ESPN: Nationals vs. Braves vs. Phillies

At ESPN Sweet Spot, I went through and compared the Nationals, Braves, and Phillies on a position-by-position basis. If you don’t want to wade into the comments there, feel free to discuss it here. Warning: it is a long read, so make sure you have a big cup of coffee.

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  1. nik

    March 06, 2013 11:31 AM

    Howard’s offensive projections (averaged together) are better than LaRoche and Freeman’s. And I think he can certainly beat those as the projections systems don’t account for his 2012 injury factor.

    I think you’re underselling the big piece Bill. Laroche is going to regress and Freeman is solid but no star. I’ll roll the dice and say Howard is going to be the better player than those guys this year.

  2. nik

    March 06, 2013 11:32 AM

    Also its a shame ESPN is using facebook (arbitrarily) for comments now. No way in hell i’m putting my ream name out there when I want to troll some Braves fans.

  3. Jesse

    March 06, 2013 12:05 PM

    It’s kinda funny reading you pay lip service to Gold Gloves. Oh, the concessions made to mainstream sports media…

  4. mratfink

    March 06, 2013 12:08 PM

    looking at it position by position makes me more confident in beating the Braves, however, the Nationals still look just awesome.

  5. Jesse

    March 06, 2013 12:17 PM

    Also, while not perfect (and ignoring things like the sizes of the gaps between rankings) a quick Borda count in my head gave the Phillies only two points behind the Braves, so I’d call that a wash given how one positional injury is enough for a 1-3 or a 3-1 swing.
    Was – 26 (6)
    Atl – 18 (2)
    Phi – 16 (2)

    I think with a healthy old infield (the guys who aren’t Young) doing 80% of what they did in the late 00s with our pitching can get the Phils about 90-95 fairly boring 5-3 wins.

  6. Cutter

    March 06, 2013 12:18 PM

    I don’t put much stock in position-by-position comparisons between teams, as teams are often greater than (or less than) the sum of their parts.

  7. Ryan Sommers

    March 06, 2013 12:28 PM

    Agreed cutter, it’s plain silly to judge baseball teams by the players that play baseball for them.

  8. Chris S.

    March 06, 2013 03:21 PM


    Couldn’t agree more, we need some Aaron Rowand on this team. He will run into walls and he is super gritty.

  9. Jonny5

    March 06, 2013 04:01 PM

    Did you add points to certain position players for Grit and their scrappy factor? I’d say you didn’t or M.Y. would have put the Phills right at the top.

    Honestly, I am of the mind that everyone is underestimating Philadelphia. For real good reasons of course, but I still feel they have a good chance of beating out ATL. Anybody calling for them to beat Wash, is just in denial. But hey, it’s baseball and anything can happen.

  10. Cutter

    March 06, 2013 04:22 PM

    If you want to compare players, then compare in terms of lineups, defense, and pitching. To just declare one team better because they’re better at positions x, y, and z just seems like analyst “busy work.”

  11. LTG

    March 06, 2013 04:34 PM

    Cutter rambles indeed.

  12. rolo

    March 06, 2013 07:25 PM

    I would tend to agree with Bll’s analysis – the Nats are teh best team – on paper.

    It will be fun to see how the season plays out.

    For instance, suppose the Phillies rotation has career years as the Nats’ rotation did last season? What happens then?

    Suppose Zimmerman or McCann’s shoulder gives out? Suppose Howard’s achilles snaps again? Suppose Strasburg’s elbow pops like Mathieson’s (the sencond time) or Halladay’s back gives out. Suppose…

    Suppose what we’ve seen from Brown at the plate this Spring is what we’ll see for the whole season – that is, suppose the last two years really were wrecked by the injuries an surgery so that we’ve really underrated and undevalued him? Suppose Darin Ruf can actually hit enough to mitigate what appears to be less than Luzinski-like defense?

    Suppose Werth comes down with another injury, or has a huge season?

    Suppose the Uptron brothers motivation to outdo each other because of proximity leads to career years for both of them?

    Suppose Freeman improves to the point the ZIPS projection is low and he post an OPS around .900?

    Suppose Papelbon implodes like Lidge in 2009?

    I could go on.

    All of these things are within the realm of possibility, and watching the games play out is going to be fun.

  13. hampton

    March 06, 2013 11:54 PM

    Cutter, why try?

    Teams are simply aggregations of players. Players are discreet collections of quantifiable traits. There is no such thing as player mix. If it can’t be measured, best to treat it like it’s not real.

  14. hampton

    March 06, 2013 11:58 PM

    Agreed cutter, it’s plain silly to judge baseball teams by the players that play baseball for them.


    Judging them? You’re advocating comparing stats as a basis for making determinations about what kind of season their TEAM is going to have.

    Do you know what a team is, Ryan? It’s like the 19th century all over again here.

    Positivism is dead, guys. Long live positivism.

  15. Mike B.

    March 07, 2013 12:14 AM

    The only gripes I had with the post were that:

    (1) there was little consideration of the relative gaps between the rankings. Just 1-2-3 is too simplistic, b/c there could be a massive gap between 1 and 2 (and yes, I know it was noted for 3B).

    (2) It relied pretty heavil on one stat, OPS. I like OPS, but it really only provides part of the picture.

    In any event, I think the Phils will be a WC team with 93 wins. No way they catch the Gnats (although who knows how those young guys will react with a target on their back from day 1?). I expect big years from Hamels, Lee, Halladay, Utley, Brown, Howard, and M. Young. I think the veterans have a chip on their shoulders and I like it. Maybe even D. Young if his reported self-improvement attitude is real. He certainly has the talent.

  16. LTG

    March 07, 2013 09:21 AM

    I’m not going to make this argument fully here. But:

    The reasons why positivism is inappropriate as a social science methodology don’t bear on the statistical analysis of the game of baseball. The ways in which a baseball team could be greater (or less) than the sum of its parts–e.g., liking each other or compensatory defensive skills–will show up in quantifiable ways because each discrete baseball event is a) definable in an uncontroversial manner in terms of game states and b) can be empirically found to have a likelihood of producing or preventing a certain number of runs. And if you don’t value runs you aren’t playing baseball. This is unlike sociology because value pluralism reigns, the manifestation of value is hard to quantify, and the description of discrete events and social states depends on prior decisions about what is valuable.

    In baseball, looking at individuals in a lineup and rotation won’t give you the *entire* story of a team’s future but it will get you a long way in forming reasonable expectations with lots of caveats about fluctuations in results. And any other factors are just speculation for which fans have no evidence, except of the flawed post-hoccy kind.

  17. LTG

    March 07, 2013 10:06 AM

    Also, Zorp is dead. Long live Zorp.

  18. hampton

    March 07, 2013 11:08 AM

    Thanks for the reply. We don’t have to have the whole argument here, but to begin with:

    1. The belief in “discrete baseball events” is more controversial than you’re making it sound. There is an active component in the production of “discrete events,” a limit-drawing around actions that are not themselves self-individuating. Milieu matters far more than is perhaps being admitted here. For one instance, the “transmission of affect” is a real [if not well understood] phenomenon (see Teresa Brennan’s book, e.g), and one that is not likely to be reliably used to forecast future performance, even when team makeup remains similar in terms of individual players.

    Your point about value pluralism is granted. Quantifying the quantifiable is often extremely helpful in predicting future performance.

    2. It’s also not clear that the ways in which teams are more or less than the sum of their parts will all show up in quantifiable ways. More importantly, it is not possible to know precisely how much weight to give the presently (and perhaps always) UNquantifiable elements in comparison to the quantifiable.

    My point is: there is a fallacy of composition risked with drawing conclusions about teams from conclusions about the parts of teams.

    But i could be wrong. Could you point me to a rebuttal of the positivism charge against sabermetrics? Much appreciated.

  19. LTG

    March 07, 2013 11:50 AM


    Fantastic! This is great. I don’t have time to respond completely. So for now I’ll just give some quick notes.

    First, no one has written about positivism and sabermetrics at length because no philosopher can get or keep a job spending his or her time that way.

    Second, of course events are not self-individuating but conceptual schemes can be more or less reliable. Baseball has a very reliable conceptual scheme, which is open to revision should it break-down. What else could we want when developing the bases for accounts of things?

    Third, sabermetrics does not lay claim to being a complete explanation of what happens on a baseball field. It merely claims that it provides reliable evidence for forming beliefs about what has happened and what will happen. It is not a totalizing approach to baseball as positivistic social science purported to be in the 19th century.

    Fourth, because playing baseball means caring about runs, any baseball phenomenon relevant to an explanation of how good teams are will have to make reference to something quantifiable–namely, runs produced or prevented–even if the phenomenon “in itself” is not quantifiable, e.g., chemistry.

    In short, sabermetrics need not be grounded by positivism. It just as easily could be grounded by pragmatism or hermeneutics because it a) doesn’t make totalizing claims and b) can plausibly take a single quantifiable value as the core of the conceptual scheme.

  20. max

    March 07, 2013 03:50 PM

    wondering why, in the RF’s rankings it doesn’t read: 1. Braves 2. Nationals [Veritable Chasm] 3. Phillies a la the 3B rankings.

  21. Ted Kennedy

    March 07, 2013 03:58 PM

    I swear I did not drown that woman.

  22. Ryan

    March 07, 2013 04:53 PM

    It’s close enough that an injury, suspension (Gio), or down year for the Nats could open it up for either the Phillies or the Braves. Also, we have to keep in mind that things almost never go how they are predicted to go–just look at last season where the Phillies were the clear favorites preseason. There are simply too many factors that could make one of these teams great and the others not so great.

  23. pedro3131

    March 07, 2013 05:35 PM

    The Phillies were by no means clear preseason favorites. Many sports writers were saying that last year was going to be the year we fell off and even those who didn’t think we were going to miss the playoffs knew it was going to be an off year.

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