Monday, September 24, 2007

Jorge Probably Belongs in the Hall

Continuing Noyam's HOF series (I,II, III), I'm going to take a look at Jorge Posada's HOF chances.

First let's look at his numbers:

126 OPS+, 302 EQA, 80.5 WARP3 and a total of 304 runs above average (274 BRAA and 30 FRAA). These are pretty good numbers for a catcher, but his career isn't over yet, so we have to try to ascertain where he'll end up.

Obviously it's hard to know for sure. Unlike Jeter, Posada is very old for a catcher, and although he hasn't caught that many games for a catcher relative to his age, most catchers decline rapidly by their late 30s. With Posada, it's even more difficult because he didn't play full-time until 2000, so only has 8 full seasons under his belt.

If we take the average of his 8 seasons, he has averaged around 51 runs above average a season. The problem is Posada was only a full-time catcher during his prime, so unlike with other players where one can assume the player's declining years won't be greatly worse than his early years, Posada doesn't really have any early years to take into account.

Ok let's assume Posada plays 3 more seasons at around 25-30 runs above average, and about 5 WARP3. That'll leave him with somewhere between 375-400 runs and a 95 WARP3. Let's further assume his EQA drops and he ends up with a number around .295.

Ok let's start comparing, although in no particular order:

1) Johnny Bench - Here's a guy who is generally considered the best catcher ever. 126 OPS+, 291 EQA, 120.8 WARP3, and 463 RAA (327 BRAA and 126 FRAA). Clearly better than Posada's projections, although Jorge might be the better hitter.

2) Yogi Berra - Another all-time great. 125 OPS +, 288 EQA, 113.7 WARP3 and 401 RAA (271 BRAA and 130 FRAA). Closer to Posada based on runs above average, but the WARP3 is out of reach.

3) Bill Dickey - The first great Yankee catcher. 127 OPS+, 292 EQA, 107.2 WARP3 and 394 RAA (288 BRAA and 106 FRAA). Another guy who is slightly better than the projections, but not in another league.

4) Roy Campanella - A great catcher who was paralyzed in a car accident and lost a few years to baseball's segregation policies. Like Posada, he didn't start catching full-time in the majors until his mid-20s. 124 OPS+, 293 EQA, 71.6 WARP3 but only 265 RAA (188 BRAA and 77 FRAA). Although for different reasons, Posada and Campanella had similar careers, with similar numbers.

5) Mickey Cochrane - Played on those great A's teams of the late 20s, early 30s. 128 OPS+, .297 ERA, 87.5 WARP3, and 297 RAA (248 BRAA and 48 FRAA). Like Posada (assuming he doesn't play until 40), he didn't have a long career, and his numbers are right around where Posada is now. Since Posada should add to those numbers, I think he'll end up ahead of Cochrane.

6) Carlton Fisk - Played forever. 117 OPS+, .285 EQA, 117 WARP3, 325 RAA (288 BRAA and 37 FRAA). Posada won't catch the WARP3, but should end up with more RAA, and a higher EQA.

Ok one more HOFer.

7) Gabby Hartnett - Great catcher. 126 OPS+, 294 EQA, 111.4 WARP3, and 398 RAA (286 BRAA and 112 FRAA). The RAA and EQA is right around where Posada should end up, but he won't get near the WARP3.

Let's look at two of Posada's contemporaries:

1) Mike Piazza - 143 OPS+, 313 EQA, 98.8 WARP3, and 343 RAA (494 BRAA plus -151 FRAA). Piazza is undoubtedly the best hitting catcher ever, but his defense really drags him down. He's Jeter behind the plate. Posada should finish with more RAA and maybe a similar WARP3.

2) Pudge Rodriguez - 112 OPS+. 282 EQA, 125.4 WARP3, 439 RAA (225 BRAA + 214 FRAA). Arguably the best defensive catcher in history, but not really on par with the all-time greats offensively. Posada will not be able to catch his WARP3 or RAA, even if Pudge is really done.

I think when it comes down to it, Posada is better than some of these guys on a per-year basis, but his career might not have been long enough. His WARP3 certainly does not compare to some of the all-time greats, but he already has more RAA than Cochrane and Campanella, and will probably finish ahead of Fisk and Piazza. If he ends up with a .295 EQA that'll put him ahead of Bench, Berra, Dickey, Campanella, Fisk, and Pudge.

I think Posada is borderline and right around where Bernie is, as good as some of the HOFer, but maybe not good enough to get in.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More on Jeter and the Hall

I responded to some of Ezzie's comments on my post below here. However I thought of two better counter arguments that rebut Ezzie's argument that I feel are post-worthy.

Ezzie is arguing that Jeter's defense is so bad that he should be compared with other position players and not other SS. And although Ezzie has never explicitly concluded that Jeter shouldn't make the Hall, he's implying that compared to other position players Jeter wouldn't stack up. I have two responses:

1) Ezzie is penalizing Jeter twice for being a bad fielder. BP puts Jeter at -128 for his career, so basically his bad fielding is very much taken into consideration. Jeter gets a boost because he's a SS, but his bad fielding at the position definitely hurts him.

If we compare Jeter to other players we cannot automatically take his -128 runs defensively into account. If Jeter played a different position, we can safely assume he wouldn't be that bad defensively. How would he do? There's no way to know. But let's assume Jeter had played CF his whole career and was an average CF. That would leave Jeter with 411 runs above average for his career. He's 33 and should probably play another solid 6-7 years.

Let's assume he averages 15 runs above average for the rest of his career (a reasonable assumption considering just last season he was 53 runs above average offensively). That'll leave him with around 500 runs above average. That would put Jeter ahead of all the CF I mentioned on Noyam's Bernie post plus Duke Snider and a whole bunch of other nondescript HOFers.

Even if Jeter played LF, a position he would surely be at least average at, he would be ahead of Joe Medwick, Lou Brock, Ralph Kiner (although his career was cut short), Al Simmons, and would compare favorably with Willie Stargell and Dave Winfield. If I assume Jeter would have added 10 runs defensively a year and adds 10 runs offensively a year until he retires after 20 seasons, he'd end up with close to 700 runs above average. At any position, that's a HOF.

2) Instead of using Batting and Fielding Runs Above Average, I'll instead look at Batting and Fielding Runs Above Replacement, BRAR and FRAR. The difference is FRAA only takes into account the player's peers at his position. FRAR instead starts a player at a different amount of runs based on position. So for example, a SS will start with 33 runs automatically, while a 1B will only start with 10. That makes the positional difference 23 runs, which seems about right.

This allows us to compare players at different positions. Jeter right now is 908 runs above replacement. Let's assume he plays another 6 years. If we discount his first season, where he played 15 games and was actually a subpar performer, he's played 12 seasons. He's averaging 21.6 FRAR and 54 BRAR, so he's 75.6 runs above a replacement player. If he keeps that rate, for 6 more seasons, he'll end up with 453 more runs, which will leave him with 1360 runs above replacement. Let's say he drops off a little and only averages 60 runs above replacement. That's 360 runs so it's about 1260 runs above bench for his career.

Of course all of this assumes he stays at SS. If he moves to LF, he'll lose 19 runs a season based on positional value, but he'll probably be a better LF than SS, so I'm assuming he'll get a decent amount of that back.

So let's see how he compares with some HOFers.

1) Kirby Puckett finished with 842 runs above bench.
2) Harmon Killerbrew ended up with 889 runs above bench.

Jeter is already ahead of two clear-cut, well-known, HOFers.

What about someone like Eddie Murray? He finished with 1238, below Jeter's projected finish. How about a great hitter like Wade Boggs? 1347, right around Jeter's lower projected finish. How about the great Tony Gwynn? 1107. Brooks Robinson was an amazing defensive 3B. Where did he end up? 1066.

The list goes on and on. I'm not picking random, lower tier HOFers. These guys are all well-known and at least a number of them were first ballot picks, including Gwynn just last year. I'll pick another very famous player who just recently made into the Hall. Paul Molitor. Received 431 of 508 votes in 2004 or 84.8%. What did he finish with? 1189, below Jeter's projections.

There just aren't any serious arguments against Jeter's future Hall induction.

Update: Since I've been using BP's stats primarily, I decided to look at the HardBall Times' numbers to see where Jeter should rank. Unlike BP, THT does not have a lot of free stats on current players and nothing on past players. THT basically has the stats of the players' last four seasons and career numbers.

Here's Jeter. At the bottom there's a stat called Win Shares. Win Shares is a Bill James creation (for those of you who have never heard of Bill James, you should get to know his work). Unlike BP's WARP3, which looks at a player's numbers and calculates how many wins above a replacement player those numbers should added up to, Win Shares takes a team's total victories, multiplies them by 3, and then divides the total among the player's on the team.

Some would argue that Win Shares are not as fair a metric simply because players on winning teams are going to get more Shares due to the contributions of their teammates. That's not a bad argument, and I wouldn't only use Win Shares when evaluating a player. THT has also come up with Win Shares above Bench, a stat that compares a player's Win Shares with the amount an replacement player would have received at that position. WSAB might be a better stat, but THT doesn't have career win shares on it site, so I don't have access to it.

Ok, on to Jeter. Jeter has 300 Win Shares. He has played 12 full seasons so that comes out to a clean 25 WS a season. Assuming he plays another 6-8 years at that average and he'll end up with between 450-500 WS. That's a reasonable estimate given his past performance.

Luckily Dave Studeman ranked the top 80 players ever before 2007 based on WSAB and also included their WS total. We can go down the list and look at some of the best players of all-time.

The first 20 or so guys are clearly out of Jeter's league. After that, the WS totals begin to drop. Sam Crawford and Reggie Jackson both have around 440 WS for their career. Willie McCovey has 408. George Brett has 432. Arky Vaughan only had 356. Tony Gwynn? 398. There is no doubt in my mind that Jeter can easily reach 400 WS for his career.

This is just another stat that confirms what we already know: Jeter is a HOFer.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Importance Of Sabermetrics

This post was a comment on Noyam's Jeter post.

Somewhere between 25-30 years ago, people started taking a serious look into what makes a baseball team successful. Analyzing the various statistics, they looked for links between specific numbers and winning. One thing they noticed is that, almost universally, winning teams had a high OBP. They reasoned that there was a correlation between winning and a high team OBP. They concluded that successful teams are the teams that get on base the most. The second most common feature was a high SLG. Teams that hit for power also tended to do well. In other words, OBP and SLG were, by far, the best indicators of a team’s success. Better than batting average, home runs, stolen bases, runs, and RBIs.

These analysts reasoned that if successful teams are those which get on base the most, the most valuable players are the ones with the highest OBP. If getting on base is the single most important component of a winning team, a smart team should look for players who make the least outs. Those players are the most valuable. Obviously not all teams have figured this out yet, but that’s to their detriment.

What makes a player “good?” A good player is one who is valuable. The “best” player on a team is the one who is the most valuable to that team. Value is best determined by looking at a player’s OBP first, then SLG, and then going to other stats. This is true whether looking at the MVP race or trying to figure out who should make the Hall.

While this strategy makes sense, people soon realized some obvious flaws. Some players play in great hitters parks, while others hit in stadiums with huge outfields. Moreover some players played in eras with dominant pitching or rules that tilted the game towards pitching. For example, in 1968 Carl Yastrzemski won the batting title with a .301 batting average. In 1930, the mean batting average was .301. Obviously Yastrzemski was much more valuable to his team in 1968 than the average player was in 1930. Therefore OPS (OBP + SLG) is greatly flawed when comparing players from different eras, and sometimes even players from the same era.

That’s where OPS+ comes in. It takes into account stadium and league differences and calculates the player’s OPS in relation to the rest of the players in the league. For example a player with a OPS+ of 120 has an OPS that is 20% better than the average player in his league, taking into account ballpark advantages/disadvantages. OPS+ is very useful because it allows us to compare Derek Jeter to, say, Honus Wagner even though the latter played in the dead ball era when no one hit home runs or slugged at a very high percentage.

While OPS+ is a major improvement over OPS, it suffers from similar flaws. OPS+ does not take into account positional value. Sabermetics assume that the further down one gets on the defensive spectrum, the more valuable the player is, everything else being equal.

Here’s an example. Take a look at a regular baseball team. Let’s use the Mets. How many Mets starters (excluding pitcher) could play 1B adequately (not average, but good enough that his defense isn’t so atrocious that it greatly outweighs his offensive contributions)? I would guess all 8. How many could play LF? Probably everyone except Delgado. What about RF? Again probably everyone besides Delgado. What about 3B? Here’s where the biggest drop off occurs. Obviously Wright, probably Reyes and Castillo, and with enough practice, maybe Lo Duca. What about SS? Reyes and that’s probably it. Maybe Wright could figure it out or Castillo in his prime could be decent. But that’s it.

That’s the point. SS consistently rank at the bottom or next to the bottom offensively. The average 1B is a much better offensive player than the average SS. A team could increase its offensive output tremendously by playing an average 1B at SS. Why don’t teams do that? Well let’s ask why don’t the Cardinals play Pujols at SS and find a league average 1B to take his place? Because he would be so bad defensively that the offensive improvement from a league average SS to a league average 1B would be negated and then some.

Basically only a few select players can play SS, while almost anyone in the majors can play 1B. So everything else being equal, if two players have same numbers but one plays 1B and the other SS, the latter is more valuable because he can play a prime defensive position.
OPS+ doesn’t take this problem into account. It equates a SS with a 120 OPS+ with a 1B with the same OPS+. The two are not equally valuable.

Another major problem is that OPS+, like OPS, overvalues SLG relative to OBP. As I showed earlier, OBP is the statistic more closely correlated with winning and is the more important statistic. Equating OBP and SLG by simply adding them up does not paint an accurate picture of value.

EQA takes into account the latter problem by weighing OBP more than SLG, while VORP and WARP3 adjust for positional differences. That’s why despite David Ortiz’s power being down this season, his EQA is the highest of his career (his OBP is much higher than in past years). It’s also why Hanley Ramirez is second in VORP (behind ARod), even though Prince Fielder has a higher OPS+. WARP3 tries to take into account defense as well, and is probably the most comprehensive statistic available (although it’s not without its share of flaws).

These statistics are far more advanced and useful than batting average or RBI. They remove a lot of the subjectivity that plagues baseball analysis. Rather then simply looking at a player and saying “eh, .317 average and only 200 homers, that’s not great” they allow you to compare Jeter to other players and especially SS of other eras. And Jeter clearly stacks up to those guys.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Is Jeter A Hall-Of-Famer?

Inspired by this post by Noyam, I'd like to take a look at Derek Jeter's qualifications for HOF membership. But first it's important to note that the question "is Jeter a HOFer?" is really three distinct questions:

1) Should Jeter be a HOFer? This question, which is normative, requires looking for a standard which someone would have to reach in order to be a HOFer. It does not consider the admission of other players dispositive. So while Phil Rizzuto's induction might be relevant, it does not definitively answer the question.

2) Will Jeter be a HOFer? This questions looks to who is already in the Hall and gleans a standard from the current inductees. This question is more descriptive: based on who already made the Hall, does Jeter reach that standard? Unlike the first question, Rizzuto's induction is definitive because it shows that the standard is low enough to encompass shortstops who aren't even average major league hitters.

3) Will the writers vote for Jeter? This question is purely predictive. While there is overlap between the predictive and descriptive questions, they are not the same. Rafael Palmero might be a HOF based on who is already accepted into the Hall, but the voters will likely vote to keep him out because of steroid suspicions.

I believe the answer to all three questions is yes. I'm going to answer the to answer each question starting with the 3rd.

Will the writers vote for Jeter? Absolutely. This one is a no-brainer. Here's the evidence:

1) 3,000+ hits with a .300+ batting average (at worst).
2) 3+ Gold gloves.
3) 4+ rings.
4) A penchant for coming up big in the clutch.

The voters will see a very good hitter (somewhat warranted), a very good defender (not even close), and a winner. Seems like the quintessential HOFer in their eyes.

2) Will Jeter be a HOFer? This question is pretty easy too. Middle infielders such as Rizzuto (93 OPS+), Bill Mazeroski (84), and Pee Wee Reese (99) are in the Hall, despite mediocre to bad offensive numbers. Jeter's OPS+ is 123, which means, given modifications for era and home park, Jeter is 23% better than the average player and much better than the above players. Sure they were better defensively (in some cases much), but they weren't Ozzie Smith, who was a first-ballot HOFer. So Jeter will make it considering the other players who made it before him.

3) Should Jeter be a HOFer? This question is the most difficult and requires defining some standards. The HOF should be a place for the "best" players, and the best players are the ones who are the most valuable. Value is often position dependant, which means players playing SS should not be compared to 1B and LF. A SS can be just as valuable with worse offensive numbers solely by playing SS adequately.

So Jeter's candidacy does not hinge on his ability to hit like Pujols, Frank Thomas or Barry Bonds (three contemporary HOF-worthy players). He just needs to hit well enough to, with his position, be considered valuable enough to be considered good enough to make the Hall.

Obviously this question will overlap with the last question a bit. In order to determine who is valuable, we must look for some paradigms. In other words, who are the shortstops who should be in the Hall? Well at the top there's Honus Wagner (150) and Arky Vaughan (136), both of whom were far better than Jeter and are probably the top 2 SS in major league history (although if ARod had stayed at SS, he might have had something to say about that).

Let's look at two first ballot HOFers, Cal Ripken Jr. and Robin Yount. Both were surefire HOFs and fall within the top SS of all time. How does Jeter compare?

Ripken's OPS+ was 112, probably below where Jeter will end up when he retires. What about more advanced stats such as EQA and WARP3? Ripken's EQA is .285, which is way below Jeter's .303. While Ripken's WARP3 is 170.7 to Jeter's 101.1, Jeter still has another 7-8 years left and while he probably won't catch Ripken's WARP3, he'll be close.

Yount, of course, moved to the outfield later in his career, like Ernie Banks (.288 EQA), who also switched positions (and hopefully one day Jeter). Yount's EQA was .287, closer to Ripken than Jeter, and his WARP3 was 136.8, which Jeter should be able to top.

I've searched in vain for many SSs with a .300+ EQA. Here's a list of all the SS in the HOF. Only Wagner and Vaughan qualify. Only Luke Appling even had a .290 + EQA. In other words even if Jeter's decline is drastic and he ends up at around .290, that'd still put him in the top 4 offensive SS in major league history.

Yes, Jeter's defense is far worse than most of the players on that list. But his offense is so much better, that it's hard to imagine him falling below those players. Even if we set the line for induction at .280 EQA and/or above average defense and get rid of players such as Reese or Rizzuto, even if we take into account Jeter's terrible defense, and even if we assume a drastic drop off in performance as he gets older (which I doubt), it's hard to imagine Jeter not being as good when everything is said and done as Appling, Yount, or Banks. His numbers will basically be a carbon copy of their careers.

Sometime around 2020 Jeter will have his own well-deserved plaque in Cooperstown.