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August 28, 2007
Prospectus Hit and Run
Stars, Scrubs, and the Scooter
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.