FanPost

Why We Should Keep Callaspo, Punto, and Barton (and Drop Fuld)

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via media.theweek.com

Update: My thoughts on whether Barton or Reddick is more likely to get it together can be found here.

You know how everyone always disparages internet arguments by saying that nobody ever changes their opinion as a result of an internet argument? Well, I'm happy to provide another counterexample to that. I changed my opinion as a result of doing research for an argument about Daric Barton on the Oakland Athletics Nation Facebook page. My opinion about Barton did not change; my opinion about Alberto Callaspo did. I have generally been of the opinion that Callaspo should be traded. I still think that might be a good idea, but I can also completely understand why it hasn't been done and why keeping all five of our right-side infielders might be the best choice.

The way it all went down was like this. Someone on that Facebook page was arguing that Barton should be DFA'd and Callaspo should get more at-bats. I challenged this notion, and after some brief sparks, we settled into a cordial discussion comprised largely of me writing exhaustively researched comments and him agreeing with some of it and disagreeing with some of it. Ultimately, he and I just do not see eye to eye on things like "clutch" and the intrinsic value of having a guy who can play multiple positions and hit from both sides of the plate. I do not believe in either thing, at least not to the extent that he does.

But in the course of my research, I found that I could not dismiss Callaspo's value in the second base mix or the first base mix.

The Second Base Question

First, I compared Callaspo to Sogard and Punto. Sogard's strengths in 2013 were decent defense and much better hitting against RHP. Punto's only strength is his defense, which is better than Sogard's or Callaspo's at second base. Callaspo's strengths in 2013 were hitting against LHP and overall offense compared to the other two. So Sogard is the best against RHP, Callaspo is the best against LHP, and Punto is the best defender. But Sogard is the worst against LHP, Callaspo is the worst defender, and Punto is the worst against RHP. All of them are the best at one thing, the worst at one thing, and in the middle at one thing. Plus Punto and Callaspo can conceivably move around to other infield positions as stopgap/utility guys, so there's that. As far as I can see, none of these guys makes such a poor case for himself that he should be gotten rid of.

However, Callaspo would probably bring in something decent in trade value, and getting rid of him frees up a roster spot for Stephen Vogt so we don't have to see Jaso behind the plate. And Callaspo's not a good enough hitter to use him as a DH. So at this point, I was still in the "trade Callaspo" camp, although not nearly as certain about that.

The First Base Question

So now obviously you compare him to Barton. I went pretty deep on this because I knew I had to. What follows is largely adapted from what I wrote in the Facebook thread. First, defense. Now some people say that first base defense doesn't matter as much. But UZR doesn't care about position. It just tells us how much value a guy added, regardless of his position. The 12th-best defender in the history of UZR is Albert Pujols, a first baseman. Over the course of his career, he's been worth six and a half wins JUST with the glove. Not even looking at the bat. And in 2010, the second most valuable defensive player on the Oakland A's was a first baseman. So it's not true to say that first base defense doesn't matter as much, because it definitely can.

Callaspo vs. Barton, Part 1: Defense

So let's take a look at Barton's defense. In 2010, he was worth a full win and some change on defense. He was the 12th-most valuable defensive player in raw UZR in major league baseball and he was decidedly the most valuable defensive first baseman in the game. In fact, after Barton and Ike Davis, there was basically nobody else that year. In UZR/150, Barton looks even better: he's the NINTH-most valuable defensive player in MLB and the FOURTH-most valuable in the American League. And he still ranks tops among first basemen.

So let's take a look at Barton's defense. In 2010, he was worth a full win and some change on defense. He was the 12th-most valuable defensive player in raw UZR in major league baseball and he was decidedly the most valuable defensive first baseman in the game. In fact, after Barton and Ike Davis, there was basically nobody else that year. In UZR/150, Barton looks even better: he's the NINTH-most valuable defensive player in MLB and the FOURTH-most valuable in the American League. And he still ranks tops among first basemen.

In 2011 and 2012, Barton got much less playing time due to an injury, so I hope you won't mind if I just lump them together. Over the course of 2011-2012, Barton had far fewer chances than most people, so he doesn't rank very well by raw UZR. In fact, he doesn't rank that highly even in UZR/150 among players with at least 850 innings. But among FIRST BASEMEN, he was fourth-most-valuable, defensively, over the course of those two seasons. And among AL first basemen, he ranks third in UZR/150. So once again, pretty good defense. In 2013, he still didn't play that often, so I'd like to add it to his 2011-2012 totals. Among first basemen with at least 1000 innings over the course of 2011-2013, Daric Barton against ranks fourth in MLB by UZR/150 and third in the AL by UZR/150.

We don't have meaningful UZR data for 2014 yet, for any player, so let's move on to career. For his career, Daric Barton has a raw UZR of 27.5 and a UZR/150 of 9.4. What that essentially means is that he has been worth just shy of three full wins on defense, and during a typical full season he would be worth about one full win on defense. Among first basemen with at least 4000 innings played in the era that UZR studied (it does not exist for any season before 2002), only Doug Mientkiewicz had a better UZR/150 for his career, at 10.4. What this means, in a very real sense, is that Daric Barton is the best defensive first baseman of his generation. Is that as valuable as the best defensive center fielder of a generation? No, definitely not.

But here's why it does have some value. Brandon Moss has a career UZR/150 of -10.2 at first base. Daric Barton has a career UZR/150 of 9.4 at first base. That means the difference between these two guys, defensively, at first base, is 19.6 runs' worth of value over the course of a full season. That's two full wins of value that you lose if you put Moss at first base every day vs. Barton at first base every day. Now obviously this doesn't mean you play Barton over Moss. But it does mean that Barton's defensive value is real. This is a division where two wins can mean the difference between the playoffs and not even getting to the Wild Card game.

It's hard to compare Barton to Callaspo because we don't have data yet on Callaspo as a defensive first baseman. We have nothing to compare to. But let's look at what we do know. UZR is comprised of three subcategories: DPR (value added or subtracted in double play situations), RngR (value added or subtracted by virtue of range), and ErrR (value added or subtracted due to errors and potential errors.) Now we can't compare a third baseman's ErrR to a first baseman's, because a first baseman has FAR more opportunities to make errors. A first baseman has the chance to screw up on almost every ground ball play in the infield, whereas a third baseman basically only has the chance to screw up when it's hit to him.

But we CAN compare the other two, DPR and RngR. The throw to second from first is pretty much the same as the throw to second from third, and range is range. They're both corner infield spots. So let's compare Callaspo, the third baseman, with Barton, the first baseman. And what's great is that Callaspo has a similar number of innings at 3B to what Barton has at 1B.

In DPR, they are identical. For their career, they both have 1.6 DPR, meaning they have added 1.6 runs' worth of value via the double play. Not surprising, as double plays are comparatively rare and both of them seem to know how to throw the ball to the right guy. But where Barton pulls away is RngR. Callaspo has a respectable 15.6 RngR for his career at third base; Barton has nearly DOUBLE that, with 29.6. That means Barton has added twice as much value with his range. Barton's range ALONE has been worth about three wins--and a win and a half more than Callaspo's. And if we do want to get an idea of their comparison with errors, let's compare fielding percentage. Callaspo's career fielding percentage as a third baseman is .961. Barton's career fielding percentage as a first baseman? .992.

What these numbers tell me is that Daric Barton is EXTREMELY good as a defensive first baseman, and he is significantly better than Callaspo will probably be. In a typical full season for each of them at first base, Barton will be worth about 1.5 WAR more, defensively.

Callaspo vs. Barton, Part 2: Offense

To analyze Barton’s offense, we have to take a couple things into account.

1) In 2011 and 2012, he was battling injury and received very little consistent playing time. That’s going to impact a guy’s performance at the plate. It doesn’t mean those years didn’t happen, but it does mean they have to be taken with a grain of salt.

2) Even in his good years, 2009 and 2010, he was hitting in a lineup that had almost nobody else in it. You’re not going to get as many good pitches to hit when pitchers can pitch around you. That means 2014 Barton is going to walk and strike out less and is going to put the ball in play more, as compared with 2009-2010 Barton.

3) That means that the best comparison to 2014 Barton is 2013 Barton. But 2013 Barton is a small sample size.

4) So we have three Daric Bartons to examine. 2009-2010 Barton, 2011-2012 Barton, and 2013 Barton. All three have elements which make them problematic as predictors, so we will have to examine all three of them and try to glean what we can.

5) I’ll also include 2007-2008 Barton, although those seasons are probably not very important to this discussion, since they amount to a rookie year, and have very little to say about who he is now.

First, 2007-2008 Daric Barton: .243/.341/.388. .729 OPS. .324 wOBA. 97 WRC+. 1.6 WAR. This is about a full season’s worth of playing time. In his aggregated rookie season, then, Barton shows an early idea of what kind of hitter he’s going to be in the future. Although he doesn’t hit for much average, we can already see that he’s going to draw a lot of walks and hit for pretty low power, compared with other first basemen.

He still managed to be pretty much middle-of-the-pack in terms of WAR among all first basemen with at least 600 plate appearances, ranking 23rd out of 39, and he probably would have ranked a little higher, somewhere like 17th, had he received as much playing time as most of the other people on that list. So all in all, he shows some unfulfilled promise, but he definitely doesn’t profile as a conventional first baseman.

Next up, 2009-2010 Daric Barton: .272/.388/.406. .794 OPS. .357 wOBA. 124 WRC+. 13 HR, .134 ISO. 15.5% walk rate, 14.5% strikeout right. 5.4 WAR. These figures are over the course of about a season and a half worth of playing time. It should be noted that he had an AMAZING 2010, and most of that 5.4 WAR comes from his 2010, but because WAR can be unstable on the defensive side, I wanted to take a bigger sample and not flatter Barton with his one insanely good season.

So what do these numbers show? Basically, a much better version of rookie Barton. He hits for acceptable average, draws a LOT of walks, and still doesn’t hit for much power. However, he’s significantly above average, both in general and as a first baseman, in terms of OVERALL production. So he doesn’t do it with the long ball, but he DOES do it in other ways. It doesn’t matter how you score runs; it matters that you score them at all.

Over the course of 2009-2010, among first basemen with at least 850 plate appearances, Barton ranks 18th out of 29 in offensive production. So again, low end of the middle of the pack, and again, he does that with far less playing time than everybody else on the list. If he’d played two full seasons, he probably ends up ranking somewhere around 10th. He also ranks 18th in AVG, ninth in OBP, 27th in SLG, 18th in wOBA, and 15th in WRC+.

But because of that defensive value, he ends up ranking 11th in WAR, and with two full seasons, probably ends up climbing even higher. In fact, if you limit the scope of the list to between 1200 plate appearances or fewer, only Joey Votto, Kevin Youkilis, and Justin Morneau rank better. Pretty good company. As it is, he racked up the same WAR total as Paul Konerko and Ryan Howard, and he did it with SIGNIFICANTLY less playing time.

Now the sad years. 2011-2012 Daric Barton: .209/.329/.275. .281 wOBA. 76 WRC+. 14.7% walk rate, 19.0% strikeout rate. no power at all, one home run, he stole forty cakes, just terrible. Nobody in the world would say it wasn’t terrible. He still drew a shitload of walks, but that’s almost all he did. What these numbers tell us is what we already know: an injured player who tries to play through his injuries is not going to do very well. Barton played like garbage. The end.

2013 Daric Barton: .269/.350/.375. .725 OPS. .325 wOBA. 107 WRC+. 10.8% walk rate, 15.0% strikeout rate, still no Goddamn power. But! Renewed life! This is much more the Daric Barton of old. It’s not as good as the 2009-2010 numbers, but it’s still serviceable, especially as a part-time player. Even more good news: he was much better at the end of the year than at the beginning. After he was sent down to AAA and brought back up, we saw a pretty kickass Daric Barton. In September and October, he hit .318/.403/.439, good for an .842 OPS, a .373 wOBA, and a 140 WRC+. he walked more and struck out less.

Now obviously we still can’t say any of that is the real Daric Barton, because it was all a small sample. But it absolutely puts the lie to this idea that Barton can’t hit! He can hit. And that performance came against good pitchers and good teams still in the hunt, not against scrubs. He doesn’t hit like a conventional first baseman does, but he can hit.

So who is the real Daric Barton, offensively? The most likely answer is that he’s probably pretty close to 2013 Barton. He isn’t 2007-2008 Barton; that guy was a rookie. He isn’t 2009-2010 Barton; that guy could sit around and draw walks all day because teams didn't have to pitch to him. He isn’t 2011-2012 Barton; that guy was injured. But 2013 Barton is probably pretty close to the real Barton.

So I think the true-talent Daric Barton looks like this at the plate: .260/.360/.370. OPS .730. Strikes out about 15% of the time, walks about 15% of the time. Now let’s compare that to Callaspo’s career line: .273/.336/.382. OPS .718. Strikes out 8.7% of the time and walks 8.7% of the time. The differences here are pretty clear: Callaspo puts the ball in play more but doesn’t get on base as often. Callaspo is also a guy who can play multiple positions, but again, we’re focusing right now on Callaspo vs. Barton as a part-time first baseman.

All things considered, it’s pretty close, but I think you keep Barton because, again, you can get more in trade from Callaspo even though Barton is arguably the better all-around first baseman.

But PLATOONS, remember?

But what about platoon splits? That's the whole idea behind this roster. So those have to be examined too.There is always a bit of concern with platoon splits since you don’t get as many plate appearances against your presumed "weak side," but we have to work with the data we have. This section is pretty heavily altered from what appeared in the Facebook thread.

Moss vs. LHP: .240/.304/.388, .692 OPS, .305 wOBA, 88 WRC+
Barton vs. LHP: .281/.387/.433, .820 OPS, .365 wOBA, 129 WRC+
Callaspo vs. LHP: .299/.346/.419, .766 OPS, .337 wOBA, 109 WRC+

I know, I know, I know, reverse platoon splits can't be trusted. But I'm not saying Barton hits LHP better than he hits RHP. I'm saying that so far, he's hit LHP better than Moss or Callaspo. His true talent level against LHP probably isn't an .820 OPS and a 129 WRC+. But 564 plate appearances is roughly a full season's worth. So that cannot just be ignored. The big factors that appear to have put Barton over the top compared with Callaspo are OBP and SLG. Callaspo has hit for better average and Barton has gotten on base more; no real surprise there, you'd expect that against LHP and RHP. But Barton has for some reason hit for significantly more power against lefties. That would probably be the thing that would regress out over time, but even if it did, you probably still have a guy who doesn't hit lefties WORSE than Callaspo, right? So Barton's best-case scenario is that he hits LHP better than the other two, and he probably hits them at least as well as Callaspo, and they both hit them better than Moss does.

Moss vs. RHP: .257/.329/.488, .817 OPS, .352 wOBA, 120 WRC+
Barton vs. RHP: .236/.347/.345, .692 OPS, .313 wOBA, 94 WRC+
Callaspo vs. RHP: .262/.331/.367, .699 OPS, .309 wOBA, 91 WRC+

Unsurprisingly, Moss is easily the best hitter against RHP. It’s his power that really pulls him away from the other two. He clobbers right-handed pitching. Interestingly, Barton and Callaspo are pretty much the same level against RHP. I expected to see better numbers from Callaspo here.

Callaspo vs. Barton (vs. Moss!): Conclusion

So what do we find? Not what I expected, all things considered. Essentially, the situation is very similar to what it was at second base. Barton is the best defender and the best hitter against LHP. Moss is the best against RHP. Callaspo is not the best at anything, but he’s better than Moss at two things. All three are the worst at at least one thing.

So now I’m not really sure what the right approach is. It seems that the best idea is to keep Sogard, Punto, Callaspo, Moss, AND Barton, and have a three-man platoon at both second base and first base. Your main second baseman would be Sogard and your main first baseman would be Moss. Punto and Barton would be the short half of the platoons, and Callaspo would slide into a utility role, taking days at 3B, 2B, and 1B. He plays 3B when Donaldson gets a day off or DHs; he plays 2B when Lowrie gets a day off or DHs, and Sogard slides over to short; etc., etc.

I’d still like to find a way to get Vogt back up on the major league team so we don’t have to see Jaso behind the plate, so the answer might still be to trade Callaspo or Punto—and I would still lean toward trading Callaspo because he probably has the better trade value—but it’s not as clear to me as it was. I can definitely see why Billy constructed this roster the way he did.

But wait! What about Fuld?

DFA him. In 822 plate appearances, Sam Fuld has been an extremely pedestrian hitter. In his best year, he was slightly above average. He hits for less power than Barton, he walks less often than Barton, he strikes out about as often as Barton, all three of the numbers in his slash line are lower than Barton's, what else can you say? Yes, his 2014 has been good. His 2014 BABIP is 94 points higher than his career BABIP; who's shocked at the results? Give him time to come back to Earth and it'll be the same old crappy hitting. Almonte only plays center field for one team, not all of them.

The picture gets no rosier looking at platoon splits. Reddick is significantly better at the plate against both righties and lefties. In fact, in Reddick's WORST year, 2013, he was still better against lefties than Fuld was in his BEST year, 2011, although Fuld was better against righties in 2011 than Reddick was in 2013. So there, if you really squint hard you can find a crazy obscure comparison in which Fuld looks better. But I think we all know Fuld is not going to hit RHP better than Reddick. That's silly.

Yeah, Fuld's pretty good on defense. But so is every other outfielder on the team, and they all hit better than he does. So it sucks, he seems like a nice guy and all, but there's no realistic place for him on this team. I still have a feeling he'll be kept and Barton will be dropped, but I now feel more confident than ever in saying that will be a poor decision.

Regarding Vogt

I still wish there was a way to get Vogt onto the roster, but I don't see it unless we trade Callaspo, which I am no longer convinced is the right move. I guess either way would be fine with me. It's fine if we trade Callaspo and call up Vogt; it's also fine if we make no changes at all other than dropping Fuld when Gentry comes back.

OK. Is my analysis dumb or awesome?

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