Archive for January, 2008

Has the Rangers outfield improved?

January 24, 2008

I haven’t written for quite a while, but I’ve been thinking about a few topics. Most of the last few weeks I’ve either spent reading or playing games at the end of the day, and haven’t had the feeling of wanting to write. I’ve stored up that idea list though, and intend to get to many of them sooner or later. Today I got a little push on one of my ideas, because there was an article on the Rangers site by TR Sullivan about the outfielders the Rangers will be going with this year. I’ve been wanting to look at Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley from a Runs Created perspective, and see how much better they make the Rangers outfield in 2008.

You may recall I wrote a post about a month ago on Runs Created, comparing each position to the rest of the league to see where the Rangers were good or bad.  In it, I concluded that left and center were average or above average in 2007, but right was well below average.  While right could use improving, the other two outfield slots were nowhere near as bad as everyone assumed they were.

What I have been wanting to look at is how many Runs Created Hamilton and Bradley will increase (or decrease) the outfield by.  I have no expectation coming into this study, except that it will not be anywhere near the miracle cure the Rangers are looking for, and that it won’t improve the pitching any, which is where they really need help.  Now, first off, given that last sentence, I will agree that improved outfield defense should help the pitchers some.  That’s hard to quantify though (maybe another day), and since Runs Created only deals with offense it’s not at all considered here.

This post is looking at individual time played at each position, and so there is going to be a bit of rounding error popping in, so please excuse if I’m off a little here or there, or not consistent with the numbers from that last post.  It’s all relative anyway.  Plus, this is a fairly basic version of Runs Created, so there may be aspects of a player’s game that are not considered (again, it’s relative).  For the mathematically inclined, I’m using ((H+BB)*TB)/(AB+BB).  Easily obtained stats, and easily broken out into positions.  Even something as simple as SB by position is hard to come by without crunching my own data to get it.

So, my assumption is that Hamilton and Bradley will each have 500 ABs in the Rangers outfield this year.  This is a wild assumption, but it’s a starting point.  You would want to see that kind of output if you are Jon Daniels.  I mercilessly point out that in Hamilton’s entire career, his high is only 391 ABs, and that was in the minors in 2000.  In fact he has not had 500 ABs in the last five years combined (having missed 2003-05).  So projecting him for 500 is risky – although since his missed time was just as much due to drug use and suspensions, it’s not like he was injured all that time.  Bradley, on the other hand, has no such excuse.  In his eight years in the majors, he has had 500 ABs just once, in 2004.  Add in his minor league career, and going back to 1996 he has one more 500 AB season (with two near misses, both in the 490s combining minors and majors).  His last three years gave him 283, 351 and 209, so hope for 500 is possibly a stretch.  Hope for 500 in a Rangers uniform may be a stretch too, since I’m sure he’s going to be traded by the deadline if he is doing anything worthwhile, a la Lofton and Gagne last year (when did the Rangers decide that was a good strategy, signing old free agents to one year deals so they might be able to pick up some prospects?  Isn’t that a sign of a terrible team that knows it is going nowhere?).

Given all that, let’s project Hamilton and Bradley based on their 2007 stats.  A very small sample statistically, but it will serve our purposes (and avoid me having to dig through and weigh a bunch of data).

First, Hamilton:  in 298 AB, he produced 59.8 RC, a very good 5.42 RC/27 AB (which in itself is a simplistic version of RC/G).  Multiply it out, and he would give 100.3 RC in 500 AB.  For comparison, the Rangers center fielders last year produced 95 RC in 657 AB, so Hamilton immediately proves to be an upgrade.  Assume that Marlon Byrd will pick up the slack, the remaining 157 AB after taking out Hamilton’s 500, Byrd would give an additional 24.5 RC (at his 2007 rate) for a CF total of 124.8, a huge improvement of 29.6 over 2007’s 95.2.

On to Bradley.  In 2007 he had 209 AB, but still produced 45.1 RC, at a rate of 5.83, even better than Hamilton (by the way, David Murphy at 5.73 and Matt Kata at 5.72 were the only Ranger outfielders over 4.5 in 2007, and Kata’s 23 ABs in the OF didn’t save him from the chop).  Project Bradley all the way out, and you get 107.9 in 500 AB.  Again, a big jump over last year.  Now, Bradley is supposed to play RF for the Rangers this year, with Byrd leading from the left and Murphy being fourth outfielder.  I’m going to make Byrd be the swing man, so he can get as many ABs as he did in 2007, so I’m going to project 108 of his ABs in right, to get to the Rangers 2007 RF total of 608.  At his 2007 rate, Byrd gives an additional 16.9 RC to RF, bringing the total to 124.8 – exactly the same as CF projects.  Curious.  Anyway, last year RF gave us 86.8, so that’s an improvement of 38 RC.  Wow.

But now we’ve got to pay attention to LF.  Left in 2007 was a mish-mash, a whole bunch of players thrown in for a short period of time.  Catalanotto led the way with 216, but next best was Wilkerson at 109 AB.  We’ve got to get to a total of 615 though.  Marlon Byrd has used up 265 in CF and RF, so only has 144 for LF.  Murphy will put in his 105 all in LF.  Botts had 99.   If we take all 216 outfield ABs of Catalanotto, we’re still 51 short.  Let’s give them to Nelson Cruz, who had 302 in 2007, and will probably get some in 2008.  Of course, many of these guys will have drastically different totals (you hope to see a lot more for Botts and Murphy, Cat is supposed to play first base instead of the outfield, and Cruz may even end up not getting any).  But trying to project playing time is pretty hard, especially when you have a team like the Rangers which gives up on people after just a few ABs.  We’ll leave in Cruz to represent all those who will get a small shot.  And leave the others where they are for similar reasons, and also to try and measure the impact of adding Hamilton and Bradley while keeping everything else the same.  So, 144 ABs of Byrd would be worth 22.5 RC.  Murphy had 22.3 in his 105, Botts had 13.8 in his 99, Cat got 33.9 in his OF time, and 51 ABs of Cruz would have earned 5.7.  Add them all together and LF projects to be 98.2 RC.  This compares favorably to the 90.7 that LF actually produced – an increase of 7.5 based on cherry-picking the best of the 2007 outfielders.

So, add up the increases.  LF gives 7.5, CF gives 29.6 and RF gives 38, for a total of 75.1 RC added by the addition of 500 ABs of Bradley and Hamilton.  With the standard calculation of 10 runs being worth one win, the Rangers potentially added 7.5 wins, which would push them over .500 (for just the second time since 1999).  That would suggest that these were valuable moves (not the getting over .500, but the 7.5 wins), especially given that Bradley only cost money, and Hamilton cost a good pitching prospect (and only time will tell how good or bad that works out).  The argument might be made that by spending their time working on the outfield, they didn’t spend enough time on the elephant in the room, pitching.  And since the Rangers have only added the likes of Eddie Guardado and Jason Jennings, it almost feels like a complete surrender in the pitching ledger.

Is this a reasonable projection?  These numbers seem to make sense, but I’m certainly open to someone else’s interpretation.  As noted earlier, neither of these players has had a good track record of staying on the field.  To suggest that both of them will get to 500 ABs is a pretty big stretch.  If Bradley gets 250 for the Rangers and 250 for someone else, I’ll consider that a success.  His 250 elsewhere would bring something back in trade, so that can only be good.  Knowing that he is likely to start the year on the DL, or playing DH, it already puts the projection in jeopardy.  And the whole Hamilton thing is a giant risk anyway, he is very likely to have a sophomore slump compared to the small sample of his first year in the big leagues.  So putting all these numbers together is a long-shot, but one probably worth doing for the Rangers.  Come August, if Bradley is in San Diego, Hamilton is in rehab, Volquez is in the Cincy rotation, and Nelson Cruz (or worse, think this year’s version of Jerry Hairston Jr) is patrolling right field, then I reserve the right to point a lot of fingers at Jon Daniels.  But right now I’ll give him credit for improving a position perceived as a weakness last year.