Archive for Red Sox

The Similarities of Christian Yelich and Mookie Betts

Yesterday, the Marlins agreed to sign outfielder Christian Yelich to a deal that guarantees him at least $51 million over seven years, locking up one of the game’s best young players. This morning, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reported that the Red Sox are considering approaching Mookie Betts about signing a long-term deal of his own, which might both serve to lock in some future cost savings as well as temper the speculation about if they’ll use Betts as a trade chip to relieve their outfield logjam. The timing of Yelich’s deal and the rumored possible offer for Betts serves as an opportunity to look at them side by side, and note that while they’re physically quite different, they might be pretty similar players going forward.

Certainly, Yelich and Betts don’t look similar. Yelich is six inches taller, standing at 6-foot-3 compared to the 5-foot-9 Betts. Besides just the size difference, Yelich hits from the left side while Betts is a right-handed batter. If you watched them both swing, you wouldn’t necessarily draw a connection between them.

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Steven Wright as a Joe Kelly Alternative

Today, Joe Kelly took the mound in Ft. Myers, and it didn’t go well; he gave up seven hits in 2 2/3 innings before leaving with an injury currently being called biceps tightness

Today’s performance continued a trend from his two previous spring training starts, as he’s now allowed 17 hits in 7 2/3 innings this spring; his spring training ERA currently stands at 11.05. On their own, the results aren’t a big deal, but when you combine it with a potential injury, it might be fair to say that Kelly’s spot could be up for grabs at this point.

Of course, any time the Red Sox rotation is mentioned, people will invariably bring up Cole Hamels, but Boston continues to seem uninterested in meeting the Phillies price, and they do have some interesting alternatives in-house. While youngsters Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez are the two best long-term prospects and might be ready for an audition, John Farrell has made sure the beat writers keep Steven Wright‘s name in the picture as well. Per Alex Speier, from this morning:

The Sox would not be opposed to adding a veteran starter to their Triple A rotation. But Farrell again expressed confidence in Steven Wright as a depth starter. “He gives us a lot of comfort. As that knuckleball has come along, he’s throwing a lot more strikes,” Farrell said. “He’s got the ability to give a contrast of style.”

Projecting the performance of knuckleballers is not quite impossible, but is something kind of close to it. Wright could be very good — as he was in a September trial last year — or he could be terrible, with pretty much any result in between seemingly equally likely. Knuckleballers are lottery tickets, especially ones with spotty track records and iffy command. Dickey’s success came after he cut his walk rate in half, which Wright appears to have done in Triple-A last year, but we essentially have half a minor league season and a month of big league action where Wright showed a consistent ability to throw strikes. If he’s not throwing strikes, he’s not any good, and it’s not a big surprise that the Red Sox wouldn’t want to count on his 2014 command improvement carrying over when trying to win in 2015.

But there are a couple of reasons why I think it might make sense for the Red Sox to give Wright a shot, especially if Kelly needs replacing on the Opening Day roster: his Z-Contact% and the knuckleball carryover effect.

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Pitchers Will Tell Us About Allen Craig

What if I told you Allen Craig played hurt last year, and I could prove it? You’d probably say something like “uh” or “that won’t be necessary.” Submitted as evidence: last season, Allen Craig sucked. He finished with a wRC+ that was just about half his previous season’s mark. Submitted as further evidence: Craig and everyone around him admitted he was playing hurt (Update: actually, maybe not!). There was absolutely zero mystery Craig had an injured foot, and hitters like to say almost all their success comes from the lower body. We can’t pin all of Craig’s struggles on his ailment, but it sure would make sense as an explanation.

Conveniently, though, we see other indicators. It was widely understood Craig was hurt. Because Craig was hurt, he had a different swing. Because he had a different swing — and different levels of strength — Craig was attacked in a different way. Allen Craig’s pitch pattern in 2014 strongly hinted at something being wrong, and so Craig’s pitch pattern in 2015 will tell us, and tell us quickly, to what degree he’s recovered. Even before Craig has much of a batting sample size, the pitchers will tell us if he seems like a threat.

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What’s Become of Prospects Kind of Like Yoan Moncada?

Part 1 is over. Part 1 was figuring out which team was going to sign Yoan Moncada, and now we know, with the Red Sox having given up more than $60 million for the right to try to make him into something. Most conspicuously, the Sox beat out the Yankees; less conspicuously, the Sox beat out everyone else. Moncada joins an organization with a silly amount of talent and resources, and he is now presumably Boston’s No. 1 prospect. Not a whole lot of prospects better than Blake Swihart, either. So that’s meaningful.

Now we move on to Part 2. What’s Part 2? Figuring out what Yoan Moncada is going to be. You can kind of deduce what teams expect him to be — based on the price, and based on all the attention, Moncada figures to be some kind of big-leaguer, with a high ceiling. But what have we seen from prospects like this before? Moncada’s going into his age-20 season. We can put some numbers to this, trying in a way to project the unfamiliar. Let’s scan some historical top-prospect lists.

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Why I Might Rather Trade for Cliff Lee

All winter, the focus on the Phillies has centered on Cole Hamels. He’s their best player, they’re an obvious seller, and the remainder of his contract is a bit of a discount relative to the current market price for frontline starting pitchers. Of course, those last two factors also mean that the Phillies asking price has been quite high, as they look for multiple young prospects in return, with the acquiring team also absorbing the entirety of the rest of his contract. For reasons that have been covered ad nauseum, no one has been willing to give up that kind of talent while also taking on $96 million in salary commitments, and so for now, Hamels remains in Philadelphia.

At some point sooner than later, now that spring training is beginning, pitchers are going to start getting hurt. Pitchers on contenders. Guys that win-now teams were counting on are going to report some stiffness in their elbow, and after a few days of assuming its just normal dead arm, they’ll be told they need Tommy John Surgery. And then the rumors will begin to kick up, and that team will get attached to Hamels as a potential suitor, and eventually, Hamels will have a new home. At least, as long as he isn’t one of the guys complaining about dead arm anyway.

From now through the trade deadline, the asking price for Hamels probably only goes up. The Phillies are already paying the cost in awkwardness of bringing him to spring training, so there’s no reason for them to give in and take a deal similar to what they’ve been offered at this point. Amaro is betting on injuries depleting the supply of arms on contending teams, pushing the demand for Hamels higher, allowing him to get the kind of return he’s been seeking all winter. As long as Hamels stays healthy, it will probably work.

But Cole Hamels isn’t the only interesting piece of trade-bait in Philadelphia. And in fact, if I was a team like the Red Sox or the Padres, I might actually target Cliff Lee instead.

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The FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List

Yesterday, we gave you a little bit of a tease, giving you a glimpse into the making of FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List. This morning, however, we present the list in its entirety, including scouting grades and reports for every prospect rated as a 50 Future Value player currently in the minor leagues. As discussed in the linked introduction, some notable international players were not included on the list, but their respective statuses were discussed in yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read any of the prior prospect pieces here on the site, I’d highly encourage you to read the introduction, which explains all of the terms and grades used below.

Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you towards our YouTube channel, which currently holds over 600 prospect videos, including all of the names near the top of this list. Players’ individual videos are linked in the profiles below as well.

And lastly, before we get to the list, one final reminder that a player’s placement in a specific order is less important than his placement within a Future Value tier. Numerical rankings can give a false impression of separation between players who are actually quite similar, and you shouldn’t get too worked up over the precise placement of players within each tier. The ranking provides some additional information, but players in each grouping should be seen as more or less equivalent prospects.

If you have any questions about the list, I’ll be chatting today at noon here on the site (EDIT: here’s the chat transcript), and you can find me on Twitter at @kileymcd.

Alright, that’s enough stalling. Let’s get to this.

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Yadier Alvarez Emerges While Other Cubans Move Closer to Deals

I returned a few days ago from a three-day trip to the Dominican to see top July 2nd prospects (more on that in the coming weeks) and also a workout that had 18 Cuban players in it. Two of those 18 were big-time prospects, the well-known and hyped 29-year-old 2B Hector Olivera and the brand new name, 18-year-old righty Yadier Alvarez.  Here’s my notes and video on those two, along with some quick updates on the other two notable Cubans on the market, 2B/3B/CF Yoan Moncada and 2B Andy Ibanez.

For reference, in my top 200 prospects list that is coming next week, these Cuban players aren’t included on the list, but Moncada would be 8th, Alvarez would be 57th and Ibanez would be in the 150-200 range, while Olivera is ineligible due to his age and experience.

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Rick Porcello’s Upcoming Enormous Payday

The other night on Twitter, I put out one of those early-February thoughts that can’t really be properly explained in a mere 140 characters: Rick Porcello is going to make more than $100 million next year, and people are going to freak out about that.

Needless to say, I received some interesting replies to that, because the second part’s pretty easy to understand. Porcello’s generally seen as a decent enough pitcher, but one who doesn’t miss bats or prevent runs like his peripherals say that he should, and he’s usually not been among the top three pitchers on his own team. (That he’s been teammates with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister generally gets left out of that last point.)

James Shields, who has had something like seven seasons better than Porcello’s best, just very recently couldn’t get to $80 million. Porcello’s going to top that? Well, okay then. I guess I need to back this up. Let’s run through this and see if it’s crazy. Spoiler alert: It might be crazy.

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How to Tell Quickly if Dustin Pedroia Is Back

It’s safe to say that Dustin Pedroia has never been lacking for confidence. And remember, Pedroia’s confidence stands out among other major-league baseball players, who are already some of the most confident individuals around, by necessity. So it’s not just that Pedroia has 80-grade self-confidence; it’s that he has 80-grade self-confidence even out of the population pool limited to people with 80-grade self-confidence relative to the general populace. Pedroia is three standard deviations above the mean of those who are three standard deviations above the mean. Related: Pedroia’s 2014 ended with wrist surgery, and these days he’s feeling really good about things.

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Everything You Need to Know About Yoan Moncada

As I reported on twitter moments ago, MLB sent a memo to clubs detailing the new process for Cuban players to go from leaving the country to signing with an MLB team. The short version is that super prospect Yoan Moncada is eligible to sign now, after a maddening long delay.

For those new to this topic or if you just want a refresher, here’s a recap of my coverage of this Moncada saga from the start:

October 3, 2014: Moncada is confirmed out of Cuba, but no one knows where he is.  We assume his whereabouts will become clear soon as he’s the most hyped prospect to leave the island in years. Here I first quote the common “teenage Puig that can play the infield and switch hit” comp and break down all the implications about who can sign him, who is likely to pony up the big bucks, game theory implications and more.

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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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