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Monday, February 11, 2013

2014 Free Agent Power Rankings

1.  Robinson Cano.  Cano is the clear number one choice, a corner type bat at a middle infield position.  2014 will be his age 31 season, and agent Scott Boras is surely licking his chops with an eight-year megacontract in the $200MM range within his sights.  Should the Yankees allow Cano to reach the open market, I expect the Dodgers to be players.

 

JJ1986 Posted: February 11, 2013 at 10:11 AM | 148 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: adam wainwright, free agents, jacoby ellsbury, josh johnson, robinson cano, roy halladay, tim lincecum

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   1. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 11, 2013 at 11:32 AM (#4366984)
Roy Halladay?
One of the game's best pitchers from 2006-11, Doc slipped in 2012 due to a shoulder injury. Halladay will be 37 for most of the 2014 season, but he doesn't operate on the same plane as other pitchers. Assuming he doesn't rack up 259 regular season innings this year, Halladay's 2014 option will not vest and he'll be a free agent.
My reading of the contract terms at Cot's is that the Phillies have a 2014 option which will become guaranteed if Halladay throws 260 innings. If he doesn't, though, they can still exercise the option. $20M for Halladay in 2014 is a no brainer barring injury.
   2. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: February 11, 2013 at 11:49 AM (#4366999)
Choo has put up more WAR the last five years than Ellsbury (18.8 vs. 13.8) and is only a year older. I'd rank him a bit higher I think. I guess Ellsbury's upside is higher, but his propensity to get hurt would scare me a bit.

Lincecum could be #1 on this list with a solid year. If he has a crummy year, I don't know he's on the top ten. Should be interesting to see what happens to him.
   3. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: February 11, 2013 at 11:56 AM (#4367003)
Is someone really going to sign Cano to an 8 year deal for his age 31-39 seasons? They're welcome to it. Sometimes the A's cheapness/poverty is a blessing.
   4. BDC Posted: February 11, 2013 at 11:56 AM (#4367005)
Is it my imagination, or is the list basically Robinson Cano and nine guys with injury histories to be wary of? Yecch. I guess Hunter Pence has been pretty durable, but if someone's thinking about building a franchise around Hunter Pence, they're insane.
   5. JJ1986 Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:10 PM (#4367012)
Is it my imagination, or is the list basically Robinson Cano and nine guys with injury histories to be wary of?


Choo's had injury problems, but I think they were of the broken hand or wrist variety.
   6. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:14 PM (#4367019)
Is someone really going to sign Cano to an 8 year deal for his age 31-39 seasons? They're welcome to it.
Well, long-term deal generally work by expecting loss in the last seasons and making up for it with gains in the early seasons. Robinson Cano is currently a ridiculously good baseball player - something like a 6 WAR player. If he produces at his projected level with a relatively normal decline phase, he should be able to be worth 8/200 by outperforming his salary enough in the early years to pay for it in the later ones.

Further, MVP candidates are rare, MVP candidates on the free agent market are even more rare. The opportunity to buy six wins with just cash is rare, and perhaps is reasonably valued a bit more highly by rate than the opportunity to buy two wins with cash alone.
   7. Cris E Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:14 PM (#4367020)
> Is it my imagination, or is the list basically Robinson Cano and nine guys with injury histories to be wary of?

That's about right, but to be fair all pitchers should expect to be injured at some point. But it doesn't look like a good class at all given how many of these guys are going to be wrapped up before they hit the market (Cano, Wainwright, maybe McCann and Lincecum).
   8. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:19 PM (#4367025)
Well, long-term deal generally work by expecting loss in the last seasons and making up for it with gains in the early seasons. Robinson Cano is currently a ridiculously good baseball player - something like a 6 WAR player. If he produces at his projected level with a relatively normal decline phase, he should be able to be worth 8/200 by outperforming his salary enough in the early years to pay for it in the later ones.

If he's a 6 WAR player, he's worth $30-35M p.a., which will be declining soon. If you're paying him $25M, I don't see that much surplus to absorb the bad years at the back.
   9. zonk Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:19 PM (#4367026)
2B always seem to go cliff diving rather suddenly...

On one hand, when you sign a Cano-quality player (if you're close enough for him to be "the" final piece) - I suppose you tend to assume that you're going to be eating some backend yuck years, but my concern about a contract like the one Cano will get.... what if it's not the last 2-3 years you eat, but what if he does the rather frighteningly typical nose dive by 32-33-34?

I mean - Chase Utley is 33, and it doesn't like he's gonna play 100 games in a season again - and even then, he's now a 110 OPS+ player, not a ~135-140 player... Dan Uggla took a precipitous dip at age 31 and now has become a 'take my wife, please' player. Sure - there was the whole retirement thing, but Ryne Sandberg's last truly great season was at 31.

Cano just concerns me greatly because 2B would be a clear place the Cubs could look to upgrade (and Barney hits arb after 2013, I think)... Of course, Theo seems to be in love with defensive metrics -- so maybe he buys the nonsense about Barney being the 7th most valuable player in baseball (or whatever the ridiculous dWAR numbers say he was).
   10. attaboy Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:27 PM (#4367034)
My reading of the contract terms at Cot's is that the Phillies have a 2014 option which will become guaranteed if Halladay throws 260 innings. If he doesn't, though, they can still exercise the option. $20M for Halladay in 2014 is a no brainer barring injury.

I would only agree with this if the Phillies are in the hunt this year making them think they could be in the hunt next year and if Halladay pitches like 2011 or before (no small feat). If not (and I don't think they will be able to challenge for the division...wild card, probably) I don't see a reason for them to take 20M for a single pitcher on an old, mediocre team.
   11. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:30 PM (#4367038)
I would be a little surprised if the Braves extended Brian McCann. What's the history on catchers who have had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum?
   12. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:31 PM (#4367040)
Is it my imagination, or is the list basically Robinson Cano and nine guys with injury histories to be wary of?


Probably. Seems like most good players get locked up and don't enjoy FA these days until they're past their prime. In this year's class, the best of the bunch included:

Josh Hamilton: a guy who was a bust for several years because of substance abuse issues and has only twice played over 140 games in a year
Zack Greinke: a guy who walked away from the game for a year due to mental anxiety
Anibal Sanchez: a guy who missed the entire 2003 season with TJ surgery, then missed parts of three of the next four seasons due to injuries
BJ Upton: great talent, but a bit enigmatic in the clubhouse and in the effort category


   13. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:34 PM (#4367044)
Is it my imagination, or is the list basically Robinson Cano and nine guys with injury histories to be wary of? Yecch. I guess Hunter Pence has been pretty durable, but if someone's thinking about building a franchise around Hunter Pence, they're insane.


That doesn't seem that unusual to me. Just looking at recent years these are the top free agents from ESPN's list plus this list for comparison purposes;

2013 - Cano, Wainwright, Johnson, Ellsbury
2012 - Greinke, Upton, Hamilton, Bourn
2011 - Fielder, Pujols, Darvish, Reyes
2010 - Lee, Crawford, Werth, Beltre
2009 - Holliday, Bay, Lackey, Pineiro
2008 - Teixeira, Sabathia, Manny, Burnett
2007 - A-Rod, Posada, Lowell, Bonds

2008 and 2011 arguably have three "sure things" in them but I think a 1-2 of Cano/Wainwright stacks up pretty well with the other years. The catch is that the previous year lists are after the season ended whereas the current year is before guys (e.g. Wainwright) sign deals that take them off the market. If Cano and Wainwright both sign before the season begins as is definitely possible then next year's class becomes pretty bad.
   14. The Good Face Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:43 PM (#4367049)
On one hand, when you sign a Cano-quality player (if you're close enough for him to be "the" final piece) - I suppose you tend to assume that you're going to be eating some backend yuck years, but my concern about a contract like the one Cano will get.... what if it's not the last 2-3 years you eat, but what if he does the rather frighteningly typical nose dive by 32-33-34?


Yeah. Pretty much the best case scenario for modern 2B aging would be Joe Morgan, who remained reasonably productive right up until his retirement at 40. However, even Morgan was pretty much done as a star after his age 33 season, averaging like 2.5 WAR per year. Of course, any one of Joe Morgan's 5 peak seasons were better than Cano's very best year, so I'm comfortable believing that Cano's not really in Morgan's class as a player. 8/$200M looks like a pretty bad bet to me; if you're banking on a guy having Joe Morgan's decline phase to make the deal work, you're probably overpaying.
   15. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:45 PM (#4367052)
Of course, these days, guys who do not have a lot of injury history and/or other question marks tend to get locked up through their prime years.
   16. GregD Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:51 PM (#4367056)
The Yankees also have a short-term PR problem, which is they don't have many people in their early 30s to root for. They kind of have to sign Cano or sign someone else big (but there isn't anyone else available) to make next year's team interesting at all.

Assuming they want a reduced 2014 payroll and then will reinflate, then there's a lot of value in keeping people interested in 2014 so they'll still be around for the good times allegedly acomin in 2015. Cano's one of the few ways to do that, or rather not signing Cano would be strong signal to ignore the team.
   17. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 11, 2013 at 12:58 PM (#4367062)
The Yankees also have a short-term PR problem, which is they don't have many people in their early 30s to root for. They kind of have to sign Cano or sign someone else big (but there isn't anyone else available) to make next year's team interesting at all.

Assuming they want a reduced 2014 payroll and then will reinflate, then there's a lot of value in keeping people interested in 2014 so they'll still be around for the good times allegedly acomin in 2015. Cano's one of the few ways to do that, or rather not signing Cano would be strong signal to ignore the team.


I think the ARod fiasco, and the ability to blame "big bad Boras" gives them the leeway to pass on Cano, as long as they make a strong offer.
   18. zonk Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:04 PM (#4367068)
Morgan... yeah - I don't know how I missed Morgan...

Was playing around in bbref trying to find a 2B that didn't fall apart in his early 30s and either I just skipped over him somehow excluded him in my criteria... beyond him, I was having a really hard time finding ANY 2B I'd want to have in his 32-33+ seasons.

It seriously looks worse than catchers -- catchers tend to age quickly, too -- but you have a much easier time building a case for a guy breaking the pattern of wearing out... Piazza, Fisk, I-Rod.... Catchers tend to go quickly, too -- but just perusing career leaderboards, it seems much easier to find catching exceptions than 2B exceptions. Even in different eras -- I seem to be having an easier time finding older catchers than older 2B.

   19. PreservedFish Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:13 PM (#4367075)
So is the theory here that taking blind hits on the DP turn is what is killing the careers of 2Bs? That's the only unique thing about the position, which is otherwise pretty cushy. It seems doubtful to me that all of these early-ending careers can be attributed to this one type of play. There has to be a lump of coincidence/luck in the trend.
   20. bjhanke Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:15 PM (#4367077)
Cano's clearly the cream of the class, especially if your league has the DH. Cano can surely play 2B now, but if he slips, there's nowhere else to put him. He'd be a good DH, I bet. But right now, he's a very good second baseman. Get as many years as you can out of the 2B play, then DH him or trade him to team that needs a DH who can help out at 2B in an emergency, or to a team tht is in contention, but lacks a good 2B.

The Cardinals will re-sign Wainwright. With Chris Carpenter possibly sent off to retirement, they need that extra ace to anchor their rotation.- Brock Hanke
   21. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:17 PM (#4367079)
So is the theory here that taking blind hits on the DP turn is what is killing the careers of 2Bs? That's the only unique thing about the position, which is otherwise pretty cushy.

Part of the problem is they have nowhere to go down the spectrum. 2B's generally don't have the arm for 3B or the bat for 1B/RF/LF. When they slip a little, they're utility IFs at best.
   22. JJ1986 Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:19 PM (#4367080)
Rod Carew maintained his hitting ability through age 37. Might be the best-case hitting comp. Cano at 1B is a lot less valuable, but with his arm, there's no reason he can't slide down to 3B.
   23. zonk Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:19 PM (#4367082)
So is the theory here that taking blind hits on the DP turn is what is killing the careers of 2Bs? That's the only unique thing about the position, which is otherwise pretty cushy. It seems doubtful to me that all of these early-ending careers can be attributed to this one type of play. There has to be a lump of coincidence/luck in the trend.


I suppose it's got to be the biggest factor -- and I suppose I can see it really being 'something special' in terms of shortening careers... never mind actually blowing out the knee -- but to a big extent, that blind-side take out slide certainly has to wear on the knees, perhaps even worse than the long-term effects of catching. It's just a fundamental stressing of the knee in a way it's really not designed to be stressed (as opposed to overdoing something the knee is just more designed to do, even if not so regularly).
   24. GuyM Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:24 PM (#4367085)
The fact is that most players go downhill fast in their 30s. I doubt the rate of decline is noticeably faster at 2B. Here are 5 WAR seasons by age, 1920-2012:
30: 131
31: 115
32: 96
33: 66
34: 41

The other factor here is that 2B has been perhaps the weakest position, in terms of overall value, for at least the last 20-30 years. Since the best 2Bmen tend to be a bit weaker than the best players at other positions, it's also true that their decline will bring them down to merely average (or below) at a younger age.
   25. PreservedFish Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:28 PM (#4367087)
Part of the problem is they have nowhere to go down the spectrum. 2B's generally don't have the arm for 3B or the bat for 1B/RF/LF. When they slip a little, they're utility IFs at best.


That's true, and it's got to be a factor, but the logic does work for other positions. "When CFs get old they tend not to have the bat for LF/RF." But in real life it seems like they often do have the bat to move down the spectrum.

Also, the guys we're talking about - Alomar, Grich, Sandberg, Utley, whoever - these guys absolutely were good enough hitters to move to 1B/RF/LF if their hitting numbers had gracefully declined.

On edit > I just realized that the second point isn't very strong ... none of those guys, even with graceful declines, would have been worth big money as leftfielders, even if they would have been respectable starters.

Double edit > Also the first point isn't very strong either, as at least the move from CF to LF is a natural and easy one, whereas none of the potential moves for 2B are.
   26. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:28 PM (#4367088)
There has to be a lump of coincidence/luck in the trend

second basemen have a common body type of being smaller/slighter. that means injuries can happen more often and the recovery time longer
second base is a defense first position but play in a world where offense is better measured. so if a second baseman's offense slips even if the defense is ok a manager is likely to cast for options
accident prone position
as snapper mentioned, when a second baseman isn't a regular there ain't a lot of options

so you have a role played by guys who tend to be smaller than everyone else (generally), exposed to more risk of injury, who have a smaller margin of error on job security and once regular status is lost there isn't a fallback common in the industry

   27. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:32 PM (#4367091)
No mention of Kent? I don't see how Jeff Kent isn't an exception to the second basemen aging badly pattern. 32 sounds like the magic number, but he had a 133 OPS+ from ages 32-39. Even from ages 35-40 his OPS+ is 120.
   28. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:33 PM (#4367092)
and before someone hammers me on my generalization on second body types it is meant as a generalization. i am sure folks can roust up exceptions.
   29. salvomania Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:52 PM (#4367102)
Rod Carew maintained his hitting ability through age 37. Might be the best-case hitting comp.


Except Carew stopped being a full-time 2B after his Age 29 season, starting zero games there after that.
   30. flournoy Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:58 PM (#4367105)
Lou Whitaker was pretty good all the way to the end of his career.
   31. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 11, 2013 at 01:59 PM (#4367106)
No mention of Kent? I don't see how Jeff Kent isn't an exception to the second basemen aging badly pattern. 32 sounds like the magic number, but he had a 133 OPS+ from ages 32-39. Even from ages 35-40 his OPS+ is 120.

Kent is the best case, and his age 31-39 was worth 32.4 WAR. At $6M per WAR that still doesn't get you to 8/200.
   32. GuyM Posted: February 11, 2013 at 02:05 PM (#4367113)
and before someone hammers me on my generalization on second body types it is meant as a generalization. i am sure folks can roust up exceptions.

Is there any evidence in favor of the generalization? Is it true that smaller/lighter players have more frequent injuries, or spend more time on DL? Seems pretty unlikely....

Kent is the best case, and his age 31-39 was worth 32.4 WAR. At $6M per WAR that still doesn't get you to 8/200.

You think the going price for WAR in 2021 will still be $6M? LOL.
   33. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 11, 2013 at 02:11 PM (#4367115)
You think the going price for WAR in 2021 will still be $6M? LOL.

I have no idea. No one does.
   34. Cris E Posted: February 11, 2013 at 02:11 PM (#4367117)
You think the going price for WAR in 2021 will still be $6M? LOL.

Maybe not, but it could be the going price for it today. You get a discount for advance purchase, which is to say that for the player there's a lot of value in the guaranteed money this many years out.
   35. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 11, 2013 at 02:12 PM (#4367119)
guy

i am stating that because the position lends itself to smaller players 'and' there are more collisions that the combination generates that output. i don't have a query on days on dl by position and this is based on pure observation/gut instinct.

you don't think second basemen followed by catchers lead the clubhouse in injury days? gosh i would have to think so.
   36. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: February 11, 2013 at 02:22 PM (#4367124)
Kent is the best case, and his age 31-39 was worth 32.4 WAR. At $6M per WAR that still doesn't get you to 8/200.

Well Cano has been worth about 21 WAR the last 3 seasons. Kent's 27-29 seasons get you only to 9. And by WAR Kent never had a season approaching as good as Cano's 2012 or 2010.
   37. Davo Dozier Posted: February 11, 2013 at 02:22 PM (#4367126)
Multiple 4-WAR seasons by second basemen after turning 31 (since 1920):

Gehringer had 6
Eddie Collins had 5
Morgan and Horsnby had 4
Kent, Biggio, Alomar, Whitaker, Randolph, Lopes, and Jackie Robinson had 3
Polanco, Loretta, Boone, Sandberg, Franco, Grich, Runnels, Schoendienst, Stanky, Gordon, Frey, and Buddy Myer all had 2.

...and that's the list.
   38. GuyM Posted: February 11, 2013 at 02:28 PM (#4367130)
I have no idea. No one does.

Then how can you possibly have any opinion on whether 32.4 WAR should get a player $200M over 8 years?

you don't think second basemen followed by catchers lead the clubhouse in injury days? gosh i would have to think so.

I have no idea if 2B spend more time on the DL -- maybe, but it's not obvious to me. I feel pretty sure that a heavier 2B would, on average, spend more time on the DL rather than less, because avoiding impact is likely a superior injury-avoidance strategy than being strong and getting hit a lot.

* *

The general point here is that people are looking for theories to explain something -- shorter careers for 2B -- that likely isn't true. Here are the #s of 4+ WAR seasons for age 30 and 34 players:
30: 240
34: 92 (62% decline)

Here are the same #s for 2B only:
30: 31
34: 14 (54% decline)

I just don't see a reason to believe 2B decline faster than average. What I think is true is that all players decline much faster after age 30 than we generally think, because the players we remember best are those who had long, productive careers (and because most aging studies are afflicted by survivor bias).

   39. The Good Face Posted: February 11, 2013 at 02:29 PM (#4367131)
So is the theory here that taking blind hits on the DP turn is what is killing the careers of 2Bs? That's the only unique thing about the position, which is otherwise pretty cushy. It seems doubtful to me that all of these early-ending careers can be attributed to this one type of play. There has to be a lump of coincidence/luck in the trend.


I suspect selection bias in terms of who winds up at 2B plays a role. The very best athletes typically wind up at SS or CF, so 2B is left with the remnants; guys who throw righty and can pick it in the infield. The best hitters of that bunch get to have MLB careers. If you're starting with a less talented group, it's no surprise if they start to tail off earlier than other players.

I'd forgotten about Jeff Kent, but his last elite season came at age 34. From there through the end of his career, his decline phase was no better than Morgan's; worse actually.
   40. DL from MN Posted: February 11, 2013 at 02:34 PM (#4367134)
Whitaker probably aged gracefully partly because he was lefthanded and it was easy to find a platoon partner for 25 games a year.

Moving to 3B is not much of a slide down the defensive spectrum. More of a lateral move where the player's arm counts more but he no longer has to turn the pivot.

Interesting seeing Hornsby, Kent and Carew held up as good examples. Maybe poorer fielders age better.
   41. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 11, 2013 at 02:35 PM (#4367135)
Then how can you possibly have any opinion on whether 32.4 WAR should get a player $200M over 8 years?

I'm confident that if the best possible case, among many, many more flameouts, needs significant inflation to be worth $200M, you don't pay $200M.
   42. formerly dp Posted: February 11, 2013 at 02:47 PM (#4367143)
i am stating that because the position lends itself to smaller players 'and' there are more collisions that the combination generates that output. i don't have a query on days on dl by position and this is based on pure observation/gut instinct.
Bill James had a really nice comment along these lines in his comment on Robbie Alomar-- I think it was in the 1990 Baseball Book. Basically, James was predicting that Alomar would be the exception to the rule, due to his mobility and genes (oversimplifying).
   43. The Good Face Posted: February 11, 2013 at 02:57 PM (#4367148)
I'm confident that if the best possible case, among many, many more flameouts, needs significant inflation to be worth $200M, you don't pay $200M.


Well, if Cano gives you Joe Morgan's 31+ career, 8/200 is probably a bargain. If he gives you Jeff Kent's, you'll probably break around even. If you get Lou Whittaker's, slight overpay at worst depending on $/WAR inflation. There are some positive precedents out there, and I'm starting to come around to the notion that 8/200 might not be crazy. Still a scary contract, but if you think you'll get ~30+ WAR from him, probably worth pulling the trigger. Even Alomar was worth 19 WAR from 31+, and Sandberg was worth 22.
   44. GuyM Posted: February 11, 2013 at 03:02 PM (#4367151)
I'd forgotten about Jeff Kent, but his last elite season came at age 34. From there through the end of his career, his decline phase was no better than Morgan's; worse actually

That's because everone's last elite season comes at age 34 (or earlier). Since 1920, there have only been 155 4+ WAR seasons from players age 35 or over, less than 2 per season. That's considerably fewer than the # generated by ages 33-34 alone. And if we exclude 1B/LF/RF, there have been only 68 4+ WAR seasons in the last 93 years -- less than one per season. I think people have a greatly exaggerated sense of how common it is for players in their mid-30s to post elite performances (and I set the bar for "elite" pretty low at 4 WAR).
   45. Dan Posted: February 11, 2013 at 03:14 PM (#4367155)
Cano's clearly the cream of the class, especially if your league has the DH. Cano can surely play 2B now, but if he slips, there's nowhere else to put him. He'd be a good DH, I bet. But right now, he's a very good second baseman. Get as many years as you can out of the 2B play, then DH him or trade him to team that needs a DH who can help out at 2B in an emergency, or to a team tht is in contention, but lacks a good 2B.


If I were signing Cano to a long term deal, I'd immediately shift him to third base. While he's been solid defensively at 2B, he has the tools to be awesome at 3B, and as a side benefit you may save him from falling off a cliff like most 2B do. Cano's arm and quick reactions would make him very good at third base, while his mediocre foot speed really limit his range at second base, especially his ability to range into the 3.5 hole.

Worst case he can almost assuredly play first base rather than being relegated to DHing.
   46. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 11, 2013 at 03:15 PM (#4367156)
I think people have a greatly exaggerated sense of how common it is for players in their mid-30s to post elite performances (and I set the bar for "elite" pretty low at 4 WAR).

i don't think here does. even with the surge in late career performance from 1994-2004 the aging curve held in broad terms

which is why in contract discussion threads you have folks protesting that a team is paying too much for age 37 seasons and the counterpoint being that the team is really paying for elite age 32 performance and accepting the tradeoff being that at age 37 the player won't be nearly as valuable (or something along those lines). i read that back and forth all the time these past few yearss.
   47. Jim Wisinski Posted: February 11, 2013 at 03:30 PM (#4367161)
So if the Yankees decide that $/WAR says they can't sign Cano and he goes elsewhere then who replaces his production at the plate and spot on the field? That seems rather more important than "winning" a contract.
   48. zonk Posted: February 11, 2013 at 03:35 PM (#4367163)
That's because everone's last elite season comes at age 34 (or earlier). Since 1920, there have only been 155 4+ WAR seasons from players age 35 or over, less than 2 per season. That's considerably fewer than the # generated by ages 33-34 alone. And if we exclude 1B/LF/RF, there have been only 68 4+ WAR seasons in the last 93 years -- less than one per season. I think people have a greatly exaggerated sense of how common it is for players in their mid-30s to post elite performances (and I set the bar for "elite" pretty low at 4 WAR).


Frightening when you think about handing out big contracts to FA class cream...

It means that you should really only spend big $$$ on a FA under 30... or -- if you spend on an over-30, you'd damn well better be JUST ONE PLAYER AWAY... not that this isn't long-time BTF groupthink :-)
   49. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: February 11, 2013 at 03:46 PM (#4367177)
The last time I looked at this, age 32 season was the last year you want to be locked into a 2B. (Granted, the last time I looked at this I was mocking Mets fans who were overly ecstatic about the prospects of Old Robbie Alomar.)

I don't know what the reasons are, but you don't want to lock major funds into a 2B or a C after 32 years old. Sure, there's the Morgans and the Piazza's to prove the rule, but generally speaking, Robbie Cano is more likely to be Robbie Alomar than Joe Morgan.
   50. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 11, 2013 at 03:52 PM (#4367182)
So if the Yankees decide that $/WAR says they can't sign Cano and he goes elsewhere then who replaces his production at the plate and spot on the field? That seems rather more important than "winning" a contract.

Even if you sign him, it's still very likely that in 2 or 3 years you need to replace a lot of his production, but you'll have $200M less to address it.

Even if they sign Cano, he ain't giving them 6 WAR for very much longer. The production still needs to be replaced.
   51. Davo Dozier Posted: February 11, 2013 at 04:02 PM (#4367202)
Even if you sign him, it's still very likely that in 2 or 3 years you need to replace a lot of his production, but you'll have $200M less to address it.

Even if they sign Cano, he ain't giving them 6 WAR for very much longer. The production still needs to be replaced.
Then, heck, isn't the best play to trade him now?
   52. formerly dp Posted: February 11, 2013 at 04:04 PM (#4367207)
I was mocking Mets fans
Way to go after the low-hanging fruit.
   53. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: February 11, 2013 at 04:07 PM (#4367211)
Way to go after the low-hanging fruit.


Mets fans were different in the 1990s. They were in one of their "we're going to be relevant!" manic phases.
   54. GuyM Posted: February 11, 2013 at 04:09 PM (#4367213)
The last time I looked at this, age 32 season was the last year you want to be locked into a 2B.

Seriously, where do people come up with this stuff? You don't want to be locked in on any player past age 32, unless of course they are a great player and/or you are playing them an appropriate salary given their predictable age-related decline. Playing 2B has nothing to do with it.

A total of 275 players have put up at least 6 WAR over their age 31-32 seasons (total). Over the age 33-34 seasons that total drops to 168 -- a 39% decline. If you do the same exercise for 2B, the drop is the same: from 32 to 19 (-41%). Do the same thing with a minimum of 5 WAR over the two years (still an above-average player), and the results are the same: a 37% drop overall, and a 39% drop at 2B.

Let's turn this around: does anyone have any evidence of any kind that players at 2B decline more quickly than those at other positions?
   55. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: February 11, 2013 at 04:15 PM (#4367217)
If I were signing Cano to a long term deal, I'd immediately shift him to third base. While he's been solid defensively at 2B, he has the tools to be awesome at 3B, and as a side benefit you may save him from falling off a cliff like most 2B do. Cano's arm and quick reactions would make him very good at third base, while his mediocre foot speed really limit his range at second base, especially his ability to range into the 3.5 hole.

I can neither confirm nor deny that I have given this extensive thought for the Red Sox. Not that I actually think the Yankees let him hit FA.
   56. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 11, 2013 at 04:22 PM (#4367230)
Then, heck, isn't the best play to trade him now?

If you can get something good, yes.

However, that probably should have been done before signing all the old guys. They seem to be locked in to one last run in '13, before they rebuild.
   57. sunnyday2 Posted: February 11, 2013 at 04:40 PM (#4367242)
A more accurate title for this list would have been, Players Least Likely to Be Signed by the Minnesota Twins, with least likely at the top.
   58. Walt Davis Posted: February 11, 2013 at 04:53 PM (#4367251)
Assuming they want a reduced 2014 payroll and then will reinflate, then there's a lot of value in keeping people interested in 2014 so they'll still be around for the good times allegedly acomin in 2015.

The 2015 FA class is worse than 2014. 2016 might have some nice names.

So is the theory here that taking blind hits on the DP turn is what is killing the careers of 2Bs?

That doesn't help and it does seem to have a lot of physical wear and tear. But part of it also is that they usually aren't that good to begin with and their skill set is not that hard to find. My point being that as a 2B ages, the defense slips a bit but the bat slips a bit too and you've got nowhere on the defensive spectrum to move him. Unless you are hitting like Morgan or Carew in your early 30s and therefore have a lot of room to fall and still be a good hitter, you're going to be a pretty meh bat rather quickly. Morgan is nearly unique in being able to remain a good defensive 2B in his mid-late 30s.

Anyway, Carew and Molitor (sort of a 2B) are the other success stories. Carew put up 30 WAR from 31-38 and wasn't below average until his final age 39 season, all despite his move to 1B. Molitor put up 33 WAR from 31 to 38, mainly a DH and 1B from 34 on. They're both reasonable comps for Cano. Whitaker, not a bad comp either, aged very well; Grich aged well (not sure why he retired at 37, he was still abvoe-average; Randolph peaked very early but was the same player from 31-36 as he had been from 26-30. There's no reason Cano can't age well although it might require a position shift which will obviously reduce his value. And, as with any player in their 30s who's not super-elite (and even then), that's not saying there's a good chance he'll be worth $200 M from 31-38 just that there's a good chance he'll be a good player for those ages.

Cano is 10th in (80%+) 2B WAR through age 30, needs 6 WAR to catch Whitaker at #9. Of the 9 ahead of him, Morgan, Carew, Grich, Randolph and Whitaker aged well; Alomar, Sandberg, Knoblauch and probably Utley did not. Maybe in an ideal world Utley makes the Carew/Molitor move to an easier position a couple of years ago.

I probably owe some Cokes, only halfway through the thread
   59. zonk Posted: February 11, 2013 at 05:09 PM (#4367256)
Walt always takes the fun out of idly speculating out of one's ass by pretty definitively answering the question in a single post....
   60. salvomania Posted: February 11, 2013 at 05:35 PM (#4367272)
Anyway, Carew and Molitor (sort of a 2B) are the other success stories. Carew put up 30 WAR from 31-38 and wasn't below average until his final age 39 season, all despite his move to 1B. Molitor put up 33 WAR from 31 to 38, mainly a DH and 1B from 34 on.


Carew shouldn't be a comp if we're comparing 2b; he played 30 innings total at 2b after age 29. He played more games and seasons as a 1b than as a 2b---and had his best offensive season (the .388 one) as a 1b.

I always wondered if having Carew---whose career high HR was 14---start at 1b for the last 10 years of his career was giving away production, but to my surprise, there just weren't a lot of consistent great-hitting full-time AL 1b from 1971-1990 (bracketing Carew's years at 1b by 5 years in either direction). In that span only Eddie Murray had more 4+ WAR seasons as an AL 1b (6) than did Carew (4).

Do people see Cano as a 1b after age 30-31?
   61. GuyM Posted: February 11, 2013 at 05:47 PM (#4367278)
Cano is 10th in (80%+) 2B WAR through age 30, needs 6 WAR to catch Whitaker at #9. Of the 9 ahead of him, Morgan, Carew, Grich, Randolph and Whitaker aged well; Alomar, Sandberg, Knoblauch and probably Utley did not.

Or to put it another way, second basemen age just like players at every other position!

Through age 30, 393 players have accumulated at least 20 WAR. Of these, 11% (43) played primarily at 2B.

From age 31 on, 125 players have accumulated at least 20 WAR. Of these, 14 played primarily at 2B -- also 11% of the total.

In trying to assess how much to pay a player like Cano, and for how long, it makes no sense to limit yourself to looking at 2B. You are just shrinking your sample size for no offsetting advantage.
   62. Walt Davis Posted: February 11, 2013 at 05:47 PM (#4367279)
Let's turn this around: does anyone have any evidence of any kind that players at 2B decline more quickly than those at other positions?

Back in the dark ages (maybe 10 years ago even) I ran a simple survival analysis simply looking at career length (i.e. did they play that next season or not). My memory's too fuzzy to recall how I defined "position" and I probably limited the sample to players who had at least 600 or 1000 PA or something like that. Anyway, 2B was the only position that had a significantly lower survival rate. How applicable that is isn't clear, I wasn't looking at playing time or performance. Cs actually lasted forever in large part because former starting Cs often have long careers as veteran backup Cs -- decline is large but it's in terms of amount and quality of performance not in terms of the ability to squat.

That's awfully vague I know. Anyway, in general I agree with your point -- controlling for something like WAR from ages 28-30, there probably isn't much difference in the decline rate of different positions (except probably C). Maybe 2B collapse more frequently or disappear more quickly than other positions.

Nevertheless, your numbers lead to the same conclusion -- the chances that Cano ages 35-38 is going to be a good player are pretty slim because they're pretty slim for every player. Even looking at elite 2B, his expected outcome from ages 31 to 38 is probably around 22 WAR -- the good group tended to put up about 30 WAR, the bad group was around 10-15 ... and he's just not in Morgan's class.

I seriously doubt he's getting 8 years. That's not the current trend. Almost all of these long-range buyouts end at age 36 -- teams know there's no reason to lock up beyond that. I think Wright is the only one of these who's managed to push it out to age 37. Pujols is the major exception but he's Albert Pujols and Cano is not (and the start of that contract is not promising). The Yanks will likely extend Cano this season for another 6-7 years is my guess.

I believe there has been a substantial shift -- contract length is determined by age, not "quality" per se. Prince got a 9-year contract ... which takes him through age 36. Gonzalez got the 7 year extension ... which takes him through age 36. Tex got 8 years ... which takes him through age 36. Those were 3 roughly equal guys in terms of production when they became available. The contract length is not an indicator that Prince is better and Gonzalez the worst, it's just age.

This may have started a long time ago ... Jeter's big contract ended at age 36, Bernie Williams' big contract ended at age 36.
   63. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: February 11, 2013 at 06:17 PM (#4367305)
Well, if Cano gives you Joe Morgan's 31+ career, 8/200 is probably a bargain. If he gives you Jeff Kent's, you'll probably break around even. If you get Lou Whittaker's, slight overpay at worst depending on $/WAR inflation. There are some positive precedents out there, and I'm starting to come around to the notion that 8/200 might not be crazy. Still a scary contract, but if you think you'll get ~30+ WAR from him, probably worth pulling the trigger. Even Alomar was worth 19 WAR from 31+, and Sandberg was worth 22.


The possibility of collapse, though, carries more serious consequences when you're on the hook for 25m a year. We tend to emphasize the value of packing 5, 6, 7 wins into a single position, but I think we underestimate the problems created by a 25m albatross. Even a team as wealthy as the Spanks are feeling the pinch resulting from the ARod deal.

It's peachy if Cano pushes you towards a title in the first three years of a deal, but if in the last three he's making the postseason all but impossible to reach, that's a huge price, one I don't think we pay enough attention to.
   64. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: February 11, 2013 at 06:33 PM (#4367314)
If I were signing Cano to a long term deal, I'd immediately shift him to third base.


This strikes me as, well, insane. It's already a $200m gamble. He's 30. Over a decade ago he played all of 16 games at third. Despite their travails at third, the Yanks played him there for nary an inning.

This would already be as dicey as a 200m deal gets, and you want to increase the chances that the player would get hurt or otherwise fail dealing with an unfamiliar position? Yikes, man.

Mets fans were different in the 1990s. They were in one of their "we're going to be relevant!" manic phases.


And now we're going into the fourth year of the 'waiting for dad to die' phase.
   65. zonk Posted: February 11, 2013 at 06:36 PM (#4367319)


This strikes me as, well, insane. It's already a $200m gamble. He's 30. Over a decade ago he played all of 16 games at third. Despite their travails at third, the Yanks played him there for nary an inning.

This would already be as dicey as a 200m deal gets, and you want to increase the chances that the player would get hurt dealing with an unfamiliar position? Yikes, man.


I think the chances of him either wearing out or getting hurt at 2B are more than the same at 3B.

I'd move him to 3B. His bat carries well enough that even 1B is worth a thought - though, he suddenly becomes a fair bit less valuable if he's a 1B.
   66. GuyM Posted: February 11, 2013 at 06:46 PM (#4367328)
His bat carries well enough that even 1B is worth a thought - though, he suddenly becomes a fair bit less valuable if he's a 1B.

People say things like this all the time -- player X will be less valuable if moved to less-demanding position Y -- but it generally isn't true. We would expect Cano at 1B to be an exceptional fielder (for the position), and that would offset the lowering of his positional adjustment. If he made the transition in a typical way, his WAR would basically be unchanged. Why do people assume players lose value when they make a move down the defensive spectrum?


   67. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: February 11, 2013 at 06:52 PM (#4367332)
His bat carries well enough that even 1B is worth a thought - though, he suddenly becomes a fair bit less valuable if he's a 1B.


Didn't Jeff Kent, mentioned above as an outlier to the 2B trend of death-by-cliffing, spend a not insignificant amount of time at 1B later in his career?
   68. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: February 11, 2013 at 06:57 PM (#4367336)
The answer seems to be "no." I'm misremember Kent as a 1B more than he really played the position. Interesting.
   69. PreservedFish Posted: February 11, 2013 at 07:46 PM (#4367367)
We would expect Cano at 1B to be an exceptional fielder (for the position), and that would offset the lowering of his positional adjustment. If he made the transition in a typical way, his WAR would basically be unchanged.


If we move Prince Fielder to SS, will his WAR basically be unchanged? Not snark, honest question.
   70. Tippecanoe Posted: February 11, 2013 at 07:56 PM (#4367376)
We would expect Cano at 1B to be an exceptional fielder (for the position), and that would offset the lowering of his positional adjustment.


Not seeing it. He would have to be the best fielding first baseman in history to offset the difference.

For example, Keith Hernandez was, in context, a better hitter than Cano (Career on-base-heavy 128 OPS + vs. Cano's 123). But he never had the WAR numbers that Cano has been posting. Cano would have to be better than Hernandez defensively for this to work out.
   71. GuyM Posted: February 11, 2013 at 08:13 PM (#4367384)
If we move Prince Fielder to SS, will his WAR basically be unchanged? Not snark, honest question.

Under the WAR system, a player moving from one position to another -- and who is average in making that transition -- will basically see no change in WAR. This is true by definition, since the positional adjustment is meant to equal the average change in defensive performance when players move from one position to another. This seems to be a feature of WAR that is not well understood for some reason.

Now, of course an individual player may do better or worse at making a transition. WAR may assume that an average 1B will be -25 runs at SS (I'm too lazy to check, but it's in that ballpark). But that obviously doesn't mean every single 1B could do that -- so Fielder might well be worse. And really, players don't move from SS to 1B often enough to measure this very accurately. But functionally, what we care about is this question: how much offense do you have to give up to get an average fielder at SS, compared to an average fielder at 1B? And that's about 20-25 runs.

Not seeing it. He would have to be the best fielding first baseman in history to offset the difference.

That's not true. He'd have to be enough better at 1B to match the difference in positional adjustments, which is what, 12-15 runs? So if Cano were average at 2B, he'd have to be something like +15 at 1B to make it a wash. Seems plausible.

The problem with your Hernandez comparison is that: 1) Cano probably has more baserunning value, and 2) Hernandez' fielding is hugely undervalued by WAR/TZ -- he was much more valuable than his WAR totals indicate.

I'm not saying every actual position change has no impact on player value. There are certainly players who can handle 2B but would fail in CF, even though they are roughly equally valued positions. Maybe there's some reason to think Cano can't handle 1B (though seems unlikely). But in general, your default assumption when moving a player to an easier position is that it will have zero impact on his value, not that it lowers his value.
   72. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: February 11, 2013 at 08:16 PM (#4367387)
I think the chances of him either wearing out or getting hurt at 2B are more than the same at 3B.


Guy M. has made some persuasive posts suggesting otherwise, though.

I'd move him to 3B. His bat carries well enough that even 1B is worth a thought - though, he suddenly becomes a fair bit less valuable if he's a 1B.


Enough so that if that's part of the plan (or gets factored in somehow), 8/200 is looking way, way too high. Having a place to move him to obviously has value, and adds value, but the drop off from moving him (I agree with the sense of post 70) costs more than the flexibility adds.

edit: I have little reason to think Cano would be a better than average fielding first baseman. He's old. He's never played there. Agility is an inadequate substitute for the tens of thousands of repetitions he doesn't have at first. His athleticism would have to more than compensate for something like the 15 years of experience a typical 1Bmen already has at the position for us to imagine Cano would be a better than average fielder there. If I'm right, his moving to first would cost the -12 to -15 runs Guy mentions.

Baseball is harder than you think it is. Even if you think it's very, very difficult.
   73. JJ1986 Posted: February 11, 2013 at 08:25 PM (#4367394)
Despite their travails at third, the Yanks played him there for nary an inning.


It would have been crazy for the Yankees to have had him play there before this year. They had planned for Alex to get the majority of games there and teams don't generally want their best players moving between two positions.
   74. GuyM Posted: February 11, 2013 at 08:59 PM (#4367416)
72: I don't know how well Cano would do at 1B, but I think he would soon be well above average. Remember that the main difference is not that 1B is "easier" to play, but the pool of players Cano will now be compared to. At 1B he will be compared to Fielder rather than Infante.
   75. Austin Posted: February 11, 2013 at 09:17 PM (#4367426)
Almost all of these long-range buyouts end at age 36 -- teams know there's no reason to lock up beyond that. I think Wright is the only one of these who's managed to push it out to age 37. Pujols is the major exception but he's Albert Pujols and Cano is not (and the start of that contract is not promising).


You're definitely onto something, Walt. I went through Cot's for each team and found that a remarkable number of long-term contracts end at age 35 or 36. However, you are missing at least one whopper. Votto is signed to his massive extension through age 39. Werth is under contract through 38. I guess you aren't counting A-Rod (41) or Soriano (38) because their deals were a while ago, but maybe we should include them, too.

We would expect Cano at 1B to be an exceptional fielder (for the position), and that would offset the lowering of his positional adjustment.


How many first basemen can you name that were consistently worth 15 runs per year? I think the best way to think of the positional adjustment is as a measure of defensive difficulty per opportunity. Shortstops and even second basemen get many, many more balls hit to them than first basemen do, so defensive talent (or lack of talent) has much more of an opportunity to make a difference. If you put an average shortstop at first base, assuming he was 6'1" or taller so that he's physically suited to the position, he would probably be terrific there relative to other first basemen. But "terrific" at first base is probably about +10 runs per season, maybe +15 if you really stretched it. With the positional adjustment, that's still 5-10 runs worse than his average play at shortstop.
   76. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: February 11, 2013 at 09:21 PM (#4367427)
@73: I meant it more as an aside, a data point, than a claim that the Yankees decision said anything conclusive about Cano's ability.

@74: Well, to be fair, not just Fielder, but guys like Teixiera, Gonzalez, Pena...
   77. Tippecanoe Posted: February 11, 2013 at 10:57 PM (#4367524)
if Cano were average at 2B, he'd have to be something like +15 at 1B to make it a wash


OK, but he is currently about a +10 second baseman, not average. Adding the +12-15 for positional adjustment means that he's got to be +22 to +25 at first base to retain his value. IOW, he'd have to be better than Hernandez.
   78. Walt Davis Posted: February 11, 2013 at 11:34 PM (#4367554)
#75 ... Votto is the real outlier although the last few years he's hit like Pujols so I'm assuming that's what the Reds are thinking. ARod's 2nd contract was always strange. Werth was probably a case of the Nats feeling they had to go extra years to get him. Soriano ... is available.

I don't mean to suggest nobody will ever go beyond 36. And the Yanks might go the extra bit for Cano as the Mets went the extra bit with Wright. In the end of course it always comes down to how good the team thinks the player is relative to how good other teams think he is. Leverage still comes into play and mistakes will be made. But it seems pretty clear that the word has gotten out that 36 is about as far as you want to go with a player. That's obvious of course but it is unlikely that so many contracts end at 36 by chance.

This seems to be a feature of WAR that is not well understood for some reason.

I'm not sure I'd call it a feature. It's an assumption based on a relatively small amount of data about actual positional transitions. By the way, the positional difference between SS and 1B is about 17 runs not 25. Given virtually nobody has ever actually made that transition (Banks is the only full-timer who comes to mind; a number of backup IF will pick up innings/starts at 1B ... see Chris Gomez), I find it hard to believe it would be that small.

I am pretty comfortable with the dWAR assumption for the OF. I am comfortable with it for SS moving to 2B/3B. I am definitely uncomfortable with it with moves UP the defensive spectrum -- we rarely see those other than the occasional corner OF to CF (and Cabrera to 3B). And I think it's silly as can be for catchers going to or fro. On the other hand, I think almost anybody in reasonable shape -- i.e. knees this side of Tony Oliva, weight this side of Rico Carty -- other than Todd Hundley can play a decent LF and that almost anybody, given up to a year, can play a decent 1B other than Mike Piazza.

As to Cano, I wouldn't consider moving him to 3B. It might work but I see no reason to try it. I'd be happy to move him to an easier position though. Carew's a good comp again. He was maybe about 5 runs below-average near the end of his 2B time, 1.2 dWAR from 25-29. He moved to 1B and was about +6-7 which is pretty much exactly what the positional difference is and had -3.5 dWAR from 30 to 38. So he lost about half a win a year on defense which you'd expect from aging anyway. As I noted before, he had 30 WAR from 31 to 38 ... although that's heavily reliant on his near 10 WAR at 31. Anyway, those 8 seasons were roughly equal to the previous 5 despite the positional shift. If Cano does that ... he'll produce about 30 WAR from 31 to 38 as a 1B.

Anyway, this is part of the issue with the dWAR assumption. If it doesn't matter if a guy remains at 2B or moves to 1B or DH (Molitor), why move him? Sometimes that's due to personnel on hand but most of the time it's done because the team doesn't think the player can handle the position anymore (be it health or talent). Cabrera is quite rare -- we just don't see successful players move up the defensive spectrum very often. Either teams have been doing things wrong for the entirety of baseball history or the dWAR assumption doesn't hold very well.

   79. PreservedFish Posted: February 11, 2013 at 11:56 PM (#4367564)
I'm not sure I'd call it a feature. It's an assumption based on a relatively small amount of data about actual positional transitions.


The assumption seems to be that if you took a team and assigned positions totally by random, it would be just as good as it was when an educated human was making the lineup.
   80. Walt Davis Posted: February 12, 2013 at 02:05 AM (#4367620)
OK, but he is currently about a +10 second baseman, not average. Adding the +12-15 for positional adjustment means that he's got to be +22 to +25 at first base to retain his value. IOW, he'd have to be better than Hernandez.

Yes but if Cano remains an above-average 2B defensively while also playing full seasons, nobody is going to move him. The only reason to move him before his decline would be if you believe in the curse of the 2B -- but then if that curse is real, I'd imagine the damage is already done. Or I suppose the Yanks could acquire the new Bobby Grich or something then you might move Cano.

The assumption seems to be that if you took a team and assigned positions totally by random, it would be just as good as it was when an educated human was making the lineup.

Well, kinda. It's not insane as you make it sound -- the positional differences are based on data from guys who shifted positions and/or offensive differences so those aren't made up or anything. And range is probably range no matter where you play. But, yes, the upshot is that it theoretically wouldn't matter where guys played.

But it is pretty clear that teams don't like bad defense at C and SS. They're not happy with it in CF either. But once you set those aside (esp C/SS), teams are fairly cavalier about where they play guys. Lots of guys go from LF to RF, lots of guys play 2B and 3B, these days of shortened benches have brought us a reasonable number of guys who play 2B/3B/OF (e.g DeRosa, Zobrist and crappy guys like Bonifacio and Bloomquist). While I think it would be tough for a guy who's played OF for years to transition to handling groundballs, I think most 2B/SS would have no problem playing the OF and 3B's only problem would be range.

Like I said, I think it probably works just fine (on average) in projecting moves down the defensive spectrum and I don't think we have enough experience with moves up the defensive spectrum to have good estimates. So in the case of Cano, I suspect he'd be just fine with the sideways move to 3B and he'd be a good defensive 1B for at least a few years. Unless he has real problems breaking on flyballs, he should be above-average in LF/RF but I'm not sure he has the defensive range for CF but I doubt he'd be a disaster out there.

Obviously when it comes to assigning positions to individuals you have to take that individual into account and dWAR is making no attempt to do this. Heck, it's not even taking handedness into account in terms of it being clearly impossible for a lefty to play fulltime at 2B/SS/3B. Presumably we as users of dWAR are smart enough not to take it so literally that we miss its usefulness.

Wait, what am I saying? They're defensive statistics and we know that all it takes to invalidate every defensive measurement is to find one crazy-looking example.
   81. zonk Posted: February 12, 2013 at 09:36 AM (#4367650)

The assumption seems to be that if you took a team and assigned positions totally by random, it would be just as good as it was when an educated human was making the lineup.

Well, kinda. It's not insane as you make it sound -- the positional differences are based on data from guys who shifted positions and/or offensive differences so those aren't made up or anything. And range is probably range no matter where you play. But, yes, the upshot is that it theoretically wouldn't matter where guys played.


Heh....

I should dig up an old e-mail exchange I had with Keith Law -- we were originally discussing positional scarcity models in rotisserie baseball, but it morphed into a discussion of limited resources, positional scarcity in general, and whether one should pay heed to 'natural' positions or not... his end point was the same as yours -- that if push came to shove and you didn't have to deal with personalities, and if contract costs were normalized across the positional spectrum (i.e., 1B naturally earned less because there were so many good ones) -- he'd rather field a lineup of Derrek Lee at SS, Todd Helton in CF, Brian Giles at 3B, etc than pay the premiums for the few premier players at scarcer positions.

This was all predicated on pushing the roto model of positional scarcity and resource allocation accordingly onto the major leagues - obviously, given the contracts of Pujols, Votto, Teixeira, et al - this doesn't happen... but I have to say it was a convincing case. It predates WAR (and dWAR), but that was the basic idea... outside of a few outliers - you'd be better off getting the good bats in the lineup wherever you can fit them in.
   82. GuyM Posted: February 12, 2013 at 09:46 AM (#4367656)
OK, but he is currently about a +10 second baseman, not average. Adding the +12-15 for positional adjustment means that he's got to be +22 to +25 at first base to retain his value. IOW, he'd have to be better than Hernandez.

Agreed. I think the system probably breaks down if you push it beyond the shifts that occur in real life. Who moves a +10 2B to 1B? If you moved Ozzie to 1B, does he go from +25 at SS to +42 at 1B? Almost certainly not. For one thing, there are far fewer opportunities at 1B, so his skill would be poorly leveraged there. But would a -6 2B become +7 at 1B? That may be a run or two too high, but it's in the right ballpark.

And the point here isn't to forecast the defensive impact of shifting any one actual player. It's simply to establish the general value of each position, a very different mission. And for that purpose, dWAR works OK. A better apprach, in my view, is to actually measure the value of replacement level players at each position. For the most part, that means comparing offensive production. That's much, much, much easier to measure accurately than the change in fielding when players shift position. We know how much offense teams give up at 2B, SS, C, etc.

But in practice the two methods tend to produce similar results. I am skeptical of the small 4-run gap between 2B and SS -- that's the offensive difference, but I think there is a defensive gap as well (Nate Silver found some evidence that replacement SSs, unlike most positions, are below average in the field). So SSs (and maybe catchers) are probably undervalued a bit in WAR. In general, though, the system works.
   83. Greg K Posted: February 12, 2013 at 09:51 AM (#4367658)
you'd be better off getting the good bats in the lineup wherever you can fit them in.

I find this a fascinating discussion that I'm probably not qualified to participate in...

But what happens if every team does this? And you have a league full of DHs playing SS. Does that reduce the value of having a SS who can hit? Does the baseline average for SS defence become "awful", or is the whole league a massive net negative in terms of SS defence? Or if one team is playing Ozzie Smith is he +150 runs above average on defence?
   84. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 12, 2013 at 10:06 AM (#4367660)
How much data is there on true out-of-position players? That is, not guys who were moved one position up or down the defensive spectrum at normal ages, but guys who played at a position for which they were vastly over- or under-qualified? I would hypothesize that the normal values of the defensive spectrum wouldn't work for shifts of that extent. But how much data is there?

The only example I could think of for a full season was Jackie Robinson in 1947, when he played a full season at first base despite being an elite defensive 2B. He rated -2 for the season at first and only started racking up big defensive numbers after moving to tougher positions. Of course, anything can happen in 150 defensive games, and it's possible that there just might be confounding factors in treating Jackie Robinson's 1947 as a representative baseball season.

But what else is there out there?
   85. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 12, 2013 at 10:19 AM (#4367666)
matt

hank greenberg moving to left field to let rudy york play first base
   86. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 12, 2013 at 10:22 AM (#4367668)
buddy bell playing 100 odd games in the outfield because craig nettles was at 3rd base?
   87. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 12, 2013 at 10:26 AM (#4367672)
matt

i think juan samuel was underqualified to play second and should have been in the outfield from day 1
   88. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 12, 2013 at 10:29 AM (#4367676)
placido polanco hung at third base early when someone should have found him a home at second base sooner.
   89. JJ1986 Posted: February 12, 2013 at 10:30 AM (#4367678)
i think juan samuel was underqualified to play second and should have been in the outfield from day 1


This fits Gregg Jeffries too. He switched from 2B to 1B at a fairly young age.
   90. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 12, 2013 at 10:30 AM (#4367679)
matt

if i am completely misunderstanding your line of thought let me know. but these are guys who jumped to mind based on what i considered your post on a misallocation of a defensive resource.
   91. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 12, 2013 at 10:31 AM (#4367680)
and of course gary sheffield. sheffield played shortstop in the minors, poorly, and then sulked at third base and was finally in right field and that was fine.

sheffield had the ability to play third and play it well. but, well, that was not something that worked for him and i will leave it at that
   92. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 12, 2013 at 10:37 AM (#4367683)
of course nobody letting todd walker off second base remains a mystery
   93. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 12, 2013 at 10:39 AM (#4367684)
i need to reduce my use of 'of course'
   94. Tippecanoe Posted: February 12, 2013 at 10:51 AM (#4367690)
I'm thinking of guys like A-Rod, Carew, and Yount, who were elite players making a down-spectrum position shift in their late 20's. My simple method is to add rfield to rpos to determine if they are costing themselves value in the shift (someone can correct me if this is a bad misunderstanding of the WAR data).

Using three-year samples to allow the data to settle down, each player above had a reduction in defensive value, with Carew and Rodriguez suffering modestly, Yount disastrously. The obvious problem is that I end up comparing guys age 26-28 with their 29-31 seasons; I would think that the majority of players will show a defensive value reduction during these years whether they change positions or not.

I would be in no hurry to shift Cano, not until he is actually a sub-standard defensive second baseman.
   95. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 12, 2013 at 10:53 AM (#4367692)
Harveys - Yeah, those are the sorts of things I was thinking of. Thanks!

Tippecanoe - I was thinking of shifts other than that. Yount and such are normal shifts, where players are moved as they age to a somewhat easier position, one which the team thinks they're better suited to. Those are shifts where I expect the defensive spectrum values will do reasonably well for projections. I'm wondering about positional shifts that don't make intuitive sense, where a player ends up at a position where he is significantly overmatched or overqualified. A number of Harvey's ideas fit that. Interesting how many are young players with good to great bats who were put at the wrong position - Danny Tartabull would be another.
   96. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 12, 2013 at 11:08 AM (#4367702)
yount was moved because the shoulder injury took away his arm to play short. not because he could not field at a shortstop level. he couldn't throw at a shortstop level. so yes, he could no longer play shortstop. but due to circumstance not age
   97. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 12, 2013 at 11:09 AM (#4367703)
matt

managers want those bats in the lineup and if they weigh things improperly you get guys miscast defensively

   98. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 12, 2013 at 11:11 AM (#4367704)
matt

you are welcome (should have written that previously)

but guys playing in the wrong defensive position is kind of a 'thing' of mine. i could likely write another 100 posts of such circumstances but i will stop now so as to not annoy the masses.

   99. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 12, 2013 at 11:15 AM (#4367708)
i would be remiss to not mention the patron saint of overmatching a position defensively, gil mcdougald. having gil at third base was loony only in the sense the guy could kill at second base and really could handle shortstop. but it wasn't like billy martin was chopped liver so i won't rail too much on casey's positioning
   100. Tippecanoe Posted: February 12, 2013 at 11:19 AM (#4367714)
I remembered that Yount had the shoulder trouble, so I agree that the data is problematic. Still, he lost 70 runs over the next three years vs. the prior three.
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