What we uncovered last time is that, rather than being some wholly arbitrary baseline concocted by evil sabermetric geniuses, replacement level (and the consequences of replacement level-based analysis) in fact grow out of something fundamental to the game: the distribution of talent in baseball, and the limited number of roster spots available. So the question becomes, how do we measure the distribution of talent? What are some things we need to make sure we’re capturing?
What’s funny is that sabermetrics is regarded as being about math first, when really the heart of the thing is theory. I and my fellow travelers have been accused of “ruining” the game with numbers. But from its earliest days, the spread of baseball was as much about newsprint filled with columns of numbers in agate type as it was about the stories written about the game. Numbers have always had an incredible power to tell us about the game of baseball, and that was as true in 1913 as it is in 2013. Scratch any columnist who talks about how stats are ruining the game and you can find a voluminous knowledge of the history of the game as told in numbers, of the records people hold and the records people haven’t managed to break.
Having the hard talk about where replacement level comes from.
In the pages of yesterday’s Boston Globe, veteran sports reporter Bob Ryan declared war on WAR. We get that one a lot. But the unusual part of this particular declaration was that it was based on the belief that the “RP” in WARP—for “replacement player”—was a "judgment call" rather than the product of a mathematical formula. Ryan argued that the "replacement level" comparison, as currently constituted, is just a matter of opinion, and therefore arbitrary and unreliable. It's not often that we’re told that we’re not using enough math.
What determines whether borderline big leaguers languish in Triple-A obscurity or play a part on a major-league team's 25-man?
As I send the mic out the park like Reggie Jackson You be the minor leaguer who sees no action —A Tribe Called Quest, “Get A Hold”
My next two columns are going to identify minor-league free agent signees, one from each major-league organization, who stand a good chance of helping their big-league clubs this season. (See today’s Lineup Card for others’ NRI picks.) Most of these players have been in the majors before, and you’ll probably recognize many if not all of the names.
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The concept of replacement level goes back well beyond VORP.
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Which players around the league are sucking so badly that they're killing their teams?
With just over a week to go before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, we bring you this semi-annual reminder that complacency in the face of adversity is the potential undoing of every manager and general manager. For reasons rooted in issues beyond a player's recent performance—contract size, longer-term track record, clubhouse chemistry—teams all too often fail to make the moves that could help them win, allowing subpar production to fester until it kills a club's post-season hopes. In 2007, I compiled a historical all-star squad of ignominy for our pennant race book, It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over, identifying players at each position whose performances had dragged their teams down in tight races: the Replacement-Level Killers. The concept has become a semiannual tradition—near the trading deadline and the opening of spring training—with an eye toward what teams can do to solve potentially fatal problems.
Which men of misery prevented their teams from escaping the murky waters of suckitude?
My semiannual Replacement-Level Killers series spotlights the worst holes in contenders' lineups, as well as the possible remedies they might take to avoid letting such subpar production destroy their post-season chances the next time around. I make no claims for this companion series being so noble in purpose. Because bad baseball so often makes for good copy, it's more fun to hunt the fish at the bottom of the major-league barrel to find the positions where players' contributions could be considered the worst in the majors. What follows is an "all-star" team of players who have produced tornado-level disasters amid their lineups, often at salaries that represented far more than just a soft breeze running through their team's bank account. Once again, I present the Vortices of Suck.
Checking in on expansion teams to see what they can tell us about replacement level.
We are getting close to finishing up the revisions to Wins Above Replacement Player, and before we get to wrapping up the pitchers, I want to step back for a second and take a look at replacement level from a different perspective.
One of the important points of analyzing baseball is that everything important happens at the team level. This isn’t to say individual players are unimportant. You can’t have a baseball team without them, but you can only win or lose as a team, not as an individual. Having a system that makes sense at the team level is a necessary (but not sufficient) criteria for having a good system of evaluating baseball players at the individual level.
Why replacement level is important, and a fresh way of measuring it.
This is something of a culmination of work I’ve been doing over the past few months—taking a menagerie of stats available here at Baseball Prospectus and merging them together under the heading of “Wins Above Replacement Level.” We’ve had WARP for quite a while—and its close sibling, VORP, as well—but it has been rather distinct from the rest of our offerings. That’s coming to an end.
We will, of course, still carry a number of baseball statistics not concerned with directly measuring a player’s value—there are a number of stats both descriptive and predictive that aren’t going away. But in terms of value measures, we’re going to consolidate down to one view.
With Mario Mendoza being the patron saint of bad hitting, who should define replacement level?
Replacement level is something of a slippery concept. Of course, once you’ve gotten a grasp of its meaning and import, it’s not hard to hold on; I suspect that most people reading this article would defend the utility of replacement level to the death, at least until things got violent. Still, one suspects that holdouts might cotton to the concept more quickly if it employed a familiar baseline; the rather abstract nature of the term “replacement level” has been known to provoke a few scoffs from the anti-intellectual set.
Of course, given the elusive nature of “average” in baseball, replacement level better suits the sport for evaluative purposes. As Joe Posnanski wrote recently, “You could pick a really HIGH baseline—you could make your stat read Wins Below Willie Mays (WBWM) or Value Under Albert Pujols (VUAB). But that wouldn’t be much fun to do and would probably tell us more about Willie Mays and Albert Pujols than the players themselves.”
Which of this year's All-Star selections wouldn't carry their weight in a hypothetical luminaries' league?
Each year’s announcement of All-Star Game rosters inspires a round of internet remonstrations, focused on exclusions and inclusions alike. Rather than lend my keyboard to that chorus, which seems to have hit all the right notes already, I thought I’d take a quick look at the initial All-Star rosters with the aid of replacement level. Even the worst All-Star selected easily surpasses major-league replacement level—yes, even Omar Infante, and with plenty of room to spare—but one wonders (okay, so maybe I’m the only one wondering) how each pick would stack up were the replacement-level baseline adjusted for All-Star talent. In other words, let’s pretend that the members of the AL and NL All-Star teams seceded from their circuits and formed their own league, with the rest of the majors serving as a talent pool for potential stand-ins. Would any replacement-level players lurk among those initially chosen to travel to Anaheim? And if so, which would lay claim to the title of Replacement-Level All Star?
Evaluating single high-profile signings against more scatter-shot solutions to team needs.
In the first twoparts of this series, I explained my new approach to contract valuations and whether MORP should be linear with respect to WARP. Basically, this entailed asking the question of whether Matt Holliday, perhaps a six-win player, could be just as easily replaced by signing two three-win players or three two-win players. The issue is roster space and playing time. The alternative argument to doing MORP linearly is that a team can sign Holliday and concentrate all six of those wins on one spot of the diamond, and then they could improve themselves more by filling their other openings with decent players as well.