Sunday, August 29, 2004

Jeff Kent to the A's?

I’m not sure whether I like Peter Gammons or not. It’s easy to dislike his analysis and it’s easy to dislike his writing, but does he writes at a site that prominently features Buster Olney and Joe Morgan and I do go to ESPN.com several times a day because I like their player cards and scoreboard better than the other corporate sportsites (and yes, I’m the kind of guy who finds reason to check player splits several times a day). And I do get a kick out of transactions gossip, and he’s probably the best in the biz in that regard (not to mention that he has his own unique color scheme and font). So today, when I saw the link to his newest column, I quickly read it. The following paragraph maybe tells you all you need to know about what to expect from Peter Gammons:

As the race for the final spots in the American League playoffs appears to be
coming down to the final weekend -- with an unusual importance placed on
Boston's upcoming consecutive series with Anaheim, Texas and (at) Oakland -- the
balance of the league is such that, heading toward the Labor Day turn, one can
make an argument for almost every one of the contenders going all the way to the
World Series. And that's with the added hope that Troy Glaus and Trot Nixon will
return for the final few weeks, and that somehow Oakland ownership will decide
the $1.8 million it would cost to have Jeff Kent
is worth what they will lose if they miss out on the playoffs after four
straight years in the postseason.

That is good writing, if you ask me, because of it’s emotional appeal, but it’s also not entirely logical, either in terms of analysis or syntax. Gammons can always capture an emotion of excitement, and it’s tough to enjoy baseball without an emotional attachment. At the same time, I have no idea what, if any, argument he’s making other than 1) the AL is exciting 2) any of the teams with a strong probability of making the playoffs could, upon making the playoffs, win seven games to reach the World Series. He points to the potential arrival of three players without really making an argument about what their potential impact would be. The one that piqued my interest most was the question of Oakland acquiring Jeff Kent. Later in the article, he clarifies that the A’s, in fact, need Kent—well, sort of:


The A's need Kent because of their vulnerability against lefties, but then
neither New York nor Boston has a left-handed starter or a left-handed reliever
that dominates left-handed batters.


It’s true that Kent is good against southpaws; this year he’s hitting .296/.348/.531 (a .290 GPA) against them, and from 2001-2003 he hit .340/.421/..577 against them. But exactly which A is vulnerable to left-handed pitching? Dye, Chavez, Hatteberg, Byrnes, Durazo, Kotsay, Scutaro, and Miller all have OBP’s of at least .340 and SLG’s of at least .400 against lefties (and Kielty has been decent against lefties when he’s played). Only Bobby Crosby has been bad against lefties, hitting .200/.313/.418 (a.245 GPA) which is not something you’d love to have in the lineup but which certainly isn’t terrible, and that probably has much more to do with sample size than anything else—Crosby is a right-handed hitter. I don’t have his minor-league splits available, but I can’t say I think his line in 130 PA is enough to justify adding $1.8 million in payroll. Of course, the A’s who are doing well against lefties are also doing so in small sample sizes. Here are the 2001-2003 lines for the A’s lefty regulars against LHP:

Kotsay: .269/.335/.400 (.297/.366/.432 in 2004)
Durazo: .247/.344/.398 (.295/.346/.475 in 2004)
Hatteberg: .234/.330/.357 (.295/.357/.403 in 2004)
Chavez: .229/.278/.395 (.326/.426/.558 in 2004)

All four are outperforming their past platoon splits, though it should be noted that all of them are outperforming their past lines against RHP by roughly the same amount except Chavez. Considering that Durazo, Hatteberg, and Chavez are all killing RHP this season while Kotsay has been as productive as Kent against RHP and is the A’s best defensive centerfielder, I’m not really sure who should be coming out of the lineup to add Kent’s bat. I guess Hatteberg is the most likely candidate, and Kent does have some experience at 1B. That would give the A’s maybe one extra base for every ten plate appearances vs. LHP that go to Kent instead of Hatteberg, so with 30 games Kent would contribute about 3 total bases, which means maybe a run or two. Given the data in my previous post about lefties in the playoffs, I don’t think the Kent over Hatteberg vs. LHP advantage is worth $1.8 million.

But the southpaw issue is really a form of beating around the bush: the real reason that Kent-to-the-A’s rumors and phone calls have happened is that Kent is a big-name second baseman and Marco Scutaro is not. If Mark Ellis was healthy, I doubt anyone would be talking about the A's picking up Kent.

Kent is an offensive upgrade over Scutaro, but not against lefties:

Kent, 2004: .296/.348/.531 vs. LHP, .280/.334/.486 vs. RHP
Scutaro, 2004: .292/.341/.513 vs. LHP, .274/.287/.348 vs. RHP

Given that Kent hits at the House that Orange Juice built (well, technically Andersen accounting should get the credit) and Scutaro hits at the stadium famous for “My Sharona,” those numbers against lefties are pretty much identical. The difference in between Kent vs. RHP and Scutaro vs. RHP, on the other hand, is quite substantial; Kent has a .272 to .216 edge in GPA. Scutaro doesn’t draw walks or hit for power against right-handed pitching and Kent does. This is somewhat mitigated because the A’s can play Mark McLemore against RHP, and he’s hit .266/.363/.328 (.245 GPA) against them this year, pretty much the same as Scutaro except McLemore draws walks. Since there’s nothing to suggest at this point that Kent is a significant defensive upgrade over either McLemore or Scutaro, that means the question is whether the A’s should add $1.8 million in payroll and presumable give up a mid-level prospect or two to boost their offense against RHP from .230 GPA (assuming McLemore takes about half the PA vs. RHP) to .270. The A’s as a team have had 3624 plate appearances against RHP this year in 129 games, an average of 28.1 per game. If Kent took a ninth of the A’s PA against RHP over the final 30 games, that would be 94 PA. If he approximated his current line against RHP then he would create 14 runs using the basic Bill James RC formula. A Scutaro/McLemore combination with a .270/.325/.338 line creates nine and a half runs. There are a maximum of 19 games in the playoffs, and let’s just say for the sake of argument that the A’s would only face RHP throughout the playoffs (if they played the Red Sox, Yankees, and then Cardinals then they would only face a few lefties out of the pen). That would mean about 760 PA if they average the same number of PA per game they currently are. That means we have 84 PA to give out to A’s second basemen, and Kent projects to creating 12 runs in that span while the Scutaro/McLemore combo projects to eight and a half. So a fair expectation for the difference between Kent and what the A’s have now is four and a half runs in the regular season and up to three and a half runs in the playoffs (remember, it’s likely that the A’s will have fewer PA/game in the playoffs and it’s likely they will play fewer than 19 games in the playoffs). That means the maximum expectation for additonal productivity from Kent is eight runs. It could be that Kent would get hot, of course, but it could be that he would get cold or that Scutaro/McLemore gets hot, so it doesn't make sense to make a decision expecting more than eight runs in September and October.

Eight runs is, in some senses, a lot. Over the course of a season, it’s about an entire game in the standings (check out Win Shares—Kent has a 3 win share lead on Scutaro, which equates to one win). When you’ve lost Game 5 in the division series four years in a row, you might want to do whatever it takes to get an extra run per week. So it’s certainly understandable that the A’s would have a desire to pick up Jeff Kent, it’s also unrealistic to expect them to want to do so. Paying $275,000 per expected run could make the difference between missing the playoffs entirely and winning the World Series, just as spending a first round draft pick on a high school pitcher with upside instead of a college pitcher who’s almost ready could make the A’s substantially better. The point is, not making the deal is probably the smart play since, unfortunately, money in baseball is finite and those 18,000 Ben Franklins could probably make more of a difference if used to get better players next year.

Gammons is, perhaps, absolutely right on an emotional level: as a baseball fan, I want to see the A’s get better (both because it makes the season more interesting and because, outside of the Dodgers, I’d rather see the A’s win than anyone else). And in looking at what Gammons wrote, it’s very clear why it’s so easy to want the A’s to pay $1.8 million for eight runs: because that money doesn’t belong to the fans, it belongs to the A’s ownership. We feel that they simply should spend more money. And the most painful but most necessary lesson that any baseball fan can learn is that, from a fan’s standpoint, that is our money, and when we think about what our team does we have to consider the financial implications because the ownership will do so without exception.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?