MARGIN OF ERROR FOR WAR

> Probably won’t break this out again until MVP time, but I’ve noticed the citing of season-to-date WAR has gotten pretty out of control as the stat becomes more popular.  It seems to be blindly accepted as gospel even by some of the biggest analysts in the Game, though if you know how WAR or baseball in general works over small periods of time (which four months is), you know the numbers need much more time to reveal themselves.

To be realistic, though, season-to-date WAR is not going away.  So as a next-best option I’ve devised a rough margin of error for season WAR.  Extra-base hits, unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches and baserunning remains the same since they tend to hold pretty steady.  But from there I created two numbers: the floor WAR and ceiling WAR.  To find the floor, I regressed the player’s defensive WAR and singles-on-balls-in-play rate half way (-50%) to league average for position players since these things are what tend to fluctuate most in a short time period.  To get the ceiling, I increased the defensive WAR and singles-on-balls-in-play rate by the same amount that they were decreased by (+50%).

Let’s use Alex Gordon (3.8 WAR) and Yoenis Cespedes (1.2) as examples.

Alex Gordon’s defensive WAR (2.0 wins) is off the charts this year.  Regressing this and his singles 50% closer to the mean, his floor becomes 2.8 and regressing upwards by that same 50% puts him at 4.8.  Given the uncertain nature of defensive stats and the fact that most of Gordon’s value comes from defense, he has a wide margin of error of about one full win either way.

Cespedes, however, is much easier to peg.  He is league-average defensively (0.0), so his WAR, ceiling and floor are all the same when rounded to one digit: 1.2.  His margin of error is not hurt or helped.

I put all qualified position players into a spreadsheet which you can check out here.  If you’re ever curious about a certain player or players, let me know here or on Twitter.

WE’RE IN A GOLDEN AGE OF CATCHERS

> Going by Baseball-Reference WAR, there were more 2+ win (17) and 4+ win (9) catchers last season than at any point in baseball history.  At the all-star break this year we already have nine two-win catchers (again going by B-R, so not including framing): Evan Gattis, Yan Gomes, Jonathan Lucroy, Russell Martin, Devin Mesoraco, Yadier Molina, Derek Norris, Salvador Perez and Kurt Suzuki.

Here’s a graph of good catchers per season.

And this is total WAR produced by catchers, per Fangraphs.

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NO, A LEBRON JAMES BASEBALL EQUIVALENT WOULD NOT BE WORTH 42 WINS

> Fangraphs put out this thing the other day claiming that the baseball equivalent of LeBron James in Baseball would be either a 23-win player or a 42-win player, depending on how you did the math.

That sentence alone should make you think, “That is wrong.”  And it is; though that didn’t stop the post from being spread everywhere.

Their argument was that since LeBron was worth 2.3% of the league’s total WAR this year, if you applied that same number to Baseball he’d be worth 23 wins or 42 if he were a pitcher who hit for himself.  But the concept is all wrong.  The Heat were able to pass the ball to James whenever they wanted to.  In baseball, he’d have to wait his turn both in the lineup and in the field.

James played an average of 37.7 minutes in 77 of the Heats’ 82 48-minute games.  That puts him on the field for roughly 3/4 of the action.  And during that time, he’s always doing something.  (Or at least is supposed to be.)  A baseball player, however, only plays roughly 1/9 of the time, dividing the action somewhat evenly among his teammates.  This of course depends on position, but in the interest of simplicity we’ll say Baseball LeBron was involved in 1/9 of all his team’s plays knowing our final total won’t be exact, just more practical than the impossible 3/4 Fangraphs is using.

1/9 minus 3/4 is -64%.  Applied to LeBron’s 20.1 WAR (according to ESPN, which is what Fangraphs used in its project), that would put our approximate estimate of Baseball LeBron at 7.2 wins above replacement on the season.  Not bad; that’ll win you an MVP as long as you’re not in the same league as Mike Trout.  But it’s not 42.  That’s ridiculous.

LEBRON JAMES’ EFFECT ON HEAT AND CAVS FANBASES

> LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers yesterday.  When he first hit free agency I took down the number of Facebook likes and Twitter followers of every NBA team to see how big an impact adding the best player in the Game would have on the size of his hypothetical new team’s fanbase and also how it would affect his old team’s.

Since James hit free agency, no team has lost followers or likes.  Team pages tend to just keep growing, and since James hit free agency the average NBA Facebook page has grown 1.8% and the average Twitter page has grown 2.2%.  So under normal circumstances the Cavs would have 1,712,845 Facebook likes and 334,026 Twitter followers right now (24 hours after the announcement).  But because of James they have 60,319 (+3.5%) more likes and 36,285 (+10.9%) more followers than projected.

James’ old team, the Miami Heat, would have 14,800,084 likes and 2,682,064 followers.  Their Facebook page has outperformed the projection by 111,162 (+0.8%), but their Twitter page has 9,655 (-0.4%) fewer followers than expected.

James himself has gained 325,611 (2.5%) Twitter followers.  All numbers continue to rise so I may check back on this later.

MLB TEAMS BY LINEUPS USED SO FAR THIS SEASON

01. Padres (91)
02. Mariners, Mets, Yankees (83)
05. Red Sox (82)
06. Rockies (81)
07. Astros, Cubs, Diamondbacks (79)
10. Angels, Rays, Twins (76)
13. Indians (75)
14. A’s, Dodgers (74)
16. Rangers (73)
17. Blue Jays, Giants (71)
19. Cardinals, Pirates (70)
21. Reds (69)
22. Brewers, Orioles (66)
24. Nationals, Tigers (64)
26. Marlins (63)
27. Phillies, White Sox (58)
29. Braves (54)
30. Royals (50)

2758 games and 2158 lineups.  That’s a new lineup 78% of the time.  In 1990 the rate was 71%.  In 1970 it was 58% and in 1950 it was 31%.

WHICH PITCHERS ARE BEING HELPED AND BURNED THE MOST BY UMPIRES?

> Yesterday we looked at which hitters were being helped and hurt by umpires calling balls outside the zone strikes.  Today, the same thing only with pitchers.  Again, the number next to the name is the number of estimated runs above average gained or lost.  So a 7.0 would be worth 0.7 WAR.

The ones benefiting the most from bad calls:

1. David Phelps (7.1)
2. David Price (6.8)
3. Andrew Cashner (6.3)
4. Eric Stults (4.8)
5. Josh Tomlin (4.7)
6. Kyle Lohse (4.6)
7. Hyun-jin Ryu (4.1)
8. Jarred Cosart (3.8)
9. Cliff Lee (3.7)
X. Yovani Gallardo (3.5)

And the ones getting hurt the most:

1. Roberto Hernandez (5.5)
2. Jorge De La Rosa (5.0)
3. Kyle Gibson (4.4)
4. Andre Rienzo (3.4)
5. Anibal Sanchez (3.2)
6. Edwin Jackson (3.0)
7. R.A. Dickey (2.9)
8. Hector Noesi (2.8)
9. Garrett Richards (2.8)
X. Jose Quintana (2.6)

 

MOLINA INJURY ANOTHER EMBARASSMENT FOR CARDS MED STAFF

> The Cardinals announced today that Yadier Molina will miss the next eight to twelve weeks.

Before we look into what happens next, let’s take stock of what just happened. Last night Molina slid hard into third base, injuring his hand. The team trainer came out to check on him and okayed him to stay in the game. He didn’t score but was allowed to go catch the next inning; after which he had to leave the game with what we just learned was a torn ligament.

This is yet another episode in the Cardinals’ never-ending ineptitude at determining the extent of injuries. Off hand I can recall twenty incidents of this since I began following the team in 2008; the most recent example prior to this one being when Joe Kelly was not expected to miss more than two weeks and ended up being out almost 90 days.

More recently, Jaime Garcia went outside the organization to consult doctors on what to do about nerve problems in his arm. After doing so he decided to have surgery. GM John Mozeliak then threw him under the bus publicly, saying he was a hard guy to count on and being dramatic about his decision. When the handling of Rafael Furcal’s injury in 2013 was criticized here and elsewhere, Mozeliak said the criticism was unfair.

But at this point it’s abundantly clear that the Cardinals don’t entirely know what they’re doing. Yadier is unfortunately just another in a long line of screw-ups.

* * * * *

Now comes the issue of replacing Molina. Most seem fine with backup catcher Tony Cruz taking over the role, though I’m not a fan. In admittedly sparse playing time he’s done nothing in his career; netting a -0.9 WAR (including framing runs) over less than 400 plate appearances. It’s possible that Cruz will do better with consistent playing time, but he’s never done anything to warrant that expectation.

Two guys I do like who are both cheap, nearing free agency, playing as backups on their terrible teams and are fantastic pitch framers are David Ross and Rene Rivera. Ross may be the most underrated catcher in the Game. Framing runs only go back to 2007 but since then he has put up 10.3 wins over 1420 plate appearances. Rivera has been worth 2.5 in 328.

Oakland also has three solid catchers: Derek Norris, John Jaso and Stephen Vogt. Not like they need all three, right?

A.J. Pierzynski just got fired by the Red Sox so naturally his name has come up, but he got fired for a reason. He’s pretty much done.

Whatever they do, though, they need to do something.  There are better options than Tony Cruz.

WHO’S GETTING HELPED AND BURNED BY UMPIRES

> Homeplate umpires in general aren’t very good at what they do as compared to the pitch-tracking technology that could otherwise be used to call balls and strikes. This season they have called 16% of callable pitches outside the zone strikes with lefties getting burned 17% of the time and righties 14%.

The estimated value of a ball-turned-strike is .133 runs. So we can add up how many more or fewer strikes were called on a guy and estimate how much better he might have done had the course of his at-bats not been altered by faulty officiating.

Here are the season’s leaders so far in estimated runs lost to umpires. (Note: Switch hitters’ totals are split between their left-handed and right-handed selves.)

1. Matt Carpenter (5.4)
2. Joe Mauer (4.9)
3. Brock Holt (4.1)
4. Colby Rasmus (3.7)
5. Brett Gardner (3.7)
6. Adam LaRoche (3.5)
7. Dioner Navarro (3.2)
8. Brian McCann (2.9)
9. Melky Cabrera (2.7)
X. Nick Markakis (2.5)

All of them are left-handed. In fact, you wouldn’t run into the right-handed season leader Logan Forsythe (2.0) until you got down to 20th place.

Keep in mind we’re not even at the All-Star break yet. Carpenter in on pace for 9.5 runs lost to umpires; basically an extra win above replacement. That’s something to keep in mind when MVP time rolls around.

In case you were curious, these are the players who have most benefited from umpires this year. All but one are righties as you’s expect, yet bizarrely enough number one is a lefty.

1. Freddie Freeman (5.2)
2. Yadier Molina (4.7)
3. Dustin Pedroia (4.3)
4. Todd Frazier (4.1)
5. Marlon Byrd (3.8)
6. Justin Upton (3.7)
7. Yasiel Puig (3.6)
8. Jonathan Lucroy (3.6)
9. Edwin Encarnacion (3.6)
X. Dayan Viciedo (3.4)

CARDINALS DOUBLE PLAY AVERAGES

> Mike Matheny took Matt Holliday out of the two spot last night, presumably to alleviate his apparent propensity of hitting into double plays.  He replaced him with Jon Jay.

We keep bagging on Holliday for doing this, but in doing so we ignore that he’s fourth in MLB in plate appearances with a double play in order.  To get context, here are the Cardinals’ double plays per double play opportunity averages in their careers.

Yadier Molina (.175)
Allen Craig (.133)
Jhonny Peralta (.133)
Matt Holliday (.132)
Jon Jay (.119)
Matt Adams (.115)
Peter Bourjos (.109)
Mark Ellis (.084)
Matt Carpenter (.068)

League average for a position player is .108 this year so Holliday isn’t great at not hitting into double plays, but neither was Albert Pujols when he was with the Cardinals (.135).  Double plays are an annoyance but it’s not worth making your lineup order worse in order to avoid them.

DOES THE HOMERUN DERBY MESS WITH YOUR SWING?

> The Homerun Derby is coming up, but the Game’s two greatest hitters–Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera–have opted out saying they don’t want to mess up their swings.  The current MLB homerun leader Jose Abreu remains on the fence for the same reason.  So are they right?  Does the Derby mess up your swing?

People have attempted to gauge this before, but from what I’ve seen their approach is flawed.  Usually a comparison between first half and second half is made, which on the surface makes sense.  But to get into the Derby in the first place usually requires an insane first half; something that’s hard to keep going for another three months, especially the latter half when you’re dealing with the fatigue of a 162-game season.

So to tell if the Derby really altered a guy, I compared his second-half OPS in a Derby year to his second-half OPS from the two years prior and two years after.  It’s not an exact science, but this way we can see if the player’s expected second-half decline is any worse than usual.  By using the two previous and two latter seasons, we can somewhat balance the effect of age and the recent advancement of MLB pitching.

Our sample consists of 80 contestants (including returning challengers) over the last ten eligible derbies from 2002 to 2011.  Of those 80, 39 underperformed as compared to their four peripheral years; meaning that a majority (41) actually did better than expected after participating in a derby.

The average difference in performance was 1% higher (.008 points of OPS) than expected.  So on average players did exactly as well as you’d expect them to do if they hadn’t participated in the Derby.  And almost all returning challengers who underperformed one year overperformed in different Derby year.

The average age of players who overperformed was 28, while the average age of underperformers was 30.  Which also makes sense.

So we can’t say definitively that the Derby won’t mess up your swing.  What we can say is that for every one guy who doesn’t do as well as he should there was a guy who did better than he should’ve.  If I were asked to to it, my answer would depend on how well I’d expect to do or how much fun I think I’d have rather than how it would affect my season.  Again, these guys are the best hitters in the world.  They didn’t get that way by not being able to be flexible in their approach at the plate.

(Speaking to Cabrera specifically, he has no reason to be worried.  After his first Homerun Derby in 2006 he overperformed expectations by 8% and after his second in 2010 only underperformed by a mere 2%.)

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