Weekend BlogFebruary 24, 2007
Some Things Are Better Left Alone
By The Baseball Analysts Staff

  • In his latest Lies, Damned Lies article (subscription required), Nate Silver attempts to improve upon the Defensive Spectrum that Bill James created nearly 30 years ago. As much as I normally like Nate's work, his three-demensional version adds little or no value to the original spectrum. Worse yet, it is much more convoluted than James' KISS approach.

    James introduced the Defensive Spectrum (shown below) in the 1979 Baseball Abstract and elaborated on it in more detail than ever before in the 1982 Baseball Abstract.

    DH | 1B | LF | RF | 3B | CF | 2B | SS
    As a player grows older, and in certain other cases, he tends to be shifted leftward along this spectrum. Sometimes he moves in dramatic leaps, like Ernie Banks, a shortstop one year and a first baseman the next, or Rod Carew, from second to first. Sometimes he crawls unevenly along the spectrum, like Pete Rose. Sometimes, like Willie Mays, the only movement in a player's career is within the area covered by one position; that is, the player moves gradually from being a center fielder who has outstanding range to being a center fielder with very little range. But always he moves leftward, never right. Can you name one aging first baseman who has been shifted to second base or shortstop to keep his bat in the lineup?

    James conceded that certain young players whose position-specific skills are either undeveloped or under-utilized can move rightward but noted these shifts are always dangerous and often disastrous. He also pointed out the implications of the leftward drift in building a ballclub, including the need "to allow the talent at the left end of the spectrum to take care of itself, as it will, and to worry first about the right end."

    Silver states, "...while it's nice to dream of a day when every college will teach a Sabermetrics 101 course, and this poster will be hanging prominently on the wall, I know that probably won't be the case." Let's hope not. James' poster will more than suffice, thank you.

    - Rich Lederer, 2/24/07, 11:25 a.m. PST

  • Jason Varitek... Manny Ramirez... Dustin Pedroia... David Ortiz... Julio Lugo...

    One of these things is not like the other,
    One of these things just doesn't belong,
    Can you tell which thing is not like the others
    By the time I finish my song?

    Thanks to our good pals at Sesame Street, we see that Pedroia is the odd man out in the Boston Red Sox' lineup. The 2004 World Series champions have a veteran-ladened lineup, which does not often feature a raw rookie in its midst.

    The 5'9'' second baseman has only 89 at-bats in the majors and he struggled during his debut in the fall of 2006 by hitting .191/.258/.303. Even so, the Red Sox have seen enough to feel comfortable with Pedroia in the starting lineup.

    On the plus side, the 23-year-old walked seven times and also struck out only seven times in the majors. In fact, Pedroia has never struck out more than he has walked. Based on his minor league numbers, he has all the makings of a solid No. 2 hitter on a very powerful team.

    His career minor league numbers are .303/.392/.454 and Pedroia has the pedigree as a former second round pick in 2004, drafted 64th overall. In their 2004 draft preview, Baseball America stated:

    Pedroia's tools are below-average across the board, but people have learned not to sell him short. Scouts expect him to be a big leaguer, and probably an everyday player. He's not physically gifted at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, but Pedroia is a classic overachiever and possibly the best player in college baseball. He has a great work ethic and exceptional sense of the game. He's hard-nosed and competitive, and without peer as a team leader. He's a blood-and-guts player who thrives under pressure and makes everyone around him better.

    The only real threats to Pedroia's playing time are utility player Alex Cora and non-roster invitee Joe McEwing. It appears safe to say that Pedroia (barring injury or a complete collapse) will play a key role in the successes of the Red Sox this season. My guess is that he'll be in the top three in Rookie of the Year voting.

    - Marc Hulet, 2/24/07, 9:36 p.m. EST

  • There have been a number of questionable moves this past off-season, but the one team that continues to puzzle me the most is the Baltimore Orioles.

    The Orioles went into the off-season looking to make some noise in an effort to convince fans that they were serious about competing with Boston, New York and Toronto. But what they ended up with was a bunch of middle relievers past their prime and a couple of back-of-the-rotation starters.

    The haul:
    RHP Jamie Walker, 35, three years/$12 million
    RHP Chad Bradford, 32, three years/$10.5 million
    RHP Scott Williamson, 31, one year/$0.9 million
    RHP Danys Baez, 29, three years/$19 million

    RHP Jaret Wright, 31, $7 million in 2007
    RHP Steve Trachsel, 36, $3.1 million in 2007

    Honorable mentions:
    RHP Jeremy Guthrie (waivers), C Adam Donachie (Rule 5) and OF/IF Freddie Bynum (minor trade)

    The funny thing is that Baltimore traded young reliever Chris Britton away (for Wright), who may be a better option than any of the four veteran relievers they brought in.

    As well, they did nothing to address their offence, which placed (in the American League):
    10th in Doubles
    12th in Triples
    11th in Homers
    11th in Total Bases
    8th in On-Base Percentage
    10th in Slugging Percentage
    7th in Average

    Another puzzling thing is that one of Baltimore's better power threats, Jay Gibbons, is feeling ignored by the Orioles. Instead of giving Gibbons a shot to prove himself defensively, they continue to trot out the declining Kevin Millar to first base.

    "It doesn't appear that I will get a fair shot, and that is all I am looking for," Gibbons said. "I don't know what the reasoning is. I am not going to pout about it. I am here, and what I really want is to win. But do I think I should be given a shot to win a job? Absolutely. Why not?"
             AVG   OBP   SLG  VORP
    Gibbons .277  .341  .458  11.8
    Millar  .272  .374  .437  15.5

    The stats are similar, but Gibbons' ceiling is arguably much higher... especially with the power numbers.

    For a team that is already struggling to convince players to come to Baltimore (even for above-market offerings), the player grumblings do not help.

    - Marc Hulet, 2/25/07, 5:22 p.m. EST

  • If you listen to this mp3 from Baseball Prospectus, you will be treated to Will Carroll and Kevin Goldstein conversing about Goldstein's Top 100 prospects list. And you will hear Goldstein say the following:

    "There's only two prospect lists that matter, Baseball America's and mine"

    I'll steer clear of offering further commentary regarding my thoughts on either Carroll or Goldstein but let me just say that I urge everyone to check out the work of Bryan Smith and John Sickels and then decide for yourself if you agree with Goldstein.

    - Patrick Sullivan, 2/25/2007, 9:24 p.m. EST

  • At the request of my friend Alex Belth, I wrote a guest column for Bronx Banter. The article is entitled "Bernie and the Yanks (From the Outside Looking In)." I make the case that Williams could still be a useful member of the team and wonder why the situation has deteriorated to its current standstill after a successful partnership that began on Bernie's 17th birthday in 1985. Check it out.

    - Rich Lederer, 2/26/07, 6:59 a.m. PST

  • Comments

    When the White Sox picked up Ron Santo for the final season of his career, they mvoed a Gold Glove 3B to 2B to accomodate Bill Melton, who was far inferior to Santo defensively.

    The move was a bust, with the normally powerful Santo hitting just .221 with only 5 HR in 370-plus at-bats. He was definitely out of place at 2B.

    I'm with you. I'm at a loss to understand why that busy chart is an improvement over James' continuum. I guess it does add the "catcher," but I don't know how accurate that assumption might be, since catchers who move to a position other than 1b also seem to move with some frequency to 3b, as well as the outfield.
    When I think about shifting from the catcher position, it brings to mind Craig Biggio. He started at catcher, moved to 2b, then moved to CF, then moved to LF, and then moved back to 2b for this his 3d year since he moved out of the outfield. I don't think either James' or Silver's version of the spectrum accounts for that.

    I know this doesn't really count but when i was younger(born in 1991 ) Chuck Knobloch who at the time played for the Yankees moved from second base to centerfield and then left field. Oh the Pedroia thing it gets me so angry that i just want to break something, we had Loretta who started in the all-star game nad he wanted to come back and he was willing to play first or second. But we have to make stupid move every year.

    I don't care how well Pedroia's hitting numbers were in the minors especially strike outs all they are in the farms are a bunch of throwers not pitchers who make veterans look foolish. Plus Kevin Millar had a triple crown in the minors and in 2005 he had only 9 homers in 134 games so i am not buying into the minor league stats when you can easily get a veteran like Mark Loretta.

    James' spectrum is of course more simple. But it's also incomplete, and in a couple of cases incorrect. 3B is not to the "left" of 2B -- players move from 3B to 2B about as often as the reverse. So the two positions should be on the same level, however you want to visualize the spectrum. Nor is CF to the "right" of 3B. CFs move to LF or RF (or 1B), but almost never to 3B. There are several overlapping trajectories, not a single continuum. And Silver's poster does a pretty good job of mapping what actually happens.

    I would think that Pedoria is likely to suceed as a major leaguer but top 3 in the ROY is fairly optimistic espically considering that Delmon Young and Alex Gordon alone should lock up 1/2... and i would be suprirsed if he ends up with a OPS over .8

    Perhaps those saying top 3 ROY are accounting for the fact that his style of play makes people think of Eckstein and we know how a lot of sportswriters orgasm over Eck.

    I like Pedroia, too. I saw him get his first big league hit last year in Anaheim. Here's what I had to say last August:

    One can't help but notice Pedroia's smallish size. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, the 23-year-old infielder does himself no favors in the looks department with his baggy pants. Nevertheless, the guy can play. The 2003 Pacific-10 Player of the Year started one game at shortstop and the other at second base. He played well in the field and squared up the ball several times at the plate (although you might not know it by looking at his 2-for-18 results through Sunday). To his credit, Pedroia has always had more BB than SO every stop along the way going back to his freshman year at Arizona State. We're not looking at a superstar in the making but don't be surprised if he becomes a serviceable every day player.

    My guess is that Pedroia will wind up hitting eighth or ninth more often than not this year (although I think he would also make a good #2). I believe he will have some competition for AL ROY with a certain teammate of his.

    Mark Loretta of the .255 EQA and 361 .SLG despite playing half his games in Fenway? Yeah, can't see why Boston wouldn't want a second helping of that action instead of playing one of the game's best middle infield prospects.

    It surprises me that no one has described Pedroia as another Eckstein. But that's what this discussion seems to say.

    How can you mention Pedroia's performance last year and not mention his .188 BABIP? They guys was jut plain unlucky. And if you are going to compare him to Eckstien, compare him to a better version of Eckstien. One with more power, and a higher OBP. Bill James and CHONE both project him as having a higher RC/27 then Eckstien has ever had. And its his rookie season. The guy will never be an All Star, but the sox don't need another all star. They need a solid second baseman for the league minimum, so that they can afford all those other all stars. And wishing for Loretta back? Might as well have a cardboard cutout stand at second base for all the range he has. And his hitting wasn't much better.

    Well said Karl, especially "The guy will never be an All Star, but the sox don't need another all star. They need a solid second baseman for the league minimum, so that they can afford all those other all stars." As a Red Sox fan, I couldn't agree with you more.

    As far as the Eckstein comps, being a small, overachieving 2B is where it stops. While Eckstein runs better, his career years have been 8 HR with an OBP of .360. Pedroia ought to flirt with .380 every year and will have a few seasons of 10+ HR.

    I think KG's right, BA and Goldstein are the only lists that matter.

    Admit it or not, all other lists (Sickels, PECOTA, Bryan, thousands of others included) use BA and Goldstein info, consciously or unconsciously, gather small amounts of first-hand info not already mentioned there, possibly a little team exec opinion, then put more stats into the argument than the "only" 2 sources.

    To me, the "other" lists add a little more in-depth stats commentary, and possibly a little first-hand or team exec views. But, I'd rather trust scouts on the first-hand stuff and I doubt the "other" lists uncover previously unreported team exec opinions.

    I don't necessarily like it this way, but that's the way it is. The other prospect lists put stat spins on the real lists at best, since that's all they can really contribute. And that's something that's worthwhile, but nowhere near as much as BP or KG.

    So, if you consider that stat analysis perspective that only a few lists can really offer another legit list based on the stats alone, then maybe KG's wrong. But, for my money, I can look at a BA or BP list and inject stats. It's a small amount of value added, and there are still only 2 lists that matter.

    That said, keep up the good work, guys!


    Thanks for the comment and closing with the kind words.

    BA and KG may have the advantage of their first-hand sources but Bryan and John bring tremendous analytical capabilities to the table (in addition to their own, albeit more modest, rolodex of insiders).

    And I would have much less of a problem with Kevin and perhaps even enjoy his output if he wrote with even a tinge of humility.

    Goldstein's treatment of Jered Weaver offers a good case in point. Here are comments from Goldstein from March of 2006:

    Don't Believe The Hype: In 2003, Jered Weaver had one of the best seasons statistically of any pitcher in recent college baseball history. Pitching for Long Beach State, Weaver had a 1.63 ERA in 144 innings, while accumulating more than twice as many strikeouts (213) as baserunners allowed (81 hits, 21 walks). This caused people to make the dangerous mistake of judging a college player solely by his statistics, and some started to say Weaver was as good as, if not better than, the last college super-pitcher, USC's Mark Prior. Those people didn't talk to the scouts, who saw a pitcher dominating with good stuff and excellent command in a pitcher-friendly park, as opposed to Prior, whose pure stuff was off the charts. Weaver's arm slot was also a concern, as that family of pitchers has a tendency to struggle against good lefthanded hitters. Weaver took nearly a year to sign, and now that he's pitched in the pros, all of those concerns have come to light. In the Texas league, lefty batters hit .278 against him, and in the small sample-size Arizona Fall League, his platoon splits were downright ridiculous (.220 vs. RHB, .365 vs. LHB). Add in an incredibly low groundball-to-flyball ratio (0.36) in the regular season, and you have a pitcher who's hard to project as more than a No. 3 or 4 starter. In the end, if he hits his ceiling, he's basically his brother.

    I get it. You have convicitons, you want to write confidently, you like to think your line of work requires some incredible specialty so you play gatekeeper (accusing the amateurs of "dangerous" mistakes). But boy, at least allow for the possibility that you might be wrong.

    That's not KG's style, however. Here is his latest on the younger Weaver (from 2/19).

    Another young arm not throwing off the mound yet is Weaver, who is only in the long toss stage while dealing with biceps tendonitis. What makes the story more interesting are some comments made to MLB.com in which Weaver explains that this has always been an issue for him because of his mechanics. While it takes a decent amount of maturity and self-awareness to admit such a thing, it also serves as a cautionary tale for other pitching prospects when it comes to messing around with the natural way one throws a baseball. Weaver is what he is, which is pretty damn good. The history of baseball is filled with plenty of fine arms with so-called bad mechanics yet no injury history until those mechanics were altered. Pitching is simply an unnatural act, and thumbs up to Weaver for simply knowing what he is and not trying to mess with a pretty good thing.

    And this is symptomatic of KG's writing. He is the perpetual authority with little-to-no accountability.

    I have little question that KG's voice adds to the prospect discussion. But for me, his quest to make prospect analysis his own prorietary niche, stifle other intelligent, value-add voices and altogether ignore his mistakes muddle whatever quality output might lie beneath the hubris.

    A little humility is definitely in order when it comes to prospecting. Until one has done it for 10 years or so, and can publish "hit and misses" from that time, there is little objective data on whose projections are most accurate. John Sickels does an admirable job of reviewing his past projections, and pointing out both strengths and weaknesses (and what he learned from his mistakes). If one looks at the BA top 50 from 1997, one can similarly find strengths and weaknesses.

    May I also point out the exemplary work from new entrants in the field, Chris Constancio (of firstinning.com) and Jeff Sackmann over at the Hardball Times. Sackmann's work at minorleaguesplits.com is in its infancy, but holds out the promise of giving insight into player and team defence at the minor league level.

    Hi everyone,

    Kevin Goldstein here. Was what I said a generalization? Sure it was. At the same time, I think Joe makes my point for me. I don want to say however, that while I do think the overwhelming majority of prospect lists out there ARE the regurgitation of other people's information in the manner I describe in the interview, I don't think it's accurate for me to include Bryan in that list. I think Bryan is pretty outstanding, and has a career in front of him in this game if he so desires. He's intelligent, thoughtful, smart and he and I shared a number of long, entertaining conversations about each of my Top 10 lists. So to wrap up -- I DO think there is a lot of crap out there, but Bryan is the GOODS.

    One more thing (I read the rest of the thread). Sully is clearly attaching his feelings on the Goldstein/Ledered/Weaver thing from a year ago. If you read this whole comment as it stands by itself, it's incredibly positive about Weaver, and when it says "he is what he is" -- it's in reference to his mechanics being what they are, and while they may cause some discomfort, they're also one of the keys to his success. You read WAY to much into that one.

    That's the point, Kevin. I understand that this year's note is "incredibly positive." I did not misread that at all. But it's just an about face. "Incredibly positive" is very different from "In the end, if he hits his ceiling, he's basically his brother."

    No accountability, no "I seem to have missed the mark on Weaver," just all of a sudden "incredibly positive" as though it is how you have felt all along.

    Thanks for coming by and responding.

    Man, it astounds me that some Boston fans still need to be straightened out regarding Pedroia.

    First of all, if you want to talk about man-crushes, too many people love Loretta. I really enjoyed him last year, and I think any team benefits from his prescence...but he wasn't THAT good.

    Secondly, you have to move beyond the stat line of a guy who (as pointed out above) had a horrifically unlucky BABIP and received at bats inconsistently. If you look up his college and minor league stats, you see this is a guy who knows the strike zone.

    The bottom line is that Pedroia, in a few years and maybe even now, is an upgraded version of Loretta. He'll post a solid batting average, an excellent OBP for a non power hitter, excellent defense (he won the collegiate award for the BEST overall defensive player), and excellent baserunning. All that for minimum salary and some youth added to the lineup...what's not to like?

    Am I missing something about Pedroia? I was very unimpressed from what I saw last year! Anybody else think he might struggle this year?

    Considering that Mark Loretta is terrible, I wouldn't worry too much about Pedroia struggling.