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.

well, i don't know how this sort of thing can be accounted for within the context of a statistical analysis, and to be frank i don't know all that much about the nuts and bolts of swinging a bat either, but it seemed to me, based on casual observation, that ross (and choi too during the second half) developed some sort of hitch in his swing last year. to the extent that they are possibly correctable bad habits and not lack of ability, how does one make reliable predictions about future performance with guys like that? maybe you can make a pool of those types of guys to weight it with, like the labrum pool, but it must be hard to define and isolate this sort of thing. who knows, maybe ross does just suck, but in 40 games in 2003 he had an .892 OPS, and damned if i don't want to believe in him just a little.
Re the Rule 5 issue, Ken Gurnick's article up on mlb.com has this quote from DPD: "Through all of the recent moves, we've been able to hang on to our prospects," said DePodesta. "Come [the July trade deadline], we can use prospects to get the pieces we need." (sorry I don't know how to link it)

-- sam
I heard McGrew just had tommy john surgery. I don't know what this means in regards to Rule 5 tho.
WRT the issue of Dugout Dollars, I think the same thing is afflicting him as afflicted the former bluemanc.co.uk website that also had contract data: the sheer volume of it is overwhelming. I have been in contact with Ken Arneson, and he and several others are working on an improved version of the all-baseball site that will have such data. He was supposed to get back to me on a workup of the Angels' payroll but I haven't heard from him in a couple weeks.
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