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Friday, September 21, 2012

Once a feared slugger, 41 year old Giambi quietly nears the end

This is not how anyone expected him to go out. Giambi won the AL MVP in 2000, led the league in OBP three times and OPS twice. Larger-than-life, he was the leader of the frat house A’s, the running mate of Mark McGwire, a teammate of Jeter and A-Rod, and good friends with Michael Jordan (the two played against each other in the Double A Southern League). He also was, and remains, an enduring icon of the steroid age, the last home run king of his era still playing. The other anti-heroes have either retired or slunk away: Bonds and Sosa, Palmeiro and McGwire, Clemens and Juan Gonzalez. Not Giambi.
These days, he lives for small moments: a late-inning RBI opportunity, one at-bat in a homestand. Most games, he watches the action in the dugout or clubhouse until the fifth inning. Sometimes young players like Dexter Fowler and Jordan Pacheco come to him between innings to discuss their at-bats. He’ll talk to them about reading pitchers—see how he threw you a slider on a 1-0 count last time, then went fastball this time? Other times they come to talk about life. As Giambi says, “Sometimes in this game you don’t need a coach, you need a psychologist.”

Bourbon Samurai Posted: September 21, 2012 at 02:33 PM | 64 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: athletics, rockies, yankees

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   1. JRVJ Posted: September 21, 2012 at 04:12 PM (#4242440)
I, for one, like Giambi's public persona (who the heck knows how he is in real life).

Hope he has a nice enough life.
   2. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: September 21, 2012 at 04:14 PM (#4242441)
Given that Jason was supposed to be done around April 2005, he's had a pretty good late-career run. He'd be an interesting Hall of Fame debate, if not for the PED stuff. I'm a fan.
   3. ellsbury my heart at wounded knee Posted: September 21, 2012 at 04:26 PM (#4242461)
It's interesting to see which superstars quit when they aren't really good enough to start anymore, and which ones just sort of hold on and slowly fade out. I wouldn't have guessed Giambi would be the slow fade type.
   4. BDC Posted: September 21, 2012 at 04:28 PM (#4242464)
Some comps for Giambi, given that there aren't a whole lot of truly similar careers:

Player            Rfield   PA OPS3B  SB     Pos
Keith Hernandez      117 8553  128 60  98   
*3/79
John Olerud          100 9063  129 13  11     
*3D
Todd Helton           73 9011  135 36  37  
*3/79D
Edgar Martinez        17 8674  147 15  49   
*D5/3
Will Clark             0 8283  137 47  67    
*3/D
Orlando Cepeda        
-9 8698  133 27 142 *37D/95
Carlos Delgado       
-63 8657  138 18  14  *3D/72
Jason Giambi         
-81 8622  141  9  20 *3D7/59 


Notes: one HOFer, Cepeda, and one HOMer, Hernandez (offhand, IIRC). And a bunch of guys whose cases are sometimes debated, which is very good company. And Giambi has a better peak than most of the guys on his list. He has a Rice/Mattingly type peak in the context of an awfully good career. Ultimately, even without PEDs suspicion, I don't think that's enough for the BBWAA to elect him, though. Cepeda (not without drug controversies himself) was elected because he was crucial to a World Championship team. Giambi had the bad timing to be seen as a millstone contract in New York and then watch the Yankees win again as soon as he left. Narrative, schmarrative, from my point of view, but he has few of the intangibles that the BBWAA likes.

Also, a list that has Edgar Martinez as a better fielder than Will Clark is nuts, though one understands how they get that. And EDIT: Edgar's in the HOM too, my bad. EDIT MORE: Clark too. I'm losing it.
   5. SoSH U at work Posted: September 21, 2012 at 04:34 PM (#4242474)
the last home run king of his era still playing.


I'd say that Arod kid has been pretty good at the homer-hitting thing.

   6. GuyMcGuffin Posted: September 21, 2012 at 04:35 PM (#4242476)
the last home run king of his era still playing


Alex Rodriguez feels that the author is being loosey-goosey with this statement.
   7. Tom Nawrocki Posted: September 21, 2012 at 04:36 PM (#4242478)
The other Rockies love having Giambi around, and talk a lot about what a great influence he is. They have a promo commercial this year portraying Giambi as the Yoda of the clubhouse.

One funny quirk of Giambi's: When he comes out to hit, he first takes a couple of practice swings right-handed, even though he's of course a left-handed hitter. Never seen anyone else do that.
   8. Bourbon Samurai Posted: September 21, 2012 at 04:45 PM (#4242493)
It is amazing to me he's stayed in Colorado so long/
   9. The Long Arm of Rudy Law Posted: September 21, 2012 at 04:51 PM (#4242510)
It's been changed to "one of the last home run kings of his era still playing."
   10. flournoy Posted: September 21, 2012 at 05:02 PM (#4242532)
It's interesting to see which superstars quit when they aren't really good enough to start anymore, and which ones just sort of hold on and slowly fade out.


There's at least one other option, as Chipper Jones has demonstrated this year.
   11. President of the David Eckstein Fan Club Posted: September 21, 2012 at 05:21 PM (#4242543)
Steroids aside, he was a joy to watch and my favorite player on those A's teams. Him joining the Yankees was absolutely devastating.
   12. Srul Itza Posted: September 21, 2012 at 05:23 PM (#4242547)
the last home run king of his era still playing


Alex Rodriguez feels that the author is being loosey-goosey with this statement.


In more ways than one, since Giambi was never a "home run king", in that he never led his league in home runs, whereas Alex led the league 5 times.
   13. The Yankee Clapper Posted: September 21, 2012 at 05:31 PM (#4242555)
He also was, and remains, an enduring icon of the steroid age, the last home run king of his era still playing. The other anti-heroes have either retired or slunk away: Bonds and Sosa, Palmeiro and McGwire, Clemens and Juan Gonzalez. Not Giambi.

David Ortiz also says hello.
   14. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: September 21, 2012 at 05:48 PM (#4242577)
David Ortiz was hugging babies and hand-washing lepers while others were shooting up. George Mitchell said so!
   15. Walt Davis Posted: September 21, 2012 at 06:11 PM (#4242591)
Also, a list that has Edgar Martinez as a better fielder than Will Clark is nuts, though one understands how they get that.

That's cuz P-I won't let us use dWAR! Edgar was an average fielder for a DH. :-)

Edgar -9.8 dWAR
Giambi -19.8 (ouch!)
WClark -10.8

Hmmm ... that still doesn't seem right. Edgar does end up with a few more defensive runs given up than Clark but they don't translate to wins at the same rate due to era differences. Maybe that DH penalty still isn't big enough.

You could add Jack Clark to your list: more a RF than 1B but 8200 PA and 137 OPS+ and a hitting profile pretty similar to Giambi. Berkman, Norm Cash, Ortiz (not sure why he's not on your list), Boog. Oh, I guess you were using 8000 PAs as a cut-off. These guys are all close but Giambi does have 1-1.5 seasons on them.
   16. Squash Posted: September 21, 2012 at 06:58 PM (#4242620)
Steroids aside, he was a joy to watch and my favorite player on those A's teams. Him joining the Yankees was absolutely devastating.

I don't know how much people were paying attention in other markets, but that was one of the all-time home-crowd-crushings of the free agent era. I was at his first game back - still the loudest sound I've ever heard in a stadium. Supposedly the fervor of the booing is what caused Jeremy Giambi to go berserk and begin his run toward exile.

Giambi was revered in Oakland. It's a bummer he had to leave, though completely understandable. The game-winning, walk-off HR he hit off Mike Stanton in this game is the most deliriously happy A's crowd moment I was at for that entire run, except perhaps when they clinched in 2000. It would have been awesome if he could have stayed on the A's and given how it went in NYC he probably would have been a lot happier for it, if a little less rich.
   17. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: September 21, 2012 at 07:06 PM (#4242625)
I don't know how much people were paying attention in other markets, but that was one of the all-time home-crowd-crushings of the free agent era. I was at his first game back - still the loudest sound I've ever heard in a stadium.

Yes, and Me too: I was in the RF bleachers, sitting next to a HUGE biker-looking guy who spent the whole game just BELLOWING at Giambi.
   18. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 21, 2012 at 07:43 PM (#4242637)

Edgar -9.8 dWAR
Giambi -19.8 (ouch!)
WClark -10.8

Hmmm ... that still doesn't seem right. Edgar does end up with a few more defensive runs given up than Clark but they don't translate to wins at the same rate due to era differences. Maybe that DH penalty still isn't big enough.


Yeah, that's absurd. The DH penalty should be as big as a really bad 1B.

Giambi clearly had more defensive value than Edgar as DH.
   19. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: September 21, 2012 at 08:32 PM (#4242668)
Well, Giambi DH'd about 500 times himself, and Edgar has those 564 games at third. But yeah, the DH penalty still seems too small - it's 5 runs compared to 1B, and Giambi has a few seasons that come out worse than -5 at first.
   20. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 21, 2012 at 10:57 PM (#4242726)
Well, Giambi DH'd about 500 times himself, and Edgar has those 564 games at third. But yeah, the DH penalty still seems too small - it's 5 runs compared to 1B, and Giambi has a few seasons that come out worse than -5 at first.

I'd say it should be more like -15, on the theory that if the guy could hack 1B at all, and stay healthy, he'd be out there.

The Manny Ramirez/David Ortiz thing really sold me on this. The idea that Ramirez was taking -20 or worse (fielding + pos adj) playing left field while Ortiz only got -15 at DH was laughable, given that Ramirez was only out there b/c Ortiz couldn't even fake a position.
   21. Ray (RDP) Posted: September 22, 2012 at 12:03 AM (#4242752)

One of my favorite players. I still watch the nightly box scores for him.
   22. dave h Posted: September 22, 2012 at 12:17 AM (#4242758)
The Manny Ramirez/David Ortiz thing really sold me on this. The idea that Ramirez was taking -20 or worse (fielding + pos adj) playing left field while Ortiz only got -15 at DH was laughable, given that Ramirez was only out there b/c Ortiz couldn't even fake a position.


There are two other possibilities: 1) That the Red Sox were not deploying their resources optimally, and in fact Ortiz at 1B would have been better than Ramirez in LF, assuming they had time to find a replacement LF instead of 1B, or 2) The defensive estimates for Ramirez could have been incorrect (which they were, although I think the clearly wrong estimates were much worse than -20, so you may have already accounted for this).
   23. Walt Davis Posted: September 22, 2012 at 12:42 AM (#4242766)
But it's not just Manny. Sheffield is massacred by his lousy defense:

Edgar: 8674 PA, 532 Rbat, -9.8 dWAR, 64.4 WAR
Sheff: 10947 PA, 560 Rbat, -28.6 dWAR, 56 WAR

Edgar had 63 oWAR, Sheff had 76. Both were employed strictly for their bats. Even if you believe that Sheffield cost his team more runs on defense than Edgar would have (it's not unreasonable to think so), it's still the case that it's not really Sheffield's fault that he was in the field all those years if he sucked that bad. Or maybe it is, maybe he insisted on it (and same might be said of Manny, Griffey and others), but it's still not clear why Edgar would be judged a better player.

But it's not necessarily WAR's job to do that. It's job is to measure value, not who was better, and I can't guarantee that Sheffield wasn't less valuable than Edgar. But for HoF purposes, I see no reason not to consider Sheff a more durable version of Edgar and therefore more qualified. That's why I tend to clump 1B/LF/RF/DH into a single pool. Mostly you're talking about players who were indifferent at best on defense and employed strictly for their bats, so pretty much just judge them by their bats. There are exceptions of course (good or terrible defense) and WAR can help us identify some of those.
   24. Walt Davis Posted: September 22, 2012 at 01:01 AM (#4242770)
I'll add this is one minor reason I wish the leagues would use the same DH rule whether it be to get rid of it (my preference) or have it. It doesn't guarantee we won't have these comparison problems but we'd have fewer of them.
   25. bjhanke Posted: September 22, 2012 at 07:47 AM (#4242801)
According to BB-Ref, the worst season ever, in terms of Fielding Runs, is Adam Dunn, 2009, at -43. Next worst is Matt Kemp (of all people) at -37 in 2010, playing center field. I assume that a DH has to have less defensive value than anyone who actually played a defensive position, because the DH made no defensive plays at all, whereas even Adam Dunn made SOME plays. In fact, even Adam Dunn made many plays, compared to absolute zero, which is what a DH makes. So I use -60 fielding runs in 162 games, right now, when doing Hall of Merit analysis of DH's. Few DH's actually get the whole -60, because they miss at least a few games, but that's my starting point when looking at BB-Ref. I'm not at all sure that even this is sufficient, because BB-Ref's WAR system involves positional adjustments, which should be worse for DH's than for any other position, but I'm not sure how much worse. - Brock Hanke
   26. Josh1 Posted: September 22, 2012 at 08:55 AM (#4242810)
n fact, even Adam Dunn made many plays, compared to absolute zero, which is what a DH makes. So I use -60 fielding runs in 162 games, right now, when doing Hall of Merit analysis of DH's.


This type of thought completely ignores the concept of replacement value. It's like evaluating hitter performance above baseline of a player who goes 0-650 at the plate. It gives a completely incorrect view of the actual value of the player to the team. Every AL team has a DH, and having one does not cost the team a tremendous number of runs -- it only costs the team the defensive value of the worst player remaining in the field who might have otherwise DHed.

There was a quite a bit of thought going into the DH positional penalty, and while you could argue for a few runs more or less than a 5 penalty compared to a first baseman, anything substantially larger is illogical. A few reasons are: you ignore the true relatively low substitution cost, DHs seem to hit worse than when they play the field, using a larger penalty implies there is much better freely available hitting talent than there actually is, the actual average batting line for DHs is much lower than for 1b, among other reasons. Sheffield, the most penalized defensive player in the history of the game if you believe rfield, wouldn't have had a substantially different WAR if he had been a career DH, which makes sense since if you believe rfield he should have just been made a career DH. The worst players in history by DWAR should have roughly similar numbers to if they had been career DHs, which seems to be the case. Just as you will see a few players with negative WAR, it makes sense you'd see a few players with DWAR worse than if they'd been DHs, because they should have been DHing but weren't just as the sub-replacement players shouldn't have been playing at all.

On a different note, people are far too harsh on Edgar Martinez and treat him like he was a career DH. He spent almost 28% of his career games as an effective third baseman. He winds up with a career DWAR that isn't truly terrible because his negative defensive value DH seasons are partially offset by positive defensive value 3B seasons. I don't see how a 28% solid 3B / 72% DH is all that much worse than a typical 85% 1B / 15% DH career you see out of modern first basemen.
   27. Josh1 Posted: September 22, 2012 at 09:03 AM (#4242812)
As an example, Manny was -251 rfield+rpos over his career. As a DH, he would have been maybe -225 or -230, well within the margin of error of saying the worst defensive players score about the same as DHs. Clearly to anyone even without statistics in some seasons Manny was below replacement as a fielder and was a misallocated resource who should have been a DH on some team.
   28. My name is Votto, and I love to get blotto Posted: September 22, 2012 at 10:09 AM (#4242829)
It is amazing to me he's stayed in Colorado so long/


Yeah, he's signed two separate FA contracts with the Rockies. Surprised he didn't go back to the AL where he could DH and hit more than a few times a week. As a pinch hitter, I believe that contact guys are generally more valuable than TTO players.
   29. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: September 22, 2012 at 10:46 AM (#4242842)
I typed into Google: jason g

And Jason Grilli came up before Jason Giambi.
   30. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 22, 2012 at 11:06 AM (#4242854)
There was a quite a bit of thought going into the DH positional penalty, and while you could argue for a few runs more or less than a 5 penalty compared to a first baseman, anything substantially larger is illogical.

I'd personally go with 15 runs worse than 1B, so -25 positional adj, vs. the current -15. My theory is most every DH could be a terrible 1B if allowed.
   31. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 22, 2012 at 11:08 AM (#4242855)
Edgar: 8674 PA, 532 Rbat, -9.8 dWAR, 64.4 WAR
Sheff: 10947 PA, 560 Rbat, -28.6 dWAR, 56 WAR


Yeah, that's a joke. No way Edgar was more valuable than Sheffield defensively.
   32. Loren F. Posted: September 22, 2012 at 11:40 AM (#4242874)
Edgar as a DH had a few seasons with better dWAR (a smaller negative) than Derek Jeter in years where Jeter played 150+ games at short. I know Jeter has been a terrible SS, and made fewer plays relative to "replacement level" shortstops, but how could a DH (even one who made a dozen or so plays each season at 1B) have better dWAR than a bad shortstop making hundreds of defensive plays a year? Am I misunderstanding dWAR?
   33. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 22, 2012 at 11:47 AM (#4242883)
Edgar as a DH had a few seasons with better dWAR (a smaller negative) than Derek Jeter in years where Jeter played 150+ games at short. I know Jeter has been a terrible SS, and made fewer plays relative to "replacement level" shortstops, but how could a DH (even one who made a dozen or so plays each season at 1B) have better dWAR than a bad shortstop making hundreds of defensive plays a year? Am I misunderstanding dWAR?

Nope, you understand it. dWAR is Rfield plus Position adj.

The issue is that the pos adj. for DH is way too small.
   34. puck Posted: September 22, 2012 at 01:05 PM (#4242929)
The other Rockies love having Giambi around, and talk a lot about what a great influence he is. They have a promo commercial this year portraying Giambi as the Yoda of the clubhouse.

It must say a lot about Tracy and the FO's regard for him in this respect since he's a poor fit for the roster but he's there anyway. Lefty firstbaseman backing up another lefty 1B, and when Helton went down, they needed another player to help fill in at 1st because Giambi can't play in the field every day. I mean, incompetence is surely also a factor in the roster decision, but he does seem more the hitting coach than Lansford.

   35. bobm Posted: September 22, 2012 at 01:15 PM (#4242933)
[28] As a pinch hitter, I believe that contact guys are generally more valuable than TTO players.

Have you seen data on this, or is this a preference/assumption?
   36. Josh1 Posted: September 22, 2012 at 01:26 PM (#4242936)
Edgar as a DH had a few seasons with better dWAR (a smaller negative) than Derek Jeter in years where Jeter played 150+ games at short.


A full season of DH should get you a DWAR of about -1.5. Jeter had one season worse than that, when he was -27 rfield, and one season at that level when he was -24 fielding. Maybe those fielding numbers are right, or maybe they're flukes where the defensive system was too harsh. All you're saying is that if the fielding numbers are right, they're so bad the Yankees would have been as well or better off having Jeter at short with a replacement level DH (slightly below league average hitter) as they would have with Jeter at DH with a replacement level hitting, average fielding shortstop. It's totally plausible.

I'd personally go with 15 runs worse than 1B, so -25 positional adj, vs. the current -15. My theory is most every DH could be a terrible 1B if allowed.


If this were the case then there should be well above league average hitters freely available as minor league free agents. That's obviously not true. I'm pretty sure this big of an adjustment makes the average actual DH in Major League baseball at or below replacement. Believing a positional adjustment significantly higher than what bref uses is counter factual to what we actually observe in the real world.
   37. Zach Posted: September 22, 2012 at 02:34 PM (#4242977)
It's interesting to see how different players age. Without thinking about it too hard, Giambi always struck me as a live fast, die young type. It seems like he reinvented himself as a grizzled lifer somewhere along the line.

It was also interesting to see his unprompted comments on steroids. Can you think of any other prominent user who showed any remorse about it? I mean, early enough that it could affect his career.
   38. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 22, 2012 at 02:42 PM (#4242985)
If this were the case then there should be well above league average hitters freely available as minor league free agents.

I don't follow? Why must this be true?

I'm pretty sure this big of an adjustment makes the average actual DH in Major League baseball at or below replacement.

The avg. MLB DH is a bad player. A league average hitter with absolutely no defensive ability is a bad baseball player.
   39. bobm Posted: September 22, 2012 at 02:43 PM (#4242986)
As a pinch hitter, I believe that contact guys are generally more valuable than TTO players.

Using BB REF Game Finder, I looked at the 55 players from 2007-2012 who had at least 100 games as a pinch hitter. I calculated the TTO percentage for those games for each player and then calculated correlations with their rate stats as a pinch hitter for those games.

         Player TTO RATE AS PH
Russell Branyan 0.563
      Jim Thome 0.548
    Jonny Gomes 0.504
   Jason Giambi 0.488
  Brooks Conrad 0.486
...
 Skip Schumaker 0.235
   Adam Kennedy 0.209
   Miguel Cairo 0.194
    Juan Pierre 0.162
    Aaron Miles 0.141


Correlations:
           BA OBP SLG OPS 
TTO RATE -53% -2% 14%  9%


   40. My name is Votto, and I love to get blotto Posted: September 22, 2012 at 03:01 PM (#4243005)
As a pinch hitter, I believe that contact guys are generally more valuable than TTO players.


I don't actually know if this is true, just thought I remembered hearing it somewhere.
   41. Loren F. Posted: September 22, 2012 at 03:19 PM (#4243020)
Josh, with all due respect, after injuries forced Edgar MartInez to be a DH, I think we can agree that he could not play shortstop. Jeter could play shortstop, albeit terribly (I accept that he was possibly the worst-fielding shortstop ever). Still, how could Edgar have a defensive value that is equal to or higher than Derek's? I am comparing two specific players, which WAR should allow me to do. In 2000, both players had -1.2 dWAR, as per BB-Ref, when Edgar played 146 games at DH and Jeter played 148 games at SS. Are you telling me that in 2000, it would have been just as easy to find a replacement player who could "field" as well as Edgar the DH as it would to find a replacement player who could field SS as badly as Jeter? Really? Because I watched most Yankees games in 2000 and as I recall, when the Yankees took the field Jeter did not go and sit on the bench.
   42. bookbook Posted: September 22, 2012 at 04:08 PM (#4243064)
Loren, with all due respect, mike Trout and John Olerud couldn't field at SS as well as Jeter can. Jeter is still a massive defensive liability and Olerud and Trout remain massive defensive assets.

I thought we all agreed that Frank Thomas increased his defensive contribution when he finally agreed to DH.

Edit: Olerud's a crotchety old man complaining about neighbors' trees now--so not so much of a defensive asset.
   43. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 22, 2012 at 04:30 PM (#4243082)
I thought we all agreed that Frank Thomas increased his defensive contribution when he finally agreed to DH.

No, that's impossible. The DH makes no defensive contribution.
   44. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: September 22, 2012 at 04:55 PM (#4243105)
No, that's impossible. The DH makes no defensive contribution.


I'm with you on this, but isn't the counter-argument that "no defensive contribution" from a DH is better than a "negative defensive contribution" from a position player?
   45. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 22, 2012 at 05:30 PM (#4243148)
I'm with you on this, but isn't the counter-argument that "no defensive contribution" from a DH is better than a "negative defensive contribution" from a position player?

No, because literally anybody can give you no defensive contribution at DH. The fact that you're a regular DH is showing that you are a worse fielder than everyone else starting on your team. So, your dWar should be lower than theirs.
   46. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: September 22, 2012 at 06:03 PM (#4243179)
Again, I agree with you, but what #45 is a refutation of the argument. All I'm saying is that whatever "agreement" there was that Frank Thomas increased his defensive contribution when he because a full-time DH had to be based on that argument. Is there any other way to come to that kind of conclusion?
   47. BDC Posted: September 22, 2012 at 06:14 PM (#4243188)
The extreme case is to note that a 40-year-old Rusty Staub would hurt his team way less on defense as a DH than as a centerfielder, and therefore less negative is more positive, at least theoretically. In practice, I don't know if any team ever faces such choices. There's no doubt that Rusty would be equal in trade value to a good or even not-quite-mediocre centerfielder who hit much worse than he did. The abstraction posed by assigning dWAR to DHs is simply the "how much."
   48. Josh1 Posted: September 22, 2012 at 06:34 PM (#4243218)
Still, how could Edgar have a defensive value that is equal to or higher than Derek's?


The key is thinking about value compared to the minimum benchmark just as you do for offense. Edgar as DH provided no defensive value over the minimum benchmark. He did not help or hurt the team on defense. If you're semi-competent at first base, you provide a little value over the minimum. If you're average at shortstop, you provide a lot of value over the minimum. If you're bad enough at defense at any position, you can fall below the minimum benchmark. If you put me at shortstop, I would make a few defensive plays over a season, but I would be so much worse than the minimum benchmark that I would hurt the team far more than Edgar did by not playing defense at all. It's no different than saying I could bat 600 times and maybe luck into a couple singles and a couple of walks -- I'd be so much below replacement that I'd provide far less value than another guy who went 1-4 on the season and didn't play any other games. As I said before, if Jeter is truly -27 fielding runs in a given season, the team is better off with Jeter at DH and a replacement level shortstop than Jeter at short with a replacement level DH.

If this were the case then there should be well above league average hitters freely available as minor league free agents.

I don't follow? Why must this be true?


With your -25 positional adjustment, a DH would have to be something like +5 rbat with average base running to be replacement level (5 runs above average offensive player). There is research showing the players as a whole hit ~5 runs worse as DH -- apparently hard to focus -- so arguably you'd need to find a true +10 rbat hitter. Replacement level is supposed to reflect the level of freely available talent. There are not freely available +5 or +10 hitters willing to sign league minimum contracts whenever you need them. The league average DH typically has an OPS+ in the 105-110 range with negative base running value. You're effectively saying there are guys willing to play for the league minimum anyone can pick up who would be better options than the league average DH that actually plays in Major League Baseball. Why don't the 6 AL teams that have DH OPS+ lines between 81 and 101 grab a multi-win upgrade off the waiver wire?
   49. Walt Davis Posted: September 22, 2012 at 08:54 PM (#4243328)
Believing a positional adjustment significantly higher than what bref uses is counter factual to what we actually observe in the real world.

I disagree. What we observe in actual life, for the entire history of the DH, is that about half the teams every season use the DH slot to rotate players through rather than have a full-time DH. The only players who are full-time DHs tend to be guys who post OPS+ of at least 130 (or were guys who posted OPS+ of at least 130). This suggests that, in fact, teams consider replacement level for "guy with zero defensive value" to be an exceptional bat.

In the 40 years of the DH, there have only been 126 seasons with 120+ games at DH. The only players with 5+ such seasons are Chili Davis, Ortiz, Baylor, Edgar, Thomas, Baines.

Baylor is probably the worst of that bunch but he had won an MVP earlier and his 2nd and 3rd seasons as a full-time DH were OPS+s in the 130. Davis wasn't great all those years but he had a 4-year run 34-37 of a 136 OPS+. Thomas was no longer the great Frank Thomas but ages 32-39 he put up a 139 OPS+. Baines, an odd career and became a DH at 28 but was better in his 30s ... from age 30 to 40 he had a 130 OPS+. Ortiz and Edgar of course crush.

There are a few guys with 4 full-time years at DH. For example Hafner (who crushed the ball) and Molitor (who didn't but he was at the end of his career). Molitor did have a few seasons of mostly DH and about 40 games at 1B during which he usually put up a 140-ish OPS+.

So teams seem only willing to carry a full-time DH -- i.e. a player whose value is purely bat -- when that player is expected to put up something like a 130 OPS+. That makes Billy Butler (130 OPS+ over the last 4 years) pretty much the break-even point for carrying a DH. That's about 23-24 runs in today's environment.

Things aren't different now. Full-time DHs this year: Butler and Delmon Young (terrible). Ortiz and Hafner have been hurt. Surprisingly, even Adam Dunn and Kendrys Morales have plenty of time at 1B this year. Encarnacion was switched to mainly 1B in June. From 2008-12, there are 22 seasons of 100+ games at DH. Ortiz has 4, Matsui 3 (126 and 123 OPS+ in the first 2 of those).

Remember when we couldn't figure out why TB was able to get Pat Burrell so cheaply (2/16)? Well, he'd been -35 defensively the last 2 years so (he seemed) to be just Pat the Bat now. As a 125 OPS+ hitter with no defensive value, he just wasn't worth a whole lot.

In essence, "replacement level DH" is a myth. Other than the aged star or the big-contract cliff-diver, teams throughout the DH era have preferred to carry an extra 4th OF (or whatever) than an empty above-average bat. There most likely are guys in AAAA who could put up a 100-110 OPS+ with horrific defense but teams (other than the Tigers :-) don't value that. The reason we don't see a flotilla of Adam LaRoches as full-time DHs is because, without being able to play a passable 1B, nobody would give Adam LaRoche a job.

So, replacement level for DH is Adam LaRoche who is about a 1.5 oWAR first baseman.

Or, really, replacement level DH is somewhere well above Reed Johnson. The career 97 OPS+ 4th OF is considered more valuable than a 120 OPS+ player with no defensive value. He won't kill you in his DH starts (esp against lefties) and he allows you to rest your starting LF/CF/RF/1B in the DH slot and he provides greater in-game flexibility. Teams might be making the wrong decision but they've been making that decision for 40 years.

Which makes perfect sense and is consistent with history. If you're utterly useless in the field, you'd better be bringing a 125 OPS+ bat _at a minimum_ if you hope to win a job.
   50. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: September 22, 2012 at 10:28 PM (#4243359)
I thought we all agreed that Frank Thomas increased his defensive contribution when he finally agreed to DH.

No, that's impossible. The DH makes no defensive contribution.
Which is better than making a negative one.

The Manny Ramirez/David Ortiz thing really sold me on this. The idea that Ramirez was taking -20 or worse (fielding + pos adj) playing left field while Ortiz only got -15 at DH was laughable, given that Ramirez was only out there b/c Ortiz couldn't even fake a position.
To see why your argument doesn't make sense, imagine that Ortiz died in a freak paragliding accident, and the Red Sox cloned Manny Ramirez to fill their now-open DH slot. Now you've got identical players with identical skills. One is 'adding' negative value with his glove in LF; the other one is adding zero value with his glove at DH. And yet you're arguing that LF-Manny is more valuable defensively than DH-Manny, even though LF-Manny is sub-RL with the glove, and even though swapping them would lead to identical results.

You're overcompensating. Every team has to play a DH. (Well, every team in the real league.) It's not as if a guy not-DHing means you get an extra defensive player on the field.
   51. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 22, 2012 at 10:30 PM (#4243360)
[49] Excellent post Walt.

Teams do indeed treat a 100-110 OPS+ no glove player as basically worthless.
   52. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 22, 2012 at 10:33 PM (#4243362)
Every team has to play a DH. (Well, every team in the real league.) It's not as if a guy not-DHing means you get an extra defensive player on the field.

But the player shouldn't get credit for that. If the rules allowed a 4th OF who couldn't bat, we wouldn't assume the average guy in that role was worth 2.0 WAR. We don't assume the average 6th RP must be worth 2.0 WAR.

If you are a +5 R offensive player who can only DH, you are replacement level.

Edit: Here's some recent examples

Sammy Sosa 2007: 101 OPS+, DH only, 2008 out of baseball
Vlad Guerrero 2011: 101 OPS+, DH only, 2012 out of baseball
Jermaine Dye 2009: 102 OPS+, -11 RF, 2010 out of baseball
Shawn Green 2007, 103 OPS+, -9 RF, 2008 out of baseball
   53. Josh1 Posted: September 22, 2012 at 11:19 PM (#4243376)
Walt,

I draw some pretty different conclusions from your examples. The 130+ OPS+ DHs you mention were all considered stars who made a lot of money. I have no idea who in baseball would think those names are just a rung above replacement level. Molitor was considered the best player on the Brewers in the early 90s as a full-time DH, and the city was devastated when he left for a much larger contract than they had just given Yount coming off a MVP season. If you made the claim in 1992 that Molitor was anywhere near replacement or average, I think most GMs would have thought you were crazy.

Pat Burrell was 15 offensive runs above average the year before his Rays contract and was 32. As a full time DH, 15 runs would make him average using bWAR's positional adjustment. His projection for the next 2 years was a slightly below average DH, and he was paid 2/16, the cost of an average player, in what many at the time thought was a bargain. All Pat Burrell shows is that the bWAR positional adjustment agrees with GMs.

Did you consider that so few teams carry full time DHs because they can't easily find players who are above average hitters unless they pay a lot of money, so they instead cycle through other players? If you can't find a hitter of a certain caliber easily and have to pay millions, then by definition that level of hitter is not replacement.

I don't understand the Adam Laroche comment. He is a first baseman who makes $8mm a year. I don't know what that tells you about freely available talent irrespective of defense.


Which makes perfect sense and is consistent with history. If you're utterly useless in the field, you'd better be bringing a 125 OPS+ bat _at a minimum_ if you hope to win a job.


Who are these true talent 120 OPS+ hitters who can't make a roster? You seem to assert that because teams carry in their 25th roster spot a 5th outfielder/pinch runner or an extra garbage reliever and not a 110 or higher OPS+ DH, teams must value those minor role players more than a 110 OPS+ or better DH. I'd think teams don't carry that DH because you have to pay legitimate money to acquire that quality of hitter, which means the replacement level is lower than you think.

Snapper's examples:
A bunch of old guys who had a 100 OPS+ and poor base running who were at replacement level in their last season bWAR. They would project in the 90s OPS+ the next season -- replacement level or below using bWAR positional adjustments. I doubt any of these guys wanted to play for anything like league minimum. If anything, these examples just confirm bWAR has a reasonable DH positional adjustment assumption.
   54. JJ1986 Posted: September 22, 2012 at 11:28 PM (#4243377)
Do regular position players play better if they DH 5 or 10 games a year or some small number? If not, then it makes no sense to keep the position open even if teams are doing it.
   55. Jim Wisinski Posted: September 23, 2012 at 01:31 AM (#4243411)

Teams do indeed treat a 100-110 OPS+ no glove player as basically worthless.


But if you're a 90 OPS+ no-glove player the Tigers will pay you $6.75 million!
   56. Russ Posted: September 24, 2012 at 09:39 AM (#4244024)
Every AL team has a DH, and having one does not cost the team a tremendous number of runs -- it only costs the team the defensive value of the worst player remaining in the field who might have otherwise DHed.


Great idea. Given that our computers are really fast and our data are really refined, this sounds like a job for Forman/Tango/MGL/Chone. Conceptually this is an easy problem. Most DH's are not substituted for... so you could probably just use starting lineups as a rough approximation.

A player's overall value already depends on his teammates with respect to WAR -- after all, if a good players is stuck behind another player at the same position, then their WAR will be less than it otherwise would be (because WAR rewards value, not talent). Therefore, it's not that strange to have the DH dWAR depend on the players in the lineup that day, i.e. give the DH the worst season positional dWAR of the worst defensive player for each day. Probably a ##### of an SQL statement, but conceptually straightforward given Retrosheet data that is already available.

   57. zack Posted: September 24, 2012 at 11:06 AM (#4244073)
The fact that you're a regular DH is showing that you are a worse fielder than everyone else starting on your team.


I don't think this is true, even for "regular" DH's. It might mean you're the guy who can best deal with the different role, it might mean your team caters to a prideful star, it might mean you have position-specific skills and those positions are already filled.

I'm actually (shock! horror!) undecided on this issue, I can see both sides. I was thinking about a similar issue this morning in the shower, how would WAR treat situations like these:
-a world where rule changes never followed Eddie Gaedel, and he became the 50's Lenny Harris. A guaranteed baserunner in a highly leveraged situation has quite a lot of value, but he occupies an entire roster spot for maybe 60-100 ABs a season. Unlike DH's, he requires a PR for every AB, so it's not just defense that is missing.
-the complementary case, Herb Washington. He actually has enough games to produce WAR results, but what is going on there?
   58. ecwcat Posted: September 24, 2012 at 12:15 PM (#4244134)
dWAR is a joke and it's a shame it's used in the total WAR stat when sorting.
   59. BDC Posted: September 24, 2012 at 12:48 PM (#4244172)
Who are these true talent 120 OPS+ hitters who can't make a roster?

There's a certain kind of AAAA player who can't really play a major-league position: Jason Botts was one from the Rangers organization for a long time, or consider Luis Jimenez, who just got called up by Seattle. Botts was about a .960 outfielder in the minors, .983 at first base; Jimenez has fielded .982 at first base in the minors. Fielding percentage becomes telling at a certain level, because it's a minimum competency; suffice it to say that those numbers are below ML norms, below Manny Ramirez in the OF or Jason Giambi at 1B. Were Botts and Jimenez "true" 120 OPS+ ML hitters? Botts was terrible as a ML hitter, and Jimenez is 1-for-17 this September. But these guys had superior seasons now and then in the high minors; both spent some time in Japan; Botts has been playing in Mexico this year. Botts hit .320/.436/.545 in AAA at age 26; Jimenez hit .328/.399/.591 at AA at age 25. Why don't these guys become their ML team's full-time DHs for a season or two? I'd argue that they are 120 OPS+ hitters for awhile at their peak, but another factor emerges: they're not at that peak for very long. Guys who are true-talent 120 OPS+ hitters over an entire career are very rare, peak higher, and are usually good enough athletes to contribute with the glove. Guys who can hit that well briefly in their mid-20s and are slow and lack gloves are not rare. But it doesn't often pay to promote them to full-time DH because, I suspect, Walt's argument is telling: you need to be better than that to offset the lack of flexibility you bring to a roster, and your total disastrous lack of defensive contributions.
   60. DL from MN Posted: September 24, 2012 at 02:14 PM (#4244300)
the lack of flexibility you bring to a roster


This is a good point. DH is the easiest position on the team to replace from within. Just give a bench player a start at DH. Teams who are missing their CF or 3B have to call someone up from the minors. Teams who lose their DH for a week just give the 4th OF a bunch of at-bats. DH are not replaced by freely available talent on other rosters. They're replaced by players already on the team.

What does the fielding number look like if you use average instead of replacement as the positional contribution?
   61. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: September 24, 2012 at 02:18 PM (#4244303)
Botts hit .320/.436/.545 in AAA at age 26; Jimenez hit .328/.399/.591 at AA at age 25. Why don't these guys become their ML team's full-time DHs for a season or two?
Botts hit 320/436/545 in AAA at age 26. That very same year, he hit 240/326/335 in the majors in a third of a season -- the third straight time he had come up and put up a 75ish OPS+. That's why he didn't become their full-time DH.

Jiminez hit 328/399/591 in a partial season at AA at age 25. In his third try. Unfortunately, that same year, at AAA, he hit 148/231/210. Nobody is going to promote a AA veteran to the majors based on 300 ABs when he flopped in AAA. At the end of the year, he was a minor league free agent; he then signed, inexplicably, with an NL team, making it rather difficult for him to become a full-time DH.
   62. BDC Posted: September 24, 2012 at 02:47 PM (#4244355)
Sure, DMN, but what they'll always tell you is "just give that guy a few hundred unpressured plate appearances, and he'll start to produce." And who knows, it may be true. David Ortiz, Edgar Martinez, and Travis Hafner – three of the best-ever pure DHs – didn't get into ML lineups till their mid-20s. Martinez, who knows why, because as noted he could play a little third base; the other two, because they brought nothing but a bat, and the bat had to get safely into the awesome range (as Walt points out) before they could keep a full-time job. And small samples may not produce awesome, in which case it's back to the minors for a while longer.

Guys who can hit pretty well, field not at all, and don't stay at the 120+ OPS level for more than a few years, do not become full-time DHs at the ML level. Their failures are part of that "brief peak" phenomenon: nobody's got a roster spot to devote to the nurturing of a slugging galumph at the major-league level. If they really brought enough value, every team would be incubating little Hee Seop Chois instead of using the DH role more opportunistically. I reckon, anyway; it may be that the empirical situation reflects poor strategy. I hate to use the "they do it this way so it must be right" argument, though as Walt points out, they do it so pervasively this way that it makes you wonder.
   63. Loren F. Posted: September 24, 2012 at 03:31 PM (#4244426)
I've been thinking this through and I believe I understand how a player can field so atrociously that he provides LESS defensive value than a DH who by definition doesn't field at all. And I'm coming around a little bit on this issue. Let me see if I have this correct.

I started with the view that if a team has to use a DH, it can literally put anyone who can sit on a bench in that role and that person would provide the same DEFENSIVE value as anyone else playing DH. Obviously, offensive value is a completely different story; how well a DH must hit in order to land a job with an AL team is interesting but is a separate issue that is best dealt with in oWAR. But if we are carving defensive value out of the player's contribution and just looking at that, it actually shouldn't matter whether the guy can hit -- because the DH with an OPS+ of 130 is providing the same defensive value as the DH with an OPS+ of 95. The key here is that this is the way it works in theory. In this theoretical view, the guy who makes a few hundred defensive plays per year in LF, even if that is far less than others playing that same position, is providing more defensive value than the full-time DH who makes zero plays per year. I base this on the supposition that it should be easier to find a defensive replacement for the DH than to find a defensive replacement for the terrible-fielding LF, if only because the LF has to run around the outfield for thousands of innings each year.

However, what a DH contributes defensively in theory runs into the defensive ability that we actually observe in MLB. And that means if we look at the players who actually spend significant time at DH, we observe often enough that DHs tend to be interchangeable with bad-fielding LF/1B. This means that in practice, teams do not find it much easier to replace the putrid defensive value of Ortiz than to replace the nauseating defensive value of Manny -- even if it should be easier in theory. And replacement level, even in defense, is set based on what actually happens in baseball, not on theory.

Okay. This all makes sense on a rate basis. Ortiz and Manny may very well have the same range and fielding percentage in LF if both were playing LF. But Ortiz would likely not be able to play LF 150+ games a season because of the physical demands of the job, which is one reason he is a DH. Even playing statue-like LF requires more running around than sitting on the bench. A number of DHs are like Ortiz in that playing in the field for a whole season is just not practical. So here's my question: In factoring in the defensive value of a DH, does dWAR include the likelihood that the "replacement level" DH could not provide an entire season of defense?

For this reason, I still think DHs don't get a big enough ding in dWAR. DHs should get penalized on rate and on playing time. And so I am on board with the idea that every once in a while Manny (or Derek, etc.) could have a season with the glove that's so atrociously abysmal that it is actually below DH level. But because of the rate and playing-time issue, it seems to me that DHs having higher dWAR than position players happens more frequently than should be the case. Thoughts?
   64. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: September 24, 2012 at 03:46 PM (#4244442)
Guys who can hit pretty well, field not at all, and don't stay at the 120+ OPS level for more than a few years, do not become full-time DHs at the ML level. Their failures are part of that "brief peak" phenomenon: nobody's got a roster spot to devote to the nurturing of a slugging galumph at the major-league level.

It's people like you who ruined Randy Ruiz's Hall of Fame campaign.

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