Monday, June 4, 2012

2 comments Murray Chass Uses a Sample Size of Three Players in Wondering Where All the Power-Hitting 1B Have Gone

Somewhere towards the end of this article, Murray Chass states he has gotten off his main point. I wasn't even aware this article had a main point really. Murray seems to be taking a shot at doing some research to find out where all of the slugging first basemen have gone, but doesn't really come to a conclusion about the answer. He uses a sample size of three players, Adrian Gonzalez/Mark Teixeira/Albert Pujols, as proof slugging first basemen aren't around anymore. He ties salary into this discussion, so maybe he is proving slugging, productive, highly-paid first basemen aren't around anymore.

So not only is Murray Chass using a sample of three hitters to base his conclusion upon, he is about 30% of the MLB season (and zero historical data that shows these three guys can/will turn it around) as the sample size in claiming there is a decline in slugging first basemen. Murray wrote this article on May 24th, so I will be using data from that date. I'm still not sure if this article is a warning against paying first basemen big money in free agency or is simply just a poor observation based on a limited sample size. Either way, it is good to see Murray trying to do some research (he even uses OBP!), but I'm not sure what he has actually proven here.

In the space of three years, December 2008 to December 2011, Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols signed contracts whose salaries and signing bonuses totaled $574 million.

BREAKING: MLB teams will overpay for players considered to be one of the best players at their position. Just don't tell that to that guy who wrote the Bleacher Report article about how Albert Pujols' contract has caused MLB GM's to change their opinion on expensive, long-term contracts forever.

Now Murray looks at each of these three players' past performance in an effort to let us know he will focus on 45 games during the 2012 season rather than focus on these players' past performance when coming to whatever conclusion he seems to come to. Again, this conclusion isn't really clear, this article just sort of stops for no apparent reason.

For example, in his first 10 years in the major leagues, Pujols batted .331, slugged more than 40 home runs six times and no fewer than 32 the other four times and drove in more than 100 runs each season. An “off year” for him was last year when he batted .299 with 37 homers and 99 r.b.i.

Pujols was hitting .213 with 4 home runs and 20 RBI at the time Murray wrote this. He was on pace for 11 home runs and 70 RBI for the season in 625 at-bats.

Gonzalez did not go to Boston as a free agent...In his last five years in San Diego Gonzalez hit 167 home runs and drove in 536 runs.

In his first year in Boston he maintained that kind of production, slugging 27 homers, knocking in 117 runs and adding a career-high .338 batting average.

Gonzalez was hitting .269 with 3 home runs and 22 RBI at the time Murray wrote this. He was on pace for 11 home runs and 79 RBI in 625 at-bats.

In 2008 the Yankees finished third and out of the playoffs. Determined not to let that happen again, they decided to spend heavily in the 2008-09 free agent market. They signed the best pitcher available, CC Sabathia, and the best hitter available, Mark Teixeira.

The Yankees then won the 2009 World Series due to the help provided by CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira.

In stops in Texas, Atlanta and Anaheim, Teixeira did not produce a steady stream of monstrous seasons, but he was the best hitter among free-agent hitters

He hit .283/.368/.533 with 153 home runs and 499 RBI during his four and a half seasons in Texas.

He hit .295/.395/.548 with 37 home runs and 134 RBI during his one full season in Atlanta.

He hit .358/.449/.632 with 13 home runs and 43 RBI during his (54 games) nearly half season with the Angels.

Tex was hitting .226 with 5 home runs and 21 RBI at the time Murray wrote this. In 575 at-bats, he is on pace to hit 19 home runs with 78 RBI.

I feel like Murray is dismissing Mark Teixeira's first six seasons in the majors a little bit. These aren't monstrous numbers, but if he continued to put those numbers up for his entire career he could have a claim for Hall of Fame consideration. I wouldn't simply proclaim him the best hitter among free-agent hitters after the 2008 season. That seems to mean he was the best that was available and not actually one of the best hitters in baseball when he became a free agent. Tex was considered a somewhat elite hitter at the time and as I have stated over and over, he is the best second-best hitter in the majors. He's not good enough to carry a team, but he has the ability to be the best second-best hitter on a team in the majors. He has struggled this past year, granted.

Whereupon he had the three most productive seasons of his career, slugging 111 home runs and knocking in 341 runs.

The use of RBI's to show good Tex is does annoy me a bit. Obviously this is a function of having runners on-base, but we could never convince Murray of this, so I'm willing to play by his rules for the time being.

A reader called attention to the intriguing development.

“What’s up with the dramatic decline in the production of 1B sluggers?” he asked. “Pujols, Teixeira, and now Gonzalez who seems to have stopped hitting HRs. Gotta be a coincidence, but still….”

Yes, it is a coincidence. Pujols/Gonzalez started off slowly this year while Teixeira has had bronchial inflammation holding him back and he is usually a slow starter anyway. There are quite a few first basemen who have not started the year off slowly. Simply because the usual suspects aren't the best hitters at the first base position doesn't mean there aren't slugging first basemen.

Bryan LaHair had 10 home runs with 21 RBI and a .310 batting average. He is on pace for 39 home runs and 81 RBI in 500 at-bats (I am adjusting the at-bats to reflect some of these first basemen have different number of at-bats. LaHair only had 129 at-bats...or 49 fewer than Pujols. Clearly, I am doing my best to guess at the number of at-bats each of these hitters will have).

Paul Konerko had 9 home runs with 25 RBI and a .381 average. He is on pace for 34 home runs and 94 RBI in 550 at-bats.

Prince Fielder has 7 home runs with 25 at-bats and a .285 average. He is on pace for 25 home runs and 91 RBI in 600 at-bats.

Joey Votto also has 7 home runs along with 28 RBI and a .295 average. He is on pace for 29 home runs and 115 RBI in 600 at-bats.

So there are three first basemen whose power seems to have declined and there are other first basemen who are still slugging the ball well. I think this is evidence there are slugging first basemen in the majors.

Investigation of the matter did not produce any smoking guns or ongoing conspiracy against wealthy, lusty-hitting first basemen. In fact, Joey Votto, the Reds’ young slugger, who was the National League most valuable player in 2010, is having another productive season, as is Carlos Lee of Houston.

(It pains me to ignore the fact Carlos Lee is not worth his six year $100 million contract and if Murray really wants to talk about players who underperform their contract Lee would on the list, but I must not get sidetracked.)

Right, so we can only conclude this is all just a coincidence and will be the end of this article. Right? We've proven nothing, except Tex/Gonzalez/Pujols are struggling to start the season. End of story, right? Wrong. There's more.

But to qualify for the Pujols-Gonzalez-Teixeira category, a first baseman apparently has to make a lot more money than Votto’s $38 million for three years

How about $225 million? That's the value of the contract extension Joey Votto signed which puts him right in the territory of Pujols/Gonzalez/Teixeira. Way to do research, Murray. Votto will make the $26.5 million (including $17 million in 2013) over the next two years. I would probably go ahead and throw him in as making a lot of money with the big three sluggers Murray is writing this article about. How did Murray miss this $225 million contract extension of Votto's? Votto belongs in the group of highly paid slugging first basemen, as does Ryan Howard. So Howard is injured, but Votto is playing well and he makes/will be making a large amount of money.

Let’s see what the Angels, the Red Sox and the Yankees are getting seven weeks into the season for the huge expenditures they made for their first basemen (through Wednesday):


Pujols .213 .258 .331 4 20

Gonzalez .269 .333 .406 3 22

Teixeira .226 .291 .381 5 21

I show this graph, simply to show that Murray Chass is using OB%. Of course he calls it "OB%" and leaves off the "P" in favor of a "%" sign, but at least it is progress in some form.

Let’s look at another nouveau riche first baseman, Prince Fielder, and see if he belongs with the rest of the group. At $214 million for nine years, he certainly qualifies economically:


Fielder .285 .346 .461 7 25

Yes, he belongs. No, he isn't struggling as much as these other three guys are struggling at the beginning of this year. He still is below his career averages though. He, like Pujols, has switched leagues.

I'm still not sure if there is a point to this article. If the point is that highly paid first basemen are struggling, this isn't entirely true. Votto just signed a huge extension and he is still playing well and Paul Konerko makes $12 million this year and he is having one of his best seasons of his career. Carlos Pena is having a typically Carlos Pena-like year with a low batting average but a high OBP. If the point of this article is sometimes slugging first basemen start the year off slow, well, I thought that was just common sense knowledge.

The title of this column is "Where Have the 1B Sluggers Gone?" and the answer at this point appears to be "nowhere." Three of the best slugging first basemen started the year off struggling, but this doesn't mean they will struggle the rest of the season, and there are other first basemen who are hitting the ball well. It just so happens the three first basemen Murray is focusing on are expensive players who play in large markets. Maybe this is shading his point of view.

Gonzalez and Teixeira have made no errors, Gonzalez in a league-leading 423 chances, Teixeira in 372 chances. Pujols has committed one error in 406 chances. Then there is Fielder, who made his sixth error Wednesday night in 360 chances.

Those six errors are significant I say and immediately dismiss them!

Before you dismiss Fielder’s errors as insignificant, know that No. 6 cost the Tigers their game with the Indians.

Vexed again by Murray Chass!

I didn't know one of those six errors cost the Tigers a game. That completely changes my opinion in regard to whatever the hell Murray is trying to prove.

The error also broke Fielder’s tie with Yonder Alonso of San Diego for the major league lead in errors committed by a first baseman.

A statistics nut would point out a player's number of errors committed in itself isn't necessarily a sign he is good or bad at fielding his position. After all, I could play shortstop and stand there never moving for a ground ball further than two feet from me and never commit an error all season. Does that mean I am great at fielding my position? It does not.

Alonso does not make as much as Fielder – he signed a five-year, $4.55 million contract with the Reds after they made him the seventh player picked in the 2008 draft. But in some ways, he is outhitting Fielder.

And in regard to the topic of this column, which if you can recall is a discussion of slugging first basemen, Fielder is outhitting Alonso. Let's not change the criteria around to try and prove your point. If you want to talk slugging first basemen, then stick to the "slugging" part of the discussion. Alonso gets on-base and hits for a high average. Historically, and even this season, and in terms of actually slugging the ball Fielder is outhitting Alonso.

(Granted, Alonso plays at Petco Park, which is not a hitter's paradise. He still had only hit 1 home run in 56 road at-bats during the season. He isn't exactly slugging the ball away from Petco Park either.)

Alonso: .300/.384/.413 with 1 home run and 13 RBI.

Fielder: .285/.346/461 with 7 home runs and 25 RBI.

All these numbers prove to me is this column was written on May 24. By the end of the year I believe Alonso will only have a higher batting average than Fielder.

I have strayed from the primary point of the column,

Which I honestly still have no clue what this primary point actually was.

the mysterious disappearance of the offense provided by Pujols, Gonzalez and Teixeira.

It's not really mysterious. Pujols has struggled in his first season in the American League, Gonzalez has started off slowly and Tex (who is a slow starter every year it seems) has had bronchial inflammation. The struggles of these three players really doesn't seem to be a trend and instead is a coincidence. Historical data for these players show all three will turn these numbers around before the end of the season.

But it may be more rewarding to follow the future of a youngster like Alonso as he continues to develop than to follow the million-dollar meltdowns of a trio of rich guys.

That's it. That's the end of the article. It can be summarized in this way:

"Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols are struggling at the beginning of this season. Is this a coincidence? I don't know and I care not to look into it, except to throw their season numbers out at you. I do know they make a lot of money and there are other first basemen who make a lot of money who aren't struggling. But these players make a lot of money and are struggling. I wonder if this is a trend? I won't look into whether this is a trend though. One highly-paid first baseman committed an error that lost his team a game and has six errors on the season. Yonder Alonso has also committed six errors. He's playing about as well as Prince Fielder. Maybe we should pay attention to him."


rich said...

These aren't monstrous numbers, but if he continued to put those numbers up for his entire career he could have a claim for Hall of Fame consideration.

Something that often gets overlooked is that he's also a switch hitter. If you can find a switch hitter with power from both sides, that's a pretty good signing.

Before you dismiss Fielder’s errors as insignificant, know that No. 6 cost the Tigers their game with the Indians.

One game out a 162 game schedule? Insurmountable.

I just love when people point to Fielder's defense as a problem. No shit, the dude is under 6 feet and listed at 275. Shocking he'd suck defensively.

Detroit knew what they were getting with Fielder - specifically he's a bad defensive player and they'd have to find a new place for Miggy.

Lastly, Pujols is in the first year of his deal, as is Fielder; Gonzalez is in his second. Are we seriously going to sit here after 50 games and wondering where their power went is stupid. We're not even a third of the way through the season.

I hate Murray Chass.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, that is very true as well. A guy who can hit from both sides of the plate like Tex can is very valuable. Plus, he'll turn it around. I read another article a/b this yesterday and really these players will turn it around. It's a coincidence.

The Tigers are buying time until Fielder goes to DH. Then he will be able to get off the field and have his fat ass hit the entire time.

I am with you. There's no reason to wonder where the power went. Plus, Pujols is on a roll now and Fielder isn't hitting terribly. Tex always starts off slow. That slows A-Gon and considering the issues the Red Sox are having, he's just another brick in the wall for them.