Archive for March, 2007

March 28

1360-AM The Ticket, Fort Madison, IA 8am CDT

PrOPS Questions

Over the weekend, Rich Lederer of The Baseball Analysts pointed me to an ESPN story by David Srinivasan (Insider $) about a statistic I developed a few years ago, PrOPS. This led to few comments on the site that I wanted to address. I’ve had numerous conversations about PrOPS since its invention, so I wanted to write a post to bring people up to speed on its development.

First, let me offer a brief introduction. PrOPS (which stands for predicted OPS) is a measure that generates an OPS—on-base percentage(OBP) plus slugging percentage(SLG):mdash;for a player based one a few things that players do. Rather than focus on outcomes on balls in play (hits, outs, etc.) that generate OBP and SLG, PrOPS uses batted-ball types (line drive rate, groundball-to-flyball ratio) and a few other things to generate the typical outcome for a player who hits the ball in this manner.

Now, PrOPS has its origins in my wanting to use batted ball types recently made available by The Hardball Times. In the introductory article on the subject, I used PrOPS to predict which slumping and hot hitters were due for a rise and fall in the 2005 season. The initial numbers were based on one season of data. A few people responded that many of the under-performers were speedy while the over-performers tended to be big and slow. So, I made a minor adjustment to the formula to account for speed. However, the adjustment did very little.

At the end of the season, I wrote a chapter for The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, refining PrOPS using several seasons of data. When including several seasons, I found no relationship between any existing measure of speed and over/under-performance. This doesn’t mean that speed has no impact, but it doesn’t seem to be very important. A few months ago, I posted a summary of the findings.

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There is a highly statistically significant relationship…between a player’s over/under performance and his decline/improvement. And the greater the the deviation between PrOPS and OPS, the larger the reversion is the following season. For every 0.01 increase/decrease in a player’s over/under performance, his OPS is likely to fall/rise by 0.008 the following season. For example, a player with an OPS 10 “points” above his PrOPS, can expect his OPS to fall by eight points in the following season. That is quite a reversion.

I also generated lists of the top-25 over and under performing season from 2002-2004. And what happened to them?

Of the top 25 over performers, 20 players had lower OPS in the following season.

Of the top 25 under performers, 21 improved their OPS in the following season.

The article also lists the top-25 over and under performers for 2005. What happened to those players in 2006?

Of the over performers, 12 players declined, 7 improved, and 6 did not deviate more than 20 OPS-points from the previous season. Of the under performers, 11 players improved, 7 declined, 3 had no change, and 5 didn’t garner serious playing time. It’s not an air-tight projection system, but there seems to be some information there.

OPS explained approximately 43% of the variance in OPS in the following year, while PrOPS explained about 46%.

PrOPS is not a stand-alone projection tool. You should not look only at a player’s PrOPS and assume it’s exactly what the player should be doing. When I look at it, I also consider the player’s recent hitting history, injuries, aging, and all that other stuff we sometimes use to evaluate hitters. But when I see a player have a career year, and his PrOPS don’t show it, I start to get suspicious.

If you’re curious about the over/under performers of 2006, see The Hardball Times.

NL over performers
NL under performers
AL over performers
AL under performers
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Over the weekend I also ran across a new system for measuring luck by Protrade (also see here). It looks promising.

Breaking Down the McCann Deal

The big news in Bravesnation is that Atlanta has locked up Brian McCann for the next six years of his career for $27.8 million, with a $12 million club option for a seventh year. Now, the deal really only delays McCann’s free agency by a year, but given the way Brian has played, I think the Braves will be saving some in arbitration.

McCann’s 2006 hitting contribution was worth approximately $10.42 million. This doesn’t even take into account his defense at catcher which only adds to his value. Let’s just use his hitting value as a baseline and then you can lump on a little more (pick any number you like, I don’t care) for defense. Given the rate at which salaries have been rising, and even assuming a slight decline in his play from 2006 I estimate that he will generate a total of $83 million through 2012, when the guaranteed portion of his contract runs out. Now, $83 million – $27.8 million doesn’t make this a $55 million steal for the Braves. McCann’s MLB playing rights are owned by the Braves, which allows the team to play him considerably less than his true worth. They didn’t necessarily have to pay him this much to get that amount of value out of him.

McCann would have earned a little more than $400,000 in 2007 before heading into arbitration for the next four seasons. For 2007 he gets $1.5 million ($1 million signing bonus + $500,000 salary), which is more than the team would have otherwise paid McCann. In The Baseball Economist, I find that arbitration-eligible players tend to earn about 77% less than their value. Based on a simple projection of McCann through these years, the Braves could expect to pay him a total of $13 million just for his hitting. This is less than what his contract pays him for this time period ($16.3 million), but remember my numbers are leaving out his defensive value that, even by conservative estimates, will eclipse the amount he will be paid.

In the only guaranteed free agent year the Braves purchased, McCann ought to be worth $16.5 million on the open market. Even if McCann achieves all of the incentives to push his salary from $8.5 million to $11.5 million, the team still comes out ahead. I am even more intrigued with the option year that the club gets in the deal. If they chose, the team can keep McCann around in 2013 for a paltry $13.5 million, which is about $4 million less than what I estimate he’ll be worth on the open market.

This leads to another question. Why would McCann sign a contract that tilts so heavily in the Braves’ favor that I’ve yet to see anyone criticize this deal? Brian McCann is a rich man because he can play baseball. If an injury ever takes baseball away from him, he’ll be falling back on some skills that aren’t nearly as valuable. Especially for a catcher, I think it’s a good idea to get this kind of guaranteed money when you can. The Braves are happy because their revenue-generation options are much more diversified. This contract could end up being a bad one if McCann declines or gets hurt, but the team is bound to balance out the bad breaks with good breaks. It’s harder for McCann to insure against his potential loss.

I also wonder how this deal affects several other players in the organization.

Jeff Francoeur: Brian’s contract has put the focus on his good buddy. Rumor has it that Frenchy received a similar long-term offer from the Braves and thought it was worth half of what he wanted. I’m curious whether or not the Braves offered Francoeur more or less than McCann. While Jeff gets a lot more press, McCann is already a superior player and has the better potential to develop. Francoeur is the most popular player on the team, combining his hometown roots, charm, and good looks to garner more cheers at the ballpark than any other Brave. There’s a reason Delta chose him to be their new spokesmodel…I mean spokesman.

But over the long haul, McCann’s value ought to exceed Francoeur’s. Fans will begin to notice more good things from McCann than Francoeur, and they will forget about “the natural.” The Braves are right to play hardball here. If he wants a bigger deal, then he needs to step up beyond the hype. And if he does so, the Braves will gladly up their offer. I also worry about how the McCann-Francoeur relationship. Paying either one of these guys more than the other may cause some bad feelings. Most competitive people are competitive in everything.

John Smoltz: Speaking of competitive personalities, let’s talk about the club’s senior player. The McCann deal should be a cost-saver, so that gives the Braves more money to sign one of their top two free agents. The Braves are in a situation where they almost have to sign Smoltz. There is little starting pitching help coming up from the minors to take over, so no matter what the Braves will have to sign a free agent pitcher next year. Most people feel Smoltz will stick around, but I don’t know. He saw his good buddies Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux leave for big deals, and I can see that eat at him. Plus, with his divorce and recent confrontation with Schuerholz, I wouldn’t be surprised if he just thought a change of scenery would be a good thing. My gut tells me he goes, even though this deal ought to give the Braves more wiggle room and the team will want him back.

Andruw Jones: The other big free agent on the Braves is someone most think is a goner. Like I said with Smoltz, the McCann deal frees up money. Andruw may talk big, but he loves playing for the Braves and Bobby Cox. He’s not going to sign for cheap, but I think he may be willing to take less from the Braves than from other teams. And if Francoeur doesn’t progress much this year, Schuerholz may feel he needs to keep some pop in the outfield.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: The prized catching prospect appears to be blocked with McCann entrenched behind the plate. I think it’s too early for the Braves to do anything. His stock is low right now after a rough Double-A season. He’s young and in no rush to get to the big leagues. I see the Braves keeping him at catcher until he’s hitting call-up numbers in Triple-A. Then a decision needs to be made on a trade or position switch. And who knows, if McCann goes down it’s nice to have a back-up plan.

The Cheater’s Guide and The Soul of Baseball

I just received a copy of The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball by USS Mariner blogger Derek Zumsteg. Derek also runs a blog just for the book here. I’ve only had time to flip through it, but I like what I see so far.

As a Braves fan, I first checked to make sure he devoted some time to the evil 1991 Minnesota Twins. This team won the World Series by cranking up the AC to give Kirby Puckett a tainted home run off of Charlie Leibrandt. Zumsteg covers this, but misses the most egregious incident of that series: Kent Hrbek pushing Ron Gant off the bag to get an out. The play was so obvious that Hrbek couldn’t even keep a straight face when later describing the play. I remember one of my good friends was a Twins fan who had a Wheaties box with the Twins celebrating their “victory.” Wheaties?…more like Cheaties. Ok, maybe I’m not that mad about it. :-)

As for Braves cheating, Zumsteg reminds us of the team’s manipulation of the catcher’s box to make the strike zone seem larger than it was. The fact was actually pointed out by the TBS television crew. There is no doubt that those guys root for the Braves, but they are not partisan when it comes to commenting on the game. The organization then classlessly booted the broadcast team off of the team charter. One unnamed source was also quoted as saying “Mazzone sucks” three times.

I look forward to sitting down with the book for a full read very soon. It looks to be an enjoyable read.

This book also makes me want to play one of those weird connection games. Every time I see the name Derek I think of my high school job recording high school sports scores for The Charlotte Observer. One thing I learned from fielding calls from all over the Carolinas is that there are more ways to spell Derek than any other name. My time at The Observer brings me to another connection to an author with a baseball book out right now. Joe Posnanski, Kansas City Star writer and current author of The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America also worked for The Observer at the same time I was there, though I did not learn this until recently. I bet few in that newsroom would have pegged us as future authors…well, maybe Joe, but certainly not me. Although, I was very good at spelling Derek, Derick, Darek, Daryc….

Buy either, or both, of these books with The Baseball Economist and get free shipping from Amazon. :-)

Book Signing Report

I’d like to thank those of you who came out to my first ever book signing on Wednesday night. It was a success! It was nice to meet new people and see old friends. I appreciate the support from all of those who attended in person and in spirit. :-)

Here are a few photos.

Book Signing

Book Signing

These are the only two I have in which I’m not ruining the picture with a silly face.

If you would like a signed copy, but could not attend the event, there are signed copies available at several Barnes & Noble stores (Buckhead, The Avenues on Dallas Highway, and Barrett Parkway) and at the Borders on Barrett Parkway.

Deadspin on the Marlins

Yesterday, Deadspin ran its preview of the Florida Marlins. I enjoy reading Deadspin commentary, but I have to say I disagree with analysis of the organization by guest contributor Dan Lewis.

The moral of the story: The Marlins are probably going to suck, but could accidentally make the playoffs.

Lewis is involved with a lot of cool sports stuff on the net, but I think he’s underestimating the Marlins a bit. It’s possible that I’m misinterpreting his humor as actual digs at the Marlins, but I’ll use his commentary as my foil for today’s book promotion because I think discounting the Marlins is all too common. While we often hear about the ability of the Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins to win on a small budget, the Marlins are rarely mentioned in the conversation.

When thinking about the Marlins organization, it’s easy to be distracted by their antagonistic relationship with the Miami community. I don’t admire this aspect of the franchise, but I am amazed at the efficiency with which the Marlins operate. In The Baseball Economist, I develop a organizational-rating method that reveals the Marlins as MLB’s best-managed franchise in baseball. Over the past four seasons the Marlins have won an average of 84 games with an average payroll of only $41 million, which is about 40% less than the MLB average payroll. Over this same period, this is 5 games more than Lewis’s beloved New York Mets, who averaged a payroll of $104 million—that’s about 40% more than the MLB average. Maybe the Mets should use their budget to target Marlins executives instead of free agents.

The moral of the story: the Marlins winning ways are no accident. This is a well-run organization that knows how to manage its resources. That this front office doesn’t get more attention for its excellence is surprising.

Can Tony La Russa Get Out of This One?

Tony La Russa was arrested for a DUI in Florida this morning.

La Russa’s SUV was stopped at a light that, according to police, went through two cycles of green. A driver behind La Russa had to go around his vehicle, police said.

Police found La Russa slumped over in the driver’s seat of the running SUV. The manager of the world champion Cardinals had his foot on the brake and did not respond to knocks on the window, police said. He finally woke up and parked the car.

Police said they noticed the smell of alcohol on his breath, and a field sobriety test was conducted.

The 62-year-old LaRussa was sent to the Palm Beach County Jail around 4 a.m., according to the jail’s Web site. La Russa provided breath samples, which measured at a .093 blood alcohol level, police said. The legal limit for drivers in Florida is 0.08.

While 0.93 is low for a DUI—I am NOT excusing is, just pointing it out—his behavior seems to be consistent with someone who should have known not to get behind the wheel.

I wonder if TLR will have the same influence with the court as he does with umpires. In Chapter 4 of The Baseball Economist, I examine the influence of different managers on ball and strike calls, inside and outside of Questec-monitored parks. The idea is that without Questec ball and strike monitoring, managers can exhibit more influence over umpires. I find that while most managers don’t have much persuasive power over umps, La Russa raises the strikeout-to-walk ratio of his pitchers outside of Questec parks. Maybe it’s his lawyering skills; he needs them now.

March 22

Bellingham, WA KPUG 1170-AM, 3:15pm (PDT)

On the Radio: Bellingham, Washington, KPUG 1170-AM

I’m doing an interview today with KPUG 1170-AM in Bellingham, Washington. The interview is scheduled for 1pm (Eastern time), but I’m not sure if it’s live.

UPDATE: The interview was taped. It will be played at 3:15 (Pacific time) on the The Zone with Mark Scholten.

Predicted Standings

Here are my playoff predictions for 2007. I used many bits of information that I’ve synthesized over the course of the offseason to formulate my person inkling of what will happen in MLB this year.

AL East: Boston Red Sox
The Yankees are not bad, but I just think Boston has the best team in the division.

AL Central: Cleveland Indians, Wild Card: Detroit Tigers
There is a reason Mark Shapiro was given an extension. This team is ready to win now. I like the Tigers too.

AL West: Oakland Athletics
The A’s were not an easy pick, but I’m not that high on the Angels or Rangers either. So, I’ll go with the organization that has an economist in its front office.

NL East: Phillies, Wild Card: Florida Marlins
The Phillies should have made the playoffs last year. I think Gillick gave up too early on a team that was PrOPS-unlucky early in the season. I like this team on both sides of the ball. Losing time from Josh Johnson hurts the Marlins, but the Marlins are now the NL East team that reloads instead of rebuilds. Never doubt Larry Beinfest. While I won’t be surprised if the Mets earn a playoff spot, their lack of starting pitching is worrisome. My Braves aren’t awful and should be competitive, but I don’t like the pitching situation in Atlanta either.

NL Central: Houston Astros
This is a tough division to pick. Roger Clemens seems less likely to return than in previous years, but it’s still a possibility. Even without him, the Astros will be competitive, so I’ll give them the edge over rest of the division.

NL West: Arizona
I like what Josh Byrnes is doing with this team. I’ve yet to disagree with a move that he has made, so maybe that’s coloring my thinking. I also think the Padres will be good. I’m not as high on the Dodgers as some are.