Archive for June, 2008

JC on the Radio

I’ll be on on The Rude Awakening this morning to discuss the possibility of Barry Bonds joining the Braves. I will, no doubt, be advocating the addition of the controversial slugger. You can listen to the show here. I am scheduled to be on at 9:10am.

Do It! Why the Braves Should Sign Barry Bonds

When I first heard the news that Barry Bonds is willing to play for the league minimum I laughed: there’s no way would the Braves do this. Right? But I the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the Braves need to make this move. Here are my reasons for Bonds joining the Braves, along with rebuttals to potential objections.

The outfield. Forget Bonds as a designated hitter. The Braves outfield is so bad that it reminds me of my first impressions of outfielders from T-ball. Since the ball never made it to the outfield, the good players always played infield. I remember when I found out that Reggie Jackson played outfield and I said to my dad, “I thought he was good.” Well, the Braves outfield would never have changed my expectations. Brandon Jones, Gregor Blanco, and Jeff Francoeur: that is the worst outfield in the majors, by far. One of these guys has to bat in the six hole. Barry Bonds erases a giant hole in the lineup.

Won’t Bonds be a defensive liability in the outfield? My grandfather used to say, “What you lack in your head, you make up in your heels.” In Bonds’s case, we should add, “What you lack in your heels, you make up with your bat.” Seriously, Bonds’s OPS of 1.045 is not a minor improvement. According to Plus/Minus, Barry Bonds allowed 11 hits more than the average left fielder in 842 innings last year. He was +5 in 2006. In comparison, Jeff Francoeur has allowed six hits more than the average right fielder in 689 innings this season. Yes, Barry isn’t a great outfielder, he’s not so bad that you can’t play him.

But didn’t Bill James point out that many excellent players are good in their next-to-last season but terrible in their last season?
Yes, that’s not surprising. When you are old, and have a bad season it’s likely going cause you to stop putting forth the effort needed to get into playing shape. The problem with this type of analysis is that we don’t know if this is Bonds’s last season. What if he plays for three more years? The fact that Bonds posted a 1.045 OPS last year is good information that he is still an excellent player. His performances may slip, but he’ll have to slip awfully far to catch Golden Boy at .701.

What about that trial? Not a problem. The prosecutors have bungled the case so badly that the earliest his trial will begin is after the season.


Steroids
. He’s been a good player even since testing was instituted. Barry Bonds is a good player without performance-enhancing drugs.

No, I meant the taint of steroids.
Oh, that! Fans may talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. Let’s do a quick little thought experiment. What will happen to attendance if Bonds suits up at Turner Field? If you think it will go down, slap yourself and think again. Is that better? Two things will happen if Bonds puts on the Tomahawk. First, fans will flock to the novelty, and Braves fans can stop complaining that ESPN never shows Braves highlights—which isn’t even true. Fans will pay money to bring in magic-marker asterisks on poster board and chant “BALCO, BALCO.” This reminds me of my friend who had to take his sister to a New Kids on the Block concert. He reported that there was someone holding a sign that said “New Kids Suck”. Then why did you buy a ticket, you clod. Second, the Braves will win more games, and the team will have a legitimate shot at the post-season. Let’s face it, folks: the Ted is dead. Other than a Frenchy at-bat or when some idiot tries to start the wave—the wave is for football and basketball and is completely inappropriate at a baseball game (I’m talking to you shirtless guy with the backwards hat who is screaming “dude, get up!”)—the Braves game is a good way to get some peace an quiet. Bonds will cause a tremendous attendance boost. If you are still skeptical, give yourself another slap.

What about the legacy of Hank Aaron? This is the biggest obstacle, and I used to think it would keep Bonds out of Atlanta. But come on, folks. What damage will be done by Bonds playing half a season with Atlanta? What team did Hank Aaron play for? The Braves. The fact that he spent his final seasons on the Brewers didn’t make him a Brewer. Barry Bonds is a Giant. Playing one season with the Braves won’t make him a Brave any more than Babe Ruth‘s last season with the Braves did. His legacy is set. And if the Braves make it to the playoffs, fans will remember him positively. Heck, most fans still like Rafael Furcal despite is drunk driving problems. Atlanta is a safer place with Bonds than with Furcal. If you think this will tarnish the legacy of Aaron, get over it. The 755 club isn’t going away anytime soon.

If the Braves are one player away, why not get another player without the Bonds taint? Bonds is asking the pro-rated league minimum. There are no prospects to give up or big salaries to eat. This is one of the best reasons to sign Bonds. The team can improve now, without sacrificing the future. In fact, the additional revenue brought in by Bonds can be used on the free agent market next year.

Won’t Bonds poison the clubhouse chemistry? Bonds is a jerk, but so are a lot of baseball players. Some of these jerks play on this Braves team. One thing that the Braves have been able to do that other teams have not is handle clubhouse problems. Gary Sheffield played two seasons in Atlanta and there was not one issue. Sheffield may be an even bigger jerk than Bonds. Sheff seeks out attention, while Bonds responds when prodded. That won’t happen in Atlanta. Could things go south? Of course, but so what? It’s not like he’s going to sink a contending team. And after the year is up, he will be sent on his merry way.

Check out this lineup.

Kelly Johnson
Mark Teixeira
Barry Lamar Bonds
Chipper Jones
Brian McCann (Holy crap! McCann is batting in the six hole?! Oops! I originally had Escobar at leadoff.)
Yunel Escobar
Gimpy
Wimpy
Pitcher

So, Frank Wren get on the phone to Jeff Borris. The Braves need Barry Bonds. Do it, do it now.

Addendum: For those of you who are so deeply offended by my batting Mark Teixeira second, here are the optimal run-scoring lineups according to Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis tool.
With Bonds
Without Bonds

A Bad Idea for Solving the Maple Bat Problem

How not to address the maple bat issue.

The most prominent manufacturer of maple bats said Tuesday that baseball players and owners should ensure the quality of bats by paying roughly triple the price.

Sam Holman, founder of the Canadian company that makes the maple bats popularized by Barry Bonds, said baseball’s maple bat crisis — bats snapping into large pieces and flying toward players and into the stands — could be resolved by setting minimum prices that would compel manufacturers to use the finest wood rather than competing for business by selling cheaper bats made of lower-quality wood.

“It would level the competition,” Holman said. “That would do as much as any regulation of what kind of wood.”…

He can make a maple bat for $55 and sell it for $60 to $65, he said. He said he would support a $200 minimum so manufacturers would not be tempted to cut corners and use the lower-quality wood that he said is much more prone to breakage.

How would this cause bat companies to not cut corners? Players have already shown a willingness to use $65 bats. Maybe at a higher price, players would expect higher quality bats, but how would a player know whether or not he received a “$200″ bat and not a substandard one?

I think Mr. Holman is a bit more interested in restricting competition in the maple bat industry than he is in ensuring bat quality. Let’s say MLB adopts a $200 minimum price for maple bats. Assuming the demand for maple bats is highly inelastic, fewer players will use maple bats, but they will continue to use maple bats at a high rate. As bat-making technology improves or input prices fall, bat-makers will reap wind-fall profits and cannot pass cost savings on to players.

And let’s say a new maple bat company comes along that can provide the same, if not superior, quality bat. The competitor would have a hard time wooing users when players already have confidence in an existing supplier. One strategy to acquire customers would be to sell bats at a cheaper price, possibly even giving them away initially. However, this would be against league rules; and thus, new bat companies will be less likely to enter the market. It also prevents companies who develop new methods for producing high-quality bats at a cheaper price from entering the market.

This proposal is rent seeking, pure and simple. Let’s hope no one on the committee is stupid enough to buy this argument. A preferable alternative for ensuring bat quality would be to set up objective testing standards that all bats must meet. A breakage test could be one of the tests employed. This would not distort the competitive incentives of the bat industry, and bat makers would continue to seek methods for cutting costs without sacrificing quality while attempting to earn greater profits.

Latinos and College Baseball

A while back I examined the decline of African-Americans playing major-league baseball. James Wagner looks at the racial composition of Division I college baseball and notices a different trend.

College players in the three main divisions are 86% white, according to the most-recent NCAA figures. That’s a big difference from Major League Baseball, where one study puts the number at less than 60%. The most striking difference is in the number of Latinos on the field: They made up about 29% of all major leaguers in 2007 but only 5% of players in college.

While the percentage of Latino players has more than doubled in professional baseball since 1990, accounting for top stars such as Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz, the percentage of minorities in the college game remains extremely low. That’s especially true for Latinos, for whom college ball’s failure to keep pace with the diversity of the major leagues is most striking. And that’s embarrassing to some….

Minority players clearly aren’t being excluded from major-league stardom and wealth. But because college baseball has had trouble attracting nonwhite talent, minority prospects aren’t enjoying the benefits of a recent shift in the game that puts a premium on college players. Last year, according to data provided by Major League Baseball, 55% of the players picked in baseball’s amateur draft came from four-year institutions, up from 38% in 1998. The number of college players taken in the first four rounds, where teams pay the highest bonuses, has increased by 20% over the past 10 years. The average signing bonus through the first four rounds last year was $790,000.

At the center of the issue is a perennial choice facing young baseball prospects: College seems to afford less opportunity than the fast cash they can get signing with a pro team….

Many forces beyond the easy cash compound this discrepancy. They include challenges in recruiting, a college draft that, unlike the National Basketball Association’s, doesn’t include prospects from abroad, and baseball scholarships that are fewer and less comprehensive than football and basketball scholarships.

Coaches say it is expensive for colleges in the NCAA’s Division I to recruit overseas, even in Latin America. And foreign players often lack the appropriate transcripts, grades and test scores.

I am not concerned about the lack of foreign Latinos in college baseball. There is a very simple explanation that has nothing to do with racism or financial incentives: the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). How can these kids go to college in the US if they don’t even speak English?

Thanks to Shyster for the pointer.

Extra Base Hits on Balls in Play and Pitcher Skill

A few weeks ago, John Dewan focused on a stat that I hadn’t thought about in a while as his Stat of the Week: Pitcher OPS Allowed (OPSA).

For hitters, for years and years, it was batting average that was thought to be the best single statistic to look at to evaluate a hitter. In the last couple of decades, the weaknesses of batting average have been exposed and the value of getting on base and hitting for power have become better recognized. The stat that is becoming the new standard for hitters is OPS—On-base percentage Plus Slugging percentage.

For pitchers, the standard is ERA. Compared to batting average, it provides a much better representation of effectiveness. It measures the most important quality of a pitcher’s job, preventing runs. However, it too has its flaws. The biggest flaw is that a pitcher’s ERA can be greatly affected by the pitchers that immediately follow him in a game, both positively and negatively.

Enter Opponent OPS. This is a stat that you hardly ever see. It makes just as much sense to look at Opponent OPS for pitchers as it does to look at a hitter’s own OPS. We just recently added this as a leaderboard titled “Opponent OPS” to Bill James Online and I wanted to share it with you.

ERA is going to continue to be the standard, and I will personally look at ERA for every pitcher, but I think Opponent OPS may be a better indicator of a pitcher’s overall effectiveness.

I used OPS Allowed to proxy pitcher quality in a study of hit batters with Doug Drinen. I’m not sure why we settled on the metric, but I haven’t used it in some time. There are two reasons for this. OPSA is heavily influenced by balls in play, and it is difficult to compute with available data. You basically have to reconstruct it from play-by-play data. But, OPSA holds some potentially useful information not contained in traditional DIPS metrics. So, when I read Dewan’s post I decided to look into the stat a little deeper.

This summer I’ve made a commitment to become more familiar with Perl so that I can better dig through the play-by-play data that is becoming increasingly available. So, I viewed this as an opportunity. Armed with Learning Perl and Doug’s old Perl scripts, I was able to gather some very specific pitcher-allowed stats from Retrosheet event files from 2000–2007.

First, I want to look at the correlation of pitcher performance from year to year. Here are the correlations for pitchers who pitched more than 100 innings in back-to-back-seasons.

Metric R2
AVGA 0.208
OBPA 0.206
SLGA 0.194
OPSA 0.179
ERA 0.120

Pitchers performance in OPSA is more consistent from year to year than ERA. This is an indicator that OPS captures more skill than ERA, as skill ought to be repeatable from season-to-season. Performances in other metrics are also better, but not by much. Even compared to ERA, OPSA’s correlation isn’t that much stronger. About 18% of a pitchers OPS is explainable by his previous season’s OPS, while 12% of a pitcher’s ERA is explainable by his previous season’s ERA.

That OPSA is more highly correlated from season to season than ERA is not surprising. ERA suffers from two deficiencies. First, scoring rules that assign a pitchers culpability for runs that were jointly allowed. Second, ERA includes performance on balls in play, which is heavily polluted by luck and defense. OPSA, though it also includes balls in play, includes walks and weights home runs more than other hits, both of which are defense-independent outcomes.

Next, I break down pitcher performance into components: strikeout rate (per batter-faced), walk rate, home run rate, batting average on balls in play, and doubles-and-triples-allowed average on balls in play (XBABIP).

Metric R2
K 0.603
BB 0.492
HR 0.153
XBABIP 0.042
BABIP 0.038

Pitchers do appear to have more control over the type of hits allowed on balls in play than they do over hits in general; however, the difference is small. Furthermore, pitchers have far more control over defense-independent metrics than balls in play.

But, even if pitcher control in this area is small, is there any additional information to be gained by knowing a pitcher’s XBABIP? The next table reports the marginal impact of the previous variables on predicting future ERA.

Variable (one-year lag) OPSA DIPS Only DIPS & OPSA DIPS & XBABIP
K - 7.02521 - 6.68551 - 7.03101
[11.27]** [8.81]** [11.31]**
BB 3.43275 3.05492 3.27137
[3.27]** [2.65]** [3.12]**
HR 12.05949 9.88836 11.4197
[4.27]** [2.50]* [4.04]**
OPSA 3.09165 0.41422
[9.67]** [0.78]
XBABIP 3.99536
[2.48]*
Constant 2.05883 4.93117 4.65531 4.66884
[8.50]** [29.48]** [11.95]** [23.63]**
Observations 932 932 932 932
Adjusted R-squared 0.09 0.16 0.16 0.16
Absolute value of t statistics in brackets
* significant at 5%; ** significant at 1%

First, look at the R2–actually, it’s the “adjusted R2“, which makes some corrections to raw R2for bias induced by adding additional variables–and how they change in each model’s estimate of ERA. Neither the addition of OPSA nor XBABIP adds much explanatory power over the DIPS-only model. BABIP is excluded because it is never statistically significant.

Next, I use the same independent variables from the previous season to estimate OPSA in the present season.

Variable (one-year lag) OPSA DIPS Only DIPS & OPSA DIPS & XBABIP
K - 0.74367 - 0.59477 - 0.73719
[14.87]** [9.79]** [14.94]**
BB 0.22356 0.05451 0.18811
[2.65]** [0.59] [2.25]*
HR 0.54351 -0.28027 0.46318
[2.39]* [0.94] [2.06]*
OPS 0.3062 0.16671
[12.12]** [4.24]**
XBABIP 0.65966
[5.24]**
Constant 0.52537 0.84578 0.73255 0.80116
[27.40]** [62.61]** [24.51]** [50.67]**
Observations 934 934 934 934
Adjusted R-squared 0.14 0.21 0.23 0.23
Absolute value of t statistics in brackets
* significant at 5%; ** significant at 1%

In terms of predicting the future OPSA of a pitcher, knowing his OPSA or his past propensity for allowing extra-base hits on balls in play–recall that this excludes home runs–improves the explanatory power of the model. This is evidence that pitchers do have some ability at preventing extra-base hits on balls in play.

Finally, let’s look at the magnitude of the impacts. The following table lists the absolute changes in ERA and OSPA from a one-standard deviation change in the variables, based on the coefficients in the DIPS & XBABIP models.

Variable ERA OPSA
K - 0.32087 - 0.03364
BB 0.07658 0.00440
HR 0.09103 0.00369
XBABIP 0.05431 0.00897

In terms of predicting ERA, all of the DIPS metrics have a larger impact than XBABIP; however, for OPSA, a one standard deviation change in XBABIP has a larger impact than a pitcher’s walk and homer rates.

What does this tell us? Again, if you want to know something about a pitcher’s skill at prevention runs, you can learn a lot from his defense-independent performance. The metrics will tell you more than his ERA or OPSA alone. However, knowing how a pitcher prevents different types of hits does add some useful information about a pitcher’s skill, unlike BABIP. If you happen to have XBABIP handy, feel free to use it to evaluate a pitcher’s talent. But if you don’t have it, you don’t lose much by ignoring it.

PS — Sorry about the spacing issues. I used HTML tables, which causes WordPress to insert extra spaces. I usually use pre tags, but I have not been able to get them to work since upgrading. I don’t think it’s necessarily a WordPress problem; instead, it’s probably something that I am doing that WordPress is interpreting differently than I intend. If you have any suggestions, please pass them along to me.

Problem fixed. I had a plug-in turned on that didn’t play well with others.

Are We Being Too Hard on Frenchy?

According to the AJC’s Mark Bradley, yes.

Jeff Francoeur is having a rough year. His batting average is .252, which isn’t good, and his on-base percentage is .300, which is bad. He has 10 hits – against 10 strikeouts and only two walks – in his past 10 games. Since hitting a walk-off homer against Arizona on May 24, he has eight RBIs in 96 at-bats.

As tepid as those numbers are, they don’t quite explain the rancor directed Francoeur’s way. In Sunday’s sports section he received three mentions (none flattering) in The Vent. If e-mails to a certain writer (namely, me) are any measure, the suggestions go like this: Bat Frenchy eighth; bench Frenchy; send Frenchy to the minors until he learns the strike zone….

He might not be Albert Pujols, but Francoeur has proved he’s a big-league player. He’s struggling now, but the belief here, as it would be with any big-leaguer, is that he’ll eventually rise to his established level.

It’s understandable fans would be anxious, especially at a time when the entire team is listing. What’s curious is how quickly we Atlantans seem to turn on the guy from Gwinnett. Has almost a decade of his derring-do, first at Parkview and now as a Brave, bred such contempt? Have we tired of the famous Frenchy? Have we forgotten that, for all his notoriety, he’s only 24?

If that’s the case, then I don’t feel sorry for Jeff Francoeur. I feel sorry for us.

First, what town does Mark Bradley live in? Just two weeks ago, I complained about the unqualified love that Jeff Francoeur gets despite the fact that he was exceptional for one month of his career. And has Bradley been to a Braves game lately? The applause for Chipper Jones isn’t even half of what it is for Gwinnett’s golden boy. If you thought you heard boos, they were probably just teenage girls cooing.

The problem with Francoeur is that the media has been so accepting of the Braves talking points that he is a rising superstar that they haven’t even bothered to notice that Francoeur has always had glaring holes in his game. He was a good high school player? That is no more relevant than the fact that I once hit two home runs in one game for my Little League team. (I still like to bring this up when I can. Yes, they both went over the fence, and I can tell you the names of the pitchers who gave them up: Robbie and John.)

Bradley has the nerve, THE NERVE, to lecture fans on giving Francoeur criticism, which the media neglected to do for three years. In New York, they give grief to players who are far better than Francoeur. Jerry Manuel is making David Wright practice plate discipline, and he has a career OBP of .390. Wright’s slumps are equal to Frenchy’s peaks, but Terry Pendleton just keeps telling Frenchy to “stay aggressive.”

Why didn’t Mark Bradley ask about sending Francoeur to the minors in 2006, when it was clear that he had more to learn? Why didn’t Mark Bradley question Frenchy’s presence in the line-up every day for over two years? I don’t know whether demoting or resting him would have helped, but they were legitimate options that should have been put to the general manager and the manager.

Looking through the AJC archives I see a few minor Bradley mentions of Francoeur needing to improve his plate discipline, but they are buried in two or three articles and never is he called out. And Bradley is not alone. The Atlanta media choose to bask in the glow of one month of amazing baseball, which was no doubt a fluke. Leave it to a reporter in New York, Alan Schwarz of the NY Times, to document Frenchy’s major weakness in 2005.

Whenever a player starts out this well, the question is always how long he can keep it up. Francoeur has long been known as a top prospect and is expected to have a fine career – far more Fred Lynn than Shane Spencer. Then again, the last time a young Braves outfielder caught everyone’s eye like this, it didn’t last long at all.

In July 1957, during a five-team pennant race, the Braves, then in Milwaukee, needed an extra outfielder and called up Bob Hazle, a 26-year-old journeyman. Hazle cracked the starting lineup a week later and never stopped hitting – he finished his cameo with a .403 average and 7 home runs in 41 games to help power Milwaukee to the National League pennant. (He did not qualify for either of the above lists because he had played briefly for the Cincinnati Reds in 1955.) His spectacular performance earned him the lasting nickname Hurricane Hazle.

But his storm blew over quickly. After batting .179 in 1958, Hazle was sold to Detroit, which later farmed him to the minor leagues. The Hurricane hung ‘em up soon thereafter and remains baseball’s patron saint of ephemeral phenoms.

One can usually learn something about a rookie’s staying power by looking at his rate of drawing walks; hitters with good eyes are less susceptible to the vagaries of luck, and tend to have fewer exploitable holes in their swings. This is the only demerit for Francoeur this season.

In his first 91 plate appearances, he did not draw even one walk. (Among hitters with the top 40 starts to their careers, this is a first.) And Francoeur was so impatient that he reached a three-ball count only six times.

Mark, it’s OK to call people out when they are wrong, but you are in no position to lecture those of us who have been saying the same thing for three years. Jeff Francouer is on his way to a mediocre career as a baseball player. It is a commendable feat and nothing to be ashamed of, but if the ratio of praise to criticism ranges from very high to undefined (you can’t divide by zero). Maybe his career could have been more if there had been a little more public skepticism about his development at a time when his flaws were obvious.

Frank Thomas Update

About two months ago, I was pretty hard on the Toronto Blue Jays for dumping Frank Thomas. He had gotten off to a slow start and the Jays benched him, then ultimately granted his release. Based on 72 plate appearances the Jays felt that Thomas was taking up a roster spot that could be better-used by someone else. Here is what I had to say about the situation.

One lesson from principles of microeconomics is that just because you are earning a loss doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to shut down production. As long as the revenues from production exceed the variable costs, you make money to cover a portion of your fixed sunk costs by continuing to operate. Shutting down increases your losses. If a player is producing more on the field than he costs to keep on the roster, then you should keep him on the roster. The Jays have just gone from a situation where they were getting Matt Stairs and Frank Thomas for $9 million (prorated salaries for the remainder of 2008 of $7 million and $2 million) to having only Matt Stairs for that same expenditure. I don’t see how this is an improvement.

This situation differs from the Russ Ortiz situation in 2006 with Arizona (Keith Law offers a nice summary). Ortiz was in the second year of a four-year, $33-million deal. In 2005 and 2006 he was worse than the options available to the team, and therefore it made sense to send Ortiz on his way. Though the Diamondbacks are still paying off the deal, Ortiz isn’t good enough to pitch on a major-league roster. Had Arizona continued to employ his services he would have made the team worse; therefore, cutting Ortiz was the right move. In Thomas’s case, several teams are interested in acquiring his services because he is better than available alternatives.

And what has transpired since the deal? He’s posted a .319/.417/.516 line which translates to an OPS+ for the year of 125–exactly what it was in 2007. Even if he had been much worse than this, it was a bad move for the Jays. Now the A’s are getting Thomas on the Jays’ dime. This is the most obvious GM blunder that I have seen in some time.

The Tale of Inherited Wine

Gerald wasn’t particularly happy with his Uncle Simon’s bequest. A prized wine collection was a nice gesture from his favorite uncle, but Gerald rarely drank wine. He could tell red from white, preferred good wine to bad wine, but he would never think of spending hundreds of dollars on a bottle like his uncle frequently did. “Surely, my uncle knew this,” he thought. “Dammit, Simon! What should I do with those boxes in the basement that meant so much to you?” And so Gerald thought about it.

The next week, Gerald came home to find the table set for a several places. “Who’s coming over for dinner?” he asked his wife.

“Junior is in town from college with some of his fraternity brothers to see a concert. I told him I’d feed them all dinner before they went to the show. I don’t want anyone to be driving, so I told them they could hang out here have a few drinks and I would buy them a cab.”

Gerald smiled and said, “That’s a good idea. I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?”

“To get some wine for the boys.”

“Why not give just give ‘em some of Uncle Simon’s collection? You’re not going to drink it.”

“No, I’m not. And neither are a bunch college students who can’t tell Boone’s Farm from a Bordeaux.”

“Why waste money at the store on new wine when you have free wine in the basement?”

“I may not appreciate good wine, but there are plenty of other people who do. I’m going to get these guys some Woodbridge. We’ll save a few bottles to break out when I bring clients over for dinner. The rest I’m going to sell to someone who values the wine as much as Uncle Simon did. Then you and I are going to take the money and go on a cruise.”

Gerald continued, “Uncle Simon didn’t leave me the wine because he thought I would drink it. He knew I was the only person in his family who wouldn’t waste it. His bequest was the value of the wine, not the wine itself.”

Simon’s wife rolled her eyes with a smile and said, “Well, go to the store then. You economists are a bunch of dorks.”

“Yeah, but if I didn’t know these things, then I wouldn’t be able to afford a young crazy stripper wife.”

Gwinnett County Is Bizarro World

I’m beginning to understand why the Gwinnett Braves stadium deal happened.

Here is Commissioner Lorraine Green’s “tax relief” proposal.

Green said the property taxes would be replaced with a 1 percent sales tax – the homestead option sales tax, or HOST. She said she anticipates the sales tax could generate $157 million a year, enough to offer homeowners a 100 percent homestead exemption and eliminate the stormwater fee. Gwinnett County collected $242 million in property tax revenue in the 2008 fiscal year, of which $107 million came from owner-occupied residential property, Green said.

The plan would have to be approved by voters, but a referendum could appear on ballots as early as next spring. Green said she plans to push forward with this plan if elected chairwoman of the Gwinnett County Commission. She’s running against Charles Bannister, the current Commission chairman, who said he had the idea first, and Glenn Pirkle, an electrical contractor for Buford, in the Republican primary on July 15.

If the plan is approved, the sales tax would have to be collected for a year before the property taxes could be rolled back, Green said. The money collected through the sales tax would be used for capital programs – and Green said she wants to build a county-operated rail transit system to relieve traffic congestion.

Here is how this works:
Year 1 — Introduce sales tax.
Year 2 — Eliminate property tax.

Hmmm…so we are replacing one source of tax revenue with another. However, during the transition the county collects revenue from both revenue streams. Ms. Green, that’s a tax increase, coupled with a Lyle Lanley approved monorail.

But, the saddest part is that the incumbent commission chair, Charles Bannister, rather than pointing this out, claims that Green stole the idea from her. Unbelievable.

For those of you who openly complain that I write too much about Gwinnett County, I wrote this post just to piss you off. No, I’m not joking.

VORP Shmorp

David Sheinin wrote the following in yesterday’s Washington Post.

VORP can open your mind. It can bring your world into crystal-clear sharpness. Go ahead — try some. Did you know, for example, that if you exclude the resurgent Cristian Guzmán (VORP: 21.5), the Washington Nationals’ offense has a negative VORP — which, in essence, means if you released every last one of their position players (except Guzmán) and replaced them with cheap, waiver-wire scrubs, the team would be better off?

Or, to be accurate, the Nationals would be expected to be better off — because there is a theoretical aspect to VORP, which stands for value over replacement player.

What is it, you ask? It measures the number of runs a player contributes (or, in the case of pitchers, prevents) beyond what would be expected from a “replacement-level” player — which is to say, one that could be had as a cheap fill-in and who would be expected to produce at around 80 percent of the league average at his particular position during a particular year.

As for a team — that is, a theoretical team — made up entirely of replacement-level players? According to Keith Woolner, the sabermetrics pioneer who invented VORP in the late 1990s, “They would be expected to win between 45 and 50 games, which is comparable to the worst teams we see.” Well, not all of them: The 43-win Detroit Tigers of 2003 own the worst offensive VORP (-50.8) of the past 50 years.

I don’t use VORP, and it’s not that I don’t understand the concept: I just cannot figure out what I gain by using it over other metrics. Sheinin gives the following reasons that I should change my mind.

Why should you care about VORP? Because it presents the most complete picture of a hitter’s or pitcher’s true value. Unlike most other statistics, for example, VORP accounts for why a catcher — for whom it is difficult to find a replacement, because not as many players are capable of playing there — is more valuable than a left fielder with similar offensive numbers.

I don’t understand how VORP helps me here, and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this explanation. Are catchers really more valuable than equally-talented batters who play left field because of scarcity? There are plenty of catchers in the minor leagues and major-league teams often carry three catchers. Teams don’t normally carry nine outfielders, do they? Imagine how bad a ninth outfielder must be–see the 2008 Braves if you are having trouble imagining this. Teams can draft and develop more catchers if they believe there is a shortage. I suspect that catchers are more expensive because they offer a greater defensive contribution. After all, they are the only other player besides the pitcher involved in every pitch. I admit that valuing catchers is difficult, but if VORP has a breakthrough at the catcher position by better-valuing the on-field contribution, then I’d like to see this spelled out.

It accounts for the fact that a run prevented is more valuable in 2008 than during a low-scoring year such as 1968.

You can make the same corrections to any baseball metric. The simplest is OPS+, but you can make more precise adjustments for any offensive statistic as Michael Schell has done. To me, that is superior to VORP, because I know what each of those statistics is telling me.

And it also accounts for the fact that, say, a .600 slugging percentage for someone who plays home games at Coors Field isn’t as impressive as the same percentage for someone playing at Petco Park.

Again, you can adjust any statistic for home-park bias. Park-effect corrections are hardly a novel contribution.

There is also the potential gains of valuing a player relative to “replacement level” as opposed to the average. I still don’t get the advantage of this. First, you have the task of defining replacement level. What is the point of this exercise? It is just an alternative benchmark to the average. I can explain to any baseball fan: “this player is above/below average.” To explain a player relative to “replacement level” requires a long, boring, and unnecessary conversation. Below-average players are valuable, and this isn’t difficult to understand.

What about using VORP to judge salaries? For example, if the league-minimum salary is $390,000, and a team signs a replacement level outfielder for $1 million, hasn’t the team overpaid? Not at all. Player value is determined by opportunity cost as determined by marginal revenue product (MRP). If a player generates many millions of dollars, his value is determined by this, not by how much he makes. Teams pay players with less than four years of service (approximately) less than their MRPs because the collective bargaining agreement allows them to do so. A team that plays a young and reserved player forgoes the potential return from trading the player to another team or from keeping down his service time. Signing a veteran for $1 million can be cheaper than promoting a young player who would provide equal value now by holding down service time.

My point isn’t that VORP is an awful or useless stat. To the contrary, there is clearly useful information contained in it. And those who prefer to hold discussions based on this metric should continue to do so. But there is no need for someone who does not speak the language to learn the ins an outs of a new metric, as Sheinin suggests. I can talk about all its components without dropping the V-bomb. If you want to talk hitting, we can use OBP and SLG. Then you can bring in stolen bases and defense to capture other effects. For pitching, we can use strikeouts, walks, and homers. The big advantage of these is that I can have these conversations with people other than die-hard stat-heads. I can also explain the advantages of these metrics over traditional triple-crown stats, and that is a huge benefit.

I view VORP as an insider language, and by using it you can signal that you are insider. It’s like speaking Klingon at a Star Trek convention. I can signal to others who speak the language that I am one of you. But, the danger of VORP is that once you bring it up the discussion goes down the wrong path as the uninitiated have reason to feel they are being told they are not as smart as the person making the argument. It’s like constantly bringing up the fact that you only listen to NPR or watch the BBC news at dinner parties. The response is likely going to be the same, “well fuck you too, you pretentious asshole!”

Last year, Murray Chass wrote the following.

I receive a daily e-mail message from Baseball Prospectus, an electronic publication filled with articles and information about statistics, mostly statistics that only stats mongers can love.

To me, VORP epitomized the new-age nonsense. For the longest time, I had no idea what VORP meant and didn’t care enough to go to any great lengths to find out. I asked some colleagues whose work I respect, and they didn’t know what it meant either.

Finally, not long ago, I came across VORP spelled out. It stands for value over replacement player. How thrilling. How absurd. Value over replacement player. Don’t ask what it means. I don’t know.

The thing is: I can actually sympathize with Chass here, though for different reasons. I too get the occasional VORP e-mail, and my normal first reaction is to roll my eyes. I don’t speak VORP, and I shouldn’t be expected to do so. If you want to talk about why a player may or may not be valuable, we can have that discussion in a language that I speak.