Carlos Pena (AP Photo)
VORP, Value Over Replacement Player, created by Keith Woolner, is an up-and-coming statistical tool in sabermetrical analysis that dictates the number of runs a player contributes beyond what a replacement player – a solid Triple-A regular – would provide if given the same number of a team's plate appearances.
For the sabermetrically-challenged out there, or for those who failed to read Michael Lewis' groundbreaking book Moneyball, it is in your best interest to visit the innovative baseball website Baseball Prospectus, or delve into the previous writings of legendary statistician Bill James. James, currently employed in the front office of the World-Champion Boston Red Sox, was a visionary for how baseball minds analyze statistics. Also worth checking out is Baseball Between the Numbers, edited and co-authored by ESPN.com Page 2 contributor Jonah Keri and the talented Baseball Prospectus team. After reading this, I can promise, you will never look at former All-Star outfielder Joe Carter in the same light ever again.
Keep in mind, however, that VORP, of course, does not account for a player's defensive contributions, which is why middle infielders with painfully low annual VORP ratings can maintain their positions for more than a brief period of time.
According to the VORP statistics from the Baseball Prospectus Rays' team audit, Carlos Pena, not surprisingly, led Tampa Bay with the highest VORP, giving Tampa Bay 68.5 more runs than an a backup or replacement player would have provided at first base in 2007. With a team-leading .627 slugging percentage and impressive .411 on-base percentage (good for a .1037 OPS), Pena was certainly the most valuable offensive player for the Rays all season long. The AL Comeback Player of the Year, he also finished second in the
Former first round pick B.J. Upton, once viewed as the Rays' shortstop of the future, saw dramatic improvements in consistency during a long-awaited breakout season. Quieting his most vocal critics,
Carl Crawford was the only other Tampa Bay player to finish with a plus-30 VORP, rounding out the Rays' leaders with a 38.0 mark. While batting an even .300, posting a .386 on-base percentage and slugging .466, Crawford solidified his place as one of the game's premiere speedsters, and perhaps fantasy players, in all of baseball.
Quite surprisingly, perhaps not for those aware of his low walk totals, OBP, and poor plate discipline, recently traded outfielder Delmon Young barely finished with a VORP above zero, posting a disappointing 5.7 number. Considering former Baseball Prospectus columnist James Click, also a co-author of Baseball Between the Numbers and a firm believer in the importance of using sabermetrics to value players, now works as a baseball operations coordinator for the Rays, perhaps Young's low OPS (plus the fact that he only provided Tampa Bay with 5.6 more runs than a backup-level player in right field) played a minute factor in the team's effort to obtain pitching prospect Matt Garza in the mini-Blockbuster trade that sent him to the Minnesota Twins. Widely considered as the prize prospect in an organization blessed with a surplus of young outfield talent for years, personal problems also hindered his development and organizational status, too, of course. By allowing him to leave, though, the Rays made a bold risk, perhaps enabling the exodus of a perennial All-Star. Young's outstanding potential and tools aside, the addition of shortstop Jason Bartlett (14.7 VORP), a capable defender, Garza and minor league reliever Eduardo Morlan, once considered a candidate for the Twins' closer job in the future, however, should make the Rays better in the short-term for 2008. Only time (and perhaps future VORP ratings) will determine which team got the better end of this surprising swap of young talent.
Again, keep in mind, defense is not accounted for in determining VORP, but, perhaps to the surprise of the common baseball fan, Brendan Harris (.315, .355, .466), who was also shipped to Minnesota in the Young deal, finished fourth on the 2007 version of the Rays with a 25.2 VORP. Akinori Iwamura, next year's starting second baseman, was next with a 15.3 mark, due in large part to his .349 on-base percentage, which was good enough for third on the team.
New Washington Nationals outfielder and Mr. "You Dead, Dawg" himself, Elijah Dukes, projected 2008 starting catcher Dioneer Navarro, Norton, Dustan Mohr, Josh Paul, Josh Wilson, recently picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates on waivers, and utility infielder Ben Zobrist all finished the season with a negative VORP rating. Granted, or course, some of the players (Mohr, Paul and perhaps even Zobrist and Wilson), could represent what sabermetricians refer to when they think of the term replacement player. Not to mention, small sample sizes inhibited the results, too.
From a pitching standpoint, though, Scott Kazmir and James Shields were head and shoulders above the rest of the Rays' pitching corps, VORP wise, in addition to the more traditional statistical categories, as well. Kazmir (3.96 RA, 1.23 RA+) finished with a team-best 47.2 VORP, up from 38.7 in 2006. Shields was nearly as good, posting a 45.4 number over a team-high 215.0 innings pitched. With these two young pitchers' continued development, the addition of Garza, the emergence of Edwin Jackson (-8.4 VORP in '07) Jeff Niemann, number one overall pick David Price, and Andy Sonnanstine (0.2 VORP) in the immediate future, the Rays' starting rotation could be a cause for envy headed into the next decade.
Projected Rays' 2008 starting lineup through a VORP lens.
Iwamura 2B (15.3 VORP in '07)
Crawford LF (38.0 VORP in '07)
Pena 1B (68.5 VORP in '07)
Gomes/potential free agent signing RF (7.9 VORP in '07)
Baldelli (if healthy?) DH (-4.9 VORP in '07, limited sample size, of course)
Zobrist/potential free agent signing, eventually Evan Longoria 3B (Zobrist -11.6 VORP in '07)
Navarro C (-4.0 VORP in ‘07)