Last time I contributed, I talked about the move involving Mark Trumbo going to third base. I got one comment on the article itself, but I’ve gotten a lot of comments elsewhere on Alberto Callapso in general. I’ve defended the third baseman a lot this offseason from would be detractors. They say he doesn’t provide enough offense. They say the Angels need more firepower to compete with the Rangers. At least, that’s the prevailing wisdom.
I can certainly appreciate the sentiment, but I created total run index (which I talked about last time) as a counter to that kind of argument. Teams get themselves in a lot of trouble when they neglect fielding and base running for a perceived hitting advantage. The Arizona Diamondbacks are doing this in left field by pushing Gerardo Parra to the curb in favor of Jason Kubel. Trumbo is coming off of a season where he produced 29 bombs and 87 RBI, but if we dig deeper we see that the change to third base is not defensible.
Callapso did have a sub-par 2009 season with the glove according to most defensive metrics, but if we stick to Fangraphs’s UZR we see that he was an above average fielder in 2008 with the Royals, and in each of the past two seasons with the Angels. Above average fielders don’t exactly grow on trees and Callapso was an above average hitter last season as well. However, it is the pitch f/x numbers for plate discipline that are the most interesting.
There are a few sources for pitch f/x data on the internet these days. I have the handy Bill James Baseball IQ 2011 application on my smart phone. It provides raw data and colorful charts for a variety of categories, but I’ve always been a sucker for plate discipline. Plate discipline can be measured on two different planes. First, we can measured the selectivity of a hitter by looking at the percentage of total pitches he swings at. In that way, we are simply looking at the relative aggressiveness of a hitter. Percentage of swings on total pitches is not necessarily a predictor of success or failure. When we look across the game, we see top notch hitters on both sides of the equation.
The stat that does matter is in determining what percentage of their swings came on balls in the strike zone (or zone for short). Unless you are Vladimir Guerrero in your prime, you normally experience more success the higher that percentage is. The Angels projected opening day lineup finished tenth in that category in data going back to 2007. This seems surprising given the additions of Albert Pujols and Chris Iannetta. Still, if we play the SAT game of logical questions, you can tell me which of the following doesn’t the belong.
- Peter Bourjos. . . . . . . . .47.3. . . . . .64.0
- Howie Kendrick. . . . . . .48.1. . . . . .65.0
- Albert Pujols. . . . . . . . ..39.8. . . . . .68.0
- Torii Hunter. . . . . . . . . .47.5. . . . . .69.0
- Bobby Abreu. . . . . . . . .34.2. . . . . .73.0
- Mark Trumbo. . . . . . . ..53.0. . . . . .55.0
- Chris Iannetta. . . . . . . ..43.7. . . . ..79.0
- Vernon Wells. . . . . . . . .48.1. . . . . .68.0
- Erick Aybar. . . . . . . . . ..50.6. . . . ..62.0
Of course, Angels fans can certainly correct my batting order. I simply tried to add in what would seem to make sense from the evidence above. The first number is the percentage of swings on total pitches and the second is the percentage of that player’s swings on balls in the zone. The Bill James IQ app has the league average at around 69 percent since 2007. The Angels aggregate lineup average came in at 67.0.
Alberto Callapso’s numbers since 2007 are considerably more in line with the rest of the Angels lineup than Mark Trumbo’s are. Callaspo came in with swings at 44.8 percent of pitches with 69 percent of those swings coming on balls in the zone. That would lift the aggregate average to 68.6 on its own. That’s good enough to elevate the Angels from 10th to 5th in the AL in plate discipline. It also would move them into the middle of the pack in terms of selectivity.
If we put all of this into plain English, it means that there are a number of different places we can find value. As Peter Brand in Moneyball said, “you aren’t buying players, you are buying wins.” Well, according to WAR Alberto Callapso was worth 3.6 wins better than the replacement level player a year ago. Mark Trumbo was worth 2.3 wins. Even if Trumbo gains a half win and Callapso loses a half win, Callapso still comes out ahead. Furthermore, Callapso has averaged nearly 2.2 wins a season in the last four. It’s time to stop apologizing for Callapso.