Thursday, February 25, 2010

Upgrade?

The only thing being talked about regarding Red Sox spring training right now is Mike Lowell. So I'll bite. We've already talked about eating his contract, the way the Red Sox are treating him, and all that nonsense. Today, I'll be addressing whether Adrian Beltre is even an upgrade over Lowell.

If you look at the overall offensive statistics, even if you don't consider that Lowell couldn't freaking walk last year, the old third baseman whom the Red Sox will be paying anyway has a lot better numbers than the new third baseman they will also be paying. I hate to use this statistic, but Adrian Beltre's OPS last year was lower than Coco Crisp's during his time in Boston. Over his entire tenure in Seattle, he has been not much better than an average player. Career OPS might actually be under league average if you take 2004 out of the equation. Meanwhile, Lowell has recorded a significantly-higher batting average (even after taking out 2007).

However, another knock against sabermetrics can be taken from here, as Lowell's home run and double averages have been lower. Basically, Lowell's rate statistics are more favorable, but his other numbers have been unfavorable compared to Beltre. This is largely a product of walks and singles. You will not see Adrian Beltre hit a lot of singles, nor will you see him walk a lot. He'll be spending a lot of innings on the bench.

Another aspect to consider is the ballpark. Beltre's numbers at home are awful (and he's complained about the ballpark). Lowell's numbers at home are keeping him in the major leagues. Beltre's road batting average has not been under .279 over the last four years, so maybe his gripes about the ballpark are legitimate. Baseball Reference gives Safeco Field a 96-rating (under 100 favors pitchers--you'd think this means hitters only put up stats 96% as generous as an average ballpark. Fenway Park's rating is a staggering 106. And, as we have talked about several times before, most notably during Lowell's most recent contract negotiations, he has no value unless he plays in Fenway or maybe Philadelphia.

This can not be ignored, however, because these players would be playing in Fenway Park 81 times.

I don't anticipate Lowell being worse than he was in 2009, which still wasn't bad. It is reasonable to expect that Beltre's stats might be similar to his time in Seattle, as he is allegedly in the prime of his career and he is playing for a contract again. Defensively, Beltre might be better. But how important is defense to winning World Series? I am still very skeptical.

We can revisit the value thing. If they do jettison Lowell, the Red Sox are spending a lot of money for an average third baseman with one good year in 2004. Bad value, bad ROI. However, if you take out the money, you don't get a night-and-day difference, but you do get a sizeable difference, especially if you put a lot of weight in home and away splits. Adrian Beltre projects to be a better baseball player.

I hope.

17 comments:

the gm at work said...

FYI: When I set out to write this post, I didn't know what I was going to find. After finding the information I found, especially the split stats and how not-bad Beltre has hit away from Safeco, makes me feel A LOT better about the acquisition. He's still not my favorite player and I still think he did more steroids in 2004 than Ronnie Magro does every spring to get ready for the beach/pummel suckers on the boardwalk season. I still think $19 million for all intents and purposes for this kind of production from third base is a poor ROI.

Patrick said...

i enjoyed this analysis. seemed like you really hit the key topics and trends.

beltre's offense is definitely a concern. and it's a concern because, as you said, his overall career production has not been good. to answer your question his career production has been a shade above average (105 ops+). a lot of that middling number, however, comes from a 163 he put up in 2004. his ops has been over .800 only 3 times in 11 full seasons, and only once in the last 5 years. last year, it dipped below .700.

however, i'm glad you brought up park, because that is always an important consideration. safeco has definitely suppressed his numbers as it will for most anyone, but even when looking at ops+, which adjusts for park and position, he was below average in two seasons and above for three in seattle (6 seasons over and 5 under for his career). so his offense even considering safeco has still been very meh. fenway is one of the biggest hitters park in baseball as you astutely pointed out the 106 park factor (yankee stadium was a 97 last year, not that i care one way or the other about this, but since everyone else - especially the mainstream media - was all geek-ed up about this last year i think it's worth pointing out), and this should really help beltre, especially as a righty. the question just becomes how much. my guess is enough to make him more productive than lowell, the same conclusion you came to.

this is particularly true when you consider defense. that is the one point with which i would grapple with you. beltre is not maybe a better than lowell. he's way better. i'm not married to any defensive metrics as absolute truths. for example, i'm not ready to say that someone with a +8 uzr/150 is better than someone with a +3 uzr/150. but i do think when there is a major difference these metrics give us an idea. last year beltre put up a +21 uzr/150 last year (which is just absurd), and has been in the major plus every year since 2002 (when the stat began getting recorded) minus one in 2006. lowell put up a -14.4 uzr/150 last year. now, prior to that lowell was a pretty good defender, he just couldn't move anymore last year. but even when they were both healthy beltre was a better defender. he's one of the best third baseman in the league - if not the best - and is probably one of the best defenders in baseball all positions considered. he's that good. like you, i'm not sold that defense makes as much of a difference as obp did when that became a market advantage (as you've cited, the A's have been trying to win with an emphasis on defense the last few years with poor results), but i think we all agree it definitely has some impact. and in that sense beltre is a big plus.

i think the only major issue here is, as you said, paying both to get the total production they are going to get. but it's only for one year, and the red sox are more than rich enough to handle it.

the gm at work said...

Pat,

I won't have wood for defensive metrics until the A's win ninety games. Then I'll have wood for it until Theo Epstein defends a terrible signing because of a guy's UZR150 and I'll abandon it forever.

The way I see it, if a guy has certain stats in a 96 park, he could possibly see a 10.4% boon by moving to a 106 park. Too simplistic mathematically, but exciting nonetheless. Beltre could hit 20 home runs and 40 doubles this year. He could also hit half of that.

Patrick said...

your first paragraph actually made me laugh out loud in the library. the cycle you've gone through with numbers has been fun to watch. most of us have gone through it, but yours has been particularly funny.

i think your second paragraph is absolutely correct. there is no guarantee, but expecting a proportional increase in numbers relative to the park he will be playing in is reasonable. in fact it's likely. numbers like park factor really can be very useful as general guides, but as we've been discussing just aren't rules. very, very useful though.

Anonymous said...

There's a distinction to be made on getting good ROI on a player versus getting a player that is just good.

If you were to rate players on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, I'd rather pay $15 million/year for a 10, rather than $1 million/year for a 5. By some measure, you get more ROI on the 5 player, but you win championships by accumulating 10.

Obviously this is a flawed example I just thought of on the fly, and I also acknowledge that you can't fill your roster with 10s making $15 million a year.

All I'm saying is that a lot of people, including some on this blog, worry if a player "deserves" what they are making, or if the the ROI is good. I don't.

Either you're good or you're not good. Either you get your team over the hump, or you don't. I would be willing to overpay if it's for if a player is good on the field because that's all I care about.

Beltre hits into the double play of being not that good, and also overpriced. Bad ROI and bad value. That's why I don't like the signing.

bandi

Ross Kaplan said...

Assuming that Ortiz plays well enough to not get cut, Boston's going to have a lot of money committed to guys who are riding the pine or are DHing. Good thing Boston has the Boy Wonder as their GM to shuffle around the catcher who can't catch (VMart), the catcher who can't catch or hir (VTek), the designated hitter who can't hit (Ortiz) and the 3rd baseman whose a liability in the field (Lowell). Good luck with that.

the gm at work said...

Bandi,

Your comment was 200 words long and four of those words were "ROI." You could work in our office, where we like to throw consulting buzzwords around all the time. That's why I said it in the post in the first place: it has become a habit.

My point in the post was not that Beltre was bad ROI (which he is). It was that despite being bad ROI, he might not be a liability on this team and might indeed be an upgrade over Mike Lowell.

Patrick said...

bandi -

as usual i really agree with you here. i am firmly in your camp on that issue. as one example, people went absolutely bananas over giving aj burnett 16.5 million per year. those people were concerned with value or overpay. and you know what? if you want to toss it into a vacuum, it isn't great value and it is an overpay. but the braves had an offer on the table for just slightly less. so the yankees threw value and ROI and overpay out the window and did what it took to sign the guy. and in return they got consecutive game 2's in the alcs and world series that without they probably don't win it all, because not many people can dominate the way burnett can when he's on. there are other more simplistic examples because burnett is not a 10 (teixeira, for example, is a 10 who the yankees paid whatever they needed to to get regardless of value), but i think burnett is a great one because he's not a 10. but he's a guy who could make a difference in actually winning baseball games, and the yankees chose to focus on that rather than what his overall value is. obviously, it worked out. you CANNOT do this all of the time or with every player. you need balance. but picking your spots and taking risks like this can pay off. standard caveats that small market teams can't do this and the yankees can do this more than every other team that isn't small market apply.

ross - check out ortiz's last 3 months in 2009.

gm - agree with you that ROI wasn't the point of this post with beltre, though bandi does make some great general points about it above.

Anonymous said...

GM,

The reason I used ROI 4 times is because I was criticizing people who use it to evaluate baseball players, not because I liked the term myself. I would suggest actually reading my comment next time but that's probably asking too much.

I'm hesitant to respond to Kaplan's post because I'd like to make it through the day without a "Why are you trying to alienate me" outburst.

Patrick said...

bandi - a smart move. after travelling that road yesterday, i don't recommend it.

it was nice to see ross try to shed his "hit and run blogger" reputation with a response to responses to his comment. that was worth walking the tight rope of alienating him.

Anonymous said...

Pat,

Agreed. I just hope Ross learned yesterday that no one on the blog gets to play by their own rules. Everyone's comments are subject to criticism.

the gm at work said...

Bandi,

I prefer to not actually read comments. I just like to boil them down into one statistics and make my judgment using that one statistic and nothing else. Your comment is an elite comment because all I looked at was the metric of "ROI/word," and yours is the second-highest of all comments today.

Having a $30 million payroll full of players who only suck a little bit is pretty much worthless is what you're saying. ROI is great, but the actual "return" is zero because you don't win a World Series.

Pat,

In defense of Kaplan, a) Ortiz was irresponsible with his use of vitamins and supplements, and b) ask the Colby Community Digest of Civil Discourse how much of a "hit-and-run" commenter he is.

jason said...

I was completely expecting an idiocracy reference when i saw the title to this

Ross Kaplan said...

Well gentlemen, and I use that term very liberally, I would be more than just a "hit and run commenter" if people actually had a constructive response to my comments rather than treating it as a joke. If my comments aren't appreciated here then maybe I'll just have to take them elsewhere to another blog, perhaps one that specializes in the Manchester United-Arsenal rivalry where my comments will be appreciated rather than castigated.

Also it might help if we can get off these obscure statistics whose meaning or relevancy I have no idea of.

Patrick said...

ross kaplan ladies and gentleman!

Patrick said...

also ross i take issue with that. yesterday you made a comment regarding health being the key, and i agreed with you (something you have stated a few times this winter and i've agreed with every time). then, out of genuine curiosity, i asked you what, if anything, triggered your pushing of health this particular winter as opposed to a previous one. instead of answering my question, you accused me of alienating you in this space and then restated your point that i had already agreed with in more detailed terms.

you tell me how that makes sense. stop feeling sorry for yourself and go back to making bigtime comments.

the gm at work said...

As Pat and Tank already know, there's an article in the Herald today that I will have to address tomorrow. Don't miss tomorrow's post.