Archive for Today in FanGraphs

2012 Sabermetric Teams: The Market for Saber Players


Casey Kotchman is in many ways a man without a home — a player equal parts under-appreciated and over-valued, who irks both old and new schools at the same time. Old school analysts say his defense is amazing, but they cannot quantify it, and in 2011, they claimed his cleared vision meant he finally learned how to aim the ball “where they ain’t,” but he’s still a .268 hitter with little power. The new school says he’s worth about 7.6 runs per season defensively, but worth ~1.1 WAR per 600 PAs — not good — and his BABIP was high 2011, so he should not be able to repeat his success.

Despite his inability to build a consistent following of fans in the baseball outsiders communities, Kotchman seems to have some insider communities very much interested in him, as Tom Tango points out:

Kotchman’s last four teams: Redsox, Mariners, Rays, Indians. Can we say that a team that signs Kotchman is saber-leaning?

Indeed, after spending five and a half seasons on the Angels’ and Braves’ rosters, Kotchman has begun to shuffle around with the Nerdz, most recently signing with the Cleveland Indians. It makes sense too — Kotchman’s lack of power keeps him cheap, and his strong defense keeps him amorphous for the old school teams, while the new schools might have different valuations on Kotchman, they can at least quantify his contributions and better know how he fits.

Then, on Monday, the Houston Astros signed Justin Ruggiano, long-time Tampa Bay Rays outfielder who was never good enough to stick on the Rays’ roster, but who possesses strong defensive chops and above average patience. His lack of power and ~.290 batting average, however, must make him a mystery — or at least an undesirable asset — to the old school teams.

Upon Ruggiano signing with the Astros, a once highly old school team, my reaction was all: “Welp, that’s one more team to compete with” — and then it occurred to me! No only have the Astros entered the realm of, so to speak, saber-minded organizations, but so have the long-backward Chicago Cubs.

Suddenly the league looks very different.

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The Most Talked About 23rd Man: Jeff Keppinger

For those of us who do not watch the transaction wire, anxiously awaiting the Tampa Bay Rays’ next acquisition (I say “us” as a matter of formality, for by the mere presence of this article we can ascertain I am not among those abstainers), last night the Tampa Bay Rays came to terms (terms yet-revealed) with infielder Jeff Keppinger.

The former Houston Astros / San Francisco Giants middle man has already a full litany of research on him. My double-colleague Erik Hahmann (Fangraphs and DRaysBay) examined Kepp and his similarity to also-targeted Ryan Theriot; Marc Topkin — after the signing broke — said “lefty mashaz!” (so to speak); Rob Neyer said “don’t forget he can’t hit righties”; and then Jason Collette said: “Let’s regress those platoon splits.”

Ultimately, the final question must be this: How is Jeff Keppinger — who seemingly shares the same strengths as Sean Rodriguez — in anyway useful to the club?

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Mike Quade Fired, Dale Sveum May Join Dream Team

Yesterday, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein announced the Chicago Cubs and manager Mike Quade have parted ways. Kudos to Theo Epstein for not doing what we all expected him to: Fire Quade immediately.

It appears Epstein — like he has approached most everything in his young Cubs reign — decided to withhold judgement until he had fully investigated the matter himself. Like Joe Maddon is wont to say, “Tell me what you think, not what you heard.”

Quade’s managerial time with the Cubs was both short and possibly undeserved. Taking the helm when Lou Piniella suddenly retired in 2010, Quade inherited a team that was predisposed towards failure. But, despite that, the team went 24-13 to close out the season. That was enough proof for Jim Hendry to vault Quade not only into the manager discussion, but the manager’s chair:

If the Cubs didn’t get hot in late 2010, does Mike Quade
even get an interview for manager? Probably not.

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MLB Free Agents: I Welcome Our New Leader (Boards)

Earlier this week, boss of my job and heart, Dave Cameron, unveiled FanGraphs’ fancy new 2012 free agent leaderboards. And I, for one, am plum — nay! — banana excited about this no-doubt time-swallowing new feature.

I have already begun to tinker with the tool, and would like to share the following Tableau document, which not only features the members of the 2012 free agent class, but also some giggly-fun functions to make browsing their numbers all the more funxciting.

Join me on the other side of the jump. I promise more colors.
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Free Agent Market: Starting Pitcher

Some of the following twirlers can really play the game of ball called base!

In 2011, a total of 272 different pitchers started a game in the MLB — that’s an average of 9 starters per team. In other words, five starters is not enough. Successful MLB organizations need pitching depth — and lots of it. Some teams may need a 7th or 8th starter for only 1 game, but ask the Boston Red Sox how important 1 game is.

For teams in the need, the 2012 starting pitcher free agent list has some value and some worthy risks out there, but as with every year, no team should expect the free agent market to have all the answers. The following list, though not exhaustive, runs down the most important names of the 2012 free agents:

Top Tier — Starters who promise big contracts and big seasons.
C.J. Wilson (LHP, Age 31 next season, free agent)
CC Sabathia (LHP, 31, may opt out)
Hiroki Kuroda (RHP, 37, FA)
Edwin Jackson (RHP, 28, FA)
Mark Buehrle (LHP, 33, FA)
Javier Vazquez (RHP, 35, FA)

The Obvious One, Mr. C.J. Wilson, finally promises to pull in that contract big enough to purchase his long-awaited solid-gold rocket car. Wilson, the heat-hurling lord of the lefties figures to have at least two very impressive suitors — the New York Yankees and his present team, the Texas Rangers. Since becoming a starter two years ago, he has posted a combined 10.5 WAR, sporting an ace-worth 3.24 FIP this year.

Not only does Wilson have a shot to break the bank, but there appears to be a chance that twirling titan CC Sabathia may opt out of the final four years of his contract with the Yankees. Sabathia has been yawningly awesome through his 10-year career, never posting a FIP- higher than 96 and assembling a career-best 2.88 FIP in 2011.

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Sergio Romo? More Like: Strikeouts Relievo

A pitcher even finer than even these two upstanding gents!

Quick! There’s no time to waste!

Name the five best FIP- seasons in the history of MLB. (Minimum, a scant 20 IP.)

I’d imagine your list includes Eric Gagne‘s crazy 2003 and Pedro Martinez‘s nutso 1999 season. And you’d be correct. But there’s another modern-day pitcher you’d have only guessed if you had cleverly looked at the title of this post:

1) Ed Cushman, 10 FIP- (1884, year of our lord)
2) Henry Porter, 13 FIP- (1884)
3) Eric Gagne, 20 FIP- (2003)
4) Sergio Romo, 25 FIP- (2011)
5) Pedro Martinez, 30 FIP- (1999)

I imagine there are a number of baseball fans who, like myself, had not even heard of Sergio Romo until they made him their setup man while playing Baseball Mogul 2008.

We’ll learn his name because he might be one of the greatest late-blooming relievers in the history of the game.
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Trey McNutt for Theo Epstein: Eh, Maybe.

The latest news in the Theo Epstein Chronicles has brought right-handed pitcher Trey McNutt into the forefront of the conversation. McNutt, who the Cubs drafted two years ago in the 32nd round, has recently become not just a prospect, but a top prospect in the Cubs system.

This January, resident prospect overlord Marc Hulet ranked McNutt the Number Two prospect in the Cubs system following the Matt Garza trade, while Baseball America ranked him as the 48th best prospect (also before the season).

The question is, of course, is he worth Epstein? Or, better yet, is Epstein worth him?

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Jeremy Hellickson: Strikeouts Cometh

Join me! The rabbit hole is suspiciously warm.

The Tampa Bay Rays are now down 1-2 in the ALDS, placing their hopes for a Rangers rout on the shoulders of rookie right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. The so-called Hellboy takes the mound at 2:07 p.m. ET today, facing Rangers lefty Matt Harrison.

The match-up, to say the least, favors the Rangers. Not only does Harrison have the edge in FIP (3.52), xFIP (3.85), and SIERA (3.94), he has the added bonus of a seemingly normal BABIP (.290) and LOB% (72.3%). Hellickson has only an ERA edge (2.95); the rest suggests impending doom: 4.44 FIP, 4.72 xFIP, 4.63 SIERA, .223 BABIP, and 82.0% LOB%.

Well, Hellickson does have at least one major thing going for him: A serious and unusual strikeout regression.
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Braves in September

Several reasons have floated around for the cause of the Braves’ historic collapse. Many people point to the horrible September that the Braves and their players experienced. Similar down months happened previously in the 2011 season, but went unnoticed due to the lack of playoff implications.

No Offense

The Braves offense was not a powerhouse over the entire season. They averaged just under four runs a game (3.96). It was 10th in the NL. While not great, it was even worse over the last month. They scored only 87 runs, or 3.22 runs per game. Now, which of the following slash lines led to the offensive collapse:

#1: 0.235/0.300/0.357
#2: 0.222/0.290/0.388

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New York Meetup Sunday

Hey come hang out with FanGraphs, AmazinAvenue, RiverAvenueBlues and friends on Sunday, September 25th, at Amity Hall any time after one PM eastern.

Jump for details!

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Ramirez Arrested, Rays Make Postseason Development

“You never know where help will come from — until you look for it.”

— Tobias Funkë, Arrested Development

News broke last night that Florida police arrested Manny Ramirez on battery charges concerning his wife. Just a few months ago, Ramirez was preparing for another MLB season and had a gold-plated opportunity for redemption.

Since then, though, the former Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox slugger has journeyed down a divergent path from his most recent team, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Rewind to the beginning of the season: The Rays management willingly admits 2011 would be a “reloading” year — which is to say the team anticipated a good, but not good-enough performance.

Sure, they had the pitching — what with David Price, James Shields and three young and above-average starters in Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann — and they had the defenders — again boasting some of the league’s most valuable fielders in Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and B.J. Upton — but they also had holes aplenty.

For one, the Rays lacked a legitimate DH and a proven first baseman. In hopes of putting power in the DH spot and getting the team a few lucky bounces away from the playoffs, they signed Manny Ramirez to a $2M, 1-year contract — deemed by many as a triumph of Friedmanonics — and Johnny Damon to a $7M $5.25M (excluding incentives), 1-year deal. But even with these additions, the Rays had little chance to out-talent the Red Sox and Yankees in 2011.

The story, as any good story goes, proved quite unpredictable.
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Cliff Lee: Complete Games, Shutouts, And Cy Youngs

In his final start of August, Cliff Lee went 8 and 2/3 innings without allowing a run. Lee plunked Miguel Cairo with pitch number 117, cuing Ryan Madson to get the game’s final out. Last night against the Atlanta Braves, Lee finished where he started, using only 100 pitches en route to his 200th strikeout and 6th complete game and 6th shutout of the season.

Lee is now at 106 batters faced without allowing a run — 29 and 2/3 straight scoreless innings across 4 starts. Wow.

Despite striking out an uncharacteristically low number of batters (6), Lee instead trolled the Braves hitters by inducing 14 ground balls (second only to his present season high of 17 in his complete game against the Cardinals) and allowing nary a walk.

Last night’s shutout makes complete game number 6 for ol’ Cliff Lee, pushing his statistics down to: 2.47 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 2.76 xFIP, and a 2.67 SIERA.

Lee ranks 3rd in ERA, 3rd in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, and 3rd in SIERA. And he now leads the majors in shutouts with 6, ahead of James Shields (4) and Derek Holland (4). In the NL, it’s not even close:

When it comes to the 2011 NL Cy Young race, it presently comes down to just three fellas: Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Clayton Kershaw. Yes, one could make the case for the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, and even Daniel Hudson and Matt Garza, but the Big Three are presently sporting Cy Young statistics, residing on a plateau of their own Manly Awesomeness.
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FanGraphs Panel at SABR41

The Society of American Baseball Research is in the midst of their 41st gathering and by all accounts it has been an excellent exercise of baseball thought. FanGraphs presented a panel at the conference on Thursday night, and this totally unbiased opinion had the night at around the “pretty sweet” level.

Coming together on the first squaretable were Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts (or “the first stathead to induct someone into the Hall of Fame” as moderator Jonah Keri put it), Sam Miller of the Orange County Register, Eric Stephen of True Blue LA and Jon Weisman of Dodger Talk. Because these men are talented wordsmiths (and all really great guys, Jonah assures us), we won’t waste any more words here. Bask, instead, in the glory of direct quotes.

“The Angels are a great mystery. How they’ve managed to win despite their run differentials is a mystery. How they’ve won despite Jeff Mathis is a mystery.” – Sam Miller
“You’ve done a lot of Jeff Mathis research – ” Jonah Keri
“Yes, I have done a lot of research and I’ve found.. he’s not a good hitter.” – Miller

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Hackin’ Jose Reyes

With a healthy, productive season, Jose Reyes will become a very wealthy man next winter. The switch-hitter, eligible for free agency following 2011, could hit the market as a 28-year-old at a premium position with at least three 5.5+ WAR seasons to his name.

That’s not to say that Reyes’ game is without question marks, however. Hamstring issues that haunted him early in his big league career crept back up in 2009, costing him most of the season, and he missed time last year getting treatment for an overactive thyroid as well as nursing an oblique injury. Reyes didn’t play poorly in 2010, but a 2.8 WAR campaign was disappointing nonetheless. One of the biggest reasons that Reyes fell short of being the championship-caliber player we’ve come to expect was a downturn in his plate discipline.

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Astros Lose Castro to Torn ACL

The Houston Astros’ 2011 season figures to go about as well as NASA’s recent Glory satellite launch — it’s going to end with disappointment and a thud. CAIRO, Oliver and PECOTA all project the ‘Stros for fewer than 70 wins, and considering that Marc Hulet dubbed Houston’s farm system second-worst in the game, it could be years before Houston has the talent to compete once again. The Astros’ plight got even bleaker today, as it was announced that one of the club’s precious few long-term talents, Jason Castro, will likely miss the entire year with a torn right ACL.

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Milledgeville Sputters To The South Side

In naming Lastings Milledge the ninth-best prospect in the game prior the 2006 season, Baseball America said that the precocious outfielder figured to be part of a Queens offensive core including Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and David Wright. BA also threw out this quirky nugget of information about the would-be stud: Milledge’s family “has followed [his] career throughout the minors in a recreational vehicle affectionately dubbed ‘Milledgeville.’ ”

That rec vehicle was supposed to roll into Queens for good. But half a decade and three teams later, Milledgeville has bald tires, scratched paint and the horse power of a single burro. Rather than becoming a star in baseball’s biggest media market, Milledge is just hoping to avoid a summer spent taking the International League tour through places like Toledo, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Durham. Having washed out of New York, Washington and Pittsburgh, Milledge will try to carve out a bench role with the White Sox after agreeing to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite. Can Milledgeville get back on track, or is it destined for the scrap yard?

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Angels Acquire Vernon Wells for Napoli, Rivera

The Angels entered the offseason with money to spend and designs on nabbing a primo free agent position player, like Carl Crawford or Adrian Beltre, to invigorate a team that ranked 13th in the American League in wOBA and toward the middle of the pack in UZR. After Crawford inked with the Red Sox and Beltre joined the division rival Rangers, it looked as though L.A.’s most prominent winter move would be adding lefty relief pitching.

That changed Friday, as the Angels acquired Vernon Wells from the Toronto Blue Jays for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. In picking up Wells, the Angels added name value and spent the cash that was sitting in the club’s coffers. Unfortunately, they didn’t get any better in the process. The team is now saddled with a cumbersome contract for a player who is almost assuredly going to regress next season, and who is entering the typical decline phase of a player’s career. The Jays, meanwhile, get out from under the baseball equivalent of a subprime mortgage and pick up the trade’s best player to boot.

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Andruw Jones Fitted For Pinstripes

The first memory most fans have of Andruw Jones is witnessing the then-teenager terrorize the New York Yankees in Game One of the 1996 World Series. While Jones’ Braves ultimately came up short in that Fall Classic, the Curacao native announced his presence as a future star by belting two home runs (replacing Mickey Mantle as the youngest ever to go deep in the World Series) and striding swiftly to fly balls that mere mortals would have to dive for, or miss altogether.

Now, Jones’ career has come full circle. He has reportedly signed a one-year, $2 million deal to serve as the Yankees’ fourth outfielder, with an additional $1.2 million in performance incentives possible. Thirty-four in April, Jones has the secondary skills to start for some teams, and he may now be the best reserve fly catcher in the game.
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O’s Add Derrek Lee

The Baltimore Orioles have continued their Extreme Makeover: Infield Edition by agreeing to terms on a one-year contract with free agent first baseman Derrek Lee. The exact terms of the deal aren’t yet known. But Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman suggests that Lee’s base salary figures to be in the $7-8 million range, and Yahoo’s Tim Brown adds that the deal includes a couple million bucks in possible incentives.

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Dotel Signs With Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays entered the offseason knowing that the team’s bullpen would look drastically different on Opening Day 2011 than it did last October. While Jason Frasor decided to accept Toronto’s arbitration offer rather than testing the market as a Type A free agent, fellow Type A Scott Downs signed a three-year deal with the Angels, and Type B free agent Kevin Gregg is expected to pitch out of someone else’s ‘pen next year. Attempting to compensate for those relief losses, the Jays have reportedly signed Octavio Dotel to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Dotel’s pact pays him $2.75 million in 2011, with a $3.75 million club option for 2012 that includes a $750K buyout.

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