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October 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm ET
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On Justin Verlander and the AL MVP Award

The AL MVP debate raged on tirelessly for weeks. Luckily, the postseason mercifully began and baseball discussion that once centered around Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, now concerns itself with the issue of A-Rod, Joe Girardi and pinch-hitting.

I’d like to briefly, if the readers wouldn’t mind, jump back into some AL MVP discussion, in light of this week’s events.

Earlier this week, Justin Verlander threw eight and one-third innings, and gave up just one run on three hits.  His performance led to Detroit to a 3-0 series lead over the Yankees, and it seems the Tigers have all but punched their ticket to the World Series.

When watching Verlander pitch, I couldn’t help but think to myself about the season he’s had.

Last year, Verlander won both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards.  The pitching statistics that people who vote for those awards usually care about are, pitching wins, ERA and strikeouts. I listed how Verlander faired in those categories over the last two seasons, below:

2011: 24 wins, 2.40 ERA, 250 strikeouts

2012: 17 wins, 2.64 ERA, 239 strikeouts

The two seasons look fairly similar, but based on these numbers Verlander’s 2011 season was superior. ¬†The issue with this type of analysis is that those three statistics don’t tell us enough about his season.

Pitching wins is a¬†junk stat, that has as much to do with the team’s offense and bullpen, as it does with the pitcher’s actual performance.

ERA has its own flaws, as it is affected a good deal by park factors and team defense.  Also, Verlander threw less innings in 2012 than he did the year before, so his strikeout per innings pitched total was, in fact, better this season than it was in 2011.

To complicate matters further, the Tigers had one of the worst team defenses in baseball, this season. Batting average on balls in play (BABIP), is a measure of the amount of hits that a pitcher gives up on balls that don’t leave the park. ¬†This statistic is highly variable and fluctuations in BABIP are due much more to luck and ¬†team defense than they are to actual pitcher performance.

In 2011, Verlander had the second-lowest BABIP (.236) among starting pitchers, in baseball. ¬†This number was well below league average (.291), and helped lower Verlander’s ERA.

This season, Verlander’s BABIP rose to .273. ¬†I would argue that this rise was not Verlander’s fault, but instead can be attributed to regression of luck and the Tiger’s bad team defense. ¬†When BABIP is factored into the equation, Verlander’s 2012 ERA looks about as good as his 2011 ERA.

Luckily, we have measure of pitching ability that ignore BABIP.  Fielding independent pitching, commonly known as FIP, ignores all balls in play, and focuses just on walks, strikeouts and home runs:

2011: Verlander’s FIP was 2.99

2012: Verlander’s FIP was 2.94

FIP can be adjusted for park factors and by league, into a statistic called FIP-. ¬†In 2011, Verlander’s FIP- was 73; thus, his FIP was 27 percent lower than average. This season, it dipped down to 70.

You could make a reasonable argument for Verlander being as good, if not better in 2012 than he was in 2011.  Yet for some reason everyone suddenly thinks that Verlander is not the MVP, and his teammate now is.

How is this possible?

To put it quite simply,¬†Because they’re using the wrong stats.

Just because, Verlander won seven less games and his ERA rose 24 points, does not mean he was a worse pitcher this season. Also, just because Cabrera hit more home runs, had more RBIs and hit for a higher average than anyone else in the league, does not mean he was a more valuable hitter.

There is a park and league-adjusted stat called weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+). This season, Cabrera’s wRC+ was 166, which tied with Trout for the tops in the game. ¬†In 2011, Cabrera’s wRC+ was 11 points higher (177).

I would not back down from the argument that Verlander was better in 2012 than 2011, and that Cabrera was better last season, than he was this season.

Which is why I’m so utterly confused as to why Verlander was the MVP last season, but Cabrera will, in all likelihood, win the award this season.

Oh, and I never mentioned WAR. Boom.

 

 

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October 2, 2012 at 10:00 am ET
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Why Will Ferrell should decide the AL MVP debate

In a hilarious scene from the Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg movie The Other Guys, Wahlberg’s “brawny” character claims that if he was a lion he would still be able to eat Ferrell even if Ferrell was a tuna who lived deep in the ocean.

Ferrell’s nerdy character’s witty retort that explains how impossible it would be for a lion to win a fight deep in the ocean. ¬†You can watch the scene here.

So, under certain circumstances a tuna could defeat a lion.

But could a Trout defeat a Tiger?

The Tiger is more powerful than the Trout.  But in the ocean, the Trout is faster and can put up a much better defense.

In the water that Mike Trout currently swims, Miguel Cabrera, the Tiger, is completely outmatched.

Many have argued that Cabrera should win the 2012 American League MVP award.  Cabrera could be the first hitter to win the Triple Crown since 1967, and his team, the Detroit Tigers are going to the playoffs.

Trout’s batting average, home run total and RBI total (obviously) all rank below Cabrera’s. ¬†Also, his team the Los Angels Angels isn’t going to the playoffs.

Sounds like Cabrera is the clear MVP, right?

Not so much.

The Triple Crown is rare, having only occurred 12 times in the World Series era, and it would be an incredible accomplishment for Cabrera.

Trout has been flat out better though.

Trout is the youngest player to join the 30/30 club (30 steals/30 home runs), in major league history.  Also, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Trout is the first player in major league history with at least 45 steals, 30 home runs and 125 runs in a single season.

Could we please remember that Trout spent a month in Triple-A? Yet, he’s still put up one of the greatest seasons in the history of baseball.

Cabrera has had a great season. There’s never been a Triple Crown winner, in my life time, and I’d love to see one. But Triple Crown statistics aren’t everything, in fact, they’re not even close.

Home runs are the only legitimate statistic among the three that make up the Triple Crown. Cabrera does lead Trout in that category, by 13 home runs.

On-Base Percentage is a better statistic than batting average, and Trout ranks ahead of Cabrera, albeit slightly, in OBP (.395 vs. .390). ¬†Prince Fielder, you know the guy who hits behind Cabrera in Detroit’s lineup? Well, Prince has a higher OBP (.407) than Cabrera, as well.

As for RBIs, they are supposed to measure “run production”, but do a less than spectacular job of doing so. A better statistic is weighted-runs created plus (wRC+), which weights outcomes correctly, as well as, adjusts for park factors and league average. ¬†Who leads baseball in this statistic?

Trout, of course. ¬†His 172 wRC+ ranks first in baseball, while Cabrera’s (163) ranks third.

That number does includes some Trout’s baserunning ability, namely his incredible steal total. ¬†However, it does not include how often Trout has scored on sacrifice flies, or the fact that Cabrera has hit into 21 more double plays than Trout.

In my opinion, the Most Valuable Player should go to the player who has brought the most value to his team on the field; which Trout has.  At the same time, the award does include the word value; which for major league franchises has a great deal to with money.

So what is the comparison between the two players salaries?

  • Trout: $480 thousand
  • Cabrera: $21 million
Trout makes up less than one percent of the Angels major league payroll, while Cabrera’s salary is over 15 percent of Detroit’s.

Trout has been so productive for such a low cost, that the Angels have been able to live with Vernon Wells ($23 million salary) on the bench, and he also allowed them to cut Bobby Abreu outright ($9 million salary).

To this point, I have not mentioned wins above replacement (WAR).

Let me be the first to say WAR has its flaws. ¬†I study WAR everyday and it is not perfect. ¬†But no baseball statistic is. WAR does a very good job of explaining what has happened on the field. If you understand how it works, I’m not going to spend time trying to explain that fact here, but if you don’t believe me, read this link, or this one.

WAR is so much less flawed than RBI or batting average, in terms of defining value, it’s actually absurd.

Trout’s 2012 season ranks as the seventh greatest season of all-time, among hitters with min. 500 PA, (h/t James Gentile), in terms of WAR per plate appearance.

The six seasons that rank ahead of this year?

One season from Barry Bonds, one season from George Brett, and four seasons from Babe Ruth.

I’ll leave you with that.

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September 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm ET
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The Last Game of the Season

I used to be the B&C Yankees writer, but I am actually an Angels fan. 2012 has been a disappointing season for the Angels.  Adding Chris Iannetta, CJ Wilson, Zack Greinke and Albert Pujols should have been enough to put the Halos over the top, and back into the playoffs. They still have a legitimate chance of making the postseason, but these days I find it hard to really care too much if they make it to October.

If you haven’t noticed I’m a big fan of sabermetrics. I write about sabermetrics all over the place. It’s pretty much what I do.

For most their only idea of sabermetrics is that of Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt yapping back and forth about how Scott Hatteberg is awesome at getting on base, in some movie.

There is also a perception that “Moneyball” doesn’t work, mainly because the Oakland Athletics haven’t reached the postseason since 2006.

Billy Beane was praised as a genius by many but also critiqued by some during the early 2000’s. Then he pretty much became an afterthought for most baseball fans in the latter half of that decade.

Coming into this season, Beane was trying to rebuild Oakland’s roster for about the gazillionth time.

The Beane model essentially was:

Trade away stars who are due for a raise in exchange for cost-controlled prospects.

This offseason, Beane traded away Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey. These moves led many (including myself) to predict another losing season for Oakland, in 2012.

I assumed, like many, that Moneyball and the application of sabermetrics would not have a shot at resulting in great success for Oakland until at least 2014.

Yet, I stare at today’s standings, and despite the fact that Oakland lost 12-2 last night, they still have the second-best record in the American League.

What?

Oakland has a better record than the Yankees… again? Just like that Oscar-nominated movie about a baseball team who didn’t even win the World Series?

How is this possible?

Well to be honest, it’s happened for a lot of reasons. ¬†The main three reasons for Oakland’s success are starting pitching depth, above-average defense and good bullpen performances.

That’s right. Oakland isn’t winning because of the all-hallowed OBP (on-base percentage) that people seem to think Moneyball, or more broadly sabermetrics, is all about.

Getting on base is a huge part of run production and on-base percentage has a stronger correlation with runs scored than batting average. But Oakland’s team OBP is only .308, which is much lower than the league average, .319. Although Oakland does play in a ballpark that suppresses offense, their OBP is still below-average.

Run prevention is obviously as a large an aspect of baseball as run production, and Oakland has done a phenomenal job of keeping runs off the board.

The goal of this post is not to explain why Oakland is winning or why their success still has something to do with sabermetrics.

Instead, I would just like to admit that it’s almost possible that my love for sabermetrics has caused the diehard Angels fan in me to root for Beane’s Athletics.

I want Beane to win it all. I want him to win it all in Oakland. Many teams have found success by using sabermetrics, even my beloved Angels have hired a statistically-inclined general manager. But I think I’ve fallen in love with the Hollywood story.

In Moneyball, Pitt (Beane) says “It ultimately doesn‚Äôt matter how many games you win if you lose the last game of the season.”

2012 has been a crazy season and maybe this is the year that Beane will finally win the last game of the season.

And for me, that would be something special.

 

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September 7, 2012 at 12:56 pm ET
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Baseball is Baseball: On the Dodgers and team chemistry

This morning, Ken Rosenthal wrote a column¬†with this title: “Dodgers’ stars may need time to jell.”

The column proposed a theory for the reason behind the Dodgers going 5-7 over their last 12 games, since trading for Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett:

 The Los Angeles Dodgers have not yet jelled, and might not jell until next season, after their players have experienced a pennant race together and bonded over a full spring.

Yes, I’m talking about chemistry. Cohesiveness. Intangibles. All of those funky things that a computer cannot measure. All of those funky things that make the sport an enduring mystery, yet drive the statistically inclined to distraction.

In case you didn’t know, I like writing about things that computers can measure, so I have issue with Rosenthal’s theory right off the bat.

My main issue is sample size. ¬†The Dodgers have only played 12 games, since making the super-trade with Boston; that sample size is ridiculously small. The baseball season is 162 games long. This stretch is only 7.4 percent of the Dodgers’ season.

Why should anyone attempt to explain a 5-7 stretch, which by the way isn’t a horrible record, by any stretch of the imagination?

Then Rosenthal made this statement:

But seriously, what other explanation is there for the Greatest Lineup Ever Slapped Together producing only 20 runs in the Dodgers’ seven-game homestand against the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres?

20 runs in seven games is 2.86 runs per game, which isn’t very good. ¬†But, Arizona and San Diego’s pitching staffs aren’t the worst in the league. Both of their staff ERA’s are below four runs (and neither staff has a fielding independent pitching, FIP, much off that mark).

Adding¬†Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino did improve the Dodgers’ lineup significantly. But at the same time, I would not call their lineup at this point, “great”.

Matt Kemp and Gonzalez are superstars. But, it’s tough to argue that Victorino or Andre Either are anything better than just slightly above-average. Ramirez has been good since joining Los Angeles, but he’s going to need more than 175 plate appearances to prove to me that he is, in fact, “back”.

Who else is a great in that lineup, beyond them?

Even if you do consider the Dodgers’ lineup great, that still doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to score more than 20 runs over every seven-game stretch.

Over a seven-game stretch from August 4th to 11th in 1927, the New York Yankees, who quite possibly had the greatest lineup of all-time, scored just 21 runs.

You can find almost any small stretch of baseball games that will bring you to weird (incorrect) conclusions.

Personally, I just don’t think there was any need for a “theory” to explain this stretch of games.

It’s just baseball, and baseball is, in so many ways, random.

For an even better statistical reply to Rosenthal’s piece, check out Colin Wyers’ response at Baseball Prospectus.

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August 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm ET
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Some Fun Dodgers’ Payroll Facts

The Red Sox organization and Ben Cherington pulled off maybe the greatest salary dump of all time, last week. ¬†The trade was as incredible as it was unprecedented. ¬†The Dodgers’ new ownership group, which includes Magic Johnson, has to be printing money, or something, because the salary they took on is massive.

There’s a South Park episode that features Magic Johnson, and reveals that money is the cure for AIDS. ¬†In that episode, Magic has a ton of money, but does he have enough money to put a baseball field around these troubling facts?

Quick Payroll Facts:

  • The Dodgers have over $182 million committed in payroll for next season, which is almost twice as much as their payroll to begin this season, and over $60 million more than the Yankees have committed to their 2013 payroll.
  • The $182 million they have committed isn’t for their entire roster either. ¬†Maury Brown wrote today that their 2013 payroll will be at least $253 million, which would be a record,¬†¬†and that would mean that they wouldn’t re-sign Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Brandon League, or Randy Choate.s winter.
  • Also, the Dodgers’ 2017 payroll already is worth almost $90 million to just five players. ¬†13 teams this season had a lower payroll than that. ¬†The Dodgers payroll obligations five years from now are more than a baker’s dozen of this year’s team payrolls? That’s actually insane.
  • Oh, but it gets better. ¬†Their outfield alone (Andre Either, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford) will be paid $60 million; which is more than the 2012 payrolls of the Athletics, Pirates and Padres. ¬†In case you forgot, the A’s and Pirates are in playoff contention at the moment.

Luckily Magic Johnson has a lot of money.

All payroll data comes courtesy of Baseball Prospectus’ Compensation Tables

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August 18, 2012 at 4:02 pm ET
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Handicapping the AL Wild Card Race

When Major League Baseball expanded the playoffs to include five teams from each league, and create a Wild Card ‚Äúplay-in‚ÄĚ game, the move was met with enthusiasm and skepticism. The extra Wild Card spot was supposed to make the regular season more exciting, increase a team‚Äôs incentive to win its division, and create an exhilarating ‚ÄúGame 163″ every season.

I’m unable to comment on the last two reasons for the new playoff format, at this time, because their success cannot be judged until the postseason. But, the MLB’s new playoff format has succeeded in creating an exciting and competitive regular season environment.

Consider this scenario for a moment, let’s say that the Rangers, Yankees and White Sox never relinquish their leads and win their respective divisions.  There would still be five teams legitimately competing for the final two playoff spots.  That’s pretty exciting stuff, if you ask me.  So today, I’d like to look at which of those five AL teams has the best shot at reaching “Game 163? :

-Tampa Bay Rays (65-54, 0 games back in WC standings, current chance of claiming a WC spot: 67.6%)

The Rays had been all but written off in this race, but with Evan Longoria’s return, they look primed for another postseason appearance. ¬†David Price is going to win the AL Cy Young, and they continue to put a winning product on the field, despite having one of baseball’s lowest payrolls. With their last two wins over the Angels their playoff odds have shot up over 20 percent.

-Baltimore Orioles (64-55, 0 games back in WC standings, current chance of claiming a WC spot: 7.3%)

The Orioles just keep sticking around. ¬†It’s mid-August and their still in the thick of the playoff race, despite a horrible run differential. ¬†Everyone has been calling for their collapse for weeks, but it has yet to come. ¬†Baseball Prospectus thinks it’s coming though, as they currently rate the Orioles playoff chances below 10 percent.

-Detroit Tigers (64-55, 0 games back in WC standings, current chance of claiming a WC spot: 39.7%)

After signing Prince Fielder in the offseason, the Tigers were supposed to light the world on fire. ¬†That, of course, did not happen, but Detroit has fought back with Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Austin Jackson leading the charge. ¬†I don’t think Cabrera should be the MVP, like Jim Leyland thinks, but I do think that the Tigers will be back in the postseason.

-Los Angeles Angels (62-58, 2.5 games back in WC standings, current chance of claiming a WC spot: 32.1%)

¬†This team is falling like a ton of bricks. With their last two losses to Tampa Bay their playoff odds have dropped by over 20 percent; which quite frankly is a disgrace. ¬†Mike Trout is going to win the MVP, Albert Pujols is himself again, and their rotation would be ridiculous even in a video game, yet right now I don’t see them playing in October. ¬†A shocking disappointment.

-Oakland A’s (62-55, 1.5 games back in WC standings, current chance of claiming a WC spot: 18.1%)

Similarly to Baltimore, everyone has been waiting for the “swingin’” Oakland A’s to fall apart. ¬†Billy Beane is leading a new Moneyball renaissance, with an emphasis on pitching and defense. ¬†Their offense is pretty awful though, which makes hurts their shot at the playoffs a good deal. ¬†Oakland is letting fans sit in the outfield grass tonight to watch a screening of Moneyball, and maybe the crazy 2002 campaign that movie documents will be inspiring enough to propel this team back to October baseball.

Right now my money’s on the Rays and Tigers to be competing in Game 163. I’d love to see a Price vs. Verlander with a spot in the division series on the line.

The last 40+ games of this season are going to be interesting, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on the AL Wild Card race, you should too.

All playoff odds come courtesy of Baseball Prospectus

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August 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm ET
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Just Stop.

I’m tired of the Boston Red Sox’ “Chicken and Beer” storyline. ¬†I’ve even made fried chicken and beer jokes comments far too often, as Jon Lester has looked out of shape and ineffective for almost the entirety of 2012.

I thought we were done with the opinion that the “unprofessionalism” of the Red Sox’ clubhouse was the sole reason for their lack of success.

Then last night, the story of John Lackey “double-fisting” Bud Lights in the Red Sox clubhouse broke and it has run like wildfire through the Boston and national media. My opinion on the matter though, is who cares? Seriously, why do we care?

Lackey hasn’t pitched all season and won’t pitch the rest of the way, so who cares what he does? I understand the narrative that the Red Sox fell apart down the stretch, in 2011, because they cared more about fried chicken and beer than they did about winning on the field. But to make a story out of Lackey drinking a couple beers in the clubhouse, on the road, is quite frankly, non-sensical.

I understand the frustration of the Red Sox fanbase. ¬†Their team has baseball’s second-highest payroll, so they obviously expect a winner on the field.

But quite ironically at the same time, Red Sox fans complain constantly about the “circus at Fenway Park”. ¬†They claim that the Boston ownership cares more about making money to fuel their ventures in English Premier League soccer than they do about putting a winning product on the field.

Last time I checked, the Red Sox front office invested over $175 million in payroll, this season. That’s almost three times as much money as the Rays’ front office can invest in their on the field product.

The Red Sox front office cares about winning, they care about winning a lot, just like every other major league organization.

They’ve just had horrible luck.

Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Bailey, Lackey, Bobby Jenks and Daisuke Matsusaka all have had most, if not all of their season stripped away by injuries. They make up almost 40 percent of the Red Sox payroll, and at some point you run out of money to spend.

So, shut up about John Lackey, Bobby Valentine and whatever else Boston’s fans and media are complaining about. Red Sox fans are lucky that their front office has the financial assets and intellectual prowess to put a competitive team on the field each season.

It’s just time for their fans to say, well the injury bug bit the team incredibly hard, but at least we’ll be competitive next year. They need to stop complaining, save their breath and be thankful that they’re not a Kansas City Royals fan, because when a Royals’ fan says “there’s always next year”, they have no hope.

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August 2, 2012 at 1:32 pm ET
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Prince Albert

When the Angels signed the legendary Albert Pujols, this offseason, they thought they had acquired one of the most feared hitters, in baseball. A man whose ability was so great that he became known as “Prince Albert”. The production the Angels received from Pujols, in April, was more in line with what you’d expect to receive from a player known as, Peasant Albert.

In April, Pujols hit zero home runs, and posted a batting line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .217/.265/.304.  Those numbers are disgraceful.

Angels’ fans, who had just seen their team invest 10 years and over $250 million into Pujols, were left panic-stricken. ¬†Thoughts of their worst nightmare, being stuck with millions invested in a rapidly-declining superstar, were as unsettling as they were realistic.

The Angels, as a team, were also failing miserably.  Tapped by many as the World Series favorites, coming into the season, the Angels held a record of 8 and 15 and were nine games, behind the Rangers in the AL West standings.

Then their savior appeared out of nowhere from the city of Salt Lakes. Mike Trout has been the Angels’ hero, and in all likelihood will win the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards, this season (for only the third time in major league history). Trout has received a ton of publicity, and rightfully so, he’s the best player in baseball.

Trout’s ability has gone a long way to vaulting the Angels right back into the thick of the playoff race. ¬†Again, the Angels are World Series contenders, and April feels like a distant memory. But April, I’m sure, does not feel so far away for the Angels’ first baseman.

This is merely speculation, but I feel as though Pujols’ horrendous April is propelling him forward through the rest of this season. ¬†All the focus and spotlight, in Anaheim, has been on the 20-year old Trout, but Prince Albert’s resurgence has been full force.

Since April, Pujols’ batting line is .305/.373/.582 with 22 home runs. ¬†Those are the numbers are far from disgraceful and are more in line with what the Angels were expecting Price Albert to put up, when they signed him to that monster contract.

In his last two games, Albert has homered four times against division rival, Texas. Pujols looks primed to be a formidable threat in what is going to be a dogfight of a playoff race.

The kid may have been the Angels’ savior, but the Prince has returned, and the baseball world should be afraid, very afraid.

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July 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm ET
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My Take on Ichiro, the Yankee

I’ve always been infatuated with Ichiro Suzuki. ¬†I had a bobblehead collection as a kid, and the first bobblehead I ever owned was Ichiro’s. ¬†I still remember being allowed to stay up past my bedtime just to watch Ichiro leadoff the 2002 All-Star ¬†Game. And yes, I had a bedtime in 2002.

For me, Ichiro is a first ballot Hall of Famer. ¬†I also think that he should be considered baseball’s all-time Hit King. That opinion has nothing to do with Pete Rose’s gambling issues, but instead has everything to do with the numbers that Ichiro put up in Japan, before he ever played a game in the United States. ¬†To read more on this subject you can follow this link;¬†the author of that piece is pretty insightful, I might add.

Now Ichiro has left Seattle, in hopes of finding the glory of a World Championship with the Bronx Bombers.

Given my past obsession with Ichiro, and my former title as Yankees’ writer for this site, I think it’s necessary for me to express my opinion about this trade.

First off, Ichiro looks really strange in a Yankees uniform.

Secondly, and more importantly Ichiro is a mere shell of his old self at this point.

Ichiro isn’t a valuable hitter, and he hasn’t been one since 2010. ¬†Ichiro is a classic example of why batting average isn’t everything. ¬†People will say, Ichiro is still hitting .261, and Safeco is killing him. “He’s hitting .296 on the road!!”. That’s just wonderful. Too bad batting average isn’t everything.

This isn’t 1977, but I still feel like I should reiterate the point that the best way to evaluate a hitter is not by looking at their batting average. ¬†Getting on base and hitting for power matter , too. And Ichiro does neither of those things. A better way of analyzing a hitter’s ability is by looking at their park adjusted/weighted averages, that incorporate much more than whether or not the player got a hit. ¬†The two best stats out there are TAv and wRC+.

For those of you that are too lazy to click the links that explain those statistics, TAv is scaled with .260 as the league average, and wRC+ is scaled with 100 as the average.

Ichiro’s TAv currently sits at .235, third worst among qualified outfielders, in baseball.

Ichiro’s wRC+ currently sits at 77, third worst among qualified outfielders, in baseball.

So it looks like the Yankees haven’t acquired one of the greatest hitters of all-time, but instead the third worst hitting outfielder, in baseball.

A lot of Yankee fans understand this, but make the argument that Ichiro’s defense and baserunning still make him valuable. ¬†As an economics major I love the word value. ¬†And as an economics major who loves baseball, my favorite statistic is baseball’s value stat, WAR (wins above replacement). ¬†For those who don’t know, WAR incorporates baserunning, fielding and hitting into one all encompassing value statistic.

Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus all publish different WAR statistics. ¬†On the per player basis, using just one calculation of WAR isn’t always the best decision, so I average the three sites stats, to discover what type of value Ichiro has brought, this season.

Ichiro has been worth 1.26 wins above replacement; which is about league average with all his value coming from defense and baserunning. He has been brought in to essentially replace Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez in left field, and move their platoon to designated hitter. Both Jones and Ibanez have been good at the plate this season, but are shells of their former selves in the field.

Thus, it looks as if Brian Cashman brought in Ichiro to not be the hitter he used to be, but instead to be Brett Gardner-esque in left field and on the bases.

My problem with that idea though, is the Yankees already had DeWayne Wise, who has hit way better than Ichiro (.269 TAv, 122 wRC+) and plays defense that is only marginally worse.

I love Ichiro. He’s a player I grew up admiring. ¬†But to be quite honest, when I step past that it’s hard to make any realistic argument that makes sense out of trading for him.

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July 18, 2012 at 5:54 pm ET
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When a Sabermetrician Takes it too Far…

Sabermetrics is a nerdy subject.¬† The Simpsons did a phenomenal job of making fun of the study of statistical side of baseball, in a 2010 episode called ‚ÄúMoneyBart‚ÄĚ. Sabermetricians (which from time to time is a title I like to bestow upon myself) tend to get riled up and argue over things that normal people would scoff at.¬† I‚Äôm not excluding myself from that statement though, as I still get vehemently angry any time someone cites pitching wins as a useful statistic.¬† Though I think sometimes those of us who write about WAR, FIP, LWTS, and more get a little carried away, in the world of numbers.

A perfect example came last week over twitter (a great place to have an argument, by the way), between FanGraphs’ Matt Swartz and Baseball Prospectus’ Colin Wyers, over a statistic called SIERA.

Skill-Interactive ERA (SIERA) is one of my favorite statistics, but I’m sure most of the readers on this site have ever heard of it. For those who don’t know it’s an ERA estimator and evaluator that:

“attempts to answer the question: what is the underlying skill level of this pitcher? How well did they¬†actually¬†pitch over the past year? Should their ERA have been higher, lower, or was it about right?”

I’m a big fan of the statistic, so when Dan Brooks creator of this new Pitch f/x pitching profile tool, asked if he should include SIERA on the profiles, I got a little excited. After I (and others) badgered Brooks to run with idea, it seemed inevitable that the statistic would appear… but it never came to fruition.

The reason, you may ask? A crazy (silly) argument that has been going on for years between two sabermetricians.

SIERA originally appeared on Baseball Prospectus, in 2010, as an invention of Swartz and Eric Seidman. ¬†Swartz and Seidman have since left BP and moved on to write at FanGraphs… and they took SIERA with them. ¬†The reasons behind transitions such as these aren’t privy to the public eye, so it’s not certain if Swartz and Seidman left on their own accord or were forced out by BP. ¬†One thing seems for certain though, SIERA was forced out of BP’s site.

Wyers is the current overlord of all things statistics at BP, and it’d be an understatement of the highest order to say he’s not a fan of SIERA. When Swartz brought SIERA, a year ago, Wyers shot back and started a quasi-Fangraphs vs. Baseball Prospectus fight over at Tom Tango’s the Book Blog, almost exactly a year ago. ¬†In the comments section, Wyers, Swartz, Tango, and even Mike Fast (who now works for the Houston Astros), all got worked up over the validity of SIERA.

That happened a year ago, and it seemed to be all worked out with each side agreeing to disagree, but when Brooks suggested the possibility of bringing SIERA back to BP, Wyers responded with this tweet

I love baseball statistics more than almost anyone, but I think threatening suicide over a statistic (even in a joking manner), is taking it too far. I understand why Wyers does not like the statistic, I’ve read his critiques thoroughly, but saying “if SIERA shows up at BP again I’m sticking my head in oven”, is too much and gives sabermetricians a bad rap.

No statistic is perfect, but I think as a Sabermetrician almost everything you can find in advanced metrics from FG and BP, are useful. ¬†I just wonder sometimes why it’s so hard for everyone to get along. I personally don’t think batted ball data should cause writers to be such at odds with each other. But honestly, I guess that’s what makes these guys great Sabermetricians.

A strong passion for the discovery of what really matters in baseball and what numbers are truly useful is what drives every one of us.  I may be taking for granted what makes these writers great, when I say that re-hasing a year-old argument is a little ridiculous.

Writers like Swartz and Wyers inspire me to continue being passionate about the numbers side of the game, and even though they may not be able to agree, at least they care about the game.

And that folks, is all that matters.

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