Thursday, January 06, 2005

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.)

ARGGGGGHHHHHH!

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.

Comments:
It totally sucks for all the reasons you outlined. The good thing is that we could certainly use the insurance as Werth, Drew, and Bradley are not exactly indestructible.
 
Yeah, but the marginal value of an insurance policy is pretty darned low, and the Dodgers already have two ~average outfielders as insurance in Ledee vs. RHP/Chen vs. LHP, and so the value added comes with the second simultaneous injury to the group of Drew, Werth and Bradley. Possible, certainly, but a terrible way to spend $8 million and a couple prospects.
 
I'm so gosh darned disappointed. Crud. Apparently, while speaking with the delightful Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton on-air, DePodesta pronounced Green his opening day 1st baseman. I was so pumped to watch Choi knock the socks off all the people who cursed him at the end of last season.
Do you think DePodesta might still go after another starting pitcher to at least add depth? The 20-minute rumor of the Dodgers pursuing Esteban Loaiza seemed reasonable. He'll be fairly cheap, probably won't be as bad as he was last year, and his signing would force Edwin Jackson to prove he deserves to be in the majors at least as much as Kaz Ishii.

Jonathan M
 
>> In other words, I really don't see how Green can expect to <<

... expect to what?
 
Oh, and --

>>while probably hurting the team in 2004 just a little bit.<<

Wow! Green's so bad, he's actively hurting the team's performance in past seasons! :-)
 
I had my mind all over the place when I wrote that part. It's being edited. Thanks for pointing that out, Rob.
 
That last one was me, btw.
 
Werth has a 3 year split against RHP of 261/328/441 so to think that he should be an above average offensive player against RHP does not seem so clearcut to me. That is not exactly above average performance for a corner outfielder. To think that he'll be healthy is also not very clear cut. Not very often can I remember a player who chose rehab over surgery when surgery was recommended and made the right decision.
 
Molokai -- I think the problem here is that I don't think surgery was recommended. We'll see how it turns out, but IMO Troy Glaus is the archetype here, not a good one for Werth.
 
Molokai,
Your 3-year split represents something like 250 plate appearances. It also represents a number nearly identical to the league average hitter, who for the NL last season was .263/.329/.423. Factor in that a good deal of those PA were in LA and you've got league average staring right back at you. Furthermore, Werth's platoon split in his limited major league time is enormous. Extensive research has shown that the platoon ratio for RHB is almost universally 1.09 by OPS. So while Werth's numbers were inflated by having a lot of PA versus LHP, that doesn't mean that his talent level is lower because of his higher platoon ratio-- that performance against LHP is also indicative of his performance against RHP. So if you want to get a good idea of what to expect from Werth if he were to repeat his performance from last season, you take his overall numbers, adjust for a 1.09 platoon ratio with his PA platoon split and then normalize for a typical starter's PA platoon ratio. This is work I've actually done, and I wrote a long post about it, but I was stupid enough to use the blogger page to write it and my computer froze, so I have to re-write it but haven't done so yet. The point is, 250 PA's against RHP won't give you as good of an idea about what to expect against RHP in the future as 400 PA's total will. He'll hit better against southpaws, but it will tend to regress toward that 1.09 mean ratio.

While I've had my doubts in the past, my research on Werth has convinced me he's a solid every day player.

As far as his injury is concerned, I don't really think you're qualified in that regard. If you think that DePodesta is basing plan's on less injury info than you or a worse interpretation of that info, then that's your opinion. But it's hard for me to believe. Maybe DePodesta hasn't devoted any resources toward a better understanding of player injuries; my bet would be that he has. I do know that a month or so ago I heard DePo in a radio interview where he talked about how Penny and Werth were doing, and Werth seemed almost all the way there.
 
Just to clarify one last thing-- when I gave the league average, that wasn't to an average corner outfielder. However, in the context of the article I was talking about raw runs versus average, not position adjusted, and the difference between Werth and Green in raw runs vs. RHP was, I argued, almost entirely wiped out by the defensive defecit.
 
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