Table of Contents

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hardball Times Season Preview

The Hardball Times Season Preview 2009 is nearing publication, and I was generously tapped once again to contribute a section on the Reds. David Gassko wrote about it today:
The bulk of the Season Preview consists of team essays, player comments, and projections. In all, we have 1,050 player projections and comments in the book, meaning that we’ve covered just about anyone who might have an impact on the 2009 baseball season. In addition, purchasers of the Season Preview will have access to a spreadsheet with over 2,600 projections.

The projections include all the regular statistics you might expect, plus fielding ratings, three-year projections, a reliability score, projected fantasy values, and depth charts. In other words, no matter what you’re using these projections for, we have you covered.

But enough about the projections. They’re good, but they’re not so much better than any other system that I’m going to ask you to buy the book just for them. Instead, I want to talk a little about the lifeblood of the Season Preview—the writing.

The writers featured in the Season Preview are not just some random schmucks we pulled off the street (well, except for John Brattain), but some of the best bloggers on the internet writing about the teams they follow every day. Who better to tell you about the Arizona Diamondbacks than Jim McLennan? And who knows more about the Seattle Mariners than Jeff Sullivan?
I'm not sure that I'd make the argument that I know more about the Reds than anyone else (that honor might go to slyde), but nevertheless I think the team essay and player comments that I contributed are pretty much on the mark...which means it's not wildly optimistic for 2009, but I do talk a lot about the positive aspects of our team (Bruce, Votto, Volquez, Cueto, etc).

If this sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to go to ACTA's website and preorder the book. It should ship in February. While I'm admittedly biased, over the past several years I've found that it's even more insightful than BPro's Annual in terms of player comments and team essays. Furthermore, the player projections have improved and are now truly on par with the best of the other systems: CHONE, PECOTA, etc. ...

As a final example of what you're getting, Here's an excerpt from last year's book (pre-2008 season) on Jeff Keppinger (coming off a fabulous debut):
Keppinger began the season in AAA, but when he finally joined the club in July, he flat-out hit. He eventually all but took over the starting shortstop position, despite not playing short only eight games in the minor leagues. The surprising thing about his batting line was his power: while Keppinger has always been a high-AVG hitter, his 0.477 SLG in the major leagues last season was higher than any seasonal total he'd ever posted in the minors. At 27, I think it's unlikely that he suddenly discovered a power stroke upon arriving in the big leagues, so look for his power to decline next season as per THT's projections. Defensively, while his numbers weren't particularly bad at short, I think that's largely a small sample size issue--he seems sure-handed, but he his range is more suitable for the hot corner. The release of Jorge Cantu also means that Keppinger should get a good number of starts at first base against left-handers.
Kepp was even worse than expected, of course...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Is Barry Larkin a Hall of Famer? A look at Retrosheet-era shortstops

I did a quick little study based on an e-mail conversation this week, so I decided to post it. What follows is a look at all Retrosheet-Era Hall of Fame shortstops, plus the best of the others that came to mind.

Methods in brief, should you care: I used batted wins from b-ref, converted them to WAR (+2 wins/season), added an innings-based position adjustments for each position played (based on modern day position adjustments, which may not be appropriate...), and then added TotalZone fielding estimates for each of these players. Non-retired players had their 2008 bUZR totals added to their TotalZone values, as I only have TotalZone data through 2007. There is no adjustment for level of competition, even though this has certainly increased over the years.

Here they are, sorted by total value in wins above replacement (elected HoFers with a +):

WAR Hitting
Fielding PosAdj Total Value
Alex Rodriguez 77.4 -1.9 6.8 82.4
Cal Ripken+ 56.1 6.2 11.5 73.8
Robin Yount+ 56.3 -2.3 8.1 62.1
Barry Larkin 45.0 3.5 9.1 57.6
Ernie Banks+* 55.1 5.4 -5.7 54.8
Alan Trammell 39.0 5.1 9.6 53.7
Derek Jeter 49.8 -9.2 8.9 49.5
Ozzie Smith+ 17.3 16.7 11.3 45.3
Miguel Tejada 31.1 0.5 7.7 39.2
Luis Aparicio+ 4.9 14.3 11.7 30.9
Omar Vizquel 9.6 6.7 11.7 28.0
Mark Belanger -5.6 23.8 8.0 26.2
Davey Concepcion 13.4 3.0 9.6 26.0
* Note: I'm missing 2.5 seasons of Banks' fielding at shortstop because it precedes Retrosheet. Judging from his other seasons there (he's rated well early in his career), you would probably be safe adding an extra win to his fielding totals. The negative position adjustment on him is due to the fact that he spent the latter half of his career at 1B.

Ripken was better than Larkin, but no one would argue otherwise. And Yount probably was too, though he was really only a shortstop during the first half of his career (his negative fielding numbers are from his CF days). Same for Rodriguez. But you can make a legitimate claim, I think, that Larkin is the third best retired shortstop from the Retrosheet Era (at worst, he's tied with Banks in value, and probably has a slight edge), and 4th best overall. Among pure shortstops, we're talking #2 or 3 depending on how far of a lead ARod got before he switched to 3B.

Aparicio seems like an outlier (why him and not Belanger?), but Larkin's lead over Ozzie is striking. To me, 4th-best is clearly good enough for the Hall, given that we're talking about more than 50 years at the most challenging defensive position aside from pitcher & catcher. Doesn't hurt that he did win an MVP, helped redefine his position, was a great guy, etc.

While Larkin was better, Trammell and Jeter also would seem to have pretty legitimate arguments for HoF consideration. Tejada, not so much, especially if he continues to tail off. And the steroids thing won't help matters with the voters.

Concepcion, unfortunately, doesn't come out very well in this analysis. But his fielding hasn't looked as good as I'd expect according to several of these kinds of statistics. I don't know if that means we tend to overvalue his defense as Reds fans, or that TotalZone is just missing on him for some reason. Tango did a WOWY study including Concepcion a while back, and I think he found that he was a better fielding shortstop than these numbers would indicate. Yet even with Belanger numbers, he's only "just" Ozzie Smith's equal. Very borderline if there's a case there at all...

Thanks to Slyde for prompting the issue, and for suggesting several players I'd overlooked. Thanks also to B-ref and Rally for the data.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rally on Jonny Gomes

Rally, who is responsible for the CHONE forecasting system I use so much around here, really likes the Reds' recent signing of Jonny Gomes:
In his favor, he's moving from baseball's toughest division to the National League central, a very good homerun hitting park, and some other good hitter's parks among his divisional opponents (Wrigley, Houston). I think Jonny is going to win a starting job in spring training (Reds OF then being him, Tavares in center, and Bruce in right), and hit a bunch of homers. If he plays every day I think he'll hit 30. He'll also strike out 150+ times, and play crappy defense. They've pretty much replaced 90% of Adam Dunn for a little over the league minimum. Jonny is a good player to watch for if you wonder if there will be a Ryan Ludwick of 2009.
My quick value projection:

With the Reds, CHONE has Jonny projected to hit 0.255/0.357/0.507 with 24 home runs in 442 PA's. That's 63% playing time. His R150 is +7 RAA, which pro-rated for the playing time projection puts his hitting value at about 17 RAR.

Defensively, as Rally said, he's brutal: projects at -14 RAA per season in a corner outfield slot, which, including a position adjustment (-7.5 r/season because he's a corner outfielder) and pro-rating for 63% playing time puts him at -13.5 runs in 2009 on defense. Overall, that puts his total value at a fairly weak 3.5 runs above replacement. Assuming $4.8 million/WAR, that values him at ~$1.6 million for 2009...which means the Reds probably got a bargain given how little he signed for.

I don't really see him as a good starter because of his defense--you have to be a really good hitter to justify being -15 runs/season in a corner position (e.g. Dunn, Adam). But I can live Gomes in a platoon, and I certainly like him as a power bat off the bench (something that Jocketty mentioned a few weeks back as a need).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's Adam Dunn worth?

We're snow delayed this morning, so I thought I'd take a moment to re-visit Adam Dunn's value (here's my piece on this from last summer).

Word 'round the campfire is that Dunn is still looking for a Carlos Lee-sized contract, despite some of his comparables signing for much less than expected. Pat Burrell, for example, signed a 2 year, $16 million contract with the Rays. Let's look at Pat Burrell quickly:

CHONE has Burrell projected at +13 RAA/150g and 85% playing time, which projects to ~28 RAR. Defensively, Burrell projects to be terrible: -14 RAA in a corner outfield slot, which also incurs a -7.5 runs/season penalty due to being a weak defensive position. Overall, that puts him at -21.5/season on defense, or -18 runs/season given the playing time estimate. Alternatively, if you rate him as a DH, he gets a -17.5 runs/season penalty * 85% playing time = -15 runs/season. Given that he signed as a putative DH, let's go with the latter estimate.

So, total value on Burrell is +28 RAR on offense and -15 runs on defense = +13 runs above replacement in 2009 (and +8 runs above replacement in 2010, given 5 runs/season aging). If free agent contracts are continuing to increase at 10% per season, that puts a two-year contract for Burrell worth 1.3*4.85 + 0.8*5.3 = $10.5 million. So, given this, even in a normal economy (and this probably isn't a normal economy), Burrell's contract seems like it might be a slight overpay. Tango came up with a slightly higher estimate of his value, but even then, in a normal economy, the contract comes in at even value.

Now, let's look at Dunn. CHONE has Dunn projects as a +16 runs/150g hitter and an excellent 90% playing time, which puts him at +32 RAR on offense. That's quite a dropoff from where I had him last season, which was closer to 40-45 RAR after aging. Why? I think it's because CHONE downweights home runs substantially when they happen in GABP, more so than my rough runs-based park adjustments do. If you think it's too dramatic, we can add 5 runs to the CHONE estimate...

Defensively, Dunn's -13 runs/season in a corner slot, + 7.5 run penalty for playing an easy position = -20.5 runs/season * 90% = -18 runs in 2009. Or, as a DH, he gets -17.5 runs/season * 90% = -16 runs/season.

So, overall, we get +32-37 RAR on offense minus 16-18 runs for defense depending on which figure you use. That equals somewhere between +14 and +21 runs above replacement in 2009. I'm going to split the difference again at put him at +17.5 runs above replacement.

Assuming 10% increases in free agent value, that puts his value at:

2009: 1.75 * $4.85 = $8.5 m
2010: 1.25 * $5.3 = $6.6 m
2011: 0.75 * $5.9 = $4.4 m
2012: 0.25 * $6.5 = $1.6 m

So, that puts his value at 1/$8.5, 2/$15.1, 3/$19.5, or 4/$21.1.

My guess is that the offers he's seeing are right around these values, or maybe slightly better than this.


I've been thinking about this more today, and I think I undervalued both Burrell and Dunn above. The reason is that I was using CHONE's R150 numbers as their full season contributions, and then calculating a percentage of that based on an estimate of playing time. The problem with doing this is that R150 is already 92% playing time (otherwise it'd be R162!), so I can't use that as a full season estimate. It's designed to just be a good, optimistic estimate of full season production for most players (few if any players are projectable for over 92% playing time that aren't named Cal Ripken).

I also probably should be using a runs/9.4 conversion instead of a runs/10 conversion to get runs into wins. Offense isn't at 5 runs per game per team anymore.

So, with that in mind, here are revised estimates for Burrell and Dunn's values:

Pat Burrell

+13 RAA/150g / 0.92 = 14 RAA/162 g + 20 runs = 34 RAR * 85% = 29 RAR. Fielding is still -15 runs/season for DH. So, 29 RAR - 15 RAA = 14 runs above replacement total value.

2009: 14 RAR / 9.4 = 1.5 WAR * $4.85 M/WAR = $7.2 M
2010: 9 RAR / 9.4 = 1.0 WAR * 5.3 M/WAR = $5.3 M

2 year value = $12.5 M

Not much different, but this is closer to being accurate, I think. And a little closer to what he got and what Tango came up with.

Adam Dunn

15 RAA/150g / 0.92 = 16 RAA/162g + 20 runs = 36 RAR * 90% = 33 RAR hitter. If you want to be biased and think Dunn's better than that (I think he probably is, but I'm biased), you can add 5 runs and make him a 37 RAR hitter. Fielding remains -16 to -18 runs/season. So we're now at 15 to 21 RAR. Splitting the difference puts us at 18 RAR.

2009: 18 RAR / 9.4 = 1.9 WAR * $4.85 M/WAR = $9.2 M
2010: 13 RAR / 9.4 = 1.4 WAR * $5.3 M/WAR = $7.4 M
2011: 8 RAR / 9.4 = 0.85 WAR* $5.9 M/WAR = $5.0 M
2011: 3 RAR / 9.4 = 0.3 WAR * $6.5 M/WAR = $2.0 M

That puts a 2 year deal worth ~$17M, a 3 year deal worth $22M, and a 4 year deal worth $24M. As I said in the comments below, you'd probably spread the money evenly across the years, but it should sum up to these totals.

Again, not a huge difference, but the small adjustments net him an extra $1 million or so a year.

Adam Dunn at these rates would be a nice improvement for the Reds. He's better than Willy Taveras. If he wants more than that, given that he won't singlehandedly get the team into the playoffs, it's probably the right move not to sign him.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Jerry Hairston Re-signs with Reds

From Not-John-Fay:
Free agent Jerry Hairston Jr. is returning to the Reds. A baseball source told that Hairston and the club agreed to terms on a one-year contract worth a guaranteed $2 million on Tuesday. It's an incentive-laden deal that could be worth up to $4 million.

An announcement is expected Wednesday. The Royals and Cardinals were the other teams competing for Hairston's services.

It appears Cincinnati plans to make Hairston its starting shortstop this season because Alex Gonzalez won't be ready.
I'm traveling so I can't do a full write-up. But $2 million is paying for less than a half-win above replacement (I think...the $4.8 million/WAR mark might need re-adjusting based on the recent other signings), so this seems like a pretty fair deal at first blush.

As a shortstop, Hairston projects as a -5 run/season player. He'd get a +7.5 run/season bonus for playing shortstop, so this means he's a tad above average as an infielder. As a corner outfielder, he projects to -4 runs/season in center or +4 runs/season in a corner. That makes him a tad below average as an outfielder. I'm going to punt and call him a dead-on average fielder. Maybe you give him a bonus because he's versatile, though...?

As a hitter, Hairston projects as a -12 runs/season hitter according to CHONE. In roughly 50% playing time (also projected, based on history), that means he's about a +4 RAR player in 2009.

What this means to me is that $2 million is a pretty fair salary for the guy. $4 million isn't unreasonable either (that's actually what CHONE values him at assuming average defense, which seems high to me), especially if it's based on playing time and performance goals that he'd have to meet to actually be worth that amount. I'm ok with this deal.

The fact that Gonzalez won't be ready isn't exactly a surprise, though it's disappointing. You have to seriously question, at this point, whether the guy's going to play in 2009. .... And if he does, how good he'll be. He wasn't that good to begin with.

There's not much else left on the market, so we might know our 2009 Reds at this point:

C Hernandez
1B Votto
2B Phillips
3B Encarnacion
SS Hairston
LF Dickerson
CF Taveras
RF Bruce

With a fair bit of Kepp at all the infield slots, probably. Yippie...