Fangraphs Audio 11/18/2013

Eric101101 Nov 20th, 2013 113 Never
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  1. FanGraphs Audio 11-18-2013 Transcript
  3. [music]
  5. Carson: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I'm Carson Cistulli, this is FanGraphs audio. My guest on this addition of FanGraphs audio making his weekly appearance, it's the managing editor of FanGraphs, Dave Cameron. What follows is a conversation of course that I had with Dave Cameron, and it's a conversation that begins with a little more than an off-handed question about a piece that Dave Cameron recently wrote for the pages of ESPN insider, of ESPN insider something that's also available through—a post that's also available to subscribers to FanGraphs+, FanGraphs+, our annual product I guess you would call it, annual product.
  7. In any case in this piece Dave Cameron goes looking for comparables for free agent Jacoby Ellsbury, a player who because a lot of his value is informed by speed, some suspect might be more vulnerable to age and age related decline. That's not the case, it turns out. Or appears not to be the case. But like I say that's where our conversation begins, where it goes from there I ask simple questions of Dave Cameron, naive questions, and he answers them patiently I would say, and generously. So if you can imagine that happening is the thing that happens. It's FanGraphs audio, it features Dave Cameron, managing editor of FanGraphs and it begins right now.
  9. [music]
  11. Carson: Dave Cameron.
  13. Dave: Hi.
  15. Carson: Davy Davy Davy Cameron Cameron Cameron.
  17. Dave: Yeah that's what people used to call me.
  19. Carson: I was just reading this piece about Jacoby Ellsbury and how he is likely to age.
  21. Dave: Well yeah, I mean it is more about a piece on how people like Jacoby Ellsbury or with Jacoby Ellsbury like skill sets have aged in the past. And I think projecting aging for a single in the future is still a little bit tricky. But you know we can look at other kinds of players with similar skills and make some inferences about how Ellsbury might and it turns out pretty well.
  23. Carson: Yeah. And wait. I didn’t get to this part of the table, is it because they keep stealing bases? Or are they doing something else?
  25. Dave: No it's basically because their offense doesn’t decline at all. Their batting lines. So basically I went through the table and kind of showed you know for people who care about the methodology I guess, basically what I looked at is over the last 30 years looked at all center fielders in their age 27 to 29 seasons, which is Ellsbury's last three, so I wanted to find players who had produced with a similar level of at about the same age as Ellsbury heading into free agency. And then I limited their power by putting a maximum ISO of 180 on the filter.
  27. So that got rid of Andrew Jones, Jim Edmonds and Ken Griffey Jr, guys who were elite center fielders because they hit a lot of home runs, that's not what Ellsbury is so I didn't want to look at those guys. And then basically I looked at guys who got a lot of their value through speed and defense. So you know I mean Ellsbury has been a pretty good hitter over the last three years with a wRC+ of 123, but his calling card is really, or his legs and what he can do on the base paths and what he does as a defender in center field.
  29. So went through and looked at other players with similar skill sets and found nine other guys who I think work as pretty good comparisons. Lenny Dykstra, Ricky Henderson, Kenny Lofton, Tim Gaines, Andy Van Slyke, Ichiro Suzuki, Devon White, Steve Finley,  Marquis Grissom, all of these guys average or better hitters. So we are not looking at the Jaun Pierre's of the world. And all of them pretty good defenders. Tim Gaines maybe an average defender is the worst of the group. But overall all defensive positive guys, good base stealers, not big home run hitters, and so I looked at of their performances from 27 to 29.
  31. Ellsbury actually compares very favorably to all of them. His war per 600 plate appearances during the last three years equal to Ricky Henderson's during his age 27 to 29 span. Anytime you match Ricky Henderson you are doing pretty good. And then I looked at their performance from age 30 to 36, which is what years Ellsbury would get if he gets a seven year deal, which is what I'm expecting he is going to get this winter, and it turns out they maintained almost exactly their batting line. Overall the 27 to 29, or the group from 27 to 29 had a 354 wOBA from 30 to 36 it was 351. Their offense declined almost zero, their defense declined some as you would expect with players getting older, but their offensive levels were maintained almost entirely.
  33. Carson: Did the players typically decline in all aspects of their game—well alright I mean so we know that the sort of age curves are different for different skills, but could we say that typically players their offense decreases after around age 30?
  35. Dave: Yeah I mean I think we know that most skills start declining on the wrong side of 30, whether the peak is 27, 28, it's somewhere in their most likely is the overall blend of all skills. What I think we know is that walk rate generally continues to increase as you get older, your power diminishes, your speed diminishes, but your plate is what improves as you see more pitches and you learn the strike zone you get better recognition, so if you are starting from a point like Ellsbury who is not necessarily a high walk guy right now, he is fairly aggressive for a lead off hitter, there is room for growth there.
  37. I think Ellsbury, we can expect his walk rates to increase which will offset some of the loss of power or if there is a loss of power, he is not a huge power guy to begin with. If there is a loss of bat speed, his improving plate discipline will offset some of that. So I think overall we see that there is not a huge decline in offense on the wrong side of 30 the way there is on defense. Defense certainly peaks earlier, there is some thought that defense might peak as early as 23, 24, 25 years old.
  39. Carson: Yeah. I actually saw I think a piece, I guess it might have been an archive piece by Eno Sarris, our colleague, which maybe put power at around the peak ages of that around 24,  25 as well.
  41. Dave: Yeah. I mean you know that's everyone of the things that trying to isolate the skill and saying where does this specific thing like power, contact rate, is it gets a little tricky because there is a lot of interaction, like perhaps maybe players hit for the most power at the age 25 because they're also swinging at pitches out of the strike zone and as they're becoming more disciplined maybe they hit for less power but their overall more productive because they're not chasing pitches anymore. It's not to say exactly how that is but I think what we see is the kind of the balance between skills for offense tends to peak in the late 20s.
  43. The balance between skills for defense probably peaks in the early 20s. So there is no question Ellsbury is going to get worse, right? Like these players age really well relative to the idea that speed and defense players fall apart at age 30, but they were still significantly worse. I think that what I found is that on war per 600 basis or basically a performance basis, the nine comparables retained about 70% of their 27 to 29 from 30 to 36.
  45. So they declined by 30% in rate performance and then they declined by 12% in playing time. They went from 590 something plate appearances per year to 520 plate appearances per year. So you certainly decline as you get older. The question for every player type is how much of a decline and how steep is it going to be?
  47. Carson: Right and it seems like for some reason this group retains their offensive skills in a way that we don't generally see other players do.
  49. Dave: Yeah. I think like now we are getting a little into a little bit of physiology speculation. But I think that when we look players like Ellsbury we can fairly say that these are probably the most in shape athletic players in baseball. Center fielders who are speed guys, good defenders, these guys are in good physical condition, right? You don't have many of these guys who were over weight, they [inaudible00:08:15] knee problems like these guys are exceeding at this kind of skill set because of their athletic ability.
  51. I think just in general life we understand that a person who is in good shape is probably going to have fewer health problems as he gets older. People who exercise and aren’t carrying extra weight are going to be in better physical condition in their 30s and 40s than they were than maybe someone who is a little larger. So I don't think it should be a huge shock that that carries over to baseball and a guy like Ellsbury who is carrying very little body fat, who is in good physical condition when he is not getting run over by his team mates, is more likely to retain his physical skills than perhaps someone who has been carrying an extra 30 or 40 pounds and is doing damage to his knees.
  53. Carson: It's also important to do Sudoku I understand as you get older.
  55. Dave: Yeah. I mean I enjoy a game of Sudoku and I'm not that old.
  57. Carson: Yeah right, but I think it's good for you as you age. You know we were just talking about things, aging, I think I read that somewhere or maybe saw it in the news, Cameron, that Sudoku is good for you.
  59. Dave: Yeah I could believe that. It triggers some brain activity.
  61. Carson: Yeah but is it good for baseball do you think?
  63. Dave: I imagine that the number of baseball players doing Sudoku is very low.
  65. Dave: Yeah okay. Here is a question that comes out of this study, more like a point of curiosity, is Ricky Henderson as a defensive player is a strange thing, because A he is essentially the best base runner in addition to being nearly the best at a number of other things, he is probably the best base runner baseball has ever seen.
  67. Dave: Yes.
  69. Carson: And he is very fast, we know this and if we say a player is fast he is going to be a center fielder. Of course Ricky Henderson, I don't know how many starts he ever made in center field, but he was a left fielder for the majority of his career.
  71. Dave: Yeah I mean I think Henderson and Tim Gaines is another guy in this mix, they were kind of like the Carl Crawford of their days. Maybe not with the same extreme defensive ratings, but speedy guys who looked like center fielders who played corners. You could almost throw Ichiro into this mix too, Even though he played some center field, he spent most of his time in right.
  73. Guys who look like based on their physical and what you would think of their skill set, should be playing center field and for various reasons, whether it's maybe they weren’t very good route runners, they didn’t read the ball off the bat very well, they just weren’t very comfortable in center field, whatever it is they all spent most of their career in a corner spot which I think a lot of people tend to look at and say “Oh man, they lose a lot of value playing in a corner spot like--” Now you compare their OPS or their wOBA or something to the average of a left fielder it's much lower than that of a center fielder, therefore they lose a lot of value. I actually think that this kind of mentality is mostly wrong. I think in general we see center fielders are given a chance to field about 10% more balls over a course of a season than a corner outfielder. It's a difference, but it's not a massive difference.
  75. There are still balls hit to left field and right field that need to be caught, and having range in left and right field is still useful. I think one of the things that people think is in a corner outfield spot defense is less important. I'm not sure that's actually true. I think that the defense is just as important as it is in center field. Really the only downgrade is that their are fewer opportunities. But the difference isn’t that huge. It's not like short stop versus first base where there is a dramatic difference in number of potential plays that could be turned into an out.
  77. Where range is really important. I think in the outfield range is about equally important in all three spots except for the fact that center field gets more opportunities., which is why you put the best defenders in center field. But it's not a huge gap. If you put a really good rangy outfielder in a corner spot, you’re not going to lose that much value compared to putting him in center field.
  79. Carson: Well yeah, and here are just some back of the envelope calculations Dave Cameron? I didn’t actually use a real envelope but everything else holds. Through 1990, which is Ricky Henderson's age, sorry, this is intrigued radio. Right, through 1990, that's his age 31 season, Ricky Henderson was worth--
  81. Dave: [breathing heavily]
  83. Carson: You’re sighing at what I'm saying. He was worth 60 runs above average defensively. That's not where he ended up because he played for like 15 more years.
  85. Dave: Right.
  87. Carson: But if you’re 60 runs over—so every 150 games that was about 5.5 runs above average, which is essentially like a +3 center fielder, which that's not shocking to hear is it?
  89. Dave: No, Right. I mean I think what we know is that good defenders in a corner spot can still have positive value. Brett Gardener was a defensive asset for the Yankees for a long time before they moved him to center field. We know that running down balls in the corners counts as an out just the same as running down a ball in the gap. And so there is still going to be plays in the corners for guys like Henderson or Gaines or Ichiro to add value even if they are not center fielders long term.
  91. And I think maybe when explain talk about Ellsbury and say “Well would his legs go? And would he have to move to right field? The bat is not all the special.” Well the glove is still going to be pretty special compared to other right fielders, right? Like if your peer group is now Nelson Cruz and lumbering sluggers and you take a guy who used to be an elite defensive center fielder and you move him to right field, he is going to be an elite defensive right fielder, kind of like Tori Hunter at this point in his career where Hunter is probably not a center fielder anymore but he is still a pretty good defensive right fielder even at age 40. that's the idea.
  93. Carson: And Shane Victorino? Shane Victorino?
  95. Dave: Right. Victorino is another good example. I think if you take a center fielder and put him in a corner you should expect him to be very very good. Especially if he was a good defensive center fielder. The idea that Ellsbury is going to have no defensive value in his mid-30s is probably wrong.
  97. Carson: Looking at a question like this like with regards to Ricky Henderson for example, right? Or any of these comps that you brought up, I'm curious as to what your process is when occasionally on FanGraphs we will introduce a new metric or as we did recently as you—the defensive metric, we now have offense and defense so you can see everything relative to league average. And the defensive metric is of course position agnostic.
  99. So that you can see how different players, you can compare them across positions more easily perhaps. Now the question, what is your process if you even have one for like going back and checking Ricky Henderson? Or going back and checking Tim Gaines to see how they are acquitted by a new metric? Do you have like a process? Or are you just like maybe I’ll go check when I'm ready?
  101. Dave: Yeah I think when what we know with defensive metrics prior to 2002 that are not based on batted ball data. They're based on box score data. Like assists and putouts and those kinds of things. And what you can infer about a player's defensive ability from knowing how many outs he actually made and how many fly balls his team actually allowed. They're things you can glean from the retrosheet data from 1974 to 2002 that isn’t totally useless. But it's not the same thing as the batted ball data we have sense 2002, from companies like baseball info solutions who have been tracking this stuff with video and classifying batted ball types.
  103. So I think with older defensive metrics for Gaines and Henderson, I think we think them with grains of salt and we say “Okay, we might say that based on total zone which is the non-play by play metric we use for before 2002, Tim Gaines was a -3 defender. When you include position and defense.” But really that could be like -10 to +10. I mean the error bars on that are really large. So I think to say Gaines was probably an averagish defender is fair. Maybe he was below average, maybe he was above average. We don't know for sure. So I'm not like digging deep on defensive metrics prior to 2002 because I think the range of what they tell us is pretty wide.
  105. Carson: What about like when we introduce base running though for example? And of course that same conversation applies to quite a bit to this conversation. Like when we adopted the base running metric, a combination of weighted stolen base runs and ultimate base running to form an uber base running metric, which is usually represented as BSR on the website, do you go back and say “Oh, I wonder how like the first Billy Hamilton was at base running?” Or maybe if it doesn’t go back quite that far, maybe like Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays.
  107. Dave: Right. It's kind of the same thing. Before 2002 the base running metric on the site is only stolen bases. We don't have first to third, second to home, all that kind of data prior to 2002 when baseball info solutions started providing us data for the box score years before 2001 before we can certainly calculate the value of stolen bases. So we can look at Henderson and how well he stole bases. And how efficient he was and how often he got caught and calculate the run values based on the offensive eras of the time.
  109. But we don't have the other data. We don't have the second to home or first to third or tagging up on a sac fly. So I think we know that the good base runners of the prior eras are underrated. Like Ricky Henderson probably was better than he even shows up on the FanGraphs player pages because we’ve not giving him credit for things that he was very likely good at.
  111. Carson: Is there anyway where we could maybe find a correlations? Could we find a correlation between like present players and the relationship between their weighted stolen base runs and ultimate base running? Or maybe if there is something with speed rating? Can we do anything with that Dave Cameron?
  113. Dave: We could. Yeah. I mean I think we could say players of this bucket who have this kind of wSB in a given season have an average UBR, which is what I think we refer to as our other kinds of base running. And we can create some kind of expected base running value based on what we know about player's stolen base rate. The problem is is that we don't want to necessarily put that into WAR because it's really a total guess, right?
  115. Like there are players who were really good at base stealing and not so good at all the other things. They’re kind of slow and when it's just a straight out sprint they're not the good. But they get really good jumps on the pitcher, or they use the element of surprise. They run in the right situations. They're like high efficiency base stealer even though they're not the fast. And so those kinds of guys we would end up overestimating. The other side of the coin might be guys who are just so fast that they are good at stealing bases but they're not great base runners for whatever reason.
  117. I think Carlos Gomez is one guy who is known to get thrown out on the bases a lot. But a pretty good base stealer. I think nearly 80% for his career. So guys like that I think we would tend to end up missing on in our overall correlation might suggest that they are better or worse than they actually are.
  119. Carson: Yeah. I was actually recently just fooling around with some of those numbers. And then you have another sort of base runner that's like Dexter Fowler who has natural ability, and actually is pretty excellent in terms of like all of the base running acts that don't include base stealing. But he has never become a great base stealer.
  121. Dave: Right. Yeah I mean we know that base stealing. isn’t just straight up physical talent. A lot of it is reading the pitcher, getting a first good move, knowing when to run, and a guy like Fouler just might not be good at those parts of base stealing.
  123. Carson: Yeah. Remember that piece that I think Jonah Kerry did this year where he had Coco Crisp looking at various--
  125. Dave: Yeah.
  127. Carson: Remember that piece?
  129. Dave: Yep. I do.
  131. Carson: That was pretty good.
  133. Dave: It was pretty good.
  135. Carson: Yeah. We should do stuff like that I think.
  137. Dave: Uh sure. I'll put you right on that.
  139. Carson: Okay. We'll do it. I'll do it. Listen, The thing that happened—this could just be like 30 seconds of this. The thing that happened last week was all the awards were given out.
  141. Dave: Yep.
  143. Carson: Yep. And I know that I see that you’re put in this awkward position where because it's the thing that's happening in baseball and to some degree if you don't write about it then you’re not participating in baseball. Right? I mean it's the thing that's happening. It's a conversation that's going on. FanGraphs participates in baseball conversations. And if we don't participate in them it's kind of like not existing. But then at the same time I escape that you don't really want to be part of the conversation?
  145. Dave: I think I just didn’t want to do it again. Like last year we spent so much time breaking down the Mike Trout Miguel Cabrera argument, and kind of showing why Trout was even a better player than Cabrera. And I probably wrote ten posts last year comparing Trout and Cabrera and the MVP ballet and why I thought Trout was better. And then this year it was the exact same rehash, except for the voters gave themselves an out clause by saying that Cabrera's team was good and Trout's team was bad, and therefore Trout had no value. I mean that was like nothing else mattered at that point. Like for most of the voters the fact that Trout played on a losing team was enough of a disqualifying factor to eliminate him from consideration.
  147. At which point, like what do you even do? If you can't convince someone that players on bad teams have value, then nothing else you say matters. You can calculate the value of Trout individually. You can show why Cabrera's teammates were the reason that his team was good and Trout's teammates were the reason that his team was bad. And none of it matters, if they really believe a player on a bad team has no value, you might as well through your hands up in the air and say “Okay, that's what you believe. Congratulations, I just don't care about your award anymore.”
  149. And that's kind of, you know, not that I don't care at all if might Trout ever wins an MVP. I think it would be good for baseball if we honor one of the best players we've ever seen. More than that I think I'm a little concerned as a BBWAA member that an organization that I belong to is hurting their own credibility. I think that if the Oscars starting giving like, what was that Ben Affleck movie from 15 years ago? Gigli that everyone hated? Like if that won best picture, it wouldn’t make people respect Gigli more, it would make them respect the Oscars less. Right?
  151. Like if you just start giving out the wrong thing and you continually start giving awards to things that people think are ridiculous, they're just going to stop taking you seriously. And I think if the BBWAA awards want to maintain their status in the future, they need to start awarding what people actually believe are the best players, or recording history in a way that won’t be mocked 20 years later.
  153. Carson: So the way to do is, could we have just a—could we call it the best player award? Or can we come up with another award that's called the best player award? Or can we do something that Nivan who writes for NotGraphs, now there is a dog situation--
  155. Dave: There is a dog. She has come in from the outside and is very excited to see me.
  157. Carson: Okay.
  159. Dave: She kind of licking every part of my face but it's not--
  161. Carson: Okay. Yeah. Has she—it sounds like she has recovered somewhat from her procedure of last week?
  163. Dave: She is alive again and has energy. The tough thing is they tell you not to let them have a lot of exercise or activity for ten days. I don't know if you ever tried to keep a puppy from having activity levels for ten days as the medicine wares off. It is basically impossible.
  165. Carson: Yeah yeah. It's—dogs have a—they like to move around, I think that's a fact.
  167. Dave: They are, yeah.
  169. Carson: Anyways, What in the hell were we talking about? Oh yeah the awards. Oh yeah. Oh yeah Nivan. Nivan Vaswani, he does this post, he says we should have a Mike Trout award. We give it out to Mike Trout every year. Can we do that?
  171. Dave: I think that's unlikely. I did actually float the idea on twitter last weak of the BBWAA just creating a best player award. If we're going to say as the organization, that the MVP is not for the best player, why don't we just have an award for the best player? And Susan Slusser, who used to be the President of the BBWAA until about a month ago, said that she thought it was an intriguing idea. And I think there are probably parts of the organizations that would support creating some kind of best player award. I think it would get shot down and probably has very little chance of happening. Because I think that for a lot of the writers, they love this, right?
  173. Like they think this is one of the best parts of their job is having this annual debate bad valuable versus best. And it creates a ton of pages for baseball writers. It creates a ton of interest in terms of filling content and allowing, even people like us, to have things to write bad in early November when their aren’t any free agent signings. You know there is a lot of interest in this kind of conversation even though it's the same conversation we are having every year. I don't think the BBWAA members are all that interested in sacrificing what is essentially one of their babies. And saying “Okay, lets create another award that will end all this controversy. We can give Cabrera the MVP. We can give Trout the best player award.
  175. We don't have to have this argument anymore.” I think they want to have this argument. I think they want to be able to write these columns. I think to someone degree they prefer to have an argument every year about the meaning of the word valuable because of what it does for their ability to write and write columns and fill quotas and get readers interested in their columns, versus just giving the best player an award that he probably deserves.
  177. Carson: Right. Yeah. Yeah I guess if you don't have the MVPs to talk about, or some of the other awards. Although those are typically less—they receive less coverage. But they do receive some, Then you’re stuck doing things like posts which include this line. I know the world probably didn’t need another article saying that teams are paying too much for free agent relievers. You know who wrote those words?
  179. Dave: I did. And that was—someone actually asked me on Thursday when I was writing about how I didn’t really care about the MVP award that much, why I wrote 1500 words about the MVP award. And I told them I couldn’t really in good conscience write 1500 words about Nick Punto that day, because it was the MVP day, and that's what people expected me to write about. It's my job to write about things that people care about. So the next day I wrote 1100 words on Nick Punto. I was really—I really wanted to write a lot of words about Nick Punto, so I made a point of doing it the day after the MVP.
  181. Carson: Yeah. Right. And Nick Punto, you think probably with regard to Nick Punto. Nick Punto sort of representing a type, right, of the backup infielder who could play basically any position, I think, reasonably well. He signed, you know, quite a bit of money, three million dollars for one year.
  183. Dave: Yeah. Correct.
  185. Carson: Right. So that's a good amount. And you say it's also reasonable with regards to the market. Why are backup infielders getting so much less money than relief pitchers, despite the fact that they play relatively the same amount relative to the team's overall innings or plate appearance [inaudible 00:27:48]. Do you think it's a question of brand management perhaps?
  187. Dave: Yeah. I think it's interesting how when you talk about a guy like Nick Punto who is a very productive player on a per plate appearance basis. Over his career I think he is about 2.5 WAR per 600 plate appearances, which is an above average starting player. Or a slightly above average starter. He has been generally relegated to reserve roles. And you’ll see like he is very productive. He was very good for the Dodgers last year. We had him at 1.9 WAR in 300 plate appearances, which is near all star levels on a per plate appearance performance.
  189. He had very excellent defense at shortstop and at second base. The ability to play third base. And a decent on base percentage, a guy who draws walks, was roughly a league average hitter last year. Probably wont do that again, but I decent enough hitter to be in the lineup on a fairly regular basis. Maybe not everyday, but you know, you could play him three or four days a week and he wouldn’t kill you. But we understand if we are only projecting him for 250 or 300 plate appearances, the market is just not going to give him that much money, because he doesn’t play enough.
  191. And this is the basic rationale, is well he is a reserve, he is only going to play part time, we can't spend that much money on a guy who has a limited role. But then we understand that his limited role is the same size as the limited role of the pitcher who is gonna pitch the ninth inning and he is getting $15 million a year, it doesn’t make any sense. So I think what I was doing was basically trying to point out is that reserve, quality reserve infielders, or quality reserve players in general, are probably more valuable than the market is paying them.
  193. But there is a stigma against bench players that doesn’t exist against relief pitchers. I think we can actually justify 6, 7, 8, 9 million a year for really good relief pitchers. No there is not a bench player in the world making that. I think the highest paid player who is assigned to be a bench guy is like four million dollars.
  195. We never see a team saying “You know what? I really want a tenth guy who can fill in for all of my starters. Who can get 400 plate appearances, give me depth in all my positions, going to make sure that someone gets hurt I don't have to call up some scrub from triple A,” I think you could make a case that that kind of player would be worth 6 or 7 million dollars on a one year deal.  We never see teams spending that kind of money on bench depth. We do see a-- [inaudible 00:29:59]
  197. Carson: Sorry!
  199. Dave: What is going on?
  201. Carson: The same thing that always happens.
  203. Dave: Oh your connection sucks?
  205. Carson: But hey look, I'm back. You were in the process of saying that you could justify paying theoretically six or seven million dollars.
  207. Dave: Yeah. I mean I think you know if we had a tenth man who could play all over the field, play fairly regularly, produce at a league average or slightly above league average rate when he was on the field. If he was used in a platoon situation to maximize his skills, you can make a case that that guy is going to be 1.5 2.0 win player that's worth six or seven million dollars to a team next year.
  209. But we've never seen them do that. I think the most expensive bench player in baseball who is assigned to be a bench player is like four million dollars. We never see teams invest in their bench the way we do with relief pitching. Which I think speaks to a little bit of a market invitation fee, if you want to call it that, or maybe just an imbalance on how the money on reserves is spent.
  211. Carson: Yeah. And here's a question too. I feel like one of the problems with teams sometimes, it's not just a matter of compiling a good amount. of talent at all the different position, but there is also something that loses team games is when they don't have a replacement player who is actually decent, right? Because then you have to go—so teams sometimes they can have troubles not because they lack high end talent, but because they lack the sort of talent that would prevent them from playing a disaster player at a position.
  213. Dave: Right. Yeah I mean I think basically what we know is that teams can improve their overall talent levels in two ways: they can raise their ceiling or the can raise their floor. And I think the stars and scrubs model as it's often referred to is all about raising your ceiling. Getting the most possible WAR in a scenario where everything goes right and everyone stays healthy, and you have five or six guys who are super star players. I think this is almost like the Milwaukee Brewers model, right? Where they have like Ryan Braun if he would of stayed healthy and not gotten suspended, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, you know they have some pieces that have had some really good years. And then the have 20 players who are absolutely terrible.
  215. And dragged the rest of the team down because they were so bad. And I think we when you have Yuniesky Betancourt as your starting first baseman, maybe you should of spent more time raising your floor rather than trying to raise your ceiling. I think that's an example of what can happen if you focus too much on the first six or ten guys on your roster and not enough on the next 15. And I do think--
  217. Carson: In a situation like that, is Yuniesky—I mean there are other players that are available sometimes besides Yuniesky Betancourt, right?
  219. Dave: I mean I think that was just the Brewers being dumb. I mean there is still black holes in thoughts sometimes where teams don't see a guy like Yuniesky Betancourt as being a terrible player, even though he has a. .240 on base percentage because he hits some home runs. And so there is probably just a little bit of intelligence gap there when it comes to Yuniesky Betancount's performance and whether he should of been actually in the lineup for the Brewers that often.
  221. Carson: He got 400 plate appearances this year.
  223. Dave: He was their starting first baseman for several months. 240 on base percentage.
  225. Carson: Can you find out, is it like a day of Russell Branyon, if you just find Russell Branyon somewhere. Russell Branyon is playing by the way in Mexican Pacific League right now.
  227. Dave: Yeah.
  229. Carson: Hitting the ball.
  231. Dave: I think what we saw is really any team that wants to expend any kind of effort can find a better player than Yuniesky Betancourt. It's not that hard. You could comb through triple A rosters, find a non-prospect somewhere. I think even the Mets Ike Davis was bad, so they called up a guy named Josh Satin who was what? 28 years old and basically considered a non-prospect. Had no power. All he did in triple a was draw walks.
  233. And he got to the majors and he drew a bunch of walks and he was really good for a couple of months. And you know like if you go pluck a guy lack that who is a non-tools, no power high walk triple a veteran, it's not going to cost anything. It might cost you 25 grand, or you have to buy the GM dinner or something. And he would give you better production than Yuniesky Betancourt.
  235. Carson: Right. So actually the instance with Satin versus Betancourt is an interesting illustration of what we are talking about here as avoiding disaster, avoiding black holes. Because Satin was worth like 1, 1.5 wins, and Betancourt was worth nearly -2 wins.
  237. Dave: Yeah, right. That's a 3.5 win swing.
  239. Carson: Right and you don't need a star to do it.
  241. Dave: No. Right. That's like the equivalent of adding Jacoby Ellsbury to your team.
  243. Carson: Ah man, that's frustrating. That's frustrating for Brewers fans I bet.
  245. Dave: Having a giant sucking black hole on your team when you don't have to have one is devastating to team.
  247. Carson: So who is the best player? I mean maybe Nick Punto is part of get crowd, like the best player, maybe—we've talked Craig Gentry as well.
  249. Dave: Yeah.
  251. Carson: Like the player who is not expected to be a starter, I guess you would call them a bench player, the best bench player who is not getting, who kind of produces at something above a bench player level?
  253. Dave: Yeah. I mean I think you could bring Adams into this context, where he was the Cardinals backup first baseman, but I think he had 370 wOBA last year. Pretty good. I think there are teams who have kind of have this tenth guy, especially in the national league where you need it if you’re going to pinch hit for the pitcher a fairly regular amount, you want to have a guy on the bench who can actually hit.
  255. And so I think we do see that there are guys like Punto or Craig Gentry or Matt Adams or whoever it is, who are pretty valuable—I think Johnny Gomes would be another good example of this in Cleveland where he went from being a backup catcher, he hits so well he basically forced Carlos Santana to first base. And became the regular catcher down the stretch because he was so good. But if you have a guy who is in 300 plate appearances can produce at a very high level, that can be a really piece. I think John Gomes was worth something like 4 WAR.
  257. Carson: Yeah.
  259. Dave: Last year. That's one of the main reason the Indians, and Ryan Rayburn was another example of this, they basically hit huge on huge two low cost bench guys who were monster players for them and helped pushed them into the playoffs.
  261. Carson: I came across a post recently that I think Mark Hulet, not to say he didn’t employ the right sort of thinking when wrote the post, but I think it's one that he would like not to have on the internet called, it's in the beginning of 2012, it's called meaningless spring stats, the Yaun Gomes example.
  263. Dave: Yeah.
  265. Carson: And he basically says like clearly this guy is not going to become anything. Who cares if he has hit a couple long home runs.
  267. Dave: Yeah.
  269. Carson: But yeah. But turns out Yaun Gomes, he is something.
  271. Dave: He is something. Right. I mean he is probably going to be the Indian's starting catcher next year. I think Yaun Gomes was good enough last year to push Carlos Santana out of the way and make a move to another position. Not that Santana was ever a great defensive catcher to begin with, but Gomes is maybe a little bit below average hitter who is a really good thrower.
  273. Rates okay on the pitch framing techniques and all the things about catching that we think—that we probably don't measure all that well. He might not be an average defensive catcher, but he is a little below average, but the bat has some power and he makes some contact. I think Yaun Gomes is probably an above average major league catcher and they got him for nothing.
  275. Carson: Yeah. What do we expect—so say in theory a Carlos Santana had caught every game last season and then he were to play first season every game this season, what do we generally expect in terms of the bump from that move?
  277. Dave: I think the total span of the defensive spectrum in terms of position adjustment is about 3 wins. So from catcher to DH is about a 3 WAR move, first base is not penalized as heavily as catcher. But I think at that point it's like 2 or 2.5 wins if you’re an average catcher and an average first baseman. Now what we generally see with Santana is that he is not an average catcher. He'll probably be an average first baseman. So he is going to get a defensive bump in that he won’t be taking the hit that he was relative compared to a better class of defensive players. So in his case it probably be more like a gap of one to two wins rather than two to three.
  279. Carson: And we expect—and of course this could apply to Joe Mauer even more so right? Is what do we expect those guys to hit as first baseman relative to what they hit as catcher? I assume that there is an offensive bump?
  281. Dave: There is at least an offensive bump in terms of playing time. So it's harder to prove that catcher will hit better on a rate basis when they move. There is some evidence of that. There is certainly anecdotal guys you can point to like Carlos Delgato and Craig Biggio and other guys who are moved out from behind the plate and became really good hitters, much better than they were as catchers. There are other examples of guys who moved and just didn’t hit because they were moved at the end of their career, so you don't really know what they would have done if they were moved earlier in their careers.
  283. But I think at the very least we can say that there is a significant increase in quantity of hitting. So if you were a catcher you are going to catch 110 games a year, and then maybe even then you would DH for another 10 or 20. You are still going to spend 30 games a year on the bench. If you’re the starting first baseman, you might play 150 or 160. So you’re at least going to get another 20, 30 games maybe even 40 games depending how often you sat or how often you DH'd.
  285. That's in some cases 20% of the season where you’re in the lineup versus being on the bench. So a guy like Mauer I think you can look at it and say “Oh man, he is not going to be nearly as valuable at first base.” That's true on a per game basis. But there are going to be more games. And that's going to offset a decent amount. of the loss. You know Mauer will not be as valuable at first base as he was at catcher because he was a pretty good defensive catcher. But he is not going to stop being valuable, he is still going to be a really good first baseman.
  287. [music]
  289. Carson: Okay. Alright, well we didn’t get to the big Brendon Ryan signing, but we'll have to--
  291. Dave: Next week.
  293. Carson: Yeah we will have to do that next week. You have more than fulfilled your obligation here Dave Cameron, so why don't you say thank you and good bye?
  295. Dave: Alright. Thanks guys.
  297. Carson: Alright. That's been Dave Cameron, managing editor of FanGraphs. I'm Carson Cistulli from FanGraphs audio.
  299. [music]
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