Fun Numbers Between Cantu and Uggla
By Michael Jong
So Marlins news items are sort of in a lull right now, and I’ve got very little on the plate Marlins-wise. Pitchers and catchers report next month, and that’s when the fun should begin. Plus, right now we don’t even know who we should see on the roster next year.
One of the “debates” going on is about the Marlins keeping either Dan Uggla or Jorge Cantu on the team. Both players are eligible for arbitration, and both stand to make decent money. Uggla will likely be in the $8M to $9M range in his second season of arbitration, while Cantu will most likely be at or around $5M for his final arbitration season. There’s been discussion about which one to keep. If you want to discuss the salary issues, that seems more than relevant. The Marlins won’t be happy paying Uggla that much.
If you want to discuss the performance, however, it’s no question (something I shouldn’t have to say to my loyal readers). But it seems that some of the readers over at JCR’s Sun-Sentinel blog want to talk numbers. Which of course, made me laugh. So let’s talk numbers, shall we?
What are the two most important things on offense that a player can do? Well, intuitively it probably seems obvious, but let’s look at Base Runs to tell us what we already know. The formula for Base Runs is generally considered the best model for run estimation in the business, because it is the model that most closely resembles logical run scoring in baseball. Here’s the model:
On-base factor * (Advancement factor/(Advancement+Opportunity factor)) + Home Runs
In other words, how many times you get on base is multiplied by the scoring rate, typically a measure of total bases. In addition, the opportunity factor is often times considered in terms of outs.
This should all make it obvious that the important things for run scoring are the following:
1. Getting on-base (hard to score with no one on) and, as a result, not making outs.
2. Advancement, which we usually look at as power.
Great. If only we had numbers that could quantify those factors. Oh wait!
On-base and out-making
Here’s how we’ll start.
2008 Dan Uggla: .360
2009 Dan Uggla: .354
Career Dan Uggla: .344
2008 Jorge Cantu: .327
2009 Jorge Cantu: .345
Career Jorge Cantu: .323
2008 Dan Uggla: 0.664
2009 Dan Uggla: 0.663
Career Dan Uggla: 0.675
2008 Jorge Cantu: 0.697
2009 Jorge Cantu: 0.680
Career Jorge Cantu: 0.708
Cantu has had 2724 PA compared to Uggla’s 2698, according to Baseball-Reference. Yet Cantu has made 106 more outs in 26 additional PA. Prorate both to Uggla’s PA count, and Cantu would have totaled 88 additional outs over the same period of time. Guess who wins this part of the battle?
OK, so Cantu is worse as an on-base guy, so what? I’m not someone who says OBP is the only thing that matters (though it’s likely the more important of the two factors). What about power? Oh wait.
2008 Dan Uggla: .514
2009 Dan Uggla: .459
Career Dan Uggla: .482
2008 Jorge Cantu: .481
2009 Jorge Cantu: .443
Career Jorge Cantu: .456
Adjusted Isolated Power
2008 Dan Uggla: .252
2009 Dan Uggla: .214
Career Dan Uggla: .220
2008 Jorge Cantu: .204
2009 Jorge Cantu: .154
Career Jorge Cantu: .177
OK, we just ran through the two primary ways of measuring power and Dan Uggla beats him in both as well. Not only that, he actually beats Cantu on a seasonal and career level in each category. These are the two most important ways for players to contribute runs to a team, right?
No, I forgot, it was supposed to be these numbers.
Dan Uggla Career Singles/PA: 0.122
Dan Uggla Career Batting Average: .257
Dan Uggla Career RBI/PA: 0.133
Jorge Cantu Career Singles/PA: 0.159
Jorge Cantu Career Batting Average: .278
Jorge Cantu Career RBI/PA: 0.148
Actually, let’s take a look at those RBI opportunities. In 2008, 15% of all baserunners on when Cantu was at the plate scored as a result of his PA. Who were the guys getting on base for him? Well, Cantu spent the most time batting third in the lineup. Who spent the most time in front of him? Hanley Ramirez (2008 OBP: .400) and Jeremy Hermida (.323). You had an awful slug in Hermida, but you also had one of the best offensive players in baseball in Ramirez. Note also that Ramirez not only was on base around 40% of the time, he’s also quite the speedy, effective baserunner. In total, Cantu saw 440 baserunners on that season.
Contrast that to Uggla, who drove in 17% of his baserunners that same year. Who was getting on for him? Well, Uggla spent most of his time batting fifth. The two men who spent the most time in front of him were none other than Cantu (2008 OBP .327) and Mike Jacobs (.299). To be fair, Jake spent 76 games at cleanup, while Josh Willingham (.362) spent 62 games there. So even it out to like .315. It’s no wonder Uggla only saw 370 baserunners that season. And of course, there should be mention that Jacobs and Cantu are (ahem) plodding runners, to say the least.
Numbers were different this year, as Uggla drove in only 13% of his runners in 2009, while Cantu drove in 18%, but neither these numbers or their 2008 counterparts are in any way predictive of inherent “clutch” skill. In The Book, Andy Dolphin’s research shows that one would need approximately 10,000 clutch PA in order to really see true talent clutch skill versus the league norm. Sure, maybe Uggla is slightly worse, on the order of .002 wOBA, than Cantu. Are we ever going to notice? Doubtful.
So please, stop this charade, this idea that Uggla is “unclutch” and Cantu is “Mr. Clutch” incarnate. Stop saying that Uggla’s BA is too low. Look at the truth: Uggla gets on-base more (better chance of scoring), has more power (better chance of moving runners), is probably about even at worst defensively, and is even a better baserunner. What could possibly conclude that Cantu is better than Uggla?
Oh yeah, RBI. I keep forgetting!