March 31, 2009

Project-a-tron: The rest of the starting rotation

The projections

Heilman (as starter)28252.131.384.190.3

Before any comments, you gotta love the strikeout staff that the Cubs have assembled.

Dempster's numbers are obviously going to regress to the mean after last year's stellar performance. Even the most optimistic of Cubs fans have to admit that he won't put up those kinds of numbers again. The fact that he was able to pitch so many effective innings last year is a good sign of his conditioning, and the likely drop in numbers will be more indicative of his true talent than some sort of late-age Verducci Effect. Strangely enough, Dempster's ZiPS projection has him with an ERA of 4.08 but a BABIP of .254, without any other big variations in his other stats. Wierd.

Lilly had a much better season than his aggregate stats let on - he was just shelled in April (6.46 ERA at the end of the month), but he managed to shave about 2 and a half runs off his ERA over the rest of the season. Really Lilly's problem is that if he doesn't have it (or there's a strong wind blowing out), he gets hit hard, and if he does have his stuff, he's an incredibly effective pitcher. For a long time he has struck me as the kind of guy who has a good true talent level but with a very high variance in his performances when compared to other pitchers - If I have some time I might make a blog post about it someday.

I originally had Marshall pegged for 130 innings or so, but I think he can pitch for more. 170 innings might be stretching it, but since he'll be the team's defacto 4th starter he should see a lot of action. I'm still having a hard time getting over my perception of him from 2006 - which was that he was a guy who got hit very hard his second and third time through the order and would fade down the stretch as the league figured him out. But, I think that most of these problems stemmed from the fact that he was too young and pressed into service too soon. Marshall has grown as a pitcher and should do a fine job of delivering league average innings for a few years, though I don't see much potential in him to do much more than that.

Heilman seems like the most likely candidate at this point to soak up the extra Marshall/Harden innings. If Samardzija does end up going to Iowa he might end up filling this slot instead, which would not be so good - if Heilman excells as a bullpen guy this would make this more likely to happen as well.

March 27, 2009

Project-a-tron: Rich Harden

Rich Harden has the most pitching talent on this team, and, arguably, in the National league. His projected ERA is nearly a run better than any other starter on the Cubs staff. ZiPS has him projected at an obscene 2.37 ERA for next season (albeit over 17 starts), and for all of the hand-wringing that goes on over Rich Harden, he actually pitched a lot more than I thought last season. Between the Cubs and Oakland, he made 25 starts and pitched 148 innings, which seems to be about what most people are expecting out of him this year as well. I would bump him up another 30 innings this year again, but he still does have that shoulder strain from last year hanging around. With the quality of their team and the weakness of the rest of the NL central, the Cubs have no reason to work him very hard, so I'm going to stick with 150 innings (~25 starts) for Harden once again this year. Hopefully he will be healthy heading into October this year.



Those are some sick numbers.

March 23, 2009

Fox as catcher?

jakefsu over at wpbc had an interesting idea about what to do about the backup catcher situation. Namely, why not carry Jake Fox as a backup catcher?

Now, I very much believe that Fox’s defensive shortcomings are serious enough that he’s well deserving of bench player status. However, I’m not sure I can be convinced he’s such a bad defender that there is simply no room for his bat on the big league roster. If the Cubs were to go ahead and give the 25th roster spot to Fox, he could back up both Soto at catcher and Aramis Ramirez at third while providing a much needed source of right-handed power off the bench, effectively addressing three legitimate needs with one roster spot. I mean, as long as we are talking about the last spot on the roster, why not try and get as much utility out of it as possible?

Before I get into analyzing their catching abilities, I just have one quick thing to say - if Fox is backing up Soto then it's highly unlikely that he will see many PH appearances. Managers are loath to PH with their backup catcher because of the fear that the starting catcher would need to leave the game, leaving no one who can catch.

Moving on to the main question at hand, the question here is whether Fox can fake catcher well enough to pick up some innings in the major leagues. His offensive contributions (wOBA projected at .327) would certainly be better than Koyie Hill (wOBA .293) or, God forbid, Paul Bako (wOBA .260). I'll be the first to admit that I know very little about Catcher defense numbers, especially in the minor leagues. So let's do a (very uncientific) comparison between the minor league catching numbers of Fox, Hill, and Soto, since they all have data at minorleaguesplits (this is from 2005-2008). The defensive value is calculated using Colin Wyers's catcher defense valuations, which used data from the major league level rather than the minors to figure out averages. To get the correct minor league ones we'd have to look at all the minor league data, which I don't have/am too lazy to generate. But, this is just a rough cut, and the same errors should appear in all three of their data sets.
PlayerInnings at CSbCSSBA/9CS%WP+PB/9Defense Score/150
Jake Fox1380137531.23928%.9650-18.5
Geovany Soto2192.3197601.05523%.5049-3.16
Koyie Hill1509.310246.882531%.49461.54

What do we see? As we can see here, people ran like crazy on Fox, and he was not good at blocking pitches. Let's see how Hill and Fox compare. Let's assume that Fox also picks up the extra 60 PAs or so that I have Miles due for at 3b, since he's a better hitter than Miles. Let's make the wild assumption that he would be league average at 3b defensively (he's no slouch at 1b, at least...I don't know the usual positional adjustment - if someone knows it would be great if you can help me out). I put a range of defensive numbers out there just to see what would happen.
Fox (3b)60.32700.2
Fox (3b)60.327-100.1
Fox (3b)60.327-200.0

Even if he is completely atrocious with the glove at 3b, this would not be a bad idea (he just wouldn't play 3b, and still have roughly the same value as Hill). Of course, this is just nitpicking over the backup catcher position (and 3b), and Fox would not be likely to see many PAs behind Soto and Ramirez. But hey, a run is a run, and if something were to happen to Ramirez I'd much rather have Fox backing him up than Miles. It would be great if he got lots of reps in at 3b in the minors, because at this point it's his most obvious route to regular time in the majors with this team, should anyone on the roster get injured.

(EDIT: the final defensive numbers I originally posted were not correct - they are aggregate numbers for the entire sample of minor league seasons that I used. This has been corrected.)

(EDIT2: I fixed the defense score to normalize it over 150 games (1350 innings))

March 22, 2009

Note to self

Don't be an idiot.

Project-a-tron: Carlos Zambrano

Zambrano has been my favorite Cubs player for many years. People use lots of adjectives to describe Zambrano, such as "Fiery", "Emotional", "Injury-waiting-to-happen" (thanks for that, Will Carroll), "Angry", and other such names. However, my favorite is "goofy", which I first read in BP's "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" in the chapter on the 2003 Cubs. What better word to describe Carlos? He's a fun-loving guy who loves baseball.

Z has seen his strikeout rate decline for the past 2 seasons. However, this has been tempered by an equal decline in his walk rate, which had always been a problem for Z (especially in 2006, when he had a 4.84 BB/9). Instead, he began to rely more on his groudball tendencies to get his outs. You would think that this would lead to Z going deeper into games, but in fact this number has declined, as he has been hit harder (6.75, 6.35, and 6.27 IP/Start, respectively). I'm no expert, but I don't know if Z is as due for an injury as Will Carroll seems to be. He's been beating the drum on this for years, and only at the end of last season did Z start breaking down. He's certainly been pitching differently than he did in his prime years (lower arm slot), but it still seems to be working for him, though not as well as his prime years. His projection, perhaps not coincedentally, sees him continuing to produce at this new level.


Project-a-tron part 5 - why trading Mark DeRosa was inevitable (and a great idea)

2009 Projections:

Mark DeRosa62014.353.423.342-51.9$5.5
(salary data from Cot's)

What's the argument here? Most of DeRosa's perceived value last year was in his ability to play multiple positions. Really though, what made DeRosa valuable was that he had a great backup in Fontenot to fill in for him at 2b while he was moving around the diamond. If Cedeno (or true-talent Aaron Miles) had been his primary backup, DeRosa's ability to move around the diamond would not have much value at all, as you would be choosing to have a replacement level batter at either 2b or at DeRosa's 'supersub' position.

The other thing to remember is that while DeRosa's output looks great relative to other 2b, it's not quite as valuable when moved to other parts of the field, from a purely offensive standpoint at least. His defense certainly isn't helping him much at 2b either. In fact, since it appears that he can play decent defense in RF (a UZR of ~+6 based on regressing extra innings to the mean), he actually has more value there (2.2 WAR) than at 2b (1.9 WAR), despite the fact that his bat does not contribute as much compared to a replacement RF. Strangely enough, he put up good defensive numbers at 3b with the Cubs despite several poor performances there in the past.

Of course, trading DeRosa leaves the Cubs with a player that has less positional flexibility (and a lousier backup), and one who has a much bigger platoon split than Derosa (who actually hits lefties quite well). However, trading DeRosa helped free up $5mm that went towards signing Milton Bradley, which was definitely a wise investment, as well as stockpiling minor league arms. Hendry made the right decision selling high on DeRosa, and I think this was his second best transaction of the offseason (which enabled the best one - signing Bradley)

March 21, 2009

Amending some projections

As MB21 pointed out in the comments of my Aaron Miles post, my defensive projections for Miles away from 2b are not very realistic, especially at 3b, where he has only had 61 innings of big-league time. I'm zeroing out his numbers there (since I still feel that 3b is a *little* more difficult) than 2b, where I have him at +2 runs. I guess it's not that big a deal anyway, since he's going to get the bulk of his time at 2b. I still think it's a poor signing - I think we should have gone with a cheapo shortstop (think Alex Cintron from last year's spring training) or, if we were actually spending money on a utility guy, nabbed Nick Punto (who has obscene defensive numbers). Of course, that's not very fair to the Cubs since he signed with MIN in early December, well before the DeRosa trade. In general though, just don't feel that we should be spending much more than the major league minimum on a utility player.

Over in the Lee vs. Hoffpauir thread on BCB, a discussion with Colin about Lee's projections has made me change my mind on my projections as well. I leaned heavily towards the more pessimistic projections for Lee (especially Marcel), projecting him at a .362 wOBA. My opinion was that Lee's 2007 was an up year for Lee, and 2008 was closer to his true talent level (since it looked so much like 2006). However, what I did not take into account (and neither did Lee's Marcels, given how that works) was that 2006 was Lee's injury bounceback year, and the data point just before it was Lee's career year in 2005. This would suggest instead that 2007 was closer to his true talent, while last year was a down year for him. I'm still not as high as CHONE is (.381 wOBA), but I think bumping Lee's wOBA up to .375 would be more than reasonable. Here are the new numbers:

Miles3503.328.370.305+1 (2B)
-9 (SS)
0 (3B)

March 20, 2009

Derrek Lee > Micah Hoffpauir

The theme of the day seems to be "Derrek Lee sucks! Replace him with Hoffpauir!" People need to settle down and remember 3 things

  1. This is spring training we're talking about.

  2. Even if you take spring stats seriously, this is a tiny sample size.

  3. Derrek Lee is a better baseball player than Micah Hoffpauir.

Let's look at Lee's last three seasons, shall we?

2009 (projected).290.370.474.330

Lee's numbers look remarkably consistent. He had a good year, BABIP wise, in 2007, which led to his higher OBP (+30 in BABIP, +30 in OBP) and his other two years look remarkably similar. He's aging, and thus the power projection might be a little high. Contrast this with Hoffpauir's projection:

2009 (projected).282.322.480.310

What do we see here? Hoffpauir looks a lot like Derrek Lee, but minus almost 50 points in OBP. Lee is also a slightly above average defender at 1b. We don't have a lot of data on Hoffpauir at 1b (which is why it is zeroed out in his projection), but all the subjective reports suggest that he is not good with the glove. Still though, disregarding defensive value (or lack thereof), 50 points in OBP is a lot to give up.

In Support of Sammy Sosa

I don't have time to put out a long post on this, but wpbc and wv23 (here, here, and here) have done a good job addressing the poor treatment Sosa as received from Cubs fans and the media.

Sosa, Zambrano, and Prior (in that order) have been my favorite players since I actually started following the team. Sosa and Zambrano remind me of each other actually - they're both kind of goofy guys who love playing baseball (and are quite good at it), and it's telling that Zambrano has been both my favorite player and my wife's favorite since Sosa was traded away. Our favorite memory of Sosa is the commerical he did for MLB's "I live for this" campaign a few years back (probably 2003) where he talked about how he was living the dream, playing for the Cubs at "Wrig-a-lee" field (we still often refer to Wrigley like this, from our love of Sosa). He gave his all to the team and poured his heart out for the fans, and deserves better from all of us. I hope Ricketts is a Sosa fan, because Sosa's number is the obvious next choice to be flying from the flagpoles.

March 17, 2009

Project-a-tron part 4 - Why Aaron Miles Sucks

Miles3303.328.370.305+1 (2B)
-9 (SS)
-5 (3B)

Hendry did many things right this offseason - most notably, signing Milton Bradley and not re-signing Henry Blanco. However, I think that signing Aaron Miles was a big mistake. We already had a player who could do what Miles could do, for a lot less money. His name is Ronny Cedeno. Here is my projection for him in Miles's role:

Cedeno3305.311.379.304+15 (2B)
-2 (SS)
0 (3B)

This deal only makes sense in two scenarios: either Cedeno was part of a Peavy trade that was a lot closer than anyone thought, or Lou flat-out told Hendry that he wanted Cedeno traded. The problem here is that although Miles and Cedeno have very similar offensive numbers, Cedeno's defense makes a pretty big difference in his value. Miles can play 2B just fine, but he is lousy at SS and 3b. In my opinion you need to do one (or both) of the following to be a decent utility player:

  1. Provide competent defense at multiple positions, especially at one primary defensive position (usually SS or CF, since they are the hardest to play

  2. Be able to fake multiple positions on defense, but hit well enough to make up for the runs you aren't preventing

Cedeno satisfies #1. Miles satisfies neither of them, which is why the Cubs are still looking for someone who can backup 3b, though SS is my main concern. My defensive projection for Miles is pretty much a WAG, but I'm basing it off the fact that he has been a very poor SS. 3B is a little easier, in theory, but I think the rap on Miles is that much like Theriot and other short guys he has a second baseman's arm. If Hendry had waited he could have brought in, say, a better SS (Orlando Cabrera anyone), or even some other ACTUAL shortstop, who can be expected to handle the other IF positions than Miles, who is only really suited to 2b

Project-a-tron Part 3 - Ryan Theriot

Now, on to the middle infield


Theriot is a pretty polarizing figure in the Cubs blogosphere. Love of (or disdain for) his scrap factor aside, he too is a decent (though not particuarly good) shortstop. He had a surprisingly good year last year, but I suspect that it was a career year for Theriot. He often looks bad defensively but his UZR grades him out to be a slightly above average SS. He also spawned the "TOOTBLAN" statistic due to his often boneheaded baserunning. Theriot's biggest problem though is his lack of power. He is a singles hitter, and thus his value is very tied into his BABIP. Take a look at these numbers:

Ryan Theriot:

His BABIP jumped by 50 points, and, shockingly, his OBP jumped by 60 points! Everyone was pointing to Theriot's improved OBP as a sign that he made it, but I only see a marginal improvement. Singles hitters like Theriot live and die by how many balls make it out of the infield, and if teams start putting a shift on him (unlikely as it may be), he would be screwed. If you assume his BABIP to fall back down to typical values, Theriot's OBP will drop back down to the .340s, which combined with his defense and poor slugging puts him as a just-below average SS.

Project-a-tron, part 2 --- (some of) the infield

Next up is the Cubs infield. Here's what it is looking like right now

(Note: This was originally going to be about the entire IF, but I had so much to write about for 2B/SS that it got chopped up into 2 posts)

Hoffpauir1808.322.480.3400 (1B)
-10 (LF/RF)

Soto is the most underrated player on this team, and is just a shade below my bullish projection for Soriano in terms of total WAR. Defensively, he's not vintage Pudge out there, but it's not like he's Mike Piazza either. His defense is good enough that he can stick at catcher, and even if it wasn't, having his bat at that position is a huge asset for this and future Cubs teams.

I get the feeling that Bako has the backup catcher job sewn up no matter how he performs, due to his 'veteran presence' tag and the fact that he won't make a very big impact on the team, given the number of PAs that Soto is likely going to receive. Hill is better offensively, and it's tough to tell who is better defensively (none of them particularly shine). Given the small spread in their abilities, I would pick Hill over Bako even if he were worse offensively, mainly because he is younger and thus less prone to the random breakdown injuries that old catchers get, which means that we don't have to do any roster shuffling if he goes down.

Derrek Lee is a slightly higher than league-average player at this point in his career. We will never see the 2005 MVP-caliber Lee again, and most criticism of Lee comes from unfair comparisions to that season and the fact that he is still batting third in the lineup when he should probably be moved elsewhere. In fact, while his power has been overrated for the past two seasons by most Cubs fans, his fantastic OBP has been largely ignored. I actually think that Lee's ideal lineup position would be second, since he still has *some* power, but if he moves anywhere it will probably be to 5th or 6th.

Aramis Ramirez is a good baseball player, and is probably slightly underrated by most Cubs fans. Ramirez can hit baseballs. A long way. But it's not just home runs (though he does hit a fair few of those) - he hits a ton of doubles. Add the fact that he can also adequately field his position and you have one of the top third basemen in the National League.

Micah Hoffpauir is a good bat to have on the bench, but let's not pretend that he's anything more. He's a statue in a corner OF spot (the UZR I gave above is probably too generous), and isn't that great defensively at 1B either. He doesn't have very much patience at the plate either. He will be an adequate replacement for Daryle Ward. Lou has said that Hoffpauir is pretty much a lock to make the roster this year.

March 10, 2009

Good news in the lineup department

Piniella pencils in Fukudome at No.2 spot

This is great news, and a sign that Lou (and possibly, the Cubs organization) is optimistic about Fukudome this year. Fukudome's high OBP (and baserunning) belongs at the top of the lineup, and this team will score some runs. When I get around to it (i.e., after I read Tango's The Book), I'll code up my own lineup analyzer and see how much this improves the team.

Here's how it will probably shake down:

LikelyJust as likelyMy ordering

As always, lineup jiggering doesn't really help you that much - I bet the difference between these two lineups is 7 or 8 runs or so (less than a win)

March 07, 2009

The Project-a-tron, part 1

We will start with the Cubs outfield, and I'll work my way through the team as spring training continues.

The Cubs outfield projects to be:
LF Alfonso Soriano
CF Kosuke Fukudome
RF Milton Bradley
OF Reed Johnson
OF Joey Gathright

Johnson will likely pick up a big chunk of starts in CF against left-handed pitching, and will be the first guy to make substitutions if anyone else needs a break/is injured. Gathright will mainly be used as a defensive replacement/pinch runner, from what I can guess.

Without further ado, here are the projections. The WAR values are calculated based on the projected wOBA.

Johnson3857.338.400.327+10 (LF)
-10 (CF)+0 (RF)
Gathright1751.340.325.310+7 (CF)0.2

As you can see from the amount of PAs above, I'm feeling quite optimistic about Soriano staying healthy this year. He is a talented baseball player, and he is criminally underrated by most Cubs fans. He also has a cannon for an arm in LF, which boosts his defensive rating. He may take terrible routes on balls, but his speed makes up for it. Plus, compared to most of the statues that teams put into LF, Soriano looks pretty good.

I don't think we will see the April/May 2008 Fukudome this year...but I also don't think we will see the often terrible-looking Fukodome who faded down the stretch in the worst way as the season wore on. Fukudome is a professional, and he will make adjustments. I don't have hope that the power people were hoping to see when he entered the league will emerge, but he is for real as an OBP machine, and I'd love to see him in the leadoff spot if it looks like he's gotten things together.

Bradley can hit the crap out of baseballs. I don't take (much) stock in the "oft-injured" label that Bradley has aquired - everyone seems convinced that he can't play the outfield and that he will have a season-ending injury at some point this year, which is just crazy talk. He played plenty of outfield (and did it quite well) while with LA and Oakland, and then blew out his ACL in an altercation with a racist umpire (or technically, his manager) after a fantastic season in San Diego in 2007. He mainly DHed in Texas last year, and hit the crap out of the ball, because his knee wasn't still 100%. Certainly his injury history makes him more likely to be injured in the future, but it's not like he's a ticking time bomb. He was rightly the centerpiece of Hendry's offseason, and replacing him with DeRosa was the right move:


DeRosa looks great as a 2b, but as a RF, he is barely league average (and a lot of that comes from defense, which I think is a very generous projection. He does have much better UZR numbers in RF than I thought though). As we will see later, Fontenot is also a quite good 2b, which made DeRosa expendable.

Johnson is a serviceable fourth outfielder - he can play all three positions (though he's not really a CF), and he hits the crap out of lefties. Right handed pitchers, however, turn him into Neifi Perez, which is why he should never be more than a 4th OF.

Gathright will likely be Bradley/Soriano's late game defensive caddy, and be kept around for his speed for pinch-running and as a pinch hitting leadoff type player. His value would multiply by a factor of 10 if the outfield were littered with cars.

March 06, 2009

(Belated) Book Review: Liar's Poker

Liar's Poker, by Michael Lewis (who also penned the infamous Moneyball), was a sobering read --- my main reaction to it was to wonder why Wall Street hadn't completely gone to shit already, and this was going on in the 1980s

Quick recap: Michael Lewis, an art-history major, gets a masters degree in economics and scores a job with Salomon Brothers, one of the biggest wheel firms in Wall Street at the time. They had been printing money following the deregulation of mortgage backed securites (which eventually led to the savings and loan crisis), and were hiring up all the students from the prestigious schools. They learn about trading through their unorthodox and sometimes arbitrary-seeming company training, and are thrown into the fire, where their real training begins. Wall Street (or at least, the bond market) is built on a Screw-Thy-Neighbor type policy - exploiting all the weaknesses and ignorance of those around them to make money. Deregulation provided vastly more opportunities for the traders to build their house of cards, which finally did come tumbling down this year. No matter how good your pedigree/background, all you really needed to do is know how to move money, whether or not you actually understood what is going on. Beyond his own experiences, Lewis chronicles the major companies and players in Wall Street at the time, especially chronicling the rise and fall of Salomon Brothers, which was fascinating as well.

Sorry that's a little sketchy...I read this book last summer so it's a little hazy for me. Long story short, I found the book to be both interesting and depressing (which will be a theme for most of the nonfiction books that I have read...). Someday, I will read Barbarians at the Gate, which is a similar book about Wall Street that was also written by someone who wrote about baseball (John Helyar FTW)