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Bill Parker 

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October 3, 2012 5:00 am

The Platoon Advantage: What We Mean By Worthless


Bill Parker

Almost no popular statistic will be "worthless," exactly, and a good discourse might require more specific objections.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently, much more than I care to admit, discussing the end-of-season awards with casual fans. I don’t know why, but it’s something I do. I think that baseball fans becoming generally more informed is a good thing for all concerned. I have no illusions that my ranting and raving actually accomplishes that, but I keep chasing that carrot (often in blatantly unproductive ways). Anyway, something good came out of it, because I’ve had an idea about how to improve this sort of discourse, from our sabermetrically-inclined end. It’s not an entirely new idea—Bill James, for one, has talked about things like this quite a bit over the years—but it’s one I think it’s worth calling back to mind now and then, and I hope I might have a slightly different way of framing it.

You know what the big debate going on right now is—and, no worries, this post won’t actually touch on that whole thing at all—and you can imagine that certain issues are coming up a lot. Things like the value of RBI and batting average. Elsewhere—in discussing David Price vs. Justin Verlander for the Cy Young Award, for instance—pitcher wins come up quite a bit.

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September 12, 2012 5:00 am

The Platoon Advantage: The Year of Everything But the Shortstop


Bill Parker

Why are shortstops so bad this year, and does it mean anything for the future?

We know that positional strength comes and goes in cycles, like most other things in life. The early and mid-90s were great for first basemen and elite starting pitchers, the late 90s and early aughts for shortstops. The time since then has mostly been dominated by Albert Pujols, but it’s been pretty excellent for outfielders and second basemen, too. We can debate those classifications, I suppose, but you get the idea.

Over the last few years, though, I’d argue that the fates have shaken things out more or less evenly. In 2010, the MLB top 20 position players by WARP included at least one of every position but catcher (Joe Mauer came in at 22); in 2011, the top 12 had one at every position. The top 20 for 2012 includes 11 outfielders, three third basemen, three catchers, two second basemen, and, shockingly, just one first baseman. I’m pretty sure that each of the last three seasons has been branded the Year of the Pitcher at one point or another, but I’m not sure that’s totally justified, either; there are great pitchers, of course, but not so many or so dominant that they seem to dominate the sport.

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August 22, 2012 9:22 am

The Platoon Advantage: Plunk Cost


Bill Parker

Some players get hit by pitches so often that it must be a skill. But is it a good skill to have?

You don’t read much about the hit by pitch, except tangentially, and then only when some pitcher gets in trouble for throwing at some hitter. For the most part, the HBP just isn’t that interesting; it doesn’t happen often, and when it does, it doesn’t mean all that much. The run-value result of an HBP is basically indistinguishable from that of a walk, and it happens about a tenth as often. HBPs can be exciting or aggravating or scary when they happen while you’re watching a game, but after the fact, if no one got hurt or suspended, they’re hard to care about.

Some guys are really, really good at getting hit, though, and I’ve always thought they were pretty interesting. Carlos Quentin is the overall leader among players to have compiled at least 2000 plate appearances since 1961 (I put the cutoff, somewhat arbitrarily, at the onset of the 162-game schedule; heres the top 200)—he’s been hit by pitches in 4.1 percent of his career plate appearances, better than the career walk rates of Yuniesky Betancourt, Miguel Olivo and Bengie Molina. All those plunkings do add up; if Quentin’s 4.1 percent HBP rate were reduced to the 2012 NL average of 0.76 percent, he’d have 21 career HBP instead of 112, and his career .349 OBP would drop all the way to .326.

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August 8, 2012 5:00 am

The Platoon Advantage: Who is Jason Heyward?


Bill Parker

Bill revisits a question raised on this site earlier in the season, and asks whether Heyward's excellent two months give us a more definitive answer.

There needs to be a catchy two-word phrase, along the lines of “gambler’s fallacy” or “winner’s curse,” for the understandable but generally ill-advised thought pattern that gets applied to guys like Jason Heyward. The rule underlying the fallacy is something like: the more hype a prospect receives upon his debut, the more overlooked and underrated he will become as soon as (inevitably) it turns out that he can’t immediately become Willie Mays or Albert Pujols.

It’s an exceptionally clunkily-worded rule, which is why we need the title phrase.

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The Blue Jays called up a promising minor-league outfielder to replace Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays called up the wrong promising minor-league outfielder to replace Jose Baustista.

As you’ve probably seen, the Blue Jays got some tough (and slightly weird) news on Monday night, when Jose Bautista felt some pretty powerful discomfort in his wrist after crushing a long foul ball, and had to leave the game. X-rays and an MRI all came back fine, but it nonetheless worried the Blue Jays enough that they placed him on the DL Tuesday. He’s out until at least August, meaning that Bautista—who had played in each of the Jays’ first 90 games—will be limited to no more than the 149 he played last year.

It’s a huge and potentially fatal blow to a team whose playoff chances were mostly wishes and dreams anyway, but these kinds of unfortunate events invariably mean a great opportunity for somebody. In this case, that somebody is Anthony Gose, a not-yet-22-year-old outfielder who is one of the fastest players in pro ball (and who was acquired from the Astros in 2010 in a trade for Brett Wallace, essentially his antithesis). He’s perhaps the fourth-best prospect in a very deep farm system, ranking 68th in Kevin Goldstein’s preseason top 100.

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June 27, 2012 9:41 am

The Platoon Advantage: The Eternal Shortstop


Bill Parker

Do you appreciate what Omar Vizquel has done? That is to say, do you really, really appreciate it?

Last Saturday, the Blue Jays were in the middle of scoring six runs in the ninth inning against an imploding Marlins bullpen, to break a 1-1 tie and roll to a 7-1 win. With one out in the inning, one run already in, and runners on second and third, the Jays called on a little-used utility infielder, then hitting .228/.267/.228, to pinch-hit for pitcher Darren Oliver (whose career batting line is actually a tick better than that, but being an American League middle reliever, he hasn’t swung a bat since 2006). The pinch-hitter grounded into a fielder’s choice, with the runner on third gunned down at home, but would later come around to score on Colby Rasmus’ three-run homer.

That unsuccessful pinch-hit appearance isn’t the kind of thing that would generally kick off a Baseball Prospectus piece (especially four days later), and I can’t think of a single reason why it ever should, except that the pinch-hitter in this case was Omar Vizquel. And Omar Vizquel is 45 years old, and still (occasionally) playing in a major-league middle infield. On Tuesday, Vizquel announced that he plans to retire after this season.

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No Padre has ever hit for a cycle, but as far as interesting achievements go, they've done much better.

Carlos Quentin was playing just his second game of the season on Tuesday afternoon, in the Padres’ eventual loss to the Cubs. He doubled in the second inning, homered in the fifth, and singled in the seventh, which meant that television and radio announcers were legally bound to declare that Quentin was “a triple short of the cycle.” It’s a phrase that, while true and harmless, also (as has been noted here in detail) has crazily misleading connotations; a hitter with a single, double and homer is a triple short of the cycle in the same way the guy playing Tevye in the community production of Fiddler on the Roof down the street is a Best Actor Oscar short of being Laurence Olivier.

In this case, though, it wasn’t just the announcers taking note of it. It was mentioned on Twitter, and for a brief period was the lead story on the front-and-center scroll at MLB’s website. That’s because in the extremely unlikely event it did happen (which, of course, it didn’t), it would have been the first time in franchise history that a Padres player had hit for the cycle.

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May 2, 2012 9:03 am

The Platoon Advantage: Why Rookies of the Year Fail


Bill Parker

A BBWAA stamp of approval doesn't mean a glorious career. Chris Coghlan is the latest to prove it.

On Monday, the Marlins sent Chris Coghlan to Triple-A, his second trip in that direction in as many years.

It’s been a rough, rough ride for Coghlan ever since his 2009 season, when he hit .321/.390/.460, riding a .372/.472/.523 second half right to the National League Rookie of the Year Award. In 2010, Coghlan had slipped to just .268/.335/.383 in 91 games, then hurt himself attempting to hit Wes Helms with a pie after a walk-off win, missing the rest of the season. In 2011, he slipped even further, then in June was sent down to Triple-A, where he spent the remainder of the season, He opened 2012 with Miami, but wasn’t taking any time away from Logan Morrison, Emilio Bonifacio or Giancarlo Stanton, hitting .118/.143/.147 in just 36 plate appearances before Monday’s demotion. 

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With Vladimir Guerrero pondering Japan, Bill asks who will be the baseball's final ex-Expo.

A bit less than two years ago, I noted that it had been nearly six years -- a long time, in baseball -- since the Montreal Expos had been a thing in Major League Baseball, and I wondered who was likely to be the last active player to have worn an Expos uniform. I chose Vladimir Guerrero-- who was in the midst of a momentary resurgence--in a fit of something like nostalgia.

Well, now, in a little more than 24 hours, the team that once was les Expos will kick off its eighth season as the Washington Nationals, and it seems a good time to revisit the question: Do we have a better idea now of who will be the last Expo standing?

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Is there any hope that the Twins will be better than horrible this season?

First, let’s get this out of the way: The Minnesota Twins will probably be pretty bad, at best, this season. They lost a lot of games in 2011, and though many of the names and faces have changed, they’ll take the field in 2012 looking a lot like the same team. As a matter of sabermetric best practices, it’s probably a good idea to assume that they’ll lose a lot of games again. PECOTA and the depth charts currently see the Twins losing 91 games, in a two-way tie for the AL Central cellar and a three-way tie for last in the American League. That’s all very reasonable, and nothing you read here is going to dispute the notion that that’s exactly what’s most likely to happen.

What I’m wondering, though, is why it’s being treated as a foregone conclusion. Great analysts are dismissing the team without, well, analyzing. Our own departing-and-incoming managing editors—brilliant, insightful, and devastatingly handsome men, both—had things like this to say in their recent AL Central preview: “This team should trade any veterans not nailed down” … “they can’t compete” … “The Royals are about to leave the Twins in their dust” … “It’s going to stay bad before it gets better.” And they’re certainly not alone... they’re just the example I can find right now. On Twitter and elsewhere, the Twins have very quickly become a punch line. They’ve been written off completely.

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How unusual is it for a pitcher of Roy Oswalt's record to be without a job this late in the offseason?

It sneaked up on us a little bit (and by us, here, I mean me), but all of a sudden it’s very late in the offseason. It’s February 15th. The Athletics and Mariners have opened Spring Training already, sort of, and the rest of the teams’ pitchers and catchers report on Sunday. Major League Baseball will be played two weeks from Friday. Major League Baseball that counts will be played...well, that’s seven weeks from today. That’s still quite a ways off, really. But still, Spring Training! Soon!

And yet, as Matt Kory hilariously discussed yesterday, Roy Oswalt remains unemployed. That’s...odd.

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January 25, 2012 7:09 am

The Platoon Advantage: TwinsFest Cognitive Dissonance


Bill Parker

Beginning an ongoing series of weekly contributions from the authors of The Platoon Advantage. This week: Fanalysts.

BP welcomes the authors of The Platoon Advantage, a general baseball blog that covers history, stats, and current events with passion and irreverence, and revels in the random minutia that makes the game we love so special.

I’ve always been entertained by the usual line of attack traditionalists take against the sabermetrically-minded, specifically the “get your head out of your spreadsheets and watch the games!” line. Because if there’s one thing I know to be absolutely true about everyone who might be shepherded under the sabermetrics-friendly umbrella, it’s this: we all love the game of baseball. We love it in very different ways, but we nonetheless love it, and we love watching it. There is no one whose one true love and calling is biochemistry or software design, but who does sabermetric research instead because he or she just can’t pass up all that sweet, sweet sabermetrics money. We get into the numbers because we love the game. The numbers don’t replace our love of the game, they enhance it. But you know that.

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