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answer to Murray Chase's complaint that replacement level isn't real

A Steve Goldman article in Baseball Prospectus mocking a famous baseball writer’s refusal to embrace the concept of “replacement level” coincided with the last rounds of my league’s Scoresheet draft, where it has become easily evident who the worse starting player are in each league. As you know, replacement level is the baseline performance we expect of anyone playing in the Major Leagues. A player’s value is how much he contributes more than a player most teams could find to play in his place – that is: how much better he is than a replacement level player. I contributed a comment to the discussion as follows:

Theoretically, when a starter gets hurt, he is replaced by the top man on the bench who in turn is replaced by the best AAA player that team has who can fill his position. More often than ever teams have professional benches and call up a AAA player or a hot prospect at AA to replace an injured player - that is if the starter is hurt enough to go on the D.L.

It isn't likely that the 30 best players at each position have starting jobs. Sometimes, teams have an abundance of talent - such as having Jed Lowrie as a back-up utility player. Sometimes, teams will keep a guy in the minors to avoid having to go to arbitration a year earlier than otherwise.

My point is the abstract replacement level is hard to define, but if we look at the worse starting players in each league, we have a good idea of what we are looking for. He couldn't be more than only very slightly worse than that.

I know the A.L. better than the N.L., so I will suggest looking at:

pitcher:  Matt Harrison
catcher:  Jeff Mathis
firstbase: Matt LaPorta
secondbase: Orlando Cabrera
shortstop: Jack Wilson
thirdbase: Alberto Callespo
fast OF:  Juan Pierre
slow OF:  Jeff Francoeur
dedicated DH:  Jack Cust

Yes, those are the bottom of the barrel. Of course, you could do much worse than these guys, if you didn’t draft well and you left your team exposed to significant AAA time, if any of your starters get hurt. That is their value: AAA stoppers. Plus, I could see Matt LaPorta developing into something more than that.

I should add that the concept of replacement level is even more complicated in Scoresheet, because a AAA player in Scoresheet is generally much worse than most actual AAA players called up to fill in while a veteran hits the D.L. However, most of us have many more Major League players available to use than real life teams. Typical A.L.-only leagues have 14 teams worth of players plus ten to twenty cross-over stars to fill our 10 rosters. Therefore, the optimum replacement level comes out pretty close to the actual Major League replacement level – possibly higher.

John Carter