November 30, 2007
The free agent market has been quiet prior to next week's Winter Meetings, but one team has attempted to bolster an offense that faltered at times during 2007. The Angels have made one of the first major signings for a free agent moving to a new club, and also traded away their starting shortstop from the past three seasons in exchange for a starting pitcher. With this activity, the Angels are primed for use as an example for our fantasy purposes. Namely, this week we will take a look at Marginal Lineup Value rate (MLVr) and its utility pertaining to fantasy baseball. Whereas MLV is an estimate of the runs a player will contribute to a lineup that, other than himself, is full of league-average hitters, MLVr is the per-game approximation of this value. For those who want to take a deeper look, you can look at some of Keith Woolner's extensive work on the statistic.
The Angels' lineup wasn't much of an offensive attack last season, with only two players cracking 30 VORP on the year, and only one, Vladimir Guerrero, sporting an intimidating MLVr. His .348 mark states that Guerrero was worth over one-third of a run above average per game, but he was the lone force in the lineup, with Chone Figgins a distant second (.172 MLVr); Casey Kotchman (.156), Garret Anderson (.137) and Howie Kendrick (.119) were the other Halo players with triple-digit MLVr figures, but the rest of the lineup was average or well below.
The departure of Orlando Cabrera does not cause many issues for the Angels at shortstop offensively, as his MLVr was just .016 despite a decent batting average and OBP, thanks to a poor .096 Isolated Power. Maicer Izturis will see more at-bats from that position in 2008, and he is capable of matching Cabrera's production with the bat-not that he has particularly big shoes to fill. The bigger question mark at short revolves around Erick Aybar, who struggled his way to a .237/.279/.289 line and a team-worst (among players with 200 minimum plate appearances) -.311 MLVr. If Aybar is given significant at-bats along with Izturis at short but continues to struggle, it will be difficult for the Angels to post league-average numbers at the position.
Where the Angels will see a positive boost in their overall MLVr comes with the signing of Torii Hunter. The new Halos' center fielder is nothing special with the bat in the grand scheme of things, but his .128 MLVr will be a boon to a lineup that had to deal with Gary Matthews Jr.'s below-average offense for a season. Hunter's MLVr ranked 10th amongst center fielders in the majors last year, while Matthew's -.033 left him ranked a mediocre 21st amongst center fielders with a minimum 300 plate appearances. Despite the fact that the Angels may once again be in the market for a center fielder two or three years into Hunter's deal, at present it improves their offense.
Now that we see what the Angels lineup is going to look like, we can gage how many runs we can expect them to score. This is useful from a fantasy perspective, because it gives you a solid idea of what to expect from players in a given lineup on a team-dependent basis. Here at Baseball Prospectus, we do not discuss the value of Runs and RBI often, because we have more accurate ways of portraying the value of offensive play. In fantasy baseball though, they're scoring categories, and anything that may help you hedge your bets on who is going to improve or drop team-dependent categories should be given a look.
The top nine hitters in the Angels lineup last year combined for .956 MLVr as a team, almost one run per game above the league average. This is somewhat misleading, as players like Shea Hillenbrand also "hit," and brought down the offense for 200 plate appearances at a time. If the Angels can avoid the temptation to sign any more unnecessary bits like Hillenbrand for the 2008 season, that is an easily avoidable handicap. If last year's MLVr is applied for all of the returning hitters, with Hunter added to the mix while Cabrera is taken away, the offense will improve, though it's unclear how the outfield will shake out now that the Angels have Anderson, Reggie Willits, and Matthews all jockeying for playing time.
The rough estimate of MLVr comes out to 1.068 for the top nine hitters by playing time, and that doesn't include potential improvement from someone like Howie Kendrick, who battled injuries for much of the season. Last year's top nine came out to 154.8 runs above average by MLVr, whereas this approximation puts the 2008 Angels at roughly 173 runs above average; that's two additional wins from the offense alone.
That's good news for the real-life Angels, but what does it mean fantasy-wise? Not much, overall, as there aren't many hitters you can peg to see more RBI or run-scoring opportunities for in the lineup, outside of Kendrick and maybe someone like Casey Kotchman, who will hit in the middle of the order. Torii Hunter just doesn't make that much of a difference offensively in the sense that he would create more opportunities to score for the hitters around him-he's a low OBP player with solid home run power, and if the Angels really wanted to see their offense improve, they would need to add someone who gets on base more often. If Reggie Willits loses out on significant playing time with Hunter's addition, the Angels may have added more ISO, but lost some OBP in the process.
Now if the Angels did some serious housecleaning by trading for Miguel Cabrera, as has been rumored, then we would see their MLVr shoot up. There would be a lot of positional shifting to make both Hunter and Cabrera fit into the lineup, but an MLVr in the area of .377-Cabrera's 2007 figure-would make the juggling worth it. The Angels would also fix some of their on-base issues while adding another source of power; Cabrera could be the bat that goes along with Vlad and wreaks havoc on opposing pitchers. A move like this would create many more Run and RBI opportunities for the offense-and that doesn't even delve into the idea many hold, that plate discipline is contagious-in a way that adding Hunter and replacing Orlando Cabrera simply does not.
The Angels serve as a solid example of how a big move in real life may not have the same impact from a fantasy perspective. Hunter may still be a decent option for your team in 2008, but he isn't so talented that he's going to make drafting other Angels a better idea. MLVr is useful in putting a rough number to this, as you can see how much a player can improve or detract from an offense, potentially affecting team-dependent statistics that you count on in your fantasy league. As the winter goes on there will be plenty of time to look at this for more teams once rosters settle down and projected lineups start to take shape.