Archive for November, 2009

The Projection Process Behind Being a Fan

Let’s talk a bit more about what makes the Fan Projections different from those that Rally, Dan Szymborski, and Tango Tiger have and will continue to produce.

The most obvious difference is the amount of math involved. Frankly, we’re not requiring any. There’s no need to copy, paste, and weigh each season like these are your personal Marcels. Now, if that method is the most comfortable in your estimation, then sure, do as you please. Most will probably do a little eyeballing and nudge those up or down based on personal knowledge, anecdotal evidence, or just pure gut feelings.

For instance, yesterday I began filling out my Rays projections and up popped B.J. Upton’s name. Everyone – well, those who read that other site I’m on most of the time – knows about my fandom of Upton. I find him to be a fantastic talent with immense upside. The problem being A) how is his shoulder health and B) how much of the potential is left? He’s already a solid player, but after his 2007 the talk about him becoming a 30/30 producer has been left unfulfilled.

This all came to a head when I reached the home runs drop down. Upton hit 24 homers as a 22-year-old and has hit 20 since. The numbers said … well, I didn’t know what they said. I really, really wanted to go 20+. He has the quick wrists as everyone saw in the 2008 post-season. But then again, potential isn’t static and pitchers figured out how to pitch to his weaknesses last year.

To truncate this process which is probably interesting to no one, I chose 15-19 after a good three or four minutes of internal debate. All of these factors came into play. I added the scouting observations, subtracted the health concerns, and did math without really doing math. Only afterwards did I run the 5-4-3 weighting to find 13-14 homers as the average. Not a huge difference all told, but I think most people are going to have small conflicts like this throughout the process.

Ultimately, the resolutions will guide the final projections. Remember, we’re not asking you to submit the ZiPS, CHONE, or Marcels projections for these players. If we wanted that, we would consult with them. We want everyone to vote as they wish and if that means being a little optimistic or pessimistic about certain players, then so be it. Just remember, your ballot won’t be ditched if you disagree with CHONE.


To Offer Or Not?

Tomorrow represents the first real day of the hot stove league, as teams are required to make arbitration decisions on their respective free agents. Once teams understand who will and who will not require draft pick compensation to sign, the process will accelerate, as teams will be able to more accurately assess the cost of signing a particular player.

For some players, the decision to offer arbitration or not is an easy one. The Angels will certainly be offering it to John Lackey and Chone Figgins, while the White Sox will not be offering it to Jermaine Dye. It doesn’t take much in the way of analysis to reach those conclusions.

However, there is a large pool of players for which the decision is not so cut-and-dried. Should the Dodgers offer Orlando Hudson arbitration, even though they don’t really want him back, in order to secure the compensation he would bring as a Type A free agent? How about Mike Cameron, who has already been replaced in Milwaukee and been told that he is not in their plans, but has the type of skillset not likely to be correctly valued in arbitration? Injury prone pitchers such as Rich Harden and Erik Bedard also present dilemmas to the Cubs and Mariners respectively.

For many of these players, teams will decide that the risk of an arbitration offer being accepted is too high, cutting ties with a player they either don’t want or don’t believe they can afford. However, in many of these cases, I believe that teams may be incorrectly valuing the actual cost of the offer.

The marginal cost of the arbitration offer is not the full value of the player’s potential 2010 salary. It is not even the dollars beyond that which a team would be happy to pay the player. It is only the dollars beyond what any one team in baseball would be happy to pay for that player that are actually being risked.

Let’s use Adrian Beltre and the Mariners as an example. Based on some back-of-the-envelope calculations, I’m presuming that the Mariners have approximately $25 million to spend this winter as they shop to fill various needs. That is one of the main reasons why Beltre probably won’t be back in Seattle next year, as he would eat up a significant chunk of that budget, limiting the team’s options when pursuing other positions of need. In reality, Beltre would probably make at least $10 million if he accepted arbitration, and likely closer to the $13 million he earned in 2009.

However, the Mariners aren’t risking $10 to $13 million by offering Beltre arbitration. His market value is significantly north of $0, and on a one year deal, it’s probably somewhere between $8 and $12 million, I’d imagine. So, in reality, the Mariners would be risking something like $4 million, as that would be the potential difference between the arbitration award and his free market value. Remember, a team is free to trade a player who accepts arbitration, so it wouldn’t be particularly hard for the Mariners to then ship Beltre to, say, Philadelphia along with some cash to cover the difference between what Philly wants to pay him and what he may get in arbitration.

So, if the risk if ~$4 million, what is the actual cost of assuming that risk? That requires a probability calculation of how likely the player is to accept the offer. In many of these borderline cases, I’d assume the actual probability is probably around 50 percent, plus or minus 10 percent or so. That’s why they are borderline cases – it isn’t easy to figure out how the player would react to an arbitration offer.

With a probability of around 50 percent, that cuts the total risk in half. In the Beltre example, that would lower the cost of assuming that particular risk to $2 million, once the potential that he wouldn’t accept is factored in.

Is a supplemental pick in the #35-#45 range worth $2 million to the Mariners? Most of the research done on the subject would say yes, and that given these numbers, Seattle is better off taking the risk of Beltre accepting their offer to receive the potential reward of the compensation.

This is the calculation that teams should be doing – figuring the cost of a potential arbitration award over the market value of the player, adjusting for probability that he accepts the offer, and comparing the cost of that risk to the benefit of the compensation pick.

If a team is assessing their actual risk as the full potential salary that they would have to pay out if a player accepts, they’ll be overstating their own liability and miscalculating the costs and benefits of an arbitration offer. I would suspect we will see multiple teams do just this tomorrow, leaving value on the table by being overly risk averse.


The Humility of Statistical Projection

It’s “projection week” here at FanGraphs, which is a nice coincidence, since I was going to post about projections, anyway. While I dabble with my own projections (which probably will never see the light of day), no one wants to hear about that. Instead, I’ve just assembled some (very) non-technical reminders that might be helpful when looking at projections.

I’ve often heard the complaint that projections are “arrogant,” “put too much faith in the numbers,” or the classic “they rely on what a player has already done, but they don’t tell you want a player will do.” I want to emphasize that projection systems are not based on esoteric “tricks,” but rather are based on the fact that we don’t know very much about the player from the numbers.

Projection is not divination. I’ve sometimes heard that projection systems aren’t worth looking at because “after all, they projected an .800 OPS for player x and he ended up with an .850 OPS.” That’s a straw man, but it gets at the general point: projections are not prophetic divinations of the future, but attempts to measure what the “true talent” of players at any given point in time. The “general formula” for player performance is: true talent + luck + environment. (I’ll table discussion of parks and aging for now.)

The problem is that we don’t know, at least from the raw stats, what exactly is “luck” and what represents a player’s “true talent.” Moreover, “luck” doesn’t just mean things like BABIP rates. Even a player getting 700 PA in a season will have varying levels of performance around his true talent, what we call “hot streaks” or “cold streaks.” (Cf. Willie Bloomquist, April 2009.) To single these streaks out begs the question: how do we distinguish the “streaks” from the “true talent” parts of the seasons from which the projections draw? Projection systems use different methods; here I’ll mention basic factors that are used by most good projection systems. This may be old hat, but they are worth discussing because of how often they are passed over.

Regression to the mean. This is a very important concept, so important that I’m leery of screwing up the explanation. The best introductory piece I’ve read is one by Dave Studeman. In short: given a lack of any other information about a player, our “best guess” is that he’s an average member of (some particular) population. The more data we have on the player, the more we can separate him from the “average” population. This is one place where sample size issues come into play. [Note that there is a great deal of debate about how to regress, e.g., what the “population” should be. For examples, search at The Book Blog or Baseball Think Factory.]

Weighted average. Say a projection involves the last three years of performance. Do you simply take the three year average? Well, no, true talent can change from year to year. More recent years are thus weighted more heavily (5-4-3 for hitters and 5-3-2 for pitchers are common weights). Alex Gordon had a .321 major-league wOBA in 2009, and a .344 in 2008. Do we automatically assume that .321 is closer to his true talent? No, because the .321 was in only 189 PA, while the .344 was in 571 PA.

This isn’t all there is to projection, but you’d be surprised how much work those basic concepts do. Tom Tango’s Marcel works entirely from a weighted average, regression, and a very basic age adjustment, and it hangs in with the “big boys” pretty well. No projection system will ever be perfect, of course. Part of that is the influence of “luck” and the limited samples we have from all players. Part of it is also that some players don’t have that much information available on them. Players develop differently.

The point is that we simply don’t know ahead of time which players will be exceptions. Projection systems generally do better when looking at how the project groups of players, rather than focusing in on individual successes or failures, as in the case of Matt Wieters (ahem). The point I’ve been trying to make in a roundabout way is that regression, weighted averages, generic aging curves, etc. might miss out on certain players, but are based on studies that show how most players would do. They are humble confessions of ignorance on an individual level, but are still the best overall bet. Expecting anything more leads to folly.

One might express the difference as that between a making a conservative, diversified investment and “just knowing” that Enron stock will continue to rise. Tough choice.

More later this week on “breakouts,” “outliers,” and other traps.


Pitch Data and Projections

As you know by now, FanGraphs is hosting a new projection system year, the Fan Projections. Dave Cameron filled us in on why projecting players in this manner can be effective, thanks to the wisdom-of-the-crowds idea. My piece of wisdom to impart is the value of pitch data to inform your projection. This data can tell you if a pitcher has gained or lost speed on his fastball, picked up a new pitch or is throwing a certain pitch more or less often. Thus it is another tool in diagnosing if a big shift in pitcher performance was luck-based or a shift in true talent. You can find that data in the pitchf/x section of each pitcher page or in the Pitch Type section (these pitch classifications are from BIS, which can be slightly different than the pitchf/x ones).

A fitting example is Brian Bannister, a pitchf/x devotee himself. Although we don’t ask you to project it here, one value you could project is his 2010 GB%, which will heavily influence his HR/9 and ERA. Here are Bannister’s GB%s over his career (in green).

5718_P_season_mini_9_20091006
Using a Marcel-like 5/4/3 weighting of the past three years to project his 2010 GB% we would get around 43% . But we know that Bannister is a much different pitcher in 2009 than he was in 2008 and 2007. In 2007 and 2008 he threw almost 60% fastballs, but in 2009 he threw the fastball just 17% of the time and a previously unused cutter 50% of the time. This change in pitch type supports the change in GB%, since cutters tend to result in more ground balls than fastballs, and makes us more confident this increase in ground balls is for real going forwards.

We still want to regress somewhat to prior performance and league average, but the change in pitch usage means we should value 2009 more heavily, and project him around 47% or so. From there we can project his HR/9 and ERA based on the assumption that he is above average at getting grounders.


Wisdom Of The Crowd

Today, David announced the newest addition to the site, and one we’re all pretty excited about it – Fan Projections. We’ve hosted the forecasts of most of the various top projection systems over the last few years, and you’ve probably become accustomed to hearing various writers quote CHONE, ZiPS, or Marcel. With FanGraphs now offering the ability to aggregate projections from various sources, we’ll have a new set of projections to offer this winter – those of the crowd.

If you’ve read James Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds”, you’ll no doubt recognize the theory behind the endeavor. As Surowiecki suggests, there is evidence that certain groups of lay people can give better estimates than any single expert, due to the unique experiences we all have in life. By blending our understandings together, we can eliminate some of our individual biases and enhance the shared wisdom of the population.

Tom Tango has done some research on this as it pertains to projections in baseball, and Surowiecki’s theory holds up pretty well. In a four part series that matched up six projection systems against 165 fans, the aggregate projections of the fans was essentially the equal of the complex statistical models. Individual fans by themselves didn’t fare so well, but when all fans were combined into a single projection, they held their own.

This is, essentially, Surowiecki’s argument in a nutshell. We all have our limitations of understanding, but the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

So, in that spirit, we offer you the opportunity to make your voice heard. Use the Fan Projections to add your personal wisdom the crowd, based on your insights and experiences. Despite the fact that this is site is statistically inclined, we have a fairly broad base of readers, offering a wide variety of opinions and views – the kind of crowd where the wisdom of many can really shine through. Try projecting some players every day, putting real thought into what you expect from each player in 2010.

If we have the diverse, intelligent crowd that I think reads this site, don’t be too surprised if the Fan Projections end up hanging with the big boys. Let’s put the wisdom of the FanGraphs crowd to use and see what happens.


Derek Lowe and Red Flags

Prior to the 2009 season, the Atlanta Braves signed Derek Lowe to a four year, 60 million dollar contract. One year and 15 million dollars later, the Braves seem to be having second thoughts, as Lowe has been repeatedly mentioned in trade rumors.

It’s not that Lowe wasn’t a productive pitcher last year. His 4.06 FIP makes him an above-average SP, and in 195 IP that makes him worth 2.7 wins above replacement. His ERA of 4.67 probably is part of the reason the Braves are willing to shop Lowe, but he’s not as bad as that would suggest. His tRA of 4.61 suggests an ERA (or tERA) of 4.24 – not quite as good as his FIP but still above average, and 195 IP of above-average pitching is valuable. Unfortunately for the Braves, it’s not worth 15 million dollars.

Still, Lowe is only one year removed from a 3.26 FIP/3.27 tERA, the third of three straight sub-4.00 FIP/tERA seasons. He has shown the ability to be an ace-quality pitcher, and even if he doesn’t return to his five-win form from 2008, it’s possible that he could post some four win seasons and be worth his contract.

There are three red flags that come up for Lowe when projecting his future. The first of these is his age. The next three seasons, for which he’ll be paid 45 million dollars, will be his age 37, 38, and 39 seasons. Pitcher attrition happens often at age 30, and the risk becomes even higher at this advanced age. Lowe did see a dip in velocity last year, but he did make 34 starts, and didn’t spend any time on the DL, which would likely be the biggest warning sign that age was catching up with him.

The other two red flags have to do with patterns we see in Lowe’s results this year. First, Lowe’s ground ball rate fell 4% from last year’s 60.3%, already a career low. With statistics like BABIP, we can’t make conclusions based on one year’s worth of data because these statistics don’t stabilize over the course of a season. However, ground ball rate stabilizes after only 200 plate appearances, and this substantial drop of 4% means we’ll see more fly balls and line drives out of Lowe, meaning more home runs and more hits.

The third red flag is probably the most alarming, and that’s the fact that Lowe’s K/BB fell from 3.26 in his fantastic 2008 to a poor 1.76 in 2009. His strikeout rate fell by a point and his walk rate rose by a point. Although it is possible that both of these rates return to form in 2010, given Lowe’s age and the fact that both statistics also tend to stabilize over the course of the season, it’s probably more likely that we see Lowe’s K/BB remain closer to 2.00 than 3.00.

Thanks to his ability to induce ground balls, which even after the drop is still above average, Lowe can still be a productive pitcher, but there are three very good reasons for the Braves to try and get something in return for Lowe’s unfavorable contract, especially when combined with their abundance of starting pitchers. If a team can get the Braves to eat some of Lowe’s salary, they could be getting an asset, but thanks to the red flags mentioned above, it’s unlikely that Lowe will be a 15 million dollar pitcher over the course of his contract.


Andruw Jones & DeWayne Wise Find Jobs

White Sox sign OF Andruw Jones for $500K

Jones’ 2009 season was hardly as well publicized as his 2008 voyage through the depths of offensive hell, but he managed a decent bounce back in 331 plate appearances. 17 homers were hit, a .323 OBP was had, and Jones nearly had a higher slugging percentage (.459) than his 2008 OPS (.505). As for 2010, the deal is a coup for Ken Williams. Jones flashed his highest ISO since 2006 and while playing in Arlington artificially enhanced those numbers, it’s still encouraging to see his HR/FB and ability to drive the ball seemingly regress towards normal. Despite that iffy contribution in 2008 Jones is fully capable of producing league average offense — and perhaps better if he plays mostly against southpaws.

Jones’ athleticism has dipped considerably, but it seems unlikely that his defensive ability has become so poor, so quickly that he wouldn’t be worth at least the half a million in 2010. If he does perform, the deal includes roughly a million in performance incentives, and Jones will be owed whatever amount shy of $3.2M remains. He’s not going broke because of this deal. Frank McCourt, on the other hand, has to be tickled. The worst case here is Jones being released after a slow start to the season. Even then, it’s only $500K; Mark Kotsay is making double that next year.

Phillies sign DeWayne Wise to a minor league deal

The man who Jones somewhat replaces also found a new home before the holidays. Wise is best known for his ridiculous catch to preserve a perfect game last year. Presumably Wise will find some time on the Phillies’ bench throughout the long season.


The 2010 Fan Projections!

For those of you who have been hanging around FanGraphs since at least last season, you’ll know that we carry various projections in the off-season, which are for the most part generated by computer programs.

This off-season, in addition to carrying the various computer generated projections, we’ve teamed up with Tangotiger of insidethebook.com to give you, the fans, a chance to generate your own projection line for each major league player. Hopefully our collective brains will be able to pinpoint things that computer systems don’t.

With that said, let me give you all a quick tour of a projection ballot:

FanProj

Before you can project any players, you’ll have to select the team you follow most closely towards the top of the screen. If you really don’t follow a team, just pick one. You’ll only have to do this once.

After you’ve selected a team, there are 8 categories for pitchers and 10 categories for position players. Pick the values in the drop-down boxes closest to what you think the player will do in 2010, hit the submit button and you’re done! If you made a mistake, you can always go back and change your selection at any time.

That’s really all there is to it. You can filter players by team, or if you go to the player pages, you can project players individually. If you want to see all the players you’ve projected, you can click on the “My Rankings” button which will show you only what you specifically projected a player to do.

As with all new features, we hope everything is bug free and we test things as much as possible, but if you do notice any issues, please let us know.


The Reds’ Bright Spot

Say what you will about the Cincinnati Reds, as a team they play air-tight defense. I don’t think much has been made of it, but the Redlegs led the National League in UZR with 52 runs saved last season. Just looking at the team’s current depth chart, they might possibly improve on last year’s mark. This isn’t to say their squeaky clean glovework is going to somehow launch them into contention next year, but hey, when you can find a bright spot for a languishing franchise such as the Reds, it needs to be highlighted.

There are a couple nifty new sets of defensive projections that have recently come out. Jeff Zimmerman of Beyond the Boxscore has cooked some up, and Steve Sommer has some projections that go the extra mile and regresses UZR to a population based on the Fan’s Scouting Report.

                   Jeff  Steve
Joey Votto         2      3
Brandon Phillips   7      7
Scott Rolen        7      8
Paul Janish        4      7
Chris Dickerson    1      8
Jay Bruce          1      4

Be sure to click on the links if you would like to read up on their methods.

There’s not a weak link on this chain. I’m assuming Drew Stubbs will be their center fielder after Willy Taveras’ replacement level season, but we can’t put anything past Dusty Baker. Stubbs gets glowing reviews from scouts, and his Total Zone stats (found at MinorLeagueSplits.com) agree: the numbers have him at +58 in 423 minor league games, including 19 runs in 107 games in AAA last season.

UZR had Stubbs at 8 runs in just 42 games in the big leagues, for what it’s worth. The bottom line is he can go get ’em.

Paul Janish may be Adam Everett-light, and I mean that as a compliment. I think. He hit for a paltry .275 wOBA and is projected to do the same next year, but in just less than 600 innings on the field he was good for 12 runs as measured by UZR. Small sample, yes, but the fans like him and the Reds like him enough to start him next season.

The Scott-Rolen-for-Edwin-Encarnacion-plus-prospects trade is still a head scratcher to me, but he was consistently -10 on defense where Scott Rolen is still mostly Scott Rolen.

Things might get ugly yet again this summer in Cincinnati, but it won’t be for a lack of fielding.


Jeff Bailey: The New Josh Phelps?

Remember Josh Phelps? In 2002, he came up as a catcher-turned-first-baseman with the Blue Jays and absolutely smashed the ball (.396 wOBA) for 287 plate appearances. His 2003 was decent, if not mind-blowing. Phelps struggled badly in 2004 and got traded to Cleveland mid-season. He bounced around the majors and minors for a while, and though he never blew anyone away for any length of time again, he was mentioned as recently as last off-season as a minor-league deal or possible stopgap/platoon guy at 1B/DH. With glorious half-season in 2002 far off in the rear view mirror, the days of being the semi-darling of a few isolated bloggers are probably over for Phelps; he’ll be 32 next season and only saw action at the minor-league level for the Giants in 2009.

The point with Phelps was not that he was some super-duper mystery pickup that would put a team over the top. The reason he was brought up was because he was F.A.T. (Freely Acquirable Talent) that could make a contribution in the right situation. Unless a player is utterly horrible defensively (and I realize that one could have made such a claim about Phelps), if he’s an above-average hitter, he probably has a place somewhere, especially if he can be had on a minor-league deal.

Which brings us (finally) to the player at-hand: Jeff Bailey. He’ll be 31 next season (almost as old as Phelps). He’s accumulated 159 plate appearances in the majors from 2007-2009. He’s primarily played first base, but has seen a bit of duty in the outfield as well, although that’s a stretch. He’s basically a glorified career minor-leaguer who’s seen the majors when the Red Sox had injuries.

I’m hardly an expert on all things Bailey, but his CHONE projection caught my eye: .249/.348/.417, or 5 runs above average per 150 games. ZiPS concurs, projecting him at .258/.345/.415. The UZR data is in too small a sample to be relevant; Rally’s TotalZone projection for Bailey last season and the Fans Scouting Report this season suggest that Bailey is probably average-to-below-average defensively.

Bailey looks like about a 1 WAR player. He’s going to be 31 and has little (if any) upside. He’s not a player every team should be after for even the right price. It depends on the situation. For example, if there’s an NL team with a hole at first base, maybe a platoon of Bailey and, I dunno… Eric Hinske might be a good idea if the team lacks other options. If a team really has no AAA depth, Bailey’s definitely worth a look.

Like the latter-day Phelps, Bailey doesn’t have much to offer other than a non-horrible right-handed bat. He should be available on a minor-league deal, or, if a bidding war breaks out, at the major-league minimum. Perhaps this is obvious, but remember the New Josh Phelps when you read about a team trading actual talent for or giving millions to the New Mike Jacobs.


Chicago White Sox: Draft Review

General Manager: Kenny Williams
Farm Director: Buddy Bell
Scouting Director: Doug Laumann

2006-2009 Draft Results:
First three rounds included
x- over-draft signees ($200,000+)

2009 1st Round: Jared Mitchell, OF, Louisiana State
1S. Josh Phegley, C, Indiana
2. Trayce Thompson, OF, California HS
2. David Holmberg, LHP, Florida HS
3. Bryan Morgado, LHP, Tennessee (Did not sign)

Mitchell’s .417 on-base average was impressive in just 34 low-A ball games. However, his line of .296/.417/.435 was aided by a crazy-high .453 BABIP. His walk rate of 16.7% was offset by a nasty strikeout rate at 34.8%, which is obviously going to have to come down. With an ISO of .139, his power is undeveloped at this time, although he could develop into a 15-homer hitter. Despite good speed, Mitchell nabbed just five steals in eight attempts.

With Tyler Flowers already in the upper levels of the system, the club added another offensive-minded backstop in Phegley. The right-handed hitter struggled in his debut and hit just .224/.277/.408 in 196 low-A at-bats. The 21-year-old prospect posted a nice ISO rate at .184 and slugged nine homers in 196 at-bats. However, he managed a walk rate of just 5.3% and his BABIP was very low at .238. Phegley’s going to have to pick it up against right-handed pitching after hitting just .204/.259/.362 (.216 BABIP).

After going the college route with its first two picks, the club then nabbed a couple of interesting high school players: Thompson and Holmberg. An outfielder, Thompson had a bumpy debut but he’s the son of a former NBA player, so he’s loaded with athleticism, as well as a quick bat. Despite that, he’s raw as a baseball player and he hit below .200 and struck out at an alarming rate: 38.1%. Left-handed Holmberg had a solid debut in rookie ball for a teenager. He allowed 40 hits in 40.0 innings, while posting a walk rate of 4.05 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 8.33 K/9. His ground-ball rate has some room for improvement at 44%, and he struggled a bit with the long ball (1.13 HR/9).

The club failed to sign third round pick Morgado, who was a draft-eligible sophomore left-hander at the University of Tennessee. Harold Baines Jr., 21, was nabbed late in the draft but hit just .147/.220/.160 in 75 rookie ball at-bats.

2008 1st Round: Gordon Beckham, IF, Georgia
2. NA
3. Brent Morel, 3B, Cal Poly
7x- Jordan Danks, OF, Texas

Despite lacking a second-round selection, the White Sox had an excellent draft. The acquisition of Beckham makes the draft a winner all on its on, but the club also nabbed a few other interesting prospects. Back to the No. 1 pick for a moment, though… Beckham appeared in 45 minor-league games before being called up in ’09, and he stuck in the Majors for the remainder of the season by hitting .270/.347/.460 in 378 at-bats. He showed good power with a .190 ISO and he kept the strikeouts in check (17.2 K%). Beckham could see his average improve in 2010 if he can better his .294 BABIP. The first-year wOBA of .351 bodes well for the infielder.

Both Morel and Danks have a chance to play roles in Chicago, although they are both very different players. Morel has shown solid statistics throughout his career despite average tools. Danks has displayed outstanding tools, while his numbers have been inconsistent. Fifth-rounder Dan Hudson looks like a steal, after pitching well at five stops during the ’09 season. However, the right-hander may be overrated a little bit now, and he looks like a solid No. 3 starter, with No. 2 starter potential.

Dexter Carter, a 13th-round selection, posted excellent numbers in his debut but was used as part of the loot to acquire veteran right-hander Jake Peavy from San Diego during the 2009 season. The club made a run at signing football legend Howie Long’s son Kyle Long (23rd round), but the left-hander spurned them for Florida State University.

2007 1st Round: Aaron Poreda, LHP, San Francisco
2. Nevin Griffith, RHP, Florida HS
3. John Ely, RHP, Miami (Ohio)

The ’07 draft was not a great one for the club, although Poreda – like Carter above – was used in the Peavy deal. Griffith got back on the mound in ’09 after struggling with injuries in his first two pro seasons. The 20-year-old right-hander allowed 69 hits in 67.2 innings of work in low-A. His strikeout rate was quite low at 4.66 K/9, but his ground-ball rate was very close to 50%. He needs to improve against left-handed batters after they hit .358 against him.

Ely has proven to be a solid pick. He has average stuff, but his control is solid and he posted a walk rate of 2.88 BB/9 at double-A in ’09; it’s never risen above that in his three year pro career. His BABIP of .293 helped him allow just 140 hits in 156.1 innings, and his ground-ball rate has been right at 50% over the past two seasons. He projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter, which is nothing to sneeze at.

2006 1st Round: Kyle McCulloch, RHP, Texas
2. Matt Long, RHP, Miami (Ohio)
3. Justin Edwards, LHP, Florida HS

This was definitely not a draft to remember. Both college starters McCulloch and Long have struggled in professional baseball. Edwards, 22, spent the majority of ’09 in high-A ball and posted a FIP of 4.71, as well as a strikeout rate of 2.86 K/9 in 78.2 innings. Infielder John Shelby (5th round) and right-hander Brian Omogrosso (6th round) could see MLB time.

Up Next: The Chicago White Sox Top 10 Prospects


Minor Moves: McPherson, Hulett, & Liz

A’s sign 3B Dallas McPherson to a minor league deal

Amidst rumors of a potential Jack Cust departure, it seems only right that Billy Beane goes out and inks the now 29-year-old McPherson. The big lefty has always butchered Triple-A pitching, but has serious issues with strikeouts and health. In fact he missed the entire 2009 season because of his back. If McPherson can stay healthy and allow his power to flourish by making more contact he could be a very nice addition to the A’s. For some reason I feel like that same sentence will have home to McPherson’s next signing too.

Red Sox trade a player to be named later to the Royals for INF Tug Hulett

In a deal reminiscent of the olden A’s/Rays swaps that eventually lead to the Rays refusing to trade with Beane, here we have two front offices on opposite ends of the perceived spectrum making a little swap. Jeff Sullivan polled his readers to see whether the psychology of a player being acquired by the Red Sox from the Royals changed their opinion of the player’s worth and nearly 30% confirmed that it did. Hulett is what he’s always been: a short southpaw-batting utility infielder with on-base skills and questionable defensive abilities. Hulett will likely see the majors next year in a similar capacity to Gil Velasquez last season and the projected role of Nick Green before poor luck launched him into the lineup this season.

Padres claim Radhames Liz off waivers from the Orioles

It wasn’t long ago that Liz was a highly thought of prospect with tantalizing velocity, but the Orioles are no longer pitching-prospect starved and Liz spent most of the year in the minor league bullpens when he pitched. His ERA in the minors were rough, but at the same time, his FIP was solid. In 110 innings with the Orioles since 2007 he had an issue with walks and showed fly ball tendencies. Fringe hard-throwing airball lover, meet Petco; Petco, meet Liz.


Pittsburgh Pirates: Top 10 Prospects

General Manager: Neal Huntington
Farm Director: Kyle Stark
Scouting Director: Greg Smith

FanGraphs’ Top 10 Prospects:
(2009 Draft Picks/International Signees Not Included)

The system is getting better and the Top 10 list would look much more impressive if 2009 draft picks were included… Some of those picks that look good now, though, will fall by the wayside during the 2010 season, but you can expect to see names like Tony Sanchez, Zack Von Rosenberg, and Victor Black to be near the top by the end of 2010, unless something catastrophic happens. Looking at the present list, No. 1 pick Alvarez is an impact bat, while Lincoln has the arm to be an impact pitcher, but the numbers have just not been there for him. Alderson could end up being a steal from the Giants organization if he can regain a little zip on his pitches; I’m not ready to get down on him just yet.

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, High-A
DOB: February 1987 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2008 1st round – Vanderbilt University
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 2

The pride of the system, Alvarez overcame a slow start in ’09 to hit extremely well in the second half. He began the year in high-A and hit just .247/.342/.486 in 243 at-bats. Alvarez was then pushed to double-A, where he exploded with a triple-slash line of .333/.419/.590 in 222 at-bats. His ISO was impressive at both levels: .239 and .257. He also showed a good eye with a cumulative walk rate of 13.2%. His strikeout rate was high at 27.8%, but he has the raw power and homer totals to make that a justified statistic. Alvarez, who posted a .444 wOBA in double-A, is a star in the making but be wary of his .407 BABIP at the senior level. He also showed some weakness against southpaws with an OPS of .714, compared to right-handers at 1.028. Defensively, the former No. 1 pick was an adventure at third base, so many are projecting him as a future first baseman, which he has the bat for, but it does lessen his value by a small degree.

2. Brad Lincoln, RHP, Double-A
DOB: May 1985 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2006 1st round – University of Houston
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3
Repertoire: 90-95 mph fastball, curveball, change-up

Lincoln started out the year pretty well with a 2.96 FIP and just 63 hits allowed in 75.0 innings at double-A. His FIP rose to 3.85 after a promotion to triple-A and he allowed 72 hits in 61.1 innings of work. The main culprit in the hit total increase was his BABIP, which rose from .287 to .332. Lincoln has been too hittable over his career – especially given his stuff – but he’s always around the strike zone; he just needs a little better command of his pitches. His control is solid with per-nine walk rates of 2.16 in double-A and 1.47 in triple-A. Lincoln has also been homer-prone in his career and he allowed seven (1.03 HR/9) in triple-A. His ’09 ground-ball rate of 39.5% is not good news; it would be nice to see him work down in the zone more and bump that rate up by about 10%. At worst, he should be a solid No. 3 starter, and he could see a few above-average seasons in terms of pitching results.

3. Jose Tabata, OF, Triple-A
DOB: August 1988 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2005 non-drafted international free agent (Venezuela – New York Yankees)
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3

Allegedly just 21 years old, Tabata reached triple-A around the time he earned the right to drink legally in the United States. After a tumultuous beginning to the season off the field, Tabata hit .303/.370/.404 in 228 double-A at-bats. He then moved up to triple-A where he held his own and hit .276/.333/.410 in 134 at-bats. Unfortunately, he continues to be haunted by a couple holes in his game that could keep him from becoming a breakout talent. His walk rate is on the low side and it was just 6.9% in triple-A. His power has yet to develop, and his ISO rate was .101 in double-A and .134 in triple-A, which was down significantly from the number he flashed in his debut with the Pirates system in ’08. Tabata’s thickening lower half has also impacted his speed on the bases (11 steals in 19 attempts) and his range in the outfield.

4. Tim Alderson, RHP, Double-A
DOB: November 1988 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 1st round – Arizona HS (San Francisco Giants)
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 86-92 mph fastball, plus curveball, change-up

Just 21, Alderson spent the majority of ’09 in double-A while most players his age were finishing up their junior years of college. The right-hander began the year in the Giants organization and made five starts in high-A ball. He was then bumped up to double-A and allowed 76 hits in 72.2 innings of work. He showed his typically good control with a walk rate of 1.73 BB/9, while his strikeout rate was a little worrisome at 5.70 K/9. Unfortunately, that got worse after the trade, falling to 4.19 in 38.2 double-A innings. His walk rate also rose to 3.03 BB/9 but that was attributed to tiredness. Much has been made about Alderson’s dip in velocity, which peaked in high school. It could still bounce back, and the right-hander could also be sacrificing miles per hour for control/command. Either way, he needs to bump up the strikeout rate if he’s going to be an impact pitcher. It would also be nice to see him add at least 5% to his ground-ball rate to get it up over 50%.

5. Jeff Locke, LHP, High-A
DOB: November 1987 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2006 2nd round – New Hampshire HS (Atlanta Braves)
MLB ETA: 40-Man Roster: Options:
Repertoire: 89-93 mph fastball, curveball, change-up

Acquired this past season from Atlanta (along with Gorkys Hernandez), Locke had a solid introduction into the system with a 3.16 FIP in 81.2 innings. He was too hittable in high-A with 98 hits allowed, but his walk rate improved significantly over his rate with Atlanta (45.2 high-A innings) from 5.12 to 1.98 BB/9. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate also dropped from 8.47 to 6.17 K/9. Formerly a 50+% ground-ball rate pitcher, Locke’s number dropped to 48.6% in ’09. Interestingly, he’s had better numbers against right-handed hitters compared to left-handed batters over the past two seasons. He’ll likely make the jump to double-A in 2010 and will need a little more luck from his BABIP rate after it sat at .350 this past season. Locke has the potential to be a solid No. 3 or 4 starter.

6. Chase D’Arnaud, SS, High-A
DOB: January 1987 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 4th round – Pepperdine University
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

D’Arnaud has come a long way in a short time. The infielder looked like a future MLB utility player when he was drafted, but he’s worked hard to improve his skill set and he reached high-A in ’09 as a 22-year-old. The right-handed hitter batted .291/.394/.427 in 213 low-A at-bats before moving up to high-A where he hit .295/.402/.481 in 210 at-bats. D’Arnaud produced solid walk rates at both levels, right around 12.4%, but his strikeout rate rose 5% to 19.5% upon his promotion. With that, though, his power increased from an ISO of .136 to .186. If the power fluctuation is just a tease, D’Arnaud still has some added value on the base paths after stealing 31 bases in 39 attempts. He won’t ever match former starter Jack Wilson on defense, but D’Arnaud is solid in the field, and he should produce more on offense.

7. Rudy Owens, LHP, Low-A
DOB: December 1987 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2006 28th round – Arizona HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 86-90 mph fastball, curveball, plus change-up

Owens, a southpaw, has really shown some solid numbers in the minors despite average-at-best velocity on his heater. He’s seen his walk rate drop with each promotion, from 3.27 to 2.02 to 1.34 to 0.77. In ’09, Owens allowed just 71 hits in 100.2 innings of work in low-A ball, while posting a strikeout rate of 8.14 K/9. He jumped to high-A for six starts and was hit a little harder with 29 hits allowed in 23.1 innings. His BABIP jumped from .246 to .372. With a plus change-up, Owens fared well against right-handed hitters in ’09 with a .214 batting-average-allowed. He also had a higher strikeout rate against them compared to lefties (8.60 vs 6.15). On the downside, all of his 12 homers came to right-handed hitters. With his modest stuff, Owens is going to have to get his pitches down in the zone more often; his ground-ball rate of 38.0% is not going to cut it in the Majors.

8. Starling Marte, OF, Low-A
DOB: October 1988 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 non-drafted international free agent (Dominican Republic)
MLB ETA: Late-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Marte had a solid first season in North America as a 20-year-old outfielder. In low-A ball, he hit .312/.377/.439 in 221 at-bats. As with many inexperienced Latin players, his walk rate was low at 5.2% and his strikeout rate was high at 24.9%. He did show some signs of raw power potential and posted an ISO of .127. Marte’s game is more speed than power, though, and he stole 24 bases in 31 attempts. Given a brief taste of high-A life, Marte went 2-for-2 with an RBI. He definitely should be watched closely in high-A ball in 2010, but his ’09 numbers were helped by his .405 BABIP.

9. Gorkys Hernandez, OF, High-A
DOB: September 1987 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 non-drafted international free agent (Venezuela – Atlanta Braves)
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3

Brought over in a trade from Atlanta, Hernandez had a disappointing time in the Pirates system. He started out the season in double-A with Atlanta, where he hit .316/.361/.387 in 212 at-bats. After the trade to Pittsburgh, he hit just .262/.312/.340 in 344 at-bats at the same level. Hernandez’ BABIP dropped from .424 to .328 after the trade and his wOBA sank to .298. The outfield prospect is going to have to get on base more consistently to take advantage of his speed, because he has little power potential after posting an .076 ISO in ’09. His walk rate of 6.5% needs to improve, and he also needs to tone down his swing after posting a strikeout rate of 22.1% in the Pirates system. Right now, he looks like a fourth outfielder, but he has potential and is just 22 years old.

10. Quinton Miller, RHP, Rookie Ball
DOB: November 1989 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 20th round – New Jersey HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-94 mph fastball, slider, change-up

Squeaking onto the Top 10 list is Miller. The right-hander was a 2008 draftee who did not make his debut until ’09. Despite the layoff, Miller posted respectable results in low-A ball by allowed just 50 hits in 56.1 innings. His walk rate was OK at 3.99 BB/9, but the strikeout rate was a little low at 6.39 K/9. Miller’s ground-ball rate was OK at 42.5%, but he’s going to want to see that rise a bit as he climbs the ladder. He also needs to get more comfortable with left-handed batters as he posted a 6.20 BB/9 rate against them, compared to 2.80 BB/9 against right-handed hitters. His FIP was 4.69 despite a .275 BABIP, so he may need to return to low-A in 2010 to work out a few kinks before moving up to high-A.

Up Next: The Chicago White Sox


Charlie Hayes and MVP Voting

My latest Wall Street Journal piece that went live today looked at other Placido Polanco situations from the last 20 years, where a down-ballot MVP vote just makes you scratch your head and wonder what point the writer was trying to make. There’s no way that someone really thought Polanco was one of the ten most valuable players in the AL, right? There had to be some kind of subtext that the vote represented, I would imagine.

Anyway, in researching the article, I found quite a few of these types of votes, where you can tell that a writer is just trying to shine a light on someone whose skills they may feel get overlooked. Scott Podsednik got a lot of credit for his base stealing, even though he wasn’t any good in 2005. Deivi Cruz got a vote for his defense, even though he couldn’t hit to save his life. Scott Eyre and Jeremy Affeldt got votes because one SF writer likes left-handed middle relievers.

But there was one guy on the list who I just can’t figure out. In 1995, Charlie Hayes got four points, good enough to finish 16th in the MVP voting. Four voting points equals four tenth place votes, two tenth place votes and one ninth place vote, two ninth place votes, or one seventh place vote.

Hayes hit .270/.340/.406 in 1995, making him the exact definition of a league average hitter. He hit 11 home runs. He played third base. The Phillies finished below .500 and did not make the playoffs. Trying to figure out what the voter(s) saw just leads to bewilderment.

He did finish 23rd in the National League in RBIs, I guess. He led the league in… double plays grounded into. That’s probably not it. He made 14 errors and never won a Gold Glove while playing a non-premium position, so it doesn’t seem likely that they were rewarding his defense.

What happened here? This isn’t a George Bell scenario, where an overrated slugger is racking up counting stats. Hayes didn’t do any of the things that normally generate MVP votes. He was a pedestrian player who had a mediocre season on a team that didn’t win.

Did he just have the best personality of all time? And if so, why didn’t that matter two years prior, when he hit .305/.355/.522 in Colorado, led the league in doubles, and drove in 98 runs?

If there’s an explanation for multiple voters putting Charlie Hayes on their ballot, or one guy thinking he belonged in the top seven, I’d love to hear it. Because, from this point in history, it doesn’t make any sense at all. It doesn’t matter of course, but it is one of those things that you have to wonder what happened.


Is Zimmerman a Better Fielder than Longoria?

Like many wannabe saberdorks, I love Joe Posnanski’s work. It’s not just because he’s so much better than, say, [horrible-and-inexplicably-award-winning columnist for major newspaper] or [rumor-mongering baseball reporter prone to bouts of self-righteousness]. This isn’t a Posnanski tribute, but in short: Posnanski is great because he tells an engaging story and incorporates good baseball analysis without confusing one for the other.

This doesn’t mean that I always agree with Poz.* I disagree with many things written by sportswriters. In Posnanski’s case, I think highly enough of him that it’s worth quibbling over minor points, unlike, say, with [arrogant breaker of stories for your dad’s favorite sports magazine that we would have found out about anyway], who is only worth refuting because of his [alleged] influence. I hold Posnanski to a higher standard (not that he knows I exist).

*Or “JoPo”; has a sports journalist ever had so many different nicknames?

Which brings us to today’s Poz post on likely future Hall-of-Famers currently under 30. It’s an entertaining (if unsurprising) read. One claim in particular caught my eye. Posnanski writes that Ryan Zimmerman is “probably better defensively” than Evan Longoria. Now, Longoria didn’t qualify for the list (hasn’t played 500 major-league games), so while I do think he is the better player, that isn’t the point here. The issue is whether Zimmerman is “probably better defensively” than Longoria, as Posnanski claims.

Although he doesn’t cite specific defensive numbers in this piece, Posnanski has used Dewan’s plus/minus system in the past (although he has increasingly cited UZR). Here are the Dewan numbers for Zimmerman and Longoria in seasons in which they’ve both played (2008 and 2009):

Plus/Minus 2008:
Zimmerman: +10 plays (+11 runs) in 910.2 innings
Longoria: +11 plays (+9 runs) in 1045.2 innings

Plus/Minus 2009:
Zimmerman: +28 (+22 runs) in 1337.2 innings
Longoria: +21 (+17 runs) in 1302.2 innings

Over the last two seasons, Zimmerman has been 7 runs better in about 100 fewer innings according to plus/minus. Seven runs is seven runs, but given everything that is rightly said about the large error bars on defensive metrics, the gap isn’t as significant as it looks.

Given the various issues with defensive metrics, looking at other systems will give us a more perspicuous overview. Here at FanGraphs, UZR is used to measure fielding. I’m not qualified to argue which metric is the best; I’m simply using them as separate data points. UZR has a helpful “rate stat” version, UZR/150 (runs above/below average per 150 games). I’ve included the “non-rate” runs in parentheses.

UZR/150 2008:
Zimmerman: +3.4 (+2.1)
Longoria: +20.1 (18.5)

UZR/150 2009:
Zimmerman: +20.1 (+18.1)
Longoria: +19.2 (+14.9)

Suddenly things are less obvious. While 2009 was practically even, in 2008 UZR has Longoria almost two wins better. Their career UZR/150s: +12 for Zimmerman, +19.6 for Longoria. It’s a smaller sample for Longoria, but if you check Jeff Zimmerman’s regressed and age-adjusted 2010 UZR/150 projections, Zimmerman is at +10, and Longoria +12.

Defensive stats are obviously important, but when estimating fielding skill, in particular, we need to weight visual evidence — scouting — heavily. I’m not a professional scout, and unlike Posnanski, I don’t have access to them. Perhaps legendary scout Art Stewart, who told Poz “You will remember this day for the rest of your life” after Royals great Chris Lubanski’s first batting session at Kauffman Stadium, thinks Zimmerman is way better than Longoria. Jokes aside, scouting is essential for estimating defensive ability.

While most of us don’t have access to professional scouts, we do have access to the
Fans Scouting Report. In both 2008 and 2009 Longoria was rated as (slightly) better than Zimmerman.

Given that plus/minus seems to “prefer” Zimmerman — and UZR, Longoria — does this make the Fans Scouting Report a tiebreaker in Longoria’s favor? No. Given the relative closeness of the rating, neither the numbers nor the testimony of observers has the degree of reliability for us to make that kind of call. However, contra Posnanski, I do not think we can say that either player is “probably better defensively” than the other.

Molehill converted to mountain? Check. Happy American Thanksgiving, everyone!


Pittsburgh Pirates: Draft Review

General Manager: Neal Huntington
Farm Director: Kyle Stark
Scouting Director: Greg Smith

2006-2009 Draft Results:
First three rounds included
x- over-draft signees ($200,000+)

2009 1st Round: Tony Sanchez, C, Boston College
1S. Victor Black, RHP, Dallas Baptist
2. Brooks Pounders, RHP, California HS
3. Evan Chambers, OF, Florida CC
4x- Zach Dodson, LHP, Texas HS
6x- Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP, Louisiana HS
7x- Trent Stevenson, RHP, Arizona HS
8x- Colton Cain, LHP, Texas HS
10x- Joey Schoenfeld, C, California HS
12x- Jeff Inman, RHP, Stanford

No one can criticize the Pirates organization for going cheap in this draft, even with an (arguable) over-draft of Sanchez with the fourth-overall pick. The club spent big money on more than 10 players in the draft. Sanchez did everything he could to make his selection look smart. The solid-defensive catcher hit .308 in four rookie ball games before moving up to low-A, where he hit .316/.415/.561 in 155 at-bats. He then received a four-game trial in high-A ball and he should begin 2010 back at that level. Along the way in ’09, Sanchez showed better power than expected (.245 ISO) and a good eye at the plate with a walk rate of 11.9 BB% in low-A. His BABIP was unusually high for a catcher at .368, so he’s probably not going to be a .300+ hitter, but he has more than enough value elsewhere.

In limited innings, Black showed solid potential with a ground-ball rate right around 50%, as well as a solid fastball that allowed him to post a strikeout rate of 9.48 K/9. His walk rate was a little high at 4.31 BB/9 but you have to like the 2.63 FIP and that fact he allowed just 26 hits and kept the ball in the park. Second rounder Pounders had a solid debut in rookie ball and appears to be a big-bodied, workhorse type. Third rounder Chambers batted just .245 despite a .381 BABIP. His walk rate of 20% in short-season ball was nice to see and he actually had more walks (50) than hits (49). The 39% strikeout rate suggests he may have been too passive at the plate, although I don’t have numbers showing how many of those Ks were looking and how many were swinging. With an ISO of .135, he’s going to have to trim the strikeouts, even if it’s at the risk of losing some on-base average.

Dodson, Von Rosenberg, Cain, Schoenfeld, and Inman did not see enough playing time to comment on at this point, but all players have significant potential. The first four prospects are all raw high school players, while Inman was drafted out of Stanford and could move a little bit quicker. Stevenson appeared the most of the over-slot picks and he allowed 13 hits in 15.0 innings of work in rookie ball. The right-hander struck out eight and walked no one.

2008 1st Round: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt
2. Tanner Scheppers, RHP, Fresno State (Did not sign)
3. Jordy Mercer, SS, Oklahoma State
4x- Chase D’Arnaud, SS, Pepperdine
6x- Robbie Grossman, OF, Texas HS
20x- Quinton Miller, RHP, New Jersey HS

The club failed to sign second rounder Scheppers, who was re-drafted this past season by Texas and has looked very good. The club did not skip a beat, though, and Alvarez looks like an impact bat despite a slow start to his pro career in ’09. Third rounder Mercer has been hurt by career-low BABIPs, including a .295 rate in ’09, which led to a .255/.314/.400 line. He did show some gap power this past season with 36 doubles and an ISO of .144.

D’Arnaud has passed Mercer on the middle infielder depth chart. The brother of Phillies catching prospect Travis D’Arnaud, Chase has gone from a potential future back-up to a possible big-league starter in two short years. With 35 steals and a walk rate of 14.5%, Grossman had an “interesting” first full season when you couple those stats with an alarming 36.4% strikeout rate. Miller had a modest first full year with a 4.69 FIP and 6.39 K-rate in low-A ball.

2007 1st Round: Daniel Moskos, LHP, Clemson
2. Duke Welker, RHP, Arkansas
3. Brian Friday, SS, Rice

You can thank the ’07 and ’06 drafts for helping to educate the organization on how not to draft and develop players. Moskos was a poor pick right from the get-go. He recovered a bit in ’09 with a 4.41 FIP but his strikeout rate has plummeted in the past few years from 9.24 to 6.36 to 4.65 K/9. Right-handed batters give him a fair amount of grief. Welker’s command and control both deserted him in ’09, while Friday looks like he’s going to top out as a utility player.

2006 1st Round: Brad Lincoln, RHP, Houston
2. Mike Felix, LHP, Troy
3. Shelby Ford, 2B, Oklahoma State
28x- Rudy Owens, LHP, Arizona HS

Lincoln was an OK pick at the time, but he’s been slowed by injuries. He could still end up as a solid player, but his low strikeout totals suggest he won’t be an impact pitcher. Injuries and significant control problems have ruined Felix’s potential, while Ford’s numbers plummeted in ’09, in part due to terrible BABIPs. Owens was a slick pick in the 28th round and is arguably the most talented southpaw in the system. Jim Negrych (6th round) could end up as a solid utility player or platoon infielder. Lonnie Chisenhall, who was later drafted in the first round by Cleveland, would have been a nice value in the 11th round.

Up Next: The Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospects


Lincecum and Arbitration

In an article on Yahoo Sports yesterday, Tim Brown discusses Tim Lincecum’s upcoming arbitration filing. Brown argues that, as a two time Cy Young winner with super-two status, Lincecum blows up the system of comparable pitchers used to determine salaries in the arbitration process, and that Lincecum may just file for $23,000,001 (one dollar more than Sabathia’s AAV) to drive home the point of how unique his circumstances are.

It’s true that very few pitchers achieve this much success so quickly in their major league career. It is not true that Lincecum is an historically unique player without comparison, however. We saw this same scenario unfold 22 years ago in Boston, when a guy named Roger Clemens took the baseball world by storm.

Clemens debuted in the majors in 1984 at age 21, but didn’t pitch a full season until 1986. He threw 254 innings with a 2.48 ERA, winning both the Cy Young and MVP awards. He followed that up in 1987 by throwing 281 innings with a 2.97 ERA, winning another Cy Young Award (but inexplicably falling to 19th in MVP voting).

At age 24, after the equivalent of three full seasons in the big leagues, Clemens had two Cy Young awards, 60 career victories in 104 starts, and a 3.08 ERA in about 767 innings of work. For the numbers that arbiters are likely to care about, Clemens’ case was even stronger than what Lincecum can offer today, with 33 percent more wins and an MVP award to go with his multiple Cy Youngs.

His 1988 salary? $1.5 million, a 230 percent raise from his 1987 salary and a 567 percent premium over the league median salary, which was $265,000. That was a nice paycheck back in the day, but it didn’t even crack the top 25 salaries of the season, nor was Clemens the highest paid player on the Red Sox team that year – Wade Boggs ($1.7MM), Jim Rice ($2.2MM), and Dwight Evans ($1.6MM) all earned more than Clemens.

If we just took those percentages and applied them to Lincecum, the numbers wouldn’t come out as rosy as his agents might like. Lincecum interestingly made the same $650,000 last year as Clemens did in 1987, and the median salary in 2009 was $1.4 million. A 230 percent personal raise would slot Lincecum in at around $1.4 million, while a 567 percent premium over the 2010 projected median (2009 median with 1% inflation) would put him at $7.9 million.

Its safe to say that Lincecum will file for a number north of those two, and no doubt his agents will argue that the economic climate of the game has changed in the last 20 years. While that is true, it’s also true that the 1987 version of Clemens had a better resume than the 2009 version of Lincecum, so an argument that he should be treated significantly better is unlikely to be convincing.

If we agree that Lincecum shouldn’t get more (relative to today’s dollars) than what Clemens got 22 years ago, then a realistic cap for his 2010 payday looks to be about $12 to $14 million, which would put him in the same area in ordinal rank of payroll (just outside the top 25), but would also reflect that baseball players are earning more money now.

He can take his two trophies to arbitration if he wants, but he’s not getting free agent money as a guy with two years of service time. He’ll get more than Ryan Howard did in 2008, but probably not much more. He’s a great pitcher, but there are comparable performances for the arbiters to look at – you just have to go back a little farther than normal.


Honoring Derrek Lee

One of the upsides of downtime during the off-season is the freedom it allows for one to stumble upon tidbits and performances he missed throughout the season. Consider this one: Derrek Lee had a .412 wOBA last season. I’m ashamed to admit I missed out on it. Oh, I saw his name on the WAR leaderboards, skimmed the 35 home runs, and caught a dozen or so Cubs games throughout the season, but for whatever reason my mind’s Shamwow didn’t work on Lee’s .306/.393/.579 slash line.

That doesn’t compare to his magical 2005 season in which he posted a.446 wOBA and .335/.418/.662, but hey, that season was probably one of the best non-Pujols/Bonds/Rodriguez offensive seasons we’ve seen over the last decade. Back to his 2009, the only number that really stands out as a bit of a fluke is his increased HR/FB and even that isn’t too far out of his career norm. Lee’s ISO went through the roof and that twin-killing bug he caught during 2008 (27 GIDP) left his system abruptly. In fact, his 2007 and 2009 season totals add up to 27 GIDP, which tells you how odd last year really was.

Lee turns 35 during next season and sees his contract expire at season’s end. He’s still a capable first baseman and it’ll be interesting to see where he lands if the Cubs don’t work towards an extension. Maybe it’s time for me to make use of the “My Team” function on here.


Miguel Cabrera’s Trade Value

Miguel Cabrera getting a first place MVP vote is pretty silly. That said, as a player, dude is awesome. He’s not Keith Hernandez with the glove or Willie Wilson on the basepaths, but in case you haven’t noticed, he’s pretty good at the whole “hitting” thing. From 2007 to 2009, Caberara generated 110.5 batting runs above average. During that period, he’s accumulated more Wins Above Replacement than fellow first basemen Lance Berkman, Adrian Gonzalez, Carlos Pena, and Ryan Howard. Cabrera will only be 27 next season. Rumor has it that he may be available in trade with the Tigers trying to clear salary. If so, what is his value?

To reiterate: Cabrera is an excellent (and still young) player. However, as fans, we’ve lately become more aware that a player’s value includes not only his (total) baseball skill, but, as Dave pointed out earlier in a different context, the player’s contract. Think about it this way: if someone gives you a house worth two million dollars, then you’ve gained two million dollars in assets. However, if someone “gives” you the same house conditional on you paying off the same two million dollars, you haven’t really added an asset, have you?

The valuation of baseball players is similar. Without getting into methods for calculating dollars per marginal win (see Colin Wyers’ excellent series at THT), this is perhaps the most important function of WAR. Teams spend money to add wins. WAR tells you how many wins a player adds above “freely available” talent. On its own, WAR tells us how much a player helps his team even if he’s below average. When WAR is connected with relative dollar value of marginal wins, we get a sense of how much a player exceeded or fell short of the value of his salary. Let’s apply this to Cabrera.

CHONE projects Cabrera as 37 runs above average per 150 games a hitter next season. Jeff Zimmerman projects him as a -1 defender at 1B. Looking at Cabrera’s baserunning numbers from the last few seasons, let’s call him -2. Prorated for 150 games, that’s: +37 hitting, -1 fielding, -11.5 position, -2 baserunning, +23 AL replacement level = about a 4.5 WAR player in 2010.

Following Tango, I’ll assume the current market value of a marginal win is $4.4 million. Again following Tango’s generic model, assume post-peak players decline by half-a-win per year. We need to build in annual salary inflation, (which I’ve set at 7%). With those assumptions in place, over the next six seasons (2010-2015) we’d expect a 4.5 WAR player like Cabrera to be worth about $102 million. Cabrera’s only 27, so the decline curve may be a bit harsh. If we add on a half-win a season to the original calculation, his estimated value from 2010 to 2015 is $118 million.

From 2010 to 2015 (six seasons), Cabrera is guaranteed $126 million. Think back to the house example — no matter how nice the house is, if you have to pay full price (or more) for it, you aren’t adding an asset. Cabrera is an excellent player, but he’s going to be being paid as much (or more) than he’s (likely) going to be worth.

Of course, the Tigers could pick up a chunk of Cabrera’s future salary and/or throw in cheap talent to add value from their side. However, straight up, given his estimated talent and large contract, Miguel Cabrera’s intrinsic trade value appears to be… nothing?

This is a bit of an extreme conclusion. Cabrera’s trade value is not “nothing.” He is one of the best hitters in the league and is young enough that he will probably remain so for at least the next few years. Having an efficient payroll is just a means to winning, not an end in itself, and players like Cabrera are rare indeed. Still, since Cabrera is being paid (at least) his likely market value over the life of the contract, he would only really help teams that can afford to pay market value on a regular basis — the Yankees, and perhaps the Red Sox (though probably not the Dodgers at the moment given their ownership situation). And the Yankees already have an expensive first baseman signed long-term in Mark Teixeira. Cabrera isn’t worth “nothing,” but his contract gives the Tigers much less leverage than one would expect given his age and skill.


An Etherview with Dan Szymborski, Baby Daddy of ZiPS

Baseball projection season is in full-ish swing, as part or all of the Bill James (available here already), CHONE, and ZiPS projections for the 2010 season are available to the public.

The man in charge of the latter-est of those, Dan Szymborski, was kind enough to sit down (electronically, at least) and answer some tough questions.

Why do we find projections so compelling? Which projections have particularly surprised Szymborski? When is it okay to drink on a boat? All of those questions are answered in what follows.

Szymborski consented to be interviewed Sunday by means of EtherPad, a program that allows multiple users to create and edit a document. Hence, the “etherview” — the phenomenon that no one anywhere describes as “the single most important contribution to news media this year.”

***

Carson: Dan, I want to make some sweeping generalizations about you, but I’m having trouble. Like, you’re from Baltimore, I know. But the only thing I really know about Baltimore I learned from John Waters movies. Is that what your life is like?

Dan: Not the Wire?

Carson: No. But a smart friend recently chastised me for not having watched it. It seems, uh, gritty. Is your life gritty?

Dan: I’m not sure that I would describe it as gritty. In the context of the Wire, my life bears little resemblance to high-end drug dealing. The hardest thing about Baltimore is learning how to properly eat steamed crabs. You figure out how to eat a crab and which segregated mass transit portion to ride and you’re pretty much set as a Baltimoron.

Carson: Okay, I know two other things about you. One: you’re a Malamud on your mother’s side. Two: you play classical piano.

Two questions. One: Any relation to Bernard Malamud (author of The Natural, among other things)? Two: You ever bang out any Erik Satie?

Dan: Malamud was my mother’s father’s first cousin. They lived down the street from each other but didn’t really talk much after they went to their respective colleges. He was also my grandfather’s second cousin, due to a part of the family tree being unfortunately close to another branch.

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