The Great Debate — Infield 2010 Edition

Next, let’s take a look at Cano versus Knoblauch.

Knoblauch wOBA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Chuck 1998 0.345 0.265 0.361 0.405 0.766
           
Cano wOBA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Cano 2009 0.370 0.320 0.352 0.520 0.874
Cano 07-09   0.300 0.342 0.474 0.816

Again, not much to argue here. Knoblauch has the better on base percentage, but Cano’s power and average is far superior. Cano is the better hitter, and it ain’t that close.

Next, Tino Martinez versus Mark Teixeira.

Tino wOBA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Tino 1998 0.369 0.281 0.355 0.505 0.860
           
Tex wOBA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Tex 2009 0.402 0.292 0.383 0.565 0.948
Tex 07-09   0.302 0.415 0.560 0.975

I’ll be honest. I expected this to be a lot closer than it is. Teixeira absolutely crushes Tino. Moving on.

The next one’s really unfair from the get-go. Alex Rodriguez versus Scott Brosius.

Brosius wOBA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Brosius 1998 0.367 0.300 0.371 0.472 0.843
           
ARod wOBA AVG OBP SLG OPS
Arod 2009 0.405 0.286 0.402 0.532 0.934
Arod 07-09   0.302 0.421 0.588 1.009

Look, Brosius does a ton better in this comparison than I expected. He still isn’t anywhere close.

So, to wrap this up, let’s briefly talk defensive value. In the same order as above: Jeter is coming off his best two seasons in years. He was probably a bit better when he was younger, but based on the past two years, I don’t think the difference here is huge. Young Jeter wins, but it’s not a gigantic difference.

Posada has never been good defensively. Yes, he’s probably worse than he was, but again, this has never been his strength. The difference again is not that significant. Teixeira is a brilliant defensive first baseman. Then again, so was Tino. No reason to spend a ton of time here—it’s a tie. Cano is a better defender than Knoblauch, who had to move to the outfield because he forgot how to throw to first base (from 40 feet away!) only two years later. Cano’s pretty good with the leather. A-Rod isn’t as good a defender as Scott Brosius at this stage in his career, though as he gets further from last offseason’s hip surgery, he’s likely to improve. Does it matter?

Value-wise, it’s just about unfair to compare the 1998 infield to the 2010 infield. You guys may have noticed that I tend to be fairly long-winded. Not this time–while I’d love to write more on this topic, it seems like a waste of time. This one’s fairly open and shut.

Your move, TCM.

Will is a lifelong New Yorker and Yankees fan who splits his time between finance, music, and baseball. He was one of the early contributors to IIATMS, though life took him away for some time. He is very excited to be back.

21 thoughts on “The Great Debate — Infield 2010 Edition

  1. There's got to be some better way to do it than to compare what the 1998 squad actually did during the year in question to what the 2010 squad did last year (and over the last three years). That's just not an apples-to-apples comparison, and seems especially problematic when you're dealing with a pretty old team. Three-fifths of the Yankee infield is 34 or better, and it's just not a good bet to assume those guys are simply going to repeat their 2009 or 2007-09 production. 

    If you're going to do that, though, I think you have to do it for both teams. If you compare Tino's N-1 year to Tex's, it's a heck of a lot closer. Martinez had a .396 wOBA in 1997 to Tex's .402 in 2009, though Tex still wins in the three-year comparison. Now, if you use the same numbers for Knobby as you did for Robby, suddenly it's Knoblauch who blows Cano out of the water, coming off wOBAs of .406, .426 and .373, each higher than Cano's best mark of the last three seasons. It doesn't help Young Jeter or Young Posada, and there's simply no help for Brosius, but on the whole it makes it a much tighter contest.

    But again, it seems to me like that's a bit flawed to begin with. I'd rather see the 1998 team's actual performance against CHONE's or ZiPS' or PECOTA's projected 2010 performance. Glancing at it, it seems like it would again come out quite a bit closer than you're making it out to be (no doubt the '10 team still wins in this area, just not in a total landslide).

  2. Bill,

    Let me clarify. We know what the players did in 1998–we don't know what the players will do in 2010. The reason I included the 2007-2009 time period is that three years is a pretty solid sample–much better than simply comparing 1998 to 2009, right?

    We're *projecting* 2010. 1998 already happened. And CHONE and ZiPS, if I recall, have the current team crushing 1998, while PECOTA (As has largely been pointed out as flawed) expects massive dropoffs from A-Rod, Jeter and Posada.

    I'd say that the three year lookback shows a pretty good baseline for what we can expect going forward, unless you want to be the one to shake the magic eightball and guess that someone will precipitously decline.

    Regarding Knoblauch, sure, he would have been better on a three year lookback. But as noted above, we know what happened in 1998 already, no need to project it. Moreover, after 1998, Knoblauch had one more glory year before fading pretty rapidly.

    On Tino, sure, he is probably a bit closer to Tex than my numbers show. But Tex is still ahead by a fair bit.

    I'll temper my conclusion–maybe it's a *slightly* less crushing landslide. Which doesn't help 1998 all that much.

    Thanks for contributing, Bill!

  3. TheCommonMan@IIATMS

    I agree with the principle of looking back at only what happened in 1998, but Bill's central point holds:  just looking at a three-year performance window is not a valid projection going forward, when you're not taking aging into account.  I used an average of the CHONE and Marcel projections in my response, as I think that gets us closer to a relevant conclusion.

  4. Bret

    This really seems like a pointless exercise.  The offenses are probably comparable if there are no major injuries this year (which I think is a bad assumption) but there is no way they can score 965 runs like the 98 team mainly because Garza, Shields, Price, Lester, Lackey, Beckett, Matusz, etc. play in the division.  So you are comparing apples and oranges.  I don't think there is a way of quantifying how much better the pitching is now versus 1998.

    And I can tell you that it is not out of the realm of possibility that none of the Yankees starters have a sub 4.25 ERA (Sabathia mainly because of wear and tear on his arm) in 2010 – something ALL five of their starters had in 1998.  The bullpen isn't close to as good either, unless you think Aceves is going to throw 130 innings with a 3.25 ERA like Mendoza did.

    You have to calculate expected wins for 2010 for the Yankees – I think this is around 90 or so given they should have won 95 last year, they are older and the division is tougher – then compare that to the expected wins if the 1998 Yankees were plugged in.  I'm guessing the 98 team would be higher but don' t think it can be quantified.

    Maybe next we can have 10 posts about Stonewall Jackson's expected WAR if he fought the Battle of Iwo Jima.

  5. Bret,

    As I mentioned in my response to you on my previous post, we deal with objectivity here at <a href="http://www.itsaboutthemoney.net” target=”_blank”>www.itsaboutthemoney.net. In other words, we're looking past wins–as you note, the divisions are entirely different from one another–the teams' competition is different. How many runs they score in the season is not the goal of this debate either–the question is how many would they score if they played against one another. For precisely the reasons you mention, trying to "win" this debate by saying how many wins you think the 2010 Yankees will end up with would be entirely useless.

    The question is who would win in a head to head matchup between the two. I say 2010 would. You'll get to see my justification on the pitching side in a few days.

    How well the 1998 team would have done in this environment cannot be completely quantified (at least with any certainty). What we are doing is *qualifying* it, by saying that they would do better, or worse, than the 2010 team as currently constructed. And if you would like to complain about us doing that, feel free to go find some articles on AJ Burnett and Posada hating each other to immerse yourself in.

    Best,

    Will

  6. Additionally–I take issue with you stating things as if they are facts, when you're dead wrong on some of them.

    The Yankees are younger this year than they were last year, if you look at the average starter age (that's quantifiable, Bret). And the division isn't that much tougher…the Red Sox improved marginally, the Rays didn't improve much (Shoppach, Soriano?), the Orioles have gotten a bit better and the Toronto Blue Jays got significantly worse. Net, the division (ex-Yankees) has probably gotten worse.

    Will

  7. Bret

    Will,

    You are living in a dreamland.  You are trying to say that you deal with objectivity but then say Gardner is better than Cabrera when Gardner has a career OPS + of 81.  You say Granderson is a big upgrade over Johnny Damon when Damon had an OPS + of 126 last year, Granderson 100.

    Age isn't important as a mean, it is important by position (sort of like electoral college).  Jeter, Petitte, Posada, Arod, Rivera, Burnett, Vazquez are all a year older than last year (Vazquez much older than Joba) and all play key roles.  So that is 7 of 15 (9 starters, 5 rotation plus closer) that are now 33 or older.  Yes, they got younger at DH but Matsui had an OPS + of 131 last year, do you expect Johnson to significantly exceed that?  Gardner is much younger than Damon, he is also much worse.  Those two positions are where the big age changes came, so you are talking 7 versus 2. 

    And finally, you can say the 1998 pitchers got lucky or use FIP or whatever.  The bottom line is there is no way in hell that all 5 starters will this year have a 4.24 ERA or below.  And there is no way in hell that any reliever will throw 130 innings with a 3.25 ERA.  So to say the 2010 team is better, you would have to somehow quantify that the ERAs are significantly skewed or that the pitchers got extremely lucky have those ERAs or something.

  8. Bret,

    A few things. First off, FIP correlates to future ERA a lot better than past ERA does. That means that if you are trying to project what this year's ERA will be for a pitcher, you're much better off using FIP. You can argue against that all you want, it's quite simple to check. I'm not just making this up.

    And yes, it's quite possible that no pitcher on the Yankees will put up an ERA below 4.25. Very unlikely…but possible.

    If you think you can tell what Gardner is by his minimal experience at the major league level so far, congratulations. If you look at his minor league experience, you'll see that his numbers far outstrip what he's done so far in a very small sample size offensively at the major league level. That's what I'm going with, and heck, if I'm wrong at the end of the season, feel free to roast me. I know fullwell that projecting him at the plate is myopic at best…but at least give me credit for consistency. I've been saying he should be starting for the Yankees since before the beginning of last season. (this all ignores his tremendous defensive numbers and Melky's middling to bad defensive numbers, by the way). Big picture: Melky's put up 3.5 wins above average combined over 5 seasons. Gardner has put up 3.2 wins above average in parts of two seasons (which add up to less than one full season). This seems pretty straight forward.

    Re: Johnson, Granderson, Matsui, Damon–I listed the statistics out for you on a 3 and 5 year basis in the last post. And take a look at Damon outside of Yankee Stadium, if you want to complete the analysis. The two new guys are flat out better hitters than the old guys. And they're younger. You can simply ignore the broarder statistics if you like…but don't expect to win anyone over that way. For instance–you can cherry pick OPS+ for Matsui, and I'll happily point to Nick Johnson being third in the league in OBP (which is vastly underweighted in OPS+, by the way) behind two guys named Pujols and Mauer last season. Yes, I'm quite comfortable with Nick Johnson. And judge Curtis Granderson on 2009 alone at your peril.

    Back to the working world with me–

    Will

  9. Bret

    I still don't think you are understanding my position.  Tell me where the Yankees are better in 2010 than 2009.  Here is your answer if I understand you correctly.

    1.  Johnson is going to be much better than Matsui – I disagree because in 2009 Matsui was great and Johnson is an excellent player but it highly unlikely he is much better or better at all, plus he is always hurt.

    2.  One extra month of Arod – I agree with this

    3.  Vazquez over Joba – somewhat agree but Vazquez is an NL pitcher and his ERA will likely be higher than 4 in Yankee Stadium in the AL.

    4.  Granderson and Gardner over Cabrera and Damon – Gardner played in over 100 games last year, there is nothing to suggest he will be much better this year, one decent stretch in Trenton/SWB is not very convincing.  And facts are facts, Damon was great in Yankee Stadium but I find it hard to believe Granderson will be greater. 

    But even if I concede all 4 of those to you, you have to look at the potential areas for regression.

    1.  Jeter had a much better year in 2009 than 2008 and is soon 36.

    2.  Swisher had a much better year in 2009 than 2008.

    3.  Texieria will not be better than 2009 just because he was so good.

    4.  Posada was healthy last year, not so in 2008 and his defense is slowly becoming beyond atrocious and an age regression is almost certain.

    5.  Rivera won't be better.

    6.  Sabathia won't be better

    7.  Petitte won't be better.

    8.  Burnett is now 33, probably won't be better

    But even if all things were equal, all those guys have good years again and the replacements are as good and everyone stays healthy there was a big luck factor last year.  They should have won 95 games, they won 103.  If you take luck out this year they win 95.  If you think they are the same team, they win 95.  I personally think they are slightly worse with many more things to worry about in a slightly tougher division so I think 90 wins is about right.

  10. Bret,

    This will be my final response today. (I like being employed)

    I'm not going to argue the entire team with you yet. This specific post is about the infield. You can take your shots at the outfield when the next one comes out. I've already given up enough of my bullets here. Pitching as well. And really, to go into each of the arguments you've just listed, I'll have 2000 words or so down before I know it.

    On the infield, go see TCMs response to this post, in which he uses the most accurate of the projection systems to guess at what the infielders will do. Tex was actually better over 07-09 than he was in 09, so I don't see that argument. Posada's numbers 07-09 include 08….and he's still better than he was in 1998 by them.

    Come on back tomorrow to carry on the argument. Do me a favor, though, and don't tell me I live in a dreamland. We just disagree.

    I'm glad to have the discussion though!

    Will

  11. Bret

    Point taken.

    I'm not worried about 1998 versus 2010 because I don't think it can be quantified.  If you put a gun to my head I'd say the 2010 offense is slightly better but the pitching won't be nearly as good and the division is so much better now it isn't even comparable.

    I think most people think this team is invincible this year and in looking at the numbers I don't see it.  It will be a dogfight for them to get into the playoffs in my opinion.  My final post also.

  12. Bret

    Will,

    Are you ready to call me correct on Gardner yet?  I respect your other analysis but saying he is going to be better than Cabrera is either blind hope or good drugs.  He is reverting to his norm which is never getting on base to go along with no power.

  13. Will@IIATMS

    Bret:

    Pardon the bluntness, you're catching me in the midst of a great rush:

    Brett Gardner has been worth exactly the same number of win shares as Melky Cabrera (both have 3.2 WAR over their careers) in *one fifth* the at bats (395 to 1952). He's not just better than Melky Cabrera…he's a lot better than Melky Cabrera — by career statistics at the major league level. You're welcome to argue till you're blue in the face (and accuse me of being blindly hopeful or on drugs), but those are the numbers. No subjectivity here….I'm not giving you an opinion, I'm telling you what *has happened* at the major league level.

    If you want to talk about just offense, Melky has been worth *negative 27.2 RAR* offensively. Gardner's been negative 3.2–multiply that by five to match the at bats, and it turns out he's still better than Melky, even purely offensively.

    Defensively it's not a contest, but I don't think you're arguing that at this point anyhow.

    One step further, trying to claim 'victory' after 8 games would be bad enough IF Melky was actually doing better than Gardner. Over in the JV league, Melky is currently batting .103/.212/.138, which manages to make Gardner's .250/.348/.250 (with 3 steals including one of home) look positively prosperous.

    Sheesh.

  14. Bret

    I don't understand much of the sabermetric stuff but what I do understand is Melky Cabrera had more doubles than Derek Jeter last year and also had 13 home runs.  His OPS was respectable for a bottom of the order hitter.   Gardner has absolutely no power, not even gap power so in order for him to make up the difference he would have to get on base much more often (which he never has) or play much, much better defense.  Cabrera had a decent arm and speed and while I think Gardner might be better defensively, getting to a couple extra balls a year is not going to make up for the homers and the doubles and the lower OBP.  Cabrera has as good or better arm, it isn't like Gardner has a Clemente arm unless you are strictly comparing him to Johnny Damon.

    Also, our original argument was 2009 Yankees versus 2010 Yankees so Cabrera's pre-2009 performance has no bearing.  Gardner's career does have a bearing because it holds predictive value as to what his 2010 will be.  Right now, that is a major league career OPS + of 78 which is going to get him sent back to Scranton if it doesn't improve in a hurry.

  15. gary

    If you go to 1999 Jeter's numbers in that year would blow away 2010!

  16. gary

    And I would take the 1998 outfield over the 2010 version

  17. Bret

    And now Gardner has been benched because he sucks.  Are you now going to argue that Randy Winn is better than 2009 Cabrera at 36 years old coming off an adjusted OPS + of 75 last season?

    Face it.  Tex ain't having a better year than last year, the Yankees downgraded from 2009 in aggregate in the outfield, Swisher had a great season in 2009, Arod is a year older, ditto Jeter, ditto Posada.  Cano could improve but there are no other avenues toward improvement and plenty of roadblocks.  The offense will not be better and will very likely be worse.  Better hope Sabathia doesn't break down and that Vazquez can pitch in the AL East in a pitcher's park (two things his 2.87 ERA didn't have to deal with last year). 

    I will say it again, they will be struggling to get to 90 wins.

  18. Bret…

    The trouble is you're looking at OPS, doubles, etc. I'm looking at WAR, which looks at the whole picture. I am not so worried about the number of doubles or triples Gardner hits. No single counting statistic will define his season.

    I'm looking at wins above average, which takes the complete picture into account, and by that statistic, Melky and Gardner have been worth the same number of wins in their major league careers–except Melky's had 5 times the at bats Gardner has. That's pretty damning evidence.

    By wOBA (Which takes extra base hits into account) Melky sits at .314 career, Gardner at .318.

    Gardner is better defensively than Melky (by a long, long ways). He's ALSO better offensively (though not by as much). You're not the only person who disagrees with me, by the way. But as they say, chicks dig the long ball. People love (and overweight) power quite regularly.

    Will

  19. Bret

    Will,

    Melky's career doesn't matter.  Only his 2009 does.  Damon never had a season with an OPS + of 126 other than last year but that is the year that counts.  We are trying to determine how good the 2010 Yankees will be and the way you do that is look at 2009 and adjust where necessary.  My whole point is that many guys had great years in 09 and are either unlikely to repeat it because they are getting older (Posada, Jeter, Petitte) or won't repeat the production because the player brought in to replace them won't be as good (Cabrera's 2009 versus Gardner, Damon's 2009 versus Granderson etc.).  A big part of your theory towards this team being like 1998 was Vazquez being dominant but he has always had big years in the NL with inferior competition in a pitcher's park (Olympic Stadium, Turner Field), not in the AL with the DH, better competition and now in a bandbox.  I may end up being wrong but in analyzing it position by position this team is not the dominant force that people think and though it may make the playoffs it is going to be a dogfight.

  20. Bret,

    We're stuck. You don't want to believe what the advanced statistics show, and I'm not willing to regress back to using lesser forms (in my mind, you can feel free to disagree) forms of analysis.

    But I'd bet the house that this team wins 90 games. There won't be a *struggle*.

    And I'm kind of done arguing it out with you. Feel free to come yammer at me mid-season, when we've got more datapoints to use on the 2010 season.

    Thanks for the discussion!

    Will

  21. Bret

    Simple question which you haven't answered.  Forget about pitching and forget about defense.

    These were the Yankees in 2009

    Posada – OPS+133, Tex – OPS + 149, Cano OPS + 129, Jeter OPS + 132, Arod OPS + 147, Damon OPS + 126, Cabrera OPS + 99, Swisher OPS +129, Matsui OPS + 131.

    In 2010, where do you see the OPS + improving?  My answer is nowhere, but I see many places where it could decline due to age or replacement.  They scored 915 runs last year, if they score fewer they will very likely win fewer games.  Right or wrong?

    Answer that simple question and I promise this will be the last comment I post. 

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