Archive for July, 2008

Manny to LA?

Well, baseball never ceases to surprise – it’s being reported that the Dodgers stepped in at the last minute to win the Manny Ramirez sweepstakes, taking Florida’s spot in the three team deal, and enabling the Red Sox to still end up with Jason Bay.

No final word on who is going where, so it’s tough to provide analysis, but the Red Sox have to be happy to have Bay instead of Ramirez, you have to assume the Pirates got what they wanted in order to move their star outfielder, which means that the Dodgers almost certainly paid a high price.

The Pirates will reportedly receive 3B Andy LaRoche, RHP Bryan Morris, OF Brandon Moss, and RHP Craig Hansen. The Red Sox get Bay and the Dodgers get Ramirez.

So, the Dodgers got Manny, but didn’t give up any outfielders, meaning that they now have two spots available for Kemp/Ethier/Jones/Pierre. That’s going to be fun for Torre to manage. If they can manage to keep Jones and Pierre on the bench most of the time, this is a pretty big upgrade, considering those two are not good at all. If Manny takes time away from Ethier or Kemp, it’s not a good move.

The Red Sox get Bay and rid themselves of the Manny show. They win.

The Pirates don’t get any stars back, but both LaRoche and Moss could be solid players, while Morris is a big arm and Hansen has some value as a reliever salvage project.


An Enigma Wrapped in a Riddle

Pitcher Jeff Samardzija likes to keep us guessing.

The Chicago Cubs right-hander was selected in the fifth round of the 2006 amateur draft and was actually the club’s second pick of the day due to a lack of second, third and fourth round selections (thanks to a free agent frenzy the previous winter).

Samardzija was given a significant contract to forgo a pro football career after spending his college days playing both sports at Notre Dame. At one point he was considered the top-rated wide receiver in the 2007 NFL draft.

Samardzija began his pro baseball career in 2006 in Rookie Ball and held his own, which earned him a late-season promotion to the Midwest League where he made two starts. Samardzija began 2007 in High-A ball but put up disappointing numbers with 142 hits allowed in 107.1 innings of work. He also walked 35 and struck out just 45 batters despite working in the mid- to high-90s.

The Cubs organization decided to promote Samardzija at the end of that season to Double-A where he made six starts despite the disappointing numbers in High-A ball. A funny thing happened. His numbers improved when everyone expected him to struggle. Albeit in fewer appearances, Samardzija’s H/9 ratio dropped from 11.91 to 8.65 and his K/9 increased from 3.77 to 5.24 (which was still low).

Samardzija repeated Double-A at the beginning of 2008 and again posted disappointing numbers with 71 hits allowed in 76 innings, along with 42 walks and just 44 strikeouts. The organization was aggressive with Samardzija and promoted him to Triple-A and he responded. He allowed 32 hits in 37.1 innings and walked 16 to go along with 40 strikeouts (the first time he came anywhere close to striking out a batter per nine innings).

Samardzija, 23, with a football background and mentality seems to thrive under pressure and in situations where he needs to rise to the occasion. At Triple-A with the bases empty, batters hit .275 against the pitcher. With runners in scoring position, hitters managed just a .207 average. In three recent Major League appearances, Samardzija allowed three hits and one walk in five relief innings on the biggest baseball stage in the world. He also struck out six batters.

So, yes, Samardzija’s pro numbers have been very disappointing prior to 2008, but he may have just needed a push – or shove – to rise to the occasion. I know Cubs fans, hungry for a World Series title, certainly hope this riddle has been solved.

Let’s just hope he doesn’t get too comfortable too soon.


Projecting Zimmerman

I took a drive down to D.C. to take in the Nationals-Phillies game last night with my family and, following two great fielding plays, was reminded just how much I like Ryan Zimmerman. Prior to this year I had spent seven years (age 15-21) as a freelance graphics coordinator for CN8 Sports, wherein my job consisted of supplying stats to the guy who generated the on-screen graphics amongst others. One of the perks was all of the minor league games requiring my services. One of these games, involving the AA Harrisburg Senators, always stuck out due to Zimmerman’s involvement.

The game took place in August 2005, only a couple of months after the Nationals drafted Ryan, and, in my best scouting impression, he just had that look about him. I’m not too sure what that means or tells us but he just seemed to have the body, raw skills, and makeup of a future major league star. He performed quite well that game and two weeks later found himself in the major leagues. I’ll never forget thinking how remarkable it was that he had gone from college kid to relatively successful major league player in the span of two and a half or so months.

In 20 September games back in 2005, Zimmerman produced a .397/.419/.569 line, built upon a laughably unsustainable .500 BABIP. The following year, his true rookie year, he finished behind Hanley Ramirez in Rookie of the Year voting but posted extremely impressive numbers. In 157 games of plus-defense at third base, Zimm hit .287/.351/.471, with 20 home runs and 47 doubles. Playing in RFK didn’t help his home run numbers but 47 doubles as a rookie? Come on, now…

His BABIP that season was a more earthbound .329 and given his young age, 21-22 years old, it was not too insane to think that this would merely serve as a stepping stone for much greener performance pastures. Last season, however, he didn’t pick up where he left off. While playing all 162 games he hit .266/.330/.458, with 24 home runs and 43 doubles. His grand total of homers and two-baggers remained the same, as did his walk and strikeout rates, but his lower .298 BABIP resulted in a drop of twenty points in his batting average and on-base percentage.

While those numbers might be good for others, I quite simply expected more from Zimmerman. Perhaps it was merely a sophomore slump, something he would shake off this year. I’m not so sure anymore. Though he has battled injuries this year, he entered last night’s game with a .259/.300/.414 slash line. He has seemingly traded in some line drives for grounders and currently has an even lower .284 BABIP. Plugging him into both of the in-season projection systems offers this:

Marcel: 16 2B, 7 HR, .285/.351/.472 over the remainder
Total: 28 2B, 15 HR, .271/.325/.442, and an OPS of .767

ZiPS: 10 2B, 6 HR, .283/.353/.500 over the remainder
Total: 22 2B, 14 HR, .268/.322/.446, and an OPS of .768

Should he stay true to his talent level, this season should not end too differently from last season; however, in my eyes, that is not necessarily a “good” thing considering that last season signified a drop in performance from his rookie season. Though a .768 OPS in an injury-shortened season and a .788 in his sophomore season aren’t extremely different from his .822 in 2005, he is yet to take that next step towards super-stardom. Granted it may be tough to do while in a Nationals uniform but right now I’m disappointed with his production. From anyone who follows the Nationals—which, by the way the stadium looked last night constitutes a small number of fans—is there anything you have noticed with regards to Zimmerman, either this year or last? Is it injuries having an effect or has he not truly improved at all?


The Manny-Hermida Deal

So, apparently, this trading deadline won’t be a boring one, with the Red Sox, Pirates, and Marlins engaged in talks that would send Manny Ramirez to Florida, Jeremy Hermida to Pittsburgh, and Jason Bay to Boston, along with various assorted minor leaguers and cash floating around.

There’s a lot of interesting things about this deal, but this morning, I’ll tackle this deal from Florida’s perspective. Depending on how things go this afternoon, we’ll get to the Boston/Pittsburgh perspectives a bit later.

How much does this help the Marlins?

Florida paid a high price for the Hermida/Ramirez upgrade, believing that Manny’s extra offense could push them into the playoffs. But Jeremy Hermida is no slouch himself. The in-seaosn Marcel tool has him at .276/.352/.458 for the rest of the season, compared to it’s .287/.386/.517 projection for the rest of Manny’s 2008. Clearly, Manny’s better, but like with the Teixeira-Kotchman trade, the upgrade isn’t huge.

In fact, over the course of 237 PAs (the projected total for Hermida), Marcel thinks the offensive difference between the two is about seven runs. The offensive difference… seven runs. Manny’s also a pretty horrible fielder (though the Green Monster makes most zone based stats overstate how bad), and the defensive difference between the two is nearly as large as the offensive difference (The Fielding Bible has Hermida as +4 plays so far in 2008 with Ramirez at -15). Even over two months, the defensive difference between the two will almost certainly be worth at least 3 or 4 runs, and that’s being really kind to Manny. It’s certainly possible that Manny is as bad as UZR, +/-, and the rest all think, and the defensive difference over two months is closer to 10 runs.

In fact, it’s arguable that this trade will actually make the Marlins worse for the rest of 2008. Their two best hitters, Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, are both right-handed, and adding Manny to that now makes the middle of their line-up much more susceptible to right-handed specialists. It’s a minor thing, but when they’re not getting a player substantially better than the one they’re giving up, the minor things can make a difference.

When you factor both offense and defense into the equation, this is basically a push for Florida. This wouldn’t make them better by any real margin, and it would cost them significant future assets. As I write this, the deal isn’t complete yet, so hopefully for Marlins fans, someone in Miami will come to their sense.


Cano’s Curious Case

Back on June 24th, Yankees second-baseman Robinson Cano had the Rafael Belliard-esque slash line of .227/.270/.325. He had been a huge disappointment and seemed to be in the midst of a big step in the wrong direction. After all, by the time his third season in the big leagues ended last year, it appeared that Cano might give Chase Utley a run for his money as the premier offensive keystone cornerman in the game. If we know anything about a player’s true talent level, though, it is that a player performing much, much worse than his pre-season projection through the first half is very likely to post much better numbers from that point on.

It should come as no surprise then that, since June 24th, Cano has produced a .359/.377/.573 slash line. He has never been one to walk much, finishing both 2006 and 2007 in the AL’s bottom ten in BB%, while currently ranking fourth lowest this year. His strikeouts, however, are occurring less frequently this year. After finishing out of the top ten lowest strikeout rates in 2006 and 2007 he currently has the fourth lowest rate.

Due to this he is putting balls in play at a higher rate this year and, whether a direct result or not, his BABIP has taken a serious hit. After coming in between .320 and .361 in his first three years, his current mark of .273 pales in comparison. It may not be significantly different from a statistics standpoint but the fact remains it is a big cause of his lower numbers. I initially thought this drop may be due to a lower rate of line drives, but he has actually hit them at a higher frequency this year; his groundball rate has dropped, though. Additionally, his flyballs have increased while his HR/FB has dropped; after ranging between 10.4% and 12.3% it is currently just 7.8%.

Plugging him into both of the in-season projection systems produces the following:

Marcel: 65-211, 6 HR, .310/.352/.486, .838 OPS
Total: 170-605, 15 HR, .282/.319/.429, .748 OPS

ZiPS: 62-213, 6 HR, .291/.332/.451, .783 OPS
Total: 167-607, 15 HR, .275/.314/.417, .731 OPS

While both project the same amount of home runs over the next 50-55 games, ZiPS has him posting a slugging percentage 35 points lower than the Marcel. Both seem to agree, though, or come relatively close to each other in the slash line and OPS departments when looking at his total seasonal line. Unless Cano absolutely destroys his in-season projection this is going to be a down-year for him, but he is not as bad as his current numbers would lead us to believe. Next year will be the test to see if he can bounce back or if this season is the beginning of an early downward trend.


Yanks Acquire Pudge

The New York Yankees made a splash today, acquiring Ivan Rodriguez from the Detroit Tigers to replace the injured Jorge Posada behind the plate. In reality, Pudge will take at-bats from Jose Molina, who had been doing the catching in Posada’s absence. How big of an upgrade is Rodriguez over Molina?

Pudge is a slightly below average hitter, putting up a .295/.338/.417 line that translates into a -0.39 WPA/LI for the season. For a catcher, being a nearly league average hitter is very good, and when combined with his defense behind the plate, makes Pudge something like a +3 win player (compared to a replacement level catcher) over a full season. With 1/3 of the year left, that makes Pudge about +1 win over replacement covering the final two months.

Speaking of replacement level, Molina is basically the poster boy. He’d racked up -1.56 WPA/LI in just 192 at-bats, thanks to his .229/.279/.307 line for the season. While he’s a good defensive catcher, so is Pudge, and the offensive difference is pretty significant.

The Yankees just added a one win upgrade in their line-up in exchange for Kyle Farnsworth. Kinda makes the Angels marginal improvement yesterday look bad in comparison.


Opposite Directions of Skills and Results

While perusing the league leaderboards last night I noticed that two former Phillies—Gavin Floyd and Kevin Millwood—are on the opposite ends of the ERA-FIP spectrum. Floyd’s -1.45 E-F is the largest negative discrepancy in the American League. Millwood, however, has a +1.31 differential, which ranks behind nobody other than Carlos Silva in his league. By looking solely at their standard barometers of W-L and ERA the seasons of these two pitchers can be very misleading.

Gavin Floyd, White Sox, 25 yrs old
10-6, 3.57 ERA
6.19 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, 1.24 WHIP, .223 BA, 1.31 HR/9
.237 BABIP, 69.7% LOB, 5.02 FIP

Kevin Millwood, Rangers, 33 yrs old
6-6, 5.40 ERA
6.73 K/9, 3.32 BB/9, 1.74 WHIP, .326 BA, 0.91 HR/9
.379 BABIP, 69.7% LOB, 4.09 FIP

Millwood has the higher K/9 as well as the lower BB/9 and HR/9. His Zito-esque WHIP and 5.40 ERA can largely be attributed to his .379 BABIP, a number 35 points ahead of closest competitor Livan Hernandez. Though his strand rate isn’t abnormally below average, Millwood has allowed plenty of baserunners thanks to no help from balls put in play against him. His 27.1% rate of line drives, which leads the league, could account for this; next closest is Jon Garland’s 24.2%. Over the past three years, when his BABIP was lower, he posted line drive rates of 20.6%-21.3%.

Floyd’s ERA is deceiving not just due to his controllable skills but also because he has actually allowed more runs to score than it would suggest. Floyd has allowed just 49 earned runs but 66 total runs; that’s 17 unearned runs that have scored against him not taken into account with his ERA. He also has the second lowest BABIP in the league, behind only Justin Duchsherer, and the seventh lowest line drive rate. While both he and Millwood have identical strand rates, Floyd has allowed much fewer runners to reach base thanks to an unsustainably low BABIP; Millwood’s has essentially been unsustainably high.

What happens when we plug these guys into the in-season Marcel?

Floyd: 11 GS, 4.85 FIP, 67 IP, 62 H, 25 BB, 46 K, 1.31 WHIP
Millwood: 11 GS, 4.04 FIP, 58 IP, 73 H, 21 BB, 44 K, 1.61 WHIP

All told, Floyd would end with an FIP of 4.96 and Millwood much lower at 4.07. Regardless, Floyd could win 14-15 games and look much better than he should whereas Millwood would have been the better pitcher in terms of controllable skills; his results, however, would be much worse. He can’t possibly keep up a .379 BABIP, just like Floyd can’t possibly sustain a .237, but it might be too late for their regression to make a truly significant impact on their overall seasonal lines. If anything it should still lessen their ERA-FIP differentials.

This is just another example of how W-L and ERA don’t necessarily do a pitcher justice. It seems like forever ago that Millwood was an important part of the Braves rotation, and toiling in Texas, owners of perhaps the worst rotation of the last fifteen or so years in 2007, hasn’t helped, but he has definitely been much better than his numbers suggest this year.

While it’s certainly possible for pitchers to outdo their FIP with ERA (see: Carlos Zambrano) I would tend to bet Floyd won’t fall into this category. Then again, I could be biased due to seeing him struggle for the Phillies early on. Floyd has been a key component of the first place White Sox, who quite possibly have the best rotation in the league (it’s either them or Toronto), but his success is hinged upon a ridiculously low BABIP. It won’t even out as the remainder of the season plays out but I would be hard-pressed to believe that, assuming he hovers around the average strand rate, when his BABIP regresses that his ERA will stay in the 3.57 range.


Teixeira Trade

Well, that was nice – I laid out four scenarios this morning for the relative value of adding Mark Teixeira, and the Angels go and make a deal that makes the entire post irrelevant a few hours later, trading him for Casey Kotchman and Steven Marek.

So, now that we know the particulars of the deal, I figured I’ll look at it from a slightly different angle. The wins added for the rest of the year is pretty much the same with Kotchman being replaced instead of Rivera, and in reality, those extra runs don’t matter, because the Angels have already made the playoffs. Maybe not officially, but they have a double digit lead on the rest of their division, and Texas is the only other AL West team that isn’t selling off players. The Angels are winning their division with Kotchman, Teixeira, or Carrot Top playing first base. In terms of playoff odds, this trade doesn’t matter.

Instead, the Angels made this trade to try to do better in the playoffs. So, let’s take a look at how much better they’ll be on a per-game basis in October with Teixeira playing first base instead of Casey Kotchman. For this, I turned to Baseball Musing’s Line-Up Analysis Tool, plugging in the Marcel projection for Teixeira in place of Kotchman (and in turn, movie Kendrick up to #2 in the order).

With Teixeira, the Angels offense projects out to 5.023 runs per game.
With Kotchman, the Angels offense projects out to 4.828 runs per game.

Teixeira makes the Angels better, though just like this morning, the moral of the story is that one player simply doesn’t make as big a difference as is commonly believed. Punching the new runs scored/allowed numbers into the pythagorean formula, the Angels with Teixeira are a .591 club and with Kotchman they’re a .569 club. In reality, they’re not quite as good as either of those numbers, as we’ve held their run prevention static, while they’re over-performing by a decent amount in that area.

So, in reality, it’s probably more like they’re a .570 club with Teixeira and a .550 club with Kotchman. They move from good to very good, but overall, it doesn’t move their odds of winning the world series by more than a few points.

In the end, this is the kind of move that the Angels felt they had to make in order to show their fans and the players on the field that they were serious about going for it. As a P.R. move, it will work wonders. As a trade to dramatically improve the teams’s chances of making the playoffs or winning the world series, it’s really a very small step.


Pennant Fever

With the trade deadline a few days away, there are some pretty obvious buyers and sellers. The Yankees, Mets, and Diamondbacks are trying to add talent and improve their chances of making the playoffs, while the Mariners, Pirates, and Braves are selling off talent and looking to the future. For most clubs, whether to buy or sell is a pretty obvious thing, requiring a glance at the standings and an honest evaluation of their own abilities.

For three teams, however, they are apparently having problems with the honest evaluation part.

Houston Astros, 49-56, 12.5 GB in NL Central, 10.5 GB in Wild Card

Inexplicably, the Astros are apparently looking to add talent for the last two months of the season in an effort to… finish 79-83? I’m not sure. They’ve already acquired Randy Wolf as a rental starting pitcher for the remainder of 2008, and according to the rumor mill, they’re actively looking to pick up another player or two to reinforce their roster.

The Astros have the 10th best record in the NL, and I’m pretty sure they’re aware that only four teams make the playoffs. They’d have to leapfrog over at least six teams (probably seven) currently ahead of them, and all of those teams are better than they are. No matter what kind of playoff odds estimator you want to use, the inevitable conclusion is that Houston has no better than a 1-in-1000 chance of making the playoffs this year. They have about an equal chance of finishing with the worst record in baseball, and yet, somehow, they’ve decided to be buyers. Inexplicable.

Colorado Rockies, 48-59, 6 GB in NL West, 12.5 GB in Wild Card

Yes, the Rockies made a miracle run last year and ended up in the World Series. But you konw why it was a miracle? Because it doesn’t happen two years in a row. Despite the fact that they play in a sad division where .500 puts you in contention, it’s still a massive uphill battle for the Rox in ’08. Consider that, as of this writing, only 3 National League teams have worse records than the Rockies. Yes, two of them happen to be division rivals, but generally speaking, the 13th best team out of 16 isn’t gearing up for a playoff run in August.

They have no shot at the wild card whatsoever, so they’re resting their entire hopes and dreams on the division. And while 6 games back with two months to go might not sound like an obstacle that can’t be overcome, you have to put it in the perspective of having to beat out both Arizona and Los Angeles. With 55 games to go (compared to 57 each for the D’backs and Dodgers), the Rockies would need to see something like this play out for them to take the NL West title:

Colorado, 35-20
Los Angeles: 30-27
Arizona: 29-28

That would put the Rockies at 83-79, a game ahead of both of their rivals. The odds of the Rockies playing .636 baseball for two months while neither Arizona nor Los Angeles can do better than .500 are about 1 in 15. Not nearly as horrible as the Astros odds, but you simply don’t put any significant resource into a 1-in-15 longshot.

Detroit Tigers, 53-52, 6.5 GB in AL Central, 7 GB in Wild Card

Preseason favorites of many, the Tigers fell flat on their face coming out of the gates as their pitching disintegrated and their offense failed to live up to expectations. They’ve rebounded since the slow start, going 30-20 since the beginning of June, and crawling to within sight of the division lead. However, despite their mini-surge, they still stand a significant ways behind both the White Sox and Twins. With Chicago establishing themselves as at least Detroit’s equal in terms of talent level, overcoming a 6.5 game deficit in two months while also hoping that the Twins regress (and don’t promote Francisco Liriano) is a bit much to hope for. Their odds are the best of the bunch we’ve profiled, coming in at about 1-in-9, so they at least have enough of a shot to avoid a firesale. 1-in-9 doesn’t justify continuing a raid of a farm system that has been depleted in a win-now effort, however. At some point, the Tigers have to be willing to say that this is the team they built, and this is the team they’re going to live with. You can’t keep throwing good money after bad.


Tribe Treasurers

The Cleveland Indians organization has a way of making some excellent trades. The club recently traded Casey Blake, basically a league-average third baseman, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two intriguing prospects, one of whom could immediately step into the big league bullpen.

Blake, 34, was originally selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the seventh round of 1996 draft out of Wichita State University. He also spent time with Baltimore and Minnesota before moving on to Cleveland as a free agent. Blake was in his sixth season with the Indians and was hitting .288/.365/.466 with 11 homers in 320 at-bats. It is an interesting trade because Los Angeles already had two interesting third base prospects playing at the Major League level (Andy LaRoche and Blake Dewitt).

Reliever Jonathan Meloan spent the bulk of 2008 in the starting rotation for Triple-A Las Vegas, which is a difficult environment to hit in. He was lights-out in the bullpen the previous three seasons in the minors. He was originally selected in the fifth round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Arizona. Meloan could be one of the more effective relievers in the Tribe’s bullpen right now with his low- to mid-90s fastball and slider.

Catcher Carlos Santana is possibly the steal of the trade deadline to this point. The converted outfielder is still learning the catch (He has caught just 22 of 97 base runners, with 16 errors and 10 passed balls) but you cannot argue with the potential in his bat. Only 22, Santana is currently hitting .323/.431/.563 with 14 homers and seven stolen bases in 350 at-bats. He has also walked 69 times with 59 strikeouts. Any time you get a young player with more walks than strikeouts you have to be impressed. The switch hitter is currently batting .341 against southpaws and .317 against right-handers. Santana is also hitting .411 with runners in scoring position.

There have been some talented prospects trade uniforms already during the 2008 trade deadline countdown but the Indians may have received the best value to date.


The 28-yr Old Record-Breaking Rookie

His story may not follow the same Hollywood storyline as Chris Coste, but Athletics rookie reliever Brad Ziegler has made quite a splash since his call to the big leagues on May 30. Ziegler, who maintains his own blog titled Getting Ziggy With It at Athletics Nation, was drafted in 2002 by the Athletics before returning to school, incidentally where he played alongside Ryan Howard. The Phillies drafted him the following year but, following shoulder tendinitis, deemed him unworthy of even their low single-A affiliate.

Though the outlook appeared to be bleak, Brad caught on with an independent team and, after four starts, found himself a member of the Athletics farm system. After a few seasons in the minors, Ziegler shifted to a sidearm or submarine delivery and steadily improved. Following a strong start in AAA this year, the Athletics brought him up to “the show,” where he has yet to disappoint.

In fact, he has tossed 27 innings without allowing a runner to cross home plate. While not even half of Orel Hershiser’s consecutive scoreless innings streak it is actually the new record for most scoreless innings to begin a major league career. The previous record, 25 innings, belonged to George McQuillan who did so in 1907, his rookie year with the Phillies.

Brad doesn’t throw hard but currently possesses a groundball rate of 69.9%; his GB/FB is a ridiculous 4.64. Given the amount of flyballs given up we would expect him to have surrendered at least one home run, so it isn’t as if his lack of gopher balls is extremely lucky. Overall his numbers look like this:

0.00 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 0.81 WHIP, .202 BABIP, 4.33 K/9, 2.00 BB/9, 2.17 K/BB, 100% LOB

He isn’t striking out many hitters but his low walk rate has resulted in a quite respectable strikeout to walk ratio. Few runners have reached base thanks to an extremely low BABIP and the aforementioned walk rate, and as his 100% LOB and new record suggests, none of these runners have scored. 27 major league innings isn’t really enough to gauge anything with regards to a true talent level or expected results moving forward, but here are Brad’s current ranks amongst relievers with at least 20 innings pitched:

T-1st, least home runs allowed with 0
1st, 0.00 ERA (second place is Joe Nathan at 1.05)
1st, 100% LOB%
1st, 4.64 GB/FB
2nd, 69.9% GB (Roy Corcoran of the Mariners is higher)
4th, .202 BABIP
4th, 0.81 WHIP
6th, 1.44 REW
T-9th, 1.05 WPA/LI (tied with Jonathan Papelbon)
10th, 2.00 BB/9

Suffice it to say, Brad Ziegler has had a very impressive first 23 games, ranking in the top ten in a number of statistical categories. His numbers may regress as the season goes on but he has done enough at this point to be known as more than a former teammate of Ryan Howard. Brad is definitely, as his blog suggets, getting ziggy with it, and opposing hitters are paying the price.


Teixeira’s Value

Yesterday, the Braves decided to throw in the towel for 2008, officially putting Mark Teixeira on the trade block in an effort to recoup some of the prospects they gave up to get him a year ago. Teixeira’s a fine player, and would immediately improve any team he’s on, but there isn’t an obvious fit among the teams rumored to be interested. Using Sal Baxamusa’s Quick-N-Dirty Marcel tool and converting the difference to linear weights win values, we can estimate just how much of an impact Teixeira would have on each of the four teams rumored to be in the hunt.

Marcel thinks Teixeira is good for a .289/.382/.524 mark in 248 PA’s the rest of the way, which translates to about nine runs above a replacement level first baseman. His Fielding Bible +/- has him at +12 plays made so far this year, so we’d estimate him at about +5 the rest of the year if that was his true talent level. +5 plays at first base is close to 4 runs, so overall, our projection for Teixeira’s value the rest of the year is about +13 runs, or 1.3 wins, above a replacement level player.

Arizona Diamondbacks – replacing Chad Tracy

Marcel thinks Tracy will hit .284/.348/.472 the rest of the way, and he’s average defensively at first base, which makes him +5 runs over replacement. Teixeira would be an improvement of about 8 runs, or a little bit less than one win.

Boston Red Sox – replacing I Have No Idea

With David Ortiz at DH, Kevin Youkilis at first base, and Mike Lowell at third base, the Teixeira-to-Boston rumors don’t make any sense. No matter which of those three we replaced with Teixeira, the projected difference the rest of the year is a run or two at most. Boston’s not dumb enough to give up a lot of talent for no reason.

Tampa Bay Rays – replacing Cliff Floyd

This would be a little more complicated, as we have to assume Teixeira would play first base, Carlos Pena would move to DH, and Floyd would move into a platoon with Eric Hinske in RF. So, it’s not an even swap, but we can estimate the improvement as the upgrade over Floyd’s bat (sorta) and Pena’s glove. Marcel has Floyd at .257/.339/.430 the rest of the year, and when combined with the minor improvement in defense (Pena’s a good 1B too), the upgrade for Tampa would be about ten runs.

Los Angeles Angels – replacing Juan Rivera

Again, it’s not quite this simple. Rivera would likely still play some, taking time from Garret Anderson and Casey Kotchman, but this is just an estimate, and the results will still be similar, so we’re just going to swap Teixeira into Rivera’s spot. Marcel likes Rivera, thinking he’s good for a .278/.334/.461 mark the rest of the way, and since Kotchman is a good defensive 1B as well, the defensive upgrade is minimal. All told, Teixeira would add about nine runs to the Angels total.

Boston gets eliminated from the race for a lack of an upgrade, and overall, the other three teams would all seemingly benefit about the same amount. The problem, though, is that amount just isn’t that large. Yes, one win may be the difference between a playoff spot and sitting at home in October, so if the price isn’t exorbitant, it should be considered, but these teams don’t have gaping wounds at first base, and the upgrade T-Rex provided wouldn’t be as large as you might think, given his abilities.

It’s not worth mortgaging the farm for. Perhaps there’s a deal out there that makes sense for both Atlanta and a potential buyer, but there’s not a team that Teixeira is goiing to be the difference maker for.


Baked Zito

Following my post last week about Carl Pavano’s contract a lively discussion ensued in which it was argued that Barry Zito’s was much worse. The reasoning for this being that Pavano’s absence didn’t necessarily hurt the Yankees whereas Zito would actually be hurting the Giants with his poor pitching each start. Yes, it bordered on the absurd to offer him a 7-yr/126 million dollar deal following the 2006 season, but, in looking at his numbers I found that his 2006 seasonal line and current numbers in 2008 shared a similarity.

In 2006 he produced a 4.89 FIP; so far this year he is at 4.98. In 2006, however, his ERA ended up 3.83, a number much lower than the current 5.80. Essentially, both of these seasons resulted in very similar metrics of controllable skills yet one involved an ERA a full point lower and the other is featuring an ERA almost an entire point higher. What’s the difference?

For starters, he has allowed a ton of baserunners this year, posting a 1.80 WHIP following his poor performance last night. He always walked plenty of hitters but this year his walk rate is higher and his BABIP, which hasn’t ever been higher than .300 in his career, is currently .332. On top of that, his strand rate isf 65.2%, meaning that he is allowing baserunners at an insanely alarming clip and allowing them to score at a rate well below the average. In 2006, his strand rate was well above average at 78.5%.

In 2006 he walked 4.03 batters per nine innings while fanning 6.15 per nine. This year, the strikeout rate is similar, coming in at 5.88 K/9, but the BB/9 has risen to 5.63. Despite the vast increase in walks, his home run rate is down, which has allowed the FIPs in each of these seasons to be within .09 of one another. Using the in-season Marcel projector, Zito is expected to produce this over the remaining two months:

2008 Remainder Marcel: 12 GS, 60 IP, 64 H, 30 BB, 44 K, 1.57 WHIP, 4.55 FIP

Compare then his overall line with this projection to his 2006 season:

2008: 33 GS, 169.0 IP, 192 H, 98 BB, 115 K, 1.72 WHIP, 4.82 FIP
2006: 34 GS, 221.0 IP, 211 H, 99 BB, 151 K, 1.40 WHIP, 4.89 FIP

Dan Szymborski, creator of the ZiPS projection system, was kind enough to send me his in-season projector this weekend and so what happens when we plug Zito into that?

2008 Remainder ZiPS: 12 GS, 68 IP, 67 H, 34 BB, 49 K, 1.54 WHIP, 4.55 FIP

Substitute ZiPS for Marcel in the 2006 vs. 2008 comparison to get the following:

2008: 33 GS, 176.2 IP, 195 H, 102 BB, 120 K, 1.70 WHIP, 4.82 FIP
2006: 34 GS, 221.0 IP, 211 H, 99 BB, 151 K, 1.40 WHIP, 4.89 FIP

And, in comparing the two projections for Zito over the remainder we see virtually the same results: He is not as bad as his numbers thus far would suggest but he isn’t necessarily good either:

Marcel: 12 GS, 60 IP, 64 H, 30 BB, 44 K, 1.57 WHIP, 4.55 FIP
ZiPS: 12 GS, 68 IP, 67 H, 34 BB, 49 K, 1.52 WHIP, 4.55 FIP

It seems that Zito was not as good as some of his 2006 numbers would suggest nor is he as bad as some of his 2008 numbers suggest. He’s not a very effective pitcher anymore but he is a very expensive and handsomely paid one. If we didn’t know his name and just heard about a pitcher with his numbers coupled with an 84-85 mph fastball and a lack of control, I would tend to think we would all question how he is a major league pitcher. We may not be at that point completely yet with Zito, but that corner may be turned quite soon.


Hall of Fame Free Agents: Pitchers

This morning, we covered the four hitters who will be free agents this winter that are basically a lock for Cooperstown. The pitching class dwarfs even that impressive crop of hitters.

Randy Johnson, LHP – 292 wins, 3.26 ERA, 52.63 WPA/LI

The Big Unit is the most dominant left-handed pitcher baseball has seen since a guy named Sandy Koufax. Even though he didn’t pitch his first full big league season until age 25, he’s still just eight wins shy of 300 and has an outside shot at 5,000 strikeouts, depending on how long he wants to keep pitching. His 1997 to 2002 stretch is something out of a legend, and while he turns 45 in a few months, he’s still blowing hitters away. Dominance and endurance make an obvious case for Cooperstown.

Greg Maddux, RHP – 350 wins, 3.14 ERA, 57.64 WPA/LI

While Johnson’s 100 MPH fastball made it easy to see why he could blow hitters away, Maddux was always more of an artist than a gladiator. His strikeout rate is just over 6 batters per 9 innings, a modest total considering he spent his entire career in the National League. But his impeccable command and ability to get his pitches to dive and sink made him untouchable from 1988 to 2003, a brilliant 15 year peak that would fit in with the primes of any of the all time greats. That he pitched his best when offense was taking off around him speaks all the more to his greatness.

Pedro Martinez, RHP – 212 wins, 2.86 ERA, 51.96 WPA/LI

His career totals aren’t as impressive as others, as he’s battled problems with injuries and isn’t going to last as long as the greats listed above. But if we look at just his prime, Pedro’s 1999 to 2002 peak is better than anyone has ever pitched in the history of baseball. His FIP is 1999 in 1.39! 37 walks, 313 strikeouts, and just 9 home runs allowed? That’s… I don’t even have anything to add to that.

Tom Glavine, LHP – 305 wins, 3.53 ERA, 28.35 WPA/LI

Glavine was never the best pitcher in baseball, but from 1991 to 2002, he was always hanging around the conversation. Like his long time teammate Maddux, he didn’t blow hitters away, but succeeded by painting the outside corner and keeping the ball in the park. The opposite of Pedro, he didn’t have a Hall of Fame peak, but his ability to be good for a long time gets him in, even if not by much.

Trevor Hoffman, RHP – 545 saves, 2.79 ERA, 15.84 WPA/LI

Despite my affection for WPA/LI, it doesn’t work well for relievers, who are more valuable than their non-leveraged totals reflect because of their constant work in high pressure situations. And while the closer might be an overrated position, there are few better 9th inning relievers in the history of baseball than Hoffman. He may be overshadowed on this list of inner circle types, but he’s clearly a Hall of Famer.

Those five guys are basically locks for the Hall. They aren’t the only ones, though – you could make a really good case for Mike Mussina as well, though right now, I think the BBWAA would keep him out, unfortunately. Also not included are John Smoltz and Curt Schilling, neither of whom are as much free agents this winter as they are rehabbing potential retirees. The list also doesn’t include the involuntarily retired Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds, who have some obvious off-the-field issues that make their candidacy a little more clouded than it should be.

All in all, however, there are nine absolute mortal lock Hall of Fame players available as real assets this winter, with a half dozen others who have a real shot to get in. I can’t imagine free agency has ever seen a greater class, and this will almost certainly go down as the greatest group of players (from a career standpoint) to ever hit free agency at the same time.

Can you imagine your reaction 10 years ago if you knew you’d have a single off-season where Pudge, Manny, Griffey, Thomas, Pedro, Johnson, Maddux, Glavine, and Hoffman would all be available? It’s pretty remarkable.


Believe It or Not…

You know, the Pittsburgh Pirates can actually make a good trade or two.

Seriously. No, really. Stop laughing.

At the end of 2006 the organization traded a reliever to the Atlanta Braves by the name of Mike Gonzalez. Now Gonzalez had had some success (24 saves in 2006) and he still has good stuff. But he was still a reliever with limited experience acting as a closer. Regardless, the Atlanta Braves gave up a starting first baseman – Adam LaRoche – and two prospects including a low-level prospect by the name of Jamie Romak for Gonzalez.

Gonzalez went on to pitch in 18 games for Atlanta in 2007 before blowing out his arm and he is still rehabbing in 2008. LaRoche has had an up-and-down tenure in Pittsburgh but he did hit 42 doubles and 21 homers while driving in 88 runs in 2007.

Romak is a bit of a forget man, but he is starting to be taken seriously. The London, Ontario native (my hometown) was taken in the fourth round of the 2003 draft out of high school due to his raw power.

The right-handed hitter was slowed by injuries in his debut season and he spent parts of three years in short-season ball. His 2006 and 2007 seasons in A-ball could be described as good, but not great as he showed glimpses of his power but still struck out a lot as consistency eluded him.

Repeating High-A ball in 2008, Romak has found some consistency. His line currently stands at .286/.365/.565 as a 22-year-old in Lynchburg. Romak has 25 doubles and 18 homers in 283 at-bats. Now the downside: He is still striking out more than 30 percent of the time. In fairness, Russell Branyan has had an OK career with a career K% of 40 percent… but he also showed a little more power in the minors than Romak, including 40 homers in 482 low-A ball at-bats in 1996. Let’s compare the two players’ minor league careers to this point:

Branyan .262/.361/.560 in 2,715 at-bats
Romak   .252/.362/.480 in 1,314 at-bats

With those minor league numbers, Branyan has gone on to post a line of .230/.327/.485 at the Major League level. Romak is still young – and a ways from reaching his potential – but I would have to guess that the Canadian youngster would be pretty happy to achieve an 11-year Major League career with about 2,000 at-bats and 132 career homers. The Pirates would probably happily take it too.

And fans in Cleveland sure enjoyed watching Branyan launch those towering homers when he burst onto the scene.


Recalling Jim Johnson

On April 12, the Orioles made arguably their most productive move of the season, regardless of whether or not they had any idea it would work out that way. They optioned infielder Scott Moore to the minors and recalled 24-yr old pitcher Jim Johnson. Johnson, a starter in the minor leagues, had made two “audition” starts for the Orioles in 2006 and 2007, racking up the undesirable line of 5 IP, 12 H, 10 ER, 5 BB, 1 K. His minor league numbers suggested he was better than that and, since making his 2008 debut on April 13, he has been a key component on an its-surprising-they-aren’t-thirty-games-under-.500 team.

Johnson also stakes claim as the highest-ranked reliever with both a 1.85 WPA/LI and 2.15 REW. Relative to context-neutral wins and wins based on shifts in run expectancy, there has not been a more productive relief pitcher to this date. His overall numbers this year: 43 G, 57.1 IP, 34 H, 24 BB, 30 K. He has also surrendered 12 earned runs on the year, four of which came in one outing in the last couple of weeks.

His 3.30 FIP suggests an ERA of 1.88 has not necessarily been born out of his controllable skillset and, amongst relievers with at least 40.0 IP, his ERA-FIP differential ranks tenth in baseball. The higher FIP is also a direct result of his low strikeout rates and relatively high walk rates. While giving out 3.77 free passes every nine innings won’t lose a reliever his job, especially when comparing him to his peers, the 4.71 K/9 is, at least right now, a bit of a red flag. Looking at the same group of relievers with forty or more innings tossed, his K/9 is the fifth lowest, as is his K/BB. Due to only 34 hits allowed, though, his WHIP is currently a tremendous 1.01.

The question should then become, well, if he doesn’t strike anyone out and his walk rate isn’t that impressive, how has he managed to produce an extremely respectable 3.30 FIP? The answer: he has not given up a home run yet this year. In 43 games, not one ball has left the yard in fair territory after sailing from his hand to the batter’s box. In fact, he is the only reliever with forty or more innings not to serve up a gopher ball this year.

In the minors he had decent but not overwhelming numbers, but his 93-94 mph fastball and 78 mph curveball combination has definitely more than gotten the job done to this point in his first full year in the big leagues. He has only given up, as mentioned, 34 hits this year but his BABIP is a ridiculously low .205. Either Jim Johnson is going to emerge as the elitest of relievers or this is going to regress from here on out. His strand rate of 78% is high but nowhere near the likes of Joe Nathan and his companions atop the leaderboard.

He isn’t allowing a ton of baserunners primarily because balls put in play haven’t been falling in for hits as much. If/when that regresses we can expect the BABIP and WHIP to rise. Though his strand rate isn’t ridiculously high, it is well above average and, if sustainable, will help prevent some of these “new” baserunners from scoring. Regardless, even if or when his numbers do worsen, it won’t mask how effective he has been this year or make us forget that at the end of July he was one of baseball’s most effective relievers. It will take another year or two to know his true talent level but that does not take anything away from his productivity.


Hall of Fame Free Agents: Hitters

This winter, there’s a banner crop of free agents available. No, I’m not talking about Mark Teixeira, Ben Sheets, or CC Sabathia, the guys who will get the most money in their new contracts. I’m talking about a group of free agents who share something beyond expiring contracts – a space reserved in Cooperstown. Today, both of my posts here will look at the remarkable crop of certain Hall of Famers that will be filing for free agency this offseason. We’ll start with the hitters.

Ivan Rodriguez, Catcher – .288/.339/.477, 3.80 WPA/LI

Without a doubt, Pudge is one of the best catchers of all-time. A defensive star who could also hit, he’s had a great career that has spanned 17 seasons, and over the years, he’s racked up impressive totals. He already has 2,500 hits and is 7 home runs away from 300. Among catchers since 1956, only Mike Piazza and Carlton Fisk have amassed a higher Runs Created total. Add in the defense, and he’s easily one of the best to ever don the tools of ignorance.

Manny Ramirez, OF – .299/.409/.590, 52.52 WPA/LI

Manny is in constantly in the news for the wrong reasons, and as happens every year, he’s back on the trade block as the Red Sox wonder if he’s worth the trouble he causes. He’s a defensive liability and a bit of a side show, but he’s also one of the best right-handed hitters of all time. Even after adjusting for the difference in offensive eras that they played in, his numbers stack up favorably with the likes of Henry Aaron. We haven’t see many better pure hitters in our lifetime, and despite the fact that his personality often overshadows his play, he’s a Hall of Famer.

Ken Griffey Jr, OF – .288/.373/.549, 52.13 WPA/LI

Despite the unfulfilled potential, the what-could-have-been-if-he-would-have-stayed-healthy questions, and the less than glorious return to his home town of Cincinnati, Junior is one of the all time greats. He earned the nickname The Natural at a young age for a reason, and always made the game seem easy. Even today, as his body betrays him, his swing still looks effortless as the ball sails off into the night sky. There can be no doubt that, when you watch him play, you’re seeing someone with a gift.

Frank Thomas, 1B – .302/.420/.588, 69.53 WPA/LI

Before Pujols, there was Thomas – the feared right-handed first baseman with prodigious power but also a remarkable command of the strike zone. The Big Hurt was the guy that pitchers couldn’t get out, and for a stretch in the mid-90s, he was the dominant offensive force in the American League. He’s 52 hits away from 2,500, has more than 500 home runs, and more walks than strikeouts. Even with more games spent as a DH than a first baseman, Thomas is an easy choice. Hitters this good live forever in upstate New York.

If you think this crop of hitters is impressive, wait until you see the pitchers.


Slam Some Clam, X Man

Last night, the surging Yankees acquired Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from the Pirates in exchange for four prospects (headlined by enigmatic Jose Tabata). Nady is the big name, thanks to a stellar first half performance that made him one of the better right-handed bats available this summer.

Looking at Nady from afar, we see a 29-year-old having a career year, thanks in large part to a .367 batting average on balls in play, and we see a guy who looks to be a classic fluke. However, there are some real underlying reasons why Nady’s numbers are up significantly so far this year, and they can’t be attributed to bloopers falling in.

Nady is making significantly more contact (16.8% K%, 19.7% career) and better contact (26.5% LD%, 20.9% career) so far this year. When you hit the ball hard and more often, a significant increase in batting average naturally follows. Whether Nady can sustain a 26.5% LD% is questionable, but let’s not confuse his early season performance with luck. He really has hit the tar out of the baseball this year.

Will it continue? Marcel doesn’t think so. Going back to Sal Baxamusa’s Quick-N-Dirty Marcel tool to get an updated projection for Nady for the rest of the year, we see that it thinks he’ll hit .285/.344/.469 to finish out the season. Compare that to the .273/.332/.451 mark it expected from him before the year started, and you see that Marcel has factored in a slight improvement, but overall, thinks Nady’s basically the same hitter he was before the year started.

That isn’t to say a guy who can hit .285/.344/.469 doesn’t have value, especially to a team like the Yankees where worrying about how much he’ll get in arbitration this winter isn’t a big concern. But despite the fact that Nady’s earned his .330 batting average so far this year, he’s simply not a true talent .300 hitter. I’m sure the Yankees know this, though, and they’re not expecting Nady to keep hitting like he is now.

The question is, though, will they be happy if he starts hitting like ’07 Nady again? Because Marcel thinks that’s pretty likely.


The Ol’ Switcheroo

Rick Ankiel is without a doubt the best modern story in terms of a pitcher converting to a hitter – and actually making an impact at the Major League level. Star college player Brooks Kieschnick was a recent example of a player who made the switch in the other director – from hitter to pitcher – but he actually had a solid two seasons in the Majors as both a pinch hitter and mop-up reliever.

There are currently two other interesting conversion stories in the minor leagues, involving former college two-way star Brian Bogusevic of Houston and former top prospect Adam Loewen of Baltimore.

Bogusevic was originally drafted 24th overall by Houston in the 2005 draft out of Tulane University where he spent time on both the mound and in the field. After showing intriguing power in his first two college seasons, Bogusevic went on to hit just .328/.428/.397 in his final college season, which lead more teams to consider him as a pitcher. That same year, the left-hander posted a 13-3 college record with a 3.25 ERA and rates of 8.98 H/9, 2.90 BB/9, and 8.91 K/9.

Bogusevic ended the pitching experiment about mid-way through the 2008 season after posting a 5.50 ERA with 94 hits allowed in 88.1 Double-A innings. Over his career, the southpaw posted a 5.06 ERA and allowed rates of 10.17 H/9, 3.36 BB/9 and 6.15 K/9.

Bogusevic, 24, has yet to accumulate many at-bats this season. He hit .217/.357/.435 in 23 High-A ball at-bats and is currently at .176/.175/.353 in 17 Double-A at-bats. The left-handed batter has a lot of raw power that he is learning to tap into so he will be an interesting player to watch in the final third of the Minor League season.

Loewen was also a first round selection and he was drafted fourth overall in the 2002 draft out of a Canadian high school. Unlike Bogusevic, Loewen actually made it to the Major Leagues as a pitcher but it was injuries – not ineffectiveness – that caused him to make the ultimate decision to switch from pitching to hitting. At the time he was drafted, Loewen was considered to be a third-to-fifth-round talent as a hitter, but his powerful, left-handed arm was coveted by the Orioles.

It took the British Columbia native just three-and-a-half seasons (he was delayed by injuries) to make it to The Show. His final big league pitching line shows an 8-8 record with a 5.38 ERA, with 8.95 H/9, 5.82 BB/9, and 7.35 K/9 in 35 games (and he is 0-for-2 as a big league hitter). Loewen has yet to officially take an at-bat since his conversion but he is also someone to keep an eye on, especially since he is 6-6, 220 lbs, a left-handed hitter and still only 24 years old.

It would be a stretch to expect either player to have a significant Major League career as a hitter – or to even succeed to the level that Ankiel has so far… But it will certainly be entertaining to following along as Bogusevic and Loewen strive to beat the odds.


Huffing in Baltimore

Pop quiz time – name the top three hitters in extra base hits in the American League so far in 2008. Ready? Go.

Ian Kinsler? There’s one that a lot of people might get.
Brian Roberts? I’d be surprised if you got this one, but maybe.
Aubrey Huff? You’re either his mother or you’re lying.

It’s true – Aubrey Huff is third in the AL in extra base hits so far this year with 51. He had 54 all of last year, and had less than 50 in each year from 2004 to 2006 before that. So you’re forgiven for not expecting Huff to show up on this particular leaderboard (and to be behind two second baseman to boot, but that’s another post), because really, this was a power surge that no one saw coming.

ISO

After a solid but short peak in ’02 and ’03, Huff’s power denigrated to the point of being about league average, which isn’t great for a DH. He posted Isolated Slugging Percentages of .167 and .162 the last two years, so it wasn’t surprising when all the preseason projections had him right around the same range. Instead, he’s posting a .243 ISO, which is pretty much the same as Albert Pujols. His surprising display of power has been one of the reasons the O’s have been more competitive than expected, giving Baltimore a legitimate run producer to drive in the guys at the top of the order.

At age 31, it’s unlikely that Huff has found the fountain of youth and will continue to perform at this level, but he would make a lot of sense for a contender in need of a left-handed bat for the stretch drive. He’s owed $3 million for the rest of this season and then $8 million next year, but that’s not an entirely unreasonable contract, and teams like Minnesota should be calling the O’s to find out what the asking price is.