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.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Nomah and RAJAWS and Leverage, Oh My!

My third and final piece evaluating the 2006 Hall of Fame ballot is up at Baseball Prospectus, this one tackling the relievers. Because there are only three of them in the Hall (Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, and Dennis Eckersley), and because Eck was a starter for half his career, computing a positional JAWS standard as I've done for starting pitchers and position players isn't an option. In the past I had used a standard that was basically 70 percent of the starting pitchers' positional standard, which was analogous to applying the concept of leverage -- the quantifiably greater effect of late-inning plate appearances on the outcome of a ballgame -- to the relievers. Starting pitchers generally have an LEV very near 1.0, but an ace reliever might be closer to 2.0, meaning the batters he faced were twice as important to the outcome of a ballgame.

But as more data has come to light, the leverage factor that 70 percent represents - a factor of 1.43-- was revealed to be too low, and simply multiplying the pitchers' total line by that factor (LEV) is untenable for a number of reasons, including the fact that every pitcher on the ballot besides Bruce Sutter pitched some innings as a starter. What I settled for was to utilize BP's Reliever Expected Wins Added (abbreviated as WRXL, because as brilliant as BP's Keith Woolner is, he's not exactly the egomaniacal acronym hound that I am) stat. WXRL tallies the cumulative impact in wins that a reliever adds to his team's total by measuring their chances of winning based on the game state (bases, outs, score differential) before he enters and after he leaves (or the game ends). I factored each reliever's career WXRL into the JAWS equation to create a new measure:

0.5 * WXRL + JAWS = Reliever Adjusted Jaffe WARP Score (RAJAWS)

That's pronounced "Rajah's" -- as in belonging to Hornsby, or if you're in New England, Clemens. As I said in the article, "this is sort of like enlisting Captain Kirk to fight Darth Vader," because WXRL comes from Woolnerian VORP side of BP's statistical universe, while JAWS is based on WARP, which is part of Clay Davenport's quadrant of the galaxy. We're mixing two different replacement levels together, but the result works out pretty well. As BP reader D. T. pointed out to me, "it's like adding OBP and SLG -- potentially useful if you know what scale it's supposed to end up on, but probably meaningless otherwise."

The 0.5 multiplier keeps the RAJAWS figures more or less in line with the starting pitchers' JAWS figures, with the theoretical line drawn at the same place, the Hall pitchers' average of 80.6. Some relievers, obviously were helped more than others, but after evaluating the half-dozen on the balllot, I came away with the same conclusion as I did last year: Goose Gossage and Lee Smith are the two relievers worthy of a Hall vote, while Sutter and the rest are not. Add them to Albert Belle, Will Clark, Alan Trammell, Bert Blyleven, and Tommy John, and that's a pretty full ballot for one year. As I noted in the piece, I'll be hosting a BP chat starting an hour after the Hall announces the voting results on January 10.

Given the number of Yankee fans who read this, many of your are likely to ask how Mariano Rivera stacks up under this system. The answer is quite well. Mo's accumulated 74.8 career WARP3. His seven-year peak is 57.2, which smokes every reliever on the ballot, Gossage included (his peak is 51.2). It's also higher than every starter on the ballot except Blyleven (66.4) not to mention quite a few HOF pitcherrs. That puts Mo's JAWS at 66.0, and with 53.7 WXRL in his career (just 0.3 less than the Goose), he's at 92.9. Gossage is at 94.6. Rivera won't have any problem getting in.

Anyway, given everything else on my plate, I'm thrilled to have JAWS done for the year. Time to turn my attention to writing about a team whose lineup is changing by the hour, the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose book essay awaits. Don't even get me started on the Nomar signing; Joe Sheehan knocked it out of the park today:
Outside of Fenway Park the past three seasons, Garciaparra has hit .281/.325/.448. That’s the player the Dodgers have just signed, and he bears little resemblance to the guy who hit .372 nearly six years ago.

...So what you’re left with is a past-prime ex-superstar who has been removed from the environment where he’s had the most success, and is now being asked to do on-the-job training at a new position in a difficult hitters’ park with, basically, the rest of his career on the line. Were Garciaparra being asked to play a position with low expectations for production, his chance to be worth the money would be greater. However, his reluctance to play second base, and the Dodgers’ investments elsewhere in the infield, mean that Garciaparra is slated to play first base at this time. That’s a lot to ask of a guy who posted a .263 EqA in 62 games last season.

It’s hard to see how the Dodgers have even upgraded the position. It’s established by now that the baseball industry simply doesn’t like Hee Seop Choi, who has been defined by what he cannot do rather than what he can by two organizations, and who hasn’t been given a fair shake outside of a half-season in Florida in 2004. Even in a difficult 2005 season, however, Choi put up a line of .253/.336/.453, good for a .274 EqA in Dodger Stadium. At worst an average defensive first baseman, and heading into his age-27 season, it seems certain that he would be a better choice than Garciaparra in 2005.

Let’s make this clear: the Dodgers are replacing Choi with a player Choi out-hit last season (and posted comparable numbers to in 2004), a player who’s likely going to be inferior defensively, who will cost more money, and carry a greater risk of injury and decline. They’re getting a more famous person in the deal, one whose aggressive approach at the plate may play better than Choi’s disciplined one, but whose edges are all stylistic.
With the arbitration deadline looming tonight, I expect Choi to be nontendered by the Dodgers, making him a free agent. His name will certainly be tossed around the blogosphere as an option for the Yanks to take over the Tino Martinez role. I don't see it working out here, given that Joe Torre rarely trusts anyone under 35. I simply hope for Choi's sake he winds up with a team and a manager who can appreciate what he can do rather than dwelling on what he can't.


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