Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Endy Conundrum

I don't think we're going to see Endy Chavez in a Nationals uniform. If there's one thing we've learned in the Jim Bowden Era, it's that our interim (please!) general manager doesn't lie to the press. If Gammons reports that he's after Guzman, he gets Guzman. Rosenthal says he wants Castilla, he gets Castilla. So when Ken Rosenthal reports the following, I believe it:
The next Washington player to be moved could be CF Endy Chavez, who has drawn the interest of the Phillies. It is doubtful, however, that the Phillies would part with the pitcher that Washington wants, RHP Ryan Madson.
I've been searching with some desperation for a Bowden move to be all happy about, lest I be branded as a party pooper or some such, and this would do it. Endy Chavez, like Cristian Guzman, is a near-proverbial bad hitter. In 2004, National League center fielders averaged a BA/OBP/SLG line of .265/.332/.437 (think Marquis Grissom). Endy did his best to bring that line down with a doughty .277/.318/.371. In technical sabermetric parlance, that is totally crapulent. I'm appalled that Vinny Castilla had a .281 OBP on the road last year, but at least he slugged almost .500. If you want some more sophisticated "metrics," as the kids say, Endy's line is good for an 82 OPS+ and a .244 EQA, with 100 and .260 the averages in those respective measurements. He can't hit, he never has, and he never will. "Hold on, buddy," you may say, "can't a centerfielder make up for that kind of thing with stellar defensive play? Does not Mike Cameron justify his millions by lowering the ERAs of all those who suffer the misfortune of pitching for the Mets? Did not two thirds of all known DiMaggios make their livings with their gloves?" Very true, sir. I'm not one of those guys who thinks it's acceptable to have Jeremy Giambi in your outfield - I value good defense out there. The problem is how to value it.

Sabermetrics, which can be defined as "the study of baseball, focusing particularly on how Tim McCarver is wrong about everything," are better defined here. This movement has done wonders for the understanding of how offense works, but relatively little for our knowledge of defense. That is changing, due in part to Voros McCracken's study that showed that pitchers have little effect on balls in play and, more importantly, to Billy Beane trading for Mark Kotsay and Theo Epstein trading for Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera. "Hmm . . . " pondered the saber-hordes, "those guys are smarter than Tim McCarver and maybe even me. Maybe defense does matter, because Lord knows Orlando Cabrera can't hit." I realize that all of this is a flippant, possibly slanderous simplification. You get what you pay for.

So, there are defensive metrics out there. The problem is that each one tells you something different. Offensive metrics are pretty reliable - you can't find one that doesn't tell you Barry Bonds isn't at least half god (insert snarky roid comment here). The defensive ones, though, are less than unanimous. And this brings us back to Endy Chavez.
  • Baseball Prospectus' battery of defensive metrics sees Chavez as being average at best. He was 10 runs above the hypothetical replacement center fielder, 5 runs below the hypothetical average CF (Marquis Grissom again?). He was a little better in 2003, but not above average.
  • Win Shares, a measurement devised by Bill James to make Craig Biggio look good, credits 4.3 fielding Win Shares to young Endy. Hella mediocre. 4.3 puts him in the company of a lot of part timers and non-CFs. Carl Crawford, for instance. I bet Whitey Herzog would have a good time managing Carl Crawford.
  • Then there's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which is not only beyond my feeble comprehension but also beyond my feeble Google skills, so I can only come up with this, which goes from 2000 to 2003. UZR, slightly outdated, has Chavez as the third-best center fielder in the game during that time, behind Darin Erstad and Tsuyoshi Shinjo. And followed by Ruben Sierra and Richard Hidalgo, who combined for a total of one (1) game in center field from 2002 to 2003. The list starts making sense after Hidalgo, as Mike Cameron, Dave Roberts, and Johnny Damon make appearances. It's a very eccentric list, and I'm probably missing something.
So, to sum up, two of the three defensive stats I bothered with show Endy Chavez as an indifferent center fielder. Indifference is something you'd put up with in center from Vernon Wells or Brad Wilkerson, but not from a guy who can't hit any better than the dreaded Replacement Player (defined sabermetrically as "Neifi Perez with a hangnail and a wicked hangover"). Therefore, I urge Jim Bowden to trade the hell out of Chavez. I appreciate that he had the stones to ask for Ryan Madson, but he should settle for anything. One rumor had a Chavez-Marlon Byrd swap in the offing. As far as I can tell, Byrd and Chavez are actually the same person, so that won't make much of a difference. I guess I'd rather have the guy who managed 44 walks in a season, though.

Miscellany:
  • Steven Goldman and Baseball Crank agree with me on Bowden's moves to date.
  • I had to change some links around, not that you ought to care. Brian Gunn of Redbird Nation retired, which is a damn shame. That was a superb blog, and it was even better if you were as much of a 2gether fan as I was. MLB.com has a Nats message board, so I stuck that up there. I wouldn't recommend wasting much of your time there, though. The level of discourse is pretty dismal. And I have a link direct to the Nats shop for all your Christmas shopping needs.
  • Capitol Punishment already covered this, but Will Carroll discussed his Grays error. Here's an idea, Will: try "I'm hearing Grays" or "probably Grays" instead of "It's the Grays." It makes you look much less foolish when you're inevitably wrong.
  • Here's who I want on the 2005 Nationals in addition to Rickey: Jose Lima and Tony Clark. Discuss.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can't offer a sabermetric discussion of why Lima would work here.

He just will, and I think you know it.

Anonymous said...

If Crazy George agreed to pay most of his salary and the cost in player personnel wasn't steep, I wouldn't mind seeing Kevin Brown in a Nationals' uniform next year. After the fist incident and his collapse in game 7 of the ALCS, the denizens of the Bronx bleachers would prefer to bring Ed Whitson back than see him again. Brown might be unhappy at RFK, but he's got to know that next April, he'll be downright miserable at Yankee Stadium.