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September 9, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

CHN, PIT, STL

by Baseball Prospectus

Chicago 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:

  • Player must never walk. Ever.

  • Little, if any, baserunning ability.

  • Player must not, under any circumstances, hit for average or power.

  • Player must have the majority of his offensive value tied to his batting average, and said batting average should be as low as possible.

  • Player must have negative value when evaluating his zone ratings.

  • Further, as a defensive sub, he must not be appreciably better than any of the players he might be replacing in late-game situations.

  • Player must earn more than the league minimum, preferably a lot more.

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 seems to know the other Cubs' names.

  • Macias has, on several occasions, gone back in time to save the world from disaster.

  • On one of those occasions, he brought Neifi Perez with him, on a mission to whisper something in W. Mark Felt's ear while he slept.

  • Macias has been instrumental in the development and distribution of "Dusty Baker's Devitalizing Wrinkle-Producing Balm!" which is handed out to all Cubs players between the ages of 24 and 30. This lightly melon-scented balm gradually increases the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles throughout the season, until Dusty Baker has no choice but to play you since you look like a veteran. Everyone thinks Macias aged two years because of AgeGate, but it's the balm, people. The balm.

Macias' presence in the lineup (and the presence of players like him) does raise a few tactical questions: Do teams overstate the importance of late-inning defense, especially when compared to the cost of carrying a below-replacement level hitter for the season? Why is the ability to play six positions badly viewed as a skill? How can one possibly justify paying $825,000 for Jose Macias?

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.

--John Erhardt

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?

The problem is, it wasn't yesterday: it was almost a year ago. Things didn't get better. And, believe it or not, I've changed, Lloyd--the whole organization's changed. This isn't the same naïve franchise it was back when we first hooked up, back in 2001. Look around the diamond--you're not finding Pat Meares, or Kevin Young, or John Vander Wal on this squad. That's Ryan Doumit and Brad Eldred and Chris Duffy out there now. It's like we don't even speak the same language, anymore.

I've grown, Lloyd, and I just don't feel like you've grown with me. I'm through with mediocre, overpaid players in their mid-30s, but you want to keep acting like you're Dusty Baker, Jr. It's not going to work. Although I love you--some part of me will always love you--I'm not in love with you. I'm sorry it has to be this way.

...

I'm Going Back to My Old Boyfriend--I'm sorry you had to learn about everything like this, but I just couldn't go on living a lie. A few weeks ago, I ran into Jim--you and I had just had a big fight, about my trading Dave Ross or something--and Jim was advance scouting for the Cardinals, and we went out to get a cup of coffee. I started talking to him about all the problems we've had with the rotation and with injuries, and Jim listened--I mean, really listened--to me.

It just got me thinking about how it felt when Jim was with the franchise. We felt safe with him, and hopeful. Sure, I always complained to you about his non-stop smoking, and the way he treated me (and Steve Cooke), but those were really good days. Contending days. And even though he's still with the Cardinals, he says that once the season's finished, he's leaving them, and then we can be together again, openly.

I don't want to hurt you. I know you'd prefer to stick it out until the end of the season, and see if maybe I'll change my mind, but this is for the best. You meant a lot to me, and I wish you all the happiness in the world. I know that somewhere, out there, there's a team where you can be happy.

...

My Therapist Says that Our Relationship is Toxic--Lloyd, I'm sure you've noticed that I've been a little…distant...lately. It's just that I haven't felt like I could talk to you. I have trouble dealing with your anger issues, the arguments with umpires, the brawls. (The way you treated Dave Duncan was so embarrassing, I could hardly look Bob Watson in the eye!) I'll bet you never once thought about my feelings when you were doing that.

You don't consider the effect that your anger has on our players. You rant and rave, and then you act surprised when Oliver Perez kicks a laundry cart and loses two months of his season. Where do you think he learned to act that way?

But you know that this isn't really about brawls or disciplinary matters. Our real problem is the losing. Before you say anything or get mad, let me just say that I know, it's not all your fault. Eileen--that's my therapist--says that we're in a co-dependent relationship. She says that I've been your enabler--giving you only three players all season long who are worth more than 20 runs of VORP, trading one of them away for a guy who went straight to the DL--helping you lose. So I'll admit right now that I'm part of the problem.

But don't act like it's just me, either. Just about all of these players are having a worse season this year than they had last year. Sure, Craig Wilson was hurt, and so was Mike Gonzalez, but Jack Wilson went from a 50.6 VORP, to 2.8. You think that's just a coincidence? Perez went from 54.5 last year to -5.0 this year. That's six wins worse!

I know, you're just going to say "Jason Bay." That's your answer to everything these days. And yes, I'm very proud of what he's done. He's right up there, by his 90th percentile PECOTA projection, and you're a big part of that. But you'd have to be blind to think that this is indicative of what's going on with our ballclub--or in denial (that's the way Eileen puts it).

I know I'm hurting you by doing this, but I can't just think about myself, here. I have to think about Zach Duke, and Ian Snell, and Paul Maholm. They don't deserve to grow up with all this baggage. There was a moment, when Zach got injured, that I blamed you. I know it was only an ankle sprain, and he's going to be OK, but there have been so many other times, that blaming you was my first instinct.

Our relationship just isn't healthy, and we have to move on for the sake of our players. Bay's still young enough that he could play on a winning Pirates club--it just wasn't going to happen with you at the helm.

Before you even ask the question, let me tell you: no, I'm not "with" anyone…yet. I'm just staying with Pete Mackanin until the end of the season; he's only a friend. But I am going to have to replace you, and sooner rather than later. I need closure. I can't be your emotional hostage anymore.

--Derek Jacques

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       28
BRAR 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.

--Tom Gorman

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