What Went Wrong in 2009: First Base

I’m a perfectionist. That’s not to say that I don’t know when to quit. What it means is that I don’t know when to quit if I’m doing something I’m passionate about. One of those passions happens to be baseball. Specifically, A’s baseball.

On this very site, I’ve written haikus. Not just any haikus, mind you, but ones where the first letter of each line form an anagram. I wrote 18 pages on a FanPost once. My point is not to brag, but rather to highlight that perhaps I get a little carried away sometimes. I'm pretty sure nobody bothered to figure out my anagram, especially the second one.  I'm just as sure no one read my whole 18 pager. 

But, you’re not here to read my story. You’re here to read about the 2009 A’s 1b. Well without further adieu (besides a short jump) my latest crazy endeavor:

Going into the year, many were optimistic. At the very least, the A’s had acquired big bats to fit into the lineup. At last, we would not have to endure slow, boring games where all too often the A’s ended on the wrong side of the scorecard.


Those big bats included Jason Giambi, and to a lesser extent, Nomar Garciaparra. Both were likely to see some time at 1b. Also bound to see some time at first was former top prospect and 2008 A’s first baseman Daric Barton. Those three could easily be foreseen to play 1b in 2009. What else could we expect from our 1b?

Well, my aforementioned 18-page, ill-advised FanPost was a prediction of playing time. And since there’s no easy way to predict PT (especially with a rebuilding, brittle team), I’ll assume that one obsessed fan is as good as any prediction system at hypothesizing it.

My prediction was:

Giambi 370

Barton 260

Hannahan 35

Baisley 10

Now, when I made that FP, Nomar was yet to sign. So, let’s give Baisley and Hannahan’s PAs to Nomar (not perfectly accurate, but it’s close enough).

What were we expecting those three to do with their PAs? Luckily, we can use better predictors than my musings. Those would come in the projections provided by Bill James, CHONE, Marcel, Oliver, and ZiPS. Here are their predicted wOBAs*:

*Poz-style pause/footnote: This fanpost uses wOBA a lot. I use it because Fangraphs loves it and I’m using FG as a main source. It also readily translates to runs. If you’re not a big believer in the stat, you probably won’t be a big believer in my conclusions.

Player Bill James CHONE Marcel Oliver ZiPS Average Average2
Jason Giambi .364 .367 .359 .387 .353 .366 .363
Daric Barton .332 .336 .333 .330 .319 .330 .332
Nomar Garciaparra .346 .330 .323 .335 .334 .334 .333


The first average column calculates the average of all five projections. The second average calculates the average after eliminating the highest and the lowest wOBA for each player. As you can see, even though Oliver’s Giambi projection looks way out there compared to the others, it doesn’t affect the average too much. Now these projections are taken straight from Fangraphs. It’s possible there are some slight errors in the calculations. For one, I’m not sure which of the projections are park adjusted. For another, some of the projections projected certain stats Fangraphs incorporates into wOBA (SBs?). Now combining my PA predictions with the projected wOBAs, we can calculate what we were expecting in the unit of runs. The formula is (wOBA-lgWOBA)/(wOBA scale)*PA. For my purposes I’ll assume lgwOBA=.335 and wOBA scale is 1.15.


Player PAs wOBA Runs wOBA2 Runs
Jason Giambi 370 .366 9.97 .363 9.01
Daric Barton 260 .330 -1.13 .332 -0.68
Nomar Garciaparra 45 .334 -0.04 .333 -0.08
Total 675 .350 8.8 .349 8.25



The wOBAs in the Total row are reverse-engineered and hence subject to rounding error. The wOBA column is based on Average in the first table. WOBA2 is based on Average2. If one wanted to mix and match the averages it may change the numbers but not by too much. The point is that we expected A’s first basemen to produce around a .350 wOBA for 8-9 runs above average (wRAA). We expected somewhere between Jorge Cantu’s and Adam LaRoche’s 2008s on offense. At the very least, we expected a major improvement on Daric Barton’s 2008 ML worst .302 wOBA and -11.4 wRAA. But our projected 2 win gain on offense did not come without sacrifice. That sacrifice was on defense. Jason G’s D:

Year Innings UZR/150
2005 560 -14.3
2006 480 -20.2
2007 121 16.0
2008 898 -8.3
Total 2059 -10.9*

*Despite playing 2059 innings (a little less than 229 sets of 9 innings), Giambi played 229 defensive games. This isn’t very surprising. However, when attempting to calculate UZR/150, one has to use DG, not Innings/9. Anyways, Giambi accumulated a -16.6 UZR over those DG.

I used four years of defensive data because three years of defensive data tells about as much as one year of offensive data. Since Giambi’s 2007 saw him play only 121 innings at 1b, I figured the extra 560 innings from 2005 were more valuable to include in the data. Sure Giambi’s range probably had decreased now that he was 38 rather than 35. But it also gives us more data so we don’t normalize as much.

Let’s take the axiom that it takes 3 years for UZR to stabilize (at least to the point of wOBA). That’s 450 defensive games. Therefore we’ll guess that Giambi is probably around a –5.55* fielder. That’s probably generous, but it shouldn’t be off by too much.


Another problem with the defensive data we had pre-2009 was that Barton had only been in the majors for a bit more than one year. Barton had played 1279.1 innings at 1b, good for 123 DG*. In that time, he had 6.2 UZR. That totaled a 7.56 UZR/150.


As we did with Giambi, if we assume that it takes 450 defensive games for UZR/150 to stabilize, we normalize Barton’s data to 2.26 UZR/150.

Nomar had played 1b only in the last three years. He had totaled 194 DG, 1626.2 Innings, and –6.7 UZR. The data were good for a –5.18 UZR/150. Normalized, we could expect –2.23 UZR/150.

Player PAs exDGs exUZR/150 exUZR
Jason Giambi 370 74 -5.5 -2.71
Daric Barton 260 52 2.26 0.78
Nomar Garciaparra 45 9 -2.23 -0.13
Total 675 135 -2.02 -2.24


We’ve now calculated what we expected entering 2009 from our collective 1bmen: a .350 wOBA and a –2.24 UZR. This allows us to create how many wins we expected from 1b:

wRAA UZR runs Replacement Positional Total Runs
8.53 -2.24 22.5 -12.5 16.3


8.53 is the average of 8.8 and 8.25. 22.5 came from 20/600*675. Positional is –12.5 runs per 162 games. I’m not quite sure how FG calculates it based on PT, so I’ll assume –12.5 is a good estimate.

Overall, what did we expect (or should we have expected)? We expected our 1b to be worth 1.6 WAR. Basically we expected 2008 Adam LaRoche for 162 games. LaRoche had 14.3 wRAA and a -5.9 UZR in ‘08. He was a better hitter than what we expected but a worse fielder.

And frankly that was a sight for sore eyes.


As you can see, the predicted 2009 1bmen were projected to be nearly 15 runs better than what Barton accomplished the previous year.

So the obvious question: what actually happened? Here are the data:

Player PA wRAA wOBA DG UZR UZR/150 Replace Post’l Runs Salary
Jason Giambi 230 -3 0.313 70 -6.1 -13.7 7.67 -3.93 -5.36 $5.25M
Daric Barton 190 2.9 0.347 68 1.7 3.8 6.33 -3.24 7.69 $0.41M
Bobby Crosby 156 -8.7 0.262 35 2.4 11.5 5.20 -2.66 -3.76 $5.25M
Tommy Everidge 85 -5 0.258 26 -1.4 -8.1 2.83 -1.45 -5.02 $.4M
Nomar Garciaparra 54 -2.2 0.279 14 -2.4 -26.7 1.80 -0.92 -3.72 $1M
Landon Powell 17 -1.4 0.23 4 0.3 12 0.57 -0.29 -0.82 $0.4M
Total 732 -17.4 .308 217 -5.5 -3.8 24.40 -12.5 -11.0 $12.71M

There may be rounding errors in there. As well, I’m pretty sure wRAA is not park adjusted. WOBA is based on the previously mentioned .335, 1.15 numbers. Positional adjustment may not be precisely –12.5 and individul positional adjustment is simply –12.5*PA/732. Replacement is based on 20 per 600 PAs. The salary is counting all of Powell’s, Nomar’s, and Crosby’s salaries even though they did not spend all their time at 1b. You want me to prorate it based on PAs or DG or innings? I told you I was obsessive, not that I was crazy.

Point is, the data have large margins of errors based any number of reasons. However I’ve kept the errors at as constant a rate as possible. If my data differs from another place, it is based on these errors. However all my numbers use those same formulas. In other words, the data may be incorrect but throughout the fanpost they are consistent.

So what do the data mean? 2009 A’s first basemen put up 732 PAs. They put up –17.4 batting runs, based on a .308 wOBA. They put up a –5.5 UZR. In fact, the only positive they put up was Replacement. Basically what we were expecting was a little less than this:


This is what we got:


We were expecting a win and a half upgrade on 2008 Daric Barton. We got almost a win and a half downgrade. A’s 1b put up a line similar to Aubrey Huff’s 2009, which doesn’t sound nearly as bad as it is. Huff put up –15.9 batting runs this year, to accompany his sparkling –3.1 UZR.

I predicted Giambi would get 370 PAs. He got 230. I predicted Barton would get 260 PAs. He got 190. I predicted 45 would go to Nomar. He got 54. I predicted no one else would get PAs. Everidge, Powell, and Crosby got 258 combined. Basically I did nearly as terrible as A’s 1bmen did in 2009.

I guess I can take solace in the fact that the projection systems were probably worse than me. Giambi was predicted to have a .365 wOBA. He put up .313. Barton’s was supposed to be .331. It was .347. Nomar’s was supposed to be .333. It ended at .279. The three guys I didn’t foresee totaled 258 PAs, and –9.6 runs.

Without Barton, A’s 1b managed to put up –18.7 runs worth of value. That’s equivalent to about Yuniesky Betancourt. Just kidding. He’s at –22. For those who like Tommy Everidge, Everidge managed to suck as bad as Giambi in nearly a third of the PAs. Nomar managed to suck almost as bad as Crosby when he played 1b. Almost.

If you want to look at where 2009 went wrong, 1b is as good a place to start as any. It was definitely one of the top reasons team projections were so far off on our beloved A’s. However I would like to not depress you too much. Of the $12.7 million the A’s spent on 1b in 2009, they have $410K on the books in 2010. If you were to prorate Barton’s performance over the 732 PAs and 217:


Next up: 2b

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