Archive for July, 2009

Rolen to Cincy

Man-crushes can die hard. Reds’ GM Walt Jocketty has swapped Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Roenicke and Zachary Stewart for Scott Rolen. This is the second time Jocketty has traded for Rolen, but now under very different circumstances.

The Reds playoff hopes are nil, and this isn’t the same Scott Rolen of old. Granted, he’s hitting much closer to the Rolen of old with a .320/.370/.476 line, but that’s largely inflated by his .347 BABIP. Even with some falling off, Rolen still is an above average hitter at his position. His defense is no longer Brooks Robinson-esque, but he’s still slick with the leather – his UZR/150 last season was 8.5, this season 8.

Rolen is due around $20 million, including the rest of this year and the next, and reportedly Toronto is going to foot a portion of the bill. For the Reds’ sake let’s hope it is a good piece of the contract. Rolen is a moderately safe bet to be worth 2.5-3 WAR next year, and has upside to be worth 3.5-4 if he can stay healthy. That’s a big if. In the process, the Reds give up cheap players.

Edwin Encarnacion is due to make $4.75 million next year. With the stick, he’s fine, with the leather, he’s terrible – he’s been a career -12 UZR per 150 and is -23 per 150 this season. He’s probably a 1.5 win player next year, making his contract pretty fair.

Josh Roenicke looks like a decent middle reliever who will be glad to get off the Louisville-Cincinnati shuttle. His fastball has some giddyup and he throws a solid cutter as well.

Zachary Stewart is the “get” of the trade. He has a 92-95 MPH fastball with good sink and a hard cutting 82-85 MPH slider. He’s quickly climbed the ladder, pitching at High-A, Double-A and now Triple-A this season, and has a cumulative 2.92 FIP in 92 innings pitched. He pitched mostly out of the bullpen last year but is showing some good promise as a starter. He’s a solid B grade pitcher.

Rolen doesn’t make the Reds a contender next year, and he certainly doesn’t make them one this year. He’s a good player, but I just can’t understand this from Cincy’s perspective. Toronto must be be ponying up a lot of cash. Even if they are, I still can’t quite wrap my head around this.


Peavy to the White Sox (For Real This Time)

Jake Peavy has been traded to the Chicago White Sox for the second time this season. Unlike last time, Peavy has waived his no-trade clause to complete the transaction. San Diego gets four arms and Chicago gets a recovering Peavy with a torn ankle tendon. Back in May, Dave covered the Peavy aspect of a potential deal, but this was prior to his injury which could leave him sidelined for the remainder of the season. Most of what Dave wrote then still applies now, so rather than rehashing arguments of the past, let’s look at the eight-armed monster San Diego acquired in return .

Baseball America ranked Aaron Poreda as the White Sox’s best pitching prospect entering the season. A first round pick out in 2007, the 6’6” southpaw throws a hard fastball that can reach the upper-90s, a power slider, and your garden variety change-up. He made his major league debut earlier this season and has worked out of the pen for the White Sox 10 games, striking out 12 in 11 innings and walking 8. To date he’s torn Triple-A Charlotte up, generating 15.2% whiffs as a starter. If that isn’t appealing enough, he also produces a large number of groundballs.

BA listed Clayton Richard as the White Sox third best prospect entering the season. He’s another tall left-handed starter but unlike Poreda doesn’t feature a blazing fastball or powerful breaking pitch. Instead, Richard works in the low-90s with a sinking fastball and mixes a change-up, slider, and occasional cut-fastball into the strike zone. In 136 big league innings, Richard has a 4.28 FIP and has thrown 58% first pitch strikes. He attacks the zone and works quickly.

Adam Russell has worked exclusively out of the bullpen the past two seasons, including 22 appearances for the big league team last season. He was solid, working with a strong fastball that sat at 95, two breaking pitch offerings, and a seldom used change. Russell is 6’8” and throws from a number of arm slots, as you can see here:

russellreleasepoints

Finally we reach 6’6” righty Dexter Carter. A college arm, Carter’s fastball touches the upper-90s and his low-minors numbers are flat out insane; striking out 232 batters in 186 innings and walking only 57. So much for control issues at this point, huh?

The Padres seemed to get a nice return on a guy who they tried dealing two months ago for basically the same thing. Somehow Kenny Williams didn’t mind the injury or the fact that Peavy is becoming less of a bargain by the day and gave Kevin Towers and company four live arms resting on four giants.

The Padres would have to field the tallest rotation in history if Chris Young, Poreda, Richard, and one (or both) of Russell/Carter make it, right?


LaRoche Traded Again

We really needed a clean one-for-one swap that featured players of the same position. Thankfully Boston and Atlanta answered the call, giving us Adam LaRoche for Casey Kotchman.

LaRoche heads back to Atlanta after a few days in Boston and two and a half years in Pittsburgh. His wOBA is an average .328, but he should hit a little better down the stretch as his BABIP recoups to normal LaRoche levels. He’s a touch below average defensively and if nothing else gives the Braves a left-handed bat, but they aren’t gaining much, if any, value here because of LaRoche’s pending free agency.

Kotchman on the other hand is under team control for an additional two seasons. Essentially, Boston traded a third of a season of LaRoche for two additional seasons of Kotchman and the two are basically equals. LaRoche hits a bit better, Kotchman fields better, but at the end of the day they look almost exactly alike in the WAR column.

Presumably Kotchman plays the bench role that LaRoche would’ve, and allows Mike Lowell, Victor Martinez, or even Kevin Youkilis to be lifted or swapped around if needed.

Maybe Bobby Cox doesn’t like Kotchman or Frank Wren wanted to add some left-handed pop, but this is basically a tit-for-tat deal, and tat is a free agent at the end of the season. Unless there’s something beyond the surface here, I’m not really sure I get the move for the Braves.


Martinez To Boston

The Red Sox were clearly not content with a roster that is already among baseball’s best – they wanted to upgrade, and they were willing to kick the tires on every all-star that might be available. The one they landed on, Victor Martinez, is a great fit for their roster.

Martinez can catch when Varitek isn’t, can play first when Lowell needs a day off, or can DH when Francona wants to give David Ortiz a breather. By adding Martinez to the C/1B/DH rotation, the Red Sox can essentially platoon Ortiz/Lowell/Varitek, giving them a constant platoon advantage and keeping the older legs fresh. Versatility and depth are often very useful in a playoff series, and the Red Sox now have that in spades.

The price to acquire Martinez hasn’t been officially solidified yet, but it sounds like its headed by Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone. The Red Sox had held off on trading Masterson for several years now, but finally found a player they deemed worthy of giving up the right-handed sinkerball specialist.

For the Indians, Masterson is the kind of major league ready arm they needed to move Martinez. He should slide right into their rotation and help imrpove their run prevention immediately. As a groundball and strikeout guy, Masterson’s upside is something like Gil Meche. He doesn’t have the knockout secondary pitches to be an ace, but he profiles as a solid middle of the rotation starter. I’m a fan, and Cleveland should be happy to have picked him up in the deal.

Hagadone is more of a risk/reward guy, a big arm strength lefty who has already had Tommy John surgery and is working his way back to full health. He’s been used as both a reliever and a starter, but Boston always projected his stuff to work in the rotation if he could stay healthy. He’s a couple of years from the majors, but power LHPs with a chance to stick as starters are valuable commodities.

From Cleveland’s perspective, they get two good young arms, one of whom can step right into their rotation. That makes this a win, even if dealing Martinez away hurts their offense quite a bit. From Boston’s perspective, they dealt from depth that they could afford to lose in order to get an all-star caliber player who fits perfectly into their roster.

This is a win-win. Good deal for both clubs.


The Twins Acquire Orlando Cabrera

The Twins picked up shortstop Orlando Cabrera from the As, looking to solidify their middle infield as they chase the Tigers and fend off the White Sox in hopes of a AL Central title.

Cabrera replaces Nick Punto at short for the Twins, a major offensive upgrade. Cabrera has a rest of the season ZIPS projected wOBA of .316, while Punto a meager .287. Over the maybe 200 at-bats he will get this is a 5 run upgrade. Calculating the difference in defense is a little tougher. Cabrera’s UZR has been very bad this year, but UZR is prone to rather large fluctuations. It is better to just use his career numbers, +5 UZR/150, as our best guess for him going forward. Over Punto’s career he is a +15 UZR/150 shortstop, but that is over only 1.5 seasons, not really enough to be confident. Plus he is only a +3 UZR/150 second baseman. Combining those and regressing our best guess is that he is around a +7.5 UZR/150 shortstop. So the difference is fielding is probably less than a run over only 50 games.

EDIT: It looks like I was wrong here. The Twins are going to shift Punto to second and Brendan Harris to the bench. So Cabrera’s offense replaces Harris’ and Punto defense at second replaces Harris’. Harris has a projected wOBA of .296, so Cabrera’s .316 over 200 PAs should be worth 3.5 runs. I think Harris is probably about -5 run defender at second while Punto something like a +5 run defender. Over 50 games this is another 3 runs. So over all probably still about half a win. Thanks to the commenters for pointing this out.

All told this is about a half a win gain for Twins, not an insignificant number in the thick of a playoff race. Cabrera does not have any value beyond that. His contract says he cannot be offered arbitration, so he will not be any worth picks if the Twins do not resign him. Last year Cabrera was a Type A free agent and he felt, rightly, that status depressed his value, so he included this clause in his current contract.

The Twins gave up their 2008 second round pick, 21 year old shortstop Tyler Ladendorf. Ladendorf had a great 74 plate apperances in rookie ball with an OPS over 1.2, but has had a tough 65 at-bats since being promoted to A ball, with an OPS of 0.559. He fell just outside of John Sickels top 20 Twins prospects, but Sickels likes him thinking he has the tools to stay at short.

I like the deal. The Twins are exactly the type of team, in tight contention for a playoff spot, who should be dealing. Thus even half a win is quite valuable to them. Cabrera’s contract limited his value, because he cannot be offered arbitration, so the As did a nice job getting something of value for him.


Halladay’s Stuff

The big name we will hear a lot today either because he is or is not traded is Roy Halladay. Dave Cameron broke down his value and if he is traded we will have analysis of the trade here. Until then I thought it would be cool to look at his stuff.

For the past two years he has had five strikeouts for every walk and over half of his balls in play have been groundballs, amazing. Here are the pitches he does it with.

halladay_pitches

Interestingly his pitch proportions against RHBs and LHBs are quite similar. He throws a lot more changeups against lefites, but the proportions for his other pitches are very close.

 
+-------------------+------+------+
|                   | vRHB | vLHB |
+-------------------+------+------+
| Two-Seam Fastball | 0.34 | 0.31 |
| Cutter            | 0.39 | 0.43 |
| Curveball         | 0.26 | 0.20 |
| Changeup          | 0.01 | 0.06 |
+-------------------+------+------+

His cutter and curveball are both amazing, worth 1.5 and 2 runs above average per 100 over his career, respectively. The cutter’s worth comes from his ability to get it in the zone over 60% of the time while still getting a healthy number of whiffs (14%) and a good amount of GBs (48%). His curveball is a whiff-machine, it has the third highest whiff-rate of any curveball in the game this year 39%, while still being in the zone 44% of the time, fairly high for a curveball. His two-seam fastball, is also very good worth about half a run over 100 pitches. It gets most of its value because it induces 65% groundballs per ball in play. Tons of strikes, tons of groundballs, and a fair number of whiffs, what more could one ask for?

Combine those two amazing pitches with one very good one and you have one of the greatest pitchers in the game.


Washburn To Detroit

Over the last 24 hours, as rumors circulated that the Mariners were leaning towards hanging onto Jarrod Washburn, the collective Seattle fanbase prepared for another trade deadline disaster. We were used to those, after all.

However, we can unplug our noses and breathe again, because Jarrod Washburn has been traded to the Detroit Tigers for Luke French and Mauricio Robles.

As a Mariner fan, this trade makes me want to jump up and down and hug someone. The M’s turned a 35-year-old lefty strike throwing flyballer who is due $3.5 million over the rest of the season and then becomes an expensive free agent into a 24-year-old lefty strike thrwoing flyballer who is due $0 over the rest of the year and won’t be a free agent until after 2015. And they got a 20-year-old lefty with huge strikeout numbers in A-ball to boot.

French isn’t going to be an ace, but let’s be honest, neither is Washburn. His value is entirely tied to an ERA that is, quite simply, a fluke. His 2.64 ERA is more than a run lower than his 3.75 FIP… and his FIP is deflated by an unsustainable 6.4% HR/FB rate. In reality, Washburn has pitched like a guy who deserves an ERA more like 4.4, but thanks to the wonders of good defense, a ballpark perfectly suited to his skills, and some good luck, he has the appearance of something more than a back-end starter.

A back-end starter, though, is exactly what he is. The addition of a sinker and confidence in his big slow breaking ball have allowed him to marginally improve this year, but the step up is in small percentages, not large gains. Tigers fans wondering what to expect from Washburn should be thinking a mid-4s ERA, as long as you put some good defenders behind him on days he pitches.

Worse for Detroit, Washburn is a Type B free agent, but offering him arbitration would be borderline insane. Coming off a career year, with a previous $10 million salary, he’d easily get $14 or $15 million if taken to arbitration, and he’s probably not even worth half that as a free agent. So, while the Tigers give up a couple of interesting young arms for a rental, they won’t even get draft pick compensation when he leaves this winter.

Mariner fans are rejoicing for good reason. They just moved an overvalued asset for a couple of interesting, cheap young pitchers. This is a great trade for Seattle. Detroit? I think you’re about to be disappointed by what you acquired.


Getting Nothing Dunn

Today is deadline day, and as Chris Needham points out so well, the Nationals have been quiet. Too quiet.

Apparently the Nats are so loaded with talent and potential for the coming years that they don’t need to make a change. At least that’s how you could read it considering all the moves they haven’t made and how two-thirds of the league’s players have seemingly changed hands.

The Nationals are on their way to losing well over 100 games this season and even the most die-hard idealist isn’t expecting them contend anytime soon. Their attendance is one of the worst in baseball despite their nifty new facilities. Let’s face it; the team may as well be back in Canada for all Washington fans care at the moment. They have one thing in the world to look forward to as fans: Signing Stephen Strasburg. So why are the Nats not in full blown fire-sale mode, a la Pittsburgh? They have some assets.

Needham pointed out a few, including Nick Johnson and Josh Willingham. Johnson is healthy this season and still gets on base at a high clip. ZiPS projects Johnson to produce a robust .380 wOBA the rest of the season. He’s going to be a Type B free agent, meaning you can buy Nick Johnson and he comes with the added bonus of a draft pick. Not much not to like.

Josh Willingham is quietly having a fantastic season, putting together a .300/.410/.586 line. Bear in mind his batting average is nearly thirty points higher than his career standard, but Willingham has been a consistently productive hitter, with a career .372 wOBA. He picked a great time to have a career year, as he’ll be arbitration eligible for the second time this off-season, making him due for a raise.

But what about Adam Dunn? Why is no one talking about him? The Prophet of the Three True Outcomes Cult is putting together yet another strong offensive season, posting a .407 wOBA. Granted, he’s been downright grisly in left field (-12) UZR, but there has to be a contending team out there with a 1B/DH on their wish list. Matt Holliday, Dunn is not, but he’d bring comparable offensive production, just keep the Big Donkey away from the outfield.

The only stumbling block I can see that would deter a team from trading for Dunn is that he has 1 year, $12 million left on his contract after the season. While that might not be ideal for some buyers, in view of the fact that he’ll most likely be a 3-4 win player next year, that’s really not all that exorbitant.

The Nationals are a terrible team with a rather weak farm system. They need all the extra dough they can scrape up just to sign Strasburg, and more talent than the Zimmerman(n)s and Derek Norris to build around their future ace. It’s a quarter to midnight, Mr. Rizzo. Do the team’s future GM a favor and don’t just keep his seat warm. Give him or her a head start at rebuilding this mess.

updated: I stand corrected, Johnson is just short of Type B status. He’s still a decent trading chip, though.


Pirates Trade John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny

Nobody can accuse Neal Huntington of being inactive. In the past few weeks Huntington has turned these guys:

Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett, Eric Hinske, Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Ian Snell, Freddy Sanchez, Tom Gorzelanny, and John Grabow

Into these guys:

Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, Gorkys Hernandez, Lastings Milledge, Joel Hanrahan, Eric Fryer, Casey Erickson, Argenis Diaz, Hunter Strickland, Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno, Nathan Adcock, Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, Tim Alderson, Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, and Josh Harrison

Let’s focus on the last few names on each list for this post.

Grabow is a lefty who fares decently against batters of both hands and generates quite a few grounders. He’ll qualify for free agency following this season and the likelihood of the Pirates re-signing a decent but not great reliever is pretty low. He should fit in the Cubs pen fine and well.

Gorzelanny would’ve been eligible for arbitration following this season, but he’s spent all but eight innings worth in the minors. With a few solid seasons under his belt, Gorzelanny struggled last year, but he’s dominated Triple-A, striking out 85 in 87 innings. He’s a lefty who works off his fastball and breaking stuff while mixing some changes in as well. It’s easy to see Gorzelanny in a starter or reliever capacity for the Cubs down the road.

Hart headlines the Pirates return. Baseball America ranked Hart as the Cubs sixth best prospect entering the season. He’s appeared in 36 games for the Cubs over the last three years, starting only three of them, which has resulted in a 4.32 FIP to date. His command has been much better in the minors and he’s pitching well in Triple-A for the third consecutive year. He throws a fastball in the low-90s, a cutter, curve, and every once and a while, a change. Like Gorzelanny, Hart will report to Triple-A.

Ascanio is a relief arm who gets by on his mid-90s fastball and change-up. He gets swings and misses and could join the Pirates bullpen immediately.

Harrison is a 2008 draftee from the University of Cincinnati. His tools are questionable but his numbers have been decent to date. A college second baseman, Harrison is only 5’8” and plays all over the diamond; second and third base as well as the outfield. He doesn’t walk or strike out a lot.

Back to the Pirates trades as a whole, I ran the math for service time. Without including 2009’s service time, the Pirates have traded 28 years worth of team control time for 95 years worth. Obviously not every player acquired is going to reach the majors or be attractive enough to keep through their first six years, but wow, talk about adding some depth.


The 2003 List Gets More Public

Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz had their names leaked this morning as being part of the list of MLB players that tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003 during what was supposed to be a secret test conducted by Major League Baseball to find out the extent of the problem. They are not the first, proceeded by Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez among others. For Ortiz’s part, he did confirm that he was informed that he was on the list.

Ortiz was supposed to be one of those names that would elicit a big reaction from the baseball fandom at large. Roughly 12 hours after the news first started breaking, it seems that the expected reaction amongst fans is far more tepid that the one the media forecasted. Big surprise there as it certainly appears that fans, for the most part, simply do not care anymore. Ortiz did not let the media storm deter him from leading the Red Sox comeback win over Oakland in Boston today.

I am not writing to discuss what should be done about the 2004 record books, or anything like that. It is my, unsubstantiated, belief that a large portion of baseball (and football and basketball and and and…) players were juicing in some form or another. And that includes pitchers as well as hitters before you start mouthing off about how home run records from the era all need to be asterisked.

I did want to point out though that probably the best result for MLB at this point would be if that entire 2003 list was leaked at once. That way the media could handle it all in one news cycle and be done with it instead of names getting floated out piecemeal every couple of months to start the story anew. Of course, MLB itself cannot just release the list as per conditions of getting players to agree to the test in the first place, but I wonder if there is not a way for MLB to engineer a way for the list to become public knowledge while avoiding liability.

Whatever happens, I am glad that the reactions that I have been reading and hearing since the news broke has mostly been one of uncaring. Let us move on already.


John Smoltz and ERA

All the Roy Halladay to Boston talk is centered around a line that goes something like this: “Off-season signings Brad Penny and John Smoltz have disappointed. Smoltz especially with a 7.04 ERA and 1-4 record…”

Ignore the ERA and record, John Smoltz is fine. In 30 innings Smoltz has walked 5 and struck 28 out. Yeah, he’s given up a few home runs too, but his FIP is a steady 3.61 (3.82 xFIP) and tRA has him at 3.94 (4.81 tRA*) meaning he’s not giving up only sharply hit line drives. Still yet, his BABIP is .394 and his strand rate is 57.6%

Smoltz has had three starts with 5+ earned runs allowed, but look at the gamelogs from those games:

6/25: 5 IP, 7 H, 0 HR, 3 FB, 9 GB, 5 LD
7/6: 6 IP, 10 H, 0 HR, 7 FB, 13 GB, 4 LD
7/20: 5.2 IP, 9 H, 3 HR, 11 FB, 7 GB, 3 LD
7/26: 5 IP, 9 H, 1 HR, 7 FB, 5 GB, 5 LD

All total: 21.2 IP, 35 H, 4 HR, 28 FB, 34 GB, 17 LD. The results don’t seem to meet the processes. Allowing more hits than usual is nothing new for this year’s Red Sox team. They lead the league in BABIP against. A little over 32% of balls put into play result in hits. The next highest team is the Diamondbacks at 31.2%. Until someone produces evidence otherwise, I’m going to notch Smoltz’ BABIP up to a porous defense rather than a new found ability to throw watermelons 90 miles per hour.

The Red Sox are interested in Halladay because it’s Roy Halladay, not because John Smoltz or Brad Penny are pitching poorly.


Dodgers Acquire George Sherrill

Ned Colletti couldn’t come up with Cliff Lee so instead, today he adds a different southpaw pitcher in the form of George Sherrill; in the process giving up prospects in the form of third baseman Joshua Bell and right-handed pitcher Steve Johnson.

For now, Sherrill becomes the third lefty in the Dodgers pen – joining Hong-Chih Kuo and Brent Leach – but you would have to expect Sherrill to step into a role similar to Kuo’s of last season. The trade ends Sherrill’s year and two-thirds run as the Orioles closer. Sherrill posted impressive numbers this season, but he’s absolutely death to left-handed batters. In 50 plate appearances this year lefties have an OPS against of .356; in 72 plate appearances last year an OPS of .535; and in 106 plate appearances in 2006 an OPS of .529. Sherrill throws a fastball in the high-80s/low-90s along with a slider that sits in the mid-70s and generates a fair amount of whiffs.

In Bell, the Orioles receive a 22-year-old switch-hitting third baseman with impressive power potential. His ISO in Double-A this season is .203, but there are some questions as to whether he’s going to stick at third for the long haul or move to a corner – either first or left/right field. Bell has had issues with strikeouts in the past which reached their apex in 2008. His walk rate has grown impressive and his strikeout numbers are down for this year, so he’s definitely an interesting player to watch for in the next few years.

Johnson is a right-handed starter with impressive numbers who has split the year between High and Double A. His numbers are pretty impressive, striking out 117 in about 107 innings so far, but his stuff rates just above average. His control and command seem to be pretty good and whatever he’s doing, whether deception or otherwise, has worked to date.

The two seem like a nice coup by the Orioles in exchange for a two years and a third of Sherrill as they continue to build with impressive young talent.


Three Lefty Playoff Rotation

The Phillies acquired Cliff Lee yesterday with the eye on the playoffs, they are six games up in NL East and by at least these estimates have over an 81% chance of reaching the post season. So I thought I would look to a potential Philly playoff berth. With Lee, their potential playoff rotation looks like:

Cole Hamels, LHP
Cliff Lee, LHP
Joe Blanton, RHP
J.A. Happ or Jamie Moyer, both LHPs

This is three-lefties-one-righty rotation is all the more interesting in light of the potential righty-heavy lineups they could face. Dave noted that the Cardinals have a very righty-heavy lineup, and the Giants only have one lefty in their regular lineup now that Ryan Garko replaced Travis Ishikawa. On the face of it this could present Philly with a real problem, but let’s look at these lefties’ career platoon splits.

 Career OPS against
+--------+----------+----------+
|        | OPS vRHB | OPS vLHB |
+--------+----------+----------+
| Hamels |    0.698 |    0.716 |
| Lee    |    0.737 |    0.710 |
| Happ   |    0.711 |    0.651 |
| Moyer  |    0.741 |    0.764 |
+--------+----------+----------+

Hamels has a devastating changeup, a pitch that generally does not show a platoon split, as a result Hamels has a reverse platoon split.

Cliff Lee, with a good changeup and curveball another pitch with no platoon split, has shown only a modest platoon split over his career.

Happ, on the other hand, has a quite large platoon split, which he had in the minors too (0.678 vRHB and 0.622 vLHB). It is backed up by his pitch usage which is very fastball heavy, with almost no curves and few changeups.

Moyer is an interesting case, over his career he has had a reverse platoon split on the strength of his good changeup and curveball. This year, though, he has a very drastic split in the other direction (0.885 OPS against RHB and 0.700 against LHB). Normally I would write this off as noise, but as I noted in this post Moyer is throwing many fewer changeups and curves this year and many more two-seam fastballs, which have a large platoon split. If he keeps this pitch breakdown going forward I would assume his split will stay like it has been this year.

All told I don’t think it should be much of a concern. Lee and Hamels are both great pitchers who do better or just marginally worse against RHBs, so I don’t think the Phillies should worry about facing righty-heavy lineups in the playoffs.


Reds Add Wlad

Big trades ruled the day yesterday. A minor deal that flew under the radar was the Reds buying low on Wladimir Balentien, having acquired him from Seattle for right-handed reliever Robert Manuel. M’s fans had to be hoping for a better return than a 26-year old reliever who recently broke into the big leagues. Manuel has notable minor league numbers but has done it with guile and pedestrian stuff.

Balentien’s descend from grace has been pretty dramatic. In 2008, Balentien was considered to be one of the better prospects in all of baseball. He just missed the cut on Baseball America’s Top 100 and the tough-grading John Sickels gave him a B+ grade. Balentien was coming off a season in which he hit .291/.362/.509 as a 22-year old in Triple-A, having shown improvement in pitch recognition after formerly being a hacker of the highest order. His minor league success didn’t translate to big league success. He was shuttled back and forth between Tacoma and Seattle last year and after posting a .269 wOBA in 434 major league plate appearances, Balentien was out of options and Jack Z. was out of patience. Wladimir was designated for assignment.

Yesterday, here and all over the blogosphere you read a lot of snap judgments as to what teams won what trade based on the package of prospects they were getting in return. I think Balentien illustrates that prospect grading will never be a perfect science, and even those who are considered to be very good prospects still have high rates of attrition. I for one love the snap judgments and make them myself based on scouting reports, the research that we have and by my own gut. But we won’t really know who won these trades until a few years from now.


Freddy Sanchez for… Who?! Seriously?

One of the most enjoyable parts of writing for a site like Fangraphs is “hearing” the banter between writers behind the scenes. After news broke of the Pittsburgh-San Francisco deal that saw second baseman Freddy Sanchez head from the Pirates to the Giants, these comments were made from some of Fangraphs’ finest:

“What the hell?”

“The best pitching prospect of the day doesn’t get traded for Cliff Lee, but for Freddy Sanchez. Awesome. Nice job, Cleveland.”

“My lord, Sabean, what are you doing?”

Just when you thought it was safe to love San Francisco prospects again, general manager Brian Sabean tossed away the club’s second best pitching prospect for an injury-prone, veteran second baseman in his free agent year (although he has an $8 million option that is way too high). Oh, and the Giants organization just gave away its third best pitching prospect (Scott Barnes) to the Indians for a league-average first baseman. Madison Bumgarner is suddenly very, very lonely.

Alderson is just 20 years old and he’s holding his own in double-A. The 6’6′ right-hander also has above-average command and control for his age. He can throw in the low-90s and has a plus curveball and a developing changeup. In 13 double-A starts, Alderson allowed 76 hits in 72.2 innings of work, while posting a walk rate of just 1.73 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 5.70 K/9 (which will no doubt rise as he gains experience). The 22nd pick of the 2007 draft had hit a rough patch lately with three straight “meh” starts, but, again, he’s 20 years old and pitching in double-A with exceptional command and control for his age.

Sanchez is currently hitting .296/.334/.442 with six homers and five stolen bases in 355 at-bats. The 31-year-old could slot into the No. 2 hole in the lineup for San Francisco. Defensively, he plays a solid but unspectacular second base, which will help fill a season-long hole for the Giants. Sanchez definitely has an edge on defense, but is his offense really that much better than current second baseman Juan Uribe’s triple-slash line of .284/.314/.431? Is the slight offensive edge plus Sanchez’ glove really worth Alderson?

Sanchez is a nice complementary player, but he definitely should not have cost an A-level pitching prospect. In five years, this (panic?) trade is going to hurt.

P.S. The Pirates just got more value for Sanchez than Ricciardi could drum up for Halladay. That has to burn.


Yankees Snag Jason Hirsh

The Yankees made a move for a pitcher today. Not Roy Halladay or Jarrod Washburn, but instead the Rockies Jason Hirsh. Acquired for the cost of a player to be named later, Hirsh is only two seasons removed from Baseball America ranking him as one of the 50 best prospects in baseball. At the time, Hirsh was fresh to the Rockies scene. Acquired in the Jason Jennings deal, Hirsh snapped a power fastball and good breaking pitches from his 6’8” frame.

Hirsh has since suffered through a number of injuries. A broken right fibula and sprained right ankle cost him more than four months in 2007 and rotator cuff inflammation sidelined him for nearly as long in 2008. In between visits to the trainer’s table, Hirsh pitched in a little over 100 innings with the Rockies, posting a FIP over 5.

As an extreme fly ball pitcher, Hirsh gets his fair share of home runs hit against him. Hirsh pitching in New Yankee Stadium against the AL East is about the worst combination possible. For the time being the Yankees are simply throwing Hirsh into a minor league rotation. Maybe they try him as the long reliever at some point down the road – Brett Tomko was designated for assignment to clear room for Hirsh – but it’s hard to envision Hirsh getting more than a throwaway start this year.

As for the Rockies return; who knows. Hirsh certainly didn’t hold much value for them, and if nothing else it could free up a 40-man roster spot for another acquisition.


The End of the Big Unit?

The Associated Press noted today that an exam on Randy Johnson’s throwing shoulder Monday revealed some tearing in his rotator cuff. Johnson, who already had not played since July 5th when he hurt the shoulder batting of all things, was moved to the 60-day disabled list making him eligible to return September 5th.

It is unclear at this point how major the tearing is, but obviously any tearing in the rotator cuff is not a good sign. Surgery was apparently discussed and decided against at this point, likely in the hopes that Johnson can come back and pitch a bit in September should the Giants still be in the playoff race.

It is worth noting that Johnson this year has managed to remain close to his old self. The strikeouts are down, the walks up, but his real downfall has been a spike in home run rate. All that said, though, his xFIP of 3.83 and tRA* of 4.40 both show him to be better than league average still.

What is even more unclear is Johnson’s future. Surgery of any type would seem likely to cut into his availability for 2010 and the rehab for a 45-year-old would be tougher than usual. Could this mark the end of Randy Johnson’s Major League career? I certainly hope not and hopefully we get some more information in the coming weeks as to the extent of the injury.


Cliff Lee To Philadelphia

Ruben Amaro has taken a lot of crap from the sabermetric community since stepping into the role of Phillies GM. He just built himself a really huge wall today, though, with the outstanding acquisition of Cliff Lee. Amazingly enough, he was able to get one of the game’s best pitchers without surrendering any of his highly coveted talents.

Instead of giving up J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek, and Dominic Brown or Michael Taylor to get Roy Halladay, Amaro managed to hang onto all four and get Lee instead. This is simply a fantastic deal for the Phillies, who add a frontline starter for 2009 and 2010 without giving up any players that were going to help their team in the short term.

Lee, you know about – last year’s AL Cy Young winner, he reinvented himself and has sustained his excellence this year as an All-Star caliber LHP. The Phillies hold a no-brainer club option for 2010 at just $9 million, making him a massive bargain. He’s a top shelf starting pitcher making a fraction of his value and without a long term commitment required. He’s an extremely valuable asset.

To get him, they gave up a good teenage arm currently on the DL with shoulder problems in Jason Knapp, a solid pitching prospect that is a lower risk/lower upside guy in Carlos Carrasco, and decent-but-not-great infield prospects in SS/2B Jason Donald and catcher Lou Marson.

Put simply, the Indians should have done better than this or just kept Lee. For a +5 win pitcher, they got quantity over quality, and all four of the guys they acquired come with pretty significant question marks. Carrasco’s probably the best prospect of the bunch (his upside is lower than Knapp’s, but the risk is much, much lower), but none of these guys are premium, high value guys.

Sorry Cleveland – you got hosed here. This is just not a good deal for the Indians in any way, shape, or form. Ruben Amaro just cleaned Mark Shapiro’s clock on this trade.


Site Status

Unfortunately, I was not well enough prepared for the trade deadline this season and the server FanGraphs is running on couldn’t quite take the traffic load. Sometime tonight FanGraphs will be down for approximately 30 minutes for server upgrades which will hopefully allow for a much smoother running FanGraphs. Thanks for your patience!


The Seattle-Pittsburgh Deal

It’s no secret that I’m both a Mariner fan and an Ian Snell fan, as I’ve been lobbying for the M’s to acquire the guy from Pittsburgh for the last two months. I laid my reasons for liking Snell at the time, and his Triple-A performance hasn’t lessened my enthusiasm.

So, when the Mariners actually go out and trade for Snell, you would think I’d be a happy man. However, my first reaction when I heard about the deal that sent Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno, Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, and Nathan Adcock to Pittsburgh for Snell and Jack Wilson was “yuck”.

Let’s start with what the Mariners are getting. Wilson is a really good defensive shortstop who can hit well enough to justify his place in the line-up. Despite a lack of power and an aggressive approach at the plate, he’s still been a +1.5 to +2.5 win player for most of his career. He’s essentially a league average shortstop, and at $7.25 million in salary for 2009 with a team option at $8.4 million for 2010, he’s not overly expensive for what he is. He’s a solid role player who does enough things well to earn his contract and won’t hurt the team he’s playing for.

But he’s also 31 years old, and while he’s not overly expensive, he’s not a bargain either. Adam Everett is a similar player and signed a 1 year, $1 million deal with the Tigers last winter. Wilson’s salary makes him a small asset, not a big one. He’s not the kind of player the Mariners should be giving up significant pieces to attain.

So, that leaves Snell as the main piece of value coming back. While I’m a fan, I also saw him as a buy-low opportunity, as he was done in Pittsburgh and everyone knew it. He’s not an ace – he’s a guy with good stuff and average to below average command and some well documented issues with his prior organization. I don’t like the word headcase, but when you’re talking about a guy who would rather pitch in Triple-A than the majors, it’s hard to argue with.

Snell’s contract is better than Wilson’s, as he makes just $4.25 million next year and then has two club options for 2011 and 2012 that could be bargains if he rebounds to prior form. But there’s obviously the risk that he won’t, and then you’re looking at getting one year of Snell and letting him leave. He may be a long term asset… or he might be a one year flop.

For two guys with minimal value, the Mariners parted with five young players.

Clement’s the big name of the bunch, as a LH DH/1B/C? with power who had no future with the Mariners. He can hit righties, but his ability to do anything else is questionable. His knee problems have kept him from catching, and the bat might not be good enough to make him more than a solid 1B/DH type, especially if he can’t figure out LHPs.

Cedeno is a solid utility infielder who plays good defense at SS/2B, but can’t hit. He’s a nice role player, but basically the definition of replacement level.

It’s the three pitchers that the team gave up that pushes the deal in Pittsburgh’s favor. Pribanic and Lorin were the teams 4th and 5th round picks in 2008, and both had impressed in their first year as professionals.

Pribanic’s an extreme groundball guy who throws strikes but lacks an out-pitch, so he profiles as a #5 starter or a good reliever. If his breaking ball improves, he could beat that upside, though.

Lorin’s a good command guy with a nice breaking ball and an average fastball, plus some projectability as a big guy (6’7/250) who hasn’t had much experience on the mound. If he adds a couple of MPH to his fastball, he could be a mid-rotation starter.

Adcock had struggled of late with his command, but as a 21-year-old with a decent fastball-curveball combination and the ability to get groundballs, he’s also an interesting arm. Getting him out of High Desert should give Pittsburgh a better idea of where he stands right now.

They’re all just decent pitching prospects instead of good ones, so the M’s gave up quantity over quality, but the old cliche about building a rotation by getting a ton of arms and seeing who sticks is really true. The M’s had done a good job of collecting an inventory of decent arms, and they just depleted that fairly heavily, while also giving up a LH power bat, for two guys with marginal value.

Pittsburgh is the easy winner of this deal, as they get some interesting young talent and shed some salary without losing much that will hurt them. The Mariners could still salvage this by moving Wilson before Friday’s deadline for a younger SS with more long term potential, but if they stand pat with Wilson as the team’s shortstop for 2009 and maybe 2010, color me disappointed.