Thursday, November 30, 2006

Regarding the bullpen, it wouldn't shock me if Minaya signed 1 or 2 guys to minor league contracts and they end up on the roster. Seems to have been the M.O. for last couple years.

Have I mentioned that they should trade Milledge and not sign Zito?
If the Mets tried to keep the 1986 team together in today's market...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Will the Mets have a bullpen in 2007?
Last season, the Mets had the best bullpen in the NL. Will they come close in 2007?
Wagner and Feliciano will be on board, but the rest looks unclear.
The Orioles signed Chad Bradford for 10.5/3. I think that's a defensible signing for the O's, but I understand why the Mets wouldn't want to spend that much on a situational righty (even if he's dope against righties).
Duaner Sanchez may not be ready for opening day.
Aaron Heilman is mentioned in every Mets trade rumor.
If Mota is brought back, he'll miss the first 50 games due to suspension.
According to the Daily News, the Mets have not had any discussions about bringing Darren Oliver back.
The Times says that the Mets have no interest in bringing Roberto Hernandez back.
Heath Bell, Royce Ring, and Henry Owens have all been traded.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ignoring important factors like age, speed, and defense, here are the last three years of OPS for two corner outfielders who just signed new contracts:

Player A: .923, .918, .918
Player B: .911, .821, .808

Player A signed with the Mets for $8.5 million. Player B signed with the Cubs for $136 million.

[edit: Player C: .895, .811, .891
Player C (who is younger than Player A, but has similar limitations when it comes to defense) signed with the Astros for $100 million.]
Pujols vs. Howard
It's a close call, but Ryan Howard was the wrong choice for MVP. It's an interesting MVP battle because they're so similar. This wasn't a choice between a slugger and a speedster, a shortstop and a DH, or a pitcher and a hitter; this was a choice between two slugging first basemen. Forget all the hype about Howard's homeruns, the only real difference between the offensive lines for these two players was their playing time. Pujols missed a large chunk of June with an injury. He finished the season with 143 games and 634 plate appearances. Howard totaled 159 games and 704 plate appearances. Otherwise, their offensive numbers were very similar. The following two lines are Howard's actual stats, compared to projections for Pujols if he had also had 704 plate appearances:


There's one huge difference: the strikeouts. Other than that, the two lines are very similar. Howard has a few more walks and a few more homers. Pujols has a few more singles and a dozen more doubles. Overall, Pujols's rate stats are slightly superior ; he has a slight edge in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Obviously, that slight edge doesn't make up for the 16 game edge Howard has on Pujols. 16 extra games from your best player has a lot of Value. And that's probably where the analysis ended for a lot of the voters. The problem is the offensive numbers are a little misleading. One reason: park factors. My guess is that most voters ignore park factors unless a Rockie is in the running. Here are the park factors (numbers over 100 indicate that the park improves run scoring by the percentage over 100) for Philly and St. Louis according to three difference sources (they all base their numbers on different time spans):

BB Reference10398

Doesn't look huge, but it's a big enough factor that it needs to be taken into account. So, now we're at this point: (1) Pujols's slightly better rate stats need to be adjusted for the park factors and (2) the resulting edge for Pujols needs to somehow be weighed against Howard's significant edge in playing time. Fortunately, Baseball Prospectus has statistics that already do this hard work. I'll note that of the three pairs of park factors listed above, Prospectus's find the least difference between the parks, so if anything, an argument can be made that Prospectus's stats are all skewed slightly in Howard's favor. Equivalent Runs (EqA) is one of their park-adjusted measures of overall offensive production. It's a rate stat that is calibrated to look sort of like batting average (i.e. over .300 is good, below .250 is bad). Equivalent Runs (EqR) is a counting stat that shows how many runs a player produced based on his EqA. RARP is based on EqR and is a measure of how many more runs a player produced than a replacement-level player at his position. Before I go any further, here are the numbers:


As you can see, Pujols has a decent edge in EqA (which is greater than his edge in OPS because of the Park Factors). Howard has a slight edge in EqR (due to his edge in playing time), but Pujols has an edge in RARP. One can quibble with the way Prospectus determines what a replacement player would produce, but it's clear that doing such a calculation is necessary. Essentially, using EqR to determine Value would be flawed because it assumes that for the 16 games Pujols missed, the Cardinals received no offensive production from first base. RARP assumes that the team could've received some minimal amount of output, and therefore, reduces the edge given to Howard due to playing time. The difference in RARP is only .4 runs, which is pretty much meaningless. (By way of comparison, VORP is a similar stat produced by Prospectus; it gives Pujols an edge of 3.9 runs). So, based on their offensive production, it's pretty much a tie. So, you can either flip a coin or look at some possible tie-breakers. If you do the latter, it's clear that Pujols deserved the MVP.

1. Fielding
This really should be more than just a tie-breaker. Fielding is an important part of the game. But, when we're talking about first basemen, I think fielding was probably an afterthought for most voters. Fielding stats aren't wholly reliable, and there are particular problems for first basemen because a lot of their value is hard to measure. But, most of the numbers agree with the general observations of scouts and experts that Pujols is one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball. Howard's general reputation is that he's bad in the field, the numbers indicate that he's average at best.

Pujols won the gold glove award this year. He was also named the best defensive 1B in all of baseball by a panel of experts put together by Bill James. Prospectus calculated Pujols's defense as being worth 17 runs more than an average defender, and Howard's as being 15 runs worse than an average defender. That's huge. I think their defensive numbers are flawed, but it's at least another data point in Albert's favor. Chris Dial's defensive numbers posted on Baseball Think Factory show them both to be about average, giving Pujols a mere 3 run edge. Probably the best publicly available numbers (although still probably somewhat flawed for first basemen) are the +/- numbers calculated by John Dewan (who published the Fielding Bible last year). The new Bill James Handbook shows the top 10 according to Dewan at each position for the season. Pujols is #1, with 19 more plays made than the average 1B. Howard isn't in the top 10, which means he has no more (and probably less) than 5. Howard made 14 errors (one behind Nick Johnson for the league lead); Pujols made 6.
What does all this mean? Well, it's hard to put a firm number on defensive impact, but all evidence indicates that Pujols is a superior defensive player, and that certainly needs to be factored into the discussion.

2. Base Running
Base running is generally a relatively minor factor. Some studies I've read indicate that most players fall within the range of being worth plus or minus 5 runs a season compared to an average baserunner. That's only going to impact the discussion when two players are very close otherwise and have a large difference in baserunning ability. In other words, this is one of the rare times when it is a factor. The Bill James Handbook has a number called Running Rating, which is based on a number of factors, such as how many times a player advances from first to third on a single, scores from second on a single, etc. Howard has a -21, ranking as one of the worst runners in baseball (amongst unsurprising names like Giambi and Thomas). Pujols is well above average with a +13.

3. Clutchiness
I'm generally not one to talk about clutch hitting. All of the studies I've read indicate that past "clutch" performance has almost no predictive value about future "clutch" performance. So, like most statheads, I usually ignore it. But, the fact that is has little predictive value doesn't mean that it didn't actually happen in the past. So, I think it has a place in MVP talks. Here are the OPS's of both candidates with runners in scoring position and in situations defined by ESPN as "close and late."


Obviously, it's hard to define which situations are "clutch," but both of the above measures seem to fit into the general area of what most people are talking about when they talk about clutch hitting, and Pujols has a large edge in both. A much more comprehensive analysis is available through a stat called WPA (Win Probability Added). This article explains it, but the short version is that it measures the probability of a player's team winning before and after each at-bat of the season, and calculates how much the player improved his team's chances of winning in each of those at-bats. So, a walk-off homer would have a very high value and a solo homer when the team is down by 10 would have a very tiny value. Of course, this formula assumes that all games are equally important, but otherwise, it should capture the total offensive value, including "clutchiness," over the course of the season. Pujols has the edge here: 9.2 to 8.2, meaning that he was worth one more win to his team according to this calculation.

4. Playoffs
There's a lot of disagreement about how much weight should be given to whether a player's team made the playoffs, but I think most people would agree that if everything else was truly equal, this factor should at least be a tie breaker. The Cardinals won their division by 1.5 games. Clearly, without Pujols, they would've gone home on October 1. The Phillies missed out on the wild card by 3 games.

I think both measures are flawed, but it's worth pointing out that both WARP and Win Shares (two measures that take both offense and defense into account) gave Pujols an edge of approximately 3 wins over Howard, which means that if you'd traded the two players, the Cards would've gone home and the Phillies would've advanced to the playoffs.
Mets traded Henry Owens for some dude with a 7.88 ERA. Me no like. Owens was do-o-o-pe. Minaya seems to be stockpiling crap-ass relievers and hoping one might make the majors. Hey, I have an idea- Henry Owens! Oh, wait.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Recent Moves
I'm glad the Mets resigned Valentin. If they eventually sign some superior second baseman, Valentin is an excellent utility guy. That said, most of the 2B on the market aren't much better than the man with the mustache. I like the idea of signing a decent platoon partner for Valentin (who sucks from the right side of the plate). If Tony Graffanino is available for a reasonable price, I'd be all over that. The rest of the guys on the market (Aurilia, Loretta, Grudz) probably won't sign unless they're going to play every day.

I'm less thrilled about giving El Duque $12 million for the next 2 years. I'm not convinced he has another 2 years in the tank. It looks like this is going to be an expensive market, so I guess Omar's just making a defensive move to make sure the team has some options.

I like the trade with the Padres. I'm not sure what the Mets see in Jon Adkins, but Ben Johnson is a solid 4th outfielder, and can probably be used in an effective platoon with Green in right field. Heath Bell could wind up having some solid years for the Padres, but he's had some bad moments with the Mets and was never really going to be given much of a chance.

Interesting note on Ben Johnson from the 2005 Prospectus:
"It was July 2000 and Kevin Towers was talking to one of his closest friends in the game, Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty, about a deadline deal. The Cards settled on getting catcher Carlos Hernandez and infielder Nate Tebbs. The Padres would take Heathcliff Slocumb in the deal, plus a minor leaguer. Towers asked for one of two low-minors hitters: Ben Johnson… or Albert Pujols. Jocketty thought it over, then said he'd rather keep Pujols. The rest is history."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Boo of the Week 2:
In 2007, the Mets will play interleague games against four teams: the Yankees, Tigers, Twins, and A's. Those were the four AL playoff teams last month. That seems fair.
Boo of the Week: CitiField
The Mets held their ceremonial ground breaking for CitiField earlier this week. I'm fine with the name. Sure, it would have been nice to honor Jackie Robinson, but $20 million per year is a lot of money. I'm not sure if the decision requires any further justification, but I'll also note that (1) Jackie Robinson never played for the Mets; (2) he's already honored by every team in baseball (who have all retired #42); and (3) the Mets will have a centrally located statue honoring his life at the new park. And I might've been offended if they'd renamed Shea, but this is a new stadium, so I don't understand why some people think it needs to have the same name as the old one.

But, as a Mets fan, I have to say that I'm not looking forward to the new park. Shea Stadium has a capacity of over 57,000. The new park will have a capacity of approximately 45,000. That figure apparently includes standing room for either 1,600 or 2,500 fans; I've seen both figures reported. So at best, there will be approximately 43,400 seats. The average attendance for the Mets at crappy old Shea Stadium this season was 43,328. So, on an average day, there will still be 72 seats available!

Okay, that's not a fair way to analyze the situation. Using the higher 45,000 figure, the Mets would've only sold out 36 of the 78 (there were three rainouts that were made up as part of doubleheaders) games at Shea this year. An optimist might think that means there will be plenty of days they'll be able to stroll up to the citiField box office and buy tickets for that night's game. They'd be wrong. First of all, some of the people who would've gone to the 38 sold out games will instead buy tickets to less desirable games. Secondly, the mere threat of sell-outs will make people more likely to buy tickets in advance. So, even ignoring the short-term increase that will result from a shiny new stadium, I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of Mets games will sell out as long as the Mets continue to be a consistent contender.

That's bad for Mets fans. I've been a Mets fan for over 20 years. Even during the '80s, one could walk up to Shea and buy tickets for almost any game. Once CitiField opens, there will probably be a few weeknight games in April that don't sell out, but if you want to go to any other game, you're going to have to make a decision in January. That's a serious pain in the ass for a lot of people. I guess I'm biased. I went to a bunch of regular season games this year and only bought tickets in advance once (for a friend's bachelor party, and that was through illegal means). I like being able to send out an email to a bunch of friends on a random day to see if anyone feels like going to a game. Now I'm going to have to send out that email in January and haggle over dates with a group of friends, half of whom will wind unable to attend once August 24th actually rolls around.

Combine all this with what will surely be higher prices, and the result is a lot of people will be going to a lot less Mets games. Sure, there are some people who can afford to buy tickets from a scalper, or who can buy expensive ticket plans and just pawn off tickets they're not going to use. But, a lot of people are just going to have to sacrifice. I'm sure there are families out there who only make it to a game or two a year. It's tough to drag the kids out on a weekday night, but those weekend games are going to be the first ones to sell out. What happens if the ticket they purchase in January winds up being for a game on a rainy July afternoon? Better take that Airborne.

My complaint is from the perspective of a Mets fan, but I also want to address one factor that may have been ignored from a business perspective. I understand the short-term advantages to a smaller stadium. I'll have to assume that the Mets did an analysis to determine what size stadium would give them the most revenue in the coming years, but I wonder if they thought about the possible negative long-term impact.

Some fans come and go, but all baseball teams have a lot of lifetime fans. These people buy tickets, buy merchandise, and watch games on TV when the team wins and when the team loses. Most of these loyal fans choose a team to root for while they're children and stick with them for a lifetime. The impact will probably be minimal, but I think the smaller stadium will lead to less Mets fans, some lost to the Yankees and some lost to other interests. For New York City children, the choice of what team to root for is usually between the Mets and the Yankees. There are more important factors (who their parents root for, which team is better, etc.), but one factor that may have an influence is whether a child gets to attend games at one of the teams' stadiums.

For some children, the inability to attend baseball games in person may make them less likely to turn into lifelong fans of the sport. Baseball is still the easiest major sport to attend, but it's about to get a lot harder. I think that the result will be some smaller number of children becoming fans.

Also, it's easier than ever to be a fan of a team that plays far away from home. The internet makes it just as easy to read news about the Cardinals as the Mets. And other games are available on tv and the internet. So, there's little standing in the way of people choosing to root for teams other than the Mets and Yankees. One of the remaining advantages the two New York teams have is that fans can form a deeper connection by seeing them in person. Now that it will be harder to do so, maybe some new baseball fans will start rooting for other teams. If little Timmy can't go to a Mets game, but gets to go to a couple of Marlins when he visits his grandparents over the summer, maybe he'll become a lifelong Marlins fan.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Mariners signed Ordonez to a minor league deal!!!!!! The end of the world is near!!!!!!!!!!!!!