Archive for November, 2009

Site news

I’ve finally realized that it makes more sense for me to post more of my Padres stuff at Friar Forecast and less here, for a couple of reasons. One, it is easier for readers to follow if there are less blogs with more writers. Consolidation. You don’t have to go to multiple blogs searching for analysis.  And, on a similar note, it should help the readership of Friar Forecast, with more frequent posts in one place, rather than split readers between the two sites. Finally, there is certainly more of an established community over there, and it is fun to interact with that readership (not to mention Daniel, Ben, and Mike).

It makes a lot of sense, but it took a few months to get through my thick head (and stubbornness). So, yeah, I’m going to be doing most of my writing over there now, and I’m excited to rejoin those guys again. I love the job Daniel and company have done since I (sort of) left. It is in more capable hands now, but I’m glad I can still contribute.

As for this place, I’m going to keep it around for more random Padres stuff, and maybe some personal notes here and there. No point in shutting it down, as I’ve apparently shown a propensity for changing my mind in the past : ) Anyway, sorry for any inconvenience, and thanks for following me all around the internet.

Should the Padres trade Kevin Kouzmanoff?

Overshadowed by the Adrian Gonzalez Trade Rumor Saga, the Padres have some other key decisions to make this offseason, like what to do with Kevin Kouzmanoff and Heath Bell. Kouzmanoff has quietly gone about his business, and posted three consecutive solid years, averaging just over 2.5 WAR per season (via FanGraphs).

His offense hasn’t taken off as expected, but at the same time he’s improved his defense. He has very much defined himself as an average to slightly above average player. Fortunately for the Padres, Kouz is under control for the next three years (arbitration eligible), making him relatively valuable.

If we do a quick-and-dirty projection, and run some numbers, we can get an estimate of his surplus value:

Kouz Proj. WAR FA Salary Proj. Salary Surplus Value
2010 2.5 $12m $5m $7m
2011 2.5 $13m $8m $5m
2012 2 $11.5m $9m $2.5m
Total 7 $36.5m $22m $14.5m

 

I’m assuming free agents make $4.8 million per marginal win, increasing at 10% per year due to inflation, and that a arb-eligible player makes 40% of his free agent value in his first year of arbitration., 60% in his second, and 80% in his third (all this based on Tangotiger’s work).

So, Kouzmanoff is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $14-15 million, in my rough estimation. Obviously, that could go up or down depending on your projection over the next three years, or what salary figures you use. We’re just getting a baseline here. Anyway, he clearly has some value, and could fill in a third base hole for a lot of teams. The question remains, though, and that is still: should the Padres look to trade him?

I think the answer is yes, and it is largely due to factors not really about Kouzmanoff. First, the Padres have Chase Headley ready to take over at third. Headley is younger than Kouzmanoff, he’s under control for an extra year, and he’s arguably just as good. Looking at the CHONE projections, for instance, Headley is projected at +6 offensive runs, while Kouzmanoff comes in at –2. Now, it is certainly a question mark whether Headley will put those numbers up for a full season, and if his fielding can compare with Kouz’s, but overall he’s a comparable player. By trading Kouz, the Padres can bring Headley back to his normal position at third, and go fill in the outfield with someone better suited to play there.

A second reason to trade Kouzmanoff is the Padres current prospects for the next few years. They really aren’t expected to compete, so a slight – or even significant – downgrade at third is not really going to matter all that much. It might give them 75 wins rather than 77, but it likely isn’t going to cost a playoff berth. The Pads can trade Kouz to a team on the playoff bubble – hopefully enticing them to overpay for his services – and make the most out of their situation. Basically, Kouzmanoff fits better on a playoff contender, and prospects are better suited for the Padres right now, as they will hopefully be ready to contribute when the Pads begin to seriously compete again.

The interesting thing here is that we could very well be having this discussion next year, surrounding Chase Headley and his potential replacements in guys like Logan Forsythe and James Darnell. The idea for the Padres here is to not worry about maximizing their expected win total in the coming season, but rather to put together a group of players that will be ready to make a run in a few years.

Early projections

2010 hitter projections are available at Rally’s BaseballProjection.com.

Fielding projections, using UZR at FanGraphs, are also out there.

No Gold Glove for Kevin Kouzmanoff

Did Kevin Kouzmanoff deserve the Gold Glove award for best NL fielding third basemen of 2009? That’s the only question I really care about. As a Padres fan, I certainly root for the Padres and their players, but when it comes to things like player analysis, I try to be as objective as possible, setting aside my Padre fandom in a search (usually, a futile one) for the truth.

The basics

Anyway, let’s compare Kouzmanoff with Ryan Zimmerman, the Washington Nationals third basemen who won the Gold Glove award. First, some basic numbers courtesy of Baseball Reference:

Player Innings Chances PO Assists E DP FP RF/9
Kouzmanoff 1186.7 311 94 214 3 24 .990 2.34
Zimmerman 1337.7 459 117 325 17 28 .963 2.97

 

Two things stand out. Kouzmanoff made a lot less errors than Zimmerman, but Zimmerman made a lot more plays. The difference in errors is important for one thing that is often overlooked: Kouzmanoff gave up very few extra bases on wild throws, while Zimmerman presumably did. However, as far as turning batted balls into outs, despite the error difference, it appears that Zimmerman is far superior, as evidenced by his 2.97 Range Factor (assists + put outs/innings *9) against Kouz’s 2.34.

Context counts

The difficult part of fielding analysis, however, is context. That is, determining truly how many opportunities each player had to make outs, because they were playing at different parks, behind different pitchers, and against different hitters. They certainly did not face the same exact set of batted balls, in such a different environment, so looking at their fielding stats, without adjustments, may serve us no good.

So, what do we want to do? We want to determine how many opportunities each player had. The Hardball Times’ RZR can help us here. Baseball Info Solutions watches video of all batted balls and determines whether or not they were in the third base zone. All other grounders are classified as out-of-zone. Here are the RZR numbers:

Player BIZ Plays RZR OOZ
Kouzmanoff 223 168 .753 34
Zimmerman 282 205 .727 101

 

BIZ—Balls in zone
Plays – Plays made on BIZ
RZR – plays/BIZ
OOZ – plays made out of zone

What we see here is that, yes, Zimmerman did have more in-zone opportunities, in part because he played more innings, and probably in part because of some differences in context (such as the Nationals and Padres respective pitching staff tendencies). We also see that Kouzmanoff made a higher percentage of plays on in-zone chances, in large part because he was so good at not making errors.

However, Zimmerman has a huge lead in out-of-zone plays, 101 to 34. Now, he also had more BIZ, so we’d assume he had more OOZ opportunities, but that doesn’t come close to making up the difference.

The more precise, the better

One of the problems with an RZR-type system is that it throws all in-zone balls into one bucket, and all out-of-zone balls into another. What if, by chance, Zimmerman had a lot of balls hit right at him, and a lot hit just outside of his zone? That would probably skew our analysis. So, we can look at something like UZR, which is more precise, cutting the third basemen’s area of responsibility into many small slices, rather than one big one (it also has adjustments for park and pitching staff and so on).

Simply put, it’s better. Last year, Zimmerman’s UZR per 150 games was 20 runs above average, a very high number. Kouzmanoff was at +10.7 RAA per 150. Obviously, a good rating, but Zimmerman clearly has the edge.

More data, please (redux)

One thing about advanced fielding stats is that we really shouldn’t look at just one year. There’s too much variability, year-to-year, to put too much reliance into a season of data. Looking at more than one year gives us a better idea about a player’s true fielding ability. Kouzmanoff, in his 418 career games at third, is about +3 RAA (per 150). Zimmerman’s RAA/150, in his 590 game career, sits at +12. Again, a relatively clear advantage to Zimm.

Scouting and the wisdom of the crowds

In fielding analysis, scouting is undoubtedly pretty valuable. I don’t have scouting reports available on either player, but just about everything I’ve ever read about Zimmerman’s fielding, from non-stathead types, has said that he’s great with the glove. Kouzmanoff, on the other hand, is more of a mixed bag, rarely ever receiving too much praise for his glove-work.

Tom Tango runs his Fans’ Scouting Report every year, in which fans rate the fielding prowess of the players they watch everyday. This year Ryan Zimmerman ranked 6th among third basemen in average rating, while Kouzmanoff came in at 13. In 2008, Zimmerman was 4th, Kouzmanoff 29th.

The Fielding Bible asks a panel of ten experts, including the likes of Bill James, James Dewan, and the BIS video scouts, to rate fielders at each position every year. Zimmerman came in first place here, while Kouz came in 11th overall. Last year: Zimmerman 9th, Kouzmanoff 12th.

A little common sense

After going through all of this, I don’t see any reason to suspect that Kouzmanoff was truly a better fielder than Zimmerman in 2009. Zimmerman’s advanced numbers were clearly superior, he has a better track record defensively, and he’s better from a scout’s perspective. Kouzmanoff had a fine year with the glove, and he’s come a long way in the fielding department in the last few years, but that doesn’t make him better than Zimmerman. A low error total doesn’t either, because we’re not looking for fielders who don’t make errors. We’re looking for fielders who make outs.

There is always that chance that he was better, though. We can never really tell for sure. The numbers could have been off five or ten runs for each player, in either direction. But, considering what we do know about both of these guys, I think it is pretty clear that Zimmerman deserved the award over Kouzmanoff. If anything, it is far from an outrageous decision.

More data, please

With the offseason upon us, there is going to be a lot of player-valuation analysis for potential free agent signings, trades, and other roster moves.

It’s a good time to mention that more data is virtually always better. I saw some chatter today where Chone Figgins was being evaluated as a 6+ WAR player. Figgins did post 6.1 WAR this year, according to FanGraphs. However, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe he is a 6 WAR player.

Prior to this year, Figgins has been worth about 2.8 WAR per 729 PAs (the number he received this year). His last four years look like this: 2.7, 0, 3.1, 2.4. Figgins is a good player, no doubt, but valuing him at 6 wins could be a major mistake. There are multiple reasons to suggest Figgins is not at that level.

1. His past performance, as mentioned above, is a good indication that this year was a bit of a “fluke.” A great season by a good player playing over his head.

2. Regression – It’s a good idea to assume that every time a player has a great season, he’s going to come back to earth a bit next year (points one and two are a bit interrelated). Consider a hypothetical player, who put up five straight 6 WAR seasons. Still, even in his case, we’d project the player at, maybe, 5 or 5.5 WAR, depending on the exact situation.

3. His age – Figgins will be 31 next year and his game revolves around, in many ways, his speed. There is a good chance that asset will be on the decline through the rest of his career.

None of this is to say that Chone Figgins can’t become a 5-6 WAR player, year in year out. He definitely could. But if we’re just looking at the numbers, and we have no special reasons to believe he’ll overcome the odds, then we’re better off taking the safer, more logical bet: That he will revert back to his old self, to some degree,  and be a ~3-4 WAR player going forward.

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