Would a team with more Gerardo Parras do better than the current Arizona Diamondbacks team? -Voice in my head
In Boston four or so years ago, J.D. Drew was among the most controversial players on the Red Sox. Signed to a staggering $14M/year deal, Drew contributed high on base percentages and above average defense in right field, but hit relatively few home runs, and seemed to make contact at the plate infrequently when the game was on the line. Whenever I was asked what I thought, I’d say that a team of nine J.D. Drews would probably win the American League (if they could stay on the field).
I never actually did the research to back up my claim, but with some calling for an upgrade on offense from Gerardo Parra, I feel spurred to do so now. Like Drew, Parra has never been a threat to lead the league (or the team) in home runs, and like Drew, Parra’s main contributions to the team don’t show up in his batting average. But make no mistake, Parra is a huge contributor to the 2013 D-backs. Among the 52 outfielders with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, Parra comes in 11th — despite a slightly less than average offensive contribution (wRC+ of 96, or 4% less runs created than the average hitter).
So would more Parras mean more success? Not all of the Parras could play right field, so it’s important to figure out what we mean by more Parras. Since we do have some data on how he can handle the other outfield spots, we’ll run that scenario first; before that, though, we should develop a baseline. PLEASE KEEP IN MIND: this is purely fantasy, so no, these numbers can’t be exact (even when I make them out to be). The hitting statistics are fairly reliable for this exercise, but fielding is a completely different matter. All we’re doing is illustrating the point that Gerardo Parra is a valuable player.
Gerardo Parra has played more this season than in any season before, but it’s not like he’s played every inning of every day. As a team, the Diamondbacks have had 5594 plate appearances this season, and Parra has 590 of them (10.5%) — so that’s actually pretty damned close to one ninth (11.1%). He’s played in 137 of 143 games, so maybe that’s not such a big surprise. In that time, he’s put up 3.8 Wins Above Replacement, according to the FanGraphs formula. He’s been good for 25.4 fielding runs above replacement (roughly 2.5 WAR), so it’s mostly been about the defense.
To make things easier, I’m going to prorate all of our numbers to a full season. That means we’ll assume Parra will continue on his current pace, getting to 4.3 WAR. Instead of 73 wins, we’ll say the team got to 82.7 wins. As Blake Murphy at Beyond the Box Score recently explained, to get from WAR to actual team record, you can use a baseline of 29.4% — as in, a team of replacement players would win about 29.4% of their games. That’s about 47.6 games. Add prorated pitching WAR (11.8 for the D-backs this season) and batting WAR (20.8), and you end up at 80.4 — not 82.7 exactly, but fairly close (especially if you note that the team’s Pythagorean record, based on run differential, would be between 80 and 81).
Ok. So let’s add some Parras.
What if we had a three-Parra outfield? The quick-and-dirty version would be to replace the team’s total OF WAR (7.3) with the WAR of three Parras (4.3 x 3 = 12.9). That’s an improvement of 5.6 WAR — bumping up the expected number of wins for the D-backs from 80.4 to 86. Not too shabby, even if that’s a win total that would probably have Arizona fall just short of the playoffs this season. This is the effect it would have if the non-Parra OFs were replaced with OFs the caliber of Parra.
But we can do better than quick and dirty — what if the man himself were cloned twice? The truth is that right field takes advantage of Parra’s skills a bit more than the other two outfield spots, thanks to his incredible throwing arm. Because outfielders rarely throw to first base for an assist (usually only to try to double off a runner who incorrectly guessed a ball would get caught), an outfielder’s arm is just less important in left than in right. So we’ll end up adjusting the numbers a little bit down.
Although Parra was not quite a full time player prior to this season, we do have a body of work that we can use to see how Parra would fare at the other OF spots. Parra has logged 2521.2 innings in left, 1032.2 innings in center, and 1395 innings in right. The effect that Parra’s placement in the outfield has on UZR’s Outfield Arm Runs Above Average (ARM) statistic is interesting. Left to right, Parra’s ARM numbers are 3.1, 4.2, and 11.1. If Parra stays on the same pace, you can expect him to have 1350 defensive innings this year — so let’s use that as a baseline. That would mean about 1.7, 5.5, and 10.7 ARM, left to right.
Another component to UZR is range, and while Parra has been slightly above average in range when manning center field (2.7 RngR per 1350 innings), his range hasn’t been as impressive there as in left (9.9) or right (15.3). Put together with a couple of other things, these numbers are all reflected in Parra’s career UZR/150 for left (11.0), center (6.9), and right (25.4).
Making those adjustments to Parra’s fielding value puts the Left Field Parra at about 2.9 WAR. Center Field Parra doesn’t derive as much value from fielding, but although that subtracts from WAR, his offense plays better there and he’s still worth about 3.5 WAR. The real Gerardo Parra this year did not actually play all of his games in right — so Right Field Parra’s WAR is actually a little higher than the genuine article, bumping his projected WAR up to 4.5. That gives our Outfield of Parras a total WAR of 10.9. That’s an improvement of 3.6 over what the Arizona outfield is projected to put up this year — bumping the expected number of wins for the D-backs from 80.4 to 84. Not as good as the quick-and-dirty 86, but an improvement is an improvement (and it’s worth noting that other D-backs OFs have been good in their own right this season, especially Cody Ross).
But what if we added more Parras?
As fun as it would be to speculate how Parra’s arm would play at third base or shortstop, if Parra could play one of the non-1B positions in the infield, he’d probably be there right now. There’s also the minor fact that he throws left-handed, meaning no major league team would ever play him there. I honestly have no idea how to project how Parra would play there, because he’s never played there in the majors — so it’s probably more helpful for us to look at the quality of player Parra is.
A super duper fielder at shortstop may be worth more than a super duper fielder in RF (although Parra is tied for 3rd in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved). But FanGraphs’ WAR contains a position adjustment, so this calculation might be the easiest of the bunch — all eight Parra Equivalents have projected WARs of 4.3.
Instead of making adjustments to the D-backs numbers, we have to start from scratch now, as a dugout full of Parras bears little resemblance to the current D-backs team. Since we’re starting from scratch, we need to account for the fact that the pitchers will only be good for -1.1 WAR, thanks to many lost at bats. (4.3 x 8) + -1.1 + 11.8 (pitching WAR) + 47.6 (replacement level wins) equals…
92.7 expected wins! Team Parra almost certainly makes the playoffs… and in some years, Team Parra would even win the division. Not bad, right?
But what if we added more Parras?
Even though Gerardo Parras are too good to be bench players, we’ve already got our cloning machine cranked up, so we might as well keep going. The typical NL team carries 12 pitchers on the roster… meaning we have room for another 5 Parras. No, we can’t multiply 4.3 by thirteen, but there are a few innings/at bats lost in the transfer, since as we saw at the beginning of this post, Parra accounts for slightly less than one-ninth of the position-player part of NL baseball. We still need to burn 352 PAs on pitchers, but the rest of the PAs and defensive innings could go to more Parras!
The ratio of Parra Innings to Total Innings is not quite the same as the ratio of Parra Plate Appearances to Total Plate Appearances, but it’s pretty damned close. The D-backs are on pace for 6337 PAs this season, whereas Parra is on pace for 668. If we credit Parra for a WAR per PA of about .00644, and imagine that pitchers will eat up 352 PAs (to the tune of -1.1 WAR again), we get: 38.5 WAR for All the Parras.
38.5 + -1.1 + 11.8 + 47.6 = 96.8 wins!
Prorate out the Dodgers’ current record to 162 games, and you get 95.6 wins. The Parras win the pennant! The Parras win the pennant!
Of course, the games won’t always be very exciting. If you give one lineup spot to the average D-backs pitcher this year, Team Parra puts up only 3.9 runs per game. The truth might be a little better than that, if a chunk of the pitcher PAs actually go to Bench Parras — a lineup of 9 Parras would score 4.4 runs per game, so Team Parra might actually average around 4.1.
In practice, Team Parra probably would not score 4.1 runs per game, as teams would scramble to use as many southpaws as possible — Parra has hit .294 versus RHP this year, but just .205 against lefties. The difference in OBP is not as stark, but the difference in slugging is staggering (.471 vs. RHP, .230 vs. LHP). Against only lefty pitchers, Team Parra would score a mere 1.8 runs per game (nearly 5.4 runs per game against RHP). Still, there are limits to the extent to which an opposing manager could stack LHP in a series against Team Parra, and if it ended up 50/50, we could still count on an average of 3.6.
Any way you slice it, they’d be low-scoring games, but only a tick below what we’re used to (Arizona has averaged 4.2 runs per game so far this year). And it would be pretty damn tough to score runs on Team Parra, even with a repeat of the pitching numbers we’ve seen from Arizona this year.
As for defense, we can’t simply multiply Parra’s defensive numbers by eight to get reliable totals. Even if we’re just talking Parra-caliber players, some positions have more chances than others, and that wouldn’t even out in the wash. But if we did…
If we project Parra to get up from his current 36 DRS to 40.5 to finish the season, and multiply by 8, we get 324 DRS for Team Parra. The Royals currently lead the league in DRS with 89 (maybe 100 at end of season), and largely due to Parra, the Diamondbacks come in next at 84 (maybe 94). In the previous ten seasons (the only ones for which DRS have been calculated), the record is 95 for the 2005 Phillies. I don’t care how you look at this — Team Parra would be a huge asset defensively.
As I said at the beginning, this was just a fantastical exercise. There’s really no way to know how things would shake out. Team Parra might be below average offensively, and well above average defensively.
All statistics current as of the morning of September 10, 2013, and courtesy of FanGraphs. Also, readers of xkcd.com will note that I’ve borrowed this format wholesale from Randall Monroe — please consider it an homage.
Have a D-backs what if? Drop me a line on twitter at @InsidetheZona.
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