Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Assembling the 2008 Indians

I've had this idea in my head for a few days, and I see Blastings! Thrilledge already beat me to it. So let's build on their work and see what we can do for the Tribe. Part 1 will deal with the starting position players. Although I should warn you - this may end up being Part 1 of 1.

Blastings! Thrilledge
Some Baseball Notes (2007 league average VORP by position)
Baseball Prospectus (2007 Indians VORP)
Cot's Baseball Contracts

Let's start with who will be back, either due to a long-term contract or the fact that they're not yet eligible for arbitration:
Dave Dellucci
Travis Hafner
Victor Martinez
Jason Michaels
Jhonny Peralta
Grady Sizemore
Josh Barfield
Kelly Shoppach
Shin-Soo Choo
Ryan Garko
Andy Marte
Franklin Gutierrez
Michael Aubrey
Asdrubal Cabrera
Ben Francisco
Brad Snyder

The Indians don't have any position players with player or club options for 2008. The following players' contracts expired at the end of this season:
Kenny Lofton
Casey Blake
Trot Nixon
Chris Gomez
Luis Rivas

Now, let's start with the obvious guys to stick in the starting lineup. Without looking at the numbers, who would you say was a sure bet? Martinez, Sizemore, Hafner, Peralta, and maybe Garko, right? Well, the numbers would support you. All five posted above-league-average VORPs in 2007, so we'll keep them around.

How do we fill out the rest of the lineup? If you add up the league average VORPs, and assume the DH league average (which was not listed) is the same as the first base league average, you get a total of 215.95. The total VORPs for our five "keepers" above is 193.6. If you'll believe my shady math, that means the remaining four in the lineup need to total 22.36 to equal a league-average lineup.

Before we go on, there's something I'd like to point out. VORP is a "counter" stat that takes into account how much someone has played. Put simply, a player who bats .300 for a full season would have a higher VORP than someone who bats .300 for half a season. Taking that into account, I'm going to do some more shady math to get Gutierrez and Cabrera's VORPs closer to full season numbers. Everyday starters had 600+ at bats. Franklin Gutierrez had 301 at bats, so let's multiply his VORP times 2 to get a full season value: 16.6. I'll be modest and multiply Asdrubal Cabrera's VORP by 3 to get 22.8. Those are both decent numbers, so they get to stick around, barring any sophomore slumps or the negative effects of their first full seasons in the bigs. Adding them to the lineup, we already have a team VORP of 233.

What do we do with the other two spots? Negative VORPs are possible, so we need higher (more positive) than -17 VORP out of the last two spots to come up with a lineup that's above league average.

Michaels and Dellucci signed decent sized contracts to platoon in left. I'm going to assume we're stuck with them. That gives us a team VORP of 233 + 0.4 - 3.4 = 230. Still above league average, so we have some wiggle room.

The biggest question is on the infield. Some people have already written off Marte, others have written off Barfield, and some have forgotten about both. Assuming Peralta and Cabrera are definites, that gives us two options:
(1) Barfield 2B, Peralta 3B, Cabrera SS
(2) Cabrera 2B, Marte 3B, Peralta SS
VORP does not take defense into account, and most statheads realize that there isn't a truly good way to value defense just yet. So let's stick to hitting. VORP does take position into account (you're rated compared to others at your position), so let's do some more shady math to convert Peralta's SS VORP to a 3B VORP, and Cabrera's 2B VORP to a SS VORP.
(Peralta SS VORP)/(lg avg SS VORP) = (Peralta 3B VORP)/(lg avg 3B VORP)
26.3/25.22 = x/26.19; x = 27.31
(Cabrera 2B VORP/(lg avg 2B VORP) = (Cabrera SS VORP)/(lg avg SS VORP)
22.8/22.69 = x/25.22; x = 25.34

Next, let's find Marte and Barfield's full-season VORPs. We'll take Marte's times 10 to get -40. We'll take Barfield's times 1.3 to get -17.68. So our two options are now
(1) -17.68 (Barfield 2B) + 27.31 (Peralta 3B) + 25.34 (Cabrera SS) = 70.33
(2) 22.8 (Cabrera 2B) -40 (Marte 3B) + 26.3 (Peralta SS) = 9.1

The overwhelming choice, then, is:

Huh. That gets us in at just under the league average. How can we improve it? Well, Martinez's numbers will probably go down, and Sizemore's might as well, but Hafner's are due to go up - that's just the statistical trend of reverting to the mean. Barfield is due for improvement as well.

Personally, I'd like to see Blake and Lofton back. Blake is selfless and will play any position you want him to. Plus, if you've read any interview given by him or Hafner, you can tell the two are good friends. But where do you put him? He's not going to replace Garko at first. Gutierrez is a great five-tool player, and it would be an insult to take away his starting spot after the year he had. You could keep the lineup the way it is - Cabrera 2B, Blake 3B, Peralta SS. But watching Game 8 of the ALCS showed that sticking Blake and Peralta on the same side of the infield is not always the best idea. Plus, you have to believe that Barfield's 2007 was only a fluke, and that Marte will finally live up to his hype sooner or later. Blake is worth more than the $4 million he was paid this year, so while he might not mind coming off of the bench as a super-sub, the Indians could definitely find a cheaper player to fill that role.

Lofton is a victim of numbers. He was added this year after Dellucci's season ended. Now both Dellucci and Michaels are back with guaranteed contracts for 2008, meaning there's simply no room for Lofton. Personally, I prefer him to the other two options. But from a business perspective, the Tribe is stuck with Dellucci and Michaels.

As for the other three, they served their purpose while they were here. Save the playoffs, Nixon's performance on the field was far from memorable. He did, however, keep the clubhouse loose, initiating the tradition of pie-ing the face of whichever player was giving the post game interview. That loose, fun attitude no doubt led to some extra wins. However, $3 million is steep for a pie-thrower. Chris Gomez was a playoff veteran signed for the stretch run. Rivas was infield insurance. That means both will likely be gone without a second thought.

Where do the Indians go from here? It looks like the Indians will need another utility infielder. This is especially true if Peralta makes the move to 3B full time, because someone will need to back up Cabrera at short. Marte and Barfield hurt their own cases by only being able to play one position. A fifth outfielder will also be needed both as a bench player and in case Gutierrez falters. Will that be Blake or Lofton after all? Will it be Francisco or Choo? Or someone else?