Friday, April 16, 2010

Fred Lewis & stat nerds, a match made in hell

There have been a lot of players over the years that have stirred up debates among fans and educated baseball minds alike. One camp believes a guy is capable and isn't getting a fair shake, while their counterpart wants him gone at all costs. In the ongoing battle between good and evil, there surely had to be one Giant that became such a heatseeker for debate. That Giant was Fred Lewis.

I cannot remember there ever being a player with so little consequence on the field being fought over (mainly in blogs and in message board forums) so fervently and for so many months. To one side, he was an extremely talented guy who couldn't put it together at the plate, and on top of it, was among the worst left fielders in the game. To the second side, he was a misunderstood, successful left fielder/leadoff guy, who apparently is a very good outfielder who is equivalent to an above average leadoff hitter-- a legitimate starter.

Once again, the bitter struggle in the blogosphere between good and evil (baseball people versus stat people), has come to a bloody confrontation.

For those of you who aren't in to the whole Sabermetric thing-- they concoct extreme statistics based on Lord-knows-what that try to explain the entire game. Some things, I am a huge fan of, such as contact percentage, percentage of balls swung at outside the strike zone, etc. Others, I am more skeptical of. My argument is that it is still very possible to suck with a high OBP%. I will show you what an argument between a "Joe Six Pack" lifer baseball fan and a new-age stat snob would look like:

Baseball Guy: I'm sorry, Fred Lewis seems like a great person, and he's got some real talent, but he never put it together. To top it off, he takes terrible routes to balls, and is the worst left fielder I've seen since Manny Ramirez. Plus, he strikes out too much and only gets aggressive when he's down in the count, which happens constantly, because all he does it take first pitch strikes. Also, someone with his speed should have stolen more bases. Where was that? I will say that I loved his mirrored orange sunglasses though. Those things were sick.

Jack Moore, Fangraphs:
"Lewis is pretty clearly a Major League quality player. In 1,048 plate appearances in the major leagues since 2006, Lewis has recorded a .277/.355/.420 line, showcasing good plate discipline and slightly below average power. His 109 wRC+ suggests an above average player. 2009 was a down year for Lewis, however, as his ISO dropped from .158 to .132. As a result, his wOBA and wRC dropped to .327 and 98 respectively, the first year in which he has been below average in either statistic. The projection systems see him as slightly above average this year, and ZiPS in particular expects a return to 2008 levels.

Defensively, both UZR and +/- are fans of Lewis, despite his poor reputation among Giants fans in Tom Tango’s Fan Scouting Report. Both systems have Lewis between +9 and +11 over his 326 game career, which would still make him a below average position-neutral defender over 150 games.

Overall, not only does that make Lewis an MLBer, but it makes him nearly an average player. There is no way that Lewis is only the 6th best outfielder on the Giants roster. Aaron Rowand is projected to have a similar or worse year. Nate Schierholtz has similar projections. Andres Torres is 32 and projected to be well below average at the plate by both CHONE and ZiPS – Marcel’s projection is only operating on 181 ML plate appearances since 2007...

...Hitters with a .355 career OBP and a walk rate over 10% don’t just grow on trees, and especially not those still drawing a pre-arbitration salary. Somebody must have at least had a grade B prospect they would have been willing to part with for Lewis, and if not, then there’s no reason to get rid of him when Torres and Velez are still on the team.

...The Jays have acquired a player who could potentially become an asset and a contributor for essentially no cost. The risk is minimal, and a potential reward is there. For the Blue Jays, this is a no-brainer, and for the Giants, it’s a head scratcher."

See original Fangraphs article by Jack Moore here.

Baseball Guy: Yeah. No. I'm not gonna do that...

Look, I'm not entirely sure what you just said, but I think I just had an aneurysm trying to translate it. Anywaaaay..... that's all fine and good, but here's the reason Fred Lewis isn't on the Giants, and more reasons why he's not that good. I will even use relevant stats from Fangraphs, which I believe to be an excellent site when used responsibly.

In 2008 and 2009, which were Lewis's longest stints with the club (255 games), he presented some ugly patterns.

Firstly, the man struck out 26.5% and 28.5% of the time respectively. You remember 7th grade fractions, don't you? That means that if Fred played a regular game and received 4 at bats, he'd strike out once a game. That means Fred Lewis would strike out 162 times per year (since you enjoy projections so much).

Not only that, but the guy crumples under any kind of pressure. In 118 ABs in 2009, he hit .203 with runners on. The numbers only go down with the situation becoming more dire. With runners in scoring position? .186. With runners in scoring position and two outs? .156.

The only situation that Fred does do well in, is when the pressure is totally off and there's no one on base where he managed a .294 average and a .365 on base percentage.

"But Dan The Baseball Guy, isn't that what a leadoff hitter faces most of the time?"

Yes and no. In the NL in particular, he's going to see a lot more empty bases in front of him, but the guy just doesn't put enough balls in play. Even in his best situation with no pressure, his K% actually increases slightly to 30%. On top of it, for a guy who took an incredible amount of first pitch strikes, he does horrible work when he's in the hole. In '09, when he had an 0-2 count, he hit a whopping .000 with 16 strikeouts in 24 AB's.

His defense is just not good, and I don't care how you want to spin it. He was a clueless wonder in left field last season, and although his replacement, Mark DeRosa isn't going to win any gold gloves out there, he hasn't made any mistakes yet.

So look, that's the argument. I'm not going to say that the Sabermetricians are totally off base with everything they say. What I will say is that stats do not always tell the entire story. Everyone knows you can lie with statistics. Companies sell products and politicians win campaigns while distorting facts that are, for all intents and purposes, true.

When applied to baseball, there are so many things that go into what makes a good player. Fred Lewis certainly has all the tools to be a good one, but I believe his bad habits to outweigh his good ones, and he thinks way too much out there. I wish him nothing but the best in Toronto, but I cannot say I'll miss him in San Francisco.


  1. I would say this is a no brainer for the Blue Jays. They are getting him for pretty much nothing and he does have potential, but the Giants can't wait on him anymore. We have guys have have passed him in the depth charts. Cut him loose and let him try to do something somewhere else. Smart moves on both sides...

    King of Cali

  2. I do have to at least say one thing, where you said "The only situation that Fred does do well in, is when the pressure is totally off and there's no one on base where he managed a .294 average and a .365 on base percentage."

    If you look at how he performend in different leverage situations (A measure of how important a particular situation is in a baseball game depending on the inning, score, outs, and number of players on base) you can see that he actually did quite well in important spots.

    In high leverage situations he hit .317/.430/.512 in medium leverage situations he hit .265/.338/.406 and in low leverage situations he hit .278/.353/.412.

    So he was at his best in the most important situations over his career.

    Another thing to consider is that although he has a high strike out rate and high walk rate he also has a high batting average on balls in play. This is a result of his patients and waiting for his pitch that he can drive which does good things for you. Major league average is around .300 and Fred is at .350 which is a nice number and means you are hitting the ball well when you put it in play.

    So you may say stats can be distorted and used for whatever purpose the person wants, well it is even worse when you want to use anicdotes and things that are subjective.

  3. Dude, Fangraphs can use whatever they want to make something into a high-leverage situation. The fact of the matter is that a high-leverage situation is when the pressure to perform is on.

    In 2009, he hit .186 with RISP, and .156 with RISP and 2 outs.

    Now, if you want to talk 2008, his best season as a pro, the numbers are different. He hit .292 with runners on two years ago, which was a different Fred Lewis.

    When you average out the two years, his numbers are not nearly as offensive, but the point is, he sucked more recently, and he was not a good player. That, plus there was no need for another so-so left-handed OF on the roster.

  4. For the leverage of different situations you can go here:

    It is pretty much just as you would expect it to be. The later in the game and the closer the score and the more people on base and the more outs the higher leverage.

    It just takes simple RISP to the next level and adds more context. For example A runner on third with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9 of tied game has a leverage of 4.7 compared to being up 4 runns with a runner on 3rd with no outs in the first inning which has a leverage .4 This makes a lot of sense and really if you take the time to understand it adds to our understanding of things that happen during a game.

  5. I'm glad the jays got him. We are just wondering how he had the reputation of being a bad defender. The guy has huge range and has looked great if anything he catches more balls that we don't expect him to.