Monday, January 17, 2005

Capitan America

With rumors of an impending trade everywhere, there has been a lot of discussion around Met fans about the merits of Eric Byrnes and Mike Cameron. Well, maybe its time I chimed in.

As someone who doesn't get to watch the Oakland A's often, I always thought Byrnes was a good player. The few times I've seen him, he has made spectacular diving catches and always exhibited a devil may care attitude. With attributes like these, its no surprise he has become a fan favorite everywhere he's played. Nicknamed Capitan America in the Dominican, Byrnes has charmed an entire country with his golden hair and reckless style of play.

"It's awesome," Peña said. "Eric's come to another country, and people embrace him even more than one of their own. If he runs for president, he would win. They will never forget him for what he's done for this team and for this country. It's the coolest thing."
Coming off his best season in the major leagues, Eric Byrnes seems to be on a different path than the recently displaced Mike Cameron, who at age 32, is coming off one of his worst seasons ever. Common knowledge would indicate that Byrnes' best years are ahead of him, while Cameron has nowhere to go but down. Yet, the Oakland A's, seem more than willing to exchange the two even though the latter is older and more expensive. Why would Billy Beane do this? Glad you ask.

Eric Byrnes
age 28 position LF
333/474 1196 ABs

Mike Cameron
age 32 position CF
335/450 1572 ABs

If you take a quick glance to their 3 year splits, you may come to the conclusion that Byrnes is the better hitter. Of course, that doesn't take into account the fact that 119 of Byrnes ABs were compiled at the hitter friendly PCL [AAA], or the fact that Byrnes seems to have been protected by the A's against RHP. Essentially, they don't seem to be that far apart when it comes to hitting. If anything, regression towards the mean gives the edge to Cameron since we would expect him to rebound from his horrible season, while we'd expect Byrnes to either regress or stay in the same 800 OPS range.

For years, defense has stood out as the final frontier of statistical analysis. Sabermetricians like Bill James and the people at STATS inc introduced and tracked Range Factor and Zone Rating as ways to get a better feeling of a defender's range. Range Factor measures the number of outs made per game while Zone Rating the total number of outs per ball in a fielder's zone or area of responsability. Obviously both systems had their flaws since they did not account for the probability of a play being made. To account for this, Mitchel Lichtman or simply MGL as he is known around baseball circles, developed his own probabilistic model to evaluate defense. UZR, or ultimate zone rating, uses 64 zones to determine runs saved or cost in comparison to an average fielder. Obviously, the process is a little more complicated than that, but if you are interested you can check MGL's exact explanations on the subject in part 1 and part 2 of study.

So how is this relevant when discussing Cameron and Byrnes? Well, according to UZR, Cameron from 00-03 saved close to 30 runs every 150 games over the average fielder. Thats obviously an outstanding amount and worth around 3 wins per season. Byrnes' UZR, on the other hand, every single year at any OF position has been pitiful. In 04, for example, Cameron's UZR [+8] was still worth 3 wins over Byrnes' -21 UZR mark. Moreover, according to Tangotier's Fan Scouting Reports, Byrnes came in at a below average 44/100 while Cameron had a very impressive 68/100.

Many Met fans are skeptical of Cameron's greatness and wonder if age and the potential shift to RF may be a reason for concern. Well, here is what MGL has to say about it:
"Cammy is of course one of the best defensive CF'ers in baseball, and should, by all rights be one of the best in RF or LF. Remember that even if you are not used to RF or LF, it is still easier to play those positions AND, more importantly, your defense is measured against MUCH worse defenders. I would be surprised if Cameron's UZR in RF or LF were not +10 to +15."
As MGL mentions, the difference between Byrnes and Cameron is so great that it'd make absolutely no sense to exchange the two. Even in right, Cammy's defense would be a tremendous asset to the Mets, and this is without accounting the fly-ball tendencies of the pitching staff. Cameron's defense is the most compelling reason not to make the trade, but if nothing else, the fact that Billy Beane wants to acquire Cameron this badly should be more than enough reason to hold on to him.

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November 4, 2005 at 12:38 PM  

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