The Cliff

Dave · April 22, 2008 at 12:35 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

There’s an obvious running theme to the posts of the last several days, mostly inspired by discussions about Frank Thomas’ release and whether he would help the Mariners offense. The underlying question essentially boils down to this: “Is Frank Thomas, at age 40, finally just finished as a major league hitter?” I’ve written on this subject, both at Fangraphs and here, as well as talking about it on KJR yesterday. My conclusion is that Thomas is not washed up, and while he’s never going to be the Big Hurt of the 1990s again, he’s got more to contribute as a major league hitter.

However, the Thomas discussion simply leads to one larger point – how do we know when a player really is done? I wrote up a post on Fangraphs about this topic this morning, but wanted to delve into a little more detail here, since this is an issue that Mariner fans have some experience with and it relates strongly to the 2008 roster. As Derek noted yesterday, there are some signs that perhaps Brad Wilkerson is finished as an everyday player. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think Jose Vidro’s career is basically over at this point, and we’ve talked recently about Richie Sexson’s old player skills and what that might mean for the length of his career.

So, if we agree that there’s a point in time where a player’s skills just deteriorate to the point that he’s not longer a contributor, how do we know when a player has reached that point? What are the signs, and how do we see it coming?

As I said in the Fangraphs post this morning, I believe the first place you should look when determining how much a hitter has left to offer is his power. The ability to drive the ball is what causes pitchers to not just throw fastballs down the middle on every pitch, and once they’ve ascertained that a hitter can’t drive the ball with authority anymore, he’s not going to contribute for much longer. Now, every hitter has their own established level of power production that works for their particular skill set. We don’t want to look at an arbitrary number for every player, but instead, we’re looking to identify an erosion of that particular player’s established power level.

Thankfully, we have metrics available that measure power, and terrific sites like The Hardball Times and Fangraphs that give us historical data for research purposes. As Mariner fans, we’ve watched over the last decade as the M’s have hosted farewell tours for a lot of past-their-prime players. The M’s are notorious for trying to squeeze the last drops out of a proven veteran’s career, so we’ve had a front row seat to a lot of collapses. Among the notable ones we’ve seen are Bret Boone, Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, Jeff Cirillo, and Carl Everett, with bench players such as Mark McLemore, Eduardo Perez, and Dave Hansen also meeting their end here. We’ve seen a lot of career ending collapses, and we pretty much know what they look like. So, what do all these guys have in common? Take a look at these year to year changes in HR/FB rates:

Bret Boone: 2004 – 14.1%, 2005 – 6.5%
Edgar Martinez: 2003 – 16.6%, 2004 – 9.2%
John Olerud: 2002 – 12.2%, 2003 – 6.1%
Carl Everett: 2005 – 14.4%, 2006 – 9.3%
Mark McLemore: 2002 – 8.1%, 2003 – 2.5%
Eduardo Perez: 2005 – 22.4%, 2006 – 5.3%
Dave Hansen: 2004 – 10.0%, 2005 – 7.5%

All of these guys experienced significant dropoffs from their previously established levels of power. They were still hitting the ball in the air, but it wasn’t clearing the fence anymore, and that switch to having warning track power signaled the end of their playing careers. More than anything else, it’s this loss of power that we can look at if we want to know if a player really has anything left, or if his current performance is just a short term anomaly.

So, using HR/FB% as our window, let’s look at some of the recent subjects we’ve talked about.

Frank Thomas: 2006 – 17.4%, 2007 – 11.1%, 2008 – 11.5%
Jose Vidro: 2005 – 8.0%, 2006 – 5.3%, 2007 – 4.1%, 2008 – 7.7%
Richie Sexson: 2006 – 19.3%, 2007 – 16.7%, 2008 – 21.6%
Brad Wilkerson: 2006- 14.9%, 2007 – 19.4%, 2008 – 0.0%

I want to stress that the sample sizes for ’08 are really small and conclusions shouldn’t be drawn yet. If wind would have knocked down one of Vidro’s two homers, then his HR/FB% would be 4% instead of 8%. You just can’t make any kind of judgment about a power rebound when one fly ball with a different result changes the conclusion.

However, I think we can make some preliminary assessments based on the multi-year trends.

Thomas has clearly lost a good chunk of his power, but because he had such a high platform to fall from, he’s still able to be a decently productive hitter even after a pretty significant decline. Expecting him to turn back into the Frank Thomas of 2006 doesn’t look like a good bet, though.

Vidro’s collapse came in 2005, when he fell from a 12.8% HR/FB rate to the 8.0% you see listed above, and he’s been in slight decline from that rate ever since. His career has been on life support for a couple of years now, and I’d argue that he’s pretty obviously done.

Sexson’s power took a slight dip last year, but nothing even close to being large enough to constitute a collapse. Through this window, it seems pretty clear the he’s not done as a hitter, even though his old player skills suggest that he’s in the last stage of his career. There’s still life left in his bat, though.

Wilkerson is an odd case. His ’08 numbers aren’t particularly instructive because the sample is just so tiny (16 flyballs total), but there are extenuating circumstances with Wilkerson – he’s had old player skills for quite a while, and injuries have taken a toll on his body. If you were going to create a list of potential collapse guys before the season, he’d have been on it. But we’ve also seen his HR/FB rate nosedive and then rebound before (2004 – 16.2%, 2005 – 5.9%, 2006 – 14.9%), so drawing any conclusions based on the fact that he hasn’t hit a home run in the first few weeks of April seems foolish. He might be done, but we don’t have enough information to know for sure yet.

To summarize a post that turned out much longer than I expected, I believe we can usually tell if a player has really fallen off The Cliff by looking at his ability to drive the ball. HR/FB% stands in quite well as a proxy for his power, and significant changes in that can be a red flag that a hitter’s skill set has changed for the worse. It’s not definite, however, and you shouldn’t conclude that every drop in HR/FB rate is signs of imminent retirement. However, if a player is struggling to produce at the plate while posting a stable HR/FB rate, we could say it is unlikely that their career is really teetering on the edge of extinction.

Or, to put it back in player terms, Thomas and Sexson are not done, Vidro is, and we don’t know about Wilkerson just yet.

Comments

57 Responses to “The Cliff”

  1. Paul B on April 22nd, 2008 1:08 pm

    Before the season started, I would have said there was a high probability that either Sexson or Vidro would be out of baseball by mid season.

    I’d adjust that now to just say Vidro.

  2. coasty141 on April 22nd, 2008 1:09 pm

    Isn’t a health big part of this with older players? If Raul had a sore lower back or whatever he had at the start of last year, we’d be talking about him too.

  3. AK4Sea on April 22nd, 2008 1:09 pm

    Dave,

    I don’t post very often here, but I have to say, thanks for this write-up. I realized long ago that A) I am madly in love with the analytical side of baseball and B) I lack the math skills (or the desire) to really be able to generate numbers of my own.

    Point being, I really appreciate it when you and Derek stop and take the time to walk readers through a concept like this.

  4. MKT on April 22nd, 2008 1:26 pm

    How often do players rebound from a cliff-fall? I remember Buhner having a couple of bad seasons, but then having one more good one before finally falling off the cliff for good. However I don’t know if his HR/FB% figures dipped during those bad seasons. Also injuries played a role.

  5. marc w on April 22nd, 2008 1:33 pm

    Wouldn’t we need to know more about the variance in HR/FB before we could use it effectively to diagnose collapses?
    I mean, look at the players you mention; the year-on-year decline is very stark, but looking at more data, there are *always* huge swings.
    Carl Everett went from 14.4 to 9.3 from 2005 to 2006, but he was at 8.3% in 2004.
    Dave Hansen dropped from 10 to 7.5% in 2005, but he was at 6.1% in 2002. The four-year average on fangraphs has him at 7.7%, very close to his 2005 ‘collapse.’
    Olerud picked his HR/FB back up to 13.5% in his mini-comeback with Boston in 2005.
    Eduardo Perez went from 10.0 to 22.4 before cratering at 5.3% in Seattle.

    Barry Bonds HR/FB dropped precipitously in 2006, only to rebound in 2007. Frank Thomas looked dead and buried in 2002. Etc. etc.

    I know you’re not suggesting that this is the ONLY tool to use in this kind of evaluation, but don’t you think you’re going to see an awful lot of false positives? There’s just so much movement here, and much of it simply can’t be the result of a skills decline.

    The other intriguing thing, especially given the M’s data you’ve shown, is whether the M’s issues in evaluating talent aren’t in part related to mistaking big spikes in HR/FB or just plain HRs as a sign that a (formerly) declining player is ‘back.’ The Perez, Hansen, and Everett signings were all spectacularly ill timed – the equivalent of buying a million dollar condo at the peak of the recent real estate craziness.

  6. slescotts on April 22nd, 2008 1:54 pm

    Wilkerson wasn’t ever really that good. This isn’t surprising.

  7. Colm on April 22nd, 2008 2:00 pm

    Thank you as ever.

    Is there any postulated cause for Wilkerson’s absurdly high infield fly rate so far this year?

    Or is it most likely a function of random chance in a very small sample size?

    I imagine it’s the latter. Having a former homerun hitter start hitting his drives to the warning track is an obvious sign of declining power. Having one start hitting 31% of his flyballs to the edge of the infield is something else entirely.

  8. marc w on April 22nd, 2008 2:10 pm

    7 – yeah, isn’t that weird? Johjima’s absurdly high as well. Ichiro’s is high, but not absurdly so.

    I think this must simply be the result of a small sample size – if you’ve hit two, it’s really high, and if they drift back a few feet and are classified you’ve got no IFFB, and zomg you’ve eliminated IFFB from your possible outcomes!

  9. 6-4-3 on April 22nd, 2008 2:10 pm

    It seems to me HR/FB% would be highly park dependent, but I haven’t looked at any numbers to confirm this. If it is, it doesn’t seem fair to look at a player who has changed teams and conclude “they’re done” merely because they’ve moved to a tough hitter’s park.

  10. north on April 22nd, 2008 2:24 pm

    Re #9

    …which is why this post does not do that.

  11. 6-4-3 on April 22nd, 2008 2:31 pm

    What about [Vidro], though? He’s played for three different teams since 2004, so I don’t think it makes much sense to draw any conclusions from his HR/FB percentages over those years.

  12. Jeff Nye on April 22nd, 2008 2:36 pm

    I think you’re overestimating the park effects involved.

  13. Tek Jansen on April 22nd, 2008 2:38 pm

    #6 – A collapse by Wilk would not be overly surprising, but it be wrong to conclude that he was never a good player. He had some very good offensive years as an Expo. Plus, he was able to play a decent CF, which made him even more valuable. If the M’s had the Wilkerson of his prime Expo years, that would be awesome. Come to think of it, if we had the Vidro of his prime Expo years . . .

  14. slescotts on April 22nd, 2008 2:46 pm

    Prime expo years were in a dome and weren’t too may. He was a decent player, just never that good. I agree he would’ve been ‘better’, just think this was a bad deal. We overpaid for immediate need based on the ‘perceived’ value of a veteran. This is Bavasi’s M.O.

  15. 6-4-3 on April 22nd, 2008 2:52 pm

    So just to harp on park effects a little more, I can’t help but wonder if Safeco is exactly the kind of place you wouldn’t want to bring a veteran player who you hope might have another couple decent years in him. Perhaps these kind of guys would be better served by playing somewhere their power doesn’t deteriorate to “warning track power” so quickly?

  16. Dave on April 22nd, 2008 3:13 pm

    Isn’t a health big part of this with older players? If Raul had a sore lower back or whatever he had at the start of last year, we’d be talking about him too.

    If you have a debilitating back injury that makes you suck as a hitter, and you already had no defensive value, you should be on the DL. The Mariners are the only organization alive that believes their veterans are entitled to sink the franchise for the sole purpose of “being tough” and “fighting through it like a man”.

    How often do players rebound from a cliff-fall?

    It happens sometimes. The M’s wrote off Rich Aurilia as being done after several months of struggles, but he went right back to being the same hitter he always was after he left. He might have been a case of Safeco-itis.

    Wouldn’t we need to know more about the variance in HR/FB before we could use it effectively to diagnose collapses?

    This is certainly not an exhaustive study – I’m gathering more data and hope to look into it more.

    Is there any postulated cause for Wilkerson’s absurdly high infield fly rate so far this year?

    Probably just sample size variance.

    It seems to me HR/FB% would be highly park dependent, but I haven’t looked at any numbers to confirm this. If it is, it doesn’t seem fair to look at a player who has changed teams and conclude “they’re done” merely because they’ve moved to a tough hitter’s park.

    HR/FB is affected by home park, so we would have to park adjust the numbers for a complete study, yes. Ideally, we should be comparing the player’s actual HR/FB rate to a projection system’s estimate of what their true talent HR/FB rate for that year was. However, for the basic outline of the theory, I think this works well enough for now.

    What about [Vidro], though? He’s played for three different teams since 2004, so I don’t think it makes much sense to draw any conclusions from his HR/FB percentages over those years.

    RFK was a worse place to hit than Safeco is. He moved to a more hitter friendly park and still saw his HR/FB rate decline. Sorry, but park effects aren’t the reason Jose Vidro’s home run rate dropped. It declined because he sucks.

    Perhaps these kind of guys would be better served by playing somewhere their power doesn’t deteriorate to “warning track power” so quickly?

    Safeco is very friendly to LH flyball hitters. The M’s just suck at building a roster that fits their park well.

  17. Evan on April 22nd, 2008 3:14 pm

    If the M’s had the Wilkerson of his prime Expo years, that would be awesome. Come to think of it, if we had the Vidro of his prime Expo years . . .

    Any team assembled from just the prime years of Expos would be pretty damned good.

    To my untrained eye, Wilkerson looks considerably more done than Vidro – Vidro at least has an outside shot at putting up the sorts of numbers he did last year (which still aren’t good enough to be starting DH, but they’re not horrific).

  18. Matthew Carruth on April 22nd, 2008 3:16 pm

    I keep expecting these to be about Cliff Floyd. In honor of rhyming, can we coin this the McGriff Cliff?

  19. msb on April 22nd, 2008 3:17 pm

    It happens sometimes. The M’s wrote off Rich Aurilia as being done after several months of struggles, but he went right back to being the same hitter he always was after he left. He might have been a case of Safeco-itis.

    he certainly seems to be someone who thrives in the NL.

  20. 6-4-3 on April 22nd, 2008 3:18 pm

    Sorry, but park effects aren’t the reason Jose Vidro’s home run rate dropped. It declined because he sucks.

    OK, I agree this is the most likely reason :)

  21. fermorules on April 22nd, 2008 3:33 pm

    Was listening to KJR on the way into work….

    And Nelson said the Mariners would have to pay the whole 10 million of Thomas’ contract. It ain’t my money, so it’d be no skin off my nose, but I thought the Jays would be on the hook if some other team signed Thomas and he got the required number of at-bats….

    Speaking of Nelson, last week, in response to the game at Baltimore in which Ichiro and Ibanez homered in the first inning for a 2-0 lead, Nelson said that was a bad thing because solo homers like that are, and I quote, “Rally-killers.”

    I know, I know, I need to stop listening to KJR (though they did have the skipper of this website on for an informative segment Monday)….

    Really, though, how hard is it for a supposed “expert” to be prepared when he goes on-air, and the comment about homers being rally-killers just threw me for a loop. Could anyone actually believe that hitting a home run is a bad thing????

  22. Dave on April 22nd, 2008 3:39 pm

    Nelson’s wrong.

  23. Jeff Nye on April 22nd, 2008 3:41 pm

    I can’t even understand how you would make that logic work in your head.

  24. Logger on April 22nd, 2008 3:42 pm

    “Rally-killers” – that comment is beyond ridiculous.

  25. Evan on April 22nd, 2008 3:55 pm

    The rally killer reasoning in based on the belief that having runners on base puts more pressure on the pitchers. As such, having your hitters hit a bunch of singles in a row is somehow more likely to produce a really big inning because as soon as you hit a homerun the pitcher then can pitch more comfortably and easily get out of the inning.

    It still doesn’t make any sense, but this is whence that comes.

  26. okobojicat on April 22nd, 2008 3:56 pm

    Logger:

    “Rally-killers” – that comment is beyond ridiculous.

    I sense a fellow UPS grad here…

    The theory (supported by some pitching coaches and broadcasters) is that a couple of hits, followed by a home run allows a pitcher to settle down because he can refocus exclusively on the hitter, and not think about runners, and not pitch out of the stretch. Also, it can be claimed a HR after a couple of hits kills a rally because an opposing managers yanks the pitcher out of the game and the reliever can get people out.

    However, the comment is blindingly stupid because in effect to try to not hit a home run is to reduce the amount of runs scored, which is the point of offense.

    Anyone saying anything about Rally-Killing after a couple of solo dingers has just made a very very stupid comment (self-edited for insult reduction goodness). There is no rally to kill.

  27. Mat on April 22nd, 2008 3:57 pm

    Though the idea that a home run is somehow overall detrimental to the cause of a late-inning comeback, I think I get why people consider them to be “rally killers.” Take 2007 MLB averages:

    .262 — BA with no one on base
    .276 — BA with runners on base

    .324 — OBP with no one on base
    .350 — OBP with runners on base

    And it kind of makes sense that pitchers would be better pitching out of the wind-up than they are out of the stretch.

    Now, given the choice between guaranteed runs and a marginally larger shot at the next hitter getting a hit, I’m choosing the guaranteed runs. But I think I sort of see why people get the impression that clearing the bases is bad for a rally.

  28. Logger on April 22nd, 2008 3:59 pm

    26 – You are correct, my friend.

  29. msb on April 22nd, 2008 4:02 pm

    And Nelson said the Mariners would have to pay the whole 10 million of Thomas’ contract.

    I think if you claimed him, you’d have to take the contract. If he clears waivers, he then becomes a free agent available for the pro-rated minimum, with the Jays on the hook for the rest of this year’s salary.

  30. Jeff Nye on April 22nd, 2008 4:05 pm

    Home run hitters, by and large, are:

    A) Not the sort of guys you want on the basepaths any longer than necessary;

    B) Not the sort of guys that pitchers are really very worried about stealing, so they don’t put any significant “pressure” on pitchers.

    Although I’ve always thought that if he really tried, Sexson could just stand near first base and lean towards second and steal a base that way.

    It’d be much like watching a tree felled.

  31. JMHawkins on April 22nd, 2008 4:13 pm

    The theory (supported by some pitching coaches and broadcasters) is that a couple of hits, followed by a home run allows a pitcher to settle down because…

    You konw what? Nelson and those coaches and broadcasters are right about certain events being rally killers. The home team driviing in the winning run in the bottom of the 9th, for instance, is a definite rally killer. A shame, really. Just when things were getting most exciting, some jerk has to go and end the rally by launching a walk-off dinger into the bleachers. What a letdown for the home fans.

    Anywhoo, regarding

    Isn’t a health big part of this with older players?

    I think one of the things that robs older players of their skills is that injuries tend to pile up and take longer to heal. I suspect guys in their 30′s are walking wounded far more often than guys in their 20′s. Plus I think there’s a greater chance a not-so-minor injury never heals post-30 than pre-30. Plus the scar tissue from those injuries in your 20′s starts to act up, you start predicting weather with your “bum knee” and all that.

  32. philosofool on April 22nd, 2008 4:20 pm

    I want to stress that the sample sizes for ‘08 are really small and conclusions shouldn’t be drawn yet.

    Here’s something that I loved from the Hardball Times the other day. Basically, it summarizes the point at which a batter or hitter has done enough in a season to regard their performance as significant.

  33. Fett42 on April 22nd, 2008 4:38 pm

    I’m not going to lie, I just finished reading some of Dave’s Fangraphs articles and initially thought after reading the title that this was going to be about Cliff Lee.

    And how common is it for someone to take a path like Ibanez has at this point in their career?

  34. jro on April 22nd, 2008 4:40 pm

    One of the things that I think the statistics can’t properly account for is the the type of hitter and the situation/lineup in which they hit. Those matters impact the game so much that it does skew the analysis somewhat. What significance? Not sure, but looking at year-over-year statistics still leaves holes in the assessment for me.

  35. juneau_fan on April 22nd, 2008 4:49 pm

    he (Rich Aurilia) certainly seems to be someone who thrives in the NL.

    He’s sucking chunks for SF this year. He may finally be in a crumbled pile at the cliff base. The Giants do seem to be the ulitimate end of the line for major league players.

  36. Spanky on April 22nd, 2008 4:51 pm

    Thanks for the analysis Dave. From a HR perspective, I think Thomas has something to offer the M’s. Derek…have you analyzed his OPS (Old Player Skills)?

    I think a lot of people see that the M’s could benefit from taking a shot at Thomas (except the M’s themselves it seems) but also, don’t you think the M’s should go after him just to ensure that he doesn’t land back with the A’s???

  37. HopHead on April 22nd, 2008 4:53 pm

    That Hardball Times article is interesting. 150 seems to be the minimum number of plate appearances before statistics start becoming meaningful. Based on TPA and plate appearances per game, Ichiro needs about 13 more games to reach 150 TPA. Most of the other starters need around 17-18 more games. That would make mid May a good time to start making assessments.

  38. philosofool on April 22nd, 2008 5:01 pm

    Basically, it summarizes the point at which a batter or hitter has done enough in a season to regard their performance as significant.

    Uh… That comment was free of spelling errors, but suffers from a rather egregious typo. Should say “a batter or pitcher” not “a batter or hitter.”

  39. Evan on April 22nd, 2008 5:02 pm

    Except, Ichiro’s most relevant stat is batting average, and batting average has too much noise in it to be statistically relevant even with a full season of data.

  40. galaxieboi on April 22nd, 2008 5:08 pm

    A disclaimer for that formula: it’s for fantasy baseball.

  41. scott19 on April 22nd, 2008 5:12 pm

    He’s sucking chunks for SF this year. He may finally be in a crumbled pile at the cliff base. The Giants do seem to be the ulitimate end of the line for major league players.

    Wow…I wasn’t aware that Aurilia was even still trying to hang on to the smoldering remnants of his career.

    Guess that’s how exciting Giants baseball is these days.

  42. Bremerton guy on April 22nd, 2008 5:25 pm

    First off, I have to say I enjoyed this write-up. The analysis provides a reasonable methodology to indicate when the shark has jumped for a veteran. That being said, it seems a bit intellectually dishonest to say that the stats you’ve provided indicate something, except to the extent they don’t. And by that, I mean, you want your stats to show that Vidro’s done, but they really don’t except when you assume that one of his home runs shouldn’t have been/might not have been/maybe wouldn’t be a home run if it got caught in the wind. Huh? Couldn’t that same possibility go the other way, i.e., what would the stats show if one of Wilkerson’s can of corns hit a wind gust and got blown out? Or, better yet, if one of Vidro’s fly balls got pushed out this way. These statistics don’t show that Vidro’s done, so why intimate that they do? Like you said, this year’s stats must be taken in the context of the very small sample size from which they emanate; these stats, by themselves, really don’t show, one way or another, whether Vidro’s career is over, and they don’t show that he sucks. Time will tell.

  43. Dave on April 22nd, 2008 5:32 pm

    I never claimed that the 2008 performance shows that Vidro’s done. I’m saying he was done two years ago, and only the Mariners stupidity has kept him in a major league line-up.

  44. juneau_fan on April 22nd, 2008 5:50 pm

    Wow…I wasn’t aware that Aurilia was even still trying to hang on to the smoldering remnants of his career.

    Guess that’s how exciting Giants baseball is these days.

    Anyone claiming that the M’s are managed poorly really needs to look at the Giants for a few days. Horrifying. The line-up is mostly 28 year old rookies and old, broken down vets with absolutely no one down in the minors to at least give hope for a future.

    In fairness to Aurilia, he was supposed to be a bench guy, that veteran presence, blah, blah, but with Vizquel’s injury, he had to go every day. I really wish I could have seen him on TV, rather than just the radio, for that last M’s/Giants spring training game, when Betancourt stole home on him while he just stood there holding the ball. John Miller’s despair-filled call was pure gold.

    To drag this back on topic, I’ve always thought the M’s could dump Richie Sexson on the Giants if need be. Sabean sure isn’t doing this kind of analysis, and would probably bite if Sexson could drag his numbers up to something presentable. But then the M’s wouldn’t want to get rid of him…

  45. wabbles on April 22nd, 2008 6:31 pm

    I was going to bring this up in the old player skills post but it works here as well (as that post’s point is reinforced here). So what does this all mean for the M’s “proven veteran” approach that insists upon signing players on the wrong side of 30 who have HAD good seasons instead of seeking out “good, young players” in their early to mid 20s with their best years still ahead of them?
    The latter approach is being adopted by more and more teams now, quite successfully. I just checked the list of still-unsigned “big name” free agents and noticed that almost all played during some portion of the 80s. THE EIGHTIES! Intelligence, not collusion, is why owners aren’t signing Lofton, Sosa, Clemens, etc. The only team to succeed using the M’s approach has been the Yankees. (Okay, no World Series wins since 2000 but a couple appearances and in the playoffs every year, usually as a division winner.) But New York does it by throwing SOOOO much money at the problem that by the time they reach the point of diminishing returns they already are about a 90-win team. Then even the Yankees have a decent farm system whose products they actually bring up and DON’T JUST LET ROT ON THE BENCH!
    Sooooo, I guess us M’s fans are doomed to watch expensive, frustrating mediocrity. ‘heavy sigh’

  46. msb on April 22nd, 2008 6:43 pm

    n fairness to Aurilia, he was supposed to be a bench guy, that veteran presence, blah, blah, but with Vizquel’s injury, he had to go every day.

    well, no. Visquel failed the physical, and then they went & got Aurelia. Greg Bishop has a good, if depressing chronology here.

  47. Dave on April 22nd, 2008 6:44 pm

    I think he was referring to this year.

  48. juneau_fan on April 22nd, 2008 6:59 pm

    Yeah, I was referring to Vizquel ripping his knee up this year in spring training. The fountain of youth he’d been glugging from must have finally run dry.

    But onto a much happier thing–Felix Day!

  49. slescotts on April 22nd, 2008 9:39 pm

    My point on Wilkerson:

    -spend 400k promoting somebody and ‘hope’ for luck blowing one of his ‘cans of corn out of the park’, rather than $3 million and have to ‘depend’ on it.

    He was a bad buy, probably a decent guy… Overpaying for immediate need based on the ‘perceived’ value of a veteran. I don’t see him earning that $3 million bucks. We need to make a move ‘now’ while there are good deals, before Boston runs away with the east and B’more and New York start looking to make up ground. June/July will be too late and we’ll make another big-ticket purchase or blow too many resources on an old, established player. Address the popping rivets before the panel comes off the hull.

  50. slescotts on April 22nd, 2008 9:39 pm

    My point on Wilkerson:

    -spend 400k promoting somebody and ‘hope’ for luck blowing one of his ‘cans of corn out of the park’, rather than $3 million and have to ‘depend’ on it.

    He was a bad buy, probably a decent guy… Overpaying for immediate need based on the ‘perceived’ value of a veteran. I don’t see him earning that $3 million bucks. We need to make a move ‘now’ while there are good deals, before Boston runs away with the east and B’more and New York start looking to make up ground. June/July will be too late and we’ll make another big-ticket purchase or blow too many resources on an old, established player. Address the popping rivets before the panel comes off the hull.

  51. slescotts on April 22nd, 2008 9:42 pm

    Old, established player with cobwebs in his joints and a bat made of mulch. We still have some trade bait (Mike Morse) and could make a move.

  52. jlc on April 22nd, 2008 11:16 pm

    …would probably bite if Sexson could drag his numbers up to something presentable. But then the M’s wouldn’t want to get rid of him…

    That was kinda my first reaction, too.

    Thanks for this analysis. It’s the kind of simple, straightforward rule of thumb thing that’s extrememly helpful, that I could never, ever come up with.

  53. msb on April 23rd, 2008 7:58 am

    [gasp] I misspelled Vizquel.

  54. Todd S. on April 23rd, 2008 8:26 am

    #27 Isn’t there some self-selection going on in that data, though? Good pitchers are going to pitch more often with runners not on base, while bad pitchers will naturally be in more situation with runners on base. I don’t know if it’s enough to significantly affect the data, but it would be nice to control for it. Having said that, I’m certainly much too lazy and incompetent to do it.

    #44 While I agree with your general point, the Giants have some hope, but only in the low minors. And I would pay money to watch Lincecum and Cain. (Well, in theory I guess, since I don’t actually do that.)

  55. firemane on April 23rd, 2008 9:00 am

    Dave,

    While I think your attempt at finding a metric to identify cliff-ness is good, I think the actual stat you selected is terrible, for the very reason that you brought up when noting why 2008 must be discounted for Vidro.

    HR/FB probably works well for POWER HITTERS. But, players who typically don’t break 20-HRs per season have *ROUTINE* swings in HR totals that are utterly unpredictable. The upper number is simply too small and variable to rely on the conclusions.

    Someone else noted that it is “possible” for park effects to have major impact on HR totals, also.

    This does not mean your analysis of Vidro is wrong (or right). But, I definitely think a look at isolated power would be more likely to avoid the inherent weaknesses I see in the HR/FB methodology. (Barry Larkin ranged from 7 to 33 HRs during his career, so I’m betting his HR/FB ratio was all over the place).

    While I think it is worth exploring, I still have doubts based on your graph, which shows that Vidro’s BABIP has *NOT* suffered in conjunction with his HR/FB rate. If I’m starting with the theory that HR/FB is a ‘tell’ for BABIP, then I wouldn’t jump for joy if the first case I’m looking at to prove this shows zero correlation.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think it is a valid arena to study. I just don’t think the data you’ve gathered so far is particularly indicative of causation.

    =================

    On the subject of how often you see bounces? My perception is “regularly”. I’ve had incredible success in fantasy leagues by betting on bounce backs after career bad years.

    Mike Lowell would be a near perfect example of a guy who crashed for an entire season, (don’t know what his HR/FB was in 2005 – but with only 8-HRs, I’m thinking it couldn’t have been good), and two years later is 5th in MVP voting.

  56. Jeff Nye on April 23rd, 2008 9:35 am

    Setting aside whether the actual argument is valid or not, which I’ll let Dave address if he wants…

    If you want to disagree with something posted here, folks, that’s the standard for how you do it. Well thought out, with specific reasons for the disagreement and examples to support those reasons.

    Good post, firemane.

  57. marc w on April 23rd, 2008 3:23 pm

    55 – Nice. In case you’re wondering, Mike Lowell’s 5 year ‘trend’ from 2003-07 goes like this:
    17.1
    10.6
    3.8
    9.5
    8.6

    This ratio seems remarkably variable for most players.

    The one thing I’d quibble with is the idea that Dave’s post started with the idea that a bad HR/FB presages or is correlated with bad BABIP. Both metrics are variable, and the latter has much more to do with LD% than if FBs are creeping over the wall or not.

    I think we’re in agreement on the broad point though – who knows though, maybe further investigation will produce some parameters in which HR/FB really is a great diagnostic tool. We pretty clearly haven’t found such parameters yet, however.

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