Thursday, December 16, 2010

What does Lee do for the Phillies?

The Phillies won 97 games in 2010. They’ve let Jayson Werth go and signed Cliff Lee to assemble the best rotation in Baseball, no question. Let’s take a look at a few scenarios.
If we consider nothing else, I guess the three spots on the roster that have been most affected have been two rotation spots and right field.
I looked at Werth’s Baseball-reference and Fangraphs WAR for 2010 and gave each a 50% weight. His average WAR was 5.1. I did the same for Kyle Kendrick (.2), Joe Blanton (.6) and Cliff Lee (5.7). Dominic Brown’s I didn’t bother with because he was a late season call up and thus won’t tell us anything.
I then looked at the projections for them for next season by the fans and Bill James at Fangraphs. Werth is expected to put up a 4.4 WAR and Lee a 6.7. For neither Kendrick nor Blanton are there official “WAR” projections, but looking at their statistics I inferred about a .5 WAR for Kendrick and a 2 WAR for Blanton. I’ll use those as their projected WAR.
Finally, I averaged those with the 2010 50/50 split of B-R and FG and got this: Werth (4.75), Kendrick (.35) Blanton (1.3) and Lee (6.2). For Dominic Brown, I took a look at Bill James’ projection and hypothesized a reason WAR of 2.5 for 2011. That’s what we’re going with. Also, keep in mind I am considering all else is holding equal – meaning the remainder of the roster will perform on par with their 2010.
If they’d have brought back Werth and kept the rotation the same, I’d project about a 6.4 WAR between Werth, Kendrick and Blanton.
What about if they didn’t sign Lee, but Werth walked? That’s pretty much what we THOUGHT was going to happen. If we do that, I get a WAR of 4.15 for Brown, Kendrick and Blanton.
Finally, what actually happened. They now look to have Cliff Lee, Dominic Brown and Kyle Kendrick. This is important. The Phillies appear destined to move Joe Blanton, so it’s important to realize that, if this happens, Lee is essentially replacing Blanton, not the five-starter Kendrick. With that, we have a 9.05 WAR for 2011.
So, their improvement from the scenario where they didn’t sign Lee is about 5 wins. That’s a pretty significant change – but then you’d expect that when you sign a player like Lee. But the difference between this year and last year isn’t as significant – we’re talking about 2.5 or 3 wins – because you’ve both lost Werth and then moved out your number four starter (not the five starter) with Cliff Lee. If they are able to or decide to keep Blanton, the gain in value is more significant.
They won 97 games last season, so with the 3 win upgrade they can probably get to 100 in 2011. Perhaps not the huge difference some may have expected. But there are other things to consider here, too. The Phillies lineup is aging, and Ryan Howard isn’t the player he once was. He’s regressing a lot faster than people expected if 2010 was any indication. Also, I see them having significant struggles versus left-handed pitching next season.

But - and a huge but is coming - if Lee makes them better and they get into the playoffs, which he almost certainly will, this move becomes more significant. Come October, Kendrick takes a seat and they go with Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels, and we Giants fans certainly know how far a dominant rotation can take you in October.


  1. Nice analysis!

    One thing I've noticed in this brouhaha is that Lee's WAR has dropped a lot each of the last two seasons. Not that I expect him to drop to the 2's in 2011 (as some might do with the bad trending curve), but at minimum, given his age too, I would give serious consideration that maybe 2010's WAR of, if I recall right, 4.3 (not sure which, I love that you averaged) might be his career mean, or even possibly his ceiling, going forward. That's about 1.5 WAR less than the numbers used above, halving the projected increase.

    I thought it was a brilliant move to swap out Werth for Lee, which was the first thing I thought when I heard the signing, and not something I had seen covered in the analysis I've read until now.

    I would much rather have Lee than Werth, and for not that much more money, particularly if they can dump some salary (Ibanez? Blanton?) along the way to the 2011 season. Plus they backloaded it some (I think his 2011 salary is "onl" $11M) which allows them to adjust their budget in 2012 instead of more urgently in 2011.

  2. There's no question I'd rather have Lee than worth at the salaries each player was given, and you are correct that Lee's is back ended. In particular, his fifth year will be $25M and, if he vests (400 IP in '14 + '15 combined, or 200 IP in '15, he'll make $27.5 in 2016, i.e. his option year. That's a huge chunk of change, though it won't be AS much by then with inflation.

    Here's the thing though, Lee's WAR has gone down a lot in the last two seasons according to Baseball-reference, but not Fangraphs. For pitchers, B-R uses Sean Smith's version of WAR which is run based. They tally how many runs he was worth - 1 run = .1 WAR - and then attempt to make adjustments based on other factors (specifcally BABiP). Because of this, you'll find that B-R WAR is almost more results based. So Lee had an outstanding season by all accounts in 2008, and had a 7.3 WAR. Then in 2009 and 2010, he was probably more "unlucky," but B-R was less forgiving, resulting in a 5.0 and 4.3 WAR.

    FG, on the other hand, has a FIP based WAR. So, given that Lee's peripherals have held very strong - and I mean K's, BB's and HR's allowed - his wins have gone 7.2, 6.6 and 7.1, or almost stagnant. There's a fundamental difference in how they calculate pitcher WAR.

    So let's take Matt Cain as another example. His ERA was quite low in 2009. As you know, he's shown an ability to post below average BABiP's throughout his career, in a sample of over 1,000 innings. Well. FG doesn't really consider that a skill in the their metric for WAR, so he only had a 3.5 WAR. B-R, on the other hand, uses the run based system and he posted a 5.1 on their page.

    I think both systems have value, and so whenever possible, i.e. if I have the time to do it, I try to do a 50/50 weighting and use both.

    For hitters, there very similar. The main difference is the defense, where B-R is using Total Zone rating and Fangraphs UZR. So if they disagree, it's always a discrepancy in how they rated a fielder.

    Thanks for commenting!