Feb
03

The myth of replacing a player’s production

By

Every off-season, as teams reconstruct their rosters, we hear analysts and fans talk about replacing last year’s players. This rose to prominence this off-season, when the Yankees faced losing three of their more popular players. As the off-season progressed, many wondered how the Yankees would replace the production of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. The eventual answers, Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson, did not satisfy everyone. I think, however, that this misses the point of roster construction.

Player production fluctuates from year to year. Some players on a given roster will improve their numbers over the previous year, and some will decline. Even established players will see varying levels of production to some degree. Players do have bad years occasionally, just as they have career years. They benefit from good luck and fall victim to bad luck. Injuries can shorten seasons and hamper production. As players exit their primes their skills erode, and as players enter their primes their skills take full shape.

At designated hitter, Nick Johnson takes Matsui’s place. Based on their 2009 numbers, this is an almost one-for-one replacement. Johnson’s wOBA was just .005 lower than Matsui’s, and they had identical WAR values. This indicates that Johnson will replace Matsui’s production, but it completely ignores the year-to-year fluctuation. Both players missed much of 2008 with injuries, but both played all of 2009 — and Johnson actually accumulated 46 more plate appearances. The bet the Yankees have made is that Johnson’s non-specific injury history is a better bet than Matsui’s balky knees. Add in Johnson’s age and you might understand why the Yankees bet on the younger player.

In the outfield, Curtis Granderson replaces Johnny Damon. While Damon certainly had a better 2009 season, it does not necessarily indicate that he’ll perform better than Granderson in 2010. Granderson had a particularly bad season compared to his previous two, and could easily bounce back to be a highly productive player. Meanwhile, Damon, seven years Graderson’s senior, ended the season in a horrible slump, perhaps an indicator of his age. We don’t know any of this for sure, which makes it difficult to gauge whether one will adequately replace the other.

Even then, we have to determine whether each returning player will replace his production from the year prior. Will Jorge Posada replace Jorge Posada? Jeter for Jeter? Both had particularly good years, but both are exiting or have exited the primes of their careers. There’s a chance, though I’m not sure how great, that their production declines this season. This applies to Matsui and Damon as well. We’ve heard many people — reporters, fans, and analysts alike — talk about Johnson and Granderson replacing Matsui and Damon, as if it’s a lock that Matsui and Damon reproduce their 2009 seasons. The same applies to them as to Jeter and Posada.

During the season we see the trees. We can observe and measure how each player has contributed to the team. In the off-season, all we can really look at is the forest. Does the team have a solid lineup? Does its rotation feature a number of out-generating pitchers? We can drill down even further, looking at what types of hitters and pitchers compose the team. But it’s tough to tell, from an individual player standpoint, how the team stacks up to the previous year’s. There’s just too much variation to account for. This is not to say that we can’t predict and project how players will produce. It’s that we tend to focus on the replacements while ignoring the returning players.

Every team changes between seasons. Not only do they add and subtract players who will perform differently than their counterparts, but their returning players will not necessarily reproduce their previous season. Roster construction talk often involves the idea of replacing production, but if we can’t determine how a player will replace his own production, I’m not sure it’s fair to talk about a new player replacing that of an old one. That is, it’s fine for casual debate, but I don’t think the Yankees use that when building their teams. They just want the best possible construction, regardless of who replaces whom.

Categories : Offense

81 Comments»

  1. Steve H says:

    Are you trying to tell me that Randy Winn isn’t replacing Johnny Damon?

    My mind=Blown

    Great post, I hope people read and re-read it until they get it.

  2. Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster) says:

    Have I ever mentioned that this was my favorite blog? Because if I didn’t now seems like a good time.

    This is my favorite blog.*

    *Just one thing though…while Damon ended the regular season in a horrible slump, he had a great World Series. While I think Johnny’s due for a decline next season, I don’t think pointing out his end of season slump is the best indicator for that.

    • I’m just pointing out possible warning signs. And I still think it’s valid. If he slumped because he was tiring — and that’s not a certainty — he could have recovered because of the spacious October schedule. They had a lot of days off between the LDS and LCS, and Johnny seemed to heat up mid-LCS.

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster) says:

        I guess you could say that.

        • Something else to be said:

          “Meanwhile, Damon, seven years Graderson’s senior, ended the season in a horrible slump, perhaps an indicator of his age.”

          And, despite that slump in September, his 2009 was easily his career year, by far.

          Take out his miserable September and Damon’s 2009 April-to-August line was .289/.369/.523. Damon’s career line before 2009 was .289/.354/.435. His 5 years prior to 2009 was .296/.367/.452.

          Nevermind the “Johnny’s old and a decline risk, he’s not likely to keep this production up another year” argument… maybe Johnny was simply playing over his head? He was on a statistical outlier slugging hot streak that was simply unsustainable? It was a 2007-Jorge-Posada-esque career year that he’s just not going to ever duplicate due to the vagary of baseball?

          I mean, seriously, Johnny Damon last year posted his highest slugging percentage in a FULL DECADE. Yes, yes, I know, the YS3 friendly porch helped him. The question is, how much was it the short RF wall (which will continue to assist Johnny in 2010) and how much of it was just plain ol’ career year luck (which probably won’t)?

      • Zack says:

        Even with all those off-days, he still had to leave game 6 of the WS at the end of the 3rd inning due to a calf injury.

      • Rose says:

        Johnny’s end of the season last year was pretty concerning…and common sense would say that age had something to do with it. I agree that the vacation like off-season schedule not only helped the Yankees 3-man rotation…but most certainly helped the aging players hit like there was no tomorrow as well.

        Johnny was a key contributor…and while I kind of resented him at first with the signing…I look back and definitely appreciate what he did for us.

        Cue “The Way We Were” by Barbara Streisand. Somebody post a link…click on it…and remember Johnny…and of course my personal favorite out of the two Hideki Matsui.

    • Bo says:

      Have you ever disagreed with any post Rocky??

      You know having an opinion and a viewpoint isnt a bad thing. Agreeing with the masses isnt all that its cracked up to be, buddy.

  3. Rose says:

    The way I look at it is…we were going to have to get rid of Damon and Matsui either this year or next year…both of them. As older players, one of which is an older injury risk who can’t play the field any longer, paying them significant amounts of money on a much higher risk was an option.

    Our other option was to let the overly expensive, significantly older, declining, more injury prone duo to walk…and sign significantly younger, players hitting their prime whose gamble is not only safer…but smarter…to take their place.

    We were going to have to get rid of Damon and Matsui at some point. Substituting two very fine exciting players like Curtis Granderson and Nick “The Stick” Johnson…is A-OK with me.

  4. Mac says:

    Love this post. I wish more people understood this.

    Coming into this season, I believe this team is better constructed. Adding Javier, having a setup man in Hughes/Joba to start the season, and improvement in defense are all reasons why I believe this to be so.

    But the truth is, we did well with the lack of injuries last year, and we also got very consistent production from our veterans (Jete, Jorge, Pettitte, Matsui, Damon). Cash did was he gets paid to do, now its time for the coaches, trainers and players to do what they gotta do!

  5. A.D. says:

    They just want the best possible construction, regardless of who replaces who.

    Of course, teams don’t want to limit production by only increasing X WAR in a year. But the point is in the offseason the only way to compare teams is to in fact look at expected production which is going to be a consideration of player historical, player recent past, and reasonable future expectations. Of course some fans will disagree on this (is Granderson trending down, or just a bad year?), but the idea of replacing production & in general production is most of the point of stats & advanced stats.

    We’ve heard many people — reporters, fans, and analysts alike — talk about Johnson and Granderson replacing Matsui and Damon, as if it’s a lock that Matsui and Damon reproduce their 2009 seasons.

    People would be making dumb claims to assume Damon & Matsui must produce at 2009 levels in 2010, but that doesn’t make the idea of replacing production a “myth” it just means that some fans and some media types are making some poor claims without proper research, which as we know, is nothing new.

    Additionally, in theory, for the Yankees to repeat they want to replace or increase every players 2009 season in 2010. In some cases the best case to do that is in fact that same player. CC, A-Rod, Tex, Swisher, Cano, etc are realistically all the best candidates to replace their own production (and are under contract so not much leyway) while Jeter, Mo & Posada may decline, they’re still the best bets to replace their production from last year (especially given under contract). Given that they would need to replace Damon & Matusi’s 2009 production, however Matsui & Damon may not be the best men for that job, given that they are likely to decline, just how Mariano Duncan was unlikely to be the best man to replace his 1996 production in 1997.

    Net in net there isn’t a “myth” to production replacement, it just needs a bit more time and thought put into it than just assuming same production from players year after year uncontrolled for age & other factors.

  6. pat says:

    During the season we see the trees.

    Some more than others ;)

  7. pete says:

    I know there are a lot of mediots who talk about the direct replacement of johnny damon’s and hideki matsui’s production, but I don’t think that makes the idea of replacing production one that is wholly without merit. The yankees offense was an extreme strength last year, but it wasn’t an otherworldly, 1000+ run offense. I think a lot of people feel that last year’s run total would be a good benchmark for this year because it would allow our rotation beyond CC to succeed on the merit of throwing a lot of innings, rather than being forced to dominate. So while the one-for-one swaps are very misguided, a lot of people are saying “well we got this much offense last year, how can we make sure that we get something close to it next year?”

    What this should mean, though, as Joe has correctly pointed out, is that any analysis of projected offensive production takes the entire lineup into account, along with the departing players, and, even more importantly, is taking the 2010 versions of these players into account, not the ’09 versions. So a proper analysis would look like this:

    Jeter – presumably due for a pretty big regression in the field, and his excellent offensive year last year will probably be tough for him to repeat at 36. Still, he has shown no signs of offensive decline yet, and it seems unlikely that he’ll regress much on offense

    Johnson – we know about the OBP, but earlier in his career he had moderate power. a year removed from injury + YSIII could help bring that back, which could make him even more productive in 2010 than he was in ’09.

    Tex – he may not hit 39 HRs again this year, but his career trajectory indicates that he’ll be just as productive as he was last year

    A-Rod – another year removed from surgery should improve both his defense and his offense, although probably not much from the 2nd half. Still, having him at full health for the whole first half this year should be a huge boost

    Posada – I’m saying he’ll bat 5th based on last year’s production, but he is 38. could he still be the same guy on offense next year? of course. Would it be wise to bet on it? probably not.

    Cano – while he may regress a touch in terms of overall numbers (BA drops a few points, HRs drops from 25 to 20), even if he does, it’s unlikely he’ll be quite as bad with RISP, which will help us score more runs. And he’s also just turning 27, which means he could become even better. .330 and 30 HRs aren’t out of his league, and that’d be another boost to his offense.

    Granderson – he hit 30 hrs in spite of Comerica, some bad luck, and a down year last year. He’s a pretty good bet for a bounceback, IMO.

    Swisher – due for a bounceback at home, regression on the road. My guess is his overall production stays about the same

    Gardner/Winn(/Hoffmann/Golson) – probably not going to top an OPS+ of 90 overall, but the SB and SB% should boost their overall production levels towards or above a 100 wRC+.

    —–

    Damon – even in YSIII, it’s hard not to foresee some regression. 2009 was a career year, he’s 36, and he fell off a cliff in september

    Matsui – even bigger injury risk than Johnson, in my opinion, since he already has a health issue right now, rather than historically bad luck.

    When it comes down to it, I think A-Rod, Johnson, and Granderson could make up for some regression from Jeter and Posada, in terms of positional production from last year. I think the offense should score roughly the same # of runs as last year, maybe a few (20 or so) less. But I certainly believe that the way it is currently constructed is much MUCH more likely to replicate ’09′s numbers than a repeat of ’09′s lineup in 2010.

  8. BigGuy says:

    Great post. While we can agree or disagree on some of the moves, you really don’t know until they play the games. I think the Yankees will be fine with the Grandersen-Johnson pickups and I wanted both Damon and Matsui back. The key to me was the Vasquez pickup. Like Cashman said last week, he makes the rotation and bullpen both stronger. This team will be tough to beat and should be very entertaining again in 2010.

  9. MadforYanks says:

    “When it comes down to it, I think A-Rod, Johnson, and Granderson could make up for some regression from Jeter and Posada, in terms of positional production from last year. I think the offense should score roughly the same # of runs as last year, maybe a few (20 or so) less. But I certainly believe that the way it is currently constructed is much MUCH more likely to replicate ’09’s numbers than a repeat of ’09’s lineup in 2010.”

    A-Rod will be 35 in July, yet most of you (and most of the columnists on this blog) pick on Jeter and seem to think Alex will always improve and is exempt from all aging problems. It just boggles my mind. Why?

  10. gxpanos says:

    I agree with the post, but a possible nitpick: NJ played like 130 games at 1st last year, so defense went into his WAR, while Matsui did not play the field. Doesnt that mean that Matsui’s bat is more valuable than NJ’s? (Which is all that matters for our purposes, since NJ will be the DH.)

  11. Bo says:

    The issue isnt LF production. it is the age of all the veteran players and inevitable fall in production. How many 38 yr old catchers still hit 5th??
    Damon would have hedged against that. Now Gardner/Winn better hit better than last yr. granderson better not hit under 200 vs lefty’s. NJ better be healthy. And the 35+ left side of the infield better hit to their norms.

    Remember there aint much depth in AAA.

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