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May 04, 2008

Not Dead Yet



I thought I’d driven a stake through the heart of the “team record with player in lineup? thesis (see here and here) , but no such luck:

[Ramon] Vazquez is common thread as Texas Rangers win 4th straight:

[Vazquez] is a .251 career hitter. He has below-average power. When the Rangers found him last year, he hadn't played in more than 52 major league games in three seasons. He was supposed to be the extra infielder on a team where the infielders played every day.

Be that as it may, facts can't dispute this: When Ramon Vazquez is in the Rangers' lineup, they are a winning team… Since he joined the Rangers last May when Hank Blalock needed surgery to improve blood flow to his right arm last season, the club is 63-54 when Vazquez plays; 52-44 when he starts.

Indisputable. And meaningless. To reiterate:

For a statistic to have meaning and value, it must have uniform applicability. For example, one can calculate batting averages for all hitters, compare them, and learn something meaningful about the players. Thus, for the difference in the team’s record with and without [Vazquez] to have meaning, the difference must also apply logically to other players.

Since the beginning of 2007, Texas has a record of 52-44 (.541) when Vazquez starts and 36-61 (.371) when he doesn’t. That’s a huge difference, obviously. Notably, Vazquez has replaced oft-injured Hank Blalock in most of his starts. Here’s where you end up when you apply the “team-record theory of value? to Blalock:

Blalock is common thread as Texas loses 7th straight:

Blalock seems to have recovered from the off-years of 2005-2006. He batted .293 with ten homers in 58 games last year, and .299 with three homers in 22 games this year before pulling up lame.

Be that as it may, facts can’t dispute this: When Hank Blalock is in the Rangers’ lineup, they are a losing team… Since the beginning of 2007, the club is 31-49 when Blalock plays, 30-48 when he starts.
If you believe the 63-54 team record with Vazquez is meaningful, you also must believe that the 31-49 with Blalock is meaningful (assuming you’re a fan of logical consistency).

The team record with versus without Vazquez is nothing but luck. During the last two years, the Rangers have allowed 4.86 runs per game in Vazquez’s starts and 5.78 in his off days. Vazquez wasn’t around when Texas began 2007 with a 15-26 record. This year, Blalock, not Vazquez, took the field in each of three starts by Luis Mendoza (9.31 ERA). In Jason Jennings’s six starts (8.56 ERA), Vazquez has appeared twice, Blalock four times. Vazquez didn’t play during the seven-game meltdown at Boston and Detroit.

Michael Young says that Vazquez " is one of the smartest guys I've ever played with. He does all the little things well. He knows how to handle every situation." Even stipulating that Vazquez might be more valuable than his hitting and fielding stats indicate, he’s not the difference between a .541 team and a .371 team (about 28 games per season).

If a player hangs around long enough, the team record in his games will converge with the team record in all games. Some players are worth more than others, of course, but even the difference between an MVP-level player and a backup infielder is only 10-12 games per year. The variance in “Team Record with Player X? is so high that comparisons among players are meaningless. Accepting such comparisons can lead to bizarre conclusions; for example, Ramon Vazquez is more valuable than Hank Blalock.

Incidentally, Jason Botts is (was) a career .230/.325/.344 hitter with Texas, but the Rangers had a 44-33 record when he started. Look at those intangibles! I can’t believe Texas let him go.

Posted by Lucas at May 4, 2008 03:15 PM