An Object at Rest

David Murphy has written a very thought-provoking piece for his High Cheese blog for the Philadelphia Daily News. If you follow both the Phillies and Sabermetrics, then you’re probably well aware of the regression lefty J.A. Happ is likely to face in 2010. Those in the non-stats crowd were impressed by his poise last season and think he’ll perform better than do those of us who fancy numbers. Murphy tries to meet all of us in the middle, citing “The Pendulum Effect”:

[...] refers to the tendency of folks on opposite sides of an argument to make increasingly extreme statements [...]

Staying on the science theme, I’d like to direct Murphy towards Newton’s first law of motion:

[...] an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force.

All right, so I’m stretching a bit. But the point is sometimes moderates become so concerned with being moderate that they become just as extremist as those on opposing ends. With all due respect to Murphy, I think he is an object at rest and he is willingly guarding himself against being affected by external forces, or the thought processes of those on either end of the stats/scouts spectrum. It’s evident about halfway through when he posts his “moderate’s creed”.

I am not going to go into the math as to why Happ will regress in 2010. Mostly because I’ve researched and written an article about it that may be printed elsewhere and I don’t want to blow my stack, and also because you can probably read the various reasons with some simple Google searching. So if you are interested in the methodology behind that, I suggest staying tuned for my article (I will post details as they come in) or checking out the work of some other writers who have covered the subject.

Simply put, the reasons behind Happ’s likely regression are statistically sound. The Sabermetric stats that frown upon him are based off of DIPS (defense-independent pitching statistics) initially developed by Voros McCracken and DIPS has evolved many times through the years. Each new advancement shines a little more light than its predecessor.

The reasons behind saying “Happ will regress” are facts. This is not akin to a liberal saying that a woman should have the right to choose or a conservative pushing for his right to carry a firearm. Those arguments are based on morals which are neither right nor wrong. Meanwhile, taking one particular side in the Happ debate does not mean you are an extremist; it means you are either right or wrong. Compromising between the two, as Murphy does, still leads to a wrong answer, albeit to a slightly lesser extent.

I don’t want to sound like the brainwashed stat-nerd that mainstream writers so often characterize. However, Sabermetrics have gone a long way towards enlightening us as to the truths in baseball. Many smart people have put in long hours of data analysis to reach these conclusions. As it pertains to the Happ debate, the stats crowd is right: he is likely to regress.

As Murphy points out, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible that Happ will have as productive a 2010 season as in ’09, it just means it’s unlikely. To say otherwise for any reason whether it’s sincere disbelief or to simply attempt a compromise is to be wrong.

Ruiz Makes It 25

As expected, Carlos Ruiz signed a contract extension, making him the 25th and final Phillie set to officially earn cash money in 2010. The Phillies website has the deets:

The Phillies agreed Sunday on a three-year, $8.85 million contract with catcher Carlos Ruiz [...]

The deal — still pending a physical — includes a fourth-year club option of $5 million, with a $500,000 buyout, and performance incentives based on games started.

For the signings of Joe Blanton and Shane Victorino, we can just compare their salaries to their expected value. It’s trickier with catchers since a surefire method of evaluation has yet to be developed. However, we will glance at a couple of the best methods to date.

FanGraphs has valued the now 31-year-old Ruiz at 0.3, 1.7, 0.5, and 2.2 WAR over the past four seasons, an average of about 1.2. In free agent bucks, he has been worth a total of over $20 million, or about $5 million per year. Unfortunately, Ruiz’s defense is not at all factored into the equation as it is still but a silhouette amidst the Sabermetric landscape.

If we had to take a rough guess, how good has Ruiz been defensively? At Beyond the Box Score, Dan Turkenkopf ranked him as the third-best catcher in all of baseball at blocking pitches in the dirt last season. Dan also cites a similar metric developed by Pitch F/X guru Harry Pavlidis that ranked Ruiz as second-best in baseball. That makes sense — Ruiz’s propensity to block sliders in the dirt is part of what made Brad Lidge so dominating in 2008 and kept him just shy of embarrassingly incompetent last season.

As for throwing out base-stealers, Ruiz has thrown out 21, 31, 24, and 27% in his four seasons (2006-09 respectively) with the Phillies. The National League averages in those seasons are 28, 25, 27, and 29% respectively. In a very detailed post at Driveline Mechanics, devil_fingers had Ruiz 95th out of 115 catchers in “caught stealing runs” last season. Even if we only include those catchers with 2,500 plate appearances or more, Ruiz ranks 27th out of 35.

Overall, factoring in throwing out base-stealers, blocking pitches, committing errors and so forth, devil_fingers valued Ruiz at 5.4 total runs or roughly about 0.5 WAR. Add it to Ruiz’s offense along with position and replacement level adjustments, and he was worth close to 2 WAR last season or about $9 million. If Ruiz comes close to that next season, he’ll pay for his entire contract in one year in theory.

Even without the number-heavy evaluation (which, for catchers, should still be taken with a grain of salt as mentioned), Ruiz’s contract surely passes the smell test. The Phillies don’t have any catching prospects close to the Majors especially after trading Travis D’Arnaud to Toronto in the Roy Halladay trade. For roughly $9 million the Phillies extinguish any uncertainty surrounding the catching position and for $5 million more can extend Ruiz for another year in 2013.

Another interesting aspect of the extension is that Ruiz will continue to work with a pitching staff with which he is very familiar. While he will be teaming up with Roy Halladay for the first time, he has worked with Cole Hamels for four years, J.A. Happ for one-plus, Joe Blanton for one and a half, and Jamie Moyer for three and a half. He has developed a reputation for calling a good game behind the plate and with everyone sans Moyer locked up through 2012, keeping the crew together can become an advantage.

Ruiz may not be Joe Mauer, but he’s worth the money he’ll be receiving in the next three or four seasons. Meanwhile, Ruben Amaro continues his trend of signing players to contracts at market value or below for three or fewer guaranteed years.