Friday, February 18, 2005

First things first

The Nationals Review, bifurcated baseball blog and rising righty political blog, rates the NL first basemen

Josh's rankings have it:

1. Thome
2. Delgado
3. Johnson
4. LaRoche
5. Minkkwekrjekrwzzz

I can't really disagree.

There's a few points in there that caught my attention. For instance, regarding Thome:

First-basemen don't age as quickly as players in more skill positions, and at
34, Thome will be a force to be reckoned with in 2005.

I wonder if the statement "first basemen don't age as quickly as players in more skill positions" is the writer's perception or if it reflects research on the matter. Just no0dling it in my mind, there are several factors to consider:

a) The first is what Bill James famously (at least in SABR circles) coined "old players' skills," the affliction that limits guys who rely mainly on patience and power early on to solely power and patience later on, and then rely on---well, nothing---at the end. See, e.g.,
Alvin Davis. Now, I'm not suggesting Thome awaits this or a similar fate (he's already made it longer and better than Davis could have ever imagined), but I wonder if "old players' skills" is terminology or fact.

b) Then there's the thought that, if I were an old lumbering first baseman, I'd want my career to occur mainly within the 1993-present period. So, yeah, I see what Josh is saying.
c) On the other hand, I wonder how well, say, a middle infielder ages. These guys tend to develop nagging foot, ankle, knee, and leg problems, it seems, which would certainly mitigate their effectiveness in ranging to balls, or turning singles to doubles, or taking the extra base, or name your other skills that don't rely upon the ball clearing the fence.

Anybody have any recent research on the subject?

Picking it up again, here are Josh's thoughts on Minky the Met:

This guy's offensive numbers have atrophied since his peak season in 2001. He's 31, and doesn't hit well enough to justify his defensive presence in the lineup.

I think that's right, yeah. Put it this way: The scientist from
"The Brain that Wouldn't Die" could reanimate Hal Chase and mate him with J-Lo---who, of course, grabs all the balls she can---and a resulting first baseman still wouldn't be worth 10 games a season, or whatever Omar Minaya just said about Minky.

I dunno, I think they're being a bit harsh with Mientkiewicz (I think I got that right!).

Yeah, last year was pretty miserable for him, but he spent most of it trying to adjust to being backup and from accounts, did it with a HUGE chip on his shoulder. In other words, there were outside circumstances that factor into his ineptness.

If you look at his stats, he's actually been useful throughout his career. It seems like some statheads have denigrated him just because there are many in the media who overrate him.

Prior to last year, his previous four seasons had OPS+ of 121, 104, 123 and 104. Hardly Ruthian, but, when you combine that with what IS well-above average defense, he's still a valuable contributor.

Now, the $64,000 question is, whether last year's stats were a sign of his career beeping as it backs off the cliff, or just a blip in the road.

Either way, I don't think it'll take the Mets 600 ABs to figure that out.
Well, I think you hit on an interesting point, which might be broadly expressed as a reactionary instinct by statheads to, as you say, denigrate those whom the media overrate. That's a valid point, I think; I'd like to say that stuff was more prevalent, say, '96-99, when Gammons & Co. didn't even acknowledge the existence of sabermetric principles (and then they caught up to their readership somewhat), but I don't know.

At any rate, a 120 OPS+ with good defense is one thing; a 104 OPS+ with good defense, for a 1B, is another thing entirely, IMHO. Plus, he's always struck me as something of a jerk. (He was one of the young guys sniping at old fogey Tom Kelly back in '000.)
PECOTA (that vaunted projection system, hehe) pegs Minky for a 272/364/410. That's good for a middle infielder; pretty weak for a first baseman -- even one with a slick glove.
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