The Yankees Can Become a Contender, and Spend Less

With the new MLB CBA being agreed upon, details of the agreement are trickling in to the baseball news outlets. One of the major agreements is a new luxury-tax threshold for the upcoming 2017 season and beyond. The threshold will increase to $195 million for the 2017 season, an increase of $6 million. It will continue to increase over the four following seasons as well. This is good news for the Yankees.

For years, the Yankees have been over the luxury-tax line since its incorporation in the 2003 season. With incremental increases in taxes from being above the line, the Yankees have paid in excess of $276 million over the past 14 seasons, far more than any other team. Because of the funds that the Steinbrenners have had to issue out as an extra tax, Hal Steinbrenner has stated that he wants to go under the tax and reset the penalties against them.

As it stands, the Yankees have a payroll of approximately $136.2 million, albeit with only seven major leaguers signed to contracts. Their payroll includes the $21 million paid to Alex Rodriguez and $5.5 million of Brian McCann’s salary that they share with the Astros. With that said, they have seven players that they are likely to retain through arbitration, which adds approximately $22.1 million to their payroll according to MLBTradeRumors.com. After that, their payroll stands at about $158 million. To complete their 25-man roster, 11 MLB minimum contracts need to be added. At the new amount of $535,000, the total then stands at $164 million.

As their roster stands, the Yankees will be well under the tax threshold if they don’t sign a single MLB free agent. After a year of doing that already though, that is very, very unlikely. The team is already highly involved in negotiations with most of the top remaining free agents. Three of the players they are involved with include Aroldis Chapman, Edwin Encarnacion, and Rich Hill. Most of all, the Yankees are involved with Chapman and have long been thought to be the ultimate landing spot for him by several sources.

According to FanGraphs’ own Dave Cameron, Chapman projects to receive in the realm of $18.5 million as an annual average. He follows with an annual average of $21 million for Encarnacion. For the sake of this article and the point of the Yankees spending less (and my own belief of salary projection), I will use MLBTradeRumors’ Tim Dierkes’ salary projection for Rich Hill. He puts it at $16.7 million on average compared to Cameron’s $24-million average. The difference comes down to the third year, yet at a cheaper rate.

With these salaries, as with many large MLB contracts, there is an expectation of back-loading the deal, or having higher averages at the end of the contract. Because of this, a projection of first-year salaries close to $16 million for Chapman, $17 million for Encarnacion, and $13 million for Rich Hill are obtainable. For those values, the deals would have to be fairly back-loaded, which would sting a bit in the long-term. However, it is good to keep in mind that back-loaded deals wouldn’t hurt too much since two major salaries in C.C. Sabathia and Rodriguez will no longer have to be paid.

For the first-year salaries above, the Yankees could conceivable sign one of Chapman or Encarnacion and Rich Hill while staying below the luxury-tax threshold. They wouldn’t be far off if they decided to sign both Chapman and Encarnacion (a net $32 million added after factoring in league-minimum deals for two players sent to AAA).

All of this doesn’t even factor in the possibility of the Yankees trading Brett Gardner and/or Chase Headley. Trading both would give them the ability to add two of the above plus potentially Justin Turner while giving young players like Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin the opportunity to play.

Considering these possibilities, the Yankees would be able to creep just under the luxury-tax threshold heading into the season. This would reset their penalties with a year to spare before an expected spending spree during the 2018-2019 offseason thanks to the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and many others that may be available that winter. All of this is very speculative, but it shows that one of the premier teams in terms of spending has the potential to become much better than last year while spending much less. The Yankees having more money to spend is dangerous for the rest of the league and gives them the ability to cut bait and buy players if their top prospects don’t work out.


Maple Leaf Mystery

Canadians! They walk among us, only revealing themselves when they say something like “out” or “sorry” or “I killed and field-dressed my first moose when I was six.” But we don’t get to hear baseball players talk that often, so how can we tell if a baseball player is Canadian? Generally there are three warning signs:

  1. They have a vaguely French-sounding last name
  2. They have been pursued by the Toronto Blue Jays1
  3. They bat left-handed and throw right-handed

1 I honestly thought Travis d’Arnaud was Canadian until just now

Wait, hold on. What’s up with that third one? This merits a bit of investigation.
Read the rest of this entry »


What Reducing the DL from 15 to 10 Days Could Mean

Wednesday night in the 11th hour, MLB owners and players agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that will cover five seasons through 2021.  While many of the items eventually agreed upon were tweaks and not major overhauls, one of the items that was of interest to me was the reduction of the disabled list from 15 days to 10 days.  On the surface, this could look like a win-win for both the players and the owners.  After all, players get to come off the DL and back on to the playing field five days sooner than they would have in past seasons, and owners can save coaches and fans from having to watch replacement-level players play while a most likely better player is on the shelf.

Using DL data compiled by baseballheatmaps.com, I took a look at length of stay on the DL by all players who landed on the list from 2010-2016.  Since 2010, 319 players have spent exactly 15 days  on the DL.  In total, this is 4785 days spent on the DL in seven seasons.  Now, for fun, let’s assume those same 319 players were ready to go after the new minimum of 10 days on the DL.  Simple math here will tell you those players spent 3190 days on the DL.  So in theory, over the course of seven seasons, reducing the DL to 10 days could save players 1595 days on the DL and owners the same number of days using most likely replacement-level players.  On a per-team average basis, reducing the DL by five days could actually save a team 7.6 days of DL time.

Seems like a win-win, right?  Again, players come back sooner, GMs don’t have to call up as many players from the minors and burn options, and owners save money by not having as many extra players come up from the minors accumulating MLB service time.  Not so fast.  In the same seven-season stretch, 3324 players spent 15 days or more on the DL and only 319 came off after 15 days.  So only 9% of all players on the DL spent the minimum amount of time out of action.  Why would this be?  Well, the obvious answer is if a player is hurt, they are hurt.  No one knows a player’s body better than the players themselves and they will return to action when they feel they are ready.

But the other answer is it pays to be on the DL in the majors.  There is protection.  Players still earn their salary and collect service time, so why rush back from an injury?  In the minors it is a different story. If you get hurt it becomes the next man up for a promotion to the big leagues.  There’s a reason there is a saying in the minors: “you can’t make a club in the tub.”  Now, just because there is protection doesn’t mean players want to spend time on the DL.  If they could, they would spend no time on the DL, as time away from the playing field can hurt future earning potential. Injuries are an inevitable part of the game but most seem to prevent players from feeling they are healthy enough to come back sooner than 15 days to compete at their best.  By reducing the DL to 10 days, I can see increased pressure from fans and media to come back quicker.  What we have to remember is this is the new minimum.  Players will return when they and the medical staff feel they’re ready.  I wouldn’t give your hopes up to see players return from the DL sooner than they have in the past.


Oakland A’s Give Cesar Valdez a Shot

On November 19, the Oakland A’s signed Cesar Valdez to a minor-league contract. His last appearance in the major leagues was way back in 2010 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Almost seven years ago. Since then, Valdez has been jumping from organization to organization, toiling as a journeyman reliever/starter in Triple-A. Not even a tweet by the organization is needed for these types of transactions. Just a normal organizational move. But this is not just any organizational move. A closer look at Valdez’ player page shows there is much more going on here than just adding organizational depth.

It needs to be noted that Valdez is already heading into his age-32 season. Whatever value the A’s pull out of him needs to be extracted quickly because father time is right on his tail. The A’s don’t expect him to be a long-term asset. They probably don’t really even expect him to make it the big leagues. His high-level numbers over the last two years suggest he should be a major-leaguer again.

In 2016, Valdez posted a 3.24 FIP in the offense-happy Pacific Coast League playing for the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate, good for third-best in the league. One could look at this and say ‘okay, so what, he had a good 140 innings in the minor leagues.’ What jumps out of the page is how Valdez was even better pitching in the Mexican League in 2015, another offense-happy environment. He led the league in FIP and it really was not even close. He had the second highest K/9 and on top of it all he led the league in innings. He absolutely dominated the Mexican League and followed that up with another showing of dominance in the PCL.

Valdez’ walks per nine fell from 1.57 in 2015 to 0.85 in 2016. That was the lowest BB/9 in the PCL by almost one whole walk. There was reason to doubt Valdez following his 2015 season. It was dominant, but it also could be seen as fluky. He posted an outstanding 9.02/1.57/0.50 line. One could ask how he gave up so few home runs, and maybe that walk rate was bound to shoot up against stiffer competition. Valdez earns credibility with his 2016 campaign. His strikeout rate dipped a bit, although it was still strong, but his walk rate almost halved and he kept that outstanding home-run rate. He sustained most of his gains even against more advanced competition.

Remember the name Cesar Valdez. He will be up at some point with the Oakland A’s. There is no way to predict outcomes such as Corey Kluber and Junior Guerra but Mr. Valdez is as good a bet as any to follow in their footsteps.


Dodgers Should Pursue Steve Pearce

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ search for a second baseman continues. The solution might lie in the most obscure of places — a 1B/OF free agent. On many other websites there has certainly been a lot of debate about who the Dodgers should pursue to occupy second base. Ian Kinsler is clearly the focal point, and there’s good reasons for it. The Detroit Tigers publicly state they’re trying to get younger and the Dodgers need a second baseman. That’s about as natural a fit as possible.

And Ian Kinsler’s a really good second baseman. He just produced 5.8 WAR as a 34-year-old. That mark was the 11th-best WAR total in an offensively potent American League. In fact, the season he just turned in was a historic one as far as second basemen go.

There’s no denying Kinsler is a good player, and he’s definitely cost-controlled. He’s slated to earn $11 million in 2017 and he has a $10-million option for 2018 which would obviously be picked up by whatever team he plays for at that point. All this means that Kinsler is going to cost a fortune in a trade. Cody Bellinger’s name is being thrown around as the centerpiece. However, there have also been reports that Kinsler will not waive his no-trade clause should the new team not give him an extension. This wrinkle would make it easier to acquire Kinsler, but it would also undermine his best asset — a tiny contract.

But with everyone’s minds on trades, there’s another option the Dodgers could pursue and that option is named Steve Pearce.

In a way, Pearce reminds me a lot of Justin Turner. Both began their careers off slowly. Pearce never played more than 100 games until 2014 when he was 31 years old. Although Turner played more games earlier in his career, they weren’t that productive. The similarities start to come together when you notice they began to rake at the plate late in their careers. We all know about Turner’s numbers, but Pearce isn’t a slouch either.

In 2016, Pearce slashed .288/.374/.492 in 300 AB. Pair that with 13 home runs and a K% of 17.9% and you’ve got yourself a solid offensive player. He hits for average, gets on base, hits for moderate power, and doesn’t strike out much. So why hasn’t anyone been talking about him?

To begin with, people really only think of him as a platoon partner. Last year, FanGraphs even came out with an article stating “Orioles Reacquire Lefty Masher Steve Pearce.” As much as I love the writers there, I don’t buy the argument he only hits lefties. Just this year, Pearce posted a 176 wRC+ against lefties but still hit a well above-average 118 wRC+ against righties. Basically he goes from being a god against left-handed pitchers to being above-average against right-handed pitchers. And that’s crazy valuable!

With that problem being solved, he’s still not getting talked about. And that’s because he finished 2016 hurt. He actually underwent successful elbow surgery this year. So I’ll give the critics that.

But there’s another reason why no one’s talking about Steve Pearce as a second baseman. That’s because he doesn’t really play second base.

From 2007 to 2016, Pearce has played 33 games at second base, totaling a measly 242.2 innings at the position. But before you say signing a guy who has barely played second base to play second base all year long is dumb, I’ll explain. In those 242.2 innings, Pearce averaged 1.7 UZR/150 innings. Basically, he’s been about average defensively. Sure, it’s a ridiculously small sample, but it’s better than no data.

All I’m saying is that the Dodgers would be smart to look into Steve Pearce. MLBTradeRumors projects he’ll receive a 2 year, $20 million offer. With that price tag, he’ll be a lot cheaper than acquiring Ian Kinsler. And there’s definitely a reason for that. He’s coming off elbow surgery and isn’t a natural second baseman. But offensively speaking, Pearce is better than Kinsler. It’s just a matter of whether he could play second.


BatCast the Bat Flip Tracker: Oh, How the Wood Was Chucked

“Make baseball fun again” is Bryce Harpers outcry against baseball fundamentalists who continue to police emotions and enforce baseball’s expressionless professionalism.  “Shut up and play the game right” might be something you’d hear uttered from the fundamentalist’s side — ideally through tobacco-glazed teeth — and maybe by Brian McCannThe discourse is of course more involved than that, covering everything from retaliatory plunk balls to bat flips, and anytime something marginally inflammatory happens, it’s beaten so hard that we’re reminded how boring our lives are that we have to discuss the same things over and over and over.  I know you can picture the media package that accompanies the discourse: a young, brash, exquisitely coiffed, generational talent, who was hit in the ribs in his first ever plate appearance (then proceeded to steal home), is unabashedly passionate about a “fun” revolution in baseball.  His eye black is adorned like war paint; he has emojis on the bottom of his bats; his helmet never stays on his head when he runs the bases; and yes, he “pimps” his home runs.  Cut to Joey Bats‘ ALDS bat flip and the ensuing brawl and then connect it with Rougned Odor‘s haymaker; cut to Brian McCann standing at home plate waiting for Jose Fernandez after his first career home run; then enter the commentator: “Is this wrong?”

While baseball’s moral code on gaining an edge is unpredictable, there’s always been the idea that individuals conform to the game, not the other way around.  Harper’s sermon won’t shatter the code of conduct, but it might move the needle, if it hasn’t already.  For example, I can’t think of a standout incident this season because of a bat flip.  That’s good! Because bat flips are really fun!  There’s really no need to overthink it.  There were plenty of memorable bat flips this year, and in an effort to make some fun out of baseball when there is no baseball being played, I’m breaking out my bat flip tracking equipment (a ruler, a stop watch, and a parabolic trajectory calculator) that I introduced last year, and booting up BatCast for a look back at the year’s most memorable wood-chucking moments.

A brief recap: arriving at these numbers is a sloppy and wildly imprecise affair.  I pull videos, gifs, and stills of a bat flip and start by measuring the height of the player as he appears on my screen.  I convert that measurement into the player’s real-life size and reference this ratio, as well as measurements on the baseball field, and rough estimates, to arrive at some of the data I present to you in meters and feet: initial height, apex, and distance.  Using a stopwatch or the time stamp on YouTube, I can declare a fairly accurate hang time of the bat.  Angles are roughly noted using the batter and the ground to form a 90-degree angle and are adjusted in the parabolic trajectory calculator.

Let’s kick this off:

Exhibit A – The one that’s probably at the forefront of your mind:

Asdrubal Cabrera

Date Inning Leverage Index ΔWE% Implication
09/22/16 11 4.42 82.5% 0.5 gm ld in WC

Statcast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Distance
102 mph 28.50 393 ft

Le Flip

asdrubalbatflip092216

How about in slow motion?

092216_asdrubal_walkoff_slomo_med_m9up6w4p 

Ejaculatory!

How many of his teammates do you think saw that flip?  They may have seen the tail end of it, but I’m willing to bet zero saw the flip in its entirety because everyone in the dugout was gazing at the ball in flight.  But this was a no-doubter.  Edubray Ramos resigned to the outcome likely before the ball had reached its apex.  The Phillies weren’t playing for anything at this point, but the Mets?  Before this pitch, the Mets were tied with the Giants and Cardinals for the top wild-card spot.  Before this pitch, in the 9th inning, Jose Reyes erased a two-run deficit with a home run of his own, only to see that lead given up again when Jeurys Familia and Jim Henderson allowed two runs to score in the top of the 11th.  After this pitch, this game ended and they had a half-game lead on any team in the National League for the first wild-card spot.  That bat flip is a team effort.  There’s some “I did it” in there, but the way he looks towards the dugout and offers his bat up towards his teammates makes this feel like “We did it!”

The numbers:

Cabrera is listed as 6′ tall.  On the freeze frame I measured, he’s 1.9″ tall.  So our key tells us that 1″ on the screen is 37.9″ in real life.  When he releases the bat, he does so from about shoulder height and we’ll call 5′ (1.52 m) in real life.  The acme is, it appears, not a great deal lower than the top of Asdrubal’s head, so we’ll tally that down at 5′-7″ (1.71 m).  To me, the launch angle looks to be right around 30 degrees, and we’ll refine this number once we get them in the parabolic trajectory calculator.  The duration of flight I’m using is the average number I’ve come up with through timing the video 10 times — 0.79 seconds.

Parabolic Trajectory Calculator:

ptraj

BatCast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Acme Distance
8.7 mph 30 Deg 5’-7” 8’-9”

Exhibit B – A Man Possessed:

Matt Adams

Date Inning Leverage Index ΔWE% Implication
07/22/16 16th 1.71 42.7% 2nd straight walk-off for Cardinals

Statcast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Distance
105.8 mph 28.34 444 ft

636048353090779282-gty-579171664-83514488_1469294083291_4281277_ver1-0

If this picture was part of an emotional intelligence quiz, I’m sure the answers given as to what facial expression is being displayed would vary greatly.  To accurately assess the information in this picture it may behoove one to understand that, in baseball, home teams wear white and that the man in the background is most likely a fan of the home team and that his hands are held high in jubilation.  If you’re only looking at the horrifying ogre in the foreground who appears to be screaming at 67 Hz+, the pitch only a dog can hear, you’d be hard-pressed to say that is a happy man.  In fact, he may not be happy yet — he’s likely evoking a form of relief, having just exorcised the demons one faces when up to bat in the 16th inning of a tie baseball game; he looks like pure adrenaline.  Most of us don’t get to experience a moment like this in our lifetime so we don’t have a really strong reference point for what he’s feeling, but luckily you know what this article is about and there’s a gif:

giphy

PUMP! PUMP! PUMP IT UP!

That’s all lizard brain right there.  It’s a little undignified, but that’s the beauty of it.  Matt Adams is a dense, hulking man, and that makes it a little scarier and a little sillier.  Look:

matt-adams-b809f422f7cc9370

Sassy.

The numbers:

This one is especially hard to measure because of Adams’ primitive (yet graceful) movements.  I extracted these numbers using the still image and the video:

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-10-04-38-pm

BatCast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Acme Distance
20.6 mph 10 Deg 4’-11” 22’-1”

Exhibit C – Into the Batosphere

Yoenis Cespedes

Date Inning Leverage Index ΔWE% Implication
08/29/16 10th 1.23 47.0% The first baseball bat in outer space (for America – Korea has several).

Statcast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Distance
101.9 mph 28.33 416 ft

Yoenis Cespedes made it into my BatCast segment last year with his nifty flip in the NLDS.  This flip follows a similar trajectory but he varies his look this time with a cross-bodied toss.  It’s rude:

082916_cespedes_bat_toss_med_k3thrcyn (1).gif

“Hold my drink, bitch.”

While the lesson here is obvious, the mistake is not as easily avoided: get the fastball ball UP and in on Cespedes.

plot_h_profile

Because of the evidence we have, the numbers for this bat flip will be even more rough than the others — by the way, I hope you’re not a mathematician, and I apologize if you are.  The data we can gather is the launch angle and at what time stamp the bat reaches it’s highest point.  Here’s a better view of the angle:

USP MLB: MIAMI MARLINS AT NEW YORK METS S BBN USA NY

Can we agree on shoulder height for the initial launch height to make things easier?   Let’s call it 5′ since Cespedes is 5′-10″.  We’ll say the bat was launched at a 70-degree angle and in the gif the bat appears to reach it’s apex at just before 0.4 seconds.

BatCast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Acme Distance
9.2 mph 70 deg 12’-6” 4’-11”

Exhibit D – The “I probably didn’t even need this bat to hit this home run” flip

Bryce Harper

Date Inning Leverage Index ΔWE% Implication
09/10/16 8th 3.63 30.5% Bryce’s helmet probably won’t fall off when he’s running the bases.
Statcast
Exit Velocity Launch Angle Distance
99.7 mph 26.39 377 ft

After my long-winded intro it’s fitting to get to feature Bryce Harper in this piece.  He probably didn’t have as much fun this year as he did in 2015, but he appears to have gotten some enjoyment out of this shot.
wp-1480462655679.gif

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that is what the kids call “Swagadoscious.”  I’ll just get right to the point this time.

bharpflipp

 

BatCast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Acme Distance
6.3 mph 50 deg 6’-8” 5’-1”

Those are the ones that stuck out to me as the best flips of the year and I hope you were able to move past the rough estimates and get some enjoyment out of that as well.  I should note that Joc Pederson‘s bat flip in the NLDS is omitted because I cannot find substantial evidence of an acme or distance.  And while a lefty going across his body like he did is pretty exotic, the uncertainty he exudes, combined with his panicked sashay, makes this effort pretty uncool.

pedersonbattoss_echl1ngh_il9khrdi

(Scherzer looks super imposed here)

So what can we pretend to glean from this?  Based on WPA, it’s probably not surprising that Harper had the most disproportionate bat flip.  Looking at the Statcast data, Harper’s home run was also the “weakest” out of the group.  So I guess even if Bryce Harper says what he says just so he can get away with being a little douchey, he’s holding up his part of the deal.  Of course, bat flips aren’t what make baseball fun.  Baseball is fun because we can see so much of our own lives in the game — it’s the humanity.  It provokes endless curiosity and it will reward you if you know where to look.  It’s the only game that can end, not because of time, but with one swing, and flip, of the bat.

Don’t be afraid to clue me in to bat flips in the future — my Twitter handle is in my bio (below).


Wait, Who Got an MVP Vote?

In the spirit of awards season, I decided to take a look at the BBWAA decisions of the past couple decades and, my goodness, I could not believe my eyes when seeing some of the down-ballot vote-getters. Middle relievers, players who didn’t even play long enough to make it out of arbitration, below-average corner outfielders, you name it. I could not help but put some of these names in writing to maybe strike a little nostalgia into some curious baseball fans.

Brad Hawpe, Colorado Rockies, 2007, 2009

Mr. Hawpe shows up on a ballot in TWO different years. I haven’t heard this name since 2012. Hawpe last played for the Angels in 2013 and posted a .185 slugging percentage in 32 plate appearances. He never received another contract. His two ‘MVP caliber’ years were eerily similar. Hawpe is the prototypical product of Coors Field. Although he didn’t have too different of numbers outside of Coors Field as a Rockie, he completely tanked once he got out of their organization. If you are from some other planet and don’t believe that Coors Field has any benefit for the hitter, then Hawpe’s offensive numbers were outstanding. He posted an on-base percentage above .380 in both years and hit over 20 home runs in both as well. He did all of that while still maintaining a solid batting average. The problem with Hawpe, and most likely a huge reason why he didn’t get more chances in the majors, was how god-awful his defense was. Sandwiched between his 2007 and 2009 seasons, he posted the worst defensive season in the league according to fWAR. If he would have been merely a below-average corner outfielder, or even first baseman, there is a chance Hawpe could’ve resurrected his career and maybe would still be playing today.

Scott Eyre, San Francisco Giants, 2005

Growing up a Giants fan, this name is familiar to me. Yet 99% of other baseball fans might need to do some thinking before they can figure out who he was, let alone realize that he actually received an MVP vote once. In 2005, Scott Eyre became the first-ever relief pitcher to receive an MVP vote without recording a save. He was outstanding. He posted a 2.63 ERA in 63.1 innings, appearing in 86 games. Now, 2.63 may not be too sexy for a middle relief pitcher nowadays, but 2005 was still feeling the effects of the steroid era. It is hard to believe a middle relief pitcher playing on the 2005 Giants got enough attention to receive a vote. The only thing bringing any attention to those 2005-2007 Giants teams were the controversies surrounding Barry Bonds. Trust me, I lived through it. Sadly, this was by far Eyre’s best year in the majors. He posted a couple semi-solid years before and after his 2005 season, but was all but out of the league by his 37th birthday.

Nate McLouth, Pittsburgh Pirates, 2008

Probably the most recognizable name on this list, Nate McLouth. McLouth had a weird career. He posted a couple stand-out season with the Pirates, toiled with an almost career-ending stint with the Braves, had a a solid comeback season with the Orioles in 2013, then was out of the league after the 2014 season. That 2008 season, though. If it weren’t for his almost-terrible defense he would’ve received several top-five votes. He went 26-23, had over 200 combined runs and RBIs, had a .356 OBP, and was one of the best baserunners in the league. It would’ve helped if he played for a better team too. Mr. McLouth is one of the few on this list I’d argue deserved a few more votes than he actually got.

Antonio Alfonseca, Florida Marlins, 2000

I’ll admit I had to look this one up. Alfonseca received one tenth-place vote way back when in 2000. If he had the same stat line in 2016, he might have a hard time keeping a job, but 2000 was a different time. He posted a 4.24 ERA in 70 innings, which was right in line with his 4.16 FIP. He only struck out six per nine but he tallied a whopping 45 saves, which I assume was the kicker for him nabbing that tenth-place vote. Alfonseca, surprisingly, was a perfectly viable middle reliever throughout the steroid era. Oddly enough, his 2000 season was probably his third or fourth-best season. Although he never came close to topping his 45-save number. Long gone are the days of average closing pitchers with high save totals receiving MVP votes.

Travis Fryman, Cleveland Indians, 2000

How I have never heard about this guy before this exercise is beyond me. He had a great career! Over 30 career WAR. Sadly for Travis he played through the steroid era and his skillset was completely overlooked, or else he may have seen a few more MVP votes. A slick-fielding third baseman with a solid walk rate was underappreciated in the years before Moneyball and modern defensive metrics. I’d describe Fryman as the very poor man’s Adrian Beltre. His 200o season was very Beltre-esque. He hit 22 bombs while sporting a .321 BA and a .392 OBP with solid defensive numbers, a type of season that gets overlooked when you think about the absurd numbers being put up around the league around the turn of the millennium. Unfortunately for Mr. Fryman, he was born 20 years too early, or else he would be heralded as one of the top three-baggers in the league and would’ve been in for one or two hefty paydays.

Bob Wickman, Cleveland Indians, 2005

Don’t get me wrong, while big Bobby Wickman is an easy player to overlook, he had an outstanding career. He recorded 13.7 WAR over his 15-year career, outstanding for a relief pitcher. He notched a career-high 45 saves in his 2005 season. What is so unbelievable about that particular season was that it was by far his worst season of his career. He was worth -0.3 WAR. And yet he received an MVP vote. You can make an argument he has had two or three different seasons where he warranted an MVP vote! But he never had the gaudy save total that he did in 2005. That along with the Indians’ solid 93-win season and Wickman takes some of the credit despite being worse than their best AAA pitcher. Maybe this was some kind of career achievement award for an underappreciated closing pitcher.

Who’s going to be 2016’s Antonio Alfonseca? My guess is Wilson Ramos, but that might be cheating with his season-ending injury already in the books. All in all, it is pretty amazing the types of names you can come up with just by looking at the historical results of baseball’s most prestigious award.


Hitting Stat Correlation Remix

We all love baseball. And, since we’re on FanGraphs, odds are we also love baseball stats. A stat is always intended to measure one thing — how many home runs did Miguel Cabrera hit, how many bases did Ricky Henderson steal, how often does Joey Votto get on base, and so on.

The savvy fan knows that no one stat tells the whole story. Even WAR, which is our best estimator for how much value a player brings, requires us to dig further into how the player got there. Was it defense? Offense? If it was offense, how’d he get there — lots of walks, lots of home runs, or did he have a high BABIP? And which of these are most likely to repeat?

That’s where correlation comes into play. If there’s a high correlation season to season, then odds are what we’re measuring* is repeatable, and we can expect more of the same going forward. Otherwise, we should expect a regression (positive or negative) toward the league mean the next season.

Or maybe a player has a high line-drive rate. How’d they get there? Do they swing a lot, do they tend to be power hitters, etc. There are a lot of relationships within a season as well.

*Even at a seasonal level, we’re not necessarily measuring true talent so much as performance. Estimating true talent involves a lot of regression, and that’s a fun and important study, but not what I chose to focus on for this tool.

A few years back, Steve Staude published a hitting stat correlation tool that let anybody explore these correlations at their leisure. It was a fun way to explore the data, not to mention a neat piece of Excel engineering. I wanted to bring it up to date a bit, and in the process switch from Excel to Tableau. I can’t embed the view in this post, but you can view it by clicking through to the view on Tableau Public.

I decided to include every season in the FanGraphs database (I’m sure I owe a database admin somewhere an apology). By default, it filters on 300 PA for both metrics (either intra-season or next season), but you may drop the floor to 1 PA. It’s a terrible idea and you really shouldn’t do it, but I’m not here to tell you how to live your life.

I also added a yearly trend of the correlation. For most stats, this doesn’t add a lot, but there are some interesting stories. For instance, the yearly correlation between BABIP and AVG for players with 300 PA has been slowly dropping in the last 20 years. Reflective of more emphasis on walks, or perhaps defensive positioning?

The player with the highest swing rate and lowest strikeout rate? Randall Simon in 2002, with a 63.6% swing rate and a 5.9% K rate, which seems like some sort of joke. All that swinging meant a low 2.9% walk rate, so it’s not like he got away with anything.

The usual caveats about correlation not equaling causation apply. Just because you get a high r-squared doesn’t mean there’s a causal relationship; one always has to apply a common-sense analysis as well. That said, dive in and have some fun.


Texas Medicine

The 2016 Texas Rangers finished with just 82 wins. With an aging core and a desiccating farm system, the Rangers are drifting toward baseball’s Sargasso Sea of medioc-

What? You say the Rangers won 95 games last season?? Get on with your bad self!

Hmm … diligent research has revealed that the Rangers did indeed win 95, despite a microscopic run differential of +8, the lowest positive run differential in the majors last year. That wily Pythagoras pegged the Rangers at 82 expected wins last season, and perhaps unsurprisingly, FanGraphs currently projects the Rangers to win, yes, 82 games next season. A modest uptick in offense (due in significant part to having Jonathan Lucroy available for the whole year) will be offset by a modest erosion of the Texans’ already leaky run prevention. With an aging core and a desiccating farm system, the Rangers are drifting toward baseball’s Sargasso Sea of mediocrity, a team neither good enough to challenge for a playoff spot, nor bad enough to enable Total Roster Makeover.

For public consumption at least, Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels is acting like he has a 95-win team on the roster, throwing out speculation that the team may be after Andrew McCutchen, Edwin Encarnacion, or perhaps even Chris Scissorshands. Daniels is, on the evidence publicly available, a rather capable individual, and it is difficult to believe he is ignorant of the true state of his team.

He has a core of four 3+ win players (Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Adrian Beltre, and Lucroy), none of whom is younger than 30. They have some young guys with upside (Rougned Odor, Nomar Mazara, Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo), a glove-first shortstop whose contract won’t end until after humans have colonized Mars, and Shin-soo Choo, who has become the fragile platoon corner outfielder that many feared when he signed his own post-Mars-colonization deal.

Fortunately for the Rangers, their roster weaknesses are glaring. They have four positions (1B, CF, DH, and 5th SP) that each project to amass fewer than 1 win. These should be the focus of Daniels’ attention. Let’s take them in turn:

1B/DH

I’ll consider these together, because the Rangers can fill one of these positions with Joey Gallo, if they don’t trade him. Gallo is a true baseball anomaly, and his big-fly-big-whiff profile has been well chronicled. He had a 34.6% strikeout rate in AAA last year, a rate qualifying hitters exceeded only twice in the majors since 2007:

Mark Reynolds     2010     35.4%

Chris Carter           2013     36.2%

And the bad news is that neither of these whiffly guys broke 30% in their minor-league careers (leaving out a very short appearance in AA by Reynolds). So Gallo walks (and homers, and strikes out) alone. If the Rangers really were a 95-win team, they would probably be best served by moving Gallo for whatever they could get, which would undoubtedly be a useful return. A 95-win team can move a prospect for an overpriced veteran who will nevertheless put them over the top. But that team is not the Rangers, who are probably better off seeing what they have in Gallo, working him into the lineup as soon as practicable. But Rangers fans beware! No windshield in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan statistical area will be safe.

That still leaves a big hole at the other position. Profar could play first, but his bat likely won’t be able to carry the position, at least not yet. Encarnacion wants a megacontract, and while the Rangers may be able to afford the cash (they have the eighth-highest payroll in the AL next year, and they have a Texas-sized TV contract) the contract length will be brutal. Encarnacion recently turned down 4y/$80m from the Blue Jays, so he’ll presumably want more than that from the Rangers (or anyone else). Thanks to the qualifying offer, he’ll also (for now, at least) cost a first-round pick. While he obviously would provide some short-term help for the Rangers, adding a very expensive and declining veteran on a long-term deal probably isn’t the kind of move an 82-win team should be making.

Last season, E5 had his worst wRC+ and ISO since 2011, and his worst K% since 2009. Next year will be his age-34 season, and while even a decaying Encarnacion can help a team, his punishing contract is likely a better fit for a team that already has almost every other piece in place. For all his gaudy counting stats, E5 projects as just a 2.4 win player next year. The Rangers can probably get better results by spreading his putative salary over a larger number of players and a lower number of years. A platoon of Steve Pearce and Pedro Alvarez at DH could be the bargain-hunter’s option here. And let’s not overlook Ronald Guzman, who had a breakout season in AA last year (.825 OPS) before struggling in 95 plate appearances at AAA. He’s not a top prospect, but he’s still only 21, and he could be a useful piece later in 2017.

CF

The conversation probably starts with McCutchen, who appears to be a good buy-low candidate from a Bucs team that obviously wants to sell. Cutch has a team-friendly deal and a reputation as a glue guy, but the key questions are (a) will he ever hit again and (b) will he ever field again? The Rangers are going to have start restocking the farm soon, and giving away what remains of their young talent for McCutchen seems shortsighted unless they are convinced they can fix him (or that he can fix himself). Steamer, for what it’s worth, sees a significant bounceback.

Carlos Gomez presents a (much) less exciting option, but also one that will only cost money, and perhaps not in excessively painful amounts. If the Rangers believe that his health has returned for more than a minute, Gomez could fill the bill, but most of the value he has is likely to be on defense, and the Rangers did not have an especially fly-prone staff last year (nor will the addition of Andrew Cashner change that much).

Dexter Fowler raises some of the same issues as Encarnacion, though on a smaller scale. Although he put up adequate defensive numbers last season, most metrics have  seen him as a below-average center fielder throughout his career, and he will surely want more years than make sense for the Rangers’ current position on the development curve. He’ll also (for now) cost a first-round pick. All of the above is true with even greater force with respect to Ian Desmond. The Rangers should make sure he becomes someone else’s problem next year.

If the Rangers can somehow swing a trade involving Profar and one or more lesser prospects for McCutchen, then that might be the best plan. (I’m not forgetting Marcell Ozuna here, but I’m assuming he’ll cost even more in prospects than McCutchen, and I’m not assuming he’ll be able to retain his OBP progress from last year.)  There are no great options here, but the lower-risk move is probably to sign Gomez.

Starter 5

A.J. Griffin is currently slated for the cannon-fodder spot in the rotation, and this year’s free-agent pitching class is legendarily bad. Rich Hill could be a perfect fit, given that he won’t ask for too many years and is having a late-career resurgence that may only be explicable with reference to the dark arts. As a fly-ball pitcher, however, he would need help in center (e.g., Carlos Gomez), and he might cough up a few more homers than last year. And he’s obviously an injury risk, but that will be priced into the deal.

Ivan Nova (!) is probably the next-best option. Steamer projects a 2.3-win season, in line with what he achieved in 2011, 2013, and last year. I’ve never been a big Nova fan, but the Rangers don’t have a lot of options here, so he may be a decent plan B if Hill signs elsewhere. And that Top-100 prospect, southpaw Yohander Mendez, has put up good minor-league numbers across six levels (counting the three A levels separately): a collective 2.46 ERA over 292 innings, and an 8.6 K/9. He’ll also be just 22 next year. While probably needing a bit more seasoning, he could reach the rotation in next season’s second half if (when?) Cashner or Martin Perez falters, or Hill gets hurt.

* * *

The 95-win Rangers were an illusion, and their chances of standing toe-to-toe with the Astros in the 2017 AL West are slim indeed. Instead, they need to start preparing for the post-Beltre era. They have some good young talent in place and a front office that has shown aptitude for acquiring more. They can attempt to sneak into the playoffs this year at relatively low cost, while retaining a cadre of young talent with which they can challenge the Astros’ AL West dominance in the years to come. Or they can act like a 95-win team. Sometimes it’s better to take the medicine.


Michael Lorenzen Is the New Brian Wilson

Have you heard of Michael Lorenzen?  You might have heard of Michael Lorenzen.  You’re a baseball fan, and he plays baseball.  But chances are, you haven’t heard of him.  He’s a mostly unremarkable relief pitcher for a very unremarkable Cincinnati team.  He put up a 2.88 ERA with a 3.67 FIP for the Reds in 2016, hurt by a 22.7% HR/FB rate.  But he did do something special last year, and that something special is worth noting.  Before getting into that, though, let’s take a trip to the distant past of 2009.
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