Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Marlon Latte, Extra Foam

Now that I've had a time to delve into the stats, I'm ready to reconsider my snap judgement of the Marlon Anderson signing. And after reconsidering it, I'm standing by what I said. A few points.

1) Marlon Anderson is not a bad player; he's quite useful to an NL team. He has appeared to show talent as a pinch-hitter. (Although Bill "Lapdog" Ladson's assessment of him as a "Pinch-hitter extraordinaire" seems a bit much!)

2) He can play several positions, but it's important to point out that he's not especially adept at them. At second, he's passable -- a good stop-gap. But he's not really a true utility infielder. He's played nearly 5,000 defensive innings in his career. And how many of them were played at shortstop or third base? I'll give you a hint -- it's equal to the number of home runs that Jamey Carroll hit last year.

He can't replace Guzman, and he probably doesn't have the arm to fill in at third if Zimmerman were to move over to short. He's simply insurance for Jose Vidro's and Nick Johnson's inevitable injuries.

3) Nationals pinch-hitters stunk on ice last year. (Stats here) Tony Blanco was second on the team in PH ABs. That's pathetic.

Much of that was probably a result of Terrmel Sledge's injury. He would've been available to PH, or would have left an extra outfielder back as top PHer. Much of that also was a fact of Ryan Church's injury. He had several big pinch hits early in the season, including the game-winner against the Marlins that vaulted the Nationals into first place. But after he banged into that wall, he was doomed to wander into the desert for forty days or so, only to regain his form in the final weekend of the season.

4) Here's one that shocked me: Several Nationals batters have been solid PHers for their careers; they just slumped last year. If pinch-hitting is a talent (and I think there might be something to that, isn't their total career a better sample than the 20 or so ABs they had last year?)

Carlos Baerga: .292/ .365/ .405
Marlon Byrd: .321/ .355/ .500
Jamey Carroll: .346/ .414/ .365

They're far from perfect (and I realize that Baerga's not likely to repeat those numbers, since most of those are from when he was young and non-penguin-like.), but they're not as bad as they were last season.

Marlon Anderson, to compare: .308/ .365/ .479
That's excellent. It's hard to argue with that.

Much of that could be sample-size issues. I like Ball-Wonk's approach. He's discovered a valuable hitter already on our team, who had amazing production in 83 ABs, while flying under the radar!

_____

How much is a pinch-hitter worth though? Is $1 million on a team with just a $50 million payroll a bit much for someone who's only going to PH 50-70 times?

Yes, he's good at what he does, but he's also not young. And he's not cheap. And there are some pasable (but probably not as good) alternatives in-house. Since he's not much of a defensive player, what's wrong with paying Brendan Harris the league minimum, and giving him a crack? (He even had one of the team's PH homers!) What's wrong with trying to bring Jamey Carroll back, who's almost certainly to be non-tendered now? He doesn't have Anderson's power, but he gets on base, and can play anywhere on the IF in a pinch, unlike Anderson.

Now $1 million isn't going to kill the team, but given the team's needs, especially on the pitching side, wouldn't that money be better spent trying to bring Hector Carrasco back? Aren't the 60 innings of relief he'd provide more important than the 50 ABs of PHing? I'm not sure, but it seems like the difference between 60 innings of Carrasco compared to 60 innings of Darrel Rasner are greater than 70 ABs of Anderson compared to Jamey Carroll.

The Nationals are like a low-paid office worker. That Starbucks venti latte sure sounds awfully tasty in the morning, but when you're bringing home only $24K a year, can you really afford the $4.50? Is the coffee that much better (and more importantly the caffeine buzz) than the $1 cup from the gas station, or even the free cup of swill from the break room?

Marlon Anderson is the venti latte. If you're one of those fat-cat lobbyists, that latte is pretty damn tasty, and it barely makes a dent in your wallet.

But when you're the Nationals and you go for that venti latte every day, when it comes time to make a major purchase like a car or a house (or an outfielder or starting pitcher), you've gotta scrimp, and you wind up living in Waldorf or driving an (GASP!) American car.

I don't know about you, but I'd prefer to drive my Acura and drink the free swill.

20 Comments:

  • Given the number of close games we played last season, and our absolutely horrid record of pinch-hitting (which you did point out), you better believe this is important. There's no one out there for us to spend all our money on, so this is the way we're going to get better. Who is to say we won't be able to re-sign Hector Carrasco anyway?

    Brendan Harris hasn't proven anything as a Major League PHer. (Yes, I know, that's evil Bowden/Robinson's fault). But the fact that they've made that mistake in the past does not mean they should risk making another one by relying on an unproven PHer in a big role off the bench.

    And speaking of Harris, why would you complain that Anderson can't play third or short? That's what Harris (and Damian Jackson) is for! Had Bowden instead signed someone who can play those positions, I don't think I'd have heard the end of how "Leather Pants is burying Brendan Harris."

    The bottom line is this: we just got a very nice upgrade over Carlos Baerga, one of your favorite needling boys, for just a couple hundred thousand dollars.

    By Blogger WeatherMike, at 11/20/2005 6:56 PM  

  • The latte analogy is spot on! I like Marlon as an upgrade over some of the incumbent bench guys on the team, but we probably could have signed him to a one year deal for less later in free agency.

    I'd rather see a guy like Anderson acquired through a trade, where we're giving up something close to equal what we're taking on. By signing him we're taking on salary and now have to try to dump surplus, unproven "talent."

    By Blogger Brandon Kriner, at 11/20/2005 7:56 PM  

  • To be fair, Anderson's going to be paid more than a couple hundred thousand dollars---it'll be close to a million, and the difference between that and a cheaper option off the bench is probably the difference between retaining Jamey Carroll through arbitration and non-tendering him.

    By Blogger Basil, at 11/21/2005 9:48 AM  

  • I was being fair. I was comparing Anderson's salary to that of the alternative, whether that would be Baerga, Carroll, or another free agent.

    By Blogger WeatherMike, at 11/21/2005 2:35 PM  

  • It's a 600K trade-off then.

    Sadly, that's about 1% of our payroll.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 11/21/2005 2:36 PM  

  • So you're assuming all those guys were going to make the minimum? I've heard otherwise, especially on Carroll.

    Off-topic somewhat is the Mariners' signing of that Japanese catcher. We should go hard after Yorvit Torrealba now. He'd be a great fit.

    By Blogger WeatherMike, at 11/21/2005 2:42 PM  

  • Then I suppose I misunderstood, Mike.

    I'd still prefer Carroll over Anderson, though. While Carroll isn't a lefty hitter, he can play the left side of the infield (which, even with Jackson on hand, is IMHO valuable for the team's roster flexibility---don't forget that Jackson can play the OF), and Carroll doesn't necessarily carry a two-year commitment.

    By Blogger Basil, at 11/21/2005 3:12 PM  

  • I agree that Torrealba is well worth our attention.

    By Blogger Basil, at 11/21/2005 3:12 PM  

  • Short or Harris would certainly make the minimum or close to it: neither one has noteworthy playing experience and any contract tendered to them would be for pretty much the minimum.

    With this team's budget, Anderson is a waste of money no matter how you slice it.

    By Blogger Yuda, at 11/21/2005 3:43 PM  

  • And Jamey Carroll can't hit a lick.

    Harris? Harris hasn't proven anything in the Majors, as I've said earlier. Short? If Chris wants to comment on small sample sizes, then last season's cup of coffee is the epitome on that, not to mention he's coming off a major injury.

    By Blogger WeatherMike, at 11/21/2005 5:02 PM  

  • What, exactly, has Marlon Anderson proven in the majors, other than that he's not any good?

    We *know* what Marlon Anderson gives us: not much. I'd rather take a chance one of the younger, cheaper players gives us more.

    By Blogger Yuda, at 11/21/2005 5:10 PM  

  • Marlon Anderson has proven himself to be one of the Major Leagues' top pinch-hitters. Surely you do not disagree with that?!

    By Blogger WeatherMike, at 11/21/2005 8:58 PM  

  • Marlon Anderson has shown himself to be lucky as a pinch hitter.

    He's been in the majors for part or all of eight seasons. If he'd had just *one* less pinch hit in each of those seasons -- eight less pinch hits over his career -- he'd be a .253 pinch hitter and we wouldn't be having this conversation.

    Further, I do not believe that a specialized pinch hitter is worth a million dollars a year over a two-year guaranteed contract. Such a player should get a minor-league contract and be invited to spring training at most.

    By Blogger Yuda, at 11/22/2005 9:47 AM  

  • But he didn't. And that's the bottom line, I suppose. I think pinch-hitting is a skill and you all don't. Not exactly a popular opinion amongst Internet baseball nerds, but it is what it is.

    And even if it is luck, don't you think this team of all teams could use a little more luck?

    By Blogger WeatherMike, at 11/22/2005 12:34 PM  

  • I think, to a certain extent, pinch hitting is a skill: there are guys who've demonstrated they have trouble coming off the bench, cold, and performing to their established level of production.

    But I don't think players can consistently be *better* in the pinch than when they're starting.

    Remember, just one less hit a year: one bloop that the right fielder can't quite get to. One "ground ball with eyes" past a second baseman with limited range. One generous scoring decision from the official scorer on what should have been an error...

    Sure, this team could use more luck. But luck in the past is not indicative of luck in the future.

    Still, you're missing the main point here: giving a guaranteed contract to a dedicated pinch hitter is not something a team of limited resources can afford to do. It's something a team like the New York Mets can do. Sure, at some point down the line, the Nationals should -- I hope -- be a big-market team like that. But right now, the budget for payroll is $50M, not $90M. And we only have three pitchers.

    By Blogger Yuda, at 11/22/2005 12:56 PM  

  • And even if it is luck, don't you think this team of all teams could use a little more luck?

    I don't know about the rest of Nats Nation, but I could use a season without the highs and lows of "luck" or one-run games or whatever. ;-)

    Speaking of pinch-hitting as a skill, I posed the very question you raise in a post on Sunday night. You are welcome to discuss the topic there, if you'd like.

    [x] This second paragraph was a blog pimp.

    By Blogger Basil, at 11/22/2005 2:25 PM  

  • You don't believe players can become exposed as hitters with too much playing time? That's exactly what happened with Jamey Carroll last season, in my view. I can definitely see how guys can be better off the bench.

    But there WASN'T one less hit every year. Why can't you propose what would happen if he got one more hit every year? I would rather deal with what is than what if.

    As for the rest of what you've said, I think it's off-base that you wouldn't give a guaranteed contract of any level to a pinch-hitter. We're not going to be able to make huge upgrades to our team anyways in this thin free agent pool. The way to get better is to shore up the edges of the roster, and that's exactly what this does. I don't think a few extra hundred thousand dollars to one player will make or break us getting anyone else anyhow.

    By Blogger WeatherMike, at 11/22/2005 6:39 PM  

  • Our payroll budget is $50M. We only have three starting pitchers; four if you count Drese.

    $29,775,000 is already guaranteed to Guzman, Lawrence, Guillen, Hernandez, Vidro, Drese, Anderson and Jackson.

    Of the players whose rights we control and whom I expect back next season (Wilkerson, Johnson, Schneider, Byrd, Majewski, Church, Patterson, Ayala, Cordero, Rauch, Zimmerman), we would owe them almost $9M before any raises in arbitration (which Wilkerson, Johnson, Schneider and Ayala are all pretty much guaranteed to get). Conservatively call this $13M in obligations.

    That gives us about $7 million dollars to fill the last 6 roster spots: of course, if the team doesn't get an owner soon, that money will have to cover in-season injury replacements, too.

    So, yes, I sure would like to have the $609,000 we're needlessly giving to Marlon Anderson to try and get another starting pitcher or two on one-year contracts. And even with that, we'll have to fill out the bullpen with minor leaguers and non-roster invitees: we can't afford the luxury of bringing somebody like T.J. Tucker -- who made $657,000 last season -- back, even though he's a decent pitcher. It's just not in the budget.

    By Blogger Yuda, at 11/22/2005 7:03 PM  

  • Also:

    You don't believe players can become exposed as hitters with too much playing time?

    I don't know how to read this other than "Marlon Anderson got lucky in his pinch hitting appearances and would have been exposed as a bad hitter with mor opportunities."

    A bad hitter is a bad hitter. Coming off the bench doesn't change that fact.

    By Blogger Yuda, at 11/22/2005 7:42 PM  

  • Well you pretty much sold me on my argument then. The difference between T.J. Tucker and a NRI reliever is negligible, at best. Same goes for any hypothetical difference between two SP. As we saw last season, relief pitchers are pretty easy to come by. I'll spend the money on strengthening the bench without regret.

    A good hitter off the bench can be exposed if given too much playing time. That's what I mean.

    By Blogger WeatherMike, at 11/22/2005 9:01 PM  

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