Pap to the pen: A good move?

March 23rd, 2007 → 11:37 am @

So much for Papelbon’s short-lived career as a starting pitcher: yesterday, as everyone living within 500 miles of Boston undoubtedly knows, Jonathan Papelbon was named the Sox’s 2007 closer. At first blush, it’s hard to argue with this decision: Papelbon, a fourth round pick in the ’03 draft, was, for 5/6’s of the ’06 season, the best closer in the league. And lord knows I’m glad we’re not going to be watching Mike Timlin jogging out of the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth.

The move, according to everyone from Papelbon himself to the ticket takers in Ft. Myers, came after Paps himself requested he return to the bullpen, which, on a certain level, makes the whole discussion of whether or not this is a good idea moot. (After all, when you have a young stud offering to fill the team’s most glaring hole, it’s hard to marshal a good reason to deny him his request.) But will Papelbon be more valuable coming on in the ninth than he would be if he’d taken the mound every fifth day? That’s a trickier question. There’s undoubtedly a big psychological boost that comes with having a lights-out flamethrower set to slam shut the door at the end of a game. But let’s say Julian Taverez — who’s more than a little nuts — fills the fifth starter role to the tune of, say, a .500 record and a 4.43 ERA. And, for arguments sake, let’s say Papelbon would have put up a 10-6 record with a 4.07 ERA.

Actually, that’s not arguments sake: that’s Papelbon’s and Tavarez’s PECOTA projections for the ’07 season. (You’ll need a Baseball Prospectus subscription to view those PECOTA links; for an explanation of just what PECOTA, or Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test, is all about, here’s BP’s PECOTA glossary and the PECOTA Wikipedia entry.) Those numbers are a bit off, because they’re assuming Papelbon would be in the starting rotation and rack up 147 innings, while Tavarez was projected to be in the pen and amass a mere 50 innings (and everything else being the same, more innings=more value). But those stats give Papelbon a 30.1 VORP (value above replacement player), worth 4.5 wins above replacement player; they give Taverez a 7.6 VORP, good for a 1.2 WORP.

Now let’s compare two closers from last year: Mariano Rivera and Todd Jones. Jones, finishing games for the pennant-winning Tigers, ended the year with 37 saves; Mo finished up with 34. But according to PECOTA, Mariano was a lot more valuable, with a 34.9 VORP, and a 7.1 WARP; Jones’s numbers were 12.2, and 3.2. (For those of you who are interested, PECOTA has Pap as more valuable than both of them, coming in at 38.6 and 7.3)

And this means what, exactly? Well, for one thing, it shows how mutable relief pitching can be. (Anyone who bets that Jones is likely to repeat his ’06 performance is likely to lose his money. Lest anyone forget, Joe Borowski looked like an elite reliever last year.) They also give an indication that Papelbon will be a more valuable closer than he will be a starter. But that doesn’t us a complete answer as to our question; for that, we’d need to subtract Tavarez’s value as a starter from Papelbon’s value as a starter and add that to Papelbon’s value as a closer subtracted from that of whomever would have been the closer (or closers) had Paps remained in the rotation. If that number ends up being positive, then Jonathan and the Sox made the right call; if it’s negative, they made the wrong one. (Actually, it’s even more complicated than that, because you’d need to figure out the PECOTA figures of the replacement closer(s) versus their PECOTAs when they’re not closing, and also predict the likelihood that Papelbon will get injured when starting versus reliever, and add in some projections as to whether Manny is more or less likely to be paying attention when his buddy Julian is on the mound, and then try to determine what Papelbon’s presence in the rotation would mean for, say, Lester and Clement, and finally throw in whether John Henry & Co. would be more or less likely to go after Clemens in each imaginary scenario…well, you get the idea.)

This, of course, is the type of hypothetical argument that takes place in a vacuum, and it’s the type of number-crunching exercise that makes Luddite’s like Murray Chass wince. But it’s interesting, and the fact that this kind of analysis is getting little (read: no) attention in what those kooky wingnuts in the blogosphere like to refer to as the MSM is indicative of the extent to which baseball reporting by the mass-market professionals lags behind baseball analysis by specialized writers and amateurs alike.

And to get back to the main point of this here post, it’s the absence of this type of discussion that helps show why precisely this is such a good move, numbers be damned. Even if Papelbon performed above expectations as a starter — say, 13-6, 3.60 — if the team’s closer(s) blew a handful of games, they’d be cries for blood. If, on the other hand, Tavarez goes 4-10 with a 4.79 ERA, there’ll be bitching about his performance…but precious little discussion as to whether the Sox made the wrong move by putting Papelbon back in the pen. Which means that Paps in the rotation has the potential to be huge distraction. And that would be bad for everyone.

In a couple of hours, I’ll offer up an historical example of just how distracting that type of situation can be. And — surprise! — Grady Little plays a central role in that tale.

(Update: the good folks over at SoSH have started a thread on the relative value of relievers versus starters thing; I’m about to run out so I haven’t had a chance to fully check it out, but it’s bound to be interesting.)

Post Categories: Jonathan Papelbon & Julian Tavarez & Red Sox Fans & Sosh & Sports Reporters & Statistics

And then, at 11:18, Dustin Pedroia took a piss

February 26th, 2007 → 4:34 pm @

Hey, guess what: Manny arrived at the Sox spring training site in Ft. Myers. Here’s proof.

And here’s proof that Boston is, without a doubt, the city most in need of some perspective of the relative importance of baseball. Since this morning, the Globe and the Herald have combined for 12, count em, 12 blog posts on the situation down in Florida.

Here are a rundown of the Globe‘s entries:

Manny’s Here
Ramirez Ready for Work
Manny in the Cages
“10 bucks for a haircut”
Q&A with Manny’s agent
Q&A transcript
Manny vs. Dice K
Dice-K’s session
Manic Monday

And the Herald‘s:

Manny’s in the Fort
Manny’s agent, not Manny, speaks
Dice-K update

Contrast that to the three dailies in New York. The Times* insofar as I can tell, doesn’t have a Yankees blog. The Daily News has posted eight Yankees blog entries in the past week, and that’s a week that’s included Mo’s talk of leaving New York, the Bernie Williams situation, and the A-Rod/Jeter clearing of the air. The two Post blogs total 11 entries in the past week: seven in Joel Sherman’s spring training diary and another four in the tabloid’s catch-all Bombers blog.

It’s a suffocating situation. Just ask David Wells, who recently told the Globe‘s Nick Cafardo:

“‘It was the worst. You go to a mall with your kids and you have people always wanting to take pictures. They should call it ‘Picturetown’ not ‘Beantown.’ … Listen, I know the people are Red Sox-friendly. They love the Red Sox. I understand that. They have to understand that when we’re not at the ballpark, we’re not subject to autographs and pictures and we need to be able to enjoy ourselves. I don’t think they see that and don’t get it.’

New York, where Wells spent four seasons, ‘is a cakewalk compared to Boston,’ he said. “But you know what? Boston is a great town. When I was playing against them, it was great coming in. Great stuff in that town. Great restaurants and nightlife. Historical stuff.

‘But you have to be able to deal with it. That’s why Manny [Ramírez] is always a little loopy — because he can’t do stuff. If you want to be subject to that kind of stuff, God bless you. But as you get older, you want to relax.'”

Relax? As a member of the Red Sox? Dude…get a grip.

* And, as reader TPIRman points out…I’m wrong about the lack of a Times baseball blog. (Shoot, it’s not like I’ve written a book about the Times or anything.) “Bats,” the Times blog, has two-dozen posts up from the past week; that covers the Mets, the Yankees, and the rest of MLB (including everything from Ichiro to Bonds). And, naturally, there are three posts dedicated to the Red Sox included in there.

Post Categories: 2007 Spring Training & David Wells & Manny Ramirez & Red Sox Fans & Sports Reporters

And now for something completely…summarizing

January 29th, 2007 → 11:30 am @

In other news:

* Schilling wants to see how many up-and-down years he can tack on to the end of his career, declaring he’ll play in 2008. He also says, “”It wouldn’t be in New York. No. I could not make that move.” I love when Red Sox folk heroes lay it on the line and say they’ll never play for the Yankees.

* Phildaelphia Inquirer columnist Jim Salisbury makes the point that revenue sharing is having some not-so-great effects on player salaries and small-market spending. Weird. I feel like I’ve heard something like that before.

* The world of baseball writers can be a pretty clubby place; it’s why I love guys like Keith Law, who think nothing of spanking colleagues for voting for Justin Morneau for MVP: “The reality of baseball is that a great offensive player at an up-the-middle position is substantially more valuable than a slightly better hitter at a corner position. And when that up-the-middle player is one of the best fielders at his position in baseball, there’s absolutely no comparison. Joe Mauer was more valuable than Justin Morneau this past season. … I have a hard time fathoming why any voter would put Morneau at the top of his ballot with so many obviously better candidates — Mauer, Jeter, Ortiz, Jermaine Dye, unanimous Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana or the criminally neglected Carlos Guillen (the best player on the AL pennant winner) — and in reality, more than half the voters did just that.”

Along those same lines, Sunday provided me with a reminder of why I love Bob Ryan. His column about the boneheads who left Ripken and Gwynn off their Hall of Fame ballots is a true classic; it’s not every day a sportswriter calls out his brethren for being, well, retarded. Some choice quotes:

“What if someone actually thought I were one of the eight who didn’t deem Cal a legit Hall of Famer or the 13 who didn’t think Gwynn had done enough to get in? I may not leave the house without a bag over my head.”

“Can you honestly look me in the eye and say that this man should not be in the Hall of Fame? Yes or no?”

“The primary reason, we are often told, is that some members of the voting body have a personal policy not to vote for someone the first year he is eligible. I cannot begin to comprehend the depths of such idiocy.”

“But please don’t think I’m one of them. I did the right thing. I swear.”

Awesome: the man is actually embarrassed that someone might confuse him for someone else from his profession.

Post Categories: Bob Ryan & Curt Schilling & Keith Law & Slate & Sports Reporters

Mailing it in, Dec. 22 2006 edition

December 22nd, 2006 → 12:33 pm @

And the prize for lazy story of the day goes to…ESPN’s Jim Caple’s “Empirically Speaking,” the latest in an onslaught of stories about how the Red Sox’s profligate ways have, in essence, made them the newest member of the Evil Empire Club.

If you want to throw stones at the Sox for the manner in which they’ve opened their wallets this offseason, you have plenty of good-sized rocks to choose from. The most obvious, of course, is the way Theo cried poverty at the trade deadline, only to offer J.D. Drew a 5-year, $70-million deal at the season’s end. (At the very least, that seems to have been a misreading of the market.)

That, of course, would involve some analysis. Instead, Caple makes fun of the Red Sox’s $51,111,111.11 posting bid for Matsuzaka (“when you have the luxury of slapping $1,111,111.11 on a bid for the pure look of it, you definitely are not living in the same neighborhood as the Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates (or even the Chicago White Sox, for that matter)”) and compares John Henry to the Boss (“It’s to the point that if John Henry gained 40 pounds and started acting like an ass, you would think George Steinbrenner owned the Red Sox”).

Huh? The Sox’s bid of $51 million was arrived at because they thought it possible another team would bid $50 million; that’s a common tactic in blind bids (just ask Bob Barker+). Adding on $100,000 more was done for the same reason. The extra .002 percent represented by the final $11,111.11 was done because of the number 11’s significance to Henry (which I explain in Feeding the Monster). That relatively puny amount is something the White Sox (or even the Royals) could afford.

As for comparing JWH to Steinbrenner, I’m not sure where to start. Those people that consider big, blustering George offensive think so, at least in part, because of the way he blindly throws around money, overruling Brian Cashman, his beleaguered GM, in the process. Signing the 41-year-old Randy Johnson to a multi-year deal when Cashman was advocating picking up Carlos Beltran is a case in point: there was no rationale for throwing away that kind of dough on an arthritic giant except for the fact that the Sox had Schilling and George wanted a “warrior” of his own. Regardless of what you think about the Red Sox’s posting fee, there is a clear rationale for spending resources on a pitcher like Matsuzaka, a phenomenal talent whose best years are in front of him, not behind him.

Caple sets up plenty of other equally silly straw men:

* “No team has ever paid more money for a world championship than did the 2004 Red Sox.” And no National League team has paid more money to lose a world championship than did the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals. And no team’s payroll has topped $100 million in three of the past four years without even making it to the World Series expect the New York Mets. And no team has spent over $100 million in payroll and put up a losing record except the 2002 Rangers. Since they don’t win, I guess they’re not Evil Empires but just…stupid? What’s more, because of the unbalanced schedule, comparing the payrolls of teams in different divisions doesn’t really make sense. The Yankees’ 2006 payroll was 60 percent higher than the Red Sox’s, a greater percentage than that between any division winner and either of the two teams that finished behind it.

* “Further, when those Red Sox recorded the final out of that World Series, not a single player on the field was homegrown.” True, but that has absolutely nothing to do with what the Red Sox under the new ownership group has/had done, because it hadn’t been in place long enough to have a significant impact on minor league players who’d worked their way through the system to the point where they’d be in the bigs. (What’s more, Trot Nixon and Kevin Youkilis were both on the WS roster; Tim Wakefield, Derek Lowe, and Jason Varitek had been acquired early in their careers (Tek’s never played a major league game for another team) and David Ortiz, Kevin Millar, and Bill Mueller were all on-the-cheap pick ups and not Evil Empire-like acquisitions).

* “When the Sox open the 2007 season, they may have just two homegrown players in the lineup, first baseman Kevin Youkilis and second baseman Dustin Pedroia.” And if you add pitchers, you have Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Hansen, and Manny Delcarmen. I guess they don’t count. Because who needs pitching?

I know, I know: no sooner will I post this than the homer accusations will start to fly. Fine; I’m used to it. It’s not that I’m blindly defending the Red Sox, or even that I’m really defending them at all. Take a shot at the disorganized way they went about things last offseason. Unpack all the reasons the Arroyo-Wily Mo trade was a bad idea. Ridicule the panic move of reacquiring Mirabelli for Cla Meredith and Josh Bard. But whatever you do, put some thought into it.

+ I know that’s not how “The Price is Right” works. But you know what I mean. So lay off.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Jim Caple & Sports Reporters

Ah, yes: the complete absence of value added

December 15th, 2006 → 12:26 am @

There’s no way you thought you were going to get through a Daisuke day without someone, somewhere, wondering what this all means for Johnny Jesus — you know, the last (big-name) guy to wear #18. (Sorry, Jason and Dustan: you two ain’t big-name.) Thank god, the AP is on the case:

“NEW YORK — Johnny Damon has his own $52 million contract and no regrets that the Boston Red Sox didn’t give him that amount last winter. Boston announced its $52 million, six-year agreement with pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka on Thursday — nearly one year after the Red Sox allowed their center fielder to switch to the New York Yankees for the exact same amount.”

Now, I get asked with some frequency whether or not sports reporters are morons. My usual answer is yes and no: there are plenty of dolts writing about baseball, but there are plenty of dolts writing about politics and international relations and the media, too. But (as commenter vapodge points out),* sports reporting might very well be one of the very few areas in which writers (commentators, whatever) seem to have a fervant desire to remain ignorant.

I’ve tried to make this clear before, but for all the AP reporters and other aggressively clueless folk out there, I’ll try one more time:


I know this won’t seem like anything except another plug for my book, but man, come on already. I’ve been talking to owners around baseball over the last several weeks (for an unrelated project); every single one of them had already read FTM, as has every MLB exec I’ve spoken with. (In fact, some of the MLB execs have recommended it to other people in baseball.) Regardless of what you think about the damn book, if you’re covering the Red Sox or the Yankees, wouldn’t it maybe make sense to read it? If only to see if there are things you might not know about? You know, to help in your, um, reporting?

* Vapodge was objecting to a segment on Dan Patrick’s ESPN show in which he apparently asked Francona about the “$2 million more per year” the Sox would have had to spend to get Damon. Technically, that’s true…except Boras told them they’d need to spend that extra $2 million per for seven straight years! Aaargh! Just read the fucking excerpt. It’s linked above. In big, bright, red, shiny caps.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Feeding the Monster Sneak Peeks & Johnny Damon & Rampaging morons & Sports Reporters

What’s that saying about imitation and flattery again?

December 11th, 2006 → 9:21 am @

Remember that “Tumblin’ Dice” headline in yesterday’s Herald? Gordon Edes does, too.

Post Categories: Boston Globe & Boston Herald & Gordon Edes & Sports Reporters

Breaking News! No Kentucky Fried for Fenway

December 3rd, 2006 → 11:31 am @

Huge offseason news: Kevin Millar is going back to Baltimore, ending months of speculation that he’d be coming back to Boston. I mean, you all thought he was going to reprise his role as a Red Sox cheerleader, right?

I didn’t think so.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Kevin Millar & Sports Reporters