The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

Jim Thome just hit his 600th home run

And economists are writing about baseball again. In honour of Thome Thumb’s achievement — and can you believe people are actually writing things like "oh, now that he has 600 HR he’s going to the Hall," as though Jim fucking Thome with yesterday’s 598 career HR wouldn’t be? — I’ll now mock the heck out of Tom Van Riper for getting in way over his head and writing about a subject so foreign to him that I don’t think he can watch the Yankees without subtitles.

Two years ago, Melky Cabrera seemed poised for a promising career with the New York Yankees.

Two years ago, Melky Cabrera was 24 years old, and he hit .274 / .336 / .416. His OPS+ was 93. 1.7 WAR (don’t be too shocked — he was a CF. Almost all defense and positional adjustment). Decent little player, I suppose, but your $200 million team would probably rather sign, you know, Curtis Granderson, worst defensive CF in baseball or not.

At age 24, the outfielder played a solid role in the Bombers’ 2009 championship season, hitting .274 with 13 homers in 485 at-bats.

So solid that the Yankees decided not to invite him back the next year.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. Reports floated that the team brass wasn’t fond of the influence that the partying Cabrera had on second baseman Robinson Cano, the Yankees’ best young player.

Floating reports or no floating reports, his ability to control Bobinson Cano’s mind with space lasers wasn’t really the issue. It was that he kind of smells as a baseball player. This is the same team, you’ll recall, that employed Jason Giambi for many years. Partying is the issue?

And despite flashing some talent, Cabrera also carried that dreaded "fourth outfielder" label – not quite athletic enough for center field and not quite powerful enough for a corner spot.

Prince Melkazar was a fine CF in 2009. Then he got fat. And, wait, not "quite" enough power for a corner spot?

Melky Cabrera, career ISO: 122
Matt Holliday, career ISO: 227
Carlos Zambrano, career ISO: 153

Yeah. Not quite.

So when the opportunity came that winter to ship him to Atlanta for an established starting pitcher, Javier Vasquez, the Yankees didn’t hesitate.

Melky Cabrera, 2010 WAR: -1.0

Sure, Vazquez sucked. But what did the Yankees really lose out on there?

After a mediocre 2010 season got him released by the Braves, the bottom feeding Kansas City Royals nabbed Cabrera for a modest $1.25 million.

Tom Van Cleef says Melky’s 2010 was "mediocre." I say it was the worst in all of baseball. Details!

He’s responded by giving the Royals the best offensive bargain in the majors this year: a .303 batting average, .798 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) and 62 RBI.

Sure, he’s .312 / .345 / .479. That ain’t bad, but consider ZiPS projected him at .307 / .344 / .466. His offense isn’t the surprise. The surprise is that he got back in shape a bit and is actually an almost-average CF again. Not going to talk about that at all? You know, defense and stuff? That .798 OPS would make him a footnote if the Royals had had to push him over to LF.

Vasquez, meanwhile, is getting lit up in Florida after he flopped in pinstripes for the second time in his career.

Vazquez has thrown 134.2 innings, and has a 4.28/4.24 FIP/xFIP to show for it. Worth a win and change. Not everything one could hope for, but the man’s 35 years old. And saying he’s getting "lit up" is horribly unfair.

… Oh. Right. He’s 7-10. Wins! Winning! Because Javier Vazquez’s utterly meaningless Win rate is below .500, he is the ass. This is how you play cavemanball!

Despite yet another losing season, the Royals have shown quite a knack for gobbling offensive production on the cheap.

Wouldn’t it be fun if hacks evaluated teams the way they do pitchers? The Royals have more losses than wins! This means they are complete shit. Anyway, let me rewrite your paragraph for you:

Despite… losing… the Royals have shown… the cheap.

There we are.

The 2011 club has pulled the outfield hat trick – Cabrera, Jeff Francouer and Alex Gordon all rank among baseball’s 10 best hitters for the buck this year.

One of these things is not like the others! See if you can pick out which one of these hitters is really, really bad if I just give you their slash lines and don’t tell you who they are:

.311 / .343 / .478 / .821 (127 OPS+)
.298 / .372 / .480 / .852 (137 OPS+)
.272 / / .460 / .784 (117 OPS+)

Need a hint? It’s the one whose OBP I didn’t list, because they don’t put that shit up on the scoreboard anyhow.

Okay, I’m being a little bit unfair. Frenchie’s having a decent year. But it’s being propped up mostly by his monster April and July — he’s been way below average the rest of the year. I mean, his BABIP is an utterly unreal .419 this month, and you know what he’s done with that? A .733 OPS.

Francoeur, who hit just .249 with 65 RBI for the Mets and Rangers last season, has rebounded to .273 with 15 homers and .798 OPS after signing a $2.5 million deal last winter.

Apparently these days "rebounding" is a phenomenon that includes a player who has been replacement-level his whole career having a big career year and being worth a couple of wins. Because, hey, check it:

Jeff Francoeur, career WAR: 5.6
Jeff Francoeur, 2011 WAR: 2.0

And, yes, that career number includes 2011. Rebound my ass.

And Gordon, a home grown outfielder with a career.258 batting average over five seasons, has surged to .305 in 2011. He’s also on pace to easily put up the best power numbers of his career, while pulling in just $1.4 million.

Great, but just one thing: Gordon is a third baseman. He has played almost twice as many games at 3B as he has at all outfield positions combined. Why is he in the outfield this year? I don’t know. I, like most other baseball fans, do not pay attention to the Royals.

We figured the best hitters for the buck by breaking down MLB’s everyday players (minimum 300 plate appearances through the first week of August) into three basic service categories: 1) those with less than three years experience who aren’t yet eligible for salary arbitration, 2) those with three or four years of service who qualify for arbitration but aren’t yet getting free agent money and 3) veterans with five or more years service time that have reached free agent money (players actually qualify for free agency after six seasons, though the big salary jump generally comes after year five, when a player is allowed to compare himself to free agents in the arbitration process).To avoid comparing apples to oranges to pears, we rated each player only within his service category – measuring production vs. salary against the average of the service class.

That’s insane. The stat you’re looking for, by your own admission, is "value for money." This is calculated by the following complex formula:

value / money

Why are we breaking players up into utterly arbitrary groups and comparing them only to other players we’ve randomly lumped into the same group? Both "value" and "money" mean the same thing regardless of group. So what’s the point of the rest of it? Some insane sense of

Cabrera and Francoeur rate as especially good values because their modest salaries contrast with veterans in their service class earning much more (over $8 million, on average).

And this is the kind of boneheaded conclusion you can reach if you pollute your equation with lots of confounding variables. Here, let’s make it simple:

Cabrera: Value == $17.1M, Money == $1.25M. Value / Money == 13.68
Francoeur: Value == $9.8M, Money == $2.5M. Value / Money == 3.92

Not very similar, really. And now:

Starlin Castro: Value == $11.5M, Money == 0.44M. Value / Money == 26.14

Quick! Make up some more random rules so we can pretend trash like Francoeur is great!

Another veteran delivering on the cheap is Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez, who’s delivering a monster season (.962 OPS, 91 RBI) a year in front of his lucrative extension that will kick his salary to $21 million from the current $5.5 million.

Adrian Gonzalez: Value == $24.1M, Money == $5.5M. Value / Money == 4.38

Wow, it turns out costing a shitload more money really hampers one’s standing in the "value for money" rankings. Glad we added a bunch of noise to obscure that.

August 15th, 2011 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

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