FJMing an FJM

Recently, I wrote an article at Baseball Daily Digest about the putrid off-season the L.A. Angels have been, well, not enjoying. Someone at Halos Heaven, who does not list his real name or any contact information, decided to give it the FJM treatment for which I am very honored. However, I’d like to respond to some of the factual inaccuracies and logical fallacies in his rebuttal. I suggest reading both my original article and his rebuttal to place the following in context.

In case you are unaware, FJM is the acronym of a now-defunct baseball blog called Fire Joe Morgan. They were known for quoting snippets of articles and responding to each one to debunk what the author is saying.

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The following article was written at the website “Baseball Daily Digest” about the Angels off-season.  It’s a well written article, but [...]

First, I enjoy the placing of Baseball Daily Digest in quotations as if it’s some unknown website. It’s only run by the CFO of Baseball Prospectus. Secondly, I enjoy the back-handed compliment, “It’s a well written article, but…”

He’ll go on to be pedantic about my misspelling of Joel Pineiro’s last name. As a writer, I absolutely should be responsible for spelling every word correctly. However, transposing e’s and i’s is a common mistake among many fluent English speakers. The author uses it as a weapon to assault my intelligence. It’s easy to spot weak arguments when the opposition uses personal attacks rather than factual argumentation.

I never heard the Angels were in on Cliff Lee.  In fact, everything I read about the Lee trade claimed that that trade came together rather quickly and the Phillies probably could have gotten more if they had let other teams know they were willing to trade him.

This is where Google and providing links is key. Throughout the article, the author simply throws out comments without much evidence as if we are simply supposed to accept his word as fact. The Angels had been trying to obtain Lee as far back as last April.

This article is from the L.A. Times:

Last year’s Cy Young winner has a 3.14 ERA, and Howie Kendrick could be part of such a trade.

$30,000,000 deal.  The reason the Angels are a dominating team, and Cincinnati is well, Cincinnati, is they are smart enough know a bad deal when they see one and have the self-control to know when to walk away from that bad deal.

How is it a bad deal? $5 million per year is slightly more than the going rate for one win above replacement level. Chapman has the potential to produce as highly as Roy Halladay. Not immediately, mind you, but at some point.

The Angels gave Fernando Rodney an $11 million, two-year contract which has about the same average annual value as Chapman’s deal. Rodney is a severely mediocre player. Would you rather give $5 million to Rodney or Chapman? It’s not even a debate. Relievers of Rodney’s ilk are a dime a dozen.

This simply sounds like an Angels fan being blind to his team’s shortcomings.

The author of this article failed to mention the amounts the former Angels signed for with other teams.  The Mariners, Red Sox, and Rangers have committed a total of 10 years and $123.5 million to the three Angel free agents, compared to 5 years and $33 million for the three players recently added by the Halos.  In two years, when Rodney’s and Pineiro’s contracts end, Figgins will be 34 and Lackey will be 33 with approximately $60 million remaining on their contracts.

This is a completely valid point. For the sake of completeness, I should have included as much information as possible. Hindsight is 20/20 however.

The Angels committed about $33 million total to Pineiro, Matsui, and Rodney. Their contributions combined will barely match Chone Figgins in 2010 unless all three outpace their CHONE projections:

  • Pineiro: 2.4 WAR
  • Matsui: 1.1
  • Rodney: 0
  • Figgins: 3.2

And remember, WAR on FanGraphs doesn’t factor in base running, so we would take away some points for Matsui and add a few for Figgins.

Now, of course, it can be argued that 3 WAR contributed by multiple players is more valuable than 3 WAR from one player. However, we are not counting the contributions of the players the Angels would have used if they did not sign Rodney. Who they would be would have depended on the results of the upcoming spring training.

Also counting in Figgins’ favor is the fact that he would remain the team’s top on-base and base running factor. Scarcity counts for something. Supply and demand.

[...] but Pineiro wasn’t signed to replace Lackey and the Angels didn’t replace their third baseman with a relief pitcher.

It doesn’t matter what the motive was behind the transactions. Imagine I’m trying to find the best selection of fruit. I currently have an apple, a pear, and a banana, but I decide I want something with citrus so I replace the pear and banana with a lime and lemon. I may not have directly swapped out the pear and banana but they were subtracted while the lime and lemon were added.

This is a fairly elementary concept. I’m surprised I have to explain it to someone who is apparently so much smarter than me.

Pineiro replaces Matt Palmer or Sean O’Sullivan in the Angel rotation

So who replaces Lackey?

while adding Brandon Wood to the lineup.

This is thrown in there as if it is assumed to be a good thing for the Angels. Is there no worry that he will fail to live up to the Angels’ expectations? Will he slug 25+ HR in the Majors like he did in AAA?

The Angels lost Figgins, who is at the very least a 3 WAR player, and are replacing him with a prospect — a very good one, but a prospect nonetheless. We can’t just assume he’ll OPS .900 like he did in AAA.

Rodney becomes just another arm in the Angel pen, with the potential to step into the closers role if Fuentes falters.

Ignoring the money behind the Rodney signing becomes hypocritical after criticizing me for doing so. The Angels are paying him over $5 million (AAV) and he will produce just barely over replacement level — he’s been at 0.3 and 0.4 WAR the past two seasons.

[...] the Cuban refugee might be in the major leagues by the time the Pineiro contract expires.

It is a common trend among fans to simply care about the team currently slated to make the Major League roster in the current calendar year, but adding Chapman would have been a smart move for any team that could afford him, considering the contract he eventually signed.

The author previously said about the Angels, “they are smart enough” with regard to handling contracts. That’s why the Angels were heavily pursuing Chapman, right? Ken Rosenthal reported that the team was “trying like crazy” to sign him.

In essence the author is using doublethink here.

  • The Angels are smart enough to sign only good contracts; signing Chapman would have resulted in a bad contract.
  • The Angels tried “like crazy” to sign Chapman.
  • Therefore, the author needs to logically reconcile one of the two beliefs, either that signing Chapman would not have been bad or that the Angels are not as smart as he gives them credit for.

Abreu stole 30 bases last season with a 79% success rate, Figgins had a success rate of 71% while swiping 42.  Abreu would be the most dangerous base stealing threat on a lot of teams.

“A lot” — I don’t think so. However, that’s not the point. We’re talking about the Angels, not other teams. Without Figgins, the Angels lose their most significant base running threat.

Maicer Izturis led Figgins in EQBRR (Equivalent Base Running Runs, from Baseball Prospectus); however, he did so in 40% fewer attempts (444 to 270). Knowing what we know about statistics and regression to the mean, Figgins would likely have led Izturis in an equivalent amount of attempts.

Figgins was second on the team in ’09, and led the team every year from 2004-08. To argue that losing Figgins’ base running is not significant is to be very, very wrong.

I’m not suggesting Brandon Wood is fleet-footed, but he did steal 68 bases (19 CS) in his minor league career.

He attempted two stolen bases last year in AAA Salt Lake. He attempted to steal 22 times in 2007 and ’08 combined. All told, he attempted 87 stolen bases in 434 singles, 294 walks, and 31 HBP’s for a total of 759 times on first base. 759 into 87 brings us to 11%. Eleven percent of the time Wood was on first base, he attempted to steal second base.

Chone Figgins, meanwhile, has been on first base 813 times via single, 412 times via a walk, and 6 times via HBP for a total of 1,231 times on base. He has attempted 376 stolen bases. 1,231 into 376 brings us to 30.5%. Over thirty percent of the time Figgins has been on first base, he has attempted to steal. That’s about three times the rate of Wood.

The author isn’t suggesting Wood is fleet-footed because he isn’t and will never be, especially at the Major League level. This argument is entirely disingenuous.

Regarding base on balls, the loss of Figgins will hurt, but the Angels did add a hitter who’s capable of drawing a walk when they signed Matsui.  Matsui’s walk total from last season of 64 would have placed him 3rd on the team, plus he’s replacing Guerrero who had a total of 19.

Don’t forget where each player bats in the lineup. Plate discipline and OBP skills are more important at the top of the lineup, where Figgins was. SLG is more important in the middle of the lineup, where Matsui will hit (presumably #5).

Other than Kendry Morales and Erick Aybar, all of the other Angel regulars performed right around their career averages.  Of those two, Aybar is the most likely to repeat his performance.

This is why the projecting should be left to the experts. The author does not give any evidence why we should expect the Angels hitters to continue to hit at their previous career averages other than that they are their career averages. Meanwhile, the projections which are developed by experts who have put in thousands of hours of time attempting to perfect the art (an unattainable goal, by the way) factor not only past performances but weight in other factors such as age and is regressed.

If Sabermetrics and projections don’t interest you, that’s your prerogative and you are certaintly entitled to your opinion. However, when you put your own biased opinion on the same level as an objective system worked on by experts is where the opinion/fact line becomes blurry.

As mentioned in my J.A. Happ article at BDD, there is always the chance — and not an insignificant one — that a player will under- or out-perform his projections. However, the goal of the projections is not to nail the player’s performance down to the thousandth decimal point (although it would be nice); it is to provide a probability of production.

When CHONE says puts a 4.23 ERA next to Scott Kazmir’s name, it is not saying he will definitely put up a 4.23 ERA or close to it; it is saying that the most likely outcome is that he puts up an ERA in that vicinity. CHONE doesn’t consider every factor, and actually considers very few. CHONE may miss some significant factor that leads to future success for Kazmir.

All told, though, I’ll take CHONE’s projections any day over Joe Fan’s projections that heavily weigh one season’s worth of data and don’t properly weigh previous seasons. Scott Kazmir’s production in 2005 is almost irrelevant when trying to project Kazmir in 2010.

That 11 out of 14 ranking is a bit misleading, as the Angels suffered with injuries and the use of rookie pitchers.  The signing of Fernando Rodney should insure fans will not see the likes of Rafael Rodriquez (5.58 ERA), Shane Loux (7.46 ERA in 12 games as a reliever) or some other triple-A pitcher.  Plus, those first half numbers were inflated by departed relievers Justin Speier (5.18) and Jose Arredondo (6.00).

Certainly valid points. However, his points are all irrelevant as it pertains to the addition of Rodney. Rafael Rodriguez wasn’t a shoo-in for the Major League roster prior to the Rodney signing. Additionally, the Angels are still paying him $11 million when it is likely that he will not even reach 1 WAR in his two years there combined.

Weaver’s career ERA is 3.73 and he’s only had an ERA over 3.91 once in his career. Why, all of a sudden would his ERA balloon to 4.10? It won’t.

Again, we’re dealing in probabilities. Why would his ERA increase? He had a .288 BABIP. Pitchers can’t control their BABIP. The league average BABIP is around .300. The most likely scenario is that Weaver has a BABIP around .300, which will lead to more base hits dropping in and less runners being stranded on base (he stranded 76% compared to the AL average of 72%).

Additionally, Weaver’s walk rate has increased every season since he’s been in the Majors. Not significantly, but combined with a slight BABIP and LOB% regression, that all could be enough to push his ERA on the wrong side of 4.00.

A disparity of about .3 runs in ERA isn’t terribly large especially as it pertains to projections.

Kazmir’s ERA after joining the Halos on August 29th was 1.73 in six starts. His career ERA is 3.83. The only season his ERA was over 4.00 since his rookie season was during 2009 while suffering from thigh and forearm problems.

I won’t advocate completely ignoring Kazmir’s production in his month-plus with the Angels, but I would suggest taking it with a huge grain of salt. We are dealing with a really small sample size here. As an Angel, Kazmir had a meager .261 BABIP and 83% strand rate. That is very unsustainable, since pitchers can’t control BABIP.

Additionally, Kazmir has only reached 30+ starts in two of the five seasons in which he has been starting regularly. He has durability issues. In 2008, he reached the seventh inning only 6 times in 27 starts (22%). Last season, he did it 9 times in 26 starts (35%). John Lackey, as an example, reached the seventh inning 19 times in 27 starts (70%).

An Era of 4.53 from Santana in 2010 would be right around his career numbers (4.53), but Santana has shown he’s capable of much better performance when healthy.

Remember that the whole purpose of the response to my article was to show me how wrong I was. For the Pineiro and Santana projections, he essentially admits they’re spot on, but he can’t just pass up the opportunity to argue with something.

Sure, Santana is capable of being better than a 4.53 ERA pitcher. Is it likely? Not in 2010, based on the information available presently.

Since his rookie season, the only time Saunders has had an ERA over 4.53 was in 2009 when hit the disabled list for the first time in his career.

Notice the selective endpoint of 4.53. His career ERA (something the author is very fond of up until it comes to Saunders) is 4.22. He really hasn’t been pitching regularly enough for us to come to concrete conclusions about his ability.

However, Saunders’ 2008 was fluky. His BABIP was a very low .267. His career average is .292. The odds of it being close to .300 are very high, since pitchers can’t control BABIP and the league average is .303.

Furthermore, Saunders’ strikeout rate stayed below 5.0 per nine innings for his second consecutive season while his walk rate climbed above 3.0 per nine. The strikeout rate is way too low and the K/BB ratio is also too low (1.6). Last year, the following pitchers had a K/BB ratio of 1.6 or lower: Braden Looper, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Doug Davis, John Lannan, Trevor Cahill, Jeff Suppan, and Ian Snell. Of the group, Lannan, Davis, and Marquis had ERA’s between 3.88 and 4.12 but xFIP between 4.41 and 4.69.

That’s the kind of company Saunders is in.

After returning from shoulder stiffness, Saunders went 7-0 while compiling an ERA of 2.55. Saunders isn’t a staff ace, but he’s much better than given credit for.

I’ll take “Lending too much credence to small sample sizes” for $400, Alex.

I’m curious how the Angels could have easily improved the rotation.  The Angels did not have the players the Blue Jays wanted for Roy Halladay.  And who knows if the Angels were even contacted regarding acquiring Cliff Lee.

I guess none of these guys would have worked in a deal for Halladay. Definitely not. (Got your sarcasm detector?)

Even though the Angels lost Figgins and Lackey, did they really have the least productive off-season?

I’ll take “Taking an intentionally and obviously hyperbolized statement too literally” for $1,000 Alex.

There’s no way to definitively state that one team had a more unproductive off-season than the other because they are all trying to reach different goals. To quibble with the statement that the Angels had the least productive off-season is to engage in semantics. No, maybe the Angels didn’t have the least productive off-season but it wasn’t productive.

Another season where the Angels outdid their Pythagorean.  Is anyone still surprised by this?

Again, take probabilities into account here rather than concrete black and white terms. Is it possible that the Angels will yet again out-perform their PWL by five games or more? Yes. Is it the most likely scenario? No. Revenge of the RLYW projected the 2010 season and came up with the Angels going 81-81. More reliable projected standings will come as final 25-man rosters are decided at the end of spring training, but I’d be surprised if any projections are as optimistic about the team as the author is.

UPDATE: The PECOTA projections are out. Angels: 76-86, 4th out of 4 in AL West.

Have [the Mariners] improved enough to overcome their fluky season as Pythag suggested and to catch the Angels in 2010?  They would have to have at least a 12 game improvement.  I don’t think they did.

Yet another example of the author simply throwing his opinion out without any facts to back it up, as if we should automatically accept it on face value. I sincerely hope I have not been so arrogant.

However, he is right to point out that the Mariners outperformed their PWL much more so than did the Angels. I neglected to look at the Mariners PWL when I wrote the article and it’s something I should have considered in retrospect. As such, the author may have a point that I am overrating the Mariners.

And being financially responsible by not re-signing a pitcher who has started the last two seasons on the disabled list to an $82M+ salary is not waving a white flag.

Take a look at this list and tell me where Joel Pineiro ranks. Factor in projected production and salary. Pineiro, prior to ’09, had been worth less than 1 WAR in each season and all totaled just over 2 WAR. In 2010, CHONE projects Pineiro to be worth 2.5 WAR. That seems fair but it is a significant step down from the 4.8 WAR he was worth last season.

If you are happy losing out on Halladay and Lackey and content with Pineiro, again, that’s just fine and you are certainly entitled to your opinion. If you argue, however, that Pineiro is just as suitable as the aforementioned, then we are operating on separate planes of reality. Pineiro is a marginal upgrade for his pitching role and overall the Angels’ starting rotation is worse than it was last year.

This is just too stupid to comment on as I have nothing against DeVry graduates, waiters, nor ugly women.

Neither do I. I have not yet attended a fancy college nor have I held a fancy job nor have I dated any significantly attractive women. This is another example of taking something much too literally. It is an analogy for the Angels’ off-season: everyone else is having fun at real colleges, working awesome jobs, and enjoying great relationships while you (the Angels) are settling for the above.

In an effort to be contrarian, the author simply came off as obtuse.

Before I close, I would like to applaud Halos Heaven for its mature group of commenters. The following intelligent comments can be found beneath the author’s response:

  • some dudes blog nobody has ever heard of. (ESPN disagrees)
  • the literal definition of “sophomore”
  • “nerd” (a term with which I brand myself proudly, by the way)
  • the idiot Baer, whose knowledge of the Halos is obviously nil.
  • This Baer guy is a jackass
  • that idiot
  • Unknown Blogger

I am thankful that the commenters here and on SB Nation’s Phillies blog The Good Phight are much more rational and mature than those that showed up to respond to the author’s FJMing of my article.

I forget the term, but there’s a way to describe valuing something more while you have it and less when you don’t. I think that explains a lot of the vitriol shown by both the author and the Halos Heaven commenters. John Lackey was certainly great while you had him, but now that he’s gone it’s easy to focus only on his DL stints and high ERA. Meanwhile, they completely ignore it for Joe Saunders.

It’s fine to be just a fan of a team, to just watch and not care about any of the numbers and to root really hard for a guy when there’s no reason to. However, if we are to engage in an intellectual debate, the subjectivity must be left at the doorstep. Notice the persecution complex shown by the commenters:

  • “I dont know what it is but writers, scouts, TV talking heads, ESPN all love to hate us.”
  • “wow! another of that anti-angels bandwagon…”
  • “we dominate in years the media assumes we’re dead. [...] they wouldn’t dare point out the ways seattle overachieved”
  • “I love that all the ‘nerds’ can’t figure us out.”
  • “Hard for me to care about yet another member of the blogosphere foretelling our demise. He can join Buster Olney, Karl Ravich, Tim Kurkjian, Peter Gammons, well you get the picture. According to those fine folks at various sports media outlets we’ve been lucky, more than successful year in, and year out. Screw ’em.”

If you truly have a solid foundation for your arguments, then you wouldn’t need to resort to logical fallacies and ad hominems. I am very disappointed, Halos Heaven.