Nationals Baseball: That's Your Boswell

Monday, March 29, 2010

That's Your Boswell

Isn't it great that the Nats are quasi-relevant again? Now I can get back to one of my favorite pastimes, destroying the overly optimistic musings of one Mr. Thomas Tiberius Boswell.

In his latest column Boswell makes a great amount of noise about how good Ian Desmond could become. In it, he takes a look at the 21 shortstops who played at least 110 games in the majors last year and sees how they changed from the minors to the majors in order to project how Desmond might do. This is great... if you can ignore the two HUGE problems that render this analysis useless.

First, Boswell is comparing Desmond to the 21 shortstops who played at least 110 games the the majors last year. These players all have one thing in common. THEY WERE GOOD ENOUGH TO PLAY 110 GAMES AT SHORTSTOP IN THE MAJORS LAST YEAR. Of course if you look at all the "good players" they are likely to show improvement. If we looked back at last year and pulled out every shortstop that failed to play 20 games in the majors, see how they did, and then projected Desmond to play like that - well he'd be pretty bad right? By only comparing Desmond to the "good players", essentially all Boswell ends up saying is "if Desmond is good enough to play a season in the majors, hell be good enough" Not much of a revelation. I suppose it is a bit interesting that in general these guys improved with the glove, but that was probably part of the deal. Get better with the glove or move to 2nd, or the OF, or Albuquerque. That's one huge flaw in this comparison.

To make matters worse, Boswell misses another important point. Most of these guys started playing in the majors when they were younger than Desmond. The less experienced you are the more likely you can make big changes. It's not surprising then that a 22 yr old (the most common start age for the 21) gets better with more time. Desmond is not 22 though, he's 24 going on 25. It's less likely that he'll make that level of improvement. This is another big flaw in Boswell's comparison.

To best figure out what Ian is going to do he should be compared to... let's say all 24 and 25 year old shortstops with less than a half-season major league experience in the past 5 years or so (to get a larger sample), not all the starting shortstops from last year. Not to mention all the different circumstances that need to be taken in account. A better fielder than Furcal? Sure but Furcal was moved to short as a 21 yr old and played there for just a season before being moved up. A hitter on par with Rollins? I guess if you look at "Composite Rollins" and count his age 22-24 seasons - seasons that Desmond played in the minors. This isn't just flawed, it's flat out wrong.

(what about the comparison? Well since baseball-reference doesn't allow a maximum previous experience, only a minimum, it takes some more digging than I had time for - maybe tomorrow)

What I wont' get on Boswell for is the thought process behind what to use for a baseline for projecting Desmond into 2010 and beyond. Because Desmond had such a strange 2009 it makes his projections difficult. The bulk of his minor league stats say he's not that great, but the most recent stats say otherwise. Really it comes down to what do you prefer to look at. Therefore, I'm not sure any projection is that much more valid than another.

gives you two possibilities; "the optimist", who chooses to look at Desmond's great last season as starting point, and "the realist", who tries to find a middle ground between last years stats and the bulk of Ian's minor league work by averaging the last three years. What Boswell doesn't give you is "the pessimist", who ignores last year as an aberration and focus on the relatively consistent years prior as the real info. The Optimist is looking at .800+ OPS, The Realist somewhere in the .750 range, and The Pessimist in the .650 area. Boswell tells you what players are in the other two ranges, what about the .650 area? Jack Wilson, Juan Uribe, Felipe Lopez on the Nationals. Yeah, that bad. Not as good as Guzman last year bad.

I'm all for trying to project Desmond's future, but it should be done in a fair and even handed way. Cherry-picking the comparison group to be the cream of the crop is only going to push the already high expectations of Nats fans through the roof. Push them far enough and even a capable performance by Desmond might be seen as a disappointment rather than a success it really is.


Todd Boss said...

There are good players in the MLB that didn't debut until they were mid 20s. Go look up Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Neither played a full season til they were 26 and you don't see Phillies fans complaining.

W.r.t Desmond; all the nats fans really should be saying to them selves is, Desmond has more of a future here than Guzman, and the team (finally) made the right decision on who starts.

Harper said...

True - and Desmond could be that good - and the Nats fans should be happy that the front office is looking at Desmond this year rathre than playing out a useless string with Guzman. All I'm saying is that you can't say - Utley and Howard debuted late so therefore the worst case scenario is that Desmond only improves his OPS by 30 points and the best case he improves it by 80. That's not fair to Desmond.

Bryan said...

Todd - I agree with some of what you said. Yes, Desmond could be the future and thus he should start and in the past, that might not have happened.

But Howard wasn't up until his mid-20s because they had Thome blocking him. Howard hit .299 in the minors. They knew what they had (and got more power than expected).

Utley meanwhile hit .282 in the minors (and .291 in 3 AAA seasons).

So, yes, both hit the MLB in their mid-20s, but you were pretty sure what they'd be.

Desmond on the other hand has a .259 average in 6 seasons (.354 in AAA) and an OPS of .714, three quarters of Utley's 1.000

Harper said...

Good News: both Utley and Howard took a step up later in the development cycle while in the minors, not unlike Desmond. Howard was 23, Utley 24.

Bad News: both were significantly better prior to the step up than Desmond.

Possible Interpretation: The step up is meaningful, but Desmond is not destined for all-star status, he had too far to go.

Anonymous said...

Boswell is great at cherry-picking and making blind claims. I think he advocated that we pass on Harper, and instead take a college bat. He completely ignored the fact that there is no comparably talented college bat to take in place of Harper.

Anonymous said...

With Mock struggling today, are we going to see Olsen in the rotation come April 11? Ugh.
And can we just send Taveras to AAA already? I don't want that offensive black hole anywhere near the 25 man roster.

Hoo said...

J-Berg needs to shape up fast. But this game isn't a total loss..Taveras has sucked.

And even better, Gonzo beat out Bruntlett for utitliy INF. Now it's just up to Roger to oust Willy and it's mission accomplished.

BTW, I do think the Nats deserve credit for starting Desmond despite Guzie's crazy salary.

Harper said...

Anon #1 - pass on me?!

Anon #2 - I'd like to believe that Taveras is hanging around as Morgan insurance. I'd like to think that. As for Olsen, he could easily take Mocks place. Two things you need to remember, Mock's proven nothing as of yet and Olsen is a good year younger than Mock or Martin. That matters. If Mock or Martin were better or Olsen older it's a no brainer but that's not the way it is.

Hoo - yep just Willy down, though you can carry one purely good run, good field player if used correctly. I wish they wouldn't give Riggle the temptation though. Definitely credit to the Nats for going with Desmond this season (though if they waited a few months I wouldn't have cared) Guzman is not the answer that is known. Time to move on with the next best alternative.