Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Heyward and Posey in Historical Perspective

By Bill

In all the discussion leading up to and after the announcement of Buster Posey's winning the National League Rookie of the Year award yesterday, I feel like something has been forgotten.  And, actually, for purposes of the award, I think it should have been forgotten, but then a lot of things seem to have been remembered that I think should have been forgotten too, so this thing needs to be remembered again.  Wait, let me explain.

That thing is this: Jason Heyward has a chance to be a really, really, absurdly good player.

I mention it because Buster Posey seems to have assumed mythical status among Giants fans, who seem to have taken much of the media along with them.  As they said over on McCovey Chronicles (partially tongue-in-cheek, I assume, but it's too good not to use): "Posey is the definition [of 'a special catcher']. He’s like Johnny Bench crossed with Batman, but better."  And I guess you can understand why they feel that way.  Posey joined, in very late May, a team that had gone 26-22 without him, stuck back in third place.  From that point on, they went 66-48 and took the division, league, and World Championship, while Posey batted over .300, slugged over .500, played brilliantly in the division series (if only well enough in subsequent series), and, reputedly, did an excellent job handling one of the league's best pitching staffs.  There is a very real and powerful perception that Posey single-handedly saved the Giants' season, transformed it from utterly forgettable to the greatest season in most living Giants fans' memories.  And while there are obviously a ton of factors that go into anything like that, they're not entirely wrong.  Posey was fantastic, and was certainly a huge part of the Giants' success.

But it's comments like this, a reader's comment from one of the boss's posts on the subject, that I think illustrate what we're missing here:
Good-hitting outfielders are a dime a dozen, and come along all the time. Buster Posey is a generational talent, and frankly his contribution to this team goes far beyond quantitative statistics. . . .  What Posey meant to the team as a player, as a leader, and as a representation of an entire franchise's hope for a bright future cannot be overstated.

If by "good-hitting outfielders" you mean, say, Josh Willingham or Marlon Byrd or Michael Cuddyer, then I think you're more or less right.  Dime a dozen.  If what you mean, on the other hand, is great-hitting outfielders who played most of the season at age 20, then I scratch my head a little bit.  So in all the hoopla about Posey and the story about saving the season and winning the Series and all that, I think we're in danger of losing sight of just how exactly the opposite of "dime a dozen" Jason Heyward is.  Some perspective:

Heyward turned 21 on August 9, making 2010 his "age 20" season.  Posey is about two and a half years older; he'll turn 24 before the first pitch of 2011, making 2010 his "age 23" season.  This isn't a big difference out here in the real world -- we're talking about a college junior against a guy just out of college -- but in baseball, it's pretty huge.

It's rare enough, first of all, for a player just to be good enough to get playing time at age 20.  Heyward was one of just 29 players (or so--I may have missed one of the duplicates) ever to get 600 plate appearances in his age 20 season or earlier; his 623 PA were 25th all-time among players his age or younger.

It's even rarer, of course, for a player to be a good Major League ballplayer at an age at which most of his peers are in low-A or college.  Among players who qualified for a batting title in their age-20 season or earlier (there are 59 such seasons, though not quite 59 players, since a few did it more than once), Heyward's 131 OPS+ ranks 13th all-time.  The list of players in front of him, in its entirety (see the whole list here):
Ty Cobb
Mel Ott
Al Kaline
Mickey Mantle
Alex Rodriguez
Ted Williams
Rogers Hornsby
Dick Hoblitzell
Frank Robinson
Ken Griffey Jr.
Sherry Magee
Tony Conigliaro

You can't make this stuff up. That's nine Hall of Famers, one guy (Magee) who likely would be one if there were anyone still alive to care about him, one (Tony C) who appeared well on his way before a freak injury...and Hoblitzell, a decent early 20th century hitter whose .308/.364/.408 was good for a 143 OPS+ in the pitching-dominated 1909 NL.

Names after Heyward on that list are predominantly very-good-to-great players, too: Mays, Mathews, Bench, Vaughan, Alomar, Aaron, McGraw, Cepeda.  Hitters who can put up a 131 OPS+ at age 20 are very far from "dime a dozen."

How about WAR (Baseball-Reference's version, since it's sortable)?  Heyward's 4.4 comes in 15th behind a very similar lineup of greats.  All are Hall of Famers or sure-to-be Hall of Famers except Vada Pinson, a tremendously talented youngster who kind of flamed out at 27, and Claudell Washington, a pretty good hitter whose age 20 year was a bit of a fluke.  Otherwise: Foxx, Hornsby, Williams, Bench, F-Rob, A-Rod, etc.  And again, even for a ways behind him (say to about #40 on the list), more than half of the players on the list are Hall of Famers or close enough.

It's really hard to make Posey's season look as historically significant.  Posey missed qualifying for the batting title by 59 PA, but even assuming he'd qualified and maintained his 129 OPS+, that season would rank approximately 230th among players 23 and younger, around 115th among players in their age-23 seasons alone (to keep the sample smaller).  Limiting it to catchers, Posey would be 16th to 18th on the "23 or younger" list and ninth or tenth among catchers exactly 23.

Posey's WAR of exactly 3.0, as you might figure, doesn't really jump out from the pack, either.  That puts him 43rd all-time among catcher seasons at age 23 and under, 22nd all-time among catchers in their age-23 seasons. Now, part of that is depressed because the Giants played him at first base for 30 games for some reason, and of course much more of it is depressed because the Giants played him in the minors for two months for some reason.  But then the previous paragraph makes him look better than he is, since we were comparing him against guys with many more PA and would expect his OPS+ to drop a bit.  Either way, what's clear is that as great as Posey's season was, it's hard to find anything truly special (as in, historic) about it unless you add in some stuff about being a rookie catcher in the World Series and such -- circumstantial stuff that doesn't actually speak to how great his season was.

So the point is this: if you're picking a guy most likely to become (as that quote above said about Posey) "a generational talent," the money has to be on Heyward.  Yeah, he's just a corner outfielder, but he's a good one, and one who is already a very, very good hitter, and he's just recently turned 21. Posey has an incredibly bright future, and might well become a great player, even a Hall of Famer...but Heyward is off to a better start than that.  His is the kind of start that -- far from a guarantee, of course, but more often than not, and can you imagine being able to say something like that about a 21 year old after one full season? -- turns into a guy people want to go on to tell their kids and grandkids about someday.

As I alluded to at the top, I don't actually think this discussion has anything to do with the Rookie of the Year voting.  I think the award should go to the rookie who had the best season, period...and I think that was Heyward (but it was close, and it's hard to get too upset about Posey's selection, especially considering that they gave it to another one-inning guy in the AL, so it could be so very much worse).  Just that if you were thinking about stuff like that -- generational talent and the future and their places in history and all that -- and you picked Posey, I think you picked the wrong guy.


Anonymous said...

First of all, I'm a bit confused. You say that you think the rookie of the year should be based on who has the best season yet your reasoning does not back that at all. If you looked at each player this season you would see that in far fewer at bats, posey did a lot more to help his team. The home runs and rbi's r similar but take a look at the difference in batting average. Posey was the one with a significant advantage in that area. There are also the intangibles. You glossed over the fact that posey handled arguably the best staff in all of baseball. What is not widely known is that under posey, the team era was the lowest of any catches, including molina, in a long time. Then there's the fact that before posey's arrival teams were running wild on the basepaths. Many times games were lost because molina couldn't prevent runners from reaching second or even third base. Coincidentally when posey was installed at catcher, the stolen bases for other teams dropped drastically. For a giants team that had to scratch and claw for every run they got, that was a huge deal because it meant the had the chance to stay in convention of a lot more games. On the other hand there's heyward. A great prospect but really did nothing incredible during the season. Yes he had a ton of hype built up around him at the beginning of the year which was confirmed by him hitting a home run in his first ever major league at bat but it all kind of went down hill from there. Heyward was just another guy on a good team but posey was a leader of the world champs. That in itself should speak volumes.

The Common Man said...

You're confused because missed the point, anonymous. Bill's point is not that Heyward should have won (though he thinks Heyward should have won); his point is that if you're looking at both seasons from a historical perspective, Heyward's season is far more predictive of future success, and perhaps inner-circle Hall of Fame talent.

Also, if you're using batting average to determine who had a better season, you need to learn more about the game and what makes a player valuable.

Finally, if you can find evidence that a catcher has a consistent positive or negative effect on a staff's performance, you should publish that right away, because you'll be the first.

Anonymous said...

If your saying that heyward has the prospect of turning out to be a better player than you may have a good argument. However posey had the better season. You have to compare each player against the other player......NOT how they rank historically against people their own age. that has absolutely no bearing on the award at all. The criteria is based on who has the better season not who has more potential. Potential is just that. It means nothing if that player doesn't pan out. If you follow your logic, a 17 year old who posts a .250 avg with 10 hr's and 45 rbi's is more deserving than a 25 year old who posts a .350 average with 30 hr's and 100 rbi's. The 17 year old is doing things that have never been done before so historically speaking he has a better shot at becoming a super star. That is ridiculous. The award is based on what we can prove, not what we can see happening at some point in the future. They got it right.

Bill said...

Jeez. Does anybody (besides TCM, which, I mean, it's kind of his job) actually read the post before commenting? I did not make a single argument as to why Heyward deserves the ROY over Posey. I explicitly said, in fact, that what I was saying should have no bearing on the award voting at all. Twice.

So here's that argument:
Batting average and RBI don't matter. This shouldn't be a controversial point by now--batting average is half a complete idea, and RBI are hugely dependent on who is getting on base (or not) in front of you. What matters is hitting for power and (especially) getting on base. Heyward did a much, much better job than Posey of getting on base, and -- here's the big obvious thing you didn't mention -- in 34 more games and 180 more plate appearances. This (basically) is why Heyward beats Posey handily in both versions of WAR (wins above replacement), and why he pretty clearly had the better overall year (though not by a ton).

Of course, it's not Posey's fault that the Giants were dumb enough to bring back Molina and stick him in the minors and at first base for 90ish games, and maybe if they hadn't done that Posey would've been better. But as Anonymous #2 said, "the award is based on what we can prove" -- and "what we can prove," if you focus on the things that actually matter, tells us that Heyward had the better season.

Anonymous said...

While I'd love to argue opinions with y'all, I believe a better representation of what we can prove about who had a better season is what the stats tell us. I did a little calculating on my own and here's what I came up with.

Heyward played in 36 more games than posey. He had 180 more plate appearances than posey and 116 more at bats. Now the compare the two by what they accomplished.

Homeruns per at bat
Heyward= .034
Posey= .044

Doubles per at bat
Heyward= .056
Posey= .057

Triples per at bat
Heyward= .009
Posey= .005

If that's what you're considering power numbers, the slight edge has to go to posey.
As far as production numbers go...

RBI per plate appearance (because remember you can get an rbi from a walk)
Heyward= .116
Posey= .151

Again advantage posey

If you want to delve into plate discipline and bat control......

Strike outs per plate appearance
Heyward= .205
Posey= .124

Walks per plate appearance
Posey= .07

On base percentage
Heyward= .393
Posey= .357

I don't think there numbers are super important, I just thought I'd give respective.

Lastly there's defense

Fielding percentage
Heyward= .976
Posey= .991

While there numbers may seem very close, consider the positions they play. Posey, as someone already said is a catcher who handles the likes of Lincecum, sanchez, Cain and the rest the giants incredible staff. Heyward is an outfielder playing in a park where the dimensions are frankly not difficult for a right fielder. So I think there is merit in saying that this is another advantage for posey.

While I have to agree with a couple of babbling idiots, I think the numbers do show that Posey had a better year overall.

Anonymous said...

Slight typo, posey played in 34 less games than heyward. Sorry bout that

Bill said...

WAR is a number. Heyward beats Posey in it, by more than a win (varies slightly depending on which site you look at). This is for two reasons: (a) those 34 games, and (b) OBP, that last number you cite, is by far the most important stat for a hitter, and Heyward had a huge advantage. If you're trying to figure out which of two guys is a better hitter, and one has a 35-point advantage in OBP, it's very unlikely that stats like doubles per at-bat are going to matter.

That said, it is fairly close, especially if you're inclined to gloss over the PT difference. Posey does get extra credit under WAR for playing the tougher position and all that. I just think that all there is to go on is what actually happened, and that that extra playing time gave Heyward a pretty clear edge.

JamesDaBear said...

You're fighting with guys who won't recognize OBP until it shows up in the boxscores of their favorite daily rags (for as long as they survive). Since they're anonymous, my first thought was: Most likely BBWAA voters defending their votes.

Nobody is saying Posey can't become a superstar, perennial All-Star, MVP candidate, etc... especially if he stays at catcher

Nobody's saying he didn't perform well in 2010 when he wasn't down in AAA.

Heyward's season doesn't require caveats. He was great from the moment he stepped on the field as a 20 year old. We could leave age out of it and still come to the same conclusion of Heyward's greatness in 2010 and use it to predict further greatness.

Ben Sally said...

Oh my god, did someone really just make an argument for Posey based on "RBIs per at bat"?!?!? That has to be the worst statistic I've ever seen. When are people going to realize that RBIs have very very little to do with the hitter and everything to do with whoever is in front of them?

The HR/doubles/triples per AB would be relevant if baseball games were limited by time played rather than outs made, but right now games don't end after a set amount of time, they end after 27 outs are recorded. Therefore, far and away the most important skill for a hitter is "not making an out", aka OBP. If you had to score more runs in a limited amount of time, then SLG becomes more important, but until then you should look at OBP first and foremost when determining a hitter's value.

Heyward blew Posey out of the water in OBP, and therefore had a better season. Also, using fielding percentage to determine defensive value is just as bad as RBIs, because it doesn't look at the number of balls a fielder got to. If someone makes 10 more errors but got to 100 more ground balls, then he's a much better and more valuable fielder despite having a lower FP.

The Common Man said...

And an argument based on fielding percentage. Dude, Buster Posey gets a putout for every strikeout. Do you know how many fewer "chances" Heyward had? A lot. But how often does a catcher screw up a 3rd strike such that he gets an error? Almost never.

Heyward was a good defensive outfielder, Posey a good defensive catcher. We have no way to properly evaluate catcher defense at this point in its relation to others.

Finally, one more time. Bill's not saying anything about the award, necessarily. He's saying that, as a 20 year old, Heyward's season is far more impressive than Posey's season as a 24 year old. Aside from On-Base Percentage, that's the most important statistic here, that four year age gap.

JamesDaBear said...

For me... he's just saying: You can't give Buster Posey credit for having a "historical" season... without giving Heyward double the credit for it. You don't gain points for Posey by bringing that up... or at least you shouldn't.

From my viewpoint, Posey winning shows how far we still have to come. He won this award because he had a better BA and more RBIs.

We're still not there yet.

Michael C. Grochol said...

Your all dorks. I'm a huge Giants Fan... HUGE and I would NEVER... EVER look up stuff like average RBIs per at bat (I apologize for that guy). I guess I have one question and one point. Isn't WAR based on the stats of the person your replaced based on the average player at that position? I'm not saying it isn't a good stat for comparing similar type players (i.e my rookie right fielder vs. yours) but I don't think positional comparisons are as valid. That's like comparing a reliever's ERA to a starting pitchers. I guess I don't like the "power numbers" argument because that means HRs are super important, which they just aren't in my opinion. I'd rather have a guy on my team hit for average and RBIs (lets all freak out and talk about who hits in front of them now) then HRs with no average (see AZ Diamondbacks).

Now, as for the year... I think Posey deserved to be Rookie of the Year. He had a better year then Heyward, the only statistic that he beat him in was OBP (which I agree is actually one of the best and most accurate stats to determine a player's worth) however he didn't blow him out of the water in it, and Posey's numbers were very comparable and usually better in every other category. And, sorry to say, catcher is a harder position then right field. If you are basically similar, and one guy has a great year in left field, and the other one has a great year at shortstop, you don't say "well gee gosh... his WAR is better." Really? we are comparing those positions? We are saying the types of players in those positions are similar? Trust me, almost any SS could play left field, and I doubt any of you would take the best LF in the game and put him on your team at SS.

Lastly, do I think Heyward will turn out to be better then Posey. I'm not one for bold predictions in that sense, I think they are both future superstars (as a Giants fan I really hope so for Posey). But I think Heyward is built like a future transcendent player. He very easily could be a guy they talk about in conversations with Mays, I think he has that sort of potential. I also think potential hasn't won anything as far as I know. I'm sure you guys are all out with your calculators right now calculating P-WAR though. (P is for potential, for those out there that didn't get it) and I agree, Heyward probably wins that one.

Anyway, I'm sure you'll all nerd out explaining to me how WAR is done (I looked it up and it's like UZR... not saying it isn't a useful stat, but I didn't get a degree in math for a reason) I have no clue what it really means. The deal is, Posey had a great season, and so did Heyward, but potential is be a superstar doesn't come into play. I think Posey had a better year then Heyward, and did it in a much more difficult position. But we can agree to disagree on that one, no hurt feelings there. Thanks for reading, I'm gonna go play real WAR now (I'm in Iraq).


Michael C. Grochol said...
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MIke said...

Hey author, sorry about all the reposts, it kept saying it wasn't loading... Internet out here sucks, feel free to delete, sorry again. Actually I just really really really really want you to agree with me!


The Common Man said...

Hey Mike,

First, no problem about the reposts. As trite as it sounds, thanks for the work you're doing in Iraq, and come home safely.

Second, I want to clear up your misconception about Wins Above Replacement. WAR compares how many "wins" a player contributes to his team over a typical player in the high minors. For instance, all right fielders would get compared to the appproximate performance of a minor league lifer bouncing between AAA and the Majors who plays the same position. That way, catchers are compared with catchers, and right fielders with right fielders, and the number we see at the end is how much more valuable (or less valuable) a player is than that fictional "replacement player."

So, WAR does account for how hard it is to find a good shortstop or catcher through something that we call a positional adjustment. That allows us to compare apples (catchers) to oranges (right fielders) on an even playing field.

So, if we look at WAR (via fangraphs.com), we see that Heyward contributed 5.0 wins over a replacement RF, and Posey contributed 3.7 over a C-1B. The difference between the two is probably due to three main factors. First, Heyward played more, which means he had more chances to be "above replacement." Second, Posey spent 30 games at 1B. While it still got his bat in the lineup, he has a higher offensive bar to clear as a 1B to be valuable because good-hitting 1B are easy to find. Finally, the difference in their OBP is not trivial. Heyward's .393 represents an elite OBP, while Posey's .357 is merely very good. Think of it this way, if Posey had gotten the same number of plate appearances as Heyward, Heyward would have made 22 fewer outs than Buster. That's almost a full game's worth, and that has a lot of value.

Thanks for the comment, Mike. Sorry we can't agree with you. And yes, we are dorks.

The Common Man said...
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The Common Man said...
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Anonymous said...

I think there's two ways to look at the rookie of the year. First is to look at what they actually did. Based strictly on what they did on the field, I think Heyward has an edge, because Posey didn't play that much catcher, and Heyward played 34 extra games.

The other way is to attempt to adjust for the "stupidity" of the teams. In this case, you're arguing that it isn't Posey's fault he wasn't in the majors for two months - he was ready, but the Giants were playing games with him. And once he reached the majors, he was ready to play catcher, but they just wouldn't let him.

But if you're going to give him that extra credit, you probably ought to adjust for the Braves leaving Heyward out there with an injury that left him unable to hit. Removing June from his stats as a rough guess at the injury time, Heyward put up a 298/416/502 line in 515 PA. That's significantly better than Posey - power and BA are essentially equal, but a 50 point edge in OBP is massive. And it's still more PA than Posey got.

The only way I see to push Posey past Heyward is to give him full credit for the time he was left in the minors, plus credit for catching when he wasn't behind the plate, and not give Heyward any credit for playing with a crippling injury to his hand. Lose any one of the three, and I think Heyward wins.

54Replay said...

I think what you miss when you base EVERYTHING on stats is what you actually see when you watch the game. You can't SEE the impact Posey has on a game through the box score. As much as you would like to, you can't boil everything down to stats. Posey was the better rookie...at a position and spot in the lineup that had a greater impact on the fortunes of the team

The Common Man said...

I think what you miss when you only look at what you see on the field, 54Replay, is that you can't be everywhere at once. Tell me, did you watch all of Jason Heyward's games? Did you watch all of Posey's? Probably not.

So how about neither of us rely TOTALLY on our eyes, nor TOTALLY on stats. Instead, let's use some common sense and some actual rigorous analysis to figure out the right answer. If you can't do that, well then you're playing in the wrong sandbox.

Also, nobody really looks at box scores anymore. Instead, we have other really awesome game data that moves so far beyond that like complete play-by-play data, Pitch F/X, and Hit F/X. We can plot a fielder's range and see how much a pitch breaks. Man, it's not about not watching a ballgame. It's about watching the game, and then finding out more about the game you just watched.

54Replay said...

"Box score" was figurative, (and probably belies my age)... You can't look at the stats ONLY and you can't watch EVERY game. the most predominant argument for Heyward is that he played more games...even while conceding Posey was better during the period of the season he played. The assumption being that Posey's stats would deteriorate had he played the additional 34 games. I watched most of Posey's games...and I watched a few of Heyward's - including one where he hit an opposite field home run a day after being fooled on the same pitch in 3 consecutive at bats. VERY impressive player...but without the impact of Posey in 2010.

The Common Man said...

I'm afraid you're still off on a couple counts, 54Replay. In no way should anyone concede that Posey had a better year when he played than Heyward. In fact, both Bill and The Common Man believe that Heyward was better than Posey in 2010, though not by a lot. While Posey may have been more valuable when playing as a catcher than Heyward was as a RF, Heyward was MUCH more valuable as a RF than Posey was in 30 games as a 1B.

TCM is not real sure how you measure "impact," either. Frankly, Heyward seemed to drag the Braves to the finish line with a much less exciting supporting cast than Posey did.

That said, ultimately (if you read his argument carefully, you'll notice) Bill's point was not that Heyward should have won the ROY at the expense of Posey (though we both believe that to be true); it's that Heyward's season is far more impressive in a career context because of his youth and excellence, and far more predictive of future success.

The Fox said...

OBP may be THE most important stat to you folks, and that's fine, but I'll take a guy with a higher OPS, and considerably fewer strikeouts playing at the most physically demanding position on the field over a guy who mainly functioned as a table setter with his 91 walks (and Willingham-like numbers everywhere else). Sure, Heyward's got plenty of skills and I'm not saying he's garbage. He could be elite in a few years. But come on, guys, the Rookie of the Year award goes to the guy who walks the most, because that's most satisfying to the metrics?

Bill said...

I've been away from my computer all morning, but TCM has done a nice job saying pretty much everything I would've said anyway. Heyward's "impact" was greater than Posey's. Mostly because of the 34 games? Yeah, probably (although I don't think Posey beats Heyward, necessarily, if you give him those 34 games--maybe they're roughly tied). But those 34 games happened, and they gave Heyward a more productive 2010 than Posey had. It doesn't matter whether he could have sustained his production over 34 more games; maybe he would've gotten even better, or maybe he would've hit .150. The one pertinent point there is that none of that actually happened, and the award should be based on what actually happened.

Fox- no, the rookie of the year goes to the guy who had the most productive season while playing in the National League (or it should, anyway), and that was Jason Heyward. There are good reasons for preferring Posey on a game-by-game basis, or at least viewing them as equals (though I don't think the marginally higher OPS, which is dwarfed by the OBP difference, or the strikeouts, which are virtually irrelevant, are among them), but again, you're skipping right over the even bigger issue--Heyward did it over nearly 200 more plate appearances. That makes a big difference.

Church of the Perpetually Outraged said...

@ The Fox

OPS isn't a good argument for multiple reasons, foremost that it isn't even park adjusted. OPS+, which has Heyward (131) over Posey (129) is a better metric to use. However, even then it's still not a good one. For one, as every math student knows, you don't add numbers with different denominators (SLG uses AB, OBP uses PA). Also, many analysts like Keith Law and [I believe] BP feel that OPS underrates OBP and overrates SLG. As someone above mentioned, the key to baseball is not making outs (OBP), and in that matter, Heyward is vastly better than Posey.

Tobias said...

One Anonymous post made this point: In the 4 weeks that Heyward played with a broken thumb, his line was .181/.287/.245. If you factor in "team stupidity", and they fact that he should've been on the DL, he finishes the year with a .298/.416/.502. As a 20-year old, that's pretty filthy. Also, to 54Replay's point, outside of stats, sometimes you get a certain feel when you actually watch the player. And having watched all of Heyward's games, I can say that he hits the ball as hard as anyone I've ever seen, he's incredibly consistent, and at times he looked like a beast among men. And he just turned 21.

That said, notice I didn't mention "Rookie of the Year Award" anywhere in this post, because that's not what this article is about.

Anonymous said...

I love the "I'm not saying anything about the award", line of dialogue, you are talking about the award, your bitter your guy didn't win and your twisting stats to justify your case, admit what your doing, be a man about it its ok to say it.
you say RBIs don't matter, but putting the ball in play is a big part of busters game, he doesn't strike out or walk as much as heyward as a result. His ops are lower but his avg with risp is higher than heywards. posey is a clutch player, as intangible as that is, we saw it in the playoffs when heyward choked and posey thrived. so if you want a guy who looks at strike 3 trying to get ball 4 go for heyward and his ops but if you want a guy whos going to try and get it done go for posey.

The Fox said...

Would a team rather get 142 games out of a very good player, or 108 out of a stud? If your argument is that a team would prefer the 142, it's certainly valid.

I think Posey's a stud. Maybe I'm biased because Posey is an alum ('06,'07) of my hometown Y-D Red Sox of the Cape Cod Baseball League, while the only Braves games I watched this year involved Heyward striking out a ton...how can strikeouts be insignificant? It's a wasted at-bat.

Bill - you say the difference in OPS is "marginal" while Posey's OBP is "dwarfed" by Heyward's. There are two constituents to OPS. Posey's SLG "dwarfs" Heyward's by 50 points, while Heyward's OBP is 36 points higher than Posey's. Again, I'd rather have the banger than the table setter, but that's just me. I'm probably in the minority amongst baseball thinkers.

Bill said...

@Anonymous the latest: I love the "I'm not saying anything about the award", line of dialogue, you are talking about the award, your bitter your guy didn't win and your twisting stats to justify your case.

I'm talking about the award in the comments, because that's what people seem to want to talk about. The original post isn't about the award at all. And Heyward isn't "my guy"--I'm a Twins fan--he's just the guy who objectively had the better 2010 season.

you say RBIs don't matter, but putting the ball in play is a big part of busters game, he doesn't strike out or walk as much as heyward as a result. His ops are lower but his avg with risp is higher than heywards.

RBI as a means of evaluating players doesn't matter, at all, and neither does batting average with RISP, because there's no such thing as clutch. A guy with a 1.500 OPS with RISP one season should be expected to hit right in line with his overall career totals in the next.

But: did you even check? Posey hit .312/.391/.532 with RISP, and Heyward hit .306/.443/.484. The difference in their BA is virtually nothing, and Heyward's line, overall, is better. And putting the ball in play with RISP was not part of Posey's game. He drew a(n unintentional) walk in just 5.6% of his plate appearances overall, but with RISP, that jumped to 8.9%. He was less likely to foolishly refuse to take what the pitchers were willing to give him with RISP.

And there are good reasons for that. People who love RBI have this assumption that taking a walk with runners on is a bad thing, which is just bizarre. Okay, maybe it is if there are two outs and the pitcher coming up, but that's it. Otherwise, if you had say a runner on third and one out, now you've got runners on first and third and one out, and your run expectancy has really gone up quite a bit. A hit is better than a walk in that situation, but a walk is better than swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, which almost always leads to outs.

Bill said...

Fox, I'm glad you've admitted your bias. Both these guys are clearly "studs," and I'd much rather have the stud who played 34 more games.

Strikeouts are insignificant because they're not any worse than any other out (and they're generally better than groundouts, since you almost never get two outs on a K). If you've got two guys who both hit .300/.400/.500, the fact that one struck out 50 times and the other 150 shouldn't factor at all into analyzing which one had the better season. I'm fascinated by guys who can put up great numbers without striking out a ton, like Pujols, it's fun, but it doesn't really make him a significantly better player.

Church of the Perpetually Outraged did a great job of countering the arguments you just made on OPS. OPS is handy, but one of the main reasons it's not a great stat is that it treats OBP and SLG as equals (actually, SLG probably gets slightly more than half the credit, since SLGs tend to be higher than OBPs), when OBP is much, much, much more important. And as Tobias pointed out (though it doesn't factor into who had the better season), the perceived difference in power is probably more to do with Heyward playing through an injury anyway.

The Common Man said...

Oh Sweet Jesus, I weep for America and for reading comprehension!

@Anonymous Dude, you can challenge someone's manhood all you want, or you can recognize a complicated argument is a conspiracy to talk about a simple one. Seriously, go measure angles from the grassy knoll and put on a tinfoil hat or something.

@The Fox Please, tell me the difference between a "stud" and a "very good player." Frankly, I see two incredible ballplayers. But let's not pretend that a .50 point difference in SLG is the same as a .50 point difference in OBP. OBP correlates far better to a team's overall offensive success. But you're unfairly categorizing Heyward as a "table setter" and proscribing him a role that was not his. What he was was a damn good hitter.

Anonymous said...

Good article that I agreed with in the gut before it was written. I'm a Giants fan and I cannot understate the importance of a catcher with a young staff. But, Heyward to me seemed to be Junior, or A-Rod, or Mantle. I was stunned at his ability to hit at 20 and the impact he made.

That being said, this is not an MVP Rookie award, it's a Rookie of the Year award. Posey did not play even half the season behind the plate, and missed 2 months. Both had amazing seasons, but I was surprised he won because Heyward is so unique and played the full season. It has to be the catcher bias that is accurate, but still, I bet Heyward will top5 MVP awards more than Posey in his career, and prob last longer as well.

Anonymous said...

Personally I was rooting for Garcia to win it, although I knew he had no chance after 1) slowing down near year's end and 2) being held out of games by his team.

I would have had no problems with either of the 2 candidates winning but I do have a lot of issues with some of the reasoning provided by various supporters and also with the media effect. To wit:

Heyward was essentially given the ROY after his first few weeks in the league; I suspect at least some of the ultimate voters never changed their opinion

In a similar vein, it is not the Giants or their fans who carry Posey to heights of hyperbole - it is the media. (Though personally I give it all to the actual player). I'll opine here that had Jaime started each game in his turn and performed at his 2010 average level each time, he still would have finished third - mainly because of the media man-love for first heyward and second posey - despite being the only one of the 3 to be there all year in a consistent fashion.

(After all, most of the media kept waiting for garcia to fail much of the year.)

Using BA and RBI or RBI per AB to justify a winner is so ridiculous, I feel like I am wasting my time as I type this.

However, using WAR is pretty bad too because WAR incorporates defensive stats which are highly subjective and vary wildly based on their creator's perspective and not just defensive ability. The fact that there are 2 quite different versions of WAR says all that needs to be said. There is (good) hope that defensive stats will become more objective in the future - then perhaps incorporating them into an overall evaluation will make more sense. Not now though.

The Common Man said...

To the last anonymous dude,

Good points all, strong analysis.

It's worth pointing out that both WARs (Sean Smith's and Fangraphs's) have Heyward comfortably ahead of Posey for 2010. There's some wiggle room there, as there still is no consensus over the effect of a catcher's defense. That said, reasonable people would probably have a hard time believing it could make up the difference via either method.

Thanks for the comment

The Fox said...

@ Church and TCM
Thanks for pointing out the difference in the denominators. That's something I didn't originally consider. Still don't think Heyward's on Posey's level this year.

Bill's original post was to say "Heyward's awesome" - not that he deserved the '10 ROY, but that he was awesome, possibly transcendent. But it's all based on 91 walks, guys. I'm glad he walks a lot. But the rest of his numbers are just average. I get that you folks love OBP. Fine. But when Posey comes up, he does more. He had 205 total bases. Heyward had 237. To go with 180 more plate appearances.

Go ahead, laugh at me using an archaic stat like total bases. But "a team's overall offensive success" isn't all about walks. Fortunately for baseball fans everywhere, offensive success is about a lot of things. Earl Weaver managed differently from Sparky Anderson, Billy Martin, and Whitey Herzog. They all won with different offensive philosophies.

Me - I'd rather have the guy who hits himself into scoring position, hits it out of the yard, hits someone from 1st to 3rd, drives someone in. He needed to do that with a weak Giants lineup. The Braves lineup was weak, too, and needed a take-charge hitter. Not a walker who was a reasonable facsimile of Josh Willingham at 20 years old. Walkers are for grandmas. And Keith Law.

Anonymous said...

@common man
Im a conspiracy theorists? Maybe you missed the line in Bill's blog claiming giants fans have convinced the media to drink the buster posey kool aid. maybe he needs your tin foil hat.

I just call it like i see it a blog post, comparing the two top candidates for and award, that came out as soon as the award was issued but is not about the award. Just saying i could see right through it without even putting on my x ray vision glasses.

I don't have a problem with the post, i have a problem with the premise. Just admit the column was about who won the award, why you think heyward should have won the award and the historical context and significance of his accomplishments to back that opinion.

Bill said...

Seriously, latest Anonymous ("im [sic] a conspiracy theorists [sic]?"--maybe we should start making commenters type in a phony name for simplicity's sake?), read the post. The timing of it isn't some sort of big mystery--it's explicitly about the way Giants fans and the media praised Posey leading up to and in the wake of his winning the award. Not only do I not believe that "the historical context and significance of [Heyward's] accomplishments" support Heyward winning the award, I fimly believe (as I said twice in the post itself) that they should not be considered in voting on the award.

Heyward is likely to be something more like a "generational talent" than Posey, because of the amazing things he did at just 20 years old. Heyward should have won the ROY, because he had at least an equally productive season (even factoring in positional adjustments and all that) in 34 more games. Those are two completely unrelated things.

Again, I have no bias in Heyward's favor or against Posey. No interest in either team. Heyward just (a) had the more historically significant season and (b) on a totally different note, had the objectively better one.

Cat Lover said...

I think Andy Baggerly had it right

"Posey clinched the award Sept. 21 at Wrigley Field, when he hit a home run, caught four pitchers in a combined two-hitter and hosed a baserunner in a 1-0 victory over the Cubs that kept the Giants in first place by a half-game in the NL West. Rumor has it that Posey also rescued a kitten from a tree, helped an old lady cross the street and donated two pints of blood that day."

How many cats has Heyward rescued?

The Common Man said...

@The Fox

You're still not getting it. It's not based on 91 BB. It's based on 91 walks, his burgeoning power, and his ability to hit at 20 years old. Sure, hitting like Josh Willingham isn't overly special when you're Josh Willingham, who is 31 years old. But if Josh Willingham had hit like Josh Willingham when he was 20, he'd be in this discussion as well. Instead, he didn't hit like Josh Willingham until he was 25. Heyward still has a lot of room to grow. Does that clear things up?

Dude, talking to you is like talking to a wall's idiot brother. You said, "Just admit the column was about who won the award, why you think heyward should have won the award and the historical context and significance of his accomplishments to back that opinion." In no way do we think that Heyward's potential historical significance as a player should have won him the award. We think his performance is indicative of a player who will probably have a great deal of historical significance. And, while this was not the point of the article, in our opinion he had a better year than Buster, who still had an excellent year, looks to be a terrific player, and who we both love to watch as long as he's not playing against the Minnesota Twins. We're not advocating for Heyward as the rookie of the year (which would be pointless, since the voting is done and the award announced). We're advocating for appreciation of the historic season Heyward had.

See if you can get your brother the wall to explain it to you. I'm pretty sure he gets it.

The Fox said...

There's not anything to get, or clear up, TCM. To quote Dave Mason, "we just disagree." I don't think Jason Heyward had a better year than Buster Posey. You do. Doesn't mean I'm missing the point.

In addition to being a baseball enthusiast and irritant to internet statheads, I'm also a gardener, and I was an English major at one point in my academic life. "Burgeoning," a word you used, means "budding." Heyward's a budding power hitter who walks a lot. Posey talents were in full bloom all summer. There's a difference.

Evan said...

As the person who left the comment that served as your main point to be refuted, I feel compelled to reply.

I thought it was pretty clear that I was being hyperbolic in my comment. To suggest that Jason Heyward is a "dime a dozen" talent is clearly laughable. He is tremendous, had a tremendous season, and his plate discipline at age 20 is unbelievable. In 99/100 seasons, he'd have the prize.

The main thrust of my point was that this award (or any award, or the game itself) isn't only about objective stats. I love sabermetrics and all the advanced statistics it has provided us with, and because of them we understand the game like never before.

But when the objective stats don't give an overwhelmingly clear-cut advantage, and I don't think they do in this case, you have to turn to the fuzzy bits like "spirit" and "presence". Terrible, I know.

On this front, Heyward can't hope to match Posey. Heyward was a VERY productive rookie hitter. Posey was a VERY productive rookie hitter who also established himself as a team leader and an offensive cornerstone. His impact to his team was simply much greater than Heyward's was, we just can't easily quantify it, and that makes stats-minded folks (which I proudly consider myself) squirm.

I realized what an impact Posey has when watching the World Series. Everyone remembers the Rangers this season: powerful, fast, athletic. Claws and antlers. Did anyone notice how few antlers we saw during the Series? Yes, the Rangers rarely even got on base, but when they did, they didn't attempt a running game at anywhere near the level they had all season. The reason was Posey. His presence on the field took away a crucial part of a team's entire identity. The Rangers didn't look like themselves, because they weren't allowed to be, and part of the reason they weren't was Buster Posey.

It comes down to potential for impact. A catcher always has more potential to impact the game than a right-fielder does, and when two rookies produce similar enough offensive numbers, give the nod to the one playing the more demanding and important position.

The Common Man said...

@ The Fox

Yes, there's a difference. That difference is four years. FOUR YEARS!!! Reasonable people can disagree about who had the better season. Reasonable people cannot disagree about who has the better long term potential, even accounting for the fact that catchers tend to mature slower. Posey's talents were "in full bloom" because he's much closer to as good as he's ever going to be than Heyward was.

Bill said...

well, MORE LIKE THREE YEARS, but yeah.

Evan: I don't buy that his impact was much greater than Heyward's was. As TCM pointed out above, Heyward was more or less the only hitter on a team that ended up going to the playoffs. I believe perceptions of "impact" are irreparably skewed by our own perspectives (and I'm guessing you've watched quite a lot of Posey).

So we should turn back to the objective stats. Where, really, Heyward has a small but pretty clear edge.

The Fox said...


Easy chief. "Four" (sic) years had nothing to do with who had a better 2010, which you and Bill are saying Heyward did. You go your way; I'll go mine. See you around the bend.

Anonymous said...

"So we should turn back to the objective stats."

Except for the stats that show Posey to be better, which we will ignore and dismiss as unimportant.

Bill said...

"Except for the stats that show Posey to be better, which we will ignore and dismiss as unimportant."

Why do you think I have some agenda here? I really like Buster Posey. I root for him to do fabulously well. I have absolutely no reason at all to prefer Heyward over Posey. There are things Posey does better, or did better in 2010 -- hit for power, played a more important defensive position -- and he deserves (and, under things like WAR, gets) credit for those things.

I call batting average and RBI unimportant not out of some desire to discredit Posey, but out of the awareness that they are unimportant. Dreadfully so. Interesting, but analytically useless.

John said...

I was looking at the list on Baseball Reference, I was shocked to see how high Starlin Castro was on the list. He had the 37th greatest offensive season of a 20 year old as a short stop. While I am not saying that Starlin Castro should even be in the running for ROY, his season, while not as impressive as Hewyard's, it is just as historic. A 97 OPS+ as a 20 year old SS puts Castro as having the 4th greatest offensive season as a 20 year old SS ever. Not A-Rod good, but still very good.

Bill said...

Yeah, what you think of Castro's season depends on whether you think his 2010 defense was dreadful (baseball-reference) or just a bit below-average (fangraphs). Either way, it seems likely that he has a pretty great future in front of him, too.

Anonymous said...

List of Catchers with an OPS+ of 129 (Posey's OPS+) or greater at age 23 or younger.

Joe Mauer
Brian McCann
Gabby Hartnett HOF
Johnny Bench HOF
Gary Carter HOF
Joe Torre MVP
Buck Ewing HOF
Darrell Porter

Those are all I could find - There may be others. In terms of a historical perspective - that seems like some pretty good company.

The Common Man said...

Posey's career OPS+ is 122, not 129. The list of catchers, 23 and under, with more than 200 PAs and a higher OPS+ is

Rudy York 149
Wally Schang 138
Nig Clarke 137
Joe Mauer 128
Matt Nokes 127
Bill DeLancey 125
Buster Posey 122
Joe Torre 122

Some of those players were very good. Some burned out quickly. Some did not make a long term impression.

If you want single season, you're looking at
York 151
Mauer 144
Brian McCann 143
Johnny Bench 141
Torre 140
Gabby Hartnett 138
Gary Carter 137
Ed Herrmann 135
Matt Nokes 133
Darrell Porter 133
Shanty Hogan 130
Posey 129
Bench 129

There are some HOFers there. But there's also Shanty Hogan and Ed Herrmann.

Anonymous said...

No - No

Single season of 129 or better at the age of 23 or younger from a catcher- to mirror Bill's list of Players 20 or younger. The quality is comparable.

It's important to acknowledge the uniqueness of the position. They both had incredible seasons. Neither deserved to run away the award.

Reality Check said...

One year later...

74 245 36 56 13 1 10 26 31 56 5 2 .229 .320 .412 .732 HEYWARD: 2011 Regular Season

45 162 17 46 5 0 4 21 18 30 3 0 .284 .368 .389 .756 POSEY: 2011 Regular Season

Bill said...

Both pretty disappointing, no? That's what tends to happen.

Heyward's still 2 1/2 years younger, though, and I'm exactly as confident in this as I was eight months ago.