Rockies Magic Number

Monday, December 15, 2008

2009 – Who plays where? A mathematical look at lineup construction.

Looking forward to the 2009 season, the Rockies find themselves a logjam at roughly every position, SS excepted. Let’s take a look at the 14 position players we anticipate being on the roster, along with their offensive and defensive capabilities.

NamePosition(s)2008 OPS2008 VORP 2008 UZR @ #1 position2008 UZR @ #2 position
Chris IannettaC0.89530.4N/AN/A
Yorvit TorrealbaC0.687-1.4N/AN/A
Todd Helton1B0.7798.65.1N/A
Clint Barmes2B, SS0.7919.12.1-3.9
Troy TulowitzkiSS0.7328.1-3N/A
Ian Stewart3B, 2B0.80410.32.70.3
Ryan SpilborghsCF, LF0.87517.7-3.8-0.8
Brad HawpeRF0.87929.7-37.2N/A
Garrett Atkins3B, 1B0.7818-7.4-5.6
Carlos GonzalezCF, RF0.634-
Seth SmithRF, LF0.7853.7-2.51.1
Jeff Baker1B, 2B0.79111.2-1.5-3.8
Scott PodsednikCF, LF0.656-0.7-4.6-0.8
Omar Quintanilla2B, SS0.635-3.6-0.2-0.8

The above should have a few notations to it: Barmes’ and Tulowitzki’s 2008 UZR performances are most likely low due to hasn’t-played-there-in-awhile (Barmes) and injury concerns (Tulo).

So let’s get to the point. Not everyone buys OPS, not everyone buys VORP, but I’m sure most everyone will buy one or the other.

If you don’t know what either is, I’ll give a quick rundown on what they both are.

OPS = OBP+SLG = On-Base percentage + Slugging percentage.

OBP = On Base Percentage = (Hits + BB + HBP)/Plate Appearances
SLG = Slugging Percentage = (1*1B’s +2*2B’s + 3*3B’s + 4*HR’s)/AB

OBP is essentially how often a player doesn’t make an out. SLG is batting average, weighted for extra base hits.

VORP = Value over replacement player = A park-adjusted measure of how many runs a player will provide above/below replacement level player will add to his team. For more information on VORP, refer to Keith Woolner’s Introduction to VORP article.

UZR = Ultimate Zone Rating = Number of runs prevented based on defensive play

So this chart here basically tells us how many runs a player will add to the team’s offensive totals with his bat, and how many he’ll prevent with his glove.

The Rockies have a good number of options at each position, both defensive and offensive. The question is which will be the best, and how can we adjust players to maximize runs?

The All-Bat Lineup
C: Iannetta (VORP 30.4)
1B: Garrett Atkins (VORP 18)
2B: Jeff Baker (VORP 11.2)
3B: Ian Stewart (VORP 10.3)
SS: Clint Barmes (VORP 18)
LF: Seth Smith (VORP 3.7)
CF: Ryan Spilborghs (VORP 17.7)
RF: Brad Hawpe (VORP 29.7)

The saddest part of this might just be that 3.7 VORP in LF. Smith would most definitely produce better than that given an entire season. The lack of Tulowitzki is surprising, especially with Baker at 2B and Barmes at SS, but there’s a couple things to note:
1. Tulowitzki slumped terribly early in the year, but finished strong;
2. Tulowitzki was hurt for a good amount of time this season. Even with the terrible slump, he’d probably be good for about 12-15 runs over the season were he to play the entire season;
3. Stewart’s VORP would be similarly higher, probably around 20+ were he to get a full 550AB as a starter, bumping Baker from the lineup when Tulowitzki reemerges at SS and Barmes is slid back to 2B.

Depressingly, this is our best lineup. 56.8 runs above replacement, above a AAA squad. Granted, if we added in the runs if Stewart and Smith were full time players, and adjusted Tulowitzki’s numbers a bit to somewhere between this season and 2007, the number would look far better. But as it stands, we are hurting somewhat from Holliday’s absence.

The next lineup to look at is the all-glove lineup.

C: Iannetta (UZR doesn’t really apply to catchers)
1B: Todd Helton (UZR 5.1)
2B: Clint Barmes (UZR 2.1)
3B: Ian Stewart (UZR 2.7)
SS: Omar Quintanilla (UZR -0.8)
LF: Ryan Spilborghs (UZR -0.8)
CF: Carlos Gonzalez (UZR 2.7)
RF: Seth Smith (UZR -2.5)

Again, things that stand out:

1. The lack of Tulowitzki is again no good, but remember he had quad problems all season. A properly rehabbed quad will more than likely move Tulowitzki from the -3 he’s sitting at back to the +5 rating he was at last season.

2. Quintanilla’s low UZR surprised me, but it might also be due to a lack of range, just because he’s a smaller fielder. He has a good glove and makes good plays on the balls he can get to, but he’s not really ideal; the bigger SS has taken over the thoughts of a lot of GMs. He plays as a just below average fielder, but again, it’s Range vs. Ability to make plays, and ErrR (runs avoided by not making errors) is above average for Q, while RngR (runs avoided by ability to get to balls) is definitely below.

3. Spilborghs really didn’t log any time at RF this season, but an ideal defensive OF at this point (that doesn’t involve bringing up Cory Sullivan) would have Smith in LF, Spills in RF, and Gonzalez in CF.

4. Brad Hawpe is absolutely awful in RF. Like atrocious. I mean oh my lord he’s bad. If you just do VORP + UZR to see how many runs Brad Hawpe added to the team this season overall, he’s at a nice -8. He has to be moved to LF or the Rockies need to move to the AL.

Now, as if this wasn’t all terribly nerdy enough, I’ve topped myself here. I used a computer program to tell me how many games each guy should start over the course of a season. It takes the #runs scored + #runs prevented by each player, above/below the level of an average player, and it maximizes the total number of runs scored and prevented.

The computer’s ideal lineup is:

C: Iannetta
1B: Helton
2B: Barmes
3B: Stewart
SS: Tulowitzki
LF: Hawpe
CF: Seth Smith
RF: Spilborghs

The concept here is that Smith may not really be that great in CF, but his Offense+CF defense is better than Gonzales'. You might think that his CF defense would be bad enough to move him to RF and put Spills in CF, but the concept here is that the combination of Smith's CF defense and Spilborghs' RF defense is better at preventing runs than Spilborghs in CF and Smith in RF.

The immediate thought that comes into my head is "But CF is far more important defensively than RF is, put the better defender in CF at the cost of RF!" and this logic is sound. So sound, in fact that because UZR is in terms of runs (range+error prevention), the relative difficulty of the positions is already taken into effect. This isn't saying that Smith is the same defensively at every position, it's saying he's worth so many runs at LF, CF, and RF, because they all play differently, and UZR accounts for that. So this isn't saying Spills is SO good in RF that he'll pick up all of Smith's slack, it's saying that yeah, Smith isn't a great CF, but by putting him in CF and putting Spills in RF is going to minimize the number of runs we give up. If it were Spills CF Smith RF we'd give up more runs is what we're saying here.

Now, if I were to add Dexter Fowler (and get rid of Podsednik) at a completely average defensive ability (UZR=0) in all 3 OF positions, and a bat slightly inferior to Barmes’ into the equation, my infield stays the same, but the OF changes to:

LF Spilborghs
CF Smith
RF Fowler

Now, I haven’t messed around and made Atkins some sort of garbage player, I used per-game run production from Baseball Prospectus and UZR ratings from Fangraphs, and then just ran the numbers. I didn’t demand Atkins play less than 50 games, I didn’t tell the program to bench Hawpe. In the case of Atkins, it becomes a case of a declining bat plus an already sub standard glove results in becoming a backup. And Hawpe’s issue that his atrocious OF defense simply kills his playing time.

If you read my previous post, you know that I think Atkins should be traded in favor of starting Ian Stewart, and maybe netting some young pitching. In this model, Atkins plays a grand total of 36 games, all at 3B, as Hawpe gets all the 1B time when Helton isn’t playing. I'm not sure how poor Hawpe would be at 1B, but if I say he's exactly as bad as Atkins, he'll still get the playing time thanks to a stronger bat.

The thing I learn from this? Defense is more important than people may think. If the Florida Marlins were defensively stronger, I'd wager they'd improve significantly. Defense is supposed to be a strong point of the Rockies, and it seems that just by the numbers, we're not playing optimally. 

The optimal solution, again, just by the numbers, is to let the kids play.


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