On Scoring Runs, Preventing Runs, and Perception

The Phillies traded for center fielder Ben Revere yesterday. It was met with mixed reactions, and was surprisingly not split along the usual traditional/Sabermetric divide. Those of us, such as myself, in favor of the deal cited Revere’s youth, relative cheapness, and promotion of financial flexibility. Those against the deal cited Vance Worley‘s value, Trevor May‘s upside, and Revere’s mediocre offensive abilities.

The last item is particularly interesting to me because it is easily the most-cited reason for disliking the deal, and I don’t buy it. In past years, the Phillies have acquired light-hitting, defensively-capable players as part of their approach and it generally worked out. Placido Polanco joined the team after the 2009 season and more than lived up to his three-year, $18 million deal, despite posting an aggregate .306 wOBA (the NL average third baseman ranged between .312 and .318 in those three years). Looking back, the only option at the time that would have panned out better for the Phillies was Adrian Beltre, and even then, that’s only if all other things are held equal (butterfly effect and such).

The Phillies went to the World Series in 2009 as shortstop Jimmy Rollins posted a .312 wOBA, his lowest since 2003. It was the start of a three-year-long decline for Rollins, held up mostly by injuries. Remember Pedro Feliz? The third baseman who preceded Polanco posted a .305 wOBA, but the Phillies reached the World Series in both years he was a part of the roster.

That being said, the Phillies’ offenses of yesteryear could afford to have a mediocre hitter at the bottom of the lineup because they had Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jayson Werth in the primes of their careers. Howard and Utley took a combined 654 trips to the plate in 2012, normally a full season for either player. Because of their injuries — Howard with a torn Achilles and Utley with patellar chondromalacia — the Phillies had to give their at-bats to vastly inferior players, including:

The Phillies gave 674 PA to the aforementioned dreck instead of a healthy Utley and Howard. When fans clamor that the Phillies need offense badly, they are talking about yesterday’s offense and not tomorrow’s offense. Utley and Howard may not be in the primes of their careers, but having them back for mostly-full seasons will do wonders for the Phillies’ offense. Add in one or two more free agent signings or trade acquisitions, and you have a team that could reclaim the NL East crown in 2013.

We also have to adjust our expectations when looking at the past because league-wide, run-scoring has declined. The average NL team scored 4.76 runs per game in 2006, then declined to 4.71, 4.54, 4.43, 4.33, and 4.13 in the next five years before rebounding slightly to 4.22 in 2012. The difference of a half-run per game between 2007-12, over 162 games, is about 87 runs. As an example, Jayson Werth‘s 2008 triple-slash line of .273/.363/.498 turns into .264/.354/.484 when neutralized in a 2012 run environment. Who had an .838 OPS in 2008? Raul Ibanez. That’s the impact of the decline in offense in recent years.

Revere’s .300 wOBA in 2012 tied with Ichiro Suzuki for the 51st-worst out of 57 qualified outfielders in 2012, and was 27 points below the MLB average for outfielders. However, it still seems like we haven’t mentally adjusted for the change in offense. For fans that still think run scoring is at similar levels to 2008, Revere looks worse as the average outfielder then had a .338 wOBA.

Then there’s the issue of properly evaluating speed and defense. While Sabermetrics have made some headway into objectively evaluating defense, there are still many areas upon which to improve. The methodology behind UZR is flawed and needs several years of data to become reliable anyway, while other statistics have their own shortcomings and sample size issues. The most intellectually-honest statement we can make about a player’s defense is that he is with a certain range of runs above or below average for his specific position. Oftentimes, that range, or margin of error, will be so hilariously large as to dilute the point entirely.

So there’s the instinct, at that point, to set all defensive contributions to zero and move on. If we can’t evaluate it properly, why evaluate it at all? The problem is that method, hilariously enough, grossly rewards terrible fielders, grins at mediocrity, and unfairly punishes great fielders. Thus, we see Revere’s uninspiring triple-slash line, get disappointed, then we refuse to even give him credit for his greatest strength.

But there’s more. Revere’s value also lies in two areas that don’t show up in the stats: youth and contract control. Revere turns 25 years old on May 3. To put that in perspective, Domonic Brown turned 25 back in September, and most of us are more than willing to grant him plenty of leash, so to speak. Is .294/.333/.342 his ceiling? Perhaps, but most 24-year-olds don’t reach their ceiling the following year. Revere’s career .278/.319/.323 triple-slash line in 1,064 PA is not that much different than Michael Bourn‘s was at the same point — in 2008-09, his first two full seasons spanning 1,073 PA, his triple-slash was .261/.325/.348. In the last three seasons, Bourn’s triple-slash has been .279/.346/.376 in a lower run environment.

Moreover, Revere earned $492,500 last season. He will get a slight raise going into 2013, then enters his first year of arbitration entering 2014. As he’s a “Super Two” player, the Phillies will have to go to arbitration with him through 2017, barring a contract extension at any time during. Revere was worth 2.4 rWAR and 3.4 fWAR in 2012. Even if he improves only incrementally, he will be worth every penny the Phillies pay him between now and when they would consider trading him.

Whether the Vance Worley and Trevor May pairing was too steep a price to pay for Revere is a separate discussion. To summarize, it doesn’t seem like Revere is being given enough credit for his assets, and is being graded too harshly for his flaws. An average player will post 2 wins above replacement, and that is an important point to consider. Average players are very valuable, even if the connotation of the word “average” is valueless. Of the 265 non-pitchers to have taken at least 300 trips to the plate in 2012, only 129 (48.7%) posted at least 2 WAR according to Baseball Reference. When you also consider the survivorship bias, it is easy to see why Revere isn’t a scrub, but rather a very undervalued asset.

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35 comments

  1. John

    December 07, 2012 08:27 AM

    To me this trade was really Revere for Mayes. Vanimal-infatuation aside, Worley was never looked at as having good stuff and when you look at the pitching market that has yet to shape up as everyone waits for Greinke, its stocked with plenty of servicable 4 and 5 starters (maybe if you pick right, a surprise #3). In that sense, Worley is market-replaceable and can almost be ignored in the deal, so getting an everyday 24 yr old centerfeilder with plus defence and speed for a pitching prospect is more than reasonable.

  2. Ryan

    December 07, 2012 08:48 AM

    @John

    Not really–Vanimal was cost controlled and young while the 4-5 starters on the market are older and more expensive. This is where his value lies.

  3. TomG

    December 07, 2012 08:57 AM

    If the addition of Revere and whoever else we pick up is enough to get us into the playoffs, I’ll be happy. Winning the East would be best, of course, but the Cardinals managed to win it all in 2011 and go to the NLCS in 2012 – and lost the pennant only because they blew it big time in the last three games. That, needless to say, is more than the Phillies did. Being NL East champs didn’t give the Phillies much of an advantage in 2011.

    That said, of course I’d prefer the Phils win the division. But I’m bargaining with the baseballs gods, here, just asking they give us the chance we were unexpectedly denied in 2012.

    I really liked Happy Pete when we had him as a third baseman in ’08 and ’09. Great glove, but I also recall his coming up with some big hits in the playoffs.

  4. James Kerti

    December 07, 2012 09:15 AM

    I like Revere, and I’m excited to have him. I’m just still wrapped up in the discussion of value here.

    Revere and Worley look like comparable players to me in terms of how many wins they add.

    But given two players of about the same age, I’m going to take the one who not only is a starting pitcher instead of a center fielder, but who has a major league track record every single time.

    And throwing in Trevor May too just hurts.

    So yes, I like Revere as a player. It’ll be nice to have a good defensive player in center.

    It just feels like a lot to give up for him.

  5. Richard

    December 07, 2012 09:25 AM

    Good post, Bill. Re: Bourn’s early career, keep in mind, too, that his first full season, 2008, in which he OBPd .288 and had just 19 XBH, Bourn was already 26. Great possibility for improvement from Revere (though I’d like his chances more if his BB% was a tick or two higher)

    (Btw, Bill, there are a few typos in this post that actually contributed to some confusion on my part, while reading. (E.g., in the paragraph beginning w/”But there’s more.”, where you say “Perhaps, but most 24-year-olds don’t reach their ceiling the following year.” My guess is you mean “until the following year, etc”? Or no? Also, I think you don’t mean that Revere tied with Ichiro for “the 51st-worst out of 57 qualified outfielders”, but just 51st? I don’t mean to be pedantic, but I was genuinely confused a few times.)

  6. Ryan Sommers

    December 07, 2012 09:41 AM

    I’ll cop to being a grouch about it. Not because I really care about either Worley or May at all (I do not), but because I have a tough time imagining Revere as an everyday player, at least on a team that is trying to compete. Revere does one thing well with the bat — hit singles — and if you remember the horrors of April last season, it’s kind of tough to look forward to that. The defense will be fun to watch but this team has really taken a turn for the Don Mueller the last few years.

  7. JM

    December 07, 2012 09:48 AM

    Bill, I think you missed another value point. We are not paying another CF multi-millions. This allows great flexibility for adding a power bat…somewhere. We have some 6 arms in AA or AAA that can give us Worely production(and I did like Worely), so that piece of the payroll was set no matter what they did. KK progressed and is a solid 5, but I am nervous about Cloyd. long story short, the rotation is pretty much the same, but they now have lots to spend on a corner outfielder. I personally like Swisher. I think he would do well at CBP…

  8. Jeff T

    December 07, 2012 09:49 AM

    I think/hope Revere will be more than a one trick pony with the bat. Yes, he’s not gonna hit with power, but he showed good on base skills in the minors and is young enough to have some projection. He also has good speed which helps offset the lack of power a bit. I am excited to see him in the 1 or 2 hole so long as we a healthy Howard and Utley in the middle.

  9. JM

    December 07, 2012 09:52 AM

    Where do you see Revere fitting in the line-up? Logically, leadoff, or in front of Utley with all that speed, but 3 lefties in a row…again??? (and I acknowledge that Revere has good splits agains LHP)

  10. LTG

    December 07, 2012 09:56 AM

    BB,
    Would you mind explaining how survivor bias applies to Ben Revere?

  11. RedR

    December 07, 2012 10:10 AM

    Sorry for the long post!

    I wasn’t super enthused about the Revere swap because we cashed in our best trade chip and now are most likely stuck with the Youngs and Swishers of the world to upgrade our offense. From what I can see, our team still has much the same chance of winning our division / getting into the playoffs, as it was before the trade was completed.

    I understand the argument that Revere is young, and presumably a defensive upgrade over, say, Mayberry Jr., although I’m reserving judgement about that until I’ve actually seen him play (I don’t really subscribe to the notion that fielders vastly improve their ball-tracking skills over time – from what I’ve seen, players who start their major league career taking bad routes to the ball tend to continue to do so throughout their careers (remember Vince Coleman?), and I’ve read that Revere’s tracking skills are suspect (not as bad as Coleman, but not as good as Bourne) – again, wait and see on this).
    Revere seems like a nice player – if this trade was made in a vacuum, so to speak, I’d generally like it. But, in the context of our team, as presently constituted, we lost a relatively dependable starting pitcher (who, when healthy, has an intangible gritty quality that can make a pro career out of sub-par talent), and a promising, live arm, and we’ve added…a possible upgrade defensively at center over Mayberry, and subtracted power from a lineup with already dwindling production.

    As you mentioned, we’re not the same offense we were in 2008, when we could afford to have Pedro Feliz (a fine fielder, and a pretty decent hitter in 2007 / 2008) on our squad. Trading for Revere may allow us to keep defensively suspect players like Ruf and Brown in the corner outfield spots, and hope for the best from their offense, or to add someone like Swisher (who we would need to overpay for). But, does that really make us a good enough team to compete with Atlanta and Washington in our division, and St. Louis / SF out of it?

    Again, my question about this trade is in the long view – does it really give us a chance to leapfrog the other teams in the division? The trade was obviously the opening move in a strategic gambit, where the second move may be adding Young. So, we’re looking at Revere + Young + (possibly) Swisher or another pitcher, and we’re subtracting Worley + May + Victorino (yes, our decision to trade Vic factors into this argument as well, as it can be stated that we traded for Revere to replace Vic, the type of reactive trade Amaro has had to make recently). Does that make us an appreciably better team than we were before the deals?

    It seems to me that your argument, that Revere is a better player than we’re giving him credit for, is possibly valid, but beside the point. Does it greatly improve our chances to win from last year’s team? From what I can see, not really. We still need Utley, Howard and Halladay to have bounce-back years, for Howard to return to where he was 3 or 4 years ago, in fact. The probability of that happening, of all of those players turning back time (and of Young, if we get him, similarly rewinding the clock), puts us in a very similar position to where we were in 2012, in my opinion: hoping for aging stars to play us into relevance. We do not beat out Atlanta, Washington, St. Louis or the Giants unless our pitching improves (as it slid behind three of those four teams last year), and our run production improves, not just overall, but in key situations. As you mentioned, picking up key bullpen pieces would change the scenario – if that happens, our team would be upgraded; let’s hope Amaro’s gambit involves this play.

    I don’t see a point in making a move just to slightly improve our chances; if this coming season is, in Amaro’s heart of hearts, just a holding pattern until we can shed Utley’s and Halladay’s salaries and rebuild, I’d rather that he didn’t give up the quality young, inexpensive pitching. If we could have swung a deal for Justin Upton as had been rumored (a marriage of decent fielding, youth, and offensive production), I’d have been on board, as that, in my mind, would have significantly upgraded our squad.

    So, other shoes, start dropping.

  12. Richard

    December 07, 2012 10:14 AM

    LTG – I was taking the survivor bias reference to mean that only players with enough PAs/playing time are going to accumulate 2.0 WAR or more, so that there is an even larger total body of players to whom Revere might be compared (as far as not being a “scrub”).

  13. Richard

    December 07, 2012 10:15 AM

    Ryan – re: Revere’s singles hitting, again, I’d refer you to Bourn’s early career, to which Revere compare’s favorably (and is anyway younger at the same stage). Bourn began being much more than a singles/occasional-triples hitter in 2009… etc.

  14. AGH

    December 07, 2012 10:16 AM

    Bill,

    I’m generally in favor of the move. But what do you make of the argument that the Nats got Span (generally considered a better player than Revere) and traded away less talent?

  15. Phillie697

    December 07, 2012 11:59 AM

    Okay, I can’t stay quiet because of this statement: “Yes, he’s not gonna hit with power, but he showed good on base skills…”

    Look, Revere is a FANTASTIC defender, this is why I haven’t gone all Michael Young on you guys with this trade, even if I think the cost might be a bit steep. But he showed good on base skills? When? Please, show me. Last year, he walked 5.2% of the time, which is, hate to say it, atrocious. In the minors, his HIGHEST walk rate was 8.9%, but that was in rookie ball!!! When it comes to hitting, he does one thing and ONLY one thing well: Make contact. He is Kirby Puckett without power, to stay with the Twins theme. And with a career LD % of only 19.1% and a GB/FB ratio of 5.11 (yes you read that right, FIVE!!!), if you don’t value defense as much as I do, you should be going ape-shit over Revere.

    That said, I do value defense, so I don’t mind this trade. But please stay objective here; an offensive anything, he is not.

  16. Ryan Sommers

    December 07, 2012 12:14 PM

    Michael Bourn’s career ISO hasn’t cracked triple digits. He slugs .365. His career walk rate is league average. It’s not like he’s MUCH more than a singles hitter.

    And I don’t understand why this comp is constantly talked about anyway. You can pick any two players and compare the first two seasons of their career; their being similar is no reason to project that their career paths will be similar.

  17. nik

    December 07, 2012 12:15 PM

    Check out his steals totals? 50 of those singles will end up with him standing on second base.

    And the GB% is actually GREAT for his skillset and can fuel quite a few .350+ BABIP seasons, pushing him towards .310/.350/.370 lines with 50 SBs..

    Now if he could only develop some gap power.

  18. Ryan Sommers

    December 07, 2012 12:15 PM

    Oh hah I guess it’s because Bill talked about it in the article. But still.

  19. nik

    December 07, 2012 12:24 PM

    Btw, Revere’s career BABIP is .308. Bourn’s is .343. I think Revere’s biggest improvement is going to be in the BABIP department, I think he’ll regress to the .330+ range given his speed and GB tendencies. With his contact rate he should be a perennial .300 hitter and if we’re lucky he’ll OBP .350, setting up a near 5 WAR player.

  20. Phillie697

    December 07, 2012 12:32 PM

    19.1% LD rate + 5.11 GB/FB is the definition of no gap power. That was the point of mentioning the GB/FB rate.

  21. nik

    December 07, 2012 12:35 PM

    The LD% is fine, the GB% works to his strength. He’s gonna hit .300 year in and year out.

  22. Phillie697

    December 07, 2012 12:41 PM

    Offensively, Revere is probably going to be like Juan Pierre last year. If you feel like you can be excited about that, then feel free. Remember, Pierre had 37 SB last year in only 439 ABs, so yes, Pierre IS what you are projecting Revere to be.

    For me, Revere’s value is his defense.

  23. Richard

    December 07, 2012 01:15 PM

    The reason to mention Bourn is not to “project” that Revere will become him, but to remind people that 24 year-old players are not necessarily fully developed. That is, Bourn was basically Revere when he was 26, then developed (somewhat) more extra-base hit ability and occasional homer power. It’s true he was not quite the GB guy, but he also has always struck out more.

    On the other hand, it’s true Juan Pierre has pretty much always been who he is, with ups and downs based on variable BABIP & BB%. So Revere could be Juan Pierre.

    Either way, if the defense holds true, you’re talking a valuable player. Especially for the price. I suspect the Phillies are excited about his defense, and may well see things in his hitting game that they think could develop into something better.

    (Btw, regarding Revere’s BB%, it appears his low one may be a function of that lack of power, rather than plate discipline issues, as teams pound the zone on him, since they’re not afraid of the homerun. We’ll see.)

  24. jauer

    December 07, 2012 01:25 PM

    In terms of the walk-rate, we should assume that Charlie Manuel will play a positive role in increasing Revere’s plate discipline.

    /shows self out

  25. Phillie697

    December 07, 2012 01:31 PM

    Michael Bourn’s BB% – 9.1%, 9.8%, 7.2%, 9.3%, 9.8%, 7.3%, 10.0%. Yeah, please, let’s not compare Revere to Bourn anymore. They are fundamentally different players. Revere swings at everything but has an uncanny ability to make contact, ala Kirby Puckett, but because he doesn’t have Puckett’s power, he’s never going to develop much more, because there IS no more room for growth if he doesn’t develop more plate discipline. His Z-Contact % and Contact % are already 97.3 and 92.6 respectively, there is no more room to go “up.”

  26. Richard

    December 07, 2012 01:44 PM

    At least give some pretense to noticing that I mentioned the BB% for both players before snarkily dismissing the idea.

  27. Phillie697

    December 07, 2012 02:34 PM

    Well Ben Revere MIGHT develop more plate discipline, I’ll give you that. My point about the comparison between Bourn and Revere is that while Revere might develop more plate discipline, your comparison of the two is in apropos, because Bourn didn’t develop that plate discipline; he always had it. Even if Revere develops more, that’s a completely different development path than the one Bourn went through. Plus, we all know 2012 Bourn is not really the real Bourn anyway.

  28. steve

    December 07, 2012 04:06 PM

    If this is where we are going…we should have kept Victorino….oh and maybe Feliz too!!!

    What’s the difference ….we aren’t trying to get younger or score runs!!!

  29. John Paul

    December 07, 2012 04:52 PM

    Not sure why there’s animosity, it was a decent trade and a little different than what we’re used to seeing from Amaro. Nothing in this business is a sure thing but for what we gave up for what we got, I think both teams win because they addressed their needs. As mentioned before, this deal solves a need and simultaneously still allows for the financial freedom to go out and address their other needs. So lets wait for Greinke to sign, the rest of the domino’s to fall, before we’re up in arms about this deal.

  30. hk

    December 07, 2012 04:57 PM

    James Kerti: But given two players of about the same age, I’m going to take the one who not only is a starting pitcher instead of a center fielder, but who has a major league track record every single time.

    I get that you prefer a pitcher over a CF, but how does your major league track record comment apply here? In a “cup of coffee” in 2010 plus most of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Worley accumulated 4.6 fWAR. In a “cup of coffee” in 2010 plus most of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Revere accumulated 5.1 fWAR.

  31. LTG

    December 07, 2012 05:13 PM

    Richard,
    Your reading of survivor bias was the only one I could come up with too, but that doesn’t look like a mistake in evaluating Ben Revere qua his role on the Phillies. Isn’t the relevant comparison class for a starting CF other starting CFs?

  32. Phillie697

    December 07, 2012 06:03 PM

    @LTG,

    He talked about survivor’s bias in speaking about WAR. Why would you limit your comparison when using WAR to just other CFs? The point of WAR is that it can be used to compare players across positions, no? He was trying to justify the price we paid for Revere, not whether we got the best CF we can out of it.

  33. LTG

    December 07, 2012 07:27 PM

    “Of the 265 non-pitchers to have taken at least 300 trips to the plate in 2012, only 129 (48.7%) posted at least 2 WAR according to Baseball Reference. When you also consider the survivorship bias, it is easy to see why Revere isn’t a scrub, but rather a very undervalued asset.”

    On the one hand, yes, we would like to use WAR to compare players straight across the board and use that to evaluate the trade. But BB himself doesn’t put much weight in pitcher WAR, so that won’t help us explain what he wrote. Also the above quote seems to be about a claim I don’t think anyone is seriously making (hyperbole aside): that Revere is a scrub. The only relevance of survivor bias here is to claim that the result ‘scrub’ for Revere is only warranted by an all-too-limited comparison class. But if we are evaluating the trade and, more generally, whether getting Revere was a good move, then don’t we want the more limited comparison classes? Shouldn’t we compare Revere to the other possible CF acquisitions?

    So, the other possible reading of the reference to survivor bias is that Revere has to be better than a scrub to have earned enough playing time to amass the WAR he did. The bias, then, is not in the fans evaluating the trade but the way the metric arises from decision by managers. Is that what BB means?

  34. Phillie697

    December 12, 2012 06:30 PM

    @LTG,

    No, I do think he was addressing fan perception. Specifically, the perception that average players (i.e. 2-WAR players) are a dime a dozen. Your typical fan hears “average,” and they immediately think “replaceable.” That’s what a REPLACEMENT player is, not an average player.

    An average MLB player is a decent player, and BB is saying that’s what we got out of the trade at the very least, which in itself is a valuable commodity that usually can’t be easily replaced. Because of survivorship bias, the chance of a player being average is a lot less than 48.7%. He’s not talking to you and I who are knowledgeable about these things; he’s speaking to the average fan.

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