Archive for December, 2005

Wall Street Journal Econoblog

Skip Sauer and I will be blogging on the Wall Street Journal’s Econoblog later today. (Update: it’s up here.) We “pre-blogged” our posts over the past two days in which we discussed the economics of this year’s free agent market and other topics.

I may be in transit when the discussion is posted, so if you can’t wait for me to post a link, keep an eye out over at the online-WSJ, or check out The Sports Economist (you probably already read it anyway) to see if Skip has a link up. I’ll post a link the moment I can.

Thanks to Skip for the opportunity for the back-and-forth. I think we both had a lot of fun with it. And thanks to Tim Annett for setting this all up.

If you are here for the first time because of Econoblog, welcome! Please, take a look around. And if the site goes down, don’t worry, it will be back up shortly. I’m sorry for the problem , but I’m getting ready to move to a new server very soon.

Who’s Missing From the Hall of Fame?

Well, I probably shouldn’t post this, but why not? If things get out of hand I can just start talking about abortion and crime to settle everybody down. Baseball fans love to talk about who ought to be in the Hall of Fame. And now that the ballot is out and baseball diamond is empty, this is a good time to discuss who belongs and who doesn’t. It’s kind of a silly club, but the exclusiveness of it’s membership gives it some real integrity, which keeps our attention. Very few unworthy baseball figures have a plaque at Cooperstown.

Last week, over at The Baseball Analysts, long-time Bert Blyleven advocate Rich Lederer took his case to the people with a slew of celebrity guests columnists. Bill James also made a strong case in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006. I’m convinced, Mr. Blyleven should be in, let’s just hope that 75% of the BBWAA agrees this year. Now, I have to admit, I feel ashamed. Ashamed that I haven’t taken the time to put up a similar case for my own personal baseball hero.

To put my baseball life in context, I’m 32 years old. I grew up in Charlotte, NC, and both of my parents’ families are from the Atlanta area. When I discovered baseball after throwing out first pitch at a AA Charlotte O’s game, I needed a major league team to follow. One Thanksgiving, I asked my uncle who his favorite team was, and he said “the Braves.” So, from that point forward, I was a Braves fan. And it just so happens that the Braves were starting to have some success. As I approached my 9th birthday the 1982 Braves had me believing that being a Braves fan was fun. Unfortunately, the following seasons were not so fun years to be a Braves fan. But there was always one thing right with the Braves: Dale Murphy. The first thing I used to look at in the paper every morning was Murphy’s standing in the NL home run race. Why even bother to look at the box score or standings? Dale Murphy was the Braves in my mind.

So, of course, I want Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame for all the wrong reasons. But, that isn’t going to deter me from making a semi-objective inquiry as to Murphy’s HOF credentials. I want to look at all the players who are in the HOF, by any means, and see how Murphy stands up to the credentials of this club’s members. It just so happens, that my method doesn’t isolate one players but looked at all eligible players to see if Murphy clears a benchmark that has been arbitrarily set my the HOF. I approached this project as James did in Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? (a.k.a. The Politics of Glory) on a much smaller scale. I wanted to use the data available to any jerk capable of downloading the Lahman Database—I don’t have anything against nice people, but what nice person takes joy in tooling around with the Lahman Database?—to evaluate the worthiness of baseball hitters for the Hall of Fame. I didn’t look at pitchers, because Murphy never pitched, (glances at B-R page) not even once. Let’s look at all the eligible players who played their last game prior to 1995, and try to predict the likelihood of a player being in the HOF in based on several characteristics. The HOF file in the Lahman makes this a very doable task.

Now, my method for predicting who is in and who is out requires me to pick characteristics of players that likely influence HOF voters. This is where things get tricky. I’m sure there is no model I could pick that would be perfect. But, I think few will argue that the criteria I selected are unreasonable. And if you do, the Lahman is at your disposal, so get to work.

My criteria are as follows:
Offense
Career linear weights: Hey, it’s the best measure of run production.
Run environment: I include variables in the regression estimate for the average runs per game scored in the league and the average ball park factor during each player’s career.

Defense
Position: I classified players by the defensive position at which they played a plurality of games. All outfielders were treated the same.
Gold Gloves: The number of gold gloves won by a player. For players who played prior to the award, I include a variable in the regression to control for this lack of opportunity. I didn’t include defensive stats, because I HATE all publicly available defensive stats. They are stupid and tell us very little. If a guy is going to get into the HOF for his defense, he’s going to win gold gloves and/or play shortstop or catcher.

Other
Awards: In addition to gold gloves, I include the number of MVP awards won.
Longevity: I include the number of seasons played in the league.

Using all of these factors, I employ a probit regression model to estimate the probability that a player is in the Hall of Fame. I include only those players who stopped playing prior to 1995 (arbitrary 10-year cutoff) to ensure players several opportunities to be elected. I then generated predicted probabilities of players being in the Hall of Fame.

Here is the list of players who are not in the HOF, who’s predicted probability of being in the HOF, based on the characteristics listed above, is greater than 50%.

Player            	First    Last    P(in HOF)
Bill Dahlen        	1891    1911    80.18%
Pete Rose        	1963    1986    78.39%
George Van Haltren    	1887    1903    72.86%
Keith Hernandez        	1974    1990    70.99%
Dwight Evans        	1972    1991    68.46%
Dale Murphy        	1976    1993    68.43%
Jimmy Ryan        	1885    1903    66.83%
Bob Elliott       	1939    1953    58.84%
Phil Cavarretta       	1934    1955    57.99%
Bob O'Farrell        	1915    1935    55.68%
Vern Stephens        	1941    1955    52.99%
Bob Johnson	        1933    1945    52.79%
Dolph Camilli        	1933    1945    52.59%
Cupid Childs        	1888    1901    51.64%
Larry Doyle        	1907    1920    50.56%
Deacon McGuire        	1884    1912    50.09%

I’m happy to report that Dale Murphy makes the cut! There are a lot of older players in here, but there are a few more recent names that are quite interesting. Keith Hernandez and Dwight Evans both make the list. Both of these guys James singles out in WHTTHOF? as being worthy, but not in. As for Rose, I don’t support his reinstatement or inclusion in the HOF. He knew what he was doing, and I don’t feel sorry for him.

So, if you have a ballot and you read this post, please take the time to consider Mr. Murphy, as well as the other players on this list. I know he didn’t play for many winners, but he couldn’t really help that. At least he never threw a tempter tantrum to complain about it. You’re not going to damage the high standards of the Hall of Fame that have kept it interesting by electing Murphy. Most of all, I believe Murphy deserves this honor, and I think it’s time he gets the plaque he’s earned.

PrOPS: 2005 and Beyond

My latest article is posted at The Hardball Times: PrOPS: 2005 and Beyond. The complete 2005 PrOPS are now up for the AL and NL. Also, check out the 2006 PrOPS Projections.

If you like PrOPS, you can read more about it in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006.

Addendum: A nugget for Braves fans. Here are the PrOPS numbers for guys who played most of their 2005 season on the Braves. Many of these players had very few PAs, so keep that in mind. I am most concerned about the rookies, and I’m not sure how much stock I would put in the numbers. For example, Francoeur’s projection is higher than what I think he will do. Since I happened to watch most of his at-bats, I think much of his good contact was the product of terrible scouting. I’ll never forget the 0-2 change-up that dropped into the zone Odalis Perez threw him, which Jeff deposited in the bleachers. I was thinking, “how dumb can you be?” That won’t happen again this year, but he will prove his worth as a pro by his adjustments. I can’t say how he’ll do, and neither can PrOPS. The same should be said for ALL of the rookies.

First	Last		2005	2006
			PrOPS	Predicted
Chipper	Jones		0.999	0.932
Andruw	Jones		1.004	0.930
Kelly	Johnson		0.834	0.869
Jeff	Francoeur	0.816	0.867
Brian	McCann		0.806	0.859
Adam	LaRoche		0.835	0.836
Ryan	Langerhans	0.787	0.823
Horacio	Ramirez		0.787	0.818
Julio	Franco		0.835	0.817
Wilson	Betemit		0.742	0.787
Rafael	Furcal		0.773	0.780
Marcus	Giles		0.750	0.776
Kyle	Davies		0.697	0.768
Eddie	Perez		0.789	0.754
Johnny	Estrada		0.725	0.753
Mike	Hampton		0.723	0.743
Peter	Orr		0.640	0.703
Raul	Mondesi		0.660	0.691
Andy	Marte		0.551	0.654
Brian	Jordan		0.596	0.641
Brayan	Pena		0.514	0.620
John	Thomson		0.538	0.601
Jorge	Sosa		0.489	0.576
John	Smoltz		0.477	0.542
Tim	Hudson		0.420	0.515

The DePo Era

If you’re looking for a reason to purchase The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, check out this sample of Jon Weisman’s (of Dodger Thoughts) excellent analysis of Paul DePodesta’s tenure with the Dodgers.

This was actually the first article I read in the volume, and I liked it quite a bit. Although, I found one of DePo’s best moves went unmentioned. The trade of Tom Martin to the Braves was amazing. He had a horrible contract based on good luck and park inflated numbers, yet DePo was somehow able to get the Braves to pay nearly $2 million for under 20 innings of pitching, during which he managed to give up five home runs. I saw all of those ding-dongs, and none of them were cheap.

Studes in the NY Times

Alan Schwarz talks with The Hardball Times’s Dave Studeman in this Sunday’s Keeping Score column: Gauging the Impact of Acquisitions Is a Slippery Science.

The Hardball Times, a Web site devoted to baseball statistical analysis, tracks Win Shares while adding a pragmatic twist. For example, it assigned Castillo – who last season batted .301 with 4 home runs and 10 stolen bases, with fine range on defense – 17 Win Shares, meaning that his play accounted for about 6 of Florida’s 83 victories. (Each Win Share equals one-third of a team victory.)

But Castillo was still not really worth six victories, because even a mediocre second baseman helps his team win several games over a season. After many clicks and clacks, the Hardball Times assigned Castillo only seven “Win Shares over Bench,” or about two victories more than a typical warm body.

“It isn’t realistic to compare a player to zero – you want to compare him to an easily available player from the Triple-A level,” said Dave Studeman, a 50-year-old former health-care executive from Evanston, Ill., who has all but retired to run the Hardball Times. “This gives you a better idea of the player’s actual incremental value.”

I just got my copy of The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, and I did little else but read it over the weekend.

Is Schuerholz Losing His Touch?

No, I’m not referring to his trade of Marte for $8 million and the right to pay Renteria nearly $9 million/year for the next three years, his trade of Roman Colon and Zach Miner for a two months of Kyle Farnsworth, his acquisition of Tom Martin and his awful contract, nor his unwillingness to pay Leo Mazzone the rookie minimum salary. I saw reasons behind all of these, even though I disagree with some of the moves. There is a method to his madness, and certainly, there’s no reason to focus on some potential negatives when the guy has done nothing but win for a decade and a half. Clearly, he does many more things right than wrong. What I am worried about is apparent communication problems with agents this year.

In reference to Furcal (AJC),

The Braves offered him $36 million over four years, and the Cubs offered nearly $50 million for five years. Schuerholz said agent Paul Kinzer told him he’d come back to see if the Braves had a final counterproposal, but didn’t.

“We’re big boys, and this is the environment we’re in,” Schuerholz said. “But I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and it still is puzzling to me how some of these circumstances unfold. We were waiting to hear from Furcal’s agent about what they wanted to stay a Brave and still have not heard that.

“We were told they were going to come back to us and ‘put everything on the table’ to discuss his staying with the Braves. Granted, our first offer wasn’t what they had, but we never had a chance to negotiate.

“It simply became a bidding process — whoever put in the most attractive bid got the player. They assured us more things were going to be considered than just money. But so far, about 100 percent of the people who’ve talked to me about the signing believe it was just about the money.

“You like to feel like you’d have a chance to engage in negotiations, especially with a player who’s been in your organization nine years.”

In reference to Farnsworth (AJC),

“We wanted him as our closer,” Schuerholz said. “We offered a three-year deal and were prepared to stay engaged in the negotiations, but we were told that he had decided to go to New York as a setup guy.”

And now, in reference to the claim made by Todd Jones that the Braves offered him a one-year $2.5 million contract (AJC),

Braves officials weren’t amused by the comments of veteran reliever Todd Jones after he signed a two-year, $11 million contract with Detroit on Wednesday. The Marietta native, who writes a column for The Birmingham News, told the paper he wanted to close for Atlanta, but the Braves offered only a one-year, $2.5 million contract.

“I did everything in my power to be available [to the Braves],” said Jones, 37, who had an improbable resurgence last season with Florida, recording 40 saves and a career-best 2.10 ERA. “I wanted to come home for a severe discount and they didn’t even want to hear it.”

Schuerholz had to restrain himself when asked to respond. The Braves said they offered a one-year, $3.5 million contract to Jones, with a vesting $4 million option and $500,000 buyout.

“I’m surprised that such a comment would be made,” Schuerholz said. “The offer the Braves made, we thought was a solid one, and we never really heard back about it.”

I see a theme here: John Schuerholz is having problem negotiating with agents. Why would any agent in their right mind turn down the opportunity for his client to earn more money for a team that he wanted to play? All of these players fit this description. This is clearly a pattern that involves three different players and agents. Of course, I don’t really believe this is the problem. It’s a P.R. move for fans. “We wanted to sign your favorite player, but the mean old agent took him away.”

I don’t really think JS is losing his touch, but I do wish he would just say the Braves lost the auction and move on or nothing at all. Lack of communication did not sink three different deals.

So Long, Andy

I don’t even want to talk about it. I cannot believe the Braves just traded Andy Marte. Unbelievable. There’s nothing left to say other than this is a very bad deal for Atlanta.

So Long, Johnny

So, let’s get this straight. For several years Johnny Estrada toils as a quad-A catcher in the Phillies system and ends up being traded for Kevin Millwood. After coming to Atlanta he dominates AAA for year, has one All-Star season for the Braves, and follows it up with a mediocre season that was probably the product of an injury. He’s then traded to Arizona for Oscar Villareal and Lance Cormier. Yuck. In actuality, the Millwood trade was all about money, as Millwood was set to earn $11 million in 2004, which he’s still not worth today. But still, I thought Johnny would bring more than this. Cormier sucks, and Villareal is a mystery because of his injury history. I doubt either of these guys are part of the solution to the Braves bullpen woes. And the addition of Wes Obermueller isn’t helping either.

I’m disappointed to see Johnny go, because he was a cheap player that you like to have around. McCann may be ready to hold the starting job, but it’s a long season and catcher is a injury-prone position. Just ask Johnny Estrada. The most likely backup, Brayan Pena, has the problem of not being a very good hitter or catcher. He’s an all batting average kind of a guy, with absolutely no power. I have no confidence in him, and neither do the Braves. His inability to simply call a game last year was the only reason McCann got a shot in the first place. Salty is still too young to be counted on this year, but he isn’t far away. This is why you keep Estrada around, even if Heap is going to be the starter. Yeah, the Braves might be able to get a veteran backup like Todd Pratt (as rumor has it) for slightly less than $1 million, but you’re going to get what you pay for. Johnny is worth much more than the $1.5 mil that he’ll likely get in arbitration.

I’m not opposed to trading away good players, but at least get something good in return. Henry Blanco will make $1.5 million next year…Henry Blanco. There is no reason to dump Johnny unless you get more two junk pitchers in return. At least wait while until some other team’s catcher gets hurt in spring training. This is absolutely the wrong time to pull the trigger on a deal like this.

For now, I’m just happy Andy Marte is still on the team. But, for how long will that be a comfort?

Valuing Pitchers

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a study here, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on them. Here’s my latest article: Does the Baseball Labor Market Properly Value
Pitchers?

Abstract. Defense in baseball is a product of team production in which pitchers jointly prevent runs withfielders. This means that raw run prevention statistics that economists often use to gauge the value of pitchers, like ERA, may not properly assign credit for their performances. Therefore, marginal revenue product (MRP) derivations based on such statistics contain some erroneous information that may bias the estimates. In this paper, I examine a method for isolating pitcher contributions to the team production of defense. Evidence from the labor market suggests pitchers are paid according to their individual contributions consistent with the areas in which pitchers possess skill.

Some of the findings in this paper I published at The Hardball Times over the summer, but there’s a lot of new stuff. It’s written for an audience of academic economists, so you might find it a bit dry. But, here’s an interesting tidbit that ought to spark some interest.

The market appears to have solved the problem of estimating pitcher MRPs in team production well before McCracken published his findings in 2001. This finding mirrors Hakes and Sauer (2005), which finds that the baseball labor market corrected its misvaluation of on-base percentage and slugging percentage before it became public knowledge in Michael Lewis’s bestseller, Moneyball.

I presented this at the SEA meeting a few weeks ago, and I got some excellent comments that improved he paper quite a bit.

Lugo

There are many rumors swirling about the Braves interest in Julio Lugo. It’s not that I mind Julio Lugo, I just don’t want the Braves to give up much for him. 2005 was a career year for the 29-year-old Lugo, posting a .295/.362/.403 line. This is out of line with his .276/.340/.400 career. It looks like his bumps in AVG and OBP were largely the result of some fluky hits, but maybe he just got better. In The Hardball Times Annual 2006, I present further testing up my PrOPS metric for estimating what players hit based on how they hit the ball. I find that PrOPS does a decent job of finding fluke performances. It turns out that Lugo’s 2005 wasn’t the result of his figuring things out. His PrOPS predicted 2005 line is .274/.342/.370, which is a little more on target with his career numbers. Of course, this says nothing about his defense, which I am not qualified to judge. Just beware of his 2005 hitting numbers.

It’s also interesting to note that one of the potential trade options mentioned is Johnny Estrada. He is coming off a disappointing year when he hit .261/.303/.367, which caused many to think his 2004 (.314/.378/.450) was a fluke. However, PrOPS gives Estrada a .291/.357/.425 line, which is below his actual 2004 numbers but not bad. And it turns out that Johnny’s 2005 wasn’t so bad, with a .286/.327/.398, especially for someone who played injured much of the year. Trading Johnny seems to be a forgone conclusion to many, because Brian McCann seems ready, but I can’t see why the Braves would want to move him. He’s only in his first year of arbitration in which he had a subpar year according to the standard statistics (that is, if you’re not using PrOPS). Even if he ends up serving as McCann’s backup, he’s a cheap and good substitute who can pinch-hit. Plus, McCann is young and catcher is an injury-prone position. He might be the catcher of the future, but with Brayan Pena as the next in line as a backup, the Braves would be wise to hold on to Johnny for one more year. And it would be nice to see the time try to keep a guy spends his free time trying to help kids rather than driving drunk down the connector at 4am.