Atlanta Braves Fire General Manager Frank Wren

Atlanta Braves Fire General Manager Frank Wren

Recently, the Atlanta Braves fired their GM, Frank Wren. The move came after being swept in New York by the Mets1. It was a particularly embarrassing sweep, too, because the Braves scored only 4 runs in 3 games2. This officially eliminated the Braves from playoff contention, which prompted the team to make the move.

The Braves are going to finish the season below .500 for the first time since 2008. Considering they were supposed to contend for the division, this obviously was a very disappointing result. The team did lose Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery before the season began, and Gavin Floyd after only 9 starts, but that only explains a small part of their underwhelming performance.

Under Wren’s tenure, the Braves have been a good, competitive team. They averaged 91 wins a season from 2009-2013, a run that also included three playoff appearances. Unfortunately, they also never won a playoff series and endured epic collapses in 2011 and this season. Wren was no Kevin Towers or Ruben Amaro Jr., but in a time when GMs are getting smarter and smarter, he failed to keep up.

Let’s start off with Wren’s successes. During his time as GM, he was responsible for drafting Andrelton Simmons, Evan Gattis, Craig Kimbrel, and Christian Bethancourt3. The trade for Justin Upton was lauded at the time, and rightfully so. He only gave up a declining Martín Prado in return for a solid offensive contributor. Upton was good for a 128 wRC+ last season and a 131 wRC+ this season. Wren also locked up Simmons to a team-friendly deal that I loved. I’m not as big a fan of the Freddie Freeman deal, but it’s not bad, and at least it’s backloaded.

Wren, unfortunately, failed more often than he succeeded. To be clear, I’m not talking about factors beyond his control such as injuries or anything involving bad luck. I’m talking about moves that he should’ve known better than to have made. The Braves GM made some terrible signings and extensions the past few years, which is only exasperated by the fact that the Braves don’t have much money to spend due to having a bad TV contract. Obviously, low-budget teams have to be especially careful with their big free agent signings, or risk spending years with an onerous contract clogging the payroll.

Let’s start with Dan Uggla. He was signed to a 5-year, $62 million deal going into the 2011 season. On one hand, he had just come off a great season for the Marlins, having hit .287/.369/.508 with 33 HR and 4.3 WAR. On the other hand, he was a 31-year old second baseman being given 5 years. Being a big guy, he was already a below average defender at the position. That, combined with how poorly second basemen age, made this contract a very risky proposition, regardless of how well he had performed the year before. For whatever reason, everybody seemed to understand this except Wren. Sure enough, it turned out to be just as bad, if not worse, than predicted. In his first 3 seasons in Atlanta, he was only league average offensively with a 102 wRC+, and a disaster defensively. During that time span he totaled -1.9 defensive WAR (dWAR). Then this season he just completely fell apart. Uggla hit an unspeakably bad .149/.229/.213 for a 28 wRC+. A 28 wRC+! He was only 28% of a league average hitter! That looks like a pitcher’s offensive numbers! The Braves decided to make the difficult but correct decision to cut him, even though he still has 1 more year on his contract. It’s like what I said about Ryan Howard: You can either pay him to hurt your team or you can pay him to not hurt your team.

Then there’s the now infamous B.J. Upton, recipient of the biggest contract the Braves ever gave to a free agent. Analysts seemed to be cautiously optimistic about the deal, at least in general. I, however, seriously disliked the deal, though I never expected Upton to be this bad. He had 2 very good seasons in 2007 and 2008, hitting .286/.384/.452 with a 125 wRC+ over that span. The following 4 seasons would find Upton having difficulty getting on base. During his last 4 seasons on the Rays, he hit .242/.316/.420, making him a slightly below average hitter at a 96 wRC+. Worse yet, Wren signed him to that big deal after a .298 OBP season.

Living in Boston, I got to watch Upton a lot facing the division rival Red Sox. He didn’t exactly give 100% all the time, which is probably what led to his inconsistency and struggles. You might remember the time that Upton dogged it on a ball hit to him, which led to him having to be held back while Evan Longoria gave him a piece of his mind. This leads to the fact that Upton clearly took plays off in the outfield. People were crediting him for being a good defender when he signed that big deal, but I never saw it. To me, he always appeared to be a lazy outfielder who didn’t know how to effectively use his speed. The defensive metrics bear this out, too. He never had a DRS above zero, and had a whopping -19 DRS in 2010! UZR was friendlier to him, but overall it did not paint him as a good defensive center fielder.

B.J. Upton had shown in his career what his upside could be, but in the years leading up to free agency, his performance was too erratic to believe we’d ever see a 4 WAR Upton again. I would love to know what Wren and his scouts were seeing that made them think that giving Upton a 5-year, $75 million deal was a good idea. It’s funny that Rays fans were happy to see him go, as they seemed to be in agreement with my evaluation of him.

I doubt that Upton’s biggest detractors predicted he’d be this bad. He has been one of the worst position players in baseball during his time in Atlanta, hitting .197/.278/.311 during that span for a -2.3 WAR. A low-budget team paying $15 million a year for a sub-replacement level player is a complete and utter disaster. No doubt that this was a significant factor in Wren’s dismissal.

Wren also handed out some questionable extensions. During the offseason, he gave Craig Kimbrel a 4-year, $42 million extension that will keep him on the team through 2017, with a team option for 2018. I’ve gone over time, and time again as to why giving a relief pitcher a long-term deal is a bad idea. With failures of the Uggla and Upton deals, it is absolutely critical that Kimbrel doesn’t fail, too. Well, so far, so good. Kimbrel has turned in a season that is roughly identical to last year’s. According to Brooks Baseball, his fastball hasn’t lost any velocity, nor has his curveball lost any movement. Given all this information, I’m optimistic that Kimbrel can turn in another dominant performance next season. But what about the two seasons after?

Even if the Kimbrel deal works out, I would call it a case of bad process, good results. Kimbrel could’ve helped the Braves so much more by getting traded. The assets he would’ve brought back combined with the money it would’ve freed up could’ve been so much more helpful to the Braves. As I’ve said in the past, there’s always some GM that is either foolish enough or desperate enough to overpay for a proven closer. Just look at how poorly the Braves hit this season. As a team, the Braves hit just .241/.305/.361. Their .297 wOBA was the fourth worst in all of baseball. The Braves didn’t need an elite closer, they needed an offense. The fact that Wren chose a closer over one or two position players, and gave that closer to one of the worst bullpen managers in baseball (more on him shortly), only makes matters worse.

Early this season, Wren also gave Chris Johnson a 3-year, $23.5 million extension. It’s not for much money, but I don’t see the point, and Wren can’t be signing players to high risk deals after the Uggla and Upton disasters. Johnson himself has always been an anomaly. Going into this season, Johnson had a career .361 BABIP, including a .394 BABIP last season. Those BABIP numbers are extremely high. They’re even higher than Miguel Cabrera’s. Johnson does hit a lot of line drives, but that doesn’t explain the crazy numbers we’re seeing here. To be fair, one could argue that Johnson could sustain that kind of batted ball luck given how long he had already done so. However, I don’t believe it was reasonable to believe that. That BABIP was just way, way too high, and furthermore, it didn’t pass the eye test. Johnson is also a terrible defensive 3rd baseman. He has a career -60 DRS and -45.9 UZR. Why Wren signed such a poor fielding 3rd baseman whose batted ball luck was the equivalent of winning the lottery multiple times, is perplexing.

Sure enough, the regression monster struck Johnson. He still had a high .345 BABIP, but he only hit .263/.293/.362 with a pitiful 82 wRC+. He was a below replacement level player at -1.3 WAR. That’s actually the lowest WAR on the Braves team this season, which is saying a lot considering they have B.J. Upton. Just 2 more years to go on a player that’ll be lucky to be replacement level.

According to Keith Law in a recent online chat, Wren was difficult to work with and did a poor job with the hires he made in key roles in the organization. I don’t know the specifics, but could that explain the team’s disappointing farm system? What about the lack of ability to develop good hitters? Sure, Freeman worked out, and so has Gattis to a certain degree, but other homegrown talents haven’t. Simmons should’ve taken a step forward this season given his age and contact rates, but he’s actually taken a step backwards. Jason Heyward has been especially disappointing. His monster defense is holding him up right now, but his power is far below expectations. A SLG of below .400 is unacceptable coming from him. The team’s offense as a whole declined precipitously since Wren removed Terry Pendleton from his role as the hitting coach in 2010, though they did bounce for one year in 2013.

Braves manager Fredi González was Wren’s worst hire of all. He was an atrocious manager. His lineups were awful, his in-game tactics were awful, and his bullpen management was awful. Batting players like B.J. Upton and Andrelton Simmons second in the lineup is indefensible. The excessive bunting alone is a fireable offense. When will managers learn that giving away outs doesn’t win you games? Any other profession would not tolerate such willful ignorance of the advancements in its field. No doubt that this is a factor in the Braves declining offense. You can’t score runs when you’re giving away outs, and you can’t develop hitters when you’re telling them not to hit. Finally, I’ll mention for the umpteenth time how Fredi doesn’t know how to use his elite closer. He continues to let Kimbrel rot in the bullpen during high leverage situations late in the game if it isn’t a save situation. Remember, he did this in the playoff game last season that resulted in the Braves getting eliminated. The team was in trouble in the 8th inning and Fredi never brought in Kimbrel, instead choosing to hold him for a save situation. Well, the save situation never came because that decision cost them the game. Kimbrel never ended up coming in, and boy was he ticked off about it.

To top everything off, Fredi never had a logical explanation for any of his asinine decisions. It was always some BS or defensive explanation, not unlike the kinds you hear from Ned Yost or Ron Washington. If you don’t have a logical explanation for doing what you’re doing, then don’t do it.

This is the man who Wren hired to manage his team. He never chose to fire him. He never even chose to hold him accountable for any of his decisions. When a manager keeps screwing up like Fredi has, eventually it falls on the GM for continually letting him hurt the team.

Frank Wren was able to field a competitive team for most of his tenure while making a few good moves here and there. That just wasn’t enough to overcome all the bad decisions that have put the Braves in a difficult position for the next few years at least.


  1. Yes!!! 
  2. Yes again!!! 
  3. I know he’s not hitting right now, but he has the potential to be an elite defensive catcher. He already has an 80 arm. 

Baseball Reactions (9-19-2014)

On Sunday, Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon was ejected for making an obscene gesture towards the hometown fans. The ejection was made by arguably the game’s most famous umpire (which is a terrible thing to be), Joe West, who for once made the correct decision because it was the right thing to do, and not to grab headlines.

Papelbon came up in the 9th inning for the 3-run save, which is a complete waste of his talents. To make it worse, it was against the bottom of the Marlins lineup. Any major league quality reliever is capable of holding on to a 3-run lead, especially against the bottom of the lineup. Pitchers have bad days, sure, but that’s a situation that any reliever should succeed at consistently. Putting in your $13 million closer in such a low leverage situation is poor bullpen management. I’m sure you can guess why manager Ryne Sandberg chose to put him in the game. He was managing to a stat. He felt that he had to give Papelbon a shiny new Save!

Before I get further into what happened, it should be noted that Papelbon is secretly having an excellent season. He has a 2.10 ERA and 2.57 FIP. Amazingly, that’s almost exactly what some of the projections systems predicted for him going into this season. His strikeout rate is a little below his career norm, but at least his walk rate has been consistent. He has had a fair amount of luck factor into that performance, however. His .244 BABIP against batters faced is unsustainable and won’t continue into next year. He’s also enjoying a flukishly low HR/FB rate of 2.8%. That’s 4.1% lower than his career rate. If we look at his xFIP, which normalizes FIP to a league average HR/FB rate, it comes out to 3.53. That’s one run higher than his FIP. To be clear, he has been good this season, just not nearly as good as his peripherals would suggest.

Unfortunately for Papelbon, Sunday was just not his day. He gave up 4 runs to give the Marlins the lead and who would go on to win the game. Phillies fans were understandably irate at their high-priced closer turning in such a poor performance, so they let him hear it. On his way back to the dugout, Papelbon responded by making an obscene gesture. As somebody who watched Papelbon for years here in Boston, I have a good understanding of his fiery personality, and what he did didn’t surprise me in the least. That fiery personality drove him to get right in West’s face over the ejection. West understandably got very agitated too, so he grabbed Papelbon’s jersey in attempt to push him away.

Joe West rightfully ejected Papelbon. People bring their kids to baseball games and it should be a family friendly environment. MLB was also right to suspend Papelbon for seven games because of the gesture and for accidentally bumping West. West himself was suspended one game for putting his hand on a player.

I strongly disagree with West’s punishment. It just isn’t consistent at all with what players get for making contact with an ump. Players get multi-game suspensions just for accidental contact with an umpire. West purposely made contact with Papelbon and got just one game. Now to be clear, I completely support the rule. Umpires and players should not be allowed to touch each other during an argument. It’s necessary in order to protect both sides. What I don’t support, is West getting lenient punishment when compared to the precedent MLB has set, and it has nothing to do with the fact that West is a terrible, showboating ump.

My objection comes from the belief that even the worst players in baseball are 1000 times more important than the best umps. The players are who the fans come to see. The only time we’re paying attention to an ump is when he sucks at his job. Giving preferential treatment to an ump is baffling.

Umpires seem to have a strong union, but no doubt that some of that is the result of the gutless Bud Selig. Hopefully things will change once Rob Manfred takes over, but I won’t hold my breath. If I were the commissioner, I would’ve told West, “You’re suspended 10 games for touching a player. Do it again and I’ll make it half a season. Don’t ever forget how replaceable you are. It’s a million times harder to find a guy good enough at baseball to play in a major league game than it is to find a guy who can officiate one.”


The crash and burn of the Oakland A’s has been well publicized. Going into August, the team was 66-41 with the best run differential in baseball by a wide margin. Having gotten sick and tired of early playoff exits, GM Billy Beane made the right decision to go all in by acquiring Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija. Things were looking good for the A’s to lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs and maybe even finally win Beane that elusive World Series championship. Since the Lester trade, the A’s have gone a woeful 17-28. They’ve already lost the division to the Angels, and are right now fighting for their playoff lives. Fangraphs currently have the A’s projected at having an 89.5% chance at getting a Wild Card slot, but they’re only 1 game in front of the Mariners for the second slot.

Jonah Keri wrote a comprehensive break down of the A’s collapse here, so if you want all the details, and enjoy an excellent writer in the process, then I encourage you to read it. Basically what happened is the offense died. Leading up to the trade deadline, the A’s as a team had been hitting .253/.329/.405. Since then, the A’s have hit a paltry .223/.294/.336. Those big trades that Beane made which were supposed to assure a deep playoff run may end up being what gets the A’s into the playoffs at all.

The popular belief as to what happened to the A’s offense is that they made a mistake trading Yoenis Céspedes.  This season during his time in Oakland, Céspedes hit .256/.303/.464, good for a 115 wRC+. In his first month in Boston, Céspedes hit .276/.297/.457, which is remarkably similar to his career numbers. That’s only a 106 wRC+. (The reason why his wRC+ in Boston is a little worse than it was in Oakland, despite having similar numbers, is that wRC+ adjusts for ballpark effects. Fenway Park is a very hitter friendly ballpark while the Al Davis Memorial Dump Coliseum is the complete opposite.) So why did so many journalists and analysts draw this conclusion? Because of teh RBIz. He drove 22 runs in August, as if that means anything.

Blaming Oakland’s offensive woes on Céspedes is narrative crap. It’s lazy, ignorant analysis. Céspedes is a good player who has been worth 4.1 WAR this season. He hits for a ton of power but has one major weakness: Getting on base. He has an OBP of only .300 this season. Losing that kind of player just isn’t going to make that big of a difference, especially when he’s replaced by a platoon of Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes. If the A’s had traded away Barry Bonds in his prime it still wouldn’t have this kind of impact. I know people don’t like to hear this, but even an elite baseball player doesn’t make that big of a difference. An elite basketball player or an elite skill position football player can transform a terrible team, but it just doesn’t work that way in baseball.


Speaking of narrative crap, a lot of being made of the A’s collapse, as well as that of the Brewers. You want to know a little secret? It’s all meaningless. The only thing that matters is the record after the season ends. You could say that a team’s record is like a state function. It doesn’t matter how you get there once you’re there. If a team finishes at .500, it doesn’t matter if they alternated wins and losses all season long. It doesn’t matter if they win every game in April, lose every game in May, win every game in June, and so on. It doesn’t matter if they went undefeated in the first half and winless in the second half, or vice versa. The only thing these kind of streaks and good or bad runs affect is the narrative.

A team has a weak first half and a strong second half and it’s said that they’re now rising to the occasion and playing their best baseball when it matters most. They’re said to have a lot of momentum, even though there’s no such thing1 . A good first half and a bad second half, like what’s happening with the A’s and Brewers, means they’re choking under the pressure which results in rushes to judgment on who or what to blame. It’s fallacious post-hoc analysis, which is where a lot of narrative nonsense comes from.

Part of the reason that the media pushes these second half narratives is so that they can push another narrative: Using second half performances to predict playoff success. They say a “hot” team is predicted to do well in the playoffs because they have all the momentum. Conversely, a struggling team, again like the A’s and Brewers, is predicted to do poorly in the playoffs since they’re tired and weak and drained and demotivated from scraping by. When you hear or read stuff like this, please know that people are just making stuff up. It has been proven time and time again that second half performance has zero predictive value in forecasting playoff performance. This has been most recently shown by David Cameron on a piece he wrote for Fox on Just a Bit Outside that is well worth your time if you don’t believe me.


José Abreu is having a special year for the Chicago White Sox. He’s hitting .319/.382/.594 with 35 HR, a 167 wRC+, and 6.3 Offensive WAR (oWAR)2.  The Chicago White Sox look like geniuses for having signed him.

The reason why I’m bring up Abreu is that his performance is a tale of two halves. In the first half of the season, he hit .292/.342/.630 for a .410 wOBA. In the second half, he hit a whopping .361/.442/.535 for a .424 wOBA. He demonstrated some monster power but it came at the expense of his OBP. A .342 OBP is fine, but nothing special. Going into the second half, it’s almost as if somebody explained to him why it’s more important to get on base than it is to hit for power. Considering how well that organization has been run in recent years, that wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

It would seem that Abreu has decided to become a more selective hitter, and boy has it paid off. His focus on getting on base has greatly affected his power, going from a Ruthian .339 ISO, to a more modest .173 ISO. However, that comes at the return of a monster 100 point gain in OBP, which makes it more than worthwhile. Hitting for power is important, but it’s much more valuable to get on base at a frequent clip. If this change is real, Abreu has basically turned himself into vintage Joey Votto.

I really wish someone would explain this all to Mike Trout. He’s clearly trying to do the opposite of Abreu. His attempt to become more of a slugger has increased his strikeouts, decreased his walks, and worst of all, lowered his OBP over 50 points from last year. That is absolutely not worth the ~40 points he gained in ISO.  He’s still the best player in baseball, but all those extra outs he’s making compared to last year is a step backwards. In fact, had Trout turned in this season’s performance last year, Miguel Cabrera might’ve actually deserved to have won the AL MVP. It would’ve been tough to make the case that Trout’s enormous advantage in defense and baserunning could’ve bridged what would’ve been a 70 point advantage in wOBA for Cabrera.

It’s too late for Trout this season, but I hope going into next year that somebody on the Angels staff convinces him of the error of his ways. If nothing changes, well, it’s like I said: He’s still the best player in baseball and is deserving to win what should’ve been his third straight MVP.

 


  1. Momentum in sports is nothing more than a narrative device. Bill Barnwell of Grantland wrote an excellent piece last year aimed at debunking the myth of momentum here. He writes it in the context of the NFL but his argument works in all sports.
  2. I’m focusing on his offense because his overall WAR is 5.3 due to having a -2.0 Defensive WAR (dWAR). That’s a really bad dWAR, and I don’t want to conclude that it’s accurate without having taken a good look at Abreu playing defense myself.

On Chris Davis and the Use of Amphetamines

It was announced today that Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles was suspended 25 games for amphetamine use. He will miss the last 17 games of the regular season and as many as 8 playoff games, depending on how far the Orioles get in the playoffs. Specifically, as far as I know, Davis was taking prescription Adderall.

Adderall is the brand name for generic amphetamines. When sold illegally, it’s better known as Speed. The amphetamine class of molecules also includes crystal meth. I’m going to go into the chemistry in a bit of detail, so in honor of Baseball ProspectusRussell Carleton

The rest of this article, parts of which have been elaborated on, is at my deput on Camden Depot!

Baseball Reactions (9-5-2014)

The National League batting title is currently a three-man race between Ben Revere, Justin Morneau, and Josh Harrison. Ridiculous, huh? This is a great example of why batting average is overrated. Of course I’m not saying that it’s bad to have a high batting average, just that it’s an incomplete method for evaluating hitters and therefore can be misleading. Harrison is legitimately having a good year, but there are a long list of players having a better year at the plate than Revere and Morneau.

Let’s get Harrison out of the way first. It seems like he heard all the criticisms of his joke of an All-Star game selection and has been playing like a man possessed since then. In the second half of the season, he’s hitting an outstanding .328/.358/.583. His 164 wRC+ is second only to Buster Posey’s torrid pace of a 185 wRC+. He’s likely to finish the season with at least 5 WAR. That’s a great season. It puts him head and shoulders above Revere and Morneau. However, in terms of true talent level, I think he’s no better than those two. Before this season, Harrison was a replacement level1player. Call me crazy, but I don’t think Harrison is going to sustain his .343. BABIP next season. It’s 70 points above that of his career coming into this season. To his credit, he is walking more and his power has been increasing each year. I don’t think he’s truly a replacement level player anymore. If he’s worth even 2 WAR next year, Pirates fans should be thrilled.

Ben Revere has produced a roughly league average amount of offense as evidenced by his 96 wRC+ and 2.7 oWAR2. That hardly fits the perception of a batting title winner, doesn’t it? So why isn’t a .313 hitter worth more offensively? Because a hitter’s offensive contributions is solely tied to getting on base and hitting for power. Batting average doesn’t do a good job of measuring either. Revere never walks, so his OBP is only slightly above average. His “power” is renowned throughout baseball for all the wrong reasons. Revere has 20 power. He has the lowest ISO in the NL3. He hit his very first home run this season in his fifth year in the majors! This guy could really win the batting title! Interesting enough, Revere’s .338 BABIP is only 15 points above his career average. He certainly doesn’t hit the ball hard, so I’m guessing his career BABIP is a function of his speed.

Justin Morneau has a prettier slash line than Revere at .312/.353/.483. He’s getting on base at a good clip and is hitting for a good amount of power. However, that’s largely a function of playing at Coors Field. You would think he’d be producing a lot more offense than Revere. That’s only partially true. If we look at his wRC+, which corrects for park factors, he comes in at 115. That’s decent, but again, that hardly fits the perception of a batting title winner. Like Harrison, his average is inflated by an unsustainably high BABIP. Again, that’s likely due to the hitters’ paradise that is Coors Field.

Fans and the media need to stop overrating batting average. The batting title could likely go to a player that’s not even in the top 40 in the league. Here’s hoping that Buster Posey goes on a tear to end the season.

*****

A couple of days ago, Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote a column comparing Mark Teixeiria to Ryan Howard. His argument was that Texeira’s contract situation is similar to Howard’s. This isn’t Omega’s Corner stupid, but I respectfully disagree.

Sherman starts off by conceding that the $45 million left on Texeira’s deal isn’t as bad as the $60 million left on Howard’s. He also concedes that although Teixeira isn’t the Gold Glove caliber defender that he once was, he is still far superior defensively than Howard. He’s right on both accounts. Both players also cannot be traded but for completely different reasons. I could see somebody taking Teixeira, but he has a no-trade clause that he’s unlikely to wave. If he’d be willing to wave it, I can definitely envision a team trading for him. It would be a low return for the Yankees to be sure, but doable. Howard, on the other hand, is just flat-out untradeable. He can’t play defense, he can’t run, he can’t hit, and lefties destroy him. He’s effectively a platoon DH on an NL team. He has been worth a total of -1.4 WAR the past three seasons. That’s $25 million a year for a player that is literally costing you wins. If I were a GM, I wouldn’t take Howard even if the Phillies were willing to pay his entire salary and accept nothing in return. The only way I see Howard being moved is if he’s packaged with Cole Hamels or Chase Utley. The Phillies would have to be willing to accept a low return on one of those players in return for unloading Howard. The only time I can remember something like that happening is with the blockbuster trade involving the Dodgers and Red Sox two years ago.

The biggest difference between Teixeira’s and Howard’s contracts is that the Yankees weren’t idiots giving Teixeira the deal in the first place. He was a free agent coming off a 7.1 WAR season. He had a track record of high OBPs and hitting for a lot of power. Furthermore, he was also one of the best defensive first baseman in baseball. $180 million was a fair deal given the free agent market and Teixeira’s talent.

Ryan Howard, unfortunately, was the complete opposite. In what would be the first (and possibly the worst) of many terrible decisions made by Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr., he gave a market competitive deal to Howard when he was still two seasons away from free agency. Given his age, why not wait one more season to see how Howard regresses? He was coming off a season when he hit an excellent .279/.360/.571. That was worth only 3.8 WAR because his defense was so bad. If he was even league average defensively, he would’ve been worth at least 5 WAR that season. At the time he had just started his age 30 season, and the Phillies decided to lock him up through age 37. You don’t need to be a hardcore sabermetrician to know that that alone should’ve been a red flag. Slow, slugging first basemen like Howard have historically aged and regressed terribly after they turn 30. They say that you can’t predict baseball, but sometimes you can, and Howard’s case was an example of how you could bet the farm that that deal was going to be a disaster. Since signing the deal, Howard has been worth a total of 1 WAR.

So what could’ve possibly possessed Amaro to make this deal? Howard had led the league in RBIs three out of the four previous seasons. I hope this serves as a reminder to front offices and fans everywhere of what happens when you value a context dependent stat that measures a fake skill.

If I were the Phillies, I’d just cut Howard and eat the money. It may sound crazy to eat $60 million, but it’s not. It’s the sunk cost fallacy. Howard is only going to get worse, and as a guy who’s already a negative WAR player, a scrub off the scrap heap would be an improvement over him. Look at it this way: You can either pay Howard to hurt the team or you can pay him to not hurt the team. Understanding that those are the only two options the Phillies have, paying him to not hurt the team by cutting him is the most logical option.

*****

Last night, it was announced that the Arizona Diamondbacks had finally fired their GM, Kevin Towers. This really came as a surprise to no one. When Tony La Russa was hired a few months ago at a position above Towers, the writing was on the wall. I’m only surprised that they didn’t wait until after the season.

I’m not going to go into detail about Towers’ track record with he Diamondbacks. If you’re interested, Jay Jaffe wrote something just like that for SI here. To put it simply, Kevin Towers does not live in the real world. It’s as if he has watched way too many sports movies in his lifetime. He seemed to believe that teams win via toughness and grit and heart and spirit and playing the game the right way and via other nebulous soft factors like that. You know, just like in the movies. You just have to believe in yourself!

Towers is a cautionary reminder of what happens when you value makeup over talent. As a result of his misguided beliefs, he ended up making bizarre trade after bizarre trade. He would constantly sell low on good players because they didn’t fit the gritty personality of the team, or some nonsense like that. Here are some “highlights” from Towers’ tenure.

He gave away Stephen Drew.
He traded Justin Upton for Martín Prado and Randall Delgado.
He traded Trevor Bauer for Didi Gregorious.
He traded Ian Kennedy for Joe Thatcher.
He traded Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs for Mark Trumbo.

If he had held on to all those players, I’m guessing the Diamondbacks would be in much better shape now. In the Upton trade, he traded a good outfielder with upside for a utility player. With Bauer, he traded a cheap, cost-controlled starting pitcher for an all glove, no bat shortstop. Ian Kennedy had ace potential but he was traded for a LOOGY and another reliever. Adam Eaton is a plus defensive centerfielder who does a great job getting on base. He has been worth 4.8 WAR this season. Tyler Skaggs is another cheap, cost-controlled starting pitcher. Those two were traded for Mark Trumbo, who is essentially a right-handed Ryan Howard. Worse yet, Towers acquired him without a place to put him. Trumbo is first base only, and that position is blocked by one of the best players in the NL, Paul Goldschmidt. Without a DH, the Diamondbacks were forced to play him in the outfield, and he’s a terrible outfielder.

All these trades just boggle the mind. Towers’ statement when he gave away traded Justin Upton explains his ludicrous mindset:

“Different clubs like to look for certain intangibles. We like that gritty, grinder type. Hard-nosed. I’m not saying Justin isn’t that type of guy. Sometimes people’s mannerisms and the way they carry themselves, they might not perceive him as the grinder type.”

That statement is really, really, idiotically, incomprehensibly, stupid. What kind of fantasy world do you have to live in to believe that kind of stuff? Not only was Towers committing the egregious mistake of valuing makeup over talent, he was valuing make-believe over talent. Front offices and the media need to stop with the intangibles talk. If you can’t define it, it’s not real. If you can’t directly prove its benefits, then it’s irrelevant. It’s the kind of nonsense I expect from the BBWAA. I expect front office types to know better. I expect them to understand that talent and skills win ballgames. Without that, all the makeup in the world isn’t worth a lick of good.

The future is looking brighter for the Diamondbacks. In one of the biggest shocks of the baseball season, Tony La Russa stated that he’s looking to increase the use of analytics in the organization. La Russa has never been a strong opponent of sabermetrics, but he’s never been completely accepting either. He has said in the past that it’s important to balance analytics with more traditional approaches. However, I’ve never read anything he’s said that shows me that he understands how to do that. At least this is a step in the right direction.

Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson is unfortunately still employed. I do think he gets axed during the offseason. He’s a terrible manager who mimics the philosophy of Towers. Worse still, he’s old school to the extent that it’s dangerous. If one of his players gets hit by a pitch, he’ll retaliate regardless of how obvious it is that the HBP was accidental. It’s childish, dangerous behavior that has no place in today’s game. They always say it’s done to “stand up for yourself” or “to keep the other team from walking all over you”. When does that ever happen? When does the other team just keep plunking your players over and over again because you won’t retaliate? Give me a break. If you want to get back at a team for plunking one of your players, then hit them where it hurts the most: The scoreboard.

The Diamondbacks are down right now, but a new GM, manager, and modern philosophy has the potential for a better future for the franchise.


  1. I’m focusing on his offense. He was worth 1.5 WAR in 2011 but that came almost entirely from his defense. 
  2. That’s just the offensive component of his WAR number. His defense is so bad that it knocks his full WAR to below 1. 
  3. If we expand that to all of baseball, Revere has the second lowest ISO. The only player in all of baseball hitting for less power is…Derek Jeter. 

Baseball Reactions (8-29-2014)

Wow, I haven’t done one of these in a while. Sorry about that. I’ve been really busting my butt at work lately.

*****

Two nights ago, Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was ejected in the ninth inning for arguing balls and strikes. Roenicke came out of the dugout to argue after René Rivera hit a game-tying home run (Puerto Rican Power!) off of Francisco Rodríguez1. The Brewers would go on to lose in ten innings. Now you may wonder why Roenicke chose to come out at that moment. After all, it’s not the umpire’s fault that K-Rod hung one in the zone. Roenicke’s game-long, or maybe even season-long, frustrations with home plate umpire Mark Ripperger finally boiled over. During the postgame press conference, which are almost always completely useless by the way, Roenicke ripped Ripperger, saying, “He calls pitches that aren’t even close. The catcher sets up 6 inches off the plate and he calls them strikes.”

I’m always for ripping the umpires since they have virtually no accountability, so I’m not criticizing Roenicke for doing so. Let’s see what Pitch f/x has to say about Roenicke’s comments. All graphs come courtesy of the indispensable Brooks Baseball. First, let’s start with René Rivera’s at bat. Keep in mind that these strike zones are from the catcher’s point of view.

 

Those two pitches were definitely balls and were called as such. I don’t see how Roenicke can tell what’s inside and outside from his perspective in the dugout. Let’s see how Ripperger did for the entire game.

Remember what Roenicke said: “The catcher sets up 6 inches off the plate and he calls them strikes.” With right-handed hitters, there appears to be some truth to what he’s saying. With lefties, the problem appears to be more that Ripperger is calling low pitches strikes. There are definitely some bad calls, but overall, it’s fine. I don’t quibble over border line calls and there appears to be lots of them. However, these plots include both teams. Let’s look at just the Padres, specifically when their catcher, René Rivera, caught starter Odrisamer Despaigne.

I see a lot of the borderline pitches from above in this plot. Jonathan Lucroy is known for his excellent pitch-framing skills, but René Rivera is right up there with him. He just flies under the radar since he plays in San Diego. Roenicke may have had a point, but given how many balls his catcher turns into strikes, he really has no right to complain. I don’t think all of this was the result of bad umpiring. It’s the result of good pitch framers fooling the umpire. More specifically, it’s the result of humans calling balls and strikes. That’s the funny thing about pitch framing. It exploits the fact that the human eye cannot consistently gauge the position of a major league pitch .

Mike Fast, then of Baseball Prospectus but now with the Houston Astros, did some breakthrough research in the value of pitch framing in 2011. He showed that we’ve all been grossly undervaluing pitch framing. The numbers were eye-popping. The best pitch framers are saving their team as much as 45 runs a year compared to the average. Conversely, the worst are costing their team ~20 runs. Keeping in mind that 10 runs = 1 WAR, and your jaw really starts to drop. You can begin to understand why José Molina still has a job. But can the gap really be that big? Wins Above Replacement doesn’t currently include pitch framing, so is Jonathan Lucroy the clear choice for NL MVP right now?

Dave Cameron, the managing editor at Fangraphs, explored this question recently in an excellent article. Like I just said, I have a hard time believing that pitch framing has a gap as large as +40 runs to -20 runs. However, my subjective perceptions are no substitute for the objective methodologies used to analyze this subject by Mike Fast and the like. I trust the science, but is it missing something? I believe that Cameron hits on the problem in the article I linked to:

“…when a pitcher throws a pitch in a location that has a low estimated strike rate, we are implicitly blaming him for throwing a bad pitch, and then giving the catcher credit for erasing the pitcher’s mistake. But pitchers are not stupid, and I guarantee you that the Brewers’ pitchers know that Lucroy gets more called strikes on pitches out of the zone than other catchers, so they have a personal expected strike rate on an out-of-zone location higher than pitchers throwing to other catchers. And they know this before they choose where to throw the pitch.

“Let’s say you’re Kyle Lohse, and you have pretty good command, but you know that Lucroy is going to be able to steal strikes for you at the bottom of the zone. So, instead of throwing a pitch in the zone, where you are more likely to give up contact, you decide to pound the area just south of the strike zone, and particularly, down-and-away from left-handers, since that’s the area where umpires are most generous out of the zone.

“But do we really want to give Lucroy the entire difference in a stolen strike at the bottom of the zone when Lohse threw it there knowing that Lucroy was the one behind the plate?

“Perhaps if the Brewers pitchers had a worse framer to throw to, they would simply adjust by throwing more strikes. The distribution of locations is not an independent factor from the identity of the catcher.”

I really encourage you to just click on the link above to get Cameron’s full analysis. A catcher may actually be able to save as many as 40-45 runs above average with pitch framing, but how much of that is credited to the catcher and how much is credited to the pitcher is completely up in the air right now. That’s the biggest reason why pitch framing runs has not been incorporated into WAR yet.

I have always found the concept of pitch framing to be kind of ridiculous. To be clear, I totally buy into the value that it adds. What I find laughable is that this is a skill set that revolves around how good a catcher is at making a fool out of the umpire. I also can’t believe that nobody I know of, other than Joe Sheehan, has mentioned what the art of pitch framing tells us about how umpires call balls and strikes. It means that umpires are going by where the glove is after it catches the ball, and not where the ball is when it crosses the plate like they’re supposed to do it. As frustrating as I find umpires, I’m not even sure I can hold it against them. Calling balls and strikes the “right” way is just not possible for the human eye to do.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. We need robot umps. The “human element” counter argument is romanticized nonsense. The game is played by humans, and umpires are supposed to be invisible anyway. However, fear of push back from obstinate traditionalists isn’t the reason why this hasn’t been implemented yet. Make no mistake of it, though, because the technology will be perfected long before those in charge decide to implement it. Obviously, even right now Pitch f/x can call balls and strikes far better than the best human eye ever could, so what’s the problem? It’s just a lot easier said than done. Ben Lindbergh wrote a great piece last year delving deep into the logistics of implementing such a system. I’d say we’re at least 10-20 years away from the technology and the people being ready to make the necessary change. Then again, looking at the snail’s pace at which baseball likes to move, I may never see this change in my life time.

*****

The AL MVP race has gotten interesting. A couple of weeks ago, there was talk of Félix Hernández vying for the award. Unfortunately, a few bad starts, including getting lit up tonight, has likely taken him out of the running. In fact, Corey Kluber is now nipping at his heels for the Cy Young award. Anyway, Mike Trout is the favorite and most deserving candidate, but he’s not far and away the best player in the AL like he was the past two seasons. Robinson Canó, José Abreu, and Josh Donaldson aren’t far behind Trout. The surprising candidate is Alex Gordon. Though offensively he has a good but unremarkable 129 wRC+, the reason for his third best 5.6 WAR among position players is his defense. The same can be said about Josh Donaldson. He’s actually ahead of Trout in WAR. However, WAR is saying that Trout is a league average defender this season, which doesn’t seem to make any sense. If we go by Offensive WAR (oWAR), Trout is leading the league by over one full WAR. He’s about 2.5 oWAR ahead of Donaldson. Naturally, this raises the question of how reliably the WAR construct measures defense.

While I see the similarities between this year’s AL MVP debate and that of the last 2 seasons, I think overall it’s quite different. Part of the argument for Trout over Miguel Cabrera was the grand canyon sized difference in defense and baserunning between the two. Not only was that backed up by the numbers, but more importantly, when it comes to defense, the scouting evaluations backed that up. Cabrera was arguably the worst defensive third baseman in baseball. On the 20-80 scouting scale, he was rated at a 30 or 35. The guy just had zero range. Trout’s speed and good reads on balls in play rated him as a 75 defender. What should come as a surprise to no one is that Trout is an 80 runner while Cabrera is a 30 runner. Cabrera does have the better arm, but range is far more important unless you’re a catcher. The eye test qualitatively backed up what WAR quantified.

With Gordon and Trout we’re now talking about two excellent defenders. Right now, Gordon has a 2.0 Defensive WAR (dWAR) and Trout has -0.2 dWAR. Now I’m a hardcore sabermetrician, but I don’t buy that difference at all. Gordon’s dWAR does back up the eye test. Trout’s, however, does not. Even if I concede that he’s not quite as good defensively as he used to be, he’s still at least a 70 defender. I watch him plenty and try to get scouting information whenever I can. Heck, I’m watching him as I write this post! He’s made quite a few rangy plays that I don’t believe the average center fielder can make. Gordon is no slouch himself. He’s probably a 75 defender. Let’s not also forget that Trout plays a more difficult and valuable position. I cannot believe that half a grade of defense is worth 2 dWAR. I would argue that Trout’s overall WAR should be at least 1 WAR higher. On the base paths, Trout isn’t as effective as he used to be, but he’s still far better than Gordon. It’s not the same gap as with Cabrera, but Trout is still an 80 runner and Gordon is 50 or 55. You can replace Gordon with Josh Donaldson in this paragraph and it’d still be roughly accurate.

Trout’s huge advantage in offense cannot be trumped by defense that, at best, is marginally better than his, and at worst, is comparable. Trout will probably win the MVP this year, and deservedly so. Ironically, the gap between him and whoever the runner-up is will be the smallest of the past 3 seasons.

The problem with the defensive metrics that WAR uses, whether it’s DRS or UZR, is that they’re only significant in multi-season sample sizes. Using single season results, as WAR does, can lead to some fluky results. e.g. Juan Larages has a DRS that’s 28 runs higher than Carlos Gómez. That doesn’t make any sense when they are both 80 defenders2.

I am saddened that Trout appears to have regressed some. That ~60 point dip in OBP compared to last year is really disappointing. The extra power he’s added has come at the cost of too many more outs. Overall, it’s not worth it. It’s almost as if he’s trying to be more like Cabrera because, as we learned the last two seasons, that’s what wins you MVPs. Ugh, I hate the BBWAA.

 


  1. Ha! Suck it K-Rod! I hate Francisco Rodríguez. 
  2. As a Mets fan, I would love to see Lagares win a Gold Glove, and I’m sure he will. I’m just not sure that he’s better than Gómez. 

Angels Lose Garrett Richards for 6-9 Months

Since both the Red Sox (my local team) and the Mets (my team) both kind of suck right now, MLB.tv has never been more valuable to me. I plop down on the couch at 7:00 PM and pick out the most interesting game to watch. I make my decision based on what teams are facing each other and who’s pitching. I’m sure a lot of hardcore baseball fans whose teams are out of it do the same thing. However, the past couple of nights I decided to tune into NESN. The Angels were in town, so I wanted to watch Mike Trout play and hopefully break out of the slump he’s been in lately1. I also wanted to watch Mookie Betts, who just got called back up, and Yoenis Céspedes play. Even though MLB.tv is the greatest invention in the history of baseball fandom, it’s nice to tune in to a game on TV and not have to worry about connectivity issues or visual quality. What sealed it for me last night was the fact that Garrett Richards was pitching for the Angels.

Yes, I was watching live on TV when Richards collapsed trying to cover first base.

My heart dropped when it happened. I don’t have any emotional connection to the Los Angeles Angels2, but I hate to see any player, especially one having a breakout year, get hurt. My initial reaction is that he tore his ACL and that we may not see him again until 2016. As it turns out, he tore his patellar tendon and will be out 6-9 months.

Garrett Richards has inarguably been the best pitcher on the Angels staff this season with 4.4 WAR. Coincidentally, his ERA and FIP are exactly the same at 2.61, which is excellent. He also has an excellent 24.2 K% which he is accomplishing without walking many batters. He accomplishes this by throwing one of the hardest fourseam fastballs in the majors, one that averages a whopping 97 MPH! He compliments it with a sinker that’s less than half a mile slower. Think about a pitch that’s thrown that hard with movement. It’s been especially helpful at getting lefties out. His slider has improved as well. He’s throwing it harder and it has more bite to it. It’s used as an out pitch, but he sometimes likes to surprise hitters with it when he’s behind in the count.

Nothing in his peripherals leads me to believe this is a fluke, either. His BABIP is a little low, but not so much that it explains away the success Richards has had this season. His 3.9% HR/FB rate is almost 5% below that of his career, which is certainly a fluke, especially given the fact that he has been allowing more fly balls than ever. We can use xFIP to normalize that. A league average HR/FB raises his 2.61 FIP to a 3.17 xFIP, which is still great. That’s good for tenth place among starters in the AL. The numbers and his pitching arsenal indicate that his performance this season is real. The biggest question mark, however, is with his mechanics.

Doug Thorburn, the pitching mechanics expert at Baseball Prospectus, wrote a breakdown of Richards’ pitching repertoire and mechanics. Simply put, his mechanics are terrible. I won’t go into detail, because it would be inappropriate of me to quote what Thorburn wrote behind a paywall3, suffice it to say that his pitching mechanics are a cause of concern as to whether or not Richards can repeat his delivery enough to remain effective over the long haul. Obviously, his mechanics had nothing to do with the freak accident that occurred last night.

Being the best pitcher on the Angels is a credit to Richards and an indictment against Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Given their salaries, Weaver and Wilson should be on pace for a season of at least 4 WAR each. It doesn’t even look like they’ll finish with 4 WAR COMBINED. It was bad enough when Tyler Skaggs went down with Tommy John surgery, but losing Richards is far worse. Depending on who replaces him, it’ll likely cost the Angels 1-2 wins the rest of the way. In a tight division race with the Oakland Athletics, that can easily be the deathblow that sends the Angels into the coin-flip game. Worse yet, it’s possible that they could face Félix Hernández or Max Scherzer in the one game playoff without an ace of their own to counter with.

This is not to say that the Angels are doomed. By wRC+, the Angels have the best offense in the AL. They also have an excellent bullpen, which is a complete 180 from last season. However, even if they do win the division or make it pass the wild card game, it’s likely they’ll have the worst starting rotation out of any playoff team. Before Richards’ injury, I would’ve given that distinction to the Baltimore Orioles, but not anymore. At least the Orioles have Kevin Gausman. Having the best infield defense in the league helps to cover up their pitchers’ mistakes, too.

Let’s not lose sight of what’s important here. Garrett Richards was having a breakout season that tragically and abruptly ended. That sucks. That always sucks. Here’s hoping that he makes a quick, full recovery and comes back just as good as ever.


  1. If he doesn’t break out of this funk soon, the AL MVP race is going to get very interesting. Unlike the last two seasons, when he was far and away better than everyone else in the AL, there are a number of players nipping at his heels this year. 
  2. That is such a strange thing to write when you know Spanish. You’re basically writing “The Angels Angels”. The grammatically correct way to translate the team name into Spanish is “Los Angeles de Los Angeles”. Weird, huh? 
  3. If you’re reading my stuff, you should be subscribing to Baseball Prospectus anyway. In my opinion, it has the best baseball writing on the internet. Considering the top-notch analysis it provides on the majors, fantasy, and prospects, $40 a year is a steal for what you’re getting. 

Pleasant Surprises of the 2014 MLB Season (Part 2)

In case you haven’t noticed, I tend to get pretty negative on this blog. It’s easy to do since there’s so much to criticize in baseball and its coverage. As a result, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss some of the happenings of the baseball season that have exceeded my expectations. Personally, it’s always a pleasure to watch teams or players perform better than they were expected to, especially when that performance seems sustainable. This is in no way an exhaustive list. If there’s anything you think I’ve missed that is worth mentioning, then please, by all means let me know. If I get enough responses I might write a follow-up piece. For Part 1, click here.

Corey Kluber: He didn’t completely come out of nowhere. He showed improvements last year, but I don’t think anybody saw this coming. His ERA- and FIP- are an incredibly low 65. That is good for 5.2 WAR, which is tied for 2nd in the AL with Jon Lester1. Not bad for a fourth round pick! He arguably should’ve went higher in the draft, though. He pitched well in college, but teams were wary of him because of an injury he suffered in high school. He suffered a stress fracture that required a metal pin to be inserted in his pitching arm. His command, secondary pitchers, and velocity have continued to improve since he started the minors. Kluber was always good at striking hitters out, even in the minors, but now his overall improvements as a pitcher has resulted in an excellent 27.2 K%, which is 6th in the AL. He relies heavily on his sinker and cutter. According to Brooks Baseball, Kluber throws his sinker 48% of the time and his cutter 25%. His sinker is especially impressive, which is probably why he relies on it so much. It averages 94 MPH and can touch 96 MPH. A fastball at that velocity with sink can be devastating. 

The good news for Cleveland Indians fans is that Kluber’s performance looks real and sustainable. Better yet, he won’t become a free agent until 2019! The Indians are still 3 years away from even thinking about giving him an extension. You may be wondering why they shouldn’t just offer him an extension right now if he really is the real deal. The thing is, pitchers are risky propositions. Even if I’m right about Kluber sustaining this performance for years to come, there’s no predicting if or when he’ll suffer a devastating injury. Let him prove he’ll continue to be this good without the risk of throwing >$100 million on a pitcher that will spend most of his time on the DL.

The Milwaukee Brewers: I thought they’d suck this year. I really did. Lo and behold, they’re in first place! I was skeptical of the team because besides Jonathan Lucroy, Carols Gómez, and Ryan Braun, who do they have? On the pitching side, Kyle Lohse led the team in WAR in 2013 with an unimpressive 1.9, and even that came with a paltry 15.5 K%. The addition of Matt Garza would surely help, but he was worth only 2.2 WAR in 2013. Not only did the Brewers not have an ace going into 2014, it might’ve been fair to say that they didn’t even have a number two.

Let’s first start with Jonathan Lucroy, who is having a career season and is making a run at the NL MVP award. He’s hitting .306/.373/.487 with a 139 wRC+ and 5 WAR. That offensive production is excellent for a first baseman, let alone the top of the defensive spectrum. His WAR is selling him short too. I’m not saying that because of WAR’s inherent flaws with evaluating catcher defense. WAR has not yet begun to incorporate pitch framing in its metrics. Lucroy is arguably the best pitch framer in baseball. Earlier this year, Dan Brooks and Harry Pavlidis, the fantastic people behind Brooks Baseball, wrote an outstanding article for Baseball Prospectus covering the value of pitch framing in depth. It can be estimated that Lucroy’s pitch framing may give him an extra 2-3 WAR. If WAR was incorporating pitch framing into its metrics, Lucroy could easily be leading the NL in WAR by 1 or 2 wins right now.

Carlos Gómez is repeating his offensive performance from last year. He’s actually doing a better job of getting on base. However, his defensive metrics are way off from last year. I haven’t taken a good look at him this season, but I have a hard time believing that he suddenly stopped being an 80 defender in center field. If you look at his Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone rating the last four seasons, you’ll see that it’s good in 2011, average in 2012, insanely high in 2013, and average again this season. This is an example of how the advanced defensive metrics may not be reliable in even season-long sample sizes. Defense doesn’t slump. As a result, I have a hard time believing that his WAR isn’t shorting him by 1 or 2 wins at least.

Sadly, Ryan Braun has been the biggest disappointment on the team. The good news is that he’s still hitting for power as evidenced by his excellent .209 ISO. However, that’s still 50 points below his career average. The biggest knock against Braun this season is that he’s just not getting on base enough. A .337 OBP is fine, but it’s 34 points below his career average and 60 points below his peak. Thankfully, Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett, Aramis Ramírez, and Mark Reynolds have been picking up the slack. They’ve combined for 7.4 WAR.

Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza are each on their way to a 3 WAR season each, while Yovani Gallardo has is on pace for 2 WAR. In the bullpen, Zach Duke and Will Smith are turning in terrific seasons, posting high strikeout rates and low FIPs (Smith’s BB% is way too high though). Though his FIP isn’t as low as those guys, Francisco Rodríguez is also having a good season with a high strikeout rate2.

The Brewers currently have the best projected chance at winning the division at 37.8%, and they have a 73.8% chance at making the playoffs. I’m happy to see the team succeeding this season. As a small market team with a pitiful farm system, I’m concerned about their future, so it’s good to see them have a bright present.

Derek Jeter: I was terrified that Jeter’s final season would be a disaster. I was expecting him to have a -1 or -2 WAR season. That’s no way for a Yankee legend to go out. Thankfully, he should easily clear 1 WAR. That’s pretty good for a 40-year-old shortstop. He is literally hitting for the least amount of power in the majors, but at least his OBP is league average. I know it may be strange calling a player with an 83 wRC+ a pleasant surprise, but like I said, I was afraid that it’d be so much worse. Yes, there are a number of fair criticisms to levy against him this season, but I won’t repeat them here. Suffice it to say, it’s good to see one of the best players of my generation be able to go out with his head held high.

I’ll probably do a Part 3, though I’m not sure yet. Stay tuned!


  1. Félix Hernández is the current league leader with 6.2 WAR. Not only is he the front-runner for the Cy Young award, he’s giving Mike Trout a run for his money in the AL MVP race. 
  2. I hate Francisco Rodríguez.