Miguel Cabrera in the bWAR era

miguel cabrera 2003

I have been monitoring the effects of Baseball Prospectus’ recent modifications to its wins-above-replacement metric, WARP, on Miguel Cabrera’s career valuation numbers, and, on the whole, the results for Cabrera have been positive.

On Monday, former Baseball Prospectus editor in chief Ben Lindbergh discussed the ways in which WAR metrics always are in some state of flux as they incorporate newly available information and adapt to significant changes in game strategy and play:

In a sense, it’s unsettling that WAR is always in motion. Batting average may not be an accurate indicator of overall (or even offensive) value, but barring an overturned ruling by an official scorer or an unearthed error in archaic records, it always stays the same. Ted Williams will always have hit .406 in 1941, but his FanGraphs WAR for that season was 11.9 in 2011, and today it’s 11.0. That’s one reason why WAR values may never achieve the emotional resonance of evocative stats such as .406, 56, or 755, or even milestones like 3,000 hits or 500 homers.

WAR reminds us that objective truth tends to be slippery. And the metric is likely to get more unstable before it someday settles down. None of the big three versions of WAR(P) currently incorporates Statcast data. Thus far, MLBAM has drawn on that data to quantify aspects of player production without generating one unified number, but Tango describes it as “inevitable” that “eventually they will get rolled into one Statcast WAR metric.” He acknowledges that WAR’s amorphousness may make some fans more hesitant to trust it. Even so, he says, “Our focus should be on representing the truth as best we can estimate it. And it’s the truth that will attract the people.”

Baseball-Reference founder Sean Forman has responded to criticism of WAR’s mutability—not to mention its multiple implementations—by comparing it to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), another complex statistic that also changes retroactively and comes in more than one form. WAR works the way all science does: Discoveries are scrutinized, assumptions are examined, errors are rooted out, and breakthrough by breakthrough, we learn.

The focus of Lindbergh’s article was on the ways in which teams are straying from the traditional sequencing of starting and relief pitchers– frequently referred to as “the opener” strategy– are affecting WAR calculations, particularly Baseball-References bWAR.

An obstacle I encountered in analyzing changes in Cabrera’s WARP is that BP doesn’t keep a public record of statistical changes. By contrast, as Lindbergh helpfully noted, B-R does keep a public bWAR index, which effectively permits the tracking of changes to individual players’ seasonal bWAR totals on a daily basis since March 29, 2013.

In light of my prior documentation of the recent set of changes to Cabrera’s career seasonal WARP totals, I decided to take a quick and very rough look at how Cabrera’s seasonal bWAR totals had changed over the last six years. What I found was that, at least through 2012 (covering the first ten years of his career, which was all that was included in the March 29, 2013 data set), the difference was negligible. Some years’ bWAR numbers had increased a bit, some had decreased a bit, and some didn’t change; in total, the aggregate difference was -0.13 bWAR over those ten seasons. Doing a similar thing for the next six seasons by using the bWAR value from the first available date on the calendar year immediately following the completed season yielded a similar mix of results, with an aggregate difference of +0.38 bWAR. Combined, the total change is an increase of 0.25 bWAR, basically a negligible amount. Coincidentally, “negligible” also describes the value over replacement blog post (VORBP) of what you’ve just read.

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Previously
Miguel Cabrera continues to shine in the DRC era
Miguel Cabrera further bolstered by sabermetric update
Trout vs. Cabrera, and Aging with DRC+ (via Baseball Prospectus)

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Miguel Cabrera continues to shine in the DRC era

Last month, I wrote about the substantial change in the way Baseball Prospectus is measuring hitter value and the significance of that change to Miguel Cabrera’s statistical legacy. Yesterday morning, BP announced “updates” to its hitter-value metric, DRC+. The description of the updates is pretty technical, and I commend you to the linked article if you want to get into the nuts and bolts, to the extent BP exposes them to the public. The short story seems to be that the original version of DRC+ undervalued two types of players: 1) those who play many of their games in “extreme ballparks” (Coors Field is the only one I’ve seen mentioned in the early DRC+ critiques and the update article, but I assume others are included) and 2) “extreme”-output hitters who do one thing really well (the examples I’ve seen discussed usually include singles hitters like Tony Gwynn and Ichiro Suzuki).

For Cabrera, the update credited him with even more productive value, adding almost two wins to his career total. The following chart, which I’ve adapted from the one I created for the BttP article, compares Cabrera’s career and season-by-season win totals under three different WARP regimes: a) TAv-based WARP; b) the original DRC+-based WARP; and c) the updated DRC+-based WARP.

cabrera warp drc update

(Notes: TAv-based WARP isn’t available for 2018, which affects the WARP totals in the bottom row. Orange highlighting signals seasons in which TAv and original DRC+ disagree about whether Cabrera’s offense was above or below average. Updated DRC+ was consistent with original DRC+ in that respect.)

Looking first at the table’s seventh column, the DRC+ update added to Cabrera’s totals, not infrequently by double digits, in every season save two minor decreases in 2007 and 2014. Looking next to the table’s final column, though, there isn’t really a consistent correlation between either the direction or magnitude of the update’s DRC+ adjustments and WARP; indeed, in 2008 and 2012, the update resulted in increases in Cabrera’s DRC+ but decreases in WARP. As the totals in the bottom row indicate, however, overall, the DRC+ update boosted Cabrera’s career WARP total by 1.8 wins. Not bad.

Here I will add the same caveat I included in my previous article on this subject, which is that I don’t have a deep enough understanding of DRC+, a proprietary metric, to explain with any further detail why this happened. (I also will note that, because BP does not archive its statistical reports from prior metric regimes, the foregoing is reliant on data previously captured by Archive.org’s Wayback Machine and me.)

What outsiders like us can say is that the Deserved-Runs-Created era has been good to Cabrera, from validating his MVP wins over Mike Trout to restoring all of his season-by-season WARP numbers into the black to, following yesterday’s update, increasing his career WARP total. None of this is likely to stir any concern on the parts of Al Avila or Chris Ilitch that Cabrera suddenly is on track to challenge for MVP votes in 2023 such that his $30 million option for his age-forty-one season in 2024 will vest, but the growing– even if by very small amounts– recognition of Cabrera’s past achievements is nice to see.

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Previously
Miguel Cabrera further bolstered by sabermetric update
Trout vs. Cabrera, and Aging with DRC+ (via Baseball Prospectus)

Miguel Cabrera further bolstered by sabermetric update

A recent update to the way Baseball Prospectus evaluates offensive production already has resulted in the retroactive revision of one of baseball’s biggest conversations in favor of Miguel Cabrera. Could there be other aspects of Cabrera’s track record that shine more brightly after this update? Yes there could, I explain in my latest post at Banished to the Pen, which looks at Cabrera’s standing among the game’s all-time elite.

The full post is available here.

2018 Rapid Review

The year 2018 was a year. Here are some of our favorite things from the year that was 2018.

  • Atlanta United winning the MLS Cup, at home, in their second year of existence.
  • America’s women’s hockey team beating Canada to win gold at the winter Olympics.
  • Phish summer tour. My first time seeing them three nights in a row. That they never repeated a song during that stretch was notable but not terribly surprising. What was remarkable and never received the treatment at this site that it deserved was the overall quality of the performances, especially on Friday, August 3 but really consistently throughout the weekend, where a wide array of songs from across their thirty-five-year catalogue provided launching pads for fresh, collaborative jams time after time. It feels like the band has reached a new level.
  • Hamilton College’s Francis Baker, the American hockey goalie who stood up to Hitler. This was your most-read story posted on this site in 2018.
  • Steve McNair: Fall of a Titan. This, from Sports Illustrated, was my first foray into the true-crime podcast genre. The gist: what we were told was an open-and-shut case probably has a lot more to it than what the investigating police department allowed to meet the public eye. Story had some additional resonance for me because I had been living in Nashville at the time.
  • Maryland-Baltimore County beating Virginia to become the first-ever sixteen seed to beat a one seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
  • Justify‘s dominant Triple Crown achievement.
  • Baseball Hall of Fame adding Alan Trammell. Still no Cooperstown spot for teammate Lou Whitaker, though.
  • The Supreme Court clearing the way for states to authorize sports wagering.
  • J.R. Smith delivering the most memorable moment of LeBron James’ final series with Cleveland.
  • Shohei Ohtani making his major-league debut.
  • The Vegas Golden Knights reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their first year of existence.
  • Vanderbilt beat Tennessee in football again. The Commodores have won five of the last seven games in this series. (If you’d lost track of him, Derek Dooley’s currently working as the quarterbacks coach at Missouri.)
  • Baseball Prospectus revised its flagship bating metric and now concedes that Miguel Cabrera, not Mike Trout, deserved the 2012 and 2013 AL MVP awards.
  • Tiger Woods winning the PGA Tour Championship at East Lake.
  • In personal news, I published my first article at Baseball Prospectus, which took a look at whether MLB teams were colluding to depress player wages.
  • In memoriam:

Thank you for your readership this year. Look for more great content here in 2019.

Trout vs. Cabrera, and Aging with DRC+ (via Baseball Prospectus)

MLB: All Star GameIt was about as clear as these things get, and the writers got it wrong. In fact, they got it wrong twice. That was the consensus, in our sabermetric corner of the internet, when Miguel Cabrera stole consecutive MVP awards from Mike Trout in 2012 and 2013.

Cabrera was a lumbering first baseman, shoved across the diamond only because the Tigers decided to force-fit Prince Fielder onto their plodding roster. He was a great hitter, but he added no value beyond that hitting. Trout, at the tender ages of 20 and 21, lit up the field in ways Cabrera couldn’t. He robbed home runs in center field, stole bases both often and efficiently, was one of the most consistent hitters in baseball, and according to the best information we had at the time, he was also Cabrera’s equal (or very nearly so, or perhaps even his superior) at the plate.

Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs each had Trout about 3.0 WAR better than Cabrera in 2012, and about 1.5 WAR better than him in 2013. We had the gap slightly smaller in 2012, but slightly larger in 2013. When such a clear gap between the best player and the field exists, it’s rare that the award goes to the “wrong” one. In this case, though, more or less everyone with a stat-savvy bone in their body espoused the belief that it had happened.

We were, all of us, deceived. … Read More

(via Baseball Prospectus)

Tilde Talk: The Empty Ureña Suspension

Atlanta Braves rookie outfielder Ronald Acuña, Jr. has been on a tear. Entering last night’s game against the floundering Fish, he had just become the youngest player (since at least 1920) to homer in four straight games, joining Miguel Cabrera as the only two twenty-year-olds to accomplish the feat. He leads all rookies in slugging percentage. He’s amazing, and he’s a big part of the reason why the Braves have reclaimed first place in the NL East.

The Miami Marlins stink. Their new ownership group, led by Derek Jeter, has spent its inaugural year at the helm casting off virtually every remotely valuable member of the team, which has a .390 winning percentage in 2018 and is unlikely to compete in any respect for years to come. I didn’t call the Marlins franchise a tax shelter, but somebody else might.

The Marlins pitching staff isn’t really getting anybody out, as a -180 run differential somewhat suggests. Only the Orioles and Blue Jays have been worse in that regard, and they spend a lot of time in the AL East getting beaten up by the Red Sox and Yankees juggernauts. If you care about ERA, the Marlins have the worst such mark (4.85) in the National League.

Acuña has enjoyed an extreme degree of success, even by his standards, against Miami: .339/.433/.714 (201 wRC+). They just can’t get him out, at least as the rules of baseball define that term, especially lately. In the first three games of the four-game series with the Marlins that ended last night, Acuña reached base ten times in fifteen plate appearances, which included four home runs and a double.

The Braves’ half of the first inning last night began like this:

I’ve watched Jose Ureña’s first pitch from last night, which came in at about ninety-seven miles per hour, as well as his subsequent reaction to his pitched ball hitting Acuña on the arm, about a dozen times. There is no doubt in my mind that Ureña took the mound last night with the intent to hit Acuña with his first pitch and did what he intended to do. The umpiring crew apparently agreed and ejected Ureña after that first pitch.

For those unfamiliar with Ureña, a collection of humans that, prior to roughly twenty-four hours ago included very nearly the entirety of the human species, he is a twenty-three-year-old pitcher who has spent all four years of his major-league career with the Marlins, mostly as a starter. Among regular starters, Ureña has been one of the harder throwers in 2018, but there’s little else remarkable about him. The current season has been the best of his career so far (1.7 WARP to date), and there’s a not-unreasonable argument that he ought to be done for the season.

This evening, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred decided to suspend Ureña for six games and fine him an undisclosed amount of money. Suspensions for this sort of thing often are of the five-game variety. For starting pitchers, five-game suspensions really are one-game suspensions, because most starting pitchers only pitch once every five games. It’s a bit of a charade by the Commissioner’s office.

Manfred has not released an explanation of his somewhat unusual decision to push Ureña’s suspension to six games, but it’s reasonable to assume that he wanted to appear tougher to avoid the usual critiques of the standard five-game suspension. It’s readily obvious, of course, that, for starting pitchers, a six-game suspension suffers from almost precisely the same practical defect that attends a five-game suspension. Indeed, as reporters immediately noted, it’s a very real possibility that Ureña won’t even miss his next start.

This isn’t the first time Manfred has acted in a way he knows is purely symbolic and entirely without practical consequence. It’s becoming a bad habit of his, made all the more frustrating by the ready availability of effective alternatives. Here, if Manfred really wanted to communicate a message to players that he will not tolerate intentional, unsportsmanlike behavior like that Ureña exhibited last night, he could have done any of the following:   Continue reading

WTF: Busted

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One swing of the bat. Detroit Tigers radio broadcaster and former catcher Jim Price always said that this team, particularly its harder-hitting versions in the earlier part of this decade, could change its fate with one swing of the bat. While Price’s statement always came from a place of optimism, the line was no less true last night, albeit in a far unhappier context, when Miguel Cabrera swung through a 1-1 breaking ball from Minnesota’s Jake Odorizzi in the bottom of the third inning of what eventually would be a 6-4 loss to the Twins and ruptured a tendon in his left biceps. Later that night the news that would become this morning’s headlines arrived: Cabrera was done for the year.

The 2018 season began as a hopeful one for Cabrera. After missing significant time in 2015 and 2017 with leg and back injuries, he reportedly entered the current in good health and physical condition. Early returns on the field backed up that story. His March/April (154 wRC+) was one of his best starts of the last five years. Some trouble surfaced at the end of April, though, when spasms in his left biceps caused him to leave an April 29 game in Baltimore.  A few days later, he made his return in a game in Kansas City but again left early, this time hitting the disabled list with a hamstring strain.

Cabrera, seemingly frustrated, was in no rush to return from the hamstring injury:

Nobody appreciates when you play hurt, so I’m going to take my time and play when I’m good. I play a lot of years hurt here in Detroit. They don’t appreciate that. When you are doing bad, they crush you. They crush you. They say you are bad. You should go home. You don’t deserve anything. That you are old. I say “OK. I’m done playing hurt.” When you are going good they say, “Oh, oh, you’re good.” Now I take my time.

That Kansas City game ended up being the only game in which he played in the month of May.

After a twenty-six-game absence, Cabrera returned to action in a home win against the Blue Jays on June 1 and didn’t miss a game this month. He struggled (June: .244/.367/.293, 86 wRC+) in his return, however, exhibiting weak power at the plate. And now he’s done for the season. His 2018, comprised essentially of a good month and a bad half-month, sum to .299/.395/.448, 128 wRC+, 3 HR, 0.8 fWAR/0.4 bWAR/0.5 WARP. In large part due to the time he missed prior to last night’s injury, Cabrera has been the Tigers’ seventh-most-valuable player in 2018, behind Jeimer Candelario, Leonys Martín, Nicholas Castellanos, Jose Iglesias, Matt Boyd, and Joe Jimenez.

Now is the time on Sprockets when we provide the obligatory reminder that Cabrera is thirty-five years old and has, beyond 2018, a minimum of five years and $16 a2 million remaining on his contract. While I’ve argued it wasn’t crazy to believe that Cabrera might continue to earn that contract for a few more seasons if you believe that a win currently is worth $10 million, Cabrera already was likely to be shifting to DH on a much more consistent basis in 2019 (following Victor Martinez’s exit), and this injury raises new and serious questions about his ability to contribute going forward.

Comments from doctors and trainers experienced with this type of injury will appear in the coming days and provide a somewhat clearer picture of Cabrera’s possible future with the Tigers. In the meantime, I suggest we might consider the case of former Tiger Cameron Maybin, who, while playing for the San Diego Padres, ruptured a tendon in his left biceps four years ago while making a defensive play during a spring training game. Maybin, who was a month shy of his twenty-seventh birthday at the time and had missed most of the prior season with wrist and knee injuries, chose a rest-and-rehabilitation approach over surgery and was given a two-to-three-month return timetable. Maybin was back in the Padres’ lineup faster than that, though, missing only about a month of the regular season. (Articles about Maybin at the time note that the injury is more common in football and cite the case of John Elway, who also chose the non-surgical route and returned to action after just three weeks off.) Maybin’s somewhat stunted and injury-riddled career makes it difficult to compare his performance before and after the injury. Moreover, the numerous differences between Cabrera and Maybin, including age, body type, and style of play, probably limit the usefulness of the comparison for the purpose of understanding Cabrera’s prognosis. In addition, the fact that Cabrera is choosing surgery suggests that his injury is more severe than Maybin’s, although there aren’t many details available right now.

With Cabrera out, the already probable likelihood that the Tigers try to sell at the trade deadline becomes a certainty. Last night’s loss bumped Detroit out of second place in the AL Central, and one assumes that the team will continue to follow that trajectory in the standings. Keep an eye on some of those players listed above, especially Iglesias and Martín, as trade candidates next month. Expect General Manager Al Avila to field plenty of calls about Michael Fulmer. Look for the new-faces trend to continue. Hope that Cabrera can make a full and productive return in 2019.

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Previously
WTF: Bos to the Races – 5/22
WTF: Welcome Back Kozma – 5/9

Related
2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

fiers mlbn

As it has done in the past, MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” program spends a day with each major-league team during spring training. They spent Monday with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. Here are the highlights:

  • Miguel Cabrera was guarded in discussing his health coming into the season after injuries limited him to 130 games and a career-worst 91 wRC+ in 2017. He admitted it was tough to find enjoyment in the game last year, but he expects to be back to having fun in 2018.
  • Ron Gardenhire, the Tigers’ new manager, said that his time outside of the game gave him perspective on the special nature of the opportunity he and his players have to make a living in baseball. While he avoided specifics, it sounds like he has fairly modest expectations for the season. It also looks like he wishes his baseball pants had pockets.
  • Likely number-one starting pitcher Michael Fulmer called Gardenhire “awesome” and described him as a “very positive guy.” Fulmer also said he “had a little setback with the elbow earlier in camp, but we’re all good now.”
  • On High Heat, General Manager Al Avila emphasized the youth of the 2018 roster. He confirmed that Fulmer is “one-hundred percent” healthy, indicated that second-year player Jeimer Candelario would be the opening-day third baseman, and described Cabrera as “much stronger” following an offseason physical therapy regimen. Avila believes that Cabrera can maintain a reasonably high level of production if he sticks to his offseason training plan, comparing him to other late-career success stories like Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero. He dodged a question about whether the obviously rebuilding team would shift its approach if it somehow found itself in a contending position midway through this season, but he did allude to the comparatively positive perception of Detroit’s current rebuilding process as compared to the actions of other teams that have drawn accusations of anticompetitive behavior. Avila also referred to “millions of dollars” the team had invested in “new technology,” which apparently includes biomechanical-oriented technology and an analytics department that now boasts a staff of twelve. Finally, he said that “nothing has changed” in his “great” relationship with ownership, which has transitioned to the late Mike Ilitch’s son Chris, who, Avila said, “has backed me one-hundred percent.”
  • Hopeful starting pitcher Daniel Norris reports that he is feeling healthy and, while he wants to compete for a rotation spot, he’s trying not to ramp up too fast in spring training in order to maintain that health.
  • The consensus among surveyed players is that presumptive closer Shane Greene has the worst taste in music, while Jose Iglesias, despite his own strong opinion to the contrary, has the worst singing voice.
  • Iglesias did get the opportunity to speak for himself and answer the Harold Reynolds question “What’s funner, snatching a hit from somebody or getting a big hit?” While Iglesias, a native of Cuba, wasn’t able to watch much major-league baseball growing up, it’s clear he’s picked up on Crash Davis’ tutelage from his answer: “Both.”
  • Nick “Nicholas” Castellanos, who’s moving from third base to right field on a full-time basis in 2018 said that he was not mentally present for much of last season because his father was ill, but, now that his dad is healthy, he will be able to reunite mind and body and is approaching this season with a seize-the-day attitude.
  • New arrival Mike Fiers praised the team’s new pitching coach, Chris Bosio, and says he feels he’s getting back on track under Bosio’s guidance. The two previously worked together during Fiers’ rookie season in 2011, when both were employed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Fiers, who spent the first five years of his career in Milwaukee before shifting to Houston for the past three seasons, arguably had his best performances as a Brewer.
  • Alan Trammell, fresh off his election into the baseball hall of fame, is working with players on infield fundamentals.

I didn’t think this year’s edition of this feature was as entertaining as it has been in past years, but there are a lot of new faces on this team and a new strategic approach that Tigers fans haven’t seen in some time, and I thought the profile was, on the whole, serviceable.

Stay tuned for a more thorough Detroit Tigers 2018 season preview, which will appear soon over at Banished to the Pen.

The Last Night of the Tigers Dynasty That Wasn’t (via Baseball Prospectus)

Over the next several seasons, we’ll see the Tigers get worse before they get better. The veterans who remain will be traded or allowed to walk. Mildly youngish players like Daniel Norris and Nick Castellanos will be given more time to showcase why they should or shouldn’t be part of the future. And general manager Al Avila will likely hoard prospects as he looks to restock a bottom-10 farm system.

This doesn’t look like a Yankees rebuild-on-the-fly situation. It looks like the Tigers might be the new Reds, Phillies, or Braves. It looks like Tigers might be in the basement for a while. Memories of yesteryear rarely dull the pain of today. But still, the baseball world owes it to the Tigers to remember those early 2010s teams one more time before a new Dark Ages of Tigers baseball begins. Because dear lord, they were a lot of fun.

None of this is meant to dig up old wounds for Tigers fans. In fact, the goal is here is quite to the contrary; to remind people that the early 2010s Tigers weren’t also-rans or lucky bastards or frauds. They were really good. Good enough to win it all, if another bounce or two went their way. Good enough to win it all more than once if a half-dozen bounces went their way.

Over the next few seasons, as we watch Mikie Mahtook struggle in center field and Matt Boyd struggle on the mound and countless other journeymen, misfits, and youngens flock to Detroit, try to remember the good ole days. Remember how scary it was seeing “Cabrera, Fielder, Martinez” in the heart of a lineup. How exciting the prospect of “Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez” was in 2013. How easily the Tigers could bash you into a pulp or marginalize your best hitters. And how Dombrowski made “mystery team” mean something.

They say the journey is more important than the destination. That feels less true than ever in an era where every pitch, error, swing, and call is dissected on Twitter, debated on TV, and picked apart in online columns. But for the 2011-2014 Tigers, it has to be true. History will not remember them as winners, but we should not forget them as entertainers and craftsmen, as teams built to thrill and wow and dazzle.

That all ended officially on August 31, 2017, though we’d seen it coming for years. Justin Verlander is in Houston, Detroit is rebuilding, and time marches on. The Tigers’ watch has ended, but they are not forgotten. … Read More

(via Baseball Prospectus)

Live podcast announcement: Man vs. Pizza Machine

pizzacave

I’m headed back into the Pizza Cave tonight to discuss the hot topic on the Detroit sports streets, Miguel Cabrera versus Albert Pujols, with legendary Southeast Michigan restaurateur-podcaster Fredi the Pizzaman live at 5:00 pm Eastern. Although you can listen to it later on, keep in mind that this is a live podcast, meaning that you can stream it as it’s being recorded, which I recommend.

Tune in tonight at 5:00 by clicking here to listen live or check out the archives later on.