Monday, January 28, 2008

A New Golden Age

Replacement Level Yankees is doing a great series on the greatest offensive Yankee seasons ever. The First Base one is particularly eye-popping as I am sure the Outfielders will be. If we look carefully at that list, we should realize that we're in one of the greatest Yankee periods, drought not with-standing. Looking at the line-up right now, Jeter and A-Rod are slam-dunk, first-ballot Hall of Famers and Posada will make it in if he puts up two more substantially good seasons.

Now for just one more ride down the Canyon of Heroes...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Choices People Make...

Let's take a look at two case studies, shall we?

Case 1 - Justin Morneau's recent contract extension
Case 2 - Robinson Cano's recent contract extension

This is a great example of people making wise and foolish baseball decisions.
Let's break these deals down point by point.


And although I mentioned it in another post, let's take a quick look at Bill James' defensive spectrum:

1B, RF, LF, 3B, CF/2B, SS, C

Once again, the positions on the left are the easiest to play and find offensively minded replacement players from and the positions on the right are skill positions that are difficult to find replacements.

This is the only reason why Alex Rodriguez can be mentioned in the same sentence as Barry Bonds when we're talking about the greatest player of all time. Alex, in his career year with the Texas Rangers hit a mind boggling 57 home runs AS A GOLD-GLOVE SHORTSTOP. Barry Bonds, while a gold-glover himself, plays left field. The difference in defensive value to the team is significant. If we considered offense only then Barry Bonds is on a level with Babe Ruth. No other players were nearly as good as those two. More on that another time.

Speaking of offense, let's move on to that now.

. BA OBP SLG EQA IsoPower IsoPatience AB/XBH
Morneau - .276 .340 .498 .288 .222 .064 11
Cano - .314 .346 .489 .290 .175 .032 11

This is the first time I have ever blogged in an attempt to use (and hopefully, better understand Iso- stats. I'm not sure if AB/XBH is actually a real stat or not, but I just did some quick math (total career ab divided by career xbh). I think that's worth some inquiry.

Morneau is what you would call your typical masher. The mediocre batting average, the better than average OBP, and the high SLG are all there. He has respectable, but not eye-popping Iso Power and Iso Patience.

Cano seems to be about on par with Morneau in terms of raw stats but loses out in the Iso Stats. Morneau will be less prone to slumps than Cano does based purely on skill sets. However, when it comes to physical fitness and conditioning, I'm willing to bet that Cano will stay relatively healthier throughout the course of both contracts. Cano's sole significant advantage is his glistening BA (which is no doubt inflated by his 2006 numbers).

Morneau may have a slight edge here (as well he should, being a first baseman) but I'd like to look at the next point before closing the book on offense. Actually, the book on defense will have an addendum after the next point as well.

The age factor is the most curious part of this contract to me. Cano will be 25 and Morneau will be 27. In real world terms, that doesn't have much significance. In baseball terms, this is enormous. If we follow the career tracks of great players, they have a great season from 23-25 and another truly great season between ages 26-28 before plateauing out until age 31 or 32 where they have a not-as-good-as-age-23-but-still-great season and then begin a steady decline before falling off the cliff completely at some point. That is the lifecycle of a great player. There are rare cases that fall outside the norm, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Barry Bonds have extremely unorthodox career arcs. Others are cut short by injury or disease, Lou Gehrig and Don Mattingly for example, and others inexplicably decline like Chuck Knoblauch.

But I've named maybe 5 exceptions to a principle that has lasted over a hundred years of baseball. I'm inclined that it is a combination of the demands of the game as well as the nature of human physiology.

Why is this important? For projectability.

Offensively, it's not unreasonable to expect no less than 4 of the 6 years in Cano's contract to be exceptional years. I would guess he might average a .320 .360 .520 line in those years. Quite simply, I believe he will carry the Yankee offense of the future and be regarded unequivocally as one of the best players in the game. My bold OBP is admittedly optimistic, but he has shown improvement in his walk rate every year. He already has an amazing batting average. If he can bring up his patience and pitch selectivity then Yankee fans may really be in for something very, very special in the near future.

Morneau on the other hand can expect to see a career surge next year or the year after before tapering off to be an above average player for the remainder of the contract. I don't see how his BB-rate can improve or how he can learn to hit for a higher average. There's not really a reasonable hope for growth with Morneau.

Baseball players play their best defense until age 24 or 25 and then plateau for 3-5 years before falling off a cliff. Infielders typically decline at a slower rate than outfielders and catchers decline precipitously quick. Morneau has never been regarded for his glove and it will only get worse with age. It's a good thing he's hidden at a position where that'll damage his team the least. Robbie is one of the best now, and he'll continue to be very good for the first half of his contract and just plain good in the last half. And all of that will be at a much more vital defensive position.

Justin Morneau - 6 years, $80m
Robinson Cano - 6 years, $58m
Final Analysis.
Robinson Cano is an unbelievable steal. Unbelievable. End of analysis. See you all next year.

Let me finish up with this quote from Rob Neyer of ESPN:

For me, the options are clear: If you're looking for a second baseman for the next five years, you must choose Utley's bat or Cano's youth, and all the rest is just fighting over table scraps.

I'll take Cano, because I don't think we've yet seen his best work and because he plays in the toughest division in the toughest league. So here's how I've got them, with (as usual) the last spot held open for the next great second baseman who hasn't established himself yet. Remember, we're talking about value over the next five seasons ...

1. Cano
2. Utley
3. The Beantown Napoleon

Oh, let me put up a picture so that this post is less boring.

Cano probably took a paycut in support of worker's rights around the world.
Hasta la victoria siempre!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Gunned Down Going For The Hall

The NYTimes has a great article on Tim Raines' candidacy for the Hall.

It's a fresh article that deviates from the typical nonsense of "Jim Rice is the most feared hitter of his time! All 5 years!"

I do see some preliminary problems though. For starters, he doesn't mention at all how this helps his candidacy. It makes him a better ballplayer, but I am absolutely convinced that sportswriters, particularly those who vote for the Hall of Fame are so dense that they would sink to the bottom in a sea of lead. Sports writers, time and time again, have shown me nothing but pedagogy, herd instinct, cowardice, an aversion to taking responsibility for things they have said or written and an absolutely absurd unwillingness to consider how helpful statistics can be in both appreciating and understanding the game.

Tim Marchman of the NY Sun wrote an article on the absurdity of asking whether Tim Raines was worthy of the Hall. Tim Raines is one of the top 10 left fielders of all time. Yes, he has had a far better career than Manny Ramirez unless Manny has a 2001 Bonds' turnaround in his career.

This is a minority opinion. Buster Olney doesn't consider Tim Raines to be worthy of the honor. Neither does Peter Gammons. This is madness.

But things are not as they always were. From what I've seen in the professional blogosphere (a sphere that this blog is not included in), Tim Raines' candidacy is gaining more traction as I believe people proficient with the internet would be more likely to understand baseball from a sabermetric perspective.

Joe Posnanski
is one such example.

Who knows? Perhaps there is a change in the wind. Or perhaps it's just a brief breath of fresh air in the fetid swamp of sports journalism.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Quantifying Conventional Wisdom

Post from RLYW.

That post is fascinating. The science is imperfect (and admittedly so) but it leaves room for lots of productive speculation. As one of the commenters on that page said, it's basically quantifying conventional wisdom. If your pitcher is a sinkerballer, it makes sense to prepare extra hard for his day of the week.