May 24, 2013 at 5:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
7:10 PM on Sports South
The Mets have moved in the fences a little, but Citi Field is still a pitcher’s park. We know Turner Field has a big right field, and as you can see, Citi Field is further back to straight right, though it does come in a bit in right center. Center field is a cavernous black hole, and I wouldn’t hit it there unless your name is Justin Upton or Evan Gattis. Left field is where you might grab a little more benefit.
Mets ISO Maps
The Mets won’t throw a very good lineup out there as they’re 3rd-worst in team wOBA. Most of their production comes from the Daniel Murphy, David Wright, and Lucas Duda group with additional power production from John Buck and Marlon Byrd, though both have OBPs below .300. Ike Davis could round out the lineup and make this a solid lineup, but he’s in a nasty funk and might get demoted. The main idea is to minimize David Wright as much as you can and avoid making mistakes to Duda, Buck, and Byrd.
Jeremy Hefner was actually a pretty solid pitcher last season, but when your walk rate more than doubles, you’re having issues. The league seems to have adjusted to him, swinging at pitches out of the zone less and making more contact. That’s obviously not the desired result, and it may end in his demotion and the promotion of Zack Wheeler. Hefner’s use of the fastball won’t change much by hitter, but he’ll throw the cutter/slider/slutter more to righties (which makes me think slider as cutters generally are more thrown to lefties) and his curveball and change-up to lefties. Looking at the above heat maps, you can see his slutter almost never hits the zone, and he’s throwing it more this season, possibly contributing to more walks. I actually prefer his curveball, but he’s focused more on the slutter so far this season. If the Braves can leave that pitch alone, they should be able to have success tonight.
Kris Medlen sucks, so we should all just go home … Right. Anyhoo, Medlen certainly hasn’t been the same pitcher that he was last season, and that’s because the control/command are noticeably worse this season, doubling his walk rate. Players go through ups and downs, and if you remember last season, he struggled (though not to this degree I suppose) a bit. I preferred his tempo last start, and I’m hoping he keeps himself a bit more controlled tonight as well. This is another series the Braves should win, and energized from a 6-0 homestand, they need to keep the good play going.
(Thanks as always to ESPN and Brooks Baseball for the data and graphics)
May 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
One of the most amazing things about this Braves team is how young it is. Their average age is 27 years old, essentially making this a team in its prime. The cold water here is that the youth isn’t under control for much longer. Brian McCann is eligible for free-agency immediately following this season. Jason Heyward has two more years of control left. Freddie Freeman has three. And Justin Upton has two. Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis, however, do have 5 years left. On the pitching side, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm are adios after 2013. Kris Medlen has 2 more years left. Brandon Beachy has 3. Mike Minor has 4, and Julio Teheran has 5. So while the team is young, the window is currently this season and the next two.
Unless some players are signed to extensions.
Extensions have popular recently as teams look to lock up the prime years of their best players. While the sport is flush with money, teams can make these deals with smaller risk involved, and because of that extra money floating around, free-agent prices are also rising. It makes sense to sign your core players for their best years and avoid free-agency if you can. The Braves, unfortunately, haven’t signed any of their young players to extensions.
Before you start yelling, there are probably several reasons for this. The first reason is that negotiations are a two-way street. The team AND the player have to agree to a deal, and if the player isn’t willing to listen, there isn’t much you can do. The second part is that there is still time left. When you spend tons of money, you’d like to know exactly what you’re getting for that money, but the negative aspect to this is a player having a breakout year – Hi Justin – and putting his price through the roof. The third aspect is the risk involved, and considering the team has the medical reports, they may see something they don’t like. Lastly, it’s simply a lot of money being invested, and it can limit flexibility, hence the innate risk of injury and/or loss of production.
So let’s take a look at some players who might merit extensions.
Brian McCann – Feb 20, 1984
McCann is off to a hot start in 2013, and he seems to be recovered from shoulder surgery, though we’re still waiting to see how durable the shoulder remains. The three players in the above table are three catchers and their contracts that can be used to compare what McCann might get. The age of the three players is from the start of their “free-agent” seasons – the same situation McCann will be in – and the “McCann Years” are the years of the contract that would pertain to McCann.
Buster Posey is the first guy on the list, but he’s not the best comparison. His first FA season would be at 29 – a year earlier than McCann – but his career averages – .313/.382/.505 – are better than any McCann season except for McCann’s 2006. Posey also had a serious injury, but hinge joint injuries are generally easier to recover from than ball-and-socket joint injuries. He also won an MVP.
Montero – .269/.346/.782 – is actually a pretty good comparison to McCann – .279/.351/.476. Montero did enter the free-agent portion of his contract before McCann will, but that and the shoulder surgery can be a reason to cut the deal to 3-4 years instead of 5. But the $12.5M a year average for Montero over 4 years would be $50M, which seems like a fair deal. It’s also a tiny but nominal raise of $500K for McCann.
Molina also seems like a solid comp on the surface. Both 30 at the beginning of the deal, McCann and Molina entered the league at nearly the same time, and they’ve battled for All-Star nominations ever since. Of course, Molina is now a perennial MVP candidate, and McCann hasn’t been that in 2 or 3 seasons. Keeping up his absurd early pace of this season would put him back in that category, but it would take a career year.
My guess is that a fair deal is pretty close to Miguel Montero’s deal and over 4 seasons, making it 4 years/$50 M. That’s certainly affordable, but is it the best McCann could get? There are a few possible free-agent choices next season, but with a healthy and productive season, McCann is easily the class of the position. As many people have noted before, an AL team who could DH him might be more interested in adding money and years. A McCann deal might be based more on McCann simply wanting to stay than anything else.
It’s also fair to ask whether or not the Braves would want to keep him around. By the end of the season, McCann will have caught around 9000 innings as opposed to the 5000 that Montero had entering his contract, and he has a major shoulder surgery on his resume. I love McCann, but the signs don’t look great for the last few years of the contract, despite catchers seeming to age better than believed.
Freddie Freeman – Sept 12, 1989
My love for Freddie Freeman is well-known, but I’ll try to be as objective as possible. He’ll enter 2014 as a 24-year old, and that’s substantially younger than any of the players in the above table. It will be his first year of arbitration, which is later than the signing date of all of these players but Craig. The general trend, however, is pretty clear. For 3 arbitration seasons and a few free-agent seasons, $41-45 million seems to be the going rate.
The main criticism of signing Freeman is that he hasn’t produced over 2 wins of production yet. While that is true, none of these other players are exactly star-caliber first basemen either according to win values, often coming in around 3 wins. The Braves could use that to try and lower the deal under what the others made, but I’m guessing Freeman’s agent would throw Freeman’s age back in their face. To be worth the basically $8M a season over the next 5, Freeman would need to be worth 1.5 wins or so a season, which is something he’s basically done twice. There are not a lot of reasons to think he won’t actually improve upon his production as he gets a little older and gets to his peak, and he’ll likely be worth much more than this contract, which should be expected given the years the contract would cover.
Andrelton Simmons – Sept 4, 1989
I could spend all sorts of time going through the comparables here, but for $2-4 M a season, how exactly is Simmons not worth that? Even if he received Starlin Castro’s $19M for the next 5 seasons, he wouldn’t even have to produce 1 win a season, and he’s already done that this season while hitting .242/.281/.370.
But the issue here is actually the free-agent seasons. Buying out arbitration seasons gives the team cost certainty, but the incentive to making these deals is gaining free-agent seasons. Castro doesn’t compare well because he and Simmons are very dissimilar players – one being an offensive force and the other a defensive one. The other two are much better comps. Andrus was actually younger at this point in his playing career, and his offense – .275/.341/.351 – seems to be a decent idea of what Simmons could be capable of, though I think Simmons has more power. Andrus, of course, will make $15M during his free-agent seasons, but he did sign that (second) contract after actually starting to hit. As a 4-win player, he’s definitely worth it, especially considering his age. Escobar will make $5 and $6 million in his first two free-agent seasons (both options), and he and Simmons are definitely comparable.
Even if the Braves had to essentially split the difference and offer Simmons $9-10 million a free-agent season, it would be hard to argue that Simmons wouldn’t be worth it. His defense is at least on par with Andrus and Escobar, and it may be better. A 7-year/$30-35 million would seem pretty reasonable, and getting the free-agent years as options would be perfect.
Jason Heyward – Aug 9, 1989
The price for Heyward seems about as clear as it is for Freeman. The market seems to think $60-70 million for the last two arbitration seasons and first three free-agent seasons is what it should take. The real issue is that Heyward will be 2 years younger than Jones and 3 years younger than McCutchen and Gonzalez as they reach the same years of control. And if elite free-agents really are drying up, Heyward would reach free-agency as a 25/26-year old ready to make a huge payday.
Carlos Gonzalez’s contract is definitely the largest of the three above examples, but even if it took something along those lines with a few more free-agent seasons at $20M, Heyward would have to produce only about 4 wins during each of those free-agent seasons (maybe less by then) to be worth the contract. If we scale back Heyward’s defensive contributions last year because we don’t think he was +22-runs good, he’s still a 5-win player heading toward his peak. Considering he could be a monster, those $20 million seasons could be a real bargain.
Justin Upton – Aug 25, 1987
Upton is off to an amazing start to the season, so while right now may not be the best time to talk to him, he’s still a guy the Braves could look to extend past his current contract. He’s owed about $29M over the next two seasons, and it may take a contract that has $20+M seasons to keep him in Atlanta. With teams paying a lot for power, Upton will likely need years close to $25M to consider staying in Atlanta because he’ll still reach free-agency at age as a 28-year old.
Is $25 million reasonable for a player of Upton’s caliber? I suppose it depends on how you view him. He is, of course, having a fantastic season and seems to be the 6+-win player we were hoping for, and if he is that, $25M is a bargain, especially considering free-agent prices aren’t likely to decrease anytime soon. Anything closer to $30M, while a reasonable request if Upton goes nuts over the next 3 seasons, is probably too much for a team with a modest payroll.
Evan Gattis – Aug 18, 1986
Someone’s going to ask, so I’ll go ahead and cut it off. No. No. No. The reason for extensions is to cover free-agent seasons, and there’s no reason to worry about paying a guy for his age-33+ seasons.
Each of these scenarios is to be looked at in an isolated manner. They are simply looking at each player individually to see what a contract with him might require, and I’ll take a look at how the possible extensions could interact in a later post. We’ll worry about picking-and-choosing then. Remember, these are just comparisons. Teams and agents will have a different idea of who the player compares to and how much they should be paid. It’s part of the business. It also requires that both sides are willing to talk about a deal, and it could be the team or the player holding up a deal. Again, we’re just trying to get an idea of what it might take to sign these players, and a shift in how much money is available – specifically the new TV deals that kick in next year – could raise some of these prices, though it would also likely increase the Braves’ budget.
May 22, 2013 at 11:01 am by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
MVP: Paul Maholm .202 WPA
LVP: Freddie Freeman -.141 WPA
Home Sweeps Home.
12:10 PM on Sports South
Pitching in the Big Boy League hasn’t been fortuitous for Vance Worley. A solid pitcher in the NL, Worley’s K rate has dropped to 10% while having a 6% walk rate, and considering the average difference between these two is usually 8%, we have a problem. Then add in the fact that Worley’s HR/FB is currently 12%. Ew. Worley isn’t going to overwhelm you. He’ll sink it and cut it, and he’ll add in a slider. His change-up and curveball are there to give batters something else to think about, but as you can see by the heat maps, they’re mainly “get me over” pitches. He’ll throw mainly fastballs, which probably isn’t a good thing for him against this lineup (though Justin Upton isn’t in it).
Paul Maholm is back on the mound today. This is what Paul Maholm is – a solid control pitcher who has enough stuff to be above-average but not dominant. He’ll have the occasional moments of brilliance, but his below-average K rate (19%) leaves him subject to BABiP whims that will also give him the occasional frustrating start. Overall this season, his FIP has been 3.70 along with his 3.83 ERA, so this is who he is. The lineup helping him out today is a little less than spectacular, but it should be enough.
May 20, 2013 at 5:30 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
MVP: Julio Teheran .198 WPA, Dan Uggla .194
LVP: Gerald Laird -.042
Fredi the Tinkerer.
7:10 PM on Sports South
Twins ISO Maps
The Twins don’t have a fearsome lineup. Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, and Aaron Hicks from the left side are nothing to fear. Joe Mauer is an excellent hitter with a high OBP, but he won’t put up a lot of power numbers. Justin Morneau hasn’t been the same for a few years now, and he no longer really strikes fear into anyone. Josh Willingham is the big power threat, but he’s less dangerous against righties. Trevor Plouffe has some pop, but he’s not really a scary hitter. And Chris Parmelee is a decent-ish hitter who isn’t hitting at the moment. So the big bats are right-handed, and the Braves will have to try to avoid letting Mauer on too much.
Kevin Correia’s value is intensely tied to his ability/inability to prevent home runs (or random variation in home runs against, whichever you prefer to believe), and ironically, he’s facing a team whose offensive value is tied to the home run as well. Correia won’t strike out a lot of batters – 10% this season and 15% for his career – and he won’t walk many, either – 4% this season and 8% career. But his home run rate has wavered from well-below average rates in the 6-9% HR/FB range to the 12-14% range, and it’s 9% this season, giving him an acceptable 4.17 FIP. For his career, of course, his rate is almost perfectly average – 10.7% – and I’d expect he’ll head that way eventually. Tonight would be a logical place to start.
Coming off a sweep of the Dodgers, the Braves send Julio Teheran to the hill, and with Gerald Laird catching this one, expect the change-ups to disappear again. The Twins, however, aren’t the best team in the majors, and their offense is predicated on Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, and Justin Morneau hitting. If Teheran can get through that – change-ups would help – he should be okay in this one, and the Braves could find themselves looking at another sweep. They need to take at least 2 of 3 in this series.
May 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
1:30 PM on TBS and FOX Sports South
23-year old Matt Magill will take the hill for his 3rd career major-league start. He features mainly a fastball and a slider, but he will add a change-up to lefties. The righty throws fairly hard – ranging from 91-94 – but his main weakness is his control. During his minor-league career, he never really had a walk rate below 9%, and in his transition to the majors, it’s up to 16%. Obviously, it’s only been two starts and could simply be a rough patch, but with a history of control issues that seem to be popping up in the majors, the Braves need to be patient this afternoon and make him work. The fact that’s it’s loaded with lefties will probably make it more difficult for Magill as his change-up command, the best way t0 neutralize lefties, seems to be all over the place.
Facing Magill will be #StaffAce Mike Minor. Minor has been excellent this season, coming in with an ERA of 2.75 (though his FIP is a run higher), and he has been able to weather early season battles with Detroit, at Colorado, at Cincinnati, and at Arizona. Today’s match-up with LA at home should be a little easier for the lefty. Things are shaping up nicely for a sweep, but the Braves still have to execute.
May 17, 2013 at 5:15 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
MVP: Justin Upton (duh) .425 WPA
LVP: Paul Maholm -.230 WPA
Well, I said these two offenses could hit lefties.
7:30 PM on MLB Network and FOX Sports South
Dodgers ISO Maps
The Dodgers aren’t a terribly impressive offensive team, and the above ISO maps pretty much tell the story. Carl Crawford is having a resurrection season, and he can be a tough guy to pitch to at the top of the order. Nick Punto is Nick Punto. Matt Kemp has been struggling, but he’s still dangerous and apt to get righteous against the Braves. Adrian Gonzalez is an excellent low-ball hitter, but he’s got a hole upstairs (zing). AJ Ellis hits fifth, and he prefers the ball in. Scott Van Slyke is a prototypical mistake hitter, but he’s not much else. And Luis Cruz and Dee Gordon aren’t much to speak of at the bottom of the order, but Gordon might be the fastest guy in the stadium, Crawford included. There’s really no reason Maholm can’t pitch to these guys, but there is some righty pop in the order – Kemp, Ellis, Van Slyke – that could ultimately cause problems.
RYU REEAADAAAAAY. Sorry. I had to. Ryu mad? Don’t be mad. I’m weak. Aaaanyhooo, Hyun-Jin Ryu is having a Rookie of the Year-caliber season in a strong season of NL rookies. With a 25% K rate and a 7% BB rate, Ryu has been exceptional. He doesn’t throw terribly hard, but the lefty from Korea does throw four pitches for strikes while being completely new to hitters. And though he has four pitches, he’s mainly a two-pitch pitcher depending on handedness – FB/SL to LH and FB/CH to RH . Once he goes through the league a few times, I expect that he’ll get hit a little harder and strike out a few less guys, but he’s off to a legitimately excellent start.
I guess we’re past the Paul Glavine phase of the season, but he does still have the best FIP of his career, at least at this point in the season. He’s mainly had 2 disaster starts and several solid ones, so nothing to be worried about. The Dodgers are in the bottom 10 of offenses, but they do quite a bit of damage against LHP (5th in wOBA in MLB). The Braves are 7th, so there might be a few fireworks tonight, especially as we welcome back Jason Heyward to the lineup. This is the first time we’ve seen the fully restructured lineup, and it’s a pretty deep lineup, though I’d love to see everyone moved up a spot and Simmons moved down to 8th. But what can you do?
May 15, 2013 at 10:41 am by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
Pretty much every stat/metric/model produced by “sabermetricians” is an approximation. Batting averages are pretty objective information. There are a number of hits and a number of at-bats, and there’s really no wiggle room on how many have occurred. But wOBA, for instance, is an approximation of the value of those hits. There’s certainly a value to a walk, single, double, triple, and home run, but there’s no “objective” answer. And there are other things that play into offensive production – opposing pitching, parks played in, opposing defenses, etc. – that make the “value” a bit less certain than pure fact. The reason we use these metrics, however, is that they give us a closer approximation of value than “traditional” statistics – batting average, for instance, leaves out walks and doesn’t account for the difference between hits. While they may not be “perfect”, they’re closer to what we really want to know – offensive production/value – than basic counting statistics.
I go over this because defensive metrics are also approximations, not certain facts. Fielding percentage, if you want to grant that all errors are scored correctly, is certain because it’s simply the number of errors over the number of assists and putouts. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that until we start to use it. If you happen to use it for overall defensive value, you have to understand that it fails to account for some things. Fielding percentage tells you the percentage of times an out was made from a ball the player should have converted based on the context of him being prepared to handle it, but it forgets that some players get to more balls (range) or can make throws others can’t (arm). So if you use fielding percentage, you also need to find a way to account for range, etc.
What defensive metrics attempt to do is value a player’s overall defensive skill and value. Instead of looking at errors as we have for eons, they break down what goes into playing defense – range, glove, arm, and arm accuracy … or the ability to turn batted balls into outs. While you may not end up agreeing with the methodology as we talk about it, the logic behind them seems solid. Also remember that there is a significant sample size problem, and it takes closer to 3 years to get a feel for a player’s defensive talent.
Now, how do they measure defensive metrics? We’ll talk about UZR and DRS (to be clear, DRS is Defensive Runs Saved and the run-weighted version of Plus/Minus, which is strictly the number of plays Player A makes more or less than the league average at his position) because those are the most commonly used, but there are others, including BPro’s fRAA. The basics of both statistics are that the field is broken up into a giant grid, and they attempt to measure how many more plays one player at a position makes than another player at the same position in a particular zone. So there’s a league average number of plays made in Zone X, and if you make more or less than that, you are given a certain score. Each zone a player covers is added together, and it’s then converted into runs. If you want the dirty business behind all of it, you can go here for UZR and here for DRS.
Again, this is an approximation. There’s certainly some objective information there – there’s X number of balls hit here, and the player/the league makes Y number of outs of that – but the runs conversion, while researched and such, isn’t a verified fact. But it does give us a run value to look at that is based off of data and research.
But why don’t they match? Here’s one of the biggest issues with these metrics – they don’t always agree. The demon is in the details. They both use BIS (Baseball Info Solutions) batted ball data that will tell them where the ball was hit (zone), what type of batted ball it is (flyball, etc.), and relatively how hard it was hit (soft, medium, hard), and the fact that humans manually do this means human error will be involved. From what I understand, the main difference is how they compare the players to league averages. UZR weighs a three-year average while DRS is season-specific. There are values to both strategies. For UZR, the sample size problem is lessened by using a three-year average for the league, um, average. For DRS, they compare each player to their exact contemporaries and can monitor swings in talent levels. The two systems also account for oddities differently – defensive shifts, whether 1B are on the bag or off, hit-and-runs, how different-handed hitters affect things, etc. – that cause changes.
There are also certain weaknesses to a grid-style metric:
- Positioning plays a part in defense, but I don’t believe it’s tracked in any of the systems. Positioning may or may not be a skill, but either way, not tracking it won’t help us find out.
- Positioning also affects what range looks like. If a player is placed in the hole, he’ll make the play in the hole, and his actual distance covered won’t be measured. It would, however, be nice to know how much ground is covered in a certain amount of time and in which direction. Positioning tells us where the starting point is.
- The batted ball data is a bit sketchy. BIS does its best, but humans do mark the data. They say what kind of batted ball is and how hard it was hit, but those are simply put in as flyball, fliner, liner, ground ball and soft, medium, and hard. It would be nice to know horizontal and vertical angles as well as batted ball velocities.
- Pure arm strength also isn’t measured. It’s measured in making a play from a certain spot and throwing out runners, but wouldn’t it be nice to know the mph of the throw? Also, it might be nice to know if a 1B was constantly having to stretch or dig throws from certain players and whether he could dig them.
The next question is, of course, can anyone do anything about this? Not really. Grids are the only publicly-available data, so unless Trackman or FIELD f/x wants to release data, we’re left with what we have. It’s simply a reality of the situation. Trackman and FIELD f/x have cameras that can identify fielders, angles, distances, time, etc., but the data is private. And until the data is released, it will be impossible to publicly check grids versus cameras, calculate run-value models, and possibly merge grid and camera systems.
So if it’s not perfect, why use it? For one, we need a defensive component to put into a win-value component. To get a proper assessment of a position player’s value, we need a defensive value. It’s that simple. Now, could we adjust how we do it? Sure. Here are a few ways:
- Find a weighted average for a player’s defense. Instead of seeing 2012 Justin Upton as a -2.9 defender, we can look at his two previous years (7.0 and 6.9) and give some sort of weighted average adjustment along with his 2012 season. Simply doing a straight average, Justin would be a 4.6 run fielder in 2012 based off of the raw data. I’m just riffing here, so I’m okay with suggestions on how this would actually work. But just because there’s raw data from that season doesn’t mean that it has to be used like that.
- Or you could just manually change it. Upton was worth 5.3 and 7.9 runs in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and if I wanted to consider his 2012 value of -3.1 an outlier, I could give him an extra 8 or so runs and make his 2.0 pre-adjusted fWAR closer to 3. It’s subjective and not scientific, but it’s not completely illogical. You’re allowed to use your eyes, just not completely trust them. The problem here is that I never remember to go back and do it when doing other research or analysis. You’d have to constantly make that change every time, and we seem to kind of move on once a season is done.
As with any statistic, it’s good to know its strengths and limitations. Defensive metrics aren’t perfect, but they give us a better approximation of value than a simple eye-ball test or fielding percentage. But it’s always good to take it into context and adjust if you feel it should be. If you think Freddie Freeman is an awesome first baseman, then adjust it, but if you do, understand it will come under scrutiny as well. Just don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
This is why analysis necessitates more than just a casual glance. When looking at any decision in life, you take context into account, and you should do so as well when looking at statistics. Defensive statistics may require that you look a little harder and put a little more thought into them, but that doesn’t mean they’re useless. They still tell us something. But yes, there’s a lot of noise in one season of fielding data, and yes that means that the month and half of data so far don’t mean much. Here’s my advice: look at the data, look at multiple defensive metrics and find a pattern of performance, and make a responsible adjustment if needed.
Defensive metrics are relatively new, and in addition to their infancy, it’s the hardest part of the game to analyze and measure. Although they may not be perfect, they are an improvement over what we had before. The world is not black and white, and metrics are not simply right and wrong. We must learn to deal with the grey, and it will make us better people.