Archive for January, 2010

Bloomberg Sports: Professional Tool

For those of you wondering what the twitter topic #BBGSports is all about, Bloomberg is hosting an event at their headquarters in NYC where they’re demoing their latest fantasy and professional baseball data products. Their professional product more or less slices Pitch f/x data in every which way possible. Here are some pictures of the demo:

Data sliced and diced in the strike zone and on the field:

Strike zone data and spray charts for specific players:

Their pitch predictor tool:

Regular stats section, including a section where you can create your own stats:


Minor Transaction Wrap-Up

Let’s do some quick hits on transactions that didn’t get their own post this week, but are still interesting enough to talk about.

1. Randy Winn signs with the Yankees. This is a somewhat odd move, not because Winn isn’t useful (he is), but because of Winn’s unbelievably terrible line against LHPs a year ago. We’re talking about a switch-hitter with no platoon split over his career (.765 OPS vs RH, .758 OPS vs LH) who just posted one of the single worst lines against LHP of any player in the history of the game.

.158/.184/.200. That’s unfathomably bad. Most pitchers hit better than that. But for 125 at-bats, Winn was utterly useless at the plate, going 19 for 120 against southpaws.

And despite that, the Yankees signed him to be their fourth outfielder and presumably split time with Brett Gardner, who is a left-handed batter that has been fairly heavily platooned as a major league player. It’s just strange that in a winter where lefty mashing outfielders are plentiful, the Yankees chose a reserve outfielder who performed so poorly against LHPs to backup their starting LF who they may not trust to start against LHPs.

Its not a bad move. Winn’s a useful player, the price is right, and his 2009 performance against lefties looks like a fluke. But it’s just a weird one.

2. Jim Thome signs with the Twins. This makes a lot of sense for Minnesota, as they got insurance for both Jason Kubel and Delmon Young on a bargain contract. You could make a case that Thome is even Kubel’s equal, though I fear the wrath of the great white north if I ever say another disparaging word about Kubel again, so I won’t make that case.

Thome gives them depth at two positions and offers a patient bat-off-the-bench that makes starting Nick Punto more palatable, knowing you can pinch-hit for him late in the game. For less than $2 million, this is a no-brainer. It’s a good player at a low cost, giving them options in case of injury or poor performance. However, it also adds another LH hitter to a line-up that is already overly left-handed. Somewhere along the line, the Twins will have to add a right-handed stick who can break up the L-L-L-L top of the order. But, assuming that this move doesn’t preclude them from doing that, this is still a good addition.

3. The Mets re-signed Fernando Tatis, and are apparently going to go into 2010 with a first base platoon of Tatis and Daniel Murphy. I don’t even know what to say. Really, Omar? This is your plan? You couldn’t have used that million dollars you gave Gary Matthews Jr, combined it with the Tatis money, and gotten a younger, better first baseman instead (someone named Garko, perhaps)? You spent approximately 40 bazillion dollars on the core of your roster, and then seem intent on surrounding them with guys who just don’t deserve jobs.

I’d say I don’t get it, but maybe The Contest just has a better grand prize than a World Series trophy.


Kurt Suzuki: Anatomy of an Underrated Player

“Overrated” and “underrated” are overused terms in the blogosphere, particularly the sports blogosphere. Thank goodness I never fall into the trap of using them. But hey, it’s Friday, I can loosen the tie a bit.

What makes a baseball player underrated? It can be a number of things: not playing for a contender, not playing in a big market, not being verbose with the media, and, of course, not having skills that are commonly remarked upon. While I don’t know about Kurt Suzuki’s clubhouse witticisms one way or the other (one interview can be found here), I do know that he seems to meet the rest of the requirements.

Oakland has neither contended nor had excess national media coverage since Suzuki became their full-time catcher following Jason Kendall’s trade to the Cubs during the 2007 season. Given the As’ recent performances, Suzuki might seem to be just another cog in the machine of the seemingly endless (to casual observers, anyway) rebuilding process in Oakland. But the whole point of an “underrated” post is to show that he isn’t just another player. Suzuki isn’t just another player. But to see this, one has to look a bit more closely than usual.

Offensively, Suzuki has been just slightly below average over his major league career with a 97 wRC+. CHONE has him slightly better than that at 99 wRC+, and the other projection systems see him as about the same. That may not be too inspiring, but one has to keep in mind that Suzuki is a catcher, and not many catchers can produce near-league average offense. Combined with his ability to play almost 150 games a season, in each of the last two seasons, Suzuki has been around three Wins Above Replacement. Not bad for a pre-arbitration player.

But wait, there’s more! While catchers like Mike Napoli and Jorge Posada have superior bats to Suzuki, not only do they play fewer games at catcher than Suzuki, they also have poor gloves. While FanGraphs doesn’t have catcher defense (yet), there are some sources for it. Rally’s Wins Above Replacement has Suzuki at +11 defensively in 2008, and +1 in 2009 (which matches my 2009 figure). That bumps his 2009 figure just slightly, but makes him about a 4 win player in 2008. CHONE projects Suzuki at +3 defensively for 2010.

Adding it all together, one gets a 3+ win player, which is about how the Fans have him projected. This again illustrates how valuable a player’s pre-arbitration seasons are to a team, and again, as I wrote earlier this week, it is particularly clear this off-season in light of the contracts recently given to below-average veteran catchers. While the As’ crazy-range outfield may get the bulk of the publicity, Suzuki is just as important to a team that might sneak up on their competitors in AL West in 2010.

Then again, if 42 fans understand how good Kurt Suzuki is, how underrated can he be?


Toronto Blue Jays: Top 10 Prospects

General Manager: Alex Anthopoulos
Farm Director: Tony LaCava
Scouting Director: Andrew Tinnish

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

This is a tough system to rank beyond the Top 3 because the organization had such a down year in ’09 with a lot of prospects (hopefully temporarily) wiping out. On the plus side, there are quite a few talented players who are one good season away from shooting up the depth chart. The loss of Roy Halladay was a huge blow to the organization, as well as baseball in Canada, but the trade did infuse some much-needed talent.

1. Brett Wallace, 3B/1B, Triple-A
DOB: August 1986 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2008 1st round – Arizona State University (St. Louis)
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Wallace is the guy that was always destined to be a Blue Jay. The club drafted him out of high school in ’05 even though he was an almost impossible signing due to his commitment to Arizona State. The club then had hoped to grab him in the ’08 draft, but St. Louis got to him first. Finally, the club nabbed him in a deal with Oakland (for Michael Taylor, who was obtained in the Roy Halladay deal). Wallace had a busy year in ’09 and played with three different minor league teams in double-A and triple-A. Overall on the year, he hit .293/.365/.458, which is not bad at all considering it was his first full season and he had a lot of change to deal with. The left-handed hitter fared very well against southpaws with an .897 OPS. Wallace projects to be a 20+ home run hitter with the ability to hit .280-.300. However, he needs to get a little more loft on the ball if he’s going to be a consistent power hitter. His walk rate took a bit of a hit with the promotion to triple-A (6.5%) compared to his double-A rate (11.7%), so he could stand to make some improvements in that area.

2. Kyle Drabek, RHP, Double-A
DOB: December 1987 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2006 1st round – Texas HS (Philadelphia)
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 89-96 mph fastball, plus curveball, change-up

Drabek had an excellent ’09 season while returning from Tommy John surgery. He began the year in high-A ball and allowed 49 hits in 61.2 innings of work. His walk rate was solid at 2.77 BB/9 and he did not allow a home run, despite an average ground-ball rate. His strikeout rate was a nifty 10.80. Moved up to double-A, Drabek’s FIP rose from 1.82 to 3.83 but his walk rate was still good at 2.90 BB/9. His strikeout rate dropped to 7.10 K/9. He gave up nine homers in double-A, as his HR/9 rate increased to 0.84 and his ground-ball rate dropped a little below average. Overall, he allowed 141 hits in 158.0 innings of work. The right-hander will probably begin the year back in double-A where he can hopefully improve his worm-burning numbers before moving up to the hitter’s haven that is Las Vegas. Drabek has the potential to be a No. 1 or 2 starter.

3. Zach Stewart, RHP, Double-A
DOB: September 1986 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 3rd round – Texas Tech University (Cincinnati)
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-93 mph fastball, slider, change-up

The club’s No. 1 prospect before the Halladay trade, Stewart is more suited to this position on a team’s Top 10 list. The right-hander has good stuff but the jury is still out on if he’s a starter or reliever. Toronto seems committed to him as a starter, which makes sense considering the bullpen depth that the club has at this point. Stewart pitched for four teams and at three levels in ’09. He began the year in high-A ball and posted a 2.63 FIP in seven starts. Moved up to double-A, he posted a 2.77 FIP in another seven starts. Jumped to triple-A with the Reds, he moved to the bullpen and had a 3.42 FIP in nine appearances before moving to Toronto where he had a 3.42 FIP in 11 games. His control dipped with each promotion, going from 1.70 to 2.43 to 4.90, so he clearly has some more work to do. On the plus side, his strikeout rate rose from 6.80 to 7.54 to 10.52. Along with his excellent K-rate, Stewart produces a lot of ground-balls (53% in ’09). If he can sharpen his change-up, he could be a solid No. 3 starter.

4. J.P. Arencibia, C, Triple-A
DOB: January 1986 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 1st round – University of Tennessee
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

It was an ugly year for Arencibia, who balked at making adjustments to his approach at the plate, which led to a dismal walk rate of just 5.2% (although it was an improvement over ’08). Arencibia had a breakout year in ’08 by hitting 27 homers and driving in 105 runs between high-A and double-A. However, his wOBA dropped from .402 in high-A to .348 in double-A… and it continued to slide in ’09, down to .316. His strikeout rate has gone from 18.5 to 21.0 to 24.5% during that same span. His BABIP also bottomed out in ’09 at .269, as his triple-slash line was just .236/.284/.444 in 466 triple-A at-bats. It was bad timing for Arencibia, who likely would have been in line for the starting gig in Toronto in 2010, if he had had even an average year at triple-A. On the positive side, Arencibia has made huge strides on defense and now projects to be an average-to-above-average MLB catcher. Unless his hitting improves, though, he could be relegated to platoon work or a back-up gig on a championship-caliber team.

5. Moises Sierra, OF, Double-A
DOB: September 1988 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2005 non-drafted international free agent (Dominican Republic)
MLB ETA: Late-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

With one of the strongest outfield arms in all of minor league baseball, Sierra made huge strides at the plate in ’09. Just 21, he hit .286/.360/.393 in 405 at-bats at high-A ball. His walk rate has improved each of the past three seasons and it was 7.4% in ’09. His strikeout rate has dropped each year and it was just 16.3% in high-A, as Sierra is obviously becoming more confident at the plate. He also improved his base running in ’09 and stole 10 bases in 12 tries after being successful just 12 times in 23 tries in ’08. On the negative side, his power has yet to develop, although he has the potential to hit for power. His ISO rate has dropped each of the past three seasons from .154 to .118 to .106. The club was obviously happy with Sierra’s performance in ’09, which included a wOBA of .353, and he received a late-season promotion to double-A. After appearing in just nine games at that level last season, Sierra should return there for 2010. He is a breakout candidate for the new season.

6. Brad Mills, LHP, Triple-A
DOB: March 1985 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2007 4th round – University of Arizona
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 2
Repertoire: 86-90 mph fastball, plus change-up, curveball

Mills almost made the club out of spring training in ’09 – after an excellent ’08 season – and his value skyrocketed early in the year. Unfortunately, he had some ups-and-downs at triple-A and also battled injuries, which has caused him to fall out of favor with a lot of prospect watchers. Despite his “off year,” Mills still posted a 3.80 FIP at triple-A and showed acceptable control with a walk rate of 3.74 BB/9 and a good, but not great, strikeout rate at 7.68 K/9. Given two starts in the Majors, Mills tried to nibble and lacked confidence in his fastball and curveball, both of which had negative values in a small sample size (7.2 innings). If healthy in 2010, Mills should open the year back in triple-A but he could be one of the first pitchers called up.

7. Travis D’Arnaud, C, Low-A
DOB: February 1989 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 supplemental 1st round pick (Philadelphia)
MLB ETA: Late-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

D’Arnaud could be ranked higher on this list but I’m taking the conservative approach as he played at low-A in ’09. Like Wallace, the club had tried to acquire this catcher via the draft but he was nabbed with the 37th overall pick by the Phillies. Toronto, picking 38th, ended up with Brett Cecil (a nice compensation). D’Arnaud, who turns 21 shortly, hit .255/.319/.419 in 482 at-bats in low-A ball last year (His numbers were depressed by a .279 BABIP). He showed good power potential with 38 doubles and 13 homers (.164 ISO). The catcher also had a pretty good approach at the plate with a walk rate of 7.6% and a strikeout rate of 15.6%. He has a good defensive reputation but he threw out just 23% of base stealers. The system suddenly has good depth at the catching position with the likes or Arencibia, D’Arnaud, and Carlos Perez.

8. Henderson Alvarez, RHP, Low-A
DOB: April 1990 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2006 non-drafted international free agent (Venezuela)
MLB ETA: Mid-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-93 mph fastball, plus change-up, slider

Alvarez is an exciting prospect because his fastball has been gaining velocity over the past two seasons and now sits comfortably in the low 90s, and it has excellent sink. That good downward movement resulted in a ground-ball rate of 51.4% at low-A in ’09. The right-hander gave up just one homer in 124.1 innings of work, while also posting a 2.43 FIP as a teenager. He also showed excellent control for his age with a walk rate of 1.38 BB/9. Still learning how to set up hitters, Alvarez’ strikeout rate was just 6.66 K/9 but his breaking ball has strikeout potential. He’ll move up to High-A ball in 2010 at the age just 20.

9. Carlos Perez, C, Rookie
DOB: October 1990 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 non-drafted international free agent (Venezuela)
MLB ETA: Late-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

The organization has not had much luck handing out large contracts to big-named international free agents, but Perez joins Alvarez and Sierra as one of the Jays’ best under-the-radar Latin signings. The catcher is solid defensive (albeit it with the usual youthful development needs), and he’s also becoming quite a force at the plate thanks to his solid batting eye. Perez, 19, made his North American debut in ’09 at rookie ball and hit .291/.364/.433 in 141 at-bats. After walking more than he struck out in the Dominican Summer League in ’08, he posted a respectable walk rate of 9.8% in the Gulf Coast League. He also showed some line-drive pop (.142 ISO) and he is more athletic than most catchers.

10. Danny Farquhar, RHP, Double-A
DOB: February 1987 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 10th round – University of Louisiana-Lafayette
MLB ETA: Late-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-94 mph fastball, cutter, slider, curveball, change-up

There are a number of other prospects that could have slid in here such as Gustavo Pierre, Tyler Pastornicky, Justin Jackson – interestingly enough all shortstops – because the system has so many sleepers in it right now (but few “can’t miss” names). Tim Collins was also an option here, but he projects to be a left-handed reliever, so his ceiling is a little lower than Farquhar who could develop into an eighth-inning guy, if not a closer. The right-hander comes at hitters from a variety of arm angles and can reach the low-90s from a sidearm slot. Perhaps because he throws so many different pitches – and with so many angles – Farquhar’s control has suffered and he posted a walk rate of 5.91 BB/9 in double-A. That obviously has to improve before he’ll have much success in the Majors. Despite that fact, he posted a 10.05 K/9 rate and allowed just one homer and 31 hits in 45.2 innings at the double-A level.

Up Next: The Washington Nationals


Willingham and Bay

Perception is a funny thing. After Buster Olney reported that the Nationals were willing to trade Josh Willingham again, I had a conversation with a couple of people about how well he would fit in with the Mariners. They’re not particularly new-school types, but I respect their opinions and wanted to know what they thought of him. Both thought he was okay, a decent role player who could inject some power but shouldn’t be thought of as an everyday player.

One comment in particular stuck out to me, though – “If you think he’s a substitute for Jason Bay, think again. He’s not at that level.” Curiosity piqued, I decided to look and see just how large the gap is between Willingham and Bay. And, to my surprise, I learned that the answer is “not much.”

They were born five months apart, Bay at the end of ’78, Willingham at the beginning of ’79. Bay made the majors as a 24-year-old, Willingham as a 25-year-old. They both share the same skillset: power hitting outfielders who draw walks and produce enough runs at the plate to compensate for below average defense.

But even beyond the generalizations, they’re similar. Look at their respective wOBAs plotted on the graph below.

In 2004 and 2005, Willingham racked up less than 30 plate appearances, so even though he’s got a dot on the chart, the performances aren’t meaningful. He wasn’t really a major league player until 2006, so focus on the years since. Since 2006, they have been very similar hitters. A weighted average of Bay’s wOBA since then is .377, while Willingham’s is .367. 10 points of wOBA over a full season is approximately 5 runs of offense.

This is not a small sample. We’re talking about a couple thousand plate appearances, and the difference in offensive production between the two can only be categorized as minor. Yet, there is the perception of a huge gap between the two. Bay is a middle of the order slugger, while Willingham is a nifty role player who can mash lefties. That’s the narrative, and four years of facts hasn’t been able to change it.

In reality, the difference between them is measured in fractions of a win. Bay is the better player – he’s outhit Willingham in three of the last four years, and his most recent performance came in the AL East, while Willingham has collected all of his performances in the NL. There are enough gaps to distinguish between them and say Bay > Willingham. But it’s a very small gap.

And here’s the funny thing – you guys don’t even really disagree with this very much. The Fan Projections here on the site have Bay as a +3.1 win player for 2010, while Willingham is projected as a +2.9 win player. Even if we won’t admit it, we think that they’re basically the same player going forward, just giving a slight edge to Bay.

So, with all due respect to my old school friend, I have to disagree. Josh Willingham is a substitute for Jason Bay. They’re practically the same player.


Changing the Natural Order

Like so many elements of today’s national pastime, the structure of minor league baseball has a direct lineage to Branch Rickey. The first sabermetrician, as it were, created the modern farm system around the time of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Almost nothing about baseball back then is the same today, and yet, the minor league ladder is never questioned. Each Major League team has six affiliates, to which they assign a contrived order of importance: Rookie League, A-ball, Triple-A, you know the drill. Players are given promotions when they’ve shown a “mastery” of a level, which is almost always either on the back of a hot streak, or because there’s someone below that is ready to take their spot. And for going on 80 years, we’ve simply assumed this is the way it should be.

With the goal that player development should be about building confidence and refining skills, I today offer an idea for change. My series on sinkers last week found how often good pitchers are let down by bad defenses at the lower levels of the minor leagues. With this suggested change, an onus would be put on young position players to value defense more, which can’t be a bad thing. Here’s my (fun?) six-step program to creating an entirely different Minor League structure:

1) Determine the best position for each regular season, full-time player.

2) During Spring Training, rank the players at each position defensively, in four quadrants: great, good, bad, terrible.

3) Do an extensive evaluation of the proportions and park effects at each affiliated minor league stadium.

4) Determine the groundball aptitude of all minor league pitchers, and like you did, separate the players in four quadrants: the most to least worm-burning pitchers.

5) Use this to build your minor league teams:
– Team 1: Groundballiest pitchers with great infielders, terrible outfielders, smallest stadium.
– Team 2: Second groundballiest pitchers with good infielders, bad outfielders, second smallest stadium.
– Team 3: Second flyballiest pitchers with bad infielders, good outfielders, second largest stadium.
– Team 4: Flyballiest pitchers with terrible infielders, great outfielders, most cavernous stadium.

6) Develop a series of challenges for each player that involves assignments to different teams to challenge their learned skills.

Yes, I think this is unrealistic, and no, I don’t think it is necessarily better than the current system. It’s Friday, though, and there’s no harm in having some fun. It also accomplishes some neat things:

1) It creates the best environment for pitchers to succeed. You’re playing to the pitchers’ strengths, and as a result, giving your best fielders the most chances to continue to improve their skills.

2) It creates a clear path for coaching assignments. For example, team 4 is most likely to be filled with power pitchers, who typically struggle with change-ups. The organization’s pitching coach that best teaches the change-up is thus assigned to this team. And so on.

3) The biggest weakness, without question, is that it would have disproportionate effects on offensive performance. Since it’s unlikely any other team would do this — the rest sticking to the traditional structure — you’re risking putting a “Triple-A” caliber hitter into a “Low-A” league/environment. And vice versa.

4) This all makes the farm director more important than ever before. With an understanding of his farm system, the director would be responsible for moving players around when they aren’t being challenged, and finding the best (and most ready) players to be called up to the Major Leagues. This shouldn’t be a difficult task, but it’s certainly asking more from the position.

At the end of the day, the minor league ladder still exists for the same reasons that closers, five-man rotations and sacrifice bunts do: because no one is willing to overtly challenge convention. Any editorial to do so is, admittedly, hot air, but this is still one structure that seems to skate by without questioning. I hope to hear about your opinions about the current structure, my suggested one, or any other ideas you guys have for change in the comments.


Fan Projection Targets: 1/29/2010

Here’s another three players who’ve moved around in the last few days. Today, we’d like you to project Jim Edmonds, Rich Hill, and Randy Winn

Edmonds was signed by the Brewers to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. He is coming out of retirement after a 0.9 WAR season split between the Padres and the Cubs. Will his age affect him? Can he still hit? And perhaps more importantly, can he still play defense?

We went over Rich Hill’s issues in a post yesterday. The question is simple: Can he find the strike zone?

Randy Winn’s move to New York basically means Johnny Damon’s Yankee career is over. How will Winn fare in his place?


Durham or Kansas City?

I like tormenting Matt Klaasen, and as such, I’m going to expand on a question I asked him earlier: is the Durham Bulls’ lineup better than the Kansas City Royals’ lineup?

If the season started tomorrow, Kansas City would have something that resembles this:

C Jason Kendall
1B Billy Butler
2B Chris Getz
3B Alex Gordon
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
LF David DeJesus
CF Scott Podsednik
RF Rick Ankiel
DH Josh Fields

Meanwhile, depending on what the Rays do over the next two months, the Durham lineup could look like this:

C John Jaso
1B Dan Johnson
2B Elliot Johnson
3B Chris Nowak
SS Reid Brignac
LF Fernando Perez
CF Desmond Jennings
RF Justin Ruggiano
DH Ryan Shealy

There’s an outside chance that Matt Joyce and/or Sean Rodriguez also wind up here, or some other minor league free agent types. Let’s go position by position.

C: Kendall has the edge defensively and in grit, but Jaso is the better offensive player no matter the level.

1B: Butler.

2B: CHONE thinks Getz is about 20 wOBA points better in 2010. Both are probably best suited for a bench spot in the Majors.

3B: Gordon.

SS: A simple “Brignac” would suffice, I’ll expand anyways. Brignac is left-handed, hits righties well, and fields the ball. He may not be the slayer of foreign worlds like many hoped a few years ago, but he’s better than Betancourt.

LF: DeJesus.

CF: Ignoring contractual status, I think you have to go with Jennings. He may be the best prospect in the American League East and he’d debut on Opening Day in some other organizations. Here he’s stuck behind Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton.

RF: Ankiel, although Ruggiano did work with the same swing mechanic who made Ben Zobrist into BZA.

DH: Amusingly, Shealy was a member of the Royals organization until just recently, yet he appears to be a better player than their DH; unless their DH is Butler, then he’s obviously not.

It appears the Royals get the nod, for now, but if Joyce and/or Rodriguez show up, you would have a hard time convincing me the Royals lineup was better on a spot-by-spot basis.


All-Joy Team: Leaderboards and You

What you’re reading when you’re reading these words is Carson Cistulli’s most recent submission to the All-Joy Team. If you’re unfamiliar with the project, then you’ll want to read the introductory posts (yes, plural!) some time before you shuffle off this mortal coil.

In the meantime, you’ll be fine knowing that this is an attempt to compile a 25-man roster of current players most capable of providing joy to the sabermetrically inclined.

After reaching some pretty frenzied heights in our most recent episode of All-Joy Team — i.e. the hit show that everyone’s talking about — today we take a more conservative, but no less legitimate tact.

For each of the five players below (1B, CF/LF, SP, RPx2), I’ve used leaderboards to some end. Of course, as a new season unfolds, this sort of search will produce different results, will identify new players as All-Joy worthy. Is that a problem? maybe you’re asking. To which I reply: absolutely not. Like with the seasons — that, or NBC’s late-night programming — change is the rule and not the exception for the All-Joy Team.

Regard:

1B, Brian Myrow, Pittsburgh (1,3)

One Method:

1. Go to the CHONE projections here at FanGraphs.
2. Sort all hitters by wOBA.
3. Find the first player to’ve recorded exactly zero MLB plate appearances last year.
4. Ta-da!

Alternatively:

1. Go to BP’s Minor League Equivalent Average page.
2. Painstakingly, copy and paste the Peak Translation hitting leaders for each league into your off-brand spreadsheet program.
3. Sort by EqA.
4. Find the first hitter over 27.
5. Hint: It’s also the only hitter over 27.
6. Ta-da!

The player upon whom you’ll settle in either case is Brian Myrow.

True Fact: If you confront Sean Smith about Myrow’s optimistic CHONE projection, he will stab you in the eye.

***

LF/CF*, Chris Heisey, Cincinnati (1,4)

The Method:

1. Go to the CHONE projections here at FanGraphs.
2. Sort all hitters by WAR.
3. Find the first player to’ve recorded exactly zero MLB plate appearances last year.
4. If he’s also a former 18th round draft pick, that’s even better.
5. Ta-da!

True Fact: Heisey is currently towards the bottom of a pretty crowded outfield depth chart in Cincinnati. His fate is also largely, tragically in the hands of Dusty Baker. Translation: Pray for him.

Note: Exact position TBD.

***

SP, Billy Buckner, Arizona (2,4)

The Method:

1. Go to the Pitcher Leaderboards for 2009 here at FanGraphs.
2. Set the Min IP to 50 and sort by name.
3. Export both the Advanced and Basic pages to CSV.
4. Attempt to open both documents by means of your off-brand spreadsheet program.
5. Wait like eleventy minutes for said documents to open.
6. Copy the data from the Basic stats over into the Advanced one.
7. Subtract xFIP from ERA for all players.
8. Sort by difference.
9. Find the first pitcher with an xFIP under 4.00.
10. Also, he can’t have won a Cy Young before.
11. Ta-da!

Quick Quiz: Can you guess the former Cy Young-er just above Buckner in ERA-xFIP?

True Fact: Billy Buckner once played for the Royals but escaped by means of an elaborate, Shawshank Redemption-type plan.

***

RP, Brandon League, Toronto (2,4,5)
RP, Kevin Jepsen, LA Angels (2,4)

The Method:

1. Actually, it’s identical to the Buckner method until Step 9. You just find the first relief pitcher instead.
2. Actually, Jepsen and League have basically the same difference (around 1.40).
3. Ta-da?

True Facts: League’s splitter was the toughest pitch to hit in 2009. Also, he was hand-picked by Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik, who is never wrong. Kevin Jepsen, for his part, throws what I’m prepared to call a “dazzling” cut fastball. Also, he made Jeter look silly in last year’s ALCS.


Toronto Blue Jays: Draft Review

General Manager: Alex Anthopoulos
Farm Director: Tony LaCava
Scouting Director: Andrew Tinnish

2006-2009 Draft Results:
First three rounds included
x- over-slot signees ($200,000 or more)

2009 1st Round: Chad Jenkins, RHP, Kennesaw State
1S. James Paxton, LHP, Kentucky (Did not sign)
2. Jake Eliopoulos, LHP, Ontario HS (Did not sign)
3. Jake Barrett, RHP, Arizona HS (Did not sign)
3. Jake Marisnick, OF, California HS
6x- K.C. Hobson, OF, California HS
15x – Andrew Hutchinson, RHP, Florida HS
18x – Daniel Webb, RHP, Florida JC

Ah, the amateur draft. What was once the strength of the organization became a weakness during the Ricciardi regime, and that was on full display when the organization failed to sign three of its top four draft picks in ’09. The club managed to get Jenkins signed, but he has yet to throw a pitch for the club. As well, Marisnick, Webb, Hobson, and Hutchinson all failed to sign in time to receive valuable development instruction during the ’09 season.

The organization received compensatory picks for the three players that did not sign in ’09, but the club loses some leverage; if the players they choose in those positions in ’10 do not sign, then the club does not receive compensation in 2011… and you can bet the players’ advisers will be all over that.

2008 1st Round: David Cooper, 1B, California
2. Kenny Wilson, OF, Florida HS
3. Andrew Liebel, RHP, Long Beach State

Another somewhat uninspired draft. The club wanted Brett Wallace (and eventually got him) but settled for Cooper in the draft. After a solid debut, the first baseman looked a little lost at double-A and hit just .258/.340/.389 with a .131 ISO in 473 at-bats. His walk rate of 11.0% brings some hope with it, and the strikeout rate was reasonable at 19.5% if the left-handed hitter can find his power stroke. With below-average defense, Cooper is all offense.

Wilson was a bit of a surprise in the second round. After years of avoiding raw, athletic players the organization is still learning how to develop them properly and this speedster needs to harness his swing (30.8 K%, .093 ISO in low-A). He nabbed 37 bases in 49 attempts but missed time due to injury and appeared in just 95 games on the season.

Third-rounder Liebel is not flashy; he’s more of a durable, workhorse-type with an average fastball and good control (2.42 BB/9 in high-A). He posted a 3.66 FIP in the Florida State League and received two late-season starts in double-A. His ground-ball rate was just shy of 50%.

The club scored with reliever Danny Farquhar in the 10th round (mid-90s fastball, crazy movement and 51% GB rate), as he slips into the Top 10 list at the expense of a few less-developed prospects. Tyler Pastornicky (5th round) is an intriguing shortstop with good speed (57 steals in 75 tries) but limited power. Right-hander Bobby Bell (18th) also had a nice ’09 season (10.46 K/9, 50% GB rate in 96.1 innings) and seems fully recovered from injuries suffered while playing college ball for Rice University.

2007 1st Round: Kevin Ahrens, 3B, Texas HS
1. J.P. Arencibia, C, Tennessee
1S. Brett Cecil, LHP, Maryland
1S. Justin Jackson, SS, North Carolina HS
1S. Trystan Magnuson, RHP, Louisville
2. John Tolisano, 2B, Florida HS
2. Eric Eiland, OF, Texas HS
3. Alan Farina, RHP, Clemson

With seven picks before the third round, the club looked poised to really infuse some depth and talent into the minor league system. Unfortunately, the organization has not had much luck developing prep picks (outside of Travis Snider, a rare talent) after years of focusing on collegiate picks only. Ahrens (.215/.282/.302), Jackson (.213/.321/.269), Tolisano (.232/.305/.379), and Eiland (.194/.289/.258) have all underperformed – but the quartet is also still young.

Arencibia had a breakout ’08 season but slipped while playing in triple-A in ’09. Despite that fact, he made the Top 10 list based on his potential. Cecil contributed to the Majors in ’09 and made 17 starts for Toronto after spending much of his college career in the bullpen. Magnuson had a poor ’08 season in the rotation in low-A ball, but he moved back to the bullpen in ’09 and reached double-A. Farina has been slowed by injuries but he has a good fastball.

Left-hander Marc Rzepczynski (5th round) could end up being the steal of the draft for the Jays. The left-hander made 11 starts for Toronto in ’09 and gets a ton of ground balls (51.2% in the Majors). Randy Boone (7th) is another good ground-ball pitcher (53.6 GB%). Second baseman Brad Emaus (11th) should serve as an offensive-minded utility player in the Scott Spiezio mold. Outfielder Darin Mastroianni (16th) had a nice ’09 season by reaching double-A and he could also develop into a useful part-time player after nabbing 70 bases in 85 tries and hitting .301/.400/.370 with a 13.4% walk rate between high-A and double-A.

2006 1st Round: Travis Snider, OF, Washington HS
2. None
3. None
x- Graham Godfrey, RHP, College of Charleston

Snider makes this draft, which is a good thing since the club did not have second- or third-round picks. Snider struggled in 77 big-league games in ’09 by hitting .241/.328/.419 but his potential remains massive. He just needs to trim his strikeout rate (32.4%) and stop swinging at so many pitcher’s pitches.

Godfrey was used (along with Kristian Bell) to obtain Marco Scutaro from the A’s, which turned out to be one of Ricciardi’s best deals, as it netted the Jays two years of the infielder and then two draft picks (34th, 78th overall), as he recently signed with Boston as a free agent.

Up Next: The Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects


The New Inefficiency?

One of the main uses of value analysis is to try and find market inefficiencies. Ten years ago, on base percentage was undervalued, so teams loaded up on high walk guys that scouts didn’t care for. More recently, defense has been the undervalued asset, so teams have gone after guys who can turn balls in play into outs.

Everything is cyclical, though. As more teams pursue what is currently undervalued, it becomes more fairly valued, and the competitive advantage goes away. At some point soon, defense will probably become fairly valued again, and the teams who are loading up on good defenders will be looking for some other way to spend their money.

What will the next big inefficiency be? It’s impossible to predict, of course, but I have a guess – old players.

We’re currently in the midst of an age where a lot of teams are operating on reduced budgets, and have shifted towards trying to keep costs down by going with more inexperienced talent whose salaries are deflated by their lack of service time. Teams like Tampa Bay and Oakland are continually attempting to replenish their farm systems to ensure a never ending pipeline of cheap, effective major league players that they can pull from.

As more teams have turned to this model, young talent has become increasingly expensive to acquire. The relative value of experienced veterans has taken a hit as teams have turned towards cheaper labor, even accepting downgrades in on field production in order to keep their payrolls in check.

This has led to yet another winter where guys over 35 are having a hard time finding jobs. It’s not just Johnny Damon, though he is a good example of this effect. Over the last few years, we’ve seen numerous productive-yet-old players pushed into retirement against their will, ranging from the likes of Kenny Lofton, Ray Durham, Frank Thomas, and Jim Edmonds.

Edmonds, of course, is now attempting to get back into baseball, and seems like he may be able to convince some team to give him a job. But he had to publicly ask for a minor league contract at the Cardinals FanFest event in order to begin the discussion – no one was beating down his door.

Teams have become cautious with the contracts they give to aging players, not wanting to get burned paying too much to a guy who may end up not having anything left in the tank, but I feel like we’re passing the point of caution and shifting towards a market failure. If a guy is a good player at 35, you should not expect him to be useless at 36. Yes, you regress his projection for aging, but players who go from good-to-terrible in a single season are the exception, not the rule.

Given the contracts that quality older players have been settling for over the last few years, I think we may see teams in the market for value increasingly going for the graybeards.


Rich Hill and 50th Percentile Projections

It’s amazing what can happen in but two short years. Coming into the winter of 2008, Rich Hill looked like he could be the real deal. His 2007 season wasn’t stellar – his FIP was only 4.32 due to a high home run rate – but there were great signs, especially from a 27-year-old left-handed starting pitcher. Most notably, the 8.45 K/9, especially given Hill’s lack of electric stuff, had Cubs fans expecting great things for years to come.

Now, we know it just wasn’t meant to be. Hill’s 2008 was derailed after only five starts, after a terrible 18 walks in 19.2 innings resulted in a demotion to AAA. Once in Iowa, the struggles only continued, as Hill walked over a batter per inning there, as well. He got another chance in Baltimore based on the potential he showed in 2007, but again, Hill couldn’t find the strike zone, and walked 49 batters in 61 innings between Triple-A and the majors.

In 2010, the Cardinals are going to hope to strike gold with Hill, giving the lefty an invite to spring training. It seems like Hill could be productive – CHONE projects him to have a chance to be worth roughly 1 WAR and to compete for a job as the 5th starter. Hill certainly seems like the perfect non-roster invite candidate, as the risk here is minimal and the reward could be great.

We must remember, however, that the projections presented here are “50th percentile projections.” With Hill, it seems like we have two possibilities: either he finds the strike zone and returns to 2007 form, or he remains a walk machine and is a below replacement level player. When we see “9” in the RAR category for CHONE, that’s combining the possibility that we get the +31 player from 2007 and the possibility that he remains the below replacement (certainly, if you include his time in AAA Iowa) player from 2008 and 2009. We’re probably looking at a 20% chance of a 4.00 FIP and a 80% chance of a 5.00 FIP, leading to the roughly 4.80 FIP being projected by both CHONE and Marcel, or something along those lines.

With the price of the dice roll merely a non-guaranteed contract with an invite to spring training, St. Louis should be applauded for taking this chance. Given Hill’s constant problems, however, expectations must be tempered – any sort of major league results out of Hill in 2010 will be a bonus to a Cardinals team that is already favored to win the NL Central.


Answers, Part 1

Last week, I asked you for questions regarding Japanese & Asian baseball. There were more replies than I expected, so I’m going to have to split my responses into two or three posts. So let’s get started with part 1.

Ed says: January 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I’d be interested in how often pitcher arm injuries happen in Japan/Asia versus how often they do in MLB/MiLB. On that subject, what the average pitch speeds are as well in comparison.

My casual observation is that there are more Mark Prior-style, one-year wonder flameouts in Japan than in MLB. Without giving it too much thought, I can come up with Kazumi Saito, Futoshi Yamabe, Kenjiro Kawasaki, Shinji Imanaka, Tomohiro Kuroki… each of whom had one or two outstanding seasons before succumbing to injuries. Imanaka, who threw 249 innings of 2.20 ball at age 22 and his last pitch at age 30, recently said in the news that “rest is important”.

On velocity, there are fewer pitchers in NPB who throw 95+ mph than there are in MLB. You can get a sense for what pitchers throw and how hard at my NPB Tracker Data site. It doesn’t compare to the pitch f/x data we have on Fangraphs, but it will give you a sense of how NPB pitchers mix it up.

mymrbig says: January 22, 2010 at 1:04 pm

I’ve read that baseball used in Japan are a slightly different size than those in the US. Does this pose much of a problem for pitchers moving either way, or is the difference small enough that it doesn’t really matter?

Did you realize that early-90s hair metal stragglers Mr. Big enjoyed quite a following in Japan? Anyway, commenter KaminaAyato provided a solid answer for this question in the comments of the previous post, but I will add that I do think it makes a difference for some pitchers. Daisuke Matsuzaka’s forkball hasn’t survived the move across the Pacific, Yu Darvish had trouble throwing his curve with the WBC ball, and Kenshin Kawakami said he spent more time working on his breaking pitches early in spring training in 2009 than he would have previously. But then again, guys like Hiroki Kuroda and Takashi Saito have seemed to adjust just fine. Keiichi Yabu seemed about the same in the US and Japan too.

The Frankman says: January 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm

How big is the impact of the different strike zones is it for a pitcher coming from Japan? I’m wondering since guys like Ryota Igarashi will have to deal with it.

Chris says: January 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Yeah, I would like to hear this one. I always hear that the strike zones are bigger in Asian baseball — any truth to that?

My (unofficial) translation of the official rule is “the strike zone’s upper limit is the point mid-way between the batter’s shoulders and the top of his pants, the lower limit is the bottom of the batter’s knees, and covers the area over homeplate”. So that’s not too far off the MLB strike zone. In practice, I have noticed that the umpires can get a little generous at times, the most obvious example that comes to mind being that Koji Uehara always seemed to get the close calls.

MetsFan says: January 22, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Is there some sort of MLE for pitchers, or certain statistics that are more predictive than others of MLB performance? For hitters, it seems like it might be harder to do because of how power translates

There were a couple of questions on this, so I’ll point out Jim Albright’s work in this area again.

Jon says: January 22, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Thanks for doing this! I’m intrigued.

1) What is the average $(or yen)/WAR in Japanese baseball? Significantly lower than MLB I assume, but do you have any data?

2) I’ve heard pitchers are used differently in Japan (tactically, that is). Pitch Counts? Side sessions? Bullpens? 5 man rotations? What’s the story?

3) Is Japan typically a lower run scoring environment than MLB? If so, is that due to different offensive strategies (sacrifices, “small ball”, etc.)?

4) Is there pitchfx data in Japan?

I have more, but that’ll do for now.

Thank again!

I already posted a reply to this, but I’ve given question #1 a little more thought. The problem is the “R” out of WAR — I don’t think anyone has translated the concept of replacement player to NPB. If the expected performance of a replacement-level NPB player could be nailed down it should be possible to apply the rest of the concept to NPB. Another approach would be to look at the foreign players who move to NPB each season, what their MLB projections are and how much they make in Japan. Projected MLB WAR isn’t necessarily a good predictor of NPB performance, but it might give some insight into how much NPB teams pay to import talent.

That’s all for this round. If I didn’t get to your question this time, I will in an upcoming installment.


Philadelphia Phillies: Top 10 Prospects

General Manager: Ruben Amaro Jr.
Farm Director: Steve Noworyta
Scouting Director: Marti Wolever

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

This organization definitely has a different feel after the Roy Halladay/Cliff Lee trades. The loss of prospects Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis D’Arnaud to the Blue Jays (Taylor later got flipped to Oakland) hurts the overall depth of the Top 10 list, and the players that came back from Seattle were not of an equal value. Beyond Brown there are a lot of question marks.

1. Domonic Brown, OF, Double-A
DOB: September 1987 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2006 20th round – Georgia HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

The club is lucky to still have Brown, aka the player Toronto really wanted in the Roy Halladay trade. The 2010 season could be the year that Brown vaults into elite prospect status, if he’s not already there for most people. The outfielder is a speed/power threat with two straight seasons of 20-plus steals and an ISO of .214 at high-A in ’09 (His .177 ISO in double-A wasn’t bad, either). Overall, he hit .298/.376/.494 on the season. One minor knock on Brown to this point has been his durability. Injuries have kept him from appearing in more than 114 games over the past three seasons. Of concern, as well, is the jump in strikeout rate last season (20.2 in high-A, 25.2% in double-A) but that is to be somewhat expected with a jump in his power output. His walk rate remained solid (12.1 in high-A, 8.6% in double-A).

2. Phillippe Aumont, RHP, Double-A
DOB: January 1989 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2007 1st round – Quebec HS (Seattle)
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 89-95 mph fastball, slider, change-up

The top player acquired in the surprising Cliff Lee trade with Seattle, Aumont is armed with a big-time fastball but his secondary pitches leave something to be desired. Despite that fact (and a history of injury problems), his new organization is planning to stick him back in the starting rotation. Drafted in the first round as a raw Canadian prep pitcher, Aumont quickly reached double-A in less than two seasons (in part due to Seattle’s aggressive approach). The 21-year-old pitcher’s ’09 season was solid. He began the year in high-A – in a very good hitter’s league – and posted a 3.53 FIP while allowing 24 hits in 33.1 innings of work (thanks in part to a .264 BABIP). He showed OK control with a walk rate of 3.24 BB/9 and a solid strikeout rate of 9.45 K/9. That whiff rate jumped to 12.23 K/9 upon his promotion to double-A, but his walk rate also rose to 5.60 BB/9. His BABIP-allowed jumped to .436 and his LOB% plummeted to an unlucky 59.5%. Aumont will be a pitcher to watch closely in 2010, as he is one of the most volatile prospects in the game.

3. Trevor May, RHP, Low-A
DOB: September 1989 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 4th round – Washington HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 89-94 mph fastball, curveball, change-up

May had an excellent season, but caution must be used due to his limited sample size. In 15 low-A starts, the right-hander posted a strikeout rate of 11.06 K/9 and allowed just 58 hits in 77.1 innings of work. He had control issues and had a walk rate of 5.00 BB/9 but a HR/9 rate of 0.35 helped to keep the damage to a minimum. May also benefited from luck with a LOB% of 80.0%. He needs to try and get his ground-ball rate up above 40%. The youngster could begin 2010 back in low-A or the organization could be aggressive and move him up to high-A. Either way, he needs to get 25 starts this year so we can see what his potential is with a larger workload.

4. Juan Ramirez, RHP, High-A
DOB: August 1986 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2005 non-drafted international free agent (Nicaragua)
MLB ETA: Mid-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 90-95 mph fastball, curveball, change-up

Another piece obtained in the Lee deal with Seattle, Ramirez has a nice fastball but he is still trying to put all the pieces together. The right-handed prospect had a rough time playing in a good hitter’s park in high-A in ’09. He posted a 4.76 FIP and allowed 153 hits in 142.1 innings. His strikeout rate also dropped below 8.20 K/9 for the first time in three years to 7.02 K/9. His walk rate, though, remained respectable at 3.35 BB/9 and he kept his line-drive rate to 12%. Despite a 42% ground-ball rate (which is OK, not great), Ramirez allowed quite a few homers (1.14 HR/9) so he’ll need to improve that for 2010. At worst, he should develop into back-of-the-rotation starter, with the potential to be a No. 3. A set-up role in the bullpen would not be out of the question.

5. Sebastian Valle, C, Low-A
DOB: July 1990 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2006 non-drafted international free agent (Mexico)
MLB ETA: Mid-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Valle has the makings of a solid offensive-minded catcher, although his wOBA plummeted to .301 in his first taste of full-season ball in ’09. At low-A ball, the catcher hit just .223/.313/.331 in 157 at-bats. In short-season ball, though, the left-handed hitter posted a .390 wOBA and a triple-slash line of .307/.335/.531 in 192 at-bats. Valle showed a better walk rate at low-A (8.9%) than in short-season ball (4.9%) and his +20% strikeout rate is a tad high, although his ISO rate was .224 at the junior level. He needs to improve against southpaws, as his OPS was .659 against them, compared to .815 against right-handers. Defensively, the Mexico native is a work-in-progress and he threw out just 18% of base runners in ’09.

6. Tyson Gillies, OF, High-A
DOB: October 1988 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2006 25th round – Iowa Western CC (Seattle)
MLB ETA: Mid-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

The is reason to be excited about Gillies, but the outfielder was playing in one of the best hitter’s leagues in all of baseball. His .411 wOBA is nice, as is his triple-slash line of .341/.430/.486, but his BABIP was .395. There are two things about his game that he cannot luck into, though: his walk rate of 10.1% and his 44 steals (although he was caught 19 times). The 2010 season will be a telling one for Gillies, who will be moving to a more neutral league. To have success, he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing: Hitting a lot of ground balls (61% in ’09) and using his speed to get on base (and then into scoring position).

7. Anthony Gose, OF, Low-A
DOB: August 1990 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2008 2nd round – California HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

In some regards, Gose is similar to Gillies – only more raw. Gose had a respectable first full season in the minors and hit .259/.323/.353 in 510 at-bats. His speed was on full display as he stole 76 bases in 96 attempts. To fully take advantage of his speed to its full extent, though, he needs to improve his .323 OBP and 6.1% walk rate. The strikeout rate is also far too high (21.6%) for someone with an .094 ISO rate. Like Gillies, Gose does a nice job of keeping the ball on the ground (64 GB%). Oddly, the left-handed hitter fared much better against southpaws than right-handers in ’09 (.824 vs .638 OPS).

8. Antonio Bastardo, LHP, Majors
DOB: September 1985 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2005 non-drafted international free agent (Dominican Republic)
MLB ETA: Now 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 2
Repertoire: 87-92 mph fastball, plus change-up, slider

It was a busy year for Bastardo, who pitched at five different levels, spent time on the DL and made his MLB debut. In six Major League appearances, the lefty posted a 5.08 FIP but showed solid control with a walk rate of 3.42. He spent the majority of the season in double-A, where he posted a 2.03 FIP and allowed 22 hits in 36.0 innings. His strikeout rate was an eye-popping 10.25 K/9 and his control was spot-on at 1.75 BB/9. A starter in the minors, Bastardo could make the Phillies bullpen in 2010, as he possesses a slightly-above average heater for a lefty and good slider. His change-up was a well-below-average pitch in his brief MLB debut.

9. John Mayberry, OF, Majors
DOB: December 1983 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2005 1st round – Stanford University (Texas)
MLB ETA: Now 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 1

A former two-time No. 1 draft pick (out of high school and college), Mayberry’s dad (of the same name) was also a pretty good hitter in his day. The younger Mayberry has massive power potential but he has yet to show an ability to hit for a high average in pro ball, which drags down his overall numbers – especially considering his OBP is relatively low, as well. The prospect showed his power potential by mashing the ball (.263 ISO) in a 39-game MLB trial in ’09. He spent the majority of the year in triple-A where he hit .256/.332/.456 with an ISO of .199 in 316 at-bats. Despite his size (6’6”, 230 lbs), Mayberry also possesses the ability to steal 10 bases with regular playing time. Already 26, the outfielder (who can also play first base) is big-league ready but there is no spot for him. If he makes the 2010 opening day roster, it will be as a part-time player – or due to an injury to Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez or Jayson Werth.

10. Scott Mathieson, RHP, Double-A
DOB: February 1984 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2002 17th round – British Columbia HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 1
Repertoire: 91-97 mph fastball, slider, change-up

Mathieson is a great story and he gets the nod over some other players like Jarred Cosart and Domingo Santana, both of whom played in the Gulf Coast League (rookie ball) this past season. He had a lot of success in the bullpen in ’09 while recovering from his second Tommy John surgery (interesting fellow Canadian hurler Shawn Hill, now with the Jays, also underwent a second procedure last June and is on the comeback trail). In 33.0 combined innings in ’09, the right-hander allowed 22 hits (.188 AVG), a walk rate of 3.27 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 8.45 K/9. He also gave up just one homer (0.27 HR/9) despite a low ground-ball rate (39.4%). If his elbow holds up, Mathieson could eventually see time as a closer. He will turn 26 by the time the season begins and he will likely receive some more fine-tuning in triple-A before he trusted with a big-league bullpen role. If he can continue to show good control and a blazing fastball, Mathieson could be contributing at the MLB level by mid-season.

Up Next: The Toronto Blue Jays


Riley’s Choice

A little more than a week ago, Riley Cooper had plans to travel to Arlington, Texas to pick up a $125,000 check. It was half of the signing bonus that Cooper had agreed to with the Texas Rangers, a significantly over-slot signing for the 754th overall selection. Cooper, who only started 41 games for the Florida Gators baseball team in three seasons, was deemed a coup for the Rangers scouting department, as no other organization thought it possible he would give up football for baseball. Ultimately, the other 29 were correct, as it was revealed Tuesday that Cooper canceled his physical (and check signing) with the Rangers to pursue a career in the National Football League.

Cooper has not been the only established college player to make this decision recently, as he is joined by all-SEC safety Chad Jones (LSU) and Heisman Trophy finalist Toby Gerhart (Stanford), both of whom some expected to re-join their college teams this spring.

The best prospect in both sports, by a country mile, is Jones. In fact, Jones is the most polished two-way player we have seen since Jeff Samardzija. Where he lacks Samardzija’s proven baseball record, Jones matched the former Golden Domer in arm strength. Paul Mainieri’s crew began to give him time out of the LSU bullpen late last season, and he emerged as an important member of their pitching staff in Omaha. While he would have had to show polish with his secondary stuff this spring, his potential as a mid-90s lefty, with good spin on his curveball, was getting first-round grades from some scouts. But those scouts also knew he loved football.

“I really thought we’d lose him,” said Louisiana State coach Paul Mainieri, who also coached Samardzija at Notre Dame. “I thought he wanted to go into pro football. Mentally, I was already preparing that he would go unless word came back that he wouldn’t get drafted high.”

Jones could not have had the leverage that Samardzija did, and would not have sniffed the $10 million that he received from the Cubs. Still, the nature of the provisions that two-sport athletes receive in the MLB Draft, which allows MLB teams to spread the bonus over five years, would have led to an above-slot contract. I believe something in the neighborhood of what Shelby Miller received from the Cards last year — qualifying for two-sport status as an all-state prep punter — as a first round pick, $2.875 million, would have been available to Jones. On the contrary, in the NFL Drat last year, the two defensive backs drafted closest to 44th overall (where Scouts Inc. ranks Jones) received $2.15 and $2 million guaranteed, with four-year contracts in the $4-5 million range. Jones, as you can see, is giving up guaranteed money in the short-term to follow his NFL passion.

When Gerhart went undrafted last June, it became clear that he had voiced to scouts his intentions to pursue a football career. When he emerged as the nation’s most productive runner this season, this was etched in stone, as Gerhart is now a higher ranked football player (85th overall by Scouts Inc.) than he would have been as a baseball player. I saw Gerhart at the 2008 College World Series, and he was very impressive — but more so physically and in batting practice than in game play. While he went 12-for-12 stealing bases in college, he didn’t show the home-to-first speed you’d like in a college running back, and all his power would have been projected down the road.

Finally, we have Cooper, and we don’t have to guess what he’s passing on: the agreed-upon $250,000 contract he signed last year. The contract was contingent upon Cooper giving up football after one more autumn with Mr. Tebow, but the Gators’ success was enough for him to stay with the pigskin. He’s much more polished there, and though he ranks only as the No. 17 wideout through Scouts Inc., just the presence on a 53-man roster will give him more money than the Rangers promised. While Cooper was a star defensive outfielder with great speed, he was raw, showing scouts only 147 at-bats in two seasons. Financially, it’s clear: if he makes a roster in football, he made the right choice (financially). If he doesn’t, then we’ll have to wonder what if.

Failure in football could see all these players retreat to baseball, but the bonuses will be long gone. Hopefully they never reach the point of wondering what if, and each succeeds in their chosen sport.


Ausmus Returns to the Dodgers

The Dodgers brought in Brad Ausmus last year as a mentor to young catcher Russell Martin. Apparently, they were happy with that arrangement, as the club agreed to continue its relationship on Tuesday, signing the 40-year-old (41-year-old in April) to a contract guaranteeing one million dollars this year with a mutual option for 2011.

Simply put, Brad Ausmus is a terrible hitter. A horrible hitter. Adjectives struggle to describe how bad of a hitter Brad Ausmus is. Even with his extremely lucky 2009 – a .370 BABIP, 80 points above his career average resulted in a .322 wOBA in 107 PAs, just below average – Ausmus has compiled a stunning -51.8 wRAA since 2006. CHONE projects him for a ridiculously bad 52 wRC+. Yes, that’s right – Ausmus is projected to be half as productive as the average MLB hitter. Basically, that means that Ausmus is no longer an MLB hitter.

Of course, it’s only one million dollars for a large market club and it’s just a backup catcher role. What does it really matter? Still, roster spots have value, and the Dodgers are far from the point that the Yankees are where another marginal win holds little sway over their playoff fate. Even with Russell Martin’s general health in 2009, Ausmus still saw 100 plate appearances. At the level that CHONE projects him, that’s about a 6 run loss versus an average hitter, and a 5 run loss versus the projected offensive level of AJ Ellis, for whom CHONE projects a 94 wRC+.

I’m going to give Ned Colletti the benefit of the doubt and assume that he isn’t fooled by Ausmus’s performance last year and is instead bringing him back to continue his mentoring of Russell Martin. Martin, at 27 and entering his 5th season, can probably be considered a veteran at this point. Even if you buy that Martin still needs to be treated like a rookie, consider this: After three straight 107 or higher WRC+ seasons, the addition of Brad Ausmus coincided with a substantial drop in power and Martin’s worst season yet, with an 88 wRC+.

This is nowhere near enough data to suggest that Ausmus is responsible for this decline, and to make such a claims would be irresponsible. What’s more likely is that Brad Ausmus’s presence has not and will not affect Martin’s skill in the slightest – after all, Martin is a better hitter than Ausmus ever was in his career – and the Dodgers are wasting an important roster spot at a time when they need all the wins they can get as a playoff contending team.


Fan Projection Targets – 01/27/10

Your task today? To file projections for three recent movers (if not so much shakers): Jon Garland, Xavier Nady, and Jim Thome. Your compensation? Something like, but not quite exactly, the satisfaction of a job well done.

Garland moves southward in the NL West to the cavernous and pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Or PETCO. Or whatever.

After missing all but seven games last season to his second Tommy John procedure and the subsequent rehab, Nady looks to make his return with the Cubs, who signed the outfielder to a one-year, $3.3MM contract.

The Twins hope the contract they just gave a 39-year-old Jim Thome is right on Target. (Get it? Like Target Field?)


Sheets to Oakland

Ben Sheets signing with Oakland did not surprise me in the least. GM Billy Beane has been making these kinds of deals for years now. What does surprise me is the money because usually on the heels of the announcement of the contract, I have nearly always been left wishing my team had been in on that player at that price. This time? Not so much.

The reported deal is for $10 million guaranteed with some as of yet unknown incentives thrown into the mix. In a straight vacuum, I think this is an overpay. On a one year deal in this winter’s economic climate, Oakland is paying Sheets like a three win pitcher. Three wins is solid pitching and there’s a decent chance, we will know more when they are leaked, that at a three win performance level, Sheets will be triggering some of those salary incentives, meaning he would have to pitch even better to justify the contract.

Neither CHONE, nor the nearly universally optimistic fans project Sheets to even be able to accrue three wins of value due to his very real injury concerns. It is important to remember that the injury that cost Ben Sheets all of 2009 was not his first, or even second or even third arm-related injury. A list of pitching-important injuries to Sheets in the last five years includes his elbow, hand, shoulder (twice) and back.

The 31-year-old last pitched a quasi-full season in 2008 and was worth about 4.5 wins. If he managed to reproduce those 200 innings thrown in 2010, I would expect something around 4 wins thanks to aging, injury-related decline and regression. Dock him another half win for the league switch into the American League and even at full health, I’m not confident Ben Sheets is better than 3.5 wins.

The signing does not come in a vacuum though. The AL West is very tight based on projections and Sheets, even at an expected 2 or 2.5 win total value represents a significant upgrade to Oakland’s win totals, which pushes them into the discussion for the division. As we have discussed plenty of times this offseason, those wins at the edge of the playoff picture are worth a lot of marginal revenue. There is also something small to say about signing Ben Sheets away from Texas and Seattle, both rumored to be interested. It leaves me in a weird balance between not liking the deal for them because of the cost, but liking the deal for them because of the increased playoff odds.

It is also strikes me as odd to see Oakland take risks with high payroll players. Injury reclamations are nothing new, but before they have always seemed to land them on the cheap, possibly luring them with the guarantee of playing time. This time around, Sheets had plenty of suitors and Oakland paid for it. Nevertheless, given Oakland’s position, still, as the fourth best team in the division on paper and the one year nature of the contract with Sheets, do not be surprised if Sheets’ name is on the trading block come summer. That would be another of Billy Beane’s specialties.


San Diego Adds Jon Garland

The Jon Garland deal makes sense financially. For the cost of a little more than a win, the Padres get, well, a pitcher who will produce more than a win. I’m just not sure it’s the best usage of money given their roster construction.

First, Garland. He’s a rubber-armed back-of-the-rotation arm through and through. His career xFIP is 4.61 and in every season since 2002 he’s amassed at least 190 innings. Nothing is wowing or awe-inspiring about his game. Rarely will he strike a batter out and even rarer is a walk. He works the zone with a low-90s fastball and has a garden variety of secondary pitches to choose from.

The problem is that the Padres really don’t need another back-end starter. If the season started tomorrow, they would have Chris Young, Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, and Kevin Correia guaranteed rotation slots with a whole host of arms fighting for the fifth spot including Sean Gallagher, Cesar Carrillo, Wade LeBlanc, and even Aaron Poreda. Is Garland better than those options? Probably. Is he worth $4M more to a team that doesn’t figure to have playoff aspirations? It wouldn’t seem so.

Obviously the Padres could cash him in at the deadline to a team looking for a stretch-run starter with ultra-valuable and rare post-season experience. That would be exactly what Arizona did last season with Garland, who wound up being traded in late August to the Dodgers for a player to be named later. Petco should deflate some of his metrics and I guess that could help with the return, although it’s not like the other general managers are going to be hoodwinked here.

The Padres add a league average starter at a league average price. It’s just not a sexy move and maybe even an unnecessary one.


Fan Projections: Not All Fans Agree

As you might have guessed, not all baseball fans agree when it comes to evaluating baseball players, and the Fan Projections are a great example of how many different opinions there are of various baseball players.

If you look at all the players’ projected wOBA and the spread of how individual people projected wOBA, you get a standard deviation of about .017 on average. What this means is that assuming the Fan Projections have a normal distribution (which may not be the case), about 68% of the fan projections are within +/- .017 of the fan average when it comes to projecting wOBA. Over 600 plate appearances, that works out to about +/- 8.5 runs above average (wRAA).

It’s particularly interesting to see just which players fans happens to be more or less in agreement about, so here are the top 10 regular players with at least 50 votes where the fans agree the most:

                  wOBA      Std   Votes
Adam LaRoche      .350     .009      65
Brian Roberts     .358     .010      65
Aaron Hill        .348     .011      77
Juan Pierre       .316     .011     107
Bobby Abreu       .365     .012      89
David Wright      .396     .012     153
Matt Holliday     .396     .013      99
Todd Helton       .388     .013      51
Felipe Lopez      .333     .013      71
Ryan Zimmerman    .376     .013      81

With these players, people seem to have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Keep in mind that every additional .001 of wOBA ends up as an extra .5 runs above average over 600 plate appearances.

Here are the top 10 players people disagree on the most:

                  wOBA      Std   Votes
Shane Victorino   .350     .024      65
David Ortiz       .362     .024     105
Ryan Howard       .388     .023     107
Pablo Sandoval    .384     .022     113
Alex Gordon       .364     .021      49
Alex Rodriguez    .418     .020     263
Jimmy Rollins     .342     .020      92
Justin Upton      .393     .019     102
Adrian Beltre     .345     .019     151
Curtis Granderson .376     .019     137

With all of these guys – just on batting alone and not even looking at defense or playing time – you’re looking at at least a +/- 1 win difference within one standard deviation assuming a minimum of 600 plate appearances.

As the ballots keep coming in, we’ll continue to look at the Fan Projections in various ways. There really is a wealth of data in these projections that goes beyond just what goes into the single projection line on the player pages and hopefully we’ll all be able to learn a lot from them.