Thursday, September 18, 2014

Down on the Farm: AA Richmond Flying Squirrels 2014 Season Review

AA is generally considered to be the Prospect Level, the level where you find the best prospects in an organization.  It's where the men are separated from the boys, so to speak.  It's kind of like New York:  If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.  Most top prospects who do well in AA are less than a calender year from making The Show

The Richmond Flying Squirrels did have their share of top prospects heading into 2014, but the lion's share of the buzz was for the young pitchers graduating from High A San Jose.  The class was led by Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn and Adalberto Mejia with former college draftee, Ty Blach, also considered a serious prospect.  In the bullpen, Derek Law came in with a huge amount of buzz after putting up astonishing numbers for San Jose.  On the offensive side of the field, the only significant non-holdover was Matt Duffy, and he was not generating much interest except for, ahem, certain obscure corners of the internet.

AA "Rookies":

Matt Duffy(SS)- .332/.398/.444, 20 SB.  Duffy was an obscure late round college draftee, the kind that usually end up as roster filler in the minors.  He hit very well at 2 levels in 2013.  You had to think the most likely scenario is that the big bad Eastern League would expose him for what he really was, an organizational player.  All he did was lead all of AA baseball in BA, snag a midseason callup, and become one of the more valuable bats off the bench down the stretch of heated pennant race.  If that doesn't put you on the map as a prospect, I'm not sure what would.  Matt Duffy!

Devin Harris(OF)- .256/.310/.437, 13 HR.  Harris has been in the organization a long time, but those are respectable numbers for AA and the EL.

Myles Schroder(C/UT)- .254/.305/.367, 5 HR, 11 SB.  Schroder probably increased his value marginally by playing quite a bit of catcher.  Remains fringy as a possible utility prospect.

Ty Blach(LHP)- 8-8, 3.13, 141 IP, 39 BB, 91 K's.  Blach pitched well, probably the best of the pitching prospects, but you have to wonder about those K and BB rates.

Adalberto Mejia(LHP)- 7-9, 4.67, 108 IP, 31 BB, 82 K's.  Not an impressive line, but Mejia finished the season with a 3.22 ERA over his last 10 starts, including QS in his last 4 consecutive starts including 2 postseason starts.  He was also one of the youngest players in the EL.

Clayton Blackburn(RHP)- 5-6, 3.29, 93 IP, 20 BB, 85 K's.  Blackburn missed some time with injury, but pitched very well when fully healthy including a few dominant starts.

Kyle Crick(RHP)- 6-7, 3.79, 90.1 IP, 67 BB, 111 K's.  Crick flashed brilliance but was wildly inconsistent with severe bouts of poor command.  He pitched out of the bullpen in the EL playoffs and you have to wonder if the Giants are thinking that may be where his future lies.  I hope they don't give up on him as a starter just yet.

Derek Law(RHP)- 2-0, 2.57, 28 IP, 14 BB, 29 K's, 13 Saves.  After a breakthrough season for San Jose in 2013, Law had high expectation coming into 2014 with Richmond.  He pitched very well until suffering a torn UCL requiring Tommy John surgery.  Expect him back about midseason next year, like Hunter Strickland this year.


Kelby Tomlinson(2B/SS)- .268/.340/.323, 49 SB.  Were it not for Matt Duffy's astonishing performance, Tomlinson would have had the most interesting line from the Richmond lineup.  I have to day I did not see 49 SB's coming.  Even though he played mostly 2B, he is also an excellent defensive SS who could have a future in MLB as a utility IF.

Angel Villalona(1B)- .227/.290/.381, 10 HR.  Angel V started out strong numbers but went into a deep mid-season slump after missing some time with injury.  He started hitting again right at the end of the season.  Villalona may still have the highest ceiling bat in the organization and the Giants have at least 2 options left, so can afford to be patient.

Jarrett Parker(OF)- .275/.370/.463, 12 HR, 11 SB.  2 seasons in High A and 2 more in AA is a rough way to go, especially for a college draftee.  Parker seemed to make progress and got a brief callup mid-season followed by an assignment to AAA Fresno.  He will probably start 2015 in Sacramento where he will need to rake to get noticed.

Ricky Oropesa(3B/1B)- .241/.315/.330, 5 HR.  This was Ricky's second try in Richmond.  Very rough season to say the least.  Seemed to be the odd man out at the corner IF positions between him,
Angel V and Mario Lisson. Not sure where he goes or what he does from here.

Jack Snodgrass(LHP)- 11-6, 3.56, 131.1 IP, 41 BB's, 86 K's.  Snodgrass probably earned himself a look in AAA next year.  Fringy SP prospect, might be a future lefty specialist.

Austin Fleet(RHP)- 8-1, 2.78, 97 IP, 36 BB, 86 K's.  Fleet earned a callup to Fresno and pitched well there too.  Hopefully he gets gig in Sacramento to start next season.

Kelvin Marte(LHP)- 8-3, 3.83, 87 IP, 23 BB, 55 K's.  Marte also got a callup to Fresno.  He has a low 90's FB and a nice changeup and breaking ball to go with it.  Has a chance to be a back-of-the-rotaton MLB starter depending on his command.

Cody Hall(RHP)- 1-4, 3.14, 51.2 IP, 14 BB, 57 K's, 13 Saves.  Hall was kind of the forgotten man this year with all the excitement generate by Law early and Strickland and Cordier late, but those are very nice numbers.

Venezuela Winter League Signee:

Mario Lisson(3B)- .266/.370/.467, 18 HR, 11 SB.  Lisson was this year's signee from the VWL.  He played well for Richmond and may have bought himself a promo to Sacramento next year.

Late to the Party:

Blake Miller(2B/UT)- .304/.373/.402, 92 AB.  Miller has hit at every level he's played at in his pro career.  He made the transition from High A to AA look easy.  Where are the Giants going to put all these scrappy MI types?

Chris Stratton(RHP)- 1-1, 3.52, 23 IP, 12 BB, 18 K's.  The enigmatic former first round draft pick got a late season callup to Richmond from San Jose.  Those are good numbers but not quite what you hope for from a first rounder.

Hunter Strickland- 1-1, 2.02, 35.2 IP, 21 BB, 48 K's, 11 Saves.  Strickland started the season on the DL but more than made up for it when he came back from Tommy John surgery.  His performance earned him a September callup to the Giants where he has dazzled with a high 90's and occasional triple digit FB.  Should have a chance to make the Giants opening day roster in 2015 if not this year's postseason roster!

Steven Okert(LHP)- 1-0, 2.73, 33 IP, 11 BB, 38 K's, 5 Saves.  Started the year in San Jose.  For those of you worried about what the Giants will do for lefty relievers when Affeldt and Lopez are done, Steven Okert is your anxiety medication.  Expect to see him in Sacramento next year where he will be a bus ride away from AT&T Park.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Game Wrap 9/17/2014: Giants 4 D'Backs 2

Matt Duffy hit a bases-loaded 2-run single in the top of the 9'th inning to break a 2-2 tie and give the Giants a series win over the D'Backs.  Matt Duffy!  Key Lines:

Brandon Crawford- 4 for 4, 2B.  BA= .246  Crawford continued his torrid hot streak that has seen him go 12 for 24 over his last 7 games and .452 for the month of September.  He accounted for 3 of the Giants 4 runs in this one scoring 2 and driving in 1.

Matt Duffy- 1 for 1.  BA= .235.  So, Matt Duffy is hitting .308 over his last 10 games, mostly in a PH/Bench role, which might be the toughest role in all of baseball.  He is 4 for 10 as a PH.  Game winner today!  Matt Duffy!

Madison Bumgarner- 6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K's.  ERA= 2.91.  Bummy maybe did not have his best stuff today, but hung tough and kept the Giants in the game.

Santiago Casilla- 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K's, Save(17).  ERA= 1.82.  Casilla seems to have tightened his grip on the closer role coming down the stretch.

The Dodgers were crushed by the Rockies today 16-2, thank you very much.  The Giants Win gets them to 2 games behind the NL West leaders.  The Pirates took it to the BoSox 9-1 so the Giants lead for the home field advantage in the Wild Card Play-in game remains at 2.5 games.  The Brewers lost so the Giants lead over them for the second Wild Card slot grows to 4 games with 10 to play.  The Braves continue their free-fall and are 8 games off the Giants Wild Card pace.

The Giants now have a day off before taking on the Padres in Petco Park for a 3 game weekend series. Tim Hudson tries to right his ship in game 1 facing Odrisamer Despaigne.  Gotta love that name!  The Dodgers, meanwhile, travel to Chicago to face a Cubs team looking to be spoilers.  Can we cue up Tommy Lasorda for a postgame interview?  LOL!

MLBTR is reporting from multiple sources that the Giants are not willing to go more than 3 years for Pablo Sandoval, are planning to make a QO and expect him to go on the market where the BoSox and Marlins are interested.

Oh, and I have one more thing to say.  Matt Duffy!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Game Wrap 9/16/2014: Giants 2 D'Backs 1

The BABIP gods were not smiling at the Giants tonight as they hit about 10 line drives for outs, but they managed to overcome bad luck thanks to a terrific, gutsy pitching performance by Jake Peavy.  Key Lines:

Buster Posey- 2 for 4, HR(21).  BA= .312.  Buster inched closer to the batting title now trailing Josh Harrison by .005 and Justin Morneau by .004.

Brandon Crawford- 2 for 3, 2B, SF.  BA= .240.  Crawford had a terrific night driving in the winning run with the SF and then ranging from a left side shift on Mark Trumbo to grab a bouncer up the middle then make a nifty throw to beat Trumbo by a hair for out #1 in the 9'th.  That's gotta be worth at least 0.2 WAR points right there!

Jake Peavy- 7.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K's.  ERA= 3.82.  Peavy is 6-1 with a 1.13 ERA over his last 6 starts and what a pickup he's been!  Best trade of the season so far!

Juan Perez- 0 for 4.  BA= .169.  When Bochy was asked about possibly playing Gary Brown in CF instead of Perez he responded by saying Perez has the experience then adding this:  "It's hard to try to get lightning in a bottle with 12 games left."  Well, there you go!  There is a guy in the opposing dugout who might have something to say about that(Cody Ross).  Of course, Ross was not a rookie in 2010 either.

The Win brought the Giants back to 3 games behind the NL West leading Dodgers who lost to the Rockies 10-4 in Colorado.  The Pirates and BrewCrew both won so the Giants lead for the home field advantage in The Wild Card play-in game remains at 2.5 over the Pirates and the lead for the second Wild Card spot remains at 4 games over the Brewers.

Madison Bumgarner tries to close out a series win tomorrow afternoon facing LHP Andrew Chafin.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Game Wrap 9/15/2014: D'Backs 6 Giants 2

Ryan Vogelsong served up a grand slam HR to Mark Trumbo in the 3'rd inning.  That was the difference in this ballgame.  Key Lines:

Joe Panik- 2 for 5, 2B.  BA= .308.  2-Hit Joe.

Pablo Sandoval- 2 for 4, 2B.  BA= .284.  The single was a rocket off the RF fence that missed being a HR by about a foot.  Pabs also got hung up at 2B on a sharp single down the LF line by Arias and could only get to 3B.  Baggs thought Pabs might have been not moving so well on the bases, but both of those situations were very understandable.

Joaquin Arias- 3 for 3.  BA= .261.  Arias remains one of the hottest hitters on the team.

Juan Perez- 0 for 5.  BA= .177.  Perez replaced Pagan in CF and in the leadoff spot because Pagan's back was barking.  Perez set the tone of the game early when he flied out to RF on the first pitch of the game from Wade Miley.  I have no idea if Gary Brown would have been any better, but do we really need to see more of Juan Perez.  I mean, lightning in a bottle and all that.  Why not give Gary Brown a shot in a situation like that?

Ryan Vogelsong- 5.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 5 K's.  ERA= 3.98.  Vogey appeared to be cruising in the bottom of the 3'rd inning and it started innocently enough with a couple of BABIP singles.  A Wild Pitch and a walk loaded the bases with 2 outs.  Vogey backed Trumbo up a tad with a pitch in the hands, then tried to hit the outside corner.  He caught too much of the plate and Trumbo rode it on out to right-center and the ballgame was effectively over right there.  You just knew it too.

Erik Cordier- 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K.  ERA= 0.00.  Hey!  I got to see Cordier hit 100 MPH on TV! Seems like the Giants need to find a way to get both Cordier and Strickland onto the team next year.  I mean, there are only so many triple digit FB's in an arm and you need to take advantage of them while you can!

The loss dropped the Giants 4 games off the pace of the NL West leading Dodgers and cut their lead over the Pirates to 2.5 games in the race for home-field advantage in the Wild Card game.  Their lead over the Brewers for the second Wild Card slot is 4 games.

Jake Peavy tries to put a stop to the losing streak tomorrow facing Josh "Tomahawk Boy" Collmenter.

Down on the Farm: 2014 Fresno Grizzlies Season Review

From a Won-Lost standpoint, the Fresno Grizzlies 2014 season was a miserable failure as they finished with losing 68-76 record in last place in the PCL's Pacific Southern Division, 13 games behind the first place Reno Aces(D'Backs).  As I am sure we all know, the purpose of mission of minor league teams is not to win minor league championships, although it is nice when it happens, but rather to produce players who will eventually win championships for the affiliated MLB team.

In theory, AAA is the level where prospects polish up their game to get them ready for the difficult transition to the major leagues.  Over the past couple of decades, the trend is for the best prospects to spend very little time at the AAA level and sometimes skip it altogether.  Think of the Giants core of homegrown stars.  Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford all spent little or no time in Fresno before making their MLB debut.  AAA is a level where teams like to use players with MLB experience or multiple years of AAA experience as an extended bench.  The Giants have used it in some cases as a place to send young MLB players for short stints to work on specific weaknesses exposed at the MLB level.

For those of you who have longed to see "real prospects" play for Fresno, this year was a pleasant exception with several players climbing the ladder in an orderly fashion, moving up from AA to spend all or most of their season in Fresno.  In addition, the team featured several second year AAA players who could still reasonably considered "real prospects."  Of course, the Grizzlies also had their share of AAAA players, retreads and reclamation projects and even they generated some interest!  Let's break it down:

AAA "Rookies":

Joe Panik(2B)- .321/.382/.447.  A former first round draft pick, Panik saw his stock slip a bit in AA Richmond last year as he moved off SS to the less valuable 2B position and struggled with an early hamstring injury and a harsh hitting environment.  As we all know, Panik bounced back with a solid AAA campaign and got the mid-season callup to stabilize 2B for the Giants and has been the catalyst for the Giants stretch run to the playoffs.

Andrew Susac(Catcher)- .268/.379/.451, 10 HR.  Susac missed some time early in the season with an injury, but continued to show strong on-base skills and power.  When Hector Sanchez went down with a concussion, Susac got the call and provided valuable production as a backup catcher for the Giants down the stretch.

Adam Duvall(3B/1B)- .298/.360/.599, 27 HR.  Duvall mashed the ball for Fresno but struggled in several short stints at the MLB level.  Defensively, he is probably limited to 1B which makes it harder to get established in the majors.

Edwin Escobar(LHP)- 3-8, 5.11, 111 IP, 37 BB, 96 K's.  Escobar was considered to be the most advanced of the wave of young Giants pitching prospects and a mid-season callup did not seem unrealistic at all.  Instead, he had a disappointing inaugural AAA season and was eventually traded to the Red Sox in the Jake Peavy deal.  He has since pitched impressively for the Red Sox AAA affiliate in the International League, at least in the IL playoffs.  A couple of lessons here:  1.  Prospects can bring value to the MLB club even if they get traded out of the organization.  If the Giants make the playoffs, especially if they advance past the Wild Card game, Jake Peavy will be a big reason for that success.  2.  The PCL is crazy tough on pitchers and you can't necessarily rely on numbers to judge their readiness or the quality of their stuff.

The Repeaters:

Gary Brown(CF)- .271/.329/.394, 10 HR, 36 SB, 20 CS.  Former first round draft pick Brown has become an enigma who at times flashes the tools and skills that made him look like the Giants CF of the future a few years ago, but at other times going into extended slumps, both at the plate and the basepaths and generally appearing to stall out in his development.  He finally got a September callup and has made a few brief appearances as a defensive replacement in the OF.  At this point, his future with the organization appears to be uncertain at best.

Chris Dominguez(OF/3B/1B/SS)- .274/.307/.460, 21 HR, 21 SB.  At age 27, Chris Dominguez is no spring chicken as a prospect, but has always had intriguing plus-plus power and surprising athleticism for a guy his size.  He put up the first 20-20 season in eons for Fresno and played multiple positions including fairly long stretches at SS!  He does many things well, but does he do any one thing well enough?  Huge K rates continue to be a problem.  Another September callup who has made a couple of PH appearances.

Mike Kickham(LHP)- 8-8, 4.43, 148.1 IP, 64 BB, 131 K.  Last year Kickham looked like an up-and-comer with good stuff who would benefit greatly from a season of polishing in Fresno.  Unfortunately, his command issues did not seem to improve and even got worse as the season progressed.  Another September callup.  He got torched in Saturday's 17-0 debacle.  At this point, his career appears to be rolling back downhill.

Chris Heston(RHP)- 12-9, 3.38, 173 IP, 51 BB, 125 K's.  Heston has always put up good numbers with marginal scouting reports.  Those are pretty good numbers for the PCL.  Pitched 1 inning of shutout ball in his September callup so far.  Probably a AAAA pitcher, but may get a few cups of coffee.  #5 starter on a non-contending team is his absolute ceiling.

Austin Fleet(RHP)- 4-2, 3.95, 43.1 IP, 13 BB, 33 K.  Fleet has bounced around the minors playing wherever he is needed.  That is usually not a good sign for a future MLB career.  He pitched well enough for Fresno this year that he might get a full time starting gig there next year with a chance for an emergency start or two.  Could eventually be a long man out of the bullpen too.

Brett Bochy(RHP)- 4-4, 3.83, 54 IP, 27 BB, 47 K's.  Son of the Giants skipper, Boch Jr. does not have overwhelming stuff and probably has a ceiling as a long man out of a bullpen.  Got caught up in the 17-0 debacle in his MLB debut.

Heath Hembree(RHP)- 1-3, 3.89, 39.1 IP, 13 BB, 46 K's, 18 Saves.  Another guy who looked like he just needed a bit of polish.  Those are not bad numbers for the PCL, but he was inconsistent and reportedly failed to develop a credible secondary pitch.  Got shipped to the BoSox in the Peavy trade.  The September performances of Strickland and Cordier revealed why the Giants thought Hembree was expendable.  I expect Hembree to become a good MLB reliever, although probably not a closer.

Reclamation Projects:

Erik Cordier(RHP)- 4-3, 3.59, 52.2 IP, 31 BB, 68 K's.  Hard throwing reliever, as in triple digits!  Cordier is a TJ survivor who was added to the Pirates 40 man roster in November, 2013 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.  They then tried to sneak him through waivers in the spring and the Giants grabbed him.  Has impressed in 3 MLB appearances this September hitting triple digits with some regularity.  He would appear to have a definite future in the bullpen.  Nice scouting job by the Giants!

Mark Minicozzi(OF/1B)- .298/.400/.420, 12 HR.  A former Giants draftee and farmhand, Minicozzi spent some time out of baseball and some time in indy ball.  The Giant brought him back with a spring training invite and he darn near made the team!  Probably a minor league lifer at this point,  but could catch on as a utility player/PH with somebody.

Travis Ishikawa(1B)- .271/.329/.394, 11 HR.  Ishikawa was waived by the Brewers early in the season and refused a minor league assignment because he was blocked from playing regularly even with their AAA team.  He saw the Giants had room at 1B in Fresno so signed with them.  Got a callup to replace Brandon Belt with the concussion and has been an important contributor to the Giants stretch run.

Shuttle Riders:

Juan Perez(OF)- .316/.372/.508.  Perez can definitely play at the AAA level.  Very tough to break in as a bench player in the majors.

George Kontos- 3-3, 2.08, 47.2 IP, 11 BB, 58 K's.  Kontos has made some valuable appearances for the Giants in multiple short stints.  Will he ever stick?


Dan Runzler(LHP)- 1-5, 3.30, 46.1 IP, 36 BB, 53 K's.  Pretty good season, but still with bouts of wildness.  Released so he could pursue an opportunity in Korea.

Jose De Paula(LHP)- 4-3, 4.21, 51.1 IP, 16 BB, 41 K's.  Waiver wire pickup in the offseason.  Those are not terrible numbers.  Not sure why he was released.  Maybe got caught up in a 40 man roster numbers game?

Brett Krill(OF)- .189/.246/.226.  My favorite sleeper prospect finally hit the wall and the end of the road.

Tyler Colvin(OF)- .227/.278/.344.  Colvin made a splash early with the Giants but the just tanked.  Did not do any better in Fresno and was eventually released.  Baseball future is very cloudy for this former first round draft pick by the Cubs.

Dan Uggla(2B)- .286/.444/.429 in 7 AB's.  Uggla played 2 games for Fresno before being rushed into the breach at 2B for the Giants.  We all know how THAT turned out.  Shoulda just called up Panik.

David Huff(LHP)- 0-0, 0.00, 3 IP, 0 BB, 1 K.  Started out as a bullpen lefty/spot starter for the Giants.  Got hurt, then lost in the 40 man roster shuffle.

Javier Herrera(DH)- .273/.314/.394, 33 AB.   Put up promising numbers last year for Richmond, but apparently has too many recurring, chronic injuries to expect any kind of future MLB career.

Tony Abreu and Darren Ford also had solid seasons but it is unclear where they fit in the future.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Game Wrap 9/14/2014: Dodgers 4 Giants 2

The galling part of this loss is the Giants actually had a chance to win this game.  Yes, a game against Clayton Kershaw with their own #5 pitcher on the mound!  In the end, I wonder if the Giants felt like they had to do something extraordinary to beat Kershaw and ended up trying to do to much and more than they had to?  Key Lines"

Andrew Susac- 2 for 4, 2B.  BA= .286.  Two knocks with a double off the best pitcher in baseball?  Very nice for the rook!

Joaquin Arias- 2 for 4.  BA= .249.  Arias remains one of the hottest hitters on the team and probably in baseball.

Matt Duffy- 1 for 1.  BA= .224.  Duffy is now 3 for 8 as a PH and drove in another run with this one.  Matt Duffy!

Yusmeiro Petit-  7 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 8 K's.  ERA= 3.64.  Petit pitched a strong game.  The key play of the game came in the second inning.  With Hanley Ramirez at 1B and 1 out, Juan Uribe singled past Joe Panik into short right-CF.  Hunter Pence threw to 3B to try to get the lead runner and the throw was offline, although Pablo Sandoval kind of just waived at it as it went by.  Ramirez then headed for home and scored on another throwing error by Petit who was backing up the play.  Later, after driving in a run with a single, Buster Posey was thrown out at 2B trying to stretch it into a double.  That's what I mean by trying to do too much.  Giants might have still lost the game 3-2, but with runners at first and third and no runs in instead of a runner at 3B and 1 run in, the outcome of the second inning might have been different.  As for Posey's out, he might not have scored anyway, probably would not have, but at least Kershaw would have had to throw some more pitches, which was an issue in this game.

Hunter Strickland- 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K.  ERA= 0.00.  Another successful inning for the fireballer who hit 99 MPH in this one.  Bochy ratcheted up the pressure in this one.  It was not a Save or Hold situation, but the Giants were still very much in the game.  Gotta think Strickland is going to have a chance to win a roster spot next spring and might even have a chance to be on the postseason roster this year in case of an injury(wink, wink).  I mean, what Giants fan does not remember K-Rod?

The Loss left the Giants trailing the NL West leading Dodgers by 3 games with 13 to play.  The Giants are 3 up on the Pirates for the home-field advantage in the Wild-Card play-in game and they lead the Brewers by 4.5 games for the second WC spot.

The Giants immediately fly to Arizona to start a 3 game series against the D'Backs with Ryan Vogelsong facing Wade Miley in game one tomorrow evening.

Thoughts on Player Value Part III

In Part I of this series, we discussed some basic types of baseball data and statistics.  In Part II, we looked at defensive metric systems, specifically UZR and how it is derived.  Bill James, a pioneer in statistical analysis of baseball, or saber metrics, wanted a way to translate player performance into value for his team.  Since the goal of all this is to win games, he wanted to quantify how much each component of what we can measure about a player's performance contributes to his team winning.   He came  up with a number he called Win Shares.

To put it in simple terms, when a player crosses home plate and scores a run, some of that was produced by that player getting on base in the first place and some was produced by the player who got the hit to drive him in.  Even if the player hit a HR, which on the surface would appear to be 100% the work of that player, what about the player who might have gotten a hit earlier in the game who neither scored a run nor drove one in, but his hit allowed the guy who hit the HR that one extra AB late in the game?

As time went on, statisticians were able to tease out averages of how many runs a walk, single, double, triple, HR, SB would produce and how many potential runs would not score as a result of a strikeout or CS.  Since different ballparks make it easier or harder to produce runs, they came up with adjustments for Park Effects.  These parameters were then all fed into a very long equation and a single number was produced that has become known as Wins Above Replacement or WAR.  Replacement is defined as the number of wins a team made up of "replacement players" or players brought up from AAA in an emergency would theoretically win, based on historical numbers.

When you look at lists of players ranked by WAR, you find names near the top that you do not find in more lists ranked by more traditional stats.  Since WAR is a single number that theoretically tells you the global value of a player, the number has become a point of intense debate when end-of-season discussions about who should be named MVP come up.  If WAR is, in fact, an accurate measure of global player value, then it should be simple to identify the MVP.  It's the guy with the highest WAR!

There's the rub.  Just how accurate is WAR for a given player?  The derivation of the number contains so many data points, so much subjective judgement(particularly on the defensive side) and so many adjustments for things like Park Factors, the potential for a harmonic convergence of error to produce an erroneous outlier would appear to be relatively large.  The WAR apologists can point to cumulative WAR scores that closely match numbers of team wins as a validation of the statistic.  WAR critics point to surprising names at the top of WAR rankings as reasons to question whether it is always accurate for individual players.

One such name that comes up over and over is Ben Zobrist who by WAR was the second most valuable player in all of baseball from 2009-2012, trailing only Miguel Cabrera and by just a small margin.  Zobrist is a good player who does a lot of things well, but who does not do any one thing great.  Is he really almost as valuable as Miguel Cabrera who was crazy good during those years?
Since WAR is the only way to objectively measure that, the argument quickly becomes circular.  Neil Weinberg of Fangraphs wrote a recent piece in the Hardball Times section arguing that the reason why Zobrist is so valuable is because of his position versatility, except that WAR theoretically levels the playing field for different positions.

Right now, Alex Gordon is tied for 3'rd place in MLB WAR at 6.0 despite a pedestrian OPS of .792 and playing LF to boot.  Is Alex Gordon really the 3'rd most valuable position player in all of baseball? You really have to wonder, especially when you see that his defensive number is almost 4 times as high as his average for the past 3 seasons and higher than his past 3 seasons combined!

In 2012, Martin Prado, a versatile player similar to Ben Zobrist, put up a WAR of 5.5 for the Atlanta Braves, fueled in part by a similar defensive outlier.  This may have contributed to Dave Cameron's assessment of the trade for Justin Upton as being a "win-win."  As in the Prado-Upton trade, I personally do not believe that a straight up trade of Miguel Cabrera for Ben Zobrist in 2009 would have been a "win-win", and the team receiving Zobrist would not be the one with the win!

So, should WAR be the determiner of MVP?  My answer is it should definitely be a strong contributing factor in the decisionmaking process, but you cannot blindly give the award to the guy with the top WAR number.  You need to be aware of the limitations of the statistic and the potential for it to deliver outlier numbers.