Friday, August 14, 2015

How Does Adrian Peterson Stack Up Against Other Running Backs?

Last season, millions of people were counting on Adrian Peterson to be a stand out in fantasy football. He is known as one of the most talented running backs in the game, and may predicted him to be one of the three top point producers. Unfortunately, things really didn't turn out as planned last year. He played in just one game before being suspended for the rest of the year thanks to child abuse allegations. Now that his punishment has been lifted, Peterson is going to be looking to have a pretty big season for the Minnesota Vikings. As people get ready for fantasy football league 2015, are they going to be ready to invest in him once again?

Peterson is going to be a focal point for the offense, Even if the Minnesota Vikings plan on utilizing second year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater quite a bit. They were actually able to have success with the the Bridgewater in the second half of the regular season, so bringing back one of the best 
running backs in the game is going to be very beneficial for him.

There seems to be mixed thoughts with Peterson right now when it comes to what to expect out of him in 2015. Some people feel like he is going to be rejuvenated in a way because he had so much time to let his body recover due to the suspension. It can be very beneficial for anybody to take some time off from getting hit every single week. At the same time, he might get off to a slow start in 2015 simply because he is a little bit rusty.

At the very least, Peterson should still be in the top five as far as running backs are concerned in fantasy football leagues 2015. He is a very talented player, and he is only going to get better as the season goes along. He is a bit older than other top running backs like Eddie Lacy and Le’Veon Bell, but the Vikings know how to use their best player on offense. 

Expect a big year out of him as he tries to repair his image.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

MLB GMs Undervalue Defense

The book Moneyball has gotten a lot of media coverage over the last decade, often being credited (incorrectly) for the growth of advanced stats in the game. I'm not even going to talk about the movie that had almost no relation to the book. But the main point of the Oakland Athletics strategy in Moneyball was to find skills that other teams were undervaluing. At the time the book was written, on base percentage was very undervalued. That's no longer the case, so teams need to find new ways to find undervalued players.

Defense continues to be an extremely important part of the game but it doesn't seem to get the credit it deserves, both from the media and the salaries great defenders get from their teams. While last year's Kansas City Royals "small ball" approach drew the ire of the advanced stats crowd (myself included), their elite defense all season fits right into the advanced stat mold. 

Preventing runs can be just as valuable as scoring runs, but in today's fantasy centric world, offensive numbers are all the rage. Being an elite defender is basically as rare as being an elite hitter, but elite defenders that can't hit rarely receive large contracts. However, elite offensive players that are black holes defensively continue to receive massive contracts from teams enticed by their 25 home runs.

Darwin Barney, the former cubs second baseman who's now with the Dodgers, has been a great defender at second base dating back to 2012. Using Fangraphs UZR/150 rating, Barney saved 17 runs per 150 games in 2012, 15 in 2013 and 17 again last season. Every 10 runs saved is generally worth 1 win, so over a full season Barney's defense at second base has been worth about a win and a half alone. He signed with the Dodgers this past off-season for $2,500,000 for one season in his second round of arbitration.

Barney has never been a good hitter, but major league second baseman in general aren't good hitters. In 2012, second baseman posted a respectable .714 OPS, better than shortstops and DH's that season. Barney's OPS was just .653, but he did steal 6 bases in 7 attempts to help add a little more value. His defense was elite, and WAR ranked him as worth more than 4 wins above replacement. That's a great season.

In 2013 Barney's offense fell, as he posted just a .569 OPS in 141 games. The average offensive second baseman had a .711 OPS that season. Barney became just a part-time player in 2014 following his poor offensive performance the year before, but that's where GM's seem to make mistakes. A poor offensive season almost always means the team is looking for a replacement, but a league average hitter with no defense will often get to keep his position for years, like Torii Hunter as he ages.

Daniel Murphy of the Mets is a good example of this. Since 2012, he's posted a .736 OPS, above average each season for second baseman. Unfortunately, he's been horrible defensively in that time, negating almost all the value his offense creates. In 2012, Murphy's UZR was -13.3, meaning his defense was costing his team more than 1 win a season. His offense was worth about 2 wins above the average second baseman, so Murphy wasn't without value. But his overall season, when factoring in offense and defense, was considerably worse than Darwin Barney's 2012 season.

Murphy has posted basically identical OPS' each season since. .733 in 2013 and .734 in 2014. He did improve his defense from brutal to just below average over the last two seasons, but his offensive contributions continue to be negated by his poor defense. Following the 2013 season, Murphy received a $5,700,000 contract in his second season of arbitration. That salary was based entirely on his offensive production. Barney was better over two years than Murphy overall, but because Murphy's offense was better and that's overvalued, he received more than double Barney's salary. (Both players made about $2.3M in their first arbitration season)

Murphy and Barney have been similar players when given the same amount of playing time, but because of the emphasis on offense, teams can find cheap production and extreme value by targeting elite defenders that have never really hit well in the big leagues. Murphy continues to play every day for the Mets, while Barney's been demoted to AAA by the Dodgers. LA has a lot of depth, but Barney is deserving of an opportunity. Again, his offense is being overvalued while his defense is being undervalued, which is a bad combination for someone with Barney's skill set.

While Barney and Murphy are only examples, there are undervalued defenders and overvalued offensive players at almost every position. Rather than going after a league average offensive player, teams need to begin targeting elite defenders with below average offense. They will not only get better production for winning games, they'll also get a cheaper player, allowing the team to add more talent with the savings. Players like Torii Hunter, veterans who are league average offensive players but horribly defensively, shouldn't be paid $10 million a year. Even if Hunter is the world's greatest leader (he's not) that's still too much money when the team could have gotten the same kind of overall production for a fraction of the cost. As fans, we like to watch the team score runs, but even more importantly, we like to watch a winning team. It'd be nice if the decision makers would use common sense instead of emotions when adding players in the off-season. Don't count on it though.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Adrian Peterson: Out of Touch

Adrian Peterson is one of if not the top running back in football. There's little doubt that the Vikings will be a better team next season with AP as their starting running back, and for that reason the Vikings continue to insist they won't trade him.

I don't think the Vikings are as against trading him as they've indicated publicly, but rather I think no teams stepped up and made an offer the Vikings deemed fair. If Dallas wants to give up multiple first round picks, I think you'd see the Vikings moving on from their talented star. Using AP's cap money to get two solid defensive starters would have been ideal, but at this point in the off-season any money they save by trading AP is unlikely to go to another free agent. There just aren't very many good players available at this point.

No other team will give up even one first round pick for a 30-year-old running back making $13 million this coming season, regardless of the career AP has had. And the Vikings feel he adds more value this season than any second round pick would. That's understandable.

What isn't understandable is how poorly Adrian Peterson has handled the whole situation. He was accused of beating his son with a switch, in case you've been living under a rock for the past year. The Vikings originally planned to suspend Peterson for one game following the incident. They reinstated him after he missed the second game of the season, but then the Ray Rice video dominated the headlines and suddenly Adrian Peterson's problem was also a bigger issue. The Vikings (either on their own or more likely from NFL pressure) decided AP would miss more than one game. That eventually became the entire season, and rumors persisted that the Vikings key attorney was pushing to keep AP off the field all season.

That last bit of rumor seems to be what's angered Adrian Peterson the most. He feels the Vikings left him out to dry, and refused to defend their own player. He wants to go somewhere he feels someone has his back. At least that's the way him and his agent want you to think the situation has played out.

But let's back up to last summer, when Adrian Peterson tells Jerry Jones on a random phone call he wants to play for the Cowboys. This was before any of the child abuse stuff had become public. AP was mad this time because the Vikings had fired Leslie Frazier despite Peterson clearly wanting him to come back.

If you're keeping track, that's two times AP didn't like the resulting outcome and immediately acted like a 12-year-old. Despite being the highest paid running back in football, AP also expected to have a voice in the coaching search? Players are generally terrible at knowing who to acquire and even worse at knowing what coaches will be successful. 

For example, everyone knows LeBron James has been controlling the Cavs personnel moves since he went back to Cleveland. The Cavs are winning because of LeBron James basketball skills, but they've really hurt their future because of his poor player acquisition skills. (James would deny he had anything to do with roster moves, I think, but the moves the team made were ALL cleared with James. He has a ton of say.) KG was horrible at bringing in guys he wanted in his prime in Minnesota.

Players play, and other people do the other stuff.

Anyway, back to AP. The reaction to his court case may have been a bit reactionary from the general public. Sure, he beat his kid and really shouldn't have done it. Had he shown he learned from his mistake and truly felt remorse, the public outcry likely would've calmed down. After all, he was punishing his son for BEATING UP A GIRL. That's a good thing. He's teaching his son to treat women right. Unfortunately, he again showed he's not the sharpest tool in the shed by using violence to teach his son violence is wrong. AP is also one of the strongest men on the planet, so using a switch on a 4-year-old boy seems beyond excessive.

The situation was not caused by the Minnesota Vikings legal team. Rick Spielman didn't tell AP to beat his son. The resulting outcome of AP's criminal case (him being suspended all season) was excessive, I think. But that also isn't the Vikings fault. Sure, they may have had a hand in helping the NFL keep him off the field, but the Vikings had no control over the public outcry the Ray Rice video had on NFL violence issues.

AP doesn't understand that it seems. Everyone's out to get him. That's ridiculous, of course, but nobody ever accused an NFL running back of being a genius.

That looks and sounds great, until you get to the third to last paragraph! Peterson tweeted that immediately following the news breaking that he'd beat his son. He takes blame for what he did, admits it's wrong... and then a few paragraphs later he defends his actions by saying he was disciplined that way and it's what helped him become who he is.

His next tweet on the subject:

Umm... okay? A polygraph does nothing in this situation. AP beat his son with a switch. AP admitted it, but said he felt it was necessary discipline. Nobody felt Peterson was lying, just that he was horribly out of touch with the way the world works. His polygraph tweet only proved that.


I actually agree, in general, that most media outlets are terrible. But despite AP saying "just in general" it's clear he's upset about the coverage his child beating case received.  He also was angry the media was reporting on his children out of wed-lock. Again, I agree. It was blown out of proportion. What he does in his private life, as a single man, is his own business. Until he beat his child. Life is NEVER fair. Bad things happen all the time. And it's really difficult to not see that Adrian Peterson brought the problems on himself.

Scattered around all of his twitter complaints are bible quotes and scripture. I'd just like to tell him that it might not be the best idea to quote a man who (allegedly) sacrificed his only son when you're dealing with a case involving beating your own son.

Peterson isn't a regular citizen. People aren't just going to stop following him because they don't like his tweets. Some might, but in general Americans need to know what celebrities are doing at all times. They can't click the unfollow button on famous people if their life depended on it. In his defense, this tweet seemed to be more regarding the Mike Brown issues, but he obviously meant it for everyone.

This was in regards to Darren Wilson not getting indicted for shooting Mike Brown. It's not wrong, and it's not even that stupid in a vacuum. But at a time when the whole country was focused on racial issues and police violence, AP took the time to remind all of his followers that he was indicted for beating a child. In his mind his punishment was unjust, but in the public eye he just looks silly.

Despite AP creating his own legal troubles and making the Vikings organization look bad in the process, he still refused to accept really any blame for his actions. If he's using his mistake as a way to get what he wanted last summer (to get out of Minnesota), fine. It might work. But it seems like he's really mad at the Vikings front office for his own mistakes, and the team not doing enough to help him.

Ideally, AP will play for the Vikes, have another great season, and the team will trade him next off-season for a solid return. Most people seem to think if he plays for the team this year, the issues will be water under the bridge and the team will keep him. I'm not so sure. With a way too big cap number for a seemingly useless position in today's game, the Vikings would be better off spending his money elsewhere and becoming a passing oriented offense. And if Dallas sputters out and misses the playoffs, AP might be the savior Jerry Jones wants.

Update: 2 days after this post AP tweeted another weird and wrong rant. Someone get this guy a PR team fast.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Looking At Danny Santana

Danny Santana had a fantastic rookie season. Santana's .319/.353/.472 slash line and his OPS+ of 130 are fantastic numbers for anyone, let alone a 23-year-old in his first big league season. Because of Santana's youth and the fact that he had what appears to be a breakout rookie season, the expectation for Santana is that he will continue to improve and build upon his great rookie season.

To be blunt: That's highly unlikely. His strikeout to walk ratio was 98 to 19, and very rarely do players who can't control the strike zone continue to hit at a high level year after year.

It's important to note that a key benefit of advanced stats is that they can help paint a very clear picture of what would be expected the following season. Things like batting average on balls in play (BABIP) are based far more on luck than skill, and generally if a player has a very high average in this stat, his numbers will fall off quite a bit the next season. For example, if someone's BABIP is between .280 and .295 over the first four seasons of their career, and then suddenly spikes to something like .354 in year five, it's very likely that this players sixth season BABIP is far more likely to be between .280 and .295 than it is to be anywhere near .354 again. A higher BABIP will boost each part of the slash line, as a .250/.300/.390 hitter could become a .275/.340/.420 hitter, becoming 10% more effective purely based on luck.

Saying that, one thing that does bother me about these kind of advanced stats is that I think people use them too often to judge the prior season incorrectly. What I mean by that is too often players who got lucky and had a big season thanks in large part to simply dumb luck aren't given the credit they deserve. Sure, the player got lucky. But the point should be to see who brought the most ACTUAL value to the team, not just perceived value. Getting lucky, while completely out of the player's control, still adds value to the team. A player who improves his offensive output by 10% because he just improved his swing or strength in the off-season is worth the same amount as a player who improves his offense 10% just by dumb luck.

Anyway, back to Danny Santana. The 23-year-old center fielder/shortstop was a good player last season. However, he was mostly a good player because he got lucky. His .319 batting average is largely due to a completely unsustainable .406 batting average on balls in play. Santana narrowly missed qualifying as he received just 430 plate appearances, but the league leader hit .373 on balls in play, while the league average was .299. Had Santana hit .299 on balls in play, he would've had 90 hits instead of 129. If we just pretend all of those hits were singles (highly unlikely, but easier for computing the slash line and kinder to Santana) that would've led to a slash line of .222/.262/.375. Suddenly Santana's rookie season doesn't look so fantastic.

But again, Santana getting lucky last year doesn't mean he wasn't valuable. He was very valuable. It's just not likely he'll be anywhere close to as lucky ever again. Even if we project a 10% improvement, but a league average BABIP*, Santana's slash line would be .245/.290/.415. The average shortstop hit just .255/.310/.368 this past season, which makes Santana's projected .705 OPS slightly above average. Add in Santana's above average base running and what projects to at least average defense, and he looks like a valuable player even without unsustainable luck.

*A 10% improvement in one year isn't all that likely, but Santana is also likely to post at least a slightly above average BABIP over his career because he strikes out a lot (that's not factored into the stat) and he's fast, so he should get more infield singles than an average player, so it should even out or get close enough that the guesses aren't too far off.

Unfortunately, Santana's power numbers are also unlikely to remain anywhere close to what they were as a rookie. That would significantly reduce Santana's slugging percentage. In 2,400 minor league plate appearances, Santana hit .273/.317/.391. He was always younger than the average age for each league, so his numbers are a little more impressive in that context, but nothing in his minor league numbers suggest consistent power, even from gap to gap. He also didn't look very big, so it's highly unlikely a strength or conditioning program was responsible for the sudden power surge.

Had we taken say just 18 singles from the 39 hits Santana would lose with a league average BABIP, and then 13 doubles, 5 triples and 3 home runs, suddenly the .222/.262/.375 line drops to .222/.262/.296.Then giving the same generous 10% increase and again a league average BABIP, Santana's projected season would be .245/.290/.325, meaning he'd need to be an elite defensive shortstop to bring value, because his .615 OPS would be below average offensively. Santana's defense at short is really an unknown as he barely played their this past season, but most projections have him anywhere from below average to above average. As a good athlete with quick feet and a strong throwing arm, I'd expect him to be at least average and probably above average.

I'd prefer to see the Twins trade Santana at his peak value, ideally to a team who is still impressed by the shiny slash line and not what he's likely to do next season. Speculating on trades is silly, since it's impossible to know what gets offered, among other things, but if a team is willing to trade a solid, young, near-ready major league starter the Twins would be silly not to accept.

Santana was fun to watch this past season, but if the Twins want to get back to playing meaningful games late in the season, they need to start selling high. This off-season, trading Danny Santana would be doing just that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Aaron Hicks: Not a Bust (yet)

Aaron Hicks is not yet a bust. I realize that's an unpopular opinion amongst the Twins faithful, but a simple understanding of his numbers makes it a fact.

Calling Hicks a bust seems to stem from him struggling offensively over the last two seasons in the big leagues. The thought process seems to be that he got two years to show he belonged on the team, and he struggled. Of course, each season was less than half a season's worth of at bats, so Hicks first two years in the big leagues are really the equivalent of most rookies first seasons.

To be fair, Hicks hasn't just struggled with the bat, he's been horrible. Hicks has 538 major league plate appearances over the last two seasons and he's posted a slash line of .201/.293/.313 for just a .606 OPS. Hicks' OPS+, which adjusts for the offensive environment the player played in (allowing fans to compare players across different eras), is 69. 100 is average.

The last two great center fielders the Twins had, Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter, both struggled in their first taste of the big leagues. Hunter's first three seasons he was given 441 plate appearances, and he hit .254/.309/.377, good for an OPS of .686. While the OPS is 80 points higher, Hunter's OPS+ was just 73. Slightly better than Hicks, but basically the same. Because Hunter played during the peak of the steroid era when offense was at an all-time high, his .686 OPS is basically as close to the league average as Hicks .606 was this season. Both players were drastically below average in their first taste of the big leagues.

Puckett was more highly regarded than both players, and was given over 500 plate appearances as a rookie. In his 583 plate appearances, Puckett hit .296/.320/.336, which was good for an OPS of .655. (Both OBP and SLG were rounded up, so together they equal a point less) Puckett's OPS+ was just 79. That's considerably better than Hicks, but still well below average and hardly the kind of rookie season that speaks to a future Hall of Fame career. Both Hunter and Puckett seemed to take their offense to another level after about 1,000 plate appearances. (This happened for Hunter in his fourth season, when he posted an OPS+ of 102, 2% above average. Puckett eclipsed this mark in his third season, and posted a ridiculously good OPS+ of 142, 42% above average.)

Of course, just because Puckett and Hunter struggled and then emerged as all-stars doesn't mean Hicks is destined to follow the same path. For every Hunter and Puckett there's the entire early 1990's busts, like Rich Becker. It's important though to remember that a 500 at bat sample size is far too small to make any true judgments. Hicks minor league numbers are solid and suggest an above average player in the future. Considering he had 2,500 at bats in the minors, I feel much safer projecting his future on that large sample than a small sample size spread over two seasons.

Giving Hicks the center field job on opening day for the third year in a row is something the Twins need to do. With top prospect Byron Buxton ultimately missing a full year of development with his injury woes this past season, he's likely at least half a season (and likely more than a year) away from contributing at all in the big leagues. Hicks has struggled the past two seasons out of the gate, but with no other options the team could do a lot worse than someone with Hicks minor league track record. If he gets a full season's worth of at bats in his third season and there isn't improvement, then we can talk about him being a borderline major league backup.

But to call a player a bust after just more than 500 at bats is silly, especially when the franchise's best two center fielders also struggled in their first 500 at bats. Don't give up on Hicks yet, Twins fans. He might emerge as one of the team's best young players after this season, and while others may be surprised, now you won't be.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Physics of Golf

Another interesting graphic from the kind people at InfographicWorld. This one pertains to the physics of golf. If you've ever wondered why golf balls have all those dimples or how the temperature truly affects your shot distance, take a look.

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