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Just The Sports: 2010-08-01

Just The Sports

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Discovering The True B.J. Upton

Tampa Bay Ray center fielder B.J. Upton is the poster child for the notion that after a number of years in an athlete's career, there comes a time when the player's past performances have to outweigh a player's potential when determining just how good the player is. While everyone seems to be contractually obligated to mention all the tools Upton possesses, after 612 games and 2,570 plate appearances, we should be able to get some idea of the production Upton can be expected to provide over the course of his career.

In order to understand which of the seasons Upton had that can best be reconciled with his other ones, I separated each of his individual seasons and then compared them to the rest of the seasons to determine how similar the two data sets were to each other. For example, for Upton's 2004 season, I compared his 2004 numbers to the totals of his 2006-2010 seasons.

There have been two seasons in Upton's career which in no way reflect what kind of hitter he is. The first season is 2006 where in fifty games, Upton hit a measly .246/.301/.291 with a .209 GPA and .279 wOBA, far below what Upton has hit in his other 562 games where his batting line is .263/.351/.420 with a .263 GPA and .354 wOBA.

No matter how poor of a player I might think Upton is, he is definitely not as bad as he was in that fifty-game stretch.

Then again, Upton is nowhere near as great as he was in 2007. Most people point to this career year of Upton as evidence of the player he could or should be, forgetting that even an average player can have one really phenomenal season. The truly elite players are able to string together a number of great seasons.

Upton has failed to do so in a big way. During his career year, Upton hit .300/.386/.508 with a .301 GPA and a .396 wOBA, statistically significantly more impressive than .252/.336/.383 with a .247 GPA and .336 wOBA he hit in all other games.

Upton's 2007 season was an extremely lucky for him, which explains why he has not been able to duplicate it. First of all, he had an extremely high batting average on balls in play compared to his career. That season, it was .393, much higher than his career mark of .335, which is only that high because it includes his 2007 season.

Also, Upton was lucky when it came to his home run to fly ball ratio. Once again, his 2007 mark of 19.8% of his fly balls leaving the park is almost twice as much as his career home run to fly ball ratio of 10.1%. That explains why his slugging percentage was so out of line with his slugging percentage in other years.

To a lesser extent, 2008 also represented a season where he outperformed his true self, at least in one category; every other category was in line with his combined other seasons. His on-base percentage of .383 during the 2008 season is significantly better than his .335 on-base percentage in his other seasons combined. Upton is simply not a player who will consistently have an on-base percentage that high.

He was helped in large part that year by drawing an inordinate number of walks. His walk percentage (walks per plate appearance) that year was 15.2%; in all his other games, it is only 10.0%. Once again, we see Upton fails to match himself and exhibit some consistency when he reaches great heights.

Taking all his seasons and comparisons into consideration, it is safe to assume Upton is a player whose on-base percentage will be within a few ticks of .335, his slugging percentage will be within a few ticks of .405 and his wOBA should hover around .340, combining to make Upton a perfectly average hitter.

Despite what Upton has the potential to do on the baseball field, his production should have the final say and his production says he will never be a star in the majors. He is the average player he has been for his career.


Monday, August 02, 2010

Kobe and Shaq vs. Kobe and Pau

Everyone is already no doubt aware of what a largely unstoppable duo Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were during their eight seasons together, three of which ended in championships. Their partnership is one of the historically dominant ones in NBA history, but now that Kobe Bryant has another low-post running partner in Pau Gasol, it is worth finding out if Kobe and Pau can match the heights Kobe and Shaq reached. After all, Kobe and Pau have won two championships playing together for only two and a half seasons.

Unfortunately for the Kobe and Pau duo, they really only defeat Kobe and Shaq significantly in one respect and even that comes with qualifications. In 231 games together, Kobe and Pau have a combined 58.3 true shooting percentage (TS%), which is statistically significantly better than Kobe and Shaq's 56.1 TS% in 579 contests. The advantage is thanks in large part to free throw percentage; Kobe and Pau have a free throw percentage of 80.8% while Kobe and Shaq only possess a 64.5 FT%.

It is such a decided advantage that even though Kobe and Shaq took 4.4 more free throw attempts per game (17.6 FTA to 13.2 FTA), they only made .5 free throw attempts per game more (11.3 FTM to 10.8 FTA). Of course, it should go without saying that Shaq is to blame for the free throw percentage difference. He is a historically poor free throw shooter while Pau Gasol is a very good free throw shooter considering his height.

However, as I alluded to, this victory for Kobe and Pau over Kobe and Shaq does come with qualifications. Kobe and Pau simply have not been asked to carry the offensive load that Kobe and Shaq had to carry so it stands to reason they would be able to shoot at a more efficient clip. Kobe and Pau have attempted 2.1 fewer field goals (35.8 FGA to 33.7 FGA) than Kobe and Shaq and that number is only that close because Kobe did not become a full-time starter until his third season in the NBA.

Once Kobe's first two seasons are eliminated, we really get a true sense of how much Kobe and Shaq dominated the ball together. Their field goal attempts together jump up to 38.1 per game.

Additionally, I looked at what percentage of the teams' field goals were made by each duo. Once again taking out Kobe's first two seasons, the results are that Kobe and Shaq accounted for 51.4% of their teams' field goal makes; Kobe and Pau have only accounted for 43.1% of their teams' field goal makes.

A lot of the reason why Kobe and Pau have not taken on a bigger offensive load rests on the shoulders of Pau Gasol. For all his offensive ability and efficiency, he simply does not take as many shots as he should to help the Lakers. A player of his caliber should be shooting a lot more than just 13.5 field goal attempts per game for his career.

Kobe and Shaq were also much better rebounders than Kobe and Pau. The first partnership had a rebound rate of 13.0 in all their seasons and 12.8 in the seasons they played together from Kobe's third season onward. Kobe and Pau's rebound rate was a lesser 11.6.

In terms of ball handling, the two duos are basically a wash. From Kobe's third season onward, Kobe and Shaq had an assist percentage of 19.5 and a turnover percentage of 11.1; Kobe and Pau had an assist percentage of 19.3 and a turnover percentage of 10.9.

For those wondering why I did not exclude Kobe's first two season for their shooting percentages, it is because when I did, it did not make a difference. The Kobe and Shaq partnership had a 56.0 TS% once I did, which is basically identical to their overall one.

Taking all of these statistics into consideration, it is pretty obvious that Kobe and Shaq are really in no danger of being overcome by Kobe and Pau. For how much responsibility for the Lakers' offense that Kobe and Shaq were asked to bear, what they did was simply astounding. The Kobe and Pau duo has only been great, not extraordinary like Kobe and Shaq.


Sunday, August 01, 2010

MLB Trade Round-Up

Each season, dozens of trades are made within Major League Baseball, but most of the trades will have very little positive impact on the teams. Here, today, I want to give a rundown of a few teams that think they have obtained better players than they have.

Washington Nationals: Wilson Ramos

I have to admit I almost believed the hype about Wilson Ramos. There was so much talk and so much agreement about the fact that he was going to be a great major league catcher some day and might even take Joe Mauer's place behind the mound if Mauer had to undergo a position change. It was one of the few times I trusted the majority opinion implicitly without doing some research of my own. Never again.

Wilson Ramos is not a can't-miss prospect; he is actually a can't-succeed prospect. Usually, with predictions, I am afraid that I will be proven wrong. With Ramos, I have no such fears.

My prediction of an extremely disappointing career for Ramos is based on his minor league numbers where he has only hit .283/.330/.426 with a gross product average of .255. For those not familiar with gross product average, it is a more accurate variation of OPS and should be read as a batting average. A gross product average of .255 is beyond terrible for the majors. For the minors, it is the number of a player who has no chance of producing on the major league level because of the statistical regression involved in making the leap from an inferior level to a superior one.

Although I have not found a large collection of minor league box scores that I can use to compare to a player's major league statistics, I feel very confident in predicting that only a tiny percentage of players ever significantly outperform their minor league numbers while the other 99% do not. Therefore, with great certainty and with a sample size of 1,519 minor league plate apperances, it is painfully obvious Ramos is the well below average hitter he has shown himself to be.

The Washington Nationals should not expect him to be their catcher of the future unless they enjoy costing themselves runs at the plate.

San Diego Padres: Miguel Tejada

Trading for Miguel Tejada in 2006 would have made sense. Trading for him in 2010 is inexplicable and simply should not have been done.

Tejada is thirty-six years old now and in the midst of the worst season of his career since he became a full-time player. He is only hitting .267/.308/.358 with a wOBA of .294. For a reference point on wOBA, which should be read like on-base percentage, the average for it is around .340, well above Tejada's mark. Nothing about any of Tejada's hitting statistics indicate a rebound is in the future, either, so he will just be carrying his below average bat to the Padres.

Hopefully, the Padres are not expecting Tejada to do anything to help them get to the playoffs. It is more likely he will do more to keep them out of the playoffs.

New York Yankees: Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns

Lance Berkman is not a terrible player, but the Yankees need to be especially careful in the way they choose to deploy him. I first wrote about the deficiency of Lance Berkman the hitter a few years ago when I listed him among the switch hitters who are significantly worse in one side of the batter's box than the other. Since then, nothing has changed.

Berkman is still a player who is average when facing left handed pitchers (.343 wOBA) and an elite hitter when facing right handed pitching (.377 wOBA). He has seen a decline in his overall production over the past three seasons, but he should still be able to hit well enough against righties to give the Yankees value.

Under no circumstances should he be allowed to hit against left handed pitching. It will only end badly and will cost the Yankees runs. League average is nothing to encourage in your team's lineup.

Trading for Austin Kearns was a little bit of a head scratcher. True, he is a little bit better batter against left handed pitching (.353 wOBA) versus right handed pitching (.340 wOBA), but he has really not hit well against left handers since 2007. His last three wOBAs when facing a portsider have been .240 wOBA in 2008, .287 wOBA in 2009, and a .315 wOBA in 2010, albeit in not the optimal sample size, but still troubling.

Then again, Kearns has not been too much of a productive hitter overall these past few seasons so his struggles against left handed pitching is most likely just a microcosm of his decline even though he has had a bit of a resurgence this season.

Overall, it is hard to envision Kearns helping the Yankees for the rest of the season.

St. Louis Cardinals: Jake Westbrook

Far be it from me to question the ability of the best pitching coach in the majors, Dave Duncan, to turn around Jake Westbrook and make him into a better pitcher, but Duncan certainly has his work cut out for him.

Right now, Westbrook is mired in the worst season of his career. He does not strike out enough batters (5.15 K/9 IP), he walks too many hitters (3.10 BB/9 IP), and he has given up too many home runs (1.06 HR/9 IP) to be effective with any team. As expected with those poor statistics, his expected fielding-independent ERA of 4.41 is the highest it has ever been.

Even a change to the National League where Westbrook will no longer have to face a designated hitter will not make that much of a difference.

Instead of solidifying the Cardinals' rotation for a postseason push, Westbrook will only be the fourth best pitcher on the staff behind Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia.