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April 2, 2012

BP Unfiltered

Earning our Varsity Letters [Updated]

by Jay Jaffe

Thursday is Opening Day, and while the occasion doesn't need any additional embellishments, we have one for New York City-area Baseball Prospectus readers: at 7:30 PM, Steven Goldman and I will be reading from our latest tome, Extra Innings, which officially hits the streets this week. We'll be doing so as part of the Gelf Magazine monthly Varsity Letters series, which played host to Steve and Jonah Keri back in 2007, when Extra Innings' prequel, the popular Baseball Between the Numbers, was the newest game in town. Afterwards, we'll take questions from the audience.

The event will take place at The Gallery at Le Poisson Rouge at 158 Bleecker Street in Manhattan's Greenwich Village (between Thompson and Sullivan Streets; see the map here), so of course Steve will be modeling his collection of berets while playing the upright bass to accompany my readings of jazz poetry (OKAY, OKAY, we promise none of that if you actually show up). We'll have books for sale, and are hoping to arrange a means of giving away a free copy or two. I should also point out that Le Poisson Rouge is a bar, so you'll be able to quench your thirst while we read, though please note that I will be grading you on the brand of beer you drink, using the traditional 20-80 scouting scale. Doors open at 7 PM.

Also on the bill that night will be New York Times columnist Dan Barry, author of Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game, and Glenn Stout, author of Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway's Remarkable First Year; and editor of the Best American Sports Writing series since like forever. One's got a Pulitzer to his name, the other a Seymour Medal, but neither of them can make VORP swing like we can, Daddy-O.

In conjunction with the appearance, Varsity Letters host Michael Gluckstadt interviewed the two of us about the state of sabermetrics and baseball writing. I'll update this with links when those go up. You can read the interview here. A quick taste:

Gelf Magazine: Jay, your Hall of Fame formula JAWS measures players up against the advanced stats of others already enshrined in Cooperstown. How different would a "JAWS of Fame" in which only the top players selected by your metrics are inducted look from the current one?

Jay Jaffe: JAWS is essentially based upon the average career and peak value of the Hall of Famers at a given position. If the voting systems were efficient, the averages would be much, much, higher, and some of the slam-dunk candidates we've talked about in recent years would actually be mid-to-lower tier guys who would have to battle to get in instead of waltzing in on the first ballot.

Tony Gwynn is a good example. With 3,000 hits, eight batting titles, and umpteen All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves, he was a lock and he received 97.6 percent of the vote, among the highest of all time. My system places him 11th out of 23 right fielders in the Hall, ahead of only two BBWAA-elected right fielders; the rest came in via various iterations of the Veterans Committee and some of them are among the weakest players in the Hall of Fame. Mind you, I'm not saying Tony Gwynn should be a bottom-of-the barrel candidate by any means, but the guy wasn't as valuable as people think—Tim Raines, for example, was more valuable and he didn't win all those awards. If JAWS were deciding the Hall of Fame, Gwynn would have faced a Raines-like uphill battle for acceptance.

We hope to see you Thursday!

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

6 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Agent007

Will you to open for on-line questions? I want to know how to figure out when a player's defensive shortcomings overwhelms his offensive contributions. Like, say, Mark Reynolds. Is there a formula?

Apr 02, 2012 10:28 AM
rating: 0
 
Agent007

"overwhelm"

Apr 02, 2012 10:29 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Agent007 - that's basically what WARP is for, valuing a player's offensive and defensive contributions together. Reynolds has been worth 8.4 WARP over the last four years (2.2 per year), and 2.9 over the past two years (1.5 per year). That's not much to write home about for a full-time player, but it's not worthless, either. Basically, it's stopgap-caliber.

Apr 02, 2012 12:07 PM
 
Agent007

Yes, but Dan Turkenkopf's piece in Extra Innings points out that you don't rate them equally. While you might sit a glove man on the bench if he can't hit, you don't sit a home run hitter just because he's weak in the field. Unless you can convince him to DH...

Apr 03, 2012 06:47 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Well, sure, but that's in part because the offensive spread between a good and a bad hitter at a given position is generally much larger than the defensive spread between good and bad.

Consider 2011 shortstops. The leader, Jose Reyes (58.5 VORP) was about 70 runs better than the trailer, Reid Brignac (-11.2 VORP). Fieldingwise, the leader, Brendan Ryan (13.3 FRAA) was about 33 runs better than Asdrubal Cabrera (-32.1). For 3B, the offensive spread was about 61 runs between Evan Longoria and Pedro Alvarez, the defensive spread about 32 runs between Jack Hannahan and Mark Reynolds.

Most MLB regulars produce more value with their bats than their gloves, but for valuation purposes a run saved on the defensive end is the same as a run scored on the offensive one.

Apr 03, 2012 08:19 AM
 
cdmyers

Nice. Love LPR, I hope I can make it.

Apr 02, 2012 14:22 PM
rating: 0
 
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Pebble Hunting: Your J... (03/30)
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