Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Price Loyalty?

After trading for Victor Martinez on July 31st the Red Sox had 5 players to fit into 4 spots in the lineup - 1B, 3B, C, and DH. Looking at the OPS of each player doesn't suggest that it would be particularly difficult to figure out who should sit:

Kevin Youkilis .987
Victor Martinez .831
Mike Lowell .813
Jason Varitek .755
David Ortiz .713

Defensively the primary alignment is pretty clear as well. With Lowell now a dreadful 3B due to hip surgery and age you put Martinez at 1B, Youkilis at 3B, Varitek at C, and Lowell DH's. Martinez, while not at Youkilis level, is an adequate 1B. Youkilis hasn't played at 3B as well as he did last year, but he is still vastly better than Lowell at this point. Oritz would play roughly 2-3 times a week when Martinez gives Varitek a day off or when Lowell needs a day off to rest his hip (not sure how often this would be required if Lowell is just a DH).

Terry Francona hasn't seen this as such a clear decision. Boston has played 10 games since the Martinez trade, here are how the 39 lineup spots (Casey Kotchman received 1 spot start) have been divided:

Youkilis - 10
Martinez - 10
Ortiz - 8
Varitek - 6
Lowell - 5

Has Ortiz simply been hot and Francona is riding the streak? No, not so much. Ortiz's OPS in August is .339; Lowell's is 1.107. Francona has long been considered to be extremely loyal to his players, at times to a fault. This is one of those 'to a fault' situations - Lowell is by far the better hitter right now.

We don't need to delve into all of Ortiz's numbers they've been well documented. But one that is particularly gruesome is his road OPS which sits at a sickly .594. Seems pretty clear that the best way to put Ortiz in a position where he can succeed is to limit him to playing in Fenway as much as possible. Varitek needs a day off, maybe Lowell sits against a tough RHP - fine play Papi, otherwise no thanks.

Having said all that is it likely that Francona could cost the Red Sox the Wild Card over the lineup? Probably not, even if Big Papi takes all of Lowell's at bats it's unlikely that would cost the Sox even 1 win when looking at earned value. In October though, shouldn't you run out your best lineup whenever possible?

Rios To The White Sox

Kenny Williams once again made a bold move yesterday by winning a claim on Alex Rios and acquiring the talented outfielder for nothing, well nothing other than 5 years and 60.7M or 6 years and 73.2M remaining on his contract.

In the short term at least it is a terrific move for the Sox. Currently 3 games behind Detroit in the AL Central standings, adding Rios should be worth 1 -1.5 wins or so over Scott Podsednik in CF. Long term is Rios really going to be worth his hefty contract through 2014 (13.5M option in 2015 with a 1M buyout)?

I'd say it's pretty questionable. Rios has gone from being under-rated in response to his perceived lack of growth to actually being over-rated when looking at his earned value in 2007-8 and trying to project it forward. Courtesy of Fangraphs let's look at what Rios has earned in terms of batting value, fieldling value, and dollars earned over the years:

2004 -4.4 17.4 $7M

2005 -11.3 8.4 $2.7M

2006 13.5 9.3 $12.1M

2007 20.9 8.9 $18.9M

2008 11.4 23.9 $24.6M

2009 -.6 .1 $4.9M

Hmm...... don't his 2007 offensive season and 2008 defensive season look like outliers here? Remember Rios is 28 so while he shouldn't be entering his decline phase yet he has probably established who he is.

Rios basic problem on offense is primarily based on his refusal to walk, leaving his OBP very batting average dependent. This year his line has dropped to .264/.317/.427 - very poor offensive numbers for a corner OF. The reason for the fall in batting average can be attributed to a decline in BABiP from his career mark of .328 to .294.

Why the roughly 10% decline in BABiP? Perhaps it's coincedence but Rios' line drive rate is 9% below his career rate as well. Rios hasn't returned to his extreme ground ball hitting ways of 2004-5, but the last couple of years he's hit more ground balls than in 2006-7. More ground balls, more infield pop ups - moving to the Cell isn't going to fix that. Those 17 hrs hit the first 3 months of 2007 seem like a distant memory, the last 2 years and a month Rios has hit 36 total home runs.

While the White Sox home park, the 'Cell', is a very good hitters park it isn't significantly better than the Rogers Center in Toronto. For what it's worth over Rios career he's hit a HR every 30 at bats at home and every 57 at bats on the road - a huge variance. His career OPS on the road is .735 over 100 points less than at home (.839) and is dreadful for a RF.

Defensively Rios is a very fine player posessing an outstanding arm and plus range at least for RF. It isn't clear where the Sox play him long term or what his defensive value will look like in CF. Certainly this year stationed between Jermaine Dye and a gimpy Carlos Quentin he'll have every opportunity to show how his range plays in CF. It isn't clear why his defensive numbers are down so much this year, he should be expected to return to his 2005-7 level, not 2008 which stands out rather dramatically from the rest of his career.

If we assume Rios settles in at roughly 12 runs above average on offense & 9 runs above average on offense and remains as durable as he has been he's going to earn roughly between 3.5-4.5 wins above a replacement player. Based on the slow down in market spending this past winter and what we should anticipate this winter I'd guess that suggests Rios will earn around 15M. Considering his actual contract pays him 12.5M per that's a win, but not a huge win. If he moves back to RF or misses any time with injury the contract is going to be pretty neutral in terms of value he generates.

Who knows, maybe the general malaise that seems to have fallen over the Toronto clubhouse has negatively affected Rios. That certainly won't be a problem in Ozzie Guillen's clubhouse, perhaps being in a pennant race will jump start Rios and he'll take off the next couple of months. More than likely though long-term Rios is going to settle in as being a good player, but more of a complementary player than one you build around. I just wonder how many 'good' players are going to make 60M dollars between 2010-2014.