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Baseball Vortex: Joey Votto, Stephen Strasburg, and Adam Eaton

The following are quick summaries of a few charts I posted and retweeted on Twitter recently.

LEADING OFF

The motivation for the following chart came from a discussion about Joey Votto, the polarizing first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds. Polarizing because many people will agree that he has a unique talent, but does not alway deliver the counting stats that traditional fans and fantasy baseball owners are looking for. On the other hand, those in the advanced metrics’ crowd will argue that what Votto lacks in counting stats, he makes up for it in skills that can indeed be measured by advanced stats.

What is Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+)? Per fangraphs.com, it is a stat that tries to encompass the value a hitter brings on offense, while taking league and park effects into the equation. It is scaled so that league average is 100, where any number above is above average. So in this example, Barry Bonds, from 1996-2006, created 92 percent more runs than a league average hitter during this time span.

In a low-scoring environment such as the one many of us are currently experiencing (notice the higher wRC+ scores in the “old” era compared to the current era), Votto definitely has risen to the occasion as he is the third most productive hitter of the current era, producing 55 percent more runs than the league average hitter in this current, ten-year span.

Votto is off to a slow start this season, but his track record speaks for itself and should be an ecouraging sign that he will turn things around this year.

NATIONAL TREASURE

Washington Nationals’ starting pitcher, Stephen Strasburg finally came to terms on a long-term deal with the team. The chart was created after seeing plenty of people perplexed why the talented, but oft-injured and seemingly unproven Strasburg was awarded with such a huge deal. Here is where he ranks per the following pitching stats:

Strasburg was 21 years-old when he was drafted. Naturally, I went back 21 years to see where Strasburg ranked in these stats. So far, the majority of rate stats rank Strasburg among the top 20 in this particular time span.

Although the rate stats seem to justify the long-term deal, the stat most people will turn to is Wins Above Replacement (WAR–an all-inclusive counting stat that tries to measure the value of a player’s offense, defense, and base running while also attempting to adjust for league and positional significance. Obviously, calculating for pitching WAR takes in different factors). Strasburg currently ranks 100th overall behind Matt Garza during this time span. Using rough math (read, “unscientific”), I project that Strasburg can climb to 35th overall in another seven seasons (of course, this projection does not account for newer pitchers coming in and his current peers also climbing the WAR charts. Again, it’s “unscientific”).

So Strasburg has his doubters and will continue to be criticized for not living up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon him when he was drafted in 2009. The money will definitely add more fuel to the fire. But as the metrics will show, when he is healthy and is on his game, he is among the best pitchers we have seen in the last 20 years in baseball.

A CHANGE OF DISPOSITION

As crazy as it might have sounded last season, Adam Eaton might be the best, all-around right fielder in the game. When the Chicago White Sox signed centerfielder Austin Jackson during the offseason, not many expected him to force Eaton to move to a corner outfield position. But so far, Jackson has played over 300 innings at center field while Eaton has found a home in right.

Last season, in terms of the advanced fielding stats (i.e. DRS and UZR), Eaton rated very poorly. Meanwhile, Jackson, throughout his career, has rated as a very good centerfielder. This season however, Jackson has rated low in these defensive metrics, but Eaton has surprised baseball with his stellar play at right. Eaton has a DRS and UZR above 10.0. Even more surprising, Eaton’s arm in the outfield is ranked as the very best in baseball so far in 2016.

Offensively, he’s always show the ability to get on base. But so far, he’s posted both a career high on-base percentage of .396 and wRC+ of 129. And if it couldn’t get any more bizarre, Eaton leads all right fielders in WAR. Currently, he’s leading reigning MVP, Bryce Harper in this category, 2.3 to 2.0.

Eaton has the skills and intangibles to continue to play at a high level and be the catalyst for the White Sox offense. His downfall usually occurs when he tries to do too much and makes very dumb decisions during games. But it appears the move to right field has done wonders to Eaton’s game.

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Feature Image Credit: By dbking (IMG_6927) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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