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BtB Sabermetric Writing Award Results: Best Commentary Article

And now we turn our attention to the Best Sabermetric Commentary article.  Here is the category description:

Short sabermetric articles with fairly minimal research beyond, for example, looking up some numbers in an established resource. These are often (but not always) short opinion pieces providing a sabermetric angle on current events in baseball. The difference between commentaries and applied research is effort and depth. The difference between commentaries and review articles is scope of coverage.

Without further adieu, here are the top placing commentaries from our nominees.

3. Colin Wyers: Replacement level, again.

Okay, now that we're all on the same page, I'll proffer yet another definition of replacement level:

Replacement level is the level of talent at which teams stop competing for your services, and you end up competing for the last handful of open roster spots.

The thing about replacement level is that while everyone seems to have a vague idea of what it means, every specific definition of it seems to be fraught with problems.  Freely available talent?  It's cheap, but it's not really free, and this has consequences for how teams use it.  Minimum level before being guaranteed a demotion?  Teams stick with players too long.  The performance you'd get if you have to replace your starter?  Bench players are typically better than replacement, which results in all sorts of chaining effects.

Colin stepped in with this piece and offered a very tangible, straightforward definition of replacement level that is grounded in a fundamental fact that there are only 25 active roster spots times 30 teams...and more players that can fill those last spots than teams have room to employ.


2. Joe Posnanski: Gimmie a U!  A Knee!  An S!  A Key!

I’ll be perfectly honest: In the pleasant ignorance of my car, I didn’t think it was a tragic trade. In large part, this was because I only had this blurry vision of Betancourt … I had not seen his numbers and I just kind of assumed that Betancourt was still 24 or something, that he had put up decent numbers, he had a little speed, he was sloppy but electric on defense. That was the vision that I had in my mind. That was the impression baseball people had given me. I simply didn’t know any better.

Well, as it turns out — ha ha, funny story here — um, actually, NO. Betancourt is not 24 — he’s 27. He is not in the "shows promise" stage of his career — this is already his fourth season as a full-time player. And when I got to the hotel and actually looked up some numbers, well … I started with his defensive numbers.

If you read the post, this is where it goes to hell.  See, this is where Joe went wrong.  What he should have done is just take the quotes about Betancourt's fielding ability and treat them as gospel.  Instead, he goes and looks at data.  And not just any data--good data.  And he comes to realize that everything positive that people were saying about the Royals' new SS was just flat out wrong.  And in his article, he takes us on a painful (yet somehow funny) ride with him, spiraling deep into the abyss that is Royals fandom as only Joe can.  


And the winner is....

1. Dave Cameron: The Marginal Value of a Win

We talked a bit about this a few weeks ago, but the composition of a team’s talent and their relation to their division opponents can have a pretty significant effect on their internal marginal value of a win. A win to the Rays is significantly more valuable than a win to the Astros because of the respective effect of that win on the odds of either team making the playoffs.

Because of where they stand, it makes sense for the Rays to pay the market rate for wins, because that price is lower than the value they’re getting from that win. It does not make sense for the Astros to pay the market price, because the return they will get on those additional wins is below the going rate. If Tampa Bay and Houston pay the same price for the same player, it will be a good deal for the Rays and a bad deal for the Astros.

It's a simple concept, and is one for which I think most casual fans have an intuitive feel. But it's also one that I think a lot of us statheads can forget as we struggle through the intricacies of parsing out a player's projectable surplus value in whatever the latest trade or free agent signing happens to be. The simple fact is that, because they're trying to get those last few wins, a borderline playoff team stands to gain tremendously--in both achievement and actual dollars--from small improvements that would otherwise make little difference for a team if they were a sub-0.500 squad.

This is Dave's second Saber of the day--a testament to the quality of his work, as well as the tremendous following he has gathered at both FanGraphs and USSMariner.

Other Nominees

Please join us in congratulating the other nominees in this category!

Tommy Bennett: Beyond the Daily Boxscore
Joe Gray: Does sabermetrics have a place in amateur baseball?
Rany Jazyrelli: Breaking Point
Matt Klaassen (devil_fingers): Ken Rosenthal, ‘Sabermetric Group Think,’ and the 2009 American League MVP Debate
Will McDonald (royalsreview): Kansas City’s Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman Need to Stop Lecturing, Start Bringing In Better Players