Archive for September, 2006

Grading the Braves By Position

Here my seasonal grades by position, and the grades take the typical offensive production of the position into account.

Catcher: B
Brian McCann: A
Todd Pratt: F
Brayan Pena: C

Brian McCann was just outstanding in 2006. He possesses all the qualities you want in a player, and he improved his defense as well as his offense. He hits for average and power, and he walks. He’s also very likable. This is a player that corporations ought to be signing endorsement deals with. Todd Pratt was just awful. It’s hard to get in a rhythm when you don’t get regular playing time, but even when he did get some time he wasn’t very good. Pena made the most of his abilities during his time, but I don’t think he has much a career in the big leagues.

First Base: B
Adam LaRoche: B
Brian Jordan: F

Only a B? LaRoche had his best season yet, but at first base it was just good. Like all Bs, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. “A” seasons may be in his future though. Brian Jordan is a perfect example of how you can waste money by being cheap. He had no business being on the team. A Jordan here, a Hollandsworth there…these things add up.

Second Base: C
Marcus Giles: C
Pete Orr: D
Martin Prado: C

Poor Giles. His season starts off slowly with the premature birth of a child. He had many nagging injuries throughout the season, and just didn’t play up to what we’ve come to expect. His defense is still good, but not enough to make up for his poor offensive showing this year. I toyed with giving him a B, but couldn’t do it. Pete Orr would get an F as a regular. Prado is not ready, and I’m not confident that he’s going to be any better than 6-4-3 Lockhart.

Third Base: B
Chipper Jones: A
Wilson Betemit: B
Pete Orr: D
Willy Aybar: I

Chipper Jones is still one of the best hitters in baseball. His health is an issue, but it’s not like he’s missing season after season. I’ve always liked Chipper, but he’s becoming one of my favorite players of all time. Betemit just isn’t someone the Braves like. I don’t understand it. I don’t know what he’ll become, but right now he’s a good everyday third baseman who can’t be much worse at shortstop than Renteria. Guess he doesn’t have “make-up.”

Shortstop: B
Edgar Renteria: B
Tony Pena: D

Renteria is not a National League player. There is no such thing as a one-league player. That’s bologna filler commentary that TV announcers and sports writers make up when they have nothing else useful to say. He’s a good player who had one bad year that happened to be in the AL. What he lacks in defensive ability he makes up with his bat. He did about what I expected, and made Furcal’s departure a wash. Unfortunately, he didn’t come cheap. The Braves ARE paying his full salary. The Red Sox bought the reserve rights to Andy Marte for $6 million. He’s no bargain, but he’s worth what he’s paid.

Left Field: C
Ryan Langerhans: D
Matt Diaz: C
Scott Thorman: C

Yuck. Langerhans really stunk up the joint with his bat. He was a bit PrOPS unlucky, but nothing out of the ordinary. I thought about giving him some points for defense, but this is an offensive position. It took Matt Diaz a while, but he finally fought his way off the bench. Unfortunately, I don’t think his long term prospects are very good, either. PrOPS says he was quite lucky, and his defense isn’t all that great. He’s a career fourth outfielder who needs a defensive replacement. Thorman performed admirably in his first season, especially considering he had to learn the outfield on the fly.

Center Field: A
Andruw Jones: A

I was primed to give Andruw a B, but after comparing him to the other center fielders in the game, he’s still near the top. PrOPS says he was unlucky again this year, so I’ll give him an A. We’re all hoping for the A+, but I’m satisfied with the A.

Right Field
Jeff Francoeur: D

Poor Jeff Francoeur. The franchise has been placed on his shoulders when he still has so much to learn. I don’t blame the kid one bit. The other night Joe Simpson gave Francoeur an A for his season. A right fielder with an OPS of .736 gets an A? Does Ryan Langerhans get an A, too, then? What a joke. Granted that’s better than any season you ever posted, but shame on you, Joe. The last thing he needs is more encouragement that what he is doing is right. I thought his defense was a bit weaker than last, which may have been exacerbated by fatigue. Does he have to play every inning of every game? Francoeur apologists often say, “you have to remember, this kid is 22.” That’s right, what 22-year-old kid is forced to play every day with an OPS that low? Look at his steals: he’s 1-7 so far in 2006. Maybe he’s just not a base-stealer, but I suspect if he’d had time to work on this in the minors he would be much better. I think it’s very difficult learn at the major league level, and he was deprived of some low pressure learning time, which might have helped his development. On the positive side, I should point out that PrOPS says he was unlucky this year. As the debate over Francoeur will rage on, we’re just going to have to wait and see with him. If he gets it together, “horray Jeff!”But, I don’t think it’s fair to say this was a good year for the Braves in right field.

Braves Playoff Perceptions

How do the Braves view their chances to make the playoffs? Here are three views.

Rose-Colored Glasses

“This was a tough road trip,” Francoeur said. “You start to wonder, when you get stuck with three doubleheaders in a road trip, what fate turns out to be or what’s supposed to happen to your team.

Oh, it’s outside forces that are conspiring against the Braves.

“I can tell you personally my legs were wore out today in the second game. I think we’re all showing little signs of fatigue.” [Francoeur]

Yeah, before those double-headers the Braves were just awesome, a team everyone feared.

“We’ve got a 10-game homestand [beginning Friday]. Hopefully we can go 7-3, 8-2, and hopefully get that record up around .500.” [Francoeur]

I’m afraid those expectations are a bit low if the team wants to make the post-season. It’s September 7 and the lead is 7 games.

Realistically Optimistic

“We’re still not out of it,” McCann said. “We just have to do something we haven’t done this year — win 10, 12 ballgames in a row.”

Exactly, 7-3 isn’t going to cut it.

Brutally Honest

“We know [the Mets] are better [than the Braves],” Smoltz said, “but we’re not a below-.500 team. I hope there’s enough pride left in that clubhouse to at least try to find a way to get over .500. And if there isn’t, then I’ll be very disappointed.”

Ouch.

Income Inequality and Performance in MLB

There’s been a lot of chatter on the economics blogs regarding the subject of income inequality (see Mark Thoma, Brad DeLong, Greg Mankiw, Tyler Cowen for a brief sample of recent commentary). I read through most of it, did some thinking about it, but didn’t dwell on it. Yesterday, I ran across this paper, Relative Income Position And Performance: An Empirical Panel Analysis by Benno Torgler, Sascha L. Schmidt and Bruno S. Frey, and it got me thinking a little more. Here’s the abstract.

Studies have established that people care a great deal about their relative economic position and not solely, as standard economic theory assumes, about their absolute economic position. However, behavioral evidence is rare. This paper provides an empirical analysis on how individuals’ relative income position affects their performance. Using a unique data set for 1114 soccer players over a period of eight seasons (2833 observations), our analysis suggests that the larger the income differences within a team, the worse the performance of the soccer players is. The more the players are integrated in a particular social environment (their team), the more evident this negative effect is.

So, I thought, why not try this with baseball? I wanted to look at how players performed in MLB based on their salary differences from their team and the league as a whole. Using a sample of players with more than 200 plate appearances in a season from 1985-2005, I used the above study of professional soccer as a guide. As a performance metric I used total linear weighted runs produced (LWTS) to capture the player performance in a season. To measure the envy effect, I used the percentage difference in seasonal salary from his team average and the league average (in separate regressions). The model controls for the salary of a player, age (quadratic), salary bargaining status (reserved, arbitration eligible, or free agent—estimated from service time), position played most that season (if tied then I assigned the player to the more difficult position on the defensive spectrum), the year, and team. I used dummy variables to control for the latter four factors. I also estimated the model by each salary bargaining class separately, to see if there were any different effects. I threw out players who switched teams during the year and corrected for serial correlation.

The general hypothesis is that those who make less than their peers may feel inferior and perform worse, and those who make more will perform better as they feel superior. Remember better players should make more than worse players, and the salary variable in the regression is a reasonable control for player quality. Here are the estimated impacts for the percentage difference of in salary from the team and league, along with the standard error of the impacts and the R2 of each regression model.

	Impact	SE	R2
All			
Team 	2.24	0.27	0.34
League	4.89	0.39	0.37

Reserved			
Team 	14.63	2.62	0.27
League	31.81	5.19	0.27

Arbitration			
Team 	3.73	0.68	0.35
League	6.73	0.98	0.36

Free Agent		
Team 	1.83	0.34	0.39
League	5.08	0.50	0.42

All of the estimates are statistically significant at the 1% level. It’s interesting that the effect exists, and that it’s more pronounced among reserved and arbitration eligible players than free agents. Also, the effect is greater for league differences, rather than team differences. The coefficients are actually quite small; a ten-percentage-point increase in salary/team average index (disparity is shrinking) increases LWTS by only 0.224. That’s hardly worth noting. However, for purely reserved players the effects are large enough to be interesting. A ten-percentage-point increases in salary/league average index improves performances by 3.18 runs.

Hmm. It seems that there may be some gains to teams bumping up the pay of their reserved players. It might reduce some envy, or maybe it allows them to purchase some lifestyle comforts that help them produce. Maybe teams that buy out young players aren’t just trying to reduce costs in the future, but boost performance in the short-term as well. I need to think some more on this.

Fantasy Football Advice

Josh breaks out the Stata to give some fantasy football advice over at The Everyday Economist.

With the pros starting up this weekend, don’t forget to check in regularly with Doug Drinen at Pro-Football-Reference.com. He’s been a blogging ninja during the off-season. I’ll be curious to see what he posts during the season. I miss getting my info directly from the source.

Interview with Shea Faithful

Pat Andriola at Shea Faithful has been running a series of interviews with baseball bloggers. He was nice enough to ask me to contribute, and today he posts my answers to his questions. Thanks Pat. Enjoy.

Dear Marcus

An open letter to Marcus Giles, regarding his recent health issues.

Dear Marcus,

Take it easy. This team has treated you like crap since your earliest days in the system. Currently, a team that insists on “a policy not to comment on player transactions” is shopping you through a bullhorn. I understand your desire to win , but this team isn’t going to make the playoffs. You owe the organization nothing, and the teammates and coaches who care about you, care about your health first. Go home, get some rest and spend some time with your family. You have a serious condition that affects more than your livelihood. Suit up for home games, but don’t play. Spend some good times with your Braves teammates before moving on next year. I know you’ll be successful, as long as you stay healthy. Remember Reggie Lewis.

Warm regards,

JC

Update: It looks like Giles is fine.

Interview with BDD

Joe Hamrahi has posted Part I an interview with me over at Baseball Digest Daily. I’ll post links to parts II and III when they are up. I enjoyed talking with Joe, and maybe I answered some questions of interest to you. Thanks to Joe for doing this.

I’m on Steroids

Thursday was a bizarre day for me. I had planned to go to the Falcons game with a friend of mine, but I had to cancel due to what I thought was very bad heartburn. After talking with my uncle, who is a physician, I was on the way to the emergency room. The pain got worse, much worse. In total I ended up getting an EKG, four chest x-rays (none posted this time), a two CAT scans, and a lot of blood work. After all of this they ruled out a heart attack, blood clot in the lung (which I feared the most), and a ruptured spleen. I was sent home about 1am, heavily doped up and with a prescription for more painkillers.

Yesterday I went to the doctor for a follow-up and it looks like I’m suffering from pleurodynia, which is viral infection of the lungs. It’s extremely painful, but not dangerous (whew!). Anyway, one of the treatments is steroids, so now I can recount my personal experience with steroids. I’d fail all sorts of drug tests. I’m feeling a bit better now, but still taking it easy. I picked a good TV weekend to be confined to the couch—lots of college football and four Braves games.