Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ivan Rodriguez Has a Good Face

Yesterday, I saw Moneyball. Much of the movie is spent showing "old school baseball men" saying dumb things, grossly misevaluating players based on faulty assumptions, putting way too much weight on intangibles, and fundamentally failing to understand how baseball games are won and how to measure player value.

A lot of folks (and I mostly agree) have commented that the movie isn't really fair to the scouts and broadcasters, reducing them to caricatures and stereotypes. If you're a frustrated stathead, it's kind of fun, but who really believes that Grady Fuson and his scouts really evaluated players based on how attractive their girlfriends are or whether they had a "good face" or not?

Then, I came home, flipped on the Nationals game and saw Ivan Rodriguez come to the plate as a pinch hitter in the 6th inning. He was greeted by a standing ovation at Nationals Park, with Bob and F.P. gushing about how much Rodriguez has "meant to the team."

It could have been one of those scenes in Moneyball about idiot baseball men who don't have a clue. In fact, if Aaron Sorkin had written a scene like that for the movie, it would have been attacked as an unfair cheap shot.

Consider: over the last two seasons, Rodriguez has played in 153 games. He's hit .253 / .288 / .340. Yeah, it's the "year of the pitcher," but that's awful.

As a National, Rodriguez has a combined wRC+ of 66--meaning that his offense is about 66% as good as an average major league hitter. Fifty-one other catchers had at least 200 plate appearances and a better wRC+ over that two-year span. Guys like Josh Bard. Matt Treanor. Eli Whiteside. All basically equal or better hitters over the last two years than Ivan Rodriguez.

Granted, Rodriguez is still a good defensive catcher, and he's thrown out a high percentage of baserunners for the Nationals. A lot of catcher value is in their defense. I'm not underestimating that. But his hitting is so awful, that no amount of excellent fielding could justify having his bat in the lineup as often as the Nationals have the last two years.

And of course the biggest difference between Rodriguez and those players is salary. Pudge was paid the handsome sum of $6 million to make outs for two years. Those other guys mostly played on minor league contracts and got paid the major league minimum.

Rodriguez got the biggest contract of any catcher available during the 2009-2010 off season. Rod Barajas (92 wRC+) got a one-year deal worth $500,000. Yorvit Torrealba (93) got one year and $1.25 million. John Buck (100) got one year and $2 million. Miguel Olivo (80) got a one-year deal and $2.5 million. Even the 40-year-old, career fall-back option Henry Blanco would have been a better choice, with his one-year, $775k contract and 76 wRC+.

Colby Lewis, Coco Crisp, Aubrey Huff, and Brett Myers all signed one-year deals that off season worth less than Rodriguez's $6 million deal.

And you can't accuse me of 20-20 hindsight. At the time I wanted Torrealba. My second choices were Olivo and Greg Zaun, who was ok for Milwaukee before his shoulder finally gave out and forced him to retire. (And I suggested trading for Wilson Ramos! Man, that was a pretty smart post!)

Rodriguez hasn't played a ton this year, and the biggest potential downside to his signing was that he may have ended up blocking better young players like Ramos, Jesus Flores, or Derek Norris. That hasn't been an issue, since Ramos got his playing time, Flores hasn't been healthy, and Norris hasn't earned the opportunity.

Still, despite the overwhelming hard evidence that Ivan Rodriguez has been one of the least valuable players in baseball over the last two seasons and an awful $6 million signing, we hear every time he plays about his mystical "intangible value." I guess his wife must be really, really hot.


Rob said...

Many of the same comments could be leveled at Mike Scioscia, who expelled Mike Napoli from the lineup, ultimately to join the Rangers and help them to a pennant. The idiocy of "the good face" extends to other sorts of religious convictions, such as catcher's ERA.

anonymous said...

I think you're being unfair here. Announcers and fans are always going to gush over future Hall of Famers in the twilight of their careers. You can't fault them for that any more than faulting them for talking up Desmond - yes they're wrong, but hey, it's exciting.

But neither of us will ever know Rodriguez's "true" value to the team. He wasn't picked up to bring the Nationals the pennant. Ramos has turned into a damn good catcher. Is it because of Rodriguez? Who knows? But, to an extent, it could be.

logan said...

Does the stuff that Hall of Fame catchers pass along to rookie catchers and pitchers in the dugout and spring training show up in those fancy-shmancy numbers of yours?

Steven said...

Fancy schmancy numbers like wins and losses? Nope, not really. You're confusing the job of the coaches with the job of the players. The coaches teach, the players play. Maybe Pudge should have been hired to coach. Cuz he's a lousy player.

Steven said...

@anon: You're giving credit to Ivan Rodriguez for Wilson Ramos's performance? Really?

anonymous said...

I'm saying I don't know. Obviously, Ramos wasn't a schlub when he was traded to the Nats. But sure, a top defensive catcher can certainly teach a rookie catcher things about playing good defense. You think they don't talk in the dugout? Or before the game? Or would your coach/player dichotomy suggest that Riggleman was teaching Ramos how to block the plate and how to get a jump on a basestealer. So while I, nor you, would ever really know what influence Rodriguez has had on Ramos, it's still true that an aging star gives more value to a team than their equivalent mediocre player in their prime. I'm with you that it's not necessarily worth the $ difference they command.

Mick said...

Listen, I hate "good old-fashioned country hardball" as much as the next guy, but I think FP's comment is dead on for the casual fan. He was overpaid for his value, sure, but not in a Werthian sense. He was able to fill some seats and give fans a name to wear on their jersey. And he ultimately took less playing time away from Ramos than feared (granted, you needed a manager like Johnson to make sure he didn't block Flores when he came back too.)

I think today's post article does say a lot too. Zim was quoted as saying "There wasn't one [fist] fight in the clubhouse this year." And Storen's quote really sealed it for me too: "If he's not complaining about his role, who's complaining?"

Ultimately, I'm glad I got to see him play here. And if all that "good clubhouse influence" stuff is just spin, well, it's pretty tasty Kool Aid.

Anonymous said...

It could have been one of those scenes in Moneyball about idiot baseball men who don't have a clue. In fact, if Aaron Sorkin had written a scene like that for the movie, it would have been attacked as an unfair cheap shot.

Or a script written by former Nats manager Jim Giggleman. In fact you might even call that movie Giggleman's Isle.

With Davey in charge no more respecting veterans (He WAS A HIGHLY RESPECTED VETERAN with the requisite world series rings?), no more 'respecting the game'. Davey wants to win for all of those scouts and baseball men who have been working hard for this franchise and taking a great deal of criticism. Davey wants to see what this batch of minor leaguers can do for him. Riggleman he would only want to see Pudge in the line up every day ... just as you describe.

Yeah people complain about how Davey calls a game but this team is nigh on .500 ball at the end of the season playing some pretty decent teams. And next year DOES look to be a lot better. He only 'con' with me is that he used to be a friggin' Bird. I hate everything sports from Baltimore even the Bullets nee's Whizzards. This is DC we don't need know B-more cast-offs.

Other than that Johnson himself apparently was into "Moneyball" back when he used to be Earl's 2nd baseman. So far the guy has done wonders for this downtrodden franchise. And Its time for Pudge to find his place with the DJ's of baseball at age 40.

Anonymous said...

"There wasn't one [fist] fight in the clubhouse this year."

Storen appears to have lost short-term memory. There were those days on Giggleman's Isle ... with Giggleman versus Marquis.

Soul Possession, PFB Sofa said...

A fine argument. I can see you know the price of everything.

Baseball stats are ultimately about winning and losing. Baseball itself is not. If it were, nobody would be wearing Cubs caps. No one would be nostalgic for the Senators of their youth. It's not even a rational question to ask how much a standing ovation adds to win percentage.

Here's a proposition: The so-called "intangibles" are in fact the ONLY tangibles. I can't *feel* a win percentage. It has no emotional resonance for me as a fan.

Stats are one of the things that makes baseball great, and better use of them is useful and, well, more fun. So don't dismiss "more fun" because there's no number attached. And you are doing that.