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Did the Giants’ Front Office Make the NL West Race Closer Than it Needed to Be?

Posted by Neil Paine on September 17, 2010

It's a move you see all too often in today's cost-conscious baseball world: in order to delay his arbitration timetable and keep him under team control longer, the Giants held star prospect Buster Posey down in the minors at the beginning of the season. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, and in fact many teams would have done the same thing if given the chance. But in the case of Posey, the Giants' choice has probably made the NL West closer than it should have been, and could ultimately cost them the playoffs if San Diego is able to overcome San Francisco's slim half-game lead in the division.

You see, while Posey was spending 47 games in Fresno, the Giants gave the majority of their starts -- and 221 plate appearances -- to Bengie Molina in his stead. While he was keeping the seat warm for Posey's eventual arrival, the since-departed Molina turned in a truly terrible performance, producing a .644 OPS (well below the NL average of .715 for catchers) and registering -5 fielding runs above avg. behind the plate. Add it up, and Molina's 221 PA gave the Giants -0.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

Needless to say, after Posey assumed the starting job, San Francisco's production at catcher skyrocketed. His 134 OPS+ is second only to Joe Mauer among ML catchers, and his overall performance has been worth 2.6 WAR in just 372 PA. If you assume he would have maintained the same pace had he been starting all season long, and you give Molina's early-season PA to Posey instead, you find that playing Posey all season would have increased San Francisco's win total by 1.9 wins, which would give the Giants a far more comfortable 2½-game cushion in the West, as opposed to their current ½-game lead over the Padres. If San Diego comes back and wins by fewer than 3 games, you can point to Brian Sabean's decision to delay Posey's arbitration as a big factor in their losing the division.

On the other hand, the Giants/Padres' wild card competitior in Atlanta took a different route when approaching the arbitration schedule of their young star Jason Heyward. Instead of stashing him in the minors, the Braves put him in the lineup literally from day one (he hit a HR in his first at-bat on Opening Day), and it's been one of the keys to their season. The J-Hey Kid's 4.5 WAR is third on the team behind Tim Hudson and Brian McCann, and it's safe to say the Braves would not be in the wild-card race without him playing all season.

So there you have it: two different front-office approaches, both of which served to make the margins slimmer than they could have been in this year's National League races.

52 Responses to “Did the Giants’ Front Office Make the NL West Race Closer Than it Needed to Be?”

  1. tim Says:

    I don't know why you need to reference WAR and all these similar stats. The only stat that matters is the team's win-loss record, and I think it got way better with Posey catching.

  2. Raphy Says:

    Tim -The question is how much better? WAR allows you to translate the stats into theoretical wins and losses for the team. This gives you a much more concrete answer than "way better".

  3. Dan V. Says:

    Brian Sabean letting promising young talent rot away in the minors while an aging vet underproduces in the majors? Say it ain't so! Perhaps the Giants will really compete the day he's no longer at the controls.

  4. Larry R. Says:

    I tend to agree with Tim. How much better? Just compare the team's record with Molina catching and Posey catching. That's how much better.

  5. Rich Says:

    Bengie Molina in April: .343/.403/.422
    The Giants in April: 13-9

  6. Tom Says:

    In hindsight, the move looks penny wise and pound foolish. In April, I'm not sure it looked quite so stupid.
    Molina was coming off a season in which he hit 20 homers, drove in 80 runs and hit .265. His WAR was negative, but if you look at the conventional stats, he does not look bad.

  7. StephenH Says:

    Not to be contrary, but I thought part of the reason for keeping Posey on the farm was because they didn't think his defense was up to snuff. For what they paid Molina, probably about 1.5 million for about 1/3 of a season, I don't think they were thinking of what money they could save in three years.

    Sometimes a team just thinks a vet will give them more than they actually get. The Mets went north with Mike Jacobs this year, before releasing him after ten games and bringing up Ike Davis. Davis is better than Jacobs, but he still has a lot of growing to do as a hitter. Of course comparing the miss-managed Mets to the Giants is a fools folly!

  8. StephenH Says:

    #5 and #6, Rich and Tom, I agree, your posts came in while I was writing mine~

  9. Joe B Says:

    Dan V is correct. As long as Sabean is the GM, the Giants will never win. If they win anything this year it's despite him. Sabean is the worst GM in baseball, bar none.

  10. Tom Says:

    Part of the reason teams stick with the vets is that anytime you bring a player up the minors, there's always risk. You just don't know what you're getting offensively.
    A guy who hits .321 at Fresno could turn out to be the next Brandon Wood.

  11. Raker Says:

    Raphy, WAR is flawed. It doesn't allow you to translate stats into theoretical wins and losses. It's misleading because the defensive stats are so skewed. Look up Shin-soo Choo and Robbie Cano and compare them. IMO, it's impossible to make the argument that Choo has had even close to as good a year as Cano, much less better. WAR can be downright ridiculous as last year's WAR leader proved (Ben Zobrist). I'm surprised that a great site like BR has put it front and center.....Concerning the article though, Posey should've been up sooner.

  12. Bryan Says:

    Still not convinced on WAR, I mean I understand how it is used and I get why people use it, but it seems excessive. Another stat I don't like is RBI, but at least you can say with certainty that Player A had 105 RBI's. You can say Player A had a WAR of 2 but does that mean that if the team used a replacement player we know for a certainty that the team would have 2 less losses?

  13. Detroit Michael Says:

    I strongly disagree with posts #1 and #4. There is tons of other noise than just comparing team records with Molina or Posey in the line-up. For example, such an analysis would show that Justin Morneau has substantial negative value in 2010 just because the Twins' hot streak happened to come when he was on the DL.

  14. Raker Says:

    RBI as a rate stat can tell you a lot, but that argument is for another day.......I know this is a SF/Posey thread so forgive me for fixating on WAR (SF will probably make the playoffs and do well because of their pitching).....To me, this is the most glaring example of WAR going awry this year. Robbie Cano has the strongest 2B arm in the league, he's only made 3 errors in over 700 chances, he leads all second sackers with a .996 fielding pct, he is easily having the best year he's ever had with the glove but WAR has him at ZERO on defense. What's even more ridiculous is he's averaged about 9 runs better than average in Rtot over his career until this year, but in his best year he's at ZERO. If they had his defensive contribution even remotely correctly calculated, he'd rightfully lead the majors in WAR. Like I said, WAR is misleading. It refutes the obvious in a lot of cases.

  15. Johnny Twisto Says:

    You can say Player A had a WAR of 2 but does that mean that if the team used a replacement player we know for a certainty that the team would have 2 less losses?

    Of course not. There are no certainties.

  16. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Raker, can you assign a defensive value to all 700 major leaguers? I doubt it. So in Cano's case, you think it has his defense pegged incorrectly. You may be right. +/- has him 9 runs above average. If you think that is more accurate, use that number instead. WAR provides a framework but no one has said it is the final, indisputable word on measuring player value. Its creator would never say that. There are difficulties in measuring defense. This is widely acknowledged. Does that make the effort to do so worthless? Would you prefer having no measure of defense, or a measure which provides you with information about the hundreds of players you haven't seen, and might be flawed on one of the players you have seen a lot? If misinterpreting Cano's defense is the most glaring example of WAR going awry, that's pretty impressive.

  17. jiffy Says:

    Re #9, Jim Hendry called to thank you.

  18. Rich Says:

    #6 Tom and #7 Stephen you make good points. Stephen I was concerned about his defense because of what I heard but have been most pleasantly surprised. His overall defensive game needs polishing but he's been much better than advertised, and I place a strong emphasis on the defensive side of the catching position. Never doubted at all that he could hit, and the fact of the matter is that this non-move essentially keeps him in a Giants uniform one season longer.

  19. Matt Y Says:

    Kudos to BR for splitting the defensive and offensive WAR's out now. There's clearly problems in the defensive metrics, and the offensive WAR isn't gospel either, but it's infinitely better than the defensive metrics.

  20. John Autin Says:

    Neil, I agree with your general take, but I think you make it seem a little too cut-and-dried. While I was opposed to Sabean's wait-and-see approach, it was at least defensible. Coming into this year, (a) Posey had barely 500 PAs as a pro, less than 170 PAs above class A, and did poorly in a very brief MLB trial last year; and (b) as others noted above, Molina had an established performance level that was roughly average for a catcher. Sure, we can project a 35-year-old catcher to decline; but Molina actually started out well at the plate, with a .330 BA / .407 OBP through May 17, and the Giants were 21-16. Molina went ice-cold at that point -- 2 for the 37 the rest of May -- and Sabean brought up Posey before the month was out.

    I'm no fan of Sabean or Molina, but I think a majority of GMs would have handled the situation the same way Sabean did. At least give him a little credit for dumping Molina after seeing Posey in action for just a month -- and note that on the day Molina was traded, Posey had a soft line of .289 / .314 / .381 for the season. I'm not sure it's reasonable to project his season stats backwards to the start of the year, given how little Posey actually did in his first month.

  21. Fireworks Says:

    @1 Tim

    I don't know why you need to reference WAR and all these similar stats. The only stat that matters is the team's win-loss record, and I think it got way better with Posey catching.

    Having criticisms of WAR is one thing. Thinking that you can just reference W/L record to determine a player's impact is severely flawed.

    By that logic, as stated above, the Twins are better off without Morneau, and the Yankees are better off starting Nunez or Pena instead of Rodriguez. Come on now.

  22. Raker Says:

    Johnny Twisto, I don't think it's impressive at all. Calculating Cano's 2010 defense to be replacement player level would be akin to calculating Albert Pujols' offense as replacement level. If anyone came up with a formula that suggested Pujols was a replacement level hitter, the formula and it's creator would be ignored save for the ridicule.

    You say WAR provides a framework as if there wasn't already a framework. The existing framework of handling 703 balls and booting only 3 tells you more than any amount of convoluted zone ratings where batted balls are subdivided into 3 zones and 3 speeds. I realize that errors are imperfect but to make only 3 in 140 plus games is pretty damn impressive. I also understand that there are a myriad of variables when formulating a defensive rating and you're right, I can't accurately define them all, but either can the WAR creator and that's my point. Just because he tried doesn't get him any awards. This isn't T-Ball where everyone gets a trophy for showing up. Trying to quantify defense and failing is absolutely worthless because anyone can tell you just from simple observation that Cano is better than a replacement player.

    I do agree that seperating the offensive and defensive WAR is infinitly better than presenting the sum of the two because, again, you're taking the contaminant(defense) out of the formula.

  23. Jimbo Says:

    In hindsight, the (lack of a) move to the majors for Buster does look poor. But I'm just not sure you hand the keys to that cadillac pitching staff to a kid with so little pro bb experience; without giving him the seasoning a vet like Molina could provide. It now seems that BP has won over the staff with his pitch calling and defense, and I am not ready to say that was possible in April.

  24. Darryl0 Says:

    It's a nice article in theory, but it can't be taken seriously because it's initial assumption is just plain wrong. Anybody that follows the Giants closely knows that the Giants kept Posey down on the farm because they (both Sabean and Bruce Bochy) thought that Molina was a better catcher and (most importantly) more reliable.

    How do we know this:

    1. Sabean's and Bochy's track record show a consistent and overwhelming bias towards much older, more well-known veterans (especially at key positions like catcher).

    2. If Sabean was so worried about the money aspect of the Posey situation then he would have waited another month before he called Posey up. As it stands now, Posey is almost assured of being Super 2 arb-eligible after the 2011 season. Because he accumulated about 32 days of major-league service time sitting on the bench last Sept., Posey needed to be held back until July to safely assure that he wouldn't be a Super 2. Sabean knew that, but called him up at the end of May anyway.

    3. The only other monetary/control reason to keep Posey in AAA this season was the one concerning when he would become a free agent. Since he had about 32 days of service time from the 2009 season, the Giants needed to keep him off the 25 man roster for at least that many days to ensure that he became a FA at the end of the 2015 season instead of at the end of the 2014 season. Since the Giants kept Posey down in AAA for a total of about 50 major league service days this year, it's obvious that this wasn't the main reason for keeping Posey on the farm. If it was the main reason, the Posey would have been called up about 3 weeks sooner.

    4. Even when Posey was called up at the end of May, Bochy still put in Molina and Eli Whiteside as the starting catchers in > 90% of the their games until Molina was finally traded on July 1st. Specifically, Posey started at catcher for only 3 of the 31 games the Giants played both hea and Molina were still on the team. Bochy did like his bat in the lineup, so Posey did start 23 games at 1B during that stretch, and he did get in 2 games as a pinch-hitter.

    In conclusion, as the writer of this article correctly surmises, it's obvious that the way in which Sabean and Bochy used Posey and Molina this season almost certainly cost the Giants a handful of games in the standings. However, we can not give either of them a pass by writing it off as a mainly a monetary decision. Examining the facts that I stated above, clearly both Sabean and Bochy did not beleive that Posey was the best option at catcher until Molina had played so horribly bad during his last 6 weeks as a Giant that Sabean was forced to trade him away to keep Bochy from continuing to write his name in the starting lineup. I'm convinced that if Molina had not been traded when he was that he would have started quite a few games at catcher for the Giants in July and August. Posey won the job only by default in Bochy's mind.

  25. John Autin Says:

    Neil, how did you weigh the following factors in your analysis of the Giants' and Braves' decisions?
    -- Before this year, Heyward had 1,003 minor-league PAs and 2 full seasons; Posey had 542 PAs and 1 full season.
    -- It may not be easily provable, but there's a widespread belief that catchers need longer to develop, and that the minors-to-majors transition is harder for a catcher than for an OF.

    It seems to me that for every Heyward, Posey, Strasburg, Carlos Santana or Mike Stanton who comes out of the chute with guns blazing, there's another top prospect who fizzles in his first year, or at least falls well short of his potential -- Justin Smoak, Pedro Alvarez, Domonic Brown, Colby Rasmus, etc.

    Lastly ... Why stop with Posey? Didn't the Giants hurt themselves just as much by starting the year with Todd Wellemeyer in the rotation (5.68 ERA in 11 starts), instead of Madison Bumgarner (3.28 in 15 starts)?

  26. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Calculating Cano's 2010 defense to be replacement player level would be akin to calculating Albert Pujols' offense as replacement level.

    It is not akin to that at all. It has calculated his defense to be average. "Replacement players" tend to be average defensively and subpar with the bat, but that does not mean playing average defense is replacement-level defense. Replacement-level defense would be the worst defense a major league team could tolerate at the position, which is considerably worse than average. If a so-called replacement player was that bad with the glove, it's because he is able to hit a bit, and his total contribution still equals ~0 WAR.

    I will agree Sean could be a little more precise in his language when trying to explain these stats to the unconverted. Generally, replacement players are about average defensively, but that does not mean average defense is replacement-level defense. Replacement players are not "replacement-level" in every separate aspect of the game -- players that bad don't reach the majors, or quickly wash out if they do. They are OK at some things, bad at other things, and the totality of their contributions is equivalent to ~0 WAR, or ~2 wins worse than an average player.

  27. John Autin Says:

    I should have included this with my last post:
    At age 23 or under (Posey's age), number of seasons of 300+ PAs by position, 1901-present:

    SS -- 352
    OF -- 249 avg. per OF position (748 total)
    3B -- 241
    2B -- 231
    1B -- 177
    C -- 143

    Pitcher seasons with 150+ IP at 23 or younger -- 969

    At the least, this illustrates the *belief* that catchers develop more slowly.

  28. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Suppose Ozzie Smith simply could not hit at all. He was capable of being the best defender in baseball, 30 runs above average, but he could not hit. That Ozzie Smith would not get a MLB job. He is sub-replacement level. But that does not mean that anyone who rates worse than him defensively is therefore sub-sub-replacement level, simply because they play worse defense than someone who isn't even in the major leagues.

  29. Johnny Twisto Says:

    But John, don't forget that catchers tend to get fewer PA than other players simply because of the nature of the position. And that was especially so early in the 1900s. You still may be right but I think you'd need a lower C PA threshold to compare (not sure what it should be -- 200?).

    Interesting that so many are SS. Some evidence to the thought that defense peaks earlier.

  30. John Autin Says:

    @29 -- Johnny Twisto -- Thanks for raising that point, so that I can clear it up. It's true that the average starting catcher will have fewer PAs than the average starter at another position. But it does not follow that fewer catchers will meet any given number of PAs. In fact, last year, the 300-PA minimum yields 29 catchers, 29 shortstops, 30 1Bs, etc.

    All the 300-PA minimum really does is separate the starters from the backups. For the purposes of this discussion, it doesn't really matter that the average starting catcher may have 500 PAs, while the average starting 1B has 650 (I made those numbers up).

    But I will run fresh numbers with a 250-PA minimum -- which, by the way, yields *more* catcher seasons (all ages) than SS seasons, for whatever reason -- and I'll get them posted soon.

  31. John Autin Says:

    I feel confident that 250 PAs is a fair minimum, because when applied to all ages, it yields about 2,500 seasons for each position. I'm also changing the criteria from "total seasons" to "players with at least 1 season." And so:

    By position, the number of players with at least 1 season of 250+ PAs at age 23 or younger, 1901-present:

    SS -- 232
    2B -- 172
    3B -- 166
    OF -- 165 avg. per OF spot (496 total)
    1B -- 123
    C -- 105

  32. Raker Says:

    Thanks for the explanation Johnny. I was wondering if that was the case. I still don't agree with a lot of the results but I don't want to bash the guy. I'm sure it was a lot of hard work creating WAR and it's probably a work in progress.

    The Giants (inspite of Sabean)and the Rockies have really put themselves in good shape for the stretch. They're playing the best ball at the right time. I think Atlanta and the Pads are going to have a long off season. Atlanta could possibly hold on but the Pads are done.

    Seems to me that Posey could've went straight from FL State to the majors and hit .300+ fresh out of the box. I never understood that with great players. It worked fine for Al Kaline.

  33. Neil L. Says:

    Neil, your comparison of the Giants and Braves management decisions is thought-provoking, even provocative. Look at the dialogue in here.

    Raker, Johnny Twisto and others. In debating the value of WAR or any other statistic, everyone must detach themselves emotionally from it, even its creator. It should not be written off until it is fully understood, but ideally it should also mesh with anecdotal observations of a player performance in a given year. I have to admit I'm still trying to embrace it on an intuitive, gut level.

    Based only on my years of watching baseball, many of them, I do agree that a catcher is a special case in terms of being called up and being inserted into the starting lineup. The catcher's position is a unique one, clearly.

    For that reason, it is difficult to attribute Brian Sabean's decision regarding Posey purely to economics, although it makes for a great discussion starter.

  34. Efren Says:

    Another myopic attempt to use the myopic WAR stat to justify a ridiculous assertion.
    Molina's value in handling the Giants young starting pitchers and ability to call games is not reflected in WAR. Both Lincecum and Cain have stated that they owe a large part of their recent success the past two years to Molina's catching and leadership.

  35. JDMC Says:

    You really need to do more research before coming to conclusions if you want those conclusions to bare any resemblance to reality. See comment #24: The Giants didn't even start Posey at catcher when he WAS called up -- Molina still started almost every day -- so how was that about financial concerns? If the Giants are so concerned about Posey's arbitration and free agency status, why bring him up last year for the final month just so he could ride the pine nearly every day?

    The answer to these strange roster decisions is the same as the answers to all the other strange roster decisions the Giants make: They did it that way because Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy are deathly afraid of young players and the mistakes they may make, and head-over-heals-in-love with experienced vets and all the savvy decisions they supposedly make. You can't look at 30 crazy, illogical decisions to not play young players (29 which have no financial benefit whatsoever), and then pick one out and say: "See, that decision is so crazy and illogical it must be about money."

    How anyone can look at Barry Zito's contract, Aaron Rowand's contract, and Edgar Renteria's contract, and think the Giants are overly concerned about spending money is beyond me. The Giants front office has many problems, but being cheap isn't one of them.

  36. Rich Says:

    @ 11
    You're really underselling Shin-Soo Choo. While Cano's defense may be underrated by WAR (I really don't have any idea) how do you know Choo's isn't as well? Not to mention he's having an excellent offensive year as well.

  37. Ellis Says:

    I think this article demonstrates one of the major flows with WAR - it's fine for prediction and very poor when analyzing the past.

    WAR assigns values to hitting outcomes (e.g., a double), and says that that double was worth X amount of runs and X amount of Wins without context. This is why it's great for predicting the future, where the context is not yet known.

    But these games have already been played, and WAR is not so great anymore. WPA is much better at answering the question "How much did Player X actually help his team win?"

    The conclusion remains the same: Molina had a -1.6 WPA with the Giants this year while Posey has 1.1.

  38. Chuck Says:

    Anyone remember Pablo Sandoval?

    Probably not a good idea to run down the street screaming for joy every time a rookie has a good half-season.

    Angel Berroa? Joe Charbonneau? Bob Hamelin?

    Say what you want about Bochy as a manager, but remember he was a catcher as a player, if anyone's opinion matters when it comes to Posey's abilities, it's Bochy's.

    Personally, I'm not convinced Posey will catch long-term, he's decent, but he'll never be great.

    As far as the Giants are concerned, they could have Posey for twelve years as an average catcher or thirteen years as an above average first baseman.

    As far as using WAR or any other stat to assign "win values" to a player, well, alot of things look good on paper.

    Reality, however, is a different story altogether.

    If the Padres were playing .500 ball over the past 20 games it wouldn't mean a hill of beans when Posey was called up.

    WAR that.

  39. Raker Says:


    Choo is a great player, he's a favorite of mine but facts are facts. He's an excellent RFer that has handled a little more than 30% of the chances that Cano has and Choo has made more errors. WAR has him 15 runs better than average and Cano just average (though it's misleading to call it defensive WAR if it's really WAA, wins above average). It's common sense that Cano playing a premium position almost flawlessly is more valuable than any corner OFer.

    On offense, Choo has had a good season but Cano has had a great season. Cano is better across the board.

    Cano .323/.382/.543/.925 96 runs, 99 rbi, 27 HR and 68 extra base hits.

    Choo (wow, he had a huge game yesterday, 4-5, 3 HR, 7 RBI and raised his OPS 25 pts in one night!) still, .291/.391/.471/.862 70 runs, 79 rbi, 19 HR and 50 extra base hits.

    So even after Choo's big game, Cano has a 63 pt OPS advantage while doing it from the second highest premium position while Choo plays the second lowest.

    There's no hidden value here, it is what it is. Cano has had an MVP type year and Choo hasn't. As dumb as sportswriters can be individually, collectively they are more accurate than WAR and that will be clear when they vote on the AL MVP.

    Hi Chuck! I'm with you as far as Posey eventually ending up at 1B but he's the real deal with the stick, IMO.

  40. Fireworks Says:

    I love Cano. I'm a Yankees fan. And I think he's had an excellent defensive season and is maybe deserving of a Gold Glove. And I don't take his defensive metrics at face value.

    However, I don't put much stock in the, "Cano has few errors, therefore he has been excellent," argument. It doesn't necessarily follow. Jeter's career-low in errors for a full season is 8, with a .986 fielding percentage, which is (tied for) the highest of his career. He only has 6 errors as of right now, and has a .988 fielding percentage. League average fielding percentage for SS is .973. Has Jeter been great?

    In making the argument for Cano's excellence this season one needs to jettison the canard that fielding percentage has a definite direct relationship with fielding proficiency. While it is easily argued that a fielder who commits dozens of errors over the course of a season is a poor fielder, is it not necessarily so that a fielder who commits few is a great fielder. What fielding percentage does tell us is the fielder is very good at cleanly handling balls hit to him and cleanly throwing it to the appropriate base when that is required (though, of course, in the case of his throws, it may be true that he has a first basemen who handles his poorer throws excellently). He handles the routine plays with excellence. However, that does not necessarily mean he gets to as many balls as other proficient fielders. Nor does it mean that he handles tougher plays very well. Here the scorer comes into play. When the scorer gives a hit to a batter on a tough play, the fielder's traditional fielding stats take no hit. However, we know that a more skilled fielder may have turned that tough play into a tough out. Metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating and Total Zone are, albeit imperfect, attempts to take all aspects of fielding into account, including balls fielders don't get to, which cannot show up in a fielder's fielding percentage.

    Now, again, I think Cano has been great irrespective of the value assigned to his fielding by UZR and TR, because I have watched him play and seen him get to a lot of balls, use his exceptional arm to get the ball to first quickly when necessary, and turn many difficult double plays. Can I explain why UZR and TR don't have much love for Cano? No. But I'm not going to do what others here have done, which is to reference stats that doesn't form a complete or necessarily useful picture of defensive value in lieu of metrics which may be flawed or imperfect but attempt to give a more complete picture.

    The tl;dr version is this. I think Cano's been great. I just don't think he's been great because he has a high fielding percentage and few errors. I do, however, think he has a high fielding percentage and few errors because he has been great.

  41. Evan Says:

    Off the top of my head, without looking at the numbers, I would think there is greater variation in defensive abilities of RF than 2B and thus a greater opportunity for a good RF to get further above average. I'm basing this on two things. First, the nature of the position is such that having better range, taking better routes and having a superior throwing arm are more likely to help turn hits into outs and hold runners to fewer base advances. This is because the ball is in the air for a longer time before it reaches the RF than the 2B and thus there is a greater opportunity for these skills to become useful. Second, many 2B are playing primarily for their defensive abilities, this is less common for RF, thus it is easier to excel above the average RF.

    Errors aren't terribly useful compared to an advanced defensive metric. The statistic masks plays not made because of poor range, also it is subject to "home cooking" where a scorer doesn't want to punish a fielder with an error or wishes to reward a hitter with a hit - there are way too many situations where errors aren't designated because the scorer felt the ball was hit hard or the fielder ranged far before failing to make the play - the advanced defensive metrics are able to look at this type of thing. Another issue for 2B is that errors are not awarded for failed attempts to turn double plays unless an extra base is advanced because of the mistake, even when it is abundantly clear that any reasonable big league fielder should have recorded two outs in the situation. Additionally the problem with looking at total chances is that a RF might get to a base hit quickly and prevent a runner from going 1st to 3rd and demonstrate above average fielding, but he is not credited with a fielding opportunity because he didn't record an out, assist or an error.

    The advanced fielding methods aren't perfect, but they are less imperfect than looking simply at errors, chances and anecdotes. I wouldn't base my entire view of a player on the defensive metrics (or any statistic for that matter), but I would consider that they are telling me a lot more than I am seeing from watching a dozen highlights from a player over the course of a season or from watching every play of every game of one team for an entire season.

  42. Evan Says:

    Looks like I cross-posted a bunch of stuff with Fireworks that we agree on.

  43. Fireworks Says:

    I've posted twice without addressing your post, Neil.

    I agree with some of the respondents who argue that the Giants thought Molina would be better and that they held back Posey primarily because of their concerns about his ability to be adequate defensively and to call the game/handle pitchers.

    Neil, I disagree with your statement about how if the Friars finish less than 3 games ahead of the Gigantes it is directly attributable to Posey being held back. Personally I don't think WAR should be used that concretely as it relates to team wins. Take Sabathia, for instance. He is worth what, about five and a half WAR right now? Let's call it six. In the case of Sabathia, I think if he were replaced with a replacement pitcher, the Yanks would be significantly worse off than six games. And I am unlikely to believe that if you replaced Sabathia with a pitcher who had 3 WAR that the difference would be merely three games. I hate to say this, wow, I really hate when people say this, because they say things like this and then never follow up, but anyway, I think there are INTANGIBLES. I think, in New York, on the Yankees, Sabathia's presence this season has been tremendous and while I dislike a lot of the things the traditional analysts on TV say when they get into talking about the intangible benefits of player X or player Y, I absolutely agree with the idea that CC has been the most valuable pitcher in the AL, hell, in all of baseball. Between Tattoo Man, HYUSE, and Javy at times struggling or outright sucking, and Pettitte's long absence, Sabathia has been a constant and it takes pressure off the other starters and even the offense, knowing that whether or not CC is sharp you look up and he's pitched seven and you have a chance to win the game. He is solidly dependable even when he isn't dominant, and I know it lessens the concerns of fans and media. I'm pretty certain it must have that effect on the players too.

    I can't believe I just talked about intangibles. I'm disgusted with myself.

  44. Lee Says:


    The Yankees are 21-10 in the games Sabathia has started. The Yankees have average 5.82 runs in the games he has pitched in. Do you think their record would be worse than 15-16 if Sabathia didn't pitch in those games? Here are the other 4 starters with their team's record and run support:

    Burnett 13-17 4.35
    Hughes 18-9 6.79
    Vazquez 13-12 4.12
    Pettitte 15-3 6.13

    Vazquez has been a replacement level pitcher this year, and the team is basically .500 in his starts, though they've scored about 1.5 runs less in his starts than in Sabathia's. I don't think the Yankees would be much below .500 in Sabathia's starts if a rep. level starter had to replace C.C.

  45. Zachary Says:

    This thread just makes me sad. I liked the blog post's bit - it was reasonable and looked at two interesting questions, and simply assessed their impact without making a judgment as to ultimately which was right and which was wrong. It deserved some commenting on which decision was better, and not attacks on the methodology. It shouldn't have been turned into yet ANOTHER debate on WAR and defense.

    I'm sorry, but this is the internet's premier baseball statistics site. WAR is probably the most sophisticated cumulative stat out there, so of course it's going to get used. It doesn't get everything right, but it comes a hell of a lot closer than anything else and has a very solid mathematical and real-world basis. If you don't like WAR, fine, but don't criticize it unless you have a specific objection to one of the calculations. Just quit coming after people who do understand its usefulness and know how to contextualize it.

    As far as defense goes, errors don't tell you jack from squat. Luis Aparicio once committed the third most errors in all of baseball and still finished with the highest Fielding Percentage among shortstops and won the Gold Glove. Why? He put himself in position to make many more plays, and that's reflected by his great Range Factor rating. Defensive Sabermetrics are meant to provide that information directly, rather than making you look up multiple stats and put things together yourself. If you don't like them, fine, but explain why in a way that demonstrates an understanding of the intentions.

    In regards to the actual topic, I think SF probably made the right move from a financial perspective, but I like Atlanta's willingness to make a run this year. It probably helped that it was Cox's last year, but I think it was mostly that they realized that they had a team that could contend with a little spark from Heyward.

  46. Neil L Says:

    Zachary, agreed about not letting other discussion forums degenerate into WAR debates!

    However, that being said, WAR "disciples" who have "seen the light" should not marginalize the reluctance of others to embrace it. By calling WAR and this "the internet's premier baseball statistics site" you are implying a superiority that puts others on the defensive. See the 2nd paragraph of #33.

    WAR is relatively recent.... if it is as great as it cracked up to be it will be appreciated in time. No need to attack people who are still coming to grips with it. Respectful dialogue will lead to WAR's accceptance by all.

  47. John Autin Says:

    JDMC @35 -- Good point about their hiring/spending habits.
    Neil L. @46 -- Thank you for expressing more or less how I feel about WAR right now: I *do* want to hear about it (including the debate over which method to adopt). But I can't yet have a discussion built on the assumption that measures of individual WAR can be added and subtracted to prove that the underlying performances accounted for any specific number of wins or losses.

  48. Raker Says:

    I don't understand how anyone (Zachary) could take offense about debating WAR's accuracy when it's the center piece of an article's claim, specifically that the Giants would have 2 more wins if Posey was catching instead of Benji Molina.

    I wrote earlier that "I realize that errors are imperfect but to make only 3 in 140 plus games is pretty damn impressive", and I stand by that. As imperfect as errors are, thats amazing to me. It's easy to make an obvious error. 3 means a guy is making all the routine plays, day after day, and any manager would take that.

    Everyone knows that score keepers vary and range varies but you can't eliminate how many times a player screws up and replace it with how many times he would theoretically get to a ball and THEN translate that into how many WINS that means to his team and not expect some people to question it, IMO.

    Personally, I think it's highly possible that the Giants would have had a worse April than 13-9 with a rookie catcher instead of one of the Fabulous Molina Brothers.

  49. Did the Giants’ Front Office Make the NL West Race Closer Than it Needed to Be? | Baseball Bloggers Alliance Says:

    [...] Did the Giants’ Front Office Make the NL West Race Closer Than it Needed to Be? This is the question that Neil Paine asks at Baseball-Reference. [...]

  50. FutureDaydream Says:

    Everyone seems to forget that college catchers do not call games. That is one aspect of the game that they have to learn how to do in the minors. What use is a rookie catcher to a MLB team if he can't call a game?

  51. Neil L Says:

    Actually, Future, I HAD forgotten that pitch-calling doesn't actually start until the minors in reading the posts in here. Another reason why a rookie needs more seasoning.

  52. FutureDaydream Says:

    Also he didn't become a catcher until his JR year(?). There would need to be some conditioning involved in order to ensure he can endure an entire season.