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Teams Should Be Allowed to Trade Draft Picks

One of my biggest pet peeves in all of baseball is that you cannot construct trades involving draft picks. Draft picks are commodities that teams own and which clearly have market value. Baseball’s paternalism in limiting the trading of this commodity goes well overboard, and damages the league overall.

I am going to make the case for trading draft picks not on any objective level, but rather from the subjective viewpoint of Major League Baseball. MLB should only make changes which benefit itself as an organization, so if there are legitimate reasons not to allow the trading of draft picks which outweigh any potential benefits, then I’ll back down. However, if we go over the typical laundry list of reasons given not to enact the change, I don’t see anything all too promising. In an article discussing the subject, the great Joe Posnanski details some of the reasons usually given. Here’s #1:

Owners are worried that if teams are allowed to trade draft choices that all the best young players will go to rich teams like the Yankees and Red Sox.

There are so many problems with this I don’t know where to begin. Joe makes the point that we don’t empirically see an overhaul of the best prospects going to the best teams via international free agency despite the lack of restrictions. However, I think the better point is this: why are we worried about teams being able to sell their own commodities for what they believe to be above the actual value of said commodity? If the Pirates feel that the first draft pick next year is worth $30 million to them, but the Yankees come in and offer two prospects they believe have an expected value of well over that, then why should MLB tie the Pirates’ hands and say, “No, we know better than you?” Besides the fact that most teams aren’t going to be selling their first overall draft picks (it’ll probably be 2nd and 3rd rounders), it’ll probably be the smaller market teams that buy the most of them! The big market teams will be looking to buy at the trade deadline and happily throw away some 3rd round pick for a decent bullpen arm, or a 1st round pick for the corner bat they need. Also, it’s funny MLB doesn’t care about restrictions on big money clubs when it comes to every other facet of baseball, but now we do here; I’m sorry, isn’t this the point of not having a salary cap? Joe’s Reason #2:

Owners are worried that small-market teams will go all Ted Stepien on us and start trading their draft choices like crazy so that they don’t have to spend money on signing bonuses.

Same answer to #1. Here’s #3:

Owners have this nostalgic belief that the best young players should go to the worst teams.

They still can, but why would you force a team to have one if they don’t want it? Really terrible logic there. However, Joe has a reason he thinks makes sense:

They’re scared to death that this will give Scott Boras and the other agents even MORE power over the draft…So, Danny suggests — and I can see this — that the big fear is that if teams are allowed to trade draft picks, suddenly Boras and his ilk become even more powerful. Suddenly they have yet another hammer. They can demand trades. They can bully small-market teams with even bigger demands. Yes, I can see why the owners are afraid … these people are not exactly known for their self control. They’re like the people who refuse to take the mini-bar key when they go to hotels because they know, just know, that at 2 a.m. they will not be able to stop themselves.

Joe seems to eat this up; I’m really not buying it. First off, this will happen for just about ten draft picks in the entire draft. Those are the ones that you can predict with any sort of decent accuracy (maybe even the top five only), and Joe goes on only to give examples regarding Strasburg, Boras, and the first overall pick. So I won’t throw away the idea just because there’s this one potential problem regarding a small number of picks.

More importantly, however, is the fact that this only gives more options to teams, and that’s not a bad thing. What do I mean by this? Scott Boras calls up Mike Rizzo the day before the MLB draft and says, “I hear you’re thinking of taking our Strasburg kid. I wouldn’t do it. He doesn’t want to sign with you. Trade the pick.” First off, this can already happen in the status quo, where instead of Boras saying “trade the pick,” he just says, “pick someone else.” Secondly, however, the teams can just draft the player anyway, and then you are completely back to the status quo with no real changes! The only way that a team would “be duped” by Boras is if they believe him and trade the pick, but they can still “be duped” in the status quo and take someone else. The minute they draft Boras’ guy, then negotiations are back to whatever they would be.

Moreover, this ignores the possibility that some guys might actually hold out or demand so much that a team really doesn’t want them. Rick Porcello dropped all the way to the end of the first round because of his price tag. Now, don’t you think someone with the 15th pick should be able to call the Tigers and say, “Listen, you’re not scared to give this kid what he wants. Give us your 1st and 2nd round picks and you can nab him right here before here falls any farther.” This is something that could actually happen, and it’d be better for baseball and everyone making roster managerial decisions throughout the game.

The reasons for not making the change are far outweighed by the inherent benefits of making it. It’s time baseball followed along the same lines of almost every other professional sports league and allowed teams to trade draft picks.


Is Billy Wagner a Hall of Famer?

Yesterday, R.J. Anderson discussed just how impressive Billy Wagner‘s career has been and how magnificently he is pitching this season:

FIP supports that Wagner has pitched extremely well. His 2.12 figure would actually be the second best seasonal total of his career, which is a bit breath-taking within itself. Wagner gets lost in the shuffle with Mariano Rivera doing his thing as the premier salt-and-pepper whiskered closer, but he’s right there with him. Evidently Wagner is talking about retiring at season’s end.

Braves fans should convince him to reconsider given how he’s pitching.

There is no question that Wagner has had a phenomenal career. He has never had an ERA above 3.00 during a full season in the major leagues. Since 1997, his season-high FIP has been 3.09 in 2007 (a year in which he had a 2.88 tERA and 2.63 ERA), which is his only season with a FIP over 3.00 since his rookie year. Simply put, Billy Wagner has been one of the best closers/pitchers in baseball since he came to the major leagues, and has simply dominated.

Although the Hall of Fame is something that analytical folks tend not to worry about, I still think it has a certain genuine lure and appeal that things like the All-Star Game and Gold Gloves just do not. Call me a softie, but I still like thinking about the Hall of Fame, however messed up the process may be to get in (and it’s extremely messed up).

By objective value standards which we use at Fangraphs, Wagner has produced 23.8 WAR thus far in his career (Rally’s WAR database currently has him at 27). For comparison, we also have Robin Ventura at 61.3 WAR and Bret Boone at 25.4 WAR. Those guys aren’t knocking on the Hall’s doors any time soon.

But we know that we have to value relievers differently than we do starting pitchers and positional players. Wagner has had a positive WPA every year in his career save one (2000). His career WPA/LI is higher than Goose Gossage’s. There are a few things holding him back in terms of mainstream importance:

1) Living in the shadow of Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman
2) No World Series appearances/rings
3) Relative lack of Saves (he has 17 fewer Saves than John Franco)
4) Never started a major league game (see Eckersley and Gossage)

Don’t think those shortcomings actually play a tangible factor? Here’s Ron Chimelis, a member of the BBWAA who will likely be voting on Wagner’s candidacy in the future:

Can a one-inning guy be an immortal? Mariano Rivera proves he can.

As for Wagner, in 15 years, has pitched all of 822 innings. It took him 769 games to do it.

The Hall of Fame’s small roster of closers consists of Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter.

Eckersley made it partly because he was also a starter. That will no doubt get John Smoltz in, too.

The other three enshrined closers were multiple-inning guys. They also helped define the art…

Among left-handers, John Franco ranks first with 424 saves. Wagner is second.

Is Franco a Hall of Famer? I don’t think so….

So, who gets in? Rivera, for sure.

It’s hard to dispute Hoffman, the all-time leader….

There are other reasons to dismiss him, though. No World Series (also not his fault), and an 8.71 playoff ERA.

In his only League Championship Series, in 2006 with the Mets, Wagner’s ERA was 16.88.

Is Boston’s new reliever a Hall of Famer? I don’t think so, whether he reaches 400 saves or not.

Wagner has had an amazing career. Somehow, the success of the Atlanta Braves this year, as well as his performance in a couple of innings in the playoffs in October, could be the tipping point in his Hall of Fame candidacy. Now there’s a reason why the process, and not the concept, is so messed up.


Foul Pelfrey

Mets starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey is currently going through a rough stretch in his last four starts. Since throwing six innings of two-earned-run baseball against the Twins on June 25th, Pelfrey has been a disaster on the mound. He hasn’t gotten out of the fifth inning in any start, and last night gave up 6 earned runs in just 1.1 innings pitched. Pelfrey, however, is in the midst of his best season in the majors after a hot start. His FIP stands at 3.87 and he has a groundball rate of 48.6%. For all of 2010, Pelfrey has been a solid starting pitcher. But he has been a nightmare of late.

Most people are looking for everything they can to figure out what’s wrong with Pelfrey, from pitch selection to mental weakness to arm fatigue. But what may be eating at Pelfrey is his inability to have batters hit the ball fair. For Pelf, batters hitting the ball in play is generally a good thing with a groundball rate as low as his (as well as a career HR/FB% of just 7.6% in 593.1 career innings). But it seems as though he just isn’t able to put batters away lately. Here are Pelfrey’s stats through the first 15 games of the season:

Strike%: 64.8%
K/9: 6.28
BB/9: 3.05

Through Pelfrey’s first 15 starts of the season, he was throwing strikes (just the basic strike totals accumulated at the end of the game that includes balls hit) 64.8% of the time and had a decent K:BB ratio for a heavy groundball pitcher. Now his last four starts:

Strike%: 62.1
K/9: 4.667
BB/9: 6.667

Yeah, Pelfrey has been terrible. But the most fascinating part is that his total number of strikes per pitches is barely lower, and no kinds of a drop so as to be statistically significant. He is, however, walking over twice as many batters as well as striking out a significantly smaller portion, as well. So what gives?

Basically, Pelfrey is having a tough time putting away hitters, leading to more foul balls, which has driven his Strike% up. Although it’s only been four starts from Pelfrey, and that in and of itself can’t tell us much, we do have 367 pitches worth of data from which to glean something. Baseball information doesn’t have to be measured just in innings or at-bats; each pitch can tell us a whole lot (just ask Dave Allen or Jeremy Greenhouse).

We do know that, over the course of more innings, an inability to generate swings and misses can be quite costly for a pitcher. The more interesting question is how much of that is due to luck? What is the difference between a player hitting a ball three feet foul of first base and three feet fair into the first baseman’s glove? It seems, conceptually, to not be a lot, although it may take a whole bunch more of physics and math to figure it out. For Pelfrey, a player hitting a ball backward rather than forward can be quite costly if it happens too much and at inopportune times. Over the past four starts, Pelfrey’s foul ball issues have been tragic, and when you combine that with an unlucky BABIP and too many walks you get a recipe for immediate disaster. The question is whether or not the difference between a foul ball and fair ball is a matter of Pelf’s bad luck or an underlying issue (i.e. pitching poorly). The Mets sure would like to know.


He Looks Like a Ballplayer

I think one of the most interesting new ways teams can possibly gain a competitive edge going forward is by looking at the psychology of players, managers, and even their own scouts and front office executives. Of course, baseball pscyhologists have been around for quite some time, but there are always subtle aspects of the trade that can be applied to different areas.

A manifestation of the way managers, coaches, scouts, and execs think about players is the way in which athletes are assigned their roles and positions. As human beings looking to optimize order in every situation we can, we love to compare players. “What big leaguer does Prospect A remind you of?” “What player do you think your game is most similar to?” These are questions asked all the time. When we hear that x player is like y (i.e. I love saying Josh Thole is like a left-handed Paul LoDuca), it makes things easier for us to analyze. This was discussed over at The Book Blog last year, where I commented:

…I think a lot has to do with preconceived notations of what people think starters and relievers “look like.” Joba Chamberlain “looks like” a reliever. Jamie Moyer “looks like” a starter. I’m sure, on both a conscious and subconscious level, things like height, physical appearance, “makeup,” and even race are taken into account when managers are assigning roles to amateur pitchers.

Sometimes, organizations may choose to put a player at a certain position simply because they “feel” that said player is a “good fit” there, not based on analytics or statistics, but on subjective and inherently prejudiced (not in the conotational sense) beliefs. When I started following Mets prospect Jenrry Mejia, a baby-faced righty with a fantastic arm, I instantly got nervous. Despite his potential to be an extremely valuable starting pitcher, Mejia had the “look” of a reliever, in the Francisco Rodriguez or Mariano Rivera mold. In an interview with my good friend Jeremy Greenhouse at The Baseball Analysts this past winter, I said the following:

I’m really worried the Mets are going to put [Jenrry Mejia] in the bullpen to start the season. I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope they put him back in Binghamton next year. His peripherals in Binghamton were really solid last year. I hope he continues to prosper there and move up the ranks. I don’t want to see him get thrown in. He has that look of a set-up guy or closer that people can think “Oh, this is one of those late-inning guys, a K-Rod because of that electric arm.” And they can forget that he can actually be a very good starter if they leave him in the minors for long enough.

And then it happened. Right at the start of Mets Spring Training, Jerry Manuel and others saw Jenrry Mejia, and the thought of him pitching anywhere else but the end of ballgames vanished:

“I went to Omar and told him, ‘You’ve got to make this guy a closer,'” [Darryl] Strawberry was saying in animated fashion Tuesday…”He’s the only guy I’ve ever seen that reminds me of Mariano Rivera…I played with Mo, I saw it up close. I know what his cutter looked like and I’m telling you, I haven’t seen a pitch move like his, with that kind of velocity, until I saw this kid Mejia.”

Mejia is currently in the minors after a decent stint throwing mostly mopup innings in the big leagues. He hurt his arm in his second start back after being sent down to try starting again, most likely due to rapidly going from starter to reliever to starter in less than a year.

But the examples don’t stop there. Andre Ethier was the starting centerfielder for the All-Star Game this year despite never playing a game there in the major or minor leagues. In fact, the craziest part was that Brewers outfielder Corey Hart had played over 350 innings in centerfield during his major league career and as recently as 2007! Manager Charlie Manuel’s explanation for the move was hysterically sad:

“The reason he’s playing center field is because when we did the fan voting and the player voting, we, uh, Hart had the … he was ahead of the outfielders,” Manuel said. “He has to start. He was supposed to start the game, and Ethier’s the one I chose to play center field because I remember he played there a lot.

“We do not have what they call a true center fielder right now. We have some on our roster… at the same time… that was the reason why he started in center field.”

Best attempt at translation: When Braves rookie Jason Heyward pulled out of the game with a thumb injury, Hart moved into the starting lineup by virtue of finishing third among NL outfielders in player voting. Braun is a left fielder. Ethier and Hart are right fielders. Manuel recalled that Ethier used to play center field “a lot,” so decided to pencil him in there.

Of course, Manuel’s recollection was incorrect.

In fact, it was Hart who used to play center field, doing so as recently as 2007, when he played 34 games — starting 28 times — at the position.

Ethier, who was voted into the game by the fans and topped player balloting, looked surprised when he was asked about the last time he played in center.

“Center field?” he asked. “Am I playing center field? I heard rumors. I don’t even know the lineup.”

“Last time I played center field would have to have been … ugff … in college, 2003,” he said.

Charlie Manuel looked at Andre Ethier and looked at Corey Hart and decided that Ethier clearly “looked like” a center fielder more so than Hart. In fact, he knew one of them had played center field before, and his gut instinct was so strong that he incorrectly stated it was Ethier!

The people who make baseball decisions are human, and are subject to making the same mistakes as everyone else. However, it’s about time we put a little more thought into our decisions; subjective assignments based on misinformation are not only costly, they’re lazy.


Looking at Greinke’s Fastball

Despite not being named to the All-Star team, Zack Greinke is still having another successful season. His FIP stands at 3.49, his xFIP at 3.69, and his tERA at 3.45. However, while those numbers are certainly impressive, they are nowhere near his insane 2009 season, where his 2.33 FIP netted him 9.4 WAR and his 2.58 tERA brought his ERA to 2.16.

Amazingly, Greinke probably knows all this stuff as well. From The New York Times last year:

To that end, Bannister introduced Greinke to FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, the statistic Greinke named Tuesday as his favorite. It is a formula that measures how well a pitcher performed, regardless of his fielders. According to fangraphs.com, Greinke had the best FIP in the majors.

“That’s pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible,” Greinke said.

Because he’s such a smart pitcher, I wanted to see if Greinke has made any adjustments from last season, specifically to his fastball. Despite being only 26, Zack has lost some life on his fastball over the past few years. Here are his average four-seam and two-seam fastball velocities since 2007:

2007: 94.4, N/A
2008: 93.4, 90.4
2009: 93.7, 89.1
2010: 92.9, 93.1

Something weird is going on here. His two-seam fastball jumped 4 MPH this year and is somehow now faster than his four-seamer? This looks to be a classification error, as BAM has had issues with their two-seam classification in the past. Our own Dave Allen also says that Greinke’s two-seamer is usually close to the velocity of his four-seamer (now that’s a nasty weapon). Pitchf/x guru Harry Pavlidis did say however that, “A little more tail on the four-seam fastball, too. Seems like 2007’s version lacked some of the downward tilt he’s had more recently.” His wFB was -3.8 in 2008, but had a monstrous 2009 at 25.8 and is on track for a very good, but not 09-esque, 2010. However, Greinke is also getting more ground balls, meaning he could be trying to fine-tune his game even moreso. Here are his career groundball rates:

2004: 34.6%
2005: 39.2%
2006: 35.0%
2007: 32.1%
2008: 42.7%
2009: 40.0%
2010: 44.0%

This year Greinke has the highest groundball rate of his career, the lowest line-drive rate, and the second-highest GB/FB ratio. However, he’s also striking out about two batters fewer per nine innings, so he may be giving up some speed and power for more balls hit on the floor. We can take a closer look at Greinke’s fastball (all types) location, as shown by data in the Bloomberg Sports Pro Tool. Here’s 2009:

For proper analysis, make sure to notice where the outlined batter’s box is in relation to home plate (the top/bottom/far left/far right portions inside the white lines of the batter’s box are a few inches out of the strike zone). Greinke threw his fastball on the outside corner to lefties/inside corner to righties. However, he threw the ball vertically similar to how he did in 2008, staying about belt-high. Here’s 2010:

Here we see a significant difference. Greinke is throwing his fastballs lower in the zone and more out over the plate. It could be that he’s throwing his two-seamer lower, or at least enough to make a difference. For a relative comparison, here’s where his four-seamers are for 2010:

As you can see, Greinke’s four-seamer is well higher in the zone than his overall fastball average, and another image of his two-seamers that I won’t show in order to avoid overkill does indeed show he’s throwing it very low in the zone. While this may not be the definite reason for his career-high groundball rate, I’d like to think that it’s a front runner. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. Greinke has put together another excellent season thus far.


Montero May Be the Better Value

Although it would be obviously too easy to turn the prospect packages offered to Seattle for Cliff Lee by the Yankees and Rangers into Jesus Montero versus Justin Smoak…we’re going to go for it anyway. When it comes down to it, the tipping point in Jack Z’s mind wasn’t Blake Beavan or David Adams, but rather the blue-chip cream fillings in the middle of the prospect pies. Although the Mariners ended up sending Lee to Arlington, they might have been better off seeing him in pinstripes.

To put things in perspective, I want to assess this breakdown as a competition for future value. Most importantly in baseball is offense. While Justin Smoak certainly has the build/repertoire of a Mark Teixeira, his minor league numbers do not completely back it up. A career .293/.411/.461 hitter in the minors, he certainly was getting on base at an outstanding rate due to a batting eye that is incredibly advanced for a young age. The pop, however,  mostly came in spurts:

2008 (21 years old, A): .304/.355/.518, 62 PA
2009 (22 years old, AA): .328/.449/.481, 227 PA
2009 (22 years old, AAA): .244/.363/.360, 237 PA
2010 (23 years old, AAA): .300/.470/.540, 66 PA

As mentioned, the walk rate is clearly there at a phenomenal level, but the power has not been consistent. In the major leagues this year, as a twenty-three year old turning twenty-four in December, Smoak is hitting .206/.311/.346 in 283 plate appearances, good for just a 77 wRC+ and -0.3 WAR. Considering he’s playing in Texas during the summer, you’d expect Smoak to be able to slug better than .346 for the ~43% of a full season he’s played. While his .237 BABIP is sure to find its way higher up, we don’t know what his true talent level BABIP is; Smoak may just be the kind of hitter who consistently has ~.280 BABIPs. If so, he may have solid peaks, but lower lows.

Smoak’s biggest issue is his inability to hit lefties. Scouts who have seen him have commented on his struggles, and the numbers back it up. In the minors, Smoak hit just .215/.304/.331 versus southpaws, good for an abysmal .635 OPS. It has been the same story in the major leagues. Justin has hit just .146/.211/.268 against lefties in 87 plate appearances, costing him -8.3 wRAA and coming out to a terrible .2011 wOBA. Switch-hitting doesn’t mean much if you stink from one side.

Hitting-wise, Jesus Montero is doing well for his age. Although he has not shown the plate discipline Smoak has (although not many minor leaguers have), he has certainly provided enough pop. His minor league line overall is .308/.368/.488, showing a solid eye and good power for such a young player. Here’s what Baseball America’s scouting report said about him:

Montero doesn’t have a classic swing or textbook rhythm, but he’s gifted with hand-eye coordination, keen pitch recognition, a knack for barreling balls and tremendous strength. He can be out front or off balance on a pitch and still crush it. He covers the plate well and makes excellent contact. Montero hasn’t delivered completely on his raw power, but he’s close to projecting as an 80 hitter with 80 power on the 20-80 scouting scale. One veteran scout called him the best young hitter he has seen in years.

Simply put, Montero has some amazing ability as a hitter. Last year, in Double-A at just ninteen years old, Montero hit .317/.370/.539. Montero out-slugged Smoak by .50 points in Double-A despite being three years younger (!), and he still isn’t even old enough to legally drink yet. His power potential surpasses that of Smoak. In Triple-A this season, Montero has struggled a bit, hitting just .252/.328/.415- still a better OPS than Smoak had at 22 in Triple-A, and mighty impressive for a twenty year old.

Defensively, Smoak is considered an above average first baseman who could win a Gold Glove before his career is over, and TotalZone has been kind to him in the minors, as has UZR in his limited MLB time. But he doesn’t have the Doug Mientkiewicz-type range/hands that would give him a ton of added value in the field when struggling at the dish.

Jesus Montero, on the other hand, has a ton of issues in the field. He is described almost universally as below average behind the plate, and many people see a future move to first base because of his large frame (he gets frequent comparisons to Mike Piazza in that regard). Montere, however, has been making improvements, is just twenty years old, and has thrown out baserunners at a 22% rate in the minors. From MLB.com’s Scouting Report on Montero:

The question with Montero has always been about his defense. He’s big for a catcher and isn’t all that agile. That being said, he’s worked very hard on his craft behind the plate and showed improvement, particularly in throwing out runners, over the course of last season…

…”I want to be a catcher. I love to catch. I like to be a catcher. I like to be in the middle of the game. I mean, it’s my position. I want to play my position.”

When it comes down to it, I think Montero is the better pick due to the possibility he stays at catcher and his massive offensive potential. A bat like that behind the plate is just too valuable a commodity to pass on. Sure, Smoak can hit 30+ homers with good defense in his prime and have peak years of 6+ WAR, but he also may become a slightly better Chris Davis or Casey Kotchman (Kotchman also had a big build with a solid eye but lack of power in the minors) . With Montero, you know the bat is going to play regardless, and if he does end up at catcher, he could be one of the best players in baseball.


Sell-High Candidates

With the trade deadline quickly approaching, I thought it would be interesting to look at some players who could/should be “sold high” at the trade deadline. For my definition of selling high, I’ve basically chosen the conventional description of selling an asset when its market value is highest. But we’re mostly limiting this to teams that are either out of the playoff picture or can gain more from a trade of a player than the potential loss of production that player would bring. I understand there are plenty of these types of players, so feel free to use the comments section to throw some other names out there.

SP Ted Lilly, Chicago Cubs
2010 xFIP: 4.75
Potential suitors: New York Mets, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies

Lilly is comimg off of a huge 2009 where he posted a 3.65 FIP and 3.98 xFIP, good for 3.7 WAR. His K and BB rates, however,  have been disturbingly poor this season, as his K/BB went from 4.19 last year to 2.71 this year. But for teams that aren’t looking too deeply at those numbers, Lilly’s 4.08 ERA may be appealing. Teams will envision him as a 3-4 starter in a good rotation, when really he’s just not pitching well right now. If the Cubs could pry away outfield prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis from the Mets, it would be a steal.

2B/SS Cristian Guzman, Washington Nationals
2010 wOBA: .314
Potential suitors: Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers

Guzman’s decent defense at second base and his ability to play shortstop make him an attractive commodity at the trade deadline. His .295 batting average will look especially enticing, and it’s not like the Nats are going to contend this year, and probably not seriously next year. They should look to nab a decent prospect from the Tigers, who have been running Ramon Santiago out at shortstop for most of 2010, or the Phillies, who are without Chase Utley for quite some time and could always use a solid backup shortstop with Jimmy Rollins’ injuries.

OF Corey Hart, Milwaukee Brewers
2010 wOBA: .389
Potential suitors: New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays

Hart is having his best year since his fantastic 2007, and despite his defensive woes, has already produced 2.3 WAR. His 20 homers will make him one of the sluggers available at the deadline, and due to the Padres’ success (which likely means no Adrian Gonzalez), a team looking for a solid bat may pick up Hart as a consolation prize. The Giants outfield is pretty crowded as it stands, but reports say that GM Brian Sabean is interested in Hart. If the Brewers can get Zack Wheeler or Tommy Joseph from San Francisco, or even Mike Minor from the Braves, they could receive some solid value.

1B Russell Branyan, Seattle Mariners
2010 wOBA: .353
Potential suitors: Texas Rangers, LA Angels

Branyan isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire, but he’s hitting the ball well enough that his value to the Mariners is higher as trade bait than in the field. With the recent acquisition of Justin Smoak, Seattle already has an everyday first baseman they want to see frequently. Michael Saunders is in left field, which means that Branyan could serve as the designated hitter. Milton Bradley, however,  is going to be with the team next year and needs to get playing time. If Jon Daniels and Jack Z decide to swap players again, they might want to discuss Branyan. Without Smoak at first, the Rangers are going to lose some offense, and Branyan would be a nice fit in Arlington.


Jamie Moyer Is Not Pitching Well

Yesterday, Corey Seidman (no relation to Baseball Prospectus writer Eric Seidman…oh wait, yes there is. They’re brothers) and I were discussing Jamie Moyer over Twitter. Needless to say, just about everybody loves Moyer:

“I don’t know about other people, but I know I’m amazed at what he can do,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “That shows his love, his passion and his desire for the game. I don’t mind giving Jamie Moyer the ball, because I know he’s gonna give you everything he’s got when he goes out there.”

“He’s a great pitcher. That’s the best way to put it,” Jeter said. “Whether you’re throwing 95 [mph] or 65 [mph], there’s still an art to hitting your spots, and he’s mastered it as good as anyone.”

I wanted to take a look at Moyer to discuss some deeper things:

2010: 5.19 K/9, 1.67 BB/9, 4.13 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 4.40 xFIP, 4.26 tERA, 1.0 WAR

So, is Jamie Moyer pitching well this year? There’s no question that his walks are way down, which is a huge asset for a guy that does not strike many people out. His ERA is okay, his FIP is mediocre, and his xFIP is solid. But why hasn’t Moyer declined after aging another year (insert “Jamie Moyer is so old that…” joke here) and posting a 5.08 FIP last year? Maybe because of his insanely low BABIP. Hitters are reaching on hits on just 24.4% (.244 BABIP) of the balls put in play against Moyer this year, which is due to regress any minute now.

Many people will say that Moyer is producing a lower BABIP because he is giving up fewer line drives:

2010: 14.3 LD%, 45.9 GB%, 39.8 FB%
2009: 19.0 LD%, 41.0 GB%, 39.9 FB%
Career: 19.9 LD%, 39.7 GB%, 40.4 GB%

So Moyer is giving up fewer drives, which means he’s pitching better, right? No, not really:

I would make another bold prediction at this point, except for one caveat. We really don’t know how persistent the ability is among major league pitchers to manage the number of line drives allowed. In fact, the evidence I’ve seen would indicate that, once a major league pitcher reaches the major leagues, his line drive-stopping capability is pretty much the same as every other pitcher’s.

In other words, the line drive is usually a result of the batter’s skill, and not a lack of the pitcher’s.

That was Dave Studeman in a piece at The Hardball Times from 2005. Here’s Tom Tango:

…MGL, in his fantastic DIPS Primer article from 7 years ago showed the correlation in two things:
(i) frequency of LD per BIP among MLB pitchers, and the r was low, something like r=.05

(ii) the rate of outs per LD, and the r was quite high, something like r=.35; getting r=.35 on a low frequency denominator like LD is fantastic.

So, you can look at half the equation and say “little skill in frequency of line drives”, and ok, let’s accept that with some provisions. But, the other half, the quality of each line drive shows a definite skill. And that you can’t ignore.

We don’t believe an Albert Pujols line drive is the same as a Juan Pierre line drive. While not to that extent, we also shouldn’t ignore the fact that pitchers have their own quality level on line drives.

So while the quality of line drives can be measured, I agree with the findings of Tango, Studeman, and some others (I think Matt Swartz at BP comes to mind), that the rate at which they occur is pretty random.

If Jamie Moyer is an old dog learning new tricks, then he’s bucking the trend. I think he’s just getting lucky with his line drive rate, and I think you’re going to see him get beat up soon.


Three Rookies Under the Radar

With the likes of Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, and Carlos Santana in the majors this season, I wanted to take a look at some rookies who have performed well under the radar in 2010.

OF Chris Heisey, Cincinnati Reds
2010 Debut: 5/3
2010 WAR: 0.9

Despite playing in just 39 games this season, Heisey has put up 0.9 WAR for the year, which would be worth 3.5 WAR over 150 games. At twenty-five, Heisey is a little older than some of the more hyped-up rookies, and his Triple-A numbers this year (.241/.307/.430) weren’t too pretty. He started 0 for his first 7 big league at-bats, striking out three times. However, Heisey has hit .271/.371/.542 for the entire campaign, good for a .386 wOBA. He’s also done well in the field with 3.1 runs saved (UZR) while playing all three outfield positions.

1B Gaby Sanchez, Florida Marlins
2010 Debut: 4/5
2010 WAR: 2.2

Sanchez, twenty-six years old, had two cups of coffee in the big leagues prior to 2010 totaling 31 plate appearances. However, he’s broken out in a big way this season as the Marlins’ regular first baseman by hitting .308/.376/.481; that’s a .379 wOBA and 137 wRC+. His .342 BABIP may be above his true talent level, but ZiPS still projects a .356 wOBA going forward. Sanchez has also played well in the field with 1.9 runs saved at first base.

3B David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals
2010 Debut: 4/5
2010 WAR: 1.4

Freese may be the most interesting prospect of the bunch. At twenty-seven years old, his relatively low .404 SLG this year is odd considering his minor league rate of .532. With a .361 OBP, that’s a .342 wOBA and a 115 wRC+. His .376 BABIP is generally unsustainable, and with a 7.8 BB%, his rate of getting on base may see a dip in the future. His defense has been slightly below average this year according to UZR, but his 1.4 WAR overall has to have the Cardinals happy.


Joey Votto: The Most Underrated Player in Baseball?

Coming into today, if you had to guess what National League first baseman was leading the league in wOBA, whom would you pick? Albert Pujols? Adrian Gonzalez? Prince Fielder? It’s actually Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who, with a .425 wOBA, is also leading the entire NL and is fourth in all of baseball.

Those facts may come as a shock to some baseball fans, but they really shouldn’t. Ever since he came to the big leagues, all Votto has done is hit. With a career line of .310/.393/.543 (.400 wOBA), his breakout season at age twenty-six may just be a sign of things to come. With a UZR/150 of 10.1 this year (after -1.5 in 2009 and 11.9 in 2008), Votto has cemented himself as one of the most valuable properties in baseball.

What’s also been shocking is how Votto has been so upfront and honest about his struggles with depression. Playing in a macho sport where players are told to “suck it up” and “play like a man,” Votto has been completely candid about his issues, which has been extremely refreshing:

“There were nights that I couldn’t be alone…The one night I was alone, the very first night I was alone, was when I went to the hospital. I couldn’t take it. It just got to the point where I felt I was going to die, really….

I’ve been lumped into the Khalil Greene, Dontrelle Willis, Zack Greinke category…I’m not saying one way or the other about those guys, because I don’t know what they’re dealing with. But I do know I’ve had a real struggle with my father’s passing. It’s really something I’ve had a real hard time with. It was my biggest hesitation coming out and letting people know, letting my teammates know. We’re supposed to be known as mentally tough and able to withstand any type of adversity…

I was having such a difficult time getting through the night that once I felt like I could get through two or three nights of sleep without having the phone beside me and worrying about having to call the hospital, I felt like I could start playing ball again.”

Votto missed thirty-one games last season, many of them due to time on the Disabled List because of depression. He still put up 4.5 WAR for the season, hitting .322/.414/.567.

The Reds are a half-game out of a playoff spot right now, and Joey Votto is the biggest reason why. For his career, he has a WAR/Game higher than guys like Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez. Let’s take a minute to notice.


The Older Guys

Back in January, Dave Cameron was discussing the lack of interest in then free agent Johnny Damon, saying:

Abreu was a bargain on a one year, $5 million deal with the Angels, even as he proved that he didn’t really belong in the outfield anymore. Damon, though, is basically the same hitter, just with better defensive skills, and he might have to settle for less than what Abreu got? This is a market correction gone way too far.

Even with the reduced costs of wins, Damon is easily worth $8 to $10 million for 2010. Just like with Abreu last year, teams will be kicking themselves in a few months if they let him sign for peanuts. There are enough clubs out there that could use a +2 to +3 win left fielder that this level of disinterest is simply a market failure.

So let’s see if teams have indeed taken advantage of these older players by looking at a few. I’m going to focus on position players who received one-year deals and had question marks surrounding them due at least partly to their age.

LF Johnny Damon
Free agent age: 36
Signed by Detroit Tigers to 1 year, $8 million deal
2009 WAR: 3.6
2010 WAR: 1.1

Damon, the centerpiece of Cameron’s commentary, finally got a nice-sized deal from Detroit. Although the lefty has gotten on base at near the same rate as last season (.365), the power has been zapped, as he’s only slugging .391, his lowest rate since 2001. However, a 113 wRC+ isn’t that bad given that Damon has a UZR/150 of 19.2 in left field. That adds up to 1.1 WAR already on the season. If Damon continues his current pace, he’ll be worth his contract.

2B Orlando Hudson
Free agent age: 32
Signed by Minnesota Twins to 1 year, $5 million deal
2009 WAR: 2.9
2010 WAR: 1.8

It’s hard to imagine why Hudson only got that $5 million after a very good year with the Dodgers in 2009. He has continued his solid offense with a .337 wOBA, but it’s been his defense that has guided him this season, as Orlando’s on pace for a 16.1 UZR/150. At 1.8 WAR, Hudson’s already been worth his contract and then some.

OF/DH Vladimir Guerrero
Free agent age: 35
Signed by Texas Rangers to 1 year, $5 million deal
2009 WAR: 0.8
2010 WAR: 2.1

Vlad in that hot, homer-happy ballpark in Arlington? It just made too much sense not to have happened. After a down season in 2009 in which he was hampered by injury, Vlad has put up a beautiful line of .327/.374/.538, solid numbers for a DH. Like Hudson, Guerrero has already been worth his contract at 2.0 WAR, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down soon.

1B Aubrey Huff
Free agent age: 33
Signed by San Francisco Giants to 1 year, $3 million deal
2009 WAR: -1.3
2010 WAR: 2.3

What a swing from last season. R.J. Anderson wrote about Huff recently, so I’ll let him explain:

The Giants signed Huff for $3 million on a one-year basis- meaning that just getting a combination of those projected figures probably would have made Huff worth it. Instead they have received one of the best hitters in baseball to date. It’s like a karmic refund for the Edgar Renteria deal turning into a mess.

3B Miguel Tejada
Free agent age: 36
Signed by Baltimore Orioles to one year deal worth $6 million
2009 WAR: 2.7 WAR
2010 WAR: 0.8 WAR

Tejada has not found much success back with the O’s this year, as the third baseman is slugging a career low .379. Add to that a .318 OBP and you have a corner infielder with an OPS under .700. Luckily for Miggy his defense has been above average this year, and if he can muster some pop in the second half of the season, he will most likely be worth his contract in terms of our Dollars metric.

1B Russell Branyan
Free agent age: 34
Signed by Cleveland Indians to 1 year deal worth $2 million
2009 WAR: 2.8
2010 WAR: 1.2

Despite losing some time due to an injury, Branyan has put up a .355 wOBA with very good defense (11.2 UZR/150) at first base. He’s already been worth more ~2.5 times his contract thus far. His initial demands this past winter may have been unreasonable, but there’s no question Branyan truly settled at just $2 million.

These are only a handful of names, and I’ll go through some more later on, but at least on a bunch of these players, Mr. Cameron seems to be on the money.


Counterpoint: Why Branyan, Why Now?

Yesterday, Jack Moore gave us a compelling, analytical, and thoughtful defense of the Russell Branyan trade:

The theory behind the Branyan trade – acquiring wins in a down season at a low cost in order to further development and, more importantly, increase revenues – appears solid. What it really depends on is if the Mariners’ evaluation of the prospects involved is correct. If, as the Mariners seem to think, Carrera and Diaz are nothing more than organizational depth, the trade is absolutely the right move, as the wins this season very well could increase potential payroll in seasons to come, and typically, that will mean more wins as well. If it turns out that one of these two prospects is a legitimate Major League talent, then trading that future value for a gain in this lost season is the incorrect move.

Good stuff, and I am not one to doubt the scouting skills of Jack Z and his great staff in Seattle. However, this one is certainly a head scratcher, and after thinking on it, I just can’t find myself in favor of this deal.

I understand the concept of wanting to create an atmosphere of winning, especially for young players and a passionate fan base, even if it means a marginal sacrifice. However, while Branyan could certainly be worth 2.0 WAR for the Mariners going forward, he might stink. He may be worth -1.0 WAR, hitting terribly and playing bad defense. Now I’m not saying that it’s likely, but certainly possible.

The difference, however, is that Branyan’s contribution to the 2010 Mariners, whether it be -3 or 3 wins, will not be the tipping point in their playoff hopes. Their season is pretty much over in terms of playoff competition, so his actual on-field contribution is pretty irrelevant. While the players Seattle gave up weren’t exactly blue chip prospects, their potential value is one that could be of service to the Mariners much more so than Branyan’s current value.

Ezequiel Carrera was ranked as the Mariners’ 12th-best Prospect by John Sickels this past off season, with Sickels writing that Carrera is a, “Speed demon, hits for average, draws walks, good glove, no power, future reserve outfielder but a useful one.” That certainly isn’t an outright endorsement, but Carrera has the potential to give the Mariners something in the long term. With similar comments, Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus rated him 14th in the M’s system. He’s currently hitting .268/.339/.315 in Triple-A as a 23-year-old, nothing too shabby. Baseball America rated him as the Fastest Baserunner in the M’s system, as well as having the Best Strike Zone Discipline. If he plays a solid defense like Sickels said, he could bring some value.

The Mariners also gave up SS Juan Diaz, who was hitting .295/.345/.433 in High-A ball. It’s an offensive-heavy league, no doubt, but at 21 years old, it’s tough to be too down on those numbers. If you don’t believe he can hit, put him in Double-A and ask him to sink or swim.

These two prospects are no lock to ever see a Major League clubhouse outside of Spring Training, but they still have potential for decent upsides, or at least to be used as trading chips when the Mariners are more competitive in (hopefully, for Dave Cameron’s sake) the near future.

I know this may seem cliche, and almost unfair, but I need to see something more quantifiable than “creating a winning atmosphere” as a reason for trading for Branyan. Branyan could destroy the baseball, and he could be terrible, with the greater likelihood somewhere in between. Still, as said earlier, his production won’t mean much tangibly.

Why else don’t I like this deal? Because there are other, cheaper options available. I wrote about one of them in early May, saying that with “nobody else carrying the load, Jack Z should give Gary Sheffield a chance.” Look, if you want to argue about whether or not Sheffield will hit at Safeco, fine. But the larger point still remains: there are free agents out there that can be had, for cheap, that could put up similar numbers to Branyan (i.e. Elijah Dukes). Even if Sheffield or Dukes would only put up 1 WAR, whereas Branyan puts up 3, is the difference that significant to give up two prospects and spend more money?

If Jack Z goes ahead and spins Branyan as a larger package involving Cliff Lee, I’ll take back every word I said. I don’t think this deal is a terrible one, but just one I don’t see very much reason to make if I’m the Mariners.


Making Sense of the Fourth Outfielder Fallacy

There are sometimes things so obvious in baseball that we needn’t be reminded of them. One of these things is that Angel Pagan is better at baseball than Jeff Francoeur. Dave Cameron already wrote about Pagan’s awesomeness. With Beltran rehabbing, I wrote about the inevitable over a month ago, saying:

…I think it’d be optimal for the Mets to bench Francoeur for good and put Carlos Beltran in right field. Beltran will be coming off serious knee issues and declined defensively last year. The Mets can mitigate his stress back in the outfield by putting him in right, leaving Pagan in center, and of course having Jason Bay in left field. Chris Carter and Jeff Francoeur can sit on the bench, and Gary Matthews Jr. can go home and buy really cool stuff with his tens of millions of dollars.

Fortunately, the Mets did cut ties with Matthews, have played Chris Carter more, and have Beltran playing minor league games. So it’s the end of June, and here are where Jeff Francoeur and Angel Pagan stand for 2010:

Angel Pagan: .302/.363/.443, .357 wOBA, 123 wRC+, 10.0 UZR/150, 2.5 WAR
Jeff Francoeur: .270/.320/.425, .321 wOBA, 99 wRC+, -0.9 UZR/150, 0.7 WAR

As I said earlier, this is not even close. But Joe Lapointe of The New York Times fills us in on what will actually happen when Beltran returns:

The question is where Pagan will play when Beltran comes back. General Manager Omar Minaya and Manager Jerry Manuel maintained Tuesday that Beltran would return as a center fielder — there had been some speculation that he might move to right field, or left, to lessen the running he would have to do — and that the versatile Pagan would rotate through all three outfield positions, playing behind Beltran, left fielder Jason Bay and right fielder Jeff Francoeur.

This, simply put, is downright insanity, and honestly insulting to Angel Pagan. There’s no crying in baseball, but excuse me if I may get a little emotional for this guy if what Lapointe says actually comes to fruition. At the least the Mets should platoon Francoeur and Pagan in right field, as Pagan hits lefties relatively poorly and the opposite is true of Francoeur. Just in case you were thinking that maybe Francoeur beats Pagan in traditional stats:

Jeff Francoeur. : 74 games, .270 BA, 8 homers, 33 runs, 40 RBI, 7 stolen bases
Angel Pagan: 69 games, .302 BA, 4 homers, 41 runs, 35 RBI, 14 stolen bases

So it’s not the traditional stats. It’s not the advanced metrics. Then what is it? It firstly has to do with Jeff Francoeur, as Matt Cerrone of MetsBlog said:

…yes, i know francouer is a ‘cool guy,’ and he does grow one hell of a beard, and i know he looks you in the eye when he talks and he’s a great quote… i know this… i have talked to him on several occasions and he seems like a terrific person, and someone who it would be fun to hang out with… but, let’s not go crazy here…Francoeur is on pace to hit around .265 with a .320 OBP, 16 HR and 85 RBI this season.
…that’s good, don’t get me wrong, and i love his defense and his arm and i don’t underestimate how much of an impact he has on the opposing team’s running game… i get it… but, i just don’t understand why his arm and potential 15 HR is enough to kick pagan to the bench…

The Mets media has championed Francoeur while consistently chiding Angel Pagan for not having a solid “Baseball IQ” (that’s a whole other, scary-to-think-about issue). Francoeur is gritty. He makes funny faces and swings as if he’s trying harder than everyone else and reminds you of a quarterback from an SEC school in the 1960s. That’s one part of the equation holding Pagan back.

The other is what I’d like to call the “Fourth Outfielder Fallacy.” This is the fallacy that just because a player can play all three outfield positions, he is best served as a fourth outfielder. Most of the time, said outfielder did come up as a bench player who rotated around the outfield positions, but after a good time of solid play, still couldn’t shed the title of “fourth outfielder.” Fans are human, and humans love consistency and purpose. Fourth outfielders make them comfortable. It also causes people to doubt whether or not a fourth outfielder could ever be a real starting outfielder, because, well, I don’t know if there’s a real logical reason as to why, but people still say it anyway. Angel Pagan may become the latest casualty of the Fourth Outfielder Fallacy. If so, we can only hope he’s the last.


Who You Face Matters

The beauty behind the philosophy of advanced analysis is that it seeks to eliminate as much variance as possible. As simple of a thought as this may be, it is one that still eludes the majority of the baseball world, and most of society in a variety of other areas. Our metrics here at Fangraphs do seek to base value on much more that raw numbers. We can not only adjust for league, but also park and era, among other variables.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a limit to this. As much as we know Dan Haren gets unlucky for pitching at Chase Field (or the opposite for Dante Bichette at Coors), or that pitchers in the late 60s were helped by a higher mound (or the opposite thanks to steroids in the late 90s), we still haven’t found a way to, somewhat literally, level the playing field in terms of whom a pitcher or hitter faces. Here’s an example:

Tim Lincecum: 6.4%
Bronson Arroyo: 7.4%
Jonathan Sanchez: 5.3%
Wade LeBlanc: 6.0%
Mike Leake: 8.2%

Those are the HR/FB rates of the pitchers in baseball who have faced the worst opponents in baseball sorted by OPS. Here are some more:

Josh Beckett: 13.0%
Joel Pineiro: 10.9%
Jeremy Guthrie: 8.6%
David Huff: 10.1%
Mitch Talbot: 7.8%
Ben Sheets: 12.0%

Those are the starting pitchers who have faced the best hitters based on OPS this year. I didn’t run a full study, but I would think that the correlation between HR/FB and the OPS of opposing batters is decently high. This is logical and intuitive: better hitters in baseball have better HR/FB rates, so if you face more of them you’re likely to feel the effects (and vice versa). When you see a pitcher have a bunch of years of giving up HR/FB rates either above or below average, you may want to believe it is more of a “skill” than a “trend.” But said pitcher may have just been facing competition the whole time that would dictate the results, and with a little bit of luck added in, it looks like a trend.

But what does it mean? It means we shouldn’t just think of things like HR/FB and BABIP as a pitcher getting “lucky” or “unlucky” based on the quality of the balls in play, but also by the quality of the opponents. Tim Lincecum‘s opponents have an OPS of .675 this year. For reference, that’s about 2009 Randy Winn, who had a wOBA of .302. Josh Beckett‘s opponents have an OPS of .767 this year. That’s roughly 2010 Chipper Jones, who has a .349 wOBA.

Luckily, that’s as big of a difference as you’ll generally find. However, sorting out even the most minor differences has some significant value. I don’t have a panacea, but it’s something we should keep in the back of our minds when analyzing players. It often goes overlooked.


Jason Bay’s Swing

Jason Bay is having a really bad year. Considering his large contract he’s been given by the Mets, his 125 wRC+, combined with mediocre defense at a non-premium position, is simply unacceptable. The question, however, is what has gotten into Bay to have him drop so dramatically? No prognosticators saw this coming, and the Mets brass has to be shocked at the power outage, which Jack Moore chronicled wonderfully last week.

I think we may learn a little bit from Bay’s swing. Let’s take a peak at his stance from July of 2009 on the Red Sox and June of 2010 on the Mets:


So you can definitely see a difference here despite the slightly different camera angles. On the Sox, Bay had his hands farther up and out, his knees bent more, and his stance slightly more open. Given his swing, this is the better approach, as Bay is giving himself the proper momentum to come through on the ball, flicking his wrists to generate power. Bay doesn’t have a typical swing where he whips the bat around all the way; he’s more of the Richie Sexson/Chase Utley school of hitting which requires a flick of the wrists.

Here is Bay getting ready to swing as the pitch is coming in, already released from the pitcher’s hand:


The differences here are more subtle. On the Sox, Bay is less crouched (see how his knees are more bent on the Mets and his rear end is sticking out more). On the Mets, his front foot isn’t as parallel to his back while his hands are farther down, meaning he’ll generate less power with his swing. The main takeaway is that he is more geared back for a strong swing earlier, but now is more flat-footed, giving him no chance to drive the ball on the outside part of the plate with any serious power.

Finally, look how far away from the plate he is on the Mets. It doesn’t look like much, but that ~1 inch or so can mean the world. Because Bay stands so far away from the plate, there’s no way for him to generate any power to right field. He’ll either swing through a pitch on the outside corner, pop it up to right, or roll it over for an easy grounder. Here are his stats when hitting the ball to the right side:

2010: .188/.176/.375, 35 wRC+
2009: .267/.267/.533, 103 wRC+
2008: .256/.247/.522, 92 wRC+

However, if we look at the numbers to right field a little closer, we can learn some more:

2010: 8.8% LD, 5.9% GB, 85.3% FB, 24.1% IFFB, 3.4% HR/FB, .152 BABIP
2009: 9.8% LD, 11.5% GB, 78.7% FB, 20.8% IFFB, 8.3% HR/FB, .214 BABIP
2008: 8.6% LD, 9.7% GB, 81.7% FB, 13.2% IFFB, 6.6% HR/FB, .205 BABIP

I think that Bay has gotten slightly unlucky on his balls in play to the right side this year, but ther’s good reason for such a .156 BABIP. One out of every four balls he hits to the right side is a popup, which is basically an automatic out. That percentage is almost double of his 2008 numbers. Bay’s groundball rate is also extremely low, and grounders have a higher BABIP on average than fly balls. Right field at Citi Field is cavernous, and for Bay to hit flies 85% of the time he hits to right field is a death wish.

The power droppage to right field, and overall for that matter, is stunning, but not necessarily shocking. The change in Bay’s stance isn’t overwhelming, but it may be a marginal cause for his weak numbers for the season. Only time will tell if Bay can get back into form.


Another Look at Price’s Curve

In the beginning of May, I analyzed David Price‘s increased reliance on his curveball, saying:

The new curve’s main function right now is to make hitters uncomfortable and off balance (as well as change their eye levels) for when Price gears back and throws a ninety-five fastball; however, if Price can command the bite on the pitch enough to begin fooling righties to chase it, it can become another serious weapon in his arsenal.

On the season, Price’s curveball, which he’s thrown 17.7% of the time (after 3.7% last season), has been worth 1.8 runs above average according to our Pitch Type Values, helping Price put up a 3.84 FIP on the year as well as a 3.83 tERA. Since I went back and looked at each of Price’s starts last time, I’d like to take a look since then, chronicling how many were strikes out of how many thrown, as well as his average Vertical Break and Linear Weights (with negative being better for Price):

5/12: 19/28, -7.8, 1.036
5/18: 14/20, -7.81, -1.2405
5/23: 4/9, -7.50, -1.163
5/28: 5/15, -8.04, 0.7454
6/2: 13/20, -5.79, .0101
6/9: 6/10, -7.15, -1.2838
6/15: 16/27, -6.72, -.24

While Price has been less consistent in how often he throws the curveball compared to the first part of the season, he’s throwing it for strikes as well as getting more negative/low Linear Weights. He’s also lowered the standard deviation of his V-Break, leading me to believe that he’s beginning to find his feel for the pitch a bit better (for the difference between “break” and “movement,” see our own Dave Allen here). To take a closer look at vertical break, here are Barry Zito‘s V-Breaks over the past few starts:

6/18: -11.99
6/12: -9.24
6/7: -11.04
6/1: -9.91
5/27: -10.28
5/22: -13.05

One would think that Barry Zito, who has one of the most famous curves in the game, would throw his curveball with more consistent break (not that these numbers aren’t similar, but the difference between starts seems large enough – given how often Zito throws his curve – to be somewhat suspicious). But pitchers have to change the movement and break on their pitches all the time, as hitters can adjust easily when the pitch moves/breaks consistently. As PITCHf/x analyst Jeremy Greenhouse once commented, “…average pitch movements often have positive run values, presumably because the batter is adjusted to them. In other words, below average movement is often better than average movement.” I think the same may go for break, along with the fact that even a consistently breaking curve will never be precisely the same each time thrown. So although Price is still getting various V-Breaks from start to start, don’t be concerned. However, in his six starts from the start of the season to May 7th, he ranged from -4.36 to -8.07. A range that large may not be as much of an asset, but mixing up the movements within a decently wide range of about ~2 inches, which is what he has done since, may be very helpful for Price.

This analysis isn’t complete, and sometimes the numbers can lead us to faulty conclusions, as Mike Fast showed us in an excellent piece last week. However, the continued use and relative consistency in success of Price’s curveball have contributed to his solid season thus far.

Thanks to Brooks Baseball for supplementing our data.


2008 Trade Deadline Deals

We’re going to take the time machine all the way back to July of 2008, assessing some of the deals made around the trade deadline.

Dodgers receive: LF Manny Ramirez
Red Sox receive: LF Jason Bay
Pirates receive: RHP Bryan Morris, 2B/3B Andy LaRoche, OF Brandon Moss, RHP Craig Hansen
Winner: Red Sox, Dodgers

It was time for Manny to leave Beantown, and although the deadline seemed to have passed, these three teams were able to work a deal that would shake the baseball world. Jason Bay found the postseason in Boston and had a huge 2009, putting up 5.0 WAR. Manny said hello to L.A.-L.A. land and was unstrasburgly for the Dodgers, hitting .396/.489/.743 for the boys in blue in 2008. The Pirates, well, they decided to go with quantity over quality, and it bit them. After a nice year from LaRoche in 2009 (2.6 WAR), he’s been awful this season (-0.6 WAR), and doesn’t project to be the line drive hitter he once was. Craig Hansen has had health issues and Brandon Moss was below average, but Bryan Morris does seem to be a promising prospect. Still, Pittsburgh could have done better for Bay.
– – –

Angels receive: 1B Mark Teixeira
Braves receive: 1B Casey Kotchman, RHP Stephen Marek
Winner: Angels

The Braves thought they had found Teixeira’s semi-replacement in Kotchman, but instead they got someone who’d hit .267/.346/.378 at first base, never giving Atlanta anything of much substance. Stephen Marek is 26 years old and floundering in Triple-A. Teixeira? He hit .358/.448/.632 for the Angels and helped get them to the playoffs in 2008. They also used his compensation draft pick to take OF Mike Trout, one of the brightest young outfield prospects in the minors today.
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Dodgers receive: 3B Casey Blake
Indians receive: RHP Jon Meloan, C Carlos Santana
Winner: Indians

Poor Paul DePodesta is an Assistant GM while Colletti gets to make moves like this. While Casey Blake has certainly been valuable for the Dodgers, this one has to hurt LA in the long run. Blake racked up 4.6 WAR last year, but his defense has dropped and his offense is stagnant. He’s on the downside of his career. Santana, meanwhile, is a switch-hitting catcher with a stance just like Victor Martinez and serious power. Blake has been a nice player for LA, but Santana looks to out-WAR him over the next few years, and then some.
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Phillies receive: RHP Joe Blanton
Athletics receive: 2B Adrian Cardenas, LHP Josh Outman, OF Matthew Spencer
Winner: Push

For now, the Phillies generally win because flags fly forever. This one is likely to change in the next few years, but the guarantee isn’t enough there that I’ll give it to Oakland quite yet. Outman has produced a 4.09 FIP and 1.6 WAR for the A’s in 2008-09 (he’s been hurt this year). Cardenas is a slick middle infielder who may be a star one day, but until then is no sure thing. At 22, he’s crushed Double-A pitching, but has stagnated in Triple-A, hitting .242/.305/.337 there in 82 games, and just .228/.285/.281 this year. However, he has time to adjust, and once he does he can be dangerous.
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Brewers receive: SP CC Sabathia
Indians receive: OF Matt LaPorta, LHP Zach Jackson, RHP Rob Bryson, OF Michael Brantley
Winner: Brewers

As well as Mark Shapiro made out in the Blake deal he underperformed in the Sabathia trade. CC helped bring Milwaukee to the playoffs via the Wild Card by throwing seven complete games in seventeen starts with a 1.65 ERA. He was simply outstanding. LaPorta, meanwhile, has struggled in adjusting to the big leagues. In 87 combined games in the majors during his age 24-25 seasons, LaPorta has hit just .240/.301/.377. An OPS of .678 just will not get it done for a guy who was touted for his massive power, especially when he’s a DH trying to play a mediocre outfield and first base.
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Yankees receive: OF Xavier Nady, LHP Damaso Marte
Pirates receive: OF Jose Tabata, RHP Ross Ohlendorf, RHP Jeff Karstens, RHP Daniel McCutchen
Winner: Pirates

While Nady hit pretty well with the Yankees (.270/.319/.469), Marte’s inability to stay healthy and his mediocre pitching gives this to Pittsburgh. The Pirates decided to go with both quality and quantity here, getting a bunch of players who will help them in the long run, highlighted by Jose Tabata. At worst, Pittsburgh can always put Ohlendorf, who majored in Operations Research and Financial Engineering at Princeton, in the front office.


Pedro and the Phils

With the Phillies struggling in third place this yer after back-to-back National League Championships, GM Ruben Amaro has been toying around with an old idea:

Pedro Martinez appears to have his sights set on a repeat of 2009, when he joined the Phillies midseason and wound up starting two games for them in the World Series.

…”Pitching is always the issue. Everybody is always looking for the same thing,” Amaro said. “Again, a lot of it depends on how Happ progresses. And we’ve got to get (setup reliever Ryan) Madson back. I like our chances when both of those guys are back.”

…”I don’t know how much he’s been throwing, but what he did here last year, he was great for this team and helped (the Phillies) out a lot,” said Phils catcher Brian Schneider, who caught the righty with the Mets. “I loved working with Petey. But we have enough stuff going on right now that we’re just concentrating on the pitchers that are already here.”

While the Phillies may say they are happy with the pitchers they’ve got on board, I don’t see why they would be. Here are the members of the Phils rotation with their current and rest of season FIPs courtesy of ZiPS:

Roy Halladay: 2.67/2.93
Cole Hamels: 4.55/3.78
Joe Blanton: 5.83/4.30
Jamie Moyer: 4.98/4.83
Kyle Kendrick: 4.81/4.74
J.A. Happ: 4.48 (10 innings)/4.71

There is currently not one starter on the Phillies not named Roy Halladay who has a better FIP than any Mets starting pitcher. Joe Blanton‘s projection for the rest of the year seems generous given his awful pitching, and Cole Hamels has suffered from a nasty combination of homeritis and a career low K/BB.

But what can Pedro Martinez offer the Phillies? Not much, really. He put up a 4.28 FIP last year, but is another year older and hasn’t pitched yet this entire season. Keeping that in mind, here’s what the prognosticators said before the start of the 2010 campaign:

Bill James: 3.67 FIP
CHONE: 4.75 FIP
Marcel: 4.65 FIP
ZiPS: 4.17 FIP

The algorithm at Bill James’ site must be messed up, because it has Pedro with a 8.90 K/9, even though his last two years were 7.46 and 7.18 (and, again, he’s 38 years old and bound to be rusty). Pedro would most likely sit around the ~4.50 FIP area, which would basically give the Phillies someone a tick better than Kyle Kendrick. Martinez’s ceiling isn’t that high, but his rock bottom can be pretty bad.

Pedro Martinez may give the Phillies an extra 0.5 WAR at best, but he’s unlikely to be the tipping point in the Phillies’ race to make the playoffs. Right now Philadelphia needs Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to right themselves, as the offense has been putrid of late. If the Phillies are going to trade for any starting pitcher, Cliff Lee may be the one guy who can put them above and beyond every team in the National League. They’d be so good I couldn’t imagine anyone ever passing up the opportunity to go Halladay-Lee-Hamels in the starting rotation. Oh, wait…


Should the Mets Trade for a Starting Pitcher?

There have recently been some murmurs going around the Orange and Blue watercoolers that the Mets are looking for a starting pitcher, with names like Cliff Lee and Kevin Millwood being thrown around. Although the Mets are within a reasonable striking distance of first place in the NL East, there are a few things to analyze here. First, what is a weakness the Mets can try to improve? Here are some relevant rankings for the Mets in terms of place in the National League:

Team ERA: 6th
Team xFIP: 14th
Team FIP: 10th

So the Mets may be getting a little lucky with their pitching performance thus far, but we also need to remember that those numbers include some terrible pitching from former starter Oliver Perez (now on the DL and in the bullpen upon his return) and John Maine (now on the DL). Here is what looks to be the Mets rotation for the rest of the season with current FIP and rest of season FIP via ZiPS:

Johan Santana: 3.81/3.47
Mike Pelfrey: 3.28/4.00
Jonathon Niese: 3.76/3.98
R.A. Dickey: 3.37/4.66
Hisanori Takahashi: 3.27/No Projection
John Maine: 5.82/4.44

There are some problems with looking at the projections as well. R.A. Dickey is pitching with a completely new regimen and type of knuckleball, so the the outlook may be unfairly pessimistic, and there are no numbers for Takahashi. Either way, this rotation is solid. But what about the offense?

Team wOBA: 13th
Team OBP: 13th
Team SLG: 12th

Not pretty. However, the Mets do hope to get Carlos Beltran back in the near future, and Jose Reyes and Jason Bay will most likely perform better than they have thus far. With a lineup of Reyes / Beltran / Wright / Davis / Bay / Pagan / Barajas / Castillo, the Mets could reasonably have each position player with a wRC+ at ~100 or over. Unfortunately for the Mets, they have to hope for Beltran, Reyes, and Castillo to return to health and form, as well as continued above-average production from Barajas (although Blanco has played extremely well thus far).

Omar Minaya has another month and a half to see where the Mets stand. They probably have a true talent level of about 85 wins or so, but even teams with a true talent level of .500 can get to 88 wins or more. However, if the Mets are within a few games of first place at the end of July, a solid trade can easily push them right into the thick of things. This isn’t to say the Mets should trade Reese Havens, Jenrry Mejia, and Ike Davis for Cliff Lee. In fact, it may be more prudent of the Mets to move John Maine and Takahashi to the bullpen and pick up another solid arm without as big of a pricetag. Jake Westbrook would be a good fit; he’s a groundball pitcher who has been hurt value-wise by his homers per fly balls. A dose of Citi Field may be exactly what he needs. He’ll get a chance to audition for the Mets when he faces them in Cleveland tonight.

Unsurprisingly, the answer to the title of this article is, “It depends.” Omar Minaya may have the green light to pull the trigger, but picking up too big of a gun may prove pyrrhic in the longrun.


Looking Back at Some Pre-2009 Trades

I think it’s been enough time to give a decent amount of analysis and reflection on some of the trades that transpired prior to the start of the 2009 season:

Tigers receive: SP Edwin Jackson
Rays receive: OF Matt Joyce
Advantage: Tigers

This one will have to go in the Tigers’ direction, as Jackson sported a 3.62 ERA, 4.28 FIP, and 4.39 xFIP for Detroit in 2009, adding up to a very nice 3.5 WAR season. Jackson, who is having an even better season for the D’Backs this year, helped net the Tigers SP Max Scherzer and OF Austin Jackson. Matt Joyce, on the other hand, has been a disappointment. He produced -0.1 WAR for the Rays in 11 games last seson and has been in Triple-A for 2010.
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Indians receive: RHP Joe Smith, INF Luis Valbuena
Mariners receive: CF Franklin Gutierrez, RHP Aaron Heilman, CF Endy Chavez, 1B Mike Carp, SP Jason Vargas, RHP Maikel Cleto, CF Ezekiel Carrera
Mets receive: RHP J.J. Putz, OF Jeremy Reed, RHP Sean Green
Advantage: Mariners

I don’t think there’s much doubt here that the Mariners absolutely dominated this deal. Not only did they get the incredibly valuable Franklin Gutierrez, but they also received some decent prospects and an MLB-caliber starting pitcher in Vargas. The Mets got a whole bunch of misery, although Sean Green can be a valuable ROOGY when healthy. The Indians didn’t think Gutierrez was ever going to be an everyday player and were looking at Smith and Valbuena as possible pieces to a playoff run in ’09. Unfortunately for them, Joe Smith has not panned out at all and Valbuena has been awful.
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Yankees receive: OF Nick Swisher and RHP Kanekoa Texeira
White Sox receive: INF Wilson Betemit, SP Jeff Marquez and P Jhonny Nunez
Advantage: Yankees

It’s clear that Kenny Williams overreacted to a medicore year from Swisher in 2008 driven by a very low BABIP. The peripherals were still there, and in the end the Yankees have gotten 5.8 WAR out of Swisher in just 207 games. Wilson Betemit is now toying around Kansas City.
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Nationals receive: SP Scott Olsen, OF Josh Willingham
Marlins receive: 2B Emilio Bonifacio, P P.J. Dean and INF Jake Smolinski
Advantage: Nationals

I understand this was a money move by the Marlins, but, man, did they get ripped off here. I wrote about this deal a little under a year ago, and it looks even worse now. Willingham was worth 2.4 WAR last year and has matched that already this year, while Scott Olsen has rejuvenated himself lately.
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Cardinals receive: INF Khalil Greene
Padres receive: RHP Mark Worrell and a PTBNL
Advantage: Padres

This one seems pretty benign at first. Greene was awful in St. Louis (-0.9 WAR) and Worrell never did anything for San Diego. However, the PTBNL in the deal turned out to be Luke Gregerson, whom we have profiled a few times here at FanGraphs. Gregerson put up a 2.50 FIP last year and is at 1.99 this year entering from the Pads pen. He’s awesome.
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Athletics receive: OF Matt Holliday
Rockies receive: OF Carlos Gonzalez, CL Huston Street, SP Greg Smith
Advantage: Rockies

We basically just have to compare what the Rockies gave for Holliday to what the A’s wound up getting for him. Oakland would deal him to St. Louis for INF Brett Wallace, OF Shane Peterson, and P Clayton Mortenson. Wallace was then dealt for OF Michael Taylor. Taylor has struggled mightily in Triple-A, while Gonzalez has 3.2 WAR in less than a season’s worth of playing time in Colorado. Huston Street was also fantastic for the Rockies last year, posting a 2.93 FIP.