Grades!

By Jason Wojciechowski on July 8, 2004 at 6:41 PM

In the spirit of Athletics Nation's mid-year review, I've decided to create one of my own. Rather than use my own set of arbitrary "expectations" and analysis of OPS, I'm going to use PECOTA, MLVr for hitters, VORP (I'll just double current VORP and compare) for pitchers, and playing time acrued as the basis for my grades.

The rules:

  • 90th percentile and above performance: A
  • 75-89th percentile: B
  • 40-74th percentile: C
  • 10-39th percentile: D
  • below 10th percentile: F
  • Playing time at the A or B level: +
  • Playing time at the D or F level: -

Off we go!

Starting Pitchers:

  • Tim Hudson has 34.6 VORP, so he's on a 69.2 VORP pace. That's just a little short of his 90th percentile projection, so he's got a B to start out with, but with his current injury giving time to replacement-level pitchers like Kirk Saarloos, he's got no chance to bump that a little bit, even though, subjectively, I might give him props for maintaining his steadily amazing pitching through hell (no offensive support) and high water (the rest of the pitching staff, outside of Mark Mulder, falling apart). Final grade, then: B
  • Mark Mulder has been the best pitcher in baseball by VORP, as he's on pace for 83.6. Because of PECOTA's extreme reluctance to forecast A's pitchers to have a good year, this is about 10 runs above Mulder's 90th percentile projection, so he starts with an A. His 250 are about 30 more than the top projection for Mulder, and, even were that not true, I'd have to subjectively, for the same reasons mentioned in the Hudson paragraph, push Mulder up to: A+
  • Barry Zito. Ahhhh, Barry Zito. Everyone's first instinct is to brand him a failure, to give him a D- or an F for basically forgetting how to pitch, but maybe betting on him wasn't smart money in the first place. Perhaps what we should have expected isn't so far above what we're actually getting.

    Or maybe not. Zito's performance so far rates below his 25th percentile PECOTA. D.

  • Young Rich Harden has been pretty decent so far, putting himself on pace for 31 VORP, a very nice boost to be getting from a fifth (or fourth, depending on where you want to place him in relation to Mark Redman) starter. Harden is just 22, and as a young pitcher with pretty poor control markers at times, PECOTA was very down on him, giving him just a 33% improve rate, with a 35% collapse rate. Harden's actual performance, though, puts him solidly in B territory, and his ability to take the ball every fifth day, separated shoulder or not, pushes his playing time pretty well past the 90th percentile projection, so Harden rates a nice B+
  • Mark Redman has quietly been just as bad as Barry Zito, while making about a million and a half more bucks than his more famous counterpart. Redman's on pace for just 15.6 VORP, which gives him a D, though his ability, like Harden's, to take the ball every day so far, gives him a playing-time pace that bumps him a little: D+

Starting pitcher GPA (using the scale: A=4, A-=3.7, B+=3.3, B=3, ...): 2.52. That C+ indicates that the A's are essentially doing what PECOTA figured they would as an overall staff.

I'm almost afraid to look at the next section: relief pitching.

  • We'll start with everyone's favorite Moneyballer, Chad Bradford. He's been up and down this year, having periods of harkening back to last season's dominance, and periods of harkening back to my high school pitching days. Overall, he's on pace for 4 VORP in 75.3 innings. Remarkably, the inning count is equal to his weighted-mean projection. Unfortunately, his VORP is below his 10th percentile. F
  • I'll just go alphabetically, since I started with Bradford. That puts Octavio Dotel next. Dotel's been a lifesaver for the A's, despite giving up a few deep balls in his few outings. I'll count his performance with the Astros as part of his grade, since I'm essentially grading players as individuals, not necessarily for their impact to this team alone. With his 6.8 VORP in Houston and his 0.3 in Oakland, Dotel's on pace for 14.1 for the season, in 84.7 innings. That's a lot of innings, but it's not a lot of value for a guy whose last three years went 29.9, 37.5, 30.4 VORP. D+
  • The real lifesaver of the bullpen has been unheralded minor-league callup Justin Duchscherer (feel free to add as many "ch"'s and "er"'s as you like). The man has exactly as many VORP as Zito and Redman combined, despite pitching half the innings of either of them. He's on pace for 30.4 in 102 innings (quite a load out of the 'pen). PECOTA surprised me here. Its high-side projection (which is pretty much what I think we're seeing out of Duchscherer right now) is pretty dead-on with what he's doing for the team: B+
  • Wouldn't it suck if the A's were paying Chris Hammond's salary. 1.8 VORP in 54.7 innings is not what Billy Beane had in mind. Even PECOTA thought he'd be better: D
  • Justin Lehr's trying to be that rare minor-league closer who actually makes it in the bigs. He's got -1.2 VORP in 8.3 innings, but it's not really fair to extrapolate that playing time, since he's only recently been called up, and it's hard to say whether he'll have any place in the bullpen when/if the injuries (Hammond, Rhodes) sort themselves out. There's no projection for Lehr, so combined with a probably lack of second-half impact, we give him: No grade
  • Jim Mecir's had a similar year to Chad Bradford, combining stretches that made A's fans say, "He's back!" with long periods of "Not again!"-ery. His numbers indicate 4.2 VORP in 55.3 innings, which, with the exception of playing time, is remarkably close to PECOTA's weighted-mean projection. Mecir, then, earns a C+, but costs Billy Beane a grade for having a guy with this little potential to help the team on the roster.
  • Everyone's favorite closer, Arthur Rhodes, is next. He killed my fantasy team in the early going. I thought he'd be the undervalued guy who would just rack up the saves in an easy role on a good team. Did I ever turn out to be wrong. Thank goodness Danny Graves was still available. Rhodes has actually been above replacement level, a big surprise, though his 6 VORP in 58 innings at the end of the year won't be worth the pretty penny Oakland's shelling out (three cool ones). Weirdly, Rhodes's PECOTA card doesn't appear to be online, so, based on his weighted-mean projection in the book, I'm going to give him a D-
  • Ricardo Rincon has been infuriating A's fans practically since Oakland traded for him. He's doing that same old act again this year, but the A's don't seem to want to try to get anything better than the 3.6 VORP over 40 innings he's on pace for. This is D level performance, and D- level playing time, though the playing-time indicator bumps Ken Macha's grade up a notch. D-
  • Kirk Saarloos gets no grade, because he'll probably get just one more start, then see Tim Hudson push him back to Sacramento after the all-star break. Saarloos has put up 3.6 VORP in just 6.7 innings (two games, one start), though, so it might be worthwhile to make Jim Mecir go somewhere else (the DL - a strained cardio-pulminary ulcer or something) to see if Saarloos can make a nice pair with Duchscherer out in the 'pen.

Overall grade for what's generally regarded as the cancer of the team: 1.33. That's about right, a D+, only rescued from true levels of atrociousness by Justin Duchscherer. The poor grade exonerates Billy Beane to a certain extent, since he put together a group that we can say should be performing above their current level. Whether they're failing due to Curt Young's instruction, Ken Macha's usage, or their own poor performance, we can't really say.

The outfield comes next. This was supposedly an upgraded area, with the acquisition of the disappointing Bobby Kielty and the semi-disappointing Mark Kotsay.

  • We'll go by the alphabet again, beginning with Eric Byrnes. Byrnes, by playing time and value, is outpacing his best PECOTA projection. His 0.132 MLVr is a hair above his 90th percentile projection and he's on pace to far outstrip the 450 at-bats that top projection has him earning. A+ as Byrnes keeps on surprising.
  • Jermaine Dye's been exactly the durable (leads the team with 347 PA's), valuable (.180 MLVr) player the A's hoped they were getting back when they signed him to that hindsight-is-20-20 terrible three-year deal. PECOTA had no way of knowing the circumstances surrounding Dye's fall from grace, but it was surely comparing him to other players who were felled by injury as well, and based on that, came to the conclusion that Dye had only something like a 15% chance of being an above-average hitter for the year. Thus, A+
  • Oh, Bobby Kielty, where hast though gone? He's hurt and played himself right out of the outfield rotation, and his performance falls only marginally above his 10th percentile projection. D
  • Mark Kotsay was brought in for his Chris Singleton-glove combined with a Lenny Dykstra (his 9th best comparable) bat. I can't really speak to his glove at this point, but with the bat, he's been almost exactly what the A's expected, and it appears that his back trouble hasn't flared up at all, as he's on pace for over 600 PA's. The consistent playing time earns him a plus, so his final grade: C+
  • Billy McMillon's back, on the other hand, apparently is causing him problems, as he's currently on the DL. He wasn't giving the A's that nice OBP source of the bench that they brought him in to be anyway. There's something weird about McMillon's PECOTA projections: he's the only player I've seen yet whose higher projections actually give him less playing time. 180 AB's is his 90th percentile, while his 10th percentile is 187. First, that's a very small range, so PECOTA had a lot of confidence that he'd get that many at-bats, but the range going the opposite way is odd. Anyway, D-.

Oakland's overall outfield grade, 2.4, says that, like the starting pitchers, we're getting pretty much exactly what we should have expected from them.

To the infield!

  • Eric Chavez was not playing all that well when he got hurt, but he wasn't playing enormously below expectation, either. He should provide a big boost when he comes back, especially if he picks up his performance. C-
  • There's no PECOTA card for Bobby Crosby online. Based on the weighted-mean in the book, though (which has him down for a -.040 MLVr, compared to the .065 he's actually providing), I'll give him a B+
  • Scott Hatteberg's got no business hitting as well as he has. He's far outstripping his 90th percentile projection, and he's played his way into more playing time as well. His .381 OBP with the more surprising (especially for a lefty in Oakland's park) .473 SLG has been a salve for the offense. A+
  • Eric Karros was supposed to be bad, but he wasn't supposed to be this bad. He just beats PECOTA's 10th percentile projection, and the fact that his rancid stick has kept him on the bench doesn't help his grade any: D-
  • Mark McLemore's surprising .374 OBP has driven his performance to the B range. I suppose I have to dock him for playing time, since his lack thereof is less due to opportunity (no Mark Ellis, no Eric Chavez means lots of time for other people) than to his own injuries. B-
  • Marco Scutaro has been hoovering balls at second all year long. A's fans can't get enough of his defense. Unfortunately, the A's also picked him up because he had good plate discipline in the minors. His Isolated-OBP (OBP-AVG) of just .023, though, isn't really showing that discipline. This offensive drag means he's underperforming, though his consistency in taking the field earns him a plus: D+
  • Erubiel Durazo's hitting like a whale should, and nearly as often. I think PECOTA put too much stock in last year's off-year, allowing Durazo to do what the fans expected of him while still earning an A
  • Adam Melhuse has gotten a little more playing time than PECOTA thought he would, but his hitting has been just about what we should have expected: low average, semi-decent OBP, very nice power. C+
  • Damian Miller's offensive explosion this year has been nothing short of astounding. He's clearly at A-level, and the fact that he's trotting out there every day to catch the A's pitchers surprises PECOTA as well. Miller has another oddness in his PECOTA projection, though: his 90th percentile projection gives him a -8 defensive rating, while his 10th percentile is +4. First, that's an enormous range for defensive projections, which PECOTA seems to be very cautious about generally. Second, that's pretty much an illustration of the Inverse Law of Catcher Defense or whatever it's called. Good hitting = poor fielding, bad hitting = good fielding. Of course, that's only supposed to apply as a notion of people's perceptions, but I guess a computer can have the same fallacies of vision as a human. Anyway (again), A+

For the infield, then, an overall grade of 2.7. This is the highest grade yet, and is pushing the "over-performing" barrier.

I refuse to go back and calculate the overall grade for the team. It looks like it'd be in the mid-high 2's, though, which means that the A's are doing a little better than expected to this point. In fact, BP has projections for runs scored and allowed for each team, using their Depth Chart feature. The A's were projected for 794 runs. They're on pace for 802. Oakland was projected to allow 684, but, due almost entirely to their bullpen, I'd guess, are on pace to allow 728. Using a Pythagorean exponent of 1.83, this projects the A's for 87, wins, five less than the 92 they were projected for at the beginning of the season.

This would be a little worrisome, except that the A's actually have 46 wins right now, so they're close to that 92-win pace, and after the further adjustments Clay Davenport makes in his Adjusted Standings page to normalize for difficulty of opponent, etc., we see that the A's are only about a game ahead of where we might expect them to be.

Putting all this together, let's just say that the A's are fine. It'd be nice if the Rangers weren't seemingly romping all over the league, but hey, what happens, happens. Seattle romped all over everyone in 2001, too, but that didn't stop the A's from getting to the playoffs.

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