Reveille 1/13/14

by Jason Epstein

Good morning.

Here are several links from the past week that will make the second Monday of 2014 a bit more bearable:

Rodriguez, while continuing to accuse baseball of misconduct, raised yet another diversion in his statement. Seeking to rally his union brothers like a modern-day Samuel Gompers, he contended that the owners would seek major concessions from the players in the next labor negotiations.

The “injustice” of his suspension, Rodriguez said, was “MLB’s first step toward abolishing guaranteed contracts in the 2016 bargaining round, instituting lifetime bans for single violations of drug policy, and further insulating its corrupt investigative program from any variety [of] defense by accused players, or any variety of objective review.” . . .

The union lost one of its greatest minds when its executive director, Michael Weiner, died of brain cancer on Nov. 21. Weiner’s replacement, Tony Clark, is the first former player to hold the position — a position once occupied by Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr.

Clark could prove a worthy successor — he is extremely intelligent, a natural leader. Kevin McGuiness, newly appointed as the union’s chief operating officer, is a 30-year veteran of the Washington, D.C., lobbying scene who will add heft overseeing the union’s day-to-day operations. But few would dispute that the union, without Weiner, will be weaker initially.

Of course, the owners also will be under different leadership by the next round of labor negotiations — Commissioner Bud Selig has said he will retire when his contract expires in January 2015. The promotion of chief operating officer Rob Manfred, the owners’ longtime labor negotiator, might be the best hope for continuing the peace. A commissioner without Manfred’s background might be more inclined to flex his muscles, and what better way to do it than by taking on the union?

WAR is, at it’s heart, a relatively simple concept. It’s an attempt to measure all of a baseball player’s on-field contributions using a single numerical value. For position players, that means accounting for hitting ability, defensive ability, and baserunning — then adding a positional adjustment to reflect the value of playing a more difficult or skilled position. For pitchers, that means accounting for their pitching ability.

By converting all of a player’s on-field value to a single number, we can use this number to compare players across leagues, positions, era . . . even compare the value of a pitcher to the value of a hitter. And while it’s inadvisable to use WAR values as strict, hard-and-fast, no-room-for-discussion value measurements, they are incredibly useful in analysis and performance measurement. But we’ll talk more about that later.

The WAR number is called “wins” above replacement because that’s the unit of value assigned to the player. A player is assigned a certain number of runs (positive or negative) for each aspect of their performance, and those runs are later converted to wins. The more wins that a player is worth, the better that player is.

Now, this metric also uses the concept of “replacement level,” which is a little tougher to wrap your mind around at first. In WAR metrics, replacement level is considered to the level of performance that is freely available on the waiver wire, as a free agent, or as a minor-leaguer — at any time. As such, replacement level changes a bit from season to season, as the overall talent level in the game changes. This isn’t an arbitrarily selected number — all implementations have a process for determining the appropriate replacement level of performance.

  • Good news from Thurm’s colleague Jeff Sullivan: If in 2014 you were given a big-league uniform and a piece of lumber and sent up to the plate numerous times but never swung the bat, you might experience more success than Justin Verlander. Find out how here.   
  • Since Keith Olbermann returned to ESPN a few months back, I have chosen to forget every outlandish comment he uttered on MSNBC. (Your mileage may vary.) Above, Keith playfully excoriates a Hall of Fame voter’s attempted defense of his ballot.

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.