described above had an enormous spread in how win probability could change: -10% if Dunn makes an out, +90% if Dunn homers, with a bunch of other possibilities in between. In this case, the actual leverage index was 3.91, or ~4 times as important as an average game state. In contrast, if a team trails by eight runs in the 4th, then leverage index will be much less than one.

Why is this important to estimating the value of relievers? Well, if a pitcher is, on average, used in situations with an average leverage index of 2.0, the runs he gives up are about twice as important, in terms of value to team wins, as those given up by a pitcher used in situations with an average leverage index of 1.0. And the 1.0 LI pitcher's runs, in turn, are ~twice as important as those given up by a pitcher used in situations with an average leverage index of 0.5.

The calculation of leverage index, by necessity, requires play-by-play data, which still isn't something I've started to work with. Fortunately, reports the average leverage index per plate appearance for all relievers in its pLI statistic. This stat essentially tells us the average leverage index under which each reliever pitched last season, and thus gives an indication of his opportunity to influence a ballgame based on his performance.

So how can we go about using pLI to adjust our estimates of reliever value? Well, let's start with a way that LI is often used with win probability statistics: WPA/LI. WPA/LI, as described by Tom Tango, is a "situation deflated" version of Win Probability Added (WPA; see above), and describes the change in win probability that would occur based on that player's performances if every single plate appearance had happened in a situation with average leverage (i.e., LI=1.00). Therefore, it takes WPA, which is heavily situation-dependent, and converts it to something that is much more situation independent, and thus similar to more traditional estimates of player performance in which all plate appearances are given equal weight.

Now, WPA/LI is not the same thing as WPA/pLI. WPA/LI is calculated on a per-PA basis. Because pLI is just the average LI of all PA, WPA/pLI will differ from WPA/LI depending on the PA-to-PA variation in WPA and LI. Nevertheless, at least in concept, it's trying to do the same thing, and gives us a basis for applying leverage to reliever runs data.

If we use a 10 runs = 1 win approximator (commonly used, and consistent with the coefficients relating runs to wins that I showed in the first article of this series), then we can make this approximation:
RAA ~= WPA/pLI * 10

RAA is Runs Above Average, which mirrors WPA in that it's centered around league-average. If our goal is to get an estimate of value that is more dependent on the situations in which a reliever pitched, we're essentially asking for a value estimate that is more like Win Probability Added (WPA). So, with 9th-grade algebra, the above equation converts to:

WPA ~= RAA * pLI / 10

In other words, we can simply multiply Runs Above Average by pLI to get something that approximates the situation-specific runs above average value of a reliever. Cool!

Nevertheless, I like to report value relative to a replacement-level baseline, not average. And converting our situation-specific RAA number to RAR requires a slightly round-about approach. If we revisit our reliever RAR equation from the previous article on pitchers, it was:

RAR = (RPG - 1.07*lgRPG) / 9 * IP * -1

which is the same as:

RAR = [(RPG - lgRPG) / 9 * IP * -1] + [(0.07*lgRPG)/9*IP]

This essentially just adds the additional runs a replacement pitcher would be expected to give up relative to an average pitcher to a reliever's RAA estimate. This converts it from a RAA estimate to a RAR estimate. So, the above equation is the same as:

RAR = RAA + [(0.07*lgRpG) / 9 * IP]

So, to make this a situation-specific RAR estimate, we can use this equation:

RARLI = [RAA*pLI] + [(0.07*lgRpG) / 9 * IP]

RARLI = [(RpG - lgRpG) / 9 * IP * -1 * pLI] + [(0.07*lgRpG)/9*IP]

It's a little bit ugly. But it does the job.

Please note that I'm only going to use this equation for relievers. While starting pitchers do diverge from 1.00 leverage from time to time, those deviations tend to be more or less random. Relievers, on the other hand, deviate in consistent ways from average leverage based on how their managers choose to employ them.

2007 Cincinnati Reds Pitchers, Take Two

How much of a difference does factoring reliever leverage into our estimates actually make? Well, here is the table from the previous article, expanded to also include leverage-based numbers for relievers (starters were forced to be 1.00 LI pitchers):

Base Runs
FIP Runs
Pitcher IP RAR
Pitcher IP RAR
AHarang 231.7 61.4 1.00 61.4
AHarang 231.7 56.0 1.00 56.0
BArroyo 210.7 25.9 1.00 25.9
BArroyo 210.7 30.9 1.00 30.9
DWeathers 77.7 11.7 1.95 20.0
MBelisle 177.7 25.9 1.00 25.9
KLohse 131.7 17.5 1.00 17.5
KLohse 131.7 20.4 1.00 20.4
MBelisle 177.7 13.7 1.00 13.7
DWeathers 77.7 8.3 1.95 13.5
JBurton 43.0 13.5 0.95 12.9
BLivingston 56.3 8.0 1.00 8.0
HBailey 45.3 4.4 1.00 4.4
HBailey 45.3 4.9 1.00 4.9
TShearn 32.7 2.2 1.00 2.2
JBurton 43.0 4.9 0.95 4.8
JCoutlangus 41.0 1.9 1.06 2.0
EMilton 31.3 4.4 1.00 4.4
BSalmon 24.0 3.2 0.46 1.9
MStanton 57.7 3.1 0.95 3.0
BLivingston 56.3 1.6 1.00 1.6
BBray 14.3 2.6 0.99 2.6
BBray 14.3 0.4 0.99 0.4
MMcBeth 19.7 1.8 1.21 2.0
EMilton 31.3 0.4 1.00 0.4
JCoutlangus 41.0 1.3 1.06 1.2
RStone 5.3 -2.8 0.33 -0.8
BSalmon 24.0 1.3 0.46 1.1
EGuardado 13.7 -1.0 0.95 -0.9
GMajewski 23.0 0.4 1.32 0.3
MMcBeth 19.7 -1.4 1.21 -1.9
EGuardado 13.7 -0.3 0.95 -0.2
ERamirez 16.3 -1.9 1.00 -1.9
RStone 5.3 -4.4 0.33 -1.3
RCormier 3.0 -1.4 1.40 -2.1
MGosling 33.0 -3.7 0.62 -1.8
VSantos 49.0 -3.4 0.78 -2.3
RCormier 3.0 -1.3 1.40 -1.9
MGosling 33.0 -8.1 0.62 -4.6
TShearn 32.7 -2.6 1.00 -2.6
MStanton 57.7 -5.2 0.95 -4.8
VSantos 49.0 -4.0 0.78 -2.7
KSaarloos 42.7 -9.1 1.05 -9.6
ERamirez 16.3 -3.2 1.00 -3.2
TCoffey 51.0 -10.4 0.94 -9.7
KSaarloos 42.7 -5.0 1.05 -5.4
GMajewski 23.0 -7.6 1.32 -10.2
PDumatrait 18.0 -5.6 1.00 -5.6
PDumatrait 18.0 -17.1 1.00 -17.1
TCoffey 51.0 -6.4 0.94 -5.9

The biggest difference we see between the first set of RAR numbers and the RARLI numbers, within both the Base Runs and FIP-based estimates, is that David Weathers' value gets a considerable boost. This reflects the excellent job that Reds' managers did in using him in high-leverage situations this season, often coming in to get an out or two during the 8th inning. Similarly, we see Gary Majewski's negative BaseRuns value exaggerated (appropriately) due to the fact that he performed terribly in high-leverage situations this year.

On the other side of the coin, the low leverage of the innings in which they pitched mitigated the negative value of several Reds pitchers, including Victor Santos, Ricky Stone, and Michael Gosling. While from a performance evaluation standpoint, this seems to let those pitchers off the hook, it seems appropriate to do this from the standpoint of assessing the value of these players to the 2007 Cincinnati Reds.

What if you don't have or don't want to deal with pulling pLI from fangraphs?

Updated 11 January 2008
As discussed earlier, when thinking about reliever value, it's insufficient to strictly consider the rate at which they give up runs because some runs are more valuable than others. Closers, in particular, tend to pitch in high leverage situations, and therefore should get more "credit" for their ability to pitch above reliever replacement level than a pitcher who only pitches in games that have a lopsided score.

For players since 2002, we can get actual pLI data from FanGraphs, and I discussed how to employ those data to adjust reliever run value estimates previously. However, what if you want to look at reliever value among players who played prior to 2002, like in my proposed series on past winning Reds teams? In that situation, you'd need some way of inferring reliever usage from other statistics.

One way to try to do this is by looking at performance--better pitchers should be used in higher-leverage situations. However, when attempting this approach, I've found that there's just very little predictive power (i.e. huge amount of scatter), even though there is a significant relationship between ERA (or FIP) and pLI. Whether that's due to within-team competition, inconsistent reliever performance, or poor decisions by managers, performance is just not a very good way to predict pLI.

On the other hand, as Darren implied, even in historical databases like Lahman's, we have at least one statistic that tells us something about usage: saves. Saves are well documented to be a rather poor indicator of reliever quality. Nevertheless, they do tell you who was pitching in the 9th inning of a team's games, which tends to be the inning with the highest leverages. So we should be able to use saves to infer something about reliever usage. Here's what I did:


I pulled stats, including both traditional pitching statistics and pLI, from fangraphs on all pitchers, 2002-2007, who threw at least 25 innings in relief in a season. There is some selection bias in such a sample, because it will tend to exclude a lot of bad pitchers who weren't given the opportunity to throw 25 IP. But it still does include pitchers that span much of the range in terms of performance, and gets around the issue of dealing with stats on pitchers with extremely small samples (not that 25 IP is a big sample...).

Next, I calculated saves per inning (Srate) as an indication of the proportion of a pitcher's innings that were associated with saves:

Srate = Saves/IP

It's important to use a rate because you want to know something about a player's opportunities. If someone gets 20 saves in 20 innings, they're probably pitching in much higher leverage situations, on average, than someone who gets 20 saves in 70 innings. Ideally, I'd also use blown saves--and maybe holds--but those stats are not available in the Lahman database or on baseball-reference's team pages, so I'm going to ignore them for now.

I also converted to pLI to a "rate" statistic using the approach suggested by Tom Tango:

rateLI = pLI/(pLI+1)

Such that:
pLI = 2 ---- rateLI = 0.667
pLI = 1 ---- rateLI = 0.500
pLI = 0.5 ---- rateLI - 0.333

This was important because as a pure ratio, pLI changes at a faster rate above 1.0 than it does below 1.0, which makes it hard to model using a regression-based approach.

Anyway, here's a plot of Srate vs. rateLI:
Obviously, that's a pretty ugly-looking relationship down in the zero/low-saves groups. But as you can see, there's a pretty nice relationship among pitchers who actually have a modest number of saves and their pLI. In other words, once someone starts to get saves, you can reasonably predict that he'll have an above-average pLI, and the player's pLI should steadily increase from there.

I decided to run with this and, in what I completely admit is a really terrible abuse of regression math (I've violated just about every assumption one can violate), I fitted a line to this relationship. I found that a second-order polynomial seemed to fit the data well. Furthermore, I forced the y-intercept to come in at a rateLI=0.5 (pLI=1.0), such that the average pitcher without saves is expected to pitch in average leverage (otherwise, the equation tended to predict that the vast majority of pitchers would have a pLI=0.8, and that's not reasonable). Here's the equation:
rateLI = -0.3764*(Srate^2) + 0.5034*Srate + 0.5

which we can convert back to pLI by:

pLI = rateLI/(1-rateLI)

Now, this rather shaky regression equation isn't something that I'd try to publish in the SABR newsletter, much less an academic journal. It's not built upon rigorous math. But it actually works pretty darn well. For demonstration, here's a table showing a hypothetical pitcher who has thrown 70 innings, and how his predicted pLI changes as the number of saves (and thus his Srate) increases:
Saves (70 IP)
Srate rateLI pLI
0 0.00 0.50 1.0
5 0.07 0.53 1.1
10 0.14 0.56 1.3
15 0.21 0.59 1.4
20 0.29 0.61 1.6
25 0.36 0.63 1.7
30 0.43 0.65 1.8
35 0.50 0.66 1.9
40 0.57 0.66 2.0
45 0.64 0.67 2.0
50 0.71 0.67 2.0
As you can see, the numbers seem to plateau at around a pLI of 2.0, which is about where MLB closers tend to plateau. David Weathers, for example, who had a Srate = 0.42 last season, had an actual pLI=1.95, which isn't far from his predicted pLI using this method. Pitchers with a smaller number of saves per IP--setup men, mostly--are assumed to have above-average but still relatively moderate leverage. Finally, guys without saves are assumed to have average leverage.

Anyway, I think that this is a pretty reasonable way to adjust for historical reliever leverage, at least among closers. Obviously, we're going to undervalue some relievers that aren't yet in the setup role but pitch in lots of big-time leverage situations in the 7th or 8th innings. But I think this approach will capture a lot of what we're trying to do with a reliever leverage adjustment.

David Weathers photo by Getty Images/David Maxwell