Table of Contents

Monday, March 31, 2008

Can you make a better lineup than Dusty Baker?

As I type this, Opening Day is just over 12 hours away. And with it has come Dusty Baker's first official lineup as a Reds manager, courtsey of John Fay:
Corey Patterson CF
Jeff Keppinger SS
Ken Griffey Jr. RF
Brandon Phillips 2B
Adam Dunn LF
Edwin Encarnacion 3B
Scott Hatteberg 1B
Javier Valentin C
Aaron Harang P
Among the most common (and convincing) critiques of Dusty's managerial tendencies is his selection of leadoff hitters. Statheads "know" that OBP rules all in the leadoff slot, right? Patterson and his PECOTA-projected 0.313 OBP is therefore an awful choice. Right?

I'm pretty sure it is. But I'm not positive, and I'd like to know how big of a deal it is. Fortunately, there's an excellent tool that can answer just this kind of question: John Beamer's Markov model from the Hardball Times 2008 Annual. Because it uses Markov Chains (described here), Beamer's model is a much better approach to understanding the dynamic nature of lineup interactions than simple regression equations (like in David Pinto's oft-cited lineup tool).

So, I'd like to set up a Lineup Showdown! To that end, I'm requesting that each of you reply to this post with two lineups:

1. Your "best" lineup using only Dusty Baker's Opening Day Starting Eight.
2. Your "best" lineup with your pick of players from the Reds' organization.

If you want to submit more or fewer than two lineups (e.g. one vs. righties, one vs. lefties), go ahead. I will take all submitted lineups--along with any others that Baker uses this week--and plug them into Beamer's Markov model, along with 2008 PECOTA projections, and report the results back later this week.

Markov will tell us, for each lineup:
1. Its estimate for how many runs it should produce per game.
2. How many times each batting slot should lead off an inning.
3. Complete run expectancy frequency matrices for every out base & out state.

Should be fun!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Friday Night Links: Goodyear, Stanton, Baker, and more

I thought I'd do another Friday Night Links. Who knows, maybe this'll become a regular feature.

Reds move to Arizona in doubt?

For the first time in this process, we see reports that someone important in Goodyear is not completely on board with the plan to invest $33 million of city funds into the Reds' new spring training facility:
"The issue is the money," said Councilwoman Joanne Osborne, who opposes paying for the new facilities. "It's about priorities. We don't have a downtown. We don't have a library. We don't have the things our citizens have asked for."
"I'm for it 100 percent," Councilman Dick Sousa said. "With two teams, and the enthusiasm of two Ohio teams, I think the impact on tourism would be so great over a long haul."
Sousa is one of the three councilmen who is on board with the plan to invest in the Reds' facilities. Osborne, on the other hand, is the sole council member who has come out against the plan, but there are two others who are undecided. If both of the undecided individuals vote against the investment, the Reds' might yet end up back in Sarasota.

I talked a bit about the issue of whether investments in spring training facilities were likely to provide a good return with economist J.C. Bradbury in an interview last month. Here are some relevant sections from that interview:
Question: Sarasota county commissioners recently voted to contribute $17.6 million towards a $41 million renovation of their Florida spring training facility, Ed Smith Stadium. However, their delay in making this decision has resulted in the Reds entering an exclusive negotiation agreement with a Cactus League facility, which lasts through mid-April. Signs are that the Reds will be heading west. Again from the perspective of the cities/counties, to what degree do you think the economic benefits of building and maintaining a spring training facility for a team is worth the cost? Does the ability to attract vacationing fans make spring training facilities a more worthwhile investment?

JCB: It's not like Sarasota won't attract outsiders without spring training visitors. Florida is a nice place to be this time of year. I suspect that the hotels and restaurants will do about the same without the team. I can't imagine that the improvements in Sarasota's stadium will generate enough value in one month to justify nearly $18 million in public subsidies.

Question: Why do you think the Cactus league has been so successful in luring teams--even those not from the West Coast like the Indians and Cubs--away from their former Florida spring training homes?

JCB: I haven't looked at this, but my guess is that they have been able to offer newer and nicer facilities. I suspect that Florida residents know that the tourists will come, with or without baseball, which gives Cactus League hosts an advantage. Taxpayers in Arizona may be more willing to support public subsidies, because they aren't as certain as Florida taxpayers that visitors will come anyway.
I am sure that Sousa is correct that Goodyear would see an increase in tourism in exchange for their investment. But would the return be enough to justify a $33 million? I have to say that if I were on the council, I'd be a bit more inclined to go with the sorts of projects that Joanne Osborne cited.

The vote is set for April 7th, so we'll know by then what the verdict will be.

So Long, Stanton

The Reds have apparently decided to part ways with Mike Stanton. Shame to see the rest of career suddenly in doubt, as he always seemed like a nice guy. Baker had some positive things to say about his character earlier this week.

Still, in making this cut, the Reds opted to let ability, not pride, determine their roster. In so doing, the Reds correctly determined that the $3.5 million they owe Stanton was a sunk cost--already committed no matter what, and therefore irrelevant to the decision of whether or not to keep him o the team. It's not as big of a deal as the Diamondbacks' decision to release Russ Ortiz two years ago (with $22 million left on his contract), but it's always nice to see rational decision-making in the Reds' front office.

In the interest of accountability, this appears to be my first miss of the 2008 season (and I'm sure there'll be more). I wrote this about Stanton in the THT Season Preview 2008:
There were few players who suffered the Reds fans' wrath more than Stanton last year. When signed, there was talk that he would be the co-closer with Weathers. Ultimately, he never got a save, and frankly never seemed to even put together more than a few solid appearances in a row. His peripherals and high BABIP indicate that he was terribly unlucky last season. But he also showed a big increase in his home runs allowed rate, in part due to GABP, and an in part due to a declining GB%. I still think he can be a decent middle-inning lefthanded option, but I also think that someone like Bill Bray or Jon Coutlangus can do about the same job for much lower cost.
I noted his declining GB%, but otherwise still thought he could do the job. Apparently, the Reds disagreed, and I'm guessing that they were right.

Interestingly, though, both Coutlangus and Bray have both been optioned to Louisville in favor of lefties Affeldt (who hadn't signed when I wrote the above passage), Mercker (ditto), and someone named Matt Mike Lincoln...who is now on John Fay's short list to make the big league roster. Go figure.

How much is a manager worth?

Tom Tango had a small comment today on managerial salaries, based on this article in the Wall Street Journal (congrats to David Gassko for the prominent feature):
...Basically, a win is a win is a win. A free agent win is worth 4.4MM, whether that comes directly off the play of the player, or has been “performance enhanced” by his manager. If the average manager gets 2MM, then a manager that can add 1 win should get 6.4MM. Of course, if you have a below average manager, one who gets LESS out of their players than an average manager would, then pay him 1MM.
I talked about Gassko's managerial study from the Hardball Times Annual in this previous post. The surprise finding from that study (at least to me) was that Dusty's players have performed 1.65 wins above expectations per season based on Gassko's model, which included simple aging curves and regression to the mean. The effect was entirely due to his hitters--he was +3.4 wins with hitters, and -1.7 wins with pitchers. And the effect remained (though was reduced, naturally, to ~+1 wins) when Barry Bonds was removed from the dataset.

Granted, there are other aspects to being a manager--particularly strategic decisions. But I think a lot of fans discount Baker's ability to motivate players, which seems genuinely exceptional from what I've heard and seen of him. And I've yet to see a good study that assesses differences in managerial strategic skill in a rigorous way. Doesn't mean that Baker's not deficient in that area (I'm not real excited about Mr. Patterson hitting leadoff, for example), just means that I don't know how to assess this right now.

So, if we can accept that Baker's approximately a +1 to +1.5 wins manager, then we can value his performance in the current free agent market as $4.4 to $6.6 million per season. The Reds are paying him $3.5 I'd say that if he's worth half of what Gassko's study suggests he's worth, then he's being paid appropriately.

Sergio Valenzuela sold by Braves to Mexico

I think I saw this on a Braves blog originally, but forgot to save the link and now I can't find that post. But the Reds' Rule 5 draft pick, Sergio Valenzuela, was flipped to the Acereros de Monclova, a Mexican League team, for future cash considerations almost immediately after the Reds sold him back to Atlanta. You can see him listed on their roster here. I guess the Acereros were willing to pay more than the $25k the Braves had to return to the Reds to get Valenzuela?

I'm pretty sure that this is an independent triple-A team. ... which surprises me, as I didn't know that a player could be traded outside of the major & minor league system.

I have to think that the Reds could have afforded whatever the Acereros were willing to pay for Valenzuela. Which must mean that they were thoroughly unimpressed with him in spring training. "J" Harrison, who is listed as the Reds' Director of Pro Scouting, was the guy who scouted Valenzuela in the winter and came away so impressed. I'd love to be a fly on the wall for wall for some of the conversations that must have preceded the Reds decision to sell Valenzuela back...

Another Reds' Blog!

It seems like I stumble upon a new Reds blog every day. This one is the Big Red Latrine, and is written by fellow south-westerner rmul. It's clearly in the humor category, and has had some pretty fun stuff over the past week.

Also in the humor category is Reds Rocket, which was an absolutely bizarre read all last season. Tim Timmons has recently started posting again. Right now he's doing a preview of the roster, and has been having a good time with photoshop (as usual). Somehow, every time I read Tim's blog I always hear this guy in my head.

Brandon "Taco" Phillips

Finally, with a hat tip to studes, here's a great story about an interaction between Brandon Phillips and a fan. I love seeing this kind of stuff. And I continue to really like our second baseman. Hopefully he won't implode this year.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Doug Gray of has started a new blog, His goal is to do something with pitchf/x data every day in the coming season. Sounds ambitious, but Doug's pretty good about keeping his other blog updated. Even something once a week would be pretty exciting through.

I really don't like "sabermetrics"

Dave Studeman posted his first column of the season today. Let's all take a moment to do a happy dance. :) Tom Tango has called his Studeman's "10 Things I Didn't Know Last Week" column the "Best Column in Sports," and I think he's right. Studeman always has insightful comments on baseball news and research from around the web, and does some excellent work in his own right. He's a fantastic communicator and a tremendous asset to our community.

The first thing that Dave talks about in this new column is the identity and meaning of the term "sabermetrics." I think he's right that it's about the search for truth...or, as I like to put it, understanding. Bill James once defined it as "the search for objective knowledge about baseball," which I think is a great definition. That search involves both process (the context with which we search), and the products (our findings). I have no disagreement with anything in Dave's article.

However, I do have a beef with the use of the term "sabermetrics." We talked about this a bit in the comments of this post, but I think it's a terrible, counterproductive term that should be flat-out dropped. Here is my comment about this in response to Studeman's article, posted on ballhype:
While I know this is probably a minority opinion, I really dislike--almost despise--the term "sabermetrics." Maybe it's just because I didn't grow up with Bill James. But that term has always sounded both pompous and half-baked to me--like we're trying to claim some kind of grand authority or officiality by coming up with an official-sounding name for what we do.

I think at least part of the backlash against "sabermetrics" has as much to do with that name as anything else. I've occasionally interacted with a local reporter in Cincinnati for some stat-inspired articles on the Reds over the past year, and one thing I've tried to stress (as have the other folks like me who have contributed to these articles) is to try to avoid calling us sabermetricians. I don't want to give people that as a reason for ignoring some of the ideas we advocate.

I'd much prefer it if everyone just called what we do what it is--baseball research. There's nothing really special about it...we're just searching for better understanding of how the game works. -j
Anyway, there you have it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New WBC news

Some of the first tangible news of the 2009 World Baseball Classic was announced yesterday. I had a blast watching the last tournament (I'll sprinkle a few pictures into this post that I took when attending the first US v. Mexico game), and it looks like this next one will be even better.

There were two big news items in yesterday's announcement:

No More Tiebreakers!

This bit of news has gotten a bit less play, but I think it's probably the most exciting thing in the announcement: at least in the first round, teams will use a double-elimination format to determine who advances similar to that used in the NCAA baseball tournament. This format should also allow clear and simple seeding moving into the next round.

This new format, of course, occurs instead of the round-robin with tiebreaker format of the last Classic. The tiebreaker was something of a pet peeve of mine, and switching to a double-elimination format is something I advocated back in '06. The problem was that the tiebreaker, which was stupidly just runs scored (not even run differential), determined who advanced in 33% of the pools in the last Classic. Ridiculous.

A double-elimination format is a much better fit for a baseball tournament because it puts the emphasis on winning games, not scoring runs. A team will always be alive in the tournament until the final play of that last game. That's what baseball is all about, baby!

Round 1 locations and brackets announced

Here's the first round:
  • Playing in Tokyo: China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, South Korea
  • Playing in Mexico City: Australia, Cuba, Mexico, South Africa
  • Playing in Toronto: Canada, Italy, USA, and Venezuela
  • Playing in San Juan: D.R., Netherlands, Panama, and Puerto Rico
I like that they're switching up the brackets. Last time, the US played Mexico and South Africa in the first round. Bringing Venezuela up to the USA bracket sets up the possibility of a later showdown between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, which is a match-up of high-caliber teams with a great rivalry. It also introduces a serious competitor in the USA's bracket, which was not (supposed to have been) the case in the previous tournament.

Japan and Cuba seem to have the easiest path through the first round, which is appropriate given that they played in the final game of the last Classic. Japan will probably always play the other three Asian countries in the first round, so that's no surprise. Cuba, on the other hand, does have to deal with the decent Mexican team, but they also get to play against two lower-tier teams in Australia and especially South Africa.

In contrast, the Toronto and San Juan brackets are a bit more challenging. Both feature two top-tier teams (USA and Venezuela, and Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico), a legitimate second-tier team (Canada and Panama), and a lower-teir team to beat up on (Italy and the Netherlands). I think that's a nice balance across the four brackets.

Also, there are some good, historically-meaningful match ups in the first round. South Korea gave Japan a run for their money last time, so that should be a fun way to start the tournament. And the battles between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico is always fairly heated. And Canada beat the USA team in the first round last time, so I would hope that the lackadaisical US team might have something to prove this go around.


Anyway, looks like a great start to the next tournament. Let's hope that they get some decent television coverage this year, both in terms of budgeted time as well as announcer preparation. If they do that, we should be in for exciting times next spring.

Hat tip to David Pinto.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Great Clutch Project

Tom Tango has officially kicked off his clutch project!

We talked about this last January, and got some initial feedback from folks at RedsZone about who they might select. Basically, the project asks you, the public, to choose the single best clutch hitter on a given team--the guy you most want to be up in an important game situation. The performance of these players will then be compared to the guy who projects to be the best overall hitter on each team, regardless of situation.

In the case of the Reds, the best overall hitter (by projection) will almost certainly be Adam Dunn. But I know there are a lot of Reds fans who would much rather have someone else--anyone else--up in a key game situation. This project will let us track how well the Adam Dunns of the world do in clutch situations against the public-chosen clutch players over the course of an entire season over at fangraphs. If clutch is a real skill, then clutch players should perform better than the non-clutch players! Should be fun!

Here's Tom Tango's introduction

So, you think you know who is the clutch hitter on your team? You think you know who you want at bat with the game on the line? Well, let's find out.

Go through your favorite team's roster, and select the one GREAT clutch hitter, the one guy you want at bat, when the game is on the line. One selection will do. If you like, you can go through each player, and note how good or bad a clutch hitter he is.

I will go through the same list of players, and simply select the best hitter on the team, period. We'll come into conflict in a few places, like with the Cardinals (Pujols), and Angels (Vlad). In that case, we'll go to our number 2 guys.

Then, let's see how each team's clutch hitter, and each team's best hitter does, when the game is on the line. Basically, we're looking at the late and close situations; technically, any game state where the Leverage Index is at least double the average. Fangraphs has agreed to track the performances on a page dedicated for us: a "team" of 30 clutch hitters, one from each MLB team, and similarly a "team" of 30 great hitters. Roughly 10% of all PA are in clutch situations, so we should expect some 1500 PA for each of our "teams". If clutch hitters exist, we should expect the 30 clutch hitters to perform better than the 30 otherwise great hitters.

Note: select the guy you want at bat, when the game is on the line, regardless of how good or bad he is otherwise. So, even if you believe that Darin Erstad or Willie Bloomquist can step it up a notch or two with the game on the line, they'd still be several notches below the other players on your team. Unless of course you really think otherwise.

Friday Links

A few links on a Friday...

Bruce is gone...

As a Reds blogger, I'm morally obligated to comment on the Jay Bruce reassignment to AAA, right? I guess I'm not that upset about it, simply because it's been the expectation since last season. Krivsky is notoriously methodical and conservative when it comes to promoting his prospects. Bruce was not given a September call-up last season, which, to me, indicated that he was not going to make the opening day squad this year no matter what. I still expect to see him mid-season, though.

Still, I'm shocked to see that Cueto is apparently going to be the #3 starter when the season begins. Very out of character...but it sounds like Dusty might have had something to do with that. Hopefully Baker won't break him.

FWIW, I'm very sure that the Reds as an organization will be pretty careful with Cueto, Bailey, and Volquez... They had a good year last season, and I think they understand the importance of avoiding injury. ... at least, that's what I'll be telling myself until we start seeing routinely high pitch counts on those young guys.

A new blog worth reading

Saber-Scouting is a new blog written by a duo who have direct experience working in baseball. One of the two currently works as a part-time scout, in addition to more media-oriented jobs ( Their stated goal is to provide a place where "where sabermetics and scouting are melted into a gooey mess." Sounds great to me.

Some of their early work seems similar to Carlos Gomez's pitch mechanics stuff from the Hardball Times last year (Gomez has apparently since been hired as a scout, thus no new articles). These things are always interesting to read, though I have no way of knowing how legit they are.

There's also this interesting post today that notes that AB/BB ratio is a fairly good predictor of league quality. I wouldn't have guessed it would be so clear cut, but it seems to work well when comparing leagues across levels. I'd like to see this same thing over MLB history to see if you see a pattern like that seen with pitcher hitting. FWIW, in 2007, the AL ratio was 10.4350, while the NL ratio was 10.4347. So, in that case, at least, it doesn't work very well, as the AL is widely considered a much better league.

Two more new Reds blogs...

Chris Sabo's Glasses - A blog by chatchi, with humorous commentary to go with the great blog name.

Crosley Field Terrace
- A well written blog with a general focus on the Reds...and yet another really, really great blog name.

I have to say that I still am woefully embarrassed by the utter lack of creativity that went into the name of my own blog. I think I just never expected the blog to take off like it has, so I didn't put much thought into it. Unfortunately, two years later, I still don't have a better idea! Maybe I should hold a contest...

Pizza Cutter on the Reds

MVN's stats guy Pizza Cutter profiled the Reds today. It's stop 24 on his review of the 2007 teams. He does a great job over there, especially given how big a task he has undertaken! Getting through 24 teams in one offseason is quite an accomplishment--I made it through a grand total of 3 teams when doing my playoff team profiles! And I still haven't really wrapped up the 2007 Reds season!!

Dewan on Norris Hopper

Bluzer at Redleg Stats Blog beat me to the punch, but John Dewan profiled the most successful bunters in baseball on his Stat of the Week e-mail this week. He noted that Norris Hopper was the second most successful bunter in baseball, as measured by bunts for base hits, behind only the incomparable Willy Taveras.

I've talked about this before, but I think at least part of Norris Hopper's unusually high (for his LD%) BABIP last season was due to his ability to bunt for base hits with a high success rate. I'm not sure about the degree to which this is true, but Taveras has done this three straight years in his time in the big leagues. I do expect Hopper to regress this season, but perhaps not as severely as you'd expect given his more traditional diagnostic stats.

Dan Fox did a piece this week on bunting too, which is a subject that he hadn't visited in a while. He shows that there may be some reason to include bunting ability as part of a player projection system, though he also speculates that any effect is highly correlated with something like speed. My guess is that, at least for a few players (e.g. Willy Taveras), incorporating bunt performance into one's player projection model it might result in significantly better projections...but it would probably be restricted to only those few players.

Burton's Spring Struggles

Chris at Seeing Reds is concerned about Burton's rather unattractive 10.80 ERA and 2.400 WHIP in spring training. Here was my response:

By my count, Burton struck out six in those five innings and walked none.

The single biggest problem he had last year was his control–when it improved over the last few months, he was awesome. Looks to me like his control is right where it needs to be, and his strikeouts indicate to me that he’s throwing the ball well.

And we know that hit rates can be extremely misleading in small sample sizes–hell, you can get major random departures in BABIP in 200 innings! So frankly, I’m not feeling concerned about him at all after looking at these data.

Jeff Conine to retire

Scott Hatteberg's former right-handed platoon partner at first base has signed a 1-day contract with the Marlins to play in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees on 28 March. After that, he has announced that he intends to retire.

Conine was arguably the most successful selection in the 1992 expansion draft. Over 17 seasons, he hit 0.285/0.347/0.443, with a 107 OPS+, 1982 hits, 217 home runs, and 671 walks. His best season was probably the late-start season of 1995, when he hit 0.302/0.379/0.520 for the Marlins. He also hit reasonably well in the postseason over his career (0.304/0.365/0.382 in 116 PA's), winning both trips to the world series with the Marlins.

B-Ref's salary compilations estimates that he made approximately $32.6 million as a major league ballplayer. Not a hall of fame career, perhaps, but a darn fine career nonetheless.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On Baseball and the Reds is Two!

I forgot about this, but March 1st was this site's second birthday! Here's a link to the debut post, as well as last year's post.

The site continues to be the source of a tremendous amount of fun and satisfaction for me. I never have time to do as much as I'd like, but I'm pleased with what I have been able to do. Running a blog is a great way to follow and learn about baseball, and it's allowed me to interact with a lot of very interesting, talented, and (thankfully!) friendly people over the past two years. Thanks to everyone who continues to visit!!

Site stats:

I'm a stathead, so I gotta throw out some usage stats:

As of today, the site has had over 100,000 page loads, over 80,000 unique visits, and most importantly to me, over 30,000 visits from returning visitors. Granted, a lot of sites do that much traffic in a few hours, but for an esoteric little blog like mine, that seems pretty darn good.

What's amazing to me is how the site continues to gain traffic: from March-December 2006 (10 months), the site received 21,000 unique visits. This year, from January through mid-March (2.5 months), it's already received 14,000 unique visits.

We also received a modest sponsorship this past winter from, which helps pay for the minor expenses associated with my activities here (subscriptions, books, etc). Please give them a look when you're buying your tickets this year. And I'm half-way to my first check from Google Adsense! Just one more year ought to do it... :)

Here's some other fun, big brother-esque stuff that I can learn from Google analytics. These data only go back to April 2007...
  • People
    • 52% of you use internet explorer, 42% of you use firefox, with Safari coming up a very distant third.
    • 90% of you use Windows, 9% of you use a Mac, and 0.5% of you use Linux. And 3 hits have come from someone's Playstation 3. :)
    • 44% of you use high-speed cable, 17% use DSL, 14% have a T1 connection, and 3% are on dial-up (though 22% of you are "unknown").
    • 92% of you are from the USA, 3% from Canada, and 3% are from either Taiwan, Japan, or South Korea.
  • Traffic
    • 47% of my traffic comes from direct links to my site. Of those visitors arriving via links:
    • 28% of my traffic comes from search engines, and 93% of all search traffic comes from google. Yahoo comes in at 4%, with AOL at 1.5%, and MSN at just 0.4%.
One thing that becomes clear from all of this is how important Redleg Nation and Red Reporter are to the Reds' blogosphere. I would never have gotten off the ground if it weren't for the traffic delivered by Chad and JD, especially early on. Thanks!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Interviews with Padres' Stats Guy

MB, who runs Friar Forecast (among others) and occasionally has commented here, has scored two really interesting interview pieces with Chris Long, who is the San Diego Padres' Senior Quantitative Analyst. They're good reads, and shed some light on some of the advanced analysis work going on in some major league teams.

Here are the two parts of the interview:
And here's my favorite exchange from the second part of the interview:
FF: Are you involved in integrating what I’ll call scouting data (pitch speeds, mechanics, body size, time running from home to first, etc) and more traditional numbers (hits, home runs, runs allowed, etc)? Or do you work more with the traditional numbers and use the scouting-based data separately?

Chris Long: If you aren’t looking at *all* the information you have, and trying to extract the absolute maximum amount of value from that information, you aren’t doing a good job. Hopefully that answers your question.

FF: I imagine one of the main goals of statistical analysis in an mlb front office is to project a player’s future performance. If so, can you tell us a little about how you analyze a player’s past performance to gain insight about what you expect out of his future?

Chris Long: I can’t go into specifics, but again, you need to integrate *all* the information you have about a player. Not just what he’s done, but where and how. Did something change? Was it luck? A simple projection system that’ll outperform almost every human (on average) is fairly easy to build. Building a system that outperforms those systems is harder, but consequently more interesting.
One of the things I've been talking about more and more (most recently here) is the importance of scouting information as another crucially important set of input data when trying to evaluate players. That's why, for example, I explicitly included the Fans Scouting Report data in my composite fielding estimate from my player value series. Some day, we may also be able to include information derived from pitchf/x (or other "scouting" sources) in evaluations of pitchers...and maybe hitters as well. It's the future, man. :)


Also, I went to the Cincinnati Reds' front office page to see if they had anyone listed who might be somewhat comparable to Chris Long. Sam Grossman came up as the Baseball Operations Analyst...anyone know anything about him and what he does? I might try asking some of the beat writers about him.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lohse Signs with Cards

Kyle Lohse signed with the Cards today for a 1 year, $4.25 million contract. He can earn $500k in performance bonuses, putting his best total contract value at $4.75 million.


Here's his recent stats:
2005 26 MIN 178.7 4.3 2.2 1.1 44.2% 0.311 4.18 4.55 0.344 0.480 0.824 5.2 15.8 19.7
2006 27 MIN/CIN
126.7 6.9 3.1 1.1 38.4% 0.333 5.83 4.34 0.356 0.504 0.860 5.5 11.2 22.1
2007 28 CIN/PHI
192.7 5.7 2.7 1.0 35.5% 0.300 4.62 4.53 0.357 0.495 0.852 4.8 27.7 26.3
3years --- --- 498.1 5.5 2.6 1.1 39.4% 0.305 5.17 4.45 0.352 0.493 0.845 5.1 54.8 68.2

Ok, so if we use a 5/4/3 weighting scheme over the past three years, Lohse has averaged 19.3 RAR and 23.3 FIP-RAR, the latter being my quick'n'dirty DIPS version of RAR. If we suppose he'll "age" (including injuries) a half-win this year, we can therefore forecast that he'll produce somewhere in the range of 14.3-18.3 RAR next season, or 1.4-1.8 WAR.

At $4.4 million/WAR, that would suggest a salary of $6.2-7.9 million this year would be fair. Tom Tango's salary scale suggests that a package somewhere in the range of $14-21 million over three years would be reasonable. Lohse is not an ace, but he's a reasonably valuable pitcher at the back of one's rotation.

By comparison, I have Carlos Silva, who signed a $48 million/4 year deal this offseason, at ~2.1 WAR over the past three seasons, which gives him a projected ~1.6 WAR this season. Lohse gets a very similar projection. And Silva's making $12 million/year?!

So what on earth happened here? Certainly, Silva is earning too much. We knew that. But I have to think that Lohse and his "super agent" Scott Boras must have severely overplayed their hand, or otherwise must have pissed a bunch of people off this offseason.

The Cards got a nice deal on this one.

Seeing Red

Every year around this time, there are a few new Reds blogs. It's always fun to see new perspectives on our team. I recently "discovered" (i.e. was given a link to) this one by Chris called Seeing Red, and I'm enjoying it a lot. Here's a few samples:
  • Chris thinks that Homer Bailey might be over-rotating on some of his pitches, resulting in inconsistency in where he plants his feet. I don't have FSN Ohio, so I couldn't see the game in question, but Will Carroll talked about Homer being inconsistent in where he places his feet last year.
  • Here's Chris's take on why there tends to be so much animosity between statheads and traditionalists. He brings up a lot of great points. I think that Chris is right that this "debate" is becoming a thing of the past in most MLB organizations, but the recent stuff with Daugherty is evidence that the "battle" is just beginning in the public and in the media. As Chris points out, the future is integration of stats and scouting, not the move from one to the other.
  • Here's Chris's own examination of Dusty Baker's tendency to (not) use rookies, published before my Hardball Times piece. He seems to come to the same conclusion I did--there's not much reason to think that Baker is particularly unusual in this respect.
Anyway, add him to your RSS reader if you get a chance.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hardball Times 5 Questions

The good folks at the Hardball Times kindly asked that I write the 5-Questions Season Preview for the Reds, and you can find the result published here.

It's not the most in-depth piece I've ever written, but I think it does a good job of setting up the coming season. As I see it, the Reds' hopes in '08 will come down to how well their young guys pitch. If two of Bailey, Cueto, and Volquez have good seasons in the rotation (regardless of who starts the year where), the Reds could be pretty exciting toward the end of the year. If not... meh.

Also, for a small bit of controversy, I argue that Dusty does not, in fact, have an extreme tendency to favor veterans over youth.

Similar articles have also been published on the Brewers, Cubs, and Cards, with the Pirates and Astros due to be published tomorrow. Good way to get caught up on our division rivals.


This is only tangentially related, but I also wanted to highlight Chris's excellent post on Dusty Baker. I have my share of reservations about Dusty, but his ability to handle and motivate players is clearly a strength...and might have quantifiable impacts on player performance.


Update: Holy crap! Rob Neyer picked up on the Baker commentary in his blog at ESPN! I need to send stuff to THT more often. :)

Thanks to Joel for the tip, as I don't have a subscription to ESPN.

Hamilton, Duran, and a few other links

A few news stories that caught my eye...

The Rangers Heart Josh Hamilton

Let me know when this starts to sound familiar...
But after working with Hamilton this spring, Rudy Jaramillo noted, “This kid is off the charts when it comes to the complete package of talent.”

Manager Ron Washington, a baseball lifer, dealt with some immense talent that came through the A’s system. “For having all the skills, I never saw one like Josh,” he said. “He has all the somethings you are looking for. Now we’ve got to find out what it all means.”

..."I’ve never worked with anyone who can hit a baseball as far as Josh can,” said Jaramillo, “and I’ve had some big bombers along the way. Just nothing like him.”

Rangers catcher Gerald Laird was speaking of Hamilton on Tuesday, and he was stuck for the proper description. “I see him do something, and go, ‘Wow.’ About five times a day, I say, ‘Wow.’”
I'm going to miss Josh. I sure hope that Volquez is able to turn into something, because I have little doubt that we lost something big with Hamilton. Yeah, he's already 27, but he still should have three-four years of outstanding performance left in him if he can stay healthy. Hat tip: BBTF

Reds Shell Out Big Bucks for Dominican Kid

From Baseball America (for free), with a hat tip to Doug:
The international signing period is still four months away, but the Reds have already made a big splash in the Dominican Republic, giving a $2 million signing bonus to 16-year-old outfielder Juan Duran, a player who many thought would not be eligible to sign until July 2.
"His body and offensive ability stick out like a sore thumb," Arias said. "In batting practice, he was just hitting them over the trees in our complex, hitting them out to center and right-center field. You can tell just tell from the way the ball jumps off his bat.
"I've never seen a 16-year-old with this type of ability. I talked to some people in the Dominican Republic who crossed paths with Vladimir Guerrero at that age, guys who have been scouting in the Dominican for more than 20 years, and they said they've never come into contact with a bat like this. He's got 80 power potential (on the 20-80 scouting scale) and just gets tremendous loft.
I wrote this at Doug's site:

This strikes me as something the Reds absolutely should be doing. Maybe he’ll never amount to a hill of beans. But $2 million now, given how much scouts like him, gives the Reds a chance at a huge payout 4-5 years down the road. In contrast, they’d only get about a half-win better investing that money into MLB free agents. So bravo Cinci. :)

It also can’t help but be a good thing to make a splash like this for their operations moving forward down there. The Reds have never been a place that signs the top prospects down in the D.R., or anywhere else on the international scene for that matter. Hopefully this will give them a better shot at competing with teams like the Yankees in the international free agent market moving forward…

What changes do you want to see in MLB?

Tango links to an interesting roundtable discussion asking about changes that we'd like to see in baseball. Tango touches on the issue of hooking kids early in his comments about the questions. Two thoughts on that:

1. Too many games, particularly in the playoffs, don't start until much too late at night. How in the world am I going to share the excitement of the postseason with my kid if most games start after her bedtime?

2. I like the idea of trying to reduce the number of pickoff throws, as well as other events (like stepping out of the box) that slow the game down and make it harder to get into as a non-fan. For example, I'd support making a pickoff throw equivalent to a pitchout (i.e. a ball is called) on counts of less than three balls. I also would advocate not permitting hitters to call time out, provided that pitchers were on some kind of clock with respect to how quickly they delivered the pitch.

Bruce vs. Rasmus

John Sickels did a point-by-point comparison of Jay Bruce and the Cardinals' Coby Rasmus on Monday. That outfielder rivalry could be a pretty exciting rivalry to watch in the NL Central, as both are breaking into the big leagues at about the same time.

Bruce won the "smackdown," though not overwhelmingly so. Rasmus seems to have an edge on defense, in particular, which, of course, tends to be underrated...

Help me help you!

Speaking of Jay Bruce, while this is a few weeks old, I found this post regarding his agent to be pretty interesting. I don't know if that was a paid endorsement or not. But I think it's revealing to get this kind of peek into how players interact with their agents in Real Life.

Erardi, Gajus, and Luckhaupt do it again

John Erardi has once again solicited the help of some of the top minds in the Reds fanbase to put together an interesting article (actually, there's about 10 of them, but you can get to them from that link) about the Reds' chances this year. I thought they did a really fine job of it, so I thought I'd pass on my congrats. Unfortunately, the article was literally being put together while I was away interviewing for that job last month, so I couldn't participate. Obviously, they didn't need me! :)

Also interesting was Daugherty's counter article, which has been thoroughly torn to shreds by at FJM (though frankly I couldn't get through their entire mean-spirited rebuttal). Greg Gajus appears on Doc's show tomorrow night, so I'll try to listen via XM Radio...though there's a way in which appearing on that show is kind of like appearing on the O'Reilly Factor.

Daugherty was reasonably respectful to Joel after the last big article, at least when talking to him in person. Given the response to Daugherty's article around the internets, I'm not sure that Gajus is going to be received quite as warmly...

Adios, Sergio Valenzuela

So, today the Reds sold Sergio Valenzuela back to the Braves for $25k, meaning that they're down a net $25k from that Rule 5 selection.

It's one thing when Rule 5 picks don't work out. They're always a gamble--after all, they require you to keep someone on your 25-man roster all season who didn't even make the 40-man roster on another team.

But this one looked ridiculous to almost every single observer from day one. Here's my initial take on it (to say I was giving Krivsky the benefit of the doubt is an understatement). And I'll again quote Kevin Goldstein:
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?
Ah, well.

The annoyance here isn't really the $25k that the Reds wasted. After all, they made $50k when the Ray stook Guevara in the same draft. The issue is the loss of a borderline relief pitching prospect (Guevara) in the draft to make room for Valenzuela, as well as the lost opportunity to select someone else who had a chance to do something for the Reds this season. So, bleh.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Jerry Hairston Jr.

The other signing yesterday was veteran infielder/outfielder Jerry Hairston Jr. Hairston is part of an outstanding baseball family: his grandfather, Sammy, had a cup of coffee with the White Sox in 1951, while his father played for 14 big league seasons as a reserve outfielder. Furthermore, Jerry's younger brother, Scott, is currently with the San Diego Padres.

Hairston is also notable because of his associations with allegations of human growth hormone use. His name, along with a photocopy of a personal check made out to Kirk Radomski, who claimed he supplied Hairston with HGH, appeared in George Mitchell's report in December. He also was implicated as among those players who had purchased HGH from an online pharmacy, though he vehemently denied those allegations. To my knowledge, he has not yet addressed the Radomski allegations.

Back to baseball...Hairston was Baltimore's 11th round selection out of Southern Illinois University in the 1997 draft. He moved up quickly, getting his first taste of the big leagues in 1998, and ultimately securing the starting gig at second base with the Orioles in 2000. In the minors, he showed good doubles power to go with his plus speed. But unfortunately, he never hit for any kind of power in the major leagues, relying on his on base percentage to provide value to his club. In the end, after a few years as a starter with the O's, Hairston has settled into a reserve utility role.

Recent stats:
2005 29 CHC 430 11% 7% 23% 0.282 0.261 0.336 0.368 0.107 0.704 -2.803 4.4 8.6
2006 30 TOT 192 18% 7% 12% 0.245 0.206 0.270 0.253 0.047 0.523 -0.059 2.0 -9.3
2007 31 TEX 184 13% 6% 14% 0.189 0.189 0.249 0.289 0.100 0.538 0.408 2.2 -8.0
3yrs --- --- 806 13% 7% 19% 0.252 0.231 0.293 0.323 0.092 0.616 -2.454 3.2 -8.6

It's hard to look at his numbers the past few years and see much reason for optimism moving forward. Entering his age-32 season, Hairston is showing a fairly typical aging curve for a borderline talent. He seemed to peak in 2004 at age 28 (0.378 OBP), and then he quickly fell off. His performances the last two seasons have been dreadful, especially when one considers that he played half his games in Arlington--a fairly severe hitters park (5-year regressed park factor=1.05). Last season, his BABIP was unusually low, but his line drive rate was such that one wonders if he's making any kind of hard contact any more. Even his speed has been unimpressive--particularly his 8 for 17 success rate in 2005 when playing for Dusty Baker.

On the positive side, I guess I could say that he does walk more often that Brandon Phillips or Corey Patterson, while keeping his strikeouts at a reasonable level. ... but that's not enough to make someone worth plugging into a lineup.


Hairston is a versatile fielder, having logged substantial numbers of MLB innings at second base and all three outfield positions. His 2003-2007 UZR totals put him at +3 runs/season at 2B, +16 runs/season in LF, -2 runs/season in CF, and +0 runs/season in right field. Altogether, including position adjustments, that pegs him as about a +3 fielder at a neutral position (like second or third base).

The Fans Scouting Report hasn't been quite as generous. While they had him well above average in 2004, his ratings have been routinely a tick below average the past three seasons (typically 1-3 runs below average). I think what we may be seeing here is an indication that he may have a lost a step as he's aged.

Money Matters

He's on a minor league deal, of course, so he's essentially "free." And unlike Corey Patterson, I'm not sure that he's likely to make more than league minimum ($400k) if he makes the team, or more likely, gets called up mid-season as an injury replacement. But is he even worth 400k?

In terms of projections...he's averaged below-replacement level hitting the past three years, and the most optimistic fielding estimate would have him as an average defender, accounting for position adjustments. We also should deduct a half-win or so for aging.

So, we're essentially looking at someone who projects as a sub-replacement level performer. It's fine to have more warm bodies in camp and all, but he ranks well below guys like Paul Janish, Jerry Gil, Chris Dickerson, etc, on my depth list. And even then, the Reds should be able to acquire someone for almost zero cost who can provide more value than Hairston. I don't mind giving the guy a chance in the spring, but unless Dusty is feeling incredibly loyal to his old player, I'd project that we're unlikely to ever see the guy in a Reds uniform after March.

Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Wireimage

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Corey Patterson

Tonight, the Reds signed 28 year old LHB outfielder Corey Patterson to a minor league deal and invited him to compete for a job on the ballclub. The move is something of a surprise, given the already-thick competition for the center field job between Ryan Freel, Norris Hopper, and Jay Bruce. Nevertheless, Patterson is an intriguing player, and one who might provide surprisingly good value for the Reds.

Patterson has a very rich pedigree. He was the 3rd overall pick in the 1998 draft out of Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Georgia. He skyrocketed through the minor leagues, making his major league debut at 20 years old, and played his first full season at age 22 in 2002. Scouts absolutely adored his combination of power and speed. Unfortunately, as John Sickels might put it, his skills never caught up with his talent.

Here are his recent stats:

2005 25 CHC 481 25% 5% 18% 0.258 0.215 0.254 0.348 0.133 0.602 0.29 2.9 -9.2
2006 26 BAL 498 19% 4% 21% 0.309 0.276 0.314 0.443 0.167 0.757 3.672 5.4 21.4
2007 27 BAL 503 13% 4% 15% 0.286 0.269 0.304 0.386 0.117 0.690 2.272 4.4 10.2
3yrs --- --- 1482 19% 4% 18% 0.285 0.254 0.286 0.393 0.139 0.679 6.234 4.2 22.4

Looking at this 3-year line, you can immediately see where a lot of his troubles lie. He strikes out at a pretty high clip (19%, on average), which prevents him from having a high batting average. At the same time, he doesn't walk at all. High strikeouts + low walks = zero OBP. His power also hasn't been overwhelming either, though it was respectable enough in 2006 (and '03 and '04). The one silver lining is that when Patterson does get on, he's been superb on the bases the past few years--few players net more than two runs in stolen bases a year, and Patterson has averaged more than that over the past three years.

Krivsky cited a decline in Corey's tendency to strike out as a reason for optimism, and his K-numbers did show a dramatic improvement from 2005-2007. He didn't see a corresponding improvement in his batting average last season, but that is apparently due to the drop in his line drive percentage. Assuming that the two aren't related--and they could be if he's now swinging weakly and just trying to make contact--he might yet be improving. Also, moving from a slight pitcher's park (Camden) to a slight hitter's park (GABP) might result in a nice surge in his numbers. Patterson's not young anymore, but he's not old either, and the guy is Darn Talented. Those guys can surprise (see Phillips, Brandon).

On the other hand, people have been predicting improvements from Patterson since 2002, with little to show for it. So, forecasting improvements this season is hard to do. FWIW, PECOTA isn't particularly optimistic, though there is an enormous range between his 90th and 10th percentile projections...


Despite his offensive woes, Patterson does have a reputation as a plus fielder. His 2003-2007 average per 150 G according to UZR is a fine +13 in center field. The Fans Scouting Report had him at +0.5 wins/season in center field last year. ZR and RZR had him about average in '07, but I'm not crazy about either of those stats when assessing CF's. Dan Fox's SFR stat (which includes throwing arm) from 2003-2007 has him at +16.3 runs, or ~+3 runs/season, with a big spike of +12.9 runs in 2006.

The safe thing is probably to assume that he's a +0.5 wins fielder in center. That corresponds to his Fans rating, and is also the approximate average between the various objective metrics cited above. That also would rank him as arguably the best defensive center fielder on the ballclub...

Money Matters

I can't find anything about the sort of deal that Patterson might get if he makes the ballclub. It might be that he'd only make the league-minimum 400k. But my guess is that he'll make a tad above that (perhaps with incentives), though not more than a few million.

What is he worth? Well, on offense, he's averaged ~7.5 runs above replacement per season, or ~0.8 wins. Fielding-wise, I have him at +0.5 wins. He gains a half-win in value for playing a premium defensive position (center field), which puts him at ~1.8 wins above replacement overall.

I'm torn about whether to deduct a half-win for aging, as 28 is still within a player's prime years. So, let's just project his value as a range of between 1.3-1.8 wins above a replacement player. Such a player, as a free agent, should be worth ~$5.8-7.9 million per year, so the Reds are in for a nice value here.

Nevertheless, 2 wins above replacement is about what we'd expect from an average ballplayer, and most starters are approximately average or better players. Therefore, Patterson's suitability for a starting job is questionable. Then again, I'm not sure that Freel or Hopper can be counted on to be an average ballplayer next season either, so I can see Patterson taking the starting job--and if not, certainly making the club as a reserve outfielder.

The X-factor in all of this is Jay Bruce. He has already been raising eyebrows with his early spring training performance, and he may well play himself onto the ballclub. That would shift Freel and Hopper to reserve roles...and I have a hard time seeing how either of those guys won't be on the club come opening day. Given how packed the Reds' roster already is, what happens with Jay Bruce may be the biggest factor affecting Patterson's future with the Reds.

I'll try to take a look at Hairston in the next few days...he's a bit less interesting of a case, at least initially.