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August 28, 2007

Prospectus Hit and Run

Stars, Scrubs, and the Scooter

by Jay Jaffe

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Stars and Scrubs

Last week, we looked at Replacement Level Killers as they pertained to contending teams. We can also demonstrate just how replacement-level production can grind an entire offense to a halt.

We'll start with a look at team hitting VORP, from a stat report that's another favorite from my own personal toolbox:

Rk  Tm    R/G    AVG   OBP   SLG  VORP
 1  NYA   5.96  .292  .366  .467  304.8
 2  PHI   5.43  .275  .352  .455  264.4
 3  FLO   4.84  .267  .337  .448  233.8
 4  NYN   4.84  .274  .341  .427  228.2
 5  DET   5.53  .283  .341  .458  228.1
 6  BOS   5.33  .279  .362  .440  224.6
 7  ATL   4.99  .277  .340  .440  212.3
 8  SEA   5.02  .288  .340  .428  189.9
 9  MIL   4.75  .262  .327  .451  180.7
10  COL   5.09  .275  .350  .425  178.6
11  ANA   5.06  .283  .341  .416  166.4
12  CIN   4.90  .263  .333  .438  166.3
13  CLE   4.98  .268  .342  .426  161.1
14  SLN   4.47  .272  .336  .406  134.5
15  LAN   4.48  .272  .337  .397  136.5
16  TBA   4.62  .266  .332  .427  131.1
17  BAL   4.58  .271  .334  .406  122.7
18  CHN   4.62  .269  .329  .409  118.1
19  SDN   4.47  .249  .319  .406  109.8
20  PIT   4.55  .260  .322  .410  101.7
21  MIN   4.56  .267  .332  .397   98.5
22  OAK   4.49  .254  .334  .406   98.8
23  HOU   4.44  .256  .326  .405   95.1
24  TEX   4.93  .259  .323  .421   91.6
25  TOR   4.51  .258  .324  .419   81.9
26  SFN   4.34  .253  .325  .388   77.0
27  ARI   4.24  .248  .316  .408   76.2
28  WAS   3.95  .252  .319  .381   65.1
29  KCA   4.53  .263  .325  .391   45.1
30  CHA   4.22  .244  .317  .397   19.9

This list has its share of surprises, mainly due to the juxtaposition of VORP totals, which are park-adjusted, and the raw scoring rates, which aren't. The Yankees, who have been scoring an insane 7.06 runs per game in the second half, are 34 percent ahead of the next AL club, the Tigers, with the Red Sox close behind. Meanwhile in the NL the Phillies, who feature a fine offense playing in a great hitters' park, are significantly ahead of the pack, though two teams in pitchers' parks, the Marlins and Mets, are the closest pursuers.

For the moment, success isn't what we're concerned with here. Rather, we'll focus on the teams at the bottom, teams where the bulk of the offensive load is being borne by only a few players, with replacement-level dreck essentially neutralizing the contributions of many secondary producers. These are the true "Stars and Scrubs" offenses. Lets huck some eggs at them.

Devil Rays (131.1 VORP)
Carlos Pena 41.9, B.J. Upton 38.1, Carl Crawford 32.3, Brendan Harris 20.2; Others -1.4.

Hold your fire; this actually isn't horrible, especially given that the Rays are 16th overall in VORP, seventh in the AL, and more than 30 runs ahead of the next team here. Upton's come into his own, Crawford is still a star, and Peņa and Harris made Christina Kahrl's Free Talent All-Stars, the latter after displacing one of the offense's true sinkholes in Ben Zobrist (-11.6).

Athletics (98.8 VORP)
Jack Cust 31.2, Nick Swisher 26.6, Travis Buck 18.2, Mark Ellis 14.1; Others 8.7.

This wasn't supposed to happen, not with sabermetrically savvy Billy Beane at the helm, but here we are thanks to injuries to Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Mark Kotsay, Milton Bradley, Mike Piazza, Bobby Kielty, Sneezy, Bashful, Grumpy, and Dopey, not to mention the incredible vortex of suck noted in this space last week, Jason Kendall. Cust is another Free-Talent All-Star, though the spotlight shining on Beane's prowess for such a pickup is somewhat embarrassing in this context.

Twins (98.5 VORP)
Torii Hunter 42.0, Justin Morneau 36.9, Joe Mauer 28.6; Others -9.0.

We're in classic Stars and Scrubs territory here, with a trio of first-rate players accompanying a cast of hobos. Actually, Jason Bartlett (16.6) and Michael Cuddyer (16.1) aren't awful, though the latter's .230/.292/.391 performance since returning from injury a few weeks ago has cost him a fistful of VORP. Meanwhile, guys like Nick Punto (-23.4), Rondell White (-7.6), Jason Kubel (2.6), and Jason Tyner (1.5) have sucked up some 1100 Twins plate appearances worth less than nothing, mainly at corner offensive positions. No wonder Johan Santana is dying to leave; I keep envisioning him as the baseball equivalent of the poor soul depicted in The Scream.

Astros (95.1 VORP)
Carlos Lee 38.1, Hunter Pence 28.1, Lance Berkman 27.7; Others 1.2.

Yesterday, owner Drayton McLane admitted that, "Houston, we have a problem," firing both GM Tim Purpura and manager Phil Garner for presiding over what may be the Astros' worst team since 1991. I've beaten this horse so many times that it's no longer fun; by now, everybody knows about the embalming of Craig Biggio (-1.5) and Brad Ausmus (-2.0), the stunted development of Chris Burke (-3.8), the decline of Morgan Ensberg (-0.9), and so on. Excluding pitchers' hitting, the Astros have devoted about 2000 PA to hitters who have been about 30 runs below replacement level. Interim manager Cecil Cooper gets to clear out some of the lineup's deadwood, but at this late date, he's limited in his options.

Rangers (91.6 VORP)
Mark Teixeira 27.1, Michael Young 25.7, Kenny Lofton 23.6, Ian Kinsler 17.9; Others -2.7.

Trading two of your three best hitters is a good way to make this list, though as has been discussed several times, the Rangers appear to have done well with their midsummer haul. Last summer's deal, on the other hand, suggests that Doug Melvin may have been onto something when he tossed Nelson Cruz (-10.8) into the Carlos Lee-Francisco Cordero swap.

Blue Jays (81.9 VORP)
Alex Rios 35.8, Frank Thomas 25.8, Matt Stairs 22.7; Others -2.4.

It's never a good sign when two of your three most productive hitters are a combined 78 years old, pushing 500 pounds, and blessed with the speed and nimble handling of a garbage truck. That's what happens when you get disappointing years from the likes of Troy Glaus, Lyle Overbay, and big-money Vernon Wells, not to mention sinkholes-by-committee in left field (Reed Johnson, -2.7, and Adam Lind, -8.8), at catcher (Greg Zaun, 2.5, Sal Fasano, -2.7, Jason Philips, -7.8), and shortstop (John McDonald, -5.2, Royce Clayton, -1.7).

Giants (77.0 VORP)
Barry Bonds 55.9, Randy Winn 14.9; Others 6.2.

It's always fun to be reminded of the price the Giants have paid for keeping Bonds surrounded by an aging and ineffective core. As discussed in the recent Hit List, the double-play combo of Omar Vizquel and Ray Durham, plus sub Kevin Frandsen, hasn't hit a lick this year, and cornermen Pedro Feliz (-2.3) and Rich Aurilia (-3.2) ought to invest in snorkels, too.

Diamondbacks (76.2 VORP)
Eric Byrnes 36.2, Orlando Hudson 31.6; Others 8.4.

Also known as the Junior Underachievers, where touted youngsters Stephen Drew (-3.3) and Carlos Quentin (-10.7) are the biggest names, but guys like Alberto Callaspo (-10.9) and Scott Hairston (-5.1) have wasted a good number of plate appearances, and even Chris Young (12.2) and Conor Jackson (12.0) have underproduced considerably, relative to expectations. And yet they're in first place.

Nationals (65.1 VORP)
Dmitri Young 38.3, Ryan Zimmerman 24.2, Cristian Guzman 16.6; Others -14.0.

Zimmerman's come on strong in the second half after a lousy first, while Young is a Free Talent All-Star, and Guzman a total surprise, at least until he got hurt. Left field has been a fright, with Ryan Church's modest 11.0 VORP neutralized by Chris Snelling, (-1.0), Ryan Langerhans (-5.3), and Kory Casto (-9.0), while Felipe Lopez (-0.6) and Austin Kearns (7.7) have provided Wayne Krivsky with some karmic revenge.

Royals (45.1 VORP)
Mark Grudzielanek 16.6, David DeJesus 15.8, John Buck 11.7; Others 1.0.

Jason LaRue (-11.0) essentially cancels out Buck's mini-breakout, Ryan Shealy (-8.9) does the same for Ross Gload (8.2), and Mike Sweeney (-0.2) finally gets to collect his gold watch. On the other hand, there are reasons for optimism here; in-season arrivals Billy Butler (9.1) and Joey Gathright (8.3) have contributed solidly in limited duty, and Alex Gordon has dug himself out of an early double-digit hole to get to 3.2 VORP.

White Sox (19.9 VORP)
Jim Thome 30.4, Paul Konerko 26.1; Others -36.6.

Make no mistake, entire offenses have finished below replacement level, most recently the 2002 and 2003 Tigers, but these Sox are in the group photo for the worst offense of the new millennium:

Year  Tm    VORP
2003  DET  -50.8
2002  DET  -11.5
2002  KCA   10.4
2000  TBA   11.4
2003  LAN   13.0
2007  CHA   19.9
2004  ARI   21.7
2000  MIN   28.3
2003  NYN   31.4
2001  TBA   31.9

While Scott Podsednik (-0.6) and Darin Erstad (1.2) represent fundamental flaws in Kenny Williams' design for the 2007 club, the bulk of the damage here has been done by the left side of the infield; Joe Crede, Josh Fields, Alex Cintron, Pablo Ozuna, and Jose Uribe are a combined 34.8 runs to the bad. When your replacements can't meet replacement-level production, you're doing something wrong.

On the whole, this is a rather dismal lot. The 11 teams here were a combined 99 games below .500 through Sunday, with a combined wining percentage of .466. Only two teams, the Diamondbacks and Twins, are above .500. Just one more way in which the Snakes are confounding our expectations.

Stupid VORP Tricks

A funny thing happens if we combine Team Pitching VORP rankings with the Team Hitting ones:

Rk  Tm    hVORP   pVORP   tVORP   PHL  dif
 1  BOS   224.6   260.9   485.5    1    0
 2  NYA   304.8   143.0   447.8    2    0
 3  NYN   228.2   176.4   404.6    3    0
 4  ATL   212.3   146.6   358.9    8    4
 5  PHI   264.4    93.5   357.9   10    5
 6  SDN   109.8   229.5   339.3    7    1
 7  COL   178.6   159.9   338.5   14    7
 8  ANA   166.4   168.1   334.5    4   -4
 9  CLE   161.1   173.4   334.5    5   -4
10  LAN   136.5   195.4   331.9    6   -4
11  CHN   118.1   211.7   329.8   15    4
12  DET   228.1    95.0   323.1    9   -3
13  SEA   189.9   115.1   305.0   12   -1
14  TOR    81.9   220.7   302.6   13   -1
15  MIL   180.7   118.5   299.2   17    2
16  MIN    98.5   196.5   295.0   16    0
17  OAK    98.8   187.6   286.4   11   -6
18  FLO   233.8    38.9   272.7   22    4
19  SFN    77.0   193.5   270.5   20    1
20  ARI    76.2   184.0   260.2   19   -1
21  BAL   122.7   120.3   243.0   18   -3
22  CIN   166.3    75.0   241.3   24    2
23  SLN   134.5    92.3   226.8   21   -2
24  PIT   101.7   105.9   207.6   28    4
25  HOU    95.1   110.2   205.3   27    2
26  KCA    45.1   143.2   188.3   25   -1
27  WAS    65.1   122.1   187.2   26   -1
28  TEX    91.6    91.4   183.0   23   -5
29  TBA   131.1   -15.2   115.9   30    1
30  CHA    19.9    71.9    91.8   29   -1

Combining the two measures and keeping in mind that these numbers are a few days fresher (through Sunday), we get a pretty decent proxy for the Hit List rankings (PHL). The average team is only 2.5 notches away from where they sit on the latter, 13 of the teams are one spot or less away, and only three are more than four notches away. What's remarkable---to me, at least--about this is that the Hit List calculations are based on run differentials and Clay Davenport's Equivalent Runs formula, making no reference to replacement level, either that of Davenport's WARP or Keith Woolner's VORP.

What would be particularly interesting--but alas, beyond me as I write at this late hour--is to compare the way this mimics the Hit List to what a set of team Win Expectancy-based totals tell us. The pitching ones (SNLVAR and WXRL) are readily available in our sortable stats, and I examined team rankings on that side of the ball a few weeks back, but the hitting ones are still under wraps and take coordination with our data department to procure.

The reason we should be so interested to examine those is that it might better explain how the Diamondbacks can languish around the lower third of our more traditional rankings yet remain in first. We know that differential performance in high-leverage situations can have a big impact on won-loss record, and that the Snakes are first in the majors in WXRL despite being just 17th in Adjusted Runs Prevented; both measures account for inherited runners, but one takes game context into account and the other doesn't. Would we learn something similar by examining hitter Win Expectancy on a team-wide basis? Stay tuned.

JAWS Bites: Phil Rizzuto

When Phil Rizzuto passed away recently, much discussion ensued regarding his belated entry into the Hall of Fame. The Scooter was elected by the Veterans Committee in 1994, ten years after his crosstown rival from the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pee Wee Reese, gained entry. Officially 10 months younger than Rizzuto (but perhaps 22, if our VORP-addled friend at the New York Times is to be believed), Reese reached the majors in 1940, one year sooner. Despite winning All-Star honors over Reese in the American Association in 1939, Rizzuto was blocked in the majors by popular, slick-fielding Frank Crosetti, the shortstop on five World Champion Yankees teams to that point. The Scooter spent 1940 in the minors, hitting .347 and slugging .482 (per Steven Goldman's research) while Crosetti turned in an abysmal .194/.299/.273 performance, good for just 1.6 WARP and a spot on the Replacement Level Killers team of It Ain't Over.

Rizzuto finally wrestled the job from Crosetti in 1941, though not without an early-season benching. He recovered to turn in a stellar 8.4 WARP season as a rookie thanks to outstanding glovework (reflected by his +21 FRAA) and upped the ante to 9.2 WARP the next year on the strength of similarly stellar defense. Unfortunately for his career, he lost the next three years--his Age 25-27 seasons (or 26-28 seasons)--to World War II, as Reese did. He endured a few up and down years with the stick and the leather upon returning, from 4.0 WARP in 1946 to 9.1 in 1947 to 3.5 in 1948, before resuming his All-Star caliber contributions for a spell, one that included the 1950 MVP award on the strength of a 12.3 WARP season. By age 36, he declined to a Crosetti-esque .195 average, 1.0 WARP season, and spent the next two years as a reserve before hanging up his spikes.

Because of his short career (just 11 full seasons and change), Rizzuto doesn't fare very well on the JAWS scale, with just 79.3 career WARP, 63.0 peak, and a 71.2 JAWS score (Reese, by comparison, finished at 103.2/63.6/83.4). That ranks only 31st among shortstops all time, and 17th out of 20 among Hall of Fame shortstops, well below the JAWS standard of 115.2/68.2/91.7. The Scooter does fare better simply on the basis of peak score, 21st all-time and 13th among Hall of Fame shortstops.

On that basis he's certainly a below-average Hall of Famer, but that's without accounting for his military service. Even accounting for the ups and downs of his early career, he averaged 7.1 WARP over his first six seasons while missing some prime years. If we pencil in the three missing years at that same overall level--which I think is conservative, given that during his initial season back in the States, he was regaining his strength after a bout with malaria, and that the level of competition in those war years was lower--we wind up with a career WARP total of 100.6 and a JAWS score of 81.8, which would vault him to 13th among Hall of Fame shortstops (Reese would move up as well). Still below average, but much closer to the middle of the pack.

Throw in his MVP award, five All-Star appearances, his role on seven world champs and nine pennant winners, the probability that he'd have netted a few Gold Gloves had they been around, and his long career as a broadcaster, and Rizzuto's case solidifies even more. The Scooter may not be a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, but his spot in Cooperstown is justified nonetheless.

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