Friday, March 1, 2013

Introducing the Gagne Threshold


The most recent episode of Gleeman and the Geek touched on a familiar topic for Twins fans.  The middle infield has been a consistent area of need for the Minnesota Twins, since the days of Greg Gagne and Chuck Knoblauch.  It was discussion of Gagne that specifically interested me.  I remember Gagne as a kid.  He was a player that I never really thought a whole lot about.  Now that I am older, I understand his value.  The Twins haven't had a consistent shortstop since the days of Gagne.  In the coming weeks, I want to investigate just how rare good middle infielders are.  Are the Twins in a unique situation, or are most teams in consistent need for quality middle infielders?

I want to focus on this quandary from a few different angles.  This week, Greg Gagne is my muse.  How rare is a player like Greg Gagne?  I intend to find out. 

We need to start with some GAGNE FACTS! 
  •          Greg Gagne debuted in 1983. 
  •          Gagne played 1765 games at shortstop. 
  •          In his 15 season career, Gagne accumulated an fWAR of 26.1 
  •          At his peak, defined as his best 5-year stretch, Gagne had an fWAR of 15.0. 
  •          Gagne posted three seasons with an fWAR greater than 3.0.
Let's talk WAR for a bit.  WAR is not a perfect stat.  WAR has major limitations.  The fact that three different sites have their own version of WAR and they do not match up is troubling.  All that being said, I like WAR.  In my opinion, WAR is the best way to look at the overall value of a player and compare that value to other players.  In addition, the comparisons translate to past eras, which is very useful when looking at players from the 80s and today, like I did here.  WAR includes offense, defense and baserunning.  Many do not trust the defensive metrics, but I don't trust your eyes. 

I couldn't tell you how WAR is calculated.  Think about all the things you use on a daily basis that you would have no idea how to construct, create or compute.  I use an electric toothbrush a few times a day and I have no clue how to put one of those together.  Does that mean I shouldn't use it?  I don't think so.  I trust people who put more time into innovation to create things that I do not need to understand or create on my own, but still plan to use.  WAR is one of those things for me. 

I chose to use FanGraphs' version of WAR for this study. 

Back to the research.  I used GAGNE FACTS! to define some research terms.  I wanted to find how many middle infielders were Gagne or better.  FanGraphs.com helped me create a custom spreadsheet for middle infielders who debuted in 1983 or later.  I defined a middle infielder as a player who played more games in the middle infield than any other position.  I made one exception (Alfonso Soriano) because he provided so much value at second base early in his career.  From there, I included only players who could match or exceed Gagne's career fWAR, his 5-year-peak fWAR, or are active players with three seasons greater than 3.0 fWAR (pro-rated based on how many seasons the player has actually played).  I call this the Gagne Threshold.

The result is this spreadsheet.  I included wOBA, Fld, and BsR.  wOBA is a great measure of offensive production.  It is much better than OPS because the importance of each type of hitting result is weighted properly in line with their actual run value.  Fld is the fielding component that FanGraphs uses for WAR and BsR is their baserunning component.  You can see just how good each player is in each area, with these segmented numbers.   

I found 63 players who met the Gagne Threshold.  33 primarily played second and 30 primarily played short.  Basically, there have been 62 players as good or better than Greg Gagne (Gagne makes 63) who have debuted since 1983.  Perhaps Greg Gagne is even more special than I thought.  I wanted to look at some data related to these players, so I looked up whether they had been drafted or signed internationally.  Here are a couple of facts:
  • 42 of these players were drafted and 21 were signed internationally
  • Of the 42 drafted, 29 were drafted out of college and 13 were drafted out of high school
  • 18 of those players drafted were selected in the first round
  • 12 players were selected in rounds 2-5
Out of curiosity, I looked to where these players were from.  Here are the most common results:

California
Dominican
Republic
Florida
Venezuela
New York
Puerto Rico
North Carolina
13
11
5
5
4
4
3

Back to the original premise.  63 players in 30 seasons is roughly 2 new players per season.  If only two middle infielders are added to the quality player pool each year, it would stand to reason that many teams are looking for middle infielders.  35 players are active, which might indicate an uptick in the talent pool, but many of these players have not reached any sort of career Gagne Threshold, but simply have a few good seasons early in their careers.  They may never have another good season, then drop out of this pool.  Regardless, there aren't many quality middle infielders to choose from.  Here are debuts by year:

Number of Debuts by Year (* not possible based on Threshold)
1983
3
1993
0
2003
3
1984
0
1994
1
2004
1
1985
0
1995
4
2005
5
1986
4
1996
3
2006
6
1987
0
1997
3
2007
2
1988
2
1998
2
2008
2
1989
1
1999
1
2009
2
1990
2
2000
3
2010
2
1991
1
2001
2
2011
*
1992
5
2002
3
2012
*

There isn't a pattern, but the 80s certainly look leaner than the 90s and 00s.  It does appear that there are more quality middle infielders entering the pool in recent years.  Add in young, promising players who have not qualified or have large chunks of their careers remaining, and you could see this pool expanding in the coming years.  The question remains, is this a Twins issue, or a league issue?

Here is a team chart:

Team
Signed/Drafted
Peaked With
Arizona
1
0
Atlanta
5
4
Baltimore
1
2
Boston
4
3
Chicago C
1
1
Chicago W
2
2
Cincinnati
1
2
Cleveland
1
4
Colorado
1
1
Detroit
0
2
Houston
3
1
Kansas City
1
0
Los Angeles A
3
2
Los Angeles D
0
1
Miami
2
3
Milwaukee
2
2
Minnesota
2
3
New York M
1
1
New York Y
4
3
Oakland
1
1
Philadelphia
2
3
Pittsburgh
2
2
San Diego
4
1
San Francisco
1
4
Seattle
5
2
St. Louis
1
1
Tampa Bay
0
1
Texas
2
4
Toronto
4
3
Washington/Montreal
6
4

The Nationals franchise leads the way with 6 players, while Detroit, the L.A. Dodgers and Tampa Bay have zero.  From there, I looked at when these players reached their peak.  I didn't necessarily mean their best season, but more or less when they became a notable player.  Atlanta, Cleveland, San Francisco, Texas and Washington/Montreal had 4 each, while Arizona and Kansas City had zero.  Basically, the Twins do struggle to find quality middle infielders, but this seems to be more of a talent pool issue, rather than a Twins ineptitude issue.  At least, that is how I see it, as no team is miles ahead of the Twins.

Interestingly enough, many of these players who were traded while very young, netted big name players in return.  Here are just a few players that these middle infielders helped bring back in trades:  Bert Blyleven, Randy Johnson, Fred McGriff, Josh Beckett, Mark Teixeira, and Scott Rolen.  Not bad. 

There is much more to this story.  The Twins are in a 20 year Gagne Threshold drought, but does that mean the middle infield has been a constant gaping hole?

In the near future, I want to look at each individual season from 1983 to 2012.  How many good middle infielders were there in each season?  Who were these players and why didn't they all reach the Gagne Threshold?  I'm already working on another spreadsheet, and I am excited to share it with all of you.  

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