Archive for February, 2010

Hot Stove U: Stress Pitches vs. Pitch Count

The Setup

On June 2 of last season, heading into the top of the ninth inning with the Toronto Blue Jays up 6-4 over the visiting Los Angeles Angels, Toronto manager Cito Gaston sent Roy Halladay back to the mound. Halladay already had thrown 116 pitches in the game.

Modern pitch-count orthodoxy would have had Halladay out of this midseason game at least 10 pitches earlier. So the question stands: Why would Gaston send him back out?

Obviously, Halladay is not some young pitcher who needs to be babied, but even so, 116 pitches is a lot. Why tempt fate with one of the game’s best pitchers and potential trade bait (with the trade deadline less than two months away) for a team that almost certainly would not be making the postseason?

In the end, Halladay closed out the game with 133 pitches, giving his team the victory. Did Gaston put Halladay’s arm at risk, or did he realize that not all pitchers are the same?

Those questions are relevant, but we’re here to demonstrate something else: Not all pitches are created equal.

The Proof

There is a growing belief that high-stress at-bats are more taxing than those in relatively low-pressure situations — and therefore that pitch counts from the two scenarios should not be treated the same. If a pitcher can breeze through easy innings in one gear and then kick it up to another gear when needed, raw pitch counts might not be the best tool to assess workload, either in an individual game or over the course of a season.

To test this theory, we need some measure of what we mean by pressure. We use a metric called Leverage Index, developed by statistician Tom Tango. Leverage Index (LI for short) quantifies the impact of every situation based on how the outcome will affect a team’s odds of winning a particular game. It is scaled so the average situation is always 1.00.

For example: An at-bat in the bottom of the ninth with two runners on and one run separating the teams will have a huge LI; the outcome of the at-bat will greatly affect the likelihood of either team winning the game. On the other hand, an at-bat in the middle of a 10-0 game with two outs and no runners on has a minuscule LI.

Let’s return to Halladay’s game against the Angels. Heading into the seventh, the Jays were up 6-0. Through those first six innings, because of the big lead and a dearth of Angels baserunners, Halladay faced just two at-bats with an LI of more than 1 and many with LIs less than 0.5. The 75 pitches Halladay threw through those six innings overwhelmingly occurred during low-leverage at-bats.

That all changed in the seventh inning, when the Angels managed four runs off him; as a result, his pitching changed drastically. He started throwing his curveball much more (19 times in 58 pitches in the seventh through ninth innings, compared to just 14 times in 75 pitches through the first six frames). It worked, as the contact rate on his pitches dropped from 72 percent to 60 percent and he struck out five batters in the final two innings, slamming the door and preserving the victory.

Those last 58 pitches likely were more taxing on Halladay than the first 75. With the game close in the late innings, Halladay shifted from pounding the zone with sinkers and cutters to get weak contact to throwing his breaking ball and trying to hit the edges of the zone to get strikeouts.

Halladay is not alone in shifting his strategy in high-leverage situations, although most pitchers respond by increasing the speed on their fastballs. In 2009, the average starter threw his fastball half a mile per hour faster in high-leverage situations. This might not seem like much — but most of these higher-leverage pitches come in late innings when most pitchers have lost a couple mph off the fastball. Somehow they are able to dial it up and get that speed back and then some. Justin Verlander threw his fastball more than 2 mph faster in high-leverage at-bats than when the game was not on the line. Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang and Pedro Martinez, among others, threw it more than a full 1 mph faster.

It makes perfect sense: When the game is not close or there are no runners on, a pitcher’s best stuff is not necessary, but when the game is close, it’s time to shift to another gear. These higher-leverage pitches almost certainly take more out of a pitcher than when he is cruising.

The Conclusion

Raw pitch counts do not account for the stress a pitcher has experienced over the course of either a game or a season. It is important to track high-leverage pitches separately since pitches in those at-bats require more effort. Here are the 2009 leaders for the number of pitches thrown in high-leverage at-bats:

These guys threw the most stressful pitches in the game in 2009.

Pitcher		Total Pitches	Total High-Stress Pitches
Justin Verlander	3,937	408
Chad Billingsley	3,203	385
Felix Hernandez		3,632	337
Ubaldo Jimenez		3,570	331
Adam Wainwright		3,614	331
Javier Vazquez		3,315	296
Carlos Zambrano		2,843	276
Jon Garland		3,255	271
Barry Zito		3,204	268
Matt Garza		3,421	261

Verlander threw more pitches in 2009 than any other pitcher — and threw the most high-stress pitches. Interestingly, he also was the pitcher with the greatest increase in fastball velocity when the game got tight, which suggests he really worked hard to get out of those situations. A bit worrisome is Chad Billingsley, who ranked only 33rd in total pitches in 2009, yet threw more high-leverage pitches than any pitcher besides Verlander. He might have very well put more strain on his arm than his raw pitch count would suggest.

On the other end of the spectrum are workhorses Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke, ranked sixth and seventh in pitches thrown, respectively, but just 42nd and 35th on the high-stress leaderboard. They likely put less strain on their arms than you might conclude by just looking at their total pitch counts.


Hot Stove U: Is Clayton Kershaw Already Declining?

The Setup

There are a lot of things to like about Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. His fastball averages 94 miles per hour, yet he also can make hitters look foolish with a knockout breaking ball. He struck out 185 batters in just 171 innings a year ago, posting a K/9 that was the seventh-highest of any starter in baseball. He’s left-handed in a sport that covets southpaws. Oh, and he doesn’t turn 22 years old until halfway through spring training.

Even though Kershaw still struggles with his command and lacks experience, his ERA last season was even with Roy Halladay’s, and better than Johan Santana’s and Cliff Lee’s. When a pitcher is this good and this young, it is easy to dream about what the future may hold. If he’s already one of the best pitchers in the game (in this case, he is), what will happen when you give him some time to mature, learn how to pound the strike zone, mix his pitches and study hitters’ tendencies?

Unfortunately for Kershaw and Dodgers fans, history suggests that this may be as good as it will ever get for the young lefty. In fact, given the success he has had in the majors at such a young age, he may have already peaked.

The Proof

Hitters are fairly predictable, as a group. They will show flashes of potential in their early 20s, add strength and hit a physical prime in their late 20s, and then decline in their 30s. The peak age of a position player has been shown to be around 27, with most offensive players following in this same general pattern. When you find a 21-year-old who is already a good hitter, there is a good chance greatness is in store when he gets older.

The same is not true of hurlers. They do not follow an arc-shaped career path; instead, the normal career trajectory for a starting pitcher heads downward.

There are various reasons for this observed phenomenon, the most obvious one being injury. It doesn’t take a baseball historian to rattle off the names: Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Rich Harden are just this decade’s reminders of greatness at a young age cut short by surgery. Every pitcher, no matter how talented, is just one pitch away from the office of Dr. James Andrews on any given day.

Even putting aside the possibility of attrition, pitchers still defy conventional growth curves. While improvements are made in throwing strikes and pitching more intelligently, these marginal gains are more than offset by a bigger problem — a loss of velocity.

Scott Kazmir was the last version of Kershaw when he made his debut in the majors in 2004, throwing 94 mph at the age of 20 and racking up the strikeouts. He would develop into one of the better pitchers in the American League by age 22, but his fastball and slider began to slow down. Last year, his fastball averaged just 91.1 mph, and the Tampa Bay Rays dumped their once untouchable ace on the Los Angeles Angels in order to escape his long-term contract.

Before Kazmir, there was Oliver Perez in 2004, who broke through as a 22-year-old for the Pittsburgh Pirates. His 93-mph fastball allowed him to pile up the K’s and give Pittsburgh hope that it had an ace in the making. Two years later, with his fastball down to 91, the Pirates admitted that he wasn’t fixable and shipped him to the New York Mets.

Even the best young pitchers in the game, Felix Hernandez and Tim Lincecum, have lost 2 mph off their fastballs since arriving in the big leagues. Throwing hard is a young man’s game, and one that is very hard to sustain as the workload piles up. As young pitchers learn that they have to pace themselves to get through a six-month season, they find their radar readings less impressive than they used to be.

Unlike hitters, who tend to gain power as they age, pitchers lose it. In the past 30 years, 11 pitchers have rang up at least 180 strikeouts in a single season when they were 22 or younger. The list is not full of guys on their way to Cooperstown. Instead, it stands as a sobering reminder of just how great starts to a career can go very, very wrong. Other than Fernando Valenzuela, whose age has been the subject of much speculation, the most successful pitchers of the group: Sid Fernandez, who only three times managed to throw 200 innings in a season, and Dwight Gooden, who should have been so much more than he turned out to be. Beyond those guys, there are names such as Edwin Correa and Floyd Youmans, who were out of baseball before they could even rent a car.

The Conclusion

Some pitchers can make the necessary adjustments and have long, great careers — but most don’t. More often, the next big thing on the mound becomes a sad story of what could have been. For every Lincecum or Hernandez, there’s a Rick Ankiel, a Dontrelle Willis, a Prior or a Kazmir. Whether it’s injury, pressure, or more often a fastball that decides not to show up to spring training one year, young pitchers are often the biggest disappointments.

Kershaw is a remarkably talented pitcher, having already accomplished quite a bit in his first two years in the major leagues. His arm is golden, his upside seemingly unlimited. But the reality of history shows that he’s more likely to get worse than to get better, and fans counting on Kershaw to win a Cy Young or two are likely to be disappointed.

Put your faith in young hitters like Justin Upton or Matt Wieters, who are on a career path that should lead them to better things in the future. Pitchers like Kershaw will break your heart.


Hot Stove U: Why Nyjer Morgan Rules the Outfield

The Setup

It took Nyjer Morgan just three games with the Washington Nationals to confirm to his new fans that the organization had made the right move in acquiring him. Although he recorded his first three hits as a National that day, the real attention would be paid toward his defensive efforts against the Braves.

It was July 5, to be exact, and young Washington starter Scott Olsen was struggling with his command. Nerves were high as Chipper Jones strode to the plate, following a lead-off walk to Martin Prado. Olsen made his first pitch to Jones and watched in horror as it caught far too much of the plate. Jones reacted swiftly and, just like that, a bullet was heading deep into straightaway center field.

On an ordinary day, Jones reaches second base easily, Prado scores, and the Braves have the tying run in scoring position with nobody out. However, this was no ordinary day, and Morgan is no ordinary centerfielder. Upon launch, a blaze of red set into motion, stampeding towards the wall and then suddenly extending a lone arm. The ball tucked firmly into his glove, Morgan twirled and fired it back into the infield.

Two groundouts later, the threat was over. Prado was stranded on the bases, the Nationals’ lead was secure, and Washington would hold on for a 5-3 win. It was then that fans in the nation’s capital realized that their new centerfielder might just be the best defensive player in the game.

The Proof

It isn’t just Nationals fans who think highly of his abilities. Ultimate Zone Rating, one of the most accessible advanced defensive metrics that baseball has today, is in love with the man who calls himself “Tony Plush”. Developed by Mitchel Lichtman, a statistical analyst who once served as a consultant for the Cardinals, UZR produces an above- or below-average rating, measured in runs saved, for each player drawn from multiple defensive aspects — including range, throwing arm, and errors. By this metric, the 29-year-old Morgan is off the charts.

Morgan started last season with Pittsburgh (where he played left field), but was traded to Washington (where he played center) on July 1. Over the course of the season, his total UZR was an absurd +27.8 runs above average. Many analysts agree that Franklin Gutierrez was the best full-time defensive centerfielder in baseball last season, with good reason: his centerfield UZR was +29.1, but in nearly 400 more innings than Morgan played in center. For cases like these, we can use UZR/150, a playing time-adjusted figure which calculates the player’s defensive contributions pro-rated to 150 games, and therefore gives a fairer outlook to players with disparities. Gutierrez’s UZR/150 of +27.1 is just fantastic, but doesn’t look quite as impressive when compared to Morgan’s absurd +40.5 UZR/150 in his half-season in center. A half-season’s worth of data is not enough to definitively judge a player, but Morgan’s career numbers tell a similar story. For his career, Morgan’s UZR/150 in center is 39 runs better than average.

Don’t trust UZR? No problem. Baseball analyst Tom Tango organizes the Fans Scouting Report on a yearly basis, getting input from those who watch the players on a daily basis. In 2009, fans voted Morgan as the best defensive left fielder in the game by a fair margin, and he earned an even higher rating than Gutierrez did in center. And in case you think that this was the result of playing for teams with rabid fan bases, remember that Morgan suited up for the Nats and Bucs.

Need more proof? Morgan made a substantial impact on both his current and former teams. Through the time he was traded, the Pirates had allowed 16 unearned runs and had a 4.24 ERA against. In the 82 games thereafter, they allowed 29 unearned runs scored and the team ERA bloated to 4.92. Conversely, Washington allowed 43 unearned runs and held a 5.21 ERA through its first 77 games. Those numbers shifted to 40 unearned runs and a 4.80 ERA after Morgan’s arrival.

If his UZR is to be believed, and Morgan is the best defensive player in the game, then he should be expected to take between 15 and 25 runs off the scoreboard per season compared to an average centerfielder. On the high end, that would be the pitching equivalent of going from Braden Looper’s 5.22 ERA down to Chad Billingsley’s 4.03 ERA.

The Conclusion

Whether you’re a fan of numbers, a casual observer or both, there’s no doubt Morgan is magnificent with the leather. After some brutally tough seasons, Nationals fans have found hope in phenom pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg, but they should not overlook another terrific player who has arrived in their town.

Nyjer Morgan, Tony Plush, no matter what you call him, he’s a defensive wizard beyond compare.


Hot Stove U: WAR: What is it Good For?

The Setup

It’s generally pretty easy to tell who is good at baseball. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that Joe Mauer’s .365 batting average last year was tremendous, especially for a catcher. Likewise, pretty much anyone can recognize greatness in Prince Fielder’s 46 home runs, Zack Greinke’s 2.16 ERA or Tim Lincecum’s 261 strikeouts.

However, as baseball fans, we were born with the desire to argue over whether one player is better than another, and these numbers do not lend themselves to easy comparison. Mauer doesn’t have an ERA, because he’s not a pitcher. The Giants don’t care that Lincecum failed to hit a home run last year. Even comparing offensive players to other hitters can be a problem; Fielder would be a disaster at shortstop, so stacking his numbers up against Troy Tulowitzki’s is comparing a massively large apple to oranges.

Thankfully, we now have a metric that allows for comparison among players across positions, and even between pitchers and hitters, totaling up all the things each does to help a team win, no matter what his particular skill is. Hitters, defenders, pitchers — everyone is graded on the same scale. This is why we love Wins Above Replacement.

The Proof

WAR, as it is often abbreviated, is fairly simple in theory. The idea is to take a player’s total contribution in creating runs (hitting and baserunning), as well as preventing them (pitching and defense), and then compare those totals to what a team would have expected to get if they had spent the league minimum on some randomly available Triple-A player (the so-called “replacement player”).

By measuring all contributions by the run value they create (or save), we can measure widely different things, such as strikeouts and home runs. For example, a single is worth, on average, about half a run, a stolen base is worth about 0.2 runs, and a strikeout takes away approximately 0.3 runs. So, if Derek Jeter is 2-for-4 with two singles, a stolen base and two strikeouts in a particular game, he has created approximately 0.6 runs on offense.

Because every action on the field affects run-scoring to one degree or another, we can then compare that total to other players’ performances, even if they didn’t have any singles, stolen bases or strikeouts. For example, if Mark Teixeira went 1-for-4 with a home run in that same game, he would create a very similar offensive value to Jeter’s, even though he had one fewer hit and made an extra out. His long ball was more impactful than any one thing that his speedier teammate did, and the trade-off between quantity and quality essentially cancels out.

We can apply this concept to all aspects of the game, not just offense. Each out created by a pitcher or defender also saves runs, and once we translate their numbers into a total of runs saved, we can then compare those numbers across positions. (Due to the particular challenges of quantifying a catcher’s defensive value, all catchers are assumed to be equally average behind the plate, so your favorite good defensive catcher will be underrated by WAR. This is the stat’s biggest flaw.)

Without getting into all the of the calculations — you can find a 14-part, in-depth series on how WAR is calculated in the glossary at FanGraphs if you’re curious — WAR then takes those total values of runs saved and created, adjusts for relative scarcity between different positions, and converts runs into wins over what a team would expect to lose if that player got hurt and had to be replaced by some veteran minor leaguer or journeyman bench guy.

That guy is the baseline because he represents the expected value that could be had for no real cost. For instance, a year ago, the Mariners signed Mike Sweeney to a minor league contract and gave him a part-time job as their designated hitter against left-handers. He made no real money, produced just a fraction of a Win Above Replacement, and is now looking for work again. At this point in his career, Sweeney is the epitome of a replacement-level player. He costs nothing, produces at a level good enough to hang around without being overly useful, and bounces from one club to another looking for work each year.

In reality, WAR could be named “Wins Above Mike Sweeney,” because players just like him are the baseline against which all players are compared.

The Conclusion

Bill James once said that if a metric always gives surprising results, it is probably wrong, and if it never gives surprising results, it’s useless. WAR succeeds marvelously on this account. In 2009, for example, it matches quite well with the players we would expect to have been the best (Zack Greinke, Albert Pujols, Tim Lincecum, Joe Mauer) and worst (Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Guillen, Aubrey Huff), while surprising us enough to be useful (Ben Zobrist’s outstanding season, Jermaine Dye’s decline). Of course, given the small difference in WAR between Zobrist, Pujols and Mauer, along with the catcher-defense flaw in the stat, it is reasonable to conclude that Mauer was the most valuable every-day player.

WAR is not perfect, but it does a very good job of grading an individual player’s contribution, crediting him for what he produces on the field. Replacement level is a good baseline that accounts for how the baseball market actually works, and it enables teams and fans to better evaluate contracts and trades. It takes into account all aspects of a position player’s game rather than just his obvious strength or weakness. And finally, it is measured on the scale of wins, which every fan can understand is the whole point of playing the game in the first place.


Hot Stove U: The Perils of Pinch-Hitting

The Setup

Game Two of the American League Division Series between the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees is remembered most for Mark Teixeira’s dramatic walk-off homer in the 11th inning. However, what happened in the top of that inning is more interesting.

After three consecutive singles loaded the bases with no outs, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire elected to let Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez try to drive in the go-ahead run — despite the fact that they were each among baseball’s worst hitters in 2009. Both failed, as did Brendan Harris, and the inning ended without the Twins putting any runs on the board. They would promptly lose before getting another chance to hit.

Gardenhire’s reluctance to pinch-hit in such a critical situation, especially for Gomez, drew the ire of the Minnesota fans. But based on years of researching historical performance of pinch-hitters, it turns out that they’re not much good either. In fact, pinch-hitting is quite often the wrong idea, and Gardenhire was likely correct to discern that Gomez was his best chance to get the run home in that situation.

The Discussion

In 2009, major league pinch-hitters hit a combined .225/.315/.353, significantly worse than their starting counterparts, who hit .264/.334/.421. That’s not a one-year fluke or a recent development, either. In 1990, guys coming off the bench hit .224/.302/.316. In 1970, they hit .226/.313/.323. Way back in 1954, their performance was a pitiful .220/.315/.323. It’s not just that the average pinch-hitter is worse than a starter, but instead, there is evidence that pinch-hitting is just really difficult. Matt Holliday has a career .552 OPS as a pinch hitter compared to a .933 mark when he starts. Joe Mauer has a .693 OPS off the bench. Even Derek Jeter is hitless in his five attempts.

Baseball consultant Tom Tango, now in the employ of the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays, went through historical pinch-hitting situations in his book (appropriately titled “The Book”) and found that, even after accounting for the average pinch-hitter being of lesser ability and facing tougher pitchers in more important situations, pinch-hitters performed at a level roughly 10 percent lower than expected. That’s huge; a 10 percent penalty turns a .300 hitter into a .270 one. That reduction in performance would turn Evan Longoria into Skip Schumaker.

Pinch-hitters don’t share this fate alone. Designated hitters, who also spend a significant amount of the game spectating, suffer at the plate as well. Studies have found that regular starters relegated to the DH role end up hitting at a level about 5 percent worse. That’s better than pinch-hitters, but it does indicate that not being out in the field hurts players when they step up to the plate. Jim Thome, Frank Thomas and Jason Giambi, for example, all had significantly worse numbers than expected while at DH rather than first base, even after adjusting for the age at which they played both positions.

What makes pinch-hitting so hard? Repetition and routine are common agents to help calm nerves. It’s why you’ll see some ridiculous things in the batter’s box, such as Nomar Garciaparra’s infamous batting glove routine. It’s why coaches in golf stress pre-shot routines, and for every disturbance to mean a complete do-over of that routine. It’s why any athlete anywhere spends countless hours practicing. They are attempting to train their muscle memory and to develop grooves in the brain that focus on the specific task at hand and let them forget about anything else.

Pinch-hitters do not get the benefit of routine. Unlike relievers who first get to warm up in the bullpen, then warm up on the mound, and who dictate the action in the first place, pinch-hitting opportunities tend to spring up with less warning. At best, a player on the bench might get a heads-up in time to go into the cage and take a few hacks, but for the most part, he gets thrust right onto center stage sans warm up. That’s not a recipe for success, and the evidence suggests that even the best hitters in the world struggle to succeed in that situation.

The Conclusion

That’s not to say pinch-hitting is always a bad idea. Pitchers are notoriously terrible hitters — to the point where nearly any capable major league position player will still be more likely to get a hit, even accounting for the pinch-hitting penalty. Had Gardenhire carried even a league-average hitter to come off the bench in the ALDS, that guy would have been a better choice to hit than Gomez, as the gap in talent would have overcome the expected decline in performance from the pinch-hitter. But Gardenhire did not have that guy on his bench, so as frustrating as it may have been for Twins fans, he made the right call.

Pinch-hitting is one of the most difficult things to do well in all of sports. Even good hitters fail routinely when asked to come off the bench and get a big hit late in the game. It isn’t as simple as comparing the batting averages of the two available options and going with the higher number. While inaction is always tougher to watch — and easier to criticize — it is often for the best. Pinch-hitting for the pitcher? Good idea. Pinch-hitting for your starting shortstop? You’d better have a legitimately good hitter available, and it still might not be the right call.


Hot Stove U: Changing their Sox

The Setup

Since Michael Lewis penned “Moneyball” in 2003, franchises have been branded either by their support or disdain for the philosophies that the book espouses. The Oakland Athletics were held up as the model organization, the team that won by ignoring the traditions of baseball and finding value in underappreciated assets — the most prominent of those at the time being slow, unathletic, career minor leaguers who draw walks to avoid making outs.

A’s GM Billy Beane was winning with teams full of players that old-school scouts had hated. From John Jaha to Matt Stairs, the A’s were the destination of choice for guys who could run about as well as the average fan in the seats. Where other teams saw a lack of bat speed, an inability to play defense and a body that would break down by age 30, Beane saw the ability to construct an offense that would score runs by stringing together a few walks and a home run.

This particular brand of baseball, dubbed the “Moneyball” style, was despised by those who had been taught that the game should be played by fielding your position well, bunting runners over and doing the little things that help your team win. But now, in an attempt to chase the current undervalued assets, the tables have turned. Teams that are using the nerd-stats approach that the A’s made popular have abandoned power-hitting oafs in favor of athletic defenders who can run like the wind.

The “Moneyball” teams are now building rosters that would fit perfectly into pre-spreadsheet baseball. Perhaps no team exemplifies this shift as well as the Boston Red Sox.

The Proof

With an Ivy League-educated general manager who hired stat maven Bill James as a consultant, the Red Sox have been one of the most visible sabermetric teams in baseball recently. They built teams around David Ortiz, J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis, showing that they valued the same traits the Athletics had earlier in the decade. When the Sox finally tired of Manny Ramirez’s antics, they devised a three-way trade to bring them Jason Bay, another player who fits that particular mold.

However, when GM Theo Epstein evaluated how to improve a roster that finished in second place in the AL East and lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2009, he did not conclude that the team needed more power hitters to supercharge the offense. Instead, he let Bay sign with the New York Mets and then reallocated the money to Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre — despite the fact that the duo hit fewer home runs combined than Bay hit a year ago.

Neither Cameron nor Beltre can match Bay’s production at the plate, but they can run circles around him in the field. Defense is where Epstein saw an opportunity to improve in the most cost-efficient way, so out went the burly slugger with bad range and in came a couple of average hitters whose stardom is measured in Web Gems.

Epstein and James have traded on-base percentage for ultimate zone ratings, believing that the market has over-corrected and is now undervaluing a player’s ability to save runs in the field. They aren’t the only ones — the Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners, and yes, even Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics are also on the bandwagon.

The results of this shift toward run prevention? The “Moneyball” teams are targeting the type of fast, athletic, fundamentally sound players that scouts have been drooling over for years. Tampa Bay, Oakland and Boston were all in the top five in stolen bases among American League clubs in 2009. Seattle finished eighth and then outbid everyone else in the league for speed-and-defense specialist Chone Figgins this winter. The Mariners also led the league in sacrifice bunts, and that doesn’t figure to change now that Figgins has joined the club and the team replaced power-hitting first baseman Russell Branyan with glove-man Casey Kotchman.

Likewise, the A’s should feature a mostly small-ball offense, especially with the addition of Coco Crisp to an outfield that already featured Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney. Beane now believes that having three center fielders tracking down every fly ball hit will make up for the fact that his three starting outfielders combined to hit 12 home runs in 2009.

The Conclusion

The age of the Giambi brothers is over. Sure, these teams would still love to have a middle-of-the-order thumper who can get on base and hit the ball 500 feet with regularity, but they aren’t going to pay the market price for power when similar value comes at a discount in another package. The value purchase now is to re-create the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals, a tremendous defensive team led by speed merchants who ran their way into the World Series despite a glaring lack of home run hitters.

Whitey Herzog, who managed that Cardinals team, would never be mistaken for a “Moneyball” disciple. But if Herzog were still putting together rosters in 2010, the teams that would most resemble what he would want are the teams that use statistical analysis to help inform their decisions. What was old is new again, and 2010 will be the year that the scouts and statheads finally come to an agreement on how a team should be built.


Johnson’s Place Among Best LHPs

At 6-foot-10, Randy Johnson always has stood above the crowd. He doesn’t stand out just because of his height, though. When we line up all the left-handed pitchers the game has seen, Johnson is the first one we notice. His career is unmatched by that of any other left-hander, and he is the most dominant lefty ever to take the mound.

The career strikeout leaderboard for left-handed pitchers drives this point home. Johnson is the leader (and second among all pitchers behind right-hander Nolan Ryan) with 4,875 strikeouts. Steve Carlton is second, trailing Johnson by 739 punchouts despite pitching nearly 1,100 more innings than the Big Unit. In third place stands Mickey Lolich with 2,832 strikeouts, a mere 58 percent of Johnson’s career total.

There isn’t another MLB category in which one guy stands so far above his peers. Baseball has literally never seen anything like Johnson, a power left-hander who blew hitters away and single-handedly won games for his team. There had been some great left-handers before him, but none matched his dominance.

Carlton is within shouting distance of Johnson in career strikeouts only because of the number of innings he pitched. He never averaged more than a strikeout per inning in any season and led the league in K/9 only twice in his 24 seasons of big league action. Johnson, on the other hand, led the league in K/9 on nine different occasions and has the highest career strikeout rate per nine innings (10.61) of any starting pitcher in baseball history.

Sandy Koufax won’t show up on many career leaderboards because arthritis abbreviated his career, but he certainly had a great run of dominance from 1962 to 1966. In that five-year span, Koufax won 111 games, had an ERA 67 percent better than league average, struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings and won three Cy Young Awards.

If we are going to focus on Koufax’s best five years, though, we also must look at the best five-year run that Johnson had. From 1998 to 2002, the big man won 100 games, had an ERA 75 percent better than league average and struck out 12.3 batters per nine innings while winning four Cy Young Awards. Johnson’s peak was just as high as Koufax’s, but he had 22 years of longevity as well.

Warren Spahn, great as he was, was never the dominant force that Johnson was. He simply compiled tremendous career statistics through endurance, throwing 5,243 innings over 21 seasons. His career 3.09 ERA is nice, but only 18 percent better than the league average given the era in which he pitched. He had two legitimately tremendous seasons (1947 and 1953), but was more often just a good, healthy starting pitcher. Longevity is terrific, but it isn’t dominance. Spahn can’t hold a candle to Johnson’s peak.

Lefty Grove’s career is generally held up as the pinnacle by which all left-handers have been measured. With 300 wins and a career ERA that’s 48 percent better than league average, he’s certainly in the discussion for the best lefty of all time, but Grove got a lot of help from his defenders. He averaged just 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings for his career — above-average for the time, but not historically great.

Johnson dominated at a time when even flimsy middle infielders were driving balls out of the park with regularity, and he did it by sending them back to the dugout shaking their heads. The Big Unit stands alone as the best left-handed pitcher the game has seen.


Decade’s More Recent MVP

Albert Pujols’ greatness is unquestioned. He won his second consecutive National League MVP award this year (his third overall), and this time around, he took home every first-place vote. He’s finished in the top four in MVP voting in eight of the nine years he’s been in the majors, and he hasn’t even turned 30. Yet there is another National League player who is just as valuable, if not more so, and receives none of the accolades. Seriously.

Chase Utley, the Phillies’ star second baseman, has never finished higher than seventh in the MVP voting since he arrived in Philadelphia, but has contributed more bang for the buck than any other player in baseball. At FanGraphs, we have a metric that encompasses a player’s total contribution on the field, called Wins Above Replacement. WAR, as it is often abbreviated, combines a player’s value at the plate and in the field to give a better overall picture of a player’s worth. (In layman’s terms, “replacement,” as defined by stat guru Tom Tango, represents “the talent level for which you would pay the minimum salary on the open market, or for which you can obtain at minimal cost in a trade.” Mike Sweeney, who signed a minor league deal in early 2009 and produced 0.2 WAR for the Mariners, is a good example of a replacement-level player.)

By putting all players against a similar baseline, we can compare their value side by side, pitting defensive wizards against burly sluggers and finding out who actually contributes more to helping their team win. Since entering the league in 2005, Utley has added 37.9 wins above what a league minimum player would have provided, which is a tremendous total that represents his offensive prowess and Gold Glove skills at second base. Middle infielders who can hit as well as Utley are rare breeds indeed, and when you factor in his incredible baserunning — 23-for-23 in stolen bases last year! — he grades out as the most complete player in baseball. From that Wins Above Replacement total, we can use a wins-to-dollars conversion based on how teams have historically valued wins in the free-agent market on a yearly basis. Considering how good Utley has been since the Phillies gave him the second-base job, his performance on the field has been worth $154 million. That’s about $31 million a year in production.

Top Value Since 2005

Player	        WAR	Value	Salary	Net
Chase Utley	37.9	$154M	$25M	$129M
David Wright	29.6	$119M	$14M	$105M
Hanley Ramirez	24.9	$106M	$7M	$99M
Grady Sizemore	27.3	$108M	$10M	$98M
Albert Pujols	40.4	$164M	$66M	$98M

In exchange for that performance, the Phillies have paid Utley a meager $25 million in salary, leaving $129 million in surplus value. Pujols has been ever so slightly better on the field, producing 40.4 wins and $164 million in raw value, but St. Louis has paid him $66 million over the past five years. The $41 million difference in salary more than outweighs the 2.5 difference in wins produced on the field, allowing the Phillies to extract more value from Utley than St. Louis got from its superstar. And remember, Utley didn’t land a permanent job in the majors until 2005. He has had 2,269 fewer plate appearances to work with, and still managed to get himself within shouting distance of Pujols’ value for the decade. Once you adjust for games played, in fact, Utley grades out slightly higher. Utley has produced a net value of just over $35,000 per plate appearance, compared to $28,000 per trip to the plate for Pujols. While Utley hasn’t been at the top of the game for quite as long, once you account for salary, he’s been the most valuable player in baseball since his arrival in the big leagues.

The difference may only grow over the next few seasons. Pujols has two years remaining on the seven-year, $100 million contract he signed in 2004, but you have to believe that the Cardinals will give him a massive extension before his contract expires. He is due $16 million in each of the next two years, and the average annual salary of his next deal will surely exceed that. Utley, meanwhile, is under contract through 2013 at $15 million per year — less than half of what he’s worth on an annual basis. He may not have the trophies or the gaudy home run totals of players like Pujols or Alex Rodriguez, but Chase Utley is right there with the very best players in the game. When you factor in that the Phillies have him under contract at rates that don’t even come close to his true value, he rises above the rest as the real Most Valuable Player in baseball.


An All-Decade, All-Value Lineup Card

Over the past decade, fans have witnessed some astonishing offensive performances. We’ve been spoiled by Joe Mauer’s 2009, which was one of the best seasons by a catcher ever. Alex Rodriguez hit more than 50 home runs as a shortstop — twice. We’ve seen the crowning of a new home run king. Historic stuff. You could assemble a dream lineup from some of these single-season achievements, so why not indulge in a little fantasy?

There are plenty of stats we could look at to determine who had the best season at each position, but a good catch-all number is weighted Batting Runs above Average. It’s based on a FanGraphs stat called wOBA, which sums up a player’s production in a single number.

One thing to be aware of before we get started with the actual lineup: All these guys are, for the most part, middle-of-the-order hitters. Don’t get too hung up on actual batting order. Most studies of batting order show that even using the optimal 1-9 slotting, you’re going to gain only one or two wins.

Here we go now with the ultimate all-decade, all-value, all-production lineup. In case you doubt its value before we begin, consider this: If we plug this lineup into David Pinto’s lineup analysis tool, we learn the dream team you’ll discover below would score an average of nine runs per game. That means a team with this lineup could have the woeful 2003 Detroit Tigers as its pitching staff and still win 115 games.

Ready? Let’s go.

Batting first: Carlos Delgado, 2000, 1B

Whew. This was a close one. Delgado’s greatest competition, surprisingly, was not Albert Pujols — it was Jason Giambi. Giambi won the MVP in 2000 and was slightly better in 2001, hitting for an insane .342/.477/.660 line. Giambi’s 2001 is just a sliver better than Delgado’s in terms of batting runs above replacement — 102.8 BRAR to 102.6 — but the edge goes to Delgado because he started every game at first base. Giambi played 17 games as the A’s DH. Delgado hit .344, drew 123 walks and slugged for an absurd .664; he would hardly be your prototypical leadoff hitter, but in 2000 he did have a healthy .470 on-base percentage.

Batting second: Sammy Sosa, 2001, RF

While Slammin’ Sammy is remembered best for the summer of ’98, this was Sosa’s finest season. Unfortunately, no one outside of Chicago seemed to notice, because of what Barry Bonds was doing in San Francisco. Not only did Sosa top 60 home runs for the third time, but he also enjoyed career highs in batting average (.328) and walks (116).

Batting third: David Ortiz, 2007, DH

When you think Ortiz, you probably think “clutch” first. This wasn’t his most clutch season, but it was arguably his most productive; he hit 54 homers in 2006, but in 2007 he hit .332 instead of .287 and posted a similar slugging percentage.

Batting fourth: Barry Bonds, 2001, LF

His single-season slugging, on-base percentage, walks and home runs from ’01 are simply untouchable, barring an unforeseen superhero coming onto the scene.

Batting fifth: Alex Rodriguez, 2007, 3B

A-Rod hit .314/.422/.645 with 54 homers and ran away with the MVP; he enjoys the distinction of setting single-season home run records for two different positions (shortstop and third base).

Batting sixth: Alex Rodriguez, 2001, SS

This certainly might pose a logistical challenge, as human cloning hasn’t yet reached this level of sophistication. Seriously, though, the only competition for A-Rod was A-Rod. 2002 Rodriguez and 2001 Rodriguez were very close. He hit more homers in ’02 (57) but hit for a higher average with more doubles in 2001. He had 82 batting runs above replacement in 2001, 80 in ’02.

Batting seventh: Joe Mauer, 2009, C

Mauer was like vintage Mike Piazza with the bat — and he won a Gold Glove to boot. Mauer finally had his long-anticipated power breakout (28 homers) and hit for an astounding .365 batting average. Babe Phelps is the only catcher to qualify for a batting title with a higher average, and he only had 319 at-bats back in 1936 for the Dodgers. One can only wonder what Mauer would have done had he not missed the entire month of April.

Batting eighth: Jeff Kent, 2000, 2B

Kent won the MVP, edging out his teammate Barry Bonds even though Bonds actually had the better season. Bonds had more wins above replacement, 8.7 to 7.9. Kent set personal bests in a number of different categories, including slugging (.596) and on-base percentage (.424). Even in this age of offense, you do not often see this type of production from a middle infielder. You could argue he was more of a first baseman posing as a second baseman, but regardless, this was quite a remarkable season.

Batting ninth: Jim Edmonds, 2004, CF

Edmonds, Scott Rolen and Pujols formed “MV3” in this year — each player had an MVP-caliber performance in 2004 and the Cardinals won 105 games, only to be swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Edmonds hit .301 despite striking out 150 times, but he slugged .643, drew 101 walks and won his fifth consecutive Gold Glove.


Big Questions Will Be Answered in 2010

Each team in baseball opens the year with half a dozen or more storylines that will determine how its season will play out. But some go beyond Player X staying injury-free or Player Y taking the great-leap-forward. So, here are some of the big-picture items to look at as the 2010 season unfolds.

How Will Target Field Play?

It is always exciting when a new ballpark opens. Frequently, we get a massive upgrade in facilities with the opening of a new park and that will certainly be true in Minnesota, as the Twins move from a dome to an open-air facility. For the past 28 seasons, the Twins have played indoors, sharing their park with the Vikings while playing in a stadium more suited for football.

As we saw last year with the two new parks in New York, one can never be certain of exactly how a new ballpark will play. How many people expected the Yankees’ new place to be the best home-run park in baseball? How many spectators predicted that Citi Field would spook David Wright and help cut his home-run output to one-third of what it had been previously?

Last year, Mall of America Field reversed a three-year trend of cutting both home runs and runs by playing as a hitters’ park. The Twins and their opponents combined to score 830 runs and hit 189 homers in Minnesota in 82 games, while in 81 road games the numbers were 752 and 168, respectively. The top five home-run hitters for the Twins – Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Joe Mauer, Joe Crede, and Delmon Young – combined to hit 145 homers. Eighty of those home runs came in their home park.

The dimensions are nearly identical between Target Field and Mall of America Field in right field and right center. The new park will be a few feet shorter from center over to left field. The wall in left will be eight feet high, a foot higher than in the old park. While the 23-foot high wall in the old park was located merely in right field, the new park will have a wall that high from right center to the right field foul pole. Officials expect the park to play “neutral,” but it remains to be seen how the Twins will do outside in their new surroundings.

Will the Red Sox Have a 30-Home-Run Hitter?

For years the Red Sox offense was defined by the 1-2 punch of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. From 2003 to 2007, the duo averaged more than 77 homers per season. Last year, Jason Bay hit 36 bombs for Boston. But with Bay gone and Ortiz no longer a guarantee to hit 30 long flies, who will provide the big bat in the middle of the order for the Red Sox? Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Cameron, and Victor Martinez are all capable of putting up a 30-homer season but none of them are predicted to reach 30 bombs by the Bill James Projections. The Red Sox won two World Series in the last decade and consider themselves contenders for another title. But no team has won a World Series this century without at least one player recording 30 or more home runs.

Will the Mets Fare Better in Year Two at Citi Field?

Shea Stadium was known as a pitcher’s park. But in its final season, the Mets hit 95 homers in Shea Stadium. Last year, in the first season at Citi Field, the Mets club managed just 49 bombs in its home park. Now, the Mets’ home run problems were not limited to Citi Field, as the club managed only 46 homers in road parks. But the perception of Citi as an extreme pitcher’s park in part influenced the team’s decision to make Jason Bay its primary offseason acquisition, even though a younger, better all-around player in Matt Holliday was also a free agent at the same position. Holliday had a 5.7 WAR last year compared to a 3.5 mark for Bay.

The Mets cited Bay’s home-run power and his pull tendencies as reasons for preferring him over Holliday. Will Bay be able to approximate either the 36 homers he hit overall last year or the .936 home OPS he posted in 2009? If he does, will the Mets continue to base offseason decisions on players they believe will “fit” their home park? And if Bay flops and none of the other players step up with a big home-run season, will the club alter the dimensions of its new park?

Will the Jorge de la Rosa-Ubaldo Jimenez Combination Become the Best in Baseball?

When the Mariners acquired Cliff Lee, many offered Lee and Felix Hernandez as the top pitching tandem in baseball. Others countered with Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, or Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, or C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. But hardly anyone mentioned the Rockies’ duo of Jorge de la Rosa and Ubaldo Jimenez.

Last year, de la Rosa and Jimenez combined for 31 wins and 391 strikeouts, totals that stack up with any of the other tandems mentioned above. After the All-Star break, the two combined for a 19-5 record with a 3.26 ERA and had 191 Ks in 190.2 innings pitched. The duo helped lead the Rockies to the playoffs as Colorado won 45 games in the second half to claim the Wild Card.

Why are de la Rosa and Jimenez not considered as an elite tandem? Neither Rockies pitcher was considered top-shelf material while in the minors. Jimenez ranked 84th on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list in 2007, while de la Rosa never made any of the publication’s lists. Neither pitcher had much success until last year and, even then, de la Rosa’s ERA was 4.38 for the season. And many will contend that pitching in the heartland hurts when it comes to publicity.

But if de la Rosa and Jimenez can match their second half numbers for an entire season in 2010, no one will doubt them. And the Rockies club, which finished three games behind the Dodgers for the NL West title last year, will become the class of the division.

Will the Braves Have One Last Hurrah for Bobby Cox?

As a ballplayer, Bobby Cox was nothing special. In two seasons in the Majors he put up a .225/.310/.309 line. But as a manager, Cox will likely make the Hall of Fame. A four-time winner of the Manager of the Year award, Cox guided his team to 14 first-place finishes in 15 years. He was the skipper for five NL Pennants and one World Series championship. Overall, Cox ranks fourth among managers with 2,413 wins in 28 years.

The Braves have missed the playoffs the past four years, but last season’s 86 wins was their highest total since 2005. The club enters the season with a top-notch rotation and a revamped bullpen. Offensively, the Braves hope that Chipper Jones can shake off his late-season slump and that Troy Glaus can stay healthy for the majority of the year.

If Atlanta finds itself in the middle of the pennant race, will it make moves to acquire a veteran bat to give Cox one last shot at a World Series? For years, the Braves were known as an organization that made shrewd trades. But the big push for Mark Teixeira in 2007 really hurt the farm system and did not pay off in a playoff berth. If the Braves club finds itself in the hunt, will management be gun shy with the memory of the Teixeira deal or will it go all-in to send Cox out on a high note?

Who Will Dave Duncan Work Miracles on Next?

In 2009, Joel Pineiro was the latest pitcher that St. Louis Cardinals coach Dave Duncan transformed into a surprise winner. From 2004 to 2008, Pineiro was 35-47 with a 5.34 ERA. Last year, with the addition of a two-seam fastball, Pineiro won 15 games and posted a 3.49 ERA. He joined a long line of Duncan-aided success stories, including Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer, Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, Brett Tomko, and Darryl Kile, among many others. Which St. Louis pitcher will come out of nowhere to post a big season in 2010?

How Will the McCourt Divorce Affect the Dodgers?

The local media likes to give Dodgers owner Frank McCourt a hard time about making his fortune with parking lots. But under McCourt, the Dodgers advanced to the NLCS in back-to-back years for the first time since 1977-1978. The Dodgers organization had not even won a playoff game since 1988 when McCourt took control prior to the 2004 season. Since then the club has made the playoffs in four of six seasons and has maintained one of the top payrolls in the game.

But since the end of last season, when strains in the marriage between Frank and Jamie McCourt became public, it has been a different story. The Dodgers did not offer arbitration to any of their free agents, clearly afraid that someone would accept and win a big pay day while the team’s ownership status was in flux during the divorce proceedings.

While losing Randy Wolf, Jon Garland, Orlando Hudson, Mark Loretta, Jim Thome, and Will Ohman from last year’s club, the only moves the Dodgers have made so far has been to sign veteran utility man Jamey Carroll and deal Juan Pierre in a cost-cutting move. Right-hander Vicente Padilla was recently re-signed after coming over to the club in a mid-season trade in ’09.

Will the Dodgers make any moves to add more depth to its pitching before the start of the year? And if the team is in contention, will it be able to pull off a trade to add payroll? On the flip side, if the Dodgers fall behind early, will the club look to move Manny Ramirez or any other veteran making more than minimum wage? Will the unsettled ownership situation lead to a quicker decision on in/out of the playoff chase than normal?

Will the Yankees Be Able to Repeat Their Prolific Offensive Season?

Last year, eight of the nine regulars for the Yankees posted an OPS+ of 125 or more, as the team scored 915 runs – the most in the Majors. Only center fielder Melky Cabrera failed to reach that level, and he was hardly a slouch with a 99 OPS+. However, the Yankees organization replaced him with Curtis Granderson, who put up a 123 OPS+ in 2008 and 135 in 2007.

The Yankees lost DH Hideki Matsui, but have already replaced him with Nick Johnson, who posted an OPS+ of 122 last year and 124 in 2008. Johnny Damon also may not return, but the Yankees are likely to replace him with a bat, too.

New York enjoyed great health in 2009. Only Jorge Posada failed to get 500 plate appearances among expected starters and even he played in 111 games. Also, the Yankees enjoyed great rebound seasons last year from Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and Nick Swisher. Those three posted OPS+ numbers of 86, 102 and 92, respectively, in 2008. Can everything fall in place in back-to-back seasons offensively for the Bronx Bombers?

Can the Mariners Offense Catch Up to Its Pitching and Defense?

After five years of middle-of-the-road offensive performance, where he posted wOBAs ranging from .344 to .359, Raul Ibanez left the Mariners as a free agent prior to the 2009 season. The main outfielder imported was Franklin Gutierrez, who posted a .337 wOBA. Yet, Gutierrez was widely hailed as one of the reasons Seattle improved from 61 to 85 wins. Gutierrez took over center-field duties and posted a 27.1 UZR/150. Ibanez had posted back-to-back double-digit negative UZR/150 seasons his final two years in Seattle.

The Mariners led the American League with a .710 Defensive Efficiency Rating last year. In 2008, the club ranked 13th with a .679 mark. The outfield of Gutierrez, Ichiro Suzuki and a revolving door in left field, which included Wladimir Balentien, Endy Chavez, and Ryan Langerhans (who each posted double-digit UZR/150 marks in left), was one of the best fielding groups of recent memory. Among players who played at least 50 games, only shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt had a negative UZR/150. He was replaced with Jack Wilson, who notched a 14.3 UZR/150 in 31 games.

The improved defense undoubtedly helped the pitching, which led the AL with a 3.87 ERA. So the 2009 Mariners club was first in pitching, first in defense, but last in runs scored with 640 – 275 runs behind the AL-leading Yankees. The Mariners imported Chone Figgins to help the offense but must find a replacement for free agent first baseman Russell Branyan, who had a team-leading 31 homers and 76 RBI. Can a team with only two players likely to exceed a .350 wOBA – Ichiro and Figgins – make the playoffs?

Did the Phillies Make the Right Choice in Trading Cliff Lee?

The Phillies acquired Cliff Lee at the trading deadline last year and he proceeded to win seven games down the stretch and was the club’s best pitcher in the postseason. Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five playoff games last year and his two victories in the World Series were the only games won by the Phillies. But Lee was a free agent following the 2010 season and Philadelphia opted to trade him and acquire Roy Halladay in a multi-team, multi-player deal. The deal was contingent on signing Halladay to an extension, which the Phillies were able to do.

Meanwhile, after the trade, Lee expressed surprise that the Phillies dealt him, as he thought the two sides were closing in on a new contract. Philadelphia made the decision to spend the money on Halladay rather than Lee, but should they have kept both players for the 2010 season? With the Phillies’ offense, having Halladay and Lee at the top of their rotation would have been an imposing threat for other teams in the National League.

Now the Phillies are hoping that Cole Hamels can bounce back and be the club’s second starter behind Halladay. After out-performing his FIP in both 2007 and 2008, Hamels experienced some bad luck in 2009. His FIP shows him as essentially the same pitcher from 2006 to 2009, but the results were markedly worse last year than 2008. If Hamels posts an ERA that matches his career FIP of 3.79, will the Phillies be happy with that production from the second starter?

Philadelphia restocked its farm system by trading Lee. But is the haul of Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and JC Ramirez better than a season of Lee and two draft picks? Conventional wisdom says that the Phillies made it to back-to-back World Series with just half a season of Lee. The Major League team is better off with a full season of Halladay and the minor league system is better with the prospects. But anything less than a World Series victory will leave fans wondering how things would have been with Lee still on the team.