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What Should the Pirates Do at #2?

We’re just one week away from one of my favorite events of the year, the 2010 MLB amateur draft. By now we know that the sure fire #1 pick is the über-hyped catcher Bryce Harper. The big question now is what the Pittsburgh Pirates will do with the 2nd pick of the draft. They have plenty of good options to choose from. Most prospect rankings have shortstop Manny Machado, lefty college pitcher Drew Pomeranz and high school righty Jameson Tallion at the top of the board after Harper.

My colleague Bryan Smith recently discussed Machado in his post about the next first round shortstops. I won’t rehash the whole thing, but in a nutshell, Machado will be a big leaguer, and he will probably be a very good big leaguer for a long time. Scouts have drawn several comparisons between Machado and Alex Rodriguez, although some of that has to do with Machado being a super prep star of Dominican descent playing in the Miami area.

Tallion is a big, flame throwing prep pitcher from the great state of Texas. He throws in the mid-to-upper nineties with relative ease, and has a hammer of a curveball. We’ve seen this story before, and it’s called the Josh Beckett story, or at least that’s the comparison scouts are making with Tallion.

Pomeranz is a college lefty with a 90-94 MPH fastball and a big time curve-piece (to borrow a phrase from Cistulli’s vocab) that has helped him rack up massive strikeout totals at Ole Miss. It’s easy to foresee Pomeranz making a difference in a big league rotation in short order.

Neal Huntington’s rebuilding Buccos really cannot go wrong here, but if I were to pick, I’d go for Machado, and it’s not just because of the lofty comparisons he’s drawn. When we look at the history of the draft, first round picks that are position players do considerably better than pitchers, whether they come from high school or college.

The stats are from the historical WAR data now available on the site. I’m looking at the first rounders from ’90-’99. We’re paying attention to the WAR numbers per season while the player is under team control, or in other words their first six seasons in the majors. Here’s the averages per grouping:

College Hitters 0.9
College Pitchers 0.6
HS Hitters 0.8
HS Pitchers 0.4

Hitters have proven to be a much safer bet. Narrowing down the field to the top 2-6 picks, hitters outperformed pitchers 1.1 WAR per season, compared to .8 WAR for pitchers.

The Pirates definitely are in an enviable position with such talent to choose from, but because TINSTAAPP is the ruthless beast that it is, the smart thing to do for Neal Huntington and Co. is to bet on the hitter.

Is Bryce Harper Worth the Money?

Bryce Harper, hitting prodigy extraordinaire. Dubbed by Sports Illustrated as the baseball’s Lebron James, Harper is the most hyped prospect since, well, Steven Strasburg, who was drafted just last year. Both players have the tools and the results to be considered worthy of such hysteria.

Steven Strasburg is dominating Triple-A pitching already, and Harper has clubbed 23 homeruns in 198 at-bats as a 17 year old collegiate in a league that plays only with wooden bats. Sure, it’s junior college, but Harper has done nothing to sully his reputation as a prodigious power hitter. The craziest thing about this all is these two super-phenoms could be battery mates in D.C. in the very near future if a.) The Nationals draft him, which it appears that they will, and b.) If Harper can stick at catcher, and many scouts believe that he can.

The Nationals already doled out a record signing of $15.67 million to Strasburg last year, raising some eyebrows among fans and analysts alike, but it was a far cry from the possible Dice-K numbers that he was rumored to be initially seeking. Harper, who is advised by none other than Scott Boras, is rumored to be seeking even more money than Strasburg, according to Jon Heyman. (What? Heyman leaking bonus demands of a Boras client? That’s shocking!)

While it seems astounding to us average Joes that a kid not old enough to vote would receive such big dollars, is it really that nuts for a player drafted 1st overall to get that sort of money?

To answer that question I looked at all the 1-1 picks since the history of the draft. I’m looking just at the players who have played long enough to be judged to this point, so no Strasburg, David Price, Justin Upton, Tim Beckham or Luke Hochevar. Again, I’m looking only at the player’s first seasons in the majors, not when they are free agent eligible. I’m using Rally’s Historical WAR database to get their WAR totals.

Here’s the Top 5 1-1 picks of all time, and what their production would have been worth on today’s free agent market.

Name	      	Pos	HS/COL	      	WAR	WAR/yr.	FA$
Alex Rodriguez	SS	High School	37.5	6.3	153.8
Ken Griffey 	OF	High School	35.2	5.9	144.3
Joe Mauer       C	High School   	33.1    5.9     135.7
Chipper Jones	SS	High School	26.8	4.5	109.9
Dar. Strawberry	OF	High School	26.7	4.5	109.5

It’s attention-grabbing to me that all of these hitters came out of high school. And of course, they were all really, really good. If Harper can come even close to any of these select few, he’ll be worth his bonus many times over.

Now getting beyond the fun, superlative stuff, 45% of the #1 overall picks have produced nothing or next to nothing in the big leagues. Averaging all the 1st picks together, you get 9.5 WAR, or 1.6 WAR per season. We are talking about just 40 players, so standard deviation for the group is 1.8 WAR per season, in case you were wondering.

If we estimate that a player worth 1.6 WAR per season will earn about $13 million before they hit free agency (factoring in the 40%, 60%, 80% arbitration estimates and league minimum pay), we find that said player is worth a surplus value of around $26 million. So while handing out a bonus of $15 million puts a good sized dent in that surplus, that’s still a considerable surplus left over.

For all the moralizing and hem-hawing that #1 draft picks are vastly overpaid, I’d argue that they are a relative value. Sure, there is a good bit of risk involved, but when you glance at the overall picture, the #1 overall picks on an average have been worth their scratch. If Bryce Harper is worth only a fraction of the hype he’s received, he’ll be well worth whatever the record signing money he receives.

A Reality Check From the Draft Hype

The major league draft has come a long way in terms of coverage. In this age of twitter and blogs, we get more and more information on these prospective major league players than ever before. We also have seen two of the most hyped players in draft history set to go in consecutive years. Steven Strasburg received an insane amount of hype and continues to do so, while Bryce Harper made the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old kid.

Around this time we begin to see mock drafts, hear rumors and get all sorts of pre-draft hype leading up until draft day. That’s all fine and good, and I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade, but we need to counterbalance some of the draft hysteria with a healthy dose of reality.

Using Rally’s historical WAR database, I compiled the WAR figures for every player drafted in the first round in the 1990s. I only compiled the WAR totals for the player’s first six years of major league service, or in other words, his team-controlled years. Teams benefit the most when the player is a relative bargain, not when he’s being paid what he is worth on the free agent market. There’s many different angles we can look at with the data I put together, and maybe we’ll look at some later, but for now I just want to take a look at the attrition rates to help sober us up from the draft prospect propaganda.

-63.4% of first rounders busted, or produced between zero and 1.5 WAR.

-12.9% of first rounders produced 1.6 WAR and 6 WAR. These would be your role players; that is, your middle relievers, bench players.

-12.9% of first rounders were worth between 6.1 and 12 WAR. These are, but are not limited to, your starters on the fringe to average regulars.

-5% were worth between 12.1 and 18 WAR, 6.8% were worth 18.1 WAR or greater. That grouping includes some of today’s stars; Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Manny Ramirez and *ahem* Jason Kendall.

(Once upon a time, Jason Kendall was pretty awesome.)

So that’s about three-quarters of all first rounders failing to live up to the hype. Every team envisions their first round pick as a fixture in their every day lineup or pitching rotation, but the odds are they produce little to nil in the big leagues. I do not envy the job of the scouting director; it’s a job where you swing for the fences but often come up empty. On the other side of the coin, the payoffs can be huge for the ones that do pan out.

National Soft-Tosser Association

Radar guns are not fans of the Washington Nationals’ makeshift pitching rotation. As a unit, they have an average velocity of 87.9 MPH. Big league lineups know that when they are facing Washington, it’s soft-tosser after soft-tosser after soft-tosser. While there is much more to pitching then just rearing back and throwing fastballs in the upper-nineties, there is a correlation between velocity and striking batters out. So it shouldn’t come as a shock to see the Nationals’ staff sitting at a dangerously low strikeout rate of just 4.67 K/9. When you’re missing this few bats, you’re relying on your defense to make a lot of outs. And for the Nationals, that can be a bit of adventure at times when you’re fielding Adam Dunn at any position.

The Head Master of the slow fastball is Livan Hernandez, whose heater comes in at a breakneck speed of 84.1 MPH. More than a handful of pitchers throw change-ups faster than that, but it’s Livan’s calling card. Livan has a magical ERA of 1.04 right now despite a K/BB ratio of 2.91:2.91. His 5.18 xFIP tells us the cold, hard truth of about Livan, as if we didn’t know it already.

Lefty Scott Olsen is the only one out of the bunch with an above-average strikeout rate at 8.36 K/9. His slider has been a put away pitch for him so far in the season, and he has a decent change-up to keep opposite handed batters off-balance. While he’s off to a great start, we’re still talking about Scott Olsen, and a pitcher that’s not far removed from labrum surgery, so I’d expect some regression.

Craig Stammen throws the ball harder than any of his other rotation mates, with an average fastball velocity of 90.4. Whoa, there. He does however have some good control working in his favor. He’s walking only 1.13 batters per nine, and while that low rate won’t stay that good, he has had a good walk rates throughout his minor league career.

John Lannan had an ERA of 3.88 last year despite a K/9 rate of …3.88. That just doesn’t even seem possible, unless we’re talking about a different generation of pitchers. Lannan is predictably getting rocked by batters so far this season (45 hits in 32.2 innings). He’s also hurting himself by walking 4.96 batters per nine.

Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang are all expected to come off the disabled list sometime this year for the Nationals. I also heard this rumor about a guy they have in the minors named Stephen Strasburg who throws the ball really, really hard and is supposed to be really, really good. He should be up when his general manager is done manipulating the service time rules. Uh, I mean when he decides that he’s major league ready. So there is a reason to believe that radar guns will soon be lit up in our nation’s capital.

Fun with Shutdowns and Meltdowns

Yesterday David introduced a couple of new stats, Shutdowns and Meltdowns, to the site.  It’s fashioned after saves/blown saves but is vastly superior, because it’s a metric that uses WPA as a substitute of the brainless, archaic save stat and the rules that guide it.

A team essentially has something like a 98% likelihood of winning the game with a three-run lead with no outs, yet a manager will trot out his ace reliever in that situation about 98% of the time for the sake of save. But when the game is on the line and it’s non-save situation, we often see managers make some of the most bizarre choices in their bullpen usage.

Take for instance Tuesday night’s Phillies–Cardinals game that ended in the 10th on a walk-off homer by Carlos Ruiz. While there’s no real “ace” in the Cardinal bullpen, the inexperienced Blake Hawksworth isn’t the guy you normally would want on the mound against the Phillies in such a high leverage situation, but it appears Tony La Russa held back his closer because it wasn’t a save situation.

Anyway, with any luck this catches on. Just to recap:

Shutdown is when a reliever accumulates greater than or equal to 0.06 WPA in any individual game.

Meltdown is when a reliever’s WPA is less than or equal to -0.06 in any individual game.

What I thought would be interesting is to look at the “Meltdowniest” pitchers of the past three seasons, as well as the ones who we could say have ice water in their veins. The pitchers with the most meltdowns are usually the ones fans want to ride out of town on a rail, along with their manager, while the pitchers with the smallest meltdown rate we tend to feel pretty comfortable with, even in the highest leverage situations.

These are the pitchers with the highest percentage of relief appearances that resulted in a Meltdown:

Read the rest of this entry »

Adam LaRoche and His Desert Walking Shoes

Adam LaRoche came into the off-season with a higher opinion of himself than what major league GM’s thought of him. After a prolonged time of sitting around and watching other players get signed, LaRoche ultimately settled for a one-year deal with the Diamondbacks at the bargain price of $5 million. So far, that deal is looking like an even better deal than projected, as LaRoche is off to a very good start, hitting for a .401 wOBA.

While we don’t want to get carried away with someone who is hitting in the dry air of Arizona this early, there is a solid reason to believe LaRoche’s step-up is the genuine article. Why is that you ask? Well, LaRoche has become a noticeably more disciplined hitter. His walk rate is up to 15.2%, and that’s backed by a league-low O-Swing% of 10.4%, a stunning 12.2% cut from his O-Swing% from the preceding season. This bodes extremely well for LaRoche. While we should rightfully be wary of sample size stats this early, a study by Russell Carlton shows that a player’s swing percentages become reliable much sooner than other numbers. For swing%, it’s as quickly as 50 plate appearances.

O-Swing% correlates well with walks for the obvious reason that if a player isn’t chasing balls out of the strike zone, naturally he’ll be reaching base more while also taking advantage of better pitches to hit. LaRoche has been doing just that, and now his updated ZiPS projection calls for a .390 wOBA on the season. That’s Ryan Howard production at a Scott Linebrink price.

LaRoche can undoubtedly parlay this type of success into some bigger bankroll if he can keep showing a discriminatory eye at the plate to complement his solid power.

Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – White Sox

Kenny Williams is a direct reflection of his team – enigmatic. He’s made some brilliant moves and he’s made some…less than brilliant moves. But he’s always making moves, he rarely stands pat. Well, unless it’s this winter regarding his DH situation, but that is a horse that has already been whipped by our own Matt Klaasen. Right now we’re looking at the present talent Williams has assembled.

The White Sox are a mixed bag of aging veterans and up-and-coming youngsters, sprinkled in with a couple of players with (what have been deemed) toxic contracts that Williams took on. I’ll start with the starting rotation, which has a player with a less than flexible contract in Jake Peavy. Peavy is making the switch from one extremely friendly ballpark to the less than friendly confines of “The Cell”. He has a bit of an injury history (202 total days on the DL), but the Pale Hose have been one of the best clubs at treating and preventing injuries. They’re paying him like an ace for the next three, possibly four years, but I wouldn’t bank on him being one. Peavy leads the charge of what is a very strong pitching rotation, behind him is the dependable Mark Buehrle, who is under contract for this season and the next. Following those two are two very good, cost-effective starters in John Danks and Gavin Floyd. Lastly, we have Freddy Garcia keeping Daniel Hudson‘s seat warm. Few teams boast of such a rotation. This is a fantastic rotation that will need to hold together, because the offense could be pretty wretched.

Backing up that rotation is a strong, yet expensive bullpen. Matt Thornton has been worth on average 1.6 WAR per season since coming for to the Sox. Those are elite totals for a set-up man, and because of his presence I’m surprised the White Sox have not been more aggressive about trading Bobby Jenks, who they just paid $7 million in his second season of arbitration eligibility. This is also the team that is paying Scott Linebrink $11 million more over the next two seasons. The team also is gambling $3 million on J.J. Putz. They also have the hard-throwing Tony Pena, who they traded Brandon Allen go the Diamondbacks to get. Allen was supposed to be the future for the Sox at first base.

The lineup is headlined by Gordon Beckham, who played extremely well in his rookie debut and should provide the team all-star caliber contributions for years to come. His double-play partner Alexei Ramirez should also be in a White Sox uniform for years to come, but he’s proving to be a tough nut to crack. His offense slipped last year, but his defense at shortstop improved. The season before his defense was terrible but he hit well. The Sox would like to get him firing on all cylinders. Carlos Quentin has two more seasons of arbitration eligibility left, and if he can hit like he did in 2008, the White Sox may think about extending him. But his defense has been abysmal in the outfield and he’s had trouble staying on the field, dealing with foot and wrist injuries.

From there, Williams has an odd collection players who used to be great earlier in this millennium that he’s brought in in recent times – Alex Rios, Juan Pierre, Mark Kotsay, Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel and I suppose even Mark Teahen fits that bill. (Remember that 2006!) There are also longtime Sox Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski, who are in their last season of their contract and have seen better days. Rios has over $61 million remaining on his contract that will take him into 2014. He was a 5 WAR player in 2007 and 2008, but was replacement level last season, and the move to the Windy City didn’t help as many expected.

For the present, this looks very much like a .500 team. Williams hamstrung himself by taking on the Peavy and Rios contracts, and will have to rely on his prospects to carry the White Sox forward.

Taking the Next Step: Peter Bourjos

Last week my colleague Bryan Smith got an interesting conversation started in a post he titled The Next Step.  In a nutshell, his question was “what does sabermetric prospect analysis look like?” That question got a lot of good dialogue going, and I’m sure it’s something you might be seeing more of here at FanGraphs in the coming days and months.

Today I’m just going to approach it in the most back-of-a-napkin method as possible with a prospect who I feel is a tad undersold, and that’s Peter Bourjos, a center fielder in the Angels’ system. If you listened to the corresponding podcast we did about taking the next step in prospect analysis, you know that Peter Bourjos gets me all tingly for some reason. I think it’s probably because I’m the sort of person who likes to see players who fly a bit under the radar succeed, and I like players who I suppose you can call throwback types who may not hit for power, but can run and play good defense.

First, I dug up my trusty 2010 Baseball America Handbook, the 2010 Minor League Analyst and then surfed the web for different scouting reports. I even looked at some video on YouTube.  (Remember, this is nothing really scientific). From there I got enough info for me to put together this scouting report, based on the 20-80 scale.

Categories   Grades
Hitting      55
Power        30
Discipline   40?
Speed        70
Field        70

A quick rundown on each tool: Bourjos has some holes in his swing, but should make enough contact to hit about .275-.280 per season. He has gap power, but is very unlikely to crack more than 10 homers in a season. His selectivity at the plate improved, as shown by a 9.7% BB%, a rise of 6.2% from the season earlier. I put a question mark next to the grade because I don’t feel confident that he won’t walk more than 7% in the majors.

Bourjos’ speed and defense is his claim to fame, as I mentioned before. He steals a lot of bases in an organization that encourages being aggressive on the basepaths. He could improve upon his success rate, however.  His speed helps him to range almost effortlessly to balls that most outfielders would have to dive for. According to his Total Zone numbers found on, Bourjos has been worth 76 runs in just 363 games in the minors. That’s pretty freaking fantastic. CHONE projects he’d be good for 14 runs above average on defense now.

Putting this all together and assuming all goes well…

600 plate appearances, 42 walks, 117 singles, 26 doubles, 7 triples, 5 homers, 30 steals, 10 caught stealing = .318 wOBA.

  • Batting wins above average (.318 wOBA, league .335): -9 runs
  • Defensive wins above average: +14 runs
  • CF Positional Adjustment: +2.5 runs
  • Replacement: +20 runs

Total: 2.8 WAR.

That to me would represent pretty close to a perfect world scenario of what Bourjos becomes while under team control. I think Angel fans would gladly take that. Well, they would if Bourjos had a place to play, as center field is currently occupied by Torii Hunter. His downside would be something like a right-handed version of Endy Chavez. How is that for hedging my bets? There’s no shame in that considering Chavez has been worth about a win per year coming off the bench.

Anyway, this is HIGHLY subjective and I know opinions on prospects can greatly differ, so don’t stone me if you think I’m being too optimistic or pessimistic. This is just meant as more of a fun, quick-and-dirty way that you can use to get a glimpse of a prospect’s potential in terms of wins above replacement from information you can glean from their scouting reports.

The Cardinals Weak Spot?

Heading into the 2010 season, the St. Louis Cardinals are considered heavy favorites to win big in a rather weak NL Central. And there are good reasons for that. They have one of the better one-two punches both in their lineup with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, and also in their rotation with Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. They have outstanding defense in the “up the middle” positions from Brendan Ryan, Yadier Molina and Colby Rasmus, and have solid players around the diamond all around. Most projections that I’ve seen call for the team to win 88-91 games.

But if the Cardinals do have one potential Achilles heal, it would be their bullpen. Their ‘pen actually posted a 3.67 ERA in 2009, the fourth best mark in the National League, but it was a lucky 3.67 ERA. The team is returning most of the bullpen from the prior season in 2010, let’s take a look at their ERA-xFIP differentials to get a glimpse of just how fortunate they were last year, and an idea of what may happen should their bullpen regress to the mean:

Ryan Franklin, closer – 1.92 ERA, 4.27 xFIP
Kyle McClellan, set-up – 3.38 ERA, 4.42 xFIP
Jason Motte – 4.76 ERA, 4.27 xFIP
Dennys Reyes – 3.29 ERA, 4.44 xFIP
Trever Miller – 2.06 ERA, 3.45 xFIP
Blake Hawksworth – 2.03 ERA, 4.59 xFIP

Their best reliever looks to be a 37-year-old LOOGY, Trever Miller. Yeesh. Ryan Franklin was greatly benefited by a .269 BABIP, a 3.2% HR/FB and an 85.7% strand rate. I don’t think Franklin fits anyone’s definition of a shut-down closer, and should his HR/FB rates go back to 2009 levels (10.4%), it will lead to a lot of teeth-gnashing in Cardinal Nation.

Like Franklin, McClellan is also a pitcher with a low strikeout rate for a reliever, and he’s actually competing with Rich Hill and youngster Jaime Garcia for a spot to be the Cardinals #5 starter.

That leaves converted catcher Jason Motte as the favorite for the set-up role. Motte had the highest strikeout rate of any pitcher in the minor leagues in 2008 (14.85 K/9), but learned the hard way last season that he cannot thrive on mere heat alone, and has yet to discover an effective secondary offering.

It’s surprising to me that the Cardinals have yet to kick the tires on Kiko Calero, who was part of their 2004 team that won the NL Championship, and it’s also surprising that they have steered clear of Octavio Dotel or even the likes of Chan Ho Park this offseason. Maybe their general manager has been lulled into a false sense of security by the ERA that the ’09 team posted, because by all accounts they have money left in the budget to have signed one more relief pitcher. The failure to do so will likely make it easier for the underdogs to sneak up in the standings, unless lady luck strikes again.

Frank Wren Likes Lottery Tickets

Frank Wren’s modus operandi to the 2010 offseason: Replace younger, healthier players with older, more injury prone players. He’s not a doctor, but he plays one in real life. Actually, I’m not here to pick on Wren. You can make arguments for all of his acquisitions this offseason. But seriously, this is getting weird.

Last week Wren traded Javier Vazquez and essentially replaced him with Tim Hudson. Hudson threw a grand total of 42 innings last season for the Braves, and it was enough to convince him to re-sign him to a 3-year/$28 million deal. That pretty much sealed Vazquez’s fate as a Brave, as no one was interested in picking up Derek Lowe’s ugly contract. Vazquez has thrown over 200 innings the past four seasons, averaging 5.3 WAR per season during that span. Hudson has been a 5+ WAR pitcher four different times over his career, and the success rate of Tommy John surgery is pretty good. This might work out just fine, and at least the Braves got a decent return for Vazquez.

The Braves also replaced 30-year-old Rafael Soriano with 38-year-old Billy Wagner, who is also is coming off of Tommy John surgery. Soriano was a 2 WAR reliever in 2009 but has a checkered injury history of his own. Still, he showed us last season what he is capable of. Soriano surprisingly accepted arbitration, but the Braves had no trouble finding a taker for his services, swapping him to Tampa Bay for Jesse Chavez.

Now the Braves are replacing Adam LaRoche with Troy Glaus. Glaus is reported to have signed for a $2 million deal, with incentives. The deal is pending a physical, but the well-respected Dr. Lewis Yocum has already given the thumbs up on Glaus’ surgically repaired shoulder to interested parties. It’s worth noting that it was more than just Troy’s shoulder that limited him to just 14 games last season; he also experienced troubles with his back.

Glaus will play first base with the Braves, which should help health-wise. When he’s right, he is plenty productive. Over his career, his wRC+ is 123, and in his last healthy season Glaus posted a 131 wRC+ with the Cardinals in 2008. For the money, this is a nice upside play in an iffy 1B market for Wren and Co. On the flip-side, they’re obviously showing that they are not counting on a whole lot from Glaus.

I’m seeing a lot of roster-churning going on, but I’m not sure I’m seeing a lot of progress. If anything, it looks like they’ve taken a step back. Jason Heyward could go Cameron Maybin on the Braves, Matt Diaz may not be able to handle regular duty, and Glaus, Wagner and Hudson are all too familiar with the disabled list.

The Braves were in shouting distance of the wild card last year. If they want to send Bobby Cox out a winner, filling their needs with a bunch of injury-risks in hopes of improving seems like an “interesting” way to go about accomplishing that task. Considering some of the alternatives, it might have been the best, but definitely not the safest approach. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Nationals Sign Jason Marquis

The Washington Nationals are the winners of the Jason Marquis derby. His contract is for 2-years, $15 million. Marquis is coming off a career year in which he was worth 3.8 WAR. He started the season strong but struggled down the stretch, pitching himself off of Colorado’s playoff roster. His previous two seasons with the Cubs he was good for 3.5 WAR combined.

Marquis’ success is predicated on keeping the ball on the ground and in the park, two things he excelled at last year. His groundball rate of 56% was a career high and he allowed just .63 HR/9 in Colorado, of all places. The increase of groundballs is encouraging, but his 1.44 K/BB ratio means he’s dancing on the edge of a knife.

All in all, Jason Marquis is the walking definition of a league-average innings-muncher. I don’t mean that as a knock, that certainly has value. CHONE projects Marquis to be 1.8 wins above replacement in 2009. At $7.5 million per, the dollars aren’t too bad. To this point the market is paying about $3.8 million per win; Marquis is coming at around $4-4.3 per win for the Nats.  He’s certainly an upgrade over household names such as J.D. Martin or Craig Stammen.

But here’s the rub. What exactly is the point of spending $4 million for a win when you’re the Nationals? The team currently has maybe seventy-something win talent and they’re well on their way to becoming basement dwellers in the NL East yet again. Signing an innings-eater such as Marquis to a contract like this makes zero sense; all he does is makes the Nationals slightly less bad than they were a year ago.

If the Nationals wanted to fill a spot, why not just sign a Ken Phelps All-Star like Lenny DiNardo  (whom CHONE projects to be worth 1.7 WAR) and save the millions for Bryce Harper?

I’m also enjoying the irony that Stephen Strasburg is getting paid $15 million from the Nationals for four years, while Marquis is getting the same for two. Those wacky draft picks are just so overpaid, right Rob Dibble?

What are the Cubs Doing?

Anyone who has followed sports for any length of time has heard the terms “clubhouse cancer” and “team chemistry” before. I think statistically minded people might downplay team chemistry a little too much, while mainstream media wildly overrates it.

CHONE, as with other projection systems, doesn’t know what a clubhouse cancer is. It will take data from past performance, weigh and regress it, and tell you what it expects Player X is going to do next season. CHONE doesn’t know what this team chemistry is that you speak of. It will also in its own plain way call a general manager’s goof when he makes one.

I feel bad for Jim Hendry, because he found himself in a bad situation and I’m sure he’s just doing his job the best he knows how. He might be trying to make lemons into lemonade, but it sure looks like he just failed. Badly.

Talk to us CHONE.

Player         Runs per 150    Defense
Milton Bradley        16            -2
Marlon Byrd            2            -3
Pitcher      Runs above replacement
Tom Gorzelanny        23
Carlos Silva           9

Even estimating playing time and taking account of position, this is a fair-sized downgrade for Chicago. Marlon Byrd has had some quietly solid seasons while stashed away in Texas, but he’s 32 and projects to be league average in a very ordinary Cub outfield. Milton Bradley may have tanked it last year, but he’s a solid rebound candidate and it’s a shame the team and the player couldn’t set aside their differences.

Tom Gorzelanny is also another player who looks primed for a rebound season. His 5.55 ERA last season looks pretty bad, but he showed some positive signs. He struck out a batter per inning, had a 2.76 strikeout-to-walk ratio and posted an xFIP of 3.73. He’s also cheap and is only 28 years old. Not very long ago he was a three win pitcher for Pittsburgh, and CHONE expects him to be a 2.5 win pitcher next year. Unfortunately for Gorzelanny, the door of opportunity was slammed in his face by the Cubs for the sake of Carlos Silva. Seriously.

The Cubs brain-trust undoubtedly believes they just got better by addition by subtraction, but you don’t get rid of cancer by cutting it out with a butcher’s knife and then sticking a band-aid over it. While Jim Hendry found himself in an unfortunate situation, there had to be a better way fixing the problem than this. His maneuvering probably cost the Cubs a couple of wins, assuming the plan is starting Silva. That’s pretty costly in a division like the NL Central.

Rule 5 Recap

In case you slept in yesterday morning, the Rule 5 draft happened. Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. One of the results of the new collective bargaining agreement is that teams got an extra year between a player’s first signing date and their eligibility for the Rule 5 draft. This makes for a pretty watered-down draft.

Since the change, teams have hit on two star players, but they are more of an aberration. Joakim Soria was a rare scouting find out of the Mexican League and has since become the “Mexicutioner”. Josh Hamilton‘s career was a sad tale of tools, injuries and drugs before he received help. Randy Wells would be considered a noteworthy Rule 5 pick if the Blue Jays did not return him to the Cubs. The Jays drafted him before the ’08 season, but Toronto returned him. Wells went on to have a 3 WAR rookie season in ’09.

In last year’s Rule 5 draft, five out of the 21 players selected stuck all year on a big league roster – Everth Cabrera, Donnie Veal, Luis Perdomo, David Patton and Darren O’Day. Cabrera shows the most promise of the group, with gobs of speed (7.9 speed score) and a surprising amount of patience (10.9% walk rate) for a player that made the jump to the majors from A-ball. He will need to work on his defense or else be moved to over to second base, but overall appears to be a solid player.

Veal demonstrated no control whatsoever, but showed enough promise for the Pirates to stash him away all season, and he made progress in the Arizona Fall League. Patton was also atrocious. Luis Perdomo pitched almost strictly in mop-up duty for the Padres, with a league low pLI of .28. He struck out 8 batters per nine innings, but walked 5 per nine and had an alarmingly high HR rate (1.7/9) for a pitcher who calls Petco his home ballpark. Darren O’Day was selected from the Angels by the Mets, was later put on waivers before being claimed by the Rangers. O’Day became a key cog in the Ranger bullpen with a 3.03 FIP in 58.2 innings.

So out of this year’s crop, who has the best chance to stick? The three position players drafted are replacement level players at best, by my observation. That leaves us with 14 pitchers.

Bobby Cassevah has a mediocre 1.2 K/BB ratio in Double-A last year, but I think he will remain with the A’s because a.) they’re not going to contend this year and can afford to stash him away in the back of their bullpen and b.) he has a filthy 92-94 MPH sinker that generates a gobs of groundballs. 70% of his balls in play were of the worm-burner variety. I was somewhat surprised the Angels didn’t protect him on their 40-man roster.

Ben Snyder has some definite LOOGY potential. He struck out 30% of the lefties he faced last season for Double-A Connecticut and has a 32% strikeout rate against lefties over his career. He has a high-80’s fastball and an above average slider. He’s coming to Texas by way of San Francisco.

Kanekoa Texeira has a sinker/slider pitcher and has a decent opportunity with Seattle. He gets groundballs, (63% last year) and misses bats at a decent enough clip.

I’ll go with another lefty and pick Armando Zerpa last. He hasn’t pitched above A-ball, but he’s only 22 years old having signed out of the Venezuela in 2004. He throws from a low arm slot, gets grounders with a sinker/slider mix.

All in all a very bland crop. There could be some surprises, but it’s a long shot.

LaTroy Hawkins a Brewer

Gads. The Brewers went on a bit of a spending bender on pitchers today, signing Randy Wolf and now LaTroy Hawkins to a $7.5 million deal. The Brewers are penciling him in to set up their ancient-yet-effective closer Trevor Hoffman. It’s probably not a terrible idea to have a fallback option should age finally catch up Hoffman, although Hawkins is 37-years old himself.

Stuff-wise, Hawkins has evolved into a bit of a different animal since his glory days as a Minnesota Twin. He used rely on the strength of his fastball almost exclusively. Since becoming a vagabond reliever, he’s become more reliant on a couple of breaking pitches; a hard slider and a curveball. At 37 years young, Hawkins can still bring the heat, averaging 94 on his fastball last season.

I’m thinking Doug Melvin came away a little too impressed with some of his baseball card numbers last year: 11 saves, 19 holds and 2.13 ERA in 65 appearances. Hawkins’ 2.13 ERA can largely be credited to a 90% strand rate. Despite a solid arsenal of pitches, Hawkins has a middling strikeout rate for a reliever at 6.4 K/9. He also has experienced some on-again/off-again bouts with gopheritis; last season his HR/FB rate was 12%. Combine a 25% line-drive rate and Hawkins gave up his fair share of hard contact last season. One of his saving graces he does a solid job at giving up free passes.

Take away the veneer of a shiny ERA and you have a 3.97 FIP and a oogly 5.25 tRA. His xFIPs for the previous two seasons are 4.10 and 3.97. Hawkins is more of a “proven commodity” than some of the other available free agent relievers out there, but there are cheaper and probably more effective ways of cobbling together a bullpen than this.

I wonder what sort of money Kiko Calero will get. And is anyone else fascinated with Winston Abreu‘s MLE besides me?

Wolf Signs with Milwaukee

Wolf-related title pun avoided. The Brewers signed 33-year old Randy Wolf to a three-year deal worth $29.75 million.  In my trollings of the interwebs, more than once I’ve heard this signing compared to the brutal Jeff Suppan contract. While this deal isn’t all that inspiring, Randy Wolf is no Jeff Suppan.

This is Suppan’s three seasons before signing with Milwaukee:

188 innings, 4.77 FIP, 1.3 wins above replacement
194.1 innings, 4.53 FIP, 1.5 WAR
190 innings, 4.70 FIP, 1.6 WAR

And here is Randy Wolf‘s past three seasons:

102.2 innings, 3.99 FIP, 1.7 WAR
190.1 innings, 3.97 FIP, 2 WAR
214.1 innings, 3.96 FIP, 3 WAR

18 starts that Randy Wolf made in 2007 were worth more than any full season Jeff Suppan ever had with the Cardinals. I guess the comparison comes from the fact that like Suppan, Wolf allows more contact than your average pitcher. Both pitchers’ ERAs are influenced by random variations of BABIP and HR/FB rates. Unlike Suppan – whose repertoire consists of junk and a prayer – Wolf has a couple of major league-caliber pitchers to frustrate hitters with. Wolf’s fastball doesn’t light up radar guns, coming in at an average velocity of 89 MPH, but it was good for 29 runs above average last season. His slow, 67 MPH curveball was spinning for a solid 9 runs above average.

While staying in the National League is good for Wolf, he will find that his new digs are less than friendly than what they were at Chavez Ravine. Dodger Stadium has a four-year HR/FB park factor of 95. Miller Park’s is 106. Wolf could get away with some of his fly-balling ways in L.A., but not so much with the Brew Crew.

Having thrown 400 innings over the past two seasons, the Brewers feel confident that Wolf is fully healthy. He is not your typical #2 starter, but he’ll slot between Yovani Gallardo and the dregs that is the rest of Milwaukee’s rotation. Wolf projects to be a little better than a 2-win pitcher next year, so the Brewers are paying the normal rate for the first year of the average value of the contract. Beyond that, they could be disappointed, but probably nowhere near on a Suppan-ian level.

Low-Hanging Fruit: Ryan Church

After Frank Wren went on his used-to-be great closer binge, Rafael Soriano threw a big fat monkey wrench in the Braves’ plans by accepting salary arbitration. Ryan Church is now the scapegoat, as the Braves designated him assignment to make room for Soriano on the 40-man roster.

Ryan Church doesn’t really deserve this, as he’s not a bad ballplayer. Church is your Joe Average outfielder, and I don’t mean that as a knock. The average player, or a player that is good for around two wins is worth about $8-9 million on the free agent market. That’s Ryan Church, at least when he has been able to stay on the field. Church’s trouble is that he has either been blocked by other players or hurt, problems that are no real fault of his own. He suffered through concussions in 2008 and a bad back in 2009.

Assuming he’s healthy, you can bank on Church getting on base at a .340 clip, hit for some moderate power and play excellent defense in the corners. With an unusual paucity for corner outfielders in this free agent market outside of Matt Holliday and a couple of overrated and soon to be overpaid players such as Jason Bay and Johnny Damon, Church could be a decent patch job for a club, and is at worst a first-rate 4th outfielder, all at the price of virtually nothing.

The irony is that Church and Soriano are probably more valuable to the Braves than Wagner and Takashi Saito. It’s not the end of the world for Atlanta; Wren could easily redeem himself with a nice package of prospects for Soriano, but so far this has been one poorly managed start to an offseason for the Braves’ front office.

How do you think Ryan Church will do in 2010? Enter your projection for him here.

Cardinals are Penny Wise

I am a sucker for headline puns. Brad Penny is a good fit for the St. Louis Cardinals. The St. Louis Cardinals are a good fit for Brad Penny.

Attention is placed primarily on what the Cardinals are going to do about Matt Holliday, but they also have Joel Pineiro‘s production to replace. Pineiro went from being your run-of-the-mill 5th starter to a fearsome worm-burning machine this past season, pricing himself out of the Cardinals’ range. The Cardinals already have multi-year commitments to Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in place and were not looking to give out another long commitment to another pitcher.

Enter Brad Penny. Coming off a shoulder injury in 2008, Penny threw 173 innings last season. As expected, his fastball didn’t quite have it’s normal giddy-up in the early going, but his velocity steadily increased as the season went on.

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Penny took his lumps while in Boston, allowing a 5.61 ERA over 24 starts, but his batting average of balls in play was .336, 30 points higher than his career average. In contrast to his bloated ERA, his FIP was 4.49 – not sterling, but respectable. Boston dumped him and Penny exchanged bad luck for good with the league change; he threw 42 innings of a 2.59 ERA for the Giants. His FIP with San Francisco was 4.35, more in line with what you’d expect. All told Penny was 25 runs better than a replacement pitcher. Penny’s seen better days, but in the right circumstances, the potential may be there for a rebound.

Enter the St. Louis Cardinals. Penny might not have been able to pick better circumstances. The National League is ideal for Penny, and Dave Duncan is the cure for what ails a broken-down pitcher. Penny has shown that he’s not exactly broken, but Duncan has worked his magic with less talent, like the aforementioned Pineiro. Duncan is not a magic swami that can fix any one with an arm, but many a pitcher has enjoyed career best performance under Duncan’s tutelage.

CHONE projects that Penny will be good for 2.3 wins above replacement over about 160 innings. The Cardinals will pay him $7M, appearance incentives could push the deal for $9M, so that’s about the right price. Penny could be next in line to get some “Duncan magic” and vault himself into a nice payday in 2011.

Of course, there is some risk in play here for the Cardinals. Neither Lohse or Carpenter are locks to throw more than 130 innings. Lohse suffered with forearm tightness last year, which could be a bad omen, and there’s alway a bit of fear factor when dealing with Carpenter. There’s some boom-or-bust factor with the Cardinals’ rotation.

How do you think Brad Penny will pitch in 2010? Enter your projection here!

The Market for Mark DeRosa

Before the winter meetings, a couple of super-utility infielders were quickly scooped off the free agent market. Placido Polanco signed with Philadelphia for 3 years, $18 million salary. Chone Figgins signed with Seattle at 4/$36M. Mark DeRosa’s agents must be feeling pretty relaxed going forward, with the market ostensibly being set. They’ve let their demands be known that their client is looking for a deal between the Figgins/Polanco range at 3 years, $9M per. Is that fair?

Aside from the ability to play multiple positions, the similarities with DeRosa/Figgins/Polanco end. Polanco’s claim to fame is his slap-hitting and plus defense. Figgins is also plus defender, who draws walks and causes opponents trouble on the basepaths. Unlike his diminutive counterparts, DeRosa can hit the ball out of the yard without the aid of some strong wind.

DeRosa has been a late bloomer; he credits former Rangers’ hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo for his transformation into a decent hitter. Since becoming a full-time player in Texas, DeRosa has been good for a .346 wOBA. He is the quintessential “jack of all trades and the master of none” at different infield positions. Over his career, his UZR/150 is -8 at second base, -7 at third. In his time playing corner outfield, DeRosa has shined, posting an UZR/150 of +16. With the defensive spectrum, you’d normally expect a minus 7 third baseman to be a +3 in LF/RF. I suspect if he did play the outfield regularly, he’d land in the 1-5 range.

A couple of projection systems forecast DeRosa to hit the bricks in 2010. Bill James calls for a .328 wOBA. CHONE has him down for a .324. There are probably a couple of reasons for that – one is that DeRosa is going to be 35 this year. The other is DeRosa is coming of his least productive season since 2005. The blame falls on a torn tendon sheath, an injury he suffered shortly after being traded to St. Louis. Before the trade, DeRosa’s wOBA was his usual .346; afterwards, .306, dragging his overall average to .328. A torn tendon sheath is the same type of injury that caused the Brewers to DL Rickie Weeks for much of the season. Having underwent surgery, it might not be crazy to expect a .340ish wOBA again for next year, assuming he heals up properly.

So is DeRosa worth $9M per? Let’s stack this trio up against each other by WAR and see what shakes out.

 	Age	2007	2008	2009	2010 Proj.
DeRosa	35	2.6	3.8	1.7	1.9
Polanco	34	5.3	3.1	3.1	2.3
Figgins	32	3.1	2.4	6.1	3.0

(Projections courtesy of Rally)

It turns out DeRosa is the lesser of the group, and he’s the oldest. I know next to nothing about wrist injuries other than they don’t sound like very much fun, but let’s take the rosy view that DeRosa will be healthy in ’10 and bump him to 2.3 WAR. If we presume $4.4M per win in 2010, 4.7 in 2011 and 5 in 2012 and the normal regression, then the price for DeRosa would be $25, not $27. Now in reality, who wants a 37 year old Mark DeRosa on their team in 2012, even if you do presume good health?

My guess is DeRosa signs for somewhere in the neighborhood of 2/$15m, but the Giants are rumored to have a strong interest. Knowing Sabean’s fondness for players past their prime, DeRosa might get his wish.

How do you think Mark DeRosa will play in 2010? Enter your projection for him here!

Mariners Sign Figgins

It’s not quite official yet, but all signs are pointing to Seattle signing Chone Figgins to a 4-year, $36 million deal. The Mariners are wasting no time in their efforts to compete in the AL West, having signed away one of their greatest rival’s more productive players. I’m pretty sure they’d like to snag John Lackey while they are at it. To beat the Angels, you gotta be the Angels.

Chone Figgins doesn’t garner the same sort of attention that Jason Bay and Matt Holliday do, but he definitely was one of the more attractive players on this year’s free agent market. Coming off a career high 6.1 WAR season (6.8 if you include baserunning), Figgins could not have hit the free agent market at a more perfect time.

It’s doubtful that Figgins will have another season quite this good, so the Mariners are factoring a healthy dose of regression into this contract, paying for 2 wins per season going forward. This is pretty prudent given that this contract will carry him into his age 36 season.

Up to the present at least, Figgins has aged like fine wine. With every season he has become increasingly more of a selective hitter.


He also has become a more proficient fielder as he’s made his home at third. His past four seasons at the hot corner are: -7, -4, +8, +17. He’s probably not +17 good going forward; few are, but for what it’s worth the fans thought he was a tad better than Ryan Zimmerman, Scott Rolen and Pedro Feliz last year. That’s some elite company. Steve Sommer, who has put together 2010 UZR projections regressed to Tango’s Fans Scouting Report, projected Figgins at +9 next year. I feel comfortable projecting Figgins in the 6-10 UZR range for next season.

There’s also the matter of Figgins’ ability to wreak havoc on the basepaths. I’m not talking about stolen bases – if anything Figgins could be more selective in that regard. I’m talking about advancing on hits, fly balls and grounders. In the past four seasons, Figgins has been worth an extra 28 runs. Sneaky, sneaky.

Figgins isn’t as sexy of a free agent as Bay, but he’s someone who does a lot of undervalued things us nerds like: getting on base, taking extra bases and playing solid defense. And then there’s the matter of his versatility, which can only help the Mariners as they work in several young players. Some objectors say the M’s really needed a power bat, but production is production. Jack Zduriencik is a smart guy, he knows that. I would take Figgins at 4 years, $36 million over Bay at 4 years, $60 million plus any day of the week.

As for the Angels, it’s now or never for Brandon Wood. He’s tantalized Angels fans with his power in the minor leagues for years now, but can do it consistently at the major league level? The Angels should give him every opportunity, but it would not be a bad idea to bring in cheap player like Joe Crede to mitigate the risk that they have with Wood.

Think you have an idea of what Chone Figgins and Brandon Wood will do next season? Click here to enter your 2010 projections!

Braves Sign Saito, Insert Old Jokes Here

Coming to a ballpark near you: Ghosts of Closers Past, by Frank Wren.

You could be lazy and look at Takashi Saito’s 2.43 ERA in 55.2 innings for Boston last season and think “he’s back”, but there’s some stuff going on here under the surface, and it’s not so good. Saito’s career K/9 of 10.9 dropped to 8.4, which is substantiated by an 80% contact rate. Compare that to a career rate of 73%. His walks were also up, as more batters sat back on his breaking stuff rather than chasing it outside of the zone.

Saito also became an extreme fly ball pitcher – 52% of his balls in play were flies, but 18% of those were of the infield variety, so that’s at least a positive here among some negatives.

Throw this and more together and out pops a 4.40 tRA – not completely terrible, but a clear decline across the board for Saito. It’s definitely not what you would want to see out of high leverage reliever.

The Red Sox, being the smart organization they are, saw this and were wary of giving Saito situations with little wiggle room. Saito’s average leverage index was 0.67. Translation: Saito was given mop-up duty. The Red Sox trusted others with more important situations. Now the Braves are likely going to thrust him back into working some crucial innings. Perhaps a little further removed from injury and Saito could be a little better, but at 40 years old I wouldn’t bank on it.

It’s hard for me to fathom this, but he Braves — a team with more serious concerns than building a bullpen (ahem, outfield) just gave $10 million and a draft pick to get a couple of brand name but geriatric relievers. And neither are far removed from some rather serious injury concerns. Good luck with that, Atlanta.

That being said, it’s not like the price is crazy, as in the case with Wagner.

You can enter your projection for Saito here.