You Cannot Replace Past Performance

Dave · May 15, 2013 at 11:48 am · Filed Under Mariners 

One of the most common questions I get asked is why won’t the Mariners bring up Nick Franklin to play shortstop, considering how poorly Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino are hitting right now. This seems to be the primary question Mariners fans are asking every writer, as Larry Stone also tackled this subject yesterday, noting that the Mariners SS tandem is hitting worse this season than the average NL pitcher. As Stone notes, even if Nick Franklin were the worst defensive shortstop in baseball, the upgrade from his offense over what the Mariners have gotten would more than outweigh the drop-off in glove work.

But here’s the thing – when you exchange one player for another, you are not replacing what they’ve already done, but you’re replacing what they’re going to do in the future. It’s one thing to note that Ryan/Andino have hit like pitchers in the first six weeks of the season, but that’s not the future baseline you work from. No matter how down you are on these two, there’s no reason to think that they’re going to keep hitting this poorly.

Ryan is truly one of the worst hitters in baseball, but that’s been true of him for basically his whole career, and he’s had extended slumps not that different from the one he’s in right now. For instance, from June 25th to September 20th of 2008, he hit .145/.244/.171 over 86 plate appearances, then had a few good games right before the season ended and followed up the second half collapse with the best offensive year of his career in 2009. From June 6th to July 22nd in 2010, he hit .141/.196/.192 over 111 plate appearances and nearly lost his job as the Cardinals everyday shortstop. They stuck with him, though, and he hit .266/.307/.320 over his final 219 PAs during the rest of the year.

Hitters as bad as Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino are going to have long stretches where they look totally helpless at the plate. They’re scraping the absolute minimum acceptable offensive line for a Major League player, so when we watch them hit and then watch other big league hitters actually do some damage, it can be easy to suggest that Ryan (and Andino) will never hit any better than they are right now, because of their total lack of offensive skills.

The reality is that terrible hitters can underperform too, so right now, Ryan and Andino are underperforming even their own low level of expectations. And it won’t last.

What you actually want to compare Franklin against is what you’d get from Ryan and Andino in the future, not what they’ve done in the first month and a half in the season. You’re replacing future production, not past performance. And while Ryan and Andino are terrible hitters, they are terrible hitters who should be expected to hit better in the future than they have so far.

You can see daily updated forecasts for every player on the Mariners roster at the new FanGraphs Depth Chart page. From now through the end of the season, the forecasts call for Robert Andino to post a .269 wOBA, while Brendan Ryan posts a .258 wOBA. Those numbers suck, but Nick Franklin’s forecast wOBA is .298, a 30-40 point improvement, not the 100-150 point improvement you’d get if you ran the calculation versus past performance.

The easiest way to translate wOBA into runs produced is that two points of wOBA equals one run per 600 plate appearances. So, 30-40 points would be 15-20 offensive runs over the course of a full season. We have less than a full season remaining, so now, the gap is more along the lines of 10-15 runs.

Do you really think it’s unlikely that a guy who scouts think belongs at second base really can’t be 10-15 runs worse with the glove a guy who is among the best defensive shortstops in baseball? Even if we think Ryan has declined some defensively, or is taking his offensive issues into the field with him, you’re looking at a guy who is probably at least still above average, so conservatively, you could call him +3 to +5 runs over the rest of the year. Do you really not think Nick Franklin might be a -10 shortstop over four months? Do you remember Yuniesky Betancourt?

I know it’s frustrating to watch Ryan and Andino make outs, and having a complete offensive black hole at the bottom of the line-up is the kind of thing that makes you think that anything would be better than the status quo. But, in this case, I think the Mariners have made the correct evaluation . Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino aren’t this bad at the plate, and the offensive gap between their current tandem going forward — the only time period that matters — and what Franklin would provide in the future isn’t nearly as large as you might think.

If the Mariners had a time machine and could go back to Opening Day, then yeah, they should use it to swap out Franklin for Ryan or Andino, and the upgrade they’d get from making that move would be substantial because of how bad the veterans have been. But that’s not how things work, of course, and no change now can undo what has already happened. You can only evaluate what you expect to happen going forward and put the players you expect to perform the best in the future on the field. Right now, the reality is that the future offensive production gap won’t be nearly so large as the current one, and given the defensive difference, there’s not really a huge upgrade to be made by making the switch.


58 Responses to “You Cannot Replace Past Performance”

  1. gopilots70 on May 16th, 2013 7:10 am

    It is unbelievable to me the Cameron Kool-Aid that so many on this “evidence” site are willing to bathe in without question.

    So now we are to believe that we are to stick with Brendan Ryan because the probability is that he will regress from horrendous, laughable to shitty, piss poor?

    I was happy to see that Larry Stone, who must read this site, picked up on my many comments from 2,3,4, weeks ago that that Mariners are fielding a National line up on a daily basis, and their pitcher often hits worse than NL pitchers.

    And I was roundly trashed for this insight, while now it is cited because Larry is an expert.

    There is no way that any of our choices to bring up will be worse than Brendan Ryan. Carlos, Nick, Brad. Hell let’s trade him to the Yankees for Alfredo Gonzalez who can also pitch and he still won’t be worse.

    I agree with most of what Dave writes. Though, those who trash my hyperbole will find fault with that as well. But, he was wrong about Doug Fister, he was wrong about Ryan Langerhans for Mike Morse, and he has been wrong about Brendan Ryan for many years now. And he will be proven wrong about Nick Franklin.

    Dave is pulling an Angel Hernandez on this one and is letting his estimable ego get in the way of reason.

    The lesson of “moneyball” is that despite all the
    old school scout talk of nice swing, nice sound off the bat, good looking girlfriend, the logic of “evidence” can be just as old school. Swing rate, contact rate, ISO…but that fact is that Kyle Seager always hit and nearly all of the experts discounted him. And now Nick Franklin has just hit and hit and hit at age 21!! But those who have never been on board will not acknowledge that he is better last month, next month, and next year than Brendan Ryan

  2. Athanasius on May 16th, 2013 8:40 am

    I’m not sure that the “replacing past performance” angle does justice to the argument in favor of replacing Ryan with Franklin. The real question is, how much is past performance indicative of future performance? Those arguing in favor of replacing Ryan with Franklin would say that Ryan’s performance at the plate — over the last several years, not just the first part of 2013 — calls for his replacement.

    The counter argument is that Ryan isn’t this bad and will get better, but overall he is still, “truly one of the worst hitters in baseball.”

  3. GLS on May 16th, 2013 10:55 am

    @gopilots70 – I honestly couldn’t agree more. The guy has consistently hit throughout his minor league career. He’s done everything they’ve asked him to do. In the meantime, on days when Ackley sits, we have two automatic outs at the bottom of the order.

    All of this hand wringing over Franklin’s defense doesn’t make sense to me. First of all, it’s almost entirely based on hearsay. Almost nobody commenting here or over at Prospect Insider or SSI has ever seen him play the position. It’s just groupthink. That’s all it is. Of course, it may very well be true that he’ll need to move off of SS. I’m not saying the supposed consensus opinion of the scouting community is necessarily wrong about that. But, at least let him prove it at the major league level. We have absolutely nothing to lose here. And I will remind as well that, early in his career, people said that Derek Jeter didn’t have the arm or range to play shortstop. That seems to have worked out okay.

  4. stevemotivateir on May 16th, 2013 3:35 pm

    @GoPilots and GLS

    You’re failing to recognize some very important factors, despite the fact that Dave and several other have made note of them several times.

    First, it’s the PCL. EC showed Jose Lopez’s line for Tacoma. Impressive? Yes. Was his line in Seattle anywhere near that?

    Need another example? How about Dustin Ackley. How’s he living up to expectations?

    Recent (and short-term) success in Tacoma won’t necessarily translate into success in Seattle right away, if ever. I’m sure you’ll wanna mention the exception, Seager, who has had success with relatively short service time in the minors. But his batting line was notably better than Franklin’s and he was taking over a spot where there actually wasn’t another (real) option. And the guy he was replacing, Figgins, sucked at the plate and in the field. You can’t say Ryan doesn’t offer defense.

    Second, nobody, including Dave, is bashing Franklin. He literally has just 12 games at SS this year in Tacoma. Nobody has even suggested that Franklin wouldn’t hit better than Ryan or Andino, either (the bar is low). But is he really ready to take over a starting job at the most demanding position on the field? Would it benefit the team enough to risk stunting his development? He didn’t hit that well last season, so his success in Tacoma is still real minimal considering.

    Franklin’s going to get the call eventually, possibly even next month. But suggesting he’s needed right now while ignoring the evidence that addresses the risks as well as the actual need, probably isn’t wise.

    I was happy to see that Larry Stone, who must read this site, picked up on my many comments from 2,3,4, weeks ago that that Mariners are fielding a National line up on a daily basis, and their pitcher often hits worse than NL pitchers.

    That could very well be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen someone post on this site.

    First, do you really think YOU were the first to make that comparison, or that Larry couldn’t have thought of that himself? On the Mariner site alone, people have been suggesting the same thing since last season, in reference to Ryan. But people have been saying the same thing since the days with Lou.

    Second, just because several people write about it, or suggest it, doesn’t mean they’re right. I’d look at a full season of numbers and actually compare them (not just BA) before making a claim like that.

    Really, it shouldn’t be so hard for either of you to understand the points being made. This really seems more like a case of you wanting to believe what you wanna believe. There is a case for promoting Franklin. Again, nobody is denying that. But the timing is certainly questionable and the facts shouldn’t be overlooked. Rushing top prospects in a season where we’re highly unlikely to contend doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    P.S. A little advice that will go a long way….
    It isn’t wise to take shots at the authors of this site, or the regulars who have been contributing here for years. They know how to argue their points and dish out rebuttals. Challenging a claim is one thing, but have your evidence on-hand, explain yourself clearly, consider the possibility you missed something or that someone knows more, be polite, and don’t take things too personally. Defensive responses often lack facts and generally won’t get you far. Patience and rational thinking will do wonders.

  5. stevemotivateir on May 16th, 2013 3:47 pm

    All of this hand wringing over Franklin’s defense doesn’t make sense to me. First of all, it’s almost entirely based on hearsay. Almost nobody commenting here or over at Prospect Insider or SSI has ever seen him play the position. It’s just groupthink. That’s all it is.

    He has a fielding percentage of .948 at SS this year, .953 last year, and contrary to what you seem to think, people here actually study and prefer statistics over hearsay (no, really), and some of us do actually attend Rainiers games. “Rainiers_Fan” sees most of the games and takes tons of notes. Marc and Jay pay close attention, too, often detailing more on defense than with offensive performance.

    But if you’re willing to dismiss input that isn’t in-line with yours, or if you’re annoyed with these detailed comments that rebut what you think, feel free to troll other blogs instead.

  6. gopilots70 on May 17th, 2013 1:34 am

    Whew! I know I feel so much better after the friendly advice and the lecture about how to treat the regulars here in USS Mariner. How about you GLS?

    So now I will pull one comparison out of my hat. Jean Segura. Full season A ball 374 wOBA. Full season AA 337.

    Nick Franklin full season A ball 376 wOBA. Half season AA 408.

    Segura in 160 MLB abs last year 278. This year 160 abs plus 412 wOBA. I guess the lesson learned here is that the Angels were so wise never to send him to the PCL because then he would have morphed into Jose Lopez no matter how well he hit there.

  7. stevemotivateir on May 17th, 2013 9:10 am

    You should definitely keep thinking and talking like you know better than everyone else. That will get you real far here.

    Keep that Segura reference in your back pocket. You can use that for many future arguments. Be sure to overlook the fact that he still had 1755 PA’s and an OPS of .807 during that span, and also ignore the fact that there are some players that make it outside of the norm, though they certainly are not the norm.

    While you’re at it, you can continue to overrate his ML career simply because he’s off to a great start this year, despite mediocre numbers last year in just 44 games, and a total of just 328 PA’s to date. Be sure to ignore his shitty defense last year as well.

    This could be a good time for you to start the campaign for his MVP award while reminding everyone here how he’s the perfect example of why Franklin has to be called up right now.

    You make a strong case. Thanks for setting all of us straight.

  8. scraps on May 17th, 2013 10:55 am

    (Ahhhh, refreshing!)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.