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BCB Mailbag 33: Finding A Good Place at Second Base

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Answering the burning questions from you, the reader.

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Man, it’s weird not having Brewers’ baseball to watch on the TV every night. I know the playoffs are going on and that’s exciting and all, but I just have trouble getting as into the postseason games without our beloved local nine participating. I forgot how depressing the offseason is, ugh. Well, anyways, let’s get to those questions:

icelandreliant asks:

Kyle, I saw you use a stat called TAv on BP Milwaukee

What is that? I’m afraid I’m falling farther behind when it comes to advanced metrics after feeling like I caught up for a few years.

“TAv” is shorthand for “True Average,” which is Baseball Prospectus’ total measure of offense. It’s similar to what “weighted runs created plus” from Fangraphs’ measures. The league average TAv is constant at .260 every season, but it’s scaled to batting average rather than a percentile above or below average, like wRC+. Here’s the definition from BP:

True Average (TAv) is a measure of total offensive value scaled to batting average. Adjustments are made for park and league quality, as such the league-average mark is constant at .260.

True Average incorporates aspects that other linear weights-based metrics ignore. Reaching base on an error and situational hitting are included; meanwhile, strikeouts and bunts are treated as slightly more and less damaging outs than normal. The baseline for an average player is not meant to portray what a typical player has done, but rather what a typical player would do if given similar opportunities. That means adjustments made for parks and league quality. True Average's adjustments go beyond applying a blanket modifier-players who play more home games than road games will see that reflected in their adjustments. Unlike its predecessor, Equivalent Average, True Average does not consider baserunning or basestealing.

Here is an example of the True Average spectrum based upon the 2009-2011 seasons:

Excellent - Miguel Cabrera .342
Great - Alex Rodriguez .300
Average - Austin Jackson .260
Poor - Ronny Cedeno .228
Horrendous - Brandon Wood .192

Mtcunning3 asks:

What qualifies an "elite" prospect?

Top 5? Top 10? Top 100?

I would try not to think about it in terms of a list ranking, but think about elite prospects in terms of tool grades an OFP. I would say that any prospect who has an Overall Future Potential grade of 60 or better can be considered elite. Those graded at 60 or higher are generally considered to have enough talent to become impact players at the MLB level.

The Dane asks:

When we add somebody to the 40 man

why is the language that the Brewers "purchased the contract of blah blah blah"? And who exactly are they purchasing it from?

Similarly

Who specifically pays minor league players? Is it the Brewers organization or does the team they are playing for pay them?

The language is indeed a little weird here regarding these types of transactions. So, there are strict contracts between MLB franchises and their minor league affiliates. Most MiLB teams are privately owned and can therefore switch affiliation, but the players are under the exclusive control of the MLB franchise, so they would just switch to a the new affiliate. All minor league players are under contract with the MLB club, but only those on the 40 man roster are on MLB contracts. The parent MLB club has the exclusive right to “purchase” the contract of a non-MLB contract player at any of its affiliates in order to bring add that player to the 40 man roster and bring him to the big leagues.

All salaries are paid by the MLB organization, minor league wages are not the responsibility of the affiliate ball clubs. Minor league wages are paid out on a scale that is in use league-wide that generally keeps the pay below poverty level for non-40 man roster players on their original minor league contracts. Once a player has spent 7 sevens in the minor leagues, they are eligible for minor league free agency and can then negotiate their wages with interested clubs.

SANDYTOLAN asks:

Broken record here, but...

What do you think about signing/trading for a high-OBP second baseman, shipping out Hernan as a piece of an as-yet-unknown trade, and making bounceback-eligible Villar, he of the much higher-than-Hernan upside, the NEW six-position Hernan? (He can play OF in ST.) And related to that, to reduce the Crew’s too-high "three true outcomes" ratio, should 2B or somewhere else be targeted as a place to shore up the team with high OPB, low Ks? Finally…given that Walker’s price may be too steep at 2B, who would YOU target, Kyle?

If the Brewers wanted to trade Perez, I wouldn’t be opposed to it. I do like the value that Villar could possibly have in the super-utility role that you described, and I agree his upside would be much higher than Perez’s based on their offensive profiles. I don’t exactly think Perez is the type of player that would bring back a ton of value, though, so I don’t know that there will be much urgency to move him while he’s still pretty cheap (MLBTR projected him for $2.2 mil in his first run through arbitration this winter).

The market for second baseman this winter doesn’t really appear to be all that enticing, though I do agree that it’s a spot they should make some sort of addition. I’d like Walker back if the price is right, but that is starting to seem a bit unlikely. Eduardo Nunez has quietly been very good dating back to 2015, having hit .296/.332/.443 with 32 home runs and 72 steals in his last 327 games. He doesn’t strike out much but he’s not the “high-OBP” hitter you seek, walking only 4.9% of the time in his career. He would be an upgrade, but he’ll be 31 next year and is likely going to be in search of a nice multi-year deal during his first foray into free agency.

There could be a lot of options on the trade market, but those will cost prospects instead of just money. Cesar Hernandez of Philadelphia might fit the bill, if he’s available; he has a .372 OBP and 109 wRC+ over the last two seasons. He will be 28 next year and has three more years of club control through arbitration, so he’d probably cost a fair amount. The A’s are planning on exercising Jed Lowrie’s $6 mil club option for 2018, but may be inclined to part with the soon-to-be 34 year old and his .360 OBP for the right price. Dee Gordon will probably be available now that the Marlins have stated their desire to lower payroll, but he’s due another $38 mil or so over the next three years. Maybe Joe Panik comes available if the Giants decide to start rebuilding. The team might revisit talks for Ian Kinsler, too.

I have a pretty good feeling next year’s regular second baseman is someone that’s not on the roster right now.

Junbug11 asks:

What is your verdit on Eric Thames' 2017 season?

Seems to me that people’s expectations (with the benefit of hindsight) have risen to an absurd level. I think he exceeded all reasonable expectations, but some sound like they want to give up on him.

I don’t think that Thames’ year can be labeled anything except a resounding success. The Brewers really went out on a limb by signing Thames to multi-year deal based on his production in Korea, though in the grand scheme of things the $4 mil he made this year was a pretty minor amount. He more than justified that modest level of compensation in 2017.

Remember in January when we are all freaking out over the Thames projections? This is what some of the top forecasting systems thought Thames would do:

Eric Thames

Projection System At-Bats BA/OBP/SLG HR SB BB K
Projection System At-Bats BA/OBP/SLG HR SB BB K
ZiPS 450 .247/.321/.493 26 10 44 143
Steamer 475 .272/.350/.515 29 13 52 131
Davenport 480 .285/.358/.533 24 16 49 110

He wound up hitting .247/.359/.518 with 31 home runs in 138 games, good for a 124 wRC+, so it turned out that the projections were almost spot on in predicting his level of production. Even taking away his stellar April, Thames still clubbed 20 home runs and produced a 103 wRC+ from May 1st through the end of the season. I’m quite pleased with the way he played in 2017, and I believe that the club will begin 2018 with a reprise of the Thames/Jesus Aguilar platoon at first base.

drezdn asks:

What's worth checking out on tv this season?

My wife and I just recently watched season one of “The Good Place” on Netflix and thoroughly enjoyed it. Season two started this past week on NBC; we’ve got it recorded and ready to watch on our DVR.


Thanks for all the great questions this week, y’all! Of the teams left in the playoffs, I think I’ll be pulling for Houston to win it all and take home the World Series trophy this year, in fulfillment of the scriptures.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs