2008 Win Values
“We have to analyze the talent we see and assign the proper value to it.” – Neil Huntington, Pittsburgh GM, in an article published yesterday.
The Pirates are the newest team to hire a GM with a strong belief in quantifying value. Not surprisingly, Huntington came out of Cleveland, an organization that has been using their intellectual advantage to win games for years. One of the basic fundamentals of the methods adopted by teams like Boston, Oakland, Cleveland, San Diego, and Arizona is the belief that all players have a quantifiable on field effect that can be summed in a win metric that allows for proper valuation. Evaluating talent is huge, but so is properly valuing performance – they go hand in hand, and doing one without the other is a wasted opportunity.
So, that’s what this post is about – valuing talent in terms of wins. I’ve taken the best approach to win analysis available and applied it to the Mariner roster, taking a projected performance for the upcoming year and converting that into a win value that factors in both run production and run prevention, with necessary adjustments for the position being played, the role the player will be used in, and the environment they call their home field. In the end, this allows us to size up the entire roster in terms of what we expect their on field contribution to be this season, how much that contribution is worth, and how much value they are adding to the franchise in 2008.
The starting spot for analysis of position players is offensive production. Every outcome of every plate appearance has an average run value that we can assign to that event, allowing us to convert an overall projected batting line into a run production number. This concept is known as linear weights, and is accepted as the best method for quantifying offensive value. If you want to read more about linear weights, here’s a three part series that covers the concept and shows how it works. There are a few different linear weight run estimators out there; I chose to use Weighted On Base Average (wOBA for short) because the math is the easiest to follow in getting from runs to wins.
Despite using On Base in the term, it’s a valuation of total hitting production. It gets its name from the fact that its scaled to look like on base percentage, so if you’re familiar with what a good/bad/average OBP is, you also know what a good/bad/average wOBA is. .300 is lousy, .340 is average, .400 is awesome. wOBA is presented in detail in The Book, written by Tom Tango, Andy Dolphin, and Mitchel Lichtman.
The formula for wOBA is wOBA = (0.72 BB + 0.75 HBP + 0.90 1B + 0.92 RBOE + 1.24 2B + 1.56 3B + 1.95 HR) / PA. Pretty simple – the multiplication is performed according to run values of each event scaled to look like OBP (in this case, the ratio of one to another is more important than the actual multiplications). Singles are worth a bit more than walks, but less than doubles, which are worth less than triples, and nothing is worth more than a home run. Nothing scary here. The only thing wOBA doesn’t account for is baserunning, so I’ve made manual adjustments for the necessary players who extract value from their legs.
So, all you have to do is have the data for those categories, and wham, you have wOBA. Once you have that, you can simply compare a player’s wOBA to the league average wOBA (AL average is .338, but I used .334 to account for Safeco) to get his offensive production above or below average. Note – this is not position adjusted – we’re just comparing hitters to hitters right now. Once you have the difference, you can divide that by 1.15 (wOBA’s relation to runs), multiply by a full season plate appearance estimate for each role (I used 700 for starters, 250 for bench players, both of which get reduced to 85% of that total later on, since we don’t project anyone to play 162 games), and then divide by 10.5 to convert from runs to wins. After you’ve done that, you’ve got an offensive win value compared to league average.
That’s step one. From there, it’s easy. You take your offensive wins and adjust for each position using what we know about the defensive spectrum. Catchers get +1.5 wins, shortstops and center fielders get +1 win, second baseman and third baseman get +0.5 wins, left fielders and right fielders get no position adjustment, first baseman get -0.5 wins, and designated hitters get -1.0 win. This positional scale adjusts for the quality of each player’s peers while also ensuring that we don’t make bad assumptions based on the league average line of any one position during a season. We can say with 100% certainty that it’s harder to play shortstop than to play second base, as almost every second baseman is a shortstop who got moved to the easier position at some point in their life, so we don’t ever want to assume that the average second baseman is better than the average shortstop. If we used league average offensive production by position as the comparing baseline, the values wouldn’t be fixed, which is why I prefer the defensive spectrum adjustments.
Okay, so now you have your position player’s offensive performance relative to league average and adjusted for position. Two steps left before we have our final win value. First, we don’t necessarily want to compare all players to league average in valuation methods. What’s a league average player worth? How easy is it to find one? These aren’t intuitive answers, so average doesn’t make for a great baseline. Instead, we want to compare the players to what we’d expect a team to be able to get from a league minimum player that could be acquired with little to no effort. For instance, yesterday the Mariners signed Greg Norton to a minor league contract. He might make the team, he might not, but guys of his quality are always available. He’s the walking definition of replacement level, so we want to compare our first baseman/designated hitter types to what they’d give us over Greg Norton type players. We know these players are worth about $400,000 (league minimum salary, basically), so it gives us a better starting spot for the final valuation.
The freely available talent guys historically perform, as a group, at a level about two wins below average over the course of the full season. Or, said another way, a team full of these league minimum guys would win about 50 games per season. It’s hard to do much worse than 50-110, even if you’re not trying to contend.
So, in addition to the position adjustments, we add a replacement level adjustment of +2 wins for each position. This means that the adjustment is now +3.5 for catchers, +3 for shortstops and center fielders, +2.5 for second baseman and third baseman, +2 for left fielders and right fielders, +1.5 for for first baseman, and +1 for first baseman. So, if you have a catcher who is a league average hitter, you’d say he’s about +3.5 wins offensively, while the exact same hitter would only be worth +1 win if he was a designated hitter. (Note – this is why moving Jeff Clement to DH/1B is not worth it until the Mariners are 100% certain he really can’t catch in the majors).
Okay, so, after all that, you’ve got your offensive win value compared to replacement level and adjusted for position. However, position players don’t just hit – they field, too. So, we have to build in a defensive performance adjustment. While the general range between the best and worst defenders at a position in any given year is about 50 runs (that is, +25 for good and -25 for bad), we want to be a lot more conservative in projecting defensive performance. So, for these purposes, I’ve set the upper and lower bounds at +15/-15, with most players falling in the -5 to +5 range. In other words, besides the exceptionally great or terrible defenders, this adjustment isn’t going to make a massive impact. Personally, since there is no defensive metric that contains all knowledge yet, I looked at UZR, PMR, RZR, Dewan’s +/- (when available), and eyeballed a realistic estimate based on inputs from all four. Then, you simply divide the runs saved/lost estimate by 10.5 to convert to wins, and add the defensive performance to the offensive performance you’ve already ascertained. And that’s your win value.
Let’s walk through it with Ichiro. I’ve got him projected for a .345 wOBA in 2008 (this is an optimistic projection, honestly, and only a slight step back from his 2007 performance), which the math then converts to +3.09 wins for a center fielder. I add in +0.5 wins for his defensive performance, and that gives us Ichiro as a +3.6 win player compared to a freely available center fielder. I’ve also added +.15 wins for his baserunning prowess, which brings him to +3.75 wins. Or, put another way, if Ichiro got hurt in spring training and was replaced by some combination of Willie Bloomquist and Jeremy Reed for 2008, we’d lower our win expectation for the team by about 3.75 wins.
How much is a win worth? Well, MLB as a whole is paying about $4.4 million per win above replacement in the free agent market, and we know a league minimum player makes about $400,000, so (Win Value * 4.4) + .4 will give you the player’s dollar value in terms of wins added for the upcoming season. Keeping with the Ichiro example, we have him as a 3.75 win player, which is worth about $16.9 million in on field performance. Ichiro just got a contract extension for $17 million per season, which included adjustments for factors beyond his baseball skills, including his marketing appeal. So I’d say the model worked pretty well here, eh?
Because Ichiro’s salary is higher than his dollar per win value, he’s listed on the chart as having a negative value of $100,000. That doesn’t mean we think Ichiro is overpaid or less valuable than Jamie Burke – it simply means that he’s a fairly compensated star, and not a major bargain. It’s rare that teams have bargains at the top of their payroll, though, so that’s not really a knock against Ichiro. However, it does mean that, if given the choice between trading Ichiro and trading Yuniesky Betancourt, I would trade Ichiro – it would be easier to replace his performance with the $17 million that became available than it would to replace Betancourt with the $1.25 million that became available if he was traded.
So, in terms of 2008 asset value (not on field value – please note the distinction), I’m comfortable saying that Yuniesky Betancourt is more valuable than Ichiro. That might sound like heresy, but considering there are only a handful of teams that can afford Ichiro’s contract and nearly every team in baseball would love to have Betancourt on their team, it reflects reality.
Okay, enough setup – let’s get to the table. Here are the position players projected wOBA, their associated win values, their dollar per win value, and the value difference between that and their actual salary. All dollar values are in millions.
|Position Player||wOBA||WAR||WAR $||Salary||Value|
A quick peak at those numbers before we move on to the pitchers.
Betancourt, Johjima, and Lopez, as a group, project to be just a bit below average. The M’s total cost for those three – $6.95 million. There aren’t too many other teams in baseball getting that kind of quality production for next to no money at those up the middle spots. While they’re all flawed players in their own way, they’re also three of the most valuable assets this organization has.
Hey, look, even projecting an offensive step back for Adrian Beltre, he’s still worth his contract. Hey national media – get a clue; the guy is a good player who is worth every dime he’s being paid.
Richie Sexson, even with a significant rebound projection, is still terrible, and his contract is a boat anchor. A +0.3 win player making $14 million at the easiest position on the diamond to find talent? Ouch.
Total wins above replacement for the position players? +14.1 wins. 14 wins out of 14 players who cost about $66 million in payroll? That’s… not good.
Okay, let’s move on to the pitchers. The process here is easier, so I’ll spend a lot less time explaining it. For starters, I developed a defensive-independent line (because, remember, we’re already counting defense in the position players) adjusted for Safeco, which gave me innings pitched and runs allowed. I then compared this to league average (4.60 ERA, park adjusted) and replacement level (5.52 ERA, park adjusted), divided the difference in projected runs allowed by 10.5 to convert to wins, and wham, you have your win value. For relievers, I built in a leverage factor as well, to account for the fact that every run J.J. Putz saves is more valuable than an average run saved.
Why am I using ERA when I have railed against it for so long? Because it’s easy for everyone to understand, and, because it’s already scaled to runs, we don’t need to show FIP or anything more fancy. The inputs I used to get my defensive independent ERA were more sophisticated than just looking at previous ERA and adjusting, so please don’t assume that I’m bowing to conventional pitcher analysis here. I’m just presenting it in the most palatable form I can. Okay? Good. Here’s the pitcher projections.
Pitching staff notes.
Bedard is really good. I’m happy to have him on the roster. Go Erik Go.
Felix is one of the biggest assets in baseball. A +4 win player making, essentially, the league minimum? I’ll take two, please.
Silva’s basically projected right at league average for a starter, with Batista a half win worse and Washburn about a win worse. For the last 60% of a rotation, it’s not bad, but man, did it come at a high price. $31 million for 5 wins? Such is the price of trying to build a rotation through free agency.
Horacio Ramirez is projected to pitch 110 innings, but he basically is a stand in for all starts made by guys not in the current rotation. That includes Baek, Feierabend, Rohrbaugh, whoever. Same thing with Mark Lowe’s 30 innings pitched at the bottom of the bullpen – he’s being used as a proxy for the reliever du jours.
J.J. Putz, still awesome. According to this, he’s the fifth most valuable player on the team and the third biggest value.
Brandon Morrow got a pretty nice projection as a setup man. I made it clear that I didn’t think he was cut out to start in 2008, but I think he’s got a good chance to become a quality 8th inning guy this year. That’s still a monumental waste of a #5 overall pick, but hey, at least he’s contributing something.
The pitching staff as a whole adds up to +19 wins above replacement. Thanks to Erik Bedard and projected improvement from Felix, the pitching staff is now the strength of this club.
Now, let’s take a big picture look at the team as a whole.
The team defensive-independent ERA comes out to 4.12. Over 1430 innings, that’s 654 earned runs allowed. Now, remember, we’re dealing with ERA, not RA, so we have to adjust for unearned runs that bump the total up, and this doesn’t account for defense either. Last year, the team allowed 60 unearned runs, and our projections have the team’s defense being worth about -15 runs, so we need to add about 75 runs to that total. That means this analysis projects the M’s to allow about 725 runs.
Offensively, if I plug my projections into a markov chain, I get about 735 runs scored. A team that scores 735 runs and allows 725 runs will post a .507 win%, or a record of 82-80 in a full season. How does this line-up with my WAR estimates?
+19 for the pitching staff and +14 for the position players = +33 for the roster. Since we’ve got replacement level set at about 50 wins, that gives the M’s something like an 83 win roster.
82 wins if you use projected RS/RA. 83 wins if you use WAR. I’d say win values work pretty well.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the potential opportunities for this club to beat these projections, and what we need to be rooting for if we’re going to be better than an 82-83 win club.