Some Things Are Better Left Alone
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.
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
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