TYPE A versus TYPE B CATCHERs
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TYPE A versus TYPE B CATCHERs

REVERSE ENGINEERING the ELIAS BUREAU FREE AGENT
CLASSIFICATIONs

When Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein conducted his press conference relative to the Eric Gagne acquisition he made a point of emphasizing the prospective draft-picks compensation the Sox would receive upon Gagne’s anticipated year-end exit as a FA.Given

a. The realization that FA players are NOT classified relative to compensation status  by Elias Bureau until season’s end
b. The possible volatility of player performance between July 31st trade deadline and season-end classification
c. The significant changes in FA compensation stipulated by the MLBPA agreement with the owners
 
I wondered whether Epstein’s hypothesis with regards to Gagne’s future compensatory status will come to fruition.

A similar situation transpired earlier in the season when San Diego acquired Catcher Michael Barrett from the Cubs, with a similar expectation that even should Barrett leave at year’s end it would entail attractive compensation. In fact in this  case I hypothesize that the sole reason San Diego made this trade is the speculative draft picks they will reap. The Padres are already staring at an off-season of expensive negotiations with FA outfielders Mike Cameron and Milton Bradley as well as with arbitration eligible shortstop Khalil Greene. Both Greg Maddux and Trevor Hoffman options will kick in, obligating the team to $10 million  apiece contracts for 2008. With former starter Josh Bard still on their roster I don’t expect the Padres to even make a “fair market” offer to Barrett. So will the Padres’ hypothesized gamble pay off?
To answer this question I examined the 2004 (www.mlb.com ; 11/03/04) and the 2006 Elias Sports Bureau season-ending ratings of catchers (www.usatoday.com/sports/baseball/2006-10-31-elias-rankings.htm) and employed these ratings as my dependent variable in 2 separate regression studies.

The independent variables were the season-ending performance criteria of the respective catchers including offensive ones (BA, OBP, slug%, runs, HRs, RBIs, etc), defensive ones  (fielding%, stolen base DENIAL%) and experiential ones (years service, AllStar designations, World Series victories). This data was secured from www.baseball-almanac.com. The results for the 2 separate studies, 2004 and 2006, are remarkably consistent and yet surprising in their emphasis on offensive productivity, I have observed this importance of offensive criteria when examining salaries as a dependent variable but expected the Elias people to have a more significant appreciation for defensive statistics, especially for the catcher position. Instead as the chart below illustrates, the Elias ratings are more similar to fantasy sports ratings  and their offensive biases.

CORRELATIONS of PERFORMANCE/EXPERIENCE to ELIAS RATING

-
2004
2006
RBIs 
.911
.892
HRs   
.818 
.721
BA     
 .640 
.707

Field% 
.384 
.300
SB deny%  
negative!
negative!

WS victories 
.415 
.329
Service years  
.133
.178

Regression models for both 2004 and 2006 were then generated via RegressionLogic’s (www.valuelytics.com) patented robust software and the respective r2 were .938 in 2004 and .885 in 2006. Interestingly in both cases Benji Molina was very much OVERrated by the Elias ratings; otherwise no catcher’s standard residual in either year exceeded 1.43.

Now in possession of these models I substituted 7/24/07 as well as 8/24/07 projections into the 2 models for this year’s FA class of catchers. Certainly one can surmise that Jorge Posada and Pudge Rodriguez will qualify as Type A free agents. But the trick here is to be able to predict the Elias status of FA catchers such as the afore-mentioned Barrett, Yorvit Torrealba, Ramon Castro, Paul Do Luca, Jason Kendall, Javier Valentin, Damian Miller, Jose Molina, Rod Barajas, Jason LaRue, Brad Ausmus, Mike Lieberthal, and several others.

My findings suggest that the Padres gamble will pay off, that indeed both the 7/24 and 8/24 projections identify Barrett as the 3rd highest ranking catcher. Perhaps surprisingly to those who share my East Coast bias is to observe that The Rockies lesser known catcher Torrealba is the 4th highest at both dates and that these 2 with Posada and Rodriguez are destined to be the Type As.

Identifying the Type Bs is more challenging and perhaps more critical now that this year they are the 2nd tier 20% (21-40)and not the 30% they were formerly. One reason this is so critical is it enables us to identify the NO COMPENSATION catchers that teams in need might want to target. Here appealing possibilities that emerged include one-time starters, still young players Rod Barajas, Jason LaRue, Jose Molina (all  aged 32, 33) and Mike Lieberthal (age 35). For teams such as Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh and Washington with seeming need these might be the optimal players to pursue. 

The most fascinating part of identifying the prospective Type B FAs is that while both Mets catchers Lo Duca and Castro qualified as B designates  on both the 7/24/ and 8/24 projections the remaining 2 changed. Jason Kendall’s and Javier Valentin’s productive month leapfrogged them over Damian Miller and Brad Ausmus. So the Cubs have not only benefited from Kendall’s productive month but in all likelihood will reap a “sandwich pick” compensation that a month earlier would have been deemed unlikely. In view of the changing ownership of the team and the huge payroll with Soriano, Ramirez, Lee and now Zambrano earning megabucks contracts it is my opinion that the Cubs will not make Kendall a “fair market” offer. Indeed they may look to fill in with one of the previously mentioned veteran No compensation FAs.

In light of the success of a number of sandwich picks, notably Aaron Rowand (1999) and the changed FA classifications/typings  this exercise of predicting “types” will become a key management project. Catchers has been relatively easy; as I move onto other positions such as STARTING PITCHERS one must wonder how oft-injured former stars such as Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, possibly even Matt Clement will be classified as they enter 2007 FA. My methodology is the same; trying to reverse engineer former Elias ratings to discover how they have handled injured players in the past. Look for my next report on that topic.