Monday February 8th, 2010

With the Super Bowl behind us and pitchers and catchers due to report to camp two weeks from Thursday, now seems like a good time to look back at some of the biggest moves of this past offseason to figure out whether or not they actually represent meaningful upgrades for their teams. How much a player cost (be it by trade or free agency), his long-term impact, or how the player(s) he's replacing are likely to perform in the coming season are not factors. This is simply a comparison of the 2009 production each player is replacing to the 2010 production he's likely to contribute. Also, note that the statistics used below (VORP, SNLVAR, UZR) are all adjusted for context, rendering park and league effects largely moot for our purposes here.

When the Phillies simultaneously traded Cliff Lee and traded for Halladay last December it looked like they were breaking even in the short-term. While that's arguably true for their 2010 outlook before and after the trade, it's important to remember that Lee made just 12 regular-season starts for the Phillies last year, and thus either pitcher would have represented an upgrade for 2010. Halladay is replacing a dozen starts by Lee, but he's also replacing 10 by Brett Myers, and five each by Rodrigo Lopez and Antonio Bastardo. Lee posted a 3.39 ERA in 79 2/3 innings as a Phillie, but other three combined for a 6.73 ERA in 113 2/3 innings. Using SNLVAR (Baseball Prospectus's adjusted, win-probability based stat for starting pitchers), that spot in the Phillies rotation was worth 3.1 wins over replacement in 2009, while Halladay is typically worth between seven and eight wins above replacement.

Estimated upgrade: 4+ wins

If Daisuke Matsuzaka can return to health and effectiveness, and Clay Buchholz can build on his strong performance down the stretch, the Red Sox will have a lot of starts that are going to be in different hands in 2010. While those two will battle veteran Tim Wakefield for starts and replace assorted minor league spot-starters, Lackey will primarily be replacing Brad Penny and John Smoltz. Looking at it that way makes the math pretty simple. Penny and Smoltz combined for a 6.24 ERA over 32 starts for Boston last year and a 0.6 SNLVAR (roughly half a win above replacement). Lackey, in 27 starts for the Angels last year, had a 3.83 ERA and 3.9 SNLVAR. Thus, he was worth four wins to the Angels in 2009, which is a low estimate of the upgrade he represents for the Red Sox in 2010.

Estimated upgrade: 4+ wins

Vazquez was one of the best starters in the National League last year, while the Yankee fifth starters whom he'll be replacing (Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin, and Alfredo Aceves) combined to post a 6.92 ERA over 32 starts while throwing just 147 innings. Vazquez is unlikely to repeat his career-best 2009 season (2.97 ERA, 238 K's, 7.4 SNLVAR) and will suffer some from returning to the tougher league, but he's replacing a combined performance that was a half-run below replacement according to SNLVAR. That makes him pure upgrade, and one which looks even better when you factor in the middle-relief innings he'll also be replacing (Vazquez averaged 216 IP over the last decade).

Estimated upgrade: 4+ wins

Beltre will be replacing Mike Lowell at third base for the Red Sox, but Kevin Youkilis made 56 starts for Boston at the hot corner last year, so Beltre will also be replacing the 50 combined starts made in Youkilis's place at first base by Casey Kotchman, Jeff Bailey, and Mark Kotsay. Lowell was worth 22.9 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player, Baseball Prospectus's total-offense stat expressing value in runs created above that of a replacement player at the same position, with ten runs roughly equal to one team win) at the plate, but the other three were a combined 9.8 runs below replacement. In addition, Lowell, coming off hip surgery, gave back another 10.4 runs in the field, resulting in a net of just 2.7 runs above replacement, or just a quarter of a win. Beltre's glove is worth a win and a half alone. If his poor 2009 (5.0 VORP) was an injury-plagued fluke, he's worth another two and a half wins with his bat and could do even better than that given how well suited his righty power swing is to Fenway Park. That makes Beltre a four-win upgrade even before you consider the benefits of keeping Youkilis's glove at first or allowing Lowell to platoon with David Ortiz at DH, thus eliminating the worst at-bats of both players.

Estimated upgrade: 4+ wins

Figgins replaces not just Beltre, but also Jack Hannahan and Chris Woodward, who helped fill in for Beltre during his two DL stints by combining for 46 starts at third for the M's. Figgins and Beltre are a wash in the field, but last year Beltre had an awful season at the plate and Hannahan and Woodward brought the hitting production from the Mariners' third basemen down below replacement (-0.8 VORP between the three players), though both also played well in the field. The net result is that whatever Figgins contributes at the plate in 2010 will be all upgrade for the M's. Throw out his poor 2008, and Figgins has been worth roughly three and a half wins in two of the last three years, making him almost as much of an upgrade for the Mariners as Beltre is for the Red Sox. Still, his production at the plate has been anything but reliable, and in the long run, one could argue that he's no better than an even replacement for Beltre, a player more than a year his junior. Right now, we're only concerned about the upgrade he represents relative to 2009.

Estimated upgrade: 3.5 wins

Six players made 10 or more starts in leftfield for the Mets last year and the Mets' leftfielders as a group hit .276/.352/.421. Bay is a career .280/.376/.519 hitter who, save for a 2007 season undermined by injuries in both knees, has been worth roughly five wins above replacement with his bat every year since his 2005 breakout. The catch is that those knee injuries ruined Bay as a fielder and he now gives back more than a win on defense relative to the average left fielder per Ultimate Zone Rating (Ulitmate Zone Rating, a play-by-play-based fielding stat also expressed in runs above or below average). Bay would have been a five-win player as an American League DH, but he's only a four-win player as a National League leftfielder. Still, the Mets leftfielders contributed only about two wins with their bats last year and gave a half-win back on defense themselves.

Estimated upgrade: 2+ wins

While Halladay's move to the Phillies didn't seem nearly that significant on its face, Lee's move to the Mariners looked like a tremendous upgrade, but as I wrote in my analysis of the Felix Hernandez contract, Lee isn't entering a vacuum in Seattle. Jarrod Washburn posted a 2.64 ERA in 133 innings for the M's last year and Lee will have to replace that performance along with some lesser starts from Brandon Morrow, who was dealt to the Blue Jays. Together, Washburn and Morrow combined for a 2.93 ERA over 184 1/3 innings in 30 starts, a performance worth 6.4 wins according to SNLVAR. Lee was worth 7.7 wins in his Cy Young season of 2008 and a bit less than that last year. The continued improvements in the Mariners defense could help, but as it stands, Lee, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, looks to be a modest upgrade at best, though it's worth noting that he's far more likely to deliver that performance than the pitchers he's replacing.

Estimated upgrade: 1 win

Whether Granderson winds up playing center or left for the Yankees, he'll be replacing Johnny Damon's total at-bats while some combination of Brett Gardner and Randy Winn will replace Melky Cabrera at the other spot. Offensively, Damon was worth four wins over replacement last year according to VORP, which is the same level of production Granderson provided for the Tigers in 2008, but in 2009, Granderson fell off to 2.5 wins. He'll have to rebound to close the gap, which is smaller than it first appears due to the fact that Damon cost the Yankees a win in the field last year, dropping his total value to three wins over replacement. Granderson's defense is a matter of some dispute. UZR had him as close to a win and a half above replacement in center in 2006 and 2007, nearly a win below replacement in 2008, and roughly average in 2009. The Yankees should expect average defense from him in center and perhaps better than that in left, which means that, even before factoring in a rebound at the plate (some of which will be due to his escaping the lefty-killing Comerica Park), he would be at least as valuable as Damon in left field and could likely hold the line in center as well. While that may not sound like much for 2010, it's worth noting that Granderson is seven years Damon's junior and signed to a reasonable contract for the next four years.

Estimated upgrade: Even

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