Archive for Rays

New Allegations of MLB Bias in MASN Dispute

The MASN dispute between the Orioles and Nationals continues to wage on in New York state court. As a review, the fight involves an arbitration decision issued last year by MLB’s Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee (the “RSDC”), awarding the Nationals roughly $60 million dollars per year in broadcast rights fees from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. This award was nearly $30 million more per year than the team had previously been receiving, but far less than the roughly $120 million it had requested.

The Orioles, who own a majority share of the MASN network, have contested the arbitration outcome, contending that the arbitrators – the owners of the New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Tampa Bay Rays – were biased in favor of the Nationals. MASN and the Orioles filed suit back in August, asking the court to overturn the arbitration decision. Last month, the court ordered MLB to produce documents in the case relating to commissioner-elect Rob Manfred’s involvement in the arbitration proceedings.

This week both MASN and the Orioles filed new papers with the court, further describing the alleged bias of MLB and its arbitrators.

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A’s Complete Roster Overhaul, Add Ben Zobrist

The White Sox have had an incredibly busy offseason, but the goal’s always been clear. The Padres, too, have had a busy offseason, striving for an obvious purpose. Right before the Padres took the industry by storm, it was the Dodgers who were making moves every half hour, toward, again, a clear goal of contention. The A’s have had their own busy offseason, but theirs had been more confusing. Giving three guaranteed years to Billy Butler seemed like a move for a team trying to win. Dealing away a long-term asset like Josh Donaldson seemed like the opposite. To Oakland’s credit, though, they stuck to their own message — they weren’t trying to rebuild. They don’t believe in rebuilds. And now we can see how things all come together.

When the Rays signed Asdrubal Cabrera, after having acquired Nick Franklin last summer, they were provided the flexibility to move Ben Zobrist in advance of his contract year. Zobrist, of course, appealed to just about every team in baseball, on account of his talent and flexibility. Now Zobrist has been moved, and he’s been moved to the A’s, along with Yunel Escobar, in exchange for John Jaso, Daniel Robertson, and Boog Powell. The trade’s interesting from the Tampa Bay side, just because it involves moving one of the best players on the team. And the trade’s interesting from the Oakland side, because it adds a great player at little short-term cost. Score yet another point for those who issue reminders that you shouldn’t judge offseasons until they’re complete.

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The Point of Asdrubal Cabrera

Asdrubal Cabrera‘s signing with the Rays. There was thought the free-agent middle infielder would get multiple years, given the number of teams looking for a shortstop or a second baseman, but by the reports, Cabrera is signing for one year and something in the vicinity of $8 million. Call it the A.J. Burnett contract, if you’d like. Cabrera’s an unexciting player, signing for unexciting terms.

Whenever you think about a fresh transaction, there’s a desire to find and identify that certain hidden something. That one thing about a given player that made him so appealing to his new team. I don’t think there’s a certain hidden something about Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s a fairly established entity: he’s a relatively poor defensive shortstop who used to be a better player than he is. He can play short but he fits better at second, and his overall offense is close enough to being average you can get away with calling it average. What do you have when you have an average hitter who’s roughly an average overall defender? That’s an average player. Cabrera’s close to that, and maybe a little bit worse.

This isn’t a franchise player, the Rays are signing. This isn’t a player many will remember as having been a Ray five or ten years down the line. This is just one of those small, fine deals every team has to make, and the most interesting thing about it is what it means for other players. The Rays are signing Asdrubal Cabrera, which means more and more people are talking about Ben Zobrist.

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How Many Runs Won’t Wil Myers Save in Center Field?

According to Dennis Lin of the U-T San Diego, the San Diego Padres — despite rumors to the contrary — aren’t interested in flipping the recently acquired Wil Myers to the Phillies in exchange for Philadelphia left-hander Cole Hamels.

Writes Lin:

Indications from sources within the organization… are that the Padres intend on playing all three of their newest outfielders, including Myers. The early plan is for the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year to start in center field, flanked by fellow power-hitting right-handers Justin Upton and Matt Kemp.

The bold is mine and the bold is of some interest insofar as center field, with the exception of 51 innings in 2013, isn’t a position at which Wil Myers has spent much time as a major leaguer. He played it to a greater extent in the minors, making about two-thirds as many starts there as he did in right field while still a member of the Royals organization. But one also notes that minor-league defensive assignment aren’t necessarily excellent indicators of future major-league defensive prowess. Miguel Cabrera, for example — on something more intimate than just nodding terms with inertia even as a 20-year-old rookie — nevertheless made more minor-league starts at shortstop than any other position. Michael Morse made 95% of his nearly 500 minor-league starts at shortstop leading up to his 2005 major-league debut. His physique now isn’t identical to his physique then, but he’s still the same human — and that human wasn’t a good shortstop in 2005.

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The International Bonus Pools Don’t Matter

International baseball has been in the news often lately with the ongoing saga of Yoan Moncada (he’s in America now), the signing of Yasmany Tomas and yesterday’s news that Cuba-U.S. relations could be getting much better.  In recent news, at the yearly international scouting directors’ meeting at the Winter Meetings last week, sources tell me there was no talk about the recent controversial rule change and no talk about an international draft, as expected.

So much has been happening lately that you may have temporarily forgotten about last summer, when the Yankees obliterated the international amateur spending record (and recently added another prospect). If the early rumors and innuendo are any indication, the rest of baseball isn’t going to let the Yankees have the last word.

I already mentioned the Cubs as one of multiple teams expected to spend well past their bonus pool starting on July 2nd, 2015.  I had heard rumors of other clubs planning to get in the act when I wrote that, but the group keeps growing with each call I make, so I decided to survey the industry and see where we stand.  After surveying about a dozen international sources, here are the dozen clubs that scouts either are sure, pretty sure or at least very suspicious will be spending past their bonus pool, ranked in order of likelihood:

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Burch Smith and the Problem of Holding Velocity

Right-hander Burch Smith has been traded from San Diego to Tampa Bay. “Will he start or not?” is a question a person might reasonably ask about that. What follows is an attempt to answer the question — in part, if not in whole.

At some point during during April or May of 2013, after the latter had produced some conspicuously excellent numbers with Double-A San Antonio, the present author developed a fascination with then-Padres right-hander Burch Smith — including that pitcher, for example, in multiple editions of the Fringe Five.

When Smith was finally promoted to the Padres, it was not unlike Christmas on May 11th. And even after Smith conceded six runs over a single inning in his debut, I remained curiously enamored of him.

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The Biggest Remaining Lineup Needs

The Winter Meetings revelry has passed. We’re still waiting on a few big trades to finally ‘consummate,’ but the list of free agents is less attractive by day. Before you turn down a chance at glory with the guys left waiting for a team, it’s probably a good idea to look at how badly you need them. This is not dating advice, but it sort of feels like it.

To that end, I’ve taking our depth charts and calculated a quick stat for ‘neediness.’ By averaging team WAR over 13 roster spots — the portion of the 25-man roster usually used for offense — and then looking at the difference between that average WAR and each position WAR, I’ve found a way to show where the biggest remaining lineup holes are.

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Of Course Steven Souza Is Going to the Rays

Generally speaking, in such cases as a prospect — or any player, really — possesses a combination of power and speed, said player is regarded with some interest by what is referred to broadly as the “scouting community.” While sabermetricians have (in the past, at least) cultivated a reasonable suspicion about such players — or, at least the level of enthusiasm exhibited on their behalfs — it’s also true that those players who’ve both (a) demonstrated power and speed have also generally (b) developed into above-average major leaguers.

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The Top-Five Rays Prospects by Projected WAR

Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Tampa Bay Rays. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Tampa Bay’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Rays system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Rays system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Tampa Bay Rays

Evaluating the Prospects: RangersRockiesDiamondbacksTwinsAstrosRed SoxCubsWhite SoxRedsPhillies & Rays

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

The common narrative about the Rays system is that 1) it’s down from past years and 2) this is because they can’t pick good players unless they pick in the top 10.  Over the 19 years of the franchise, here’s the 7 productive big leaguers over 9 tries they’ve picked from the top 6 overall slots: David Price, Evan Longoria, Josh Hamilton, Rocco Baldelli, B.J. Upton, Jeff Niemann and Delmon Young.

In 21 first round/sandwich picks outside of the top 6 slots, they’ve produced no big leaguers of consequence and the top current prospects of the group are Justin O’Conner (#2) and Blake Snell (#5) on the list below.  There’s obviously something to these critiques, but it’s important to keep in mind that the return from draft picks is exponential: the top few picks are supposed to produce far more value than late first round picks.

Due to all the extra high-round picks and farm-stocking trades, along with an increasingly prominent international program, the Rays system is as deep as almost any other.  Because the high bonus players haven’t worked out for Tampa Bay at even a league average rate, the top of the system is much weaker than others and their #1 prospect was acquired in a recent trade, along with #4 and #8.  There’s enough young, high-upside talent for this high-end shortage to change by this time next year, but it’s impossible to forecast something like that happening.

It’s also worth noting that 8 of the 31 prospects ranked here were acquired via trade; the Rays system has to be deep given the way the organization approaches roster building.  If the system was run like a big market team perennially in the playoffs (think Detroit), where prospects are traded once they have trade value to prop up the big league team, the Rays farm system could pretty easily be the worst in baseball due to their struggles in the draft.

Two things to monitor in the system is the catching depth (which took a hit when Arizona took Oscar Hernandez #1 overall in the Rule 5 Draft last week) and the glut of infielders with prospect value that fit best in Triple-A Durham. Behind Ryan Hanigan and Curt Casali at the big league level, the Rays’ primary catchers starting in Triple-A and moving down the chain should be Luke Maile, Justin O’Conner, Hernandez (who most expect to be returned by Arizona), Nick Ciuffo, David Rodriguez and Rafelin Lorenzo, all of whom are mentioned below as prospects, which is very rare.

In the Durham glut, the Rays have SS, Hak-Ju Lee, SS Jake Hager, SS Tim Beckham, 2B/SS Nick Franklin, 2B Ryan Brett and 3B/1B Richie Shaffer, all with varying levels of prospect value.  There’s hope that one or two of these guys could play their way onto the 25-man MLB roster, but the organization is aware that, barring injuries, some players may have to play out of position or at a lower level than expected to make things work.

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2015 ZiPS Projections – Tampa Bay Rays

After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Tampa Bay Rays. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Atlanta.

Ben Zobrist remains the very quietest superstar, probably, in baseball. Since 2009 — which is to say, over the last six years — only Miguel Cabrera (37.9) has produced a higher WAR than Zobrist (35.4). Just behind him: Robinson Cano (34.6), Evan Longoria (34.0), and Andrew McCutchen (33.9). Were he compensated according to this his actual value, Ben Zobrist wouldn’t be a Tampa Bay Ray. ZiPS calls for the Zobrist’s lowest WAR since 2008, but that’s unsurprising considering where he is on the age curve.

The club’s other underpaid — but probably more famous — star, Evan Longoria, had a difficult 2014 season by his standards, producing a batting line just above league average and a 3.4 WAR overall in a full complement of plate appearances. His WAR projection in this iteration of ZiPS is a win-and-a-half lower than last year’s.

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Tampa Bay Drops the Face of Framing

In his final season as the face of baseball, Derek Jeter wasn’t the best player in baseball. He generated a forever memorable moment to close out his time in New York, but the year saw him finish with a wRC+ that was 46 points below his career average. Since Jeter’s retirement, people have openly wondered which player might take over as the new face of the game. I don’t know. I don’t care. This just serves as a strained introduction. Jose Molina might’ve just finished his final season as the face of pitch-framing. He might not have been the best pitch-framer in baseball, but he was close, because framing, unlike hitting, doesn’t follow a dramatic aging curve. The year saw Molina finish with a wRC+ that was 41 points below his career average. That’s dreadful, for a player whose career average is bad.

Molina’s 39. The Rays didn’t simply elect not to keep Molina. The Rays had Molina under contract, and they’ve designated him and his $2.75-million salary for assignment. So this isn’t a move to save money. This is a move to try to be better, and the Rays think they have a capable tandem in Ryan Hanigan and Curt Casali. That much is perfectly defensible. This isn’t interesting because the Rays are letting Molina go; this is interesting because no one else offered to pick Molina up at his salary.

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Standout Prospects from the AFL Title Game

The Arizona Fall League championship game (domestic professional baseball’s de facto funeral for the year) featured superlative performances from a number of prospects that may have piqued your curiosity. Here’s a look at how, after nearly two months of evaluating these players, I feel things will play out moving forward.

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Diamondbacks Decide to Find Out What Jeremy Hellickson Is

Over his first full season, back in 2011, Jeremy Hellickson ran a mediocre 115 FIP-. It wasn’t a particularly awful mark for a rookie, but that doesn’t suggest the kind of talent you build around. Yet, the same year, Hellickson also posted an ERA- of 76. By the numbers you don’t notice while watching, Hellickson was 15% worse than average. By the numbers you do notice while watching, Hellickson was 24% better than average. The ERA-/FIP- difference of 39 points was, to that point, the biggest full-season difference since 1996. Hellickson became a pitcher of intrigue.

And then he went and doubled down. As a sophomore, a 117 FIP-. As a sophomore, an 80 ERA-. That’s a difference of 37 points, which is basically tied with his first difference of 39 points, and it’s also one of the greatest single-season differences in recent history. One time, you might be comfortable writing off as a fluke. But twice in a row? That’s twice the sample size. Oh, the questions we all asked. Through his first 400-some innings, Hellickson looked like one of the fabled breakers of modern analytics.

Now it’s November 2014 and Hellickson is property of the Diamondbacks. Some things have changed.

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Can The Rays Cut Payroll And Still Compete?

Let’s start with four Tampa Bay Rays-related facts we know to be either true or at least have been recently publicly stated as such:

  1. The team’s 85 losses in 2014 were more than the franchise has had since 2007, when they were still the Devil Rays, had Brendan Harris, Akinori Iwamura and Delmon Young in the regular lineup, and were finishing off a run off 10 consecutive 90-plus-loss seasons.
  2. The two men most publicly associated with turning the franchise around, general manager Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon, both departed in the past month in search of higher salaries and greater visibility.
  3. The 2015 payroll, as disclosed by owner Stu Sternberg in September, is “clearly going to be lower” than the $76 million Opening Day figure it was this year, a franchise record that nonetheless ranked as one of the lowest numbers in baseball and was referred to by Sternberg as “an enormous aberration.” While there are plenty of very valid reasons not to shift blame to the fan base, this is no doubt impacted by a third consecutive season at the bottom of the average attendance standings.
  4. The battle to find the team a new stadium, clearly the main impediment towards long-term success and stability in the Tampa Bay area, continues to go nowhere, with a recent Tampa Bay Times editorial clearly showing the exhaustion and frustration with the issue, and forcing franchise officials to deal with rumors of a move to Montreal.

This isn’t all going to be doom-and-gloom, I promise, but it’s going to start out that way, because those four items are all irrefutably bad news. While new baseball boss Matt Silverman is well-respected and a replacement for Maddon hasn’t yet been named, it’s probably time to investigate the Rays as the offseason gets moving and ask the question: Have we seen the best this franchise has to offer? Has the miraculous run of success that lasted longer than anyone thought would finally come to an end? Read the rest of this entry »

The 2014 Joe Carter-Tony Batista Award

The days of having to rail against runs batted in as a particularly useful indicator of individual offensive value are long behind us. That does not mean there might not be potentially interesting research to do on situational hitting or the like, but simply that the straight-up use of RBI is not something that really needs to be debated.

Nonetheless, it is still interesting to see what sorts of hitters can accumulate high numbers of RBI, something we recognize with an award named for two players who managed big RBI numbers despite less than impressive advanced hitting metrics: the John Carter-Tony Bautista Award.

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The Value of Joe Maddon

Under pretty much all circumstances, relative to people involved in the game, we the public have a lesser amount of information. Sometimes, it’s close, like when it comes to specific player valuation — we have access to almost as much as the teams and executives do. But sometimes we’re bringing a straw to a knife fight. There’s perhaps nothing we understand less than the value of a manager. Analysts have tried to dig in deep, and within our heads we have ideas of which guys are better than others, but ultimately we’re always guessing on the impact. What are we supposed to do with charisma and leadership? The attempted evaluation of managers causes many people to just throw up their hands. Why even bother?

So, from the outside, we can barely say anything. We simply don’t know. And maybe teams don’t know much, either. Maybe they’re guessing almost as much as we are. But we can at least evaluate market behavior as an indirect reflection of a guy’s perceived value. And the market has responded strongly to Joe Maddon’s sudden and unanticipated free agency. The Cubs are going to hire Maddon, officially, maybe before I’m done writing this post. It’s pretty clear, then, how highly Maddon is thought of.

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Early Returns of the Drew Smyly Project

One of the tricky parts of this job can be finding information people might not know about. Statistical insight these days can be a challenge. One of the easier parts can be building off of somebody else’s idea, putting together a deeper dive on another person’s insight. So full credit to Ken Rosenthal, who wrote up a little section about Drew Smyly a day or so after talking about him on a TV game broadcast. Smyly’s been shut down by the Rays because of his innings total, but prior to that he looked like a much-improved pitcher in Tampa Bay, and here’s some stuff passed along by Rosenthal:

The Rays told Smyly to elevate his fastball more — sort of a counter-intuitive move for a pitcher — and they also emphasized that while he was successful getting to two strikes against right-handed hitters, he needed to find better ways to finish those hitters off.

The Rays and Rosenthal have provided the insight. I’m just here to show you some actual numbers. That’s a very informative paragraph, telling you something about Smyly and telling you something about the Rays. And as we look forward to 2015, might Smyly be a better part of the David Price return than he’s been given credit for?

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Joe Maddon’s Bunting Identity Crisis

Two facts, with which you as a FanGraphs reader are likely familiar:

  • The Tampa Bay Rays are among the most sabermetrically-inclined organizations in major league baseball.
  • Sabermetrically-inclined folk generally are against the decision to sacrifice bunt.

One more fact, with which you are less likely to be familiar:

  • The Tampa Bay Rays have attempted 58 non-pitcher sacrifice bunts this season, by far the highest mark in the major leagues. No other team has even 50.

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Brad Boxberger Has Arrived, In Reverse

This is going to be one of those things where probably 95% of you will go “Wow, that’s somewhat interesting,” while 5% of you — the percentage who are a fan or close follower of the Tampa Bay Rays, probably — will say “Yeah, genius, we’ve been following this for months.” Still, the third week of August has some of the doggiest days of the summer, and there’s only so much to be said about tight division races that will only be resolved by waiting for games to be played. So for the moment, let’s check in on a little-known reliever doing something a bit extraordinary.

We’re talking about Brad Boxberger, of course. He’s 26. He’s in his third major league season and his third major league organization. He was once a first-round pick — if you can really say “No. 43 overall is a first-round pick” with a straight face — and he’s been in trades for both Mat Latos and Jesse Hahn/Alex Torres. He’s a righty. He throws two pitches: a fastball and a change. He throws them kind of hard, but not exceptionally so. He’s averaging about 93 mph on his fastball.

If this sounds like your typical fungible righty middle reliever, well, yeah, so far he does. Boxberger didn’t even break camp with the Rays this year, and didn’t stick when they did call for him. On April 14, he came up for three appearances but returned to Triple-A Durham five days later to make room for the immortal Charles Riefenhauser. On May 1, he came up as the 26th man in a doubleheader, then he went down immediately after the game. He returned on May 6 when Nate Karns was sent out. On May 8, he pitched an “immaculate inning,” getting three strikeouts on nine pitches with the bases loaded.

Boxberger has stuck around ever since, and he’s used that time well. He’s in the middle of doing something we haven’t quite seen… well, ever. Read the rest of this entry »