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March 9, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

Irreplaceable

by Jay Jaffe

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When the news on Alex Rodriguez's hip injury broke last week, the Baseball Prospectus crew brainstormed a few possible solutions for the Yankees. Unsurprisingly, we reached an inevitable conclusion: he's virtually irreplaceable, at least when it comes to finding a player under team control who could offset the expected loss of production.

Bound for surgery, Rodriguez is projected to miss six to nine weeks. Barring a trade, his most likely in-house replacement is 33-year-old journeyman Cody Ransom, whose solid .251/.348/.432 line over the course of 214 major league plate appearances spread across six seasons is dwarfed by a lengthy, significantly less impressive minor league track record which drags down his PECOTA weighted mean projection to a brutal .216/.293/.386 line and a -0.164 Marginal Lineup Value rate, the number of runs per game he would contribute (or cost) to a lineup of otherwise average offensive performers. By comparison, Rodriguez is forecast for 0.174 MLVr, a difference of 0.338 runs per game. That's 10 runs-or roughly one additional win-for every 29.6 games, or 54.8 runs over the course of 162 games.

As staggering as losing roughly one more game per month in the standings might be to the Yankees, at least 10 other stars' losses would cost their teams even more-as many as 75 runs on the offensive side-due to a combination of higher MLVr projections and/or lousier backups. In reality, the extended absences of these players would likely trigger trades for better replacements to stop the hemorrhaging, but for this exercise, the pool is restricted to players under team control, and we'll pay only lip service to defense.

  1. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins SS (0.293 MLVr, 0.463 above backup): This just in, 25-year-old shortstops forecast for 27 homers and 34 steals don't grow on trees, even in the fertile soil of the Sunshine State. Ramirez is forecast for the game's third-highest MLVr in baseball, behind just Albert Pujols and Chipper Jones. The best the Marlins can offer is utilityman Alfredo Amezaga (-0.170 MLVr), and by best, I mean that he's not Robert Andino (-0.258), who has hit all of .204/.257/.289 in 158 major league plate appearances.

  2. Chipper Jones, Braves 3B (0.4 MLVr, 0.454 above backup): On the face of it, Jones' triple-slash forecast (.341/.443/.564) looks extreme for a 37-year-old, but it's just a few hairs removed from his combined .342/.435/.592 performance since 2006. His projected MLVr is leagues beyond those of backups Omar Infante (-0.039) and Martin Prado (-0.054), which counts as a real problem for the Braves given that Jones has averaged just 124 games a year over the last three years.

  3. Ryan Braun, Brewers LF (0.231 MLVr, 0.434 above backup): While Braun's overall 2008 line couldn't quite equal his 2007 numbers, the move from third base to left field saved 30 runs according to our defensive numbers. His MLVr ranks ninth among our PECOTA projections and is exacerbated by the Brewers' lack of a suitable backup. Tony Gwynn Jr. (-0.203) and Chris Duffy (-0.239) carry weak sticks even for center fielders, and it's a stretch to assume that Trot Nixon (0.010) will suffice given that he played in just 11 major league games last year. Former top prospect Brad Nelson (-0.083), a first baseman who's taken up the outfield corners in an attempt to win a reserve job, would bump Braun out of the top 10 if he can handle the move to the pasture.

  4. Albert Pujols, Cardinals 1B (0.456 MLVr, 0.398 above backup): Pujols' MLVr tops our projections, hardly surprising given that he's ranked either first or second in that category in five of the past six seasons. What prevents him from topping this list is the presence of the serviceable Chris Duncan (0.058), who's played 43 games at first over the past three years and who appears to be recovered from last year's neck problems. Once you figure in Pujols' prowess with the leather and Duncan's lack of same, however, this could well reclaim the top spot here.

  5. Manny Ramirez, Dodgers LF (0.245 MLVr, 0.369 above backup): Last week's signing averts the grim specter of the Dodgers starting the season with a slap-hitting $44 million left fielder (Juan Pierre and his -0.124 MLVr), instead of a power-hitting $45 million model. Skipper Joe Torre might have eventually stumbled onto a more productive solution by playing Blake DeWitt (-0.061) at third base and moving Casey Blake to left, but then again, it took the skipper over four months to give up on Pierre and Andruw Jones last year. Manny's defense might cost one full win over the course of a year relative to these options, but his addition still pushes the Dodgers ahead of the Diamondbacks in the NL West projections.

  6. Chase Utley, Phillies 2B (0.202 MLVr, 0.364 above backup): Speaking of hip surgeries, back in November it looked as though Utley might be out of the defending World Champions' lineup until June. Fortunately, his recovery has been so rapid that he may even crack the Opening Day lineup. Prospect Jason Donald (-0.085) rates as the organization's best solution, but he hasn't played higher than Double-A and would need to switch from shortstop to second, so I've measured from non-roster invitee Miguel Cairo (-0.162), who tops fellow NRI Marcus Giles (-0.177) and utilityman Eric Bruntlett (-0.195) in a weak menu of options.

  7. Joe Mauer, Twins C (0.124 MLVr, 0.363 above backup): Backup Mike Redmond (-0.239) may keep the Twins loose by taking naked batting practice (don't worry, there are no photos there), but he comes up short as Mauer's replacement. With the two-time batting champ slow to recover from minor kidney surgery, Redmond could be a costly presence in the lineup early in the year.

  8. Geovany Soto, Cubs C (0.180 MLVr, 0.357 above backup): Last year's NL Rookie of the Year versus 37-year-old backup backstop Paul Bako (-0.177)-yeah, that's a fair fight. Actually, it is if the alternative is Bako waging it against third-stringer Koyie Hill (-0.235).

  9. David Wright, Mets 3B (0.265 MLVr, 0.352 above backup): See below.

  10. Jose Reyes, Mets SS (0.152 MLVr, 0.339 above backup): PECOTA's love for the left side of the Mets' infield is a large part of the reason that the team is forecast to beat the defending World Champion Phillies in the NL East race despite their recent collapses down the stretch. Wright's MLVr ranks fifth among our projections, and the gap varies depending upon whom one considers his primary backup. Daniel Murphy (-0.062) played 196 games at the hot corner in the minors over the past two years, but he's slated to be the team's starting left fielder, so Fernando Tatis (-0.087), who played just four games there last year but who manned the hot corner regularly in the majors from 1997 through 2003, is the benchmark here, assuming that manager Jerry Manuel would prefer not to mess with the rest of his lineup. Nearly the equal of that gap is the one between Reyes and understudy Alex Cora (-0.187). Come back, Damion Easley (-0.072), all is forgiven!

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

19 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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SC

Couldn't this article also have been titled: "The Ten Best Hitters in Baseball"?

Also, wouldn't losing a #1 and replacing him with free talent be as damaging, even if the replacement options in the pitching end of the pool are more famous?

Mar 09, 2009 11:12 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

re: Couldn't this article also have been titled: "The Ten Best Hitters in Baseball"?

Not really. There are guys who forecast with higher MLVrs than some here but with more capable backups. For Milton Bradley (0.245 MLVr, 8th in the majors), I assumed Kosuke Fukudome (0.100) was the backup - that's not nearly as big a loss. Ryan Howard (0.206) yielding to Greg Dobbs (0.027). Carlos Beltran (0.202) yielding to Jeremy Reed (-0.020) or Ryan Church (-0.033)... there are several combos in which a hitter that outranks one listed here is more replaceable.

Mar 09, 2009 11:18 AM
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

And obviously, pitchers weren't included in this exercise.

Mar 09, 2009 11:19 AM
 
SC

Fair enough. Perhaps "Eight of the ten best, two catchers and Jose Reyes?" Not as catchy, I suppose.

Mar 09, 2009 12:49 PM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Including A-Rod, it's 11 of the best 22 hitters according to MLVr, which isn't the same as you'd get if you were ranking by EqA, which I prefer but which isn't the best tool for this job.

Also note that the hitters don't rank in order of MLVr, either. There's actually something going on here beyond a simple spreadsheet dump, so referring to it simply as a list of best hitters is misleading.

Mar 09, 2009 14:50 PM
 
WCE

What about Lance Berkman? Do the Astros even have an offense without him?

Mar 09, 2009 11:46 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Berkman (0.259) actually would fit between Wright and Reyes at 0.340 assuming replacement by Aaron Boone (-0.081), but according to my estimates, the Astros would actually disappear into a Vortex of Suck before that could become a reality.

Mar 09, 2009 12:16 PM
 
Rob_in_CT

Aaron Boone is still around? Wow.

Mar 09, 2009 12:25 PM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

Your career ain't done 'til Ed Wade says it's done.

Mar 09, 2009 16:07 PM
rating: 3
 
JayhawkBill

While this was a good article, those who missed this comment of yours, Jay, missed the best part of the work.

Mar 09, 2009 15:21 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

Jay - I'd be curious to see a pitcher's version of this list. Good stuff.

Mar 09, 2009 11:51 AM
rating: 0
 
Davemcgr

I'm really surprised not to see Grady Sizemore on this list.

Mar 09, 2009 12:42 PM
rating: 1
 
SaberTJ

Yah, what kind of drop off would it be from Sizemore to Brantley or Crowe?

Mar 09, 2009 13:21 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Sizemore's MLVr forecast is 0.136, which is just 35th. The drop to Brantley (-0.146) or Crowe (-0.135) wouldn't be enough to make this list, and anyway, I saw it more likely that they'd turn to someone already on the major league roster like Dellucci (-0.049), Francisco (-0.024) or Choo (0.055) all of whom have at least a bit of familiarity with the middle pasture at the upper level. Any way you slice it, there are others ahead of him on this list.

A few others that missed the cut but were in working drafts of the piece:

Chris Iannetta, Rockies C: 0.187 MLVr, 0.327 ahead of Yorvit Torrealba (-0.140)

Brian McCann, Braves C: 0.182 MLVr, 0.296 ahead of David Ross (-0.114)

Prince Fielder, Brewers 1B (0.204 MLVr, 0.287 ahead of Brad Nelson (-0.083)

Mar 09, 2009 13:46 PM
 
JayhawkBill

Interesting...nobody from the Red Sox, forecast for the most wins in MLB last time I checked the Depth Charts, even makes this amended list, let alone the top ten.

Mar 09, 2009 15:23 PM
rating: 0
 
WaldoInSC

...which is a good sign if you're a Saux partisan. In fact, their depth is part of the reason they're forecast for supremacy.

Mar 09, 2009 18:16 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Agreed. Should it be so surprising given that the Sox made the ALCS in a year where they lost Ortiz and Drew for extended periods? I'd count that as a blessing given some of their the health questions.

David Ortiz has the highest MLVr of any Red Sock at 0.160, which ranks 27th among the projections, followed by Jason Bay at 0.131 and Kevin Youkilis at 0.114. Rocco Baldelli (-0.011) and Mark Kotsay (-0.088) would appear to be the most likely subs at the outfield or, in the latter case, at first base -- if they're healthy. Moving J.D. Drew to DH and Baldelli to an outfield corner would seem the most likely scenario to cover the DH slot, but even there, the hit to the Sox is nowhere near enough to make this list.

Mar 09, 2009 18:59 PM
 
ChicagoOriole

Yeah, imagine if the Baltimore Orioles' "ace" went down. How bad is the next starting pitcher available? Do we want to imagine?

Mar 09, 2009 15:23 PM
rating: 0
 
WCE

much as I suspected, Vortex of Suck is probably a 75% projection. But there is no "me" in Vortex of Suck at least.

Mar 09, 2009 19:53 PM
rating: 0
 
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