Monday, February 22, 2010

Back to Basics: maringal wins and players' marginal revenue product

On this blog I employ many methods and statistics that I don't really make much of an effort to explain. To make my writing a bit more accessible, I'm going to go out of my way to do just that - explain some of the methods I'm using in a series that I'm going to call Back to Basics, which bears no relationship to the Christina Aguilera album of the same name.

When analyzing free agent transactions, I will often remark that Player X will be worth Amount Y to Team Z. The basis for determining the value of a player comes from his contribution to team wins. It has been found, not surprisingly, that team wins are positively correlated with team revenue. Therefore, the marginal revenue that a player provides (by way of marginal wins) constitutes his value to a team.

If signing Player X will bring Team Z $10.5 million in marginal revenue, then Team Z will be willing to sign that player for any amount at or below $10.5 million, which is the point at which Team Z would break even.

Based on this concept of players' marginal revenue product, an equilibrium price for wins will emerge in any given free agent market. In last year's market, one win typically cost $4.5 million. In the 2009-10 market, wins have gone for about $3.5 million. In reality, the value of a win varies from team to team but these numbers serve as a decent starting point for analyzing transactions.

The quantity of wins that a player can be expected to provide is projected with a metric called Wins Above Replacement (WAR). WAR has been explained over at Beyond the Boxscore in greater depth and clarity than I could possibly hope to achieve. My only real beef with WAR is that it doesn't seem to account for baserunning at this point in time. I'll limit my comments on WAR to what I've already said, as WAR is meaty enough to headline its very own Back to Basics post.

The best analysis that I've seen of marginal revenue product applied to baseball is in J.C. Bradbury's The Baseball Economist. You should also check out his blog, Sabernomics.

Melky Cabrera Revisited (plus closure on the never-ending Johnny Damon saga)

As Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited is widely considered to be among the most influential Rock & Roll albums of all time, so shall this post be revered as one of the most influential Melky Cabrera blog entries of all time.

OK, maybe that's overstating it. But I do have an interesting nugget of information to consider along with my well-documented skepticism regarding Mr. Cabrera's chances of making a positive contribution to Atlanta's 2010 playoff push.

Melky Cabrera is a very interesting case, as he has gone from being extremely overrated in New York to being greatly underappreciated as an Atlanta Brave, with much thanks for that owed to the fan base's anger over trading Javier Vazquez. For what it's worth, the CHONE projection system appears to love Melky in 2010. In 562 PA, they have him hitting .296/.367/.441. After considering Melky's defensive contributions, his projected 2010 value based on the CHONE projection is 3.4 wins above replacement (WAR). In case you're keeping score at home, that's 0.2 WAR better than Johnny Damon's 2010 CHONE projection. (For a fantastic primer on WAR, check this out.)

Now, as far as outliers go, CHONE's weighted on base average (wOBA) projection of .358 for Cabrera is a pretty big one. (For a fantastic primer on wOBA, check this out.) The second-most generous Cabrera projection (Bill James) approximates a wOBA of .330. That impressive wOBA seems to be inflated by a .318 BABIP that deviates sharply from his BABIP of .288, .271, and .295 in the past three seasons. But it's not entirely reliant on fluke singles. Bill James projects an ISO of just .128 against CHONE's .145, including 8 more doubles in 50 fewer plate appearances. In 2009, Cabrera registered an ISO of .142 - so CHONE's power projection seems pretty reasonable, especially since Melky is still in the growth phase of his career.

If we adjust Cabrera's BABIP to .300, his triple slash projection drops to .281/.325/.426, resulting in a wOBA decrease of .012, which causes us to adjust his WAR value to 2.7, or 0.5 WAR less than Johnny Damon's projection.

If this estimation of Cabrera's value is in line with the front office's expectations, much of Frank Wren's recent behavior makes sense. No wonder he was lowballing Johnny Damon - he only stood to gain half a win, which can be had for about $1.75 million in this free agent market.

I say all of this to make the following point: even though we lost out on Johnny Damon, he's not so great that his value can't be replaced by a Melky Cabrera who slightly outperforms expectations.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jair Jurrjens to undergo precautionary MRI this week

Word got out on Presidents' Day that Jair Jurrjens would undergo a precautionary MRI on his sore right shoulder. Though club officials are insisting that the procedure is merely prophylactic (team trainers are saying there appears to be no structural damage), there may be some reason for concern in the long term. The 24-year-old Jurrjens has already endured a heavy workload in his brief career, pitching 403 1/3 innings in his two major league seasons.

Additionally, it appears that the increased workload is having a deleterious effect on his base skills. Jurrjens' strikeout rate declined from 6.64 in 2008 to 6.36 in 2009, and his groundball rate dropped from 51.5% to 42.9%.

Still, Jurrjens came on strong in the second half of 2009, so maybe my concern is misplaced. Should Jair's shoulder falter, Kris Medlen will be at the ready to step in for some spot starts.

Jurrjens' 2009 Projections
The Bill James Baseball Handbook: 210 IP, 6.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 3.69 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster: 203 IP, 6.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 3.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Baseball Prospectus/PECOTA: 196 IP, 141 K, 66 BB, 3.72 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
CHONE: 172 IP, 6.8 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 3.82 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Atlanta's courtship of Johnny Damon: is there a Plan B?

With word getting around on Thursday that the Tigers would likely be willing to exceed the Braves' one-year, $4 million offer to Johnny Damon, many journalists reasserted their belief that Detroit is the favorite to land Damon. Yesterday, I calculated that the Braves could go as high as $7.7 million and still get fair value for Damon.

But what if the Tigers do outbid Atlanta? Are there any other remaining free agents left field options for the Braves? Not really. The only thing that comes close is Jermaine Dye, who is projected by CHONE to have a 1.3 WAR season in 2010. That would make him worth about $1.05 million to the Braves in added line-up value.

Dye was sub-replacement in 2009, so any investment here - no matter how small - would bear considerable risk, even if it's only $1.05 million. Garret Anderson was signed to an equally cheap contract in 2009 and was awful. The sunk cost of the contract could have been easily overcome, but Bobby Cox's insistence on having him play 133 games as a sub-replacement player could not.

Should you choose to look more closely at Dye's 2009, you might notice his dramatic platoon splits (.236/.323/.434 vs. RHP, .292/.387/.508 vs. LHP). So it would appear that he might possess some value on the short end of a left field platoon. Perhaps, but not for the Braves. Matt Diaz is a career .347/.384/.537 hitter against lefties, so having Dye steal his at bats would actually be counterproductive.

The only context, then, in which signing Dye might make sense would be if Jason Heyward was going to start the year in AAA. In that case, the Braves might be well-served by a three-way outfield platoon of Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera, and Jermaine Dye. But if you're going to get into the business of assembling platoons, you might as well look toward someone like Jonny Gomes who - despited his limitations as a player - has a much more appropriate estimation of his market value.

UPDATE: FanGraphs also chimed in on why teams are avoiding Jermaine Dye like the plague.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Breakout Candidate: Rick VandenHurk (RHP, Marlins)

You don’t have to be a veteran fantasy player to know that Ricky Nolasco is probably going to be much more valuable in 2010 than his 5.06 ERA in 2009 would indicate. While that information is useful, that’s not a level of analysis about which I’m interested in writing. No, in my Breakout Candidate pieces, I’m going to be looking deeper into the player pool for pitchers that may be had cheaply in deep mixed, NL only, and AL only formats.

With that said, today I’m going to look at one of Nolasco’s teammates, RHP Rich VandenHurk. VandenHurk features a 91-92 MPH fastball, an 84 MPH slider, a 70 MPH curve, and an 84 MPH changeup. In 2009 he went to the slider more than twice as often as he had in previous seasons.

VandenHurk turns 25 on May 22nd and has a three-year MLB K/BB trend of 1.71, 2.00, and 2.33. Given that combination of age and encouraging trends in strikeout and walk rates, VandenHurk may very well be on the verge of a breakout. The one facet of VandenHurk’s game could most easily prevent this from happening is his tendency to give up fly balls. VandenHurk gave up fly balls on 50% of all balls put in play against him in 2009. If you don’t think an extreme fly ball tendency can’t be the undoing of a pitcher with a stellar K/BB, you probably didn’t own Scott Baker last season.

Another source of worry is health. VandenHurk threw just over 100 innings at various levels of the Marlins’ organization in 2009. He missed 60 days with a sore right elbow in 2009.

Here’s what VandenHurk did last year:

MLB: 4.30 ERA, 7.52 K/9, 3.22 BB/9, 58 2/3 IP
AAA: 2.87 ERA, 7.69 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 59 2/23 IP

…And what the leading projection systems think he’ll do this year:

Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster: 125 IP, 7.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 4.18 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Bill James' Baseball Handbook: 121 IP, 8.9 K/9. 3.9 BB/9, 4.39 ERA , 1.36 WHIP
Baseball Prospectus/PECOTA: 125 IP, 113 K, 56 BB, 4.38 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
CHONE: 117 IP, 8.5 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 4.85 ERA, 1.44 WHIP

I’m expecting VandenHurk to end 2010 with an ERA in the low fours, showing up on a lot more radars as a sleeper candidate in 2011 fantasy drafts. If you’re in a keeper league, now is the time to stash. For VandenHurk, it only gets better from here.

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Braves make Damon an offer he might refuse

With rumors that the Braves have offered Johnny Damon a one-year contract hitting the twitterverse on Wednesday afternoon, I thought this might be a good opportunity to look at what Mr. Damon might be worth to the Braves in 2010.

CHONE projects Damon as being worth 3.2 WAR in 2010. Let's suppose the Braves' current left fielder (an amalgamation of Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera, Eric Hinske, and various other fourth outfielders) would be worth 1 WAR in 2010. Signing Damon, then, would provide add 2.2 marginal wins. That would make him worth $7.7 million to the Braves in 2010.

Dave O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting that the Braves' initial offer is for one year at about $5 million, a portion of which would be deferred. If Damon ended up signing for this amount, that would provide the Braves with $2.7 million of consumer surplus. Damon may be even more valuable if those two extra wins are enough to put the Braves in the playoffs. Most forecasts currently have the Braves in the playoff hunt, but not quite in the playoffs.

The Braves' newfound interest in Damon might come as a surprise to those who heeded overmuch Frank Wren's declaration that the Braves weren't planning on making any more player acquisitions this off season. Though the comment angered many Braves fans at the time, in retrospect, it may have been a shrewd move. Wren is, after all, having to wrangle with Scott Boras to try to make Johnny Damon a Brave. Why tip your hand that you're still looking for another outfielder? Boras has already shown that he can produce teams that are interested in his clients out of whole cloth. There would have been little point in allowing Boras to use such a comment to ramp up the perception of demand for Mr. Damon's services.