Narrowing Down the Options, and the Variance

Baseball’s off-season got a kick in the pants yesterday when the Florida Marlins, days after trading away the last memories of the failed Miguel Cabrera deal in Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin, sent second baseman Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves for a $20 gift card to Applebee’s. (They actually got Omar Infante and Michael Dunn.)

The Braves were a veritable thorn in the Phillies’ side for most of the 2010 season — a playoff team, now much better adding a second baseman who averages about 4 WAR per season. Naturally, Phillies fans want to see their team keep pace and make some splashes this winter. Obviously, Jayson Werth and Cliff Lee are at the top of the list, but so are names like Justin Upton and Adrian Beltre.

Other fans are concerned with finding a right-handed platoon partner for Domonic Brown or Raul Ibanez. Names like Marcus Thames and Jeff Francoeur have been bandied about.

Still more fans are getting creative, trying to find the diamond in the rough — the next Werth, if you will. I had a nice conversation via e-mail with a reader who suggested that the next diamond could be Jeremy Hermida, a former Marlin. Hermida’s had a rough go of it since an impressive showing in 2007, posting a .619 OPS with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics. It would be neat to give Hermida a shot and try to strike lightning in a bottle as the Phillies once did with Werth.

The difference between the Phillies pre-2007, when they signed Werth, and now is that the Phillies then were about an 85-win team that had consistently missed the playoffs. Teams that are close to .500 should take chances on riskier players like Werth then and Hermida now. A perennial 95-win team like the 2008-10 Phillies should attempt to reduce the variance in their players’ performances by going with known quantities.

(Note: All of the examples will use arbitrary numbers.)

Let’s say that the threshold for making the playoffs in any capacity (by winning the division or the Wild Card) is 90 wins. If the 2007 Phillies are an 85-win team with a variance of four games, they miss the playoffs a very large portion of the time, with a min-max of 81-89. If they add a question mark like Hermida — or Werth — who increases their variance by another two games, they likely win between 79 and 91 games, good enough for the playoffs. The 2007 Phillies have nothing to lose taking a flier on a player who, with a favorable roll of the die, can take them into the post-season.

On the other hand, if the present Phillies are a 94-win team with a variance of four games, they have a min-max of 90-98 wins, still making the playoffs almost all of the time. By adding more variance — Hermida’s two wins — they could potentially miss the playoffs if the player has a bad roll of the die.

Top-flight teams like the Phillies have more to lose with bad luck than they stand to gain with equivalently good luck. Middle-of-the-pack teams like the Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies are the ones that should be swapping out some low WAR players for some risky but potentially high-WAR guys — reclamation projects like Hermida.

In the wake of the Uggla heist by the Braves, the best thing we can hope for as Phillies fans is that only the surest of sure things are taken. Standing pat is, as odd as it may sound, a decent strategy, especially this off-season with very few attractive options available.

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38 comments

  1. JB Allen

    November 17, 2010 11:09 AM

    Given the luck the Phillies had in one-run games last year, the probable loss of Werth, the aging lineup and the inordinate amounts of money allocated to same, are you certain the Phillies are a top-flight team? After seeing Ibanez and Howard stare at fastballs they used to be able to hit, I could use some non-anecdotal, empirical comfort.

  2. Bill Baer

    November 17, 2010 11:12 AM

    A full year of Roy Oswalt and an assumption of much better injury luck should offset most losses. Not giving 400 PA to Wilson Valdez will be a boon.

  3. JB Allen

    November 17, 2010 11:32 AM

    OK, that’s worth a step back from the ledge. Thanks.

    What about going after Juan Uribe? Wouldn’t the Phillies be wise to get a back-up plan for Rollins/Utley/Polanco who can actually hit a little, especially from the right-hand side? Or do you think that the Phillies’ MIF injury woes were more about luck and less about age?

  4. Bill Baer

    November 17, 2010 11:40 AM

    Uribe’s 2010 was extremely gaudy. The 24 HR and 85 RBI look nice but his wOBA was an unimpressive .322, right around the NL average.

    In terms of actual on-field production (hitting and defense), he only contributed 0.7 WAR.

    Plus, I highly doubt Uribe will take a huge reduction in playing time when he will likely be given several offers to start.

  5. CH Phan

    November 17, 2010 12:37 PM

    Adrian Beltre is 31 and his agent is Scott Boras. I thought they wanted to go younger. Beltre’s been in Boston for yrs. If he’s leaving it must be b/c of money or years. Boras won’t be any nicer about this client than his other clients, especially given that the market for 3B is tight now. He holds the cards.

    Why should the Phillies give money & yrs to Beltre that they wouldn’t give to Werth? Because Beltre’s 4 yrs younger & his BA is 23 pts higher last season than Polanco’s? I can’t believe it.

    Btw, Jon Heyman is now saying – for whatever reason (who knows what his nonsense is based on, or what the motivation is) – that there’s a better chance now Werth will wind up staying in Phila. Heyman’s down in FL at the GM mtgs. Hey, he has a mic in his hand & there’s no stopping him. The thoughts are dropping from his brain to his tongue like gumballs.

  6. JB Allen

    November 17, 2010 01:10 PM

    WARP is a little more favorable to Uribe than WAR, but I can’t argue that his real offensive value is anything special. On the other hand, he’s better than Valdez, and it’s fun to see really chubby guys take the field. 1993 was an important year for me, I guess.

    To your main point, is there really much downside for a top flight team acquiring a high-risk guy to initially play part-time? Are there any players out there who could “battle” their way into the lineup, but who wouldn’t hurt as back-up players, either? It seems like those sorts of player don’t have as much variance on the down-side, so long as you keep a low-upside guy around. For example, Brown is a decent risk, because if he stinks, Francisco can take some of his playing time.

  7. sean

    November 17, 2010 01:17 PM

    beltre was available last year, what makes anyone think that the phillies will go after him now? also i would not trust much of what heyman ever says

  8. CH Phan

    November 17, 2010 02:29 PM

    Bill: Right – sorry, I got caught up looking at numbers, etc. He was actually with LA the longest, then Seattle, & just turned down his option w/Boston.

  9. CH Phan

    November 17, 2010 02:47 PM

    Sean: That was kind of my point. I spent several yrs working sports or entertainment PR. I don’t trust sports or ent writers unless they’re just analyzing numbers & openly making educated assessments or discussing their own opinion of a situation.

    Of course it’s just my opinion but in my experience, we really shouldn’t trust them. I don’t find them different from Hollywood gossips. They’re doing what they’re paid to do, but in the past 10 – 15 yrs, that’s turned into transferring bits of unsubstantiated info for & from agents and FO’s so the two can see what will “shake up the troops” on the other side.

    People do seem to believe everything these guys say b/c they write for legitimate magazines & newspapers. Lately they’ve been saying the Phillies have a snowball’s chance in h*ll of re-signing Werth. It just struck me as funny when I saw Heyman saying that on tv last night. Those GM mtgs must be terrible fun on one level & a terrible mess on another level.

  10. Kevin B

    November 17, 2010 05:54 PM

    Here’s a name for you. Carlos Quentin, 28 years old. Bats R throws R.

    Great replacement for Ibanez, can platoon in with Brown/Ibanez this year and start in left in 2012 when Raul’s contract is up

    Phillies need to find a replacement for Ibanez for 2012. Quentin turns 29 next July and when he is the everyday left field would only be 30. This guy has hit 30 HR and 100 RBI’s in 2008. He basically has the same performance as Jayson Werth but comes about 13 million dollars cheaper.

    Raul Ibanez
    2010 – 16 HR 83 RBI, .280 average
    Average over last 3 years
    24 HR
    95 HR
    .280 ba

    Jayson Werth
    2010 – 27 HR 85 RBI .296 ba
    Average over last 3 years
    29 HR’s
    83 RBi’s
    .277 Ba

    Carlos Quentin
    2010 – 26 HR 87 RBI .243 ba
    Average over last 3 years
    28 HR
    81RBI
    .255 BA

  11. Dan

    November 17, 2010 05:56 PM

    I have no hopes that we’ll re-sign Werth. That being said, I just don’t want the FO to burn any bridges with him. I’d really like it if we could have him retire as a Phillie. And when I say that, I mean like in a Garciaparra way, not a Derek Jeter way.

  12. Dan

    November 17, 2010 05:59 PM

    @Kevin B;

    Those numbers are good… but the BA scares me.

  13. Kevin B

    November 17, 2010 06:03 PM

    @dan

    We won a World Series with a left field hitting .250 named Pat Burrell. Quentin is young, comes at a decent price, and i think in this ball park his power numbers should improve.

    There is no reason he can’t hit for 30 hrs and 100 rbis as a everyday left fielder in CBP.

  14. Bill Baer

    November 17, 2010 06:11 PM

    Kevin,

    Carlos Quentin, career OPS
    - vs. LHP: .773
    - vs. RHP: .857

    Pass on Quentin. He made $3.2 million in his first year of arbitration and he’s only slightly better than Ben Francisco (career .361 wOBA to Francisco’s much more affordable .338).

    Jayson Werth is more valuable than Quentin, considering his defense and base running (avg. 5 WAR to Quentin’s average 1.4 the last three seasons).

  15. Scott G

    November 17, 2010 06:45 PM

    Bill,

    I completely agree with your denying Quentin. However, money aside I feel like 0.361 is significantly better than 0.338. That’s approximately the gap between 09 Ruiz and 10 Ruiz

  16. Scott G

    November 17, 2010 06:55 PM

    Hence my “money aside”. You said he’s only slightly better than Ben. I’m saying their skills aren’t that close according to my impressions of wOBA. Carlos Ruiz was significantly better offensively this year than last year.

  17. Bill Baer

    November 17, 2010 07:01 PM

    Ah, I skimmed so I missed the “money aside”.

    I wouldn’t call 23 points in wOBA significant, but it’s not nothing. It was about the difference between Vernon Wells and Raul Ibanez in 2010.

  18. Dan

    November 17, 2010 08:36 PM

    @Kevin;

    Pat Burrell was extremely frustrating. I want people to get on base and get hits. I don’t care if you don’t hit many HRs if you can advance runners, but if the only hits you get are HRs then you are missing a lot of opportunities to help your team out. Sure it’s nice to hit a homerun, but I’d rather take a guy that is just a good hitter. We don’t need a streaky hitter added to our lineup, we need someone who we can count on to get a hit.

  19. Bill Baer

    November 17, 2010 08:58 PM

    Burrell was plenty good as a Phillie — a .367 on-base percentage and a .485 slugging percentage (.852 OPS).

    I wouldn’t mind taking him back to platoon with Raul Ibanez but I highly doubt he’d take a substantial pay cut from the $9 million he made last year, and a drastic reduction in playing time. Not to mention the defense in left field would be abominable.

  20. Murgatroid

    November 17, 2010 09:48 PM

    So long as we don’t end up with Jeff Francoeur I’ll be okay. i don’t see how the guy merits a spot on a major league roster.

  21. Phillies Red

    November 17, 2010 10:02 PM

    Bill, I’m inclined to agree with the thrust of your argument here: with a solid core, minimize risk (variance). But two things, neither of which are actual arguments against this point, come to mind. First, isn’t this more of a playing time issue than a personnel issue? Put another way, why not try to find the next Werth, just don’t commit to playing him all that much.

    And second, doesn’t the argument to minimizing risk, at least in part, suggest that the Phillies should platoon Brown? Sure, platooning Brown might slow down his development. But as you point out in the post, the goal is to maximize the odds of making the playoffs, not maximize the chance of uncovering a star, whether that star be a diamond in the rough or a stud rookie. Put another way, platooning Brown is one way to reduce variance next year.

  22. Bill Baer

    November 17, 2010 11:08 PM

    To your first point, absolutely — reducing a highly-variant player’s playing time is a great way to cut variance, for sure.

    To your second point, I think the organization shares your viewpoint of Brown having a lot of variance and thus is a risk. I’m a bit more optimistic and I also value the progression of a highly-touted prospect a bit more than the percentage points tacked on to the team’s playoff odds.

    However, I wouldn’t presume my valuations to be the correct way — there’s plenty of room for debate there.

  23. Kevin B

    November 18, 2010 10:30 AM

    Bill,

    I agree that Quentin does hold a low avg and OPS. I’m not saying he is the future of the Phillies but he does seem like he could be a quality starting outfielder. I like Quentin because I’m looking forward to 2012 and who our outfield would be. Left field is unoccupied, Center is Victorino, and Right is Dom Brown. Brown has all the press clippings and minor league stats that says he’s gonna be a star but what if hes more Wes Chamberlain than Darryl Strawberry. We now are very thin in the outfield. Jonathan Singleton was moved to LF but he’s too young to expect him in 2012. Do you see another option who could be a every day outfielder to go along with Victorino for 2012?

    Except for Gilles no one would be ready for 2012.
    Tyson Gillies, OF
    Domingo Santana, OF
    Jiwan James, OF

  24. Lou Struble

    November 18, 2010 11:35 AM

    Bill,

    Any idea why Carlos Quentin’s babip is so insanely low vs. lefties (career .197)?

  25. Scott G

    November 18, 2010 01:23 PM

    Dan,

    So you’d rather have a guy who needs to rely on his teammates to knock him in, than a guy who can do it by himself with a home run? A HR is the most efficient way to score runs. It takes all those terrible, Jayson Werth-type players out who suck with RISP.

    In case it wasn’t obvious, any statements that I typed that were slanderous toward Werth were clearly sarcastic.

  26. Dan

    November 18, 2010 02:30 PM

    Scott,

    For most teams, I’d say you should add a power bat to help knock guys in. However, a look up and down our lineup will tell you that our FO has obviously been more concerned with power than BA/OBP. We have enough power up and down our lineup (granted we do need a righty with power, now, but I think Francisco brings enough of it to sustain us for now). What we don’t have is people to get on base for those power hitters to knock in. We have Polly, Utley (who is just as likely to just get on base as hit a home run (by my perception, this isn’t fact based)), and sometimes Ruiz (if the inning isn’t ended by the pitcher and/or Rollins). Last year, we could usually count on Werth to get on base, too.

    All I’m saying is, a HR with no one on is 1 run. Whereas if you can get some people on for our OTHER sluggers, there’s the potential for more than one run. Sure there could be multiple home runs in a row to score us high amounts of points, but that’s much less likely than just stringing together some hits/walks to score.

    A good lineup is comprised of a balance of set-up guys and guys to knock runs in. At the moment we are heavy on the latter, and light on the former.

    But that’s just my view on the topic.

  27. alex storm

    November 18, 2010 03:26 PM

    They walked into rowan and werth, maybe someone will come along. I hope i’m wrong but with dom brown i just don’t see him being ready, didn’t hit great and brown / werth, brown looked lost in the field.

    I don’t see werth back, they extended howard a year early and gave him a huge contract while they didnt talk to werth, if i was him i would want a couple mil from what howard is getting to stay. In fact i may play somewhere else for less (if they have a chance at a ring) the way he was ignored until howard took a dump.

    In fact if howard doesn’t crank the offense way up especially post season his #’s are going to be what everyone lookes at when contract time rolls around. When i heard about his contract i told the wife there is the team buster.

  28. Scott G

    November 18, 2010 03:37 PM

    A simple trip to the player batting stats on espn.com‘s MLB page is in order. If you sort players by HRs, and then shift your eyes over to the OBP column you will see that MOST (not all) of the the best HR hitters also tend to be good OBP guys. OBP is where it’s at.

  29. Dan

    November 18, 2010 05:56 PM

    Quentin is tied for 66th in MLB in OBP with Elvis Adrus and Scott Podsednik at .342. Of the players with 25+ HR’s, 14 of the 44 had OBP’s lower than Quentin’s

    A high OBP is definitely a reassuring quality for me. I’m not saying Quentin couldn’t help us, he certainly could. But all things considered, I don’t think he’s our best option (outside of Werth). If Upton is attainable for a reasonable price (which, it would appear, he is not), then I say go after him. If there were any shot at Ryan Braun (also a resounding no, I’d say), I’d say go for him. But apart from those two and Werth, I don’t think we should be looking outside our organization for the right-handed OFer. Francisco is with us now for very little money. Utilize him.

  30. LarryM

    November 19, 2010 12:13 PM

    Good analysis as far as it goes, but doesn’t go far enough. Let me quibble a bit:

    (1) Downside risk for these kinds of signs is lower than the upside benefit (though of course the upsaide benefits are less likely, unless there is a marketplace failure). A non-tender sign is not going to play if he doesn’t perform. There’s still an opportunity cost there, but no non-tender sign is going to give you negative 2 WAR (likely not negative WAR at all).

    (2) You’re only looking at one year’s performance. A look at Werth’s value over the past 3 years should tell you why that is a problem with your analysis.

    On balance, there is no reason (in principle – it depends upon who is available at what price) for the Phillies to take a flier on a low cost sign (non-tender or otherwise) who has a small chance of paying off big.

  31. LarryM

    November 19, 2010 12:15 PM

    For the Phillies NOT to take a flier, that is. :)

  32. Undocorkscrew

    November 19, 2010 01:34 PM

    Rollins
    Polanco
    Utley
    Howard
    Ibanez
    Ruiz
    Victorino
    Brown

    Prado
    Chipper
    Heyward
    Uggla
    McCann
    Gonzalez
    Freeman
    McLouth

    Even if the Braves find a better center fielder, I say the Phillies still have the better lineup.

    Halladay
    Oswalt
    Hamels
    Blanton
    Kendrick/whomever

    Hudson
    Hanson
    Lowe
    Jurrjens
    Minor

    Phillies clearly have the better pen.

    The Braves pen was one of their strong points last year, and they’ve lost Saito, Wagner, and Dunn…..3 relievers who were very good for them last year. They’ll have a rookie closer in 2011…..I don’t think they’re pen will be as strong as it was in 2010. Plus, look at the Braves defense…..ugh.

    The Phillies don’t even have to make a significant move this offseason, they have the better team already.

  33. Undocorkscrew

    November 19, 2010 01:35 PM

    Not pen, rotation*…..sorry.

  34. Scott G

    November 19, 2010 01:45 PM

    I sincerely hope that your Phillies lineup isn’t the proposed order. Ibanez sucks, and you have three LHBs in a row. Rollins is also batting leadoff.

  35. Dan

    November 19, 2010 02:18 PM

    Plus, as good as Ruiz is, I don’t want his spot in the lineup to change. He’s great at turning over the lineup, which is his job. Plus if Victorino and/or Brown hit right before him, it’s essentially like a second set-up role. One, or both, of those two get on base, maybe swipe a bag, and let Chooch knock them in.

    But I definitely don’t want Ibanez at number 5 or Rollins leading off. Assuming we don’t acquire another bat, this would be my proposed lineup:

    Victorino
    Polanco
    Utley
    Howard
    Rollins
    Ibanez
    Brown
    Ruiz
    Pitcher

    Still not ideal, but definitely a better fit for the players involved.

  36. Bill Baer

    November 19, 2010 03:03 PM

    I tend to agree with not changing Ruiz’s batting order position as a portion of his OBP is tied to pitchers pitching around him to get to the #9 spot.

    Small sample but, Ruiz’s walk rate by lineup spot in 2010:

    - 7th: 19 walks in 209 PA (9%)
    - 8th: 36 walks in 211 PA (17%)

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