It’s part two of our tour through the worst team performances by position in 2012 (using the visual year-to-date tool) and corresponding hopes for 2013 (using visual depth charts). Part one is here. Part two is also here. Specifically, here:
Extent of despair: 0.8 WARP
Foremost subtractor: Eric Hinske (-0.2)
Projection for 2013: 2.0
Like the Yankees', the Braves’ worst position was still a pretty good position, and one that projects to be average in 2013 without any changes being made. While Hinske technically bears the most blame by our working standards, the bulk of the starts went to Freddie Freeman and his 0.9 WARP. Freeman hit around the league average but gets knocked for his defense, a surprise given his respectable showing in the Fielding Bible vote. From the 2012 Annual:
Finding a harmony between the scouting reports and defensive metrics about Freeman is impossible. Folks who watched Freeman know about his picking-and-scooping abilities as well as his strong arm, characteristics that fan the flames of contention.
Credit him with a league-average glove instead of knocking him seven runs and the Braves now get 1.5 WARP out of the position.
Extent of despair: -0.2
Guiltiest party: Cesar Izturis (-0.5)
Projection for 2013: 1.1 WARP
The fix for this position is supposed to be Jean Segura, acquired last summer. I was in Mike Scioscia’s office once, sitting on his couch and talking about Mike Trout, when Segura walked into the clubhouse. He had just been called up to the majors for the first time, and he was super excited. He burst into Scioscia’s office, smiling, shook his new manager’s hand, then turned to me and with a big smile shook my hand. He probably thought I was an Angels employee. It was so darling, how he assumed I had any value whatsoever.
Extent of despair: 0.6 WARP
Leader of the resistance: Ryan Jackson (-0.2, in 11 plate appearances)
Projection for 2013: 1.2 WARP
The Cardinals didn’t do anything to fix this spot. The Cardinals rarely do anything to “fix” second base. Since 1971, when Ted Sizemore replaced Julian Javier, the Cardinals have treated second base the way Doctor Who treats the Doctor, recasting it every few years while keeping the core of its personality intact. There have been 42 individual player seasons in which a second baseman had at least 300 plate appearances with St. Louis while playing a majority of the time at second base, and of those 42:
41 have hit nine or fewer home runs;
39 have been six feet or shorter;
42 have slugged lower than .450;
35 have slugged lower than .400;
28 stole fewer than 10 bases, and 41 stole fewer than 30.
Basically, the average Cardinals second baseman was a gamer who had no tools, and there's very little deviation within the subset. The average second baseman had nearly the same OBP (.341) as SLG (.360) and hit three homers per season and was 5’ 10” and was scrappy. The outlier is Delino Deshields, who was the tallest (6’ 1”!) and the homeriest (11 in a season!) and the most powerful (.448 SLG!) and the fastest (55 steals!).
Our depth charts expect the Cardinals to keep this tradition alive in 2013: Descalso gets the most at-bats in our view of the future, then Ronny Cedeno, then Pete Kozma, then Matt Carpenter. Carpenter’s no slugger, but he does have the potential to break the mold a bit. He’s tall, basically.
Extent of despair: -2.4 WARP
Most underperforming: Josh Vitters (-1.2)
Projection for 2013: 1.3 WARP
Five Cubs played third base and all five measured out at below replacement, even Adrian Cardenas at -0.0 in four plate appearances. The story goes that, in 2007, the Cubs expected the Royals to take Vitters second overall, and Chicago would take Jarrod Parker. The Royals chose Mike Moustakas instead, so the Cubs got Vitters. You can imagine the scene, right? Roomful of baseball men hearing Moustakas’ name, looking up at each other excitedly, smiling at the blessing that had just landed in their laps. “He’ll either compete for batting titles in the future or hit a paltry .300 with 20 to 25 home runs,” we wrote in the 2009 annual.
The Cubs didn’t do anything to address third base, unless they expect Brent Lillibridge—with 16 career starts at the position—to get play there. Otherwise, it’s still Ian Stewart and Luis Valbuena, with Vitters in Triple-A.
Extent of despair: -0.6 WARP
Leading decontributor: Stephen Drew (-0.6)
Projection for 2013: 0.8 WARP
Maybe no team in this exercise put more public effort into fixing its worst position than the Diamondbacks, and yet all they managed was to get slightly better than replacement level (though Didi Gregorius might offer more in the long term). Of course, the alternative—doing nothing—would have been worse, though it’s worth noting that only one team projects at any position to be worse than replacement level in 2013: The Marlins, at catcher, at -0.1. If we take that to be a lower limit for projecting, then the Diamondbacks wouldn’t have been much worse off (in 2013, at least) leaving shortstop alone.
Extent of despair: -1.2 WARP
Dastardliest Miscreant: James Loney (-1.3)
Projected for 2013: 5.1 WARP
Hooooboy, that’s a 6.3-win upgrade right there. History’s WARP tables will probably remember 2012 as the year of Loney and 2013 as the year that the Dodgers added Gonzalez, but of course Gonzalez was added last year and wasn’t much of a solution, producing just 0.4 WARP in 157 plate appearances. But PECOTA projects him to be about the sixth-best player in baseball this year, more valuable (thanks to more playing time) than Joey Votto. PECOTA projects James Loney to be the third-worst player in baseball this year, minimum 450 PA.
Extent of despair: -0.8 WARP
Foulest odors: Ryan Theriot and Emmanuel Burriss, both at -0.8.
Projected for 2013: 2.0 WARP
Here’s the farthest Burriss hit a baseball in 2012:
Respectable, besides being the farthest he hit a baseball in 2012. But here’s the second farthest he hit a baseball in 2012:
And that’s just not right. Near as I can tell, Burriss hasn’t hit a baseball over an outfielder’s head since May 27, 2009, which was 356 plate appearances ago.
Marco Scutaro fixed this problem once, and will try to continue.
Extent of despair: -1.4 WARP
Marliniest Marlin: Bryan Petersen (-1.1 WARP)
Projected for 2013: 1.3 WARP
I was going to make a joke about how the Marlins didn’t go into the offseason with any plans for fixing holes so much as digging holes, but they actually did go out of their way to upgrade at left field, signing Juan Pierre. That might make you lololol, but the Marlins figure to upgrade as much at left field as the Giants do at second base, and the Giants spent $20 million doing theirs.
Back in 2004 I bet a friend that Johnny Damon would reach 3,000 hits in his career and make for a weird Hall of Fame case because nobody otherwise considered him a HOFer. I didn’t necessarily think Damon was likely to get 3,000 hits, and I got pretty good odds on the wager. (I don’t recall the odds, or the stakes, and, with Damon at just 2,769, I don’t plan to ask my friend if he remembers.) But there seemed to be a real chance that Damon, or perhaps Edgar Renteria, would reach 3,000 and turn that particular milestone from automatic entry into non-automatic entry. The possibility pleased me. (Renteria stalled out even earlier.)
Pierre is a longshot, but might be the best hope to discredit the number 3,000. He’s at 2,141 through his age-34 season, which is the 72nd-most ever through 34, more than Wade Boggs and Paul Molitor had. He’s just Juan Pierre, of course, but he still gets hits: He had 178 and 179 in 2010 and 2011, and he batted .307 in 2012. According to the Bill James Favorite Toy, he’s got a 20 percent chance of making it to 3,000. And it’s not going to be all that hard for him to improve his chances this year. If he gets:
200 hits in 2013: 40 percent chance at 3,000
175 (repeating 2010-2011): 31 percent
150 (repeating 2010-2012): 22 percent
125 (repeating 2012): 13 percent
100 (PECOTA projection): 5 percent
Michael Young and Jimmy Rollins have outsized chances, too, though if Rollins gets to 3,000 he’ll probably just be recast as a deserving Hall of Famer.
Extent of despair: -1.0 WARP
Troublemakers: Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas at -.5 each
Projection for 2013: 1.3 WARP
That improvement is split between two players whom the Mets got for R.A. Dickey: Travis D’Arnaud and the man who will take some of the immediate pressure off of D’Arnaud, John Buck. I’m extremely paranoid about catching prospects, to the point that my initial reaction to the Mets’ Dickey trade was ambivalence. That might be because I spent too much time watching Jeff Mathis, or because I can remember Guillermo Quiroz, or because I can think of so many catcher injuries, or because I saw how long it took Jarrod Saltalamacchia to do anything. D’Arnaud was, and is, a top-40 prospect, so I went back over the past decade to look at other top-40 prospects’ early experiences in the majors. That gives me a very small group, so this isn’t so much an exercise in predicting what catchers will do but in testing my own memory to see how selectively gloomy it is.
The list includes 15 names: Joe Mauer, Mathis, Victor Martinez, Jeff Clement, Saltalamacchia, Matt Wieters, Geovany Soto, Carlos Santana, Buster Posey, Jesus Montero, Derek Norris, Wilin Rosario, J.P. Arencibia, Yasmani Grandal, and Devin Mesoraco. I excluded Daric Barton because it was clear he wouldn’t catch and Kenji Johjima because of his experience. I started counting their years with the first season of at least 150 plate appearances. Here is the average WARP per season:
Year 1: 1.1 WARP (15 players)
Year 2: 1.8 WARP (10 players to date)
Year 3: 2.6 WARP (nine players)
Year 4: 1.9 WARP (seven players)
Year 5: 2.1 WARP (six players)
Year 6: 1.5 WARP (four players)
So on average the top catching prospects have quickly reached league-average level and stayed there. The group would have been dragged down by Quiroz and Dioner Navarro, both of whom were ranked in the low-40s, but the terms I set were the terms I set, so they’re out. Average on average is better than I thought I remembered. My memory is lousy.
Extent of despair: -0.8 WARP
Crumbum: Xavier Nady (-0.7)
Projection for 2013: 2.4 WARP
Most of the upgrade actually comes from moving Bryce Harper to left field, though that’s just a way of saying the upgrade comes from adding Denard Span.
But if we look at it as Harper replacing Nady, here’s a question: When did Harper become a better baseball player than Nady? Obviously, Harper is better than Nady now. But what about:
1996? Harper “was playing T-ball at age three against six-year-olds.” Nady was a junior in high school. Winner: Nady
2002? “Travel teams from California to Colorado to Oklahoma were calling the Harpers and offering to put their son on a plane, lodge him in a hotel and provide his meals so he could play for them in tournaments. A travel player for hire.” Nady hit 23 home runs in High-A and Triple-A. Winner: Nady
2005? “Bryce, then 12, was playing in a tournament in Alabama on a field with 250-foot fences. … He went 12 for 12. Eleven home runs and a double.” Nady hit .261/.321/.439 in the majors, with 400-foot fences. Closer than in 2002, but still Winner: Nady
2008? “Last year, as part of USA Baseball's 16U team in the Pan Am Championships in Mexico… he batted .571 in the tournament, with four home runs in eight games, a 1.214 slugging average, a .676 on-base percentage and six stolen bases in six tries—all team highs among regular players—and was named MVP.” Nady, at 29, had his best year, hitting .305/.357/.510. As good as Harper was at 15, he’s couldn’t match that. Winner: Nady
2009? As a high school sophomore, “he hit .626/.723/1.339 in 115 at-bats. He had 22 doubles, nine triples and 14 home runs, eight of which came in his last seven games. He scored 76 runs while driving in 55. He walked 39 times and struck out just five. He also stole 36 bases in 39 attempts and ended the season on a 23-game hitting streak.” Nady missed almost the entire season. Split between the majors and Triple-A, he hit .273/.314/.424 in 35 plate appearances.
Now it’s getting close. I imagine Nady would have absolutely had his way with high school pitching—obviously, I mean super-obvious point there, right. But would he hit an extra-base hit in more than a third of his at-bats? Quite possible. Would he have had a .606 BABIP? I could see that. Might Harper have been the better defender, though? Maybe.
Nady put up an OPS that was 100 points lower than Harper did in 2012. Reverse engineering Harper’s development, I have to imagine he has added more than 100 points of OPS to his true talent level in the past three years. I imagine it’s not all that close; maybe 300 points, maybe 400 points. That’s probably more than enough to offset the defense and baserunning edges he might have had over Nady, so I’m going to call this one Winner: Nady. I personally doubt it’s all that close.
2010? Harper won the Golden Spikes Award as the best college baseball player. Nady hit .256/.306/.353 in a hitter's park while producing one of the lowest speed scores in the game, a negative FRAA, and a negative WARP. Is it all that crazy to think that, at 17, Bryce Harper was at the replacement level? I don’t think it is, especially because I sort of suspect he was already 10 runs better as a corner defender than Nady. Also: “His 31 home runs shattered the school's previous record of 12.” Lots of exclamation marks in my heart for that one.
The only thing that holds me back is that, a year later, in Double-A, Harper had a .724 OPS. But that was a small sample, one that looks out of place in between his A-Ball performance (.977 OPS) and his 2012 performance in the majors. Either Harper’s development rate was far faster than I’m giving credit for here, or that Double-A line is an outlier. If you think the Double-A line reflects his true talent, then we wouldn’t say Harper was probably better than Nady until 2012. So that opens the door to four possibilities:
After 15 years of being worse than Xavier Nady, Bryce Harper surpassed him in 2009.
After 16 years of being worse than Xavier Nady, Bryce Harper surpassed him in 2010.
After 17 years of being worse than Xavier Nady, Bryce Harper surpassed him in 2011.
After 18 years of being worse than Xavier Nady, Bryce Harper surpassed him in 2012.
My guess is that the answer is 2010.
Extent of despair: 0.5 WARP
Flattest tire: Orlando Hudson (-0.2)
Projection for 2013: 2.6 WARP
For a not-good team, the Padres didn’t have a particularly sour spot, with no position under replacement. The White Sox, incidentally, got their second-worst performance out of second base. Why do I bring that up? Because the drag on that position for Chicago was also Hudson. The guy always could cover a lot of ground.
Jedd Gyorko gets to be the savior.
Extent of despair: -1.0 WARP
Source of negativity: Ryan Howard (-1.0)
Projection for 2013: 2.2 WARP
Ryan Howard fell behind 0-2 28 times in 2012, and struck out in 22 of them.
One of the fascinating things to me is how long it seems to take for scouting reports (in very general ways) to catch up to player performance. From 2008 to 2011, Ryan Howard was a very dangerous hitter and teams tried hard to stay away from him. The percentage of pitches he saw in the zone was incredibly consistent:
2008: 43 percent (fourth-lowest in baseball)
2009: 44 percent (fifth-lowest)
2010: 44 percent (sixth-lowest)
2011: 44 percent (seventh-lowest)
In 2012, he wasn't a very good hitter. Now, maybe he wasn't a good hitter in the way that teams would have been more willing to challenge him. Or maybe he wasn't a good hitter in the way that teams would have figured he was helpless and would chase anything, so were less willing to challenge him. But regardless, he wasn't nearly the same hitter and shouldn’t have seen pitchers attack him the same way. And yet,
2012: 44 percent (sixth-lowest)
Extent of despair: -0.3 WARP
Gang of ne’er-do-wells: Starling Marte, Nate McLouth, and Yamaico Navarro at -0.2 apiece.
Projection for 2013: 1.8 WARP
That positive projection is mostly for Starling Marte, though PECOTA would have actually slightly preferred the Pirates keep Nate McLouth, if you can believe it.
Extent of despair: -1.6 WARP
Problem: Drew Stubbs (-1.6)
Projection for 2013: 3.8 WARP
I started this topic thinking it would be interesting to see how much effort teams went to in an effort to upgrade their most glaring weaknesses. But what actually happened is that a lot of times they just stuck with what they had and hoped for some regression, or let the sub-replacement veteran go and replaced him with another uninspiring veteran, or made a small move. The exceptions—Arizona at shortstop, for instance, and Cincinnati in center field—are the more interesting ones, but they’re not the most common. It’s just not all that easy to upgrade at a position.
I wrote about the Reds’ trade for Choo when it happened, and I still love it and I still can’t figure out how they think Choo in center field is going to work:
Choo has played exactly one game in center since he left Seattle, and even as a Mariners farmhand he was mostly moved to a corner after he turned 20. He has generally been an above-average defender in a corner, but the numbers got worse this year.
Defense is important—really important, though a bit less every year we move deeper into the strikeout era—but Choo’s offense was around 50 runs better than Stubbs’ last year without accounting for the spot in the order and without accounting for any potential “balancing of the lineup” benefit, which may or may not exist and probably doesn’t. Choo is a very good hitter. He had that lousy 2011 season, and there’s certainly a tilt downward in his stats, but he’s a very good hitter. Since 2008, for instance, he has the same OPS+ as Josh Hamilton. Choo is two years younger.
Extent of despair: -1.5 WARP
Extender of despair: Todd Helton (-1.1)
Projection for 2013: 1.5 WARP
I never thought of it like this, and I still don’t, but it’s interesting. From the 2002 Annual:
Todd Helton:2000s::Sandy Koufax:1960s. Discuss. Helton is an excellent hitter playing in the best hitters' environment and best hitters’ era in history. Koufax was an excellent pitcher whose prime years were spent in Dodger Stadium during Dead Ball Era II, the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Both players are very good, among the best in the game, but it's easy to overestimate how good, because their stats are wildly distorted. There are people who have an emotional attachment to the idea that Sandy Koufax was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, rather than a good one with a high peak and some fortuitous timing. It would be interesting to ask those people how they rank Todd Helton, because Helton 2000-03 is going to have a lot in common with Koufax 1963-66.
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Perhaps - or maybe it just shows that his mama raised him right. You don't walk into a room of two people and introduce yourself to one of them and ignore the other one, no matter what you think about the "value" of either person.
Player, age of last completed season, hit total, bWAR, fWAR:
Damon, 38, 2769, +52.1, +45.9
Pierre, 34, 2141, +15.3, +28.1
Rollins, 33, 2024, +40.1, +48.8
Young, 35, 2230, +22.1, +29.0
Rollins is already almost the best guy on the list, and in any scenario where he reaches 3,000 career hits, he's going to add about 6 productive (~2+ WAR) full seasons plus maybe a 'farewell tour' as a part-timer. He could slide over to be a good 3B at some point, whereas the other guys are generally defensive liabilities at weaker positions.
Unlike Pierre/Young/Damon, Rollins has useful secondary skills to keep him off the bench through periods of BABIP misfortune. He could probably stay a ~15 HR threat, and add ~20-25 steals while keeping up his high success rate. Throw in that his SS defense is still above-average. He'll never lead the league in batting average or walks, but he's not horrible there.
He has a lot of the miscellaneous boxes checked (WS ring, MVP trophy, strong 'peak' period, 3x All-Star (*), 4x GG, well-liked player who has avoided controversy) that the voters like to see. If he gets to 3,000, he's a HOF lock, especially if he spends his whole career in a Phillies uniform. Voters sure love them some single-team guys.
(*): Strangely, he was passed over in his 2007 MVP season for Jose Reyes (understandable) and JJ Hardy (???) despite being healthy enough to play 162 games that year.