29 October 2012

More McLouth: a Simple Post on Future Performance

Aging curves are something we are all familiar with and agree with in principle.  I think that is a fair and safe assumption to make.  A young player will eventually reach his peak athletic performance and then decline until he is no longer valuable to any team.  That simply is how careers work.  Below is one of the standard curves:

From Baseball Prospectus

This is, of course, the age curve for a general population.  What that means is that individuals are likely to adhere to something similar to this curve, but that many players will indeed deviate from this curve.  Even with all of that uncertainty, it certainly helps predict player production and why age curves are included in any projection system you might use.

This brings us back to one of our favorite conversations in the past week: Nate McLouth.  There seems to be some confusion about how people are viewing him.  I decided to dive in the numbers (not very deep, though) to try to visualize the simple projection field for him.  On one perceived side, you have folks who think McLouth's years where he suffered major injuries (2010 and 2011) should directly inform future predictions of talent.  I don't think anyone has suggested something so extreme.

Likewise, there seems to be a misconception that Nate McClouth injury years as well as his go around with the Pirates in 2012, and maybe even his performance after the trade to the Braves in 2009 (because he was sad) should be ignored because he is now healthy and happy.  I think that is the misconception.  Otherwise, it is the point to which the argument is backed up against on the positive side.

Now, just looking at offense, what do these two perspectives show for McLouth?

The red series shows the optimistic view of McLouth.  Gone are his 2009-2011 time with the Braves and his 2012 time with the Pirates.  All that remains are his 2005-2009 Pirates years and his 55 games with the Orioles in 2012.  The blue series includes all of McLouth's time.  The green line is using his blue line data, but filling in any games missing up to 150 with an age regressed expectation based on his career year performance.

The three methods give the following three year projections:


Hi Reg Lo
2013 106 92 70
2014 97 86 56
2015 83 75 38
To be honest, none of these projections would surprise me.  I can see McLouth maintaining his skills well enough where he essentially performs the same in 2013 as his Oriole 2012 tenure with decrease performance thereafter.  I can also see his batting fall part with a somewhat normal aging curve.  Yes, I can also see him completely falling apart.  The green series makes the most sense to me if we want to go strictly by numbers and how we understand player aging with McLouth going into his age 31-33 seasons.  Regardless, this is clearly not someone you would want to give a multi-year deal.

How does this fit into baseball in general in terms of left field offensive production?  The following graph was created using data from the Fangraphs team section, which has flaws.  When I look specifically for left fielders, it actually compiles everyone who spent a "significant" time in left field with that compilation including batting numbers when they were not actually at that position, so these numbers may be a bit loose.  However, I think it roughly gives us an idea of what a left fielder might be expected to do offensively.

What we see are a few things:
(1) The Orioles, over 2013, had bottom tier production from their left fielders.  Endy Chavez, Xavier Avery, Steve Tolleson, etc. were not getting it done out there.
(2) The Orioles 87 wRC+ was well behind the league median (97, respresent by the Mets in Red).
(3) The Orioles were also way behind the threshold for first division left field offensive production (111 wRC+, represented by the Rockies in Green).
Assuming these general patterns hold up, you can make the argument that Nate McLouth would be able to deliver average to above average offensive production with a possibility of providing near league worse production.  Of course, what informs whether or not that league worse production comes into play is whether or not you think McLouth's high intensity play leads to higher risk of injury, particularly with a post-30 year old ball player.  It may be noteworthy to mention that McLouth has only put up 400 plate appearances twice in his career.  This is due to him not being asked to play much or being injured and unable to do so.

This leads us back around to Nate McLouth and whether the Orioles should sign him.  I have the same opinion I had coming into this exercise.  I think McLouth can be a league average or above average left fielder.  He is not a first division left fielder.  I also doubt he can stay injury free and see him as a risk for a major drop off in production.  If he wants to come back for a position where he has to fight it out with other players for left field, then I would be happy to have him back.  If the Orioles could rope in a legitimate first division starter and McLouth wants back, then great.  McLouth is a solid option as a fourth outfielder who may sometimes get hot.  He is not much of a centerfielder with his collapsing range and his arm is not going to make right field work, but, with a decent defensive fifth outfielder, McLouth could work out just fine.


Philip said...

For some reason, my IPhone periodically freezes when I post here, am I can't edit my wnt, which makes long comments awkward.
I agree with your post, with one caveat:
You cant find anyone who can produce what Mclouth did as inexpensively as he will. He's not the Risen Messiah in LF, but he is better than anyone on the horizon. Unless Mgmt I prepared to spend way too much.
Ergo, offer him a short contract for reasonable money, or a longer one with incentives, and tell him he's not guaranteed a startig spot.
David Murphy is a perfect 4th OF, but he isn't going anywhere, and he'd cost 20 times what Mclouth will.
Mclouth as a sometime starter is a valuable part of any team.

Jon Shepherd said...

So...McLouth made 1.75MM last year after having two injury plagued seasons. Now, he is coming off of a decent 55 game stretch. How do you think that affects his market value?

At the very least, he looks like someone who can get a 3MM deal. I think more likely he could see something in the 4-5MM range with incentives.

With what the team already has available, I think that money is best served going to shore up second base (another black hole of value) or going gonzo on left field.

Philip said...

I cannot comment on current salaries because actually I think they are all obscene.
But I hope Nate is wise enough to know his own value, and he seems sincere when he says he wants to stay in Baltimore.
Hopefully, desire and wisdom will combine to convince him to take a small amount of money, instead of insisting on the moon.
If you think 3-5 million for two years is the max then that's fine, and I doubt you'll better for the same amount of money, so it's financially wise to keep him if he will take that.
We'll find out in what, two weeks?
Really enjoy the site

Philip said...

Here's a supplemental question:
If Nate is worth X, but you don't want to pay him X, because you don't think he would produce as much as X should supply,
Who CAN you get for X?
All the guys you mentioned in your podcast would be incredibly expensive, and Mr. Angelos is not known for generosity

Jon Shepherd said...

My contention is that the players the Orioles already have under contract are just as likely to perform as well as Nate McLouth is likely to perform. Therefore, it makes little sense to me to put more money into the pot to secure him for the Orioles.

Jon Shepherd said...

Also, thanks for the kind words. I hope I am not coming off too frank. I very much appreciate your thoughts on the site. I think discussion helps us all challenge our thoughts and makes us worker harder to try to figure out what the reality of the situation is.

Thanks again.

Jeremy Strain said...

Is it a case of you being that high on Avery and Hoes or just that down on Nate?

Genuinely curious, I'm not a huge believer in Avery/Hoes at the ML level, although Avery surprised me in his limited stint.

Jon Shepherd said...

Oh, I don't think I am high on Avery/Hoes or down on McLouth. I think they all would provide marginal value. Hoes has a higher ceiling to produce this year, but I think it takes him a bit longer.

Jon Shepherd said...

Looking back at my answer...I don't know if something is clear in all of my writing on McLouth. I think the probability of him providing average performance in left field is the same as the collection of Reimold, Avery, and Hoes. What this means is that McLouth on his own profiles better, but you have just as much of a chance for one of those three stepping forward.

Using dummy numbers...let's assume that McLouth has a 30% chance of providing average value. It would be my perspective that there is a 20% chance that Reimold alone is worth that, a 7% chance Hoes alone is worth that, and a 3% chance that Avery alone is worth that. I have not run anything to tell me what those numbers specifically are, but I think those three match up very well to McLouth.

The point is not a vacuum of McLouth or those three because those three will still be there whether or not McLouth is. The point is whether it is worth 5MM or whatever to improve the odds of getting average performance out of left field as well as whether or not McLouth's history will enable him to sign with someone who promises him a full time role.

Matt P said...

"Using dummy numbers...let's assume that McLouth has a 30% chance of providing average value. It would be my perspective that there is a 20% chance that Reimold alone is worth that, a 7% chance Hoes alone is worth that, and a 3% chance that Avery alone is worth that. I have not run anything to tell me what those numbers specifically are, but I think those three match up very well to McLouth."

If you try Avery and Hoes in LF and they fail, then you've a) wasted time in which McLouth could actually produce and b) caused this team to have negative production at the position. By doing this, it means that in order for an Avery/Hoes platoon to be better than McLouth, either the first one you try would have to succeed or the other would have to be better than McLouth + the negative performance from the other in order to equal McLouth's production.

Reimold does have a chance of reproducing McLouth's production (a high one if he remains healthy) but I would think he's likely the starting DH at the moment. If you move him from DH then we'd need to see who takes over that position. Playing Davis every day at 1B and Betemit every day at DH is obviously not ideal but what would be expected if we didn't resign Reynolds or McLouth and had a bench of Teagarden(second catcher), Andino (presuming Roberts is at second), Avery(fourth outfielder) and FA (no idea who this would be).

But it's early... maybe we really will sign Hamilton plus trade for Butler and Rizzo making all of our questions moot.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think you got caught up in the simplicity of the example. I do not think managers can magically know who has there stuff together, so yes there will be some drift. That is included in the thought process.