The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Monday, August 06, 2001

 

Flogging Tino

On Friday night, I was watching the Yankees game with my brother, who lives in New York City as I do, but is not a Yanks fan. The Yankees trailed the Angels 3-2 in the 7th inning when Tino Martinez came to bat. As the announcers made a remark about how Tino had been swinging the bat as well as he did in 1997, when he hit 44 home runs, I went into my standard anti-Tino tirade. Sure enough, on the second pitch, Tino jacked one into right field for the eventual game-winning home run.

Saturday, he vicitimized the Angels with another two-run shot in the eighth inning, for his fifth home run in his past six games, and 17th in his last 36--an impressive streak, no doubt. But before he's annointed the Yankees MVP or worse, re-signed to a big contract (he's a free agent after this season), I wanted to take a look at his numbers and show just where they fit in.

Tino's hitting .262, with 26 home runs and 86 RBI. He's sixth in the league in the latter category, among perennial studs like Manny Ramirez, Juan Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez (apparently it helps to have your name end in a "z" if you want to drive in runs), along with Jim Thome, who just crushes a lot, and Brett Boone, who's having the most amazing career year aberration of anybody since Brady Anderson hit 50 HRs in 1996. It's impressive company, but don't let anybody tell you Tino belongs in this class of hitters.

There are two reasons for this: On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. Here are his numbers alongside the ten other top RBI men in the league. Rather than OPS, I've included their Slugging Percentage * On Base Percentage, because it correlates better with their productivity (see here, because I've discussed this before).
            HR  RBI   AVG   OBP   SLG  SL*OB

BBoone 25 102 .329 .362 .574 .208
MRamirez 33 97 .313 .413 .631 .261
JGonzalez 27 95 .344 .396 .644 .255
ARodriguez 30 93 .317 .394 .590 .232
Thome 34 92 .301 .430 .651 .280
TMartinez 26 86 .262 .307 .487 .150
JaGiambi 25 82 .328 .460 .631 .290
GAnderson 20 82 .282 .302 .462 .140
Palmeiro 28 78 .266 .377 .532 .201
Posada 19 75 .310 .400 .548 .219
Sweeney 23 75 .305 .367 .560 .206
Glaus 29 73 .251 .362 .532 .193
Two hitters stick out like sore thumbs on this list--Martinez and Anaheim's Garret Anderson, both of whom have low OBP and SLG. Neither of them is nearly as productive a hitter as the others here. Their reputations are inflated by their power numbers, but in truth, they're contributing less to their teams' offenses than their teammates on this list, Posada in Tino's case and Glaus in Anderson's case.

There are plenty of other measures which will tell you the same story. Here is another table, with the players listed in the same order as above:
             OWP   EqA    RAP

BBoone .717 .327 35.6
MRamirez .806 .346 35.4
JGonzalez .786 .346 31.7
ARodriguez .758 .336 47.9
Thome .834 .358 37.5
TMartinez .530 .271 -11.5
JaGiambi .847 .371 47.2
GAnderson .476 .264 -10.6
Palmeiro .708 .311 12.1
Posada .738 .323 31.5
Sweeney .707 .311 12.4
Glaus .652 .305 20.4
OWP is Offensive Winning Percentage, which will tell you, using Runs Created, how often a theoretical team composed of 9 of the same player would win, based on that level of offensive production. Again Martinez and Anderson stick out like sore thumbs. The others are all offensive dynamos, whereas Tino is barely adequate, and certainly not championship quality as a hitter.

The other two columns are taken straight from Baseball Prospectus's figures. EqA is a statistic which puts a player's total offensive performance on a scale similar to batting average. It's adjusted for home park and league offensive levels, which is nice when you're putting the stuff in perspective (by contrast OWP is not park adjusted). It's a bitch to calculate, which is why I don't refer to it more often; fortunately, Baseball Prospectus does all the number-crunching for us here. The last column is Runs Above Position, which tells us how many runs better or worse than the average player at his position a player is (it comes from the same galaxy of statistics as EqA, in the same way that OWP and Runs Created come from the Bill James quadrant of the statistical galaxy).

And here is where we get to the root of the problem. Tino Martinez is hot right now, but he's still well below average for a first baseman in terms of his total productivity. First basemen are generally among the big power studs in any lineup; they're good hitters who draw a lot of walks (which shows both plate discipline and a respect from opposing hurlers) and hit for a lot of power. Tino isn't in the same class with Giambi, Thome, and Palmeiro. He isn't in the same class as Carlos Delgado, Tony Clark, John Olerud, Mike Sweeney, Doug Mientkiewicz, Brian Daubach or Paul Konerko. He ranks behind all of those guys in OWP--Konerko brings up the rear of that pack at .621, and Tino's a long taxi ride away at .530.

Similarly, he's 21th among major league 1Bs in EqA, and he's used far more outs than any other first baseman in the majors. Tino's used 316 outs; the next five are Richie Sexson, 299, Jeff Bagwell 295, Mike Sweeney 293, Rafael Palmeiro and Lee Stevens, 291 apiece. Some of those guys are excellent hitters, others are offensive leaks. Tino, based on the Prospectus's overall numbers, is much closer to a leak.

Let's get back to that 1997 season of Tino's, and while we're at it, let's throw in every season in between (unfortunately, I don't have EqA or RAP from seasons past because the Baseball Prospectus player card server has been down for some time):
       HR   RBI   AVG   OBP   SLG  SL*OB   OWP

1997 44 141 .296 .371 .577 .214 .710
1998 28 123 .281 .355 .505 .179 .605
1999 28 105 .263 .341 .458 .156 .521
2000 16 91 .258 .328 .411 .135 .434
2001 26 86 .262 .307 .487 .150 .530
Does anybody still want to make the argument that Tino is back to where he was in 1997? He's been rotting away like a tree with termites since then; not only is he not the hitter he was in '97, he's not even the hitter he was in '98. The consistency of his decline over the past four seasons is alarming, and it's only this year that he's picking it up at all. What's amazing is that he's only 33--past his peak, but still in what should be his productive years as a ballplayer.

Okay, enough flogging. I would like to point out a couple more things as we mop up the blood:

1. Tino's past month has done quite a bit to dig him out of the early season hole he's created for himself. Two weeks ago, his OWP was at .505, for example, and if he continues to hit the way he has been, his stats will improve. But unbelievably, his OBP during this hot streak has actually fallen--he's walked three times in the last month, a sign that the pitchers aren't afraid of him. Also, he has one intenional walk on the year, compared to 14 in '97.

2. The Yankees offense as it currently exists is somewhat nontraditional in that they get a lot of productivity from up-the-middle players--specifically Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams--and less from their corner players (1B, 3B, LF, RF). Because of how productive that trio is--they're the Yankees best hitters, by far--they've been able to withstand the drag Tino (among others) puts on their offense. And yes, it is a drag--the team's OWP is .549, nineteen points higher than Tino's.

So don't be fooled. Tino's hot right now, and the Yanks have certainly taken advantage of his timely hitting. But he's hardly an elite hitter by *any* analysis, and if the Yankees think otherwise during the offseason, they will be tossing tens of millions of dollars down the drain. As the great sabermetrician Flavor Flav put, "Don't believe the hype."

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