September 24, 2002
From The Mailbag
I thoroughly enjoyed your article posted on ESPN.com about Jeff Kent as an MVP candidate. But, with all your statistics on the best seasons for a 2B, I was wondering how Alfonso Soriano's season fits into that, especially in terms of the BWAR stat. Also, I think it would be very interesting to see such a comparison done on Kent's season vs. Soriano's season, who is more valuable, etc.
Soriano's season, projected to 162 games, comes out to 6.1 Batting Wins Above Replacement, compared to 7.8 for Kent (Kent's number updated from the one in the article). Placing Soriano in the two lists I included in the article: 6.1 wins would put him 25th among second basemen seasons since 1970, and 56th all-time.
There are two reasons Soriano doesn't rate as well as Kent. First, his raw hitting numbers aren't quite as good--Kent beats Soriano by around 35 points in OBP, and around 5 points in SLG. Second, Yankee Stadium isn't the hitter's nightmare that Pac Bell Park is.
That doesn't account for basestealing. Adding in Soriano's basestealing value would narrow Kent's advantage, but only by a little.
I agree that Kent has put up huge numbers ever since Barry smacked him upside the head in the dugout a couple months ago. But your analysis leaves me with a nagging question. How much of Kent's MVP cred is predicated on his being a second baseman? Using BWAR helps Kent if he's lucky enough to play in an era when there aren't any other good second basemen in his league (odd, given all the great SS these days).
I agree with your general sentiment about position-adjusting of offensive statistics. However, in this case there was no adjustment for position; BWAR is based on hitting only. I just limited the players I compared Kent to other second basemen.
I don't think the statistical picture of Kent's defense is quite as clear as you make it sound. His Zone Rating this year is below average, but not abysmal. And his ZR last year was quite good. Clay Davenport's defensive numbers published in BP2002 had him as well above average for both 2000 and 2001. My own assessment, based on my observation and the stats, is that he's a below average but passable second baseman.
That's still a big issue for prospective off-season suitors of Kent, though: At age 34, how much longer will he be able to play second?
Regarding the article, have you guys checked out Mike Marshall's web site? He recommends throwing daily, and lays out a pretty convincing argument (or what seems like one, as my background in anatomy is limited at best).
I have indeed seen Dr. Marshall's web site. John talked about Marshall during the interview, I just had so much other material, it didn't make it into the story. Following up with Marshall is an excellent thought though. The more layers you unravel in this conversation (Dr. Frank Jobe, John, hopefully Marshall, Sain and others down the road), the more insight you can gain, and I'm really enjoying the process.
In BP2002, you say that Jeter is underrated offensively. But take a look at his career progression, with particular attention to this year! His OBP is unchanged from last year, but he's lost more than 60 points of SLG. His doubles are also down [30+ each of the last three years, only 23 as of 9/23], and his triples have fallen off a cliff since '99--he has NONE this year.
While there's no denying the fact that Derek Jeter has been slumping with the bat this season, that doesn't necessarily mean that he is an overrated offensive player. After all, the whole idea of under- or over-rating someone is pretty subjective when you get down to it. Mainly, comments that say "Player X is overrated" only hold water if everyone is on the same page with their opinions--and I think it's safe to say that that statement doesn't necessarily hold true for what fans, analysts, and broadcasters have to say about Jeter, respectively. (See: Neyer, Rob; and Sterling, John.)
With that being said, I'm not really sure what's been up with Jeter's bat this year. His Isolated Slugging is down quite a bit from previous years, and his walk rate is leveling off instead of improving. On the positive side, though, his stolen base numbers are among the best in the league--and look only to be improving. For as much flak as BP might give Jeter for his defense, one thing we probably don't talk enough about is his great baserunning ability. Over the past three seasons, Jeter has stolen a total of 80 bases while being caught only 10 times. That is legitimately awesome, and worthy of commendation.
Seems to me that you haven't been paying enough attention to the actual games that are being played. Numbers are not everything. What about the chemistry? Lockhart is considered to be the "Lucky Charm" of the Braves. How many games has he gotten on base at crucial times? What about fouling off pitch after pitch late in a game in order to get some momentum going for the team?
Given the weakness of the Braves' offense relative to the other playoff-bound teams in the NL, I absolutely concede that every time that Keith Lockhart reaches base is crucial for the Braves, especially considering that it happens so very infrequently, and the Braves are so very used to operating with three hitters who, against all competition, are among the worst regulars at their position. Facing top pitchers on good teams will only make that problem worse, and naturally make that rare occurrence of a Lockhart on-base opportunity that much more crucial.
As for Vinny Castilla's defensive contributions, this is the tired justification for sticking with a broken bat, almost reflexively assuming that if someone this bad is in the lineup, he must be the best at something. (This was essentially Roger Kahn's thesis about Billy Cox, and is the operating principle for Nichols' Law of Catcher Defense: people suppose defensive greatness to explain playing time for weak offensive contributors... except in the case of Javy Lopez.) You can make the claim that Castilla is the best defensive third baseman: It's a nice opinion to have, and it's justified in so far as he's really very good. But is he better than Aaron Boone or Placido Polanco or Scott Rolen or Mike Lowell? You'd have a hard time finding any meaningful evidence to support such a claim, because those guys are also really very good with the leather. They also all happen to be better hitters and better all-around players, but perhaps that's unfair of me to point out.
It does bring me to another point: is the difference between a good third baseman, who makes fewer than three plays per game, and a bad one, who makes around 2.5 to three plays per game, enough to compensate for a guy who is arguably the worst regular at his position, and who gets four at-bats per game? It's hard to argue that Castilla's defensive value outweighs his pathetic offensive contributions, because he's not merely bad, he's awful.
All of this said, I hope the Braves live up to your expectations and hopes as a loyal fan, and I wish them well. I just hope they do something to help themselves, like get Lockhart and Castilla on the bench, and put DeRosa and Giles in the lineup. Their pitching is good enough that if they just put something resembling an adequate lineup in the game, they have an obviously legit shot at the World Series.
"Make no bones about it, the Braves are the weakest of the NL teams headed into the postseason."
Wow, in the history of western civilization, I am impressed to have been pegged as the utterer/typist of "one of the worst things said ever," especially since it happened to be an uncomfortable truth. I was referring to the Braves' offense, and in comparison to the other teams headed for the postseason in the National League, it is one of those things that just is: they're the worst offensive team of the bunch, and they're a below-average offensive team in the National League. If you wish to contest that, I'd recommend you take the advice of Casey Stengel--you could look it up.
As you point out, you share my concern for the offense. What's frustrating about the Braves is that they have the people on the roster to help themselves right now, and I certainly hope that they will. As somebody who really enjoys watching Maddux when he's on top of his game, it would also be fun to see him silence the critics of his postseason performances in the same way Roger Clemens has. I would enjoy seeing them push past the Snakes this year, so I hope you enjoy it to the nth degree if it comes to pass.
Was looking at Barry Bonds' batting average and Milwaukee's winning percentage, and I wondered, how often has a player's BA exceeded the worst team's WP?
It used to happen literally all the time; it's been done 2,253 times in Major League history.
Of course, it used to be that there were teams with win/loss percentages of .300 or less pretty routinely. Recently, it's gotten tougher, but it still happened 10 times in the 1990s:
It only happened three times in the 1980s (Brett '80, Puckett and Boggs '88) and five times in the 70s (Carew in '75 and '77, Bostock in '77, Brett and Lynn '79), so it probably qualifies as 'uncommon' nowadays.
Cap Anson had a better BA than the worst team in his league 20 times; Cobb did it 15 times for second place. That list is dominated by 19th century players.
A harder case is beating your own team's W/L record--since a good player makes it harder for the team to be so bad. That hasn't happened since 1962, when the New York Mets went 40-120. Three Amazins--Felix Mantilla at .275, Frank Thomas at .266, and Charlie Neal at .260--beat their .250 record. Before that you've got Jimmy Wasdell, who hit .300 in 1945 for the .299 Phillies; Etten and Litwhiler for the '41 Phillies, Hoag and McQuinn for the '39 Browns, Arnovich for the '39 Phillies--it wasn't a rare feat prior to WWII.
Great article. I can't blame you for making the point that Evans deserves full consideration and should be in the Hall, but come on, do you really believe that Evans deserves the first nod?
I think it's basically a tie. Admittedly, as a tie-breaker I picked the guy whose inclusion would be a little more unconventional and provocative.
Pete Palmer's Total Baseball Rating gives Santo the edge over Evans, 41 wins to 36. But that's comparing to a league average baseline--i.e., giving Evans insufficient credit for his longer career.
Clay's numbers, which compare to replacement, give Evans the edge, 72 wins vs. Santo's 67. Both of those stats adjust for position, giving Santo credit for his extra time at third.
Obviously there are good arguments for Santo to come out top, but I see it as awfully close.
I don't have their defensive numbers in front of me, but I think Ted Simmons stacks up favorably with Gary Carter. Perhaps you missed him because he slipped off the ballot his first year like Lou Whitaker and Dwight Evans. Simmons had over 2400 hits. Although below Carter in HR, he beats Carter in RBI and Runs, has a similar SLG and better OBP. In 600 more ABs Simmons finished with a 118 OPS+ versus Carter's 115. Simmons was in the top 10 in OPS 5 times to Carter's 3. He leads in Grey Ink by 20, and they are all but equals in HOF Monitor and Standards, splitting the two measures. From ages 22-29 Simmons' most similar player is Ivan Rodriguez. I'm sure after 30 (this year for Pudge) they will still be most similar. If Pudge died in a car accident this year he'd get in on the first ballot.
Simmons was an outstanding player and has a good HOF case, but I personally wouldn't put him at the same level as Carter. I agree that he was just as good or even a little better than Carter as a hitter. But Carter's defensive advantage--by reputation or by numbers--is huge.
Clay's defensive stats have Carter with a ~200 run advantage over Simmons at catcher, and that number seems about right to me. Carter had a gun, Simmons had (on balance) an average arm. The difference between a strong-armed catcher and an average one can easily be around 15 runs a year, especially in the "green light" days of the 70s and 80s. And Carter caught almost 300 more games than Simmons as well.
I was scrolling through the pitcher reports (SNWL, RRE), checking up on the inadequacies of my Kansas City Royals' staff when I noticed the park effect posted for Kaufmann Stadium: +28.5%?!?! Is that true? I know it has been playing on the plus side for several years, but not to this degree, if I recall correctly. Anything other than statistical variation?
It does seem odd, but that's the way it's played in the past couple of years. Last year, the Royals and their opponents scored 19% more runs in Kaufmann than away. This year (through mid-August or so), they've scored 26% more. If you average them, and add in the effect of the DH--I lump all this stuff together under "park effect"--it comes out to 28.5%.
Yes, statistical variation does seem like a likely culprit in this case. There are other possible factors, like the new pitchers' parks in the AL (Seattle, Detroit), subtle changes to the park, and weather. It's also possible that the major modifications to the park in 1995 were more hitter-friendly that we had seen up until recently.