Friday, January 28, 2005

Marcel ZiPS alongside PECOTA, or How I Learned To Quit Worrying and Love Non-Humorous Half-Pun Titles

By request of Tangotiger by way of Jon Weisman, I’m delving into three sets of offensive projections for the 2005 Dodgers to see how they stack up. The projection systems in question are Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA (subscribers only), Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS, and Tangotiger’s Marcel.

Projection systems have a bit of a Rorschach effect; the goals and methods depend on whomsoever produces them, and the results can therefore vary substantially in even very similar systems. The three systems in question here use a very similar process: take the player’s recent performance numbers and regress them. Simple enough, but the question of what population to regress toward varies substantially. In other words, what population (slap-hitting 5’7” guys, power hitting 6’2” guys, and so forth) players are grouped in for regression analysis differs greatly depending on the system. PECOTA’s at one end of the spectrum, putting a great deal of effort into finding a population of similar players for comparison, and Marcel is at the other end of the spectrum, using extremely basic population definitions.

Each approach has its merits. Better defining the population a player belongs to will yield a better projection. Taking the extra steps to do so, though, is often statistically problematic, as defining a player as part of a population on the basis of his performance record creates something of a cross-fertilization effect. For any group of players who are, from a true talent standpoint, very similar, some will have underperformed over a period of time and others will have overperformed. Thus, looking only at those players who hit one home run every 20 at bats over a three-year period doesn’t necessarily define the true population of a player who has hit one home run every 20 at bats over the past three seasons. Thus, there’s certainly an accuracy argument to be made for systems which privilege elegance and simplicity; the relative minimalism of Marcel and to ZiPSs is useful for reasons beyond their accessibility.

Throw on top of those concerns the highly contested world of statistic translations – different applications of park factors, different calculations for minor league equivalencies, and so forth – and you should expect a substantial amount of noise separating different projections. In other words, these projections, like bland soup, come with several mandatory shakes of salt.

Taking a look at the Dodgers, it’s pretty easy to catch a few general trends in the differences between the projection systems. For example, Marcel tends toward higher batting averages and lesser secondary production from most players than ZiPS or PECOTA.

Furthermore, how we compare projections can be somewhat problematic. The HBP, SF, SH, and IBB aren’t counted in the data that Baseball Prospectus publishes, and ZiPS is also SH and SF deficient. To convert the numbers into runs, then, I can either re-run all the numbers to give myself a guess of how many SF/SH/IBB etc. each system is working with, or I can use a blanket system which pretends that those events don’t exist. To maintain my admittedly limited sanity, I opted for the latter, using a modified linear weights system (which I have assonantly and perhaps asininely termed “Fake Weights”) to compare the projections. I could get into the formula here, but it’s probably of little interest to anyone; I’ll just say that I compared it with straight linear weights for the Marcels and the MLVR’s for the PECOTA’s to ensure it was about right. For each individual player, it shouldn’t really impact the differences between projections. The Fake Weights are not position adjusted.

For each player, I’ve listed their high and low projections with Fake Weights and Gross Production Average, as well as the average of the three systems. Fake Weights are prorated to 620 plate appearances since, well, playing time projections are worth roughly what the vice presidency was worth to Cactus Jack Garner. Also, try not to freak out by how low these look; they’re not park adjusted and they’re based on Dodger Stadium (or whatever statistical model of it the various projection authors chose to use; if I recall correctly, ZiPS and PECOTA both made minor ad hoc adjustments for the renovation). Also, I only looked at current Dodgers who appear on all three projection systems and have some degree of likelihood to make the club to start the season. Cody Ross, Henri Stanley, Chin-Feng Chen, and Brian Myrow were all left off one or more of the published datasets, and I didn’t get around to DFA survivor Joe Thurston.

J.D. Drew
High: ZiPS (+34.1, .312). Low: Marcel (+27.5, .303)
Average: .285/.395/.518, +30, .307
Marcel and PECOTA were roughly the same for Drew; Marcel gives him a slightly higher batting average while PECOTA assigns slightly more walks and power. ZiPS bets the over in all three categories.

Hee Seop Choi
High: PECOTA (+18.3, .292). Low: Marcel (+8.4, .274)
Average: .253/.367/.465, +12.3, .281
Choi is the kind of player for whom we can expect PECOTA to be higher than Marcel and ZiPS, since his power thus far in his major league career has been strangely absent (relatively speaking) despite having the minor league pedigree and the scoutish projectability. The only major difference among the projections is that PECOTA’s high on his power. I’d probably take the over on that +12.3.

Jeff Kent
High: Marcel (+15.1, .284). Low: ZiPS (+7, .274)
Average: .280/.342/.498, +10.6, .278
Marcel bets the over, ZiPS the under, and PECOTA’s .276/.341/.498 approximates the average.

Milton Bradley
High: ZiPS (+11.6, .281). Low: PECOTA (+7.5, .275)
Average: .278/.370/.447, +10, .278
Not a lot of spread here. Marcel digs his power, ZiPS digs his walks. No real substantive differences.

Jayson Werth
High: Marcel (+4.5, .269). Low: ZiPS (+0.4, .265)
Average: .257/.336/.465, +3, .267
Marcel likes his batting average and not his walks, PECOTA likes his power and not his batting average, and ZiPS only likes his walks. Not a big spread here.

Olmedo Saenz
High: ZiPS (+1.9, .271). Low: PECOTA (-9.2, .258)
Average: .259/.341/.446, -2.2, .265
PECOTA digs his walks but sees a batting average collapse (.244).

Ricky Ledee
High: Marcel (-0.9, .260). Low: PECOTA (-6.9, .249)
Average: .236/.331/.426, -3.8, .255
PECOTA’s not a fan of the Dodger’s older role players, jeering Ledee’s average and power. ZiPS strongly resembles that average line.

Mike Rose
High: Marcel (-3, .258). Low: ZiPS (-4.9, .255)
Average: .254/.349/.395, -4.2, .256
It’s tough to get these projection systems to agree more on one player’s offensive value, although they disagree substantially on how he’ll get there. Marcel is high on his batting average and power but low on his walks (.267/.333/.433), while the other two expect his walks to keep up but PECOTA says yes power no average and ZiPS says yes average no power. Cherry-picking the worst components yields .242/.309/.360; cherry-picking the best yields .267/.378/.433.

Antonio Perez
High: Marcel (-0.6, .260). Low: PECOTA (-11.9, .248)
Average: .260/.337/.406, -7.8, .253
If you want to wager on his rate stats, bet the over since he’ll see a ton more left-handed pitchers per PA than this data assumes. ZiPS roughly matches PECOTA on this one.

Jason Grabowski
High: ZiPS (-7.3, .253). Low: Marcel (-12.6, .245)
Average: .245/.325/.410, -9.4, .249
Only substantial difference here: Marcel doesn’t care for Grabowski’s secondary skills.

Jose Valentin
High: PECOTA (-6.7, .252). Low: ZiPS (-25, .229)
Average: .226/.297/.441, -13.5, .244
PECOTA (.235/.312/.445) and Marcel (.233/.301/.460) pretty much agree on him, with PECOTA more optimistic on his walks and Marcel more optimistic on his power. ZiPS doesn’t share PECOTA’s discipline optimism or Marcel’s power optimism and throws a skunky .209 batting average into the mix. This dish may need even more salt, since Valentin faced southpaws much more in 2004 than he will in 2005 and because his overall offensive value will likely outstrip his raw totals since he’s shown outstanding situational hitting tendencies.

Dioner Navarro
High: Marcel (+6.5, 271). Low: ZiPS (-25.4, .229)
Average: .264/.326/.387, -14, .243
Marcel (.286/.353/.451) seems to have messed this one up, and I’m tempted to say a data error (perhaps deriving from his wildly successful cup of coffee in September) is at fault. ZiPS pegs him at –23.1, so Marcel is clearly the outlier. ZiPS likes his average and not his power while PECOTA likes the power and not the average. It’s hard to imagine the Dodgers will burn a year of his service time this season.

Dave Ross
High: Marcel (-14.1, .235). Low: ZiPS (-22.6, .223)
Average: .228/.311/.410, -17.3, .242
Marcel likes his batting average, PECOTA likes his secondary average, and ZiPS likes neither.

Cesar Izturis
High: ZiPS (-18.6, .235). Low: PECOTA (-25.4, .225)
Average: .273/.312/.361, -21.1, .231
PECOTA, as has become a theme, is higher on his walks than the other two, but it doesn’t think much of his batting average (.261). ZiPS dislikes his “power” but sees him keeping most of his watershed batting average (.284). Marcel splits the difference on average, kind of digs the “power,” and is pessimistic on the walks.

Paul Bako
High: Marcel (-26.7, .224). Low: ZiPS (-41.3, .205)
Average: .224/.299/.321, -34.7, .215
His best projection is lower than anybody else’s worst projection, although it’s close. Kind of like Jose Valentin if you take away all of the home runs. He’s pretty much replacement level with the bat for a catcher, so if he’s about a run per week better than Ross behind the plate he makes sense. I’m not touching evaluations of catchers’ defense with a pole of any reasonable length, so I won’t engage in any conjecture.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Finding Fish in the Fruit Salad

If you do your share of baseball reading, you've probably read several articles recently about the need for scouting and statistical analysis to coexist. I absolutely agree. Sometimes, however, I see something that makes it very hard to stomach the notion that most scouts are competent at what they do.

Sean McAdam's article about the best base stealer in baseball had that effect on me:

Consulting with a number of scouts and front office executives, the usual suspects surfaced: Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford and the White Sox's Scott Podsednik included.

But the one name everyone mentioned, without fail, was the Florida Marlins' Juan Pierre, who has stolen 203 bases over the last four years, an average of nearly 51 per season. Last year, he stole 45 (Podsednik had 70 to lead the majors; Crawford's 59 was tops in the AL).

Still, this isn't who steals the most, or even who runs the fastest. Pierre would lose both of those contests. Crawford may be baseball's fastest player, and Podsednik has more total steals over the last two seasons. It's generally agreed that Ichiro could steal far more often if he -- or the Mariners -- so chose.

But one expert after another said Pierre is the guy they'd want running if they needed someone to steal a big base.

"First of all,'' explains one major league executive, "he's got good instincts. Speed is one thing; instincts are another. He gets great leads, and that shows he's not afraid to get picked off. And that's another trait you look for: fearlessness. The great ones have it.''

Added a longtime scout: "Some guys -- for lack of a better word -- outrun the ball. Pierre's not one of those guys. But he's plenty fast enough and he uses his speed well. He's the kind of guy who maximizes his ability.''

That all looks pretty reasonable... except that Pierre was caught 24 times last season, with his 45-for-69 good for a 65% success rate. If you've read your Tom Ruane, you know that that's just not acceptable. 2004 was Pierre's worst SB year, but his success rate of 75% entering 2004 was only a little bit ahead of the break even point, and for a fast runner that's pretty unacceptable since the marginal value of a stolen base is less. For someone with Pierre's speed to be as unsuccessful as he's been, I'd tend to think of him as one of the worst base stealers in baseball. It's pretty tough to agree with the above statement that "the great ones have [fearlessness]" if that fearlessness means that they make decisions on the basepaths that reduce their team's ability to win the game. In fairness, it was a baseball executive who gave that quotation. However, the longtime scout's assessment that Pierre "maximizes his ability" clearly flies in the face of the available evidence.

Ah, but McAdam has the apologia for Pierre's success rate:

Pierre was caught 24 times in 69 tries last year -- a far less successful ratio than Podsednik, who was nabbed just 13 times in 83 attempts. But that, too, can be deceiving.

"He steals when it means something,'' says another talent evaluator. "He's not padding his total. Everyone knows he's going and he still makes it most of the time. That, to me, is the mark of a really great basestealer.''

That's a reasonable argument; if Pierre runs at times when the stolen base is very clearly the best strategic option, his numbers could be skewed. Let's take a look, using the splits at

2 out: 17 for 23, 74%
0-1 out: 28 for 46, 61%
"Close and Late": 4 for 4, 50%
Not close or not late: 41 for 61, 67%

2 out: 41 for 49, 84%
0-1 out: 61 for 95, 64%
"Close and Late": 10 for 14, 71%
Not close or not late: 102 for 130, 78%

That certainly doesn't support the thesis that McAdams reports; Pierre is actually having a disproportionate number of successes with 2 outs, which is the time when the negative value of a caught stealing is at its lowest, meaning that he's doing the opposite of maximizing his value by failing on so many steals with fewer than two outs. His 64% success in close and late situations over the past three seasons does somewhat skew his numbers, but he's only at 75% otherwise, so it doesn't drive down his numbers that much and he doesn't attempt too many of them anyway. As such, it's extremely difficult for me to lend credence to the scouting evaluations in question.

If you want to know what a 19-year-old player will do five years down the line, scouting will probably tell you as much or more than statistics. But there's a point at which scouting reaches diminished marginal returns, and statistical modeling gets better proportional to the amount of data available. As such, if you want to make an assessment of who the best fielders, baserunners, and so forth are, scouting will do a great job if you don't have the numbers, but if you have a reasonable amount of data collection taking place scouting is, from an evaluation standpoint, not going to add much to the discussion too often.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

2005 Dodgers: Cesar Izturis

You know about Cesar Izturis’ defense. It’s good, if overrated.

You know about Izturis’ batting. He’s a light-hitter, but he’s shown substantial improvement in each of his seasons as a regular. He doesn’t walk much, but that area of his game is certainly improving. He’s not a power hitter, but he gets a decent share of doubles and triples thanks to his speed. Given that his isolated power is so closely tied to his speed, it’s unlikely to expect it to ever exceed .100 or so. All told, Izturis’ value as a hitter depends on whether he can continue to rapidly improve his plate discipline and whether he can maintain a batting average in the .280 neighborhood. There’s reason for optimism, but not for enthusiasm, if that makes sense.

What I want to talk about is Izturis’ baserunning. No doubt his biggest advocates will, after devoting drool to his defense for a few moments, refer to his 25 stolen bases last season. His detractors would counter that he was caught 9 times, so his actual success (73.5%) was just above the 71% general rule for the break-even point on stolen base attempts. Given that Izturis was only 25 for 38 prior to 2004 and that the average player’s stolen base abilities peak at age 24, it’s unlikely to expect Izturis to be a great base theft going forward.

But that’s how we’d evaluate Izturis raw value as a base-stealer, not his baserunning in general. Baserunning value is heavily linked to the quality of hitters hitting behind the base runner. As such, the question about Izturis that interests me most is how can the Dodgers best leverage his baserunning abilities.

Tom Ruane has done the key work in understanding when runners should attempt stolen bases, and you may be surprised by one of his main findings: very fast baserunners tend to actually cost their teams runs by attempting to steal. Few runners are successful enough stealing bases to outweigh the heightened cost of losing a speedy runner from the basepaths. Fast runners on first base increase the chances of scoring runs because they tend to take the extra base on hits and they slightly reduce the number of double plays and substantially decrease the number of fielder’s choices so that more ground balls advance the runner. As such, the break even point for fast runners on SB attempts is much higher because the opportunity cost from a CS is higher and the value added from the successful SB is lower.

Also important is that if better hitters are coming up, the stolen base attempt is less valuable and the CS is much more harmful. In a lineup of nine completely average hitters, it wouldn’t matter where you put your fast runner. However, if the ninth hitter was removed and replaced with a pitcher, the most valuable slot for a base stealer would be #8, since there’s less risk in running and a proportionately higher reward. That’s the value of stolen bases, though; if the player in question also adds value through speedy baserunning, then their overall baserunning value might be more valuable elsewhere.

Now, if you read this blog regularly you’re familiar with the idea that the Dodgers’ offensive composition consists mostly of players who loosely qualify for “Three True Outcomes” status: hitters whose game consists of many home runs, walks, and strike outs. Alternately, it can be said that the hallmark of TTO hitters is providing offensive value without putting the ball into play very often. Jayson Werth, J.D. Drew, Hee Seop Choi, Jose Valentin, and Milton Bradley all very clearly fit the description, even if none of them have quite attained TTO-hero status thus far. When Dave Ross is productive, he also clearly qualifies. Jeff Kent is pretty much the opposite: he’s a well-rounded offensive player who puts the ball in play more than average.

As such, Izturis’ value as a baserunner can be leveraged best by hitting in front of Jeff Kent and refraining from stolen base attempts outside of situations where a one-run strategy is clearly warranted. When Izturis reaches base, his value from base advancement will come into play most if he’s followed by Kent because Kent puts the ball into play more than any of the other Dodger regulars. Thus, if Jim Tracy is hell-bent on having Izturis hit lead off, he should probably also restrict his stolen base attempts and put Kent behind him. That’s not to say that with a player besides Kent in the #2 slot Izturis should be attempting stolen bases; they’re actually of even less marginal utility in front of the TTO types because their walks won’t advance Izturis if he’s just stolen a base. If Izturis is on base with good hitters on deck, he shouldn’t be running in most circumstances, period.

Now, Izturis #1 and Kent #2 would best leverage Izturis’ baserunning value, but that doesn’t mean that his overall value is optimized in that situation. The leadoff hitter will receive the most plate appearances, so having Izturis hit first isn’t likely to be a great idea unless his OBP improves dramatically again. While Izturis’ speed and lack of home runs make him of the right skill set for a lead off hitter, the composition of his ability to get on base is not optimized by hitting first. Lead off hitters have the fewest runners to advance, so the value of Izturis’ solid batting average (if it does indeed remain solid) is partially diminished as a leadoff hitter. As such, he’s not a great choice for hitting leadoff if your team has another fast player who gets on base more often and draws a good deal of walks. A pretty good description of Milton Bradley, isn’t it?

Now, a good deal of Bradley’s value comes from his home run power, which is certainly not maximized by hitting leadoff. However, Bradley doesn’t hit that many home runs, so the loss isn’t too huge. Furthermore, though I hesitate much more than most to look at situational hitting to evaluate future performance, Bradley has shown a huge trend toward performing much better with the bases empty, including his home run power. Moreover, Izturis has been better with runners on and with runners in scoring position, and while the confidence level on those trends maintaining is fairly low given the sample size, it’s more reasonable to expect those trends to continue than to expect them to reverse. As such, Bradley looks like a much better choice to hit leadoff than Izturis. Izturis should probably figure in at seventh or eighth. I expect to get more into the nuts and bolts of the Dodgers’ lineup construction in the future, so stay tuned if this interests you.

But what about the money? Izturis gets between either $9.9m for 3 years or or $15.45m for 4 years, with another $450K possible if he wins the next three gold gloves. That’s not a great deal for an arbitration eligible player, and it’s certainly a high risk deal relative to arbitration. The reward kicks in, obviously, if Izturis continues the growth he’s shown at the plate and turns into a top-tier shortstop. I’m not sold that that outweighs the risk involved, but if the Dodgers got a good insurance policy than it probably does. If Izturis puts up the .284/.323/.360 line ZiPS projects, he’s only a few runs off of the .267/.313/.393 the average NL shortstop put up last season. Expanding the numbers to include the AL shortstops as well, Izturis is a little further behind the pack, but if he matches his defensive production from last season then he figures to be a few runs above average overall among major league shortstops. Given his youth, he figures to add in a few extra runs on top of that, so he projects as a marginally above average shortstop for the next few seasons. He certainly projects much better than the Cristian Guzman, who will make more money over the next four seasons, though comparing him to a free agent is misleading even before factoring in the Jim Bowden factor. Izturis is worth four or five mil per, and for an arbitration player over the next three seasons three and a half per is about right. As far as deals to buy out the entirety of a player’s arbitration years go, this is a good one.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I Can't Think of Any Pedro Feliz Puns

I've been very busy, so my apologies for not posting for the past week. I'll try to get some in-depth stuff up about the Gagne and Izturis deals soon, but in the mean time I've got a little polemic about a different NL West signing.

Brian Sabean recently inked Pedro Feliz, and here's the requisite reportage that raised my eyebrows:

The 29-year-old Feliz, considered to be one of the team's key players for the future, gets a $200,000 signing bonus and will earn base salaries of $2,225,000 in 2005 and $3,625,000 in 2006. He can also make an additional $450,000 in bonuses each season based on plate appearances, and his 2006 salary could rise to as high as $4.1 million, depending on plate appearances this year.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean and manager Felipe Alou are committed to trying to find a starting spot for Feliz this year. They believe he's ready to be an everyday player.

Feliz hit .276 with 22 homers and 84 RBI last season, playing regularly for the first time, and made $925,000. Alou had promised him 400 at-bats, but Feliz finished with 503 and Alou sees him as a 600-650 at-bat player who can drive in more than 100 runs a season.

He played 70 games at first base last season, 51 at third, 20 at shortstop and two each in left and right field.

Feliz is primarily a third baseman, and despite the friendly triple crown stats his offensive value is fairly limited because walks:Feliz::flyballs:Lowe. His offense has been pretty much league average, which makes him a below average offensive contributor at the corners. His defense is, based on most evaluations I'm familiar with, hovering just above average.

For all of this, Feliz makes $2.425 this season and $3.625 in 2006, with up to $450K per season in plate appearance-based incentives.

Now, I'm not the biggest Edgardo Alfonzo or J.T. Snow fan, but Feliz is hardly an upgrade over either one of them, and I have no clue how a player of his caliber and age can be considered "one of the team's key player's of the future." Well, I take that back: if your methods of performance analysis are limited to the triple crown stats and if you think the average player's prime is ages 36-39, then this deal makes some sense, and that may more or less represent the world Brian Sabean is functioning in.

If Feliz is a regular, then he makes $6.9m for two seasons. That, by itself, doesn't look too bad; the general rule is that a league average regular makes $4 million per, and it's not unreasonable for a 40th percentile kind of player like Feliz to be making $3.4 per. That is, unless you own exclusive negotiating rights, in which case it's ridiculous. By contrast, the Dodgers signed Jose Valentin, a similar low OBP high SLG offensive performer whose offensive projection is roughly the same (with the obvious caveat that it's more walk and less single driven). Valentin, however, also has the distinction of being one of the best defensive players in baseball. Even if it's fiated that Valentin has to be used at third instead of shortstop, Valentin should be earning more, but his 2005 salary will exceed Feliz' average annual cost over the next two seasons by between $475K and $25K, depending on Feliz' playing time. Valentin was a free agent; Feliz was offered his contract to buy out his arbitration seasons. There's no way that, given the circumstances, Feliz should be making roughly the same amount.

Now, it's also true that we might expect Feliz and Valentin to make about the same amount because Feliz possesses overvalued skills and a good chunk of Valentin's skill set is undervalued. That, however, is not a reason to pay full price on Feliz; even if the arbitors are to get gooey-eyed from Feliz's triple crown stats and "youth", that doesn't mean the Giants have to pay for him. Non-tender him and move along. Finding a right handed corner infielder on the cheap who will give you league average is pretty darn easy.

What's more is that overpaying for Feliz is largely a result of the Giants' uberveteran philosophy. If their infield had a higher health index than that of Snow, Durham, Vizquel, and Durham, they wouldn't need to spend a lot for the first guy off the bench. Instead, they've pursued a strategy that typically requires both slightly overpaying veterans in free agency and having to overpay for young backups. There's somewhat less risk involved in this strategy because a major injury will have limited effect, but it requires overpaying all around. Given that the Giants are apparently quite restricted financially, it's not a strategy that makes a lot of sense to me. It's with its merits, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Bag Edition

Here's a collection of questions I've received one way or another recently and my attempts to supply answers. Names have been removed to protect the innocent. No mail featuring the word "st0ck" made this mailbag, even though I receive about 20 times as much of that.

I don't get your rule 5 column. Matt Kemp was drafted at age 18, so he's not eligible. And Dowdy, Hamilton, and Hammes look pretty useless to me. Adding six players to the roster happens almost every year.

An apology is in order. Matthew Kemp made my list twice - once as Kemp and once as Brett Dowdy, who for whatever reason I confused with Kemp. My credibility is shot. Kemp indeed won't be eligible; I simply thought he would be because when I was quickly checking, "Midwest City" next to his named made me think he was drafted out of community college.

My point, however, was not "Look at these 10 guys who'll need to be protected next year!" My point was that there will be more players to protect than is typical next season, and there aren't many players who are scheduled to come off the roster. As of today, the Dodgers have 40 players on the 40-man roster, which shakes down to 39 with Dreifort on the 60-day DL.

Of those 40, 6 (Perez, Drew, Ledee, Kent, Alvarez, Lowe) are due guaranteed money next season. Two players (Dessens and Ishii) will have club options, and five (Weaver, Dreifort, Bako, Saenz, Valentin) will be free agents. Six (Carrara, Gagne, Penny, Izturis, Bradley, and super-2 Choi) will be arbitration-eligible. The other 21 players on the roster will be due the minimum.

So the Dodgers can be expected to discard seven players, but it's hard to see more turn over than that without trades.

How many spots will the Dodgers need? Well, that depends on how many players the Dodgers will have worth protecting. Guzman, Loney, LaRoche, Broxton, Miller, Navarro, and Megrew will all almost certainly deserve protection. After that, there's a crop of pitchers - Schmoll, Hammes, Hamilton, and the three acquired from Arizona - that have a solid shot of being worth protection. Schmoll had an outstanding season in 2004, and if he keeps it up will definitely be worth prtoecting. Hammes has done poorly so far, but his ceiling is high enough that if he has a good season next year he'd be worth protecting. Hamilton is a lefty who tore through A-ball at age 21, and if he repeats his 2004 performance in AA he'd almost certainly be taken in the Rule 5 Draft. Juarez' peripherals were excellent in 2004 and will probably be worth protection. If Beltran Perez steps up, he'll be worth protection as well.

So even if the Dodgers are ready to replace Weaver, Ishii, Valentin, Saenz, Dessens, and Bako with what they have on hand (which would probably be the case if Jackson, Hanrahan, Navarro, and Guzman or Antonio Perez step up, but otherwise could be difficult), they would still have no space for the crop of second tier pitching prospects.

Is that a reason to panic? Of course not. It is, however, a reason to believe that some of the young players currently on the roster or some of the players who are coming up will be traded. That doesn't mean Guzman or Loney is on the block; it does mean that we can expect at least players like Chin-Feng Chen, Joey Thurston, Dave Ross, and Henri Stanley to be moved.

You might be thinking that those guys are no big loss. Well, that's true in a sense; none of them look to have very high ceilings at this point. However, those are also all players who will have some value at least as role players at the major league level. Each one has value, and it would be unfortunate if they were simply discarded without the Dodgers receiving anything of value in return.

The argument is not that the Dodgers should go out and trade a bunch of young players before they expire; the argument is that, as a fan, I expect that these resources will be put to use soon.

* * *

I have been thinking about it and thinking about it. Why overpay for Perez or Lowe? Your answer has been as compelling as any I have seen, but I wanted to run something else by you.

Could it have something to do with the age old analogy of good pitching beats good hitting? Anotherwards, even though the wins shares generated by signing #2 SP's are less than if the cash was instead spent on superb offense, when push comes to shove, all those good bats you spent money on will underperform in the playoffs when they run up against good pitching.

Would the Dodgers be better off throwing 5 cheap SP's pitchers out there(say Dessens, Jackson, Harahan, Ketchner and Alvarez) and instead spend the 35 million being allocated to our rotation on Varitek, Beltre and Delgado?

Our lineup would be awesome(Izturis, Bradley, Drew, Beltre, Delgado, Kent, Varitek, Werth) and I think would be worth more win shares than having our current starting staff. In the playoffs though, wouldn't we be worse off?

For one, why pay for Delgado when you've already got Choi? For another, as unpopular as letting Beltre go was, his defense is replaced by Valentin and his offense, while excellent in 2004, is a major candidate for regression and it's hard to figure the difference between him and Valentin is worth $10 million.

Varitek is another similar case, as the difference between him and Mike Rose is not worth nearly $10 million. To pry him from Boston would have taken a bigger contract than the questionable one Boston signed him to, and he's a bigger long-term risk than either Lowe or Perez.

Furthermore, as I mentioned on Friday, there is a long-term cost in starting players' service time clocks early. Throwing Jackson or Hanrahan out there now is a short-term fix with long-term risk, so it can certainly be argued that part of the cost of paying for pitchers is offset by maximizing the long-term value of the prospects. By the way, Ketchner is coming off of ulnar nerve transposition, so he wouldn't be ready to start off the season anyway.

Is it a move about the playoffs? Well, using the log 5 method it really doesn't make a difference how a team is composed. If a team has a pitching staff with a .600 winning percentage and a .500 winning percentage offense, they'll have a .600 winning percentage against .500 teams. If they have a .600 winning percentage offense and .500 pitching, it's the same thing. Whether the average playoff opponent is pitching heavy or offense heavy makes no difference - versus a .550/.550 team, a .600/.500 team goes .500 and a .500/.600 team goes .500. An .800/.273 team does the same as a .273/.800 team against equal opposition. There are very, very marginal factors that can change the equation, but the point is that teams with better pitching don't have a structural advantage in the playoffs. (Don't confuse this point with a related issue of how the team's pitching is distributed; teams with three great starters and two mediocre starters obviously do better in the playoffs.)

It's certainly tough to swallow the amount being given Lowe and Perez, but their value relative to their potential replacements is much higher than Delgado's, Beltre's, or Varitek's.

* * *

do you know a site that give contract status and
salaries for players? espn lists their salary of the
current year, but i was looking for more info.

Dugout Dollars is the most comprehensive site, but at this point in time it's a little out of date, and if you're not using Internet Explorer it doesn't show up on the screen properly. For some things, it's certainly worth opening up IE to access it.

For everything else, Google it. Last time I checked, by the way, ESPN only has 2004 salary data listed.

* * *

i'm a little new at some of these statistics, as well
as to baseball blogs. both are very cool.

why is +10 a conservative estimate for choi? and what
does +10 mean?

and as a side question, do we need a catcher?

I tend to go a little fast and heavy with this stuff, so I apologize. +10 means that, over the course of 625 plate appearances, a player will be worth 10 offensive runs above the average major league position player. If you look at Choi's player card from Baseball Prospectus, you'll see that he was 2 runs above average with Chicago in 2003 and 13 runs above average last season in limited playing time. If you prorate that over 625 PA, he looks pretty darn good. By comparison, Green had 20 and 16 RAA in those seasons while logging about as many plate appearances as a player can.

There are several different ways to project a player's performance in an upcoming season. Among statheads, the most common involves regression formulas using different metrics. PECOTA and ZiPS are the two projection systems that you might hear the most about if you read internet baseball content, and they use similar regression formulas. PECOTA is more sophisticated in that it does more work to establish what population the player is in in order to establish what's called the player's "true talent level." ZiPS works on less data, so it's model doesn't incorporate quite as much and regresses a player's performance to more flat means. Anyway, ZiPS (PECOTA isn't available yet) has a projection which, prorated over 625 PA, has Green and Choi dead even (Choi comes out .03 runs ahead). I've got my own projection system I'm working on to get a little experience in this area, and in its latest incarnation Choi comes out a little ahead. Now, the wild card here is Green's labrum, which should probably make any projection system favor Choi because Green's population, statistically, should be modelled on players with torn labrums. However, there are certainly some who believe that Green is now "fully healed" and that his performance after the all-star break, rather than his performance in May and June, is a better baseline for his performance moving forward.

Ah, but how do we figure out these run values? The easiest way to do it accurately for a full system is called linear weights. It's a system first devised by Pete Palmer, and for basic performance analysis it's the clearest metric.

Do the Dodgers need a catcher? I'm not sure if I'm optimistic or pessimistic on Mike Rose. He's the minor league free agent catcher the Dodgers signed in the offseason. I predicted him hitting .245/.335/.340 on the blog last week (based on my projection system). The average NL catcher his .258/.321/.392 last season, so he's not far off average for a catcher; that's a difference of only a couple runs offensively, and I don't know much about his defense.

Was I being optimistic or pessimistic? ZiPS predicts a .252/.362/.370, so there's reason for optimism. Considering the shape the Dodgers are in elsewhere, they certainly don't "need" a catcher.

And if you're wondering, yes, I'm tip-toeing around addressing David Ross for a reason. I'm completely baffled by that guy, and it's going to take a lot of energy to write something worthwhile about him. Ditto for Paul Bako.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


"Frank, how's it going."

"Going well, Paul. Jamie told me the darnedest joke this morning..."

"That's great, Frank. Listen, I wanted to talk about the payroll."

"OK, go ahead."

"Here's the thing: we're really getting to the point of marginal returns. We've got two guys we're looking at, both of them are pretty good. Each one's worth about five or six per."

"What are they asking?"

"That's the thing. We can get one for three at eight and the other for four at nine."

"Well, who else can we go after?"

"There's not much out there. And compared to the other stuff that's out there, these guys are much smaller injury risks."

"So we'd be giving each one about two and a half or three extra per year, over what, seven years? So, like, we're looking at $20 million extra here?"

"Yeah. Versus just picking up two guys off the street, we're looking at a difference of maybe ten wins here. Well, it gets complicated there, but certainly we don't have a lot of options if we don't overpay.

"What about the playoffs?"

"Yeah, that' where I was gonna go. These guys are worth that five or six as regular season players, but if we leverage their extra value at playoff time, they could be worth a little more."

"All right, what about further on down the line?"

"Well, the thing is that, well, there's not a lot out there next year, so even if we can get Joel and Edwin to take over for Kaz and Jeff, we'd still need to get someone. And for '07, it's pretty hard to say we can get Chad, Ryan, and Greg all ready at the same time, so with the attrition rate we'd probably need someone there."

"Okay, so it makes some sense to overpay by some here."

"Yeah, but we're still looking at overpaying by a considerable amount. The thing is, though, that I'm wondering if looking at everyone's value in dollar terms - well, I think we're getting to the point of diminishing returns. That is, if we're pinching pennies on every guy, we end up with a lower payroll and a team that's not quite as good. So, we've done a really good job of getting all the position players on the cheap and our bullpen costs almost nothing past Eric. So, I guess what I'm saying is the only way for us to leverage the competitive advantage that our payroll gives us is to overpay."

"Okay, I see what you're saying. But what about a couple years down the line?"

"Yeah, that's the other part. I mean, we're just stocked in the mid-minors, so unless all our player development goes haywire, we can expect to have this kind of situation for a while. Plus, we still got Darren coming off the books, which covers all the arbitration raises and then some."

"All right, so what you're saying is there's a reason for us to overpay here?"

"Yeah, I mean, we can keep the payroll at eighty-seven and make 95% of the cash, or we can push up to a hundred to make it the full way for the regular season. There's no way to predict what would happen in the playoffs, but we've done some work on that and we think this maybe helps us there enough that it's a pretty neutral investment."

"So what you're saying is, we have a payroll advantage that we can't leverage unless we do some of these ugly deals, and in the end it might be enough to pay off?"

"Yeah, I think that's how I see it. So really, my question to you is this: should I invest that money in these players, or should I invest it in player development, where the returns might be diminishing too?"

"Wow, that's a tough question. You know what? We've got to go for it. These jackasses whining about some fire sale - yeah, let's do it."

"Well, wait now, Frank, let's not get irrational. I mean, they're gonna forget once they see us winning, which we'll do either way."

"Yeah, but they'll forget more if we win more, and we can do that. I don't want anything going wrong with this season. If we win that World Series, we get a free pass for a long time."

"What's that free pass worth to you, Frank?"

"I won't get into that, but it's worth enough for you to sign these guys."

Friday, January 07, 2005

Wha wha wha???

I come home for a couple hours before going out again, and this is what I have to put up with? My first reaction is that at least one of the following must be true:

1. The anonymous sources being oft-cited right now claiming the Dodgers are on the verge of signing Derek Lowe to a 4 year, $36 million contract are either have some extraordinary ulterior motives or are victims of a bizarre and expertly executed practical joke.

2. The Dodgers know a lot about Derek Lowe that I don't know and that Dave Wallace either didn't know or ignored until October.

What to make of these reports? My instincts say option #1. But let's do some optimism first.

For one, the starting pitching market in free agency looks pretty thin next season. If the Dodgers want to pick someone up, this might be the only time to do it.

Additionally, the Dodgers do have several injury risks on the staff. This is insurance, I suppose.

Lowe had an excellent season in 2002, maybe he'll repeat that? Thing was, that was built on a lot of luck and defense. His DIPS was only 3.66. Not so much. The past two seasons are probably much closer to his true talent level.

Lowe is an extreme groundball pitcher who had terrible luck last season. While I argued earlier this week that Dodger Stadium is a good destination for fly ball pitchers, that doesn't in itself reduce the value of ground ball pitchers. While I made an argument for an organizational philosophy that emphasized outfield defense and fly ball pitching, the counter-argument is that the ability to acquire starting pitching at any time is so limited that putting all one's eggs in such an organizational philosophy reduces one's options enough to nullify the advantage. This, of course, would be an example, as a limited free agent pitching market limits options.

It's not as if the Dodgers have actually implemented the strategy I advocated; they have (I think DodgerRoger used this phrase in the comments) the UZR all-star team in the infield. Based on past UZR data, I'll suggest roughly a +25, +10, +10, -8 infield for the Dodgers, which translates to a context neutral 37 runs saved above average over the course of a season. Meanwhile, their outfield should be around +25 by my estimation. Since Lowe is a groundball pitcher, he leverages the former much more than the latter. Going with some rough park and league adjustments and adjusting for Lowe's batted ball type ratios and the major difference between Dodger Stadium and Fenway, I translated Lowe's 2003 and 2004 performances to ERA's for the 2005 Dodgers. In making those translations, I didn't look at Lowe's defense-dependent numbers, with the exception of doubles (I could get into modeling that by batted ball types, but it's late).

What do the translations look like?

2003: 3.64
2004: 3.61

Looks pretty cool, huh? Keep in mind, of course, that a lot of the value added there doesn't belong to Lowe, per se. If I run those numbers for a completely average pitcher, the ERA looks like 3.90. Now, the average reliever has better numbers than the average starter, so let's say our baseline for the average starter would be a 4.05 ERA and that Lowe will be worth an extra .40 in ERA. Further, let's say Lowe can go 210 innings and the average starter only 160. If those extra 50 innings go to that average 3.90 pitcher, how much value does Lowe add? 10 runs. Yes, 10 runs.

Okay, maybe that's not fair. Maybe that average pitcher would put more strain on the bullpen, and his extra innings go to a replacement level pitcher who wows with a 5.00 ERA. Well, now Lowe's making us 16 runs versus this average cat. Judged by the standard that the completely average full-time player is worth $4 million, an extra $5 million for 16 wins looks pretty shoddy.

But maybe the Dodgers can't get that completely average guy. They have to allocate those 160 IP to Edwin Jackson or Joel Hanrahan or D.J. Houlton or a bewildered Elmer Dessens, and get a 5.00 ERA out of the deal, on top of that 5.00 strain on the bullpen. Now, Lowe saves a whopping 33 runs, or 3-3.5 wins.

Since they'd have to pay that replacement $320K, that's three and a half wins for the bargain price of $8.68 million! Score! And all it costs them is their first round pick in the amateur draft. Looks pretty rotten.

Then again, there is something to be said for it. It would help the long term development of Jackson/Hanrahan et al to stay in the minors, and it wouldn't start their service clock so quickly. So it could be argued, then, that if those guys will be good to go in 2006, signing Lowe or someone of his ilk means they'll get that prospects' 2008 season at the league minimum instead of at the arbitration price, and they could also hold onto the player for another year of his peak at the end for less than he'd make in free agency. Fair enough, I suppose; maybe worth $4 million.

Then again, that's not an issue with D.J. Houlton. If they don't use Houlton, he's lost anyway. Still, maybe there's not enough faith in D.J. to stop this.

On top of that, the hypothetical average pitcher isn't really available at this point. So getting Lowe for $9 million in 2005 maybe is worth 3.5 wins and saves another $4 million in the long run. Not bad; $1.4 million per marginal win. But there's still the matter of that first round pick; Logan White's got a pretty smoking record right now, so let's arbitrarily assign a $1 million price to losing that pick, since I don't have the data to quantify it otherwise. That's still only $1.7 million per marginal win. With the Dodgers' payroll advantage, that's not bad.


they still have to pay Lowe $27 million for three years in his thirties!!!

I have no idea what entity is responsible for this rumor, whether it's true or not. But that sure doesn't seem characteristic, now does it? $27 million for a pitcher whose performance the past two seasons is only a little bit above average? Keep in mind, for him to add a lot of value from leveraging the Dodgers' infield, they have to continue to have an excellent infield defense, and the three main defensive pieces are under the Dodgers' control for 1, 2, and 3 years, respectively. Maybe Joel Guzman is close and will be converted to a superb defensive third baseman. And defense is typically undervalued by other teams. Still, that's a big investment that requires continued leveraging, and it's tough for me to see how this is a worthwhile long term investment.

Maybe there's something about aging patterns of groundball pitchers I don't know about, or maybe DePo is, in a shocking turn, giving in to the conventional wisdom. Or maybe there's enough marginal revenue to be gained at playoff time that a slight increase in the team's odds in October is worthwhile.


But I'm really, really creeped out.

[Edit: One last point: at least Lowe won't be affected by the loss of foul ground since he gets no infield pop-ups anyway; infield flies in 1% of PA last season.]

Back on the Ledge

Baseball Prospectus announced today that they're entering the crisis negotiation business. Their first target is Mark Shapiro, who reportedly is offering Kevin Millwood $7 million:

Maybe they think they can afford to chuck $7 million on a look-see. A much smarter look-see is the Red Sox signing of Wade Miller for the same length of time but at a fraction of the price.

Miller and Millwood were fairly comparable in 2002-03 (combined VORP of 67.4 for Millwood and 60.7 for Miller). Both ran into arm trouble last year and missed a considerable number of starts. When they did pitch, though, Miller was superior, boasting a VORP of 21.8 to Millwood's 9.3. Both have comparable strikeout rates (within a quarter-K per nine). Miller is two years younger.

Millwood, of course, has more "experience." . . . To our way of thinking, the Red Sox established what the market value is for moderately successful starting pitchers coming off injuries is when they signed Miller to one year at $1.5 mil. Because of that, anything beyond $2 million for Millwood is excessive on the Indians' part.

Now, there's a lot of fine analysis in there. However, a couple things stand out to me that I think are valuable lessons.

First, don't look at dollar figures too abstractly. Miller gets $1.5 million guaranteed, yes. But he also gets $3 million in incentives. Millwood is a pitcher who has, apparently, already recovered from his injury. The Indians deal has been held up for a while, reportedly, because the Indians are requiring Millwood to submit to an extensive battery of medical tests. Miller, on the other hand, still has a ways to go, and there are reasons to doubt whether he'll be able to pitch this season at all. So the cost of Miller's "look-see" is $1.5 million, and the cost of his performance is between $0 and $3 million. On the other hand, the Indians look like they'll only make this deal if they're fairly certain that Millwood can pitch a full season.

Second, all in one stats are what they are. VORP is value over replacement player, not talent or ability. For pitchers, VORP is runs above replacement per innings pitched times innings pitched. It's based on runs allowed and park factors. It doesn't make any allowances for defense or luck. Miller had a big edge in 2004, yes, but was that due more to his performance or to noise like sample size and defense? Let's take a basic look. I'm not gonna go all out on this, so here is each player's raw ERA, DIPS (defense independent pitching), ERC (component ERA), and BIPA (balls in play average) for the past five years. I've also added ERC% (ERC/ERA), DIP% (DIPS/ERA), and D/E (DIPS/ERC). First Millwood:

2000 3.84 4.03 4.66 0.824 0.865 0.285 1.049
2001 4.28 4.72 4.31 0.993 1.095 0.266 1.103
2002 2.89 3.45 3.24 0.892 1.065 0.264 1.194
2003 3.39 3.69 4.01 0.845 0.92 0.278 1.088
2004 4.63 3.79 4.85 0.955 0.781 0.321 0.819

So it is pretty evident that the point about each player's age is relevant, as Millwood appears to be in gradual decline by DIPS. However, last year was the only season besides his injury-ruined 2001 where his ERC was over four, and until last season his ERC had outperformed his DIPS, indicating that the apparent decline in his balls in play skills last season was probably more a factor of sample size and luck. He has routinely had an ERA higher than his component ERA, so perhaps a projection for him should figure he's worse with runners on. However, the magnitude of that going forward probably won't be as large, so maybe DIPS/.95 is a decent baseline. That baseline would yield a 3.63, 3.88, and 3.99 ERA in each of the past three seasons, not park adjusted.

Now, let's look at Wade Miller:

2000 4.39 4.4 5.14 0.854 0.856 0.285 1.002
2001 3.6 4.39 3.4 1.059 1.291 0.251 1.219
2002 3.63 3.63 3.28 1.107 1.107 0.281 1
2003 3.71 4.02 4.13 0.898 0.973 0.274 1.084
2004 3.78 4.58 3.35 1.128 1.367 0.253 1.212

He sure outperformed his DIPS last season, didn't he? There's really not any pattern here that I can discern which would indicate that he has balls in play skills or pitching with runners on base skills that make DIPS a poor baseline of his performance. His BIP skills have never been below the DIPS baseline, so let's go ahead and be optimistic by using DIPS/1.05 as his baseline: his ERA's the past 3 seasons would be 3.56, 3.83, and 4.36.

Millwood pitched dozens more innings in each of the past three seasons, and his performance indicators aren't really worse than Miller's. Is Miller really the pitcher that you want? Certainly, there's an argument to be made. But if the Indians have reason to expect a full season from Millwood, then the Miller price to compare him to is $4.5 million.

Is Millwood worth $7 mil? Would that be a better deal than the Miller deal? The answers to each are probably not quite, but I'd have to do a lot more work to increase my confidence level on that. My point is, the answer to those questions lies in in-depth performance analysis, not VORP. So if you try to talk Shapiro down from the ledge, you better know why he's out there in the first place instead of inferring the answer is simply "experience."

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Free Agents With "Z" In Their Last Names For Whom the Differences Between U.S. Cellular Field And Dodger Stadium Would Be of Some Significance

So the Dodgers at some point entered negotiations with Esteban Loaiza, according to various non-credible sources and possibly some slightly credible sources.

In my December post about the remaining free agent pitchers, I had Loaiza ranked pretty low. As in, rated below Aaron Sele low. Well, that's kind of an exaggeration, since I "rated" them by an ERA projection based just on 2004 data, not value. So let's re-think Loaiza. There have been four Loazia's of late: the mediocre Loaiza we knew from his entire career, the 2003 Loaiza who was a legitimate Cy Young candidate, the slightly below average 2004 Loaiza with the White Sox, and the unmitigated disaster Loaiza with the Yankees.

Looking at quality of batters faced, the 2003 Loaiza certainly benefited from weak competition (remember the Tigers?), so his feats should be slightly tempered. Likewise, the Loaiza with the Yankees' average opponent was pretty handy with a bat, so that disaster can be tempered a bit (just a bit). There's also the NYY media factor and the Mel Stottlemyre factor involved with that one, so I'm not sure how to incorporate that performance into this analysis.

So for now let's just look at 2004 Chicago Loaiza and decide that bizarro 2003 and Yankees Loaiza's are hoaxes that balance each other out. He gave up his share of home runs, but part of that is certainly the homerriffic U.S. Cellular Field. Adjusting for that, his FIP is a friendlier 4.80, which is nicer and translates to 4.46 in the NL. Loaiza's about neutral in all of his batted ball type peripherals, with substantial year to year swings. To translate that for the doubles advantage of a renovated Dodger Stadium, we get 4.38 ERA wise, and the Dodgers defense should lower that down to the 3.98 area or 4.15 if Shawn Green is hanging out in the outfield for most of that time. Keep in mind, that's what his 2004 Chicago performance would look like translated into a Dodger Stadium 2005 context. That's not an assertion of what his performance will be at Dodger Stadium; it's just a translation.

Loaiza had a one year spike in K/PA in 2003, and that's gone. He also had a steady increase in BB/PA over the past four years even before he was traded to New York, so I don't think it's likely that he's set for an improvement in his peripherals.

He could be valuable, no doubt, but I really don't see him as a likely value at anything over, say, $2.5 million. I think that the difference between having Loaiza in the rotation and having D.J. Houlton as a fifth starter whose spot is skipped when there are days off is fewer than 10 runs over the course of the season.

Then again, what I don't know about each of these guys could fill books. It could turn out that the real Loaiza was what we saw in 2003 and he pitched poorly before and after that as part of some master plan to be in the Dodgers price range this offseason. Sometimes - just sometimes - I get a little over-TINSTAPP'ed, and extend that line of thinking to all pitchers: there is no such thing as a pitcher (though I prefer the more Magrittesque ceci n'est pas un pitcher).

Then again, I wouldn't bet on each of the Dodgers' starters remaining healthy in 2005, so getting Loaiza as injury insurance makes some sense. Or rather, keeping Houlton on the bullpen, getting Loaiza for under $2.5 million, and either returning Sanchez or Brazoban to the minors or dealing one of them to free up the roster spot would make some sense. But I'm not sure how much sense.

[EDIT: Since I didn't make this clear, I'll say that at this point I think it's wise for both Hanrahan and Jackson to pitch at least a half a season in AAA. With neither having had success above AA, I don't consider either one a substantial candidate for the rotation at this point, but obviously that could change. And yes, I know the same is true of Houlton, but as a Rule 5 pick there's an incentive to use him.]


An actual free agent with a Z-inclusive surname has apparently signed. He goes by the name Pierzynski, and his price tag was $2.25 million. Before, I looked at his numbers and said that the difference between him and Mike Rose wasn't worth $3.7 million. Is it worth $1.9 million? I don't think so. As you'll recall, Pierzynski walks less than Jared did before he started eating at Subway, and he doesn't hit many home runs. Obviously, he's not the type that benefits from Dodger Stadium. Looking at his past stats, I'd expect that with the Dodgers he'd probably have an ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average, or extra bases per at bat) around .120-.130; even if he rebounds his batting average up to .310 he'll be about .310/.345/.440, with .300/.335/.425 being a better baseline, IMO. That's an above average offensive season in Dodger Stadium, especially for a catcher.

However, while I think Pierzynski will rebound his raw numbers from last season, I don't think it will be by as much as I used to. While his improved strike-out rate looked promising, it appears to have translated into more fly balls and fewer line drives. He's becoming more aggressive, and it's a bad thing. I don't have the infield fly data, but I wouldn't be surprised if an increase there rather than just bad luck was responsible for his lower average. Even if those fly balls aren't in the infield, they're not gonna help much in Dodger Stadium. His line drive rate seems to have fallen from the .230-.240 rate in 2001-2002 to only .190. Now that I've broken it down by balls in play, his 2003 clearly benefited from luck more than his 2004 was hurt by it. His (Hits - Line Drives)/AB was .11 in 2001 and 2002, .14 in 2003, and .09 in 2005. Given that he's swinging away more and that his speed is likely declining, it looks like 2004's raw numbers might be what to expect. In Dodger Stadium, that's even worse, since he'd lose some of those doubles. Given that SBC actually increases singles, doubles, and triples, I crunched the numbers and came out with a luck-neutral .268/.311/.394 for a hitting environment (tough on doubles/triples, neutral on HR/hits) like what I expect Dodger Stadium to be post-renovation.

Furthermore, Pierzynski's hacktastic approach obviously doesn't conform to the Dodger's modus operandi of seeing more pitches in order to tire opposing pitchers. I've yet to study the claimed benefits, but if there is indeed a significant benefit Pierzynski isn't interested in it. He placed dead last among major league players qualified for the batting title in pitches per plate appearance. So he's got that going for him, which is bad.

Mike Rose, on the other hand, looks a lot like post-Subway Jared when it comes to walking, and even though his batting average will probably reside around .240-.250 his OBP should hit .330 or so. A .90-.100 or so ISO should be about right for Rose, so let's say a .245/.335/.340 line. Rose doesn't rake, but the difference between him and Pierzynski comes out to 10 runs if you use the .300/.335/.425 baseline projection for Pierzynski. If my more thorough analysis is closer to what to expect from AJP, Rose comes out a fraction of a run ahead.

Pierzynski is pretty average behind the plate. I don't know much about Rose's defense; if he's very bad, well, picking up Pierzynski may have been worth it. If not, Pierzynski seems like he would have been a waste of cash if you ask me.

That being said, the friendly confines of U.S. Cellular Field will make Pierzynski look good enough that we can expect to hear some people whining that we should have gotten that guy with the fancier batting average and more RBI's who came cheap instead of this Rose fella. And they're entitled to holding that opinion, even if it's probably wrong.

Goshdarn it, Green

So Shawn Green has, apparently, refused his trade. How big of a blow is this for the Dodgers?

Even at his peak, Green was only worth about 50 runs above average offensively, and the most conservative estimate possible for Hee Seop Choi is +10. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Green will repeat his peak numbers; just because an injury happened in between doesn't mean that a player will repeat his peak when he's three seasons older once "fully healed." I mean, Green would have to be as good now as he was at age 26-27 to put up 35 runs above average offensively; he only had those two dominating offensive seasons. So if we're generous to Green, we can pencil him in for +35 offensively. All right, that's an extra 25 offensive runs versus our conservative Choi projection, on top of which we can add 5 runs each for fielding and defense over Hee Seop. So Green, if we give him the benefit of several substantial doubts, is worth 45 runs over Choi, or 4-5 wins.

"Ah-hah!", you say, "they don't have to give up Choi to keep Green! He's a useful bench player." Okay, fair enough. Choi would be a good hitter from the bench. Can't argue that. But that's not a lot of value; since we're using that conservative +10 run prediction for Choi and a conservative -10 for the guys who would take that slot - Brian Myrow or Jason Grabowski - that's 20 runs over a 650 PA season. But Choi would only be used as a pinch hitter in that scenario since the only place he can play is first base, so at the very most we're talking one fifth of those 650 PA, or 4 runs. Plus, if Choi is the lefty pinch-hitter, the Dodgers are pretty short of bench space; there's the 8 starters, there's Antonio Perez, Olmedo Saenz, and Ricky Ledee, and with Choi that's 12. Assuming the Dodgers carry 11 pitchers, that leaves two spots on the bench, and one of those has to be a catcher. That means the Dodgers would have to choose between a middle infielder and a fifth outfielder. That's not a friendly choice; if somebody goes down with a one-week injury, the Dodgers would have to either DL the player to call up someone else, losing a week of the starter's value, or would have to go pretty bare bones at that position in the meantime, meaning either Ledee or Valentin would have to start against southpaws a few times and an in-game injury to someone else would mean the Dodgers would have to get pretty creative in the defense. Well, that pretty much cancels out those four bench runs from Choi.

"But wait!", you insist, "Green could also be used in the outfield!" Keen observation - but no value added. An injury to an outfielder would, absent Green, put a Ledee/Chen (or whomever would be the RHB fifth outfielder) platoon in place. Going conservative again, that's a -5 offensive combo with average defense. So if Green switches to the outfield, we get Choi back full-time with his conservative +10 offense, a +15 offensive swing. But Green's defense in RF is in the -20 range, so that advantage is negated, we lose those 10 fielding and baserunning runs from Choi again, making this a -15 run transaction, not to mention this mitigates the Choi pinch-hitting value added. No help here.

"Yeah," you say, "but Choi could still play as a backup for Green which would help Green's numbers." You're right; if Green rests more often, his value goes up. But the way to do that is to sit him against left-handed pitching, against whom he just can't hit well. Olmedo Saenz should be playing for Green regardless of who happens to be pitching, and that doesn't add any value to the favorable +35 offense estimate for Green above because when he's hitting that well he's pretty much at Saenz's level against southpaws.

So the most value keeping Green can add is 4-5 wins. At $8 million. The average marginal dollars per win is $2 million, so you can see that smart moves could easily have made up that particular difference. Plus, the Dodgers lose out on Dioner Navarro and William Juarez, whose rights would probably draw at least $4 million in a hypothetical auction. So keeping Green means the Dodgers pay $12 million for at most four to five marginal wins. Think about that rate for a second; if you gather up a team of replacement level players, you could expect to win about 40 games for $316K per player, or $8 million. To win 81 games at this rate, you'd need a $110 million payroll; to win 100, you'd need a $160 million payroll. Not good.

Now, let's consider that the above estimates were all done to maximize the appearance of Green's value! A realistic value appraisal of the two should probably favor Choi offensively, to the tune of 10 runs or so. Now, maybe Green would be benched against southpaws, in which case the runs swing back in his favor by a little bit, but if Green's back Jim Tracy will probably start him against southpaws for no reason, as is his habit. Green's edge in baserunning and defense mitigates the offensive gap, sure. But Green's also a bigger injury risk, so Green's decision to stay in LA essentially costs the Dodgers an injury risk, $8 million, a good catching prospect, and a fringy but decent pitching prospect while probably hurting the team in 2004 just a little bit. (Editor's note: I meant 2005, but I'll leave it as "2004" as a reminder of my total incompetence.)


Now, in a sense I don't blame Green. He likes So Cal, the Dodgers will win a lot of games next season and the D-Backs will lose a lot. I'm guessing Arizona offered Green at least $14 million for the next two seasons, which I suppose one could argue that Green should expect to get in free agency next season.

But he won't be doing that anywhere near Southern California. The Dodgers will have no use for him unless his refusal to be traded forces a Hee Seop Choi trade, in which case he'd get an offer from the Dodgers of around 2 years, $9 million. Of course, Green won't accept that, and the Dodgers would be insane to offer him arbitration, so he'll end up somewhere else in a year anyway.

Think he can pull a Finley and end up with the Angels? Well, given that they already have four outfielders guaranteed a ton of money in 2005 (Anderson, Erstad, Finley, Guerrero) and Erstad is already playing first base, meaning Casey Kotchman will have to DH, which means the Angels have no use for Kendry Morales except as a super sub. Even if the Angels trade Kotchman to get Morales into the lineup, they won't have any use for Green unless one of their other outfielders is seriously injured.

Would he prefer playing with the Padres? I guess the plane ride from Arizona to LA is more expensive than the car trip from San Diego to LA, so maybe that's the factor. In any event, he could end up with the Padres as a cheaper alternative to re-signing Brian Giles. Cheaper. In other words, I really don't see how Green can expect to make close to what the D'Backs are probably offering by signing with the Padres next offseason, and it's hard to imagine the difference in travel times to LA between those two sites outweighing, for him, the difference in how much he'd earn.

I really respect Shawn Green as both a ballplayer and a human being. He says he's wanted to retire as a Dodger. If that's the case, I'm sure the Dodgers would love to have him; if Green proposes a 5 year, $5 million contract extension with incentives that amount to about $3000 per plate appearance, he'd be signed. That would make him an even richer man, financially, than he already is.

But Green wants more money than that. And of course, it's difficult to blame him much for that. But if he wants more money, he can't stay in Southern California. Them's the breaks. He has (well, had) a choice: a) the outrageous sum the D'Backs offer which allows him to stay close to home for another two seasons but requires him to swallow his pride a little bit and accept he's not the player he once was; b) the too high sum he'll make a year from now that requires him to play far from home but which probably won't equal what he'll make from the D'Backs.

Now, maybe Shawn just wants to play for a winner or he values the one extra year of living in LA more than the difference between a) and b) above, and maybe he knows baseball and/or Jeff Moorad well enough to know that Arizona is a train wreck. Well, that's fine. I just want to point out that this hurts the Dodgers big time and that if Green is doing this because he wants it both ways - playing in Los Angeles (or even playing in Los Angeles of Anaheim) and making a huge amount of money - he's not going to get it.

On top of that, the Dodgers have a Choi-ce to make (last time I wrote much about Hee Seop it was titled "a punless Hee Seop Choi post"; no such luck this time). Do they squander his development time either by benching him or sending him to AAA, saving a little at arbitration time but probably hurting his long-term value? Do they say the hell with it and play Hee Seop anyway and let Shawn Green sit on the bench until he'll accept a trade? Do they trade Hee Seop, leaving them to choose between a free agent and the so far star-crossed James Loney for 2006? Do they work to find a reasonable deal with Green so they can trade Choi? I think the first option is the least appealing; the best solution is probably to shop both of them aggressively, but only going after potential trade partners for Green who will irrationally dish out the dough for a major contract extension. That being said, it could be that the market for Choi is rough enough that giving him some time in Vegas is the best option, especially since there's pretty much no way that Tracy would agree to starting Choi over Green. Then again, there's also the Jayson Werth factor: all signs indicate he's doing fine, but his elbow could be bad enough that having Green to play right field for a month is important and then Werth or Choi could be leveraged to whichever team has to compensate for some major injury in May.

Of course, the best outcome would have been Green accepting the trade, but c'est la vie. I'm not sure whether I should be pointing out what a great job DePodesta would have done by fleecing the D'Backs on this deal or being furious that he based his plans on Green agreeing to a trade. I would lean to the former, since there's still plenty of time for things to work out, but this is certainly disappointing as a Dodgers fan.

UPDATE: Because I realized I'd probably soon be inundated with questions about it, no, Werth sitting against RHP with Green in RF and Choi at 1B doesn't change the equation. Werth is an above average defender, and should at least be about average offensively versus RHP. Only using a very optimistic projection for Green's offense offsets the defensive defecit between Werth and Green, and it would come at the expense of Werth's long-term development.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Ijon Tichy

Last March, Dayn Perry wrote an excellent article arguing that the Dodgers' ballpark should play a major role in its personnel decisions. Perry noted that Dodger Stadium was pretty much neutral for walks and home runs but hurt singles and doubles and triples especially. From this, he drew the conclusion that the Dodgers should seek out "Three True Outcomes" hitters, and, as I noted on Friday, that's pretty much what they've been doing. I'll add here that Jeff Kent does not fit that paradigm, but that's kind of the point: Jeff Kent was signed because he came at a clear discount and because his value in other areas was relatively undervalued, and I'll also note that for purposes of lineup construction having a player like Kent in an order otherwise composed of TTO guys can provide value maximizing power. But that's a story for some other time.

When Perry wrote the article, the Dodgers were coming off of a season in which their run prevention was absolutely dominant but their run scoring was thoroughly wretched. Since then, DePodesta has completely overhauled the offensive, making very clear improvements, but the pitching staff, if we are to believe the clamor in the media, is in a state of total disrepair. DePodesta's job, right now, is to pick up pitchers. Logically, if park factors should play a role in what type of hitters the Dodgers should acquire, they should also play a big role in what type of pitchers they acquire.

Another Baseball Prospectus author, Jay Jaffe, referenced the impact of the Dodgers ballpark on the types of pitchers it should get on Monday. Jaffe casually noted that Javier Vazquez, a fly-ball pitcher, wouldn't benefit from Dodger Stadium while elsewhere implying that ground-ballers Mike Koplove and Derek Lowe would reap Chavez Ravine's benefits. I love Jay's work, but I think he's got this one backward.

You're already familiar, I'm sure, that the Dodgers had excellent defense in 2004. Defensive Efficiency Ratio shows the Dodgers clearly in front for 2004, even when park-adjusted (BP subscription required). But not all balls in play are created equally. One thing I've long been aware of, thanks to the stats at The Hardball Times, is that the Dodgers had the lowest Groundball/Fly ball ratio in baseball last season. Their G/F of 1.05 was significantly below the 1.23 league average. Fly balls are more likely to be converted into outs than ground balls, meaning that some of the Dodgers high DER should be a reflection of the type of balls they're responsible for. Fly balls hits, however, are for extra bases much more often than ground ball hits, as Mitchel Lichtman has found:

fly ball pitchers, on the average, will have a different $H [batting average on balls in play] than will ground ball pitchers, since a fly ball has a higher out percentage than a ground ball. In fact, extreme ground ball pitchers have a BABIP of .297 (1992-2003), whereas extreme fly ball pitchers have a BABIP of .281 (extreme = top and bottom 10% in G/F ratio for pitchers with at least 100 BIP in a season). Of course, the run value of a FB hit is greater than that of a GB hit, such that the actual run value of all pitchers BABIP is almost exactly the same, regardless of their G/F ratios.

So if two teams have the same defensive efficiency ratio - the number of balls in play converted into outs - they won't necessarily have the same run value for balls in play, and the tendency would be for the team with more fly balls to give up more runs.

So let's put this to the test. I collected all the pitching data for NL teams and looked at how many singles, doubles, triples, ROE's (reached on error), and outs they collected. I didn't have sacrifice hit data, since for some reason no team pitching stats page I found tracked that and I didn't feel like totalling all of those up by hand. Then I used linear weights to determine how many runs each team gave up. This wasn't quite ideal, as the lwts figures I had include ROE's as outs since they are used to evaluate offense, but the difference overall should be minuscule if I weigh ROE's as if they were singles. Doing that, I got linear weights run values for each team's balls in play, which I then normalized to the league average to come up with actual linear weights runs saved. The Dodgers did excellently, saving more than ten runs better than the next team, the Cardinals. The defense of the Dodgers and Cardinals saved 80.6 and 70.1 runs, respectively, with this measure, much better than third-place Florida (26.2 runs).

But how do these standings compare to DER? Well, I also calculated each team's net defensive outs, or (Team DER - league DER)*(Balls in play). Fortunately, the scale for outs and runs relative to league average in this context is virtually identical, so comparison is easy. Here are the final numbers, along with the net singles, doubles, ROE's, etc. for each team:

ROE% nROE 1B% n1B 2B% n2B 3B% n3B LD% G/F IF/Fly $r netO diff
COL 0.008 23.3 0.229 -54.9 0.073 -26 0.009 -9.1 0.19 1.27 0.135 -65.6 -66.6 -1
CIN 0.015 -6 0.208 42.7 0.081 -64.7 0.007 1.7 0.192 1.14 1.14 -39.2 -26.3 12.9
ARI 0.021 -31.7 0.221 -16.3 0.067 1.1 0.009 -8.3 0.194 1.27 0.121 -48 -55.1 -7.2
PHI 0.01 15.1 0.206 46.1 0.071 -19.1 0.008 -3.4 0.181 1.09 0.137 23 38.8 15.8
SF 0.014 -1.7 0.212 22.4 0.068 -5.1 0.01 -13.7 0.183 1.24 0.125 -7.9 1.9 9.8
MON 0.013 1.7 0.22 -13 0.064 12.7 0.007 3.4 0.189 1.24 0.114 9.5 4.7 -4.8
MIL 0.019 -23.4 0.208 37.2 0.074 -28.9 0.007 1.3 0.179 1.17 0.127 -18.7 -13.7 5
PIT 0.012 5.4 0.225 -34.2 0.068 -4.6 0.008 -2.3 0.188 1.26 0.123 -30.8 -35.6 -4.8
NYM 0.019 -26.5 0.216 4.5 0.063 17.8 0.005 9.4 0.188 1.29 0.135 14.8 5.2 -9.6
SD 0.015 -7.6 0.212 22.4 0.07 -12.7 0.008 -3.7 0.19 1.14 0.117 -7.3 -1.7 5.6
FLO 0.008 21.5 0.214 11.5 0.066 6 0.008 -4.8 0.182 1.17 0.137 26.2 34.3 8.1
HOU 0.014 -1 0.223 -23.8 0.068 -4.5 0.008 -4.6 0.195 1.24 0.128 -30.7 -33.9 -3.1
LA 0.007 29.5 0.214 13.1 0.059 35.8 0.006 5.8 0.19 1.05 0.147 80.6 84.2 3.6
ATL 0.016 -9.4 0.235 -80.7 0.056 51.1 0.004 15.9 0.193 1.42 0.1 6.1 -23.2 -29.3
CHC 0.013 3.7 0.222 -23.4 0.059 31.8 0.008 -0.8 0.191 1.27 0.137 18 11.2 -6.7
STL 0.012 7.2 0.206 46.2 0.065 9.3 0.004 13.1 0.181 1.45 0.112 70.1 75.8 5.6
tot 0.013 0 0.217 0 0.067 0 0.007 0 0.188 1.23 0.127 0 0 0

"$r" is the lwts run amount, and netO is the net outs amount. "diff" is the difference between the two. You'll also notice the LD%, G/F, and IF/Fly columns, taken from THT (have you bought your THT annual yet? You really should; it's a great book and they should be getting some compensation for the great services their site provides). Now here's what should stand out: all the teams with a G/F below average had a higher net outs than net lwts runs and almost all the teams with a G/F above average had higher net lwts runs than net outs. The only exceptions were San Francisco and St. Louis. St. Louis seems easy to explain: they probably had the best infield but their outfield was weak, so their net reduction in XBH was probably more from the lack of GB than from defense. San Francisco can be similarly explained, as they had very poor outfield defense and played in a park that favors doubles and triples.

As you can see, the Dodgers gave up more lwts runs per out than average, as their G/F tendencies would predict. However, the difference was pretty negligible; the absolute value of their difference was the smallest of any team but the Rockies even while their difference from the G/F average was the second most extreme. You might intuitively expect the Dodgers and their FB staff to skimp on singles and be average with the doubles, but that's not how it worked. They were solid across the board. They were excellent in terms of ROE, good in terms of singles, excellent in terms of doubles and good in terms of triples. Contrast this to the other FB-heavy staffs: SD, PHI, and CIN all gave up a bunch of doubles while clamping down big time on singles - each of them saved more singles than the Dodgers.

Remember what I said about the Giants in explaining the reason they differed from the norm? It's the ballpark. The Dodgers gave up few doubles for a reason: Dodger Stadium hates doubles with a passion, and it's not fond of triples, either. Looking at ESPN's one-year Park Factors, Dodger Stadium was the worst venue for doubles in 2004; it's the anti-Fenway. Dodger Stadium keeps hits down in general, but not by as much as you would think. In fact, if you look at the Dodgers' league-leading IF/Fly ratio, the little evidence I have suggests that most of Dodger Stadium's hit reduction prowess lies in its abundance of foul ground. So while the Dodgers did, without question, have excellent defense last season, I think it's clear that a good chunk of their defensive success can be owed to the fact that they benefited from the rewards of fly ball pitching (cutting down on singles and ROE's) while playing in a stadium that eliminated the balancing risk of fly ball pitching (extra base hits).

Now, you might be thinking that this finding is counter-intuitive since the Dodgers had, by all accounts, outstanding infield defense last season. Agreed. The Dodgers terrific infield was, obviously, a tremendous part of their defensive success. One would expect that group to account for much more than 13 net singles saved. However, the Dodgers also had two of the worst defenders in baseball in the outfield - Shawn Green and Steve Finley - playing a solid chunk of the time, and while their other outfielders were all good (well, probably not Grabowski) Roberts was oft-injured and playing a position he wasn't familiar with and Bradley was similarly unfamiliar with left and right field while playing there late in the season. In fact, in September, with Finley in tow and Green playing several games in the outfield, the Dodgers DIPS wasn't far off what it was the rest of the season (given their competition and excursion to Colorado, that shouldn't surprise), but their ERC and ERA were both much higher, even though on the season their ERC and ERA were much lower than their DIPS. Is that the sample size police at my door? Anyway, factor in that Cora and Green were both poor defenders range-wise, and I think it all adds up to a solid explanation.

So, to clarify: the unique features of Dodger Stadium make it ideally suited to a fly-ball pitching staff. A little of that advantage may be ceded with the current renovation which will reduce the amount of foul ground, thus eliminating some of the pop fouls that have held down hits. However, I see no reason for the XBH inhibiting powers of Dodger Stadium to decline from the renovation, so going forward it's clear to me that the Dodgers should value FB pitchers more highly than GB pitchers.

Not to get all Ijon Tichy on you, but this wields a lot of explanatory power. I think this certainly supports the notion that Kaz Ishii can rebound, as I discussed earlier. He's adjusted his approach to get more fly balls, and that strategy can yield great benefits with good outfield defense, especially if he learns that he should still try to strike out southpaws, something he neglected to do last season. Furthermore, it would suggest to me that pitchers like Derek Lowe and (gulp) Odalis Perez are not well-suited to pitching with the Dodgers, and pitchers like Javier Vazquez and Kevin Millwood would be well-suited to LA. Now, you might think now: but if Dodger Stadium's neutral on home runs, fly balls pitchers will still give up a lot of home runs. Well, that depends on the pitcher; it's for that very reason that DIPS and FIP (metrics of defense/fielding independent defense) both include home run measures. Obviously, I'm not saying that given two pitchers the Dodgers should choose the one who allows more fly balls; when choosing pitchers, the Dodgers should, of two pitchers with roughly equal DIPS projections, choose the one that is more of a fly ball pitcher, all else being equal.

I've expressed, on numerous occasions, my feeling that Odalis Perez is not hot stuff, despite the flashy ERA's. Certainly, though he's not an extreme ground ball pitcher, the relative value of FB pitchers for LA hurts his case. He's actually had his most success with the Dodgers in years when he gave up more fly balls:

2002: 1.36 G/F, 3.00 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 2.34 ERC, 17.8 K%, 4.4 BB%, 2.4 HR%
2003: 1.99 G/F, 4.52 ERA, 4.39 FIP, 4.11 ERC, 18.3 K%, 6.0 BB%, 3.6 HR%
2004: 1.62 G/F, 3.25 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 3.29 ERC, 16.3 K%, 5.6 BB%, 3.3 HR%

Let's not go crazy with that, though, as he's kind of all over the place. He doesn't allow many line drives, so I'd expect his ERA in front of a neutral defense to be in the 4.00-4.10 range. The Dodgers will have excellent infield defense next season, perhaps better than what they had last year, and they'll have excellent outfield defense too. All told, I'd be surprised if Perez' ERA was higher than 3.80-3.90 or so, but I'd also be surprised if it was lower than the 3.25 of last year. Wow, I've just established a pretty slim margin of errorfor myself, haven't I? I'm not sure how much I like the Perez deal, as he's overrated (except by people who only look at W-L) but the Dodgers clearly did have a need to pick up someone, and in the current market $8 million per isn't a terrible deal for him, and I doubt paying a million per extra for Matt Clement would have been worth it. That being said, though I'm certain I know less about the injury status of the players involved than Paul DePodesta or others, from a performance analysis standpoint I think Kevin Millwood figures to be a better deal. Of course, Millwood's still out there, and the Dodgers do have enough cash left to get him, so who knows?

Furthermore, this fly ball business touches on that other Dodgers offseason bugaboo, J.D. Drew vs. Adrian Beltre. Simply speaking, if the Dodgers maximize the utility of their ballpark by acquiring fly ball pitchers - which, to an extent, they have - then they accentuate the significance of their outfield defense. UZR indicates Shawn Green's right field defense is out 20 runs below average in a neutral context; with a heavy fly ball staff, that could translate into a value of nearly 30 runs below average, or 3 wins. Conversely, J.D. Drew is in the +10 range, which means the swing between the two defensively could easily be exceed 4 wins with a FB staff. Now, J.D. Drew also appears to come with the cost of moving him to centerfield to ease his knees. If that's the case, he looks to be a roughly average centerfielder, and some of Milton Bradley's value is lost with the move to right field. However, I would expect that to be only about a 10-15 run swing, so overall we're still looking at a 3-run defensive improvement versus Green. You can talk until you're blue in the face about Adrian Beltre's defense; he's great, and he's a +20 win defender. But third base is smack dab between RF and CF on the defensive spectrum, and check out the major league positional averages for each position:

RF: .272/.348/.449
3B: .273/.340/.455
CF: .272/.335/.437

In a context-neutral sense, Beltre doesn't have any major edge over Drew based on their 2004 performance levels. Plus, while both Drew and Beltre had career seasons, Beltre's got a whole lot more regression to the mean potential than Drew. That is to say, Beltre's season was at the upper bound of offensive performance, and it's extremely unlikely that he can improve on it; if he declines, there's a long history of him performing at a much lower level, whereas Drew has established a performance level substantially north of Beltre's. So while it's true that, going strictly by age, Beltre is entering his nominal prime while Drew is already in his, that doesn't really portend that Beltre's performance relative to Drew's will improve. Given all that, I don't really see where Beltre earns $2 million per season more than Drew in a context-neutral sense. Heck, back in September I concluded my ridiculously long Beltre analysis by saying he'd sign for 5 years, $55 million. But in the context of Dodger Stadium, Drew already adds relative value because a value-maximized staff will be fly ball heavy. So independent of whomsoever else is involved, I think Drew is a better value than Beltre at 5 years, $55 million and it just so happens that the Dodgers would need to pay another $9 million for Beltre.

But, of course, there are others involved, in the persons of Shawn Green and Jose Valentin. Green is a better offensive player than Valentin, although the White Sox absurd decision to have Valentin start against southpaws last season makes his offense look worse than it really is. Valentin, if wisely deployed is about average offensively, and Dayn Perry would probably agree that Valentin's TTO prowess makes him a good fit for the Dodgers. Maybe you're really into that super-popular stat that Green was .253/.335/.399 before the all-star break and .281/.371/.529 after it. A much less popular stat is that in 2003 that same split would be .255/.317/.429 pre and .316/.408/.506 post. I don't see what reason there is to believe that the second half of 2004 represents his true performance level and not just small sample size noise. Given the likelihood of his torn labrum rearing its head again, +20 runs for Green's offense is slightly optimistic. So Green has a 20 run edge on Valentin offensively, but, as we established before, the addition of Drew creates a 30-run swing on defense. Given Valentin's tremendous defense at shortstop, he should match what Beltre did defensively, if not exceed it. So the offense of Beltre and Drew cancel out, the defense at third cancels out, and the outfield defense advantage gives an extra win relative to Green's offensive edge over Valentin. One win gained. If the Dodgers had re-signed Beltre at $13m per and kept Green in place, they'd be on the hook for $29 million in 2004. Now, they're paying $22.5 million to replace them with Valentin and Drew and to rid themselves of Green's contract. So if my arguments are accurate, the Dodgers save $6.5 million to pick up an extra win. They used that $6.5 million on the difference between Alex Cora and Jeff Kent, which probably adds a win or two defensively and two wins offensively. So for the same price, I see a four or five win improvement. On top of that, they get Dioner Navarro and William Juarez and owe Drew $9 mil less over the next five years than they'd owe Beltre. We could also throw into the discussion that the Dodgers have several solid third base prospects and few solid outfield prospects, enhancing Drew's marginal value. But why pile on?

Oh, one last bird to pummel with this particular stone. Derek Lowe. You know him, you love him, you can't get enough of him. Certainly, my fly ball conclusion doesn't help Lowe's case. He's probably better than I mentally give him credit for, and if he were plugged into the Dodgers he'd probably have a sub-4.00 ERA, given his 4.4ish DIPS in the AL the past two seasons and the Dodgers defense. In fact, there's not much separating him from Perez. That being said, Perez provides better marginal value due to his less extreme GB tendencies and Lowe's price tag probably isn't much lower than Perez' - heck, it might be higher.

This hasn't been a perfect offseason for the Dodgers, but it's been much, much better than almost anyone is giving them credit for, and I'm not sure that anyone could have done a better job than DePodesta has done.

Or maybe my computer just has a virus (hey, maybe Simers was inspired by what I wrote here).

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