Sabermetrics is not just the science behind baseball, it is a way of life…
Not really though, for me anyway. But I do believe in what they do. And one of things that I feel strongly about is how overrated Ryan Howard has been over his career.
See, it isn’t as though Ryan Howard is a bad player, he is actually quite good. I have no problem with him getting MVP love in 2006. Howard posted very good numbers that year. And while I think Pujols had slightly more overall value, Howard was far from a horrendous choice. Although when do MVP voters actually make horrendous choices? They seem to choose the right player less often then I would like, but they don’t usually choose “average” players for the award or anything like that.
So Albert Pujols may have been the most deserving candidate in 2006, but Howard wasn’t a terrible choice either.
The problem with Ryan Howard is that he adds nothing defensively. Each of the last three years, Howard has cost his team runs in the field with “FRAA” figures of -7, -4, -14.
So to make up for his lack of defensive prowess, he must tear the cover off the ball. And not just for 2/3’s of the season either. Howard must post above an OPS+ of 126 (last seasons number) in order to be a great player.
View any metric that takes into account “total package” and see how they value Ryan Howard’s all around game.
Last three season’s numbers:
Win Shares 2007: 26 (tied 23rd in MLB)
Win Shares 2006: 31 (tied 7th in MLB)
Win Shares actually values Ryan Howard much greater then other metrics such as WARP1. They have him so low that I can’t even bring myself to admit that he is THAT overrated. His WARP1 was actually 160th in all of baseball in 2008.
But Howard’s WARP1 in his 2006 season fell in at tenth, very similar to his Win Shares total of that year. So BP does value Howard’s great season, as being just that, GREAT.
The metrics just do not love Ryan Howard. And I don’t blame them one bit. Howard is a first baseman (more easily replaceable). Howard is not a good defensive 1B (even more replaceable). Howard struggles mightily against lefties (a flaw that other lefties have, but not to this extent). And Ryan Howard, last season, was a terrible player for a few months (April and June). Terrible! Metrics basically weight that the same as when he is hitting the ball all over the yard in the latter months of the season. And I agree with that.
So anyway, after expressing how I feel toward Ryan Howard the player. To reiterate: A good player, but not great. I can now get to why I wrote this in the first place.
Ryan Howard was locked up for three years, $54 million.
The aspect of this deal that I love is that the long term committment is semi-absent. Three years for a position players good-great years is the best time to commit a boat-load of money. Howard will turn 29 in 2009, and will be at the age of 31 in 2011 when the contract expires. Howard should have good numbers throughout those years, and may even post an MVP quality year over that period.
The fact that the deal runs only three years is also good because for a one dimensional player, aging well isn’t exactly in the crystal ball. If this deal would have been a Teixeira like deal, it would have been a terrible move. But it isn’t. It controls Howard for three good years and cuts him loose (most likely as I cannot envision a scenario where giving Howard another contract after this is up, would be the best thing for the organization).
The money may be a little much for a one dimensional player, but whatever, he is good, and the Phillies don’t lack finances. Plus, Howard seems to be loved by the fans, so this should score some PR points.
If the contract were twice as long, I would have ripped the deal apart. But a relatively short-term contract, committed to a good player, for what should be his “prime”years, well, I cannot disagree with that.
In a magical world, a far off place. Dreams are made for “The Carriers of Wooden Clubs.” 90 MPH enemies shoot at their existence, yet they welcome the consistent approach of these “enemies.” They welcome the same mundane attack methods they induce upon the “Clubbers.” The “Leatherfaces” are tirelessly coming up on them, around 15 of them per day. They approach them in different locations, but always at the same speed. So there is no confusion on the “Clubbers” part. Different spots, but relatively the same location, they are an ease to fend off, to send on their way. Fairies aid in the process of ultimate completion, ultimate success. The magical fairies fly around recognizing each, telling them the secrets of the small, but deliberately shot “leatherfaces.” As each approaches, a fairy, whichever fairy recognizes it first, will yell something relating to the speed of which the enemy approaches. But in this world, there is no mix up, there is no change. Each fairy has grown tired, as they all yell in harmony–in that little fairy voice–“Gunner.” Gunner stands for fast, straight attack. The Gunner is the most convenient, the easiest for the “Clubbers” to club. Yet they seem bored. The “Leatherfaces” in the other forests have different strategies, different ways to try and win the battle. It must be since the omnipotent, most feared clubber stands behind them today. He makes everything easier. He is the leader of the “Clubbers,” the greatest of them all. For some reason, each time he follows the others, they have it easy, they laugh and smile, and have fun as they all have success in their own defense. Each will not admit it though, each is a little bored, a little too successful in defending their own on route to the nexus of creation, their chosen destination.
But it wasn’t always this simple, it wasn’t always this easy for “The Carriers of Wooden Clubs.” The previous forests, most of them, were without their omnipotent leader, their great wise-one. The “Leatherfaces” that have proceeded with their attacks, changed on them, they weren’t as predictable. Screaming through the air, changing speeds, differing, unpredictable approaches. There was success for the enemy. The object of defense when coming across these types was to stay back, wait as long as possible, then snap those clubs around. But it wasn’t that easy to apply it. The “Clubbers” would come out wounded, scarred after these battles. They felt banged up, bruised, and felt as though they could not go on. But they always found a way to continue on their path, to continue from one forest to the next, through the infested swamps, over the wretched hilltops. They made it, but it wasn’t as pretty. No, it wasn’t pretty, quite difficult in fact.
So they always wondered why with him, it was so much easier. Was it psychological? Was it the mind controlling abilities of the one who followed them, guiding their quest? Did the “Leatherfaces” feel that the best way to retire “The Carriers of Wooden Clubs” was to come at them as fast and as straight as possible? It just didn’t make sense. But they continued on, they didn’t ask questions, and they answered as if it was their own doing, their own victory, even though deep down, they knew that this “follower” had a lot to do with it, a lot to do with their own success.
The “myth” of protection. Is it a myth? Does it exist? Do pitchers throw more fastballs in this situation? “Baseball Between the Numbers,” a great book I might add, essential to all fans, attempted to dissect it. But what they ended up doing was making a mild stab, and then came off very dismissive of the subject. Their conclusion was basically this: “If protection exists, it matters very little.” I am not one to dismiss something on such a questionable study, but I do agree with the basic result; protection is overrated. I touched up on this in my early blogging days, but felt like expanding on it now, just a little expansion though.
Protection does matter to an extent in my opinion. I will use the current Nationals team as an example. Let us put Albert Pujols in the Nationals lineup. Now, without even digging much deeper, we all know that lineup is lacking danger around him. Why give him anything to hit? Why not nitpick most times Pujols comes up? Exactly. In a lineup like this, Pujols will probably see fewer hittable pitches, because there is no reason to let him beat you, as the rest of the lineup, in most cases, will not come through. Now, this lineup does have Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson. But this lineup also does not Nick Johnson. Confusing? Nick Johnson does not play most of the time. And while Ryan Zimmerman is a pretty good all-around 3B, he is nothing special at the plate, yet. The team has a few promising bats, that also carry heads that aren’t exactly on sewn on solid. But those “promising bats” have yet to prove much at all in the Major Leagues. So maybe, MAYBE Zimmerman sees a few more pitches that happen to be to his liking, as he bats in front of Pujols. But if Zimmerman actually, you know, hits incredibly well, pitchers would have no choice but to adjust to him, and start changing their approach, and treat him as a good hitter, too.
This came up a lot last season. Drew moved in front of Manny, and Drew started killing the ball. Manny moved to the Dodgers and Jeff Kent began killing the ball. And before 2008– back in 2003–David Ortiz moved into a lineup, and for basically a six-year period, killed the ball. Having never done anything beyond average in his career, Ortiz started crushing the ball in Boston. But it wasn’t just Manny hitting behind him in my opinion. If it were that simple, then there would be no way around it. But if Ortiz started hitting much better because there was a great hitter behind him, then pitchers would have adjusted. They would have changed their approach. I could see for a few weeks where a pitcher might come after Ortiz a little differently, not wanting anyone on base when Manny steps to the plate. Maybe the pitcher doesn’t mind catching a little more of the strike zone. But eventually, very quickly, pitchers would have to come after the hitter differently if he started having a lot of success. And the changing approach that the pitchers encounter would take place well before an extended period of 5 or 6 years. Ortiz was a great hitter, with or without Manny. There is almost no way that pitchers would continually let David Ortiz beat them the way that he did, simply because Manny Ramirez was on deck.
And about the studies that have been done…there have been studies as to whether or not Chipper Jones saw more fastballs once Mark Teixeira arrived in Atlanta. Chipper said he saw more fastballs, but if my mind is correct, I seem to recall a study where it discounted what Jones said. If “protection” increases the number of fastballs that the batter in front sees, then wouldn’t a higher number of fastballs be thrown, percentage-wise to that hitter? That is something that would have been seen through statistics. Yet, I believe that it was not seen. Maybe Chipper’s minds was playing tricks on him. Maybe Chipper just had more confidence because another great hitter was added to the lineup, and it gave him the feeling that he didn’t have to hit a home run every time he came up. I do not know the exact answer, but if a player says he sees
more fastball, and the numbers say that is not seeing any more fastballs, then, well, I have to agree with the stats.
What about having success with more runners on base? In 2008, hitters had an OPS of .769 with runners on base during their AB. But without runners on base, hitters had an OPS of .749. Hitters hit .264 with the bases empty, .270 with runners on. That isn’t a large difference, yet it is still a difference. But isn’t that skewed? Great pitchers are going to allow fewer baserunners over an extended period of time, so hitters will face poorer pitchers, in general, when there are runners on base. Livan Hernandez is going to allow more baserunners than Johan Santana. Dan Haren is going to allow fewer baserunners than Sidney Ponson, etc, etc, etc. So does this even matter much? Players are going to have more RBI’s with runners on base, that is through chance though mostly. Which is why I do not look at RBI’s. I look at percentage stats.
So how much does Manny Ramirez batting behind another hitter even matter? I can see Manny batting in a lineup by himself, mattering some maybe. But that isn’t very realistic. Most lineups consist of more than one quality hitter. In terrible lineups, with one great hitter, that hitter can be walked most times if that opposing team chooses. But lineups on average, are not as bad as the Washington Nationals lineup. I just don’t know if protection “is what we think it is.” Of course, I am far from the first to question this.
So what are your thoughts?
Bill Simmons: See, another team that should sign him –
the Nats. People in DC do not care about that team. At all. Manny
doesn’t make them more interesting????? They’re willing to give Tex 170
million – a guy who has played on bad teams for nearly his entire
career – but Manny isn’t worth $75m for three? He wouldn’t sell
tickets? He wouldn’t hit?
Not intending to rip on Bill Simmons, again, for simply the sake of ripping on Bill Simmons. As I included in my last post referring to a Simmons ‘flaw of logic,” it is the way he thinks in regarding to certain baseball and football related topics that I disagree with. Simmons does do something that I could never do, entertain a large crowd. The way that he introduces the readers to entertainment-intersecting-with-sports is pretty much unparalled on a national scale. But for someone who is in the national spotlight, someone who most likely spends more time than I do perusing the internet, one would think that he would dig a little deeper to find out what value in baseball is, what the worth of an individual player is. Maybe spend a few minutes on Baseball Prospectus or The Hardball Times. Ok, one doesn’t have to be infatuated with the numbers to understand baseball. That seems to be a popular misconception nowadays. But it helps, trust me, it does. If one understands why there are numbers in the first place–to aid in the process of evaluating players, teams, etc, not to eliminate scouts, talent evaluators, etc–Then they will simply have a greater understanding of the game. I may be adept with the numbers, somewhat, but I am no scout, nor do I think I know more than the average scout. But it is much easier for someone to research stats, and what they mean, then to learn how to evaluate a player based on what they see. I am not asking Bill Simmons to grade Buchholz’s change up, I am simply asking him to try and understand an established players value.
So what does this mean when speaking of Teixeira? “A guy who has played on bad teams nearly his entire career.” Maybe I am looking too much into it and maybe my thinking is flawed. But for some reason it sounds like Tex is being penalized because the Rangers only addressed one side of the ball over the duration of his time spent with Texas. Manny has played on winning teams, and been part of the reason they have been winners, arguably the largest part at times. But Tex never had Schilling and Pedro on the mound. Tex never had a great season from Josh Beckett and another quality year of Curt Schilling. And while Tex had some hitters in his lineup, “plus-talent” around him at times, so did Manny. The Red Sox won two championships while Manny was with them. But replacing Manny with an average LF would have resulted in winning seasons, probably not the playoffs, but still, winning seasons. Those Indians teams were stacked with good hitters, and while they too, like the Rangers, did not exactly address the pitching as much as they should have, at least they had a few good pitchers.
The reason that this irritates me so much is that Mark Teixiera is now a Yankee (winner). This season, maybe the Yankees don’t win a championship, but they will be a winning ballclub. So all of a sudden Tex is a winning player because he has more talent surrounding him than he ever has in his career? That is why I hate this. Some baseball writers think that a player can win 40 games on his own, or so it seems. Statistically, that isn’t the case at all. Players cannot be that large a part of a team. Did you know that accoring to WARP1 Manny Ramirez was worth 9.8 Wins above a “replacement player?” That is basically 10 wins. So Manny would have been 10 wins better then some Minor Leaguer that comes up and plays with the team when there is no one else to field the position. Maybe that statistic is not perfect, but it provides a much greater understanding of how many wins a player is worth, rather than simply guessing a number as some appear to do. Simply put, you put Manny Ramirez on the Pirates this season, and the Pirates will still miss the playoffs, probably by a lot. You put Manny Ramirez from any season of his career on next years Pittsburgh Pirates, and they still miss the playoffs.
These are the pitching staffs summed up in ERA+ in Tex’s Rangers years: 88, 111, 93, 100, 95 (95 was a partial season for Tex). That 111 stands out a lot. But the problem is that the offense was actually slightly below average that season (97). Tex may have had some “hitters” around him during his time in Texas, but the offense as a whole was, believe it or not, better than average only one time (105). There was a season of 101 in there too, but that is basically average, since average is 100. It may seem like the Rangers have a great offense more often, but that ballpark does help their case in most seasons, excluding last year, when they actually had a really good offense.
While Manny played in Boston, the Red Sox have had team pitching, and team offense numbers in eight seasons, giving us eight years of offense, and eight years of pitching; 16 total. During that time, the Red Sox have below average pitching twice (96, 98). And a below average offense only once (99). And those numbers of 98 and 99 are dangerously close to being average. Basically, Ramirez played on teams that had just about an average offense 8 times in eight seasons. And an average pitching staff basically 6 of 8 times, possibly even 7 if you want to include the 98. And average is an understatement. Each side of the ball has been well above average in several seasons, including pitching seasons of 121 and 123. Those, my friends, are great pitching staffs.
So sure, Manny Ramirez was a part of why those Red Sox teams were great, but that part seems to be magnified in Simmons’ eyes. There was only so much that he could do alone. And while Tex will probably end up the lesser player when their career’s are all said and done, both will be considered great, I would imagine. Manny’s career is great already, Tex seems likely to finish what will be a great career–maybe not a Hall of Famer–but he should be very close if he continues to stay healthy. And I understand that part of the point Simmons is trying to make is that Manny will sell more tickets in Washington. That, I do not dispute. But I feel that it is unfair for Simmons to include that Tex has played on “losing teams,” because that is not his fault. He was a great player on a team with below average talent around him most years. And just one more thing; Tex actually does play defense, and plays it very well. Something that 37 year old Manny Ramirez will not do, and has never done.
So, Bill. Continue writing, you do have a lot of talent. But seriously try and find a better way to understand a players value in the sport we know as baseball. Because pinning the failures of a team on an individual just doesn’t make much sense to me, or present much logic.
First of all, let me begin by stating a fact: The Rickey Henderson blog you see below, it was written as a joke, as satire, a baseball related fable (Without the animals), etc, etc, etc. Rickey Henderson is very deserving of enshrinement, and the 28 or so people that did not vote for him, well, don’t have much credibility, whoever they may be.
Second, I am going to finally get to my second installment of the “Five best players at each position.” Something I begin, and never seem to finish. But when in doubt, when there isn’t much that interests me on the blogging front, I can turn to it and pursue my desired conclusion which is: actually finishing it one day.
Remember these rankings are based on who is the best NOW, not who will be the best in 3 years, or four years, or necessarily even 2009. They are a prime indicator of who I believe deserves to be ranked, and where, right now.
And the five best first baseman are…
- Albert Pujols: I don’t know how much I even want to get into this. Pujols is probably the best player in baseball, and clearly the best at his position. His glove work is among the best, and his bat IS the best, in the entire game that we refer to as baseball. When it is all said and done, and this is no creation of mine, Pujols will be one of the absolute greatest players to ever play the game. Eight seasons in the big leagues, no less than an OPS+ of 151, and no fewer than 143 games played in any season. And this season, 2008, Pujols opted out of surgery so that he could play, and posted his best OPS+ yet; 190.
- Mark Teixiera: Is he worth the contract? Maybe not when it is looked at in its entirety, but right now he is among the best hitters in the game. A great defensive first baseman, who is a switch hitting, middle of the order bat. And I would much rather have any of these other first baseman for the money that they are paid, but this doesn’t take that into account. Tex has posted back-to-back years of OPS+’s greater than 150.
- Miguel Cabrera: Whatever position he does end up playing, this is where he belongs (or DH). Cabrera is a truly great hitter, who adjusting to a new, more difficult league, still had success. Cabrera posted three consecutive seasons of 150 or greater, and his 130 last year was quite good also. I will cut him some slack for being in a new city, a new league.
- Adrian Gonzalez: If he played on a neutral field, the perception that we would have of him would be much greater. Last season, Gonzalez had an OPS of .788 at home, on the road it was .946. That is what Petco does to a hitter, it kills their numbers. Just to show that 2008 wasn’t an aberration, in 2007, Gonzalez posted a .760 home OPS, and .928 on the road. He is a good fielder, and still hasn’t hit the height of his career yet.
- Kevin Youkilis: Youkilis has exceeded my expectations of him. He can field two positions, one very well, the other, good enough. Youk has a keen eye: great recognition of the strike zone, and good pitch recognition as well. At first I thought that Youkilis would be a great on base guy, but somewhat limited as a hitter, but he has proven me wrong in that area too. He can hit for power, average, get on base, play defense. I guess Billy Beane had his eye on him for a reason.
Since this was probably the hardest position to rank, I would like to apologize to Justin Morneau. Morneau deserves to be in here as well, and should probably be tied with someone if nothing else. Ryan Howard was a pretty close call as well, but I think that these other six 1B are better than he is. Not that Howard isn’t good, but he can’t play defense, cannot run, and is useless against lefties, all while playing in a hitter friendly park.
And some may question my including Miguel Cabrera because he may not have the greatest work ethic, and didn’t blow anyone away last season. Cabrera is a great hitter, don’t let 2008 fool you. I have a strong feeling that he will be an MVP in many people’s eyes this season, unless the Tigers win under 75 games or something.
EDIT: I totally forgot to mention Lance Berkman in this too. I give up, for the 1st base position is too difficult to rank. I think that I would need to do more research, but even then would still be undecided as to who goes where. Except for number one of course, that is Pujols.