Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dodger Roster 2011

What's the Dodgers' roster going to look like this season?

The following players are under contract and are very likely to start the year on the team.

C Barajas
C Navarro
1B Loney
2B Uribe
3B Blake
SS Furcal
IF Carroll
IF ?????
LF Thames
CF Kemp
RF Ethier
OF Gibbons
OF Gwynn
IF/OF ???

SP Kershaw
SP Billingsley
SP Kuroda
SP Lily
SP Garland
RP Broxton
RP Kuo
RP Guerrier
RP ?????
RP ?????
RP ?????
P Padilla

Looks like there are 5 spots up for grabs:

Back up infielder
Ivan DeJesus
Juan Castro
Dee Gordon

I'm almost certain that the Dodgers will go with Castro here, which is terrible.  But I wouldn't want DeJesus there either.  Carroll was the primary backup infielder last year, and will be again this year.  Meaning that DeJesus will be sitting on the bench most of the time.  Much better for him to be playing every day in Albuquerque.  Dee Gordon will probably take over (soon) after Furcal's contract expires after the season but, same as DeJesus, he needs to be playing not sitting on the bench.

I would have went with Chin-Lung Hu who was traded to the Mets for a meh pitcher, John Antonini

Xavier Paul
Jamie Hoffman
Russ Mitchell
John Lindsey
Jerry Sands

Xavier Paul is out of options which means he will either 1) make the team, 2) be traded, 3) be DFA'd.  I like Paul and would have liked to see him given a shot at the starting LF job, at least in a platoon.  But the Dodgers signed Gwynn and Gibbons.  That's too many left-handed OFers.  Expect the Dodgers to trade Paul soon.  I also like Jamie Hoffman. He's not going to be a starting OFer but he could be an ok 5th OFer.  He has some power, some speed, some defense.  He does everything slightly better than average.

But, I think the Dodgers will go with Russ Mitchell.  6 OFers is too many and we could use the IF depth.  Mitchell can play 1st and 3rd which Carroll and Castro don't really fit for.  Unfortunately, Russ Mitchell isn't very good.

John Lindsey is similar to Mitchell, but doesn't play 3B and is coming off of a broken hand at the end of last season.

Jerry Sands.  Same as Dee Gordon.  He needs to be playing everyday in the minors.  He only played a half-season at AA last year.

Trayvon Robinson.  Same as Sands.  He was in AA last year.  Instead of riding the Dodgers' pine he needs to be playing.

Relief Pitching
There are 3 open slots in the bullpen.  The favorites for those spots are most likely:
Blake Hawksworth
Ramon Troncoso
Ronaldo Belasario
Corey Wade
Kenley Jansen
Scott Elbert
John Link

Realistically, it could be any of these guys.
Hawksworth was acquired for Theriot.  He was a former high draft pick who hasn't done much.  He's out of options so he'll probably take one of the spots unless he's terrible in the spring.  Troncoso and Belasario have experience with the team but both of them had down years last year after successful 2009s. Wade was good in '08 but pitched almost 100 innings between the majors and minors and hasn't been the same since.

Jansen is the most exciting option.  He looked amazing last season in a few innings but he's only been a pitcher for a little over a year.  I think he'll start the season with LA (unless he has a horrid spring) but he still needs to learn how to pitch.  I don't expect him to pitch the whole season in LA.

Elbert is a favorite of mine.  The Dodgers only have 1 left-hander in the bullpen (Kuo) and Kuo will be either the set-up man or closer.  There's an opening for a situational lefty.  Elbert has very good stuff but struggles with control and injuries.  I'd like to see him get a shot.  Dana Eveland or Antonini could end up here as well.

Link. He's a guy.  Came over in the Juan Pierre trade.  Not much upside, but he's not going to kill you either.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dodgers' leftfield options: Marcus Thames

The Dodgers signed OF Marcus Thames today to spend some time in left field.  My gut reaction was...meh...but I decided to take a closer look.

He's a better hitter than I thought.  Especially if used correctly.

This is Thames' average line vs left-handed pitchers for his career and last 3 years (per 600 PA)
Career:  540 AB, 143 Hits, 32 HR, 54 BB, 134 K, .264 BA, .333 OBP, .505 SLG, .358 wOBA
Last 3:   537 AB, 142 Hits, 33 HR, 54 BB, 147 K, .265 BA, .332 OBP, .498 SLG, .356 wOBA

This is Thames' average line vs right-handed pitchers for his career and last 3 years (per 600 PA)
Career:  545 AB, 129 Hits, 37 HR, 43 BB, 166 K, .236 BA, .296 OBP, .480 SLG, .329 wOBA
Last 3:   543 AB, 136 Hits, 36 HR, 46 BB, 165 K, .251 BA, .307 OBP, .481 SLG, .337 wOBA

Thames is obviously a better hitter vs lefties.  Which is the reason that he was signed.  The Dodgers have Ethier, Gwynn, Gibbons, and Paul as left-handed hitting OFers and only Kemp as a right-handed hitter.  Players with wOBA between .350 and .360 (as Thames has vs lefties) are: Derek Jeter, Vlad Guerrero, Robinson Cano, and Carl Crawford.

Unfortunately, only about 30% of at bats come against left-handed pitching.  That won't be the case for Thames this season though.  Teams have already realized that Thames hits lefties much better as 43% of his career at bats have come against lefties, including 60% last season.

So the Dodgers will have this player in the lineup about 30% of the time.
.265/.330/.500 .330 wOBA per 600 PAs with 33 HR

Two problems:  Defense and the other 70% of the time.

Thames is a terrible defender.  So is Ethier and the reviews as Kemp as a CFer are mixed.  Lets leave it at that.

The other 70% of the time.  Thames will get some at bats vs righties.  He's not good, but not terrible against them.  The other options are likely Gwynn and Gibbons.

Gwynn is a terrible hitter and excellent defender.
Gibbons was out of major league baseball in 2008 and 2009 and only had 80 PA's last season.  But they were a productive 80 PA's and he looked good in the minors as well...but what to expect from him is... volatile

For Gibbon's career vs righties:
.259/.319/.464 .336 wOBA per 600 PAs with 26 HR

That's not much better than would be expected out of Thames vs righties.

Unfortunately, Gibbons is also a poor defensive player who will give back a lot of the runs he created with his bat with his poor glove.  

I'm still not convinced that an OF of Ethier in left, Gwynn in center and Kemp in Right isn't the best option.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Honus Wagner v Derek Jeter

Someone suggested to me the other day (January 6th.  The day that I had dinner over at my friends Jason and Laurie's house) that Derek Jeter was a better player than Honus Wagner.

This just isn't true.

We can look at Fangraph's WAR graphs

and see that although they started off similarly between ages 21 to 25, Wagner put a lot of difference between himself and Jeter between ages 26 and 36.  Jeter is still playing, of course, but his recent performances don't look like they will be enough to surpass (or get near) Wagner.

Another way of looking at this is WAR by age

Again.  Jeter and Wagner were close in the early going but Wagner pulls away rather steadily.

One more WAR graph.  This one shows WAR by highest season.

The distance between Wagner and Jeter is...rather large.  Jeter's best season (almost 8 WAR) is roughly Wagner's average season.

Now.  Not everyone likes (or understands) WAR.  Let's look at some other things...

Batting Average

Jeter .295
Wager .327

All Wagner

On-Base Percentage

Jeter .385
Wagner .391

Closer...but still Wagner

Slugging Percentage

Jeter .452
Wagner .466

Again, Wagner.

These graphs and rough comparisons are actually skewed towards Jeter.

Wagner played in the deadball era when offense was much harder to come by.

For example, Jeter and Wagner have nearly identical On Base Percentages.  But Wagner lead the league 4 times in OBP.  Jeter never has.

Wagner 6 times lead the league in Slugging Percentage.  Jeter never has.

Wagner won 8 batting titles.  Jeter has never won a batting title.

Derek Jeter's career OPS+ (which measures On Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage divided by the league average) is 119.  Meaning that Jeter has been 19% better than the average hitter over his career.  Wagner's career OPS+ was 150.  Wagner was 50% better than than the average player.

The game WAS a lot different in Wagner's day.  A replacement level player in Wagner's time was surely less of a player than in Jeter's.  The average player in Wagner's time was also worse than in Jeter's.  But there is no other logical way to compare players across eras than to compare them to the players that they played against.

Jeter is a no-doubt Hall of Famer, but Wagner dominated his peers to a much greater degree than Jeter did.

And his baseball card is worth a lot more.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What is an ace?

It seems a lot of people have unreasonable expectations of what an 'Ace' starting pitcher is.  These expectations carry on down through each level of starter (#2, #3, #4 and #5).

A lot of smarter people than I have done similar exercises and done them more rigorously, but I'll throw up a quick post just to give an idea.

The job of a pitcher is to prevent the opposing team from scoring runs (Now, some pitchers-those who play 'real' baseball in the National League-also have the opportunity to help their team score runs...).  So, it reasons that the pitchers who do that best are 'aces'.  Each team has to have an 'ace' so it figures that the 30 pitchers (one per team) who prevent the most runs over the course of a season are nominal 'aces'.

Using Fangraphs I ordered each major league starting pitcher for 2010 by most runs prevented.  I then separated those into groups of 30.  The top 30 pitchers would be 'aces' and on down the line for the 2nd - 5th slots.  All pitchers after #150 were grouped together into the 'AAA' category.  I then took the simple average for each group and assume that as a 'representative' of each group.  These are the results.

The average 'ace' had a season line of: 14 - 10 3.23 ERA in 32 starts, 212 innings, 65 walks and 192 strike outs.
Pitchers in this category included: Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw, Colby Lewis, CJ Wilson, Brett Myers, Matt Cain and Ricky Romero.

The average #2 had a season line of: 12 - 11 3.58 ERA in 31 starts, 193 innings, 62 walks and 148 strike outs.
Pitchers in this category included: Matt Latos, Cole Hamels, Chris Carpenter, Clay Bucholz, Johan Santana, Derek Lowe, Jason Vargas, and RA Dickey.

The average #3 had a season line of: 10 - 8 3.99 ERA in 27 starts, 160 innings, 50 walks, 126 strike outs.
Pitchers in this category included: Stephen Strasburg, Ervin Santana, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ted Lilly, Andy Pettitte, Barry Zito, Carlos Zambrano, and Joe Blanton

The average #4 had a season line of: 8 - 8 4.51 ERA in 23 starts, 135 innings, 45 walks, 95 strike outs.
Pitchers in this category included: Rick Porcello, Matt Garza, Jake Peavy, Luke Hochevar, Bronson Arroyo, AJ Burnett, Mike Leake, John Lannan

The average #5 had a season line of: 6 - 7 4.52 ERA in 18 starts, 102 innings, 35 walks, 72 strike outs.
Pitchers in this category included: Aaron Harang, Jeremy Bonderman, Kenshin Kawakami, Jon Garland, JA Happ, Kyle Kendrick, Brad Bergeson and Ben Sheets.

Adding up all the starts made by the top 5 starts gives 130 starts.  That means that an average team can expect 32 starts made by pitchers other than the top 5.

These pitchers had an average season line of: 2 - 4 6.18 ERA in 8 starts, 40 innings, 19 walks, 28 strike outs.
Pitchers in this category included: Armando Galarraga, Nick Blackburn, Jamie Moyer, Vin Mazzaro, Wade LeBlanc, Dontrelle Willis, Jeff Suppan, Gil Meche, Javier Vazquez, Oliver Perez, and Rich Harden.  As well as lesser knowns like: Carlos Montasterios, Anthony Lerew, David Huff, Sean O'Sullivan, Luke French, and Barry Enright.

Now I'd imagine that most people would see a pitcher with a 14 - 10 record with a 3.23 ERA and think that he was a 'good' pitcher and not representative of the best 30 pitchers in baseball.

Look at the pitchers outside of the top 5 who make starts (an average of 32 per team).  They are terrible.  Hopefully this shows the value of quantity of innings vs just quality of innings.  When a pitcher like Roy Halladay is capable of pitching 250 innings a season he is effectively taking away 38 innings (250 minus the 212 innings expected of an ace) from these replacement level pitchers.

Speaking of replacement level, the following is a chart of the average WAR for each level of pitcher.
Ace = 5.05
#2 = 3.25
#3 = 2.28
#4 = 1.52
#5 = .77
AAA = -.01
The AAA pitchers performed almost exactly at replacement level.

Now one of the (many) problems with this study is the use of win-loss records and ERA.  These win-loss records are effected by the quality of the pitcher's team.  In the Ace category we have SS Sabathia at 21 - 7 and Anibal Sanchez at 13 - 12.  This problem isn't relegated to this study only.  W - L is a poor measure of a pitcher.

ERA is also a problem.  This study makes no differentiation between NL and AL.  Clearly, pitchers in the NL have an easier time of it getting to face the opposing pitcher a time or three or four while an AL Pitcher has to face David Ortiz.  But, again, this problem isn't limited to this study and is a basic flaw in using ERA to compare pitchers.

I'm going to recreate the charts using more SABR stats
Level IP, BB/9, K/9, FIP, xFIP, WAR
Ace   212, 2.8, 8.2, 3.25, 3.66, 5.05
#2    192, 2.9, 6.9, 3.75, 4.05, 3.25
#3    160, 2.9, 7.1, 3.99, 3.93, 2.28
#4    135, 3.0, 6.3, 4.22, 4.39, 1.52
#5    102, 3.1, 6.3, 4.34, 4.47, 0.77
AAA    40, 4.2, 6.2, 5.37, 5.03, -.01

A couple of interesting things to note:
1st: The difference between the Ace group and the #2's is the largest jump in WAR between any two groups.  This is mostly because of the dominance of a few pitchers like Lee and Halladay.  It is amazing (and understated) just how much better these guys are than most other pitchers out there.

2nd: The small difference between the #2's and #3's.  The walk rates and strike out rates are basically even between the two groups.  And the #3 group has the better xFIP.  The only reason that the #2 group out performs the #3 group is number of innings.  Again, quantity of innings plays a big role along with quality of innings.

Next time your team signs a pitcher with a 10 - 8 record and 3.99 ERA in 160 innings realize just what you are getting.  One of the top 100 pitchers in the league.