Fun With VORP

Smart baseball people have tried for years to concoct a grand unified statistic, a single number that will quantify a player’s total ability both in the abstract and in comparison to other players both contemporary and historical. From linear weights to win shares to TPVR, none of these numbers is perfect. However, they’re all useful as tools, which is the whole purpose of stat-keeping.

Baseball Prospectus has a neat number they call VORP, for "value over replacement player." I like VORP because it has a concrete cutoff. You can make an argument for keeping any player with a slightly positive VORP and a single skill, like playing a good defensive shortstop or stealing bases. Anyone with a negative VORP, though, is playing worse than literally a guy off the street. If that guy is Oscar Robles, considerably worse.

Right now the top five guys in VORP (among position players) are Derrek Lee, Albert Pujols, Brian Roberts, Alex Rodriguez, and Miguel Tejada. All of these guys are legitimate MVP candidates in their leagues. The bottom five are Cristian Guzman, Miguel Olivo, Tony Womack, Roger Cedeño, and Chris Burke. The system takes into account position, since corner outfielders generally produce better stat lines than catchers or second basemen. It’s worth noting that the metric isn’t balanced in the sense that the very worst players aren’t as far away from zero in absolute value as the very best players. If there was a guy hurting his team as much as Derrek Lee is helping the Cubs, I would hope he’d have been put out of his misery by now.

A "replacement player" isn’t precisely a guy off the street, but rather readily available minor league or free agent talent to whom you can pay a minimum salary. Some guys within a point of zero VORP this year: Terrence Long, Rey Sanchez, Royce Clayton, Gary Matthews. Also Cory Sullivan, Danny Ardoin, and Jorge Piedra. And Aaron Miles. (Keep in mind that park effects are taken into consideration here.)

The Rockies only have two hitters significantly below replacement level. Can you guess who they are? Not J.D. Closser, who actually comes out a tick above positive and well ahead of his rival Ardoin. Not Eddy Garabito or Tim Olson or Jeff Baker. Nope, it’s Dustan Mohr (-4.8) and Desi Relaford (-3.7). What do these guys have in common? Well, neither of them is particularly young. And, damagingly, both of these guys were signed as free agents in the last offseason by Dan O’Dowd. The Rockies are voluntarily paying two guys to make them worse.

Well, a bad signing is one thing. But why do Mohr and Relaford continue to play? Seeing as Colorado’s season is essentially over, why can’t O’Dowd cut his losses and just give these hunks of dead weight their unconditional release? Why give the fanbase a bill of sale about young players taking their lumps and maturing as  a team, then give their at-bats to guys who have had ample time in the major leagues to prove they have no place on a winning club? As the season staggers on, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the reason is O’Dowd and Clint Hurdle have no idea what they’re doing.

I was going to go to game tonight, but this research put me right off of Rockies baseball. I’m going to stay home and watch the White Sox and A’s on TV instead, while waiting for news of a Preston Wilson trade that will sacrifice the opportunity to add future contributors for the sake of saving a few million dollars which O’Dowd will certainly waste on next year’s Mohrs and Relafords.

Here’s who I want on the Rockies next year: Jeff Francis, Todd Helton, Clint Barmes, Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Cory Sullivan, J.D. Closser, Marcos Carvajal, Brian Fuentes, and Shawn Chacon. Byung-Hyun Kim can come back, but only as a fifth starter, and only for a wildly reduced salary, which shouldn’t be a problem. Miles has got to go. I refuse to settle for Jennings, Wright, and Kennedy in the rotation, and neither should you. Zach Day is not an acceptable substitute. If signing free agent starters is an impossibility, than somebody’s going to have to make some trades.

I think a lot of Rockies fans want to rebuild the legacy of the Blake Street Bombers, building a slugging offense that will dominate at home and get lucky a few times on the road. I’m not having it. You win championships with pitching. The success of Francis is enough to start me dreaming of a day when Colorado has an entire rotation capable of winning games all by themselves. Such a fivesome mixed with an offense that works counts, draws walks, hits behind the runner, and gets guys on third with less than two outs home would be able to compete 162 games a season, not something less than 81.

Update: You know why I can’t stand Kennedy/Wright/Jennings? Look at the walks. Jennings leads the majors with 57. Kennedy is 20th with 44. Wright is tied for 21st with 42. That’s 143 between those three guys. The Minnesota Twins, as a team, have 166.

One comment

  1. enkrates@gmail.com

    You’re completely right. The Rockies problems, I think, are not based in Coors Field, but in inadequate management. An organization committed to contending in 3-5 years could make it happen, but this management seems to be schizophrenic about their timeline, which means they will never accomplish anything.

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