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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Tuesday, January 14, 2003
The Particle in the Box
The eternal debate on where to pin that infernal replacement level continues.
Nelson Lu does the baseball internet community a wonderful service. He compiles RC/25 and posts it on rec.sport.baseball. I understand it is done elsewhere around the ‘net, but Nelson does it in a wonderful discussion forum. I don’t know if he makes his newer lists available on the web anywhere, but they are very interesting. For 1995-1997, see www.baseball1.com.
Nelson has a slot for “league average” and a slot for “replacement level” in the lists. We all understand average, but “replacement level” is a more nebulous, ethereal mark. Nelson defines replacement level, for his lists as 30 pts of OBP and 30 pts of SLG for RC/25 or 50/50 in RC/27. The reason is that in-season reports are RC/25 and only use regular players, while the end-of-season reports are RC/27 and include all players.
Like any good researcher, I looked up other “Replacement Level” (RL) definitions. I really like VORP. I think it is the best up-to-date player evaluation system out there. So I went and checked www.stathead.com. It was there that I read that Keith had done research to actually see what replacement level is. Well, that’s what the purpose of this article is, but we are going to do it slightly differently. Keith wrote a long article in Baseball Prospectus 2002 demonstrating his replacement level at 80% (85% for catchers and 75% for 1B/DH. He used EqA for everyone who wasn’t a starter. It’s a great article - gee, what a surprise. Interestingly, Clay Davenport doesn’t use that for replacement level about two mouse-clicks away from Keith’s VORP. At the BP Stat report site, Clay uses 0.8835*EqA at a given position.
League average is 330 OBP and 410 SLG. So Lu RL is 280/360. Woolner RL is 264/328. Davenport RL is 290/360. These really don’t miss each other by much. I suspect only Keith’s comes from in depth research, and it is much lower than the others. Evidently, the pickings get slim.
Unfortunately, I started my research before reading that Keith had done his work. I’ve long been annoyed with the generalized value for replacement level, when a concrete answer should be available. As it is always a “guess”, Lu and Davenport are really “close enough for government work.” Probably. Since I did the research, I’ll present it - it will serve as either confirmation or disagreement - but it will be done as a researched value.
Replacement Level is generally defined as “freely available talent”, where “free” just means “very little money put forth.” At least that is how I learned it. That is important to me because Keith’s article doesn’t use that. As you can follow on Clutch Hits there is considerable opinion regarding replacement level, and that discussion prompted me to finish this and get the data available.
Dan Szymborski and I gathered a long list of players that actually were freely available - or appeared to be based on free agency signings and other small things. I gathered the EqA for each player over the last three seasons (1999-2001). Remember, I started this project in July? I took the three-year average for each player. Sorted into positions, I averaged the EqAs for each position.
Here are the results:
Yes, that only stocks one league, but I struggled to get all the EqAs. Dan actually supplied with a list of 20-30 at each position, but you go with what you have.
Clay Davenport’s EqA 2002 year-end report lists the EqA by position:
Clay’s system does a nice job for some positions and not so good for others. He is using a constant multiplier for ease and it does pretty well.
Comparing Clay’s RL to my averages, first base, shortstop and the entire outfield are good matches. Second base has a few good players that no one seems to want, but 0.229 is definitely too low. The lowest 2B in my group is at 0.236. Third base is definitely too low - Ryan Minor epitomizes “replacement player” and he has posted better EqAs than that.
Catcher is amusing - the group of catchers in my study actually performed nearly as well as the actual 2002 major league group. I did have a few below 0.217 (Clay’s RL), but the median for my group was 0.239. Again, these guys were selected because they had recently been had for free.
In summation, offensively, replacement level appears to be slightly higher than Clay’s 0.8835 is set, but he has a very good replacement level set for a generic adjustment. Digging up the additional data for the rest of my data set could tweak the values either way - the median numbers were very close to the averages.
Replacement level for all positions is about 90-91%, with catchers being much higher (95-97%). I suspect this is due to the defensive premium placed on catchers - sacrificing bat for arm.
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