September 9, 2005
CHN, PIT, STLChicago Cubs: If you were to build a perfect utility player from scratch, what would he look like? What qualities would you want him to have, and in what quantities? Should he be a credible defender at both ends of the defensive spectrum? Should he be a power bat off the bench? We can't just pull the PlayStation2 trick and create an army of .350/.450/.600 bench players with A+ range; obviously, that would make for a terrific bench. In real life, you'd be an idiot to keep that level of production in a reserve role, and so it would be self-defeating; the second your utility guy started outhitting a regular, you'd swap them. You'd put Ryan Freel in the lineup every day, for example, even if he played four positions in a week.
Whatever we decide the admirable qualities of a utility player are, it's fairly clear that our list of criteria wouldn't look like this:
This set of criteria, unfortunately, describes Chicago's Jose Macias. Pick an offensive metric, any offensive metric, and Macias rates as an inexcusably bad player. Batting average? OBP? Slugging? He's hitting .265/.285/.323 this year. MLV? PMLV? -7.3 and -4.7, respectively. Pick your poison.
Macias is exactly the type of player Dusty Baker has a history of preferring: veterans who bring nothing to the table and could be replaced by a rookie in half a second. Baker does have a reputation of getting the most out of guys like this, and to his credit, he hasn't actually used Macias a whole lot this year. The switch-hitter has logged just 140 plate appearances, and while that's arguably 140 too many, his .210 EqA hasn't hurt the Cubs as much as it could have. Despite an atrocious batting line, it's only cumulatively added up to a -3.1 VORP, which is right around replacement level.
So how does Macias continue to have a job? Here are some theories:
He obviously isn't the biggest concern this winter for the Cubs as they retool, and he certainly isn't the reason they're struggling. But he's a waste of a roster spot, a waste of money and, unfortunately, he fits the accepted definition of what a utility player is: a player who, by virtue of managerial usage patterns, is deemed to be performing a valuable service by competing in a variety of roles, regardless of his success in those roles. Macias re-upped this past year on a one-year deal, and so Cubs fans better hope that Hendry has learned not to spend actual cash money on replacement-level talent, because when Jose Macias is the answer, you've asked the wrong question.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The desk was strewn with used tissues, several sheets of fancy stationery, and an open, half-full bottle of Merlot. On the radio, one could hear the strains of Sinead O'Connor's "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance." This is how a GM breaks up with his manager.
Thanks to Will Carroll's extensive spy network, we've been able to recover some of the drafts which wound up in the GM's wastebasket. Some of them were just scraps, most poignantly one that just read "Our relationship is now in Operation Shutdown." Here's what we could make out, between the coffee stains and the used tissues:
It's Not You, It's Me--Lloyd, first of all I want you to understand is that I really have treasured all the moments we've shared since we've been together. We had so many good times--it seems like just yesterday, Oliver Perez was striking out 14, and everything seemed like it was just going to get better and better. Do you remember, Lloyd?
St. Louis Cardinals: Flourish: At press time the Cardinals' magic number was 11, but according to Clay Davenport's Playoff Odds Report they "statistically clinched" a playoff spot days ago. Davenport has written a couple of articles explaining his methodology, but for now we might simply say that the Postseason Odds Report shows the results of 1,000,000 simulations of the rest of the season.
According to Clay's simulations of the rest of the 2005 season there is literally not a single chance in a million that the Cardinals do not make the playoffs. The Cardinals statistically clinched a playoff spot with their 87th win of the season on Sunday against the Houston Astros.
Pitching Values: At press time, 137 of the Cardinals' 139 starts (98.6%) had come from their five-man rotation of Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Jeff Suppan, Matt Morris and Jason Marquis. Anyone can take a quick look at BP's new sortable stats to see how these pitchers stack of against each other or against the rest of the National League.
We thought we would do one better at the BP Notebook and run the Cardinals' rotation through Nate Silver's new marginal gain calculations.
Name MarginalSalary* WARP MarketValue NetValue --------------------------------------------------------------------- Chris Carpenter $2,183,000 7.3 $15,622,000 $13,439,000 Mark Mulder $5,683,000 4.3 $ 9,202,000 $ 3,519,000 Jeff Suppan $3,683,000 2.6 $ 5,564,000 $ 1,881,000 Matt Morris $2,933,000 1.8 $ 3,852,000 $ 919,000 Jason Marquis $2,733,000 3.2 $ 6,848,000 $ 4,115,000 *Included are incentives that player is on pace to receive.Marginal salary is simply salary minus the league minimum. WARP is in the glossary and quantifies the wins a player adds above a replacement-level player. Market Value is simply WARP*$2,140,000, which is roughly how much a win seems to be worth according to the most recent free agent season (though Nate Silver's newest research indicates that wins are valued differently by different teams depending on how close they are to the playoffs). Net Value is Market Value minus Marginal Salary.
First of all, Carpenter. Chris Carpenter is worth an astounding $13,439,000 more than he's being paid. He could earn a few more bonuses for post-season awards but by that point he will probably off-set any additional income with his rest-of-season production. $50,000 for the Cy Young Award seems like a bargain for the Cardinals (that's a race, by the way, which Carpenter is currently winning according to Bill James and Rob Neyer's Cy Young Predictor).
The second curious figure is Marquis' WARP and Net Value. Let's try another chart.
Name BRAR FRAR PRAR ---------------------------------------- Carpenter -13 2 81 Mulder -7 4 49 Suppan -4 2 32 Morris -8 1 30 Marquis +5 1 28BRAR is Batting Runs Above Replacement, FRAR is Fielding Runs Above Replacement, and PRAR is Pitching Runs Above Replacement. Roughly speaking, WARP-1, which we used above, is derived from the combination of these three metrics.
Marquis may come in last in the pitching metric, but he is a full nine runs better than the 2nd best hitting pitcher in this group, and a full 18 runs better Chris Carpenter. Marquis' .342/.350/.513 line in 80 PAs makes him the best-hitting pitcher in the National League, and it's not even close.
The third interesting note, and perhaps most surprising, is that each one of those pitcher contracts is a deal for the Cardinals. Even Matt Morris (3.97 ERA in 165 1/3 IP) is worth more than what the Cardinals are paying him. Not a single member of the Cardinals Opening Day five-man rotation is being overpaid in 2005 either because of injury or under-performance.