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August 15, 2012

BP Unfiltered

Melky Cabrera, PEDs, and the Giants' Playoff Odds

by Ben Lindbergh

When news of Melky Cabrera’s 50-game suspension for taking testosterone broke this afternoon, the Giants had 45 games remaining, were tied with the Dodgers atop the NL West, and were half a game worse than the Braves and Pirates, the two teams tentatively holding the two NL Wild Cards. Shortly after that, they lost to the Nationals, 6-4, but let’s pretend that never happened. (Who knows, maybe with Melky they would have won.) This morning, with Melky, the Giants had a 60.5 percent chance of making the playoffs: 53.2 percent from winning the division, and 7.3 percent from winning a Wild Card. How much did losing Melky for the rest of the regular season affect their odds?

To find out, I distributed Melky’s playing time among other players, re-ran the odds, and compared them to this morning’s. Our depth charts had him projected to play 90 percent of the time. I gave 60 percent of that time to Gregor Blanco (who was already projected for 40 percent) and 15 percent each to Brett Pill and Justin Christian. The difference? A whopping 2.9 percent reduction in playoff odds, with most of that decline reflected in the team’s chances of winning a Wild Card. To put that into perspective, the Giants' trade for Marco Scutaro a few weeks ago improved their playoff odds by 2.5 percent.

 

Playoff%

Div%

WC%

With Melky

60.5

53.2

7.3

Without Melky

57.6

52.5

5.1

There is a caveat here: because it takes several years of past performance into account, PECOTA isn’t quick to believe in breakouts. As a result, the system had Cabrera projected for a .270 TAv over the rest of the season, which would have made him worth an additional half a win. However, PECOTA doesn’t know Cabrera was taking testosterone. If—and this is really a stretch—you think that either all or some portion of Cabrera’s improvement in 2012 stemmed from his use of a banned substance, then presumably he would have outperformed that projection had he continued to play, and the percentage change should be bumped up accordingly.

Even assuming Cabrera wouldn’t have regressed at all, though—which is an even bigger stretch, regardless of whether his performance was actually enhanced—his loss couldn’t have moved the needle by much more than a few percent. Forty-five games just isn’t enough time for most personnel changes to make a major impact, and it’s rare that the addition or departure of a single player makes or breaks a season. Given the closeness of the race, Cabrera’s absence could come back to bite the Giants, but unless they miss out on a playoff spot by a single game, it probably won’t be worth wondering what might have been. As demoralizing as the suspension news might be for fans of Melky or San Francisco—and for those of us who can look forward to having an even tougher time persuading people that future career years could be clean—the Giants’ playoff push isn’t in much worse shape than it was this morning.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  Giants,  San Francisco Giants,  Melky Cabrera,  Testosterone,  PED,  PEDs

24 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Note: I ran another 5,000 simulations of the rest of the season and updated the table to reflect the new, slightly altered odds.

Aug 15, 2012 20:53 PM
 
pobothecat

("Forty-five games just isn’t enough time for most personnel changes to make a major impact ..." I'll be sure to pass this on to Joey Votto and my fantasy team.)

Aug 15, 2012 21:23 PM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Your fantasy team might be hurting, but the Reds have gone 21-8 since he got hurt.

Aug 15, 2012 22:00 PM
 
bigbart

It hurts to lose a bat like that in fantasy, and much of that effect will be determined by your league size & settings, but if losing any 1 player is hurting you that significantly you probably don't have the best supporting cast anyway.

Aug 16, 2012 07:22 AM
rating: 0
 
I75Titans

Or all the Giant wins from 1993-2007 when Barry Bonds was on the roster.

Aug 16, 2012 09:03 AM
rating: -1
 
Dodger300

I think the Giants should have to forfeit all victories in which Melky played, a la NCAA rules. Agreed?

Aug 15, 2012 22:31 PM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Spoken like a true Dodgers fan!

While we're at it, we might as well take away all the Giants victories in which Jose Guillen played in 2010. Since the Giants wouldn't have made the playoffs without those wins, we can retroactively award that World Series to the Padres. The new Padres ownership will be thrilled.

Aug 15, 2012 22:39 PM
 
thedaves

We would have to take away the Pads' 1998 playoff run and WS appearance due to Ken Caminiti's involvement, but I'm sure they'd take that trade.

Aug 16, 2012 13:10 PM
rating: 1
 
marshaja

I'm curious how suspensions and playoffs work. Since he'll only miss 45 regular season games, will he get to come back after 5 playoff games if the Giants qualify and move on to the NLCS?

Aug 16, 2012 05:02 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Yes. You can listen to today's episode of the Effectively Wild podcast if you'd like to hear more about that.

Aug 16, 2012 05:07 AM
 
ThreeSix

Can you imagine the reaction if the Giants make it to the NLCS or even the WS with Melky playing? That circus would be a huge distraction and morale crusher for the team, and fans for that matter, during a time they should be celebrating and having fun. i wonder if it would have been better for the Giants to have him banned during the postseason as well.

Aug 16, 2012 10:33 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

I don't know if it would be a morale crusher, but if they determine that the PR fallout from bringing him back outweighs the potential benefit to the team, they can always cite the fact that he hasn't played in a couple months and can't really rehab in game situations because of the timing of the suspension. Facing playoff pitching after not facing in-game major-league pitching for that long can't be easy.

Aug 16, 2012 12:38 PM
 
terryspen

Ben -- I don't understand your statement that it's a stretch to think that some or all of Cabrera's improved performance this year is because he was taking a banned substance. Call me a skeptic, but if a player is doing better than expected and then it turns out he's juicing, I'm going to credit the juice rather than some personal revelation about his swing mechanics. Maybe you were being sarcastic and I'm being dense, but I read the graf three times before I posted this.

Aug 16, 2012 11:13 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Actually, "a skeptic" is the opposite of what I would call you. Not that you're necessarily wrong. But I think I'm the one being the skeptic here, in that we can't prove that there's a link between his PED use and improved performance, and so I'm hesitant to conclude that there is one.

I think it's plausible that Melky's improvement was mostly some minor maturation by a player at his peak, coupled with a flukily high BABIP that probably would have regressed. Nothing about his underlying numbers really screams "steroids!" to me--most of his rates are almost identical to what they were last season, including his ISO. Of course, it's possible that he was on something in 2011, too.

Aug 16, 2012 13:05 PM
 
mpfaelzer

the suspension should force Bochy to play Belt, who is getting hotter by the moment, every day, no matter what. Also, with Pence, the Giants may still make a run for the division's #1 spot.

Aug 16, 2012 11:16 AM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

"However, PECOTA doesn’t know Cabrera was taking testosterone. If—and this is really a stretch—you think that either all or some portion of Cabrera’s improvement in 2012 stemmed from his use of a banned substance, ... "

This really points out the House of Cards that is PECOTA ... none of these comps mean anything for PED abusers.

Forget about what missing Cabrera means to the Giants going forward... what advantage did they accrue by having him as a cheater for the first half of the year? I'm sure the difference between his Yankee and Giant WARP is worth at least 2-3 games in the standings. That is a disservice to all of the teams chasing the Giants.

And if you really want to extrapolate .. the home field advatage for the NL in the World Series as delivered by All-Star MVP Melky.

Of course, if testosterone is as common as Conte would have us believe, we can fall back on the Apologist's list of excuses for PEDs that it really doesn't matter as it all cancels out in the end.

Aug 16, 2012 18:51 PM
rating: -1
 
sbnirish77

"But I think I'm the one being the skeptic here, in that we can't prove that there's a link between his PED use and improved performance, and so I'm hesitant to conclude that there is one.

I think it's plausible that Melky's improvement was mostly some minor maturation by a player at his peak ... "

Sadly, entirely consistent with the BP mantra in support of PECOTA.

Aug 16, 2012 18:54 PM
rating: -3
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

More like the BP mantra in support of avoiding what Tom Tango would call "summary opinions without evidence." I'm not comfortable saying that the difference between Melky's Yankees and Giants WARPs is attributable entirely to the testosterone he took this season, without any real evidence that that's the case. I don't see what that has to do with PECOTA.

Aug 16, 2012 19:12 PM
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

In fact, if anything, my way makes PECOTA looks worse. Blaming steroids would be an easy way to explain why Melky has exceeded his projection.

Aug 16, 2012 19:23 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

The worst thing about this whole business (and I am a Giants' fan) is that Melky out-trended King Felix on Twitter last night.

Aug 16, 2012 20:10 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

"I don't see what that has to do with PECOTA."

The comps in PECOTA are pretty worthless if you're going to use PED users to project careers of non-PED users .. or use non-PED users to project the careers of PED users.

BP has consistently underplayed the effects of PEDS because to acknowledge the effect would undermine all those PECOTA comps on which much of their analysis is based.

Just about anyone who has put up unbelievable numbers in the last 15 years has been found out to be .... well ... unbelievable.

We are on the cusp of a hall-of-fame class that should include many 1st ballot inductees but instead the players will probably never get in if the voting on Big Mac is any indication. So if you want to ignore that the best of the best of the 90s are nearly 100% indicted in the problem go ahead and bury your head in the sand.

Aug 16, 2012 22:21 PM
rating: -4
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

If you've really become convinced that we've conspired as a company to underplay the effects of PEDs, just to protect one small part of our projection system, I'm probably not going to persuade you otherwise. But the thought has never crossed my mind, and to my knowledge, it's never been discussed by anyone at BP.

Aug 16, 2012 22:58 PM
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Upon further review, the first sentence of my comment probably should have read, "If you've really become convinced that we've conspired as a company to underplay the effects of PEDs, just to protect one small part of our projection system, and you've been making the same baseless accusation for four and a half years, I'm probably not going to persuade you otherwise."

Aug 17, 2012 01:33 AM
 
evo34

I am no fan of the current iteration of PECOTA myself, but sbnirish77 is making no sense. Let's assume BP decides that is it going to assume that 30% of all players were using PEDs over the past 20 years. How would this change PECOTA? Should they shut down any effort to project players simply because not all variables are known?

Aug 16, 2012 23:59 PM
rating: 3
 
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