Sometimes, Bobby Valentine gets going and Orel head-cocks what we’re all thinking:

Onto this Sunday’s box score!

A.

(Brandon Phillips, .342)

In 2000, the Yankees’ No. 3 prospect was a shortstop named D’Angelo Jimenez, a “refined player” who “can sting the ball well for a shortstop.” Meanwhile, the Montreal Expos’ No. 2 prospect was a shortstop named Brandon Phillips, a “line-drive hitter with plenty of bat speed” who “has been compared to a young Barry Larkin.” Both players would move around a bit early in their career, and both would eventually play second base, and in 2006 Phillips replaced Jimenez as the Cincinnati Reds’ second baseman. Jimenez had a forgettable career, and while you’ve probably heard of him, you might not remember it. Phillips, of course, is just short of being a star: a Gold Glove winner, an All-Star, an MVP-vote getter, and your fourth-round pick in at least one fantasy draft.

Which is what makes this so surprising:

  • D’Angelo Jimenez, career Wins Above Replacement: 6.0
  • Brandon Phillips, career Wins Above Replacement: 5.9

I think it was Bill James who said that a stat that doesn’t occasionally surprise you is worthless, and WAR (in this case, Baseball Reference’s model of it) will occasionally surprise. My question is, does the comparison above tell us something about Brandon Phillips, or does it tell us something about WAR?

Well, both. The fact is, Phillips might be the all-time Overrated Because of Fantasy Baseball All-Star. He does everything that helps you in fantasy but isn’t helpful in real life: He plays in a great hitter’s park. He plays against lesser competition in the NL and, especially, the NL Central. He bats in the middle of the order, which gives him far more chances to score and drive in runs. He steals bases at a rate (72 percent) that is barely useful in real life but tremendously valuable in fantasy. He swings a lot, which leads to more RBIs and home runs and outs.

So for every 162 games played, Phillips has hit 20 home runs, driven in 80, stolen 23 and scored 87. Jimenez per 162: nine HRs, 58 RBI, nine steals, 73 runs. But Jimenez was quite possibly the better hitter:

  • Jimenez OBP: .351
  • Phillips OBP: .317

and

  • Jimenez OPS+, which is adjusted for ballpark: 94
  • Phillips OPS+: 94

and

  • Jimenez batting runs above average (Fangraphs): negative 6.8
  • Phillips batting runs above average (Fangraphs): negative 18.3

So, yes, it’s a surprise to learn that Phillips has been a less valuable hitter than D’Angelo Jimenez in his career. But it’s probably true, especially when you consider the .556 OPS he put up in his first 500 or so plate appearances.

However, this comparison also tells us something about Baseball Reference’s model of WAR, which uses a measure called Total Zone to evaluate defense. And while advanced defensive metrics (such as Total Zone, UZR and +/-) are usually relatively close to each other, they vary widely on Phillips:

  • UZR: 45.5 runs above average
  • Total Zone: 21 runs below average.

That gap is massive, and it’s the biggest reason Phillips trails Jimenez. One of those numbers is wrong, and in this case it looks likely it’s Total Zone. John Dewan’s well-regarded +/- system says Phillips has been worth 20 runs above average in his career. The annual Fans Scouting Report rates Phillips  way above average. The Fielding Bible voters have voted him 4th, 7th, 1st and 3rd among all Major League second basemen over the past four years. And Sean Smith, the genius who created the Baseball Reference model of WAR (along with Total Zone), put it to me like this:

I’d look at how other systems rank him on defense, especially UZR and John Dewan. His totalzone ratings leave a lot to be desired, and he’s one of the players I think it’s probably wrong on.

Just using any other defensive metric would vault Phillips well ahead of Jimenez, though not into star territory.

So, not surprisingly, the answer to my question falls somewhere in the middle. Usually does. Let’s wrap this up with an out-of-context tweet from Brandon Phillips himself to stand in as a rebuttal to me:

LOL. Awww! That’s so sweet! Trust me, there are so many things I can say about him & y’all would look at him different! “HATER IN DA HOUSE”

For real.

B.

(Ryan Theriot)

ESPN on-field reporter Wendy Nix, pre-game: “Ryan, we asked your manager this afternoon who you remind him of. His answer: David Eckstein.”

Reporters: Hey Tony, Ryan Theriot has been doing a good job for you. Who does he remind you of?

Tony LaRussa: The Riot? Hmmm, good question. First name that comes to mind is Ricky Gutierrez.

Reporters:

Reporters: No.

Reporters: Who else?

Tony: Uh, maybe Orlando Cabrera?

Reporters: Who else?

Tony: Chico Carrasquel?

Reporter: Cut the crap, Tony.

Reporter: Carrasquel? What’s that, Dominican?

Tony: Venezu –

Reporters: Who else?

Tony:

Tony: Aaron Miles?

Reporter: Yeah, yeah, waaaarrrmer…

Reporters: Who else?

Tony: Marco Scutaro?

Reporters: Colder…

Tony: Freddie Patek?

Reporters: Hot! Hot! You’re burning up…

Tony: David Eckstein?

Reporters: !!!!!!!!!!!!!

C.

(Albert Pujols)

There are 18 countries in which at least one current Major Leaguer was born. In honor of Albert Pujols — who leads all active Dominicans in Wins Above Replacement — I made my first Sporcle quiz! Think you can guess the active WAR leaders for other 17 countries? We’ll wait for you.

These 18 countries have a combined population of about 750 million, less than India, barely half of China, less than Africa, about as much as the Middle East+Brazil. Do you think someday, all those areas will play baseball and we’ll talk about the players of today like we talk about the stars of the segregated era? “Pujols was great, sure, but he never had to play against Chinese players,” that sort of thing? Just wondering.

P.S. “(Pujols) may be the greatest hitter of all-time.” Calm down, Orel.

D.

(Edinson Volquez, 5 2/3 innings)

Every year, we make fun of misguided Hall of Fame voters, and misguided Rookie of the Year voters, and misguided MVP voters, and misguided Cy Young voters, and misguided Gold Glove voters. But I rarely hear anybody criticize Manager of the Year voters, despite the fact that, more than any of these other awards, the voters have absolutely no way of actually measuring managerial skill, and are therefore simply making this up as they go along.

Of course, neither do we know what makes a good manager, so it’s hard to get too upset about the voting. But I’m going to start.

Dusty Baker. What’s up with Manager of the Year voters and Dusty Baker? Baker has had 10 seasons with a winning record, and in half of those seasons (including 2010) he finished first or second in MOY voting. It’s not like Baker has been managing scrappy upstart teams, either. The Giants and Reds are solidly middle market. The Cubs are a big market. Compare Baker to Bruce Bochy:

Baker Bochy
Seasons 17 16
Avg payroll 62.7 MM 54.7 MM
Divisions won 4 5
Winning % 0.524 0.495
MOY votes 602 253
1st place votes 83 21
MOY wins 3 1

So Baker has a higher winning percentage, but he’s done it with teams that spent more and should have higher winning percentages. And voters LOVE him for it. And they hate Bochy, apparently.

I’m not trying to say Bochy is a great manager. Who knows*, right? But there’s no real reason to think Baker is far better than him, and worthy of his semi-regular spot near the top of MOY voting.

*If anybody knows, though, it might be Chris Jaffe, who wrote the excellent book “Evaluating Baseball’s Managers” and tried to use objective measures to isolate managerial effectiveness. Bochy comes out very strong. Jaffe ranks him 30th all-time. Baker’s opponent in tonight’s game, Tony LaRussa, ranks second. ESPN commentator Bobby Valentine is 28th. As for Baker, Jaffe writes: “There is no profession where people’s talents and abilities stay fixed forever. As Baker got older, he likely declined. The older one gets, the more difficult it is to relate to twenty-somethings.”

Sam Miller is a baseball writer who covers the Angels for the Orange County Register. He’s on Twitter.

Comments (2)

  1. I am very interested in the manager evaluation tool. Is there a Coles notes version of that book somewhere on the interwebs?

  2. The Tony interview killed me. Well done.

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