More distractions: Manny’s best year ever, the absence of “clutch” in VORP, and more fun with numbers

August 7th, 2006 → 11:28 am @

Last night, the enigma known as Eric Van wrote that Manny Ramirez was having the second-best year of his career, as measured by VORP.

(A very quick primer: VORP stands for Value Over Replacement Player, and measures the number of runs a given player produces over a replacement-level backup at his position, with replacement level being more or less defined as a scrub you can promote from AAA for minimal value, or, to put it another way, someone slightly better than Kevin Millar, circa 2006.)

So far this year, Manny’s clocking in at a 55.1 VORP, tops among batters on the Red Sox* (and fifth in all of baseball). Since VORP measures both quantity as well as quality, this figure needs to be multiplied by 1.47 (the Sox have played 110 out of 162 games; 162/110=1.47) to get the projected VORP for the season, bringing Manny to 80.0 (and David Ortiz to 77.61). The only time Manny has had a better VORP score in his remarkably consistent career was in 2000, his last year with the Cleveland Indians, when he put up a VORP of 81.3, which means that Eric’s right when he says Manny’s having the second best year of his career. And it also means that it’s Manny, and not Ortiz, who should be the team MVP…never mind the league MVP. Right?

Well, that depends. First off, there are plenty of problems with VORP. (One of the biggest ones, in my mind, is the assumption that the replacement for a player will be a scrub. There are plenty of cases — injury history, an inability to hit left-handers, etc — in which a club prepares for a player not being able to suit up for 162 games.) For the sake of this discussion — which is considering whether 2006 is actually the second-best year of Manny Ramirez’s career — let’s focus on the problems with combining quality with quantity. If you look solely at the stats Manny put up in the games he did play (and average out a full season of Mannyness to 155 games, which is exactly what he’s on pace for this year), 2006 is actually the fourth best year of his career, trailing 2000, 1999 (projected 155-game VORP of 82.5), and 2002, when Manny put up a 75.4 VORP in just 120 games, which projects out to 97.4. (Since we’ve only played about 68 percent of the season, it seems more than fair to extrapolate out past years in much the same way we’re extrapolating out the rest of this season.)

As far as MVP goes, one thing VORP does not take into account is the kind of situational hitting that David Ortiz does so well, those situations being the bottom of the ninth inning with the Red Sox either tied or trailing. I’m convinced that there is such a thing as “clutch” hitting; just because we haven’t figured out a way to precisely quantify it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered. (There’s obviously the inverse: instances where a batter presses and therefore doesn’t perform as well. Last year, when Jason Varitek hit his first career grand slam, John Henry let out an audible sigh of relief…not only because of the four runs, but because Tek had finally gotten that monkey off his back. See also Rodriguez, Alex.) Another thing VORP doesn’t take into account–and admittedly doesn’t try to take into account–is bang for the buck. Ortiz is making $6.5 million this year while Manny’s pulling in $18,279,000, which means the Red Sox are paying Manny $228,487 for every run he scores over a replacement player, while paying Ortiz $84,440. (There are some reports that indicate the four-year, $12.5-million-a-year contract extension Ortiz signed this past April also bumped his 2006 salary up to $12.5 million. If that’s true, he’s being paid $162,337 for each run he’s worth over a replacement-level DH.)

So is Eric right? Only in a world in which stats are considered more or less devoid of context. And, as Bill James told me for Feeding the Monster, “I believe in a universe that is too complex for any of us to understand. … It is one thing to build an analytical paradigm that leaves out leadership, hustle, focus, intensity, courage, and self-confidence. It is a very, very different thing to say that leadership, hustle, courage, and self-confidence do not exist or do not play a role in on real world baseball teams.”

* All of the links to VORP comparisons (but not VORP definitions) lead to Baseball Prospectus pages in which you’ll need a subscription.

EDIT: Brain fart of the day (thus far): there actually is a formula out there to measure how much a player is “worth”: marginal value over replacement player, or MORP, which, before the season began, showed Ortiz to be worth $8.85 million this year (and Manny to be worth about $9.5 million this year). This figure averages out all players; I’d like to see something that only took into account players who have already reached free agency. In either case, as BP’s Paul Swydan pointed out in an email, if you calculated Manny’s and Ortiz’s projected end-of-year MORPs based on what they’ve done so far, they come out almost identically, with Manny performing almost exactly as expected at $9,242,560 and Ortiz bettering his forecast at $9,526,500.

Post Categories: Baseball Prospectus & Bill James & David Ortiz & Eric Van & Manny Ramirez & sabermetrics

Manny Ramirez — Best righthanded hitter in the game?

August 6th, 2006 → 9:59 pm @

I’ve been trying to think of a way to divert people from the pain that has been the last week or so for Red Sox fans. Outside the usual bromides — the season is long, good teams have bad spells, bad teams have good spells, etc — I got nothing.

What I can do is point you towards some interesting (and hopefully distracting) work on whether Manny Ramirez is now or has ever been the best right-handed hitter in baseball (or, for that matter, a member of the Communist Party). The guru of graphics known as URISoxFan brings you this, courtesy of Sons of Sam Horn, one of the better virtual barrooms around…and the only one where Jim Morrison would truly get his mojo rising.

(If you’re in need of more diversions, I can heartily recommend Talladega Nights. I might have been able to heartily recommend Miami Vice, except 1. Colin Farrell couldn’t act his way out of a traffic ticket, 2. No Jan Hammer, and 3. No resolution to the MacGuffin. Besides that — and I’m not trying to be all arch and ironic — it’s a pretty decent movie.)

Post Categories: Manny Ramirez & Miami Vice & Sosh & Talladega Nights

It’s July. And you know what that means.

July 25th, 2006 → 10:05 am @

When I do readings, the two questions I get more than any others are:

* Was Nomar on steroids?


* What’s Manny really like?

I have no idea what the answer is to the first one. And I always struggle with how to answer the second one: Manny practically embodies the meaning of the word enigma. In an article in today’s Boston Globe, Gordon Edes does a wonderful, and wonderfully funny, job of describing what it means for Manny to be Manny:

“One must always allow for the prospect, even after last night’s 7-3 Red Sox win over the Oakland Athletics, that Manny Ramírez may awaken today to an entirely new world of possibilities. Perhaps he has dreams of relocating to his wife’s native Brazil to become a gaucho, riding tall in the saddle. Maybe he’d like to return to his old neighborhood on the far side of Manhattan, strutting through the streets with a boom box on his shoulder the same way he did in the Sox clubhouse the other day, saying, ‘This is how we do it in Washington Heights.’ …

“But happily for the Red Sox and their aspirations for October, Ramírez seems no more inclined to want any of these scenarios to materialize this week as he is to ask to be traded. By most any measure, that represents spectacular progress from this time a year ago, when a change of address was foremost on Manny’s wish list.”

As yes, a year ago. Manny had one of his little spells down in Tampa, didn’t start the first two games of a homestand, and then came out about a half-hour after the tradeline had passed to hit a game-winning single against the Twins. (All together now: double-finger point!)

Come to think of it, late July has been a weird, wild time for the Red Sox these last few years. Remember 2004? Sure you do. On the morning of July 24, the Red sox were 9 1/2 games out of first. The start of that afternoon’s game against the Yankees was delayed because Fenway’s field was soggy. Terry Francona got ejected in the 2nd inning. Jason Varitek tried to feed Alex Rodriguez his catcher’s mitt.* And the Red Sox capped a three-run, ninth-inning comeback with Bill Mueller’s walkoff two-run shot of Mariano Riviera. (True story: I “watched” that game from a computer in a hotel lobby in Dubrovnik, Croatia, waiting as a slow internet connection fed me the MLB Gameday info.) The match, which Theo Epstein called “catalytic,” came on the tail-end of a 75-game stretch in which the Sox went 38-37. A week later, Nomar was gone. A month later, the Sox began their epic winning streak. And three months later, they were world champions.

So far, July 2006 has been quiet. Too quiet…

*It’s been rumored that, after A-Rod took offense at being plunked by Bronson Arroyo, Varitek told the Yankees third baseman, “We don’t throw at .260 hitters.” That, alas, is an urban legend. But as far as urban legends go, it’s a pretty good one.

Post Categories: 2004 Playoffs & A-Rod & Bill Mueller & Gordon Edes & Jason Varitek & Manny Ramirez & Mariano Riviera & Nomar Garciaparra

Well, the “upset some people” definitely seems to be true

July 12th, 2006 → 6:41 pm @

Michael Holley: “Terry, Seth Mnookin has a new book where he talks about a number of things regarding the Red Sox and one of the things, when you first met Manny Ramirez he refused to shake your hand and cursed you.”

Terry Francona: “Well I haven’t seen the book yet…but I do know a couple of things, where maybe I’m in it or something. Unfortunately I think he took some information maybe he thought he was privvy to and didn’t get it quite right. The thing with Manny, the first time I met him, it wasn’t the cursing or anything like that….from what I undertstand, I don’t think [Mnookin’s] done the best job conveying the hard core truth, and I think he’s probably upset some people.”

— Terry Francona on The Dale and Holley Show, WEEI, July 12, 2006

“His introduction to Terry Francona, his new manager, wasn’t much better. When Francona first saw the star at spring training, the manager stuck out his hand to introduce himself. Ramirez responded by swearing at him as well, and proceeded to skip the start of the first team meeting of the spring.”
Feeding the Monster, page 267

“A few stories Terry Francona never told as he was guiding the Red Sox to their first world championship since the inventions of traffic signals, frozen food, and bubble gum:
* The moment Francona first extended his hand in spring training to Manny Ramirez, the slugger verbally lashed out at the new manager, then briefly boycotted the first team meeting. Ramirez apparently needed to vent about the front office placing him on irrevocable waivers and switching managers over the winter.”
— “Francona Kept Sox’ Snags Sewn Up,” Bob Hohler, Boston Globe, January 2, 2005, page E1.

Post Categories: Feeding the Monster reactions & Manny Ramirez & Terry Francona & WEEI

The 2000 free agent class and why Manny Ramirez will likely remain with the Red Sox

June 26th, 2006 → 11:39 am @

It’s been five-and-a-half years since the Red Sox signed Manny Ramirez to an eight-year, $160 million contract, which was at the time—and remains today—the second largest contract in the history of baseball, behind only Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million, ten-year deal. Manny and A-Rod signed their deals within days of each other (A-Rod on December 11, 2000, Manny on December 13), and while their contracts were the offseason’s gaudiest, those two deals ended up being the smartest long-term deals given out in the winter of 2000. In one two-week span, from November 30 through December 13, seven players signed contracts worth a total of $770 million. The average annual salary of those deals was $16.7 million. Outside of Manny and A-Rod, the only other deal that worked out—and the only other deal that was really justifiable at the time—was the six-year, $88.5 million contract Mike Mussina got from the Yankees.

The other four deals would be funny if there weren’t families living in this country that can’t afford food or health care. Denny Neagle got a five-year, $51 million contract from the Rockies; that deal included a $9 million buyout for 2006. Neagle pitched a total of 370.3 innings in 2001, 2002, and 2003; over that time he had a 19-23 record and a cumulative ERA of 5.57. On December 4, 2004—exactly four years after he signed his contract—the Rockies terminated their deal with Neagle after he was busted with a hooker. (Neagle sued the Rockies and the two parties eventually came to terms. How things have changed: In 1960, both Ted Williams and Stan Musial insisted on pay cuts–Williams from $125,000 to $90,000; Musial from $100,000 to $80,000–after sub-par 1959 seasons.)

Amazingly, Neagle wasn’t the biggest mistake the Rockies made that offseason. Five days after signing him, Colorado inked Mike Hampton to an eight-year, $121 million deal. Hampton lasted two years with the Rockies before being shipped off to Atlanta, going 14-13 with a 5.41 ERA in 2001 and 7-15 with a 6.15 ERA in 2002.

At least Hampton had a decent track record. Darren Dreifort was a career 39-45 pitcher who’d had exactly one season with an ERA under 4.00 when the Dodgers gave him $55 million for five years. Driefort didn’t pitch in 2002 and likely won’t ever pitch again. For those $55 million, he went 9-15 with a 4.64 ERA, picking up approximately $267,000 per inning pitched and $6.1 million per win.

By those measures, the Mets deal with Kevin Appier—he was given $42 million for four years—looks almost rational. Appier spent a season in Queens, going 11-10 with an ERA about half a run under the league average, before being traded to Anaheim (for Mo Vaughn, of all people). Last year, with the Royals, Appier pitched a total of four innings.

In the five-plus years that Ramirez has been in Boston, one of the most enigmatic players ever to wear a major league uniform has been the focal point of any number of controversies. Ramirez was signed by former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette, and the Red Sox and Ramirez have been on the verge of severing ties on any number of occasions since John Henry and Tom Werner bought the team in 2001. (You’ll need to read the book to find out the real stories behind the various times Ramirez and the Red Sox have come close to parting company.) But with a two-and-a-half years left on his deal, it’s increasingly likely that Ramirez will finish out his contract in Boston, and perhaps even retire as a member of the Red Sox.

In the eleven years since Ramirez became a full-time player, he’s hit 416 home runs and driven in 1349 runs. That’s an average of 38 HRs and 123 RBIs a year. In the five full seasons he’s been with Boston, his production has been remarkably similar, with an average of 40 home runs and 122 RBIs. There are those odd times when Ramirez decides he needs a day off, but he’s averaged 143 games a year since 1995; since coming to the Sox, he’s averaged 144 a year. This year, Ramirez looks like he’s heading towards his twelfth straight year of 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs: as of this morning, he has 20 homers, 51 RBIs, and an OPS of 1.027. There have been plenty of times the Red Sox have been frustrated by Ramirez’s petulance, his intermittently lackadaisical fielding, and his failure to hustle. But the Red Sox realize that Ramirez is rarely a clubhouse distraction, they appreciate his consistency, and are often as awed by his hitting prowess as the rest of us. Ramirez, for his part, seems to realize how good he has it in Boston—for all the talk of the city’s voracious press corps, Manny is pretty much left alone—and he’s kept his pre-season promise to hunker down and focus on his game.

Assuming Ramirez doesn’t get dealt before the July 31 deadline, there’ll be two more years on his contract. This year, he’s one of 18 major leaguers making $14 million a year or more. Is he overpaid? Sure. Are there cheaper options out there? Not really. (It’s worth noting that that hasn’t always been the case in the last several years.) The league’s exuberant revenue sharing policy means more medium- and small-market teams are signing their young stars to long-term deals before they hit free agency, and even the Mets finally seem to understand it makes sense to hold on to prospects who can be cheaply controlled for the first years of their careers. If Ramirez maintains his production—and he shows no signs of significantly slowing down—paying a premium for that kind of power (and that kind of protection for David Ortiz) isn’t the worst thing in the world. The Red Sox–who have one of the smartest front offices in the game–realize that.

Post Categories: A-Rod & Manny Ramirez & Red Sox ownership

$160 million doesn’t buy what it used to

June 15th, 2006 → 9:19 am @

Manny Ramirez speaks out on the differences between life under Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke.

“It’s all I can afford on my budget.”
— Manny Ramirez, June 2006, after stopping for take-out Chinese at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got money. I can buy another one.”
— Manny Ramirez, June 2002, after losing a $15,000 diamond earring after a headfirst slide during a rehab stint in Pawtucket.

Post Categories: Manny Ramirez & Obscene amounts of money