Advanced metrics should sue for slander

Jerry Crasknick’s chat on ESPN.com today featured an increasingly common meme (sorry, I hate that word too) concerning Fan Uggla:

According to advanced metrics Dan Uggla has been an above average offensive 2B since he has been with the Braves. He is overpaid, but he still needs to start every day.

Crasnick responded appropriately:

CJ, Feel free to cite advanced metrics, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch Dan Uggla bat .180 while trying to hit a home run in every plate appearance.

At least CJ conceded Fan was overpaid. Last December, the folks at Capitol Avenue Club wrote that “Uggla has indeed outperformed what he has been paid the first two seasons.”

And don’t give me this, “he draws a lot of walks” nonsense. Fan’s OBP since he joined the Braves is a below-average .324.

 

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18 Comments on Advanced metrics should sue for slander

  1. Actually, MLB average OBP from 2011-present is about .320. So Uggla’s OBP of .324 in that span is not below average.

  2. It’s below average for $15 million a year.

  3. rankin' rob // May 21, 2013 at 10:36 am //

    Blind hog found another acorn last night. Uggla is an average player at best, paid like a superstar.

  4. roadrunner48 // May 21, 2013 at 12:08 pm //

    He actually hit a HR that meant something. They almost always come when the team is already 5 runs ahead and piling onto a struggling pitcher.

  5. Uggla is the Cookie Monster. He can hit a ‘cookie’ in his sweet spot swing and that’s about it.
    The sad thing about Uggla’s contract is they gave him the big money and the years in the offseason before he even played for the Braves. If they would have waited for him to finish his first year, he would be stinking it up on another team. The Braves are not the type of organization that can afford to give the big bucks to non-producers (Uggla/B.J.). Also, Uggla looks better in comparison to other second basemen since that position is weaker offensively. If he is so valuable, ask yourself, do you want to see him up in a crucial situation?
    He has only two doubles so far. One more than Tim Hudson.

  6. Sharon Egan // May 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm //

    If you’re Fredi, what is the appropriate time to sit Uggla? He gave him a two-or-three-game sitdown last season or the one before, then quickly backed down when Dan got pissed and pushed his veteran’s privileges. Clearly, that was not message-sending bench time. A week? Maybe start Pena every third game, semi-permanently? Something different and semi-bold must be tried, it seems to me, because the Braves are in “repeating the same negative behavior and expecting different results is madness” territory.

  7. Except Uggla doesn’t make $15MM a year. He made $9MM in 2011 and $13MM in 2012, and is due $13MM/year for the rest of the contract. And according to fWAR, he was worth $24.5MM in 2011 and 2012. Seems like what the Braves are paying Uggla is slightly under market value for a player of his ability. Of course, this probably won’t hold up due to his continued expected decline, but it’s just not correct to say he hasn’t been worth what the Braves are paying him so far.

  8. fWAR has never watched Uggla botch a double play or pop up with the bases loaded. The guy does nothing well.

  9. Actually it does. WAR takes into account all of a player’s offensive, defensive and baserunning contributions. While he is frustrating to watch most of the time, the fact is that there are still a few things he does well – draw walks and hit for power – that add to his value. And with the addition of the Uptons (BJ’s slow start notwithstanding) and Gattis in a part-time role, Uggla is no longer the only right handed power bat that the Braves have to rely on. He’s also second on the team in runs scored, which further speaks to his ability to get on base despite having a batting average that hovers around .200.

  10. And one more thing: Uggla’s current infield fly rate is 9.3%. This is below league average (9.5%), below his career average (9.8%), and significantly below his first two seasons in Atlanta (11.9% and 16.9%). While it sucks to waste key opportunities with pop outs, these instances tend to stick in one’s mind due to the sheer frustration they cause and end up skewing the perception of a player.

  11. roadrunner48 // May 23, 2013 at 10:23 am //

    I disagree, Larry. rWAR and fWAR are intriguing measurements, but they’re flawed. Besides not recognizing clutch performance as charlesad points out — and clutch does exist — WAR doesn’t account for consistency. Consider this: Player A is Rogers Hornsby for 30 games and is beyond useless for the remainder of the season; Player B puts up the same season totals but spreads production evenly. You take Player B any day of the week. WAR can’t figure that out.

  12. That’s an interesting point regarding WAR, and I agree (as most will) that the model is not perfect. However, it does measure all players against the same criteria based on what they ACTUALLY do, as opposed to what they are perceived to have done. As you can tell from my previous comments, my main goal is to get people to focus on the facts – i.e. Uggla’s ACTUAL OBP, salary, IFFB%, etc. – and not what the frustrated fans’ perception of those statistics are.

    Clutch is a fun one, too. It’s not arguable that there are points in the game that are higher leverage, and that succeeding in those situations is better (and yes, WAR measures players in a vacuum, not taking leverage into account). But the real debate is over whether a clutch skill exists. And so far, all evidence that I’m aware of points to no. Put another way, is it reasonable to believe that a career .240 hitter can flip a switch in a late and close situation and actively raise his game? I say probably not.

    Another aspect is how you measure clutch. If a career .300 hitter also hits around .300 in high leverage situations, you might say he’s clutch, but his performance isn’t elevated. If that same hitter bats .280 in high leverage situations, you might also say he’s clutch, when in reality, his performance slightly drops off from his career norm in those spots. And, as with most other things, sample size is an issue. There simply aren’t enough of these opportunities to conclusively say whether a player’s success or lack there of in high leverage situations is anything more than random variance.

  13. Larry, I appreciate your command of the numbers and your measured, respectful tone. You are not a condescending jerk about this. Thanks. However, I think the larger point is that for most of us, our enjoyment in watching baseball and cheering for the Braves, specifically, encompasses more than the cold, hard data. For example, I love watching Simmons play shortstop. As it happens, his advanced defensive numbers are terrific, and he is a virtuoso at the position. He is always smooth and in control. Obviously, his ability translates into good numbers, but it’s more than that. He’s just flat-out fun to watch, especially for someone who played shortstop as a kid and has always enjoyed watching shortstops more than any other player on the field. I used to love watching Furcal field a chopper behind the mound and gun the ball to first. I love watching Simmons field the ball and whip it to second, or first, seemingly in a single, fluid motion. I also love watching Andrelton field a grounder in the hole, plant his foot and fire a seed to first. It is truly poetry in motion to a baseball fan. As for Uggla, my feelings are just the opposite. Yes, he draws walks. Yes, he hits the occasional home run. But he’s hugely frustrating. He’s not fun. He’s maddening to watch day to day. As a Brave, he is hitting .230 with runners in scoring position, including .074 this season. That’s not the end-all of stats, obviously, and the numbers your cite are interesting, to be sure. But try as you might, arguing that Uggla has been a bargain for a team with the Braves budgetary constraints is just a tough sell. Surely, you understand that.

    Thanks a lot for reading and commenting. Civil, informed exchanges are always good fun. And I’m surprised to learn that Uggla’s popping up less. I suspect he is striking out more often so far this season than the last two, though. Sorry to ramble. Keep reading and commenting!

  14. I can definitely appreciate that sentiment, and I’ll say that watching the game being played by professionals is also the primary source for my enjoyment. I’m an undeniable homer, I yell at the TV, I yell from the stands. For the three hours that the game is on, it’s all about the game.

    I’ve been a die hard Braves fan since I was old enough to comprehend the sport. To me, though, it’s incomplete without the numbers. They flash on the screen every time a guy comes to bat or every time a new pitcher comes in. And, unlike other sports where most stats evaluate the team’s performance, baseball stats are uniquely tied to the individual. In my younger days, I could list off all the starters’ averages, homers and RBIs and all the pitchers’ wins, losses and ERAs. Now, just because I’m more in tune with a batter’s wOBA or BABIP or wRC+, or a pitcher’s K/BB or FIP, it doesn’t mean that my passion for the sport or for the Braves is any less.

    In my ongoing quest (such a lame word choice, but whatever) to learn more about the game and how to evaluate players, I’ve come to appreciate the more advanced metrics over the traditional stats. Through a little bit of my own research, but mostly through reading about the research of people way smarter than me, I believe that these metrics provide a more accurate evaluation of a player and his contribution to his team’s success. I don’t expect everyone to agree with it, and that’s fine.

    What frustrates me mostly, going back to my original comment, is just the distortion of facts due to emotion overshadowing objectivity. I am totally cool with anyone’s evaluation of Dan Uggla, but not at the expense of the facts. Regardless of his salary or our expectations of what he should be, his on-base percentage is above league average. He has an OBP, there is a league average OBP, and his OBP is higher than that average. It’s simple. Anyway, thanks for indulging me, and I hope that the stereotype that “saber” guys don’t actually enjoy or watch the game goes away.

    PS – Uggla’s striking out at a much higher rate this year than he ever has before.

  15. roadrunner48 // May 23, 2013 at 2:52 pm //

    I don’t regard myself as being over emotional in assessing Uggla. I appreciate that he got on base last year. I also appreciated last year that his walk rate was a troubling sign of a veteran player dealing with slowing reflexes.

    I like WAR. It’s a good measurement of overall value. But it overvalues certain players and Uggla is an excellent example: the things he’s especially bad at aren’t part of the calculation. In any case, as a Brave he has been in the top three in salary among MLB second basement while ranking 11th, 7th, and now 17th in terms of WAR rankings. If you think that’s a good value, I have some condos I’m building up here in Boston that I would be happy to sell to you.

  16. I’m not sure I follow how walk rate is a “troubling sign of a veteran player dealing with slowing reflexes.” Especially for a guy who has put up a consistently high walk rate throughout his career.

    Also, WAR includes everything that goes into being a baseball player: hitting, fielding and running the bases. The things that Uggla is especially bad at – hitting for average and playing defense – are both included. But the things that he’s especially good at – hitting for power, getting on base, running the bases (most seasons) – are also included. He also got a boost in WAR last year, both from Fangraphs and B-Ref, because both UZR and Total Zone rated his defense positively. Of course, defensive metrics aren’t perfect yet, and it takes about three seasons worth of data for them to be meaningful, but nonetheless, in 2012 his defense positively affected his WAR. I wouldn’t blame you or anyone for disregarding that added value.

    As far as his salary goes, to reference the previous poster, yes it is a tough sell to say he’s worth $13 million a year. And as time goes by, he becomes less and less so. My statement is simply based on looking at the free agent market objectively. On the open market, teams pay an average of about $4.5MM per win. So, Uggla’s 3.3 fWAR last year made him worth approximately $15MM on the open market, or $2MM more than the Braves paid him. Again, I’m not advocating giving $13MM to a guy who bats .200, plays terrible defense and has already entered his decline years. Even the most stats-oriented people HATED the extension at the time it was done. I’m just pointing out that, based on what teams pay for wins on the open market, Uggla has been slightly cheaper than the going rate.

  17. roadrunner48 // May 23, 2013 at 4:59 pm //

    Larry, in terms of salary, using the open market as the gauge is not the way to go. There are other ways to fill a roster spot other than through the free agent market. Therefore, the true objective approach is to look at the salaries of all starting MLB 2nd basemen and see where your guy fits in. And when you do that, you find what the eyes of many mature, levelheaded, rational, intelligent, and knowledgeable followers of the game have been seeing all along: the man is overpaid. It has been a bad deal up to this point.

    WAR doesn’t include everything that goes into being a baseball player. Does it take into account that in the field, he doesn’t think on his feet quickly and gets easily flustered? Or that these days, he tends to hit when everyone else does? Or that he’s streaky? That he can’t move runners over? I’m glad that you see the weakness of defensive metrics. They’re far from perfect.

    I recall Bill James writing a short piece on walk rates. He wrote that players with good discipline will often see their walks go up when their bats slow down. It’s a brief period. They get more tentative and don’t swing as much. They walk more. Then the league figures out that they can be challenged. Meanwhile, the reflexes aren’t getting quicker. And then they’re done. Jimmy Wynn and Jeff Burroughs are good examples. This is happening to Uggla.

  18. Again, I agree that Uggla’s contract is bad. But he was signed to an extension by the Braves, so I still believe that evaluating it against the value of a win on the open market is relevant.

    WAR doesn’t take those things into account directly, but it does take into account UZR, which is comprised of range and error components. I think you’d agree that someone who doesn’t think quickly on his feet or gets easily flustered would show poor range and commit more errors. So, yeah, his poor defense is reflected by WAR.

    Hitting when everyone else does: To me, this is akin to the “clutch skill.” If it were possible to flip some kind of “be better” switch whenever the situation called for it, why wouldn’t all players do it all the time?

    Being streaky: The baseball season is a long series of peaks and valleys for every player and every team. And other than the 2011 hitting streak, Uggla’s been a pretty consistent .200 hitter.

    Moving runners over: In situations with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 out, Uggla has driven in the runner in 50% of his opportunities. League average is 50%. In situations with a runner on 2nd and 0 out, Uggla has advanced the runner 50% of the time. League average is 56%. Hardly underachieving in those areas.

    That’s interesting about players walking more later in their careers. Not sure if it applies in Uggla’s case. He has sustained a pretty high walk rate throughout his career, and his swing rate has been fairly constant as well, hovering around league average.

    I promise I’m not trying to convince you that it’s a good contract or that he’s been good by any stretch of the imagination. As I’ve said before, it’s incredibly frustrating to watch him hit .200 and butcher 2nd base. I’m just saying that he does have some value, and that not all of the most common complaints about him are necessarily accurate.

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