Archive for Angels

Tuesday Cup of Coffee, 4/11

Daily notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen.

Mike Soroka, RHP, Atlanta (Profile)
Level: Double-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 9  Top 100: 93
Line: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 2 H, 7 K

Notes
Soroka is the most polished strike-thrower of Atlanta’s young arms and has mature competitive poise. Much was made of his aggressive assignment to Double-A, but this was a promising start.

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Let’s Watch Felix Hernandez and Mike Trout Face Off Forever

Mike Trout is the best baseball player, so he’s automatically interesting. Felix Hernandez is probably not one of the best baseball players, but he has been recently enough that he remains interesting. On Saturday, Felix pitched and Trout hit, and as we all learned in school, Interesting * Interesting = Interesting^2. That’s extremely interesting! In this post, we’ll review the game’s first at-bat between the two. It was the kind of at-bat that leaves you thinking and talking about it days later, which, well, yeah, that’s what we’re doing here.

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When Pitchers Implode

There are certain unstoppable forces in this world. Some of them are acts of nature, like hurricanes and tornadoes. There’s also death, taxes, and reality television — inevitable, all of them. In baseball, there’s the bat of Mike Trout and the glove of Francisco Lindor. There’s the fastball of Noah Syndergaard and the cutter of Kenley Jansen. In the baseball present, these are facts of life, threatened only by the natural corrective measures of health and the passage of time.

While these unimpeachable laws pervade the game, there are times when events fail to obey the natural order of things. Times when Jansen’s cutter doesn’t cut or when Lindor makes an error. Or, for example, when the third out of an inning — a frequent occurrence on any given day in a season — appears unlikely to ever arrive.

Two clubs, the Washington Nationals and Seattle Mariners, suffered from this particular sort of chaos this weekend. The Nationals are good. Unfortunately, the pitcher who started for them on Saturday isn’t — or isn’t any longer. The Mariners are also pretty good. Unfortunately, with one of their best pitchers on the mound on Sunday, they failed to produce a third out in the last, most important inning of their game in Anaheim.

Jeremy Guthrie, by all reasonable measures, has had a good career. His outing on Saturday marked his 14th individual year in which he’d made an appearance in the majors. He’s thrown more than 1700 innings and made more than $43 million by playing a game. He won a World Series with the Royals. Guthrie has a reputation of being a standout human being, as well. At age 38, Guthrie has already lived a full and exciting life. His WAR, or his FIP, or his win total, mean little in the face of all of that.

He turned 38 on Saturday. On that same day, he allowed 10 runs in less than an inning — the game’s first innings — of what may very well have been his final start.

The Phillies aren’t a great offensive team. “Great” is a relative term, though. Major-league hitters are all great relative to the human population — and Guthrie, for his past, spent last year putting up a 6.57 ERA against Triple-A batters. So the fact that he even got a start at the highest level this year is an accomplishment. But the Phillies probably represented an easier task for him than, say, the Cubs or the Dodgers. Again, though: big-league hitters can knock around balls over the heart of the plate, and the Phillies did just that. Enny Romero, who follow Guthrie, would offer up some meatballs of his own before the damage was finally done.

Guthrie’s advanced age (for a ballplayer, that is) and the resulting deterioration of his stuff played a role here, but luck did as well. The ball that Cesar Hernandez hit for a leadoff double, for instance, only goes for a hit about 55% of the time. Had that been an out, perhaps the inning proceeds much differently. It didn’t, though, and the resulting offensive explosion was torrential. Even the two outs that Guthrie induced, fly balls from Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis, were sac flies that brought runs home.

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Top 14 Prospects: Los Angeles Angels

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the Los Angeles Angels farm system. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from my own observations. The KATOH statistical projections, probable-outcome graphs, and (further down) Mahalanobis comps have been provided by Chris Mitchell. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of my prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this. -Eric Longenhagen

The KATOH projection system uses minor-league data and Baseball America prospect rankings to forecast future performance in the major leagues. For each player, KATOH produces a WAR forecast for his first six years in the major leagues. There are drawbacks to scouting the stat line, so take these projections with a grain of salt. Due to their purely objective nature, the projections here can be useful in identifying prospects who might be overlooked or overrated. Due to sample-size concerns, only players with at least 200 minor-league plate appearances or batters faced last season have received projections. -Chris Mitchell

Other Lists
NL West (ARI, COL, LAD, SD, SF)
AL Central (CHW, CLE, DET, KC, MIN)
NL Central (CHC, CIN, PIT, MIL, StL)
NL East (ATL, MIA, NYM, PHI, WAS)
AL East (BAL, BOSNYY, TB, TOR)

Angels Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Jahmai Jones 19 A CF 2020 50
2 Brandon Marsh 19 R OF 2020 45
3 Matt Thaiss 21 A 1B 2018 45
4 Chris Rodriguez 18 R RHP 2020 40
5 Alex Meyer 27 MLB RHP 2017 40
6 Nate Smith 25 AAA LHP 2017 40
7 Jamie Barria 20 A RHP 2019 40
8 Keynan Middleton 23 AAA RHP 2017 40
9 Nonie Williams 18 R SS 2021 40
10 Julio Garcia 19 R SS 2021 40
11 David Fletcher 22 AA SS 2018 40
12 Jake Jewell 23 A+ RHP 2018 40
13 Taylor Ward 23 A+ C 2019 40
14 Michael Hermosillo 22 A+ OF 2019 40

50 FV Prospects

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2015 from Wesleyan School (GA)
Age 19 Height 5’11 Weight 210 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/60 40/50 30/45 60/60 45/55 45/45

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Slashed .302/.379/.422 in 2016.

Scouting Report
Jones had already asserted himself as the organization’s best prospect by the fall after he was drafted, impressing scouts not only with his as-advertised athleticism and speed but with a surprisingly polished feel to hit and noticeable work ethic.

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Watch: The Five Craziest Opening Day Games

In honor of Opening Day 2017, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at the five craziest Opening Day games (or home openers), as defined by swings in win expectancy. So we did, in this video we just posted at our Facebook page! Happy baseball!

Thanks to Sean Dolinar for his research assistance.


Danny Espinosa’s Bat Path: An Angel Battles to Erase Eight-Hole Woes

The conversation began a bit clunky, then it turned a little nerdy. Not in a numbers-crunching way, but rather in a bat-path way. Danny Espinosa, it turns out, wasn’t too loopy after all.

I’d never formally met the Angels infielder prior to approaching him in Tempe earlier this spring. We had interacted, albeit briefly. That was last September, when he was in Pittsburgh as a member of the Washington Nationals, and I was interviewing Trea Turner. Sidling up from the adjoining locker, Espinosa raised an imaginary microphone and asked his then teammate: “Are you the best player in the National League?” He then walked away, bemused, as I claimed that was going to be my next question. (It wasn’t.)

Fast forward to our recent, and more expansive, exchange. The first thing I asked Espinosa, who was acquired by Anaheim over the offseason, was why he was so inconsistent with the bat as a Nat. After a quizzical look that led me to rephrase my question, he suggested he’s happy to be in the American League.

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I Found a Statistic Where Mike Trout Is Bad

Mike Trout‘s the best. You didn’t need the reminder, but there you go. He’s the best that there is. He won’t always be the best that there is, and maybe even in this coming season someone will emerge to be better, but given what we know right now, it’s Trout, then it’s the others. Spring training is a time for universal optimism. It’s a time for seeing the best in developing players. Take a young player on your favorite team. Imagine that player at his ceiling. Mike Trout is almost certainly better than that, and he has been for five years.

Trout is insanely talented, and that’s his foundation. But to be this good and stay this good, players also need to be able to adjust. They need to see weaknesses and work to eliminate them. Trout’s done that! He used to have a high-fastball problem. Been addressed. Relatedly, he used to have a strikeout problem. Been addressed. A couple years back he didn’t do enough on the bases. Been addressed. He used to run below-average arm ratings in the outfield. Been addressed. He’s so good.

Yet I’m a professional digger, in a sense. I’m always on the hunt for unknown strengths or weaknesses, and I’ve stumbled upon something I didn’t realize. There is an area where Mike Trout was bad. Last season, I mean. Who could’ve known? Even the best have their blemishes.

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The Angels and the Irrelevant Improbability

Every week, for the Effectively Wild podcast, we solicit listener emails and questions. The questions lean heavily toward the hypothetical and absurd, and an email we got last week asked what it would look like if some given eccentric baseball team owner cared only about winning the most games in spring training. What would the preparation be like? What would the strategy be like? How, in general, would the baseball team look?

You could argue that baseball team would look a lot like the Angels. Last Friday afternoon, against the Brewers, the Angels rallied back from an early 3-0 deficit. They tied the game in the fourth, and after they eventually fell behind again, they rallied again, before walking off in the bottom of the ninth. A player named David Fletcher singled against a player named Tyler Spurlin, and the single scored a player named Matt Williams, but not that Matt Williams. The Angels stretched their spring-training record to 7-0. They stretched their spring-training unbeaten streak to 18.

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Are We at the High-Water Mark for Shifting in Baseball?

Here’s the thing about bunting: it can be a good idea if the third baseman is playing too far back. The chance of a hit goes up in that case, and a successful bunt often causes the third baseman to play more shallow in future plate appearances, so future balls in play receive a benefit. That’s one of those games within a game we see all the time in baseball: once the positioning deviates from “normal” by a certain degree, the batter receives a benefit. Then the defender has to change his approach.

This tension created by the bunt illustrates how offenses and defenses react to each other’s tendencies. That same sort of balance between fielder and hitter might be playing out on an even broader scale, however, when it comes to the shift in general.

Too many shifts in the game, and the players begin to adjust. They develop more of a two-strike approach, they find a way to put the ball in play on the ground the other way, or they make sure that they lift the ball if they’re going to pull it. There’s evidence that players are already working on lifting the ball more as a group, pulling the ball in the air more often than they have in five years, and have improved on hitting opposite-field ground balls. So maybe this next table is no surprise.

The League vs. the Shift
Year Shift wOBABIP No Shift wOBABIP
2013 0.280 0.294
2014 0.288 0.294
2015 0.286 0.291
2016 0.292 0.297
wOBA = weighted on base average on balls in play

The league has improved against the shift! The shift is dead! Or, wait: the league has actually improved as a whole over this timeframe, and the difference between the two is still about the same. And every team would take a .292 wOBA against over a .297 number. Long live the shift.

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What Teams Are Stuck In Between?

To preview MLB spring training, Tyler Kepner examined the competitive “window” status — that is, the realistic possibility for contention — of all 30 major-league clubs earlier this month for the New York Times. Kepner employed four logical window designations: closed, open, closing and opening.

I think reasonable people can mostly agree that the Cubs’ window of contention is open, and the White Sox’ window is closed. The Royals’ is perhaps closing, and the Braves’ is opening (if not in 2017, then soon). While we will not agree on every status, it’s an interesting exercise.

Windows of contention are an interesting concept, particularly in an era of two Wild Cards in each league. How do teams balance the future and present? How do clubs play a so-so hand knowing the unpredictability of the game? Few teams are able to sustain long windows of contention. The Braves of the 1990s and early 2000s and the Cardinals of the 21st century have done it as well as any team in the in the Wild Card era.

It’s also easier to operate if you suspect your window is either completely open or closed. If you’re the Cubs and Indians last deadline, you’re willing to trade significant young assets for impact relief help. If you suspect your window is closed, like the White Sox, you’re willing to deal assets like Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. There’s a clarity in decision-making, in creating a strategy and plan to implement.

Said Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels to FanGraphs’ David Laurila on charting a course:

“Something our management team has talked about a lot is the mistake we made our first year here, in 2006. We were caught in the middle. We convinced ourselves that if A, B, and C went right, we had a chance to win, and I think you can make the case that, for any team, it’s not a sustainable strategy.”

Being caught in the middle is the most difficult position for a club. Consider, for instance, a team with some relatively young stars at the major-league level. The front office thought this core of players would form the foundation of a contending team, but it’s not surrounded with the requisite depth, prospects or resources to realistically contend and sustain. The White Sox entered the season in that position. In the meantime, they’ve chosen a course. The Angels, Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Twins could all face difficult decisions in choosing paths in the not-too-distant future.

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Billy Eppler on Rebuilding the Angels

Thirteen months ago, we ran an interview titled Billy Eppler on Taking the Reins in Anaheim. At the time, Eppler was a first-year general manager, 100-plus days into his tenure. He’d come to the Angels from New York, where he’d spent 11 years in the Yankees front office. Armed with a background in scouting and player development, and a degree in finance, he was being entrusted to rebuild a moribund farm system while staying competitive in the American League West.

Progress has come slowly, at least on the surface. The Angels struggled in 2016, winning just 74 games and finishing in fourth place. Pitching injuries were a culprit — they remain a concern — while an offense led by the incomparable Mike Trout scored fewer runs than all but five AL squads. As for the prospect pipeline, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Keith Law recently ranked the Angels’ farm system, which was dead last a year ago, 27th of the 30 organizations.

Eppler didn’t make a splash over the offseason — there was nothing as notable as last winter’s Andrelton Simmons acquisition — but there were some meaningful moves. Cameron Maybin is now an Angel, as are Danny Espinosa, Martin Maldonado, and Luis Valbuena. In the opinion of some, Eppler’s club can contend this season if the pitchers — particularly Garrett Richards — remain in one piece.

Eppler discussed the team’s direction, and the philosophies set forth by his “Office of the GM” earlier this week.

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Eppler on the extent to which a team needs to commit to a direction — rebuild, win now, etc. — and stay the course: “I believe that the majority of clubs, maybe 20-25 clubs, walk in at the start of spring training evaluating what they have. From there they see what manifests over that first third of the season. Here, we like to break our seasons into thirds. We basically do a thorough audit around Memorial Day, another audit right around the trade deadline, and we take that to the end of the season.

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The Least Intimidating Hitter in Baseball

You can learn a lot about a hitter by the way he gets pitched to. Granted, you can also learn a lot about a hitter by the way that he hits, but when you look at the approach, you learn something about perception. You learn how opponents see the hitter. Two useful measures: fastball rate, and zone rate. You could of course go deeper than this, but fastball rate tells you something about fear. The same goes for zone rate. If someone keeps getting fastballs in the zone, the pitchers probably aren’t afraid. If someone rarely sees fastballs or pitches in the zone, well, something else is going on.

Some 2016 numbers, for reference:

Fastball and Zone Rates
Split Fastball% Zone%
Pitchers 71% 55%
Non-Pitchers 56% 48%
Top 25 ISO 53% 45%
Bottom 25 ISO 59% 49%

You can see how aggressively pitchers are attacked by other pitchers. The fastball rate skyrockets, and you get five out of nine pitches in the strike zone. More powerful hitters see fewer fastballs, and fewer strikes. Less powerful hitters see more fastballs, and more strikes. This is all easy and intuitive, and although there are other variables to consider, we’ve touched on the big stuff.

Using these statistics, we can attempt to quantify a hitter’s intimidation. No, it’s not perfect, but I’ve still run the math, calculating z-scores for both of the rates. The last step is just adding the two z-scores together. In this table, the least intimidating hitters in baseball in 2016, given a minimum of 200 plate appearances.

Least Intimidating Hitters, 2016
Player Season Fastball%, z Zone%, z Combined
Ben Revere 2016 3.5 1.9 5.3
Nori Aoki 2016 1.8 2.6 4.4
J.B. Shuck 2016 1.9 2.1 4.0
Billy Burns 2016 1.2 2.7 3.9
Shawn O’Malley 2016 1.9 1.9 3.8
J.J. Hardy 2016 1.5 2.2 3.7
Angel Pagan 2016 2.6 0.9 3.5
DJ LeMahieu 2016 2.3 1.0 3.3
Darwin Barney 2016 1.3 1.9 3.2
Derek Norris 2016 1.6 1.6 3.2

It’s Ben Revere! And it’s Ben Revere by a mile. Revere just saw 70% fastballs, and he saw 52% of all pitches in the strike zone. That’s not quite where pitchers wound up, collectively, but Revere was nearly pitched like a pitcher, and that certainly sends a message. No one was afraid of him, and not coincidentally, Revere finished with a 47 wRC+. He did, though, smack a couple of dingers.

For some context, I calculated numbers for individual hitter-seasons throughout the PITCHf/x era, stretching back to 2008. Where did Revere’s season rank in terms of its unintimidatingness?

Least Intimidating Hitters, 2008 – 2016
Player Season Fastball%, z Zone%, z Combined
David Eckstein 2009 3.1 2.7 5.8
David Eckstein 2010 3.1 2.5 5.6
Marco Scutaro 2013 2.6 2.9 5.5
Nick Punto 2013 2.8 2.7 5.5
Ben Revere 2016 3.5 1.9 5.3
Jason Kendall 2010 2.8 2.5 5.3
David Eckstein 2008 2.8 2.2 5.1
Denard Span 2011 2.0 3.0 5.0
Ryan Hanigan 2015 1.9 3.0 4.9
A.J. Ellis 2015 3.0 1.9 4.9

Not a bad showing — fifth place, out of 3,148 hitter-seasons. David Eckstein occupies the top two spots, and, sure, of course he does. Because I’m sure you’d wonder, the lowest combined score is -6.7, belonging to 2012 Josh Hamilton. Pitchers definitely didn’t want to throw him any fastballs, and they didn’t want to risk anything he’d find particularly hittable.

Back to Revere. There was an article on Nationals.com after the home run embedded above, which was Revere’s first of the season. Said Dusty Baker, unironically, or maybe ironically, how should I know:

“I’m just hoping he doesn’t get that dreadful disease of home run-itis,” Baker said.

Said Revere, referring to same:

“If I try to hit it in the air, I’ll probably be at .250 or a Mendoza-line .200 hitter. But if I hit the ball on the ground or line drives, I’ll be .300 for a long time.”

Revere ran the same ground-ball rate he had as a regular in 2015, when he hit .306. He finished the year batting .217.


Who Needs a New Pitch the Most?

I love it when research underlines conventional wisdom. Like when Mitchel Lichtman found that, the more pitches a pitcher had in his arsenal, the better his chances the third time through the order. Even if it was only on the order of a few points of weighted on base average, it was a real finding that functions as a virtual nod towards all those scouts and pitching coaches who’ve wondered about a pitchers’ third and fourth options. You might not need a changeup specifically, but you need other pitches if just to put more doubt in the hitter’s mind.

Given that finding, I thought it might be fun to try and use it in reverse. Who were the worst pitchers in baseball last season when it came to the third time through the order? Who saw their talent drop off the most upon seeing a batter the third time?

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Luis Valbuena to Take Flight in LA

The Angels control a beautiful and valuable thing, Mike Trout’s age-25 to -28 seasons, what should mark his prime. The baseball world awaits to see what the club is able to do with this precious asset, and how the Angels will supplement it. If the club holds Trout and struggles to compete in the AL West, it would be akin to purchasing Cezanne’s “The Card Players” and then proceeding to lock the painting in a secure storage facility for few to enjoy.

Baseball, and the Angels, would do well to have Trout involved in postseason games.

Will the Angels help Trout to his first postseason at-bats since 2014 this October? We’ll see. FanGraphs’ projections have the Angels as an 84-win team at the moment, which is tied for the second-best mark in the AL West after the Astros, who are projected to win 90 games.

The projections foresee a logjam after the respective division favorite Red Sox, Indians and Astros. The forecast has the Angels tied with the Mariners and Blue Jays for the fourth-best mark in the AL, the Tigers and Rangers with 83 wins, and the Yankees and Rays with 82.

It’s a January forecast of October. Presumably, much can and will go wrong with it. But perhaps what we can take from it is that there could potentially be a crowded Wild Card field, and the Angels could be in the middle of it. That potential scenario means every transaction, every decision, could carry significance for a team like the Angels. Not only are the Angels in a position where each additional win could be immensely valuable, but we also know that they can’t expect much help from a thin farm system to provide depth.

That brings us to Luis Valbuena, who officially signed a two-year, $15 million deal with the Angels on Tuesday. For a player who has averaged 2.1 WAR during the last four seasons, it seems like a solid investment for the club. Dave Cameron wrote that Valbuena is similar in value to Mark Trumbo, who earned more than twice the guaranteed dollars of Valbuena’s agreement in his new deal.

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Mark Trumbo and the Everyday Player Tax

Last Thursday, two free-agent hitters found homes, with Mark Trumbo returning to Baltimore and Luis Valbuena switching AL West cities, going from Houston to Anaheim. While the expectation was that Trumbo was going to sign something of an albatross contract — I named him the No. 1 Free Agent Landmine heading into the off-season — he ended up signing for a perfectly reasonable price; $37.5 million over three years. While the Orioles will need to resist the urge to put him in the outfield anymore, $12.5 million a year for what Trumbo can do at the plate is not some kind of franchise-killing overpay.

The Orioles did fine here, mostly; you could argue that they could have spent even less and gotten Chris Carter, a similar-enough player, but not making the most cost-efficient move doesn’t make this a disaster. Trumbo is a solid enough big leaguer, and $38 million in MLB these days just isn’t that much money.

I say all that up front to clarify that the rest of this post isn’t a criticism of the Orioles’ decision to retain Mark Trumbo. I just thought the juxtaposition of Trumbo and Valbuena signing on the same day was interesting because, well, look for yourself.

Trumbo and Valbuena, 2014-2016
Name PA BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BsR
Luis Valbuena 1382 12% 22% 0.199 0.243 0.334 0.442 115 -1.9
Mark Trumbo 1574 7% 25% 0.224 0.253 0.309 0.477 110 -8.0

Over the last three years, Trumbo and Valbuena have both established themselves as useful players, mostly based on their ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. Trumbo has a bit more power, but Valbuena draws more walks, and thus gets on base more often, so he’s actually been the better hitter of the two during that time. Oh, and Valbuena’s also a little faster, so he’s added a little extra baserunning value, expanding his lead even a bit more. Over these three years, Valbuena has been worth +23 runs relative to a league average hitter, while Trumbo has come in at +11.

Now, sometimes, multi-year comparisons aren’t all that helpful in figuring out why player valuations diverge, because the more recent data is the most important one. And of course, Trumbo is coming off the best year of his career, as he put up a 123 wRC+ last year. But in this case, looking at just the most recent year doesn’t change things much, because interestingly, Valbuena also put up a 123 wRC+ last year, the best mark he’s put up in his career. This isn’t a case of one guy trending up and the other trending down; both were good hitters last year, and they’ve both been above-average hitters the last three years.

There isn’t an age factor here either. Valbuena was born in November of 1985, Trumbo of January of 1986. They are both 31, at the point where we can expect both to start declining in value, but not old enough where a catastrophic drop-off is imminent.

There are, though, two differences between Valbuena and Trumbo; the thing I find fascinating about these contracts is how those two differences drive the valuations.

The first difference is that Valbuena has some defensive value, and if he ends up playing a lot of first base — with Albert Pujols questionable for the start of the year, that sounds likely — he might end up being a solid defensive first baseman. In nearly 4,000 innings at third base, Valbuena has a career +10 UZR (though it has been worse the last few years) and as a former middle infielder, he’s more athletic than most guys who end up playing first base. Valbuena probably isn’t going to be a gold glover at first, but as a guy with the flexibility to play both corners and potentially be an asset at first base, there’s some real defensive value here. Trumbo is a solid defender at first base, but that position is blocked in Baltimore, so he’s either a liability in the outfield or a designated hitter, and won’t be adding defensive value in either case.

So, Valbuena has been a better offensive player the last three years, matched Trumbo’s wRC+ last year in the best year of Trumbo’s career, and adds some defensive value as well. I’ve held off including it as of yet since it can often be the only thing people focus on, but it’s worth noting that Valbuena has been worth +6.3 WAR over the last three years, while Trumbo is at +2.0. By overall production the last few years, it isn’t even really close; Valbuena has been significantly better.

And yet, while Trumbo got 3/$37.5 million with the qualifying offer attached, Valbuena got 2/$15M, despite not being tied to draft pick compensation. The market looked at these same-aged players and preferred Trumbo, despite a lack of a massive offensive advantage and definite defensive limitations.

Why? Because there remains a significant difference in how teams value everyday guys versus platoon players, and fair or not, Trumbo is seen as a player you can stick in your lineup regardless of who is pitching, while Valbuena is viewed as a part-time player.

With Trumbo, you’re basically getting the same thing no matter who is pitching; his career wRC+ splits are 113/110, so you can put him in the lineup and expect mostly the same production everyday. Valbuena, like most left-handed hitters, runs a bit larger split, with a career 86/98 wRC+ split against lefties and righties, and an even more extreme 79/126 split over the last three years. Valbuena’s entire emergence as a quality hitter has been based on his ability to hit for power against right-handed pitching; against lefties, he still hits like the middle infielder he came up as.

A corner infielder who hits lefties like Valbuena hits lefties shouldn’t be starting against them, so the Angels are almost certainly going to platoon him, and the fact that they have to pay another player — and more importantly, dedicate another roster spot — to a guy to share his job dramatically discounts his value on the market. Full-time guys get paid on a different scale than part-time guys, and Valbuena is a seen as a part-time guy, so he gets less than Trumbo despite the performance advantages he’s displayed of late.

But I wonder if the discount being applied between the two groups is too heavy, because while it makes plenty of sense to platoon Valbuena and get a higher overall level of production, you don’t actually have to. The Angels could choose to play Valbuena everyday and save the roster spot for some other use, if they really see it being a significant negative to have to carry a right-handed first baseman to share that job. And if we just project Valbuena out to Trumbo-like playing time, it’s still not clear that Trumbo is significantly better.

Let’s just say the Angels decided to just play Valbuena mostly everyday, not platooning him more heavily than any other left-handed hitter is. In general, LHBs who get about 600 PA per season end up having the platoon advantage in about 70-75% of their plate appearances, we’ll use 73% just to split the difference. With exactly 600 PAs, that would mean Valbuena would get 438 PAs against RHPs and 162 against LHPs.

Let’s take a fairly extreme position, and say that his true talent platoon split right now is something like 90/110 wRC+ — remember, that’s almost double Valbuena’s career 12 point split — which is actually a pretty significant split as far as MLB players go.

If we give him the 73/27 distribution of PAs that most regular LHBs get, that would work out to something like this in a regular role.

Trumbo and Valbuena, 2014-2016
Pitcher PA wRC+
RHP 438 110
LHP 162 90
Total 600 105

That 105 wRC+ is an almost exact match for the average of the ZIPS and Steamer projections for Valbuena in 2016; Steamer is on the low side at 99 overall, while ZIPS is up at 113, so their blended average is 106. So that at least passes the smell test. But we don’t know what percentage of platoon advantage those systems were projecting, and since neither had him forecasted for 600 PAs, we should assume they’re probably letting him face a higher proportion of RHPs. So let’s make Valbuena a little worse than those overall projection numbers, and re-run the estimate to give us something a bit worse than what ZIPS and Steamer are projecting him for in part-time duty.

Trumbo and Valbuena, 2014-2016
Pitcher PA wRC+
RHP 438 105
LHP 162 85
Total 600 100

In this estimate, we’re being pretty harsh on Valbuena; his wRC+ against RHP goes down 21 points from what it was the last three years, while his vs LHP number only bounces up six points, and is still below his career average. This is probably pretty close to what Steamer is projecting Valbuena’s splits at, and it is definitely the more negative outlook, given his recent track record.

But even with that pessimism, Valbuena still projects as a league-average hitter while playing everyday. Trumbo projects for a 110 wRC+ as an everyday guy, in both ZIPS and Steamer, so the forecasts agree that, for next year, you’d rather have Trumbo’s bat than Valbuena’s, especially if you’re not willing to use a roster spot to platoon Valbuena with an RHB.

But the difference between a 110 and a 100 wRC+ over 600 plate appearances is about seven runs. That’s not nothing; that’s most of the way to one extra win. But then, there’s the baserunning, where Valbuena makes up some of that gap. And then there’s the defensive value, which isn’t trivial. If you give Valbuena some credit for being able to still play third, he probably makes back a few of those runs, and in the end, we’re looking at a gap of a couple of runs between full-time Trumbo and full-time Valbuena, if there’s any gap at all.

And full-time Valbuena is an inefficiency; with just a modicum of work, you can find a decent right-hander to face left-handed starters, and end up with a better overall rate of production. Yeah, it costs you a roster spot and that guy doesn’t play for free, so his cost has to be factored into the equation, but most teams carry a right-handed bench bat anyway, and if you have to pay a slight premium to get a guy who is worth starting occasionally, you still come out ahead overall.

The big story this winter has been the market correction on bat-only corner guys, but interestingly, the Valbuena signing points out that there’s even more room for those kinds of guys to come down in price in the future. Instead of paying even this reduced rate for the full-time slugger, signing a guy with a platoon player label at the discount currently being applied is an even cheaper way to get similar production.


Vladimir Guerrero and the Best Truly Bad Ball Hitters

Maybe the most painful part of writing about baseball for a living is that your biases — the same biases of which we’re all guilty — are constantly laid bare for everyone to see. Vladimir Guerrero reminded me of that problem most recently.

David Wright and Joey Votto embody my first bias. Plate discipline was a way to find great hitters! I’d read Moneyball and used it to draft Chipper Jones first in my first fantasy league, back in 2001, and I was money. I had baseball all figured out.

Good one, early 2000s dude. Good one.

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Vladimir Guerrero and Quantifying Pitcher Fear

Whenever conventional wisdom and the numbers — or whatever conclusion I have drawn from the numbers — differ, I’m left wondering why such a difference exists. Many times there’s a good reason; other times, the reasons make less sense. One situation where my conclusions appear to differ from conventional wisdom comes in the form of Vladimir Guerrero and his case for the Hall of Fame. When recently considering Guerrero’s statistical credentials for the Hall, he seemed to fall short of the voting standards for most recent candidates who gained induction. At the same time, his name currently appears on 75% of this year’s ballots according to Ryan Thibodaux’s tracker. So what gives?

The easy answer is that voters — due to Guerrero’s brilliance and flair at the plate — are willing either to minimize or forgive entirely Guerrero’s defense and baserunning, as well as the fact that his last above-average season occurred at age-33. They aren’t necessarily wrong, as he certainly has a case by virtue of his peak and career WAR numbers. He also recorded a very good .318 career batting average and an MVP award. Plus, from 1997 to 2006, his 114 assists topped all outfielders, with his great arm obscuring his lack of range and errors, in which category (errors) he also topped MLB during that time. That’s probably the most reasonable explanation for why I concluded he was just below the cusp for the Hall of Fame — certainly worthy of consideration, but not a certain Hall of Famer like the voters appear close to making him.

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How Mike Trout Could Legally Become a Free Agent

What type of contract would Mike Trout have commanded this offseason had he been a free agent? Coming off an MVP-award-winning campaign in which he compiled 9.4 WAR and about to enter just his age-25 season, Trout would have easily been one of the most sought after players ever to hit the open market. And given the state of this year’s historically weak free-agent class, the bidding for Trout may very likely have ended up in the $400-500 million range over eight to ten years.

Considering that Trout signed a six-year, $144.5 million contract extension back in 2014 – an agreement that runs through 2020 – this is just an interesting, but hypothetical, thought experiment, right?

Not necessarily. A relatively obscure provision under California law — specifically, Section 2855 of the California Labor Code — limits all personal services contracts (i.e., employment contracts) in the state to a maximum length of seven years. In other words, this means that if an individual were to sign an employment contract in California lasting eight or more years, then at the conclusion of the seventh year the employee would be free to choose to either continue to honor the agreement, or else opt out and seek employment elsewhere.

Although the California legislature has previously considered eliminating this protection for certain professional athletes – including Major League Baseball players – no such amendment has passed to date. Consequently, Section 2855 would presumptively apply to any player employed by one of the five major-league teams residing in California.

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What Would a Peak Year From Mike Trout Look Like?

Every full season Mike Trout has put together as a Major League Baseball player has been great. Through his age-24 season, Mike Trout has been worth roughly 48 Wins Above Replacement, averaging around +9.5 wins per season. Through age-24, that is more than any other player, with Ty Cobb a close second, and Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, and Ted Williams a bit further behind. Trout is already in third place through age-25, 10th place through age-26, and 23rd place through age-27 with three seasons to be played before he gets there. Mike Trout is great. Everybody knows that.

But what would happen if Mike Trout had a good year in comparison to, well, Mike Trout?

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The Angels Have Baseball’s Best Outfield

One of the complaints people make about us for some reason is that we spend too much time talking about how awesome Mike Trout is. I could issue the same complaint about those people in reverse: Clearly, they don’t spend enough time talking or thinking about how awesome Mike Trout is. He’s not just some great player, right? It’s not like you talk about Mike Trout in the same breath as Jose Bautista or Robinson Cano. Last year, Trout was better than the next-best position player by a full WAR. Over the past three years, Trout has been better than the next-best position player by more than 3 WAR. Over the past five years, Trout has been better than the next-best position player by 15 WAR. By 15 WAR! Looking at Steamer projections, over a constant denominator, there’s Trout’s projected WAR, at 7.8. And then there’s Manny Machado, at 5.9.

This is another Mike Trout puff piece, in a way. I like it because it serves a purpose, I like it because it’s simple, and I like it because I got to write the same damn article last spring. The offseason isn’t over, and certain teams are still going to make certain additions. But it’s a near guarantee the following will remain true: Mostly thanks to Trout, the Angels look like they should have the best outfield in the game.

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