Archive for Rays

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 »


Nick Ciuffo and Josh Almonte: Raw Promise in the Appy League

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his change-up, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. Often, those will be the same grades. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. – Kiley

Nick Ciuffo, C, Princeton Rays (Rays Rookie-Advanced)

Ciuffo was the Rays’ 21st overall pick out of a South Carolina high school in 2013 ($1.97 million bonus) and was a near wire-to-wire first round pick from the summer showcase season to draft day, after a standout prep career where he drew a scholarship offer from the local Gamecocks before he played in high school.  While his swing and frame aren’t necessarily as pretty as other prep hitter first round picks, Ciuffo made plenty of contact with above average raw power and showed the tools to stick behind the plate with an above average to plus arm.  Scouts often compared him to A.J. Pierzynski as a solid-across-the-board backstop with everyday upside.

Hit: 20/45, Raw Power: 55/55, Game Power: 20/45, Speed: 40/35, Field: 45/50+, Throw: 60/60   – Kiley

Ciuffo is a potential plus defensive catcher who might offer enough bat to make a real impact.

Hit: 20/40 Read the rest of this entry »


Finding Baseball’s Least-Effective Pitch

We have a pretty good idea of baseball’s best pitches. You’ve got the Aroldis Chapman fastball. You’ve got the Kenley Jansen cutter. The Adam Wainwright curveball. The Stephen Strasburg changeup. The Cole Hamels changeup. The Felix Hernandez changeup. The Corey Kluber whatever it is. The Clayton Kershaw curveball. The Kershaw slider. The Kershaw hypothetical splitter that, in my imagination, he doesn’t throw because he doesn’t need to because of his curveball and his slider. There’s no clear winner, but there are plenty of candidates, and all of them are amazing.

We don’t have as good an idea of baseball’s worst pitches. The truth is baseball’s worst pitches don’t get thrown often outside the bullpen. They’re projects in which pitchers don’t have confidence, so you don’t see them in games. But we can skip over to something related, something that might stand as a decent proxy: We have the data to identify baseball’s least-effective pitches. At least among pitches that are thrown more than once or twice a month. This is one of the uses of the FanGraphs pitch-value data, and if you set a 50-pitch minimum, the second-least effective pitch this year has been Wei-Chung Wang‘s changeup. And the first-least effective pitch this year? That honor belongs to Drew Smyly.

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Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb: Two Pitches, One Grip

Jake Odorizzi arrived in the Tampa Bay organization with a slew of breaking balls, a decent fastball, and questions about his changeup. After more struggle with the change, he reached out to teammate Alex Cobb, who had once had a similar issue. Cobb taught him the grip for his splitter, and Odorizzi’s game took off.

The interesting thing, though, is that Odorizzi’s pitch is different — despite having the same grip. For two pitches that they’ve nicknamed Thing 1 and Thing 2, these aren’t the indistinguishable twins from The Cat in the Hat.

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Don’t Write Off The Rays End Of The David Price Deal Just Yet

Today was quite the deadline spectacle, with two of the best pitchers in baseball, Jon Lester and David Price, changing uniforms. The Lester deal hit early, and it was an eye-opener, with the “buyer” A’s “selling” their #4 hitter, Yoenis Cespedes in the process. The movement of established players, such as Cespedes, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, by buyers in pursuit of their needs came to be one of the themes of the day.

As they often do, however, the Tampa Bay Rays zigged while everyone else zagged, and “sold” ace lefty David Price to the Tigers in a three-team deal that sent Austin Jackson to the Mariners, and lefty starter Drew Smyly and infielders Nick Franklin and Willy Adames to the Rays. The reaction of many media outlets to the Rays’ take had a quizzical or even disappointed tone. It takes a little more analysis – and an understanding of the way the underfunded Rays need to do business – to see what they’re up to here. To put it simply, the Rays are trusting their solid organizational evaluation skills as they have many times in the past, and see an abundance of talent and team control in this three-player package. Read the rest of this entry »


Jake Odorizzi and the 2014 Value of the Trade

When the Royals and Rays matched up on the big James Shields/Wil Myers (and others) trade in the winter of 2012-13, the judgement from the baseball community was swift and decisive. It wasn’t necessarily that you couldn’t trade a budding star like Myers away under any circumstances; after all, plenty of people liked the Jeff Samardzija / Jason Hammel trade for Oakland even though it cost them Addison Russell. It was that the 2013 Royals, unlike the 2014 A’s, didn’t appear to be close enough to success to make a “win-now” move at that price. It was that the Royals already had a Jeff Francoeur-sized hole in right field and could have made a similar overall improvement by just putting Myers out there instead.

It seemed that Dayton Moore was trading the future for the present, even though the present wasn’t likely to work out, and so far, that’s been the case. The 2013 Royals won 86 games, a huge 14-game improvement over the 72-win 2012 team, but didn’t come close to the playoffs. The 2014 Royals are two games over .500, and our latest playoff odds give them just a 14.7 percent chance of making it to October. Recent reports that they’re looking for a right-handed right fielder have led to some pretty easy snark considering who they gave away. Dave wrote last week that they should trade Shields now, since he’s an impending free agent; I argued that they were the team most likely to mistakenly “go for it” before the deadline.

If the Shields trade was made on the premise that they needed to get to the playoffs for it to be a success, then it certainly looks like it’s going to be a failure, just as most predicted the day it was made. Needless to say, nearly two years later, the trade still looks bad for Kansas City… but maybe not exactly in the way that we might have thought. Read the rest of this entry »


So Jose Molina Has Three Stolen Bases

It’s a bit of an odd time to write about baseball. Some trades are trickling in, but we’re about a week removed from the All Star Game. The ASG break is a great time to do some summaries, compare some first halves, look at some guys who may be surprising or disappointing. But there’s only been a handful of days since everyone submitted those stories, and very little has happened since, at least as far as big-picture stuff goes. It is for this reason, and many other selfish reasons, that I am now writing about husky guys stealing bases.

This actually started as a tweet from fellow FanGraphs-er Jason Collette. It’s a fairly innocuous thing on its own. The fact that Molina has only scored three runs is a bit of an oddity, but more on a “weird baseball” level — which I assume Jason was going for. The fact that he has three steals is even less of a big deal. Lots of dudes don’t have many steals. As of this writng, 64 players have less than 3 steals. It is slightly noteworthy that Jose Molina has as many steals as both Starlin Castro and Andrelton Simmons, but only because guys like Castro and Simmons are smaller young guys that look like they should be speedy. Conversely, Molina looks like he should not be speedy. That is, he’s 39 years old and rotund.

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Tampa Bay’s New Center Fielder of the Future

Kevin Kiermaier debuted for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. Here were his end-of-season numbers:

G GS PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA WAR
Kiermaier 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0.0

The Rays added Kiermaier to their 40-man roster on September 30 last season for their Game 163 tiebreaker against the Texas Rangers. Kiermaier debuted in the ninth inning when Joe Maddon subbed him in as a defensive replacement in center field, and as a result Kiermaier earned a spot on the Rays postseason roster for their Wild Card game against the Indians. An unusual debut, to say the least, but not surprising given what was thought of Kiermaier at the time.

Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman called Kiermaier the best defensive player in their organization at any level at the time of his callup last season. MLB.com’s Bernie Pleskoff, a former professional scout, called Kiermaier an “outstanding defender” and went on to say that Kiermaier could win multiple Gold Gloves.

It was always thought that Kiermaier had a future as an MLB player, probably as a fourth or fifth outfielder who mostly served as a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch runner. Now, Kiermaier has the highest WAR on the team projected to be best in the AL East, and he’s done it in less than half as much playing time as anyone else.

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Prospect Watch: High-Ceiling Teenage Arms

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

This time around, I bring you tales of three teenagers who really stood out in recent viewings.

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Brent Honeywell, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 19  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 10/1 K/BB, 0.00 ERA, 1.58 FIP

Summary
Honeywell already looks like a steal with the 72nd pick in the draft.

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How Trading for David Price Changes the Odds

Something I assume the Rays understand: From here on out, they project to be perhaps the best team in the American League East. Something else I assume the Rays understand: They’ve dug themselves into too deep a hole, so this year the playoffs presumably aren’t in the cards. And that’s why we’re probably going to see the Rays trade David Price within the next couple weeks. He can help them only so much in 2014, he’ll be difficult for them to afford in 2015 and pieces received in return could replenish what’s become an emptier system than usual. This is how the Rays do the Rays. Price’s status is no kind of secret.

Given how good Price is — and given how many teams consider themselves to be in the playoff hunt — the lefty has a number of potential suitors. Price is the premier impact player available, so no one out there can shift the balance like he can. He might be worth 2 WAR in the final two-and-a-half months; then there’s the playoff bonus, to say nothing of 2015. It’s pretty easy to plug in numbers and see how Price could improve any rotation. But how do those improvements translate to changes in the odds?

Another way of asking the same question: Who might stand to benefit the most — in 2014 — from acquiring a guy like David Price?

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The International Spending Limits Are Not Limits At All

Major League Baseball’s signing period for international prospects kicked off on Wednesday and will continue until June 15, 2015. Teams may sign players residing outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico who have or will turn 16 by September 1 of this year. Just a few years ago, teams were allowed to spend as much as they wanted to develop and sign international prospects. That all changed with the current collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect in 2012.

The CBA imposes bonus pool limits on international signings. The team with the worst winning percentage in the prior year receives the largest bonus pool for the next year. The team with the best winning percentage receives the smallest. The remaining 28 teams fall in between, again according to their winning percentage from the prior season. International players who are 23 years of age or older, and have played professional baseball for five or more years, are exempt from the bonus pool limits. Click here for the list of bonus pools by team, with the Houston Astros on top with $5,015,400 and the St. Louis Cardinals at the bottom with $1,866,300.

In additional to the bonus pools, MLB also assigns slot values for international prospects, even though there is no international draft. But the slot values are tradeable, and are therefore valuable for teams looking to spend more on international prospects than their assigned bonus pool would allow. A team can trade for up to 50% of its bonus pool, but it must trade for a specific slot value. For example, a team with a $4 million bonus pool can trade for up to $2 million in pool space, but it must receive in return specific slot values that add up to $2 million, or less. Click here for the list of 120 slot values assigned to each team. The Astros have the top slot value of $3,300,900 and the Cardinals have the lowest at $137,600.

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Prospect Watch: Early Appalachian Standouts

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

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Reymin Guduan, LHP, Houston Astros (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 22  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 6/4 K/BB, 1.29 ERA, 3.97 FIP

Summary
Can you feel the heat?

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Trafficking in Cuban Ballplayers: A Look at Florida’s New Law

Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law on Friday that gives local governments access to $13 million annually in funding for the construction or renovation of a professional sports facility. To be eligible, the sports facility must be owned and operated by a local government or owned by a private entity that’s located on land owned by a local government.

Under the general terms of the new law, the Tampa Bay Rays would be eligible as a beneficiary of the new funding stream, as Tropicana Field is owned by the City of St. Petersburg. Same for the Miami Marlins, which play in a ballpark built largely with Miami-Dade County bonds. Then there are the nine teams that play in spring training facilities in Florida (Phillies, Blue Jays, Astros, Rigers, Rays, Pirates, Orioles, Mets and Twins) and the 14 minor league teams in Florida that play in a ballpark owned by — or on land owned by — the local government.

But an amendment to the bill added as it made its way through the Florida legislature carves out facilities used by MLB and MiLB franchises unless and until MLB changes its rules to permit Cuban ballplayers to sign as free agents if they defect from Cuba directly to the United States. Under current rules, MLB requires players to defect and establish residency in a non-U.S. country before coming to the United States to sign as a free agent.

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David Price, Future Cardinal?

Last week, I wrote that the best suitors for David Price were primarily lower revenue clubs who might not be able to afford his 2015 arbitration raise, leading to the possibility that Price could be traded both this summer and again this winter. Then, on Sunday, the Cardinals made that column obsolete. On the same day, they placed both Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia on the disabled list, with Wacha’s injury having a pretty open-ended timeline and raising the question of whether or not St. Louis can count on him returning this year.

Suddenly, the team with the most buying power of any team in baseball now has a glaring and immediate need for an impact starting pitcher. And David Price ending up in St. Louis almost feels inevitable.

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Prospect Watch: Short-Season Standouts

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment of the Prospect Watch, I’m checking in on three players who impressed me last year and are off to big starts this year in the short-season New York-Penn League.

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Rowan Wick, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (Profile)
Level: SS-A   Age: 21   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 43 PA, .361/.465/.972, 7 HR, 7 BB, 9 K

Summary
Wick has two plus tools and he’s laying waste to the NYPL early on.

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Evan Longoria is Missing the Best Part of His Game

Mike Trout has been baseball’s best and most dominant player since 2012, so a little earlier this year, when he encountered something of a slump, it was a newsworthy event. Trout seemed almost perfect in all things, so it raised more than a few eyebrows when he started striking out fairly often. Before Trout, there was no Trout, but between 2009 – 2011, no one accumulated more WAR than Evan Longoria. He was perhaps baseball’s best young player, and it’s not like he fell off a cliff after that; Trout was just better. But Longoria was an awesome young superstar, and he, too, seemed impervious to trouble. It would’ve been hard to imagine Longoria going through hard times.

Yet here we are now, and Longoria’s hit some hard times. Fortunately or unfortunately for him, it’s been partially masked by the whole Rays team dropping out of the race, and it’s not like Longoria’s been bad, but something’s been missing, something of great importance. He’s still just 28, so it’s probably too soon to talk about a decline, but to this point Longoria’s been without his greatest strength. And it’s a mystery as to why that is.

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The Rays As Sellers

The Rays may be in a new position when it comes to this year’s trade deadline. Since their playoff odds have dropped more than any other team’s since the beginning of the season and are now close to 5%, it’s at least hard to see them as buyers. Then again, they haven’t made a ton of in-season acquisitions in their more competitive past, and their team is built for 2015 as much as it was built for this year — it’s likely that their transition from buyers to sellers may come without many big moves.

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