2012 – The Year of the Laboratory?

There are a surprising number of experiments going on in Major League Baseball for this coming season. Players are trying out new positions, relief pitchers are trying to be starting pitchers. Heck, even the Yankees are trying to be cost conscious. Strange things are happening in a training camp near you. With all that is happening, you will need a scorecard to track all the goings on. We at MLB Dirt are happy to help. What follows are the experiments happening all over baseball plus this writer’s take on whether the lab results will be positive or negative. Here we go. Got your pencil handy?

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Ultimate Base Running added to fWAR

I was so excited to see that Fangraphs has added UBR (Ultimate Base Running) to the site and more importantly to fWAR. I have been longing for a value stat like WAR to add base running. It already has offense, defense, and positional adjustments; it was missing base running. fWAR is evolving into an even better stat and carrying more weight than almost any other metric out there.

The new addition will change most player’s seasonal fWAR totals and career totals but, as David Appleman mentions in the article, it won’t be more than 0.4 in any particular season and no more than 1.3 for a career. Oh, the stat is only from 2002 to current so it will not affect some of our all-time favorites. It is also listed as BSR in the player and leaderboard pages. Here are a few notes from some of the player pages:

**Since it’s inception in 2002 the worst base runners in the league are: Paul Konerko (-44.2), David Ortiz (-40.5), Jim Thome (-33.9), and Pat Burrell (-30.6).

**The best base runners have been: Juan Pierre (43.6), Chone Figgins (41.7), Jimmy Rollins (33.6), and Carlos Beltran (30.5).

**I am not sure how good of a base runner Babe Ruth was but I have to imagine Barry Bonds was a better one and that the fWAR totals could inch closer to each other. I would also like to see how much value it adds to greats like Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Joe Dimaggio, and Honus Wagner.

**Carlos Lee is an even worse player than we thought. He has a career -20.1 BSR and has not posted a positive BSR number since 2004.

**Carl Crawford‘s value rises even more with a career 20.3 BSR but surprisingly has a -0.7 BSR this season.

**What doesn’t Jose Bautista do well this year? He hits, fields, and apparently runs the bases well with a 1.9 BSR.

**The versatile Ben Zobrist proves to add more value with a 7.4 BSR since he became a starter in 2009.

**Nate McLouth and Alex Rios lead the league with a 2.8 BSR followed by Melky Cabrera who has a 2.7 BSR but had a -2.9 coming into the season.

**Albert Pujols is the 11th best base runner since the inception of UBR/BSR with a 20.7. The next closest first baseman is the retired Shea Hillenbrand at 6.2 then Aubrey Huff at 1.1 and Derrek Lee at 0.8. Every other current first baseman with at least 750 plate appearances is at zero or in the negative.

**Jhonny Peralta is the worst middle infielder since it’s inception with a -13.2. Jose Lopez is next with a -9.0 followed by Jeff Kent at -7.6 and Miguel Tejada at -2.5

**This will hurt players like Edgar Martinez who have a get-him-in-the-hall following. He was -17.0 in just three seasons of data and I cannot imagine him being anything better than a -30 for his career.

For more just head on over to Fangrpahs.com and go to Leaders and sort by BSR. Have fun!

-Jonathan C. Mitchell can be found writing about the Tampa Bay Rays at DRaysBay and you can follow him on twitter at @FigureFilbert

Some Early Season Yucksters

When a player has a slump or a hot streak in the middle of a season, the player has enough of a sample size to put those things in perspective. But when a player starts hot in the beginning of a season, we all notice. For example, the hot starts by Matt Kemp and Jared Weaver prompt tons of articles both admiring and cautionary. The same holds true for those who start the season so badly that the sky seems to be falling and the boos come out in droves from their hometown fans. Most of these early season victims will bounce back to near their normal career productivity. But it sure is ugly while the early season funk drags on. What follows is a few of those whose early season play has been extremely yucky.

Two players have an OPS below .400. That’s pretty hard to do. They are Brad Hawpe and Dan Johnson. Hawpe has come to symbolize the awfulness of the San Diego Padres’ offense. His dreadful slash line in 64 plate appearances: .136/.188/.186. Eww! Hawpe has a way to go before his OPS+ of 7 equals his #11 uniform number. He is nearly matched by Johnson, who at least gets covered up by other guys in the Bay Rays’ line up: .131/.185/.197 in 65 plate appearances. Johnson, a terrific and prolific power hitter in the minors just can’t seem to get his major league career going despite some heroic late inning moments the last couple of seasons. Hawpe is a mystery as he was a good player not too long ago for the Rockies. The last two years have been brutal.

There are eight players with 80 or more at bats with an OPS of under .500: Vernon Wells (.481), James Loney (.470), Alexis Rios (.466), Alcides Escobar (.476), Carl Crawford (.441), Chone Figgins (.479), Raul Ibanez (.484) and Will Venable (.476). All are batting below .200 except Escobar and Loney. Many of these players will bounce back and have fine seasons. But April will be a month they hope to soon forget.

Brent Morel and Vladimir Guerrero have combined for 154 plate appearances without taking a walk. Morel has a .458 OPS in 67 plate appearances. But even so, Ozzie Guillen is such a fan that he says Morel will be a Number 2 hitter before the All Star Break. Hmm…

Jack Cust, Jason Bartlett, Will Venable, Paul Janish and Carlos Pena have all compiled more than 70 plate appearances while only compiling one extra base hit. And Cust and Pena are power hitters. Strange. Conversely, Adam Dunn and Jorge Posada are batting .150 and .145 respectively. Ten of their eighteen combined hits have been for extra bases.

The speedy Brett Gardner is batting .145 with a .197 on base percentage. And when he does get on base, that hasn’t been working out either. He’s been thrown out stealing three times in six attempts after he was successful in 83 percent of his 56 attempts last year. Gardner has also struck out twenty times in 62 at bats. Gardner is one of four MLB players with more than 60 plate appearances with an OBP less than .200. The others are Hawpe, Johnson and Jose Lopez.

Albert Pujols and Torii Hunter both have around 100 plate appearances and both have already hit into eight double-plays. That’s a lot of outs.

We’ve been picking on the batters quite a bit. It’s time to pick on some pitchers.

Ryan Dempster, Jake Westbrook, Mike Pelfrey, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Niemann and Nelson Figueroa all have pitched at least twenty innings and have an ERA over 7.00. Combined, these pitchers have given up 117 earned runs in 139.2 innings pitched. Woof!

Javier Vazquez, Jeff Samardzija, Tim Collins, Aroldis Chapman and Jerry Blevins have pitched a combined 66.2 innings and have walked a combined 61 batters. That’s a lot of free passes.

Jake Westbrook, Mike Pelfrey, Barry Enright, Jeff Niemann, Jo-Jo Reyes, Nelson Figueroa, James McDonald, Erik Bedard, Madison Bumgarner, Casey Coleman, James Russell, Jordan Smith, Matt Maloney, Phil Hughes, Marcos Mateo and Juan Gutierrez have pitched a combined 268.1 innings and have given up a combined 389 hits. Staggering. Jordan Smith and Juan Gutierrez are the only two of those pitchers that doesn’t have an OPS+ against them of 150. That means that everyone they pitch against is a superstar.

Luke Hochevar, Armando Galarraga, Ryan Dempster and Colby Lewis have pitched a combined 111.2 innings have have already yielded a combined 33 homers. The combined homer per nine inning rate for this group is 2.67. That’s a lot of umpire waving.

And finally, Armando Galarraga, Colby Lewis, Ryan Dempster, Barry Enright and Clay Buchholz all have slugging percentages against over .550 (50 innings minimum). That is a lot of total bases.

Again, it has to be noted that many of these players will end up having good seasons. If they had bad stretches like this in the middle of the season, perhaps they would go unnoticed. But all of these players have come out of the gate heading in the wrong direction and they will have to gallop like the wind to end up where they need to be.

2011 AL West Preview

1. Texas Rangers

The Good: The Rangers are a young talented team that has emphasized pitching over offense and this group has not hit the ceiling yet. They may have one of the best offenses in the game with MVP Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz (a MVP caliber player), Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and having 3 guys to play all 8 positions and DH with David Murphy, Mike Napoli and Mr. Ranger Michael Young. Adding Adrian Beltre was a smart move because he helps improve a shoddy Rangers defense and will benefit greatly from hitting in Texas with this lineup. The Rangers have talent on the mound as well with CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Darren O’Day and Neftali Feliz.

The Bad: How does this team fare without Cliff Lee? Granted, Lee was average in the regular season with the Rangers but, he will be sorely missed. Asking to have CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis  replicate 2010, something they have never done before that, while also anchoring the rotation is the biggest key to the Rangers season. If this duo falters the Rangers are not winning this division. The bullpen has talent and plenty of nice numbers but, it needs to show more poise as they were occasionally hit up in big spots last season.

What to Look For: The balance of playing time and productivity of the Napoli-Murphy-Young trio will be interesting to watch. If RHP Tanner Scheppers and OF Engel Beltre continue to shine in the minors they could get a call up. Is Brandon Webb OK? Is he still the best sinker ball pitcher in the game? That is something to watch. Also, the learning curves of Tommy Hunter, Matt Harrison and most importantly, Derek Holland will be critical to the Rangers success.

Projection: While maybe a tick below last year’s bunch the Rangers are plenty good and could be even better. The pitching has to fall into place, like any team. It would be a wise choice not to bet against this bunch.

89-73 (1st Place)

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Good: The Angels can go toe to toe with anyone with starting pitching. Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro are a pretty safe quartet to keep you in games. Although it had some problems last year the bullpen has promise too considering it added Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs to go along with Fernando Rodney and Kevin Jepsen.

The Bad: The Angels were embarrassed in free agency this past winter and had to take on the overly bloated Vernon Wells contract. The Halos have major question marks with C Jeff Mathis and 3B Maicer Izturis. Both guys are usually bench guys with little power and are being forced into everyday roles. While it is good that the Angels are giving kids 1B Mark Trumbo and CF Peter Burjos shots at the big leagues they also need these kids to produce right away which maybe too much to ask. The Halos can only hope and wonder when 1B Kendry Morales can come back and contribute after ankle surgery. Morales is the most vital cog to the Angels offense.

What to Watch For: The Angels need top prospect C Hank Conger to make the break through to the Show sooner rather than later. The same can be said for OF Mike Trout. The outfield trio of Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu gets another year older with the same measure of offensive expectation to produce. Can they all still do it? Can Erick Aybar replicate his 2009 season or is the player we all saw last year? The bullpen while upgraded, has major issues.

Projection: Age, bullpen problems and consistent offense, not something you are used to hearing with a Mike Scioscia team. The Angels have plenty of questions but, they also have plenty of starting pitching and a good manager. If the Rangers falter don’t be too surprised to see the Angels somehow in the mix to take the AL West flag.

86-76 (2nd Place)

3. Oakland A’s

The Good: The A’s have one of the  best starting rotations in the AL when all healthy. Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden and Gio Gonzalez can confound and hold down offenses most nights. The great thing about the staff is there aren’t all the same type of pitcher each one is different and has a different wrinkle throwing offenses off.  Adding OF’s David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui was a major boost to a punchless offense. The A’s also have a very good bullpen as well with Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes, Mike Wuertz, Brad Ziegler and closer Andrew Bailey.

The Bad: The A’s offense got off the hook in 2010 because the Mariners offense was so historically bad. This team needs home runs desperately because it was powerless in 2010. The A’s have to hope the additions of Matsui, Willingham and DeJesus pay off. Also, having OF prospects Chris Carter and Michael Taylor break through to the MLB Level full time would help too.

What to Look For: If the A’s stay healthy and pitch to their potential and possibly get Rich Harden healthy throwing strikes out of the bullpen then look out, this team could win the division their pitching is that good.

Projection: A down year for the AL West means the time is ripe for the A’s to strike. This is a good team that just needs more runs to be scored. Billy Beane did a solid job upgrading this team and while they are picked here at 3rd place I think if Texas loses this division it’s more likely because the A’s win it not the Angels.

85-77 (3rd Place)

The Good: A very limited selection here. The Mariners do have the reigning CY Young Award winner who is soon to be 25 in Felix Hernandez. The Marniers also have a future Hall of Famer in Ichiro Suzuki who is good for a .310 plus batting average, 30 plus steals, 200 hundred plus hits and a Gold Glove in rightfield. The Mariners boast a pretty good defensive team as well.

The Bad: The offense was so bad last year it was epically and historically atrocious. Scary thing is the only thing the Mariners did was add Jack Cust to the everyday lineup which means a lot more of unneeded strikeouts but, some much need walks and homeruns. The Mariners desperately need 2009 years from Franklin Gutierrez and Chone Figgins not the bad 2010 years they had. The bullpen had its problems last year as well. You can add David Aardsma as a guy needed to have a year like he did in 2009 not last year. Jason Vargas and Doug Fister were OK for this rotation in 2010. It would be nice to see Erik Bedard just get on the mound in 2011 doing his Carl Pavano Yankees impression for the Mariners. This staff doesn’t have a real compliment to Felix Hernandez which is a problem.

What to Look For: The Mariners desperately need 1B Justin Smoak and LF Michael Saunders to figure it out and impact the everyday lineup immediately if this team has any expectation to be decent. You better add prospects LHP Mauricio Robles, RHP Michael Pineda and 2B Dustin Ackley to that list as well. That’s a lot of things that have to happen for things to be good this year in Seattle.

Projection: The offense couldn’t be much worse than it was in 2010 could it? Or could it be?  This is an odd year and the book says the Mariners will be 85 plus win team if you follow their past 5 years. I don’t know how they will pull that off this year but, then again no else saw them being good in 2007 and 2009 either. I don’t forsee them being a .500 or better team this year. But, then again I have been wrong many times before.

65-97 (4th Place)

2011 Fantasy Rankings – Secondbasemen

Seconbase is surprisingly deep with 3-4 category players but also deep with injury prone stars, up-and-down former All-Stars, and the ever-hopeful “breakout” player. Gonna keep this one short and skip to the rankings.

Here are my rankings for seconbasemen:

Rank Player Tier
1 Robinson Cano 1
2 Chase Utley 1
3 Ian Kinsler 1
4 Dustin Pedroia 2
5 Dan Uggla 2
6 Rickie Weeks 2
7 Kelly Johnson 3
8 Ben Zobrist 3
9 Brandon Phillips 3
10 Martin Prado 3
11 Brian Roberts 3
12 Gordon Beckham 3
13 Aaron Hill 4
14 Ryan Raburn 4
15 Howie Kendrick 4
16 Chone Figgins 4
17 Neil Walker 4
18 Mike Aviles 4
19 Tsuyoshi Nishioka 4
20 Sean Rodriguez 5
21 Placido Polanco 5
22 Ty Wigginton 5
23 Juan Uribe 5
24 Reid Brignac 5
25 Eric Young Jr. 5
26 Alberto Callaspo 5
27 Orlando Hudson 5
28 Mark Ellis 5
29 Jed Lowrie 5
30 Danny Espinosa 5
31 Carlos Guillen 6
32 Freddy Sanchez 6
33 Ryan Theriot 6
34 Omar Infante 6
35 Dustin Ackley 6

 

Three I’d Reach For Reason
Ian Kinsler Injuries always hold him back but he has potential be the #1 2B in fantasy. 30/30 in 2009.
Ben Zobrist Ugly BABIP in 2010 and could be a 20/20 guy that will contribute in 4-5 categories.
Ryan Raburn Should be a very solid 4 category play.

 

Three I’ll Let Pass Reason
Robinson Cano I see him going in the top 15 in a lot of drafts and I would rather wait on Utley, Kinsler, or Weeks.
Brandon Phillips Power and Speed dropping and he does not get on-base at a high clip. Hurts in OPS leagues.
Omar Infante Won’t hit like he did last year and does not provide much outside of AVG.

 

Top 3 Rookie 2B Reason
Tsuyoshi Nishioka Should hit for AVG and could be a double digit contributor in homers and steals.
Danny Espinosa Good power and some speed but will not hit for AVG or get on base at high clips.
Dustin Ackley Best 2B prospect should see Bigs this season.

-Jonathan C. Mitchell can be found writing about the Tampa Bay Rays at his other site Figure Filbert and on twitter at @FigureFilbert

Zero WAR Player

Carlos Quentin

The Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic has become one of the most popular sabermetrics out there and it is constantly being used more and more. It is one of my favorite stats to use, as it works great to project and compare players. A replacement level player is typically viewed as a fill in player for a starter in case of injuries, slumps, or anything along those lines. Albert Pujols had a WAR of 7.3 last year which means he was worth 7.3 wins above a replacement level player. Well what exactly is a zero WAR player? Looking up front at the stat, this kind of player was worth zero wins. They did not help or hurt their team.

To get a better grasp of what a zero WAR player is, I have put together a list of all the zero WAR players from the last 5 years with more than 300 plate appearances and included some of their other stats. (The UZR statistic is for the position that they played the most at that year)

2010

Player PA Triple-Slash wOBA UZR HR/RBI
Ryan Theriot 640 .270/.321/.312 .286 -4.3 2/29
Jorge Cantu 515 .256/.304/.392 .305 -7.2 11/56
Carlos Quentin 527 .243/.342/.479 .356 -22.9 26/87

 

2009

Player PA Triple-Slash wOBA UZR HR/RBI
Alfonso Soriano 522 .241/.303/.423 .314 -3.1 20/55
Rick Ankiel 404 .231/.285/.387 .288 -0.3 11/38
Willie Bloomquist 468 .265/.308/.355 .300 -2.1 4/29
Alex Cora 308 .251/.320/.310 .288 -1.7 1/18
Vernon Wells 684 .260/.311/.400 .314 -16.6 15/66

 

2008

Player PA Triple-Slash wOBA UZR HR/RBI
Paul Bako 338 .217/.299/.328 .274 N/A 6/35
Adam Lind 349 .282/.316/.439 .325 -6.0 9/40
Joey Gathright 315 .254/.311/.272 .280 1.7 0/22
Juan Pierre 406 .283/.327/.328 .304 -3.1 1/28

 

2007

Player PA Triple-Slash wOBA UZR HR/RBI
Wily Mo Pena 317 .253/.319/.439 .328 -6.4 13/39
Michael Barrett 367 .244/.281/.372 .280 N/A 9/41
Mike Jacobs 460 .265/.317/.458 .331 -7.5 17/54
Mike Piazza 329 .275/.313/.414 .317 N/A 8/44
J. Saltalamacchia 329 .266/.310/.422 .318 N/A 11/33
Cesar Izturis 337 .258/.302/.315 .273 2.3 0/16
Aaron Miles 449 .290/.328/.348 .301 -1.9 2/32

 

2006

Player PA Triple-Slash wOBA UZR HR/RBI
Scott Podsednik 592 .261/,330/.353 .304 3.0 3/45
Brian Anderson 405 .225/.290/.359 .277 5.7 8/33
Chone Figgins 683 .267/.336/.376 .320 -8.7 9/62

 

2005

Player PA Triple-Slash wOBA UZR HR/RBI
Michael Tucker 307 .239/.318/.362 .302 -0.7 5/36
Carl Everett 547 .251/.311/.435 .317 0.3 23/87
Omar Infante 434 .222/.254/.367 .273 -3.5 9/43

 

As we look at all of those zero WAR players over the last 5 years, there is an interesting mix of players. We have veterans well past their prime; young players beginning to emerge; journeymen playing wherever they are needed; and stars in a slumping season. One thing that caught my eye was that a large majority of these players played with two teams in those zero WAR seasons.

Looking at these players stats, you don’t get much out of a zero WAR player. If they are a decent fielder, then they seem to struggle offensively and vice-versa. It’s weird to think that these players did not help their team at all when looking at the stat. You would think there would be a better option than these players that don’t do much for the team.