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Another Way to Show that Mike Trout’s Athleticism is What Separates Him

We all know Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout are elite hitters.  Yes, I am going to compare the two.  And yes, I know that’s been done many times before.  However, I’ve come up with a stat that really separates the two. I’ll be looking at their complete offensive package, so this is not at all related to WAR, as it does not include defense.

Cabrera has won the MVP for the past two years, and Trout is putting up seasons never seen before from 20-22 year olds.  When you compare what they’ve done since 2012, they are very similar hitters. (Stats through Aug. 9, 2014)

Trout: .317/.408/.563 with a 172 wRC+, .247 ISO, .415 wOBA (1860 PA)

Cabrera: .330/.403/.592 with a 167 wRC+, .263 ISO, .420 wOBA (1828 PA)

As you can see, they’re almost identical.  Cabrera has a slight advantage in the power department with a 16 point advantage in ISO and a 29 point advantage in SLG. What I want to do is take this a bit further and analyze how much speed and athleticism gives Mike Trout an advantage.

WAR takes everything a baseball player can do into account.  Trout has had the edge over Cabrera since 2012 with a 26.5 mark compared to Cabrera’s 17.7, a pretty significant gap.  Many people don’t buy into WAR, so I wanted to show how speed changes Trout’s offensive game.  Again, I am not looking at defense for this piece.

As we know, SLG is total bases divided by plate appearances.  However, it does not include every single base a hitter collects.  For example, walks and HBP are not included.  There are many more things that it does not include, and that’s what I looked at in order to create a new stat, adjusted SLG, if you will. I used FanGraphs and Baseball Reference to find every single base an offensive player can collect, whether it’s after they hit the ball or after they reach base. In addition to hits, walks, and HBP, I looked at extra bases taken, reaching on errors, net stolen bases, pickoffs, and double plays grounded into.  I included double plays because they make a huge impact.  It’s two outs on one play, so I took an extra base away for each double play, as it eliminates another base runner.  For extra bases taken, I included five things:

  • Times a runner is on first, then reaches third or home on a 1B
  • Times a runner is on first, then scores on a 2B
  • Times a runner is on second, and scores on a 1B
  • Bases taken on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, defensive indifference, balks
  • Minus outs made at bases (doubled off, trying for double/triple/HR, advancing on fly balls, wild pitch, passed balls)

Other things to keep in mind; I added up every single base, then subtracted a base for when a guy gets picked off or bounces into a double play.  For the final percentage, I took all the bases each player collected and divided it by plate appearances.  It’s a very simple stat, once you gather all the information needed.

Here is a table for what I calculated (ROE—reached on error. NSB—net stolen bases. XBT—extra bases taken.  PO—pickoffs.)

PA (TROUT) BB HBP ROE NSB 1B 2B 3B HR XBT PO DP TOTAL ADJ SLG
1860 239 20 24 82 297 99 22 82 161 6 19 1390 0.747
PA (CABRERA) BB HBP ROE NSB 1B 2B 3B HR XBT PO DP TOTAL ADJ SLG
1828 200 9 9 6 319 102 2 105 120 0 63 1230 0.673

As you can see, the speed of Trout has pushed him way over the top when it comes to being a complete offensive player.  He has reached on an error 15 more times than Cabrera (24-9).  Speed has a lot to do with this by putting pressure on defenders, especially infielders, who often rush throws when a speed guy is running down to first.  Trout also has 76 more net stolen bases than Miggy (82-6) as he has racked up 94 steals since 2012 while being caught just 12 times.  He also grounds into a double play far less than Cabrera, with 19 since 2012 compared to Cabrera’s whopping 63.  Trout also takes more bases while on the base paths.

When you consider that Trout and Cabrera both get hits, extra-base hits, and walks at a fairly similar rate, it’s alarming to see how much Trout goes ahead of Cabrera when you take speed and baserunning into account. Trout’s “adjusted slugging percentage” (or fill in another creative name here) is .747 since 2012, compared to Cabrera’s .673, a very noticeable difference of 74 points.  This percentage, and all of the counting stats that are included with the table, is reliable because they both have almost the same number of PA since 2012, with Trout at 1,860 and Cabrera at 1,828.

Everybody loves to compare Trout and Cabrera.  This is just another way of showing that Trout is ahead of Cabrera, because it shows how well Trout does the things that are smaller and often unnoticed things well.


Ruben Amaro Jr. Says Teams “Over-Covet” Prospects; Is He Right?

Many are questioning the thought process behind Ruben Amaro Jr. standing pat at the non-waiver trade deadline.  The Phillies have a lot of veterans under fairly large contracts.  According to Philly.com, when asked about why he didn’t move some of his veterans, Amaro stated

“In this day and age, I think one of the most over-coveted elements of baseball are prospects,” Amaro said. “I don’t know how many prospects that have been dealt over the last several years have really come to bite people in the a**. I think what’s happened is, I think teams are really kind of overvaluing in some regards.”

I thought it would be fun to actually go back and see how many prospects or minor league players who were traded at the deadline panned out.  I went back to 2005 and used every single transaction that involved both an MLB player and a prospect (I considered a prospect a guy who had never been in the MLB, or a guy who had been in the MLB but had yet to achieve rookie status).  I also strictly used trades that were done on July 31, in each year from 2005-2011.  I skipped 2012 and 2013 because it’s harder to get a gauge on whether or not prospects traded will make it or have any success.  Also, from 2011 until now, prospects have had about three years to get to the big leagues and I felt that was a good place to end. 

There were 53 transactions in that time, some very minor, some very major, and some in between. I took each transaction and compiled each player’s WAR after the trade (WARAT).  I still applied this criteria if there was a player who was traded on two different July 31s.  For example, Jake Peavy was traded twice, so his WARAT will be different from one trade to the next.  Some players appear as prospects and MLB guys as well, like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was traded as a prospect, and later on once he was not considered a rookie anymore.

I will look at the percentage of prospects that never made it, the percentage that made it but provided negative WAR, and the percentage that made it and provided positive WAR.  I will then look at the MLB guys who were traded and the percentage of guys who provided positive and negative WAR for the remainder of their careers.

The data I found was very interesting.  There were 85 “prospects” traded and 66 MLB guys traded. Below is a table with each trade.  In parenthesis, I noted whether each player was a prospect (P) or an MLB guy at the time.  I will then have their WARAT, or WAR after trade.  If a prospect never made it to the show, I use the abbreviation “NMI.”

TEAM A TEAM B
2005  
Kyle Brono (P, NMI) & Kenny Perez (P, NMI) Jose Cruz Jr. (MLB, 3.2)
Kyle Farnsworth (MLB, 3.2) Zach Miner (P, 2.7) & Roman Colon (P, NMI)
Geoff Blum (MLB, 3.2) Ryan Meaux (NMI)
Ron Villone (MLB, -0.6) Yorman Bazardo (P, 0.2) & Michael Flannery (NMI)
Miguel Olivo (MLB, 7.7) Miguel Ojeda (MLB, -0.3) & Nathaneal Mateo (P, NMI)
2006  
Rich Scalamandre (P, NMI) Jorge Sosa (MLB, -0.1)
Todd Walker (MLB, 0.7) Jose Ceda (P, 0)
Rheal Cormier (MLB, -0.3) Justin Germano (P, 0.4)
Kyle Lohse (MLB, 17.6) Zach Ward (P, NMI)
Jeremy Affeldt (MLB, 2.5) & Denny Bautista (MLB, -0.2) Ryan Shealy (P, 0.7) & Scott Dohmann (P, -0.4)
Sean Casey (MLB, -0.8) Brian Rogers (P, -0.3)
Jose Diaz (P, NMI) Matt Stairs (MLB, 0.9)
Julio Lugo (MLB, -0.8) Joel Guzman (P, -0.2) & Sergio Pedroza (P, NMI)
Jesse Chavez (P, 0.9) Kip Wells (MLB, 0.2)
2007  
Mark Teixeira (MLB, 24.7) & Ron Mahay (MLB, 0.6) Jarrod Saltalamacchia (P, 8.2) & Elvis Andrus (P, 17.6) & Neftali Feliz (P, 4.8) & Matt Harrison (8.8) & Beau Jones (P, NMI)
Eric Gagne (MLB, -0.8) Kason Gabbard (P, 0.4) & David Murphy (10.4) & Engel Beltre (P, NMI)
Jon Link (P, 0) Rob Mackowiak (MLB, -0.7)
Julio Mateo (MLB, 0.2) Jesus Merchen (P, NMI)
Matt Morris (MLB, 0.1) Rajai Davis (P, 8.4)
Wilfredo Ledezma (MLB, 0) & Will Startup (P, NMI) Royce Ring (P, 0)
2008  
Jason Bay (MLB, 6.1) Manny Ramirez (MLB, 6) & Craig Hanson (P, -0.5) & Brandon Moss (P, 6.3)
Ken Griffey Jr. (MLB, -1.1) Nick Masset (P, 2.4) & Danny Richar (P, -0.2)
Arthur Rhodes (MLB, 1.7) Gaby Hernandez (P, NMI)
Manny Ramirez (^) Andy LaRoche (P, 0.3) & Bryan Morris (P, -1.4)
2009  
Aaron Poreda (P, 0.1) & Adam Russell (P, 0) & Clayton Richard (P, 0.7) Jake Peavy (MLB, 13.2)
Jarrod Washburn (MLB, -0.4) & Mauricio Robles (P, 0.1) Luke French (P, -0.5)
Vinny Rottino (P, 0.1) Claudio Vargas (MLB, 0.1)
Orlando Cabrera (MLB, 0.3) Tyler Ladendorf (P, NMI)
Edwin Encarnacion (MLB, 13.8) & Josh Roenicke (P, 0.1) Scott Rolen (MLB, 7.4) & Zach Stewart (P, -0.4)
Joe Beimal (MLB, -0.3) Ryan Matheus (P, -0.3) & Robinson Fabian (P,NMI)
Nick Johnson (MLB, 0.5) Aaron Thompson (P, -0.2)
Victor Martinez (MLB, 10.9) Justin Masterson (P, 13.7) & Bryon Price (P, NMI) & Nick Hagadone (P, 0)
Chase Weems (P, NMI) Jerry Hairston (MLB, 3.1)
2010  
Bobby Crosby (MLB, -0.1) & DJ Carrasco (MLB, -0.5) & Ryan Church (MLB, 0.5) Chris Snyder (MLB, -0.1) & Pedro Ciriaco (P, 0.1)
Lance Berkman (MLB, 4.5) Jimmy Paredes (P, -1.6) & Mark Melancon (P, 3.3)
Ramon Ramirez (MLB, 0.6) Daniel Turpen (P, NMI)
Christian Guzman (MLB, -0.7) Ryan Tutusko (P, NMI) & Tanner Roark (P, 3.6)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (MLB, 8.7) Roman Mendez (P, 0.1) & Chris McGuiness (P, -0.4)
Javier Lopez (MLB, 2.8) Joe Martinez (P, 0.2) & John Bowker (MLB, -1)
Octavio Dotel (MLB, 2.4) James McDonald (MLB, 2.9) & Andrew Lambo (P, -0.2)
Rick Ankiel (MLB, 1) & Kyle Farnsworth (MLB, 1) Tim Collins (P, 1.4) & Gregor Blanco (MLB, 6.2) & Jesse Chavez (MLB, 1.5)
Corey Kluber (P, 8.4) Jake Westbrook (MLB, 3.8)
Nick Greenwood (P, 0) Ryan Ludwick (MLB, 1.4)
Ted Lilly (MLB, 2.8) & Ryan Theriot (MLB, 0.5) Blake DeWitt (MLB, -0.5) & Kyle Smit (P, NMI) & Brett Wallach (P, NMI)
2011  
Orlando Cabrera (MLB, -0.7) Thomas Neal (P, -0.6)
Derrek Lee (MLB, 1.7) Aaron Baker (P, NMI)
Michael Bourn (MLB, 9.1) Jordan Schafer (MLB, 0.1) & Juan Abreu (P, 0) & Paul Clemens (P, -1.4) & Brett Oberholtzer (P, 2.9)
Alex Castellanos (P, -0.6) Rafael Furcal (MLB, 1.2)
Brad Ziegler (MLB, 2.1) Brandon Allen (P, -0.4) & Jordan Norberto (P, 0.3)
Mike Adams (MLB, 1.2) Robbie Erlin (P, 1.1) & Joe Weiland (P, -0.1)
Erik Bedard (MLB, 3.4) Josh Fields (P, 0.9) & Trayvon Robinson (P, -0.7) & Chih-Hsien Chiang (P, NMI)
Ubaldo Jimenez (MLB, 4.8) Alex White (P, -0.2) & Joe Gardner (P, NMI) & Matt McBride (P, -1.2)

 As you can see, some trades worked out better than others.  Of the 85 prospects, 72.9% of them (62) made it to the big leagues.  So, that means 23 prospects, or 27.1% of those traded, never stepped on a big league field.  Of the 62 that made it, 32 were good for positive WAR after the trade, 21 were worth negative WAR, and 9 were at 0 WAR. The WAR of all the prospects that made it adds up to 97.8.  That’s an average of about 1.2 WAR per prospect. 

Now we can analyze the MLB guys. There is a wide variety of age in the group of 66 MLB players.  Some were traded fairly early in their MLB careers; some were traded as their career was winding down.  I found that 69.6% of these players (46) were good for positive WAR after they were traded.  19 players (28.7%) were worth negative WAR, and 1 player was worth zero WAR after the trade. When you add their WAR together, you get 178.8, averaging 2.7 WAR per MLB player traded.

So, on average, teams were trading an MLB guy that would be worth 2.7 WAR for the rest of their career, for a prospect that would turn out to be worth 1.2 WAR in that same time period.

In addition, if you add up the total WARAT for each individual trade, the MLB player’s WARAT was higher than the prospect’s WARAT in 32 of the 53 trades (60.3%).  The prospect’s WARAT was higher in 17 of 53 trades (32%).  Finally, there were three trades that cancelled each other out, and were neutral.

There are many ways to look at this and some things to keep in mind.  It may seem like trading an established big leaguer is not smart from these numbers.  However, it depends on the situation a team is in.  Also, most of these “prospects” have yet to finish their MLB careers, so they are still in the process of racking up WAR. Good examples include Kluber, Masterson, Moss, Murphy, Andrus, Davis, and Feliz. On the other hand, some of the MLB guys were traded when they were still pretty young.  Saltalamacchia, Martinez, Teixeira and Encarnacion are examples, but they are still older than most right now.  These guys are providing most of the WARAT for the MLB guys. Also, some of the MLB guys were so old that they only lasted another couple years in the MLB. 

You have to take money into account as well.  For some trades, teams are not only getting prospects in return, but they’re dumping salary and now have money they could spend elsewhere in the off-season. One example of a trade that worked out really well for one team and not so well for another was the huge Braves-Rangers trade.  The Braves received Mark Teixeira, and traded four prospects that have all turned out well.  Teixeira was great for Atlanta, but was only there for half of 2007 and half of 2008, with the Braves not even advancing to the postseason with him.  The Rangers however, got guys who helped the Rangers reach the World Series in 2010 and 2011.  Be careful with the prospects you trade away.

Since I am relating this article to Ruben Amaro Jr., I will connect this data to the Phillies’ current situation.  The evidence shows it probably would have been smart for them to move their older, more expensive players for prospects, even if they aren’t considered top prospects.  Amaro stated that he doesn’t know how many prospects in past years have come back to bite teams.  Yes, not every prospect is going to pan out.  And yes, some of them could come back to bite.  However, as mentioned before, over 70% of prospects dealt at the deadline from 2005-2011 at least made it to the major leagues.  There is also a good chance that most prospects that make it will contribute positive WAR.  That’s a pretty good turnout. Hamels, Utley, Rollins, Papelbon, Howard, Burnett, and Byrd will all be north of 30 years old next year, with some over 35.  So, they do not have young guys who are already established, like Martinez, Encarnacion, and Teixeira like I talked about earlier.  They are old.  The current Phillies team has proven it’s not going to win, so why wouldn’t they trade off some of their assets, and take a chance on some prospects panning out, while at the same time free up money for future off-seasons? They are not going to win in 2015 or 2016 most likely, so even if their current players still provide positive WAR in the next two years, what’s the point in keeping them around?  Go out and completely reload and blow the roster up.  With the amount of guys they could trade, or could have traded, you’re bound to have some of the prospects you get in return pan out, as the data above suggests.  Stock up the minor league system, and take the hit at the major league level for a couple years.  Add that to the money they will be saving, and they will be well-equipped to contend in three years.

Prospects are not “over-coveted” in baseball.  The problem for Amaro and the Phillies is that they do not have the right people in charge of evaluating and developing prospects.  They have traded for prospects in the past, such as the Pence and Victorino trades in 2012 (not included above) and have not gotten good returns.  So, maybe Ruben Amaro Jr. just isn’t very good at what he does, and wants to believe that giving up major-league veterans for prospects when your team is completely out of it is not a good idea.


Why is Bryce Harper Not Hitting for Power in 2014?

Bryce Harper has been disappointing so far in 2014, both before and after he launched three home runs in one AA rehab game.  The highly touted left-hand hitting outfielder has been pretty bad for a guy with a .346 BABIP.

As of August 7, 2014, he’s still been walking a lot (11.2%), but he’s striking out far too often (27.4%).  His ISO is just .121, which is lower than Dustin Ackley, Alexei Ramirez, and Billy Hamilton.  He’s also slugging just .374.

Yes, it’s only 215 PA so far.  That’s about a third of a season however, so I’m going to dig into to something that may contribute to why he’s struggling and hitting for next to no power.

First I will look into the types of pitches he’s getting.  Harper is seeing significantly more fastballs in 2014, and a lot less curve balls.  He is seeing 56.2% fastballs in 2014, compared to 45.9% in 2012 and 49.9% in 2013.  He is seeing 9.1% curve balls in 2014, compared to 13.1% in 2012 and 12.4% in 2013.

Now that we know that, let’s look at what Harper has actually produced with these pitches.  His HR/FB is less than half of what his career mark is.  This year, his HR/FB rate is 7.1%, down from his career mark of 15.6%.  This is interesting because he is hitting more fly balls than he ever has, at 34.4%, which is about 1% above his career average.  The final difference in his fly ball rates are infield flies.  He’s hitting infield popups 9.5% of the time, up from his career percentage of 7.6%.

So what does all this mean?

Harper has gone through a lot in 2014.  He’s changed his stance a couple times and he’s missed time with a thumb injury.  These two factors, especially the thumb issue, could be causing Harper to be late on fastballs.  There’s evidence that shows he is late on some pitches as well.  His ISO is just .071 when he hits the ball to center field and .118 when he goes to the opposite field.  For his entire career, his ISO is .209 to center and .188 to the opposite field.  That’s a pretty significant difference.  Most of his fly balls are going to center and left as well, as you can see here, which suggests he’s not driving the ball the other way with as much authority as he usually does.  His contact has clearly been weaker when taking the ball up the middle and the other way.

Let’s all remember he’s still a 21 year old kid.  He’s learning. He will be fine.  This is just a blip on the road and an area in which he’s struggled with this season.

The fact that Harper is getting pitched differently means he will need to make an adjustment, just as pitchers have clearly made an adjustment to him.  With his talent, he will certainly make that adjustment.  Once his thumb is fully healed, he will be able to drive the ball better as well.  These are also still short samples too, so if you’re a Nationals fan, there’s no reason to think Harper’s non-existent power will continue.


Sorting Out Boston’s Outfield Logjam

The Red Sox made some noise this trade deadline.  On a day that was similar to August 25, 2012 when the Red Sox and Dodgers completed the Nick Punto trade, Boston unloaded key pieces to the 2013 world championship team.

The players they acquired show a clear stance to contend in 2015, just as Dave and Paul stated before.  Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig add something the Red Sox have lacked for quite some time now: right-handed, power hitting outfielders. However, these additions add question marks to the surplus of outfielders the Red Sox now have.  With Mike Carp designated for assignment, they now have Cespedes, Craig, Victorino, Bradley, Holt, Nava, and recently called up Mookie Betts who have all seen time in the outfield this season.

Cespedes will occupy one of those spots, most likely in right field with Victorino moving back to the DL.  Craig will probably take over in left.  Holt will be a super utility man who can fill in for literally any of the seven positions not called catcher and pitcher.  Nava will most likely be a fourth outfielder, or he could possibly platoon with Craig in left.

Craig has had a down year, but has had injury woes and still has a 110 wRC+ against LHP this year.  He owns a career wRC+ of 136 against lefties.  That figures to be an ideal platoon situation with Nava who owns a career 126 wRC+ against RHP.  It was Nava and Gomes platooning in 2013, and with Gomes out and Craig in, it looks as if Craig could be an option to replace Gomes and provide an upgrade in that role.

That leaves center field: Betts or Bradley.

Bradley has shown he’s one of the premier defensive center fielders in all of baseball.  He has been worth +17.7 runs defensively and has a UZR/150 of 28.2, which makes him the third best outfielder in the game behind Heyward and Gordon.  The problem is his bat.  He has a decent walk rate of 8.3%, but he strikes out far too often (27.6%) for a hitter with no power (1 HR, .083 ISO).  If he wants to stay the center fielder of the Red Sox he needs to cut down on his strike outs and show that he can at least be an 85-90 wRC+ guy (he’s at 67 in 2014).

Betts figures to be more of an offensive force.  Although he struggled during his brief major league stint, Betts has absolutely torn up the minor leagues.  In 54 AA games he hit .355/.443/.551 and in 34 AAA games he has hit .321/.408/.496.  He will not be what Bradley is in center field defensively, but that’s a lot to ask.  If he can be an average to above average defender, he looks to be the better choice heading forward.  With his recent call up, he will get two months to show what he can do at the big league level.

As far as 2015 goes, it seems like Shane Victorino doesn’t fit into what the Red Sox are planning to do.  After a breakout 2013, he has just not been able to consistently stay healthy.  He has one year remaining on his contract, but he may be dealt in August or sometime in the offseason. In my opinion, Betts will eventually win the center field job and Bradley could potentially be a part of a trade package in the offseason for a starting pitcher, which is another need for Boston moving forward. These new pieces will go along with their core of Pedroia, Ortiz, and Napoli to help boost an offense that has been abysmal in 2014.  Boston also has money to spend and a boatload of prospects.  According to ESPN Boston, Ben Cherington recently stated that “My expectation is that we would be active in the starting pitching market this winter with trades, free agency, whatever.”

Once they add some pieces to the top of their rotation, the Red Sox will be in prime position to contend again in 2015.