Archive for Red Sox

The Particular Upside of Robbie Ross

Toward the end of the day on Tuesday, the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers swapped Anthony Ranaudo and Robbie Ross. It doesn’t immediately seem like a trade of much consequence: Ranaudo’s a prospect with diminishing sheen, and Ross is coming off a pretty ugly experience as an attempted big-league starter. And, probably, it won’t be a trade of much consequence. Ranaudo seems like, if he’ll be anything, he’ll be a decent reliever. And Ross has looked like a lefty reliever who doesn’t do a great job of getting lefties out.

But — well, let me start with this. I’m about to focus on one side of this trade. I’ve heard all you guys complaining that we post too much content about the Red Sox. I understand where you’re coming from, and this isn’t going to make things better. But this isn’t about fitting into a pattern; I just find Ross to be more interesting, statistically, than I do Ranaudo. Ranaudo’s all scouting. Visual learners are going to like to talk about him. Me? I want to share something about Ross’ 2014 — something that might make him better than he seems.

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2015 ZiPS Projections – Boston Red Sox

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 Boston Red Sox. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Arizona / Atlanta / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Los Angeles AL / Los Angeles NL / Miami / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York NL / Oakland / San Diego / San Francisco / St. Louis / Tampa Bay / Washington

Batters
Despite the considerable investments made by the club both in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval this offseason — amounting to nearly $200 million collectively, those contracts — the top WAR projection among all Red Sox players belongs to their second-round pick from the 2004 draft. Dustin Pedroia produced the lowest slugging and isolated-power figures (.376 and .098, respectively) of his career last year, while also recording a career-worst strikeout rate (12.3%). ZiPS calls for Pedroia to find some positive regression in all three areas while still retaining his elite second-base defense.

Probably also capable of providing if not elite, then at least above-average, second-base defense is Mookie Betts. Owing to the continued employment by the club of Pedroia, however, Betts will be forced to supply above-average defense elsewhere. In this case, the most likely destination is right field. It would fair to say that Betts doesn’t possess the typical right-field profile, featuring less power and size than most who play the position. He has excellent plate-discipline skills, however, plus speed and non-negligible power on contact. Note that Betts’ defensive projection below (of -1 runs) is for center field. The equivalent in right would be about +6 or +7 runs saved.

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Behold, A Rusney Castillo Projection

I don’t think it’s any secret we’ve been talking up the 2015 Red Sox for a while around here. It’s not so much that any of us are rooting for the Red Sox; it’s more that the numbers kept suggesting the Red Sox were in good shape, and we’re nothing if not loyal to the numbers. Our projected standings, based on the author-maintained depth charts, have long held that the Red Sox are a legitimate World Series contender. Yet for so long, one thing was missing: a projection for Rusney Castillo.

It’s not that he wasn’t on the depth chart. It’s that he was previously projected for something like -0.2 WAR, which is to say, Steamer hadn’t yet bothered to work anything out. So our actual numbers were incomplete. Now, granted, -0.2 WAR might be a fine projection for Rusney Castillo, but that seems unlikely, based on his skills and based on the price he fetched from the Sox on the market. Anyway, I just want to let you know what someone else let me know this morning: Castillo’s got real numbers by his name, now. I don’t know precisely when this happened, but our Red Sox page features an official 2015 Castillo projection, and wouldn’t you know it, but it’s favorable.

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Making the Case for a Strasburg/Betts Trade

The Boston Red Sox have too many outfielders. This isn’t news; it’s been clear for a while now that their outfield is overcrowded, and while shipping Yoenis Cespedes to Detroit for Rick Porcello alleviated the problem to a degree, they still don’t have enough at-bats to go around for the guys they’re going to bring to spring training. It’s a nice problem to have, of course, but it’s still an issue that the team will have to work towards solving.

The Washington Nationals have too many starting pitchers. Well, kind of; you can never really have too many starting pitchers, since the attrition rate of guys who throw a baseball for a living is so high, but Max Scherzer‘s signing does push Tanner Roark out of the initial starting five. Having a solid group of useful starters behind your starting five is important, but having Roark as your sixth starter is something of an embarrassment of riches.

The Red Sox could use a frontline starting pitcher, as Rick Porcello isn’t exactly a classic #1 starter on a team that is hoping to make a deep playoff run. The Nationals could use a long-term solution at second base, and if that guy could also provide outfield depth for 2015, that would be even better. There might not be another situation in baseball where two teams theoretically match up for a deal better than the Red Sox and Nationals. So, Misters Cherington and Rizzo, let’s make the case for a Stephen Strasburg/Mookie Betts trade.

Why Boston Should Do It

The Red Sox currently project as baseball’s fourth best team, according to our calculations, and enter 2015 as the slight favorites to win the AL East. Despite their miserable 2014 performance, this is a good roster, and one that is built to contend this season. Boston didn’t spend $190 million on Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to move towards the middle of the pack; this team was constructed to get back to the postseason this year.

And yet, this rotation feels incomplete. I like a lot of the pieces they have, and I think both Porcello and Wade Miley were shrewd acquisitions, the kinds of solid rotation pieces that every good team needs. But these are the guys you want starting once in a playoff series, and they’re currently the team’s two best starters, with a couple of lottery tickets and a lower-upside fifth starter behind them. The Red Sox starting five feels like a fantastic middle-to-back-end of the rotation, and if Porcello-Miley-Masterson-Buchholz-Kelly were their #2-#6 starters, we’d be talking about this as a position of strength.

You don’t need an ace to win the World Series, but as Madison Bumgarner just displayed a few months ago, it sure helps. October baseball is different, and the more frequent off days allow teams to allocate a higher proportion of their innings to their best few pitchers. Having a dominant starter make two starts and a relief appearance in a seven game series gives you a distinct advantage, but the Red Sox currently lack the kind of arm that can be deployed in that way.

Stephen Strasburg could be that pitcher. Over the last three years, he’s #3 in baseball in xFIP-, behind only Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez. He’s an ace with upside, and at just 26, he wouldn’t have to be a short-term rental. While he’s only under control for two more seasons, the Red Sox have the financial flexibility to sign him to a long-term deal, and getting him acclimated to Boston ahead of time may give them an advantage in the negotiations. Unlike most pitching acquisitions, Strasburg doesn’t have to be a short-term patch. This is a guy that can provide value both now and in the future.

I know they love Mookie Betts, and so do I, but as much as they value Betts’ overall skillset, the fact remains that he’s a worse fit in Boston than he is on just about any other team in baseball. Betts was considered a plus defensive second baseman in the minors, but the Red Sox have second base blocked off, forcing him to the outfield. But even center field isn’t clearly available, with Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr still around, and so if the Red Sox keep Betts for the long-term, he may end up playing primarily right field.

Defense is important everywhere, and as Shane Victorino has shown, this skillset can still result in an impact right fielder, but there are fewer opportunities to utilize a defensive asset in right field than there are at second base or in center field. Betts doesn’t lose all of his value in right field, but he would lose some of it, especially because Victorino is still around for another year.

Right now, we have Betts projected for 385 plate appearances between second base, center field, and right field, and being a legitimate contributor to the roster as a super utility guy: his +2.4 WAR projection for 2015 would make him the game’s best 10th man. But if you reallocate those 385 plate appearances to the rest of the guys on the roster, you don’t actually lose all that much short-term value.

If you split Betts’ 210 center field plate appearances evenly between Castillo and Bradley, their projected total WAR from the position would go from +3.8 to +3.3, a half win drop. They’d lose another quarter of of a win by shifting the non-Pedroia second base at-bats to Brock Holt and a quarter of a win by sliding Daniel Nava and Allen Craig into the right field at-bats that don’t go to Victorino. So, all told, losing Betts costs them roughly one win over his actual internal replacements in 2015.

Meanwhile, Strasburg is probably a three win upgrade over Joe Kelly, especially because Kelly allows the team to use Brandon Workman as a reliever, where he has shown legitimate potential. Because every team needs more than five starters, Kelly doesn’t actually lose that much value, and many of Strasburg’s additional innings would come from guys who should probably spend a good chunk of the year in the minors.

In 2015, swapping Betts for Strasburg is probably something close to a two win upgrade for the Red Sox. It doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but the Red Sox are at the point where wins are highly valuable, and Strasburg is the kind of asset that could be leveraged to an even larger degree in October. While the upgrade is probably smaller in 2016 — with Victorino set to be a free agent, Betts would be able to play most everyday — the Sox still have Allen Craig under contract and Bradley in the organization, so they wouldn’t be dropping down to zero value replacements.

And while they would be surrendering four years of Betts’ prime during years in which Strasburg could theoretically be pitching for someone else, some of that is offset by the ability to exclusively negotiate a long-term extension or get a draft pick as compensation if he leaves. There’s no question that you’d rather have four more years of Betts’ production than either of those options, but the lost value is deferred several years into the future, and the Red Sox should be willing to trade future wins for upgrades in the next two years. Strasburg would represent the kind of upgrade that would make giving up Betts’ future worthwhile.

Why Washington Should Do It

This is maybe the harder sell, because I just argued for the present value of wins taking precedence over longer-term upgrades for contenders. And clearly, the Nationals are also in win-now mode, especially after adding Scherzer to the mix. And with Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann set to become free agents at years end, trading Strasburg could mean that the team could enter 2016 with only Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark as stable rotation options. In a year, the Nationals could easily have a significant hole in their rotation if they traded Strasburg away.

But unlike with Boston, Betts fits their organizational weaknesses perfectly, and Strasburg represents more of a luxury than a need. With Jayson Werth likely to begin the season on the disabled list, there’s an everyday job waiting for Betts in Washington, and for the first few months of the season, he’d essentially be replacing some combination of Nate McLouth, Mike Carp and Tyler Moore, both of whom have some value as first baseman but little as outfielders. Even when Werth returns, Betts would have few problems playing everyday for the Nationals, as the Nationals outfield depth was diminished with the Steven Souza trade, and Yunel Escobar is not so valuable that he couldn’t be easily moved to a part-time role to free up time at Betts’ primary position.

In Washington, Betts probably projects as a two or three win upgrade over their internal positional options, especially if Werth’s shoulder proves to be a lingering issue. So while Strasburg is indeed an excellent starter, it’s not completely clear that the Nationals would actually be dramatically worse off in 2015 by making this trade. Strasburg is probably two to three wins better than Roark, and you’d have to also account for some of Roark’s current innings going to lesser options, but even on the high side, you’re looking at a three win drop-off in the rotation, and if you buy into Roark as a guy who can induce weaker-than-average contact, the gap is probably closer to two wins.

The 2015 Nationals wouldn’t be demonstrably worse with Betts than Strasburg, even though Strasburg projects to be the better player. Their high replacement level at starting pitcher and their very low replacement level behind their penciled-in starters in the OF and at 2B mean that the gap between the two players would be reduced in Washington, not emphasized as it would be in Boston. And Scherzer’s acquisition reduces Strasburg’s value in October as well, as there are only so many October innings to be allocated to starting pitchers. Using Scherzer as the Game #1/#5 starter sets him up to pitch in relief in Game 7, but likely excludes Strasburg from that potential third appearance; the first ace provides a lot more marginal value in the postseason than the second one.

So if the Nationals wouldn’t take a significant step back with Betts in lieu of Strasburg in 2015, the rest of the calculation is actually pretty easy. Next year, Betts moves into a full-time second base role, where he projects as roughly a three win everyday player making the league minimum, and the savings in 2016 salary could be applied directly an extension for Jordan Zimmermann. The assumption has been that Zimermann is not going to be re-signed because the team had to keep it’s future salary available to try to re-sign both Strasburg and Bryce Harper, but with Strasburg out of the picture, a long-term deal for Zimmermann becomes more palatable.

And even if Zimmermann isn’t re-signed, the difference in salary alone gives the team roughly $12 million of budget room that Strasburg would have eaten up, giving the Nationals a chance to offset the difference in expected value between the two by upgrading other parts of the roster. Even if you’re low on Betts, and see him as something more like an average big leaguer going forward, an average player plus $12 million in spending money isn’t a huge step back from a $12.5 million Strasburg.

And then there’s the 2017-2020 value, where the Nationals would have four prime years of an athletic second baseman, one at pre-arb and three at arbitration salaries. With ownership already pushing the costs of the present team into the future, stockpiling valuable assets who will make pennies on the dollar is the best way for the Nationals to build a sustained winner, and Betts is exactly the kind of player that the team will need in order to be able to try and keep Bryce Harper in D.C.

And while Betts’ carries the risks of a young player with just 200 big league plate appearances, the risk surrounding Strasburg may be just as high, especially with Tommy John surgery already on his resume. There’s no question that Betts could struggle to adjust to the big leagues, just as there’s no question that Strasburg’s elbow could go out again on any given pitch. The Nationals would be exchanging health risk for performance risk, but it’s not entirely clear that they’d actually be increasing the expected variance of their roster by making the move.

The TL;DR Summary

Swapping Betts for Strasburg would likely make the Red Sox two to three wins better in 2015, and probably a win or two better in 2016. The marginal value of these upgrades, along with the opportunity to try and sign Strasburg long-term before he hits free agency justify giving up the extra four years of control over Betts’ future, especially for a team in their market.

Swapping Strasburg for Betts might not make the Nationals much worse at all in 2015, while freeing up additional payroll space for 2016 to potentially retain Jordan Zimmermann. Strasburg’s postseason value is diminished by Scherzer’s addition, so he’s more of a luxury than a necessity for the team at this point. The Nationals will not be able to retain all of their young talent without supplementing the roster with productive low-cost players, and Betts is exactly the kind of player they should be targeting in a trade.

In talking with people in the game, neither side seems comfortable with the deal, which suggests that perhaps it’s a reasonably fair proposal, or at least in the ballpark of being reasonable on both sides. I know I’m higher on Betts than most, and if you place a very high value on frontline pitching, perhaps you think the Red Sox should add a sweetener to the deal. This isn’t so much about trying to say that Betts are Strasburg are equivalent in value as it is to say that the Red Sox and Nationals are currently setup to help each other about as well as two organizations have been in some time.

It’s almost certainly not going to happen, but as far as speculative trade suggestions go, this one seems to make as much sense on both sides as any I can remember.


How Did Pedro Martinez Get Bombed?

Clayton Kershaw is coming off what was legitimately one of the best starting-pitcher seasons of all time. Though he would miss a few turns due to injury, that problem was quickly forgotten, as Kershaw still approached 200 innings and finished with both an ERA and an FIP that were half the league average. There was one stretch where Kershaw didn’t allow a single run over four consecutive starts, and that stretch was bookended by a pair of one-run outings. Yet as amazing as Kershaw was, there was one game where he allowed seven runs in under two innings to the Diamondbacks. Those seven runs were 17% of Kershaw’s regular-season total. In July, I tried to investigate what went wrong.

Kershaw, in 2014, had one of the better pitcher seasons ever. Pedro Martinez, in 1999, had maybe the best pitcher season ever. Pedro posted the lowest FIP- ever by a starter, at 28. The next-best mark is 36, also posted by Pedro. The best non-Pedro mark is 45. Over the course of baseball history, that 1999 FIP- is a full five standard deviations better than the mean. Pedro’s strikeout rate that season was 5.4 standard deviations better than the mean. I should note that this doesn’t include what Pedro did in the All-Star Game, or in the playoffs. In the All-Star Game, he struck out five of six batters, with one reaching on an error. In the playoffs, Pedro spun 17 shutout innings, allowing five hits and a .267 OPS. Pedro Martinez, that season, was probably the best that any starting pitcher has been. The statistics are unreal even before you remember to adjust them for the era.

Yet on July 18, Pedro faced the Florida Marlins and couldn’t get out of the fourth. His final line shows nine runs on a dozen hits, with no other season run total exceeding four. That year’s Marlins had one of the worst offenses in either league, and they’d lose 98 games. Just as Kershaw’s disaster was fascinating, so, too, was Pedro’s, particularly in retrospect. How did one of the best pitchers ever, in probably the best pitcher season ever, get killed at home against a bad team on the wrong side of a fire sale?

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Visualizing 2015 Mookie Betts vs. 2015 Javier Baez

Earlier, I asked you to participate in an exercise projecting both next year’s Mookie Betts and next year’s Javier Baez. The idea is that Betts seems representative of a particularly safe prospect, while Baez represents something of a more volatile asset. I promised that I would analyze the results given a sufficient sample size of votes, and, such a sample size has already been achieved. Interestingly, as of right now, there have been three more votes in the Baez poll than in the identical Betts poll. The best possible conclusion is that three FanGraphs readers had their browsers lock up at a most unfortunate time. The worst possible conclusion is chilling indeed.

So I think it’s safe to move forward with a little analysis. Before getting there, I hope you understand that *I* understand that I didn’t conduct this exercise perfectly. Nevermind the wisdom of the exercise in the first place; all my words might’ve biased the voters to some degree. I could’ve written nothing, or I could’ve at least put the polls before the words. But, what’s done is done. Also understand that, while you’re going to see a measure of uncertainty, this is perceived uncertainty, and not actual uncertainty. We can’t know actual uncertainty. We’re just going to go ahead and pretend like what we think is a decent proxy for what actually is. Let’s see how the community feels about Mookie Betts and Javier Baez, for 2015.

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Uncertainty, Mookie Betts, and Javier Baez

A number of people who are actually good at math have asked before why we don’t present measures of uncertainty, like error bars, when talking about WAR or projections. I’m not in charge of those things, myself, so I can’t give you the official answer, but, they’re difficult numbers to calculate, if they’re possible at all, and many people wouldn’t know how to understand them, and it’s unclear how much those measures would add to the picture anyway. Sometimes you’ll see projections presented in percentiles, like PECOTA, but generally speaking the percentiles can include almost any and all outcomes, so that doesn’t help much. There’s interest in seeing uncertainty, quantitated. It’s challenging, to do it in a meaningful way.

But I want to try something, again with your help. Last week, I ran a bunch of polls, and a few days ago I analyzed the information generated. Here I’d like to take a similar approach. Now, the post was inspired by the transcript of Dave’s Wednesday chat:

12:40
Comment From Curtis
Of all the prospects yet to debut in MLB, who has the highest bust probability in your eyes? Best chance to succeed?
12:41
Dave Cameron: Baez seems to have a very high chance of being nothing. Mookie Betts will be a solid player unless he dies.

Let’s think about Javier Baez and Mookie Betts. Let’s see what we can do to effectively crowdsource their uncertainties.

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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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Do The Red Sox Have a Ground Ball Fetish?

The Red Sox have tried to erase the painful feelings of their botched Jon Lester negotiations by completing a flurry of pitcher transactions. While that’s unlikely to fool people who still just want Lester back, the pitchers acquired (or reportedly acquired) — Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson — all have one thing in common in that they generate a lot of ground balls. Before that, they acquired Joe Kelly, who also generates a great deal of ground balls. Are ground balls the hip new thing on Yawkey Way?

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Wade Miley, Who Is Better Than You Think

Everyone knew heading into the offseason that the Red Sox starting rotation was going to need some help, and so the first thing they went and did was sign Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Those guys are not pitchers, so while it gave the Red Sox perhaps the best lineup in the MLB, they still needed pitching.

The Red Sox rotation essentially consisted of a bunch of question marks — plus Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly, who are question marks themselves. Buchholz is 30 years old, has never thrown 110 innings in consecutive seasons and had a 5.34 ERA last year. Kelly’s numbers as a starter aren’t particularly impressive. Some clubs entered the offseason looking for a frontline starter. Some clubs needed depth to fill out their rotation. The Red Sox needed both.

A Cole Hamels trade or James Shields signing are still possibilities for the Red Sox, as they’re still in the market for that frontline starter after whiffing on Jon Lester, who was the crowd favorite to return to Boston and fill the void at the top of their rotation.

The depth, on the other hand, appears to be shored up. As I was writing this post, the Sox dealt Yoenis Cespedes to the Tigers in exchange for Rick Porcello. (By the time I was done, they’d inked Justin Masterson). A full analysis of the Porcello deal will come in a different post, but for now we’re going to focus on Wade Miley, who the Sox are expected to acquire in the very near future for starting pitchers Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster. de la Rosa and Webster are both guys who had higher stock a couple years ago. Both have electric stuff, both have serious command issues, and both may be destined for the bullpen. Dave Cameron wrote up a quick InstaGraphs post on the deal last night, which you can read here.
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FG on Fox: The New Old Book On Hanley Ramirez

There’s an awful lot you can learn from the way that a player gets pitched. Often, you could just look at the player’s statistics, I suppose, but let’s make believe we live in a world without publicly-accessible performance statistics. All right, so, now we’re imagining. Last year, no regular player saw a higher rate of fastballs than Ben Revere. Why would that be? No regular player saw a lower rate of fastballs than Josh Hamilton. Why would that be? First basemen saw far, far fewer fastballs than American League pitchers. If all we had was this information, we could still interpret it, figuring out clues as to how the hitters are perceived.

Of course, it’s not just about fastball rate. You can look at fastballs, or you can look at pitches in the zone, or you can look at types of pitches in particular parts of the zone — there’s a lot you can examine. Players get pitched according to the scouting reports that teams have on those players, and since we can’t look at those scouting reports, we can use the information we have to examine them indirectly.

One thing you can do is look at a guy’s pitch patterns. Yet another powerful indicator of something can be a change in a guy’s pitch patterns. What that would suggest is a change in a guy’s ability level or approach. Yasiel Puig, for example, was pitched differently in 2014 from how he was pitched as a rookie. That’s because Puig evidently corrected a weakness against inside fastballs. If we look at drop in rate of fastballs seen, no hitter saw a bigger drop between 2013 and 2014 than J.D. Martinez. There’s a pretty simple explanation: Martinez changed his swing mechanics and became an out-of-nowhere slugger. So pitchers found themselves having to be more careful.

At the other end, Mike Trout saw an increase in his fastball rate. Opponents tried to seize a perceived weakness against high heat. Allen Craig saw an increase in his fastball rate. Opponents identified that he was missing bat speed and couldn’t get around on hard pitches in. And yet, of all the players, no one saw a bigger year-to-year fastball-rate increase than Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez was productive, and Ramirez just signed a big contract with the Red Sox, but clearly, pitchers saw him differently in the season recently completed.

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What Can We Learn from The Josh Hamilton Contract?

Two years ago, the Los Angeles Angels signed Josh Hamilton to a whopping, surprising five-year contract that paid the mercurial outfielder $125 million dollars. The deal came one year after the Halos signed Albert Pujols in perpetuity for a twice-weekly fistful of diamonds, so Hamilton’s mammoth contract came as a shock.

After his two seasons in Anaheim, the deal doesn’t exactly look like a winner. Hindsight being what it is, is it easy to say the signing was doomed from the start. A look back through the archives both here at Fangraphs and at MLB Trade Rumors shows a lot of first guessing and some otherwise hilarious comments from around baseball. There were plenty of red flags around Hamilton, from his health to his performance and just about everything in between.

At the time of the deal, Hamilton was headed into his age-32 season and coming off a 43 homer year. He was unquestionably talented but also eminently questionable. The approach, the off-field history, the spotty medical records; all of it made for a bizarre free agent pursuit. The team that knew him best wouldn’t guarantee a fifth year, according to reports. The Angels rushed in with five years and no strings, much to the chagrin of Rangers GM Jon Daniels.

With two years of history on our side, we can see flippantly say this contract was doomed from the start. The biggest question is this: did Jerry Dipoto and the Angels front office offer Hamilton this deal knowing it was bad the moment he signed it?

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In the AFL, Cubans Continue to Confound

Most of the Arizona Fall League attendees have been seen enough that the scouting community has a well developed opinion on each player before they arrive in the desert. Even that year’s draftees (such as Nick Howard and Trea Turner this year), while new on the pro scene, were heavily-scouted, top-of-their-class players who many have seen at least a time or two and have some sort of background with. This year saw three reasonably high-profile Cuban prospects get Fall League reps in Raisel Iglesias, Rusney Castillo and Daniel Carbonell who had scarcely been seen on domestic soil by scouts.

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What Happens When You Pitch In Front of the Monster

Lately, Tony has written some pieces touching on the Fenway park factors. Though he’s provided detail, you already had some understanding of how the park plays. The Green Monster is unlike pretty much anything else in the game today, and it changes what happens to balls in play. To right field, and to center field, Fenway is more or less fair, if not a wee bit pitcher-friendly in places. To left field, though, and especially to left-center, balls that would be outs elsewhere clang off the Monster for singles or doubles. Every so often, the Monster will claim a would-be dinger, but that’s little consolation to pitchers; if they give up a ball headed to left, it’s probably putting a guy on base, and maybe in scoring position.

There’s nothing subtle about the Green Monster. You can’t miss it. It’s right there, casting a shadow over everything, and what it does makes absolute sense. Of course it leads to more singles. Of course it leads to more doubles. Of course it makes that part of Fenway hitter-friendly. Pitchers know all about it when they go to work, so I got to wondering, does that in any way change the way the pitchers pitch? I’m going to go ahead and spoil the rest of this article: yes. You already know how. The remainder is just going to confirm your suspicions.

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Evaluating the Red Sox Spending Spree

The Red Sox came into the winter with a clear need for starting pitching, and a lot of money to spend. Yesterday, they spent a big chunk of that money, adding $41 million in AAV to their payrolls for the next four or five years. And yet, today, they still have the same glaring need for starting pitching. Evaluating the wisdom of the Red Sox spending spree is an interesting challenge, because unlike most free agent signings, these feel like half of the transaction.

We can still evaluate the signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez based on the production the Red Sox should expect going forward and the money that was surrendered to acquire that future production, but we don’t really know the whole picture here. The signings of two of the winter’s premier free agent hitters very likely mean that Yoenis Cespedes is getting traded, and I think Mike Napoli might be on his way out of town too. What the team gets back in trade, and how they choose to reallocate money that could be saved through those trades, will affect what else the Red Sox can choose to do this winter. They know they need pitching, and it seems essentially impossible that they won’t make further moves to address that need; moves that were made possible by these signings.

So without those pieces of information in place, I’m hesitant to draw any strong conclusions about the new contracts given to Sandoval or Ramirez. If the team trades Cespedes and Napoli for young arms, then spends the $25 million in savings on Max Scherzer, then these moves start to more clearly address the team’s need for a frontline starter. But we don’t know if they’re going to do that. We don’t know what they’re going to do, so we can’t be too strongly convicted about whether these signings were a wise use of resources.

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Let’s Find a New Team for Yoenis Cespedes

The Boston Red Sox, as you might have heard, currently have an outfield glut. There is ten pounds of outfield meat in their five pound bag. Something has to give, and that something is likely Yoenis Cespedes.

When the Sox acquired Cespedes from Oakland in the Jon Lester trade, it felt more like a rental than a long-term investment in the player. Cespedes’ unique contract allows him to become a free agent at the end of the 2015 season, so Boston put themselves in an enviable position. They received an established big leaguer in exchange for their walk-year ace and got an up-close and personal look at a potential big free agent bat.

Whether or not a look under Cespedes’ hood informed their decision to sign both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, that’s the route they went down. Now Cespedes is trade bait, the precious “right-handed power” commodity in a marketplace clambering for those skills. He’s headed into his age-29 season, he’s owed $10.5 million this year, and there’s going to be a line around the block to bid for his services. Where might he land?

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Now the Red Sox Look Like the Best In the League*

A few weeks ago, I found myself messing around on one of the projections pages, and I happened upon something I didn’t expect: the Mariners were projected for the highest team WAR in the American League. I wrote all about it for Fox, and while people made their jokes about the Mariners only looking like a contender after the end of the season, I thought it was neat to be able to establish a sort of pre-offseason baseline. What the numbers say right now isn’t meaningless. At the start of the offseason, the Mariners looked solid. How they look at the end depends on their own moves, and on the moves of the others.

So, about those others. Consider the Mariners knocked out of first place, if only until the next domino falls. The Red Sox have reached an agreement with Hanley Ramirez, and he will play some position. The Red Sox have also reached an agreement with Pablo Sandoval, and he will play third base. Go into the numbers now and you see a new best team in the American League. It’s only based on projections, and it’s not even December, but last year the Red Sox finished in last, and that doesn’t look real likely to repeat.

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Which Pablo Sandoval Did the Red Sox Buy

If you focus on his age and overall production so far, the reported near-$100 million that the Red Sox are handing Pablo Sandoval for his next five years are reasonable. He’s a young man with an established bat at a scarce position. But if you focus instead on some of the aspects of his production, things look a little different. They look a little scarier.

First, read Dave Cameron on why even a sixth year wouldn’t have been crazy, given the right salary numbers. Basically, as the number of years go up, average annual value goes down. The sixth year might be the premium that gets the signature, but it’s not a sixth year at the same price as year one. Given that the salary pretty much exactly follows the breakdown that Cameron showed, this isn’t a terrible contract if you call Pablo Sandoval a 3.5-win 28-year-old third baseman. Even if it’s a little more than the median five-year $80 million contract the crowd wanted to give him.

But what if you call him other things?

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Hanley Ramirez and the Logjam in Boston

The Red Sox are reportedly on the verge of signing Hanley Ramirez for something “in the range” of $90 million over five years, according to Ken Rosenthal. The vagueness associated with the “range” wording means that we don’t know exactly how many years or how many dollars Ramirez is getting, but it seems like anything in the range of $90 million for Ramirez is going to be a pretty good deal for the Red Sox. That said, we’ll hold off on a full analysis of the contract until we actually know what the contract is going to look like.

So for now, let’s talk about what this move does to the Red Sox roster and the rest of their offseason plans.

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Let’s Design a Cole Hamels-to-Boston Trade

Boy is it ever easy to trade away other people’s stuff. From a distance, it’s easy to recognize when a guy has to go, as things are uncomplicated by memories and emotions. It sucks the Philadelphia Phillies just about have to trade Cole Hamels. He’s great, and he’s been there forever, through some really good times, and people have developed an attachment to him. Even the Phillies have officially recognized the era is over, but moving Hamels would be a painful kind of closure. The front office doesn’t want to deal Hamels for younger, unfamiliar talent. But it has to happen. As popular as Hamels is, from an objective standpoint, he’s not getting better. And he’d mean a lot more to a team with a prayer of winning something over the next couple years.

So the Phillies ought to be looking to cash in on Hamels. More seriously than they did around the deadline, I mean. The Phillies are poised to gut what there is to gut, and Hamels is a front-line starter who’d hit a market thirsty for front-line starters. Probably the most popular rumor so far: Hamels leaving the Phillies for the Boston Red Sox, in exchange for a package that involved young players. Clearly, nothing has yet been agreed to, but clearly, there will be some more negotiations. So what could we conceivably see as a trade? Let’s design a Red Sox move for Cole Hamels.

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