News, Notes and Quotes (August 18, 2004)

The Cameron Defense

Last year, I called Mike Cameron “The Most Underrated Player in Baseball” and then, when he left the Mariners as a free agent during the offseason, I predicted big things for him since he wasn’t going to be playing half his games at Safeco Field. My prediction took a bit of a hit when Cameron signed with the Mets, who play half their games in another pitcher’s park, Shea Stadium, but I still saw big things for Cameron this year, saying: “The Mets just got a top five centerfielder for $6.5 million a year and Mike Cameron is going to have an extremely impressive season in 2004.”

Then my prediction took another hit when Cameron started the season with a .199 batting average through the first two months. To say I looked a little silly about all my Cameron hyping at that point would be like saying I’m a little obsessed with Johan Santana. However, Cameron has turned things around since then and, while he’s not having quite the year I expected of him, he’s been plenty good.

Since the end of May (at which point he was hitting .199 with a .379 slugging percentage), Cameron is hitting .271 with a .592 slugging percentage. His season totals are now up to .240/.338/.501, which is pretty close to the “official” prediction I made for him way back in November.

                 AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA     2B     HR     BB
Predicted       .270     .360     .500     .860     .287     35     25     75
Actual Pace     .240     .338     .501     .839     .277     31     35     71

I predicted an .860 OPS and a .287 Gross Production Average (GPA) and Cameron actually has an .839 OPS and a .277 GPA, but I think I should get some slack because of the fact that I made the prediction before I knew Cameron would be calling Shea Stadium home. Regarding the specific stuff like homers, doubles and walks, I was right on the money.

As for Cameron’s defense, it remains spectacular, and I think you can see the impact he’s had, not only on the Mets, but on the Mariners. The obvious stuff is that the Mariners have gone from having a 3.76 ERA with Cameron as their centerfielder in 2003 (second in the AL) to having a 4.79 ERA without Cameron as their centerfielder in 2004 (11th in the AL). Meanwhile, the Mets have gone from having a 4.48 ERA without Cameron as their centerfielder in 2003 (10th in the NL) to having a 3.91 ERA with Cameron as their centerfielder in 2004 (fifth in the NL).

We could debate the correlation between those basic numbers and Cameron’s defense all day, but I think the more interesting stuff comes when you do a little digging and find some not-so-obvious numbers. For instance, take a look at the amount of doubles and triples (the two things centerfielders have a huge impact on) the two teams have given up over the last two years, with and without Cameron patrolling center field (2004 numbers are projected for the whole season):

                         2B+3B    2B+3B/G    AB/2B+3B    BIP/2B+3B
Mets w/ Cameron           290       1.79       19.22       15.46
Mets w/o Cameron          358       2.22       15.29       12.30
 
                         2B+3B    2B+3B/G    AB/2B+3B    BIP/2B+3B
Mariners w/ Cameron       234       1.44       23.19       18.18
Mariners w/o Cameron      335       2.07       17.00       13.22

The Mets are on pace to allow nearly 70 fewer doubles and triples than they did last season, while the Mariners are on pace to allow over 100 more. On a per at-bat basis, the Mets have cut their doubles and triples allowed by 20% with Cameron, while the Mariners have allowed 36% more doubles and triples without him. Looking only at balls that were put in play (not strikeouts, walks or homers), the Mets have improved their doubles and triples allowed by 20% with Cameron, while the Mariners have declined by 38% without him.

Like a Dead Horse

One of my favorite hobbies is reading articles about baseball from the mainstream media and finding random, anti-Moneyball sentiments in them. I’ve covered this topic plenty since the book came out, both here and over at my blog, so I’ll spare you from that. However, I stumbled across a real gem from an article written by Richard Justice in the Houston Chronicle. Asked by a reader why he didn’t include A’s GM Billy Beane in a list of his “best General Managers” in a past article, Richard Justice replies, in part:

Two points of the book “Moneyball” are an absolute lie perpetuated by Billy. One is that the A’s were built on this system of analyzing numbers instead of evaluating players in the traditional way. That’s flat out wrong. That system has been used only for three drafts. Their best players are high school guys.

You can argue with a lot of the other stuff in the article, but saying “their best players are high school guys” is, to use Justice’s own language, “flat out wrong.”

Here’s a list of some Oakland players who were drafted out of college …

Barry Zito
Tim Hudson
Mark Mulder
Rich Harden
Mark Redman
Chad Bradford
Bobby Crosby
Scott Hatteberg
Eric Byrnes
Mark Kotsay
Jermaine Dye
Bobby Kielty
Damian Miller
Adam Melhuse
Mark Ellis

That’s their entire starting rotation (which guys like Justice like to say is the main cause of Oakland’s success), their starting shortstop, first baseman, leftfielder, centerfielder, rightfielder and catcher, plus one of their main relievers, a backup outfielder, their backup catcher, and the guy who was their starting second baseman until he suffered a major injury.

In fact, according to Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), 14 A’s have been at least 10 runs better than a replacement-level player so far this year. Of those 14, 11 were drafted out of college, while just three — Eric Chavez, Justin Duchsherer and Erubiel Durazo — were not.

Kind of funny how a journalist who completely ignores actual evidence in order to make a negative point about someone is talking about other people “perpetuating lies” and being “flat out wrong.” Justice also said Beane “can’t be trusted.” Yeah Richard, something like that.

Spectacularly Awful

An article on MLB.com about the Giants releasing Neifi Perez includes the following quote:

Perez had five spectacular seasons in Colorado from 1997-2001, hitting .298 that last year before being traded to Kansas City in a midseason deal.

Despite how it may appear, I don’t want to turn this column into a forum for picking on the mainstream media. However, that’s just insane.

I’ve actually touched on this topic before and shown just how awful Perez has been throughout his career if you ignore the Coors-inflated numbers he put up while with the Rockies. The short version is that Perez has been no worse since leaving the Rockies than he was with them if you account for Coors Field.

As for those “five spectacular seasons in Colorado from 1997-2001″ …

YEAR      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA
1997     .229     .283     .368     .651     .219
1998     .249     .286     .345     .631     .215
1999     .251     .287     .356     .643     .218
2000     .248     .293     .339     .632     .217
2001     .239     .278     .302     .580     .201

That’s what Perez did away from Coors Field in those “five spectacular seasons.” Even if you give him credit for the numbers he put up in Coors Field and properly adjust them for the offensive environment, his numbers from 1997-2001 were ridiculously bad. Perez had adjusted OPS+ totals of 85, 70, 61, 66 and 81 with the Rockies during those five seasons, which means he was never close to even being a league-average hitter (which is what a 100 OPS+ is).

According to Lee Sinins‘ Runs Created Above Average (RCAA), which adjusts for home ballparks and offensive environments, Perez was the single worst hitter in all of baseball from 1997-2001. And it isn’t particularly close.

                           RCAA
NEIFI PEREZ                -192   
Rey Ordonez                -146   
Deivi Cruz                 -117   
Rey Sanchez                -115   
Marquis Grissom            -115   
Mike Matheny               -107   
Alex Gonzalez              -104   
Mike Lansing               -104   
Brian Hunter               -103   
Royce Clayton              -102

I have two major issues with what was written about Perez in that MLB.com article. One is that it shows a complete lack of understanding about the impact Coors Field has on offense, which is something you’d think someone who covers baseball for Major League Baseball’s official website would have some knowledge of. Beyond that, if we’re going to use the word “spectacular” to describe what Neifi Perez did from 1997-2001, even ignoring all the Coors Field stuff, then what words are appropriate for guys like Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols?

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