@Ottoneu and Replacement Level Starting Pitchers

[CORRECTION:  I incorrectly state in the article below that Trey Baughn had written the article that I reference regarding replacement level — in fact, it has been brought to my attention that @ottoneutrades is the author.  Completely my mistake, I apologize to @ottoneutrades and @fazeorange!]

Ottoneu offseason is in full swing – we are approximately half way between the end of arbitration and the cut down deadline (where bad contracts can be released without incurring the 50% penalty).  Our league is in a bit of a lull – from what I have seen, owners have picked through the rosters of active owners and identified the players they want and cut deals as appropriate.

Our league’s commissioner, Trey Baughn (@fazeorange) (who also produces a podcast that it worth following if you aren’t already) recently posted some thoughts on the message board regarding replacement level at SP.  Specifically, he identified 4.24 P/IP as the approximate replacement level for starting pitching.  Perhaps more interesting than the actual number (which I will discuss below) is the methodology in arriving at that calculation.  Here is Trey’s post on how he arrived at that number.  It is a very rigorous analysis that he has applied over multiple years, trying to hone in on exactly what teams expect to derive from their starting rotation during the course of a competitive season.

The full post is extremely worthy of your time and an excellent discussion of the topic – but to summarize at a high level, Trey works through the numbers and demonstrates that, given Ottoneu scoring systems and lineup restrictions, a team will target 1,175 IP from its staff (and 300 from its bullpen) – which at a gut level seems to be exactly right, given the limit of 5 RPs per day that can be started.  The analysis then moves to translating that number to starting pitchers – 50 years ago, you might reasonably get 1,175 innings from 5 starters, but in this age of bullpen specialization and 5 man rotations, the analysis pegs the SP number at just above 7 for an Ottoneu team.  Like the total inning number, this does confirm a gut feel – Ottoneu owners that go into a season contending for a championship certainly can’t hope to ride 4-5 starters throughout the season given the dearth of 200 IP workhorses.

So far so good.  But this is the point where @fazeorange and I diverge as the assumptions that form the basis of the analysis prove incorrect.   Taking the 1,175 inning calculation and applying it to standard 12 team Ottoneu leagues requires 14,100 IPs from starting pitchers – which in 2014 meant that 86 SPs filled those 14,100 innings leaving Ryan Vogelsong as our “replacement level” pitcher, at 4.24 P/IP.

The problem is twofold.  First and foremost, this assumption assumes that there are 12 teams trying to throw 1500 innings and compete for a championship.  Given Ottoneu’s year round structure, in-season loans and arbitration processes, this never happens.  In our league, 5 teams threw fewer than 1300 innings.   At any time, there are a number of teams trying to compete and another number rebuilding for the next year or a few years down the road.  Like real baseball, typically championship teams have accumulated salaries that will need to be traded or cut, and while savvy owners should be able to build toward a window that stays open for multiple years, the format makes it difficult to stay on top unless an outside event (i.e., primarily less than competitive other owners) intervenes.

Using Trey’s methodology of 1,175 innings per team, below is a table that shows how replacement level changes as you reduce the assumption regarding the number of teams that are trying to throw their full complement of innings:

  12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3
Total IP (approx) 14100 12925 11750 10575 9400 8225 7050 5875 4700 3525
IP 14005.8 12861.2 11883.5 10594 9328.5 8235.6 7094.3 5776.8 4700 3487.2
# of SPs 86 79 72 64 55 49 42 34 27 20
Total Points 70220 65346 61137 55445 49661 44427 38825 32190 26620 20221
P/IP (Ps Above Replacement 5.01 5.08 5.14 5.23 5.32 5.39 5.47 5.57 5.66 5.80
Replacement 4.24 4.29 4.33 4.50 4.68 4.90 4.93 5.14 5.22 5.36

As you would expect, replacement level rises as the number of “competitive” teams decreases.  Over our league’s years, teams each Spring can be roughly broken into one of three groups – those teams clearly well positioned to compete for a championship, teams clearly in some stage of a rebuild not attempting to field a competitive roster for that upcoming season, and a third group of teams that are likely deluding themselves into thinking that they can compete (which I personally think is the worst position to be in – trapped in a middle ground that will never win and never commit to a full roster reconstruct, dooming the team to perpetual 5th-8th place finishes).  Also interesting is the “P/IP (Ps Above Replacement)” line – this is the average production per inning for those pitchers above the applicable replacement line – i.e., what good starting rotations are producing.

As you can see from the table, if you assume only 3 teams are full rebuilding (which in my mind is low, but probably constitutes the number in our league last year that knew they were not in the running for 2014 at the end of January), replacement level rises to 4.50 using this methodology.  If you include those teams that are likely kidding themselves, replacement level rises to nearly 5/IP.

The second issue is temporal – as most Ottoneu owners have likely witnessed, “replacement level” changes over time.  Now, to be fair, this concept is different from a traditional definition of replacement level as that level of play you could fairly assume could be acquired off the waiver wire.  However, the idea is that, especially in Ottoneu Linear Weights/Points formats, teams begin dropping out of competition almost immediately after the season begins (whether due to injury, mis-assessment of the strength of the “going for it” teams, or their own rosters).  Because Ottoneu rules permit eating salary in trades, owners with productive but expensive starters start dumping them for whatever they can convince themselves might be useful in future years.  Again looking at our league in 2014, here are a few of the early transactions:

(1)  Mid March – rebuilding team dumps Mike Trout for a prospect package centered on Gerrit Cole and Javier Baez

(2)  Also Mid March, one team moves Justin Verlander  and a closer in a package, and Nelson Cruz and Jordan Zimmerman in another on the same day.

(3)  On April 7th, Hiroki Kuroda and Rafael Soriano were moved for two two prospects.

(4)  On April 12th, the team that had added Mike Trout also added Madison Bumgarner and Jose Bautista for 3 prospects

(5)  On May 2nd, the team with Trout/Bumgarner/Bautista added Evan Longoria and Ian Desmond for two younger but upside players

So, before the season was a month old, one team added Mike Trout, Evan Longoria, Madison Bumgarner, Jose Bautista and Ian Desmond.  Not coincidentally, this team (@fazeorange’s team) won the 2014 championship.  The point here is not to criticize – he won fair and square.  In addition, a useful rebuilding strategy for some teams is to buy overpriced assets at auction with the intent to auction them prior to or early in the season, eating their salary but acquiring more useful future assets.  But it does illustrate the point here that players in Ottoneu are “available” (via salary dump trades) in a similar, though not exactly analogous, way to replacement players at the MLB level are available.

Brining this discussion back to replacement level – given the nature of Ottoneu’s format with a year round system and rebuilding teams, I think the numbers show that defining replacement level at the 4.24 P/IP underestimates the impact of the rebuilds and the availability of talent over time.  Looking at the list of 2014 SP scoring (min 10 Starts), if we assume 9 teams and the table above, our replacement level starter is Hiroki Kuroda;  with 7 teams, Scott Kazmir becomes replacement level. While neither are aces, their production levels are significantly better than that of a Ryan Vogelsong, and anecdotally neither would seem to command a king’s ransom to acquire.   As I look at competitive 2015 teams, I would be starting here for my replacement level.

Posted in Fantasy Baseball, LWTS, Ottoneu | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Shouldn’t the Rays Just Let Yunel Escobar Go?

 We’re past the non-waiver trade deadline in MLB and into the portion of the season where teams put all of their players on revocable waivers (just to see whether anyone clears – and of course, many large contracts will clear) and then pull them back in the event that a player is claimed.  Reports this morning indicate that the Oakland A’s have claimed Yunel Escobar, and the teams have until 1pm EST Tuesday to work out a trade.   The A’s have struggled in the middle of their infield all season – 2B has been a mix and match of players best suited to the utility IF role, while Jed Lowrie underperformed last season’s SS numbers before hitting the DL earlier this month.  Gone too is heir apparent Addison Russell, to the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzjia/Jason Hammel deal.

Initial comments indicate that TB will likely hang onto Escobar – but my question is shouldn’t the Rays just let him go?  After this season, Escobar is owed $13for 2015/2016 (which includes a $1M buyout for 2017 which would be turned into a $7M team option).   Escobar inked his contract in April of this year, coming off a very strong 3.9 WAR season (consisting of a league average wRC+ but very strong defensive numbers – given the Rays aggressive use of advanced metrics and strategies on the defensive side, a question for another post would be whether or not this overstates his defensive contribution).  Further, Escobar will turn 32 in November, so the $13M will cover his ages 32-33 seasons.

Unfortunately for both Escobar and the Rays, his production has collapsed in 2014.  Through 8/25, Escobar is good for –0.1 WAR, driven both by a collapse at the plate (85 wRC+) and the field (-8.9 Def).  Ignoring defense for the moment, what is remarkable about Escobar’s numbers is the relative consistency in most of his hitting metrics – his BB%, K%, SwStr%, Contact%, all are exactly in line with 2013 (and previous years).  Looking at his triple crown slash, what stands out is the drop in SLG – 256/332/366 last season has become 253/317/318 this year.   Looking at batted balls, the diminution of power jumps out as well.  According to www.baseballheatmaps.com, Escobar’s average distance on HRs and fly balls last year was 284.78, but that number has dropped to 275.33 in 2014.   His ISO of .066 would be the 2nd lowest of his career, and ranks him 21st of 22 qualified SS in 2014 (though he is ahead of one future HOF).

Besides offense, the other questions are defense and “chemistry”.  On the defensive side, Escobar probably wasn’t as good as his 2013 +17.5 number was, nor as bad this year as his –8.9.  He is, however, going into his age 32 year – here is the list of SS over the past few years age 32+ sorted by their defensive numbers, and Omar Vizquel Escobar is not.  The list only stands to confirm what most would understand intuitively – namely that betting on the defensive numbers of mid 30s SS is a gamble.

Off the field, clearly I have no insight into Escobar as a teammate or person, but if we are evaluating his contract, we must acknowledge that he has had numerous red flags raised – here and here. for instance.

With all that as background, my question:  would Escobar receive 2/$13 from the Rays this offseason?  We’ve got a few players staring at free agency this winter according to Cots.  Hanley Ramirez will clearly be priced out of TB’s range.  Jed Lowrie is interesting, as he has been injured and sub-par in 2014 (which of course is why Oakland claimed Escobar to begin this discussion).  Ditto JJ Hardy, though he probably commands a bit more of a contract than TB would offer.   Asdrubal Cabrera’s defense has collapsed at SS but he could be a stopgap – Mike Aviles is more of a utility player than an every day SS.  The Rays also have played Ben Zobrist at SS significantly over the past few years – and with a healthy Wil Myers and the emergence of Kevin Kiermaier, perhaps Zobrist can retire his outfielders glove and strictly play 2B/SS.  Nick Franklin is waiting in Durham – he posted very strong numbers in Seattle in 2013, and destroyed AAA pitching for two months in 2014, but has seemingly regressed a bit this year, and has never been viewed as a true major league shortstop.   Hak Ju-Lee has also underwhelmed in Durham, raising questions about his long-term viability as the Rays answer at SS.

Back to Yunel – over the past 3 seasons, Escobar has posted just over 5 WAR at SS.  If we view his production this year as an aberration on the low side and ignore the off the field issues, it seems safe to project him as a 1-2 WAR SS.  Do the Rays need to invest $13M in a 2 year commitment to Escobar?    I just am not sure its worth it.  For a larger market team, the $13M is a rounding error and clearly Escobar is a keep.  With the Rays, though, every penny counts, and were I headed into the offseason I think I’d rather see what else $13M could buy me, while perhaps seeing whether a Zobrist/Franklin/Lee combo could turn into a serviceable SS for 2015.

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Rockies 2015 — What to Do with Brett Anderson

Very interesting article worth a read this morning from @Swydan regarding the Colorado Rockies next year.  Recently, Troy Tulowitzki popped off about the losing on Blake Street, and reasonably so – at press time, Colorado owns the worst record in baseball.  I liked most of the suggestions – letting Michael Cuddyer and Jorge De La Rosa walk are no brainers, and many of the sign and trades make baseball and financial sense.

The piece that I struggle with is his suggestion to let Brett Anderson walk.  Anderson’s contract offer the Rockies club a options of $12M in 2015, with a $1.5M buyout.  Of course, Anderson’s issue is always health, not talent – and he currently sits on the DL.  Since the beginning of the 2012 season, he has thrown 123 innings, due to a variety of back, leg, foot and arm maladies.

The tantalizing issue, of course, is that when he pitches, he pitches well.  BA delivered those 123 innings at an xFIP of 3.31, and his 61% ground ball rate is top 10 in all of baseball over that period (min 100 IP, but including starters and relievers), which is doubly important for denizens of Coors Field.   Toss in an almost 20% K rate, and you have the makings of the kind of SP in which the Rockies would otherwise be investing.

As always, the issue comes back to price.  The club option for 2015 in essence is 1 year/$10.5M (since the $1.5M is spent already, either in buyout or salary).  Here is the list of 2014 SP signings.  Looking at comparably priced SPs – Dan Haren took a 1/10 deal in LA, Jason Hammel got 1/8 in Chicago.  For those able to grab a longer commitment but similar AAV, Scott Kazmir got 2/22 from Oakland, Scott Feldman got 3/30 in Baltimore, Ervin Santana got 2/14 in Kansas City.  I just don’t see a single member of that list that I’d be eager to invest in more heavily than Anderson – Scott Kazmir made the All-Star team this summer, but in 2012 was pitching independent ball.  Haren has many (if not as many) durability questions now given the mileage on his arm, and Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel don’t have nearly the upside, though each come with lower risk.

Ultimately, I just can’t see how 1/$10.5M doesn’t work for Colorado, even given frustration with BA’s fragility.  His skillset is what Coors desperately requires, and the price tag is right in line with free agent SPs with significant question marks.  If I’m Colorado, I exercise that option without hesitation, let him pitch out the contract and take the draft pick if he stays healthy, posts a monster year and convinces another team to invest him him long-term in December 2015.  More than likely, he pitches 50-100 innings in 2015 and you decide not to offer the QO, but the club option means you’ve minimized your financial exposure and the options for that $10M on the SP market aren’t otherwise particularly enticing.

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Cubs, A’s, Addison Russell and Billy Beane

The first big deal of the MLB Trade Deadline season went down last night – Ken Rosenthal and other reporting that the A’s acquired both Jeff Samardzija  and Jason Hammel from the Cubs in exchange for Addison Russell, Billy McKinney and a couple other players. There are a lot of “win for both sides” opinions floating around this morning, but I think a few other items are worth noting.

(1) Billy Beane finally goes all in – or does he?. Most pundits are noting that the trade marks a stark departure for Billy Beane’s A”s teams – while his excellence as a GM is rarely questioned, his teams have advanced past the ALDS only once, and this trade squarely addresses that issue. Beyond Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, the A’s have a very deep rotation but one that fails to strike fear in the heart of playoff opponents – Samardzija  has ascended this year to near ace status and will get the ball in Game 2 or 3.  Hammel is a nice 4th starter, who could potentially see a playoff start, but who likely contributes more value in allowing the A’s to give Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray some rest down the stretch (neither has ever thrown 200 IP) so they are able to pitch deep into October.   In terms of what Beane acquired:  Hammel is a free agent after this season, while Samardzija  has one year of arbitration left before hitting free agency after the 2015 season.   Given the A’s budgetary limitations, it seems fair to say they are unlikely to be players for either Hammel this off season, or Shark next season.   Why are we assuming that Beane won’t turn around and flip Samardzija  before opening day 2015?  Starting pitching is always in demand and given the Shark is in store for a big raise in arbitration, I would expect Beane to be aggressively looking to re-tool his farm system using Samardzija  as the primary chip, rather than swallowing his big 2015 raise and injury risk.

(2)  Cubs Logjam at SS? Some of the discussion in our baseball circles focuses on Theo Epstein’s choice of return for Samardzija  – rather than looking to address a thin crop of pitching in the upper minors, the Cubs stockpiled another top SS prospect.  As of now, the Cubs have Starlin Castro at SS at Wrigley, Addison Russell presumably reporting to AAA Iowa to play SS – where Javy Baez is already playing SS.  They also have Arismendy Alcantara, a natural SS, playing 2B there, and have recently promoted Kris Bryant to play 3B.  Is this a problem?  I’m not sure I see the problem.  First of all, Starlin Castro is not going to block any of this players.  He is owed almost $50M through 2020 but has regressed significantly since exploding onto the season as a 20 year old, bottoming out in 2013 with a .280 wOBA.  Castro has rebounded to post a .351 wOBA through the first half of 2014, but I see no differences in plate discipline or contact, merely a few extra fly balls that have found the seats (but according to baseballheatmaps.com, his fly ball distance is nearly the same as 2013, lending reasonable grounds for skepticism as to whether the improvement is real).  If Theo Epstein can find a believer in Castro’s resurgence, all the better for the Cubs rebuild plans.  There are also significant questions as to whether Kris Bryant’s true position is 3B or RF, as some scouts doubt his has the quickness to play 3B in the majors, but his arm and defense would play as plus in RF.  As for Baez, his power potential is off the charts, but questions remain about both how much contact he’ll make (currently striking out at a 33% clip in the minors) and whether at 6’ and 190 pounds at 21, he is better suited to 3B.  While his bat would be truly impact at SS, all reports indicate it will be good enough to play anywhere, presuming he tones down his aggressive approach and/or learns to do a little more damage against secondary pitches.

(3)  Back to Beane – David Price?  I’ve been critical of Beane in the past as someone too willing to write off the postseason as a crapshoot – and for that reason, I certainly must applaud him for his bold move yesterday.   The A’s are clearly the best team in baseball through the halfway mark, sporting a 3.5 game lead in the AL West that would be bigger but for the fact that the A’s bullpen has struggled and arguably the AL’s second best team also resides in the AL West.  The only question I have for Beane is, if you were going to move Addison Russell, could you have gotten David Price?  Samardzija  is good, Price is even better.  Both are eligible for their final year of arbitration in 2015 before hitting free agency.  Price will undoubtedly cost more, so that may have been a consideration for the A’s as well (paying $10M+ for Shark in 2015 could be possible, paying $20M ish for Price perhaps not), but I can’t help but wonder if this was truly the A’s “all in” year, Beane would have been better served selling out for Price, and then potentially moving him in the offseason to avoid Price’s expense in 2015.

Ultimately, most commentators are agreed that this move will be judged on the A’s side squarely on whether the A’s get to and/or win the World Series.  I think that’s partially true, though I am not sure that Beane won’t use Samardzija  to restock his system during the Winter Meetings.  On the Cubs side, I just don’t see the logjam many are predicting.  There are still questions about the pitching pipeline on the North Side, but the middle of their lineup in 2015 and forward looks formidable.

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Why I’m Not Buying the Albert Pujols Resurgence

Baseball now approaches the quarter pole, and one of the early season stories has been the resurgence of Albert Pujols, following a disastrous, injury riddled 2013.   Through the Angels’ first 32 games, Pujols is hitting 302/368/957, good for a .409 wOBA (12th in all of MLB) and a 166 wRC+ (5th overall).  Despite the resurgent numbers, I just traded him away in @Ottoneu, and here’s why:

  (1)  Bad Rate Trends.  Pujols currently sports an 8.3% BB rate (which would be a career low, far below his 12.4% career number and even below his 9.0% from a nightmarish 2013).  Similarly, his ground ball rates have spiked and pop-up rates have spiked, while line drive rates have cratered.  Even discounting because of the variability of these stats through 30 games, the trend raises question marks in my mind and portend the end of the rebound.

 

(2)  Fly Balls and Home Runs.  Though Pujols has hit 10 HRs, his HR/FB rate stands at 23%, double what it was in 2013 and nearly 80% higher than 2012 (and 25% higher than his career rate).  Further, according to baseballheatmaps, his flyball and home run distance stands at 283 feet, good for 90th in baseball (just a few spots behind noted sluggers Luis Valbuena and Nate McClouth, albeit one spot above the struggling and now injured Jay Bruce).

 

(3)  Pitchers Unafraid?  I am interested to see how pitchers attack him for the rest of the year.  Early on, Pujols is seeing more fastballs (59%) than ever before, perhaps an indication that his bat has slowed and pitchers are less afraid to challenge him.  While his Zone% is unchanged from career norms, he is seeing almost 60% first pitch strikes, and his contact rate is again at career low 2013 levels (albeit slightly above league average).

 

Sometimes I worry that the new era of advanced analytics has led me to a place where we are too critical, especially of the games great players.  Baseball is fundamentally about failure so let’s not lose sight of what the greats can do while we talk about what they can’t do.  I hope that Albert’s rebound is real — but I just don’t see any reason to be optimistic.  I suppose I will console myself by watching replays of this moonshot in the playoffs against Brad Lidge.

 

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@Ottoneu Standings – Tools for Looking Deeper      

With May here, @Ottoneu leagues begin to take shape.  I suspect that in most leagues teams classify themselves as contenders or rebuilders prior to Opening Day, but there are always a few overly optimistic rosters.  In our league as I read the standings, there are clearly 5 contenders (actually, one team trying to run away and hide, and 4 teams desperately attempting to stop that from happening) and 5 rebuilders.  In my opinion, two other teams ought to be rebuilding, but they seem caught in no man’s land – a subject for a different post.

For all of @Ottoneu’s great qualities, the standings page has for years left me lacking.  The P/IP and P/G columns are somewhat useful, but as you try to assess pace of innings pitched, games started and the volume of luck present in a month’s worth of stats, they are incomplete.  In an attempt to delve a bit deeper, I developed a very elementary Excel spreadsheet that would take the standing page, and for each team, also show the teams wOBA, BABIP (Pitching, not hitting), OBP, SLG, OPS – in other words, some additional numbers that comprised a team’s aggregate point production.  My goal was to develop a tool that might provide a bit more insight into the true performance YTD – i.e., a team sporting a .330 BABIP or absurdly high HR/FB rates might be in for some positive regression, while another team batting .344 as a team might swing the other direction.

Happily, I shared my simple spreadsheet with our league’s commissioner, @Fazeorange – and here is the result.  Trey, as dedicated a commissioner as exists in the Ottoneu world, took what was a tiny acorn and cultivated a giant, beautiful oak of a dashboard – his tool offers a detailed look into each team’s performance via the advance metrics with which readers of this blog are familiar, and standards against which to judge (i.e., league average numbers in each category and 2013 champion averages as well).   As he and I have discussed, I find myself perusing this page each night (it is simple to update it for your league, just follow the instructions on copying your standings page and pasting it to the appropriate cell).  There are a few points of particular usefulness in my mind:

(1)     Breaking down a team’s hitting performance.  For me, the P/G particularly underwhelms as a measure for team hitting success.  With this spreadsheet, I can look at each team’s wOBA, as well as where it might be improved.  As an example, comparing @Fazeorange’s team (Lucky Strikes – one of the contenders) and mine (Enrico Palazzo – also hopefully one of the contenders),  we have scored an almost identical 1764 and 1747 points to date, Trey coming in at 5.51/G and me at 5.41/G.   I sport a 10 point advantage in OBP thanks primarily to patience with free passes; however, @Fazeorange’s team posts 16 and 18 point leads in ISO and SLG, respectively, more than making up the difference in OBP.  To improve my team, I’d probably be looking to add a bit of power in the OF.

(2)     Chasing down the Leader.  YTD, our league leader (Chicago Chiefs — @NickKappel) raced out to a 600 point lead.  Part of that is that he has thrown 60-90 innings more than his followers, but even if that is half of the lead, the other 300 points are unaccounted for.  Looking at his pitching performance, the term “otherworldly” comes to mind at 5.86 points per game – -but for those of us chasing, hope abounds.  The .274 BABIP and 0.70 HR/9 are unlikely to remain so low, and his team’s below league average ability to miss bats may catch up in the end, especially in the LWTS format.  Of course, in two months’ time I may look back at this as mere wishful thinking.

(3)     Pretenders.  While this is more art than science, one of the interesting aspects of the @Ottoneu format is that, in any given year, the limited number of “contenders” create for interesting decision making.  I may expand this into another post, but my main thought is that with only 4-5 teams really in contention in a given season, it can be slightly more important to take on a head to head approach in some discussions.  I recently closed a couple of trades for high end hitting that I didn’t particularly need (though of course players like Albert Pujols and a healthy Chase Utley always help), but I felt it important to prevent them from winding up in one of my competitors hands.  In a league where you are competing against 11 other owners, this is more challenging.   Similarly, as I evaluate potential trades, there are a few teams with whom I am very reluctant to trade, as the fear of improving their rosters against me outweighs the value to my own team.  I raise the point because @Fazeorange’s standings dashboard does a good job in my mind of confirming that a couple teams are likely pretenders though their position in the standings suggests otherwise.  As an example, The Syndicate, one of our league’s best owners, has a team that has been in 2nd-3rd all season – but I see nothing but trouble ahead.  The team OBP of .330 is significantly below league average while the 3.71 FIP may portend additional trouble on the mound, and he is dealing with significant injuries to both his lineup and starting pitching staff.   From a head to head perspective, I might be more willing to deal with this team despite its heightened position in the standings because I believe the regression monster is coming.

(4)     A quick note on league averages.  Of course, one point must be made with respect to the league average column – with so many teams rebuilding, it is hard to assess what value these numbers present.  The rebuilding teams are probably running out lineups, but with 2015 on the mind, there is no incentive to worry about whether Corey Kluber might be a good start on the road in Chicago, because the points don’t matter in 2014.  I wonder whether there might be a way to create another column to identify contenders and pretenders manually, and then compare amongst the teams we deem relevant to our quest for fantasy gold.

All in all, I can’t thank Trey (@Fazeorange) enough for expanding what was merely a simple idea and basic spreadsheet into a valuable @Ottoneu tool.  Look for a forthcoming post of his own on the topic via the Fangraphs Community Blog.  Of course, all comments are welcome here at Sports By the Numbers, or comment to me via twitter (@wfporter1972).

 

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What do we expect from Brandon Crawford in 2014?

Over at McCovey Chronicles, Grant Bisbee (@mccoveychron — a must follow even for the non SF Giant fans out there) has a piece today about Brandon Crawford, trying to offer some perspective on projecting him for 2014 and beyond (partially tongue in cheek).  I’m fascinated by Crawford — and I really don’t have a good reason why — but I feel like people miss the boat on him.

Everyone knows he plays elite defense at SS — his UZR ratings have him right in the mix with Elvis Andrus, Alexei Ramirez and most of the considered best shortstops in the game.  The question is the bat — as a 24-year-old in 2011, his wRC+ of 66 was near the bottom of SS in the league.  In 2012, he moved up to an 80, good for 17th among SS with at least 450 plate appearances, and in 2013 his 91 was good for 10th out of 18.

Grant looks at the projection for his wRC+ numbers, but for me, it seems as though we’re diminishing Crawford because of one simple fact:  he cannot hit left-handed pitching.  And when I say he can’t hit, I don’t mean for a slick fielding SS — I mean he literally can’t hit LHP.  In 2013, among 118 players with at least 150 plate appearances against LHP, Brandon Crawford’s wRC+ of 56 was 113th.

On the bright side, Crawford against RHP in 2013 hit 269/333/394 (in an extreme pitchers park), good for a wRC+ of 106.  The 106 number doesn’t strike you as worldbeating, but at SS it’s fairly impressive regardless of what you’re doing on defense.  In Jean Segura’s breakout 2013 campaign, he managed a 97 wRC+ against RHP.   JJ Hardy and Yunel Escobar were even lower, at 95 and 93 respectively.  Jhonny Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera, hit first shortstops, posted near identical 106 and 104s.

So, ultimately, Brandon Crawford is a gold glove caliber defensive player, whose offense numbers as a whole look worse than they should because his defensive abilities force him to take 200 plate appearances every year that he shouldn’t take.   Hitting left-handed pitching matters, so we can’t ignore it, but for my money, Brandon Crawford entering his age 27 season is a guy who is already above average (factoring in both offense and defense), and is clearly behind Tulo, Desmond and Hanley Ramirez.  But beyond that, what SS are better than Crawford?  Jose Reyes is 32 and can’t stay healthy.  Jed Lowrie is coming of the first year where he played 150 games (and is also 30).  Is Jean Segura better than Crawford?  I’m not sure — I don’t want to penalize the guy for being so good on defense that I can’t afford to bench him against tough lefties.

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