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March 17, 2014

Baseball Therapy

The Viability of Burying a Bad Bat

by Russell A. Carleton


Team captain and 39-year-old farewell tour participant Derek Jeter is currently the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees. That is the way of things and has been since I was in high school. But the Yankees also have Brendan Ryan on their roster. Ryan is a noted defensive wizard while Jeter is [must…not…make…Jeter fielding joke]. However, Ryan “hit” only .197/.255/.273 last year in 349 plate appearances. Is there a case to be made for Ryan as the starting shortstop based on his defensive prowess? Keep in mind that the Yankees could bury Ryan in the batting order to limit his exposure, move the ever-under-appreciated Brett Gardner up to the two-spot, pinch hit for Ryan late in the game, and enjoy that sweet glove for eight innings a night. Is that enough to overtake De-rek Je-ter?

Let’s go one step further and assume that Jeter will return to his 2011 and 2012 form. In those years, he was worth 1.4 and 3.0 Wins Above Replacement Player, respectively. Ryan, in those same years, was worth 3.5 and 1.9 wins, based mostly on his stellar defense. Thanks to Jeter’s injuries and Ryan’s offensive nosedive, the two checked in at roughly replacement level last season. Even discounting Ryan’s expectations a bit, could we not make the case that while they have two very different skillsets, they are at least in the same ZIP code when it comes to overall value?

Okay, so the Yankees aren’t actually going to bench Captain America in favor of Brendan Ryan, but the Yankees aren’t the only team facing this sort of a decision. This is a classic bat vs. glove positional battle. The Dodgers seem confused about whether to play Alexander Guerrero at second base, despite the fact that he does not appear to own a glove. Their other option is to play some utility type there who has a decent glove, but not much of a bat. Michael Morse and Gregor Blanco have a similar dynamic going in San Francisco.

What’s the cost of carrying a starter who can’t hit? It’s true that a team really can bury him in the nine-hole if they want. But what if a team tried carrying two of these players? Three?

It’s only in the last decade that advanced defensive metrics have been publicly available to give us a full understanding of how much defense matters. With the implementation of WAR(P), it’s become easier to roll both defensive and offensive numbers into one uber-metric. Now we can directly compare players with very different skillsets against a common baseline, although there is a weakness in WAR(P) for which we need to account. The offensive component in WAR(P) is generally based on the idea that each event that a player generates has a certain run value (e.g., a home run is worth roughly 1.4 runs). The idea is that we pretend that all players live on “average teams” and that they always bat in “average situations,” with an average number of runners on base. Home runs are worth more when there are runners on, and some teams employ hitters who are better at getting on base than others. For WAR(P), where the goal is to create a context-neutral common baseline to use for comparison, pretending that everything is average is a feature. But for teams making decisions about their specific circumstances, it’s a bug.

Consider our Jeter vs. Ryan debate. Let’s return to the halcyon days of 2012, before Jeter hurt his ankle (and before Brendan Ryan was a member of the Yankees), when he posted a line of .316/.362/.429. In 2012, Ryan put up a slash line of .194/.277/.278. Had Ryan been a member of the Yankees and their only option at short, he would have been hitting ninth, meaning that other hitters would have been moved up higher in the batting order out of necessity. Not only that, but Ryan’s general aversion to getting on base would have meant that there would have been fewer runners on when the lineup flipped over.

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Related Content:  Batting Order,  Derek Jeter,  Lineup,  Brendan Ryan,  Offense,  WARP

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

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Grasul

Great article.

Mar 17, 2014 04:06 AM
rating: 5
 
FastballVelociraptor

Awesome analysis, thanks

Mar 17, 2014 07:41 AM
rating: 1
 
kscdac1032

Nice Work! Context is everything. Isolating everything into its proper context, is shall we say difficult at the very least. Some Sabrmetricians have gotten to the point, where they have convinced themselves that they have completed the task of removing all noise. You can tell by the tone of their work.

Mar 17, 2014 07:52 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

There will always be noise. Which is good, because it means I always have something else to write about.

Mar 17, 2014 11:10 AM
 
Ogremace
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

This article had a number of typos and grammatical errors, and I'm not trying to be irritating, but the high level of writing and editing has always been (for me) a hallmark of BP, something a lot of other sites can't match.

Somehow, in 2011, Jeter's .040 points of OBP over Ryan, as well as slight increases in HR and SB, netted only .5 wins of BWAR. Baffling, honestly.

Mar 17, 2014 07:55 AM
rating: -4
 
Matt Trueblood

Park factor is a major reason for the small WAR gap against the large absolute production gap, there.

Mar 17, 2014 08:04 AM
rating: 2
 
Matt Trueblood

THis puts me on such a confirmation-bias high. I've been saying this forever. Russell, let me ask:

Is this one reason why the NL has fallen so badly behind the AL in terms of overall quality? It seems to me that the pitcher's presence at the bottom of the order makes it even more costly to hide a bad hitter in an NL lineup, and therefore, complicates any effort to slot in an all-glove guy for NL teams.

At the same time, of course, all-bat guys (or those who risk becoming same) also fit more easily into an AL lineup, thanks to the flexibility afforded by the DH. And because of DHs, pitchers get fewer breaks in the AL, so starting hurlers have higher utility for AL teams, too. The only things NL teams can afford to value more highly than American League clubs, it seems to me, are guys who do a little bit of everything, especially off the bench. It's a screaming inequality that can't be solved until the senior circuit gets with the times and adds the DH.

Anyway, obviously, thought-provoking, fun work. I love the detail you provide. While I had no trouble understanding or enjoying them, there was something fundamentally unsatisfying about the 'in a vacuum' models that dominated baseball research last decade. I love getting into how differently things can work in specific situations. Thanks for your usual excellence, RC.

Mar 17, 2014 08:02 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

There's some amount of truth in this. I guess the way to think about it is to look at what happens when AL teams go to NL parks. Most place their DH in the field (at 1B or LF) in some sort of an attempt to bury him as a fielder (the defensive #9 hole?). It seems an implicit endorsement of the idea that maintaining the integrity of the batting order is better than maintaining the integrity of the fielding grid. Other fielders can sorta cover for the defensive weaknesses of the usual DH, while no one can help a batter as he stands there. If we accept that maintaining a good groove in the lineup is even slightly more important, then the league which can indulge in offense over defense, because of the DH and the lack of a need to maintain as much defensive flexbility, will have an advantage.

Mar 17, 2014 11:08 AM
 
Tony B

Cool article! Fun to think about some extensions of this work.

This can potentially be used to help make some in-season decisions: when the inevitable injuries befell the elder Yanks and the Jayson Nixes of the world begin getting regular duty, might be worth putting Ryan out there to play defense every day.

Mar 17, 2014 08:34 AM
rating: 1
 
cmaczkow

Russell, forgive me if I am missing something, but if I am managing the Yankees and trying to make this decision, do I really want to use the coefficients you've listed above? As you said, they are based on all teams, and they are heavily context dependent (hence the #7 spot being weighted so highly).

It seems that, were I to follow the logic here, I would be placing my best hitters in the lineup following the order of the magnitude of the co-efficient, in order to maximize the number I get in the Total Value cell - and as you said, that really isn't how this works.

So, I guess my question is, would it make more sense to estimate a coefficient for each spot in the lineup based on the quality of players I am starting each day, rather than the "generic" coefficients presented here?

Mar 17, 2014 10:00 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

In a perfect world, a Yankee manager would have a Markov-type analysis at his disposal looking at different configurations of lineups based on the players at his disposal. My goal here is to show that there are structural issues to consider when making these sorts of issues and that WAR doesn't take those into account. The magnitude of those coefficients is one part an observation on the environment and one part real structural effects. Pulling apart how much is what would take some deeper digging. Your point is well-taken though.

Mar 17, 2014 10:50 AM
 
Matt Trueblood

Russell, I would love to read, if you had occasion to write, what you think a team could do with this:

http://www.businessinsider.com/mlb-supercomputer-2014-3

Mar 17, 2014 11:07 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Ahhh... the super-computer...

Mar 17, 2014 11:47 AM
 
cmaczkow

One additional question: given the wide disparity between the various measures of defensive value (relative to the fairly similar results different offensive measures provide), how confident would (could? should?) a manager be when using this technique to make a decision between a Jeter and a Ryan?

I imagine it comes down to which defensive measurement you feel the most confident in, but it would have to be frustrating if the math told you the offensive difference between the Jeter and the Ryan lineups was (for example) 10 runs, but the two most widely used defensive measures valued Ryan's defense as +5 and +15 runs versus Jeter's...

Mar 17, 2014 10:05 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Infield metrics are more reliable than outfield metrics, so we at least have that going for us here. In terms of tipping the anlysis one way or the other though, the results should be big enough that even leaving room for some margin of error, the choice is fairly obvious.

Mar 17, 2014 10:52 AM
 
tonytouch

Do you use 8 innings because the home team doesn't always bat in the 9th, defensive replacements late in games, and pinch hitters for poor hitters? All of the above?

Great article. I was hoping Brendan could contribute this year and maybe even give them a little more punch due to getting back to a hitter's ballpark. PECOTA is predicting a TAV closer to his career #'s, but his 2013 marks even in the Bronx were particularly abysmal.

Mar 17, 2014 11:29 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Because of the bottom of the ninth.

Mar 17, 2014 11:48 AM
 
NJTomatoes

Statistical probabilities aside, just spend a season watching Ryan come up to the plate and you'll likely become willing to go back to Derek. Been there, done that...It's painful. I guess the big difference would be that in the Mariners' light hitting lineup, Ryan's plate appearances were more salt in the wounds. The same number of PAs with the Yankees would mean a break in the action rather than a continuance of the inaction. Ryan does do a mean Robert DeNiro, though.

Mar 17, 2014 12:50 PM
rating: 0
 
StarkFist

Okay, but if you were to run those numbers with a staff full of worm killers - like, say, 5 starters who each have a GB rate of 50% or higher. This would lead to more balls being hit to the shortstop, more double play opportunities, and greater value for Ryan, yes?

Mar 17, 2014 15:58 PM
rating: 1
 
Noel Steere
(965)

Ever since the 1997 AL WC playoff between the Yankees and Indians I've theorized that one's lineup becomes substantially worse once three bad hitters are at the bottom of it. That series, the Yankee's 7 through 9 hitters were Charlie Hayes, Joe Girardi, and Rey Sanchez.

Mar 17, 2014 17:08 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

As someone who lived and died with that particular series in my native Cleveland...

Mar 17, 2014 18:03 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Russell,

What are your thoughts when comparing a good offensive catcher versus a good framing catcher?

Mar 18, 2014 23:33 PM
rating: 1
 
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