Category: number crunching

Money does not equal championships

So supposedly, because the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a 6 year, $147 million contract, along with their mid-season pickups, are the team to beat in the NL West now?

Not so fast.

To look at the Dodgers, you have to break down their 2012 season into three parts: The start of the season through May 25th, in which the team drastically overachieved, with aging veterans Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly, and Mark Ellis performing the best they had in years, guys like AJ Ellis and Andre Ethier playing way over their heads, and Matt Kemp putting up numbers that are out of this world, even for a player of his caliber, got off to a 32-15 start.  Then players came back to reality, while others, including Matt Kemp, spent a significant time on the DL.  Between their fluke start and and the trade with the Red Sox, the team went 36-43.   From August 25th to the end of the season, when everyone was pretty much healthy and they had acquired all the new guys, the team went 18-18.  So basically, you’re looking at a .500 team going into the off-season. 

Does the addition of Zack Greinke turn the Dodgers from a .500 team into playoff contenders?  Or more specifically, does Greinke add thirteen wins to the Dodgers to match the Giants 94 wins from 2012?

Not even close.

Greinke’s a solid pitcher, but looking at his career performances, he’s only had one year, his Cy Young year in 2009, in which he was a true ace. Since then, he’s been an above average starter but not much more than that.

And what does Greinke really add to the Dodgers?  He’s not much better than what they already had at the back end of the rotation.  Compare the Dodgers 2012 pitching staff with the 2013, and it’s not really all that much better (consider that newly signed Korean free agent Hyun-Jin Ryu will most likely be a non factor at this point):

Look at how the starting pitchers in 2012 performed (combining certain pitchers to make a full season)
Clayton Kershaw 14-9, 2.53 ERA, 229 K / 63 BB, 1.02 WHIP, 150 ERA+Ted Lilly/ Chad Billingsley (33 combined starts): 16-11,  3.45 ERA, 159K/ 64 BB, 1.20 WHIP, 111 ERA+
Aaron Harang: 10-10, 3.61 ERA, 131K/ 85 BB, 1.403 WHIP, 105 ERA+
Chris Capuano: 12-12, 3.72 ERA, 162 K/ 54 BB, 1.22 WHIP, 102 ERA+
Josh Beckett/  Joe Blanton/ Nathan Eovaldi/ Stephen Fife (32 combined starts): 5-15, 4.02 ERA, 143 K/ 62 BB, 1.41 WHIP, 104 ERA+
 Now compare those to the 2013 rotation’s 3 year averages:
Clayton Kershaw: 16-8, 2.56 ERA, 230 K/66 BB, 1.055 WHIP, 148 ERA+
Zack Greinke: 14-8, 3.83 ERA,194 K/ 54 BB, 1.22 WHIP, 106 ERA+
Chad Billingsley: 11-10, 3.79 ERA, 150K/ 66 BB, 1.34 WHIP, 100 ERA+Josh Beckett: 9-9, 4.25 ERA, 141 K/ 50 BB, 1.26 WHIP, 101 ERA+
Ted Lilly: 9-9, 3.72 ERA, 118K/ 38 BB, 1.12 WHIP, 104 ERA+
Chris Capuano: 9-9, 4.10 ERA, 128K/ 43 BB, 1.29 WHIP, 92 ERA+
Aaron Harang: 10-8, 4.03 ERA, 112K/ 60 BB, 1.43 WHIP, 94 ERA+

Almost every starting pitcher for the Dodgers overachieved in 2012.  So because of that, the rotation, even with the addition of Greinke, will be no better in 2013.  And that doesn’t take into account Greinke’s well documented mental problems, that he didn’t want to be traded to a large market team two years ago because he didn’t think he could handle the pressure, and that he has pitched poorly in every big time game (notably during the 2011 playoffs), and there’s a good chance of Greinke being a complete bust in Los Angeles.

So with a decent but vastly overrated rotation and a subpar bullpen (Brandon League as closer, that says it all), the Dodgers are going to have to rely on their “star studded” lineup to carry them to October.

Yeah, good luck with that.  Let’s break it down to show how flawed it truly is:  At catcher, you have AJ Ellis, a career minor leaguer who, after coming out of nowhere to have a stellar first two months in 2012, really slowed down and played pretty poorly the final four months of the seasons with the exception of a decent August semi-resurgance.   At first base, you have Adrian Gonzalez, who hit a career high 40 home runs in 2009 has seen a drastic drop-off every year since, going from 40 to 31 to 27 to 18 homers in 2012.  At best, you’re looking at a 20 home run guy, but realistically another dropoff is more likely, especially now that he’s out of hitter friendly Fenway park and the American League.  At second base, you have 35 year old Mark Ellis, who was such deadweight in 2011 that the A’s cut him mid-season after being with the team for nearly a decade, and other than one good month with the Dodgers last year, has looked pretty much the same.  At third base, you have Luis Cruz, a career minor league who performed adequately after not being able to hit minor league pitching for his first decade in professional baseball.  Good luck with expecting anything out of him next year.  At shortstop, you have Hanley Ramirez who at 29 is a clubhouse cancer that has already been washed up for a couple seasons. 

At left field, you have Carl Crawford, who was a “fantasy superstar” (someone who’s fantasy baseball value far outweighs their real life value) in Tampa Bay but overall a slightly above average player.  This was before he went to Boston and stunk it up, which was before being sidelined from a major injury which we don’t know that he’ll be back by opening day 2013.  Do you really think he’ll be of any value in 2013?  At right field, you have Mr. April Andre Ethier, who always starts off the season well before being useless the last 2/3 of the season.  And even Matt Kemp, the lone superstar in the lineup and one of baseball’s elite is coming off a season in which he suffered through multiple injuries.  If that’s not a red flag, I don’t know what is.

All in all, can you really look at this team and see a team that will upend the reigning World Series champions two of the last three seasons?  Look past the names, and the money, and all they really have is a heavily flawed, heavily overrated team.

Just like the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox in recent years, expect for the Dodgers to crash and burn.

The Trout/ Cabrera Debate

First off, I just want to say that whenever one of your own gets the premiere individual award in all of baseball, it’s an awesome feeling.  To see someone homegrown, it’s even more special.
Congrats to Buster.  We really are watching the genesis of a future legend in Posey, and we lucky to have this once in a generation player on our team.
Now, onto the more talked about MVP in the American League.  Miguel Cabrera, even though he was a lock to win, won by a much larger margin than expected, carrying 22 out of 28 first place votes.
It’s a vote that could have gone either way and it would have been deserving.  One (Cabrera) was obviously the better hitter, the other (Trout) the better fielder and baserunner.   Since the season ended, I have been saying that it’s a travesty that Cabrera was going to win over Trout.  But after, further thought, I realized that Cabrera winning isn’t a travesty, and the thing that got me all worked up was the true travesty, the reasons why Cabrera won.
Considering one voter, Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beach Journal (who should be banned from ever voting on any award ever again) voted Beltre over Trout for second place, thus breaking a potential 14-14 tie, Trout would have needed nine more votes to beat out Cabrera.   And there’s two things that would have definitely shifted the award in Trout’s favor:
1. Detroit won their division, while the Angels missed out on the playoffs.  Using team performance to justify Cabrera as MVP, when the Angels had a better record by one game in a much tougher division is baffling.  The Tigers had the seventh best record out of 14 teams in the American League, and you award the MVP to one of their players based on team performance?  Are you kidding me?  And if you factor in that the Angels strength of schedule (average winning percentage of opponents in each of the 162 games) was .513, while the Tigers was .495, the Angels were clearly the better team.  Had the Angels been in the Central, they likely would have run away with the division, while the Tigers would have been a distant fourth place in the West.
If the Tigers had missed out on the playoffs, or the Angels had made it, Trout would have easily made up that nine game swing.  And yet, Cabrera was given the Award because the White Sox, Royals, Indians, and Twins were significantly inferior to the A’s, Rangers, and Angels.
2. The triple crown.  Yeah, it’s a cool accomplishment, but it shouldn’t be a factor.  If one believes that Cabrera was the MVP with or without the triple crown, that’s fine.  But the triple crown is not a reason to give Cabrera MVP, and here’s why:
Cabrera lead the league with 44 home runs.  Josh Hamilton and Curtis Granderson both had 43.  Had either of those two hit two more, Cabrera would not have won the triple crown.  So if some player on another team hit two more homers, would that have made Cabrera any less valuable, or Trout any more valuable?  If you believe that the triple crown is the reason why Cabrera deserves MVP, then your answer is yes.  And I truly believe that had Cabrera not won the triple crown, then Trout would have won the MVP.
The real debate is whether or not Cabrera’s offensive superiority outweighed Trout’s defensive and baserunning superiority. Let’s take a closer look:
Considering it is the most valuable player award, we need to look at it from the standpoint of how many games Cabrera and Trout won for their respective teams.  And let’s throw WAR out the window, as if you’re going by that, Ben Zobrist would be a two-time MVP.  Hell, Robinson Cano beat out Cabrera for second place, and there’s nobody other than possibly some biased Yankee fans that will say that Cano was more deserving of Cabrera this year.
The huge gap in stolen bases doesn’t really make as much of a difference as one would think.  I looked at each of Trout’s stolen bases, and removed the following that were ultimately non factors in the team’s record:
*steals games in which the Angels lost, or won by two or more runs
*steals in which Trout failed to score or would have scored regardless
All in all, Trout had just one game in which his baserunning made a difference (June 11th against the Dodgers).  So despite having 45 more steals than Cabrera, it made a measly one game difference.
As for defensive, yes Trout was a far superior defender.  But how much of a difference did that make?  According to uZR, which determines how many runs a player saves or costs his team with his glove, Cabrera cost the Tigers pitchers 10 runs with his glove while Trout saved the Angels pitchers 11 runs.  Over the course of a season, that accounts to two fewer wins for the Tigers and one more win for the Angels, making Trout’s net defensive value over Cabrera 3 games.
So if you factor in that Trout’s defense and baserunning was four games better than Cabrera, does Cabrera’s bat make a difference?  Let’s take a look.
The best way to do this, again, is to look at each players game by game performance in each of their team’s respective wins.  The most precise way to do this would be to look up the results of every win, and replace each hit or walk with an out and see how many fewer runs their team would have scored.  If the difference was equal or greater to the margin of victory for that game, they get credit for the win.
However, that would take way too long, so instead, I’ll simply look at runs and RBIs, divide it by two (so they don’t get double credit for home runs and half credit for driving in a run or being driven in by somebody else).  If it comes out to half a number, I round up:
Cabrera’s bat made a difference in 16 wins.  Trout’s bat was a factor in 14 (not counting the one where I already gave him credit for the stolen base winning the game).
So overall, Trout accounted for 17 wins for the Angels, while Cabrera played a part in 15 wins.   Granted, the Tigers and Angels still probably win about half of those games without their stars, leaving Trout with 9 wins and Cabrera with 8, making Trout one game more valuable.
There’s also one other factor you have to take into account, and that’s something that (rightfully) plays a huge factor in the MVP voting every year, and that’s performance during the stretch drive.  Trout put up phenomenal numbers from May to July, but had a massive drop-off in August and September, putting up far less than MVP numbers.  Cabrera on the other hand, put up MVP numbers the entire time.  If you flip their performances the last two months of the season, the Tigers don’t come close to sniffing the playoffs, while the Angels win the West easily.  So despite Trout being slightly more valuable in terms of games won for his team, it is more than reasonable to give the MVP to Cabrera because he came through when his team needed him the most.
Either one would have been a good choice.  Just not for the reasons Cabrera won.
And just for the hell of it, I will calculate the difference Posey made for the Giants.  You can’t really factor in defense considering the defensive stats for catcher are not conclusive (although the Giants did get some wins for the way he handled the staff), but on offense alone he factored in a 20 game difference using this formula, meaning the Giants would have won 10 fewer games without his bat alone.  Factor in the way he handled the pitching staff was way more effective than any sort of defensive performance possible by a player at any other position, it is clear that Posey is not only the National League MVP, but MLB’s Most Valuable Player.