Archive for February, 2009

Royals Sign Juan Cruz

For the last few weeks the big news around Juan Cruz has been speculation surrounding a sign-and-trade deal involving the Arizona Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins. Understandably, the Diamondbacks wanted fair value in return for their cooperation since Cruz is a Type-A free agent, the D-Backs would receive either a first or second round pick in June’s draft depending on the team that signed Cruz. At the same time, Arizona couldn’t risk having Cruz sit out through the draft and get absolutely nothing in return so they agreed today to a…wait, that’s…that’s Dayton Moore’s music!

Yep, the Kansas City General Manager swooped in and signed Cruz to a two-year contract worth six million. It’s a fine deal considering Cruz’ level of performance over the past few seasons in which he’s been worth a little more than a half of a win as a non-crucial reliever. That is to say that Cruz was not used in high leverage situations, something that will help his value – assuming he continues pitching well.

Over the last two years, Cruz has been used exclusively as a reliever. In 2007, Cruz recorded a 3.7 FIP, and 3.62 FIP in 2008 despite an increase in walks. CHONE absolutely loves Cruz, projecting a 3.2 FIP while Marcels has him at 3.99. Let’s say the midpoint is more realistic, meaning Cruz will be a set-up man with a 3.6 FIP. That’s worth three million annually.

Any article reviewing this move isn’t complete without a mention of the deal the Royals signed Kyle Farnsworth earlier this off-season, but I’d rather discuss the draft pick implications. The Royals pick within the first half of the first round, which means the Diamondbacks will receive their second round pick – number 58 according to River Ave Blues. Not quite what the Diamondbacks were hoping for, but all things considered, it’s probably better than the alternatives.


Manny Being Stupid

If you haven’t heard, Scott Boras and Manny Ramirez have rejected the Dodgers latest offer of a two year, $45 million contract due to the amount of deferred money in the deal. They rejected the offer despite the fact that it reportedly guarantees them $25 million for 2009 with a player option for 2010 at $20 million, giving Ramirez the best possible deal he could hope for.

Under this deal, he is guaranteed far more than his market value for 2009 (to be worth $25 million in a normal economic environment, he’d have to be a +5 win player – he’s not, and the environment isn’t normal), and he has the option of terminating the contract if he has a successful season. All the risk is transferred to the Dodgers here. If he declines in performance or gets injured, they’re still on the hook for the extra $20 million for 2010, in which case they could be looking at a $45 million deal that brings them a net of five or six wins. If he has another great year, he can hit free agency against next winter and try to cash in with an even better deal.

This is, without a doubt, a fantastic offer for Ramirez. And his camp is turning it down over deferred payments? This is ridiculous.

Time value of money isn’t very hard to calculate. Let’s assume that capital is worth 5% per year in this economy, just for the sake of argument. The rumored offer has the $25 million in deferred payments being setup to be paid at $10 million in 2010, $10 million in 2011, and $5 million in 2012, with no interest accruing.

Using the present value formula of PV=FV/(1+i)^n, where i is the interest rate and n is the number of periods of deferment, we can easily figure out how much money Boras and Ramirez are actually haggling over.

First Deferred Payment

$10 million / 1.05 = $9.52 million, $480,000 difference

Second Deferred Payment

$10 million / 1.1025 = $9.07 million, $930,000 difference

Third Deferred Payment

$5 million / 1.1577 = $4.32 million, $680,000 difference

The sum of the differences between present value and future value is $2.09 million. Manny’s $25 million deferred is worth $22.91 million in today’s dollars.

They’re haggling over $2 million dollars in value. They’ve got a sweetheart deal on the table, and they’re haggling over $2 million.

Give me a break. Sign the contract and get in camp. You aren’t even worth this contract, much less a better one.


Thoughts On Baseball Media

Today, the Rocky Mountain News published their final edition. Scripps, their owner, couldn’t find a buyer who wanted into the struggling newspaper business, and so Denver has become a single paper town. This will happen shortly in Seattle as well, where the Seattle Post Intelligencer will cease printing in a month or so. The San Francisco Chronicle is in a similar position and is unlikely to survive 2009, which will leave San Francisco without a daily newspaper.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Newsday announced that they are moving away from a free web content system towards a subscriber-pay system in an effort to generate more revenue.

For journalists, the world is changing, and it’s changing very quickly. The old business models don’t work anymore, as the internet has conditioned people to expect significant content to be delivered online for no additional cost beyond what they pay their local ISP. With ad revenues plunging, media companies simply haven’t been able to find a way to make money. Without profit, there’s no viable business, and the resources we enjoy go away.

With the Rocky Mountain News folding today, it got me thinking – where is the online baseball community headed? Between The Hardball Times and blogs like ours here at FanGraphs and Tango’s work at The Book Blog, there is a remarkable flow of tremendous content being put out simply for the sake of improving the quality of baseball knowledge available. For guys like Studes or Tango, this isn’t their career – it’s a hobby, and something they do because they love it.

The same goes true, I would suspect, for most of the new analysts we’ve seen rise up in various sites over the last year or two. From guys like Sean Smith to Sky Kalkman, Colin Wyers, Josh Kalk, Mike Fast, and all the rest, there is a deep well of talent that is advancing baseball knowledge for everyone. And they’re doing it without charging for their efforts.

Much like the open source movement in software, there’s been a revolution in the baseball community. The best content available isn’t being written in books or newspapers, or even behind subscription walls that require payments to access – the best knowledge available is free to everyone who wants it.

And, while it’s sad to watch newspapers fold and business models fail, it’s exciting to be living in an age where anyone who wants to educate themselves on the game can do so.


Range and Errors

As many of you know, this offseason proved monumental for the site as we added a wide array of evaluative metrics, becoming one of the primary sources for player valuations. One of these additions, UZR, the fielding metric designed by Mitchel Lichtman, enabled analysts and readers alike to incorporate the fielding aspect of baseball into discussions. Several aspects of fielding combine to provide the final UZR figure, and two, range runs and error runs, are of particular interest given their reputations in the world of conventional wisdom.

The conventional wisdom goes that the better a player’s range, the more likely it is that he will commit errors. The underlying reasoning is that the player will be able to get his glove on more balls, thereby not only giving himself a chance to make more plays, but also the chance to mess up on more plays. I like to refer to this as ‘The Abreu Complex’ as Bobby Abreu used to be considered a solid fielder by many fans because he rarely made errors. The issue of course is that his limited range prevented him from covering more ground: he didn’t bobble many balls but he couldn’t get to balls that others would catch and that he might then bobble.

With the different components of UZR freely available on the site, I decided to see if the conventional wisdom held true – does more range really translate to increased errors? I pooled every player with at least 100 innings at a position over the last three years, removed catchers, and wound up with 722 player position seasons. Correlations were then run for infielders and outfielders with regards to both range run and error runs. A correlation is basically a statistical test that measures the lack of independence of two random variables; in this case, do range and errors relate strongly to one another in the sense that as one goes so too does the other?

For two variables to be considered to have at least a moderately strong relationship, a correlation coefficient of at least 0.40 would be needed. Among infielders, range runs and error runs produced a 0.10 correlation, while outfielders featured only a slightly stronger relationship at 0.15. Neither group of fielders exhibited anything close to a moderately strong relationship between range and errors, leading the conventional wisdom astray: more range does not necessarily result in more errors, no matter how much sense the statement might make from an intuitive standpoint.

Even when I restricted the data to at least 800 innings at a position, the correlations remained virtually the same–0.16 for OF, 0.11 for IF. Based on this data it seems that there are certainly cases where range and errors relate to one another, but it is in no way a foregone conclusion that more range results in more errors.


Change Is Good

The change-up is my favorite pitch in baseball. I could probably come up with some kind of logical explanation for why I have more affection for that pitch than others, but in the end, it’s still more feeling than rational observation. I just love a good change-up.

I’m not sure MLB talent evaluators share my fondness for it, however. This afternoon, I was browsing through the Pitch Type leaderboards here on FanGraphs, and something jumped out at me. Here’s the starting pitchers who threw the highest percentage of change-ups in the majors last year.

Edinson Volquez, 31.8%
Cole Hamels, 31.5%
Johan Santana, 28.7%
James Shields, 26.3%
Jair Jurrjens, 26.2%

Besides throwing a lot of change-ups, those guys all have significant success in common. That’s a list of three all-stars and two of the breakout young pitchers of 2008. For them, quantity of change-ups was part of being an extremely good major league pitcher. Every team in baseball would gladly pencil any of these five into their rotation for 2009.

However, they also have something else in common – with the exception of Hamels, they were all deemed expendable to one degree or another at some point in their career.

Volquez worked his way up the ladder with the Texas Rangers, and while he was one of their top pitching prospects, they cashed him for Josh Hamilton when they had the chance.

Santana was famously a Rule 5 draft pick, selected by the Marlins and then traded to the Twins for Jared Camp.

Shields was a 16th round draft choice by the Rays back in 2000. Despite some quality performances in the minors, he was never considered one of their top prospects.

Jair Jurrjens was signed and developed by the Tigers, and like with Volquez, he was traded for major league talent, or at least the promise of it, in the form of Edgar Renteria.

Of the five, Hamels is the only one who was acquired at a high cost and stayed with his original franchise. The other change-up artists, among the best in the game, simply weren’t valued as highly as pitching prospects who build their resume with a dynamite breaking ball.

From guys like Josh Beckett, Kerry Wood, Scott Kazmir, Felix Hernandez, and now David Price, the pedigree for a great pitching prospect has been a high velocity fastball and a knockout curveball or slider. That’s the kind of repertoire that gets a young pitcher noticed and that teams simply don’t trade away. Those guys cost a ton to acquire, and they’re very rarely made available to other clubs.

But, it just isn’t all that uncommon for the change-up artist to develop into a better pitcher than the breaking ball guy. Right now, if the Rays had to keep either Kazmir or Shields going forward, I’m not so sure that they wouldn’t keep Shields.

As we look to the wave of future young arms reaching the majors, perhaps we should make a conscious decision to give the change-up artists a bit more due than they’ve gotten in the past?


BABIP Splits

Ever since Voros McCracken’s DIPS theory came to light in 1999, people have begun to look at a pitcher’s batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. As Voros noted, variations in BABIP from league average regress heavily to the mean in future years, and it’s value as a predictive measure is quite low. This insight helped paved the way for things like FIP and evaluating pitchers by the outcomes they can control and a movement away from metrics such as ERA.

As more research was done, though, it was found that BABIP isn’t entirely random. Knuckleballers have significantly lower BABIP than a traditional pitcher. Left-handers tend to have some minor BABIP advantage, as do flyball pitchers (though what they save in BA they give back in SLG). However, when looking through the major league splits pages on Baseball Reference, I noticed one other type of pitcher that has a significant BABIP advantage – the home team pitcher.

Here’s a chart to illustrate what I’m talking about.

hrbabip

In every year from 1995 to 2008 (and probably before – I didn’t bother going back any further once I found this obvious of a trend), the batting average of balls in play allowed by the home team’s pitchers was lower than the road team’s pitchers. The two lines generally move together, so when league BABIP is up or down, it’s up or down for both home and road in proportional amounts. But the home line never crosses the road line. It gets close in 2004, when the gap is just two points, but then diverges back to the more normal five to 10 point spread.

Over that 14 year period, home team BABIP allowed is .295, while road team BABIP allowed is .302. We’re talking millions of plate appearances here, so a seven point spread is certainly significant. It’s essentially impossible for this to happen randomly. There is something inherent to being the home team that allows you to reduce the amount of hits you allow on balls in play. This is, for lack of a batter term, a home field advantage.

What could be causing this spread in BABIP between home and road pitchers? Isolating a single factor is going to be next to impossible, and in reality, it probably isn’t a single factor. Outfielders learn how to read the ball off the bat in a specific lighting based on repetitive experience. Infielders learn how the grass makes a ball spin at different speeds. Pitchers figure out where the ball carries and where it doesn’t and pitch away from the areas that can hurt them the most. Hitters pick up the ball coming out of the background quicker. GMs acquire players who fit the quirks of their specific ballpark. It could be any of these, none of these, or all of these.

But we know this – there’s a distinct advantage in being the home team in turning balls in play into outs. If a pitcher gets an inordinate amount of home starts, we shouldn’t be surprised if he beats his career BABIP.


Dusty Baker is a Fan of Mismatches

Dave mentioned this tidbit yesterday, but I figured I would expand on it.

The first game of spring training usually serves as a dress rehearsal. The starters – those who are not partaking in the World Baseball Classic or injured – wave to the home crowd, play an inning or two in the field – just long enough to get a plate appearance — then call it a day. This leads to lineups that resemble the team’s Triple-A squad. Naturally, this leads to some rather lopsided match-ups if the other team has a legitimate starting pitcher on the mound.

But how about three in one game?

That’s what Dusty Baker threw the American League champions yesterday. The Rays christening of their new spring home didn’t quite go to plan. Joe Maddon followed the aforementioned tradition, running out such wunderkinds as Jon Weber, Ray Olmedo, Chris Richard, and Elliot Johnson. Heck, the Rays even started former Houston Astros’ starter Carlos Hernandez. So imagine the results when the Cincinnati Reds started Edinson Volquez, brought Jonny Cueto in to relieve Volquez, then handed the game to Homer Bailey.

Unsurprisingly, the trio would plow through a ragtag lineup, totaling seven innings of two-hit ball while walking two and striking eight out. Aaron Fultz and Jared Burton would close the game out, holding the Rays to four hits, six baserunners, and zero runs.

At least one thing went well for the Rays as Carl Crawford, the longtime face of the franchise, recorded the first hit in Charlotte Sports Park.


Red & Green Books Go Electronic Only

Tangotiger on insidethebook.com noted what I thought was a rather comical blog post column by Murray Chass on his outrage that the Red & Green league books will no longer be printed, but instead be available only in PDF format. As Tangotiger points out, you could print your own book from the electronic copy, but I suppose you won’t get any of the gloss of a professional publisher.

In any event, the last paragraph of Chass’ article is quite frankly, bizarre:

Younger writers, more attuned to the use of the Internet than their older colleagues, may not have a problem with the disappearance of the books. But in past years they didn’t have the Internet as an alternative reference site. They apparently just didn’t feel the need for any information the books provided.

That says more about them than it does about baseball’s decision.

I’m not even going to bother mentioning what I think is wrong with the above quote, but as a younger person who uses the Internet (and sometimes even writes about baseball), I actually do have a Green book from the 1970’s lying around somewhere which I purchased off ebay a few years ago. I can’t find it. It probably ended up in storage when I moved, but I recall there may be some interesting team record stats in it.

If anyone has one of these on hand I’d be interested in hearing from you if there is anything worthwhile in these books which can’t be found easily on the Internet.


CHONE Projections Update

Sean Smith’s CHONE projection system has been updated to the latest and greatest!


Games Plus Odds and Ends

And so begins, sort of, another baseball season. I mostly loathe Spring Training because of the sheer amount of fluffy writing it signals that is about to arrive as story-starved journalists (hey, that’s me now too!) need to fill the same number of column inches each day no matter that nothing of actual importance happened. Hence, we get the countless cliches about who lost weight, who gained muscle, who is ready to put last season behind him, who is ready to build off last season, and so on. It’s a rite of passage now to wade through that stuff.

But I cannot be down today. Games were played. As Dave Cameron mentioned, they don’t even begin to mean anything stats-wise. It doesn’t matter. Baseball is being played again between competing teams and I can start my countdown to Opening Day, that most glorious of all days. It’s a little more special for me this year with the new face of the Mariners front office and the emotional return of Griffey Jr in a Seattle uniform.

The great part of this part of the year is that usually nearly every team can see a glimmer of hope. Going by CHONE’s projected standings, there are 20 teams projected to be within ten or fewer games of a postseason berth and 26 within 15 games. Sorry Toronto, Baltimore, Chicago and Kansas City. I am sure fans of those four teams can come up with legit reasons they might contend though.

Hope abounds in Spring. It’s baseball and it’s coming back.

A couple quick notes since not much news happened today with the first spattering of games. The Dodgers added a $20 million player option for 2010 onto their offer to Manny Ramirez. I am not sure that will be enough, but I also do not see any other team making a play for the slugger so I think we can all hope for this drama to just be done with. Also, the exploratory surgery on Boof Bonser did reveal a tear in his shoulder so his 2009 season is over. Ditto for Mariners SP Ryan Feierabend who will undergo Tommy John surgery. He was a long shot to make any impact on the 2009 team, so his loss mostly just lessens Seattle’s rotational depth.


Thank You Mr. Wedge

“Batting average, unfortunately for a lot people, and it’s only been really noted in the last five or 10 years, that it is somewhat of an overrated stat. There are so many other numbers that are more important to a team winning a ballgame – that’s all that matters.” – Eric Wedge, Manager, Cleveland Indians

Thank you, Eric Wedge, for this response to the question of whether or not Grady Sizemore’s declining batting average over the last few seasons set off alarm bells. Sizemore hit .289-.290 in 2005-06, his first two full seasons, before dropping to .277 in 2007 and .268 last season. His wOBAs in that span: .359, .386, .376, .384. Grady’s proportion of hits to at-bats may have dropped a bit, but his overall offensive productivity is extremely high. His batting average may have been .268, but Sizemore hit 33 HR, 39 2B, stole 38 bases, and earned 98 free passes.

Oh, and Grady plays a mean centerfield, as well. His UZR marks since 2005: +3.7, +14.3, +2.6, +6.1. Averaged together, Sizemore has been a +6.7 runs/season fielder. He is also the model of durability, amassing 157+ games in each of his full big league seasons. As evidenced by his four consecutive 20/20+ seasons, Grady also runs the baseball very well. Our wOBA includes stolen bases, but if you subtract the EQSBR from the EQBRR at Baseball Prospectus, Grady looks worthy of an additional two or three runs per season on the basepaths.

Add everything together and we have win values of +5.3, +7.7, +6.0, +7.0 (his posted win values plus a couple additional baserunning runs). That is a grand sum of +26 wins in four big league seasons, and Sizemore is still just 26 yrs old, suggesting that continued improvement is not out of the question. Grady has made $4.2 mil in his young major league career while producing at levels valued around $102 mil, a mind-boggling number. Has anyone who previously did, stopped caring that he posted a .268 batting average last season?

I’m not here to bash the batting average statistic. I think it has uses, and it works well in a slash line, but it is not the barometer many make it out to be. In the case of Grady Sizemore, who adds to a team from so many different areas, batting average falls even further down the list of metrics of interest. I’m very glad that his manager understands this fact and realizes he has a very special player on his squad, not one who needs to fix his mechanics to hit for a higher batting average.


Welcome Back, Baseball

It’s party time – we’ve got box scores again. Honest to goodness, real life, team against team box scores. This is fantastic.

Jeff Francoeur went 0 for 4 and left 3 men on base.
Gerald Laird hit a triple.
The Reds threw Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, and Homer Bailey at the Rays in succession.
Jerry Hairston Jr hit a grand slam.
Horacio Ramirez couldn’t get out of the first inning.
And yes, Andruw Jones struck out in his only at-bat.

Welcome back, baseball. It’s been too long.

Yes, I know, spring training doesn’t mean anything. The records and statistics don’t matter. The games don’t count. In many cases, the game is decided by whether one team’s has-been is better than another team’s never-will-be.

I don’t care. It’s baseball. It’s box scores. We can say goodbye to our latest winter of discontent. Hooray baseball.


The 2009 Prospect Mine: Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs organization has assembled one heck of a 25-man MLB roster for the 2009 season, but the same cannot be said for the minor league system, which is one of the weakest in the National League. But that’s what happens when you operate with a ‘Win Now’ mentality.

AAA/AA
Jeff Samardzija has received more than his fair share of press since being drafted by the Cubs in 2006 out of Notre Dame. Despite his inexperience and time spent on the football field, Samardzija had a solid MLB debut in 2008 with the Cubs, and allowed just 24 hits in 27.2 innings. He posted rates of 4.88 BB/9, which is obviously too high, and 8.13 K/9, which is a much better rate than what he posted in the minors (5.2 K/9 career). The right-hander could be in the Cubs bullpen this season, or the organization may choose to work him out as a starter in Triple-A, where he’ll continue to show a blistering fastball and intriguing splitter.

Right-hander Kevin Hart has been helped by a move to the bullpen, where he can focus on his mid-90s fastball and cutter. He struggled at the Major League level in 2008 and posted a 6.51 ERA (4.69 FIP) with 39 hits allowed in 27.2 innings of work. Hart struggled with his control in the Majors and posted a walk rate of 5.86 BB/9. He also added a strikeout rate of 7.48.

Welington Castillo, 21, has come a long way in a short time after making his North American debut in 2006. The Dominican catcher split the 2008 season between High-A and Double-A and even received a one-game trial at Triple-A. At Double-A, Castillo hit .298/.362/.414 in 198 at-bats. With 18 walks in more than 300 at-bats in 2008, the right-handed hitter needs to be more patient at the plate if he is going to succeed at higher levels. Defensively, Castillo has a canon for an arm and also possesses the raw tools to be above-average behind the dish.

Outfielder Tyler Colvin barely deserves mention despite being a former No. 1 draft pick. Colvin has failed to make adjustments to his approach at the plate and is painfully impatient. His 7.5 BB% in 2008 was a career “high” but his average plummeted to .256 during his second stint in Double-A. He also failed to reach double digits in stolen bases, with just seven.

A+/A
Josh Vitters had a false start to the 2008 season but ended on a high note, while having a very productive season in short-season ball. He hit .328/.365/.498 with an ISO of .170 in 259 at-bats. They were good numbers, but most of the top high school picks from the 2007 draft (Vitters was taken third overall) were playing in full-season ball. Right now Vitters is more of a 15-homer hitter, but he has the potential to develop 25-homer power. Defensively, he projects to be average.

The club’s first round draft pick in 2008 out of college, Andrew Cashner has a rough introduction to pro ball. A closer in his final college season, Cashner was moved to the starting rotation in pro ball and allowed 19 walks and 19 hits in 16.1 short-season innings. He can touch the high-90s with his fastball out of the bullpen, although he is more likely to work in the mid-90s as a starter. Cashner also has a plus slider and is working on a change-up.

Jay Jackson took to pitching in pro ball after spending his college career as a two-way player. He was drafted in the ninth round of the 2008 draft and is likely headed to High-A ball to begin 2009. Jackson played at three levels in his debut. In four games at High-A, Jackson allowed 11 hits and seven walks in 17 innings. He also struck out 21. The right-hander has a low-90s fastball (that can touch the mid-90s), a slider, curveball and change-up.

Infielders Ryan Flaherty (college) and Starlin Castro (Dominican Republic) have very different backgrounds, but both will add to the Cubs’ infield depth in 2009. Flaherty, 22, should move quickly after hitting .297/.369/.511 in his debut in short-season ball. Castro is a solid defensive player, with good speed and the ability to hit for average (He hit .311 in rookie ball). How much power he’ll develop is the biggest question.

SS/R
Pitcher Dae-Eun Rhee, 19, and shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, 18, were both signed out of Korea, although Lee has yet to play in pro ball. Rhee pitched in A-ball in 2008 and allowed just 28 hits in 40 innings. He posted rates of 3.60 BB/9 and 7.43 K/9. He then unfortunately blew out his elbow and required Tommy John surgery. Lee is an athletic shortstop who should hit for a good average. He also has blazing speed. Ironically, during off-season training, Lee also blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery, but he is expected to be ready for the short-season league in June.

Up Next: The Cleveland Indians

These lists do not include all the talented prospects in each system – just a snap shot. Some players have been left out because I have covered them recently and not much has changed (You can link to the older posts from each player’s FanGraphs page) or I am planning a separate post on them in the very near future.


CHONE Projected Standings

Here at FanGraphs, we’re big fans of Sean Smith’s CHONE projection system. It’s proven to be equally or more accurate than any other projection system out there, he provides the data for free on his site, and he’s a good guy.

So, today, with news from the game at a virtual standstill, I figured we should take a look at the projected standings that he recently put up, based on the CHONE forecasts and his playing time estimates.

None of the projections should be all that surprising. The East divisions are very good, the West divisions are not, and the AL is still better than the NL. Perhaps fans in LA will be surprised by the lack of wins projected for their two teams, but as we’ve talked about, the Angels win total was built on a house of cards last year, and the Dodgers haven’t re-signed Manny Ramirez yet.

I know that whenever a projection system is published, a bunch of you guys immediately look at the results and proclaim they’re too low, because the projected leaders have less wins/home runs/strikeouts/whatever than the previous historical leaders. As we always try to explain, that’s because of regression to the mean. We understand that the final AL West winner isn’t likely to have 85 wins. Even CHONE will agree with you on that.

Let’s walk through an example, shall we? The Angels are projected to win the AL West with an 85-77 record. But that’s just a mean projection, based on the range of probabilities of the Angels winning anywhere between 60 and 110 games. Obviously, at the extremes, the odds are very tiny, so the distribution of the probabilities will look like a bell curve. Actually, let’s just show it to you.

bellcurve

At each win total between 81 and 89, there’s a greater than 5% chance of that win total occurring, if we agree that the Angels are a true talent 85 win team. There’s less than a 1% chance of each win total at less than 72 or greater than 98, but those are still possibilities, even if they’re pretty unlikely. Those are the individual probabilities – now let’s look at the cumulative probability.

cumulative

We find 76 wins at the 90% mark. In other words, we’d expect this Angels team to win at least 76 games 90% of the time. 50% gets you to 85 wins, while 10% gets you to 93 wins. So, while 85 wins is the mean for the Angels, and they have the highest mean of any team in the division, it is not predicting that the division winner will finish with 85 wins.

The Angels have a 19.3% chance of winning 90+ games, based on this distribution. But they’re not the only team in the division. The A’s, with their projected 81-81 record, have a 6.7% chance of winning 90+ games in 2009. The Mariners, with their 78-84 projected record, have a 2.4% chance of winning 90+ games. And the Rangers, projected at 72-90, have a .1% chance of winning 90+ games. The sum of these probabilities is 28.5%. In other words, despite projecting the best team in the division to win 85 games, CHONE is still saying that there’s a 28.5% chance that the division winner will win 90+ games.

Hopefully, this is somewhat helpful – when you look at projected standings, they are giving you relative strength from team to team. In every division, it’s pretty likely that some team will outperform their expected win total, and that the division winner will end up with more wins than the mean of the projected top team. This is not a flaw of projection systems – it is a reality of math.


More on Catcher’s Fielding…WP&PB

Other than stolen bases, which I addressed a few weeks ago, very little has been published on catcher’s fielding numbers. Tom Tango first conceived his WOWY technique in studying catchers. Now I’ve extended my stolen base study back to the beginning of the current RetroSheet in 1953, and added the rates of wild pitches and passed balls allowed back to the same date. It should put a smile on Tango’s face that Gary Carter of his beloved Montreal Expos rates third in career SB_RAA behind Ivan Rodriguez and Jim Sundberg, and fourth in career WP_RAA behind Bill Freehan, Bruce Benedict and Brad Ausmus, and second overall behind only Pudge, along with the best single season of +28.2 in 1983…the worst, Dick Dietz, -18.6 in 1970.

I had earlier included groundballs to catchers when I ran my infield defense. There just aren’t that many grounders fielded by catchers – the most in any one season over the past sxi years was 74 by Jason Kendall in 2006. Single season RAA on grounders ranges from Jason Phillips’ +1.1 in 2004 to Mike Lieberthal’s -2.4 in 2003. Totals for the last six years range from Carlos Ruiz’s +2.4 to Lieberthal’s -3.4. (I don’t yet have a groundball table built for seasons before 2003).

The process is the same as I descrobed in the previous article on stolen bases. I queried RetroSheet’s events table, creating a new table of every combination of catcher and pitcher in each year, how many batters were faced with runners on base, and how many wild pitches and passed balls occured. A total was made of each catcher’s stats in each year (the “with” part) and also the stats of each pitcher he caught, while working with any other catcher (the “without”). These were weighted to the smaller of the sample sizes, and then summed into season and career totals.

The single best season for preventing wild pitches and passed balls, since 1953, was Bill Freehan of the Tigers in 1971. The pitchers he caught that year would have been expected to throw 62 wild pitches and 20 passed balls in Freehan’s playing time, but he only allowed 31 wild pitches and 7 passed balls to get by hum, saving an estimated 12.6 runs that season. His total allowed of 38 was 46% of the expected 82. Freehan had the highest career RAA of +52.0, while Jorge Posada had the lowest at -38.2.

On the other end is one of America’s favorites, who not only couldn’t hit, but apparently couldn’t catch either, Bob Uecker. In 1967, appropriately his last in the majors, in which Uecker split time between the Phillies and Braves, in only 80 games played he allowed 40 wild pitches and 25 passed balls, 222% above his expected totals of 18 and 12.

The major league average is .016 wild pitches and .004 passed balls per plate appearance with a runner on base. The best career normalized wild pitch rates go to Bruce Benedict, Yogi Berra and Mike Redmond at .010; Brian Downing, Del Crandall and Jason Varitek at .011; and Rod Barajas, Manny Sanguillen, Bill Freehan, Kirt Manwaring, Sherm Lollar and Steve Yeager at .012. The worst wild pitch rates are Earl Battey at .021; Junior Ortiz and Mike Macfarlane at .021; and Miguel Olivo, Johnny Roseboro, Tim Laudner, Jorge Posada, Pat Borders, Thurman Munson, Hal Smith, Darrell Porter and George Mitterwald at .020.

The lowest normalized passed ball rates were Brian Downing, Charlie O’Brien, Bruce Benedict, Dan Wilson, Yogi Berra, Brad Ausmus, Del Crandall, Sherm Lollar and Ron Karkovice at .002, with the worst being Miguel Olivo and Bob Brenly at .008; and Joe Azcue, Jorge Posada, Earl Battey and Lance Parrish at .007.

The top 5 ratios of reducing both are Bruce Benedict 56%, Yogi Berra 59, Brian Downing 60 and Mike Redmond and Del Crandall 64% each. The worst were Bob Brenly 142%, Earl Battey 140, Miguel Olivo 140, Jorge Posada 132, and Junior Ortiz and Mike Macfarlane 129% each.

In 2008, the best at runs saved blocking the plate were Kurt Suzuki +6.9, Kenji Johjima +5.8, Brian McCann +5.2, Ramon Hernandez +5.1 and Jason Varitek +4.1, while the worst were Miguel Montero -3.0, Miguel Olivo -2.8, Kevin Cash -2.7, Greg Zaun -2.7 and Jesus Flores -2.6. In case you were thinking that one year might be a small sample size for some of these backup catchers, Montero, Olivo and Flores are also among the five worst career rates for active catchers, along with Mike Rivera and Jorge Posada.

Career WP&PB Records
Yearly WP&PB Records

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Bonser Looks to Go Under the Knife

The Minnesota Twins used all of seven starters during the 2008 season, the fewest number in the Major Leagues along with the Phillies and Angels. It looks like two of those seven are now gone as Livan Hernandez is signed with the Mets and news today comes out that Boof Bonser is still experiencing pain and is now set to undergo exploratory surgery on his throwing shoulder.

That type of surgery is rarely good news and it seems likely to expect Bonser to miss most of, if not all of, the 2009 season. On the surface, that would not seem to be that big of a deal, as Bonser was not favored to be in the Twins rotation breaking camp. Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins are the oft-reported rotation.

The top four is fine, but supporters of Perkins and detractors of Bonser are ignoring the effects of BABIP and batted ball profiles; Bonser’s FIP (4.19) being almost a full point lower than Perkins’ (5.14). Bonser was better than Perkins in 2008 and projected better than him in 2009, no matter the Twins reluctance to acknowledge that fact.

The loss of Bonser not only spells a loss of opportunity to upgrade from Perkins at the back end of the rotation, but also the loss of depth in the rotation. It is rare, as you may have noted above, for teams to avoid using a number of starters beyond their original five. No matter which of the two ended up outside of the rotation, the presence of both helped to assure the Twins of some insurance in case parts of their young rotation falters.

In what looks like a possibly tight AL Central, these young starting pitchers are the Twins biggest competitive advantage, and a blow to that, is a blow to their overall playoff chances. Hopefully, for them, Bonser’s surgery does not reveal any structural damage.


No More Nomar?

Thinking back over the last decade or so, it is tough to consider any player with elite talent yet a proneness to injuries more frustrating or disappointing than Mark Prior. One player that could give Prior a run for his money, though, is Nomar Garciaparra, who staked claim as one of the top shortstops in baseball for several seasons before falling off the map due to health issues. Following several injury-plagued seasons, Garciaparra is legitimately considering retirement against joining either the Athletics or Phillies.

Nomar burst onto the scene in 1997 by hitting 30 home runs, 44 doubles, and posting a .375 wOBA as a rookie. Not shockingly at all he went onto win the Rookie of the Year award and actually finished 8th in MVP voting. He successfully avoided the sophomore slump by launching 35 longballs in 1998, finishing 2nd in MVP voting on the heels of a .401 wOBA.

His production improved further in the subsequent two seasons, to the tune of .436 and .432 wOBA marks, respectively. As you might have imagined, he finished in the top ten in MVP voting in each of these years. Then, in 2001, Nomar missed most of the season with an injury, a sign of what was to come even though most chose to ignore its rammifications.

Nomar bounced back in 2002 and 2003 with wOBAs of .373 and .371, still very solid production albeit nowhere near the 1999-2000 seasons. Fortunately, our Win Values begin here, giving us a glimpse of what Nomar may have been worth in his first four seasons. In 2002 and 2003, Garciaparra played well enough to be worth +5.5 and +5.7 wins, while losing some range thanks to injury issues and suffering an offensive decline from his 1997-2000 campaigns.

With this in mind, it isn’t hard to believe that, with better fielding and the previously discussed gaudy offensive numbers, Nomar could have been worth around +6 wins as a rookie, +6.5 as a sophomore, and over +7 wins as a junior and senior. Unfortunately, a quick look at his Win Values now shows a +5.5 win player who suffered a drastic dropoff in performance and struggled to stay on the field. Ultimately, with almost equal time as a tremendous player and one not in the lineup more often than he was, Nomar’s legacy has become quite comparable to my favorite NBA player of all time: Grant Hill.

Both are players who, when at the top of their respective games, were all-stars, MVP contenders, faces of the league, and considered heir apparents to the greats of the game. As we know, both fell by the wayside due to injuries, yet have hung on in vastly reduced roles over the last few seasons. I would like to avoid having a Hall of Fame discussion, however, so I will instead focus on what Nomar could bring to the table in 2009.

He is no longer a starter, but his ability to play 1B, 3B, and occasionally fill in at SS—a -5 UZR/150 at SS in 2008 is not that bad—make him a very versatile bench player. On top of that, he can still hit lefties, with a .339/.424/.643 line against southpaws last season. As long as the Phillies and Athletics avoid paying him starter-type money or relying on him in their overall seasonal scheme, he will be a very solid addition.

The Phillies apparently don’t want to get involved in a bidding war with Billy Beane for Garciaparra’s serviced, and the Athletics are offering more of a chance to play, making it likely that Oakland would be his destination should he choose to prolong his career. Then again, the Phillies just won the World Series and he may decide to end his career with a contending team in the hopes that they repeat.

Either way, I feel that Nomar deserves to have the first half of his career remembered just as much as the more recent years, a call that will go unanswered by many current fans, I fear. He was one of the best players in the game for a four-year stretch, but it has become increasingly hard to believe that we ever engaged in those classic A-Rod/Jeter/Nomar debates.


Fixing The WBC

In about an hour, the final World Baseball Classic rosters will be announced. Unfortunately, the bigger news is going to be who isn’t playing, rather than who is.

Johan Santana isn’t pitching for Venezuela. Albert Pujols isn’t playing for the Dominican Republic. Josh Hamilton isn’t playing for the U.S.A. Canada has to go forward without Rich Harden or Erik Bedard. Even lesser players, such as Ryan Rowland-Smith (Australia), Jose Mijares (Venezuela), Joel Pineiro (Puerto Rico), and Juan Rincon (Venezuela) have opted to decline invitations as well.

The finalized rosters aren’t going to look much like the provisional ones released earlier this year, as scores of players are opting to train with their teams this spring rather than represent their countries. I’m sure they all feel they are making the correct choice, and I’m not here to pass judgment one way or another. There’s certainly positives and negatives to be gained from participating in the WBC, and that’s heightened by the timing of the event.

I know there’s no perfect time to have this tournament, but the middle of spring training simply doesn’t appear feasible. There are too many conflicts of interest between what is good for the player, their MLB organization, and their country to have the event during March. There has to be a better time to do this.

So, here’s my suggestion. Cancel the All-Star Game, turn the three day break into a seven day break, and have a single elimination tournament that lasts a week. The top two teams would play four games, and everyone else less than that, so you’re simply not adding significant strain to the pitchers selected to compete. It’s a normal turn in the rotation for the four starters selected. They take the hill in mid-season form, because it actually is mid-season.

The whole point of the All-Star game has been to watch the best of the best compete against each other, and recently, MLB has tried to give it some meaning as more than an exhibition game. Just rename the thing the All-Star Tournament, and now, you have the best of the best playing against each for something that actually does matter.

The pointless All-Star game goes away, and the WBC gets to live out the dream of having international competition on a big stage with the best players in the world. We’ll get Johan vs Pujols. We’ll get 15 dramatic winner-take-all contests with all the drama of March Madness and all the talent of the World Series. It would be a ratings bonanza and a pretty huge cash cow.

MLB, WBC, make this happen please. The current situation just isn’t working for anyone.


Shift!

One of the really cool things that Baseball Info Solutions keeps track of is when there is a shift and it effects the outcome of the play. If it doesn’t effect the outcome of the play, it’s not recorded as a shift, even if one was employed.

In 2008, the top 5 players that were most effected by shifts (positively or negatively) were:

Carlos Delgado
Ryan Howard
Jim Thome
David Ortiz
Adam Dunn

Delgado’s BABIP on shift effected plays was at the .191 mark, compared to his .284 BABIP on every play. This is entirely different from say, Ortiz’s BABIP on shift effected plays which was .299, compared to his overall .273 BABIP. Makes you wonder if shifting on Ortiz is a good idea, though it would definitely take a deeper dive into the numbers to know for sure.

Anyway, this was really just a quick preliminary look at the data, but with everyone talking about shifts and BABIP lately, I thought this might be of some interest.


The 2009 Prospect Mine: Kansas City Royals

The upper levels of the Kansas City Royals system is pretty thin depth-wise but the club has some interesting prospects in the lower minors, which should make things very interesting in the next two to three years when they’re ready to compete for Major League spots. The club had one of the best drafts in 2008.

AAA/AA Prospects:
Daniel Cortes, 21, has improved more so than just about any prospect in the system in the past two years. He was stolen from the White Sox in a trade for reliever Mike MacDougal. Cortes’ improvements can be tied to a fastball that has jumped into the mid-90s range, as well as the development of a curveball that is now a plus pitch. The right-hander’s change-up, though, is lacking and he could be facing a move to the bullpen where he could become a dominating eighth- or ninth-inning pitcher. He posted a 3.48 ERA (but 4.40 FIP) at Double-A in 2008 and allowed 103 hits in 116.2 innings. Cortes posted a high walk rate of 4.24 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 8.41 K/9, which should be higher given his stuff.

For whatever reason, the Royals organization just does not seem to believe in Kila Ka’aihue. This comes even after the first baseman slugged 38 home runs between three levels in 2008, including the Majors. The 24-year-old prospect also hit more than .300 at every stop but the Majors, where he hit .286 in 12 games. There is reason to be cautious with Ka’aihue, given that this was by far the best season of his career, but the power is for real – even if he may hit closer to .260. The Royals are going to pay Mike Jacobs a lot of money to do what Ka’aihue can probably do for a league-minimum salary – and the youngster also has much better plate discipline (107 walks in 2008, compared to Jacobs’ 36 free passes).

Carlos Rosa is a hard-throwing right-hander who has been working as a starter in the minors, but projects better as a reliever due to his lack of a third pitch. He throws a mid-90s fastball, as well as a slider that has plus potential. Rosa suffered a forearm strain in 2008 that was bad enough that it nixed a trade with the Marlins in the off-season.

Blake Wood, 23, is a big, strong pitcher and a former third-round pick out of Georgia Tech. He has the stuff to be successful (low-to-mid-90s fastball, good curveball, OK change-up) but he struggles with consistency and has battled injuries. Wood split 2008 between High-A and Double-A but struggled at the higher level. His ERA rose from 2.67 to 5.30 but he moved to a much better hitter’s park. His walk rate rose from 2.35 to 3.32 BB/9, while the strikeout rate dropped from 9.89 to 7.89 K/9. Overall, Wood allowed 128 hits in 144 innings.

A+/A Prospects:
Mike Moustakas, the second overall pick of the 2007 draft, had a solid first full pro season in 2008. In A-ball, the infielder hit .272/.337/.468 with a .196 ISO in 496 at-bats. His numbers are even more impressive considering the fact he hit just .190/.253/.226 in April. Defensively, Moustakas played shortstop in high school but moved to third base as a pro. He has a strong arm (He can hit the mid-90s on the mound) but his range is limited at shortstop. Moustakas will begin 2009 in High-A ball and could see Double-A in the second half of the season.

Danny Duffy, 20, posted some impressive numbers in 2008 with just 56 hits allowed in 81.2 innings at A-ball. He also posted rates of 2.76 BB/9 and 11.24 K/9. As he moves up the organizational ladder, though, Duffy’s strikeout rates should drop as his fastball is average at 88-92 mph and his secondary pitches are currently inconsistent, although the curve has plus potential. The southpaw projects as a No. 3 starter, but the shoulder woes he suffered in 2008 – and caused him to miss that last month of the season – are worrisome.

Danny Gutierrez came out of nowhere in 2008. The right-hander was in his third pro season after signing as a draft-and-follow in 2006. Gutierrez received a jump in velocity prior to the 2008 season, which helped him allow just 83 hits in 90 innings. He also posted rates of 2.50 BB/9 and 10.40 K/9. The 21-year-old prospect suffered a hairline fracture of his elbow and missed a month of the season early on, but he is healthy now and could move quickly with three pitches (89-94 mph fastball, curve, change).

SS/R Prospects:
Eric Hosmer was the most potent high school bat in the 2008 draft and could be an absolute offensive stud in the years to come. His bat is also extremely advanced for a high school player and he could take a similar path to the Majors as Toronto’s Travis Snider, who made it to the Majors in under three years. Hosmer appeared in just three pro games after signing late and he also got caught up in the contract dispute that Pedro Alvarez had with the Pirates. Regardless, he should open 2009 in A-ball and could see High-A ball in the second half of the year.

Catcher Jose Bonilla was one of the top prospects in rookie ball after hitting .357/.405/.625 in 112 at-bats. He needs to show a little more patience at the plate (4.3 BB%). Defensively, Bonilla has a strong arm (He threw out more than 40 percent of base stealers) and is at least average in all other facets of the position.

Johnny Giavotella got a lot of attention after being taken in the second round of the 2008 draft and hitting well in his debut at A-ball. He posted a line of .299/.355/.421 with an ISO of .122. The 21-year-old second baseman is a hard worker who will probably top out as a utility player, but he could put up solid numbers as a regular at the MLB level for a few seasons.

The Royals drafted three promising young high school pitchers in 2008, including Tim Melville, Mike Montgomery and Tyler Sample. Melville has the highest ceiling despite being taken in the fourth round (His bonus demands dropped him out of first-round consideration). He has a mid-90s fastball and solid curveball. Montgomery posted a 1.69 ERA (3.13 FIP) in 42.2 rookie ball innings in 2008. The southpaw has three solid pitches, although he does not throw as hard as Melville. Sample towers above opponents at 6’7” but the third-round pick had a rude introduction to pro ball with a 9.00 ERA in 27 rookie ball innings.

Up Next: The Chicago Cubs

These lists do not include all the talented prospects in each system – just a snap shot. Some players have been left out because I have covered them recently and not much has changed (You can link to the older posts from each player’s FanGraphs page) or I am planning a separate post on them in the very near future.