Author Archive

Edgar Renteria’s Underrated Career

Although he didn’t play a single game in 2012, it wasn’t until yesterday that Edgar Renteria officially announced his retirement from baseball. The long-time big leaguer told RCN Television in his native Colombia that “I’m definitely retired from baseball and it will soon be announced in the majors … I decided to retire from baseball and try to spend all my time with my family.”

Renteria, 37, had a very long and productive career, racking up 39.6 WAR in 2,152 games across parts of 16 seasons. He retires as a .286/.343/.398 (95 wRC+) career hitter with some dynamite individual seasons to his credit — specifically his 128 wRC+ and 6.9 WAR in 2003. If you want to cherry-pick some end-points, Renteria was the fourth best shortstop in baseball from 2002-2007 at 23.7 WAR. Only Derek Jeter (29.8), Miguel Tejada (27.2), and Jimmy Rollins were better (26.4)*.

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2013 Positional Power Rankings: Center Field

Due to an unfortunate data error, the numbers in this story did not include park factors upon publication. We have updated the data to include the park factors, and the data you see below is now correct. We apologize for the mistake.

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For an explanation of this series, please read the introductory post. The data is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position.

Center field is one of the most star-laden positions in baseball at the moment, but a whole lot of those stars are dealing with injuries or coming off down years or trying to change positions. It also hurts that arguably the best player in the game figures to spend most of his time in left field this summer, but so be it. There is still plenty of center field talent — third base was the only position with more 5+ WAR players in 2012 — with a few interesting youngsters due to get regular playing time this year.

The league average center fielder hit .264/.328/.414 (101 wRC+) last summer, so the offensive bar is low compared to the corner spots. Defense is a big separator between the good and great players, though I feel like no position is more prone to the surprise 4+ WAR season. We’ve seen quite a few players pop-up out of nowhere to post star-caliber seasons driven largely by their center field defensive ratings, which can be a sketchy proposition. The established center field stars are among the best players in the world and perennial MVP candidates, so it’s no surprise teams with those players dominate the top of our rankings.

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White Sox Looking to Lock Up Chris Sale

From the esteemed Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago:

White Sox pitcher Chris Sale confirmed Tuesday his representatives have had discussions with the club about a contract extension.

(snip)

“We’ve been kind of back and forth but nothing too crazy right now,” Sale said Tuesday when asked about extension talks.

Think of the headline potential. “Sale Extended: Now Through 2018!” That is SEO gold right there.

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The Mets’ Low-Risk Bullpen Rebuild

Last offseason, Mets GM Sandy Alderson spent just $17.8 million on Major League free agents. Most of that when to Frank Francisco ($12 million) and Jon Rauch ($3.5 million), and the club also absorbed Ramon Ramirez‘s salary ($2.75 million) in the ill-fated Angel Pagan trade. Those three were supposed to join incumbents Bobby Parnell and Tim Byrdak to give the Amazin’s a solid relief unit, but instead the new additions combined to post an underwhelming 4.34 ERA (3.89 FIP) and 0.3 WAR in 163.2 innings.

Francisco, 33, signed a two-year contract last winter and will remain with the Mets this year. He had offseason elbow surgery and the team is openly concerned about whether he will be ready in time for Opening Day. Both Rauch and Ramirez have been allowed to walk as free agents though, plus Byrdak is expect to miss most (if not all) of 2013 following shoulder surgery. For most of the winter it appeared Parnell and rookie left-hander Josh Edgin were the only locks for the team’s Opening Day bullpen, but Alderson has gone to work in the last two weeks by signing low-risk and relatively high-reward relief options.

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Nick Johnson Retires, FanGraphs Weeps

Eight times on base. Had Nick Johnson reached base just eight more times in his ten-year career, he would have become just the 41st player in history to leave the game with a .400+ OBP (min. 3,000 PA). Eight times on base in ten years. I say we blame the Orioles, because it was with them that he reached base just 33 times in 102 PA last season (.326 OBP). He went into the season with a career .401 OBP.

Johnson, 34, retired from baseball earlier this week according to WFAN’s Sweeny Murti. He leaves the game as a favorite of statheads everywhere thanks to pure hitting ability — career .268/.399/.441 (126 wRC+) — that never quite received the respect in deserved. Quotes, like this one said to our own David Laurila last summer, stand out as well…

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Orioles Continue Inactive Offseason By Signing Jair Jurrjens

Despite surprising everyone by winning 93 games and qualifying for the postseason last year, the Orioles haven’t done much of anything this winter. Other than re-signing Nate McLouth, all of their moves have been small trades (Danny Valencia, Trayvon Robinson, Yamaico Navarro), minor league signings (Daniel Schlereth, Zach Braddock, Travis Ishikawa), or waiver claims (Luis Martinez, Alexi Casilla). Their most notable moves to date were extending GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter through 2018.

Baltimore continued their nondescript offseason yesterday by agreeing to sign right-hander Jair Jurrjens to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million that could reach $4 million through incentives. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports had the scoop. Jurrjens was just awful with the Braves last season, pitching to a 6.89 ERA and 5.64 FIP with nearly as many walks (18) as strikeouts (19) in 48.1 innings. They sent him to Triple-A not once but twice, where he managed a 4.98 ERA and 4.62 FIP in 72.1 innings. His season effectively ended in early-August due to a groin strain.

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David Murphy: Next Ranger In Line For An Extension?

The Rangers have not been shy about keeping their own core players in recent years. For every Josh Hamilton or Mike Napoli or C.J. Wilson that departs there’s an Elvis Andrus or Ian Kinsler or Matt Harrison who stays. They’ve been aggressive about signing players on the right side of 30 to multi-year extensions while eschewing the guys approaching their decline years. David Murphy could be the exception to that rule though, as assistant GM Thad Levine told MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan the two sides have had some contract talks this winter. Nothing is imminent, however.

Murphy, 31, enjoyed what was almost certainly a career year in 2012, setting new full season career bests in AVG (.304), OBP (.380), SLG (.479), wRC+ (127), walk rate (10.4%), UZR (+7.7), and DRS (+6). He also managed a 129 wRC+ against left-handers that was wildly out of line compared to the 62 wRC+ he managed against southpaws from 2008-2011. A .433 BABIP in 75 plate appearances will do that for a guy. Murphy’s been around a while and has established himself as a very good platoon outfielder given his consistently strong work against righties (career 119 wRC+) and average or better defensive ratings.

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Shaun Marcum’s Winter of Silence

Shaun Marcum is a pretty good Major League pitcher. He’s been in the show since 2005 and owns a 3.76 ERA and 4.25 FIP in a little over 900 career innings. That’s a 90 ERA- and 101 FIP-, respectively. Like most pitchers though, it took Marcum a few years to really hit his stride. Since 2008 he’s pitched to a 3.57 ERA (88 ERA-) and a 3.97 FIP (97 FIP-) in a bit less than 700 innings. He did miss the entire 2009 season due to Tommy John surgery, but that’s a solidly above-average performance.

Marcum just turned 31 years old last month and is a free agent this offseason. You probably knew that already, but a lot of casual fans might not since there have been very few mentions of his name on various rumor-churning sites. Casual fans also might not realize Marcum is a pretty good pitcher either, but that’s besides the point. We have ourselves a perfectly capable right-handed starter who has been worth at least 3.0 RA9-wins in five of the last six seasons he’s pitched and is having trouble finding a job. It doesn’t make sense, especially with only five weeks to go in the offseason.

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Rebuilding The Brewers’ Bullpen

No bullpen took more losses (33) or blew more saves (29) than the Brewers’ relief unit last season. A total of 18 different relievers pitched to a combined 4.66 ERA, the worst mark in the big leagues. Unsurprisingly, GM Doug Melvin set out to remake the team’s bullpen this offseason, and that process started by jettisoning Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Veras, Manny Parra, Kameron Loe, and a handful of others. The only notable holdovers are hard-throwing right-handers John Axford and Jim Henderson.

Melvin has tackled his bullpen rebuild in a number of ways. It started with a pair of De Los Santoses late last season — Fautino was acquired from the Athletics (for George Kottaras) and Miguel was scooped up off waivers. Right-hander Arcenio Leon was claimed off waivers in early-November and a few days later minor league free agent Michael Olmsted was given a big league contract. Melvin acquired non-tender bait Burke Badenhop from the Rays in early-December, and in recent weeks he jumped into free agency to sign a pair of former Nationals southpaws: Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez. Several others (Jim Hoey, Zach Kroenke, Frankie de la Cruz, Travis Webb) were given minor league deals along the way.

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Brad Lidge’s Memorable Moment

If we were to sit down and create a list of the five most memorable baseball moments of the 21st century, the home run Albert Pujols hit off Brad Lidge in Game Three Five of the 2005 NLCS would be on it. It’s not even a question of if it would be on the list, but where. Baseball has a way of making your jaw drop — think David Freese, Aaron Boone, Bill Buckner — and that homer certainly qualifies. The crowd going dead silent in an instant, Andy Pettitte saying “oh my gosh,” the thud of the ball off the window … we remember it like it was yesterday.

Fair or not, that homer is the first thing that jumps to everyone’s mind when they think of Lidge. He was arguably the most dominant relief pitcher in baseball at the time, pitching to a 2.10 ERA (2.44 FIP) with 14.15 K/9 (39.4 K%) in 165.1 innings from 2004-2005. His 157 strikeouts in 2004 were the most by a pitcher who pitched exclusively in relief since Mark Eichhorn struck out 166 batters in 1986. Eichhorn did it in 157 innings. Lidge did it in 94.2. Carlos Marmol is the only pitcher to come within 25 strikeouts of Lidge’s total since 2004 (138 in 2010).

Earlier this month, Lidge quietly announced his retirement from baseball following a career that spanned parts of eleven seasons. He ranks 37th on the all-time saves list with 225, sandwiched right between Hoyt Wilhelm and Gene Garber. At some point next year Huston Street will pass him, then J.J. Putz will pass him the year after. Lidge is third on the Astros all-time saves list behind Billy Wagner and Dave Smith, and fourth on the Phillies all-time saves list behind Jose Mesa, Steve Bedrosian, and Mitch Williams. His place among history’s greatest closers won’t get him remembered, but that homer will.

Personally, there are three things about Lidge that stick out to me. First, it’s that utterly insane 2004 effort. Craig Kimbrel just had a season for the ages, but in 2004 Lidge pitched to level that wasn’t too far below Kimbrel’s while throwing 51% more innings in much less pitcher-friendly era. Secondly, it’s the strikeouts. Among pitchers who have thrown at least 600 career innings, a list that is 1,741 players deep, Lidge’s 11.92 K/9 and 30.9 K% are tops among right-handers and second overall to Wagner. During the PITCHf/x era, batters whiffed at his slider with more than 45% of their swings. That doesn’t even include his peak 2004-2005 seasons.

Third, it’s how that homer by Pujols supposedly screwed him up. Lidge allowed runs in two of his next three postseason outings that year after allowing runs in two of his first 13 playoff games. He pitched to a 5.28 ERA and 3.79 FIP the following season, which was wildly out of line with his career norms, and was demoted out of the closer’s role. Pujols had broken him, as the story goes. A year later he was traded to the Phillies for a package headlined by Michael Bourn only to have a brilliant 2008 campaign (1.95 ERA and 2.41 FIP) that resulted in a World Championship. If the Pujols homer is the first mental image you see when you think of Lidge, this is probably second.

Lidge, who turns 36 this weekend, was never really the same after that 2008 season, though there was no jaw-dropping moment to build a narrative around. He was relatively young but his arm was not — throwing slider after slider in 65+ appearances year after year takes a toll on a pitcher physically. Very few guys are built to throw 50%+ sliders over the long haul. Injuries were starting to pop up, his command was starting to slip, all sorts of perfectly normal age-relate things started to set in. Lidge was broken for good this time, but not because of Pujols.

Fittingly, Lidge’s final act as a Major Leaguer was a strikeout. He unceremoniously whiffed Freddy Garcia in extra innings of an interleague game against the Yankees this summer after allowing the go-ahead runs to score. Washington designated him for assignment a day later and no team picked him for the remainder of the season. Lidge retires with 799 strikeouts, 225 saves, several seasons as one of baseball’s most dominant relievers, a handful of Cy Young and MVP votes, and one really bad pitch that he’d like to have back. Despite a great career, he’ll always be remembered for being on the wrong end of one of baseball’s most memorable moments.


Phillies Find Back-End Bargain In John Lannan

Kyle Kendrick is generally underrated in the realm of back-end starters, but the Phillies still came into the offseason seeking rotation depth behind Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. That need grew even greater two weeks ago when the team used Vance Worley to acquire Ben Revere. With veteran back-end arms aplenty on the free agent market, Philadelphia managed to find a bargain in former National (and rival) John Lannan.

Lannan, as Phillies fans surely remember, started his big league career by breaking Chase Utley‘s hand with a pitch back in 2007. The bad blood has lingered for years, and the Fightin’s have done a damn good job of exacting revenge over the years — Lannan has pitched to a 5.53 ERA (~5.80 FIP) against the Philadelphia compared to a 3.80 ERA (~4.30 FIP) against everyone else. The 28-year-old southpaw has responded by hitting more than twice as many Phillies (11) than players on any other team. Think of it as a light version of Pedro Martinez vs. the Yankees.

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One Drew Was Not Enough: Red Sox Ink Stephen

The Red Sox have been one of the baseball’s most active teams on the free agent market this winter, inking David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, and maybe Mike Napoli (depending on a recent hold-up with his physical) as they look to pick up the pieces following a last place finish in 2012. Their August blockbuster with the Dodgers freed up hundred of millions of dollars in payroll space, and so far that money has been put back into the team in the form of sensible, short-ish term contracts. The pitching staff still needs work, but up until the today the only position they had not addressed was shortstop.

The internal options were not all that appealing. Ivan DeJesus Jr. hasn’t played much shortstop in recent years and Pedro Ciriaco managed an 85 wRC+ (2.9 BB%) in 272 big league plate appearances this year. Prospect Jose Iglesias is a wizard with the glove, but he owns a .251/.302/.287 career batting line. In Triple-A. In almost 800 plate appearances. There’s a minimum acceptable level of offense at the big league level, and it’s not very likely the 22-year-old Iglesias can provide it right now. Defensive skill only goes so far.

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Rays Scrape The Barrel, Come Up With James Loney

Two seasons ago Casey Kotchman, a career .259/.326/.392 (91 wRC+) hitter in over 2,300 plate appearances coming into the year, posted a stellar .306/.378/.422 (127 wRC+) line in 563 plate appearances for the Rays. This past season Jeff Keppinger, a career .281/.332/.388 (92 wRC+) hitter in nearly 2,300 plate appearances coming into the year, posted a stellar .325/.367/.439 (128 wRC+) line in 418 plate appearances for the Rays. Tampa bay is now going to try to work their magic on James Loney.

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Rangers Looking To Lock-Up Matt Harrison

The Rangers are in the unique position of being both a “win now” and “win later” team. Their current roster with Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, Joe Nathan, and others is good enough to win in 2013, but they’re also set up for the future with guys like Jurickson Profar, Martin Perez, and Mike Olt. They also have a handful of players who bridge both the “win now” and “win later” groups, including Yu Darvish, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, and left-hander Matt Harrison.

Harrison, 27, has been the team’s best pitcher over the last two years, so it wasn’t a surprise when Jeff Wilson of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported last week that the two sides are in “preliminary negotiations” about a contract extension. Harrison is arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter, but more importantly he is on pace to become a free agent after the 2014 season. He will have just turned 29 when that rolls around, and if he continues to pitch like he has these last two seasons, he’ll be in line for a huge free agent contract.

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The Royals, Billy Butler, and Young Pitching

The Royals have been one of baseball’s most active teams so far this offseason, first swinging a trade for Ervin Santana before re-signing Jeremy Guthrie. GM Dayton Moore has made no secret of his desire to improve a starting rotation that finished 26th in ERA (5.01), 25th in FIP (4.59), and 28th in innings (890.0) this season, and reports indicate that he’s willing to deal one of his young position players for a young, high-end arm. Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and even Eric Hosmer have been floated as trade candidates, ditto Billy Butler.

Butler, 26, is a .300/.362/.468 (121 wRC+) career hitter in over 3,500 big league plate appearances. He enjoyed the best season of his career in 2012, hitting .313/.373/.510 (140 wRC+) with a career-high 29 homers and 3.2 WAR. That earned him his first All-Star Game nod and Silver Slugger. Butler’s biggest negative as a hitter is his propensity to hit the ball on the ground (career 47.2%), which has limited his power output (career .168 ISO) and makes him the mother of all double play candidates — he’s bounced into a twin-killing in 18% of his career opportunities, well-above the 11% MLB average.

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Jacoby Ellsbury’s Three Outcomes

The Red Sox made a historic trade in terms of dollars moved a few months ago, a trade that simultaneously improved their long-term outlook while burning their short-term chances to the ground. Boston lost 26 of 34 games after the deal with the Dodgers and will spend the winter picking up the pieces, trying to find smart ways to invest the $260+ million in savings while getting the team back into contention as soon as possible.

One of GM Ben Cherington’s biggest short-term questions is Jacoby Ellsbury, who followed up his 9.4 WAR season of 2011 with a 1.5 WAR effort in 2012. He missed most of the summer due to injury and when he was on the field, he stunk. Just a .300 wOBA and 83 wRC+ in 323 plate appearances. Without looking it up, I’m guessing the 7.9 WAR drop from one year to the next is one of the largest by a position player in history. But I digress.

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Value Hunting: Potential One-Year Buys

Free agency is, by far, the most inefficient way to build a team. It’s also a necessary evil. No club develops enough players internally to fill out an entire roster — or trade for players to help fill out the roster — so every year, every team goes outside its organization to grab some players out of the free-agent pool. Some teams are big spenders, and some scrape the bottom of the barrel. But they’re all looking for the same thing: value and minimal risk.

Pretty much the only way to achieve the minimal-risk part is with a one-year contract, but that isn’t always a realistic option. For the most part, the guys you can sign to a one-year deal have some kind of flaw. Maybe they’re old or injured or just not productive anymore. Every once in a while a team uncovers a gem on a one-year contract, though, leaving everyone else to wonder how they missed out on that guy. With free agency just a few days old, here is a quartet of players likely available on one-year contracts who could provide a surprisingly strong return.

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Joe Mauer’s Un-Joe Mauer-Like Afternoon

Lost in all the hoopla created by Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera‘s run at the Triple Crown, and the various pennant races is the fact that Joe Mauer is having another amazing season. He currently leads all of baseball with a .414 OBP and has what feels like the quietest 141 wRC+ in baseball history. He is seeing more and more time at first base and DH these days (only 70 starts behind the plate this year), but that’s an amazing offensive effort regardless of position. It’s part of the reason why his performance on Wednesday afternoon is so noteworthy.

The 29-year-old Mauer has now played 1,059 games in his big league career, and on only six occasions has he struck out three (or more) times in a single game. Two of those six games came back in 2005, which was essentially his rookie season after the knee injury in 2004. Another came in 2007, another in 2009 (his only career four-strikeout game), and two this year. Ryan Dempster got him three times during interleague play back in July, and yesterday CC Sabathia struck him out in each of his first three at-bats. That’s not all: those three strikeouts came on nine total pitches.

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Christian Garcia: The Nationals’ K-Rod?

Every year around this time fans, broadcasters, and baseball people get into the whole expanded rosters debate. Some don’t like that the final month of the season is played under a different set of rules while others don’t mind the extra players. What always seems to get lost in the shuffle is that very few September call-ups actually have an impact when they’re brought up. Most are relegated to mop-up relief innings or pinch-running duties, minor roles like that, but every once in a while someone will come up and become an instant difference maker.

Perhaps the greatest September call-up in recent memory is Francisco Rodriguez, who went from dominating the minor leagues — 13.0 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 with a 2.27 ERA in 83.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A — to a key setup cog for the World Champion Angels in 2002. K-Rod pitched so well in his 5.2-inning trial (13 strikeouts and one unintentional walk) that the Halos squeezed him onto the playoff roster, where he threw another great 18.2 innings (28 strikeouts and five walks). The Angels struck September call-up gold that season.

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… And Nick Punto

My favorite part of this weekend’s Red Sox-Dodgers blockbuster isn’t the absolutely insane nature of the trade, it’s the “… and Nick Punto” that will forever be attached to it until the end of time. Los Angeles surrendered two high-end pitching prospects and absorbed more than a quarter-billion dollars in salary obligation to acquire a star-caliber first baseman, a potential star-caliber outfielder, and a serviceable (with a chance for lots more) starting pitcher. Oh yeah, and a utility infielder.

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