Monday, March 30, 2015

Unzipping 2015: Comparing Boston and New York - Right Field

As large as the gap was between Boston and New York at shortstop, in some ways the difference between the two teams in right feels even more pronounced. Boston will have a player in his prime with the potential for a breakout season. The Yankees have a player who most likely saw his last appearance as an effective player in 2013.

Boston: Rusney Castillo

2015: 142 G | 144 H |50 RBI | .269 BA | .326 OBP | .386 SLG | .712 OPS | 2.6 WAR | Cost per WAR: $4,335,000 | Age: 27

New York: Carlos Beltran

2015: 113 G | 107 H | 62 RBI | .254 BA | .310 OBP | .434 SLG | .744 OPS | 0.9 WAR | Cost per WAR: $16,666,666 | Age: 38

Now before we go any further, two things to note about Castillo. For most of pre-season the projection was Mookie Betts in center and Castillo in right. Some websites are now switching them. I don't think this makes much sense; Betts has been playing at center in Spring Training and was playing a lot of center in the minors last year. To now start him in right just doesn't sound right. So I am keeping them where they are.

Second, technically Shane Victorino is the starting right-fielder. But he is not 100% and if you look at how Castillo has played and the things John Farrell has been saying...the Sox are looking for a way to move Victorino to the side and start Castillo. They will never say that. But that's what will happen.

It will happen because Castillo brings a solid glove and hot bat to the game. The Sox would be insane to not start him. He, like Betts, has the quality to be Rookie of the Year. More than a few writers have picked Castillo to do just that.

Meanwhile, New York is now in Year Two of a three-year, $45M deal they willingly gave a 37-year-old outfielder. Last year, $15M got them -.2 WAR. This year the Yanks will do slightly better. But like Stephen Drew, Beltran actually sucks value out of his team. His range in the field is practically non-existent. He struggles to get on base. Frankly, the Yankees would be better off playing Garrett Jones. But hey, I'm not the manager.

Could this situation reverse itself? Possibly...if Beltran was magically 100% healthy and gave the Yankees a 2013-type season, while the wheels fell off of Castillo, the Yanks would be doing fine by their standards. But the odds of that are not good.

The real problem on Boston's side could be having too many outfielders. Not only is Victorino an issue, but Jackie Bradley, Jr. is hitting the ball extremely well in Spring Training. If he could carry that over to the regular season, the Sox would actually have a dilemma on their hands. Because Bradley's glove is the best Boston has in the outfield. It's not even a debate.

So how do you fit Ramirez, Betts, Castillo and JBJ in three spots? It's not a bad problem to have, to be sure. But you never know how that can affect chemistry.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Unzipping 2015: Comparing Boston and New York - Center Field

In the last installment we saw that one way to maximize value when it comes to players is to sign (or trade for) lesser-known players that give you a similar amount of production. Today we look at another way to maximize value: draft smartly and be willing to cut loose expensive players. When it comes to center field, Boston did both of those things with today's players.

Boston: Mookie Betts

2015: 147 G | 156 H | 65 RBI | .266 BA | .336 OBP | .408 SLG | .744 OPS | 3.4 WAR | Cost per WAR: $151,323 | Age: 22

New York: Jacoby Ellsbury

2015: 134 G | 152 H | 62 RBI | .281 BA | .337 OBP | .424 SLG | .761 OPS | 4.0 WAR | Cost per WAR: $5,285,714 | Age: 31

134 games for Ellsbury may sound high to some, but he has averaged 129 game a season over the last four years. And 2014 marked the first time since 2008-09 where he played 130+ games in two consecutive seasons. And for being paid as much as he is, Ellsbury provides pretty decent value, especially for a large-market team.

But Betts is just an all-around better value. He provides almost the same amount of WAR at a fraction of the cost. One WAR from Betts costs less than 3% of one WAR from Ellsbury. Boston controls Betts for years to come and, at only 22, he could be a fixture in center field for the next decade. Based on current performance, Betts is a potential Rookie of the Year candidate.

Of course, a lot of the same things were said about Jackie Bradley, Jr. last year before his season went all pear-shaped. But Betts seems to be performing better and more consistently, so hopefully for Boston there won't be a repeat of 2014.

Both players also rank in the top 10 projections for center fielders (Ellsbury is 6, Betts tied at 7). So neither team is deficient at center. But it is fair to say that Boston parted ways with Ellsbury at the right time. They now have what should be a comparable player for much less money. Money that can be used to sign or extend other players on the team.

That kind of financial flexibility is one of the greatest assets a team can possess. Mookie Betts gives Boston a lot of flexibility. And possibly a ROY season to go with it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Unzipping 2015: Comparing Boston and New York - Left Field

In the last installment we saw that Brian Cashman can occasionally make a smart signing or two. In looking at left field, we'll see that he used to be good at drafting players as well. Meanwhile, Boston is paying big money for some desperately needed production.

Let's look at the players:

Boston: Hanley Ramirez

2015: 122 G | 120 H | 70 RBI | .271 BA | .345 OBP | .455 SLG | .800 OPS | 3.0 WAR | Cost per WAR: $6,583,333 | Age: 31

New York: Brett Gardner

2015: 120 G | 113 H | 44 RBI | .260 BA | .333 OBP | .409 SLG | .742 OPS | 2.8 WAR | Cost per WAR: $4,464,286 | Age: 31

Brett Gardner has been a steady, un-heralded presence in New York's outfield. Did you know that in 2010 he had a WAR of 7.3? If you aren't familiar with the scale, anything 8.0 or higher is considered MVP-level performance. And while he hasn't hit that height since, he has hit 4.0 WAR the past two seasons.

Ramirez comes into Boston with a lot of hype. Former Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star. Swings a solid bat.

Ramirez also has a lot of questions. Injury-prone. Notoriously difficult to get along with. Has never played left field.

That last one is the big question facing Boston going into 2015. Even if Ramirez is solid with his bat (and there is no reason to think he won't be), how good will his glove be in left? He wasn't that good defensively at shortstop and that was his normal position. If he provides, say, 5.0 WAR with his bat but has -1.3 WAR with his glove (something Ramirez did in 2010) then you have a good player, but not one worth almost $20M a year.

And that has to be mentioned here as well. Gardner provides substantially more value to the Yankees per WAR than Ramirez in Boston. Gardner is about 1/3 cheaper. And that gap could widen even more starting in 2016 when Ramirez will get $22,750,000 a year until 2019. That is a huge chunk of change for a player who may be mediocre at best in left field.

If there is one thing to be said in Boston's defense it is that those three wins Ramirez is providing mean a lot more to them than Gardner's 2.8. Boston is projected to make the post-season; New York is not. Three wins could mean avoiding the wild-card slot. Three wins could mean home-field advantage. And $6.5M per win isn't completely insane as a valuation.

But what this does show - again - is that you don't need to spend tons of money to find a useful player that gives you production that is comparable to a more well-known player. Ramirez may have a higher ceiling on his possible 2015 impact...but he has a lower floor as well. Risk is a part of any business, true. But $20-$22M a year is a lot of risk.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Unzipping 2015: Comparing Boston and New York - Third Base

This off-season the Red Sox made a big splash signing two of the biggest free-agent bats in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval, in particular, was a necessary investment. Third base became a black hole for Boston in 2014. Will Middlebrooks' future in Boston died there and Xander Bogaerts proved by playing at third that shortstop was where he belonged. Sandoval solved that problem with one stroke of the pen.

Meanwhile, the Yankees brought back Chase Headley, whom they had traded for in 2014. He quietly signed a four-year, $52M deal and brought some stability to the position.

Now, the causal first-glance consensus may be that Boston has the stronger player at third. After all, they signed the third baseman from the defending MLB champions. And the Yankees have someone you may have never heard of before. But you may want to sit down if that's what you've been thinking.

Boston: Pablo Sandoval

2015: 144 G | 150 H | 83 RBI | .279 BA | .328 OBP | .454 SLG | .782 OPS | 3.1 WAR | Cost per WAR: $5,677,419 | Age: 28

New York: Chase Headley

2015: 139 G | 127 H | 73 RBI | .253 BA | .340 OBP | .427 SLG | .767 OPS | 4.1 WAR | Cost per WAR: $3,170,731 | Age: 31

That's not a misprint. Headley is giving the Yankees one more full win at third while costing about $2.5M less per win than Sandoval.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First is that Headley is slightly better in the field that Sandoval. And while that isn't shown in my admittedly-abbreviated line above, it affects overall WAR. Second, Headley is also projected to be slightly better than Sandoval in runs scored and home runs. Add all that together and you can see where he can rightly be projected to add one win more than Sandoval.

Things get even more interesting if you look at averages over the past few years

2010-14: Pablo Sandoval yearly average

2015: 135 G | 141 H | 70 RBI | 59 R | .283 BA | .778 OPS | 119 OPS+ | 3.2 WAR |

2010-14: Chase Headley yearly average

2015: 142 G | 138 H | 63 RBI | 66 R | .266 BA | .762 OPS | 117 OPS+ | 4.0 WAR |

Again, very similar lines. And while Sandoval looks like the stronger hitter, he has less WAR. Why? Fielding. Sandoval actually had a negative defense-only WAR in both 2012 and 2013. Headley has never had that problem.

None of this is meant to imply that Boston's signing of Sandoval was a bad idea. He is a massive upgrade over the debacle that existed at third in 2014. But sometimes the quieter signings can be just as effective as the ones that grab all the headlines. If not a little more so. And credit must be given to Brian Cashman for not only trading for Headley last year, but re-signing him in the off-season.* How that Cashman co-exists with the Cashman that gave $5M to Stephen Drew is beyond me.

If Boston has one advantage in this match-up it would be that Sandoval is only 28 while Headley will be 31 in May. Age matters and Sandoval is in his prime while Headley is at the end of his. But trying to predict anything based on age alone is idiocy.

But for now, the Yankees have a cost-effective solid third baseman that is just a little better overall that Boston's trumpeted free-agent signing.

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*Also, it's a little amusing that both Middlebrooks and Yangeris Solarte (the player of note that Cashman traded to San Diego for Headley) are competing for the same position in SD this spring.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Unzipping 2015: Comparing Boston and New York - Shortstop

In the last installment we saw statistically what we all knew instinctively:

  1. Dustin Pedroia is superior across the board to Stephen Drew.
  2. Yankee management was insane to sign Drew


Shortstop is going to be much closer. Boston has former top-prospect Xander Bogaerts entering his second full season while New York is replacing the legendary* Derek Jeter with four-year veteran Didi Gregorius.

What's interesting about these two players is how similar they stack up. Bogaerts was a little better with the bat but Gregorius was a little better in the field. So how are they projected this year?

Boston: Xander Bogaerts

2015: 147 G | 144 H | 53 RBI | .263 BA | .322 OBP | .409 SLG | .731 OPS | 2.5 WAR | Cost per WAR: $217,200 | Age: 22

New York: Didi Gregorius

2015: 132 G | 123 H | 48 RBI | .251 BA | .307 OBP | .369 SLG | .676 OPS | 1.8 WAR | Cost per WAR: $281,389 | Age: 25

As you can see, Bogaerts has the edge here in plate production. But this is definitely the closest we have seen when it comes to value.

Some people were dismissive of the Yankees when they traded for Gregorius. But he is actually a pretty smart signing for New York. And here is why: 0.9 WAR. That is the average WAR per year that Derek Jeter provided to the Yankees from 2010-2014. Gregorius doubles that amount for literally pennies on the dollar compared to Jeter and his salary. And Gregorius's glove should be better as well (a low bar to clear, to be sure). As dumb as the Stephen Drew signing was...that is how smart Cashman was to trade for Gregorius.

That said, however, won't change the fact that the Red Sox come out ahead here. And not only because Bogaerts should provide more bang for the buck. Bogaerts is also a home-grown player, which gives the Red Sox more financial flexibility for the next few years. He is also three years younger than Gregorius.

The only wild-card that could change this outlook is Bogaerts' glove. Last year he got jerked around between short and third and he suffered for it. Bogaerts never looked comfortable at all in the field in 2014 and it showed. If that deficiency in the field continues and Gregorius performs to his standard (slightly above league average) that will even these two players out. Preventing runs counts as much as scoring them.

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* If slightly over-rated. Yes, he played hard and was great at the plate. But then we should also be able to admit his glove was average at best. He exceeded the league average for Range Factor at his position exactly once in 2005. That's not the hallmark of a great fielding shortstop.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Unzipping 2015: Comparing Boston and New York - Second Base



In the first two installments, we've looked at catcher and first base for both Boston and New York. And while the Yankees are getting slightly better projected production at both positions, it's at a much higher cost per WAR than Boston is paying.

We aren't going to have that problem here.

At second base you have a Rookie of the Year/MVP/Gold Glove winner (x4) in Boston. In New York, you have Stephen Drew.

Yeah, not much to say after that. But let's look at the lines anyway.

Boston: Dustin Pedroia

2015: 143 G | 161 H | 62 RBI | .278 BA | .340 OBP | .392 SLG | .732 OPS | 4.1 WAR | Cost per WAR: $3,048,780.49 | Age: 31

New York: Stephen Drew

2015: 100 G | 72 H | 40 RBI | .211 BA | .285 OBP | .360 SLG | .645 OPS | 0.8 WAR | Cost per WAR: $6,250,000 | Age: 32

Now, it isn't all roses and candy with Boston. This projection for Pedroia continues a year-over-year decline for Pedroia in some key stats. But his defense is still solid and that mitigates some of his decline in production. Also, his salary is very team-friendly so even if he gets worse, Boston isn't stuck with a insane Ryan Howard-esque contract that hurts the team.

But Drew's projection is abysmal. It is so bad you have to wonder why the hell Cashman signed him in the first place. The cost per WAR for the Yankees is actually higher than what Drew gets paid. Drew actually sucks an extra $1.2M of value out of the Yankees. That is how bad Stephen Drew is. There is nothing in his projection I can point to and say, "Well, at least there's this...

There's nothing. Drew is a black hole where money and talent go to die.

Actually, there is one possible silver lining. Jose Pirela, one of New York's better prospects, projects to have 1.5 WAR this year. And while that isn't great, it's almost twice what Drew is giving New York. And if Pirela is making the minimum $500,000 or so, then his cost per WAR is a ridiculous $333,333. But hey, don't worry Yankee fans. Cashman has no interest in putting Pirela at second any time soon. Because why get cheaper and better when you can pay someone millions of dollars to suck?

It's just madness. Boston would be justified paying Pedroia $5 or even $6M for each of those wins because that is the difference between the post-season and golf for a team many expect in the playoffs. But for New York, who have little if no chance of making the playoffs, there is no logical reason to pay this kind of money.

Boston comes out ahead at second both in production and cost. It's not even close.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Unzipping 2015: Comparing Boston and New York - First Base

You can read the first piece comparing the catchers to get an idea about the metric being used here. To give a short bullet point about ZiPS - it will hopefully give us a relatively accurate look at how a player will perform in the future based on their performance in the past. It weighs four years of data, other metrics and uses age regression.

In the catcher comparison, New York's Brian McCann was projected to have better stats over Boston's Christian Vazquez. But he also costs almost $5M more per WAR.

Now we look at first base. Boston and New York have two of the older first basemen in the league. Which doesn't matter if they can give you the production you need. But neither Mike Napoli nor Mark Teixeira played in more than 125 games last year. They both had an OPS under .800 as well. So how does 2015 look?

Boston: Mike Napoli

2015: 115 G | 95 H | 54 RBI | .241 BA | .353 OBP | .441 SLG | .794 OPS | 2.4 WAR | Cost per WAR: $6,666,666.67 | Age: 33

New York: Mark Teixeira

2015: 90 G | 77 H | 65 RBI | .236 BA | .326 OBP | .433 SLG | .759 OPS | 1.5 WAR | Cost per WAR: $15,416,666.67 | Age: 34

Ouch. Teixeira's number are actually a little better than his 2014 performance, but that may be because he is projected to play 33 fewer games. Napoli's numbers are down a little across the board except for his slugging and OPS, which are both slightly higher.

Neither player is particularly cost-effective at their position, although Napoli is much closer to that ideal. Teixeira's insanely high cost is even more stark when compared to other high-money first basemen. Miguel Cabrera costs Detroit a little over $5.5M per WAR. Jose Abreu is costing the White Sox only $3,333,415 per WAR. Even Albert Pujols, who has one of the most insane contracts in the majors (he'll make $30M at age 41!), is costing the Angels $6.67M per WAR. Granted, these costs will go up over time and Abreu is six years younger than Teixeira. But this does give you an idea of what Teixeira is costing the Yankees by being their first baseman. And that contract has one more year on it. Napoli's contract runs out this year.

The real kicker here is that Napoli is providing Boston with almost 1 full win more than Teixeira is giving New York. With a cost that is 43% cheaper than what Teixeira costs New York. That hurts.

But, before Boston fans start patting themselves on the back, here is one more line. Let's call him Player X

2015: 152 G | 153 H | 94 RBI | .269 BA | .358 OBP | .493 SLG | .851 OPS | 4.2 WAR | Cost per WAR: $1,190,476.19 | Age: 25

Okay, let's not call him Player X anymore. That, Boston fans, is the projection for Anthony Rizzo. The young first baseman the Red Sox traded to the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez.

Ouch.

So while Teixeira may have a slightly better stat line, Napoli is providing more WAR at a lower cost. To me, that gives Boston the edge at first base over the Yankees.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Unzipping 2015: Comparing Boston and New York - Catchers

Whether you are a hard-core baseball fan or just aware of it during the season, you know that baseball uses analytics to a higher degree than any other sport.

PECOTA. WAR. BABIP. And many more. Some are basic and some are heavy on the math. Some are used just on a player and others can be used to project how a team will perform. But all of them try to take the statistical noise and turn it into something useful.

Today we are going to start looking at Boston and New York, position by position and their likely starters. And we will be using ZiPS to see how they stack up against one another.

ZiPS is used over at fangraphs.com. (Aside: fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com are two incredible sites for baseball stats). Rather than trying to explain it, I will just use their explanation here:

ZiPS - The work of Dan Szymborski over at Baseball Think Factory, the ZiPS projections uses weighted averages of four years of data (three if a player is very old or very young), regresses pitchers based on DIPS theory and BABIP rates, and adjusts for aging by looking at similar players and their aging trends. It’s an effective projection system, and is displayed at FanGraphs for off-season and in-season projections.


That's pretty straight-forward. DIPS is "defense-independent pitching statistics" which measures the effectiveness of a pitcher only on statistics that don't involve other fielders. In other words, it only cares about what the pitcher has direct influence over. BABIP stands for "Batting Average on Balls In Play".

So what we hope ZiPS will do is give us a relatively accurate look at how a player will perform in the future based on their performance in the past. It's not perfect but ZiPS has been pretty reliable.

So with all that in mind, let's look at the likely starting catchers for the Red Sox and Yankees.

Boston: Christian Vazquez

2015: 115 G | 102 H | 38 RBI | .246 BA | .305 OBP | .328 SLG | .633 OPS | 1.8 WAR | Cost per WAR: $277,777 | Age: 23

New York: Brian McCann

2015: 124 G | 110 H | 74 RBI | .249 BA | .316 OBP | .431 SLG | .746 OPS | 3.1 WAR | Cost per WAR: $5,483,870 | Age: 30