Rui Xu

Over at Fangraphs, with the help of Dan Szymborski, they’ve finally rolled out their Rest of Season ZiPS Update, along with a final season update of the end-of-season numbers.  I’ve compiled all of the Cardinals hitters’ numbers in the spreadsheet below (y’know, with a protractor in my mother’s basement) with some notes below:

Click to embiggen

For those who don’t know how these work, Dan takes the players’ numbers-to-date, which are “in the books,” and regresses them to his true talent projections to get the “rest of season” numbers.  Then he adds those rest of season numbers to the players’ numbers-to-date to get the final statistics.  For example, he thinks that Colby has outperformed his true talent up until now, so Colby’s rest of season numbers are .268/.349/.450 instead of the .375/.464/583 he’s hit so far.  However, since those 56 PA are already in the books, they get added onto 533 PA of .268/.349/.450 ball to get his final line of .278/.360/.463. Also note that the projections assume that each player plays full time.

Notes, in bulleted format:

  • Pujols’ end of season wOBA would be the lowest of his career
  • I would love Berkman’s final line, though I would probably take the over on his OBP. Anecdotally, he looks like classic Berkman so far this season
  • Give me a firm over on Theriot’s numbers. I think the walk rate so far this season is for real, and would guess that .350 would be the 50% mark for his OBP
  • Yadier Molina’s line looks almost EXACTLY like his 2010 line. 2010: .262/.329/.342. 2011: ..263/.329/.348
  • Holliday’s projection baffles me.  I understand that ZiPS projects an aging curve, but he projects a .317/.388/.543 career hitter to hit .297/.378/.494 for the rest of the season. Looking at the numbers, it’s almost entirely attributed to a regression in BABIP (.329 vs a career .344), so I understand why the projection sees Holliday this way. Still, for a player who hits the ball as hard as consistently as Holliday does, I could see him being a true talent .335-.340 BABIP guy.
  • I love Colby Rasmus. He’s a Fire Burning in the Outfield. That is all.

I’ll be traveling for the next few days, but I’ll try and get to the pitchers when I get a chance.

According to a team press release, Matt Holliday is scheduled to under an appendectomy procedure that will sideline him anywhere from 2-6 weeks.  As a frame of reference, though, Matt Cassel underwent a similar procedure and returned in 11 days, and Andres Torres did the same and returned in 12 days.  Let’s be cautiously optimistic and say that Holliday will be out 15 days.

Now, the obvious candidate to replace him is Allen Craig, who has done nothing but mash in the minor leagues.  Jon Jay may find some playing time as well, but since the Cardinals seem to be going for an offense-first approach this season, let’s assume that Craig gets the bulk of the playing time.  The obvious question is: What is the marginal downgrade from Holliday to Craig, and what does it do for our playoff chances?

Let’s assume a couple of things:

  • Matt Holliday is a 6.0 WAR player over 162 games
  • Allen Craig is a 2.5 WAR player over the same amount of games and plate appearances
  • Holliday will only be out about 15 days

If these assumptions hold true, then Holliday is worth about .56 WAR over 15 games, while Craig is worth about .23 WAR.  According to Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections, the Cardinals are an 86 win-team (which would lead the National League Central).  If this injury bumps the Cardinals from an 86 win team to an 85.75 win team, then according to danmerqury at Athletics Nation, that would change the playoff probability (this is without context and empirical; an 86 win team in the NL Central in 2011 is much, much more likely to make the playoffs than his prediction accounts for.  BP’s contextual playoff odds are here) from about 16.8% to 15.4%.  For comparison, the Brewers are projected for 85 wins, which would have a 12% chance of making the playoffs, and the Reds are projected for 82 wins, which has a 4% chance of making the playoffs.

No matter what, this injury (assuming it’s not worse than it is. Which, given past Cardinals injuries, might be a stretch) has a marginal effect on our playoff odds, and given the high variance associated with 15 game sample sizes, might even improve our playoff odds.  It does make the margins slimmer and more uncomfortable; having 86 wins compared to the Brewers’ 85 are a lot more comfortable to 85.75.  Ultimately, though, the margins are the only thing that changes; we are still the favorites to win the NL Central

Photo by Rafael Amado©

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No doubt, many many words have been written about Albert Pujols, and many metaphorical inkwells have been spilt over the issue (In fact, robot tweeter azruavatar even went as far to say, “Somewhere amidst all us monkeys typing words about Albert Pujols, you can probably find a work of Shakespeare”).  In some cases, Pujols has been cast as Iago; in others, Bill DeWitt and John Mozaliak are the villain.  In any case, I hope that nobody minds if I add a few more.

Pujols’ self-imposed deadline has come and passed with no update, ostensibly to join the free agent market in October. This, I argue, is the most rational point of view from both sides of the negotiation.

From Pujols’ point of view, the benefits of joining free agency are obvious.  Right now, Albert and Lozano value themselves higher than the Cardinals do; they feel that if they get to the open market, they will receive more money than the Cardinals are offering right now.  With more bidders, comes a higher demand for his services, which raises his asking price.  He doesn’t stand to gain anything by signing a lower contract now, because if his market is lower than anticipated in October, then he just signs the same offer later with no real repercussions.

From the team’s point of view, however, they just want to sign Albert to a contract that does not hamper the Cardinals’ ability to stay competitive for the next 10 years.  As of right now, they are competing against one price point and one price point only: the bad Alex Rodriguez contract.  Should he hit free agency, they would add the free market as another comparison point.  There are two outcomes in this scenario: the market is not as strong as Pujols believes and he signs with the Cardinals for less than he is asking now, or the market is just as strong as Pujols believes, and they either increase the value of their offer or he signs with another team.  Their worst case scenario is the same as it currently stands, but their best case scenario could save them tens of millions of dollars.

Ultimately, both sides of the negotiation are acting precisely as they should be in the situation; neither of them stand to gain anything by compromising now, and both stand to gain quite a bit by seeing how the market values Albert Pujols.  To me, there are no greedy parties; there are just two rational actors.

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Matt Holliday

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A couple of weeks ago over at VivaElBirdos, I got into a discussion with Nick Steiner (vivaelpujols) about the Matt Holliday trade where the Cardinals gave up Brett Wallace (now of the Astros), Clay Mortensen (now of the Rockies), and Shane Peterson, who somewhat surprisingly is the only one of the three to still remain with the Athletics.

Nick is adamant that the trade was a bad one. In fact, according to our own Erik Manning’s analysis, we gave up $28.7 million of value while only receiving $13.5 million in return, which clearly indicates the the Cardinals were on the losing side of the deal

I believe in Erik’s analysis. I fully believe that the numbers are more or less correct, and that the methodology is sound.  What I do NOT believe in, however, is that the trade was a bad one for the Cardinals.  In an isolated vacuum, with the only information being 1) What value we received and 2) What value we supplied, then Nick would win the proverbial internets.  However, I theorize that if every single other team engages in the very same kinds of trades that the Cardinals engaged in when they traded for Matt Holliday, then the Cardinals got fair value.

I took a look at several other prospect-for-veteran trades that happened over the past couple of years.  I omitted a couple of trades (Namely, the Greinke-Escobar trade, Teixeira-Kotchman trade, and the Haren-Saunders trade) because the main pieces for the trade swere not prospects; they were already fairly established Major Leaguers.  I then found analyses of the trades around the internet, who used Victor Wang’s trade values to evaluate.  I used their analysis rather than mine because it’s very difficult  in hindsight: I have more information on the trades now than when they occured, so I’m biased, and I also do not know the context in which the trades were made.  Here’s what I found:

Over at The Hardball Times, Myron Logan took a look at the trade this past season that sent Cliff Lee over to Texas for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, and Matt Lawson.  In order to gauge Cliff Lee’s value, Logan found Lee’s surplus performance value ((WAR projected * $/WAR)-(Salary)), then added on the playoff bonus (How much more likely they are to make the playoffs * $35 million projected value of making the playoffs), and compensatory pick value ($6 million).  To get the prospect-side value, he used Victor Wang’s prospect values, which can be seen here. In the end, he concluded that the prospects provided about $28 million of value while Cliff Lee provided only about $17.2, which is a ratio of 1.627.

Using similar methodologies, USS Mariner also analyzed the prior Cliff Lee trade, which sent him to the Mariners in exchange for Tyson Gillies, Phillipe Aumont, and JC Ramirez.  Ultimately, Dave Cameron concluded that the Mariners received about $25 M in value while giving up $15.3 in return, for a ratio of .612

That deal was actually part of a “three-way deal” that sent Halladay from the Blue Jays to the Phillies in exchange for Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor (since traded for Brett Wallace), and Travis D’Arnaud. Dan at Beyond the Boxscore took a look at that trade (kind of… the trade hadn’t finalized yet, so the pieces changed.  I substituted the new players in and recalculated the values myself) and found that Roy brought $29 million of value to the Phillies while they gave up $46.5 million, for a ratio of 1.60

Finally, 4parl took a look at the Adrian Gonzalez-to-the-Red-Sox trade that netted the Padres Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Raymond Fuentes, and PTBNL (not counted in the analysis).  They concluded that the Red Sox received $21 million in acquiring Gonzalez while giving up $33.2 million, for a ratio of 1.58

If we average all of these out (including the Matt Holliday trade, which had an unfortunate ratio of 2.13 according to Erik’s numbers), we get a prospect value to veteran value of 1.52.* I know it’s a small sample size, but there just aren’t that many trades of this nature that occur, so I’ll be sure to add on to the study as more trades happen.

*Holy crap the Phillies got fleeced in the Cliff Lee trade.  While we found the average ratio to be 1.52, they got almost 2.5 times LESS value than the other teams who performed similar trades.  Also of note is the return that the Mariners got on the Cliff Lee.  They basically bought a house for $100,000, lived in it for 3 months, and then sold it for $250,000.

The big question is: What accounts for the difference?  In my eyes, there are simply two possibilities (Hey, look at the title!).  Let’s discuss them:
1) Market Inefficiency
Like when Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill were off acquiring high-OBP guys for pennies on the dollar, these prospect-for-veteran trades represent a market inefficiency in baseball.  GMs are continuously practicing self-destructive behavior in not properly valuing prospects, and teams are suffering for it long-term.  I think it’s clear by the tone of this paragraph that I don’t believe that this is the case.

2) Just the Market
There are several justifiable reasons why there exists a 1.5 ratio between prospect value and veteran value
  • Current WAR is more valuable than future WAR – As Dave Cameron notes (in a quote, halfway through the article), “Wins now lead to more fans, more revenue, and more chances to invest in the future.” This statement is just a simple derivative of the financial axiom that a dollar today is more valuable than a dollar tomorrow.
  • Baseball owners are risk averse – We sometimes forget that the WAR projections are simply the mean projection for the player; what’s often glossed over is the reliability/variance of the projections.  Owners, in effect, are paying a risk premium in order to acquire a player who is more likely to reach or attain their projections.
  • Traded prospects are lemons – I’ll do a post on this separately later, but nobody has more information on a prospect than the team trading him.  According to Keith Law (insider required), the problems with Brett Wallace’s swing are unfixable.  It’s possible that the Cardinals knew that, and traded him while his value was at its highest.

Going back to my argument with Nick, it seems that we were both partially right.  I was correct in that almost all teams (but especially the rich ones) engage in trades like this, and there are specific reasons that they do.  Nick was right that even considering other teams make these types of trades, the Holliday acquisition STILL seems like bad value with a 2.13 ratio.  It looks good in hindsight, but the Cardinals gave up about $7 million too much in value.

At the time of writing, we are currently 14 days away from Pitchers and Catchers reporting, so I thought that it would be fitting to take a glance at the current iteration of the Cardinals’ roster.  Our 25-man roster is pretty set, barring injury, so I wanted to put together a roster matrix for you all to see; however, I thought it would be neat to take a different, graphical approach to the exercise.

Over at VivaElBirdos, FreeRedbird posted a fairly standard roster matrix (As of Nov 15, 2010, so without Berkman, Theriot, Punto, and Tallet, basically), which denotes player, year, and salary.  Also, over at the ever-useful Cot’s Contracts, they have a Google Spread of the Cardinals’ 2011-2016 roster obligations, which goes a bit more in depth, including major league service time, agents, etc.  I compiled all the relevant information into my own updated roster matrix, which I posted in a link under the graph

Next, I converted all of the salaries into WAR by dividing the 2011 salaries by 4.5 million $/WAR and I got the 2012-2016 salaries by assuming an 8% inflation rate each year.  Therefore, the market rate for $/WAR for 2012 was assumed to be 4.86, 5.5 for 2013, etc.  When the younger players hit arbitration, I used historical comps to guess at an accurate number for them.  Thus, on the left side of each year in the graph, you have “Paid-for WAR” or “WAR on the books”

For the right side of each year in the graph, I took the Fangraphs Fan’s projections for 2011, and inserted them directly into the graph.  Then, I applied somewhat of an arbitrary aging curve on each player, based on a combination of age, logic, and my own intuition.  Playing time was a challenge, so I did my best to objectively determine how much players like Allen Craig and Jon Jay would play in 2016 (about equal amounts, for what it’s worth). Therefore, the right side of each year in the graph is “Projected WAR”

What we end up with, is this (Click to Enlarge):

(If you care, the table for the graph is here.  The formatting is terrible because that’s the only way I could get the bar graph both stacked and clustered like it is)

Notes and Musings:

  • Assuming an all-replacement level team would win 45.5 games, then the Fangraphs fans project us right at around 93 wins.  I’m guessing that that number is slightly optimistic, so I think a range of 87-93 wins for the 2011 Cardinals is about right
  • The Matt Holliday contract looks really good with this system, with the team having surplus value every single year of his contract.  I don’t necessarily think that will hold true, but the contract definitely looks better right now than it did when we signed him.  With 2010 already “in the books,” when determining cost/benefit of the contract as a whole, and seeing the contracts paid out this offseason, I think we did the right thing.
  • It looks like we have about 77 wins on the roster (while paying market value for about 14 wins) for 2012.  If we resign Pujols, that will bump us up to about 84 with 8 spots left on the roster, which I think leaves the Cardinals in good shape, competitively, if they’re willing to bump payroll up a little bit and don’t just replace those 8 spots with replacement-level guys.
  • About half of the projected WAR in 2012 are coming from cost-controlled players, which is exactly the kind of trend that needs to continue if we resign Albert.
  • Wainwright’s contract is awesome.  Lohse’s contract sucks.

Yes, we all know that batting average, as a value stat, is a terrible indicator of a player’s worth, but I think it’s still one of the first things that we glance at when we look at a player’s Baseball Reference or Fangraphs page.  One thing that makes BA fun is its day-to-day fluctuations and how that influences the season’s-end BA.  No season’s-end .312 hitter hit .312 every single day.  It’s a random distribution of 0/3 days and 4/4 days and 2/5 days that creates a .312 hitter. That’s what I wanted to take a look at.

For today’s graph, I took Pujols’ individual day BA’s from his Game Log over at Sports Illustrated and his season-to-date BA from his Batting Game Log at Baseball Reference, and constructed a simple line graph in Excel.
Warning: This picture is biggggggg.  It’ll stretch the screen a little bit, and I apologize, but there’s a lot of data

Click to enlarge

What does this tell us?  Well… not a whole lot.  The scale of the Y-axis is something I fought myself for awhile on; While I wanted to capture the entire spread of the individual day BA (So, from 0.00 to 1.00), that minimizes the visual impact on how much the season-to-date BA fluctuates.  For example, during a two week stretch in late July, Pujols’ batting average fell from .310 to .295, which is pretty significant.  The graph shows it only as a slight, innocuous drop.

Just looking at the graph, and knowing Albert as a hitter, I’m guessing that Albert’s BA stabilizes more quickly than other hitters.  Anecdotally, Colby Rasmus seems like a player who has rather large fluctuations in BA in relatively short periods of time, so I’ll be sure to look at him in a future post and compare him to Albert.  For now, though, enjoy this graph!

Steve’s note: We’d like to welcome Rui on board here at Gas House Graphs. We think he’ll be a valuable edition to the group as he tries to incorporate infographics, which are popping up all over sabermetrics, into the site.

For my introductory post, I thought that I’d keep it simple; I went through Baseball Almanac’s “Opening Day” page, created an Excel file of all the Opening Day lineups the Cardinals have seen throughout the Aughts (Hey, we’re in the slight-less-awkward-to-say Teens now!), and created a heat map of sorts to visualize which positions have seen the most turnover.  Then I added a completely unnecessary Arch (for the St. Louisness, you see) simply due to the fact that Photoshop is a skill that has eluded me throughout the years that I hope to improve on in the future.  Hopefully over the next couple of weeks, the graphs will start looking more like Justin Bopp’s, and less like a 14-year-old Rui playing on MS Paint in Biology class

Click image to enlarge

To nobody’s surprise, our catchers, first basemen, and center fielders have been incredibly consistent, mostly due to the effectiveness of Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, and Jim Edmonds.  Second base has been a notorious turnstile in Cardinals nation, but actually isn’t the position that has seen the most turnover; that honor belongs to right field.  With nine different players (as opposed to three each for catchers and first basemen) occupying the position on Opening Day in ten years, the Cardinals have seen the likes of Bobby Bonilla, JD Drew, Eli Marrero, Reggie Sanders, Larry Walker, the immortal Preston Wilson, current 2B Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick attempt to lock up right to no avail.

2011, unfortunately, doesn’t offer much hope in terms of right field stability.  A 10th player in 11 years, Lance Berkman, is signed to a one year contract and the future beyond him is murky.  Allen Craig or Jon Jay could try and hold the spot throughout the remainder of their cost-controlled years, but neither of them are sure-fire starters in the Major Leagues.  I would anticipate even more turnover at the position in the future, unless Matt Holliday makes the permanent switch there.

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