Archive for March, 2009

Chipper Locked Up

The Atlanta Braves and Chipper Jones agreed to a three year contract extension today, virtually assuring that Jones will retire as a Brave. The details on this contract are a little extensive so bear with me here. Jones will get a base salary of $13 million for 2010-2. In addition, he will receive bonuses of $750,000 each if he passes the 135 and 140 games played milestones. Those are curiously close together. Of course, Jones hasn’t tallied 140 games since 2003 and hasn’t reached 135 since 2004.

When 2013 rolls around, Jones has a vesting option of $9 million with the same pair of $750K bonuses. The option vests if Jones manages to appear in at least 123 games during the 2012 season or if he averages at least 127 games in 2011 and 2012. The base salary increases by $1 million at each of the following levels: 128, 133, 138, 140 games in 2012 or averages of 132, 137, 138, 140 games in 2011-2.

Got all that? Great. For purposes of evaluation, we’re going to keep it simple and evaluate it at three years and $42 million, his base salaries. We’ll assume that if he plays enough to reach his various bonuses, that he’ll be worth them. Now, on the face of it, it seems like a lot of money to guarantee a player for his age 37-9 seasons. However, according to our values, Chipper was worth $34 million last year alone!

It’s pretty unlikely for Jones to repeat his high level of performance from the past few seasons both because of expected regression and advancing age, but all five projection systems listed here expect him to post a wOBA of at least .405 this coming year. The Braves will be paying Jones at about a 3 to 3.5 win level, a level Jones has met or greatly exceeded in every season we record.

Given his decent defensive numbers, Jones’ offense could fall back to 2004-level, when he was the victim of some really harsh BABIP, and he would still be worth his salary. Throw in the sentimental value in keeping Chipper Jones in a Braves uniform and this looks like a risk worth taking for the Braves.


Sheffield in Philly?

Well, it didn’t take long for Gary Sheffield rumors to start flaring up. The Philadelphia Phillies just released outfielder Geoff Jenkins and GM Ruben Amaro confirmed that they have spoken to Sheffield’s agent. Sheffield has already said that his preference would be for an east coast contender, and the Phillies fit the profile on both marks. However, there’s one thing the Phillies can’t give Gary Sheffield – a DH spot.

Gary Sheffield played 47 innings in the outfield last year. He played 106 innings in the outfield in in 2007. He played 165 innings in the outfield in 2006. Over the last three years, he’s worn a glove for 318 innings, or about 25% of one season.

The idea that a 40-year-old Gary Sheffield is still capable of playing the outfield regularly without breaking down is pretty wacky. If the Phillies sign him, he’ll be listed as an outfielder on the roster, but in reality, he’d be a right-handed pinch hitter. Now, he’s not a bad right-handed pinch hitter, and in the National League, that’s a role that could have some value. But, given the construction of the Phillies roster, I have to wonder how this would all work.

As it stands, the Phillies have Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez filling the outfield, with Matt Stairs as the fourth outfielder. Maybe I should put quotes around that last word, because Stairs is 41 years old and not really capable of running after fly balls anymore. In the last three years, Stairs has amassed 515 innings in the outfield… and posted a -30.0 UZR/150. Negative Thirty. Given his age and body shape, we shouldn’t really be surprised that Stairs is a cover-your-eyes defender, but he’s not exactly anyone’s definition of a classic fourth outfielder.

Now, if you add Sheffield to the roster, you essentially are going with an outfield of Victorino, Werth, and three guys who belong at DH. You could put Ibanez, Stairs, and Sheffield side by side in left field and still have a below average defense out there. And Ibanez, at 37, is the spring chicken of the bunch. What do you do in late game situations when you have the lead – you won’t be using Stairs or Sheffield as a defensive replacement for Ibanez, that’s for sure.

Worse, what do you do if Werth or Victorino get banged up? Now you’re starting Ibanez and Stairs or Sheffield in the outfield corners. That’s… it’s hard to imagine a team chasing a World Series title would leave themselves with those kinds of options. And we’re not talking about long shot reserves who won’t see the light of day, here – Werth and Victorino aren’t exactly the new age Cal Ripken.

Given that Ibanez is starting in one outfield spot and the fourth OF spot is filled with a guy who shouldn’t ever wear a glove, it would seem to be that the Phillies are more in need of a legitimate defensive player than another pinch-hitter. Sheffield could still make sense for the Phillies, if he’d agree to a reduced role and they’d kick Miguel Cairo to the curb to make room for him, but if he’s actually going to fill the spot vacated by Jenkins and masquerade as an outfielder, I feel really bad for the Phillies pitching staff.


2009 Prospect Mine: Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves system has a few bigger names in the top half of the system, but the strength is in the depth. Things could look even better by the end of 2009 if a few of the sleepers wake up.

AAA/AA
Tommy Hanson has already been written about a fair bit around here. He had a breakout 2008 season during both the regular season and in the Arizona Fall League. He pitched at both High-A and Double-A with 70 hits allowed in 98 innings at the senior level. He also posted rates of 3.77 BB/9 and 10.47 K/9. The only thing that is keeping him from breaking camp with Atlanta is the veteran depth in the starting rotation. It’ll be a miracle if Tom Glavine throws 180 innings, so Hanson will get his shot sooner or later in 2009.

Jordan Schafer is moving in the opposite direction of Hanson. After the recent trade of center fielder Josh Anderson to Detroit, it appears as though Schafer has won the starting-day outfield gig in Atlanta, although the club has yet to confirm it. Schafer had an off year in 2008 by hitting just .269/.378/.471 with 10 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 297 Double-A at-bats. He has had a nice spring with a .373 average and five stolen bases. The 16 strikeouts in 17 games is a bit disturbing, though.

Brandon Hicks is a shortstop in the mold of former Cub Jose Hernandez: A powerful bat that will likely produce a low-ish average and a ton of strikeouts. The former third round draft pick is a better defender, although his size may eventually force him to third base if he remains a regular at the MLB level. Last season in High-A, Hicks batted .234/.335/.480 with 19 homers and 14 stolen bases in 342 at-bats. He also hit .241 in 54 Double-A at-bats.

A+/A
Cole Rohrbough played at two A-ball levels in 2008, but the southpaw still missed significant time due to injury. In 31.2 High-A innings, Rohrbough allowed just 27 hits and posted rates of 2.27 BB/9 and 7.96 K/9. His repertoire includes an 89-94 mph fastball, plus curve and change-up. He’s expected to be fully healthy this spring and should begin the year in High-A.

Another talented southpaw, Jeff Locke had a down year in A-ball in 2008. The 21-year-old hurler allowed 150 hits in 139.2 innings and posted rates of 2.45 BB/9 and 7.28 K/9, which was by far his lowest strikeout rate of his career. He has excellent control for his age and he has the potential to have three very good pitches, with a fastball that can touch 94 mph, a curveball and a change-up.

Outfielder Jason Heyward is a name you should remember in 2009. He had a solid first full season in the Majors after being a first-round pick out of high school in 2007, but he could blossom into a future superstar. The 19-year-old slugger hit .323/.388/.483 with 11 home runs and 15 stolen bases. He also earned 22 at-bats in High-A ball late in the year. Still in his teens, Heyward is an athletic 6’4” 220 lbs and his strong arm is well suited to right field.

Another talented outfielder, Gorkys Hernandez was obtained from Detroit in the Edgar Renteria trade, which also netted the club Jair Jurrjens. Hernandez does not have anywhere near the power that Heyward does, but he stole 20 bases in 2008 with his above-average speed. He struggled a bit in his first season in the organization and hit just .264/.348/.387 with five home runs. Hernandez, 21, also posted rates of 10.6 BB% and 19.5 K%. He needs to play small ball more consistently and he could be headed to a fourth-outfielder future in Atlanta because he’s not going to push Schafer out of center and he does not profile well in the corners.

Outside of Heyward, Freddie Freeman has the most impressive bat in the lower minors. The first base prospect had an exciting first full season in pro ball after being a second round draft pick out of high school in 2007. In A-ball, Freeman hit .316/.378/.521 with 18 homers and 95 RBI in 491 at-bats. He also posted rates of 8.6 BB% and 17.1 K%. Defensively, the left-handed hitter is above-average.

SS/R
Julio Teheran, 18, generated a lot of buzz in 2008 even before he threw a pitch in North America. Unfortunately, his 2008 season did not play out as planned due to shoulder problems which were luckily not deemed serious. Teheran allowed 18 hits in 15 innings in rookie ball and posted rates of 2.40 BB/9 and 10.40 K/9. He has a good fastball that can touch 93 mph, a potentially plus change-up and a developing curveball.

Randall Delgado, 19, showed very well in his North American debut. In 69 rookie ball innings, the right-hander allowed 63 hits and posted rates of 3.91 BB/9 and 10.57 K/9. He can hit 93 mph with his fastball and also has a good curveball and change-up.

Up Next: The Boston Red Sox


Sheffield Hits The Road

As the last days of spring training wind down, teams will begin to pare their rosters down in order to finalize their 25 man opening day roster, and sometimes, those cuts are rather interesting. Today, the most interesting of all comes down, as the Tigers decided they’d rather pay Gary Sheffield $14 million to go away than to keep him around in 2009.

Sheffield, at age 40, might have a tough time finding another job. He hit .225/.326/.400 last year, good for a .323 wOBA. As a DH-only, that’s not particularly valuable. His 2008 season was worth 0.3 wins above replacement, and given his personality, teams aren’t going to be knocking down his door to get that kind of production when his mouth comes along with it.

After all, this is a market where Jim Edmonds, Frank Thomas, and Ray Durham can’t find a job, and all three were more productive and less annoying than Sheffield last year. Upon being released, Sheffield claimed “this isn’t it” for him, but he’s not in a position to make that call. This very well could be it for Sheffield – he’s now joining a glut of Hall Of Famers looking for work and finding slim pickings.

So, if this is it for Sheffield, the question now becomes whether he’s accomplished enough to get into Cooperstown. He’s a career .292/.394/.516 hitter, racking up an impressive 570.9 wRAA and a 62.80 WPA/LI. His wRAA total ranks 34th all time, just ahead of Larry Walker and right behind Jim Thome. According to Sean Smith’s Wins Above Replacement from 1955-2008, Sheffield ranks 52nd among position players in that time frame.

Sheffield was a great hitter in an era of great hitting. Did he do enough to get into Cooperstown? I’m going to guess the answer will turn out to be no. Much like Larry Walker and Edgar Martinez, I think he’ll be viewed as a good but not great player, and the baseball writers will keep him sitting on the sidelines.

Does he deserve to get in? If you had a vote, is Sheffield going to Cooperstown?


Manny Ramirez != Barry Bonds

Patrick Sullivan at Baseball Analysts already paid homage to Ken Tremendous on Jon Heyman’s latest column, but that won’t stop me from looking at this line:

[Manny Ramirez] could have replicated the years of Barry Bonds, with comparable productivity, less controversy and more good cheer.

I’m a fan of greatness, so Barry Bonds has a place in my heart despite the moral and legal issues associated with his legacy. Outside of crushing Rays pitching, I don’t believe I have too many bad things to say about Manny Ramirez either. Still yet, let’s analyze this step by step.

First up;

“Could have replicated the years of Barry Bonds”

The obvious response is “Oh, Manny’s playing for another decade?” Since, you know, Bonds spent quite a while in San Francisco. Second thought, Jon Heyman is out of his mind. Over the last three years, Manny has wRAAs of 49.2, 21.1, 56.3. Bonds last three seasons were 39.5, 33.2, and 4.3 – if you discard 2005, then you get 2004’s 108.8 wRAA season. CHONE has Manny at 38.3 and ZiPS says 35.5. We’ll call it 37. Of 15 seasons with San Fran, 37 wRAA would’ve ranked as Bonds’ fourth lowest offensive output. Manny is great, he’s not Bonds.

“comparable productivity”

See above, but if we’re talking present day Bonds, sure.

“less controversy”

Can’t argue against that one…

“and more good cheer”

Okay wait. Is this the same Manny Ramirez shipped out of Boston because Red Sox management was less than decisive on his option one way or the other which lead to him throwing constant temper tantrums? The same Manny who got into at least two shoving matches last year, including with a clubhouse attendant? The same Manny who invented the “Manny being Manny” motto after yearly trade requests? To recap:

Bonds
Was a prick in the clubhouse and took PEDs which might have made him a better player, therefore helping his team.

Bad guy.

Ramirez
Whined about his contract annually and gave questionable effort at times until he forced his way out of town.

Good guy.

The difference; their agents, silly.


Ohman Signs! Ohman Signs!

Well, folks, it is official: Will Ohman has inked a contract, saying goodbye to the free agent market for at least one more season. After much speculation with regards to who he would end up pitching for this season, Ohman signed an incentive-laden minor league deal with the Dodgers, essentially replacing former lefty specialist Joe Beimel. As recently as two weeks ago, up to six teams were interested in his services, but it had to be on their terms, resulting in Ohman’s asking price taking a significant hit.

The deal with the Dodgers will apparently be worth a base of $1.35 mil should Ohman make the team, with up to $200K in incentives. It also features an option for 2010 valued at $2 mil, with the ability for Ohman to be bought out at $200K.

Ohman realistically should have no problem making the team as he has been one of the better relief pitchers over the last few seasons. Granted, the small sample sizes of innings prevents relievers from accruing solid win values totals, but Ohman has averaged +0.7 wins the last three years while improving his K/BB ratio and FIP and GB/FB. In fact, for the first time last year Ohman actually induced more grounders than flyballs.

Ohman has been dynamite against lefties over the last four years, even holding the same-handed hitters to a paltry .200/.257/.314 line. His projection for 2009 looks similar to the numbers posted in 2006, producing somewhere in the +0.6 to +0.8 win range. At any interval he would more than earn the max $1.55 mil stipulated in his contract, regardless of how much the average dollars/win rate may have fallen this year.

It may seem odd that one of the better relievers, especially one whose asking price consistently lowered, would not be given a guaranteed contract, but Ohman should have no trouble ensuring that he earns all of the money available. Joe Beimel left the Dodgers and after an almost equally long wait, signed a $2 mil deal with the Washington Nationals. The Dodgers were able to replace his services with Ohman, a better strikeout pitcher with an advantage in the walks department as well as a history of more stable home run rates unlike Beimel’s 0.13 and 0.00 HR/9 marks the last two years, and they were able to save at least $450K.

All in all, a great signing, I’m glad it’s over, and in any other year I would be shocked it took so long, but this has not been your typical offseason by any stretch of the imagination. When Chan Ho Park is given a guaranteed $2.5 mil and Will Ohman has to make the major league team to get a base of $1.35 mil, you know something is up.


Brandon Morrow Abdicates Rotation

The playoff hopes for the Seattle Mariners, both in 2009 and beyond, took a dramatic blow yesterday when it was revealed that Brandon Morrow, the 5th overall selection of the 2006 draft, was moving to the bullpen full time. A myriad of reasons have been postulated for the move including health concerns over his arm, health concerns from his diabetes, a preference for closing and a sense that he would be more valuable as a reliever.

No matter which way you slice it, this is bad news for the Mariners. Brandon Morrow has the stuff to be an above average starting pitcher in the Major Leagues, someone capable of posting seasons worth three or four wins. Moving to the bullpen simply offers him no realistic shot at attaining levels that high. Even if Morrow morphed into a dominant closer, a big if, the likes of Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera or even his now predecessor J.J. Putz, that level tops out at just over 2.5 wins a year on average. 2.5 wins is basically what an average starting pitcher tossing 200 or so innings would compile.

And remember, that would represent Morrow’s absolute best case as a closer. In pointed fact, those top notch closers have shown a much better track record of command and a higher ability to generate ground balls than Morrow ever has. A more realistic, but still optimistic, projection for Morrow would have him around the two-win mark. Suffice to say, Morrow is costing himself and the Mariners value by abandoning the role of starting pitcher.

Of course, it’s not so simple as to just leave it at that, because the health concerns are for real. Morrow’s Spring was under delay this year because of forearm issues. He also suffered from pronounced dead arm after moving into the rotation at the end of the 2008 season. He also has to battle Type 1 diabetes, an ailment that requires constant monitoring of his blood sugar level and one which is exacerbated by prolonged physical activity.

If we the public were informed that these reasons were the reasons Morrow was moving to the bullpen, I would have no qualms with it and would actually applaud Morrow for being willing to speak up when it came to his own health. The iffy part is that we are not sure those are the primary motivators. Morrow’s own words over the past few days have expressed a desire to return to the bullpen for the thrill of closing. If that, instead of his health, is why he’s making this decision, then it’s almost clearly a wrong call at this point in time. However, it seems unlikely that we will ever know and for now, the Mariners will have to move forward with their closing situation likely solved, but a severe blow to their upside in the rotation.


Career Year, Meet Gary Matthews Jr.

Following the 2006 season, Gary Matthews Jr. signed a much maligned 5-yr/$50 mil contract with the Los Angeles California Angels of Los Anaheim. The deal was predicated on the assumptions that Matthews’ performance level over 147 games in 2006 could be sustained, and that he had finally come into his own, increasing his win values total from +2.1 to +3.1 to +4.4. Ironically, Matthews went from being a somewhat underrated player to arguably the most overrated player in the game thanks to his tremendous career year.

What happened in 2006 should have been taken with a bit more than a grain of salt, though, as Matthews defied his general modus operandi. Up until that point, he had been a solid example of a no-hit, all-field player. Since a run is a run is a run, Matthews still produced at an above average clip from 2002-05, averaging +2.3 wins/yr. In 2006, though, Matthews became the full time centerfielder for the Rangers and saw his UZR drop significantly. Normally the difference could be written off thanks to positional adjustments but since Matthews had played centerfield for extended periods earlier in his career and had spent plenty of time at all three outfield spots, his adjustment swing was not nearly as dramatic as the -7.5 runs for LF/RF compared to the +2.5 for CF would suggest.

Despite the defensive dropoff, Matthews made “the play” that season, a majestic home run robbing catch that likely needs no further explanation. Offensively speaking, Matthews and his .349 BABIP produced one heck of a season with the bat, putting together a .313/.371/.495 line with a career best .367 wOBA. So now it makes perfect sense: he had cemented himself with a reputation for being a great fielder the previous several seasons, benefited from insane highlight reel catches despite an overall defensive decline, and put up very appealing offensive numbers. This isn’t to say that the aforementioned reasoning completely justifies the acquisition, but at least we can see how the decision may have come to be.

In his first season with the Angels, Matthews saw his defense slip further, this time to -9 runs. Couple that with the expected offensive regression hovering around the league average and a +0.9 win player emerges. Perhaps convinced that the signing was a mistake, the Angels decided to rectify the situation by signing Torii Hunter to a 5-yr/$90 mil contract that very offseason. With Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero already in the mix, Matthews lacked a permanent position last season, splitting time between the three outfield spots. His aggregate defensive mark stayed poor, at -7 runs, and his hitting worsened to -10 runs, making Matthews the fourth least productive position player in baseball last season (min. 450 PA).

This season, the Angels will return Hunter and Guerrero, have replaced Anderson with Bobby Abreu, and will also need to delegate plate appearances to the re-signed Juan Rivera. Matthews has virtually no shot at an everyday job but has expressed his distaste for anything but such a role. Even though Abreu, Guerrero, and Hunter are all in their decline phase, they are more productive players than Matthews. Unfortunately, Matthews projects to post offensive numbers similarly to his first year as a Halo, placing his upside somewhere in the +1.2 to +1.4 wins range. With 3 yrs/$33 mil remaining on the deal, teams are simply not going to be inquiring about Matthews’ availability unless the Angels pay a big chunk of the salary.

Raul Ibanez, a more consistent player, received a similar contract this offseason and even that was considered to be in poor taste relative to the market. Matthews benefited greatly from a career year and will be paid handsomely to boot, but if the past two seasons are any indication he is no longer a major league starter and his ego needs to regress just like his numbers.


First One To 85 Wins It

Mediocrity is the new black, at least on the west coast. After last year’s debacle of a division called the NL West, where the Dodgers won the division by finishing 84-78, the parity-by-lousiness looks to be shifting to the American League West this year. The Replacement Level Yankees blog just finished up their simulation extravaganza for the American League, and the aggregate of the CHONE/PECOTA/ZIPS/THT/CAIRO/MARCEL simulations (6,000 in all) has the Angels leading the division with an average of 85.4 wins. The A’s come in at 81.1, the Mariners at 77.8, and the Rangers at 72.1.

That’s not good, and it gets worse – these projections are likely too optimsitic for the top three teams.

The Angels are going to open the season with John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Kelvim Escobar on the disabled list. There are legitimate questions about how well and how often those three will be taking the hill, and an Angels rotation without those three isn’t much of a rotation at all.

Justin Duchscherer is undergoing arthroscopic surgery next week – how long he’ll be sidelined is up in the air, and it wouldn’t be surprising to anyone if his innings pitched for the season was something approximating zero. With Duchscherer out indefinitely, the A’s are essentially counting on five starting pitchers who have never pitched a full season in the big leagues.

The Mariners ability to take advantage of the injury bug hitting the two division favorites took a hit yesterday when Brandon Morrow announced that he wanted to head back to the bullpen and the team shipped Jeff Clement back to Triple-A to start the season.

The only team that hasn’t experienced a recent bout of bad news is the Texas Rangers, but they’re also the only team who the projection systems didn’t think had a real shot at winning the division this year – their simulated playoff odds were 3%.

This division is bad. Four flawed teams fighting for one playoff spot that none of them will deserve. Bad rotations, bad line-ups, bad defense… there’s no shortage of problems floating around the American League West this year. The only thing the division currently has an abundance of is injured pitchers.


2009 Prospect Mine: Toronto Blue Jays

A number of prospects have risen swiftly though the system for the Jays in the past year. The club has also re-committed itself to finding prospects in Latin American, as well as Australia. The system is better than some think it is, but there is still a lot of work to be done. There are some interesting sleeper prospects in the low minors.

AAA/AA
The club has three southpaw starters that could see significant time in Toronto in 2009: Ricky Romero, Brad Mills, and Brett Cecil. All three received long looks this spring with Romero and Mills still under consideration for starting rotation spots. Romero, a former sixth overall draft pick out of college, has had a relatively disappointing career to this point, although he is making strides with his fastball command. He split 2008 between Double-A and Triple-A. Mills was selected in the 2007 draft as a college senior and he pitched at three levels last year and posted ERAs of 2.55, 1.35, and 1.10. Overall, he made 27 starts and succeeds by being aggressive and attacking the strike zone with average stuff. Cecil has an above-average repertoire for a southpaw and was a good college closer before being converted to a starter by the Jays. He needs to work on his fastball command but he could be ready by the middle of 2009. Cecil was slowed in 2008 by injuries but he still pitched at three levels and topped out in Triple-A.

Travis Snider should be considered an early favorite for the AL Rookie of the Year award, especially with fellow rookies Matt Wieters (Baltimore) and David Price (Tampa Bay) beginning the year in the minors (What a good year for rookies in the AL East). Snider, 21, will be the everyday left fielder for Toronto. He was slowed at the beginning of 2008 by a bum elbow but he still managed to play at three minor league levels before making a 24-game appearance in the Majors where he hit .301/.338/.466 with two homers in 73 at-bats. Snider likely won’t hit for a high average early in his career thanks to high strikeout totals (32 K% in 362 Double-A at-bats), but he should provide plenty of power and he is a better outfielder than many think.

J.P. Arencibia is another powerful bat for the Jays. The catcher was selected in the first round of the 2007 draft out of college and split last season between High-A and Double-A. He hit .315/.344/.560 in 248 at-bats before a promotion to Double-A, where he posted a line of .282/.302/.496 in 262 at-bats. Arencibia tied Wieters for home runs with 27 but drove in more runs with 105. The downside to his offensive game is that he walked just 18 times last year, including a walk rate of just 2.6 BB% in Double-A. Arencibia will have to improve upon his patience if he is going to be an impact player in the Majors. He has made significant strides in improving his defense.

Scott Campbell began his pro career as a second baseman but is penciled in at third base for the Triple-A club in 2009, which will help add to his versatility. The left-handed hitter cannot hit southpaws at all and he has limited power so his future is likely as a platoon infielder or bench player. Campbell’s defense at second base was nothing to write home about. Offensively, though, he skipped over High-A ball in 2008 to play at Double-A and had his best offensive season. The 24-year-old infielder hit .302/.398/.427 with nine home runs in 417 at-bats. He posted rates of 13.7 BB% and 15.1 K%.

A+/A
The left-handed Tim Collins is generously listed as 5’7” which is why he went undrafted out of high school. General manager J.P. Ricciardi’s father noticed the pitcher at a high school game and tipped off his son, which allowed the Jays to buy Collins, 19, away from a junior college offer late in 2007. Last season in A-ball, the southpaw used a plus curveball and average fastball to allowed just 36 hits in 68.1 innings of work. He also posted rates of 4.21 BB/9 and 12.91 K/9.

Yet another southpaw, Luis Perez was a late blooming Latin America prospect who did not come over to North America until he was 22. Although he started off very poorly at A-ball in 2008, Perez turned things around. He allowed 136 hits in 137.1 innings and posted rates of 3.34 BB/9 and 8.98 K/9. In 212.2 innings in North America, the Dominican hurler has allowed just four home runs and he induces a ton of ground balls, along with the healthy number of strikeouts.

Second baseman Brad Emaus opened some eyes in his first full season. Originally viewed as a future utility player in the Scott Spiezio mold, Emaus now looks like a future regular, whose offense could possibly be strong enough to warrant a move to third base. In 2008, Emaus hit .302/.380/.463 with 12 home runs and 12 stolen bases. The 23-year-old also played well in the Hawaii Winter Baseball league with a .333 average and 17 walks (with just seven strikeouts) in 81 at-bats.

David Cooper was the club’s 2008 first round draft pick out of college. Cooper, a first baseman, was considered a step below the Top 3 first sackers in the draft: Justin Smoak, Brett Wallace (now a full-time third baseman), and Yonder Alonso. Regardless, Cooper had a stunning debut and played at three levels, topping out in High-A ball. The left-handed hitter hit .300 or more at each level and batted .304/.373/.435 with one home run in 92 High-A at-bats. Cooper has the skill to bat .300 in the Majors but his power is no better than average for the position and he needs a fair bit of work on his defense.

Raw+Toolsy+Prep = Exactly the type of player Toronto historically avoided under general manager J.P. Ricciardi. Justin Jackson, though, represented a departure from that stance, and Toronto is glad it made the change. The athletic and gifted fielder is still raw but he has displayed some promising skills at the plate and on the base paths, as well as in the field. The 20 year old shortstop hit just .238/.340/.368 with seven homers and 17 stolen bases in 454 at-bats, but he was one of the better hitters on his A-ball club in the first half of the season before tiring in his first full pro season.

Eric Eiland is another raw high schooler who was signed in 2007, like Jackson. Eiland though did not join Jackson in A-ball until later in the season after beginning the year in extended spring training. Once he reached A-ball, Eiland hit .233/.334/.305 with 23 stolen bases in 249 at-bats. He needs to work on his approach at the plate after posting a strikeout rate of 32.1 K%. His walk rate was a reasonable 12.9%.

Kevin Ahrens was the club’s first pick of the 2007 draft out of a Texas high school but he has fallen down the depth chart below both Arencibia and Jackson, two players drafted after him. Ahrens, like Jackson, struggled mightily in the second half of his first full pro season. Overall, he hit .259/.329/.367 with five home runs in 460 at-bats. Defensively, he is still getting accustomed to manning third base after playing shortstop in high school.

SS/R
Antonio Jimenez and Carlos Perez highlight a deep crop of catchers in the lower levels of the system. Jimenez was selected out of a Puerto Rico high school during the 2008 draft, while Perez was a quiet Latin America signing in 2007. Jimenez appeared in just 19 games after signing and hit .191/.255/.234. His defense is considered ahead of his bat and he is very athletic for a catcher (He stole five bases in seven attempts). Perez opened some eyes in his first pro season in the Dominican Summer League in 2008 and hit .306/.459/.378 in 196 at-bats. He also walked 52 times with just 28 strikeouts. His defense is not as strong as Jimenez’ but he is good enough to remain behind the dish long term.

The organization significantly improved its middle infield depth with the 2008-09 signings of Gustavo Pierre, Garis Pena and Nick Bidois. Both Pierre and Pena were signed out of Latin America for six-figure contracts, while Bidois was inked out of Australia. All three teenagers will move slowly and Pierre had Tommy John surgery during the off-season.

Up Next: The Atlanta Braves


Not As Good As Everyone Thinks

Now that we’ve completed the Organizational Rankings series, I wanted to spend a few posts talking about some of the points raised about different organizations. Specifically, it became clear to me that a couple of teams are wildly overrated and are likely to finish with a significantly worse record than a lot of you believe. No team fits the bill more than the Florida Marlins.

It became clear in the comments that a lot of you think the Marlins might actually be pretty good this year. They won 84 games last year, after all, and are full of young players, so the immediate future is bright, right?

Sorry, but no.

CHONE projects the Marlins to finish 75-87. PECOTA says 70-92. THT has them going 72-90.

Why the 10+ win drop-off from last year? Regression to the mean.

Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, and John Baker all performed at offensive levels last year that they simply can’t be expected to repeat. The projected regression from those three will cost the Marlins 30+ runs off of their ’08 total. That’s a big deal.

On the pitching side, Scott Olsen, Joe Nelson, and Kevin Gregg have all been shipped off, and while none of them should have been counted on to repeat their performances, it’s also unlikely that the Marlins will be able to replace those 320+ innings with a similar performance. The increase in innings given to Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad (another guy whose performance will regress), and Anibal Sanchez will simply attempt to compensate for the useful performances that they lost from last year.

Last year, the Marlins outscored their opponents by three runs while getting unsustainable performances from a lot of players. The idea that the Marlins have any real shot at contending for a playoff spot this year is a myth. They’re an also-ran, far closer to the Nationals in ability than the Mets, Phillies, or Braves. It’s more likely that they finish last in the NL East than first.

Don’t buy into the hype of the Marlins as a young team that could surprise. The only people who will be surprised by the Marlins this year are those that expect them to contend.


Projection vs Projection

It’s almost opening day, and it seems like everyone is talking about projections.

When considering a projection, there are really two questions to be answered – what is the player’s “True Talent Level” right now, and how will he perform next year? Between now and the end of next year, his talent level very well might change, as he’s a year older and might recover from or succumb to injuries. Even then, there’s still the random variance of a single season performance. In this article I’d like to explore how some of the major projection systems work when predicting different subgroups of players.

I tested the following projections: PECOTA (2006-2009), ZiPS (2006-2009) CHONE (2007-2009) and my own Oliver (2006-2009).

By wOBA

The first test was to group the yearly projections to the nearest .010 of wOBA, and then see how that group of players actually performed. There were 468 players who had projections from all four systems, and had at least 350 plate appearances in the major leagues in the following season. As 2009 is yet to be played, and CHONE is not available for 2006, these projections to next year comparisons are for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. All four projections were tested on the same 468 players. The observed results were unadjusted major league stats, so that the results of the test would not be influenced by which park factors or MLE formulas I chose to normalize stats.

To read the results, CHONE of the players would have a wOBA between .375 and .385, averaging .380, 25 of them had 350 or more PAs in MLB in the following seasons, and those 25 players had an average wOBA of .363, so at that level CHONE was .017 high. Oliver was .008 high on 21 projections, PECOTA .027 high on 26, and ZiPS .014 on 26. The last line of the table shows the root mean square error (weighted by number of players). Oliver had the lowest mean error at .006, followed by CHONE .011 and PECOTA and ZiPS at .012 each.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Cajun God of Baseball

Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg recently said he does not foresee the team’s payroll exceeding 60 million either this or next year. One problem, the projected payroll for 2010 is already over 60 million, and that estimate is without the increases players like B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro will receive through arbitration.

That means players like Dan Wheeler (3.5 million), Akinori Iwamura (4.25 million), and Jason Bartlett (at least 1.98 million pre-arbitration) could potentially be on the move sometime within the next calendar year. Speculating on what those players could return is worthless, instead examining the players that could eventually replace them seems like a more worthwhile exercise, if not equally subjective in nature. More so, let’s focus on the middle infielder who could make all the difference for the Rays future plans.

Dave mentioned Reid Brignac last week as a player most teams would love to have. Brignac turned 23 in mid-January, but is a veteran of the Rays system. A high school draftee, Brignac shunned a commitment to LSU in favor of playing professionally in 2004. Nearly five years later, Brignac is in the perfect situation.

Last year’s first overall pick, Tim Beckham, might be the eventual shortstop, in 2011/2012. That leaves a few years between the time when Beckham will be ready and Bartlett will no longer be affordable. Enter Brignac. Formerly the offensively touted shortstop with questionable defensive skills, Brignac has worked tediously hard at becoming a better defender, and his offense has paid for it. Since 2006, Brignac has posted wRAAs of 31, 5, and -7.8 when the levels are combined. Meanwhile, Minor League Splits, using TotalZone, has Brignac worth 12, 8, and 0 runs defensively in that same time span.

Whether the scouts were basing their defensive opinions that Brignac may have to move based on his 6’3” frame or something the numbers fail to capture is up to anyone’s guess. The interesting thing I found is that only two shortstops at least 6’3” tall have played at least 100 games in the majors at the position; Cal Ripken Jr. and Andy Fox. However, a ton of 6’2” players have spent time at shortstop, notables: Derek Jeter, Troy Tulowitzki, Bobby Crosby, Hanley Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez…basically your modern day shortstops. Is Brignac destined to join that group? We’ll see. [Ed Note: After the fact, I discovered that the shortstops listed are actually listed as 6’2.5″ inches tall. My query was for shortstops EXACTLY 6’3″ inches tall and it did not round up. Therefore, you can pretty much include those five in the 6’3″+ category.]

If Brignac’s defense has truly reached the level of being plus (5 < x < 10 runs) then Khalil Greene is an apt comparison. If the Rays feel he’s at that level, it would make sense to allow Brignac played shortstop until Beckham reached the majors, then shift the weaker defender to second.

Obviously this is all assuming Brignac continues to progress and that the Rays don’t find alternative revenue in the near future, what should be interesting is how the two situations work out.


Bag-Packing Paulino

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. kicked off his tenure with two under the radar moves: trading Greg Golson for John Mayberry, Jr., and sending Jason Jaramillo to the Pirates for Ronnie Paulino. Paulino, formerly the Pirates starter, fell out of favor with the team thanks to a perceived poor work ethic as well as the emergence of Ryan Doumit. After two seasons of league average production or better, Paulino’s abysmal .260 wOBA in 40 games and questionable defense made him very expendable. Amaro wanted to create some competition for Chris Coste in camp and felt that Paulino would be more major-league ready than youngster Lou Marson.

The idea somewhat backfired, as both Coste and Paulino stunk up the batters box this spring, leaving Coste with the backup position largely due to the familiarity factor. Paulino once again became expendable, and in needing to fill the void left by JC Romero’s 50-game suspension, Amaro sent Paulino to San Francisco for lefty reliever Jack Taschner, a questionable move in and of itself given that Taschner has been hit around pretty well by lefties over the last two seasons.

Paulino would not be able to settle down by the bay, however, as the Giants quickly shipped him to the Marlins in exchange for minor league right-handed pitcher Hector Correa. Correa, just 21, has shown an ability to miss bats but will need to harness his control to truly be an effective major league pitcher. This was not a 3-team trade, at least officially, but could very well have been the transaction equivalent to an unintentional intentional walk.

The Phillies get a lefty reliever to fill in for Romero; the Giants get a young pitching prospect; and the Marlins get a backup catcher. Unfortunately, the Marlins starter, John Baker, is more suited for backup duty himself. The Marlins had been after Chris Coste for most of the offseason but ended up with the other Phillies backup catcher. I have to wonder if Taschner would be any sort of an upgrade over merely slotting J.A. Happ into the second lefty role (behind Scott Eyre until Romero returns) and giving Chan Ho Park the fifth starter spot. Amaro has hinted that the team might carry all three of Eyre, Taschner, and Happ, but that seems unlikely.

Maybe Taschner will flourish in this role, and Paulino will reestablish himself as a solid catcher, but these moves do not really appear to provide upgrades for any of the teams involved.


Can You Tell the Difference?

While I was reworking some FanGraphs logos I noticed a striking similarity between 8 of the team’s colors choices. These are taken straight out of the team’s logos I found at sportslogo.net. You would think that there would be a little more variation in the colors used, with three of the teams even using the exact same red. You can hover over the images to see which team is which:

1angels_colors
2braves_colors
3cubs_colors
4indians_colors
5nationals_colors
6phillies_colors
7rangers_colors
8twins_colors


2009 Prospect Mine: New York Mets

The New York Mets minor league system sits in the middle-of-the-pack talent wise. There is some depth, but there are a limited number of high-ceiling players. A lot of the top-level talent comes from players acquired during the 2008 draft.

AAA/AA
Jonathon Niese was drafted out of high school in the seventh round of the 2005 draft by the Mets and it looks like the move is about ready to pay off for the organization. The southpaw split the 2008 season between Double-A and Triple-A, while also making a three-game appearance at the Major League level. Niese spent most of the year in Double-A where he allowed 118 hits in 124.1 innings of work and posted rates of 3.18 BB/9 and 8.11 K/9. This spring, Niese has struggled with his command and control but he should be one of the first pitchers recalled if an injury strikes the starting rotation. He has an 87-91 mph fastball, plus curveball and change-up.

Bobby Parnell is another young pitcher who has a chance of impacting the Mets’ big-league roster in 2009. Parnell, though, is likely headed to the bullpen despite spending most of his pro career in the rotation. Like Niese, Parnell spent time at three levels in 2008 but spent the majority of his season in Double-A. The right-hander allowed 126 hits in 127.2 innings of work and posted rates of 4.02 BB/9 and 6.52 K/9. He made six appearances out of the bullpen for the Mets and posted a 5.40 ERA despite allowing just three hits in five innings. He is being considered for a bullpen spot this spring, even though his control has been below average. Parnell’s repertoire includes a fastball that can hit the upper 90s, a good slider and a change-up.

Eddie Kunz was nabbed by the Mets in the supplemental first round of the 2007 draft out of Oregon State University. Kunz was a desirable commodity because he was expected to be near-MLB ready after his college career but he has been inconsistent so far in pro ball, thanks in part to poor control. He did have a solid time in Double-A in 2008, though, and allowed just 39 hits in 48.1 innings. Kunz also posted rates of 4.66 BB/9 and 8.01 K/9. He struggled in brief stints at both Triple-A and the Majors and will continue to work on his control in the minors in 2009.

If you don’t know who Fernando Martinez is, then you haven’t been following the Mets’ minor league system for very long. The Dominican outfielder has been among the system’s top prospects since he came to North America in 2006 as a 17 year old. Martinez rose as high as Double-A at the age of 18 and has spent the last two (injury-filled) seasons at that level. He has just 588 at-bats at Double-A in two years. In 2008, Martinez hit .287/.340/.432 with eight home runs and six stolen bases. For his value to really skyrocket, he’ll need to add more power to his game, but he is still young. Defensively, if he continues fills out and lose a step or two, Martinez will likely move from center to left field. He should spend most of the year in Triple-A.

Nick Evans will be familiar to most Mets fans because he appeared in 50 games for the club in 2008, but retains his rookie eligibility because he had just 109 at-bats. He hit .257/.303/.404 with just two home runs. Evans, 23, played in the Majors earlier than anyone thought he would be after injuries struck the big league club. He’s likely headed back down to the minors to continue developing his game at Triple-A. Evans needs to learn to make use of his power more consistently in game situations, and he also needs to be more patient at the plate after walking just seven times in his debut (6.0 BB%).

A+/A
Wilmer Flores, 17, has the potential to be an outstanding player after hitting .310/.352/.490 in 245 rookie ball at-bats in 2008 as a 16-year-old shortstop. It was an even more impressive performance considering that it was his first year in North America too. The Venezuelan also earned a few at-bats in short-season ball and A-ball, which is where he will likely spend the 2009 season. Defensively, he should move off shortstop to third base in the next two seasons. Flores’ power should develop enough to make him an impact player at that position as well.

SS/R
Brad Holt is already being considered the steal of the 2008 draft, having been selected in the supplemental first round out of college. The right-hander posted a 1.87 ERA (2.62 FIP) with 43 hits allowed in 73.1 short-season innings. He also posted rates of 4.11 BB/9 and 11.94 K/9. Holt’s repertoire includes a fastball that can touch the high 90s but his secondary pitches – a slider and change-up – are lacking, which could cause him to struggle at higher levels. Holt will definitely begin the 2009 season in either High-A or possibly even Double-A.

Jenrry Mejia and Jefry Marte are two more impressive Latin-America finds for the Mets. Mejia, a right-handed starting pitcher, allowed 42 hits in 56.2 short-season innings in 2008. The 19 year old posted rates of 3.65 BB/9 and 8.26 K/9 and should begin 2009 in A-ball. Marte, 17, is a powerful third-base prospect who hit .325/.398/.532 with 14 doubles and four homers in 154 rookie ball at-bats last year. Defensively, he is athletic enough to remain at the hot corner long term.

Both Reese Havens and Ike Davis were selected out of college ahead of fellow 2008 draftee Holt but they both struggled. Havens, who could end up as a catcher or second baseman, struggled with injuries and failed to appear in a regular season game. Davis appeared in 58 games but was a huge disappointment by hitting just .256/.326/.326 with no home runs and just 17 RBI.

Up Next: The Toronto Blue Jays


Organizational Rankings: #1

And we reach the end – the healthiest organization in baseball.

Rankings So Far

#30: Washington Nationals
#29: Florida Marlins
#28: Houston Astros
#27: Kansas City Royals
#26: Pittsburgh Pirates
#25: San Diego Padres
#24: Cincinnati Reds
#23: Colorado Rockies
#22: Detroit Tigers
#21: St. Louis Cardinals
#20: Toronto Blue Jays
#19: San Francisco Giants
#18: Minnesota Twins
#17: Chicago White Sox
#16: Baltimore Orioles
#15: Seattle Mariners
#14: Philadelphia Phillies
#13: Los Angeles Dodgers
#12: Texas Rangers
#11: Oakland Athletics
#10: Los Angeles Angels
#9: Arizona Diamondbacks
#8: Atlanta Braves
#7: Chicago Cubs
#6: Milwaukee Brewers
#5: New York Mets
#4: Cleveland Indians
#3: New York Yankees
#2: Tampa Bay Rays

#1: Boston Red Sox

Ownership: A

There are lots of not-so-flattering stories about John Henry and Larry Lucchino that make the rounds, and given Henry’s involvement in the shady three way sale of the Red Sox/Marlins/Expos and Lucchino’s issues with Theo Epstein, they’re pretty easy to believe. However, those stories don’t undo the fact that Henry’s ownership group has breathed life into the Red Sox franchise – upgrading Fenway Park, adding new revenue streams, and investing in the team in ways that simply weren’t happening before. They flex their significant financial power every winter, and have leveraged the Red Sox brand to give them non-monetary advantages as well. They want to win, they back it up with significant capital, and they’ve built the Red Sox into a team that can sustain high level payrolls and make a profit.

Front Office: A

Theo Epstein gets a lot of credit for building the Red Sox roster, and he should, but more than that, he should get credit for building a front office that brings many different voices together. It’s far from a one man show in Boston. Allard Baird and Bill James, Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington, Tom Tippett and Craig Shipley – lots of voices with different ideas, all working for the same goal. The Red Sox aren’t just an organization of stat-nerds pushing their Ivy League degrees on people – they look for every advantage they can find, and will go to anywhere from Japan to the Independent Leagues to find talent. Having a significant amount of money certainly helps, but the Red Sox spend it well, and the results are a franchise that is run as well as any in baseball.

Major League Talent: A

The offense is going to be one of the best in the league. The starting rotation is strong and deep. The bullpen is even stronger and deeper. There are question marks about the roster, but they aren’t the kinds of fatal flaws that will sink a team. There’s depth behind the question marks, and so much excess pitching that swinging a deal to patch a hole won’t be particularly hard. The core of the team isn’t exactly young, but they don’t have any onerous contracts on the books that will keep them from reloading in future off-seasons, and the ’09 roster is certainly good enough to win right now.

Minor League Talent: B+

The system has more quantity than high level quality, with Lars Anderson as the elite prospect and then a bunch of good but not great prospects after him. Michael Bowden, Daniel Bard, and Josh Reddick are talented players but not likely to become stars. Junichi Tazawa opened some eyes in spring training, but questions about his role linger. Ryan Westmoreland, Michael Almanzar, Casey Kelly, Nick Hagadone and Ryan Kalish provide some long term hope. The farm system is good but not great, but when this is the weak spot of your organization, you’re doing a lot right.

Overall: A

Well capitalized owner who wants to win and invests in the product? Check
A cohesive front office that combines scouting and statistical analysis? Check.
A major league team that can win immediately and has pieces to build around? Check.
A minor league farm system that will replenish the major league roster? Check.

The Red Sox are the cream of the crop in baseball right now. There’s a reason players are taking discounts to sign with them, that they aren’t experiencing a brain drain in their front office, and that they win a lot of baseball games. They’ve built a baseball juggernaut, and it’s going to take some pretty large mistakes to bring down the Evil Empiore 2.0. Get used to the Red Sox winning, because it’s going to be a frequent theme going forward.


Organizational Rankings: #2

As we reach the top three, you’ve probably noticed that they’re all coming from the AL East. It really is remarkable how strong that division is. One of the three best teams in baseball isn’t going to make the playoffs this year, and probably for the next few years. These teams are all set up for long term success, and over the next few years, we could see the strongest division in the history of baseball.

Rankings So Far

#30: Washington Nationals
#29: Florida Marlins
#28: Houston Astros
#27: Kansas City Royals
#26: Pittsburgh Pirates
#25: San Diego Padres
#24: Cincinnati Reds
#23: Colorado Rockies
#22: Detroit Tigers
#21: St. Louis Cardinals
#20: Toronto Blue Jays
#19: San Francisco Giants
#18: Minnesota Twins
#17: Chicago White Sox
#16: Baltimore Orioles
#15: Seattle Mariners
#14: Philadelphia Phillies
#13: Los Angeles Dodgers
#12: Texas Rangers
#11: Oakland Athletics
#10: Los Angeles Angels
#9: Arizona Diamondbacks
#8: Atlanta Braves
#7: Chicago Cubs
#6: Milwaukee Brewers
#5: New York Mets
#4: Cleveland Indians
#3: New York Yankees

#2: Tampa Bay Rays

Ownership: C+

Since buying the team, Stuart Sternberg has completely changed the culture of the franchise. He instituted significant pro-fan initiatives such as free parking to help lure in an alienated fan base, put Andrew Friedman and Gerry Hunsicker in place to oversee a forward thinking baseball operations team, and began investing in the on field product. The Rays are never going to match Boston or New York in payroll, but TB is in a growth phase of their franchise – by putting on a quality product, they’re bringing people to the park, and the attendance surge will lead to expanded budgets. Their market will always make them compete on a budget, but they’ll be funded well enough to keep their team together.

Front Office: A+

Andrew Friedman and his gang have done tremendous work in putting this franchise back on it’s feet. The people who crow that they are living off of high draft picks from years of losing are just showing their ignorance. The front office has been brilliant at picking up quality role players, they’ve pieced together an elite bullpen from retreads and waiver claims, and the team’s best hitter was signed as a minor league free agent. They continually work to add depth to their organization, giving themselves multiple options to cover for injuries and unexpected declines in performance. They scout well, draft well, develop well, value their players correctly, and have locked up the core of their franchise to long term deals that add significant value to the franchise. The Rays are winning for a reason – this success is the residue of great planning and hard work.

Major League Talent: A

It’s really hard to find a weakness with this team. They’re the best defensive team in baseball. They supplemented their line-up by adding Pat Burrell to an already strong core of young hitters. Their rotation is excellent and deep. Their bullpen, while lacking a true proven closer, is full of good arms who get high leverage outs and preserve leads. Their backups could start on most MLB teams. The backups to the backups are even useful. They’re loaded with talent, most of it young, and there’s no reason to think that last yaer was a fluke. They’re a force to contend with both in 2009 and going forward.

Minor League Talent: A

Wade Davis, Desmond Jennings, and Reid Brignac would be a fantastic top three in any farm system. Most teams would kill to have a trio of guys that talented. And those guys aren’t even close to the team’s top spot, which is owned by David Price, the best pitching prospect in the game. Don’t forget last year’s #1 overall pick Tim Beckham. Or, the ridiculous pitching depth offered by Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Nick Barnese, and Kyle Lobstein. Just like the major league team, the system is deep and talented, and the waves of talent hitting Tampa aren’t going to end any time soon.

Overall: A

A smart front office, the best young group of major league talent in baseball, and a top notch farm system gives the franchise an embarrassment of riches. They don’t have room for all their quality players. Their depth is ridiculous, yet there are few weaknesses on the major league roster that could use an upgrade. The team’s revenue streams aren’t up there with the big boys, but their remarkable talent overcomes that limitation. The Rays are for real, and they’re going to put a contending team on the field for the next half decade at least.


The 13th Man Out

Last time I railed a bit on the act of carrying three dedicated catchers on a roster. Tonight, with real substantial baseball news still coming in at just a trickle as we lead up to the start of the regular season, I decided to continue the trend. This time, it’s not such a cut and dry case as I think the three catchers issue is. Tonight’s issue is the 12-man pitching staff.

I believe there are a number of circumstances where it is prudent to carry 12 pitchers. My beef is that seemingly every team does it all season long and that just screams wasted roster spot to me. One only needs to look through usage patterns to see the evidence; relievers going six or longer days between appearances, that is a surefire clue that there could be better uses for that roster slot.

Namely, it boils down to this; I think the game has evolved lately into a situation where managers are paranoid about treating each individual game as if it were totally independent. But it’s not, not on a usage level. What you do in one game does affect what your options are in the following. How many pitches does a reliever throw each time he gets warmed up? 20, 30? How many times does he make an appearance which involves less than that many pitches? My hunch would be a majority.

Why not just carry 11 pitchers and if you are facing a game after a particular heavy usage day, just swap one or two out with the best available Triple-A relievers for a short while. They’re RP, and not dominant ones even, they’re almost the baseball definition of fungible assets.

Managers seem too cavalier to me in making pitching changes to try and extract the greatest possible match ups at that particular moment. Of course, that sounds good, right? And it is good, if usage was independent from game to game, but it’s not. And endless pitching changes to eek out an extra percent or two of favorability on a single pitcher-batter battle is focusing on the micro level and missing that if you relaxed your standards in that regard, perhaps you would be able to go with an 11-man staff and thus carry another bench bat which can provide you with a greater total contribution.

This specific topic, and roster maximization in general, makes for a fantastic area of research that in time I plan to get around to analyzing with hard numbers, but for now I just wanted to present something that sticks out to me every March as Opening Day rosters get set. What are your thoughts?


Organizational Rankings: #3

As we reach the top three, you’ve probably noticed that they’re all coming from the AL East. It really is remarkable how strong that division is. One of the three best teams in baseball isn’t going to make the playoffs this year, and probably for the next few years. These teams are all set up for long term success, and over the next few years, we could see the strongest division in the history of baseball.

Rankings So Far

#30: Washington Nationals
#29: Florida Marlins
#28: Houston Astros
#27: Kansas City Royals
#26: Pittsburgh Pirates
#25: San Diego Padres
#24: Cincinnati Reds
#23: Colorado Rockies
#22: Detroit Tigers
#21: St. Louis Cardinals
#20: Toronto Blue Jays
#19: San Francisco Giants
#18: Minnesota Twins
#17: Chicago White Sox
#16: Baltimore Orioles
#15: Seattle Mariners
#14: Philadelphia Phillies
#13: Los Angeles Dodgers
#12: Texas Rangers
#11: Oakland Athletics
#10: Los Angeles Angels
#9: Arizona Diamondbacks
#8: Atlanta Braves
#7: Chicago Cubs
#6: Milwaukee Brewers
#5: New York Mets
#4: Cleveland Indians

#3: New York Yankees

Ownership: A+

Say what you will about the Steinbrenner’s, but the Yankees enjoy a monstrous financial advantage over the rest of baseball due in large part to the way they have expanded the Yankee brand. The creation of YES Network gave them a significant revenue stream that other teams simply couldn’t match, and while they had an inherent advantage thanks to the history of the franchise, they have capitalized on that legacy more than any other team. The Yankees can literally spend any dollar figure they want on the team and still be profitable. Money just isn’t an issue in the Bronx, and that gives them a sustainable advantage that essentially ensures their competitiveness on a yearly basis.

Front Office: B+

Brian Cashman doesn’t get enough credit for the things he’s done right in New York. Yes, the payroll gives their baseball operations department room to make mistakes that no other franchise could live with, but he’s continually targeted the highest quality of players. He’s also redirected significant cash back into the farm system to develop home grown talent, and he’s shown that he’s an adept trader when he needs to add a piece to the puzzle. The money obviously helps, but Cashman is a good GM, and the Yankees are run well.

Major League Talent: A

With expenditures on major league talent approaching $250 million (including luxury tax payments), it shouldn’t be a surprise that they have a lot of good players. I don’t even have to name them all – we all know who the players on their roster are. The offense is terrific, the rotation is excellent and deep, and the bullpen still has Mariano Rivera. The team lacks depth on the infield and has too many outfielders, but that should be a relatively easy problem to fix. The core of the team isn’t young, but the team always has enough salary obligations opening up to be a premier spending in free agency, so that’s less of an issue than it would be for other organizations.

Minor League Talent: C+

Again, thanks to the financial advantage the Yankees have, the fact that they don’t have a great minor league system isn’t that big of a deal. Jesus Montero has a great bat, but he’s not a catcher in any way, shape, or form. Austin Jackson is a solid prospect who looks like a good bet to be an average to slightly above center fielder. Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman have high ceilings and come with lots of risk. Besides Montero and maybe Jackson, most of the position players in the system are trade bait, as they probably aren’t good enough to start for the Yankees, so they’ll be shipped off for a major league player who is. It’s just the nature of the Bronx Beast.

Overall: A

When you outspend everyone else by close to $100 million, it’s hard not to win. The Yankees have done a fantastic job of creating a revenue model that works better than any other franchise in any sport, and they’re reaping the rewards of that advantage. Unless MLB intervenes and adds a third franchise into New York, it’s hard to see them ever going through a sustained down period. They are the Wal-Mart of baseball, and the machine is basically unstoppable. Love them or hate them, they aren’t going anywhere.