Archive for August, 2009

Three Late Deals

The second trade deadline is usually fairly boring, as most of the interesting players don’t clear waivers and teams are unwilling to surrender much in value for a one month rental. This year, however, two NL west clubs made three deals at the final hour, and all of them are kind of interesting.

First off, the Dodgers acquired Jon Garland from the D’Backs. After a disastrous start to the season, Garland has rebounded to put up a season right in line with the rest of his career – not many walks, strikeouts, or home runs allowed, living and dying with the results of his balls in play in any given start. Lately, the results have been great, and the Dodgers are willing to pay a premium for a guy who should be able to eat innings at the back of their rotation down the stretch. He’s basically insurance for Hiroki Kuroda in case his recovery from a concussion doesn’t go so well. Dodger fans should be hoping he doesn’t start any playoff games this winter.

LA wasn’t done, however, also adding Jim Thome to provide some punch off the bench. If this deal were made five years ago, James Loney would have to fear for his job, but Thome’s been strictly a DH for a few years now and would seem to be nothing more than a pinch-hitter for the Dodgers. He’ll improve LA’s bench in October, and because of the reduced need for pitchers in the playoffs, they should be able to carry a pure bench bat.

Finally, the Rockies got into the trade fun by acquiring Jose Contreras to help patch their pitching staff. Contreras is a tough guy to get a read on, because his stuff is still good, his peripherals are strong, but he remains awful when men are on base, so his absurdly low strand rates lead to less value than his FIP would suggest. Usually, we chalk stuff like that up to random variation, but Contreras has been underachieving in LOB% for so long that its getting hard to ignore. If the Rockies can figure out how to fix his problems with leaving runners on, they could have a nice addition, but that seems like a tough task to pull off in four weeks time.

None of these moves are likely to have a huge impact on the playoff races. The Dodgers are still huge favorites to win the NL West, and the Rockies acquisition of Contreras is just an attempt to balance out the Giants addition of Brad Penny. However, given the usual boredom August 31st brings, it’s interesting to see three fairly big name guys moved this late in the trade season.


Joe Mauer and Free Agency

Google the phrases “rosterbation” + “Joe Mauer” and you’ll get 106 results ranging from White Sox to Giants to Orioles links. Everyone wants a piece of the Mauer pie and nobody believes the Twins can afford to re-sign him following next season. Well, nobody but the Twins themselves.

Will the Twins be able to afford Mauer?
“Yeah, we can afford him,” team President Dave St. Peter said.

Whether that is lip service or not is irrelevant at this point. Let’s look at just how much the MVP candidate could be worth after next season.

Please note: this is a conservative estimate, so make adjustments as you see fit. First we have to project his WAR for next season. Figuring Mauer will be worth about 7 WAR, you get figures of 7, 6, and 3 WAR over the last three years. If you simply do a straight mean of the sample, you’d project a little over 5 WAR for Mauer, which leaves you with a 6.3 win player hitting free agency.

We know Mauer 27 next April and 28 the year afterwards, meaning teams will be paying for his age 28 season and onwards. The per win cost will be approximately 5.3 million at this point, so if you assume Mauer will be worth about 6 wins in 2011, his starting price is 32 million. Now the wild card involved is whether Mauer will stick at catcher. If not, his value takes a hit by moving elsewhere, whether it be third or first base, a corner outfield spot, designated hitting, whatever it is, Mauer will automatically lose positional value. On the bright side, he won’t have the toll inflected on him anymore which should help his offensive game.

So let’s say Mauer is worth 6 WAR in 2011 and aggressively loses 0.5 WAR in every season thereafter and some team signed him for six seasons, taking him from age 28 through 33. For a long-term deal Mauer takes a 5% discount and his worth would be an annual rate of 30 million per season. If Mauer gives Minnesota a 5% loyalty discount, we’re still talking around 170 million. That’s a lot of money for anyone, even Minnesota with a new ballpark in tow.

The Twins know their finances better than I would, but unless Mauer really loves the area and takes a team friendly deal, I’m not sure they can meet his market value, and maybe you could argue they shouldn’t given the risks associated with being a catcher.


A Notes Post

With no one subject grabbing me as worthy of a whole post, but a lot of minor interesting news items floating around today, let’s do a brief overview of those topics.

Royals extend Dayton Moore through 2014.

This is just a bizarre decision. Moore should have been closer to losing his job than getting more security, given some of the decisions he’s made over the last few years and how poor the Royals are yet again. A significant handful of his decisions are utterly indefensible – the Jose Guillen and Kyle Farnsworth signings along with the trades for Mike Jacobs and Yuniesky Betancourt have been well covered, but quite simply, a GM should not get free passes for making four terrible decisions that close together. Especially given the Royals budget constraints, Moore simply couldn’t afford to waste the money he had available, yet he did.

You don’t have to be a total stathead to be a good GM, but Moore has done nothing to prove that he’s good enough at traditional player evaluation to also be ignorant of the statistical tools available that he’s actively ignoring. That the Royals willingly signed up for more of his management style should be enough to cause Kansas City fans to weep.

Giants signed Brad Penny.

Smart choice – he not only lands in the DH-free National League, but he also picks a team with quality defenders behind him as he looks to impress down the stretch before hitting free agency. The results for any pitcher can vary significantly over a month, so there’s no guarantee that Penny will turn his season around instantly, but given what we know about the difference in quality among the leagues and Penny’s decent performance in the AL East, it looks pretty likely that the Giants added a pretty good arm for the stretch drive.

Jarrod Washburn got torched again.

I actually feel bad for Tigers fans. I’ve seen Bad Jarrod Washburn pitch, and it’s not fun. That he’s been this bad since ending up in Detroit is pretty surprising, as we’re long past the point of this being regression to the mean. Right now, Washburn is regressing to Dontrelle Willis’ mean. Coupled with the out-of-nowhere Barry Zito career renaissance, 2009 is shaping up to be a reminder that pitchers are just not to be counted on. What they did last year, last month, or even last week won’t necessarily manifest today. They’re the flakiest creatures in sports. Relying on a starting pitcher is like putting all of your money on a tech stock. Smart investors diversify – smart teams spend money on hitters.


AFL Preview: Phoenix Desert Dogs

The Arizona Fall League rosters were announced by Major League Baseball last week. The league allows up-and-coming prospects (usually from high-A and double-A levels, as well as recent high draft picks) to continue honing their skills away from the fall instructional leagues held by each organization. Play will begin in early October and run until late November with the six teams – each one made up of five organizations’ players – continually facing each other.

Over the next week, we’ll take a look at some of the more interesting names on each team. The rosters that were recently released are preliminary rosters and some players will be added, while others could be removed. Today, we’re kicking things off with the Phoenix Desert Dogs, a team that has won the AFL championship title for each of the past five seasons. The club is still waiting for the Toronto and Oakland organizations to assign multiple pitchers to the club.

The Phoenix Desert Dogs (Click HERE for the entire roster)
Oakland, Toronto, Baltimore, Washington, Tampa Bay

Brandon Erbe | RHP | Baltimore
Lost behind the big three of Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta in Baltimore, Erbe has the raw stuff to match up with them. Still only 21 years of age, Erbe battled through injuries this year and missed two month of the ’09 season. Even so, he has allowed just 38 hits in 60 innings of work in double-A.

Heath Rollins | RHP | Tampa Bay
Another pitcher who gets lost amongst the “big names,” Rollins has put up some solid pro numbers. He slipped a bit this year in double-A and has been too hittable: 147 hits in 134 innings of work. The right-hander has also lost 2.7 K/9 off of his strikeout rate, although he’s maintained a solid walk rate at 2.23 BB/9. He looks like a middle reliever.

Stephen Strasburg | RHP | Washington
The man everyone wants to see will be making his pro debut with the desert dogs and you can pretty much guarantee that there will be a lot of eyes on his first start. Despite his inexperience, Strasburg could dominate the league… but he’ll also be under a lot of pressure.

Drew Storen | RHP | Washington
The Nationals’ other first-round pick in 2009, Storen has already made 26 appearances in pro ball. Hopefully he won’t see too many innings in the league as he’s already thrown 77.1 innings (college+minors), which is a higher workload than he’s ever had in any other season. His control has been off a bit in eight double-A appearances but Storen is almost MLB ready.

J.P. Arencibia | C | Toronto
Arencibia ended the 2008 season as one of the Jays’ brightest young stars, but things have gone horribly for him in 2009 despite playing in a park (and league) that favors hitters immensely. At fault is Arencibia’s terrible walk rate and hack-tastic approach (2.6 BB% in ’08, 5.3 BB% in ’09), as well as his unwillingness to change. On the plus side, he’s made himself into a very good defensive player, which was a knock against him coming out of college.

Derek Norris | C | Washington
While Arencibia’s star is down, Norris’ is way up. Only 20, he’s shown a nice well-rounded approach with a solid average (.288), good power (23 homers in 423 at-bats, .229 ISO) and a walk rate of 16.1 BB%. The strikeouts are there too (26.8 K%) but the power is a fair trade off. The sky is the limit for Norris, although he may be tired for the AFL after hitting just .169 in August, which is by far his worst month of the year.

Josh Bell | 3B | Baltimore
Acquired earlier this season from the Dodgers, Bell has had a breakout season and could be manning the hot corner for Baltimore everyday by mid-2010. He has a solid understanding of the strike zone, as well as raw power (.250 ISO). Defensively, he has a strong arm, but a slow first step.

Jemile Weeks | 2B | Oakland
Rickie Weeks’ brother is looking to make a name for himself. The second baseman missed the beginning of the year with an injury but he caught on fire as soon as he was able to take the field. His numbers have been down significantly since a promotion to double-A, but it only spans 72 at-bats. Weeks has yet to utilize his plus speed, but he’s shown more power than expected.

Grant Desme | OF | Oakland
Speaking of power, Desme has made the most of his opportunity to play this year after injuries limited him to just two games in 2008. The former second round draft pick has really opened some eyes by hitting 31 homers and stealing 40 bases between low-A and high-A. The 23-year-old outfielder also swings and misses a lot (30 K%).


The Best Pitcher with a Bad Fastball

Yesterday Adam Wainwright won his league leading 16th game, strengthening his Cy Young case. Of course readers here know how dubious it is to look at wins as a measure of pitching talent. But, without a doubt, Wainwright has been one of the top pitchers this year, with a FIP of 3.33 and a tRA of 3.71.

Interestingly Wainwright’s fastball has been pretty poor this year, and he has succeed on the strength of his very good slider and curve. Those two pitches have saved over 32 runs, the next best breaking pitch combo belongs to teammate Chris Carpenter whose slider and curve have saved 21.8. As a result Wainwright throws his fastball only 50% of the time, which seems to be about the floor for how infrequently a pitcher can throw a fastball (if you consider a cutter a fastball and exclude knuckleball pitchers).

He throws his slider mostly to RHBs, from whom it moves away. Here are the locations of these pitches this year.

slide_loc

Perfectly clustered on the outside of the plate. It is not a huge-whiff inducing slider, only 27% misses per swing, compared to the top sliders which get in the in the over 40%. Instead it gets value from of out of zone swings (35%) and weak contact that results in lots of grounders (49%).

As I wrote about earlier his curveball was one of the best in the game. It still is, ranking second. It gets lots of out of zone swings (40%), while only getting 55% in zone swings. That means hitters are only slightly more likely to swing at it in the zone than out. Showing how deceiving it is and resulting in called strikes and swinging at balls. On top of that it gets lots of whiffs (33%) and grounders (59%). An incredible pitch.

Wainwright has below average fastball. It generates few whiffs and few out of zone swings (although it does get a good number of grounders). So he throws it just enough to get ahead in the count and throw his devastating break stuff.


Bourn Finds His Identity

Not a lot of things have gone right in Houston this year. Despite an aging, expensive roster, they find themselves non-contenders again, caught in the awkward stage of not winning but not rebuilding either. Never a fun place to be.

However, there has been one bright shining light to come out of Houston this year – Michael Bourn showing enough abilities to make himself a pretty decent center fielder.

When the Phillies sent him to Houston for Brad Lidge in 2007, he was purely a speed-and-defense guy, the classic questionable bat center field type. He could run, but whether he could get on base enough to make it matter was less clear. A disastrous 2008 season, where he hit .229/.288/.300, struck out 111 times, and was worth -0.1 wins in 514 plate appearances didn’t assuage any fears. His defense in center was good but not great, so he’d have to get on base at a reasonable clip to justify his spot in the line-up.

In 2009, he’s done that and more. He’s at .293/.366/.406 for the season, and while he’s still striking out at a decent clip, he’s found the key to success for his skillset – pound the ball into the ground and run like mad. Last year, 29.4% of his balls in play were flyballs, which are almost always outs from no-power guys like Bourn. This year, only 22% of his balls in play have been classified as flys, as he’s traded them in for more grounders and line drives, and his BABIP has soared as a result.

His .370 BABIP probably isn’t sustainable, but guys with his speed and bunting ability (he already has 15 bunt hits this season) can keep their averages on balls in play well above the norm for the league as a whole. Toss in the solid walk rate (10.4%) and some power (38 extra base hits), along with terrific ability on the bases (48 for 58 in SB attempts) and the total package adds up to around an average hitter.

When you have a guy who can play CF (and Bourn can, with a career +10.9 UZR in over 2,100 innings out there) and produce something close to league average offense, you have a pretty nice piece. The +4 win season he’s produced this year is the very top of his potential, but even with some regression built in he’s a +2 to +3 win player going forward.

As a pre-arbitration 26-year-old, Bourn represents something the Astros badly need more of – young, cheap, productive players.


Damon’s New Digs

At 35 years young, Johnny Damon is hitting for more power than he ever has before. While Damon has always been a player with a little pop, his game has long been about hitting for average and making things happen with his legs. His career isolated power is .151, this season he’s up to a robust .237. I think it’s safe to say that there is at least one Yankee that really enjoys his new digs.

185_OF_season__ha_blog_6_20090830

It should come as no great surprise that 17 of Damon’s 24 homers have come at the New Yankee Stadium, which in it’s inaugural season has proven to be quite the hitter’s park. With the help of the ever-resourceful site HitTracker, we can further examine Damon’s ‘power spike’.

Damon_Johnny_2009_scatter

Talk about a dead pull hitter. The average true distance of a major league homer is 399 feet and the calculated speed of the ball as it left the bat is 103.6 MPH. Damon’s average distance is 380 feet per homer and his speed off the bat is 101.7 MPH. Does that mean a lot of cheapies for Damon? Hit Tracker actually helps us classify homers further, putting all big flies in four self-explanatory different bins: “Just Enoughs”, “Plentys”, “No Doubts” and “Luckys”.

Using those classifications, Damon has had one lucky homer at the New Yankee Stadium, four homers that had just enough on them to leave the yard, eight homers that were out by plenty and four no-doubters. The average distance on the no-doubter and ‘plenty’ homers was 378 feet; not tape measure shots by any stretch, but they had plenty enough on them to give some Yankee fan sitting in some overpriced right field seats a souvenir.

The Yankees currently have nine players with double-digit homeruns, and it’s conceivable that they could have eight players with 20 homers or more this season, making them the first team do ever accomplish such a feat. While the Yankee lineup very, very good, when you look up down the lineup, it doesn’t quite strike you as Murderer’s Row. We’ve talked about the “Coors Effect” in years gone by. I don’t think the New Yankee Stadium is quite that extreme, but it’ll be interesting to see if the park continues to play this way over the next few seasons.


Angels Add Scott Kazmir

File this one under “unlikely August trades”.

The Angels add the 25-year-old Scott Kazmir to a rotation swamped with doctor visits all season with the knowledge that Kazmir himself is injury prone. His velocity is down from years past, and his stuff isn’t generating the same kind of whiffs as it once did, which is reflective in his contact and strikeout rates. That being said, he’s been quite a bit better since returning from the disabled list in June and working with Rick Peterson.

His deal is only guaranteed for an additional two seasons at 20 million with a club option for 2012 thrown in. As outlandish as this would’ve read when the extension was signed, there’s a real chance that Kazmir will fail to be worth the 20 million over the next two seasons. He’s looking at his second straight ~league average performance and his durability has always been a concern. Pitchers don’t age like hitters, so there’s no guarantee that Kazmir will ever top his 2007 season. That’s not to say he’ll continue to get progressively worse, but Kazmir the strikeout king probably won’t walk through the doors anytime soon.

Still, moving forward ZiPS projects him for a modest 3.82 FIP moving forward. That’s a bit worse than John Lackey, about equal to Jered Weaver, and a bit better than Ervin Santana. Kazmir isn’t an ace anymore, and the Angels aren’t asking him to be one. He has the capability of being a solid starter as long as he remains healthy.

The Rays clear up salary and get three young players in return. Carson mentioned Alexander Torres a few days ago and the book on him is simple: he’s a 21-year-old short lefty with a heavy fastball capable of missing bats and generating grounders while boasting extreme strikeout ratios and just as extreme walk rates.

Matthew Sweeney is a big lefty who is listed at third base but probably moves over to first for the Rays because of that one guy, Evan Langoria, Longoria? Whatever. Injuries have lowered Sweeney’s stock and his numbers are inflated thanks to the California League.

The third player is officially listed as a player to be named later, but it’s believed to be a player currently on the Angels 40-man roster who simply wouldn’t clear waivers.

Both teams seem to fair decently here. The Angels can afford Kazmir and his inherent risks while the Rays simply cannot. People are going to accuse the Rays of quitting on 2009 but the playoffs were a longshot anyways, and the difference between Kazmir and Andy Sonnanstine over a handful of starts isn’t going to make or break their chances.


Bradley Taking The Fall

If all you knew about Milton Bradley’s 2009 season was the opening lines from this article, you would think he’s single-handedly destroyed the Cubs season.

Cub fans and Milton Bradley have one thing in common: they both can’t wait for him to go home. The Milton Bradley experience has been the biggest disaster in a season of disasters for Cubs general manager Jim Hendry in 2009.

I know he’s not media friendly, he’s run himself out of nearly every organization he’s ever played for, and he says some stuff that angers people, but can we get a little reality injected into this analysis? Bradley is getting destroyed as a massive disappointment while posting a .387 on base percentage. Sure, the power hasn’t translated to Chicago, and the Cubs had to be hoping for more than a .350 wOBA from the guy, but he’s been an above average hitter and a decent enough fielder for them this year.

In just over 400 plate appearances, he’s been worth +1.2 wins to the Cubs, which translates to $5.4 million in salary. Factor in his expected September production, and he’ll probably end the year with a performance worth around $7 million – less than what the Cubs are paying him, but not anything close to the biggest disaster on the team.

Alfonso Soriano has performed below replacement this year. He earned – sorry, was paid – $16 million this year, and there’s $90 million left on the final five years of his contract. His performance suggests he owes the Cubs $3.3 million for taking 0.7 wins off their total for 2009, so Soriano has cost the Cubs almost $20 million this year. Bradley could cuss out every fan in Wrigley and still not match Soriano for disastrous results this year.

Things have gone wrong in Chicago this year, and Bradley makes an easy target for criticism, much of it earned. But regardless of whether he likes the fans or media, Bradley hasn’t been the thing that caused the club to collapse. It’s hard to win a bunch of baseball games when your “superstar” left fielder plays like he belongs in the minors.

Just because Bradley makes himself an easy target doesn’t mean he’s the right one.


There is Minor Hope for Mets Fans

It’s been a pretty depressing year for Mets fans, but there are some things to be excited about for the future. Along with the resurgence of former No. 1 draft pick Ike Davis and the emergence of teenage pitcher Jenrry Mejia, some lesser-known names are stepping forward. Outfield prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis was recently named the Florida State League player of the week by MiLB.com.

Originally a 2008 third round draft pick out of Azusa Pacific University (an NAIA school), the 22-year-old left-handed hitter raised his draft stock after being named Baseball America’s Alaska League player of the year in the summer prior to his junior year of college. He had a modest pro debut and hit .277/.348/.396 with three homers and 11 steals in 285 short-season at-bats. Nieuwenhuis stepped things up this year despite skipping over low-A ball and going directly to high-A.

He is currently hitting .270/.355/.463 with 16 homers and an equal number of steals in 467 at-bats. His walk rate is reasonable at 10 BB% but his strikeout rate is a little high at 24.2 K%. He’s also struggled against southpaws and is hitting just .227/.287/.333 against them this year. Nieuwenhuis has seen his ISO increase from .119 in ’08 to .193 in ’09. If he can continue to develop his power game, he has more than enough arm to play right field.

Nieuwenhuis had an inconsistent performance for much of the year in high-A but he’s finishing the year strong, having hit .442 with five homers and 13 RBI in his last 10 games. For the month of August, he’s hitting .337/.402/.653 with 22 RBI in 24 games. With any luck, the outfielder will build confidence off of this strong finish, which will help him with the jump to double-A in 2010. Although he is no sure-fire Top 10 prospect, Nieuwenhuis is an intriguing name to keep in mind in 2010. Keep the faith, Mets fans… Keep the faith.


August’s Best Hitter

Last night Ryan Zimmerman hit his 27th HR, already a career high with over a month to go in the season. After a disappointing season last year, in which he spent over a month and a half on the DL, Zimmerman is back to the level of play we saw in his excellent 2006 and 2007 season. Even better, actually, already worth over 6 wins and posting the best wOBA in baseball during the month of August.

Offensively he is getting on base more and hitting for more power than ever before. His walk rate is over 10%, and probably the result of a much lower O-swing rate without a decrease in Z-swings. His ISO is also at a career high, thanks to hitting more balls in the air (his GB% is at a career low) and more of those going over the fence (his HR/FB jumped up to 16% after being 11% in 2006 through 2008). No doubted aided by playing his first full healthy year away from the cavernous RFK stadium.

Defensively he is no slouch. For the past three years he has played better third base than anyone (although that time period conveniently excludes Evan Longoria). Going forward we can fully expect him to be a +10 run third baseman and one of the top handful of defensive third basemen in the game.

The Nationals have had a disastrous season on and off the field. On field their offense has acutally been fairly good, in no small part because of Zimmerman. But their run prevention horrid. The off field issues have begun to turn around with the signing of Strasburg and hiring of Rizzo. So maybe Zimmerman will play behind some guys who can pitch and with some other players who can field in his time as a Nat.


Top Of The Hill

I knew Aaron Hill was having a remarkable season, but it still caught me off guard when the game I was watching displayed the American League home run leaderboard.

Carlos Pena, 37
Russ Branyan, 31
Mark Teixeira, 31
Aaron Hill, 30
Justin Morneau, 29

This is like the old third grade test – “which of these is not like the others?” You have four traditional power hitting first baseman, known for their ability to drive the ball with regularity. And then there’s Hill – a 5’11 second baseman who had 28 career home runs before the season began.

Hill has always been a good player, mainly because of his range on the infield and his ability to hold his own at the plate. He’s made his mark as a good contact, gap power guy, but there were some questions about his true offensive abilities after a miserable 2008 season that saw him .263/.324/.361 in just 55 games.

He’s put last year behind him and then some, keeping pace with the premier sluggers in the game despite no drastic changes in his skillset. His contact rate is about the same as always, though he has increased his swing rates slightly, becoming more aggressive as he gains MLB experience, especially in terms of chasing pitches out of the zone. His O-Swing% is a career high 28%, for instance.

Beyond that, his batted ball profile is still neutral, which suggests his swing plane isn’t much different than it has been in the past. However, balls that used to land on in the gap are now flying over the wall – his HR/FB rate is 16.7%, when his career average coming into the season was about 5%. For a pitcher, this would be a sign that he’s been the victim of extremely bad luck, but hitters have far more control over their HR/FB rate than pitchers do. That doesn’t mean that Hill hasn’t been the beneficiary of good fortune, but we can’t just chalk up HR/FB rate to random variation.

To better look at his home runs, we turn to HitTracker.

Hill

The first thing we notice is that he’s an extreme pull power guy, with nearly all of his home runs flying out to left field. The next thing you notice, if you scroll down to his individual HR listing, is how many are labeled “JE”, which stands for “just enough”. Hill is tied with Joe Mauer and Kevin Youkilis for the league lead in home runs that were barely home runs, as 11 of his long balls have been categorized as cutting it close.

In fact, looking at the list of average home run length on Hit Tracker’s site, Hill’s 384.6 foot average distance is one of the lowest in the league. The guys whose home runs average 380-390 feet are mostly middle infielders (and Johnny Damon). On this list, he’s no longer anywhere near guys like Pena or Branyan.

We can also see that the extra home runs are coming from balls that used to be doubles just by looking at his total rate of extra base hits. In his healthy 2007 season, 37% of Hill’s hits were of the extra base variety. This year, 36% of his hits have gone for extra bases. There’s no change in how often he’s whacking the ball – just what category of XBH those balls are being classified as. Due to whatever reason, Hill has been able to clear the fence (barely, in some cases) with more regularity this year, but it doesn’t look like he’s actually added much in the way of power.

Aaron Hill is a good player, but he’s not a 30 HR guy. Odds are he never does this again.


Harden Claimed

With the Cardinals up nine games and just a little over month to left to play, the Cubs are punting. Per reports, Rich Harden was put on waivers and claimed by a contending team. That team is rumored to be the Minnesota Twins.

Believe it or not, there’s still some hope for the Twins. Coolstandings.com gives them a 14% probability of making the playoffs; PECOTA gives them 15%. The Tigers haven’t run away with things yet, and the Twins are scheduled to play the White Sox six more times and Detroit seven times this season. Their September schedule also includes some feeble opponents – six games apiece with inter-division rivals Cleveland and Kansas City, as well as four games on the road against Toronto and a three game home stand with Oakland. So yeah, it’s feasible they could make up some ground and pull this thing out, with some luck.

With an uninspiring rotation of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano and essentially a couple of replacement players, the Twinkies are also believed to be in on the Brad Penny derby. Harden clearly is the better option than Penny, but the more expensive one — he’s going to be a Type A free agent. Optimistically the Twins could squeeze six, maybe seven more starts out of Harden. Harden has been pitching as well as anyone in the second half with a 1.80 ERA and a 3.30 FIP. His ZiPS projects a 3.56 FIP for the rest of the season. If they can get that sort of performance out of seven starts, that would be good for about an extra win over replacement.

Harden is owed about $1.4 M left in salary, but should be worth anywhere between $3.2-4.4M in performance, and then there’s the matter of the two high draft picks. All this means Harden should fetch a very good return, potentially two solid B prospects.

For the Twins, it’s a worthy gamble. October baseball remains in the realm of possible, and Harden would certainly help their chances. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, the Twins can make it up in next year’s draft if they don’t/can’t bring Harden back. Picks aren’t as valuable as top prospects in the same way the proverbial bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush, but Minnesota has had a decent enough success rate when it comes to drafting first rounders. As long as the Cubs aren’t asking for Aaron Hicks or some crazy multi-player package, I think I’d pull the trigger if I were the Twins’ GM. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Harden between now and Monday.


A Quiz

Last week Dave and MGL both made points about how just about anything can happen in 40 inning stints. To hammer that point home a little harder, let’s do an exercise that shows just how much variance exists. Below I’m going to list a few starting pitcher lines from the last 30 days; I’m also going to list the names of the owners of these lines, but not in order. Your job is obviously to attempt and match the line with the name without cheating.

A. 44.1 IP, 40 H, 4 HR, 8 BB, 21 SO, 2.23 ERA
B. 43 IP, 58 H, 8 HR, 4 BB, 36 SO, 4.4 ERA
C. 42.2 IP, 42 H, 4 HR, 7 BB, 52 SO, 4.22 ERA
D. 38 IP, 40 H, 9 HR, 8 BB, 32 SO, 4.97 ERA
E. 34.2 IP, 28 H, 2 HR, 13 BB, 28 SO, 2.08 ERA
F. 37.2 IP, 54 H, 6 HR, 7 BB, 12 SO, 6.21 ERA

Barry Zito
Mark Buehrle
Bronson Arroyo
Roy Halladay
Justin Verlander
Dan Haren

Answers after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »


The Mets Meet Anibal Sanchez

Days like today prove that the best results are sometimes the most unexpected ones.

The Mets have about a gazillion regulars on the disabled list and are playing for 2010. The Marlins have a slimmer of playoff hopes and sit pretty at second place in the National League East. Anibal Sanchez isn’t great (4.72 FIP and 5.38 tRA in 41 innings this year) but against the Mets lineup, it looked like an easy victory. I mean, really, look at this morbid crew:

Angel Pagan CF .343 wOBA
Wilson Valdez SS .248
Daniel Murphy 1B .307
Jeff Francoeur RF .299
Cory Sullivan LF .330
Fernando Tatis 3B .314
Omir Santos C .300
Anderson Hernandez 2B .278
Tim Redding P .056

Of the eight batters, two can be called league average hitters or better. That’s it. Three-fourths of the Mets lineup consisted of below average hitters, and yet, they went out and scored 10 runs on the Marlins.

Hernandez contributed three hits on the day and scored twice, Valdez knocked in a run and had two hits, Murphy had a pair of hits and three RBI, Sullivan had two hits, Tatis popped a solo home run, and so on. Every Mets starter A) had a hit, B) had two.

For Anibal, his final line after 3.2 innings pitched: eight hits, two earned runs, three walks, two strikeouts, and one bewildered glance at the scorecard to see whether such a pathetic looking group actually knocked him around. Cristhian Martinez relieved Sanchez and didn’t fare much better as he allowed six hits and four earned runs in three and a third innings.

Fans of the Mets don’t have much to look forward to when batting nowadays, but for once they weren’t the ones vomiting at the results.


Penny Released

For the second time this month, the Red Sox have overreacted to a recent poor stretch of results and granted free agency to a quality major league pitcher. First, they cut John Smoltz loose, and now they’ve let Brad Penny out of his contract after they removed him from their starting rotation and he expressed a desire to start for another team down the stretch. The list of suitors lining up for Penny will be long, just as it should be – the guy can still pitch.

Even with his recent struggles, he’s running a 4.48 FIP on the season, thanks to recording twice as many strikeouts as walks and maintaining a neutral home run rate. That makes him around a league average starting pitcher for the season. Yes, he throws his fastball too much, but that’s always been true – he’s averaged 70% or more fastballs every year since 2004, and he’s proven he can be at least moderately successful pounding the zone with heaters.

The chink in his results – a .336 batting average on balls in play, which isn’t particularly predictive of anything. ZIPS projects a 4.44 FIP from Penny going forward, and that’s assuming he stays in the American League. Someone’s going to get a quality pitcher for nothing – who are the contenders for his services?

Detroit makes a lot of sense, as the back of their rotation is a bit of a mess. They just sent Aramando Galarraga to Triple-A for a brief stint, Jarrod Washburn is turning into a pumpkin, and they are simultaneously trying to limit Rick Porcello’s innings, leading to things like Nate Robertson and Zach Miner splitting a start this weekend. With a 67 percent chance to win the division, they’re the clear favorites in the AL Central, and Penny would have a good shot at cracking their playoff rotation.

If he wanted to go back to the National League, Colorado has a clear need for a starting pitcher after just losing Aaron Cook with an arm problem. The Rockies are leading the Wild Card race in the NL and should be an aggressive suitor, but as a free agent to be, Penny might not want to ply his trade in Coors Field for the last month of the season.

That would leave Florida as the best fit in the NL. Penny obviously has history there, and he would be a clear upgrade over Sean West in the Marlins rotation. At 4 1/2 games behind the Rockies in the Wild Card standings, they’re a long shot to play in October, but it would be a chance at some meaningful baseball in September in an environment that he knows fairly well.

I’d bet on Detroit, but regardless of where he ends up, he’s likely to be an asset. Boston has to hope that this doesn’t come back and bite them in the playoffs.


Wild Marmol

Carlos Marmol is a fun pitcher to watch. He whips the ball out from a sidearm motion from the stretch in such a way that it makes his 94 MPH fastball appear to rise as it approaches home plate. The pitch also has a considerable amount of tail. To compliment his fastball, Marmol throws a ‘slurvy’ slider that features some serious sweep. Marmol also hides the ball very well, which gives him some deception. This deadly combination makes him extremely tough to hit, as evidenced by his career hit per nine innings rate of 5.8.

The problem with Marmol is that he is his own worst enemy. For his career, his BB/9 rate is 4.76, but Marmol has now entered into “Wild Thing” Mitch Williams territory this season. Last night was classic Marmol. He entered into the game in the 9th inning with a seven run lead. He walked the first three batters he faced, allowed a run on a force out, struck out the next batter, gave up a double and then struck out the next batter to end the game.

2790_P_season_blog_2_20090826

The off the charts walk rate is probably an over the top illustration. Marmol has 55 walks in 59.1 innings pitch, to go along with a 11 hit batters. A quarter of the batters Marmol has faced this season, Marmol has put on base via either the walk or the hit by pitch. As often as Marmol’s putting batters on, he’s striking them out. 26% of the batters he’s faced this season have gone down on strikes. The young Dominican has recently assumed the role as the Cubs closer, as Kevin Gregg has suffered with the long ball this season, and the Cubs don’t feel rookie Angel Guzman is quite ready yet.

So what kind of rarefied territory is Marmol walking in? Pretty rare, definitely Mitch Williams type of stuff. There have been five seasons, including Marmol’s, where a reliever has struck out at least an average of a batter per inning, walked 7 per nine and hit at least five batters in a season.

With the help of Baseball Reference’s Play Index, we find those seasons are:

1987 Mitch Williams 108.2 IP, 10.7 K/9, 7.8 BB/9, 7 HBP,ERA+ 140
2008 Dennis Sarfate 79.2 IP, 9.7 K/9, 7 BB/9, 7 HBP, ERA+ 95
1962 Ryne Duren 71.1 IP, 9.3 K/9, 7.2 BB/9, 6 HBP, ERA+ 87
2009 Carlos Marmol 59.1 IP, 10.8 K/9, 8.3 BB/9, 11 HBP, ERA+ 121
1960 Ryne Duren 49 IP, 12.3 K/9, 9 BB/9, 7 HBP, ERA+ 72

I encourage you to read up on the life and times of Ryne Duren, who basically was Rick Vaughn. His wildness knew no bounds, stories have it that in the minors he hit a batter while he was on deck. His control was that rough. With a 95 MPH fastball and coke-bottle glasses, Duren would take a long time squinting in order to read signs from the catcher, and that would make batters just about wet themselves. Duren’s also known for overcoming a tough bout with alcoholism.

Anyway, it’s interesting and sort of amusing that only Williams and Marmol managed to have above average ERA’s with these sort of rates. Carlos Marmol, Algo Salvaje.


Matt Murton DFA

Without stealing Caron’s shtick, let me say that if you enjoy undervalued players stuck in baseball purgatory, you probably have a soft spot for Matt Murton. For whatever reasons Murton has been stuck in Triple-A two years running and yesterday was designated for assignment to make room for Juan Rincon of all people.

This could be a blessing in disguise though, as you have to figure some team will give Murton a chance for no cost.

Murton is 27-years-old and has hit well in Triple-A 954 plate appearances and counting. A .312/.388/.469 line is impressive and Murton isn’t someone proven incapable of hitting major league pitching either. Murton hit .287/.353/.438 in 1,051 plate appearances split between the Cubs, Athletics, and Rockies. He can play on a daily basis or platoon as a lefty masher.

Defensively he’s graded out above average in each of the seasons in which we have data. At absolute worst he’s an average player who only plays against lefties and plays in the corners. He’s not a superstar and won’t move jerseys by the pound, but some team should absolutely jump on this chance to acquire him for a 40-man roster spot.

Which leads me to the best part, in that Murton can be optioned to the minors for the remainder of this season. That means a team can store him away for an off-season and reconsider whether they have a lineup slot for him next spring. Of course that’s essentially what happens at this point anyway.

Matt Murton has major league baseball player talent, some team should give him the label, jersey, and roster spot and reap the benefits.


Carlos Pena is Pulling a McGwire

Once against thanks to a helpful reader tip, I am here to present a possibly interesting nugget of baseball trivia. Three true outcome hitters are known for their high power and high totals in walks and strikeouts. Principally, the high strikeout and walk totals typically force them to carry low batting averages and their high power usually means a high number of home runs.

One interesting offshoot of that would be a player going so far to the extreme that he actually hits more home runs than singles. How extreme is this? Well, the complete list, as best as I can tell (Baseball-Reference’s Play Index makes me figure this out circuitously) of all such seasons since 1901 in which a batter appeared at least 200 times and had more, or at least as many, home runs than singles looks like this:

1995 Mark McGwire, 39 HRs, 35 1Bs
1998 Mark McGwire, 70 HRs, 61 1Bs
1999 Mark McGwire, 65 HRs, 58 1Bs
2000 Mark McGwire, 32 HRs, 32 1Bs
2001 Mark McGwire, 29 HRs, 23 1Bs
2001 Barry Bonds, 73 HRs, 49 1Bs

Remarkable. I searched far and wide and could not find a single other player to do it since the turn of the 20th century. A few, like Frank Thomas in 2005, managed it in small samples, or came close like Ken Griffey Jr. did in 2003 and Eddie Robinson in 1955.

Well, we have something to pay attention to for the rest of the season because entering play today, we have this:

2009 Carlos Pena, 37 HRs, 35 1Bs

As if you needed another reason to pay attention to an AL East team.


Two More Bite the Dust in Queens

Yesterday, I talked about Johan Santana who is now undergoing season-ending surgery on his elbow and how his contract looks going forward. Since that piece went out, two more New York Mets’ pitchers have been shut down for the season to undergo surgery.

J.J. Putz, acquired from the Mariners this past winter as part of the dramatic bullpen makeover that was supposed to be the cure to the 2007 and 2008 collapses certainly was not up the task that he was brought in for. A combination of injuries and ineffectiveness doomed his year. Putz was already well into his decline, seeing his strikeout rate fall from 34% in 2006 to 30% in 2007 to 26% in 2008, all before he was traded off. It was nearly halved this year to just 14%.

In addition to the lack of strikeouts, Putz, who battled injuries all through 2008 as well, now has two consecutive years of injury-shaken control to overcome along with the heavy task of just getting healthy. Putz’s option is almost certain not to be exercised and thus he will depart from the Mets having been paid roughly $6 million and contributed a negligible amount above replacement level.

In addition to Putz, Oliver Perez is undergoing surgery on his knee and is done for the season. 58 walks in 66 innings pitched this season and according to both FIP and tRA, Perez was worth -0.7 wins above replacement in 2009, the first year of his horrible 3-year, $36-million contract. Unsurprisingly, Perez’s velocity was down, his average fastball down to the slowest level yet, at just 90mph. I was critical of the deal when it was signed for many reasons, Perez’s injury risk one of those factors. Forget about breaking even on this deal, I think the Mets would be lucky to get back $10 million total once all is said and done.

All told, between the two, the Mets dished out $17 million dollars for about -$3 million in value.