Wednesday, January 29, 2014

MLB's Most Underrated Team

In response to Brian Kenny...

... below are some thoughts on the 2013 All-Underrated Team:

First Base
Brandon Moss, Oakland A's
Kenny makes a strong choice with Brandon Belt. It seems like Belt's been a part-time player for so long. On the contrary, Belt has compiled impressive numbers in over twelve hundred plate appearances, since his debut in 2011:

Brandon Belt Career Stats (2011-13)
Year PA OBP SLG OPS+ OWn% TotA PwrSpd
2011 209 .306 .412 103 .486 .667 4.5
2012 472 .360 .421 123 .630 .795 8.8
2013 571 .360 .481 142 .689 .832 7.7
3 Yrs 1252 .351 .447 128 .637 .788 24.9
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2014.

Brandon Belt is a fine choice, but we would have chosen Brandon Moss of the Oakland A's. Both play in the the Bay Area and receive less-than-deserved National acclaim. Last year, Brandon Moss hit more home runs (30) than Brandon Belt hit in the past two years (24) and almost in his entire career (33). Many of Moss's advanced rate stats also compare favorably to Belt's...

Brandon Moss 2011-2013 Stats
Year PA OBP SLG OPS+ OWn% TotA PwrSpd
2011 6 .000 .000 -100 .000 .000
2012 296 .358 .596 162 .719 .964 1.9
2013 505 .337 .522 139 .651 .861 7.1
OAK (2 yrs) 801 .345 .550 148 .678 .898 9.1
PHI (1 yr) 6 .000 .000 -100 .000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2014.

Second Base
Daniel Murphy, Mets
Photo by Henry Ray Abrams
How good does an All Star have to be to be underrated? We were going to suggest Jason Kipnis before settling on Daniel Murphy. Few seem to notice how good Daniel Murphy is offensively. This is for at least two reasons. First, the Mets' offense has been largely irrelevant this decade. Second, when thinking of offensive second basemen, most think of Cano, Pedroia, Utley, Kinsler, and Matt Carpenter. People already love Ben Zobrist; he's not underrated anymore. Even Brandon Phillips and Neil Walker seem to have more fans than Daniel Murphy.

Omar Infante, Brian Kenny's choice, has a better slash line than Daniel Murphy. Infante is better in the batter's box, but his base running is not on par with Murphy's, making him a slightly less effective offensive player.

2013 Baserunning Runs Above Average
Daniel Murphy: 6.4 Fangraphs, 5 Baseball-Reference
Omar Infante: 0 Fangraphs, -1 Baseball-Reference

2013 Batting Runs Above Average
Omar Infante: 9 Fangraphs, 7 Baseball-Reference
Daniel Murphy: 4.6 Fangraphs, 5 Baseball-Reference

Among all players who played at least 24% of their games last season at second basemen, Daniel Murphy ranked fourth in hits (188) and stolen bases (23), and fifth in RE24 (see below).

2013 MLB Second Basement by RE24
Rk Player RE24 ▾
1 Matt Carpenter 52.442
2 Robinson Cano 49.746
3 Jason Kipnis 34.926
4 Chase Utley 27.748
5 Daniel Murphy 18.385
6 Ian Kinsler 18.319
7 Dustin Pedroia 13.449
8 Brandon Phillips 13.132
9 Daniel Descalso 10.617
10 Neil Walker 10.055
11 Brian Roberts 8.953
12 Aaron Hill 8.744
13 Ben Zobrist 8.073
14 Mark Ellis 6.980
15 Jordy Mercer 5.786
16 Marco Scutaro 5.659
17 Anthony Rendon 5.051
18 Omar Infante 4.938
19 Scooter Gennett 3.982
20 Brian Dozier 3.155
21 Alberto Callaspo 2.318
22 Mark DeRosa 1.942
23 Eric Sogard 1.540
24 Derek Dietrich 0.371
25 Howie Kendrick -0.746
26 Nick Franklin -2.540
27 Nick Punto -2.693
28 Dustin Ackley -3.183
29 Kevin Frandsen -3.839
30 Donovan Solano -4.399
31 Skip Schumaker -5.229
32 Jedd Gyorko -5.361
33 Jonathan Herrera -6.065
34 Cliff Pennington -6.216
35 DJ LeMahieu -6.558
36 Jurickson Profar -6.720
37 Freddy Galvis -7.782
38 Ryan Flaherty -8.048
39 Dan Uggla -8.853
40 Josh Rutledge -9.198
41 Steve Lombardozzi -9.341
42 Jeff Bianchi -10.132
43 Ramon Santiago -10.816
44 Logan Forsythe -11.816
45 Emilio Bonifacio -12.990
46 Gordon Beckham -14.182
47 Jose Altuve -15.155
48 Jeff Keppinger -16.125
49 Jamey Carroll -17.000
50 Rickie Weeks -17.241
51 Elliot Johnson -17.717
52 Chris Getz -18.064
53 Maicer Izturis -20.153
54 Darwin Barney -33.352
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/28/2014.

Please don't get me started on Darwin Barney.

Shortstop
Jed Lowrie, Oakland A's
Good choice by Mr. Kenny. Everth Cabrera, who has lots of speed and a .355 OBP last season, was under consideration.

Third Base
Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
Having scoured free agent lists and team rosters from around the globe in search of undervalued third basemen for our last post, we feel most confident in agreeing with Brian Kenny at this position. Kyle Seager is a fine choice. Fans around the country are not very familiar with him, but he's probably too good for even the Yankees to be able to trade for him.

Catcher
Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
Again, we agree with Mr. Kenny. At first, it looked like Jason Castro is the most underrated, but his under-the-radar offensive production falls just shy of Lucroy's combination of underrated overall game, particularly with his pitch framing prowess.

Left Field
Carlos Quentin, Padres
Oh man, I really wanted this to be Starling Marte of the Pirates. He's a stud, and while I don't think he has enough fans, he's not as good of a choice as Brian Kenny's choice: Daniel Nava. I was just about ready to agree with Kenny once again before turning my attention to Carlos Quentin. The Padres' left fielder had 216 fewer plate appearances than Nava last year, which could disqualify him to many. I still think Quentin is more underrated. Carlos Quentin's 145 OPS+ is the highest among all players who made at least 200 plate appearances and played at least 33% of their games in Left Field. When averaging the WAR between Fangraphs and B-R, then converting them to rate stats, we get...

2013 avWAR per 650 Plate Appearances
Carlos Quentin: 4.2
Daniel Nava: 2.8

Center Field
Mike Trout, Angels
Photo by Cal Sports Media
Sure, he's widely accepted as the best player in baseball. How can he also be underrated? It seems that, as a whole, we are taking Mike Trout's brilliance for granted. His rookie season in 2012 was so spectacular that we expected his numbers to crash in 2013, and he'd still be one of the best players of the game. Remarkably, Trout matched his 2012 performance with an equally stellar 2013 campaign. How rare is this? Mike Trout leads every offensive baseball player ever, through their age-21 seasons, in Career RE24 and Wins Above Replacement. Hall of Famer Willie McCovey had a 188 OPS+ across 219 plate appearances in his age-21 rookie season. Besides McCovey, Trout has the highest OPS+ among all offensive players with at least 200 plate appearances before the age-22 season.

Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age
1 Willie McCovey 188 219 1959 1959 21-21
2 Mike Trout 166 1490 2011 2013 19-21
3 Ted Williams 161 1336 1939 1940 20-21
4 Albert Pujols 157 676 2001 2001 21-21
5 Jimmie Foxx 157 1302 1925 1929 17-21
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/29/2014.

Basically, Mike Trout is the best player ever.

Right Field
Will Venable, Padres
Photo by Chris Hardy
Shane Victorino had an underrated season last year. Victorino missed some time, and most fans outside of Boston did not realize that he bounced back after a poor showing in 2012. That being said, Shane Victorino has a lot of fans, from Boston to Philadelphia, and all the way to Hawaii. Will Venable is much lesser known. A big key to his success last season, when he hit 22 home runs and stole 22 bases, was Venable's ability to hit lefties. Besides his rare combination of power and speed, Venable's .484 slugging percentage, playing half his games in San Diego, is most impressive.

Split PA HR BA OBP SLG
vs RHP as LHB 405 16 .266 .313 .473
vs LHP as LHB 110 6 .276 .309 .524
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/29/2014.

All in all, we agree with Brian Kenny on half of his selections. I wonder what he thinks of my Moss, Murphy, Quentin, and Trout substitutions? Thanks for reading. How does your most underrated team look?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Yankee Third Base Options

As soon as Alex Rodriguez's 162-game suspension was announced, baseball writers and bloggers speculated as to who'd play 3rd base for the Yankees.

Jay Jaffe summarized internal and free agent candidates to replace A-Rod as"a fairly dismal array of options". Including Kelly Johnson and Brendan Ryan as candidates, Jaffe suggests the Yankees find an upgrade via trade.

Dan Martin, of the New York Post, says the Yankees have few quality options other than Chase Headley from the Padres. Most agree that the Yankees do not have enough prospects to get Headley. It has been widely reported that when the Yankees called San Diego to inquire on trading for an infielder, talks veered away from Chase Headley, towards utility infielder Logan Forsythe.

Kelly Johnson is a good addition.
Bryan Hoch of MLB.com and Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports think Kelly Johnson is poised to take the majority of playing time at the hot corner.

Kelly Johnson is a boom or bust one-trick pony. Expect a notch below Curtis Granderson's production. Kelly Johnson's swing is presumably well-suited for the dimensions of Yankee stadium. Curtis Granderson hit 40 home runs a couple of times in pinstripes, and Johnson might have a chance to top 30. Looking at their stats the past four seasons...

Curtis Granderson (as a Yankee, 2010-13)
2,148 PA, .245/.335/.495, 38 nSB

Kelly Johnson (2010-13)
2,272 PA, .243/.326/.424, 31 nSB

Granderson carried a career .488 SLG when he was traded to the Yankees. We don't expect Johnson to begin slugging .480 or .490, he's been a .427 career slugger.

The Yankees have a roster of infielders, many of whom cannot be expected to stay healthy for more than 120 games, including "starters" Brian Roberts and Derek Jeter. If both of them are out the same day, Kelly Johnson and Brendan Ryan will play up the middle. Third base would be manned by Scott Sizemore or Eduardo Nuñez.

Yankee fans are all too familiar with Nuñez. The best analytic complement for Eduardo Nuñez is that he makes good contact, although he swings at too many pitches outside the strike zone.

Perhaps, the best move would be to keep the Roberts/Johnson time-share at 2nd base, start Brendan Ryan every day at shortstop, and split third base duties between Derek Jeter and Scott Sizemore. Jeter could also DH on days that Alfonso Soriano gets a day in left field or needs a rest.

Sizemore will play.
The Yankees are playing an infield-by-committee strategy wherein having enough brittle players ensures they won't all be hurt at the same time.

Scott Sizemore is another good player with a troubling injury history. Oliver loves Scott Sizemore. Oliver is a simple projection model that takes injury/platoon out of the equation, using 600 plate appearances for all players. Oliver projects a .345 On Base Percentage and 3.8 WAR for Sizemore. That is the highest WAR projection from Oliver for any player mentioned in this essay, including Chase Headley (3.5) and Kyle Seager (3.3). Someone at the Yankees likes this Sizemore guy and has evidence that will look good somewhere in Girardi's Binder. The team is hoping they could rekindle the same kind of magic they had when they hooked up with Eric Chavez in 2012. In case you're curious, Oliver projects 1.7 WAR for Chavez, with more than that coming in from his defense. Oliver projects Chavez to be a below replacement offensive player in 2014.

The average age of Jeter (40), Roberts (36*), Johnson (32), and Ryan (32) will be 35 at the 2014 All Star Game (July 15).

*Roberts will be 37 for the Playoffs

Is an infield of Sizemore (3b), Ryan (SS), Johnson (2b), and Mark Teixeira (1b) a lineup the Yankees would take into October?

Considering the Yankees don't have enough prospects to acquire Chase Headley, we eliminate Kyle Seager from any Yankee fan's dream list. Chase Headley has produced 4.7 avWAR/650 PA from 2011-2013. Seager is at 3.2 avWAR/650, but he is more valuable than Headley becauase he's younger and under team control through 2017. Headley can become a free agent this Fall.

Let's keep looking for further possibilities.

Mustelier looks like Yuniesky
How much potential is in Ronnier Mustelier? He's a Cuban refuge, who has spent the past three seasons in the Yankees' minor league system, and will turn 30 this August. If promoted to the big leagues, Oliver projects just a .318 OBP. Mustelier's past 3-year stats tell a better story, with a .306/.357/.460 slash line in 1,030 plate appearances (over 700 PA's in Triple-A).

After combing through organizational depth charts and free agent lists, we've come up with the following groups of trade targets and free agents, sorted by wOBA from the past three seasons:

Trade Targets 2011-2013 OBP, wOBA, wRC+
Aramis Ramirez, Brewers .363, .376, 136
Josh Satin, Mets .361, .332, 114
Chris Johnson, Braves .329, .333, 108
Jeff Keppinger, White Sox .316, .304, 91
Luis Valbuena, Cubs .316, .299, 83
Pedro Ciriaco, Royals .304, .295, 81
Logan Forsythe, Padres .252, .243, 45

Josh Satin's numbers are a really small sample size, just 249 plate appearances with the Mets. He's had an unsustainable .397 BABiP in that time, so his career numbers should go down with more opportunities. Valbuena and Forsythe at least bring better defensive skill than the other five on this list.

Drew 96 wRC+ (2011-13)
Looking at past 3-year stats for potential free agents, including Stephen Drew, do not look better than trade targets.

2011-2013 OBP, wOBA, wRC+
Michael Young .343, .330, 103
Wilson Betemit .328, .327, 103
Jeff Baker .311, .321, 97
Stephen Drew .322, .318, 96
Justin Turner .327, .310, 97
Chris Nelson .312, .310, 82
Ty Wigginton .309, .303, 81
Jerry Hairston Jr .323, .302, 90
Placido Polanco .320, .289, 78

Michael Young is already much worse than he was in 2011 and trending badly.

Jeff Baker mashes lefties, but his 3rd base defensive is atrocious. Can he hit enough to make up for it? A left side of the infield of Jeff Baker and Derek Jeter would be the worst in the game.

I think he was safe.
Stephen Drew and Justin Turner may provide the highest floor. There's a good chance they produce relatively similarly, and Turner will come at a substantially lower price tag.

Frank Wren, GM of the Braves should be texting and calling Brian Cashman twice a day, in an effort to trade Chris Johnson to the Braves. Atlanta lucked out with Chris Johnson's 2013 season. His .397 BABiP last year is certainly something the Yankees are aware of, but his track record is nevertheless better than just about any other option. Would you take Chris Johnson over Aramis Ramirez for this next season?

Aramis Ramirez is the best option, isn't he? This is the last year of his contract, making $16 million. The Brewers are not likely to contend in a division with St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. Ramirez is far from an iron horse, but if he can sit or DH once in a while, he could see 600 plate appearances.

Yankee fans would love Aramis
Inserting Aramis Ramirez's bat into the Yankees lineup looks great...

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Derek Jeter, SS
Carlos Beltran, RF
Brian McCann, C
Aramis Ramirez, 3b
Mark Teixeira, 1b
Girardi has a solid bench
Alfonso Soriano, DH
Roberts/Johnson, 2b
Brett Gardner, LF

Brendan Ryan, Ichiro Suziki, and Scott Sizemore make a potent bench.

In conclusion, we suggest the Yankees trade for Aramis Ramirez. If they want a lower cost move, they should look at signing Justin Turner or trading for Luis Valbuena.

Without an upgrade at third, Derek Jeter should take some grounders over there. Mostly, we would bolster a plan that relies quite a bit on Scott Sizemore and Ronnier Mustelier.

Let your voices be heard, Yankees fans. What should they do?