Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fifth Best Is Tenth Worst

I'm down with value moves for most of the positions on a baseball team. For example, if you have the centaur, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano, and other clowns on a baseball teams, filling the other spots with "value guys" is brilliant. It's a good idea to plug in "value guys" (I'm thinking specifically of Nick Swisher or Nick Johnson) for a lot of the other positions. Let's say that Sabathia's the best starter in the game, Mariano's one of the top three closers, Jeter's the second-best shortstop, and the centaur is one of the two best third basemen. Having the tenth-best right fielder or the tenth best DH in the American League isn't a problem as long as the guys aren't making $13 or $14 million a year. That's why I think Swisher and Johnson are good additions to the Yankees.

This brings me to a point that the Gunn brought up in the previous comments section. The Red Sox are jamming their entire roster with these "value guys," these guys who are supposed to be forgotten, undervalued guys. And while it might be true, if every guy in your lineup is the tenth-best guy in baseball at his position, well, you'll probably end up being the tenth-best team in baseball.

Unfortunately, only eight teams make the playoffs, not ten.

Back in the early summer when Jason Varitek was still hitting like .245, Butch Stearns was saying on WEEI (this was back when Boston only had one sports radio station) that people had no right to diss Varitek for sucking at the plate. This was because no catchers would hit. Varitek's numbers, Stearns said, was the fifth-best in the American League. He's talking about this like 5th best is incredible, as if he's the 5th-best in baseball history. But no. He's toward the top of the middle third. Just like the Texas Rangers were in terms of playoff positions. Of course, Varitek hit about .120 for the rest of the year, so the point was sort of moot. But either way, if you're the eighth best left fielder/third baseman/shortstop in the league, which Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre, and Marco Scutaro very well might be, you're worse than average.

The Red Sox' roster has these three guys, perhaps the 12th-best catcher, the 6th-best center fielder, the 6th-best right fielder, the 5th-best closer, the fourth-best ace, the fourth-best second starter, the best third starter, and a guy in the top three at first base and second base. Does that make you a good baseball team? A sure-fire October contender?

I'd say no. And though I still would not like Mark Teixeira because of how much of a douche he is, having the best first baseman, a top-three second baseman, and a top-three third baseman would have made this team a contender. As it stands, they have seven (7) semi-automatic outs. I'm not mad about this, because I think at this point, when you still have another year of Captain K and Santa Claus, two more years of Nancy, and a big mouth in the way of Daniel Bard's path to the closer spot, you SHOULD be punting a season. But they have seven semi-automatic outs. It is what it is.

But please don't talk to me about value and how it's a good thing that only seven third basemen had numbers better than Adrian Beltre's. He's just not a good player if the calendar year is not divisible by 1002. He'd be a good role player if he had a lot of stars around him.

And at least it's nice to know that unlike two of the other automatic outs, he's not making more than $12 million.


TimC said...

Great post. I think it is also very important for some of these commentators to understand that the gap between the #1 player and the #2 player is, in general, larger than the gap between the #2 player and the #3 player. I would assume, in fact, that the size of this gap decreases as you go down the list. Therefore, a team with, say, the best players at half the positions and worst players at the other positions would be better than the team with league average across the board because the league average player is closer to the bottom of the pile than he is to the top.

This, to me, means that while the Red Sox can pat themselves on the ass all they want for finding good value guys they are really just finding an innovative and cost efficient way to be one of the twenty-nine failures at the end of the season (essentially what DV and the rest of you guys have been saying during my sabbatical from commenting). It also suggests that a team filled with guys who are, across the board, the fifth best players at their respective positions are actually likely to finish below fifth in the standings as teams with a lower average position ranking but more star players are likely to rise above them in the standings.

the gm at work said...


Your points about the gap between the best players and the mediocre players are excellent. There is only one Albert Pujols. (There is also only one October just in case everyone forgot.) There are 10 Nancy Drews or slightly-inferior (Trot Nixon circa 2003) alternatives who might actually swing the bat. There are 20 Marco Scutaros or slightly-inferior alternatives if you consider the major and minor leagues.

While it's melodramatic to say that the Boston Red Sox, as currently constituted, are only marginally-better than the Pawtucket Red Sox, they very well might be closer to the Toronto Blue Jays or Baltimore Orioles than they are to the Yankees.

Patrick said...

mariano is THE BEST closer!

excellent post. pretty much the point i was trying to make in the comments yesterday. take some of these pretty good guys, replace them with even average guys, and use the money saved to get 1-2 more top guys. mold that with gunn's comment (that was right on point) about spending way too much money on certain guys, and you can take it even further in terms of being able to go get those guys without expanding payroll if you don't want to. the red sox right now are a very good baseball team. they won 95 games last year and on paper are similar, if not better. while they are a few breaks away from being a world series team, they are also a few breaks away from being, as dv says, maybe being just outside the playoffs. while this is true of every team, most notably when injuries are involved, it's all about the probability that one or the other happens. the more premium players and less role players you have, the better the chance you contend for a world series, because you can overcome more things. the less premium players, the less you can maneuver when issues pop up throughout the season. you need guys who can carry you for stretches. the sox don't have a lot of guys like that right now. they are more of a balanced team. while that can work in a major way, it makes it a lot easier when you have those 1-2 guys, preferably one in the lineup and one in the rotation at least, that can really be go to guys most if not all of the year.

the gm at work said...

Adrian Beltre can carry you for a season, as long as that season is 2004. Brady Anderson can also carry you for a season.