Lunchtime Link: Rapidly Aging Ranger Danger

First off, thanks to everyone who came by to read my recent Flat Earth Society post, and especially to the other bloggers out there who linked to and wrote about it. As far as I can tell, you all helped set a sitewide record for number of visitors on Wednesday. I’ve got a few points and links to add on the topic of Productive Outs which I will get to sometime this weekend.

Today’s Lunchtime Link (yeah, it’s a bit late) comes via a free Baseball Prospectus article from the other day which I only just got to read (still buried under an avalanche of work). Back in February when Alex Rodriguez was traded, one of the interesting side notes was that Alfonso Soriano’s age was adjusted from 26 to 28, a piece of information of which the Rangers were apparently aware. Hurriedly, I dashed off an email to BP’s Nate Silver to ask whether he’d rerun Sori’s PECOTA projection, but at that point he hadn’t. Apparently it was a popular demand, and after rearranging his sock drawer and cleaning out the rain gutters, he’s finally gotten around to it. Here are Sori’s weighted mean projections for 2004 compared:

          AB    BA   OBP   SLG   EqA   VORP

Age 26 631 .305 .354 .550 .297 56.8
Age 28 625 .299 .345 .537 .292 52.1

The 4.7 run difference comes out to about half a win — not an earth-shaking amount by any means. Silver also points out that Sori’s breakout rate — the chance that he would improve significantly — dropped from 14% to 8%. “It’s a little bit less likely now that Soriano is going to emerge as the true, Sosaesque slugger that some people have confused him with,” he writes. Keep in mind that the above projection is park-neutral; moving from Yankee Stadium to The Hitter’s Paradise at Arlington will inflate his stats a fair amount [oops, it turns out I was wrong. According to Nate, both projections were based on him as a Ranger.]

Silver goes on to point out that the age range which Soriano finds himself is not only the peak of the typical player’s career but also the flattest part of the curve, when his value is changing the least from year to year. It’s down the road where the difference in Soriano’s forecast is felt — 1.2 Wins Above Replacement four years from now; again, not a huge difference. Cumulatively, his next five years (2004-2008) project at about three wins lower than before, 19.5 Wins Above, down from 22.4.

The real difference can be seen in looking at his PECOTA comparables — his “old” Top Five (which is to say his younger one) had Ernie Banks, Sammy Sosa, and Andre Dawson along with Juan Samuel and George Bell; the new one has… Kelly Gruber? Samuel and Raul Mondesi both make that chart as well. Notes Nate, “It is fair to say that the age change radically reduces the chances that Soriano will put together a Hall of Fame-type career.” Not that Cooperstown had started engraving his plaque.

Does this matter for the Rangers? Silver doesn’t think so. Sori will be a free agent after 2006, when the really big money hits the table. He’ll be only thirty then, but it’s likely other factors — the market situation, the teams interested, his recent performance — will have more bearing than the fact that he’s aged so rapidly. What remains to be seen is how rapidly Rangers fans age from watching him swing at pitches in the dirt. Thus far, Sori’s off to a slow start despite the Rangers’ fast one. Here’s a quick comp between him and his trade counterpart:

        AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS   EQA  HR  RBI

Sori .304 .344 .446 .791 .273 4 19
A-Rod .266 .360 .477 .837 .290 6 12

Thus far Soriano’s been downright useless on the road: 12-for-47 with 3 doubles, no homers, and a .319 SLG. Reverse Coors Effect or small sample size? I’m guessing the latter, but that will really cause the Rangers some problems if their new slugger has developed bad hitting habits in his short time at Arlington.

* * * has a couple of links pertaining to me, including a photo of my abbreviated night out at Shea Stadium on Wednesday. In the company of Alex B., Alex C., and Mets ticket office employee Josh O., I caught the first 4 1/2 innings of the Mets and the Giants, missing Barry Bonds due to his illness but seeing Mike Piazza wallop his 352nd homer as a catcher, breaking Carlton Fisk’s all-time record and drawing a huge ovation from a sparse crowd. We left when the Mets grounds crew broke out the tarp, which was just as well; it’s been a frazzling week for me and I certainly didn’t mind getting home in time to catch that night’s handy Yankee comeback. A’s closer Arthur Rhodes must have a tattoo on his butt that says, “Property of the New York Yankees”; his career ERA against the Bombers is 6.75 in 77.1 innings, including some biiiiig hits (14 homers), most notably David Justice’s pennant-winning dinger in the 2000 ALCS.

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