Archive for Instanalysis

Toronto Keeps Upgrading, Adds Josh Donaldson

After the 2011 season, it seemed improbable that the Blue Jays would ever trade Brett Lawrie. He was the native son who exploded onto the scene, bounding his way into the hearts of baseball fans from Victoria to Corner Brook. Always a great hitter in the minor leagues, Lawrie hit .293/.373/.580 with 9 home runs in a 40-game big league tease that set completely unrealistic expectations .

Three injury-ravaged and underwhelming seasons later, Lawrie and three prospects are gone and Josh Donaldson is the new starting third baseman in Toronto as the Blue Jays try to accomplish one goal: reach the playoffs for the first time in a generation. No passport or sentiment will stand in their way as they try to end a long streak without playoff baseball.

Adding Donaldson is a significant upgrade for the Jays, as any team would expect when they pick up one of the premier players in baseball. Conservatively, switching out Donaldson for Lawrie is about a two win upgrade on talent alone. Lawrie’s spotty injury history and inability to translate his minor league offense at the big league level suggest it might be an even bigger gulf.

With two top-ten MVP finishes and 53 total home runs in the last two years, the Jays get a star – a star moving from an offensive sinkhole to a very friendly space for right-handed power hitters. Donaldson is an older player, heading into arbitration for the first time (he’s a Super Two) as well as his age-29 season. Unlike the A’s side of the deal, the four years of control that come with Toronto’s new third baseman is purely secondary to his ability to help them win in 2015.

The Jays wanted an upgrade and, according to Alex Anthopoulos, it was the inclusion of Lawrie in the talks that brought this deal to life. They sell low on Lawrie, who always hit before struggling (mightily at times) at the big league level. He’s as talented a player as there is, one Oakland hopes they can reshape into a more well-rounded big leaguer.

His talent is undeniable, Lawrie is perhaps the defensive equal of Donaldson at third base, and like Oakland’s Fielding Bible Award winner, Lawrie is a former catcher. Perhaps Oakland can get the countless moving parts of his swing in order and awaken the one tool that brought him to the big leagues at 21.

Toronto also gives up a very promising international free agent in Franklin Barreto, a shortstop at 18 with his stock on the rise, fast-rising pitcher in Kendall Graveman, and slightly stalled prospect in Sean Nolin. In terms of bulk control years, the Jays give up a lot. But that future surplus value finishes a distant second to the chance the Jays are building the best team in their division.

Some might look at the Jays rotation and wonder if they have the talent to win a championship. To that I say: look around. The state of the game swung so heavily in favor of pitchers, adding Donaldson’s bat to the likes of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista — to say nothing of Russell Martin — suggests the Jays believe the road to the postseason is paved with extra base hits.

Like the Red Sox, the Jays seem focused on piling more offense on top of their already-deep pool of sluggers. In Donaldson the Blue Jays add another home run threat who actually strikes out at a below-league average rate. As the league heads in one direction, it appears Toronto is headed in another.

It is easy to search for additional meaning in this trade and the Blue Jays interest in Josh Donaldson. Simply put, they targeted a great player they thought could help their team win a division title and more. They added a player who saved more than 30 runs with his glove since 2012 while putting up a 125 wRC+. His 14 WAR over the last two years trails only Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen. Rather than hope their third baseman realized his potential, Toronto acquired one of the best in the game.

It also signals Toronto is serious about overhauling their clubhouse culture, though there is no better cure for a divided clubhouse than a whole pile of wins. Any team that boasts Reyes-Martin-Bautista-Encarnacion-Donaldson at the top of their batting order figures to give pitchers fits, though another left-handed bat in that mix (Reyes switch hits, the rest are all righties) must be a priority.

There is still work to do in Toronto, as huge questions loom in left field as well as second base. Their presumed starting center fielder is 43 big league plate appearances into his career (barely 200 PA above A-ball for Dalton Pompey, another Canadian.) They might not be done yet, but adding an elite ballplayer for the second time in two weeks is a nice way to head into the Winter Meetings.

Deals like this are how teams climb from the 80-85 win treadmill to the 90-win tier of World Series favorites. As they did with Russell Martin, the Blue Jays looked at a decent (and affordable) spot on their roster and thought they could improve it. They gave up a chunk of their identity and whole lot of prospect capital to do it, but it looks like these aren’t your older brother’s Toronto Blue Jays – though I’ve said that before.

Red Sox Pull Capuano from Cautious Market

When Ryan Dempster walked away, it was pretty clear what the Red Sox needed to do. Though Dempster’s salary was too high, the pitcher served an important function as swingman and rotation depth. So it was up to the Red Sox to find a replacement, and the most obvious replacement on the market was Chris Capuano. Capuano was both a starter and a reliever just last year, and with Boston, he could compete with Felix Doubront for the fifth rotation slot in camp. In short, it’s not a surprise at all that, Thursday, Capuano and the Red Sox agreed to terms, pending a physical.

What’s more of a surprise are the terms themselves. Capuano signed for one year, despite having looked for two earlier in the offseason. And his guaranteed base salary is just $2.25 million, with incentives that could push the deal up to a maximum of $5 million. Granted, there might’ve been a discount because the Red Sox just won the World Series. Granted, there might’ve been a discount because Capuano grew up in Massachusetts. But if there were substantially bigger offers out there, it stands to reason Capuano would’ve taken one of those, so it’s curious that he was available so cheap.

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A.J. Burnett Finds New, Mediocre Home

A.J. Burnett‘s been real good for two years, and he was better last year than he was the year before, so there’s good reason to believe he’ll be an effective pitcher in 2014. On paper, he was one of the best pitchers available this offseason, but for the longest time he was a special case because it seemed like he’d either retire or return to the Pirates. Only more recently did Burnett express his desire to play, and his openness to playing elsewhere. Immediately he looked like an interesting short-term target for probable contenders. What’s happened instead is that the Phillies have signed him, for a year and $16 million.

The Phillies were long thought one of the finalists. It seems Burnett didn’t want to stray too far from home, and that eliminated plenty of would-be interested baseball teams. And I want to make it clear that one-year deals for good players are usually good deals, and for the Phillies, I don’t have a big problem with this roll of the dice. But Burnett probably took the biggest contract, and he wound up with a mediocre ballclub. Burnett probably doesn’t make the Phillies a playoff team, and an interesting question concerns what might happen in June or July.

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Mariners Replace Good Closer with Good Closer

The Mariners lost Tom Wilhelmsen last year, not to injury, but to whatever it is that capriciously claims the effectiveness of relievers with otherwise quality stuff. In stepped Danny Farquhar, one of two guys the Mariners got for Ichiro in a deal interpreted as nothing other than a dump and a favor. At the time, the Mariners said they liked Farquhar’s new cutter he’d shown in the minors. He proved to be, you could say, up to the task. There were 125 relievers last year who threw at least 50 innings. Farquhar ranked sixth in strikeout rate, between Kenley Jansen and Trevor Rosenthal. He ranked fourth in FIP-, between Mark Melancon and Craig Kimbrel. He ranked sixth in xFIP-, between Aroldis Chapman and Rosenthal. As closer he had a 2.38 ERA. In no time, Farquhar established himself as perhaps one of the better relievers in the major leagues.

On Thursday the Mariners replaced Farquhar with free-agent Fernando Rodney. It had been rumored for months that the Mariners were interested in a veteran closer, and they got the last good one for two years and $14 million, with another possible million in incentives. The Orioles were a possibility, but it seems they’ll stay internal. For the Mariners, on the surface, it’s a strange move. Below the surface, it’s a perfectly reasonable move, that fits within the current market.

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Masahiro Tanaka: New York Yankee

The annoying thing about Masahiro Tanaka’s signing window was that we knew nothing would happen until the very end of it. The convenient thing about Masahiro Tanaka’s signing window was that we knew there was a designated, set-in-stone end of it, so it’s not like things could drag on forever. This put Tanaka in a unique position, and in the end, he didn’t wait until the very last minute to make a choice — with a few days to spare, Tanaka’s elected to sign with the Yankees, for seven years and $155 million.

Also, there is an opt-out clause after the fourth year. Also, there is the matter of the $20 million posting fee. Put the numbers together and it’s a commitment similar to the one the Tigers made to Justin Verlander and that the Mariners made to Felix Hernandez, and while you can’t just add the posting fee to the salary total like that, and while the opt-out clause has its own value, and while some extra time has passed, and while this is the Yankees, and while those other guys weren’t free agents, it’s clear that Tanaka isn’t expected to contribute a serviceable 33 starts. Regardless of the fact that this is Yankees money, the expectation is that Tanaka will pitch like an ace. At least, like he’ll pitch like a good No. 2.

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Dan Haren Becomes Rare Underpaid Dodger

Ken Rosenthal of is reporting the Los Angeles Dodgers have signed Dan Haren to a one-year, $10 million deal that has a vesting 2015 option if Haren works at least 180 innings next season. Last month, when we did our crowdsourcing for Haren, Carson Cistulli presented the following Haren facts:
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Pirates Land Marlon Byrd, as Upgrade, in 2013

Every baseball season is crazy, and the crazy can never be completely summed up in one sentence. There’s just too much of it, in too many places, and no one wants to read that long of a sentence. But here’s a sentence that captures some of the 2013 crazy to date: on August 27, the Pittsburgh Pirates have traded for Marlon Byrd. Suggested, by that sentence, is that the Pirates are in the playoff hunt, hence their desire to make an upgrade. Suggested, also, by that sentence, is that Marlon Byrd is an upgrade, in this season. It’s been weird. It’s always weird, but it’s been weird.

If you’d like all of the details, Anthony DiComo has many of them. The Pirates are adding Byrd, John Buck, and some cash from the Mets. The Mets are adding Dilson Herrera and a player to be named player from the Pirates. The Pirates recently put Starling Marte on the disabled list, and they recently lost their backup catcher for the season. They’re still in great shape to at least play in the one-game wild-card playoff, and by making this swap in August instead of September, Byrd and Buck will be postseason-roster eligible. It’s easy to understand the Pirates’ motivation, and it’s easy to understand the Mets’ desire to get something young for a month of two veterans.

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The Odds of Matt Harvey Breaking Down

Yesterday, it was reported Matt Harvey may need Tommy John surgery because of a torn UCL in his right elbow. Some people may say they saw the injury coming and the Mets were crazy to let him throw over 175 innings this season, but the evidence doesn’t really support those ideas. After looking over the history of other 24-year-olds, it appears that the pitcher’s ability to throw hard and recent small velocity drop were the only identifiable injury indicators.

Myself and others have looked at many indications of a pitchers chances of getting hurt. High increase in innings for a young pitcher (Verducci Effect). Velocity and Zone% drop (PAIN Index). Inconsistency in release points and velocity late in a game. High breaking ball usage. Bad Mechanics. High fastball velocity.

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Expanded Replay Probably Coming, Probably Flawed

Major League Baseball is looking to expand its instant-replay review system in time for the 2014 regular season. This much has been known for a while, and it’s been discussed and debated several times over. I don’t know if there’s anyone out there who still has a fresh and original take on the matter of replay review. Opinions have been established. Minds have been made up. Now, though, we do get some details about a plan proposal. There’s been a meeting in Cooperstown, and I’ll allow Ken Rosenthal to take it away:

Baseball owners are considering a proposal under which managers would initiate replay reviews.
Under the proposed rules, managers will be allowed two challenges over the first six innings of games and one after the seventh inning. Calls that are challenged will be reviewed by a crew in MLB headquarters in New York City, which will make the final ruling.

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Johnny Cueto’s Twist

Johnny Cueto came off the disabled list and started for the Reds last night. He had been on the disabled list due to a sore right oblique; it was the same injury he experienced during last season’s playoffs. His unique twisting windup seems to be the reason that he’s suffered the same ailment twice now, and he has said he might consider changing his delivery to correct the problem in the future.

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Anatomy of a Really Bad Call

It is an irrefutable fact that nothing that happens at the beginning of April can cost a team an entire baseball season. That is, short of a disaster or otherwise some act of God. You know what there’s a lot left of? Regular-season baseball. There is so much regular-season baseball left to be played. Things are going to happen, and seasons are going to change course. At this point we’re practically still in extended spring training.

But it is likewise an irrefutable fact that every single game of a regular season matters. Which is why we turn our attention to a game between the Rays and Rangers in Texas on Monday night. A year ago, the Rays finished within a few games of a playoff spot. The Rangers lost the division on the season’s last day, and then they were eliminated in the one-game wild-card playoff. The Rays and Rangers both project to contend in 2013. Things are going to be tight, most likely, making everything matter more, and on Monday, the Rangers closed out the Rays thanks to what we might charitably label a controversial call.

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Doing the Best With Jose Valverde

All offseason long, the Detroit Tigers denied interest in re-signing free-agent closer Jose Valverde. Every other team in baseball also effectively denied interest in signing Valverde. The Tigers did next to nothing to address their closer situation, and on Wednesday, Phil Coke blew a save against the Twins. Thursday, the Tigers signed Valverde, albeit to a minor-league contract with an early-May opt out. There have been, I think, two primary responses:

(1) It’s a minor-league contract so it’s utterly risk-free — if Valverde doesn’t earn a big-league job, he won’t be given a big-league job. What’s the harm?

(2) The Tigers won’t be able to help themselves. Valverde isn’t what he was, but it won’t be long before he’s closing again for Detroit, and possibly costing them games. He’s “proven”, he’s familiar, he’s still thought of as a closer despite everything. This is how it starts.

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CC Sabathia’s Velocity Is Definitely Worth Watching

Every year we hear stories about pitchers whose fastballs don’t seem to have the same life as last year. The most talked about are typically front-line starters that rely on their fastballs. In early 2013, the name that’s being discussed the most is Yankee ace CC Sabathia.

Throughout spring training, Sabathia’s velocity has been a point of concern. Coming off of elbow surgery during the offseason, Sabathia’s first regular season start did nothing to quell that concern. As The Star-Ledger’s Andy McCullough notes:

Sabathia’s fastball topped out at 91.7 mph on Monday, according to Pitch f/x data from Brooks Baseball. On Opening Day in 2012, his fastball hit 94.5 mph. On Opening Day in 2011, his fastball touched 94.7 mph.

(By the way, if you don’t read McCullough on a regular basis you are missing out.)

In the end, McCullough notes that while it’s reasonable to be concerned, Sabathia is likely to improve as the season wears on and has good enough secondary stuff to still be very good.

Overall McCullough is right, however, I think there is greater reason for concern than some may think.

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Justin Verlander Summits Money Mountain

For much of the offseason, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw were non-literally linked. All three have been among the most consistently outstanding starting pitchers in the world entire. All three were to enter 2013 two years away from free agency. So all three were to entertain thoughts of signing long-term contract extensions. Felix signed first, re-upping with the Mariners for the rest of days. Now, Friday, with the season just about upon us, Verlander has signed second, re-upping with the Tigers for several days himself.

Depending on how you think about things, Verlander has signed either a seven-year contract or a five-year contract. Verlander was already under contract for $20 million in each of the next two seasons, but upon the new agreement some of the language concerning those two seasons has changed. In any case, after Verlander makes $20 million a year for two years, he’ll make $28 million a year for five. The breakdown:

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Brewers Find Starter, Lohse Finds Work

Monday morning, Dave Cameron posted his bottom half of the 2013 starting pitcher positional power rankings. Just going to go ahead and paste a few select excerpts:

There’s a reason the team keeps getting tied to Kyle Lohse – he would be a pretty big upgrade over the internal candidates for the Brewers rotation.


If they had another quality starter, having two interesting upside guys with big variance at the back of the rotation would be more palatable. As it is, the Brewers look like they’re at least one good pitcher short of being a contender this year.

Funny story!

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Edgar Renteria’s Underrated Career

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

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

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Dodgers Temporarily With 100% Less Hanley Ramirez

You don’t know how close you came to reading a “Hand-ley Ramirez” joke. I guess now you might.

Hanley Ramirez participated in the recently-concluded World Baseball Classic. He played third base, even though he was to spend the regular season as a shortstop. While attempting to make a play in the field the other day, Ramirez jammed his thumb, and shortly thereafter he was removed. Initial estimates put him out for 2-10 weeks, pending further word. Further word is in, and it’s not good news for Ramirez or for the Dodgers. It is good news for Ramirez’s backups, if they’re selfish.

According to Ken Rosenthal, and since confirmed by others, Ramirez is having surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament. His thumb won’t be able to do anything for three weeks, and it’s estimated that Ramirez could return to action in eight weeks. Depending on the length of any rehab assignment, then, the Dodgers will be without Hanley Ramirez until mid- or late-May. Which means Ramirez is set to miss a quarter or a third of the regular season, barring any setbacks or surprises.

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Scott Kazmir Strikes Out Josh Hamilton

Previously, it was Oliver Perez. Earlier in his career, Oliver Perez was a good major-league pitcher. Then he was a worse major-league pitcher, then he was a bad major-league pitcher, then he was nothing, thought to be hopeless. Perez resurfaced in winter ball, allegedly reaching his old velocity levels as a reliever. The Mariners gave him a chance, and he worked his way into a big-league bullpen. Perez will be back in that bullpen in 2013, armed with a rich new contract, and just like that, Oliver Perez has been resurrected.

Now we have the case of Scott Kazmir. Earlier in his career, Kazmir was a good major-league pitcher. Then he was a worse major-league pitcher, then he was a bad major-league pitcher, then he was nothing, thought to be hopeless. Kazmir was awful the last time he pitched in affiliated ball, and he wasn’t particularly good with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters. Kazmir resurfaced in winter ball, allegedly reaching his old velocity levels as a starter. The Indians gave him a contract, and right now Kazmir is on his way to making the starting rotation out of camp.

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White Sox Looking to Lock Up Chris Sale

From the esteemed Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago:

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


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

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

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Michael Bourn Joins Indians’ Roster of Interest

Michael Bourn was supposed to become a very highly-paid player. Then all the teams with center-field vacancies started filling them with other guys, leaving Bourn on the market. It was an impossible market to read, and, per usual, people started wondering if Scott Boras had overplayed his hand. Eventually there was talk that the Mets would be interested, if they could negotiate to have their first draft pick protected. So, for a short while, it looked like Bourn could sign with the Mets. But, instead, Bourn has now signed with the Indians, joining fellow free-agent acquisition Nick Swisher. And Bourn is going to be a very highly-paid player, if to a lesser extent than expected.

The terms are as such: four years and $48 million, guaranteed, with a vesting fifth-year option worth $12 million. Ages ago, the FanGraphs audience — that’s you! — projected that Bourn would sign for five years and $70 million. So, relative to expectations, Cleveland has done pretty well.

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