The Other Fifteen

Eighty-five percent of the f---in' world is working. The other fifteen come out here.

It's Zell's money, and he needs it now!

Have you just bought a decaying major media corporation with a massive debt load? Is your credit rating reaching junk bond status? Are hedge funds considering $1.26 billion of your debt to be in default?

J.G. Wentworth can help!

J.G. Wentworth can turn your structured Major League Baseball franchise revenue into cash now! Simply sell off stadium naming rights and sell the stadium to the State!

It's your money! Use it when you need it!

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Missing the war

I'm really starting to get annoyed with the faux populism the Sun-Times is showing over Zell's plans to sell the naming rights for the Cubs.

Or maybe that understates things. It started off as annoying, at least - now it's passing over into outrageous. The Sun-Times, to be quite frank, is engaging in the sort of coverage that seems more in line with the days of Hearst than the modern, "objective" era we live in. They're not covering the story, they're creating it:

Even now, a mob clad in Cubbie blue is massing on the North Side, preparing to march to Michigan Avenue and storm Tribune Tower.

Well, it at least felt that way this week, after hundreds of furious Cubs fans e-mailed the Chicago Sun-Times in response to Tribune boss Sam Zell's plan to sell naming rights to Wrigley Field.

At least it felt that way. Conveniently illustrated with a photo of a mob of Cubs fans, designed to evoke the feel of the mob:


And this cute caption: "Hundreds of furious fans have emailed the Chicago Sun-Times in response to Tribune boss Sam Zell's plan to sell the naming rights to Wrigley Field."

I'm sorry, but nobody in that photo is e-mailing anyone. If anything they're welcoming Hitler to Nuremberg.

It's shoddy journalism and it's downright misleading and dishonest. The Sun-Times is exploiting the situation to sell newspapers, and using provocative and outlandish coverage to do it. It's self-serving and irresponsible.

Which isn't even the worst part - it fails to fully cover the issue at hand. Maury Brown, probably the best writer out there at uncovering what's going on over on the business side of sports, gives us the real reason Cubs fans should be concerned:

Sam Zell needs your money, and he’s looking in every nook and cranny to get it.

By now, you’ve heard that Zell (the now owner of the Tribune Co., ergo the Cubs) fully intends on selling off Wrigley Field, thus breaking apart two assets (the Cubs and Wrigley) that are synonymous with each other. He's doing so in an attempt to gain more revenues than the selling of the two as a package would have otherwise garnered.

But, while he does own the Cubs and Wrigley, Zell is looking to maximize the assets to squeeze even more out of the Friendly Confines.


Sam Zell is a business man, and not a business man interested Major League Baseball. Zell's whole direction is one of making money with his investments, either by selling assets or maximizing them. After all, Tribune is in $13 billion worth of debt. He is, no doubt, interested in getting his cash flow working to address that issue.


For fans of baseball -- and surely as the sun rises tomorrow, MLB thinks the same -- the sooner Sam Zell is removed from all things Chicago Cubs the better. While other corporate ownerships have been chastised by some fans for not doing enough to improve the team for the future, Zell isn't interested in anything more than getting as much money out of the Cubs and Wrigley as he can, and doing so yesterday would be nice, if you don't mind.

Go and read the whole article if you have time - it's absolutely fascinating. And then below the article you can find more of Brown's writings about Zell and the Tribune situation.

Zell is attempting to make a quick buck, and he doesn't care how he does it. He is literally mortgaging the future of the Cubs in order to pay off the Tribune's debts. This is why he's selling off anything he can that could conceivably provide the next owner with revenue in the next 30 years. Zell doesn't care about the Cubs; he cares about the massive debt the Tribune carries.

What Zell is doing today could hold down payroll for the Cubs for decades to come. That's the story here, and by obsessing over this populist campaign of theirs instead, the Sun-Times is doing Cubs fans everywhere a massive disservice.

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The continuing saga of Billy Wagner

I swear, this stuff keeps falling right into my lap. More exploits of the human colostomy bag!

JUPITER, Fla. — The Mets were patient with Lastings Milledge along his bumpy learning curve and tolerated plenty of headaches from his off-the-field conduct. But now that Milledge is a member of the Nationals, and again taking shots at his former team, the Mets are through putting up with his behavior. He's not their problem anymore.


There were moments — mostly during Milledge's rookie season in 2006 — when that respect was questioned. Milledge notoriously showed up only an hour before the game's first pitch during a series in Philadelphia, drawing harsh criticism from Wright at the time. Milledge also celebrated a bit too much when he high-fived fans along the rightfield line after a tying home run at Shea Stadium.

Such behavior may have annoyed the Mets, but Billy Wagner said that none of the players held a grudge against him. It was Wagner who hung a sign in Milledge's locker during a series in DC that read, "Know your place, Rook!" And he insists that was nothing more than the type of rookie hazing that everyone endures. In fact, Wagner went as far as to say that Milledge actually got off easy.

"Everyone in the organization babied the heck out of him," Wagner said. "We couldn't get on him too much because we were told to lay off of him. It could have been a whole lot worse for him and all we did was try to help him to help us."

You tell them, Billy Wagner! If it wasn't for the Mets organization, you could have helped Milledge a lot worse!

I mean, that has to give front offices heartburn, right? Scout a guy all through high school, pay him a massive signing bonus, invest years into training him... and then have to worry about what an overgrown kid like Wagner is going to do to screw it all up.

Classy, Billy Wagner. Classy.

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Fukudome has vowed vengeance!

This time, it's personal!

Unlike the first week of camp, the $48 million newcomer clowns with teammates now, even vowing to reporters that he intends to ''get'' clubhouse neighbor Carlos Zambrano for pranks the first few days of camp, agreeing that Big Z is kichigai, or (expletive) crazy.

For those of you who don't know any Japanese... yeah, kichigai isn't exactly subtle or polite. It's a lot closer to being a swearword, and I'm not certain how that comment got printed in Japanese newspapers.

Of course, this is an occasion for bad Photoshop time:


You don't have to tell me that sucks; I know.

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What today meant

If you're in a hurry, I'll save you the trouble of reading the rest of the post: Today's game meant absolutely nothing.

Oh, sure, it was fun to see baseball again and hear Pat and Ron. It was exciting to see the team score so much, and it was nifty to get a win. Winning is always better than losing, after all. I enjoyed the entire thing tremendously. And why not? Once a week or so - maybe more - during the regular season I'll follow the I-Cubs on Gameday. I have absolutely no trouble getting excited for a meaningless baseball game.

But that's what today's outing was - utterly meaningless. More so than a AAA or AA game, really; maybe even as meaningless as the Arizona Fall League or the Dominican Winter League.

Royals Review - always entertaining, by the way - has a nice read on why spring training stats are so meaningless. The short version: they aren't real baseball games. One inning, you could be facing a AAA journeyman, the next, a High-A prospect. Often guys aren't playing to win - you can bet that guys who have their jobs sewn up don't give max effort, saving themselves for the games that matter. Pitchers who have a specific pitch they want to work on or need to feel more comfortable with will throw that pitch regardless of count, batter or situation. Your average AAA journeyman (what we like to call a "replacement player") can make nice, solid contact if they know you're throwing nothing but your split-finger and they sit there and cheat on it.

And besides, the parks down in Arizona don't resemble major-league parks very much (not even Chase Field). They're exceedingly high offense. Teams will play around with moving players to positions to gauge their comfort levels, so you can sometimes see an utter travesty of a defensive alignment. And to top it all off, everything's an extremely small sample size.

So Ryan Theriot got three hits today. Does that tell us anything that we didn't know about him before? Mike Fontenot hit a home run in an extreme home run park - did anyone think he couldn't? We know absolutely nothing today that we didn't yesterday - anything we think we've learned is just us projecting our hopes and prognostications onto events that can't possibly mean what we think they mean.

So just relax, and enjoy. Because we don't know what we think we know.

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Pasturized imitation link product

It's a slow news day, so Fred Mitchell talks about Lee Elia's famous rant. This site is named after that rant, so I feel obligated to mention it.

The Cub Reporter has moved. Apparently they felt like they weren't able to swear enough as members of MVN. This is their third location in the past year or so - maybe one day they'll get blog-wives and settle down or something, maybe hook up with a nice Chicago Bandits blog and have some blog-children.

An object lesson as to why you should avoid forums at all costs. "Your linear weights are too generic for me. I'm just going to subtract CS from the numerator of OBP and add SB to the numerator of SLG!" Help me I am in hell.

The box score for today's game is here. It should update live. Or be a true rebel, and visit the Secret Gameday Link. I make no warranty, guaranteed or implied, about what should happen if you follow that link. Gameday isn't officially operating yet.

And a warning to commenters - anyone caught complaining about the lineup of a spring training game on this blog will be summarily hung without trial.

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News crumbs

It's Cactus League Opening Day Eve for the Chicago Cubs, and that means... flavorless recaps of the same news that us "obsessive" fans have been reading for months, repackaged for those fair-weather fans that know little about the offseason, except we got some guy named Fukudome.

But buried in the styrofoam peanuts of news coverage are some real tidbits of info.

P-Sully says that Fukudome wants to steal more bases. Yes, because obviously this is the best time to try and add a new element to your game. Thanks, Lou. Oh, and:

Rich Hill, who didn't walk one batter in Cactus League action last spring, is working on a new delivery.

"Just trying to quicken it up, take away some of the running game," the left-hander said.

Piniella said Hill will use the delivery "whether people are on base or not. I think that's going to help him. He has a nice bright future."

Am I the only one who remembers how Larry Rothschild's last foray into helping Hill control the running game fared?

Oh, and:

Felix Pie has a slight lead over Sam Fuld for the job in center field, but both could be overtaken by a surprise choice if the Cubs decide to trade for Boston's Coco Crisp.

On that note, folks, I've come into a source of my own, and I have a little nugget to pass on. Derrek Lee has the first baseman's job wrapped up going into spring training, but he could be overtaken by a surprise choice in Daryle Ward if he's eaten by the Loch Ness Monster.

Oh, and over at The Cub Reporter, AZ Phil says that Lou was "transfixed" by Murton in BP. Seems like he's driving the ball with a lot of authority in BP. Which... gee, a patient hitter with decent doubles power developing into a better power hitter as he enters his Age 26 season? Nope, absolutely no way that resembles the standard aging curve for an MLB hitter. No way that you could predict this at all!

Next you'll be telling me that maybe, just MAYBE, his ability to MOVE may have meant he was a better defensive outfielder than Floyd and Ward last season, too!

I have decided there's only one way to adequately describe my feelings about this:


That's right - the road alternate jersey!

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Or at least that's how I'm reading this, anyway:

Forget the Phillies. Billy Wagner nearly started a beanball war with the University of Michigan after one overzealous Wolverine tried to bunt on him in the fourth inning. With a runner on second and one out, centerfielder Kevin Cislo pushed his bunt foul.

Wagner, clearly annoyed, shook his head a number of times, and Cislo wisely swung away, grounding out. Wagner said he couldn’t believe that Cislo, a junior, bunted.

“If he got that bunt down, I would have drilled the next guy,” Wagner said. “Play to win against Villanova.”

Glad to see that the "steely resolve" and "closers mentality" can be so rattled by a skinny little kid hitting .364/.445/.426 in college ball. Fear his .062 ISO, Billy Wagner!

And I'm sure loading the bases with one out really would've taught Cislo a lesson, Billy Wagner.

I just can't get over this. I now really, really hate Billy Wagner.

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TBS announces Sunday baseball lineup

At least, the April and May lineup. If you miss Chip Caray, well, you'll get to hear him doing the Cubs again April 13th, at Philadelphia.

What I don't know yet is what this means for regular Cubs Sunday broadcasts - will there be blackouts? I need to do some more reading.

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This is called "overvaluing your asset"

Purportedly the Rangers wanted Ceda or Veal in any trade for Marlon Byrd.

Marlon Byrd! Well, I guess you have to pay a real premium for scarcity, and Byrd is one of the scarcest of things in baseball: an ethnic minority with intangibles! He provides "leadership." Yeah, because his leadership has really benefited the Rangers so far.

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So now we know why the Trachsel trade happened

Jim Hendry has a clause in his contract that gives him a one-year extension if the team is sold.

And this is just now coming out? Huh.

It has begun!

Sweet holy Jesus, they're playing baseball!


Looking at forecast accuracy

I love player forecasts. Absolutely love them. But something's been bugging me for a while about them.

Several studies of forecast accuracy have been done; a good rundown of them is here. They all share one rather common flaw, however: all of them have excluded players below a certain level of playing time. I understand why it's done that way; pick your poison on how you want to evaluate ballplayers, and all of them require a certain sample size before you can have confidence you're approaching true-talent level. But we're introducing a bias here in only looking at forecasts where players were good enough to receive sufficient playing time to make it into the sample.

Why is this bad? Well, let's suppose we wanted to try and game our system to beat the test. (I want to note: I'm not accusing any forecaster of doing this; the people behind any of the forecasting systems I'm likely to mention here have track records of being reputable and "above board".) Here's what you would do: you'd set a "floor" to your forecasts, because any player below that floor is likely to fall out of the sample given the constraints of the evaluation.

Again, I don't think anyone is doing this. But there are other possible reasons a forecasting system could be too rosy, and the studies I linked to above would do an imperfect job of capturing that.

So how can we leave our bad/part-time players in the sample, while still addressing our sample size concerns? Well, instead of using a simple correlation, we can use a weighted correlation instead of a standard correlation, using the formula provided here. I also tested weighted average error. Both were weighted by plate appearances. [I won't lie to you - I avoided using RMSE because quite frankly it scares me and I have no idea what it's doing; I am after all a liberal arts major.]

I took all players in the Baseball-DataBank who hit but didn't pitch in 2007. (This means "two-way players" like Scott Spezio got left out of the sample. I'm willing to live with this.) I calculated wOBA (using the weights provided) for all of those players, for both the 2007 results and the Marcels forecast. For all players not given a projection by Marcels, I used the average wOBA of .338.

(Why Marcels? Because it was readily available and because it comes with IDs for all players that I can easily cross-reference with the Databank. PECOTA and ZiPS don't have IDs listed in the spreadsheet, and I can't get the 2007 CHONE projections at all.)

So, how did the monkey fair? Not well, I'm afraid:

CorrelationAvg. Error

Marcels is just as described above. Marcels_2 excludes those players for which Marcels did not provide an actual forecast. Marcels_3 reduces the projected wOBA to bring the forecasts in-line with the league average (a shockingly low .313 - I triple-checked those figures before I proceeded with the rest of the study).

[As for how to read those numbers: average error is how close Marcels came, expressed in points of wOBA. Correlation measures how closely vectors representing the two datasets match up, measured from -1 to 1. Jacob Cohen's guidelines for interpreting a correlation say that from .30 to .49 is a "medium" correlation; these are simply guidelines.]

The next step should be to add in one of the more "advanced" forecasting systems and see if they're any better than the monkey. I'll also be publishing the full dataset used so that people can... well, probably criticize my methodology. It's late and I'm tired of wrestling with EditGrid vs. Excel issues, so here's the data used, without any of the math that figures out correlation or average error.

(Special thanks to Larry Garfield for some help with SQL queries.)

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Everyone is in the best shape of their lives

A great look at spring training cliches.

A sea change

There is a blog post waiting to be written, flaming the Cubs and Piniella for refusing to consider the youngsters for the rotation:

"We're going to pitch them here in spring training, but this is not a year for this," Piniella said when asked specifically about right-hander Sean Gallagher and, by extension, other young starters in camp. "I hate to say that, but we've got veteran pitchers here to consider; they're going to get every chance, first and foremost.

"We like Gallagher. I like (Jeff) Samardzija. Good young starters with good young arms, but truthfully not coming out of camp. I'd be lying if I said that something like that would happen.

"We've got seven veteran starters. They're all healthy. They're all throwing the ball well, and they're all going to compete. Unless we have a streak of bad luck where we have some injuries, this is not the spring for (young pitchers)."

This won't be that post. Maybe in the morning, but not tonight.

I just want to note - the Cubs used to be a franchise that was focused on developing young pitching. And for a while we were very good at it. We still seem to be developing some nice, young starting pitching.

So it's very unnerving, for me at least, to see the Cubs so thoroughly abandoning that approach. Maybe it's for the better, but I don't have to like it.

The other interesting bit to that narrative:

Piniella has bumped right-hander Ryan Dempster up to the No. 3 spot in the rotation behind Carlos Zambrano and left-hander Ted Lilly.

The Sun-Times puts it a bit less strongly:

For now, right-hander Carlos Zambrano and left-hander Ted Lilly are locked into the 1-2 spots, with lefty Rich Hill taking No. 4 and Piniella looking for a righty among Marquis, Lieber and Ryan Dempster for the No. 3 spot.

If Dempster, who looks like the early favorite for the third spot, instead becomes the odd veteran out, he could return to the bullpen.

And the Trib is also a little more tentative:

Converted closer Ryan Dempster is the early front-runner to grab the No. 3 spot behind Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly, while Rich Hill has already sealed the No. 4 spot. The main battle is expected to be between Jon Lieber and Jason Marquis for the fifth spot, with Sean Marshall as the dark-horse candidate.

But where there's smoke, there's probably fire.

Now, the Cubs employ a great many scouts that are much better at these things than I am, and are actually in Mesa. So if they say that Dempster looks impressive, well... then he probably looks impressive, at least. There's an information asymmetry here, so for now I guess I have to take their word for it.

And PECOTA, for one, sees a lot of upside to Dempster, as well as a lot of downside. And, well, I love upside risk. Absolutely love the hell out of upside risk. So I'm willing to ride this out for a while and see where it goes. Just so long as everyone understands that this could end very badly.

And this is all very premature - remember who won the fifth starter competition last season between Mark Prior, Neal Cotts and Wade Miller?

But let's presume that Dempster is our number three starter to start the season and run with it. That leaves Marquis and Lieber "fighting" for the fifth starter's job. Now, let's put on our intuitive thinking caps and figure this out:

  1. The Cubs knew that Dempster was getting a shot at the rotation.
  2. They signed Jon Lieber anyway.
  3. Lieber signed with the Cubs despite other offers from teams without so much starting pitching depth.

So... who here thinks that Jason Marquis is the odd man out?

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Your team sucks! Keep buying newspapers!

So, Rick Morrissey has written one of those articles you write when you just want to make sure nobody thinks you're a homer. You know, because all of the professors in J-school who got disgusted because you decided to cover sports instead of "hard" news are following your every move and making sure you don't forget everything they taught you in "Introduction to Newswriting." Jay Marriotti is famous for it.

The background: The Bears just resigned quarterback Rex Grossman to a one-year, incentive-laden contract. He'll compete with Kyle Orton for the starter's job; weak-armed backup Brian Griese is going to be cut loose before the team takes a cap hit off of him. Now, for Morrissey:

Cubs fans can tell you all about hope — how to embrace it, how to find sustenance in it and, as an added bonus, how to make paper dolls out of it once the season goes to pieces.

But what are Bears fans supposed to do with hope? Close their eyes and ignore the fact that Rex Grossman just signed a one-year contract to stay with the team?


If you thought last season was tough, when the Bears couldn't put together a two-game winning streak until the end of the year, this off-season could turn out to be worse. The only thing that kept people going last year was the Bears' contention that 2007 was a sad, unfortunate fluke and that good times were right around the corner.

Thank you, Rick, for that wonderful and uplifting piece. I'm sure your J-school professors are very proud of you for not going native. But on the other hand, something about "personal integrity" and "facts" needs to come into play here.

If you're going to ask the question, "What are the reasons to have hope for next year?" aren't you kind of obligated to at least address the following:

  • The Bears have released underperforming, high-paid players like Muhsin Muhammad, Fred Miller, Reuben Brown and Darwin Walker. That frees up quite a bit of cap space to allow the Bears to fill holes.
  • The release of Miller and Brown means that the Bears aren't ignoring their problems on the O-line last season, and it's hard to see how it matters who's throwing the ball if pass protection is poor and the run game nonexistant. The Bears had one of the worse run blocking units in the NFL last season. Of course, part of that is because the guys running from behind the line were inadequate. Which leads us to...
  • The Bears aren't planning on Cedric Benson as featured back next season, which can only help matters. It's hard to grade this until we see exactly what the Bears plans are at running back, but it would be hard not to upgrade; Cedric Benson was close to being the worst running back in the NFL last season, and Adrian Peterson (not Purple Jesus, the other one) only looked good when your point of comparison was Cedric Benson.

So that's your cause for hope: you get better blocking and better running and you stop being so one-dimensional, and so you don't have to rely on the quarterback as much. And you force defenses to loosen up a bit, because you have a more diverse offensive attack. And then you hope the Bears can find some reinforcements for the defense while they're at it.

It's a tall order; it's made taller by the fact that Lance Briggs, Bernard Berrian and Brendon Ayanbadejo are all threats to leave in free agency. And the great mystery of Brian Urlacher's health is out there. This is a team with a lot of questions, and next season could end up being bad. You can certainly make the case for Morrissey's conclusions, that the team isn't very good and isn't close to contending.

But it should be an honest case, and that means mentioning the facts that run counter to your argument, even if that just means refuting them or putting them into context. It's probably too much to ask, but it shouldn't be.

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The defensive prism

One of the things that seems to escape people about Bill James in particular, and "sabermetricians" in general, is that it's not necessarily about the numbers, but about what the numbers mean - the numbers are a tool, not the objective.

So what's the objective? To come up with the Truth - the truth about baseball. Honest-to-God objective truth. To do that, we need to use statistics - but those are just some of our tools. Better, clearing thinking doesn't necessarily need to be expressed in numbers to have power.

One concept of James that wasn't necessarily a statistic - but very much a part of sabermetric thinking - was the defensive spectrum. Simply put, some positions are harder to play than others. And players tend to move in one direction along the spectrum much more frequently than they do the other.

So it occurred to me the other day while doing the dishes that, as there are seven positions on the defensive spectrum, there are seven colors on the "traditional" spectrum. (Separating Indigo and Violet is cheating, but whatever.) So I color-coded the positions, and sorted them in the graph you see below according to runs saved. I used Sean Smith's Combined Zone Rating for reasons I can't really articulate. My defensive spectrum is backward - I have shortstops all the way on the left and first basemen all the way on the right. (Or I would, if there weren't some third basemen and left fielders determined to make it over there.) And I promoted center fielders to second on the spectrum, at the expense of second basemen.

These aren't the raw numbers - I gave everyone a positional adjustment, same as I use for calculating WAR. Same positional adjustments, actually. And I narrowed it down to 250 players, because of limitations in Excel and the roundabout way that I made the chart. I simply selected the players with the most balls in zone. And here it is:


Is this meaningful? Useful? I have no earthly idea. The Zone Rating data I used is hardly the best defensive metric out there, although it may have been the best I had available in a convenient spreadsheet form for all of 2007. (PMR doesn't come in a convenient spreadsheet, and full 2007 UZR is not yet available.)

And all the usual caveats apply. There are things that Zone Rating doesn't capture to defense - throwing ability for outfielders, the double play for infielders, receiving skills for first basemen. And there are specific elements to fielding certain positions that the defensive spectrum doesn't capture - arm strength for right fielders versus left or center fielders, for example. Or handedness: left handers are generally kept from playing short, second or third - all of them premium defensive positions.

But I find it fun to look at, at least. Consider this to be me thinking aloud.

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Ranking shortstops for 2008

People often say, "You can't have an All Star at every position!" Know this (tattoo it on yourself where you'll see it if you think you'll forget): any time this is brought up, you're talking about a crappy ballplayer. I mean, seriously. Nobody starts off conversations about good ballplayers that way. It's some sort of red flag that people want to keep a baseball player on the field for non-baseball reasons.

Apply that sort of thinking to your everyday life. Say your kid brings home a report card with an F on it. How would you react if he said, "You can't have an A+ in every class!" Or say your spouse is responsible for making dinner and sets it (and the kitchen) ablaze. "You can't have filet mignon at every meal!"

I'm not asking for straight As, and I'm not asking for fancy French cooking. I'm asking for the shortstop equivalent of a C, or some chili macaroni Hamburger Helper. I'm looking for average. It's a total straw man argument.

To go ahead and illustrate my point, I've compiled a list of what I've supposed to be the starting shortstops for every team in the majors, and calculated Wins Above Replacement using Sean Smith's projections. [In the case of the Angels and the Nationals, I've used two shortstops.] I've also included perpetual Cubs fan favorite, the Great Destroyer himself, Ronny Cedeno.

I held playing time constant for all players, and have not used any park adjustments. Both of those (false) assumptions would tend to favor Ryan Theriot in comparison to other shortstops.

Cubs players are in bold.

Troy TulowitzkiCOLNL0.35614.004.06
Miguel TejadaHOUNL0.3730.003.74
Jose ReyesNYMNL0.3496.002.98
Jimmy RollinsPHINL0.3552.002.95
Jason BartlettTBAAL0.3213.002.50
Hanley RamirezFLANL0.375-17.002.35
JJ HardyMILNL0.348-1.002.31
Adam EverettMINAL0.28331.002.10
Derek JeterNYAAL0.358-15.002.07
Khalil GreeneSDNNL0.337.002.05
Jhonny PeraltaCLEAL0.345-8.001.99
Jack WilsonPITNL0.3277.001.88
Michael YoungTEXAL0.352-14.001.84
David EcksteinTORAL0.3233.001.78
Edgar RenteriaDETAL0.33-2.001.71
Rafael FurcalLANNL0.3311.001.57
Macier IzturisLAAAL0.333-6.001.52
Yunel EscobarATLNL0.34-6.001.43
Orlando CabreraCHAAL0.323-1.001.43
Alex GonzalezCINNL0.3234.001.40
Ronny CedenoCHNNL0.331-1.001.40
Stephen DrewARINL0.339-6.001.38
Julio LugoBOSAL0.321-3.001.14
Bobby CrosbyOAKAL0.3066.001.13
Omar VizquelSFNNL0.30210.000.80
Ryan TheriotCHNNL0.3121.000.55
Yuniesky BetancourtSEAAL0.312-5.000.48
Tony PenaKCAAL0.27910.000.03
Cesar IzturisSLNNL0.2952.00-0.28
Christian GuzmanWASNL0.31-9.00-0.45
Felipe LopezWASNL0.316-13.00-0.48
Erick AybarLAAAL0.288-10.00-1.25
Luis HernandezBALAL0.2681.00-1.36

So, when I say that almost anybody would be an improvement on Ryan Theriot, I'm not exaggerating or showing some sort of bias against scrappy white guys. He's not the worst starting shortstop in the majors, but he's not too far away.

Now, obviously this is based upon projections of performance, and those projections could be wrong. The projections on offense are probably more reliable than the projections on defense. But that's as true for Troy Tulowitzki as it is for Luis Hernandez. Unless you have a specific reason that the projections are underrating Ryan Theriot relative to the other shortstops in baseball, I don't see a reason to think he'll be very good for the Cubs next year.

He's an average defender at shortstop - he's got sure hands, even if his range isn't very good; not a butcher like Michael Young or Hanley Ramirez, but not a solid defender like Troy Tulowitzki or Omar Vizquel. At the same time he's not a very good hitter - he's not as bad as the Felipe Lopez/Christian Guzman contingent, but he's certainly not even in the vicinity of the Orlando Cabrerra/Alex Gonzlez "respectable but not spectacular" benchmark. He does nothing particularly well.

The worst part of it is, you do not need a lot of advanced metrics to figure this out. The fact that his defense is good but not spectacular should be readily obvious to the armchair scouts out there; Cubs fans voting in the Fan's Scouting Report pretty much came to that conclusion. Cubs fans are equally able to figure out his deficiencies on offense; the Community Projections over at Bleed Cubbie Blue were very much in line with what other projection systems were saying.

In fact, let's rerun his WAR, this time using nothing more than the collected wisdom of Cubs fans. Converting the Fans' Scouting Report to runs using Tango's method puts Theriot at plus 7 runs; for a projection we really should factor in aging and regression to the mean, but screw it. Fans project Theriot to have a .316 wOBA, a whole four points above CHONE. That works out to a WAR of 1.29 - certainly more optimistic than what I have here, but far from outstanding.

As a group, Cubs fans seem very able to figure out Ryan Theriot's absolute value as a player. So why do they seem so unable to grasp his relative value? Maybe it's just a case of the vocal minority skewing my perception of Cubs fans, I dunno.

As a bonus, some quick, largely non-Cubs related, thoughts:

  1. Troy Tulowitzki is an absolute monster. The second-best defensive shortstop in the game, and a solidly above-average hitter? There's a Coors Field effect in there, but damn.
  2. Plus 31 runs for Adam Everett? Holy crap. If you can think of a more underrated player in all of baseball, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
  3. Tejada shows up rather better than I thought he would. Without knowing the precise aging curve that Sean Smith used for his defensive projections, I'd have to be tempted to take the under on that projection, though.
  4. Erick Aybar is just bad. Just... bad. I really wonder what the Angels are planning to do about that.
  5. The Red Sox can't be happy about the Julio Lugo signing right now.
  6. What the hell, Cardinals? Cesar the Wonder Out is making $2.85 million on a one-year deal; Eckstein is making $4.5 million on a one-year deal. There's almost no way that the difference in performance between the two is worth $1.5 million - and it's possible that Eckstein would have given the Cardinals a hometown discount. Especially given Eckstein's marketing potential for the Cards (he's absolutely beloved by them), this is just stupid on their part.

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The great Cubs/Orioles rivalry has begun!

Forget about a Roberts trade now. This is war.

By the way, I feel so much better about the Cubs starting rotation, now that I know he was once selected to the All-Star Game. Clearly the Cubs just need to return him to the role where he was an All-Star, and it'll flow!

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The magic of Wrigley

Well, today is the start of Cubs ticket sales, which means the absolute hell that is the Virtual Waiting Room (I exaggerate, but not by a whole lot). The good news is, I've got myself a date with Wrigley this summer.

Now, if you've never been to Wrigley, you may think you know about it from the television - and to a large extent, you really do. Most of the stuff that you don't see on the TV is the part of Wrigley that you really don't want to see. The concourse is something of a travesty, really - it's dark, grey and lifeless, and the steel trough urinals are a wild throwback, probably to a 1970s correctional facility.

Now, it's been a while since I've been to see a game with our local Low A team, the Quad Cities Angels Cubs Angels River Bandits Swing River Bandits, but I'm pretty sure that Municipal Park John O'Donnell Stadium Modern Woodmen Park has better amenities in the bandstand than Wrigley does, based on hazy childhood memories. (This could be related to the fact that they have adopted a more liberal naming rights policy than the Cubs have.)

But when you actually get out to the seating and gaze upon the field, well... there's a kind of magic.

And I can hear you now: "But Colin, you're a sabermetrician! How do you know anything about magic? I thought you people just looked at spreadsheets!"

And that's just silly. Of course I know about magic, you fools! I read all about it in my Dungeon Master's Guide!

Wrigley Field is probably some sort of high-level fascination spell, probably a custom one made with epic spell seeds. (It's probably persisted as a sort of wondrous item; I'd actually be willing to wager that Wrigley itself is some sort of a major artifact.) I'd bet the Will Save DC to avoid being fascinated by Wrigley is at least a 40. I'm not really up on my epic-level spell creation, so if any of you are more well-versed in these matters let me know.

(For you pedants out there: Yes, I know that's the 2nd Edition DMG. Yes, I know I cited the 3.5 Edition rules for fascination. Yes, I know the rules for fascination (and magic in general, really) are in the Player's Handbook, not the DMG. I just want to warn you right now that I've contingencied an Empowered Maximized Ennervation spell that casts itself on any nitpickers that pop up in the comments. We cool? We cool.)

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When the Pittsburgh Pirates break down, the Pirates don't eat the tourists


Did the little one not teach you the value of avoiding an infield predator?

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There are some things that computers are very good at doing:

Things computers cannot do, due to their innate complexity:

Oh-kay. Let's hear it from Cap'n Jetes himself:

"Maybe it was a computer glitch," the three-time Gold Glove winner said of the report. But Jeter just didn't laugh this one off. He defended himself, saying, "Every [shortstop] doesn't stay in the same spot, everyone doesn't have the same pitching. Everyone doesn't have the same hitters running, it's impossible to do that."

Jeter, 33, pointed out you can get the exact same ground ball off the exact same pitcher and there could be an average runner or there could be Ichiro running. "How can you compute that?" he asked.

That's an interesting question, Derek Jeter! Obviously there's no way that computers could know who the baserunners are on a batted ball! It's not as though a meticulous, play-by-play record of the events on a baseball field are kept.

Well, except for Retrosheet. And the BIS data and the STATS, Inc. data. And the MLB Gameday data you can download as XML files. So there's only several hundred ways we can compute all of the extra variables that Derek Jeter is talking about.

But still: Derek Jeter, more compicated than astrophysics or the human genome!

(Hat tip: Tango.)

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Throwdown to Showdown! Pie vs. Fuld

Okay, so apparently the big storyline in Mesa so far this year is the epic battle between Felix Pie and Sam Fuld. Anyone willing to gag me with a spoon now will have my eternal gratitude.

But even in the context of this asinine little contest, Gordon Wittenmyer has gone too far:

Neither has big-time major-league power, a fact better recognized by Fuld, who has less spectacular minor-league numbers but is a more accomplished hitter with a smaller strike zone that he uses to his advantage. EDGE: Fuld.


Let's review. 2007, AAA Iowa, center fielders. FIGHT!

Felix Pie 248 .367 .413 .571 .984 .417
Sam Fuld 63 .296 .397 .442 .839 .375

So, let me get this straight - the "more accomplished" hitter is the one that came up to AAA, put up some very fluky numbers (given his AA performance) in a small sample size, and STILL is .145 points of OPS behind Pie? Or maybe they're talking about accomplishments in the majors - and, well, Pie's .601 OPS there is rather pathetic, sure. But it still dwarfs .333, which is what Fuld is sporting.

Just to make sure that we're on the same page here, let's check the dictionary:

ac·com·plished (ə-kŏm'plĭsht)

  1. Skilled; expert: an accomplished pianist.
  2. Having many social graces; polished or refined.
  3. Unquestionable; indubitable: That smoking causes health problems is an accomplished fact.

I'm guessing that Wittenmyer is trying for the first meaning of the word. Which... no. Maybe if you'd used disciplined, I'd buy... but no. This isn't a freaking beauty pageant here - I do not care if you cringe at how utterly hacktastic Pie is at the plate, he has more skill as a hitter than Sam Fuld.

Oh, and as far as Fuld recognizing his power difficency more than Pie - well I'd freaking hope so. He's 30 or so points behind Pie in Isolated Slugging, best-case scenario. And Fuld is a lot closer to the peak age for power hitting than Pie.

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A look at plate discipline

Reader DeRoMyHero asked:

Is there any way to judge a "good walk rate" (a.k.a. "plate discipline)? After all, not all walks are equally good for hitters or bad for pitchers.

1. For Rickey Henderson or Tim Raines, a walk is almost always good. Even though both had some power (especially Henderson), they created more problems by just getting on base.

2. For Barry Bonds, a walk (particularly with RISP) is usually bad -- especially with Pedro Feliz behind him. Maybe he should have expanded his SZ a bit, trading a few more outs for more RBI potential. Was he selfish to guard his stats at the expense of the team, or would his performance have slipped too much?

3. For some aggressive hitters (Aramis Ramirez, Michael Young), trying to get them to draw more walks would diminish their overall effectiveness. They do so much damage with fastballs early in the count that a walk would be a consolation prize.

4. A cleanup hitter like Adam Dunn accomplishes less with a walk than a leadoff hitter. The guy behind him likely is not as good of a hitter, and it takes at least 4 singles to score Dunn from 1B. Would he do more damage by being more aggressive?

5. A #8 hitter has to adjust based on the situation, i.e., he must be capable of being patient or aggressive. I ask this because I have seen reviews of Tyler Colvin that say he "needs more plate discipline". If he can produce like Michael Young when he swings, who cares?

Conversely, the Rangers have a young DH named Jason Botts, who has made a living in AAA of taking pitchers 3-2, then hitting the cripple fastball. (He is Adam Dunn with more speed -- BB, K, HR.) The jury seems to be out on whether he can hit anything other than a fastball down the middle -- a requirement in the ML, especially as a DH.

Has anyone come up with a way to analyze good walk rates based on type of hitter or spot in the batting order?

Nothing quite like a simple question, right?

First, a quick aside. When it comes down to winning games, we really don't care where a player's value comes from, just so long as he provides that value. You can have an all-glove, no-hit shortstop and a stone-handed Silver Slugger at the position - so long as their overall value is equivalent there's no difference in value between them.

Where the how becomes valuable is in player development and forecasting. You worry about how a player creates his value when you want to try and figure out what value he'll provide in the future, and how you can maximize his future value.

Okay, now back to bidness. First, we need to see if the premise is true - are some walks more valuable than others? To figure that we need a tool to value walks in relation to other events on offense.

I've made no secret of my deep and abiding love for linear weights. Simply put, linear weights are simply the average expected run value of an event. But we know that the run expectancy value of a triple is very different depending on whether or not the bases are loaded or empty - the linear weight tables used in, say, wOBA or Batting Runs don't look at the base/out state information when determining value. But nothing stops us from doing so.

[If you want to get more deeply into these things, Win Probability Added is the stat for you. Suffice it to say that there is a sabermetric holy war over WPA that is well beyond the scope of this article.]

Let's ignore out state for a moment and just look at run values based on men on base, which is what we're talking about here - the question is distinctly asking about the difference between Runs and RBIs, essentially.

Baserunners 1B 2B 3B HR BB K Out
--- .29 .49 .68 1.00 .29 -.20 -.20
x-- .49 .97 1.36 1.74 .43 -.32 -.36
-x- .72 1.00 1.16 1.60 .23 -.39 -.34
--x .72 .86 1.00 1.51 .21 -.48 -.29
xx- .93 1.54 1.94 2.38 .56 -.52 -.48
x-x .88 .93 1.77 2.22 .38 -.61 -.46
-xx 1.17 1.46 1.62 2.07 .23 -.70 -.56
xxx 1.38 2.00 2.40 2.86 1.00 -.82 -.68

And, yes, the relative value of a walk compared to the other positive offensive events decreases in "RBI situations;" this is why a single is generally more valuable than a walk - a single can advance the runner, while the walk can't.

But a walk does still have positive run value, especially compared to the negative run value of the out. And here is the cold, hard truth:

72% of all balls put into play are turned into outs.

There are, of course, things you can do as a hitter to help a particular batted ball beat those odds - you can hit a line drive, which is much harder to field than a ground ball or a fly ball, or you could avoid putting the ball in play together, and just knock it out of the yard. Both of those require making solid contact with the ball. And, I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that the further a ball is from the center of the strike zone, the harder it is to turn it into a hit. You do not do yourself any favors by swinging at pitchers pitches - just because it would be more valuable for Barry Bonds to hit a home run than take a walk, doesn't mean that he's going to have much success trying to hit curveballs aimed at his shoelaces.

This is why plate discipline is so important, and it's not just because of walks and OBP. Everyone, repeat after me:

OBP is not plate discipline.

OBP is not plate discipline.

OBP is not plate discipline.

And, just to add on:

Walks are not plate discipline.

Walks are not plate discipline.

Walks are not plate discipline.

Both of them correlate well with plate discipline and are crude proxies of plate discipline, but they are not plate discipline.

The two best measures of plate discipline are IsoD and Pitches per Plate Appearance. Pitches per plate appearance is a wonderful, oft-overlooked stat - shocking, since it's so dirt simple that even ESPN provides it. IsoD is just a fancy name for walks over plate appearances; essentially OBP without the hitting. Anyways, here's all Cubs with 100 at-bats or more, sorted by IsoD:

Daryle Ward 110 0.165 3.64
Cliff Floyd 282 0.109 3.58
Derrek Lee 567 0.109 4.02
Mark DeRosa 502 0.101 3.96
Matt Murton 235 0.1 3.75
Jason Kendall 174 0.094 4.23
Mike Fontenot 234 0.085 3.93
Ryan Theriot 537 0.082 3.53
Aramis Ramirez 506 0.077 3.67
Michael Barrett 211 0.074 3.54
Felix Pie 177 0.072 3.73
Jacque Jones 453 0.069 3.64
Cesar Izturis 191 0.063 3.42
Angel Pagan 148 0.062 3.87
Alfonso Soriano 579 0.05 3.67

And here's the same table, sorted by pitches per plate appearance:

Jason Kendall 174 0.094 4.23
Derrek Lee 567 0.109 4.02
Mark DeRosa 502 0.101 3.96
Mike Fontenot 234 0.085 3.93
Angel Pagan 148 0.062 3.87
Matt Murton 235 0.1 3.75
Felix Pie 177 0.072 3.73
Aramis Ramirez 506 0.077 3.67
Alfonso Soriano 579 0.05 3.67
Daryle Ward 110 0.165 3.64
Jacque Jones 453 0.069 3.64
Cliff Floyd 282 0.109 3.58
Michael Barrett 211 0.074 3.54
Ryan Theriot 537 0.082 3.53
Cesar Izturis 191 0.063 3.42

First off, just because it's something I'm dying to point out: Ryan Theriot? Not a very patient hitter. (In fact, he was the WORST starter on the team when it came to pitches per plate appearance. True story!)

But now, let me get over that and try to provide some analysis. Remember? Walks aren't plate discipline - or rather, they aren't all of plate discipline.

Plate discipline, simply defined, is only swinging at your pitches, not the pitcher's pitches. Remember: balls are harder to hit than strikes. So you want to do a good job of making pitchers throw you strikes, and recognizing which pitches are good to hit and which aren't.

I won't belabor the whole idea of "pitchers counts" and "hitters counts;" anything that you're likely to hear about from TV announcers hardly needs my help in becoming common knowledge. Suffice it to say - you get better results as a hitter if you learn to take bad pitches, work yourself into favorable counts, and make the pitcher throw you strikes. [If you're interested in looking at the specific dynamics of how counts effect a hitter, I'm happy to oblige, though.]

So when we say we want Colvin to develop more plate discipline, we do want him to walk more. But we want him to walk more as a byproduct of swinging at pitches he can hit and taking pitches he can't. Better plate discipline makes you a better hitter - it doesn't just mean walks, it means more hits and more hits for extra bases.

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Roberts trade looking less likely

Per Ken Rosenthal:
The chances of the Orioles trading All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts to the Cubs seem to diminish each day.

Roberts is a favorite of Peter Angelos, the one player who maintains an open dialogue with the owner. Thus, Angelos is reluctant to trade him — and especially reluctant if the Orioles do not receive a knockout package in return.

At this late stage, such a package almost certainly would need to include shortstop Ronny Cedeno, who would take over at shortstop, with Luis Hernandez moving to second base.

The Orioles, though, would be left with perhaps the game's worst middle infield. And they probably could get Cedeno, who is out of options, in a separate deal.

It would be just about like the Cubs to trade Cedeno for Peyton at this point, wouldn't it.

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Updated WAR chart for hitters

I decided to do something a little different this time and break down the chart by positions. It helped me sort out some of the playing time issues, at any rate, and I think it's rather nifty to look at. Guys like DeRosa, Cedeno and Murton who are expected to play multiple positions get the most milage out of it.

Geovanny Soto5120.3550.503.28
Henry Blanco1880.3010.500.36
JD Closser480.3230.000.15
Derrek Lee6320.3960.504.39
Daryle Ward500.354-1.430.04
Mark DeRosa220.3420.000.04
Mark DeRosa4220.342-0.571.00
Mike Fontenot2250.317-0.290.16
Ryan Theriot5420.312-0.100.69
Ronny Cedeno1300.331-0.100.37
Aramis Ramirez5720.385-0.193.71
Mark DeRosa1120.3420.000.36
Ronny Cedeno200.331-0.290.04
Alfonso Soriano6210.3710.573.53
Matt Murton1100.3570.290.45
Daryle Ward60.354-10.12
Felix Pie5560.3281.432.66
Ronny Cedeno680.331-0.670.14
Sam Fuld650.307-0.100.06
Kosuke Fukudome5600.3810.953.96
Matt Murton1100.3570.120.43
Sam Fuld380.307-0.100.03
Matt Murton600.3280.000.08
Daryle Ward700.344-1.430.04
6103 26.08

I plan on cleaning up the presentation of this and doing some other things with it, but I'd like to get some feedback on it for the time being. wOBA is still pretty much entirely driven by CHONE, and I plan on doing some minor revising in that department. Pitcher hitting is entirely accounted for, and there's about 200-300 replacement-level at-bats included in there, so I don't think I'm being unreasonable about playing time.

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This is Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. I want you to note the lack of infield predators; Derek Jeter's slugging percentage is high enough that infield predators are afraid to roam Yankee Stadium altogether. Apparently this, and his having played alongside Scott Brosius, has given Jeter the godlike gift of the "Intangibles," the sacred trust of baseball journalists and fans, used to show unto others a ballplayer's true value without having to resort to facts or onfield accomplishments.

Jeter posses more Intangibles than any other ballplayer in existance, in spite of being of a ethnicity other than white and being able to hit. Why? Because he's a True Yankee. And because of this, people are given license to say the most absurd things about him possible:

In a way, Jeter’s prospective role reminds me of the role General Douglas MacArthur played near the end of his military career. MacArthur is one of the most decorated and well respected officers in the history of the United States, distinguished for his service in the Vera Cruz Expedition and WWI, and later for his success in WWII. But it was his orchestration of the landing at Inchon in the Korean War when he was 70-years-old that was his greatest accomplishment.

Jeter’s role in the Yankees’ 2008 season is like MacArthur’s role before Korea. Jeter’s career clearly needs no more justification, but if the Yankees want to win the World Series this year, they need the 2008 Spring Training to be Jeter’s Inchon.

Excuse me? Did I hear you right?

Are you seriously... I mean, SERIOUSLY comparing "leading" a baseball team to being a five-star general? Is making sure Phillip Hughes performs well really as emotionally draining a task as sending hundreds of young soliders and Marines to die at the landing at Inchon?

Read up on the Battle of Inchon. Read about Chesty Puller and the 1st Marine Regiment. Read about the long legacy of hard, devoted sacrifice of thousands of brave Marines as they made their way through Korea. Read about the Chosin Few.

And then you want to sit here and tell me that is roughly equivalent to some rich, womanizing dirtbag playing Tammy Wynette for Andy Pettite? Do you even know things? At all? About anything?

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Another look at Cintron

Earlier I took a quick look at how Cintron might fare next season, seeing as how, y'know, we have him and everything. I used the rather pessimistic CHONE forecast - not that any of the other forecasts put him with an OPS over .700 or anything useful like that, but even considering that it's Alex Cintron we're talking about the numbers weren't kind.

Running an absurdly, dumber-than-Marcels dumb forecast, I come up with a .287 wOBA for Cintron next season - I'm missing regression to the mean as a component. (Marcels figures him for a .303 wOBA next season.)

I've run across some comments that last season's performance was degraded by health issues that have seemingly cleared up, and maybe there's some cause for optimism. So... let's redo our absurdly dumb projection, except let's give his 2007 performance less weight - say, use a 3/4/3 weighted average.

Doing that, we get a .291 wOBA. Not a whole heck of a lot of difference - we should be regressing to the mean here, but it's getting late and I'm tired.

This is just me thinking out loud here - but this is an instance where we can consider data that our projection systems aren't able (as of yet) to process and see what conclusions we can draw. Do I stand by any of this? Not a chance. Like I said, thinking aloud. I'd like to hear what some of you think, too.

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More on WAR

A few additional notes on the WAR depth chart I posted the other day.

If you'd like to go ahead and calculate WAR yourself, then go to Sean Smith's stat site; my WAR calculation spreadsheet is available for download there. I'd like to thank Sean for making that available.

Unlike with the version on EditGrid, it's not autopopulated with Cubs data - it is, however, set up to make it scaldingly easy to figure out the WAR for any player, NL or AL. Download the CHONE projections and look up the defense projections available there for all the data you need.

Maddog commented on the WAR chart, and I thought I should go ahead and clarify a few things.

First, like I said there, pitcher hitting is already accounted for in the replacement level - all NL teams have pitchers hitting, so unless you think the Cubs pitchers are going to hit significantly worse than other teams its a nonissue.

The other issue is the total amount of plate appearances. I projected 6145 plate appearances for the Cubs; last season the Cubs; last year the Cubs had 6268 plate appearances. So by that standard it would appear I'm not leaving enough room for the 400 or so PAs by pitchers, or for replacement level hitting.

And... I didn't. But it's not as bad as you might think, because plate appearances are a function of On-Base Percentage - you can "buy" more plate appearances for your team by making fewer outs per plate appearance. I'm expecting rougly 2,400 plate appearances out of the Cubs for next season, based on their increased OBP.

So, I still need to take 200-300 PAs off the depth chart, and I'll work on that for tomorrow.

And maddog is right - someone is going to provide stats that look below replacement level, at some point, for the Cubs next season. But that's completely irrelevant, because remember, replacement level is an average of a group of players - some are going to fall above/below the actual replacement line, both as a function of sample size and of distribution.

Put another way - the Cubs gave playing time to several players last season that could be described as "replacement level," given the definition I'm using:
  • Ryan Theriot
  • Mike Fontenot
  • Angel Pagan
  • Koyie Hill
  • Rob Bowen
  • Ronny Cedeno
  • Sam Fuld

You can add or subtract from that list as you please; doesn't really bother me any. Some of them outperformed the replacement baseline, and some of them underperformed the replacement baseline. When you average that out, you get replacement level production. You don't need to specifically account for below replacement player production.

But you do need to give below-replacement players a share of the plate appearances, which again, I didn't do well enough. So I will revise the chart tomorrow.

Also, I'm planning on doing positional breakdowns starting tomorrow, so we can start to look at some chaining issues, see how injury might affect the team, and take a look at positions where the team might have some unanswered questions.

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Cubs sign Alex Cintron

Harry Pavlidis over at Cubs f/x has a good overview of how capable Cintron is(n't).

Let's take a look at this based on our Cubs WAR chart:

Ryan Theriot542.312-.10.69
Ronny Cedeno275.331-.10.79
Alex Cintron275.234-.19-1.30

What does this mean?

  1. Hendry somehow managed to find a way to sign a shortstop worse than what we have already.
  2. Interestingly enough, Theriot is somehow less valuable than Ronny Cedeno despite getting almost twice as many PAs on my depth chart.
  3. Wow, Alex Cintron is bad.
  4. Wow.

So... suffice it to say that Alex Cintron is not an infield predator. This is just a minor league, though, and Hendry says the right things:

"Obviously he had a few snags last year coming off (elbow) surgery," general manager Jim Hendry said. "But our people have been watching him in Puerto Rico. I think he'd done some working out with Carmelo Martinez earlier in the year, so we’ve had our eye on him. We felt like it made sense, especially with (Ronny) Cedeno getting some outfield time in the spring. So we felt like we needed someone else in camp that could play shortstop other than (Ryan) Theriot and Ronny."

It's okay to sign a replacement player at replacement salary if that's all you use him as. If Cintron ends up in AAA Iowa I'm perfectly happy with this. If not... well, kiss two wins goodbye.

Oh, and for those curious:

Mark DeRosa556.342-.571.32
Brian Roberts630.349.192.55

Replacing Cedeno with Cintron already pretty much eats away the benefits of a Roberts trade. (I don't know that taking a few hundred at-bats away from Mike Fontenot justifies the deal either, but I still have a little more work to do with the chaining here.)

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And for a moment there I was getting worried

All of the traditional signs that baseball was getting under way were showing up - pitchers and catchers reporting, photos coming out of Mesa, a flood of newspaper articles... but something was missing.

That something, thankfully, has been found. Ozzie Guillen has finally started running his mouth.

''I'll be cocky,'' Guillen said Saturday as Sox pitchers and catchers held their first workout. ''If we win this year, I might run naked down Michigan Avenue like people expect me to do.''

It's good to have the real Ozzie Guillen back.

He was missing most of last season, holding his tongue and holing up too often in his office. He toned down his comments to shield his players from answering questions each day about the latest Ozzie outburst. Turns out, most of the players didn't mind.

Yeah, Ozzie Guillen was "toned down" last season. Whatever you say, Chris DeLuca. But he promises to turn up the crazy for this season!

''If my [stuff] sells papers every day and we win, well, I want to be on the front page every day,'' Guillen said. ''As long as I don't rape anybody, as long a I pay my taxes, I don't beat my wife ... if I am going to be on the front page of the newspaper because of [expletive] baseball, I will take that.

''If more people treat baseball the way I treat baseball, this [expletive] game will be better.''

Exactly, Ozzie - just so long as you don't rape anybody, everything will be fine. Way to hold yourself to a high standard - no raping, and paying your taxes.

In picking apart the 2007 White Sox, plenty of things went wrong. A popular knock among the critics is this team that had been known for thriving with a chip on its shoulder suddenly was too nice.

''They're right,'' Guillen said. ''You cover this ballclub last year, you say, 'Wow, what a nice team to cover.' No, it's not fun to cover a team like that. Well, it's not fun to [expletive] manage a team like that, either.

''We stunk last year.''

Yep. Clearly a chip on everyone's shoulder is going to fix the worst offense in the AL from last season. And make Jose Contreras pitch better.

Yeah. Enjoy fifth place, asshole.

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2008 Cubs Preview, featuring WAR!

WAR - what is it good for?

Well, in this case WAR references Wins Above Replacement. Fans, readers and detractors will note the similarity with Wins Above Replacement Player, or WARP. The concept is the same, the internals are different. The full techincal explanation is available at the link; I'll skim over the relevant highlights below.

The short version: you calculate WAR by summing up a player's contributions on the field - pitching for pitchers, offense and defense for position players - converting that to wins, and then comparing those contributions to hypothetical "replacement players," generally defined as the sort of freely-available talent one can acquire for close to the league minimum salary.

[Note: I owe a debt of gratitude to Tangotiger, whose WAR methodology I'm using and who gave some excellent - and necessary - early feedback, and David Cameron, whose post at USS Mariner inspired this.]

First, let's take a look at the hitters:

Alfonso Soriano6210.3710.573.5315.9513.002.95
Ryan Theriot5420.312-0.100.693.460.403.06
Derrek Lee5280.3960.503.6716.5413.003.54
Aramis Ramirez5820.385-0.193.7716.9914.002.99
Kosuke Fukudome5300.3810.953.7416.8712.004.87
Mark DeRosa5560.342-0.571.326.205.500.70
Geovanny Soto5120.3550.503.2814.840.4014.44
Felix Pie5360.3281.432.5611.680.4011.28
Daryle Ward2500.354-1.430.181.181.20-0.02
Matt Murton2750.3570.291.135.390.404.99
Ronny Cedeno2750.331-0.100.793.860.403.46
Mike Fontenot2750.317-
Henry Blanco1880.3010.500.362.002.75-0.75
Sam Fuld2500.307-
Eric Patterson2250.322-

Plate appearances shouldn't require much explanation. In this case, I apportioned out most of the playing time for the Cubs on offense; playing time not accounted for here is assumed to be replacement level.

wOBA is Weighted On-Base Average, essentially a rate stat version of Linear Weights. Functionally it works just like Equivalent Average, except on the OBP scale instead of the batting average scale; .340 is (generally) league average. These wOBA figures are based on the CHONE projections, available from Sean Smith's website. wOBA, being a linear weights equation, can be easily converted to runs, and thus wins, above average.

Also available there are defensive projections, which form the basis for my defensive figures. (I made manual adjustments for Lee, Blanco, Fukudome, Pie and Soto.) Smith (and any plus/minus system) rates defenders in terms of plays or runs (in this case, runs) saved compared to average at the position. To convert runs to wins, simply divide by 10.5.

Okay, now here's the secret sauce that lets us compare these players across positions. In the National League, the average player is two wins above replacement, so everyone above gets credit for those two wins.

Players also get credited (or debited) wins for what position they field:

+1.0 C
+0.5 SS/CF
+0.0 2B/3B
-0.5 LF/RF/PH
-1.0 1B
-1.5 DH

This is because a league-average hitter who plays catcher is more valuable than a league average hitter who can only play first base or designated hitter.

Combine those elements, and you get a player's WAR. $WAR is simply the cost value of those wins on the free agent market (the formula assumes that a team pays $4.4 million per win on the free agent market, which has held up pretty well for the 2008 offseason). Actual$ is, well, the player's 2008 contract. Difference is how much surplus value that player is providing; if you've ever sat there and wondered how much Henry Blanco is overpaid, well, now you know.

One thing that pops out at me is how the severe backloading of the contracts means that the salary for players like Ramirez and Soriano are actually very reasonable right now. There's a whole lot of risk wrapped up into the back ends of those contracts, though.

Now, for the pitchers:

Carlos Zambrano21203.844.06$18.28$15.00$3.28
Ted Lilly18804.242.66$12.10$7.00$5.10
Rich Hill18603.913.40$15.35$0.40$14.95
John Lieber13404.611.31$6.16$3.50$2.66
Jason Marquis89255.080.27$1.61$6.40-$4.79
Sean Gallagher8304.960.49$2.55$0.40$2.15
Sean Marshall60204.620.57$2.92$0.40$2.52
Kevin Hart0285.26-0.20-$0.49$0.40-$0.89
Neal Cotts0203.940.16$1.09$0.80$0.29
Kerry Wood0654.250.26$1.55$4.20-$2.65
Carlos Marmol0723.850.65$3.26$0.40$2.86
Ryan Dempster0724.180.35$1.95$5.50-$3.55
Michael Wuertz0723.550.94$4.52$0.86$3.66
Bob Howry0743.461.05$5.02$4.00$1.02
Scott Eyre0574.110.33$1.84$3.80-$1.96

Let's start off discussing the innings pitched. It's easier to pitch as a reliever than it is as a starter; usually a pitcher who does both will have a lower ERA as a reliever. So we need to use different replacement baselines for starting and relieving; I've designated two pitchers as "swingmen," Jason Marquis and Sean Marshall. I'm sure some of you are chuckling at that - I happen to be pessimistic about what Marquis can achieve this season and think Lou will pull him from the rotation when things get too bad.

Innings pitched adds up to 1457; there's roughly 1458 innings in a season, which changes because of extra-inning games and home halves of the ninth inning skipped when the home team leads.

ERA is based off several projections, with CHONE getting more weight than the others, mostly because it was handier; beyond that some of it was simply my personal preference. These figures have been revised upwards to make them "defense neutral," since we already gave the position players credit for defense above. (Technical explanation: I calculated FIP ERA for the CHONE projections and used that as a baseline.)

WAR is a function of runs allowed compared to replacement, converted to wins using the Pythagenpat method, a refinement of the Pythagorean theorum.

Just take a gander at the difference between what the Cubs are paying Hill and what he would be worth on the free agent market. (And that's ignoring the fact that teams generally will overpay for pitching wins.) That's why, in case you were wondering, the people advocating for a Hill-for-Bedard trade were being, at best, shortsighted. Bedard may well be a better pitcher, but because of his many remaining cheap years, Hill is insanely more valuable.

And just look at how overpaid our bullpen is; Howry is our only free agent reliever expected to provide value up to his contract.

Now, what I have failed to do is assign a "premium" to the closer for leverage; this is because nobody knows who the hell our closer is. I did play around with it for a bit, and: hey, we lose a whole win by making Dempster the closer as opposed to a middle reliever. That's a pretty drastic difference for a relief pitcher.

Add up our position player WAR and our pitching WAR, and we get 42 wins above replacement; a team composed of entirely replacement level players would be expected to win about 50 ballgames. So, given the assumptions I used, you could say the Cubs look like about a 92 win team. That's based on some optimistic assumptions involving the starting rotation (namely that Marquis gets dumped from it before too long, and Dempster is never used in it). I plan on redoing this little exercise again several times during spring training, as the final roster spots shore up and we get a better idea of how the rotation and bullpen shake up.

The full spreadsheet used, in all its glory, is available for your perusal on EditGrid. You can also download it to your computer as an Excel file and play around with it. Don't like my assumptions? Change them! Have fun with it. Let me know what results you get.

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