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One pitcher and two guys on the disabled list July 4, 2015

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball, Economics.
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This season, the Mets have been fighting against a pernicious series of injuries, mainly focused on the offense. Although we lost Jenrry Mejia, Zack Wheeler, and Jerry Blevins, we’ve also lost David Wright for much of the season and missed Daniel Murphy, Michael Cuddyer, and Juan Lagares for smaller pieces. Let’s take a look at some interesting statistics:

Steven Matz leads the team in OBP (1.000) and total bases per game (4). Second to Matz in OBP is David Wright (.371); Travis d’Arnaud is second in total bases per game (2) and fifth in OBP (.338). Wright follows up with 1.75 total bases per game. In order to get to active position players, we have to go 3 deep to Lucas Duda (OBP of .358 and 1.56 TB/G) and Curtis Granderson (OBP of .348, 1.54 TB/G). In other words, of the Mets’ top 5 hitters, one is a pitcher who’s played one game, and two have spent more time on the disabled list than on the field. Argue with the choice of metric, but our best active hitter can’t touch Andrew McCutchen‘s 10th-best OBP (.370) or the total bases mark (Duda has 122, Granderson 125, and the bottom of the top 10 is a three way tie with 162 total bases involving Prince Fielder, J.D. Martinez, and Manny Machado).

Of course, it could be worse: we could have Ike Davis (.322 OBP, 1.3 TB/G). (But I still like Ike.)

So here’s the problem: When the Mets started off the season, they were hitting incredibly – during the first 25 games, they averaged 4.04 runs per game and allowed only 3.28. The league average this season is 4.01 runs scored to 4.11 allowed, so that was a pretty nice set of stats. But during games 26-50, those stats slid to 3.84 runs scored and 4.04 runs allowed, and in games 51-75, the Mets averaged only 3.16 runs scored to still 4.04 runs allowed. Our pitching, despite being at times inconsistent, is still better than the league, by average.

Although the Mets have made some interesting moves in the bullpen, and Terry Collins‘ insistence on using Alex Torres as a left-handed specialist is maddening at times, the pitching side of the equation is okay. All the team needs is a break on the offensive side – Duda could break out. Cuddyer could stay healthy. Murphy can keep up his hitting and Wilmer Flores can continue developing. This season has been a comedy of errors offensively, but SOMETHING has to go right soon.


Lucas Duda’s .422 OBP and Anthony Recker’s Weird Slash Line April 28, 2015

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Mets first baseman Lucas Duda has an alarming .422 OBP and .507 SLG this year, including 2 HBP and a 15/11 KBB ratio. That’s quite a bit above Lucas’ previous year OBPs – since 2011, Lucas had gotten on base .370, .329, .352, and .349 times per plate appearance, in order. That’s centered almost exactly around .350.

In 20 games, Lucas has made 83 plate appearances. What are the chances that Lucas is hitting about where he did previously, but had a hot streak of facing pitchers who gave him what he needed?

The standard error for an n-trial sample of a binary variable with probability p is \sqrt{\frac{p(1-p)}{n}} . If we assume Lucas’ ‘true’ OBP is .350, then the standard error of this 83-trial sample would be \sqrt{\frac{.35(.65)}{83}} = \sqrt{\frac{.2275}{83}} = \sqrt{.00274} = .052. That means about 66% of Lucas’s 83-plate-appearance streaks should be within one standard error, and about 95% should be within two. Due to the small sample size, it’s hard to be 95% sure that Lucas’ performance is due to actual improvement, but the upper bound of the 66% confidence window would be about .402. Lucas is outperforming that by about 20 basis points.

Meanwhile, backup catcher, relief pitcher, and third baseman Anthony Recker is on the other side – he’s made 11 plate appearances, walking four times, striking out 4, and not yet hitting the ball. Though none of those walks are intentional, that leaves Recker with a .000/.364/.000 line – quite far off from his lifetime .194/.268/.364 BA/OBP/SLG line. No wonder Kevin Plawecki is starting. Recker’s hitting probably isn’t that much different from last year’s .200 average – we can be 95% sure he’s not likely to hit much above .300 without some extra batting practice, but otherwise it’s not unusual for a .200 hitter to have a streak of 7 at-bats with no hits, especially since he’s working walks, too.

Spitballing: Position Players Moving Around January 24, 2014

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball, Economics.
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Earlier this week, I posted about Lucas Duda and how he’s being forced out of his natural position. This came up a few years ago for the Mets as well, when Angel Pagan was being forced out of the outfield – many fans suggested pushing him to second base (in the hole now filled by Daniel Murphy). The sense seems to be that players can move freely around the field, going wherever the team needs them. There are a couple of theories on this, and a couple of good examples, but it doesn’t always work out.

Typically, the best moves take someone from a more defensively-demanding position and move him to one that’s less so. Victor Martinez still catches occasionally, but he’s made a move almost entirely to the DH role and played more games at first base last year. Alex Rodriguez has also made some moves in that direction, moving from the very demanding shortstop position to the slightly less difficult third base (perversely, to allow the much lousier Derek Jeter to stay in his position), and mostly toward DH these days. Johnny Damon and Jorge Posada were among the revolving door of older Yankees to do time out of position at first base over the past few years, with varying degrees of success. On the other hand, even moves down the defensive spectrum don’t always work. Gary Sheffield was famously described as “painful to watch” at first by Michael Kaye. Kevin Youkilis was solid in his move from third to first, but the extra speed required for left field left him looking like he couldn’t hack it, and even though the corner positions are great places to stick a team’s best sluggers, it rarely makes sense to move a broken-down catcher there instead of to first or (rarely) third. Even a solid third baseman wouldn’t necessarily have the ability to cover ground needed by an outfielder, even if he had the requisite ability to predict the ball’s flight – a skill that probably needs time in the field to develop.

Pitching is kind of a weird exception. The best example in recent memory has to be Rick Ankiel, whose meltdown on the mound during the World Series led to his second career as an outfielder. On the opposite side, Juan Salas went from being a cannon-armed third baseman to pitching reasonably well, and the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen has saved 53 games for the Dodgers since being converted from light-hitting catcher to closer. (He also has a lifetime .500/.667/.500 batting line, in the “Utterly Meaningless Statistics” category.) Similarly, Ike Davis went from being his college team’s Friday-night starter to the least defensively-demanding position (first base) in the majors.

Defensive position moves tend to be difficult to make. In Duda’s case, he’d technically be moving up the defensive spectrum, but it’s hard to even consider the speed required to be a competent outfielder on the same scale as the abilities of an infielder. It’s unremarkable to me that Johnny Damon was able to move to first, but putting Youkilis in left field a few years ago was a true head-scratcher. In order to move a player freely between the infield and the outfield, you’ll need a special kind of player unless you’re willing to give up a lot defensively. As an economist, I’m all about specialization given constraints; Duda’s constraints are just too tight to make this move work.

What can the Mets do with Lucas Duda? January 22, 2014

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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As MetsBlog reported the other day, Lucas Duda is likely to be an outfielder this year. (In fact, he’s listed there on the current Mets roster.) For a number of good reasons, this probably isn’t a great idea. MetsMerized pointed out that this is probably a flailing attempt to find a good home for Duda, so let’s consider a few options.

They appear to be considering leaving him in the outfield, but this isn’t a great idea. Curtis Granderson is probably going to play every day, with Eric Young, Juan Lagares, and Chris Young rounding out the outfield. Lagares and Chris Young each hit righty, but Eric Young is a switch hitter and Granderson is a lefty, so Duda’s left-handed bat doesn’t offer a huge upgrade. Duda’s OPS is much better versus right-handers than Lagares’ (.831 vs .620), so that might present a decent platoon split, but starting Duda against right-handers would put Duda’s significantly worse defense in the field. Duda isn’t comfortable in the outfield, and his numbers bear this out – Duda’s 2013 defensive WAR is -2.1, including his time at first base (his natural position), whereas Lagares’ is 3.5. Duda’s further time on-base is useful, but his defense is too rough to count on. Eric Young hovers around the 0 dWAR mark and has a .647 OPS mark, still representing a defensive upgrade.

The Mets will probably start Ike Davis, keeping Duda from his natural position. Though Davis has struggled offensively, he’s been defensively quite good.

Probably the best thing the Mets could do with Duda is to try to shop him around. Don’t get me wrong, I like Duda, but he’s best shipped off to a team that can use him as a platoon first baseman or DH. We don’t even need to get much for him in return – picking up a few young, cheap bullpen arms might be a viable option. I’m not an expert on the trade market this year, but someone can make more use of Duda than we can, even if arbitration finds him worth $1.9 million.