The best and worst of 2007

Once upon a time, Bill James shuffled his feet, begat Win Shares, and mere mortals had a workable metric to measure a baseball player’s overall worth. Like many noble endeavors; however, Win Shares were inherently flawed, mainly because it only kept track of a player’s total positive contributions without completely accounting for any negative he produced.

For example, a glance at the original Win Shares would show Julio Franco‘s career to be similar to Vladimir Guerrero‘s.

Rather than allowing a good idea like Win Shares to be kicked to the curb like an aging Steve Finley, THT’s Dave Studeman mounted his trusty steed and set out to save Win Shares. The result of Studeman’s quest was Win Shares Above Bench, which adjusts for playing time, and show us the Win Shares beyond what a bench player (a player with a “.350 winning percentage”) would amass with similar playing time (here is more about the nuts and bolts of WSAB).

Studeman’s WSAB allows for some pretty cool things, like comparing all-time greats, evaluating trades, or determining the most worthy MVP. WSAB can also be used to evaluate the entire team a general manager has put on the field.

I’ll talk a look at the league by position through the end of May (roughly the first third of the season) to see what teams have been the best and worst at each position. I’ll also note the best and worst players at each position. A couple of caveats: WSAB isn’t perfect, but in an exercise like this we don’t need pinpoint accuracy. Also, THT doesn’t always neatly quantify Win Shares by position for utility players, but any slight differences will not matter for this observation.

Catchers

Team                    
AL                      NL
CLE   12                LAN   8
MIN    8                SFG   4
SEA    6                ATL   3

Individual
AL                      NL
Martinez     9          Martin          8
Mauer        5          Molina          4
Posada       5          McCann/McCann   3 

The Indians lead the majors in WSAB from catchers. Yes, Victor Martinez has logged 17%of his defensive innings at first base this year, but a catcher hitting well enough to be warrant playing time at first base is a good thing, especially when a team’s backup is putting up good numbers as well. Martinez’s backup, Kelly Shoppach (+3), has as many WSAB as Ivan Rodriguez, as does Mike Redmond, who has been filling in for Joe Mauer.

However so far this year, 20 catchers, mostly backups, have put up negative WSAB. Let’s take a look at the worst catchers so far this year:

Team                     
AL                      NL
OAK   -3                FLA      -4
TBR   -3                MIL      -3
CHA   -2                CIN/CHN  -2 

Individual
AL                           NL
Kendall           -3         Olivo      -3
Navarro           -3         Estrada    -2
LaRue/Phillips    -2         Barrett    -2

Jason Kendall‘s offensive production is emulating Charlie Sheen’s movie career, except Kendall probably won’t have television to break his fall. According to Win Shares, Kendall’s defense has been solid, but his 21 OPS+ readily devours any defensive contributions, then prowls for late night fast food drive thrus. Dioner Navarro is a more balanced in his poor performance, but still is a similarly heavy anchor on his team. Jason LaRue immediately helped the Royals the day he went on the DL, but is now back. In the NL, the Brewers and Marlins’ catchers are holes in otherwise pretty solid lineups.

First base

1B (team)                     
AL                      NL
TBR    7                MIL   8
LAA    5                SDP   7
TEX    5                STL   7
BOS    5

1B (individual)
AL                      NL
Pena         7          Fielder   8
Youkilis     6          Gonzalez  7
Kotchman     6          Pujols    7
                        Young     7

Carlos Pena and Casey Kotchman, two lynchpin members of the “better late than never” club, have finally started showing why they used to grace the covers of prospect books, while Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez are illustrating why they were on those covers recently.

AL leader Kevin Youkilis is the oldest of this bunch at age 28. The changing of the guard is well under way at first base across the majors. Meanwhile, most of the bottom dwellers are old guys who should be giving serious thought to their next career.

Team                     
AL                      NL
NYA       -3            SFG    -2
KC        -2            ATL    -2
OAK/DET    0            NYN     0

Individual
AL                      NL
Shealy          -3      Aurilia      -2
Mientkiewicz    -2      Fick         -2   
Casey           -2      Three at -1

The only trailer who is not old is Lance Niekro, but his career numbers indicate it is time for a career change also. Ryan Shealy is not ancient; he just plays like he is.

Second base

There is a youth movement at the top of the leader boards at second base.

Team                     
AL                      NL
TBR    9                ATL   7
BOS    7                PHI   6
DET    6                NYN   6

Individual
AL                      NL
Upton        9          K. Johnson   7
Polanco      6          Utley        6
Roberts      5          Uggla        5
Pedroia      5          

League leaders Kelly Johnson and B.J. Upton‘s combined age is younger than Franco’s. Johnson’s WSAB is over twice as much as the guy he replaced, Marcus Giles (3). Here are the trailer boards:

Team                    
AL                      NL
LAA    -2               HOU     -1
NYY    -2               STL     -1
CLE    -1               WAS     -1

Individual
AL                      NL
Cano         -2         Biggio   -3
Five tied at -1         Kennedy  -2 
                        Lopez    -2 

The Angels parted ways with Adam Kennedy, creating another hole in their infield, but Kennedy (-2) hasn’t helped the Cardinals either. Future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio (-3) is hurting his team while pursuing his 3000th hit, but when you are as bad as the Astros, it probably doesn’t matter much.

Giving away Felipe Lopez (-2) in a trade for two dubious relievers wasn’t exactly a bad thing, and since Austin Kearns (+1) hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire, as of now, Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky is probably sleeping a little easier.

Third base

Team
AL                      NL
NYY    8                FLA    7
BOS    5                NYN    5
TBR    3                Five tied at 3

Individual
AL                      NL
A. Rodriguez 8          M.Cabrera   7
Lowell       6          Wright      5
Glaus        4          Jones       4

Media lightning rod Alex Rodriguez is the most productive third baseman in the AL, while Miguel Cabrera leads the NL. There is a steep drop from the top to the rest of the majors. Eleven teams have WSAB numbers of zero or less, with the worst being:

Team                    
AL                      NL
KCR          -3         COL      -4
MIN          -2         PHI      -2
CHA/BAL      -1         MIL/ARI   0

Individual
AL                     NL
Gordon       -3        Callaspo    -4
L/.Rodriguez -2        Atkins      -3
Eight at     -1        Helms       -2 

The Rockies’ output at third base has been frightfully bad, like finding a head in the freezer while reaching for the Ben and Jerry’s. Garret Atkins (-3) has been the main culprit, but recently released veteran presence of John Mabry (-1) didn’t help either. Uber-prospect Alex Gordon (-3) has yet to find anything remotely resembling his groove, and Alberto Callaspo has struggled mightily playing out of his natural position.

Shortstop

Team                    
AL                      NL
LAA    10               NYN        9
NYY     7               MIL        7
CLE     5               ATL/FLA    6

Individual
AL                      NL
O. Cabrera   10         Reyes      9
Peralta       7         Renteria   7
Jeter         7         Hardy      7

Orlando Cabrera receives mad defensive credit from Win Shares, earning 1.1 more Defensive Win Shares than anyone else in the majors. Defensive Win Shares have their issues, so there is a good chance that this disparity is a result of a glitch in the system. Still, Cabrera is having a fine year (he is second overall in WSAB), as are his NL counterparts J.J. Hardy and Jose Reyes. In Cleveland, Jhonny Peralta is back on track while former Indian Omar Vizquel (-1) is showing his age. Cleveland utility infielder Mike Rouse has also been brutal. Here are the trailers:

Team                   
AL                      NL
OAK    -2               CHN    -3
MIN    -1               CIN    -2
TOR    -1               Three tied with -1
KCR    -1

Individual
AL                      NL
Zobrist      -3         Castro    -2
Crosby       -2         Izturis   -2
Rouse        -2         Seven at  -1

Both Ben Zobrist and Juan Castro have done their damage in back up roles. Zobrist is tool old to be a prospect anymore, but still has an upside. Castro, on the other hand, is rapidly approaching ancient, but is an infatuation of Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky. Not only Krivsky feel the need to trade for Castro last year, but Krivsky re-signed Castro for two years last off season. While Castro doesn’t play much, he still is a pair of scissors on an inflatable rubber raft.

Outfield

Team        
AL                      NL
DET    17               ATL    13
LAA    14               PHI    13
TBR    11               ARI    11

Individual
AL                      NL
Guerrero     11         Willingham    8
Ordonez      10         Byrnes        7
Sizemore      9         Church        7

Thanks largely in part to Magglio Ordonez (+10), the Tigers outfield leads the way. Curtis Granderson has six WSAB to complement Ordonez. Vladimir Guerrero leads all players with -11 WSAB.

In the NL, the Braves have enjoyed balanced contributions from Andruw Jones (5), Jeff Francoeur (5), and Willie Harris (5), but were nicked by Ryan Langerhans (-3) before he was traded. Langerhans has +1 WSAB with the Nationals, which keeps him off the trailer board:

Team                    
AL                      NL
TEX    -3               LAN     2
CHA    -3               STL     4
BAL    -1               CIN     4

Individual
AL                      NL
Cruz      -3            K. Casto      -3
Five tied at -2         Finley        -3
                        Baker         -3

Kory Casto managed -3 WSAB in just 16 games. The Rockies recently cut bait with Steve Finley, who will hopefully do the sensible thing and retire. Jeff Baker hasn’t been any better for the Rockies while Nelson Cruz anchors a horrible outfield in Texas.

That leaves us with the designated hitter in the American League:

Team                    Individual                     
AL  
BOS     7               Ortiz     7
CHA     7               Thome     7 
CLE     5               Hafner    5
DET     5               Sheffield 5

Team                    Individual                     
AL  
LA      -2              Hillenbrand   -2
MIN     -1              Three tied at -1
TBR     -1
SEA     -1

The leaders aren’t anyone surprising, and Sheffield (+4) is coming on strong. Meanwhile, Shea Hillenbrand is yet another hole for the Angels. Imagine if that team just had average players at second, third, and designated hitter.

Here are the leader and trailers by team for positional players:

         AL                NL
CLE     35         ATL    30
DET     34         NYN    28
LAA     30         PHI    28

KCR     -5         CIN     6        
OAK      4         PIT     10
CHA      4         SFG     10

Most of those are pretty much what we would expect based on won/loss records. Boston being behind Cleveland, Detroit, and the Angels is a slight surprise, but Boston has not been receiving much production from the outfield (1 WSAB) or catcher (0 WSAB).

Let’s move to the pitching side:

AL     SP WSAB    NL     SP  WSAB
OAK    23         NYN    17
CHA    19         ARI    17
BAL    18         LAN    16
BOS    18

A common thread with the starting pitching leaders is avoiding the starters who are going to rack up the negative WSAB. With the AL’s leaders, only Baltimore’s Jaret Wright (-1) and Oakland’s Dallas Braden (-1) are in the negative.

In the NL, the Dodgers have Brett Tomko (-2) while the Mets are the only leaderbboard team to have two negative WSAB starters (Chan Ho Park -1; Mike Pelfry -1). The Pirates have two starters, Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny, with +6 WSAB each, but their other three starters have combined for -7 WSAB, effectively sabotaging the effectiveness of the rotation. On a lesser scale, the back of the Padres rotation has accomplished something similar with David Wells (-1) and Clay Hensley (-2). Overall, the Padres’ starting rotation is +15, thanks to their top two.

AL                NL
Haren       9     Penny   8
Lackey      7     Peavy   8
Six tied at 6     Three tied at six

Peavy’s teammate Chris Young is one the three tied for third in the NL. Oakland packs a similar one-two punch in the AL with Dan Haren and Chad Gaudin (+6).

The other end of the spectrum is a fright show that even Wes Craven wouldn’t dream up:

AL      SP        NL     SP
TEX    -10        STL    -4
SEA     -1        FLA     0
TBR      1        WAS     1

AL                NL
Weaver      -5    Redman      -4
Six at      -3    Three at    -3
Four at     -2    Eleven at   -2
Fourteen at -1    Fourteen at -1

Texas’ starting rotation has bludgeoned the rest of the team all season. Not one Ranger starters is above zero WSAB, and the Rangers’ starters have amassed only 18 Quality Starts this year, four less than MLB’s second worst in that category, the Nationals. The Devil Rays make the trailer board despite James Shields (+6) because of the three-man demotion team known as Casey Fossum, Edwin Jackson and Jae Seo, who have -3 WSAB each. Meanwhile, Jeff Weaver and Mark Redman are having terrible seasons.

Success carries a similar tune for bullpens: keep the negatives to a minimum.

AL     RP         NL     RP
BOS    11         SDP    13
MIN     9         LAN    10
SEA     9         ARI     7
TOR     9         ATL     7

The Red Sox have no relievers below zero WSAB while the Padres have just one. Only Toronto and Minnesota have any relievers that combined for more than -2 WSAB. The individual leader boards are filled with relievers relatively new to the scene:

AL
Okajima    5      Isringhausen     5
Jenks      4      Fuentes          4
Janssen    4      Cordero          4
Putz       4      Saito            4

The carnage of the reliever trailer boards is not a gruesome as the starters, although the quantity of individual trailers is rather high:

AL     RP         NL         RP
DET    -3         CIN       -1
TBR    -3         HOU       -1
CHA    -1         PHI/WAS    0

AL                NL
Ten at -2         J. Julio  -3
33 at  -1         Eight at  -2
                  Thirty at -1

The Tigers and the Devil Rays’ bullpens have performed the worst according to WSAB. Let’s wrap this up by combining the starters and relievers:

Overall
AL               NL
BOS     29       SDP     28
OAK     27       NYN     28
LAA     23       LAN     26

Nothing very surprising there. Here are the trailers:

AL               NL
TEX     -5       WAS      1
TBR     -2       FLA      2
SEA      8       STL      2
NYY      8  

Here is a breakdown for pitchers for all teams.

Win Shares Above Bench allow us to neatly breakdown a team by position to see where a team is succeeding and failing. Sure, there are other ways to do that , but WSAB presents that information in a succinct manner that is a definite improvement over the original Win Shares. Hopefully, this broad overview of the 2007 season so far will interest people to explore the THT WSAB pages to pursue exactly how their favorite team or players are performing.

References & Resources
Bill James’ Win Shares
Dave Studeman’s Win Shares Above Base (or Bench)
Baseball Reference

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