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A Huff and Puff does not blow my Coco away

November 25, 2011

So in my previous entry on the Dirty for Melky swap, I made a point to highlight that the Giants could wholly and defensively maximize Melky’s value by shifting him to left. I went on a tangent later on mentioning that we should sign Coco to a 1-year deal as a stop gap for Brown, and with Schierholtz playing right, we would have a pretty kickass trio playing catch in the outfield. But after some reflection that comes at times with a sleepless night, I’ve come to terms that “poor” would be a generous way to describe the offensive output they would produce. When you accept that the Giants won’t sign anybody significant to the infield barring the sacrifice of the Golden Gate to Jose Reyes, the only logical path to firepower is through the OF, and lead-off guys don’t exactly entail dingers and rib-eyes. Perhaps it took the combined efforts of Tejada, Keppinger, Orlando Cabrera, and Whiteside to bewitch me, but I was convinced that with Crawford’s glove leading the way, we could defend our way to another championship. But of course baseball doesn’t work like that. Good pitching and good defense can only take you so far when allowing the 2nd-least amount of scores doesn’t even net you a positive run differential. Only the Mariners scored 14 less runs than the Giants last season, which is not exactly a large difference. Actually, considering that fourteen has two digits, that is a lot of runs for the Giants. The grim fact that everybody realizes is, we need offense, bad. But how much defense should we sacrifice in order to put on the table an offense that’s north of mediocre?

Well, these are some inconvenient, rational truths:

  • As of now, Aubrey Huff will likely be our 2012 opening day first baseman.
  • Brandon Belt, as a result will almost certainly be playing LF exclusively with Huff in the lineup. Whether or not he plays 1B in Fresno to start the year, eventually this is where he’ll be in 2012.
  • Melky Cabrera will most likely spend the majority of his playing time in CF.
  • Brandon Crawford, despite his wonderful glove, still won’t hit a lick (just thought I’d throw that out there).

So to compare to my original scenario of Melky, Crisp, and Schierholtz, essentially Huff’s bat would be replacing Coco’s in the lineup, but there would be a distinct defensive downgrade (alliteration!) at 1B, LF, and CF with the rippling effect of the shift. Assuming that this latter scenario holds through Opening Day, which lineup will produce a higher output, namely in wins?

To determine this, I first calculated the projected difference in WAR between Huff and Crisp using Fangraph’s formula of wRAA + UZR + positional value + replacement level. Huff had a projected wRAA of 3.2 and a 3-year median UZR of 3.6, and his projected WAR equated to roughly .863 WAR. Crisp’s 4.4 wRAA prediction and 4.8 3-year median UZR translated to about 2.726 WAR, which illustrates a calculated 1.863 WAR gap between Huff and Crisp in head-to-head performance. Why did I use the median?

Because, 1) averaging UZR can be a very inaccurate way of calculating defensive performance, 2) most sabermetrically savvy persons recommend looking at the past 3 years of a player’s track record in determining performance to curb the effects of volatility, 3) changes in physical habits allowed players to improve their UZR in a short time frame, and 4) some players’ statistical outputs were produced in very small sample sizes. With a 3-year range using the median, I could find the “middle” value of the pack that’s likely to not be an outlier considering that defense doesn’t usually fluctuate too much within such a small range. Also one more thing to take into account is that with the median, it’s a value that the player actually produced so it’s likely not outside the realm of possibility to reproduce. One could argue that with a large gap in values, the median is no better than the mean for calculating an “average” based on such small sample sizes and that a regressing trend may be more reflective of output than an average but I didn’t really see anything troubling with Coco and Huff’s numbers.

To calculate the aggregate difference in defensive value, I subtracted the combined median UZR of Huff 1B, Belt LF, and Melky CF from the median UZR created by Belt 1B, Melky LF, and Coco CF over a 3 year average (Belt being the exception). With Belt, obviously we only have one year to work with and considering that he had logged only 203 innings at 1B I used UZR/150, which scales UZR over 150 games, to calculate a reasonable UZR of 4.9. His UZR/150 in 231 innings at LF projected to -2.6 UZR, which is about in line with what most of saw last year.

By adding in the rest of the UZR of the players, what the overall result came down to was 3.6 (Huff 1B) -2.6 (Belt LF) – 6.1 (Melky CF) minus 4.9 (Belt 1B) + 1.9 (Melky LF) + 4.8 (Coco CF) = -16.7 UZR, or approximately -1.67 WAR. That tacked onto the 1.863 wins difference between Coco and Huff gives us a total of 3.533 WAR.

*Now before I make any additional comments, I’d like to make note that these calculations are in no way completely accurate or statistically modeled to give precise results. Baseless assumptions and cherrypicking stats occurred in the analysis, however I think that these results give a rough, general idea of what can be expected assuming Bill James’ predictions are somewhat accurate.*

My thoughts on this:

3.5 wins is a rather significant differential just from adding 1 player. Honestly, I think James undervalues Huff a little bit but even 2.5 WAR would be great addition from someone who’ll likely cost us only $6-8M. But it’s a little sickening when you think about it; we could win 3 more games if we signed Coco but our offense would still be lackluster. On paper, a lineup of:

  1. Crisp
  2. Sanchez
  3. Posey
  4. Sandoval
  5. Cabrera
  6. Belt
  7. Schierholtz
  8. Crawford

doesn’t actually seem so bad when you consider last year’s active roster, but a lot rides on Freddy and Buster to be productive, Belt to have a good season, Nate to be the player he was for us last year, and Crawford to hit close to .250. Oh and *we’d probably have to trade Huff somewhere else*. So at the end of the day, what’s the deal?

Well, if we manage to get rid of Huff and sign Crisp to reasonable 1-year deal, we could have league-average offense. Possibly a bit better than league-average if we get some good seasons in my fickle opinion. However, depending on our pitching staff AND bullpen to perform as they did last year without the injury bug is a lot to ask for. So yes, I think Coco can help but we’d definitely need someone like Beltran to fortify the lineup, who in all reality, won’t be coming back. Honestly, we can’t blame Sabean that the market for position players at our needs is paper-thin, but it’d be nice if he could make some decent moves from now on. Lock up Timmy and Cain, make an offense than can give our pitching a chance to make the playoffs this one year, and don’t do anything stupid. I think we’re peeking up from the bottom of a trough and I optimistically believe that it can only get better from here on out. If we can survive this year and lock up our pitching, we should be in a great position to compete for a good 5+ years if we don’t make any more crippling moves. So store those daydreams of rib-eyes for later because we got a bumpy road ahead of us, but it should be smoother sailings from here on out.

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