This is entirely too early, but if August is the Dog Days for baseball then the last few days before pitchers and catchers report is Hell Week. The Rays have been more active than the rest of the league, which is right in line with their M.O. Now is the time to get those free agents that have finally stopped rationalizing that the big bucks won’t be coming any time soon. Over the last week the Rays have essentially set their 40-man roster so let’s take a look at what the batter-side of that looks like:
I’ll get to why each player has been color-labeled in a minute, but first let’s bring in some more stuff. Steamer and ZIPS are two of the better projection systems in the public domain. If you followed those links you came to the conclusion that the Steamer stuff is really nice right now because it’s all in one sortable area while the ZIPS are only on a team-by-team basis, for now. Once the ZIPS projections are in a nice, tidy format we can expand upon what we’re doing to include all teams and even more of the other projection systems freely available. Currently, however, we’re going to focus on just the Rays and just the Steamer and ZIPS projections, but look forward to more work in this avenue down the road.
For your viewing pleasure I have compiled the PA and wOBA figures from Steamer and ZIPS so that you can see how each player might look over the course of the season. The Wtd. Avg. section is a bit of a misnomer. To develop a combination of the two systems I have broken down each outcome (e.g. BB, 2B, HR, etc…) per plate appearance for each system and then we can take the average of each outcome to get a raw number of BB, 2B, HR, etc. For instance, Desmond Jennings is forecasted to hit 27 doubles in 669 PA by Steamer. This is a rate of slightly over 4%. Meanwhile, ZIPS expects 25 doubles over 637 PA for a rate just over 3.9%. We can average these together to get .0398 and if we do the same for expected PA we get a raw number of doubles equal to 25.99 doubles. We can do this for all the components of wOBA. Applying the weights first used in The Book we get the combined wOBA* figures for both projectors found under Wtd. Avg. above. This might seem like a lot of work, but once we have CAIRO, Marcel, and other projection systems freely available we can use the “wisdom of the crowds” approach to get closer to actuality than any individual projector could.
*Note that these wOBA projections focus strictly on the bat and do not include stolen base or caught stealing projections.
So after all that work we have each batters expected wOBA for the upcoming 2013 season. We can take this one step further, however. A team like the Rays thrives upon squeezing marginal production out of various platoons. The logic is that a flawed hitter that mashes one side and rolls over against the other should come cheaper than a more complete player. The best way to find out if a batter has wide platoon splits is to look at how they’ve performed against each type of pitcher. The problem is that some guys have faced tons and tons of pitchers and some haven’t and we know that we need a fairly large sample for this stuff to be meaningful and not so subject to the whims of noise and variance.
Matt Klaassen has written the foundation upon which we can regress batters. He has given us the blueprint to scientifically, and without too much difficulty, look at how batters truly platoon split against right or left-handed pitching. The only thing is, in an evolving and infantile science like Sabermetric Research it’s not long before someone refines an old approach and is able to distill more goodness with less of the downside. Think about someone drinking once-refined potato vodka a hundred years ago compared to the much more refined, much freer of imperfections vodkas of today. No different with baseball research and one of my favorite modern day chemists goes by the name Bojan Koprivica. Bojan recently published a very fine article essentially re-calculating the fine work of The Book regarding platoon splits. You’re a sucker if you don’t read that so I’m going to move on as if you have taken five minutes to learn something useful.
I have combined the thresholds that Bojan calculated with my workbook based off of Matt K’s seminal post looking at how to easily calculate platoon splits. Below you will see each of the batters presented above and what they are projected to do based off of our Wtd. Avg. wOBA estimates.
To give an idea of context, from 2009 – 12 all batters managed a wOBA of .327 off Right-Handed Pitchers, but this broke down to same-handers having a .318 wOBA and lefties having a .335 wOBA. Similarly, all batters managed a .326 wOBA off of Left-Handed Pitchers with same-handers batting .305 and righties managing a .335 line.
Now is a good time to go over the color-coding. You may realize that I have green-highlighted players as the everyday type while red-highlighted players should see action mostly against RHP and vice-versa for blue-highlighted players. I have Sam Fuld as my only yellow-highlighted player because I don’t see him as a useful starter. Instead, Sam may be able to help the team best by being a true 4th outfielder. He would get the start from time to time to give a guy rest or to take advantage of a gut-feeling and his stellar defense and base-running can pay huge dividends late in a game when leverages can get their highest. The non-highlighted names are guys that should start the season in AAA Durham, ideally. They’re not without use, but they’re better as depth guys than on a contending team’s bench.
The proposed position that the player would typically start at has been given in the last set of columns. Against righties I would have something along the lines of:
1. Ben Zobrist RF .345 (OBP-monster that runs the bases extremely well)
2. Matt Joyce LF .349 (2nd best hitter brings patience to continue the rally and the power to end it)
3. Luke Scott DH .332 (#3 hitter isn’t quite as important as some believe, Scott’s power is a good fit here)
4. Evan Longoria 3B .367 (Best hitter should get the most chances to drive in runners or add himself to the pile)
5. Desmond Jennings CF .306 (Solid Power and can use speed to leverage slappy ability of Loney)
6. James Loney 1B .321 (Slot in by descending wOBA from here on out)
7. Kelly Johnson 2B .310 (See # 6)
8. Yunel Escobar SS .302 (See #7)
9. Jose Lobaton C .285 (Lobaton should see majority of righties, though time split, overall, approaches 50/50)
Using the average PA/Game for each lineup slot we can begin to get an idea of how many plate appearances each slot will get each game:
This lineup would see the Rays hit righty pitchers to the tune of a .327 wOBA, which is around league average from 2009-12 versus right-handed pitchers. Let’s repeat this same exercise for the Rays lineup versus a lefty starter:
We can sort by vLHP to get an idea of which guys should perform the best against southpaws and from there we can speculate on what would make a good lineup.
1) Ben Zobrist RF .362 (OBP monster that runs the bases well)
2) Kelly Johnson LF .328 (3rd best hitter against lefties, has more pop than OBP skills)
3) Desmond Jennings CF .325 (4th best hitter brings power and speed)
4) Evan Longoria DH .389 (Best hitter by a mile can get on or get them over and in)
5) Sean Rodriguez 2B .318 (A bit of power to clean up what’s left)
6) Yunel Escobar SS .314 (Slot in by descending wOBA)
7) Ryan Roberts 3B .312 (See #6)
8) Luke Scott 1B .297 (See #7)
9) Jose Molina C .295 (Molina should see just about all lefties, though overall split approaches 50/50)
And we get something like this:
Recall that from 2009 – 12 MLB hitters put up a .326 wOBA against lefties and you can see that the Rays would be close to 1% above league average against southpaws. A few notes here. To leverage the skills of both Roberts and Rodriguez (good glove, hits lefties ok) and to keep Evan Longoria in the lineup 600+ times it might make a lot of sense to have the latter move to DH for the roughly 28% of games started by lefties (or 45 games) much like the Twins have been able to do with Joe Mauer (42 games at DH) in 2012. Yes, Longoria gains a ton of value with his glove, but Roberts does not give much away at the position while Longo gets a heightened chance to avoid the DL by getting intermittent rest while also staying in the lineup. In addition to getting Roberts good glove over at 3B you also get Sean Rodriguez’s good glove over at 2B and add another bat that figures to be within spitting distance of league average. Of course, this is completely dependent upon Kelly Johnson being able to hold down LF, which leans heavily in the direction of unknown, but this is the Rays we’re talking about. Lastly, you could easily sway me that Matt Joyce should be slid over to 1B in this lineup. I’m not high on Scott’s defense, but Joyce has a sample size of zero so there’s still a bunch of risk involved. Joyce brings the slightly better expected bat against lefties and the move to 1B could allow Joyce to also avoid nagging injuries that have plagued his second halves the last two years.
Food for thought. I don’t expect anyone or everyone to agree with me, but this is what I would look to do with our current stable of ponies. I’d love to hear your thoughts and why?