Category Archives: Deleted Scenes

Deleted Scenes: The 2010 NL Rookie Class

The following was published on on November 14, 2010 under the headline “NL rookie class unusually deep, talented.” It is one of several of my older articles that was lost in the site’s redesign in June 2014. I’m republishing it here, unaltered, from my original submission, prior to any editing by’s editors. Italicized sections below are from the original text.

In writing my Awards Watch column this season, I often found myself struggling to find five, or even three worthy players to round out my list of American League Rookie of the Year candidates. That stood in stark contrast to the crop of rookies in the National League, which not only provided stiff competition for my top five spots, but was large and diverse enough that one could assemble a strong 25-man roster from this year’s National League rookies alone. With the Rookie of the Year awards due to be announced on Monday, that got me thinking. What would that 25-man roster of NL rookies look like and, if assembled, how well could it have done in this year’s standings?

To answer that question, I have to set out some ground rules. First, I’m looking for a team that could play a full season, not an All-Star game. Thus, I’ll need my position players to total 162 games played at each position, my starting pitchers to total 162 games started, and my bullpen to add enough relief innings to combine with my starters to give me a total of 1,458 innings on the season (nine innings times 162 games). In order to reach those totals, I’ll likely have to expand my roster beyond 25 men, but no team uses just 25 men over the course of an entire season, so this remains within the realm of reality.

With regard to position, I will give myself a bit of flexibility. For example, though Buster Posey started 30 games at first base this year, I will count all of his games toward my catchers, and if an outfielder has experience in a pasture other than his usual one, or an infielder has experience at a relatable position (a third baseman who has played first, a shortstop who has played second or third, etc.), I’ll give myself permission to use that player to fill in the necessary games at those positions as needed. I will not use starting pitchers in my bullpen unless they have actually thrown those innings in relief, and vice versa for relievers starting. However, if a pitcher has both started and relieved this season, if I include him his starts will count toward my rotation and his relief innings will count toward my bullpen. I won’t attempt to isolate his performance in either role.

With that established, I need a total-production metric to allow me to measure the performance of my roster relative to an existing standard. Joe Posnanski examined some of the issues with the two different versions of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) earlier this season. I share his belief that FanGraphs’ WAR weighs defense more heavily, which I find problematic given how inexact even advanced fielding metrics are relative to our ability to parse out value from pitching and hitting. I also find FanGraphs’ WAR problematic because it uses Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) for its defensive component, but UZR doesn’t rate catchers and doesn’t take into account several key aspects of paying first base. Baseball-Reference’s WAR uses Total Zone Runs for its defensive component, which at minimum has the advantage over UZR of rating catchers and seems to be more gently applied to the overall WAR stat. Baseball Prospectus’s VORP is an offense-only statistic, but it’s counterpart WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player, which pre-dates WAR by roughly a decade) not only includes fielding, but its fielding component, Fielding Runs Above Average, was overhauled last year to employ play-by-play data, giving new life an old favorite. I’ll stick with the dame I came in with and use WARP.

For players with more than the required amount of games played, I will use a pro-rated portion of their total WARP. Those partial-season statistics are in italics below.

Here, then, is my 2010 National League All-Rookie team:

1B – Ike Davis, Marlins (147 G, 3.1 WARP)
2B – Neil Walker, Pirates (110 G, 2.1 WARP)
SS – Starlin Castro, Cubs (125 G, 2.4 WARP)
3B – Chris Johnson, Astros (92 G, 1.96 WARP)
C – Buster Posey, Giants (108 G, 4.4 WARP)
RF – Jason Heyward, Braves (142 G, 5.1 WARP)
CF – Jose Tabata, Pirates (102 G, 2.7 WARP)
LF – Mike Stanton, Marlins (100 G, 2.5 WARP)


1B – Gaby Sanchez, Marlins (15 G, 0.21 WARP)
SS/2B – Ian Desmond, Nationals (89 G, 1.10 WARP)
3B – David Freese, Cardinals (70 G, 2.2 WARP)
LF – Logan Morrison, Marlins (62 G, 1.5 WARP)
CF – Lorenzo Cain, Brewers (43 G, 1.1 WARP)
RF/CF – Chris Heisey, Reds (37 G, 0.42 WARP)
C – Josh Thole, Mets (54 G, 1.55 WARP)


Jaime Garcia, LHP, Cardinals (28 GS, 4.0 WARP)
Jhoulys Chacin, RHP, Rockies (21 GS, 2.8 WARP*)
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants (18 GS, 2.9 WARP)
Barry Enright, RHP, Diamondbacks (17 GS, 2.6 WARP)
Dan Hudson, LHP, Diamondbacks (11 GS, 3.6 WARP)

Travis Wood, LHP, Reds (17 GS, 1.7 WARP)
Alejandro Sanabia, RHP, Marlins (12 GS, 1.4 WARP*)
Casey Coleman, RHP, Cubs (8 GS, 1.2 WARP*)
Dillon Gee, RHP, Mets (5 GS, 1.2 WARP)


John Axford, CL, Brewers (58 IP, 4.1 WARP)
Jonny Venters, LHP, Braves (83 IP, 2.2 WARP)
Wilton Lopez, RHP, Astros (67 IP, 2.3 WARP)
Ryan Webb, RHP, Padres (59 IP, 1.3 WARP)
Drew Storen, RHP, Nationals (55, 1.5 WARP)
Ernesto Frieri, RHP, Padres (31 2/3 IP, 0.9 WARP)
Kenley Jansen, RHP, Dodgers (27 IP, 1.4 WARP)
Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Braves (20 2/3 IP, 1.7 WARP)
Michael Dunn, LHP, Braves (11 1/2 IP, 0.48 WARP)
Hisanori Takahashi, LHP, Mets (12 GS, 122 IP, 2.7 WARP*)


Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals (12 GS, 1.6 WARP)

*WARP includes relief innings, which are factored into overall team innings

That’s 35 players, fewer than any of the 30 major league teams used during the 2010 season (the Rays came closest, using just 37 men, 35 of whom appeared in at least ten games). Though I have a nice mix of righties and lefties on my pitching staff, the offense is heavily right-handed. Only Heyward, Davis, and bench players Morrison and Thole bat lefty, while Walker is the only switch-hitter. Not that I mind. Want a batting order? How’s this:

R – Jose Tabata (.299/.346/.400, 19 SB)
R – Starlin Castro (.300/.347/.408, 10 SB)
L – Jason Heyward (.277/.393/.456, 18 HR)
R – Buster Posey (.305/.357/.505, 18 HR)
L – Ike Davis (.264/.351/.440, 19 HR)
R – Mike Stanton (.259/.326/.507, 22 HR)
R – Chris Johnson (.308/.337/.481, 11 HR)
S – Neil Walker (.296/.349/.462, 12 HR)

WARP, again, is Wins Above Replacement Player. Replacement level is defined as the production that can be expected from a freely available player, be it a non-prospect promoted from Triple-A or a player placed on waivers or released by another team. A replacement level team is thus, essentially, the worst major league team possible. The worst major league team in the modern era was the 1916 Philadelphia A’s, who had a .235 “winning” percentage. That translates to 38 wins over a 162-game schedule. According to Baseball Prospectus’s definition of WARP, a team that is replacement level across the board would likely win no more than 25 games. I can thus use that 25 wins as the starting point for my team, adding the total WARP from my roster above to figure out just how many games this team might have won.

Adding up the 35 WARP totals above, I find my NL All-Rookie team was 73.92 wins above replacement in 2010. If you add those 74 wins to the 25-win baseline you’ll find the team above, comprised exclusively of National League rookies, would have won 99 games, more than any other team in baseball in 2010.

So how deep was the 2010 National League rookie class? So deep you could not only assemble an entire 25-man roster (with ten alternates) of NL rookies, but future stars such as Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez, Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown, Reds righty Mike Leake, and Mets hurlers Jenrry Mejia and Jonathon Niese didn’t even make the team, nor did hot-hitting rookies Tyler Colvin of the Cubs or Jon Jay of the Cardinals (all had inferior WARP-per-game rates to the players listed in their positions above). It was so deep that it could absorb Stephen Strasburg’s elbow injury and still have a deep and effective rotation. So deep that the resulting roster would have had the best record in the major leagues in 2010, won any division in the game, and had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That deep.

Thanks to Baseball Prospectus’s Colin Wyers for filling me in on the finer points and current formulation of WARP.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Deleted Scenes: Anticipating Barry Bonds’ all-time home run record

The following was published on on May 18, 2007 as part of the site’s short-lived Fungoes blog for which I wrote the Friday “Wild Card” entries. It is one of several of my older articles that was lost in the site’s redesign in June 2014. I’m republishing it here, unaltered, from my original submission, prior to any editing by’s editors.

Last Tuesday, Barry Bonds hit a solo home run off Tom Glavine for the only Giants’ run in a 4-1 loss to the Mets. That home run put him exactly ten behind Hank Aaron’s career home run record of 755. Since then, Bonds has gone just 2 for 16 (a single and a double), but walked nine times. Still, it’s now all but inevitable that Bonds, who entered the season 21 homers shy of Aaron, will break Aaron’s record this season.

The thought of the surly, unlikable Bonds, who allegedly used illicit means to get into this position, breaking the record the gentlemanly, heroic Aaron claimed in the face of intense racial hatred conjures up a wide variety of unpleasant reactions in nearly every baseball fan. Most fans, consciously or not, still think of Roger Maris’s 61 home runs, not Bonds’s 73, as the single-season record. I don’t have the time, space, or energy to get into the legitimacy of Bonds’s accomplishments right now, but it seems as though the closer Bonds comes to Hank’s 755, the more the mind races for ways to defang, if not outright undermine his accomplishment.

This all got me thinking about the nature of sports records in general. When Maris was bearing down on Babe Ruth’s single-season mark of 60 home runs in 1961, there was a similar recoiling by baseball purists who hadn’t anticipated Ruth’s homer marks ever being broken, and certainly not by a flash-in-the-pan such as Maris. As Maris neared the record, then-Commissioner Ford Frick, who was once Ruth’s ghostwriter, famously declared that Maris, who was chasing Ruth in the first year of expansion for which the season had been extended from 154 games to 162, would have to break Ruth’s record by the Yankees’ 154th game or suffer the cruel indignity of having his mark listed separately as the “162-game record” (no, Virginia, there never was an asterisk, now go tell Billy Crystal). Maris had just 58 homers after 154 games and thus his record, which is now considered the “pure” record, was listed separately until Fricks’ distinction was abandoned in 1991.

History (and Crystal) vilified Frick for that decision, but here’s the thing: statistically speaking, Frick was right. Ruth hit 60 home runs in a 154-game season and Maris hit just 58 in a 154-game season, then, given an extra eight games, hit three more. If the point of the single-season home run record was to honor the player who could hit the most home runs in a limited number of opportunities, Frick’s method was the right one. Of course, if that was the point, the record would belong to Bill Lefebvre, who, as a rookie pitcher for the Red Sox in 1938, hit a home run in his only plate appearance of the season. Need a larger sample? What about outfielder Ed Sanicki, who hit three home runs in 15 plate appearances for the Phillies in 1949? Or Ted Williams, who hit 13 homers in 110 plate appearances (8.46 PA/HR) after returning from Korea in 1953. Heck, if Frick was so interested in honoring home run frequency, he should have shifted the record from Ruth’s 60 in 1927 (11.52 PA/HR) to Ruth’s 59 in 1920 (10.42 PA/HR).

Of course, that’s not the point of the single-season home run record. The point isn’t how often, it’s how many. Cumulative records such as the single-season and career home run records are more primal than rate-based records such as batting average or ERA. Quick, who holds the single-season batting average record? Come on, this was the single statistic that was used to compare hitters for nearly all of the twentieth century. When a hitter leads the league in batting average, he’s not called the “batting average leader,” he’s the winner of the batting crown, he leads the league in hitting. Being a .300 hitter is supposed to say something fundamental about a player’s ability, if not their character. Got an answer yet? Is it Hugh Duffy’s .440 in 1894 or Nap Lajoie’s “modern” record of .427 in 1901? What’s the minimum number of plate-appearances required for this record anyway?

See what I mean? That’s not “most,” that’s math. The home run record is most, and the man who hit the most home runs in a single season as of October 1961 was Roger Maris. It didn’t matter that he had more chances than Ruth, the fact was no man had ever hit 61 home runs in a single season of any length, it had never been done. That’s what a record is, something that’s never been done. When Mark McGwire hit 70 in 1998, that had never been done, and if say you weren’t as awed by McGwire’s total as he was by himself, you’re probably lying.

Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s single-season record in 2001 and, though by then the baseball world had become jaded by allegations of steroid use and by the onslaught of 60-plus home run seasons (Bonds’ was the fifth in four years and Sammy Sosa would make it six that same year), no one had ever hit 73 home runs in a single baseball season before Bonds did it that year, and no one has done it since. That’s the definition of a record.

I remember watching the 1988 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles when I was a kid and seeing Ben Johnson run 100 meters in 9.79 seconds. No man had ever been recorded traversing that distance in so short a time in the entirety of human history. Three days later, it was revealed that Johnson had tested positive for the steroid Stanozolol. Johnson was stripped of his gold medal in light of his positive test, which I understood, but he was also stripped of his world record, which I didn’t. I understood that he had cheated, but the simple fact was that no man had ever been clocked running 100 meters in less time. How could the Olympic Committee pretend that had never happened? It’s one thing to disqualify a boxer from a fight, or a player or team from a game, but a sheer physical accomplishment like that could never be disqualified in my mind.

So sometime in the next month or two, Barry Bonds will hit his 756th career home run, and there will be much pulling of hair, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, and crunching of numbers, but the simple fact will be that no man has ever hit 756 regular season home runs in the major leagues, ever, and that, despite the taint and dishonor that Bonds may bring along with him to that summit, is a record.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Deleted Scenes: Crunching the numbers on A-Rod’s initial PED confession

The following was originally published on on February 13, 2009 under the headline “Was it the PEDs or the Park? A look inside A-Rod’s Texas numbers.” It is one of several of my older articles that was lost in the site’s redesign in June 2014. I’m republishing it here, unaltered, from my original submission, prior to any editing by’s editors. Given that this is an incendiary topic, I want to point out here that the intention of this article wasn’t (and isn’t) to absolve Rodriguez of wrongdoing, he’s very clearly guilty of extensive performance-enhancing drug use, but to attempt to discern how much, if at all, that drug use aided his performance on the field.

While others debate the sincerity and completeness of Alex Rodriguez’s confession to Peter Gammons on Monday, let’s push past the he said/she said between Rodriguez and Selena Roberts, past the garment-rending over the impact of his drug use upon the history and integrity of the game, and past the love/hate relationship baseball fans have with Rodriguez, a superstar bizarrely burdened with intense insecurities. Instead, let’s take a cold, hard look at the seasons during which Rodriguez admitted he had experimented with banned substances to see what impact, if any, those substances had on his performance on the field.

If we take Rodriguez at his word, his three years as a Texas Ranger from 2001 to 2003, were the only seasons during which he used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. In those three seasons, he hit 156 home runs. By comparison, in his last three seasons with the Mariners, from 1998 to 2000, he hit 125 and in his first three seasons with the Yankees, from 2004 to 2006, he hit 119. In those six bookend seasons, he surpassed 42 homers just once, but in his three seasons in Texas he hit 47 or more every year.

So yes, Alex Rodriguez hit more home runs when he was juicing, but was it because he got his power from a pill, or were there other factors at work? Consider the fact that Rodriguez missed just one game in his three years with Texas, playing in 485 of the Rangers’ 486 games over that span. In his first three seasons with the Yankees, he played in 14 fewer. In his last three seasons with the Mariners, he played in 47 fewer. Rodriguez told Gammons on Monday that a large part of his motivation for experimenting with banned substances was his desire to be able to play every day through the hot Texan summers. In helping him achieve that goal, the drugs clearly worked.

The question then becomes, to what degree did Rodriguez’s ill-gotten ability to play every day contribute to the surge in his power numbers. Consider his home runs rates in each of the three-year spans mentioned above (expressed as plate appearances per home run):

  • SEA ’98-00: 15.94 PA/HR
  • TEX ’01-03: 13.92 PA/HR
  • NY ’04-’06: 17.54 PA/HR

Those figures tell us that, not only did Rodriguez take the field more often during his three drug years than in the three-year periods immediately before and after, but he also went deep more often, homering more often than once every 14 plate appearances during his time in Texas. Yet, while there’s a strong correlation between Rodriguez’s drug use and playing time, the source of Rodriguez’s power surge lies elsewhere.

Safeco Park, which Rodriguez’s Mariners moved into in mid 1999, is a pitchers park, as was the remodeled Yankee Stadium, the latter of which was particularly hard on right-handed power hitters such as Rodriguez. The Ballpark at Arlington, on the other hand, is a launching pad. Factor in a year and a half of play at the similarly homer-happy Kingdome in 1998 and 1999, and those home run rates above would seem to correspond to park factors as much or more than to drug use.

To get rid of the effects of his home parks, let’s take a second look at Rodriguez’s home run rates using only his performance on the road during each of those three-year spans:

  • SEA ’98-00: 13.61 PA/HR
  • TEX ’01-’03: 14.76 PA/HR
  • NY ’04-’06: 18.68 PA/HR

Here we see that Rodriguez was a better home-run hitter on the road during his last three “clean” seasons with the Mariners than he was during his three drug years with the Rangers. Those two periods offer a particularly strong comparison because Rodriguez spent all six years in the AL West. Thus, save for moving roughly 12 percent of his road games (10 of 81 annually) from Texas (as a visiting Mariner) to Seattle (as a visiting Ranger), his road games were played in essentially identical environments.

Rodriguez went deep on the road approximately 8 percent less often as a Ranger while playing 12 percent of his road games in a less friendly home-run environment. Given that his Ranger years coincided with his peak-age years (ages 25 to 27), during which an increase in power would have been expected even without the help of illegal substances or a friendlier home park, it’s difficult to attribute any of his overall increase in power during those years to the drugs.

In fact, glancing back at those road rates above, there’s a superficial appearance of a power decline beginning, not with his first “clean” season in New York in 2004, but with his arrival in Texas in 2001, which is when Rodriguez claimed he started using performance-enhancers. That decline may be superficial in the above numbers, but in reality it ran much deeper, as I first reported in an analysis I did of Rodriguez’s career trends for Bronx Banter following the 2004 season. That piece centered around what I referred to as, “a minor, but still unsettling downward trend in Rodriguez’s offensive numbers” that “began with Alex’s first season in Texas in 2001, but was disguised by his move from the pitcher-friendly Safeco Park . . . to the [hitter-friendly] Ballpark at Arlington.”

I detected this trend—which began with Rodriguez’s age-24 season in 2000, his last with the Mariners, continued through his three seasons in Texas, and concluded with his first season as a Yankee in 2004—in several park-adjusted, total-offense rate stats, including Baseball Prospectus’s Equivalent Average (EqA), Baseball-Reference’s adjusted OPS (OPS+), and Bill James’ Offensive Winning Percentage (OWP). Consider the following progression from 2000 to 2004, with Rodriguez’s three Texas seasons in bold:

EQA: .343, .331, .322, .320, .309
OPS+: 167, 164, 152, 148, 133
OWP: .770, .749, .705, .697, .654

I could have listed other stats that exhibit the same trend, both adjusted and non-adjusted (WARP, Runs Created, Runs Created Against Average, Runs Created Per Game, unadjusted OPS, Gross Production Average, etc.), but there was no need. The trend was real and four years running.

That analysis of Rodriguez’s performance trends was untainted by any knowledge or suspicion of his drug use while with the Rangers and, just as I have now done four years hence, wrote off the apparent surge in Rodriguez’s numbers while in Texas as park-driven while digging beneath those gaudy counting stats to reveal a modest decline in his overall production during his three years in Texas.

Since joining the Yankees, Rodriguez has enjoyed the two best seasons of his career, both of which supposedly came without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. Consider how his MVP seasons of 2005 and 2007 compare with the five seasons listed above:

  2005 2007
EQA .351 .353
OPS+ 173 177
OWP .787 .780

Put this all together, and it’s clear that, if he is indeed telling the truth about his drug use being limited to his three years in Texas, the only noticeable benefit Alex Rodriguez derived from his experimentations with banned substances was his ability to play 485 of the Rangers’ 486 games during his three years with the club. That’s no small thing. There are some who believe that the must undervalued statistic in baseball is games played. It’s irrefutable that Rodriguez’s ability to take the field every day as a Ranger enabled him to put up the remarkable counting stats he compiled in a Texas uniform, chief among them his 57 home runs in 2002. Still, there’s no evidence that the drugs made him any more powerful, and significant evidence that his rate of production actually declined during his doping years.

Rather, it was the ballpark, not the drugs, that seems to have been the key to Rodriguez’s statistical surge (34 of his 57 homers in 2002 came in Arlington where he homered once every 10.6 PA vs. once every 15.7 PA on the road in 2002). Whether or not that’s enough to convince anyone, myself included, that his statistics remain “untainted” is, unfortunately, another matter entirely and one far less likely to be settled in Rodriguez’s favor.


Tags: , , , ,

Deleted Scenes: The Early History of Wrigley Field

I got a little carried away when I put together my list of the ten greatest games in Wrigley Field history for the old ballpark’s 100th anniversary on April 23, 2014, spilling more than 600 words on the early history of the ballpark before getting to my list. I couldn’t argue when that was excised from the published piece, but still think the fact-heavy intro is worth sharing here.

Commissioned by Charles Weeghman, the proprietor of the Chicago lunchroom chain Weeghman’s Cafés, the ballpark now known as Wrigley Field opened on April 23, 1914 as the home of Chicago’s entry into the new Federal League, a rival league created to challenge the National and American, the latter then entering just its 14th season. Weeghman owned the Chicago Federals and gave his own name to the ballpark at the corner of West Addison and North Clark Streets, which upon its inauguration had a single-decked grandstand and an official capacity of just 14,000 people.

For Weeghman’s Park’s first game, the eighth game of the 1914 season for Chicago, which opened on the road, roughly 21,000 people squeezed into the new ballpark to watch the Joe Tinker-managed Chi-Feds beat the Kansas City Packers 9-1 on a Thursday afternoon behind a complete game by ace Claude Hendrix, a former Pirate who would be the new league’s best pitcher that season. The Chi-Feds finished a close second in the final standings in 1914 and, rechristened the Whales, claimed the Federal League pennant in 1915. That December, the two established leagues bought out the Federal League and, as part of the settlement, allowed Weeghman to purchase the Cubs for $500,000 from former congressman Charles Taft, half-brother of the former president, who had been the team’s caretaker for the previous two seasons.

Weeghman effectively merged the Whales into the Cubs, naming Tinker the team’s new manager, adding several Whales players, including Hendrix, to the Cubs’ roster, and moving the team into his new concrete and steel ballpark from the old, wooden West Side Grounds that had housed the Cubs since 1893. Over the next century, the ballpark would undergo numerous updated and renovations, not to mention name changes.

After Weeghman sold his majority share of the Cubs to minority partner and chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. following the 1918 season, the ballpark was rechristened Cubs Park before ultimately taking Wrigley’s name in 1926. The upper deck was added in 1927. The marquee was installed in 1934. The bleachers and manual scoreboard were installed and the ivy on the outfield walls was planted in 1937, the latter in part by future Hall of Fame owner Bill Veeck, who was then the son of club president William Veeck Sr. The clock atop the scoreboard came along in 1941. Originally reddish-brown, the scoreboard and clock were painted green in 1944. Lights, famously, didn’t bring night baseball to the ballpark until August of 1988.

For fifty years, from 1921 to 1970, the ballpark was home to the National Football League’s Chicago Bears, who derived their nickname from the association with the Cubs after moving into Wrigley (they had previously been the Staleys, after the food-starch company that founded the team). During that time, the ballpark hosted six NFL title games (five won by the Bears), the last coming in 1963. In fact, until 2003, more NFL games had been played at Wrigley Field than at any other venue. Outside of the title games, the most notable football game in Wrigley Field history may have been the Bears’ 61-20 win over the 49ers on December 12, 1965, in which Bears running back Gale Sayers tied a still-standing NFL record with six touchdowns.

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 28, 2014 in Deleted Scenes, Lists


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Deleted Scenes: The Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips extensions

When Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips signed extensions on the same day, April 10, 2012, I wrote an analysis of their deals for However, after discussion with my editor, I reworked the initial draft, dumping the nuts-and-bolts analysis of the two players and their contracts in favor of expanding my points about the impact of those extensions on the market for second baseman going forward. The published article can be read here. However, in light of the Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade and news of the Reds’ interest in trading Phillips, I thought it would be worth posting the original draft here.

Tuesday was a bad day for any team hoping to fill an organization hole at second base by making a big free agent splash in the next couple of years as two of the top second basemen in baseball, Ian Kinsler of the Rangers and Brandon Phillips of the Reds, both signed contract extensions that will keep them under the control of their current teams through 2017. With those contracts, just two of the top eight second basemen in baseball over the last three seasons (per Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement) are due to become free agents before 2015, and of those two, one, the Phillies Chase Utley, has been diminished by a degenerative knee condition, and the other, the Yankees’ Robinson Cano, seems like a lock to be extended by his current team before reaching free agency after the 2013 season. That alone works in favor of both extensions, which were handed out by teams whose time is now, the two-time defending American League pennant winning Rangers and 2010 NL Central champion Reds.

On the surface, the extensions and the players who signed them are very similar. Both men are slick-fielding second basemen who have averaged in excess of 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases over the past six seasons, thanks in part to their hitting-friendly home ballparks. Phillips’ deal was for $72.5 million over six years. Kinsler’s was for $75 million over five years plus a club option for a sixth season. A closer look reveals a larger gap between the two men and the money they’ll make, though the difference in the latter corresponds appropriately to the former.

First, the contracts. Phillips’ extension is being reported as a six-year deal, but the first year of that deal is 2012, and he’s making effectively the same salary on his new deal as he was making on his old one, which was set to expire after this, his option year. Phillips’ 2012 salary increased from $12.25 million to $12.5 million with his new deal. When you’re talking about big money contracts in major league baseball, a quarter million dollars is a rounding issue, so, really, Phillips’ contract is for $60 million over five years, significantly less than the $75 million Kinsler is guaranteed over the next five seasons (which includes a $5 million buyout for his team option in 2018, or year six of his new deal). Indeed, if you lop off that buyout, Kinsler’s average salary over the next five seasons will be $14 million, while the top salary of Phillips’ contract will be the $14 million he’ll earn in 2017, the result of a series of $1 million increases starting from his $10 million salary in 2013.

So, Kinsler will make more, but he’s also the better player, and the gap in quality between the two appears larger than the gap in their contracts. From that alone it seems safe to say that the Rangers will get more bang for their buck than the Reds. One of the ironies about the comparison between the two is that, while Phillips has won the Gold Glove in three of the last four seasons, advanced stats have shown Kinsler to be the better fielder in each of the last three years. Ultimate Zone Rating has Kinsler leading by a little, but John Dewan’s plus/minus system and the historical stats published in volume three of his Fielding Bible have Kinsler in front by a lot, having saved 47 runs to Phillips’ 18 over the last three seasons.

On the other side of the ball, the gap is easier to see. Over the past three seasons, Kinsler has averaged a .262/.352/.465 line with 24 home runs and 25 stolen bases, while Phillips has averaged a .284/.338/.445 line with 19 homers and 18 steals. Over that span, Kinsler leads Phillips in on-base percentage and slugging percentage despite hitting for an average 22 points lower. That shows you how much more patient and powerful Kinsler is at the plate. In two of those seasons, Kinsler hit 30 home runs and stole 30 bases, and in the last two combined, he walked more than he struck out, setting a career-high with 87 unintentional walks in 2011. Phillips, meanwhile, has topped out at 20 homers, 25 steals and 45 unintentional walks over the last three years.

What’s more, Kinsler is one of the highest-percentage basestealers in the game. In 160 career attempts, Kinsler has been caught just 24 times, an 85 percent success rate. Phillips, by comparison, as been caught 21 times in the last two seasons in just 51 attempts. His resulting 59 percent success rate is poor enough that he would help his team more by never attempting another steal than he would by continuing to run into outs 31 percent of the time.

Add up Kinsler’s advantages at the plate, on the bases, and in the field, and it’s clear that he’s a significantly better player than Phillips despite being comparable on the surface. Using Baseball-Reference’s WAR (hereafter, bWAR), Kinsler has been worth an average of 4.7 wins above replacement to the Rangers over the last three years compared to an average of just 2.9 wins above replacement for Phillips over that same span. That’s not meant as a knock on Phillips. Only six second basemen in all of baseball have averaged more wins above replacement over the last three seasons: Cano, Utley, Dustin Pedroia, Ben Zobrist, Kinsler, and Howie Kendrick, the last of whom is in a dead-heat with Phillips at 2.97 bWAR per year since 2009. Remove Utley, and that means there are just four second basemen in baseball who are clearly better than Brandon Phillips. As for Kinsler, who ranks fifth on that list, he’s closer to the top dog, Cano, than he is to Kendrick and Phillips.

Kinsler also has the advantage of being almost exactly a year younger than Phillips, who will turn 31 at the end of June, though with Kinsler’s option, both could turn 36 before their contracts expire. That pushes both contracts right up against the danger zone for middle infielders in terms of decline, but that isn’t a major gamble given the potential for both men to earn their keep in their early 30s. However, because Kinsler is a better player, he has more room for decline, again not only justifying his larger price tag but making his larger deal, which would be worth $80 million over the next six seasons if his $10 million option for 2018 is picked up, the better bet to earn out on the field.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Deleted Scenes


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s Not Tim McCarver’s Fault You Hate Him

Tim McCarver, the longtime FOX broadcaster who has been a staple of Major League Baseball’s national coverage since 1984, announced on Wednesday that 2013 will be his final season in the broadcast booth. McCarver, who will turn 72 this October, has told FOX not to renew his contract after this, its final season, bringing to an end a broadcasting career that netted him the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick award in 2012 but also a legion of detractors.

Indeed, McCarver’s retirement will be greeted with elation by many baseball fans who are embittered by McCarver’s omnipresence in MLB’s national television coverage, including FOX’s Saturday games of the week, the All-Star game and postseason telecasts, and especially the World Series. McCarver has called 23 of the last 28 World Series, including each of the last 13, while broadcasting greats such as Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, Jon Miller, and many others, many of whom have since passed away, have been resigned to the radio or their couches. I share that lament, but I don’t blame McCarver for it. Rather, McCarver’s legacy as a broadcaster has become permanently entwined with FOX’s commandeering of the baseball’s national broadcasts dating back to 1996 and exclusive coverage of the World Series since 2000.

McCarver’s is very much a case of familiarity breeding contempt, something which is one of the principal occupational hazards of baseball broadcasting. Broadcasting baseball, particularly in McCarver’s role as color commentator, requires one to talk largely off-the-cuff for three to four hours at a time. Though the conversation is guided by the action on the field and shared with a play-by-play man, that’s still an incredible amount of time to have to fill. Even if the commentator in question has the taste to know when not to speak and has particularly astute insights to share when he does speak, it won’t take long for him to exhaust his supply of amusing and enlightening anecdotes, his analysis will begin to become repetitive, his inevitable mistakes will pile up, and his personal quirks, faults, and preferences will become magnified over the course of a series, a season, and most certainly a career, and McCarver has been helming national broadcasts since 1980, when he was an alternate on NBC’s Game of the Week.

As someone who grew up in the New York area in the 1980s, McCarver, who called Mets games on WOR Channel 9 starting in 1983, was one of the first voices I heard when I got into the game and remained a daily presence on local broadcasts for the Mets and later the Yankees through the 2001 season (after which he spent a final season calling Giants games before stepping away from local broadcasts). Though my knowledge of the game was just forming at the time, I remember the mid-80s McCarver as an insightful, sharp, and highly regarded analyst. As a fan over the last three decades, I have witnessed a decline in his performance and often longed for a replacement for FOX’s omnipresent lead duo of McCarver and play-by-play man Joe Buck.

McCarver’s retirement only solves half of the problem, if that. Buck will surely persist with a new partner, and there’s no guarantee that McCarver’s replacement will be an upgrade. After all, Joe Morgan’s not all that busy these days and the color man on FOX’s secondary team last season was Eric Karros. What FOX should do is take this opportunity to give baseball fans two new voices. When ESPN finally removed Morgan from their Sunday night broadcasts after the 2010 season, they got rid of the excellent Miller simultaneously and brought in an outstanding new team led by Dan Schulman and Orel Hershiser (though they are taking a step back this year, filling the third chair vacated by Terry Francona with John Kruk, more evidence that it could get worse than McCarver).

Even then, FOX’s broadcasters are only a small part of what’s wrong with its baseball broadcasts. It’s the cumulative effect of overblown graphics, gimmicks, self-promotion, a patronizing tone (of which McCarver, admittedly, was often guilty), and a general sense that the action on the field was the least-interesting part of the program and unable to hold viewer’s attention on its own merits, all compounded by the blackouts, late start times, and extended commercial breaks dictated by the network, that trained us to cringe at the sound of McCarver’s Memphis twang. Compare a game broadcast on FOX to one broadcast on the MLB Network, which seems to truly love and value the game on the field, and the difference is stark.

I’m not saying the criticisms of McCarver weren’t valid. His retirement is clearly coming several years too late, but FOX’s baseball broadcasts seem unlikely to improve without him, not unless they take this opportunity to alter their entire approach to the game. Say what you want about McCarver as a broadcaster, but you can’t argue that Tim McCarver doesn’t love baseball.


Posted by on March 27, 2013 in Deleted Scenes


Tags: , ,

Deleted Scenes: The 2012 Oakland A’s

When Spring Training 2012 began I wrote a series of six articles for, one for each division, that took a look at the “big question” “big battle” and “big prospect” for all 30 teams. I wrote the AL West first, because the A’s and Mariners were opening the season early in Japan. In the short time between when I submitted it and when it was published, the A’s signed Yoenis Cespedes, forcing me to scrap my “big question” section for something on Cespedes. With the A’s having clinched a playoff berth Monday night, I thought it would be interesting to see what wound up getting scrapped. Here it is:

Oakland Athletics

The Big Question: How much of a step back did the A’s really take? Hope springs eternal in February, and in that spirit, it’s possible to squint at the A’s 2012 roster and see a team that hasn’t lost much ground compared to the year before despite trading Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Andrew Bailey and losing Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, and, eventually, Hideki Matsui to free agency. It might not happen this year, but Jarrod Parker, obtained from the Diamondbacks for Cahill, could be as good or better than Gonzalez. Brad Peacock, part of the package received from the Nationals for Gonzalez, could be as good or better than Cahill. Brian Fuentes has plenty of experience closing ball games. Free agent signings Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes could form a platoon that is more productive than Willingham was last year (see below), and DeJesus and Matsui had lousy seasons last year, setting the bar low for new right fielder Josh Reddick, acquired from Boston in the Bailey deal, and whoever fills Matsui’s spot in the lineup.

I didn’t exactly nail it. Peacock was lit up in the Pacific Coast League and didn’t throw a single pitch for the A’s. Fuentes saved just five games before being released in mid-July. Gonzalez was a Cy Young candidate for the Nationals (though Parker did compare favorably to Cahill). Meanwhile, the A’s won just 74 games in 2011, so “hasn’t lost much ground” is still a huge miss, but I feel as though I was one of the few mainstream writers who was even remotely positive about the A’s offseason, at least prior to the Cespedes signing (you know, the guy who filled Matsui’s spot in the lineup). Here’s the version that was published in February.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 2, 2012 in Deleted Scenes


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.