The 10% Report

Posted by Baseball Bob at 10:38
Apr 172014

I just can’t seem to find the time to blog. My INTEREST in baseball has not diminished; I watch most Yankee games, and occasionally other games (mostly Phillies and Dodgers) and I watch the MLB Game Recaps faithfully of all games. I often see things I would like to comment on, but I don’t get to the computer, and when I do I have other things to do. I don’t promise to do better, though I plan to try.

Meanwhile, about 10% of the season is done (most teams have played about 15 games) and I have a few minutes, so here I am. Sadly, I advise that you don’t get used to it.

The universally projected division leaders were Tampa Bay, Detroit, Oakland, Washington, St. Louis and Los Angeles. As of this morning, the actual division leaders are New York, Detroit, Oakland, Atlanta, Milwaukee and San Francisco. And the two which match on both lists are not exactly running away with it: Detroit is 7-6, and therefore leads 8-7 Cleveland by .012 and 0 games. Only Oakland, 2 games up on Texas, is where they were expected to be. Atlanta is no surprise, though they were expected to falter with a weakened pitching staff.

Probably the biggest small-sample-size results of the young season are the Yankees, Brewers and Giants. I plan to take a peek under the hood of these three teams. Remember, though, that it is a 15-game sample – many of the fun stuff is not truly meaningful. It is still fun, though, at least to me.

The Giants at 10-5 lead the Dodgers (9-6) by a single game: before last night’s game between the two they were tied. The Dodgers have played well, not surprisingly, but the Giants HAVE surprised: they have scored 71 runs in 15 games, 4.733 per game which is well above the MLB average, and even more above the NL average. They are third in the NL behind the Nationals and Marlins(?) and fifth in baseball, trailing the AL-leading White Sox(?) and Angels. Using wOBA, they are paced by Michael Morse (.408), Brandon Crawford (.406), Angel Pagan (.406), Brandon Hicks (.405) and Brandon Belt (.397). ASIDE: Is San Francisco trying to corner the market on the name Brandon? The only Giant regulars who HAVEN’T hit, so far, are Pablo Sandoval (.277) and Hunter Pence (.244) who were projected to be among their best hitters.

On the pitching side, the Giants have allowed 59 runs, or 3.933 per game, somewhat below the league average. There are LOTS of teams that have done better, however, since the average is driven up by the Diamondbacks (115 runs allowed 6.389 per game). The Giants run prevention currently ranks 7th of 15 NL teams, middle-of-the-pack as it were. They have gone 3 times through the rotation, with each starter making exactly 3 starts. In ERA they range from Hudson (2.35) to Lincecum (7.20). Their bullpen has been strong. The most fun stat, for me: Lincecum has a 7.20 ERA, and a 5.31 FIP, but a 2.37 xFIP, best on the team. What does this mean? Nothing, I expect. But if you believed the small sample size numbers, Lincecum has not been bad, but merely unlucky (that his fly balls allowed have been home runs too often) and that he will go back to being dominant.

Milwaukee has been the story of the early season. The Brewers reeled off a 9-game winning streak, and at 11-4 own MLB’s best record. They have scored 63 runs (4.2/G) while allowing just 40 (2.667/G) so you can clearly say that they are winning with pitching. The offense is paced by Carlos Gomez (.433 wOBA) and Aramis Ramirez (.398) but also features Ricki Weeks (.146!) among others. It is ordinary, and is likely to stay that way.

The pitching, on the other hand, has been extraordinary. They have also had 5 starters make exactly 3 starts apiece, and their ERAs range from Gallardo (0.96) to Garza (3.43). Based on this sample, it is arguable that only Hudson from the Giants would crack the Brewers rotation. FIP is not as high on them, of course, ranging from 2.35-4.57, but xFIP has all of them in the tight range of 3.33-3.95. So, for the most part, they have not outpitched their true talent by that much, and are better than we thought. I think the Brewers will have a tough time sticking in the race, because this division has the Cardinals and the Pirates and the Reds (sorry, Cubs fans) but I DO think their pitching staff will be among the best in the game, barring unusual injuries.

The Yankees, of course, are the team I know the best. I have seen all or part of 12 of their 15 games, and I am pretty amazed that they are 9-6. At the season’s start, I worried about the following things: 1) Can a team really compete with a 40-year-old shortstop who was never a good fielder (despite several gold gloves!), has the highest ground-ball rate in the game, and essentially didn’t play at all last year? 2) Can a team really compete with a first baseman who essentially didn’t play at all last year, and with NO backup at all? 3) Can a team really compete if your other infielders consist of the following: Kelly Johnson, a 30-year-old still looking for his first 1+ WAR season, Brian Roberts, a 36-year-old who hasn’t reached 300 PA since 2009, Dean Anna, a 27-year-old without a major-league PA, and Yangervis Solarte, a 26-year-old without a major-league PA, and NINE minor league seasons behind him? 4) Can CC Sabathia redefine himself after a bad 2013 and the loss of about 5 MPH from his fastball? 5) How much of the recent Yankee success can be attributed to the almost automatic ninth-inning magic from the irreplaceable Mariano Rivera?

We have no answers to these questions, obviously, after 15 games. The Yankees have scored 54 runs, just 3.6 per game, and obviously well below the AL average (in total runs, the easy metric, they have outscored only Kansas City (42), Detroit (42), Houston (44), Tampa Bay (45) and Boston (53). Essentially the AL divides neatly into (so far) terrible offenses (Royals, Tigers, Astros, Rays), bad offenses (Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, Mariners, Orioles), average offenses (Blue Jays, Indians, Athletics, Twins), and powerhouse offenses (Angels, White Sox).

And two of the questions above already have consequences: the only First Baseman (Teixeira) is already on the DL, as is the replacement closer (Robertson). And the Yankee offense, such as it is, has been fueled by Carlos Beltran (.432 wOBA) which might have been expected, and Yangervis Solarte (.404) which was certainly not. Solarte is playing every day, first because Kelly Johnson was bad, then because the bad Kelly Johnson moved to first to replace the injured Mark Teixeira. Brian Roberts hasn’t been really hurt, yet (though he already missed several games with a bad back) but he HAS been BAD (wOBA .227) and starting for them yesterday (they played 2 games) were not only Solarte and Anna, but also Scott Sizemore and JR Murphy (replacement catcher for injured backup Cervelli). Not only are they not scoring, they DESERVE not to score, with the lineups they are trotting out. For example, one day last week they faced a good left-handed starter, and their lineup contained the following left-handed hitters: McCann, Johnson, Gardner, Ellsbury, Suzuki and Anna. SIX lefties! They rounded out the lineup with switch-hitting Beltran and Solarte, and righty Soriano. Ugh! Yesterday was a typical day at the office: they managed 5 runs in two games, pounding out 14 singles, 2 doubles and one home run in those 2 games.

But THEN there’s the pitching. The concern about Sabathia is still there, as he has not been dominant or even effective in his three starts: ERA 6.63, FIP 4.73, but his xFIP (oddly) is 2.23 – so he may be all right. He HAS struck out a lot of hitters (10/9 IP) and walked very few (1.42/9) which is actually a characteristic of this staff overall. Nova has been himself, winning 2 of 3 despite an ERA of 5.53, a FIP of 4.90 and an xFIP of 4.77. He is NOT a good pitcher, and there is no sign that he will get better. Kuroda is old, and relies on craftiness, but his numbers are good, and consistent: ERA 3.86, FIP 3.58, xFIP 3.83. For two years running he has been good for 3-4 months, then wore down and was bad at the end of the year. BUT the Yankees are currently sporting two young studs: Michael Pineda, out to prove that the trade was NOT irrelevant, is pitching like he did 3 years ago. After 3 starts he has an ERA of 1.00 (!), with a FIP of 2.60 and an xFIP of 3.89. And Tanaka has become just the 2nd pitcher in HISTORY to post 8+ strikeouts in each of his first three starts (the other: Stephen Strasburg, who did it in his first 4). Tanaka has given up some homers, but has been otherwise completely dominant: ERA 2.05, FIP 1.95, xFIP 1.78. So far this young season, there is an argument that Tanaka is baseball’s best pitcher.

The Yankees have also allowed 54 runs this year, 3.6/G but a much better number than the offense. And it is better/worse than this: the anemic offense plays in hitter’s paradise Yankee Stadium, and the pitchers have to toil there, too.

I said in an earlier post that the Yankees would go only as far as their pitching would take them. So far, that is pretty far indeed. And if Sabathia/Nova continue to struggle, Warren, Phelps and Nuno are all waiting their chance, on the roster but in the bullpen.

Some anecdotal info to close: Solarte and his giant BABIP has been totally lucky. He is not a plus defender (the numbers reflect this) and his hits have been a lot of bloops, dribblers, and seeing-eye grounders. Still, he is having a LOT of fun, and his excitement to just be here, after 9 years of minor-league experience, is infectious. I hope he sticks (I would LOTS rather have him than Brendon Ryan, currently on the DL). And Dean Anna actually looks to me like he can play. He IS a plus defender – a better shortstop than Jeter (easy to do) by a wide margin, a better second baseman than Roberts and a better third baseman than Johnson/Solarte/A-Rod. He will never be a great hitter, but he seems to have a solid approach, and I think he could stick.

Last word: I think the Brewers are a fluke, and will wind up fourth in the NL Central. I think the Giants will challenge for the NL Wild Card, but not the division. But I think the ragtag Yankees have caught lightning in a bottle in their two young starters, and will surprise the AL East.

Opening Day Part 3

Posted by Baseball Bob at 12:29
Mar 312014

The Dodgers are 2-1. Ryu is 1-1. And 27 of the 30 teams in MLB have not played a game. San Diego leads all teams at 1-0. Definitely weird.

Most teams open today, so this is the “real” opening day of the baseball season. The Yankees, though, open tomorrow at triple-A Houston. They are sure to lose 2 of 3!

Since I haven’t had even remotely enough time to make my predictions via the method I wanted, and since most prognosticators think the AL East is the ONLY competitive division (other 5 winners, Detroit, Oakland, Washington, St. Louis and Los Angeles), I guess I predicted the right one, sort of. I didn’t really predict it, but my “analysis” said Baltimore, which NO ONE has.

Going along with this silliness, here are the rest of my predictions:

Division Winners: Baltimore, Kansas City, Texas, Washington, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles

Wild Card Teams: New York (Yankees), Detroit, St. Louis, Atlanta

World Series Champions: Yankees

Yeah, sure! Let the games begin!

AL East

Posted by Baseball Bob at 16:27
Mar 192014

This took WAY longer than I expected! It was fun, but I don’t think I am going to get all the divisions done this month. Sorry and all that. All WAR given below is fWAR for 2013, invented by me for 2014.

Boston – The Red Sox won 97 games last year, most in baseball, and then broke a recent trend by having the team with the most wins actually win the World Series. They became the first team to win 3 WS titles in the 21st century – the Yankees, Cardinals and Giants have 2 apiece; these 4 teams have won 9 of the 15 championships since 2000. That the Sox did this coming off a disastrous 2012 campaign, and that their Pythagorean projection was actually HIGHER (100 wins) is pretty frightening for the rest of baseball, especially for an aging Yankee fan. There are rays of hope, however:

Position        2013 Player        WAR       2014 Player    myWAR          +/-

Catcher         Saltalamacchia   3.6         Pierzynski          2.0              -1.6

First              Napoli                   3.9         Napoli                3.0               -0.9

Second         Pedroia                 5.4         Pedroia              4.0                -1.4

Short            Drew                     3.4         Bogarts               2.5               -0.9

Third            Middlebrooks     0.3         Middlebrooks    1.5               +1.2

Left               Nava/Carp          3.0         Nava/Carp         2.5               -0.5

Center         Ellsbury                5.8         Bradley               2.5               -3.3

Right           Victorino              5.6         Victorino            4.0               -1.6

DH              Ortiz                      3.8         Ortiz                    3.0               -0.8

Bench         Various                 2.5         Various               3.0               +0.5

Net difference for position players: -9.3 wins – I look on the Sox offense in 2013 as being extremely fortunate: EVERYONE played up to or better than expected, with the exception of Middlebrooks. Even my bench rating for 2014 may be optimistic: the bench in 2013 was basically Gomes and Bogarts, and Bogarts is now a regular. In fact, some of these projections may be on the high side: Bogarts and Bradley are highly-touted, but neither has shown all that much (though Xander did have a great postseason). Projecting non-top-ten rookies for 2.5 wins each is giving a lot of credit to the management, which I suppose is fair considering how they did last year.

Rotation

2013 Player              WAR        2014 Player    myWAR     +/-

Lester                       4.3            Lester                4.0           -0.3

Buchholz/Peavy     4.5           Buchholz           3.5           -1.0

Lackey                      3.2           Lackey               2.0           -1.2

Doubront                2.8           Doubront          2.5            -0.3

Dempster                1.3           Peavy                  1.0            -0.3

Other                  1.0            +1.0

Net difference for Rotation: -2.1     Here it is not dramatic, though it COULD be: four of the Red Sox starters in 2013 started 29 games or more, the exception being Buchholz, and they landed a solid replacement in Peavy, now counted on for a whole season. All of them didn’t pitch well (Dempster was pretty bad) but I really don’t see Lackey being as good as he was, and I am not too high on Doubront, though I admit he could surprise. The rotation could be as good as last year, and I project them to be almost as good.

Relief Pitching – the Sox relief pitching last year was phenomenal, at least at the top: Uehara was unhittable (3.3 WAR) and Tazawa (1.1) was more than solid. When you add in the rest of the corps you get another 2.8 WAR in positives, so their “real” relief pitching totals an amazing 7.2 WAR. Of course, as on any team, there were guys they tried but who failed, in this case to the tune of -1.6 WAR, but the real effect of that is less: relief pitching is one place that your bad players don’t hurt you all that much, as you get to decide who to pitch in critical situations. Overall you would have to consider the Sox bullpen added something like 6.5 wins to the total. I think the pen will be good again, but Uehara can’t duplicate his season – if he is at 2.0 WAR (about where Mariano was last year, for context) and the rest of the pen is the same, you get 5.0 net for a drop of 1.5.

Overall then I expect the Sox to be about 13 wins (!!) worse than last year. Since they “should have” won 100 games, this puts them at 87-75, not exactly what their fans are expecting. But the loss of Ellsbury, natural regression to the mean, the Plexiglas principle (teams that take a huge jump from one season to another almost always have a strong rebound back toward where they started) and my natural instincts say that this is about where they will end up. For a different (and probably much better informed) opinion, click here.

Tampa Bay – The Rays won 91 games last year, plus the play-in game and the wild-card game. Unlike the Red Sox, though, they won MORE games than projected, by a bunch: their Pythagorean projection is 86-76, so they were 5 games over that. They have been solid ever since they dropped “Devil” from their name. Go figure. They are, in my opinion, the best-run organization in baseball; they make good decisions, they compete in baseball’s toughest division with one of the game’s lowest payrolls, and their players love them, as well as both their fans. Now, if only people came to see them play!

Position         2013 Player             WAR     2014 Player      myWAR    +/-

Catcher          Molina/Lobaton   1.6         Hanigan/Molina   2.0         +0.4

First               Loney                       2.7        Loney                       1.5          -1.2

Second           Zobrist                    5.4        Zobrist                     4.5          -0.9

Short              Escobar                  3.9        Escobar                    3.0         -0.9

Third             Longoria                 6.8        Longoria                  5.0         -1.8

Left                Johnson                  1.2        Dejesus                     2.0        +0.8

Center           Jennings                 3.2       Jennings                   3.5        +0.3

Right             Myers                      2.4       Myers                        4.5         +2.1

OF                 Joyce                        1.7                                                          -1.7

DH                Scott                         0.3      Joyce                          1.5          +1.2

Bench            Various                   1.5       Various                      1.5

Net differential for position players: -1.8   The Rays had a number of players (Loney, Escobar, Longoria, Zobrist) who, like the Red Sox, played about as well as they can play, and were not hurt (or not much). But balancing this, they had some players (Molina, Scott) who didn’t do much, and where the Rays can look to make gains, and a potential superstar (Myers) who played only a half-year. So I expect their position players, not actually great last year, to be about the same this year.

Starting Pitching

2013 Player              WAR         2014 Player         myWAR    +/-

Price                           4.4            Price                     4.0             -0.4

Hellickson                 1.4            Odorizzi               2.0             +0.6

Hernandez                0.2                                                             -0.2

Moore                         1.8           Moore                  2.5              +0.7

Cobb                           2.4           Cobb                    2.5              +0.1

Archer                        1.2            Archer                2.0              +0.8

Net difference for Rotation: +1.6  No, I haven’t forgotten Fletcher’s rule (Young pitchers can break your heart) but this is NOT a stretch: these are young guys, they have shown that they can pitch, and I have NOT projected them for greatness. I actually think that one of this group will be at 4.5 or 5 WAR, BESIDES Price. I just don’t know which one. This is a talented and young corps: they could be a LOT better than this, and the Rays could well be the team to beat.

Bullpen – As usual, the Rays put together a bullpen mostly of spare parts, and produced 4.8 WAR from the positive pitchers, and only -0.1 (!!!) from the negative – they really had no one below replacement all season. There is no reason to expect that they can’t do it again: just like in starters, they got rid of the older guys and are going with mostly young arms, though they did sign Grant Balfour to be their closer.

Overall, then, I expect the Rays to be right where they were last year. And since their Pythagorean projection was 87-75, that is my prediction. It turns out to be exactly the same as the Red Sox! And if forced to pick, I would guess the Rays are more likely to exceed their projection than Boston is.

Yankees – the most intriguing team in the division, in my humble opinion. They were marginally in the hunt last year (they finished 85-77, but were within 2 of the wild card until a week left in the season) despite having no real team at all. Their Pythagorean projection was 79-83, and even that seems high when you look at the actual roster and the amount of playing time that each player got (or didn’t get). Well, let’s get to it:

Position    2013 Player(s)            WAR        2014 Player                myWAR    +/-

Catcher     Stewart                       0.5            McCann                        4.0             +3.5

First           Overby                       0.0            Teixeira                        1.5               +1.5

Second      Cano                           6.0            Roberts                        1.0                -5.0

Short         Nunez                        -1.4            Jeter                             1.0               +2.4

Third        Nix                               0.7            Johnson                       1.0               +0.3

Left          Wells                           -0.8           Gardner                       3.0               +3.8

Center     Gardner                       3.2           Ellsbury                       4.0                +0.8

Right       Suzuki                          1.8           Beltran                         1.5                  -0.3

OF           Soriano/Granderson 3.2          Suzuki                          0.5                  -2.7

DH          Hafner                        -0.4          Soriano                        1.0                   +1.4

Bench     Various                       -1.8          Various                        0.0                   +1.8

Net differential for position players: +7.5   This is, I think, a pretty conservative estimate. I consider Jeter, Teixeira, Ichiro, Soriano, Roberts and Johnson as all halfway between replacement and mediocre. But I am pretty confident in predicting that SOME of them will be average major leaguers (3.0 WAR) but I just don’t know which ones. And I am not predicting any of the free agents (McCann, Ellsbury, Beltran) to be a true impact player – the first two I put a WAR above average, and Beltran just better than the group above. And STILL, despite losing far and away their best player and replacing him with very little, they come out 7 1/2 wins better, just on this side of the ball. Further intrigue: Roberts is NOT nothing – he is a very good second baseman who has trouble staying on the field. his WAR/600 for the past few years is nearly 4 – not Cano but very good. So he is a wild card. Anyway, the Yankees can improve by 2 games just by fielding a replacement-level bench: and the -1.8 includes a ridiculous 1.2 from Cervelli in only 61 PAs; the bench was actually much worse than this for most of the season!

Rotation

2013 Player        WAR     2014 Player   myWAR   +/-

Sabathia             2.7          Sabathia           3.0          +0.3

Kuroda               3.8          Kuroda             2.0          -1.8

Pettitte               3.2          Tanaka             3.0          -0.2

Hughes               1.3          Pineda              2.0          +0.7

Nova                   2.5          Nova                 2.5           -

Phelps                1.1           Phelps              2.0          +0.9

Net differential for rotation: -0.1  The Yankees got good value from their rotation this year, and despite the loss of Pettitte and the expected (to me) decline of Kuroda, I expect this group to produce at about the same rate. AND I think there is tremendous upside: none of these numbers are silly, except perhaps expecting Pineda to pitch. I admit that I am influenced by outings I have watched this spring: ALL of the Yankee starters seem to be healthy and throwing extremely well. In fact, neither Pineda nor Phelps has a guaranteed rotation spot, as both Nuno and Warren are in competition for the final spot, and THEY are pitching well, too. I think the Yankees will go as far as their rotation takes them, and that COULD be pretty far indeed.

Bullpen: despite the presence of the great Mariano, and the setup dominance of Robertson (the heir apparent) the Yankee bullpen was good but not great, worth about 4.0 WAR. I see no reason to expect that it will decline in 2014, and may be better with the absence of Chamberlain, who contributed -0.6.

Overall, then if you add 7-8 wins to the 79 they “should” have won, you get 86-87 wins, which puts them about on a par with the Sox and Rays. I expect the East to be a dogfight, won by the team that is luckiest or escapes injuries. Sadly, on that basis, serious injuries are more likely to happen to the Yankees, due to their overall age, than to the other teams. Still, the loss of Jeter or Teixeira or Roberts or Johnson would be relatively easy to cover for, and not that costly. It should be an interesting summer in the Bronx.

Orioles – The Orioles actually finished with the same record as the Yankees but were clearly the superior team, as their Pythagorean projection is the same, 85-77. That’s two years in a row that they have surprised us, so perhaps we need to start thinking of them as a good team. Unlike the Yankees, they did not really contend, as they were never that close to a playoff spot in the final weeks, but still. The Orioles are a young team: they had only ONE player over 31 who got more than 30 plate appearances (!) and ONE pitcher over 31 who pitched more than 3 innings (!!). And both Brian Roberts (now a Yankee) and Freddy Garcia (now a Brave) are gone.

Position   2013 Player            WAR   2014 Player  myWAR  +/-

Catcher    Wieters                   2.4       Wieters          3.0           +0.6

First         Davis                       6.8       Davis              5.0            -1.8

Second    Roberts/Flaherty  2.3       Weeks            1.5             -0.8

Short       Hardy                      3.4       Hardy            2.5             -0.9

Third       Machado                6.2       Machado       5.0             -1.2

Left          McLouth                2.5       Cruz                3.0            +0.5

Center     Jones                      4.2       Jones             4.0             -0.2

Right       Markakis              -0.1       Markakis       2.0            +2.1

DH           None                      0.0      Reimold         1.0             +1.0

Bench      Various                  1.4       Various          2.5             +1.1

Note: the Orioles really had NO DH. Listed on Baseball-Reference is Danny Valencia, who had 170 total PAs, some of them at 3B. They ran out an iron man lineup: except for the platoon/injury at 2B, the fewest PAs for the players above is 589 for Wieters, who is a CATCHER (he started 140 games behind the plate). McLouth is at 593 and all the rest over 600. Markakis, who sucked all year, had 700 PAs and played in all but 2 Oriole games! And BOY was their bench bad! It HAS to be better this year, just by the law of averages.

Net differential for position players: +0.4 Even though I don’t think the big guns will really match their 2013 performance (some regression is always projected) overall I think the Orioles at bat and in the field are basically the same team as last year. I like Nick Markakis, though I like him less than I used to. I think Machado is a stud, and Wieters is one of the best. Last year the Orioles scored 4.6 runs per game, well above average, and I think they will be right there again this season.

Rotation

2013 Player           WAR    2014 Player   myWAR   +/-

Tillman                   2.0       Tillman           2.5            +0.5

Gonzalez                 1.7        Gonzalez        1.5             -0.2

Hammel                  0.7       Jimenez         2.5             +1.8

Chen                        2.0       Chen               2.5             +0.5

Feldman                  1.1        Norris            2.0             +0.9

Others (40 GS)      0.5       Who knows   1.0             +0.5

Net differential for rotation: +4.0

The Oriole bullpen posted a net 3.5 WAR last year, with no one over 1.0 WAR. They lost closer Johnson, but he contributed only 0.9 WAR. Overall, the relief corps is similar to last year, and they are young, so they are not likely to be much worse. I think Tommy Hunter may struggle to close, and I’m not sure if I yet trust Brian Matusz’ transformation from sucking starter to dominant setup man. But it is hard for me to assume they will lose a ton in the bullpen.

Overall, my problem is this: I really don’t think the Orioles are that good. But if you add up the changes, even taking off 0.5 for a worse bullpen, the come out to 89 wins! Thus my ad hoc analysis, backed up by absolutely nothing, shows the Orioles as the preseason favorite in the AL East! Go figure!

Jays – and now for LAST year’s preseason favorite! (not mine, actually, but a LOT of people picked them to win this division). The Jays finished a spiffy 74-88, and their projection is only 75-87, so no joy there. They disappointed in every aspect of the game, at least for a team which spent big in order to compete with the big spenders.

Position   2013 Player      WAR   2014 Player    myWAR  +/-

Catcher    Arencibia         -0.6      Navarro             1.5          +2.1

First         Encarnacion      4.2      Encarnacion    3.5          -0.7

Second    Bonifacio          -0.4      Izturis               0.5          +0.9

Short       Reyes                  2.2      Reyes                3.0          +0.8

Third       Lawrie                1.3      Lawrie              2.5           +1.2

Left          Cabrera            -0.9     Cabrera            0.5           +1.4

Center     Rasmus             4.8      Rasmus           4.0           -0.8

Right       Bautista            4.1       Bautista          4.0            -0.1

DH          Lind                   1.8       Lind                1.5             -0.3

IF            Izturis               -2.1                                                 +2.1

OF          Davis                   1.2                                                 -1.2

SS           Kawasaki           0.8                                                 -0.8

Bench    Various             -0.3        Various           1.5          +1.8

I listed this the way I did for two reasons: 1) only 2 bench guys (Davis and Kawasaki) made any contribution AT ALL, and Izturis had enough PAs (399) to be a quasi-regular, and he was AWFUL.

Net differential for position players: +6.4. Basically, what the Jays did over the winter to improve their pathetic lineup was to hope that players got better. They replaced Arencibia, but with Dioner Navarro, who had a positive WAR (1.7) last year, his first in 5 seasons. the last time he got 300 PAs in a year was 2009, and the last time he posted a positive WAR was 2008. But regression to the mean suggests that this approach will work; their position players should be much better this year than last.

Rotation

2013 Player      WAR   2014 Player   myWAR   +/-

Dickey                2.0      DIckey               2.0        -

Buehrle              2.5      Buehrle              2.0       -0.5

Happ                   1.2      Happ                  2.0      +1.8

Johnson             0.5     Morrow              2.0      +1.5

Redmond          0.8                                              -0.8

Rogers               0.4     Rogers                 1.0      +0.6

Others (27 starts) -1.1                             0.0      +1.1

Net differential for rotation: +3.7

The bullpen for Toronto was a major strength in 2013: their positive relievers total 6.6 WAR, and the negative ones just -0.6 and mostly that doesn’t count much anyway. No one with 30 or more innings had an ERA above 4.00. I expect some regression, and I put them at about 4 WAR, -2.5.

Overall, then, the Blue Jays had some talent, but it didn’t work out: some guys were hurt, some played badly, and at the end of the day they lost 88 games. I see them as +7 to +8, which puts them at 82-83 wins. In this division, if the rest of my silly analysis holds, would put them on the fringes of a pennant race.

Silly Summary

Orioles   89-73

Rays    87-75

Red Sox 87-75

Yankees 86-76

Blue Jays 82-80

It could be a fun summer in the AL East. If this were to hold up, it would be the AL Least instead of the AL Beast. But it WOULD be pretty exciting.

Games that count this very weekend! And games in the US in 2 weeks! I can hardly wait.

 

 

Bench

Mar 102014

I started out planning to project the AL East, a first step in my preseason predictions. My methodology is not truly sabermetric: I plan to take each position, estimate NOT by the official projections but by my own gut feeling, how much better/worse the team will be at each position (Yankees lose 6 wins at second base, pick up 4 at catcher, etc.) and then apply the result to last year’s wins to get this year’s projection. Simple, no. Simplistic, yes. Fun, YES.

I got sidetracked by a simple problem: three teams in the AL East out- or under-performed their Pythagorean W/L by 3 or more games, which really messes up the stats. The team I root for (Yankees, if you are reading this blog for the first time, however unlikely) missed by the most: they won SIX more games (85) than the RS/RA suggests (79). So should I add the improvements (they were voted at ESPN the most improved team in MLB this offseason) to 79 or 85?

That question is answerable only if you can answer this one: why do teams outperform or underperform their Pythagorean projection? There are four answers put forth to explain this: 1) Pure luck, 2) Clutch performance, 3) Excellent managers, 4) Strong bullpens. The MARKET (as opposed to the statheads) believes the fourth one: when FanGraphs calculates $/WAR, they have to exclude relief pitchers, and especially closers, because they get WAY more $ than their WAR would suggest. The market thinks that closers in particular and relievers in general, are worth more than the WAR calculation suggests.

If, then, teams that outperform their RS/RA projection ALSO have strong bullpens/closers, it would suggest that WAR is mistaken, and relief pitchers ARE worth more than WAR gives them credit for. If the differences are due to luck (some would say clutch performance IS luck) then we overpay relievers, and my analysis should add to the Pythagorean numbers. If the result is the manager, we are never going to be able to prove it, but we should add to the previous year’s total.

I thought to myself: well, the Yankees over-performed, AND had the best closer in history, AND he had a good year. So maybe there is a correlation between the quality of the year and the performance of the closer. Unfortunately, the Red Sox UNDER-performed (they projected to win 100 games instead of the mere 97 they actually won), AND they had for much of the season the most unhittable closer in recent memory. So the correlation is hardly obvious. A good thought, but no.

I then looked at 1-run games. The Red Sox, despite winning 97 games AND having Koji Uehara, were 21-21 in 1-run games. The Yankees were 30-16 in 1-run games. AHA I thought: a team’s record in 1-run games is a prime determinant in their real to projected W/L. Then I looked at the Orioles, 5 games over-performed and exactly the same actual record as the Yankees: they project at 80-82, actually went 85-77, and their closer (Johnson) led the league with 50 saves. Excuse me? No correlation there, either.

What about the manager, then? IS there any way to see if the manager has a measurable effect? Not really, no. What I finally thought of was this: I could look at the real versus projected record for each manager that I wanted to do (it is work, so I don’t plan to do an exhaustive study). IF the difference tends to be in large part the manager (I remember Bill James claiming that the Weaver Orioles out-performed their projection every year), then it should show up in a year-by-year comparison. So I looked at a couple of managers:

Girardi (with NYY): 6, -1, -6, -3, 6, 1  Net 3 in 6 years

Torre (with NYY): -5, 1, 5, 12, 4, 3, 5, 1, -5, 3 Net 24 in 10 years

Showalter (with NYY): 1, 1, 1, -4 Net -1 in 4 years

Showalter (with BAL) : 0, 11, 4 Net 15 in 3 years

So, no, I can’t find any indication that the difference is in the manager. And in the case of the Yankee managers, I always thought that Torre’s brilliance was in keeping the clubhouse happy and productive, but that he was a poor in-game manager. So I didn’t expect that HIS luck would be better than Girardi’s, at all.

So what I really did was waste my time so I didn’t get to the analysis I wanted to do. maybe next time.

For future expectations: I am home on Monday and Thursday, and hope to post consistently on those days. I am away on Wednesday and expect to post quite infrequently on those days. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday are wild cards: I am home but so is my wife, so we may have plans or we may not. I will post sporadically on those days. And I have to be at church on Sunday at 7:30 am, so I doubt I will do much posting on THOSE days.

But games that count will be played in 12 (!!) days, and the real season starts in 20. Life is good!

Welcome Back!

Posted by Baseball Bob at 07:00
Mar 022014

I am officially excited about the upcoming baseball season, which I had not been, really, until yesterday. The season starts unreasonably early, with the Dodgers and D-Backs playing two games in Australia, but the rest of baseball starts in just under a month.

Yesterday on mlb.tv, the Yankees and Phillies played an exhibition. In a way, it was a typical exhibition: Gardner, McCann and Jeter all played, but not Ellsbury, Beltran or Teixeira. Brian Roberts was batting cleanup (!!) so you know it wasn’t a killer lineup. What made it worth watching was that Sabathia, Kuroda and Tanaka were each scheduled to pitch 2 innings (or 35 pitches, whichever came first), a preview to the Yankee rotation.

In a word, magnificent! Sabathia has thinned down (hard to believe, actually, that he is still 265 as without perspective you forget just how tall he is) but he was throwing beautifully. He pitched 2 innings, threw 32 pitches, and looked very much in command. Kuroda also pitched 2 innings, throwing just 17 (!) pitches in the process, and looked efficient as always. And Tanaka was outstanding. I know it was a partially AAA lineup the Phillies fielded, and I know it is the fourth spring training game, when pitchers are normally ahead of hitters, and I know that he had the weight of Japan on his shoulders. still . . .

He threw 31 pitches, allowed 2 singles, both on 0-2 pitches, and struck out 3 of the 8 batters he faced. He threw six of his seven (!!) pitches: 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs, curve, slider, splitter, cutter and change (he threw no changeup) and the splitter is truly nasty – the bottom falls out at the last minute, and batters said you couldn’t tell it was a splitter until you had already missed it. One batter said he GUESSED splitter, he DIAGNOSTED splitter, he ADJUSTED for splitter and he missed by 6 inches. Wow.

Who knows what the season holds, but at this point I am more than ready to find out. My travels and other winter occupations are behind me, and I plan to begin posting regularly to this blog. So if there is anyone out there still reading, welcome back! Let’s play two!

Jan 062014

With the free agency news scanty (daily analyses of Tanaka aside) attention now turns to the broken Hall of Fame. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you have no business reading this blog – you aren’t following Major League Baseball at all, really.

I will not discuss here the HOF credentials of the various candidates; that is available in abundance. Nor will I discuss the merits of the “steroid” candidates, except to say this: I would discount somewhat for steroids, and then vote as if the discounted stats were the real ones, and leave out marginal candidates on discounted stats. Thus Andy Pettitte doesn’t get my vote (sorry, I REALLY like you) but Barry Bonds does. End of digression.

What I want to talk about, briefly, is the havoc created by the current situation.

In this discussion I will list players indiscriminately who meet the following criteria: in my opinion, a legitimate case can be made for their election, whether or not I would buy it. Thus Don Mattingly (whom I have already said I would NOT vote for, in previous posts) is included, but Mike Timlin (on the ballot for the first time) is not.

There are 17 players held over on the ballot from last year, and a case can be made for all of them. Alphabetically, they are Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, (Edgar) Martinez, Mattingly, McGriff, McGwire, Morris, Palmeiro, Piazza, Raines, Schilling, (Lee) Smith, Sosa, Trammel and (Larry) Walker. In other eras most of these would have been elected by the BBWAA, and the rest likely by some veterans’ committee.

Being added to the list this year, counting only those I include in the criteria above, are Glavine, Kent, Maddux, Mussina and (Frank) Thomas.

Thus we have 22 viable candidates. Hall of Fame voters get a maximum of 10 votes. And the split vote is a killer.

If everyone were united that the known cheaters were ineligible, and if you consider Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro and Sosa to be on that list, then you get to pick 10 of the other 17 – difficult but not impossible. And if everyone did that, then Bagwell, Biggio, Piazza, Raines and Morris would probably already be in, or would all go in this year, and the logjam would be over. Along with them would soon go Maddux and Thomas, problem solved. If those 7 were gone, the ballot would be as it always was.

And if everyone felt that baseball is baseball, there have always been those who tried to claim any advantage, legal or illegal, until caught (see: Gaylord Perry) then the problem is large for this year, but once you put the obvious top guys (Bonds, Clemens, Maddux) in, the next year places open up for others, so that even if you disagree as to who belongs in 4-10, this clears up over time, as it always has, and the good ones wind up in after a few ballots.

The problem is that the voting group is split. There are those (about 40%) who doggedly fill out their ballots with McGwire, Bonds and Clemens at the top, and then split their other 7 votes between the remaining candidates. There are those who refuse to vote for any of these, and fill their ballots with the “clean” stars mentioned above. AND there are those who think that anyone who played in the steroids era is suspect, and vote only for “old-time” guys like Morris and Trammel, who presumably played before everyone became tainted. And there are also those who turn in a blank ballot, making it harder for everyone (if NO ballot is turned in, it doesn’t count, but if you mail a blank one, it increases the number “voting” by one).

There are advocate for removing the 10-name limit, citing the above. There are those that point out that the average has always been around 6, and think the limit is not the issue. I, personally, would lift the limit, though I don’t think it solves the problem. And if you advocate a minimum (say 3 or 5) then you run the risk that the anti-steroid crowd insists on enshrining the Mattinglys and Walkers while leaving out the Bonds and Clemens.

What I advocate instead is two-fold:

First, drop from the list of voters those who do not actively cover baseball, by some objective definition. And allow votes for those who have only recently been allowed to join the BBWAA, because their medium (Internet) was not recognized as journalism until about 4 years ago. Folks like Dave Cameron should get a vote – folks who covered baseball in the eighties but no more should not. Anyone who turns in a blank ballot doesn’t deserve a vote; with THIS ballot, anyone who votes for fewer than 5 doesn’t really deserve a vote.

Second, take a stand. Without describing the criteria statistically, announce that you would like voters to reject any candidate who is known to have taken PEDs, or that you would like voters to discount their stats based on their confession, or you would like voters to ignore PEDs altogether. But TAKE A STAND, and communicate that stand to the voters.

And it is going to get worse. Morris will be gone next year, either elected or dropped. Mattingly will be dropped the next year, unless he falls below 5% (he was 13% in 2012) and disappears this time around, as next year is his last. Biggio is likely to make it this time, as he is at 68% and candidates that high normally go over the top the next year. But it may not happen: if he was 7th or 8th or some such last year on some ballots, and the top is replaced by newcomers Maddux, Glavine, Thomas et. al. then he may lose some of those votes, and not make it. Maddux seems like a first-ballot guy, but the ballot is crowded and may fall prey to the “not on the first time” crowd and the “vote for no one” crowd and fall short this time.

And next year’s ballot will also feature Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield, Tony Clark, Carlos Delgado and Nomar Garciaparra. The year after we add Ken Griffey, Jr. and Trevor Hoffman. In 2017 it is Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Vlad Guerrero and Magglio Ordonez.

Last year NO ONE was voted in. If that happens again this year and next, we will have 30 potential candidates clogging the ballot. And no one in the Hall of Fame.

Sad, really.

Dec 202013

Merry Christmas, all! I have been busy, as you might imagine, and will be unlikely to post much, even though a lot is happening. And if you are tired of posts about the Yankees, then perhaps you should read a different site, as I am a Yankee fan.

The Yankees, true to their word, have been busy this offseason and have spent a lot of money. They have signed free agents Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Hiroki Kuroda and Carlos Beltran. They (probably wisely) declined to offer Robinson Cano the 10-year deal he got from Seattle. The burning question that remains, of course, is “Is it enough?”. The answer, in my opinion, is “Probably not”.

Could they contend, make the postseason, win the division? Of course they could. At this juncture, anything is possible – magical seasons happen, and these Yankees could have one of them. The arbiter could rule for A-Rod, he could actually BE as healthy as he claims, and he could hit 50 HRs and put up 9 WAR. Sabathia could regain form, and so could Pineda. Anna could prove to be major-league ready, and could turn into a monster. A lineup starting with Ellsbury and Gardner could score a lot of runs. Obama could be impeached, and the Congress could re-install George W Bush as President. But these things are not likely, at least not all of them.

Fan Graphs published the new projections, and the Yankee roster doesn’t look to formidable, especially the pitching. If you just add up the WAR they project to about a 79 win team, and lots of pundits are predicting a losing season. I’m not jumping on THAT bandwagon, but I AM predicting that they won’t be much better than last year, when their 85 wins was a bit of an upset. I think 85-87 wins is a likely landing spot. And that is not going to get it done – they will be “in the hunt” for the second wild card, as they were a year ago, and will fall short. That is what this roster says to me. And trading for Brandon Phillips or Dan Uggla will not fix it, unless that player magically returns to his form of several years ago.

So it’s likely to be a long summer in the Bronx. And, to tell you the truth, I can’t wait. No, not for them to stumble, just for them to PLAY.

Going Cheap

Posted by Baseball Bob at 11:17
Nov 292013

Not going to happen, but a fun idea. What if the Yankees not only got under the $189M but BLEW IT AWAY? If they concede that they are not winning anything in 2014, and tried out some of their cost-controlled options? Of course, they could REALLY do that by trading away Sabathia and Teixeira, but I am talking just not signing more guys.

You see, I made one small mistake in by “here is where their roster stands” analysis: Steamer projects playing time based on previous years’ playing time, so guys like Pineda project to almost no PT (reasonable, that, really). But as a goofball, nothing-to-do-the-day-after exercise, suppose we could assume the existing roster, the A-Rod suspension, and no injuries: all the players on the roster get the PT you want them to have. Where does that leave us? All WAR values are fWAR, as that is what Steamer projects.

C McCann (450 PA at C, 200 at DH) $17M 4.4 WAR

Cervelli (200 PA at C) $600K 1.0 WAR

1B Teixeira (650 PA at 1B) $22.5M 2.7 WAR

2B Anna (650 PA) $600K  1.9 WAR

SS Jeter (650 PA at SS/DH) $12M 2.1 WAR

3B Navarro (650 PA at 3B/SS) $600K 2.2 WAR

IF Nunez/Nix/Adams (450 PA) $1.8M 0.7 WAR

OF Wells $2.4M Released

Gardner (650 PA) $5M (arb-est) 2.8 WAR

Ichiro (300 PA) $6.5M 0.4 WAR

Soriano (350 PA) $5M 0.5 WAR

Almonte (650 PA) $600K 1.9 WAR

Total for non-pitchers $54.6M 20.6 WAR

Rotation

Sabathia (200 IP) $23M 3.7 WAR

Nova (200 IP) $600K 3.3 WAR

Pineda (200 IP) $600K 2.8 WAR

Phelps (200 IP) $600K 2.3 WAR

Nuno (200 IP) $600K 2.8 WAR

Bullpen

Robertson (80 IP) $5.5M (est-arb) 1.1 WAR

Six random relievers 50 IP each, $600K each 0.3 WAR $3.6M 1.8 WAR

Total for pitchers $34.5M 14.1 WAR

Overall Total $89M 34.7 WAR Final record 82-80

If Girardi’s managing was worth about 4-5 wins in 2013 (how ELSE do you get this team to 85-77?) and you add that back in, then they are again an 85-87 win team, on the fringe of contention, at HALF the target payroll. Go Yankees!

PS This was triggered by a FanGraphs post about traded minor leaguers, with two of the three being Yankees. So adding Anna and Navarro, bumping them to full-time, dumping Wells, and this is what you get!

The Yankees have, supposedly, vowed to keep their 2014 payroll under $189M, which will reset their luxury tax clock. They have unloaded a fair amount of payroll, but are also looking to contend, which I put at 95 wins. So I thought it would be a fun thought project to try to get them to 95 wins using the following tools:

Steamer projections (projected fWAR for 2014 players)

Cot’s contracts (actual cost of players under contract

Projected free agent values. I wanted to use the FanGraphs crowdsourcing values, but I can’t find them, so I will just make up what I think a player might sign for. One HUGE caveat: not only don’t I know what the FA market will be, players historically require more to come to NY than to other places: it is expensive to live there, the atmosphere is charged with their win now mentality, and they can afford it. But it is still a fun exercise.

Steamer gives us the following starting place:

C Cervelli 1.0 Stewart 0.6

1B Teixeira 2.0

2B Nunez 0.1

3B Rodriguez 2.0 Nix 0.2

SS Jeter 1.8 Anna 0.3 or Ryan 0.0

LF Soriano 0.9 Wells 0.0

CF Gardner 2.0

RF Suzuki 1.0 Almonte 0.7

This gives a starting point of 13 position players worth 12.6 WAR.

SP Sabathia 3.6 Nova 3.2 Phelps 2.2 Nuno 1.6 Warren 0.8 (Pineda 0.8)

RP Robertson 0.9 Bunch of others 2.0 total

This gives a starting point of 16.1 for pitchers.

29 WAR plus replacement (FanGraphs considers this 47) means they are at 76 wins with this team. Seems about right.

As for Salaries, Cot’s prices this roster at about $115M. Of course, for luxury tax purposes, you have to do a different calculation, AAV (average annual value) which drives up some contracts and down others. Even though A-Rod projects by Steamer as the Yankees’ best player (!!) this exercise is futile if he is on the roster – you can get under $189M or you can win 95 games, but no way in the world you are going to do both. A-Rod is owed $25M in 2014, but another $6 if he hits 6 more homers, and his AAV is actually $27.5 so you are looking at $33.5M for 2 WAR. If you assume, though, that A-Rod’s 2 WAR and $31 (what I figured in the $115 above) are suspended for 2014, the exercise becomes plausible. We start with a base of $84M, which I think is actually more like $92 with AAV factored in, but we’ll actually say $90 and play from here.

So we are looking for about 21 WAR for about $100M, which is $5M/WAR. That is an obsolete value, as this year it seems to be more like $6M/WAR.

Where to look? Well, the rotation seems OK, and bullpen upgrades are iffy, but Pineda could easily outperform both the projected starts (20) and the value (0.8). I doubt that the Yankees will be seriously looking for another starter, and I suspect that a bullpen of 3 WAR might be a little light, but 4-5 is the most that can be hoped for. And they might get that on the cheap, from the system or misc. free agents. Let’s put the bullpen at 5 WAR and an additional $5M over what is already there. We’ll guess that the projection is a little pessimistic and give the rotation 15 WAR, for a pitching total of 20. To get to 95 wins, then, we need 28 from the position players. We are currently at 10.6

Let’s sign Cano for an AAV of $27M to some length contract. Steamer has him at 5.4 WAR, so this meets our $5M/WAR goal. Up to 16 WAR and $122M

Now let’s sign McCann for an AAV of $17M, dropping Stewart for a net gain of 3 WAR. Up to 19 WAR and $139M

We need a third baseman, since we suspended A-Rod for the year. The best third baseman available is (gulp!) Juan Uribe, whose 5.1 with the Dodgers was almost certainly a serious outlier, as his two previous campaigns were 0.4 and 0.2. Steamer projects him at 2.8 and he CAN play third. How much will he get? Well, he’s 34 and has had one good year in the last 4, 2 in the last 9 and 3 altogether. I suspect he can be had for $12/1 or $20/2 or $26/3. If the Yankees are serious about the luxury tax, the longer contracts with the lower AAV might appeal. Let’s call this one 2.8 WAR for $9M and bring us up to 21.8 and $148M.

Now it gets harder. the problem is that we are running out of guys making no money to drop (Like Stewart). To get another 6+ WAR we need practically to add two more 3-WAR players, but there just aren’t that many out there. In practice, it would mean getting two decent FA outfielders to take the place of Soriano/Ichiro. Oddly enough, probably the easiest way to get there is to sign Jacoby Ellsbury for and AAV of $20M (WAR 3.9) dropping Wells and getting us to 25.7 and $168M. Moving Gardner to left is unlikely to reduce his production, if past years are any indication. Now only two WAR short of the goal, you can overpay for those WAR (you have $17M left) and sign someone to DH and back up first, dropping Anna. Mike Napoli would do it.

Having done this exercise, I realize that while it is theoretically possible, it is not very practical: you need to grab the best first base, catcher, third baseman and centerfielder still on the market, as well as resigning the best player on the market. All of this works fine on paper, and a team of McCann, Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, Uribe, Gardner, Ellsbury, Ichiro/Soriano/Wells, Napoli WOULD probably win 95 games, but Cashman would deserve Executive of the CENTURY to pull it off.

85 wins (same as last year) is a more realistic result, unless some of the young guys are a lot better than Steamer thinks.

Worst to First part 3

Posted by Baseball Bob at 12:08
Nov 212013

In 2012 the Boston Red Sox won 69 games. In 2013 they won 97, best in MLB, and then won the World Series to culminate one of the largest worst to first transformations in the history of the game. This is the third in the series of how they did it.

Here is a breakdown of the 2013 team, bWAR by position. It is, of course, approximate, as many players play multiple positions and I don’t have WAR breakdowns at that level. But the totals are right, which is ultimately what matters. Should Xander Bogarts’ contribution be divided between third and short? Maybe, but taking from one to give to the other does not ultimately damage the conclusion.

C 3.8 (Saltalamacchia, Ross, Lavarnway)

1B 4.1 (Napoli)

2B 6.5 (Pedroia)

3B -0.2 (Middlebrooks, Ciriaco, Bogarts)

SS 4.7 (Drew, Iglesias)

LF 4.1 (Nava, Gomes)

CF 5.8 (Ellsbury)

RF 6.2 (Victorino)

OF 1.0 (Carp, Bradley)

IF -1.1 (Holt, Snyder, Diaz)

DH 4.4 (Ortiz)

Total non-pitchers: 39.3

SP 10.8 (Lester, Lackey, Dempster, Doubront, Buchholz)

SP -0.5 (Peavey, Aceves, Webster)

RP 6.2 (Uehara, Tazawa, Breslow)

RP 1.2 (Miller, Bailey, Thornton, Britton)

RP -1.0 (Hanrahan, Wilson, Mortensen)

RP -0.5 (Everyone else)

Total pitchers 16.2

Total bWAR for 2013 55.5 Wins 97 Replacement level (97 – 55.5) 41.5

First look is this: the Red Sox did it with OFFENSE and DEFENSE, more than with pitching. Lester bounced back, Buchholz was great before getting hurt, and Lackey contributed. But Dempster was a washout, Doubront did not develop, and the other options were pretty bad, though Peavey was a decent late pickup. The bullpen tried Hanrahan at closer, then Bailey, and one sucked, the other got hurt. They then turned to Uehara, who had an historic season there. The rest of the bullpen was really just Tazawa and Breslow – everyone else was very nearly replacement level, with some of course BELOW replacement, as happens with every team.

But 40 WAR from your non-pitchers: THAT is a killer team. The Sox were solid defensively and excellent offensively, at least based on the results (remember, the bWAR calculation is more based on actual runs, the fWAR more on elements of runs). A team with a replacement-level pitching staff would still, with this level of offense and defense, be a winning team.

Obviously, some of the free-agent pickups worked well: Napoli, Victorino and Drew contributed greatly to this accomplishment, and Cherington won executive of the year on the basis of those signings. THAT is the media version of the First to Worst story that is the 2013 Boston Red Sox. They dumped the useless contracts on the Dodgers, used the money to pick up better players, and turned the team around in one magical trading season. Well, sort of.

Let’s make the same chart for 2012:

C 2.6 (Saltalamacchia, Shoppach)

1B 2.5 (Gonzalez, Loney)

2B 4.9 (Pedroia)

SS 2.7 (Aviles, Punto)

3B 3.1 (Youkilis, Middlebrooks, Ciriaco)

LF 2.3 (Crawford, Nava, McDonald)

CF 1.4 (Ellsbury, Posednik)

RF 2.5 (Ross, Sweeney)

UT -2.4 (Lavarnway, Kalish, Gomez, Iglesias)

DH 3.1 (Ortiz)

Total non-pitchers 22.7

SP 0.9 (Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, Beckett, Cook)

SP -2.0 (Matsuzaka, Morales, Bard, Stewart)

RP 6.9 (Tazawa, Atchison, Albers, Mortensen, Miller, Hill)

RP 0.5 (Breslow, Germano)

RP -2.4 (Everyone else)

Total pitchers 3.9

Total bWAR for 2012 26.6 Wins 69 Replacement level (69 – 26.6) 42.4

Where does this take us?

Well, the team improved by 28 (!) wins. Where were those wins, by this calculation?

The catching improved by 1.2 wins, but this was NOT due to replacing Shoppach with Ross – the improvement was ALL (and then some) Saltalamacchia. Shoppach contributed much more than Ross and Lavarnway.

First base improved by1.6 but this is misleading: Gonzalez by himself, between Boston  and LA, was worth 3.5 in 2012, and 4.0 in 2013. So keeping him would have cost Boston 0.1 WAR, and the 2012 to 2013 improvement is really only 0.6 WAR, though in the real win column it is the 1.6 we list here.

Second base improved by 1.6 also, but this is just Pedroia having a better season.

Third base DECLINED by 3.3 – mostly due to Middlebrooks not playing well and Ciriaco having a few magic weeks. The Sox could have sucked about equally to have kept Youkilis, but he was gone long before the blockbuster “reboot” in August.

Shortstop improved by 2 games, but this was in large part due to the maturing of Iglesias, who contributed 0.3 in 2012 but 1.6 in 2013 (and who was traded). Punto (2.2) was nearly as valuable for LA as Drew (3.1) for Boston, in fewer plate appearances. So keeping Punto and bringing up Iglesias would have been nearly as good as signing Drew.

Left field improved by 1.8, but this was NOT due to signing Gomes (1.2) so much as to Nava not sucking so much. Crawford/Nava would have been about as good as Gomes/Nava.

Center field improved by 4.4 and it was ALL Ellsbury – no brilliant trade here, just a fine performance by an excellent (but somewhat injury-prone) player having an on year.

Right field improved by 3.7 and this WAS a great signing: Victorino exceeded expectations and had a GREAT season.

DH improved by 1.3, as Ortiz had a great season, as opposed to a merely good one.

The bench was better in 2013, but that is primarily due to the experimentation going on at the end of 2012, when there was nothing to play for and the Sox were roaring down the stretch 9-27.

On the pitching side, let’s look at it this way:

Holdover starters (Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, Lackey) improved from 1.9 in 2012 to 11.0 in 2013, a whopping 9.1 wins! Cherington gets credit, I guess, for planning on Lackey (no starts in 2012) coming back strong. And Beckett WAS worse than Dempster, though BOTH were below replacement. The spot starters in 2013, again perhaps because there was something to play for, were better than their 2012 counterparts.

Since the bullpen was worse, really, except for lucking into Uehara, one can more or less discount that in the analysis.

In summary, then, the trade in August that unloaded Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford and Punto, and the subsequent signings of Napoli, Dempster, Victorino and Drew did NOT net the Red Sox a LOT of wins, and most of them from Victorino. And since Sweeney & Ross were going to be gone anyway, you could argue that the Sox, having not made the trade to LA, could still have signed Victorino within their budget, and have won about as many games as they actually won.

The 2013 Boston Red Sox Worst-to-First transformation was NOT, really, the story of a brilliant office. It was the story of a talented team that seriously underperformed in 2012, somewhat due to injuries and somewhat to attitude, traded working parts for other working parts, picked up a good outfielder who had a great year, had their other players get healthy and productive, and won a lot of games.

It is important, though, that I not diminish the accomplishment of “The Trade”. While my analysis suggests that it DIDN’T really make the 2013 season, I think it is fair to say that it DID make the 2014 or 2015 or 2016 season. The Red Sox would have gotten about the same performance out of Gonzalez et al as they did out of their replacements. But Gonzalez et al are under contract for several years yet, and they are not likely to IMPROVE. The big trade unloaded those unproductive years, and Cherington, rather than win 2013 Executive of the Year, should have won it in 2012.

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