Archive for July, 2010

Marlins Acquire Ohman From O’s For VandenHurk

The Florida Marlins snagged some lefty relief in exchange for an injury-prone Dutchman in a low-key deadline deal, acquiring Will Ohman from the Baltimore Orioles for RHP Rick VandenHurk.

While Leo Nunez and Clay Hensley have turned in strong seasons, Florida’s relief corps ranks 11th in the National League in xFIP (4.36) and 14th in Win Probability Added (-1.5). Dan Meyer pitched capably last season after washing out of the Athletics’ system, but he has a 4/12 K/BB ratio in 9.1 big league innings this year and hasn’t done much to redeem himself at Triple-A (12/7 K/BB, 5.26 FIP in 21 IP). Control-challenged Renyel Pinto was let go earlier this season and has since signed with St. Louis. Taylor Tankersley (career -0.8 WAR in 114.2 major league innings) doesn’t inspire confidence.

As such, the Fish sought a seasoned lefty and got one in Ohman. Whether he helps much is subject to debate, though. The soon-to-be-33-year-old missed most of the 2009 season following left shoulder surgery and signed a minor league contract with the O’s this past winter. He’s got a nice-looking 3.30 ERA, but with over five walks per nine frames handed out, Ohman holds a 4.40 xFIP in 30 IP. His career xFIP versus lefties is 3.62, compared to 4.92 against right-handers. Ohman has been moderately useful against same-handed opponents, but left-handed batters aren’t trembling at the prospect of facing the former Cub, Brave and Dodger.

From Baltimore’s perspective, the club gives up a guy with a 4.76 projected FIP from ZiPS for a 25-year-old with a history of missing lumber and missing starts. Originally signed out of the Netherlands back in 2002, VandenHurk has struck out nearly a batter per inning during the course of his minor league career, with 3.8 BB/9. He sits 91-92 MPH with his fastball, mixing in a hard mid-80’s slider and a changeup.

He comes with plenty of drawbacks, though. For one, the 6-5 righty can’t stay healthy — he scarcely pitched at all in 2005 and 2006 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, missed time in 2008 with ulnar neuritis and was put on the shelf with elbow inflammation last season. VandenHurk is also an extreme fly ball pitcher, with a 37 GB% in the minors since 2005 according to Minor League Splits. That leads to lots of round trippers. In 155.2 major league innings over the 2007-2010 seasons, Rick has gotten grounders just 27.8% of the time. As a result, he has surrendered 1.56 HR/9, and that’s without a sky-high home run per fly ball rate (12.3%). VandenHurk has fooled plenty of hitters (8.79 K/9 in the majors). But all those big flies, coupled with ample walks (4.63 BB/9), have led to a 5.19 FIP and a 4.87 xFIP.

Chances are, this trade won’t have a profound effect on either team. Ohman’s a so-so southpaw, and VandenHurk can’t seem to stay off the DL for any sustained length of time. Still, the swap gives the Marlins a better lefty than Tankersley and the O’s a live arm who could play some part on the next relevant Baltimore club.


Royals Trade Away Ankiel, Farnsworth

Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth represented exactly why so many in the sabermetric community constantly deride Dayton Moore and the front office in Kansas City. “Trusting the process” meant bringing in players like Ankiel and Farnsworth and paying them way too much money, given Kansas City’s lack of big-time Major League talent outside of Zack Greinke and Joakim Soria. Contracts like those given to this pair of players are why the Royals franchise has been stagnant for my entire lifetime, and why another sub-.500, fourth or fifth place season is inevitable in Kansas City.

It’s not that Ankiel and Farnsworth are terrible players – Ankiel has good power and can play solid defense in a corner spot. Farnsworth throws hard enough to get strikeouts, and his control is better than perceived, making him a good, but not great relief pitcher. Both players are decent pieces on playoff teams, but aren’t going to do anything for a rebuilding franchise. Throw in the fact that these two players make a combined 7.25M this season (including option buyouts) and there was no reason that the Royals shouldn’t try and move the pair at the deadline, even if it was just for salary relief.

The Royals brought in more than salary relief in their deal with Atlanta, as Gregor Blanco, Tim Collins, and Jesse Chavez will join the Royals organization. This isn’t exactly a big time haul, but there is a discernible amount of talent present here. Blanco, 26, isn’t exactly much of a prospect any more. He has a decent eye at the plate and good speed, but no power to speak of and average contact skills. ZiPS projects a .305 wOBA with a 11% walk rate, which will make for an okay role player if he can handle center field, but not much more.

Bryan Smith covered Tim Collins earlier, as he was part of the package Atlanta brought in for Yunel Escobar.

In terms of pedigree, it’s outrageous to think that 5-foot-7, 155-pound Tim Collins could rank ahead of Reyes, a big-bodied former second-round pick. This is the type of thinking that Collins has long been susceptible to, and the thinking he’s consistently outpaced. In 130 games at the minor league level over four years, Collins has a 2.40 ERA, 13.6 K/9 ratio and 5.9 H/9 ratio. He lives in the strike zone, and brings deception and sneaky velocity everytime he touches the mound… It’s hard to think that Collins has a long career ahead of him, but naysaying this guy has essentially become pointless.

Jesse Chavez is a replacement level, super fly-ball reliever who misses enough bats to draw strikeouts but just can’t keep the ball in the park. His presence in this deal is negligible.

Overall, this isn’t exactly a huge win for Kansas City, and the players that the Braves are bringing in will certainly help them in their stretch run. However, this deal is a step in the right direction by the KC front office, as they managed to dump some salary and bring back some potential value in the process. It won’t matter if they continue to make the same mistakes in the free agent market that they have in the past. Still, it’s hard to argue with the process employed by Dayton Moore and the rest of his front office here.


The Giants Add Pen Arms

Ramon Ramirez

This is the second time Ramirez will pitch in the National League West. Previously he spent the 2006 and part of the 2007 season with the Colorado Rockies. He performed well then by FIP measures before being traded to Kansas City. The rest of the story is more mainstream as he was dealt to Boston for Coco Crisp and has since struggled to replicate that magical 2008 season. His numbers this year are actually pretty close to what they were in 2009 with the exception of an increased homer rate, hence why his xFIP is actually lower this season by nearly a half run per nine.

In exchange, the Giants give up 24 year old Daniel Turpen. He’s a relief prospect with nice numbers in Double-A. It’s safe to say this is the lesser of the outputs today by the Giants.

Javier Lopez

Here’s the marquee deal and sort of head scratcher. Lopez is a true blue side-arming left-handed specialist. Lopez’s overall numbers are nothing special this year and digging deeper he’s hade more success against righties than lefties, an abnormality in his career (his career FIP versus lefties is a full run lower). Lopez was a bargain bin pickup and not exactly something to give up talent for, yet that’s what Brian Sabean did.

Joe Martinez gets groundballs against righties and struggles versus lefties. He relies on a low-90s, high-80s fastball along with a curve and change. He’s only made 13 appearances in his major league career and six came as a starter. He seems likely to head to the bullpen where his upside could be a right-handed specialist.

That deal alone probably favors the Pirates. Somehow, Neal Huntington also grabbed John Bowker in the deal. Bowker isn’t particularly valuable – he’s a 26 year old first baseman with 513 career plate appearances and a .294 wOBA – but there’s something intriguing about his seemingly newfound ability to reach base. Over the last two seasons in Triple-A (more than 600 plate appearances) Bowker has walked 97 times and struck out 101 times. Before that, Bowker had struck out 370 times while walking 136 times.

He’s a little older and maybe he never becomes anything but a tease. Still, as a throw-in the Pirates could do worse. The question is where he’ll play on the major league team with Garret Jones, Lastings Milledge, Jeff Clement, and eventually Ryan Doumit splitting time in right field and first base. Then again, having a ton of potentially useful options is a new thing for Pittsburgh.

The Giants didn’t drastically overpay in either case, it just seems like a case of tunnel vision in the Lopez deal.


New York Yankees Acquire Kerry Wood

At 65-37, The New York Yankees have a better than 90 percent chance of making the playoffs according to Cool Standings. With no gaping holes and a potential blockbuster for a starting pitcher no longer on the table, the Bombers have bolstered the DH spot with Lance Berkman and upgraded with bench with Austin Kearns. Now, the Yankees have added Kerry Wood from the Cleveland Indians in an attempt to strengthen the bridge to Mariano Rivera. The Indians will send cash (approximately $1.5 million of Wood’s remaining $3.6 million salary) as part of the deal, while picking up a player to be named later from the Yankees.

Wood, 33, inked a two-year, $20.5 million deal with the Tribe prior to the 2009 season. Suffice it to say, Cleveland’s return on investment has been poor — Wood compiled just 0.2 WAR in 75 innings with the Indians. His xFIP was 4.11 in 55 frames last season, as he missed lots of bats (10.31 K/9) but walked 4.58 batters per nine. In between DL stints for a strained Latissimus muscle in his back and a blister on his right index finger in 2010, Wood has 8.1 K/9, 4.95 BB/9 and a 5.04 xFIP in 20 IP. The Texan has an $11 million club option for the 2011 season that would have been guaranteed if he finished 55 games this season, but that ship has obviously sailed. And, that option won’t be exercised. The Yankees might, as Rob Neyer said, “have more loose money than a Saudi prince,” but there’s no chance of them retaining Wood at that price.

As a unit, Yankees’ bullpen ranks fourth in the American League in xFIP and seventh in Win Probability Added. Mo remains marvelous, and both Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson have pitched much better than their ERAs would indicate. The extra relief arm won’t hurt, though. Given Wood’s injury problems and bouts of wildness, he shouldn’t be expected to dominate — ZiPS projects him for a 4.05 rest-of-season FIP, with a strikeout per inning and nearly four walks per nine frames. But, considering the apparently minimal price tag to pick up Wood and the lack of depth in the Bombers’ ‘pen, he’s a worthwhile addition.


Dotel to the Dodgers

Ned Colletti looked to be done after acquiring Scott Podsednik, Ryan Theriot, and Ted Lilly, but with minutes to go before the deadline bell rang, the Dodgers GM pulled off a deal that will send Pittsburgh closer Octavio Dotel to Los Angeles for RHP James McDonald and OF Andrew Lambo. The Dodgers will reportedly receive cash from the Pirates as well, as Dotel has $3.5 million left on his contract.

Dotel will certainly help the Dodgers bullpen, but as was discussed in the Lilly deal, the question is how much. He has a 3.84 FIP/4.06 xFIP/3.50 tERA on the season, pretty much right around where he was in 2009. ZiPS thinks he’ll have a 3.50 FIP for the rest of the season (as well as a 3.86 ERA). He’s a solid upgrade to the bullpen, but I’m still not sold that this is what puts the Dodgers over the top. There’s a lot of baseball left to play and they’re pretty far back (seven back of San Diego, four and a half back of San Francisco), having to climb over two good teams.

What did they give up? Well, too much. McDonald is still a young, live arm who has had MLB success and is doing very well in Triple-A this season. Meanwhile Andrew Lambo was rated as the Dodgers #3 prospect this off-season by our own Marc Hulet. He currently is hitting .271/.325/.420 as a twenty-one year old in Double-A, and is highly regarded among prospect enthusiasts.

The Dodgers bullpen has had some serious struggles, and it doesn’t look like Jeff Weaver or any of the other guys recently used by manager Joe Torre were going to become saviors any time soon. However, the question isn’t whether or not Dotel upgrades the pen (he definitely does). It is still whether or not these deals will be the tipping point in LA’s hopes of making the playoffs. If they are not, then Ned Colletti just paid a whole lot in cash and prospects for marginal help than won’t have any real impact.


FanGraphs Deadline Day Chat

Join us as we spend the afternoon talking rumors, trades, and all things deadline related.


Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Dodgers

Word is coming out that the long-awaited rumor of Ted Lilly to the Dodgers is happening, and the Boys in Blue will also be receiving infielder Ryan Theriot when the dust settles. However, for a Dodgers team that is currently seven games out of the race in the NL West, this move is a bit puzzling.

Ted Lilly is not having that good of a season, despite what the shiny 3.63 ERA will lead you to believe. His 4.50 FIP (4.49 xFIP) means he actually is having a pretty medicore year, especially since he’s coming off a solid 2009. In a post detailing Sell High Candidates on July 12th, I wrote the following of Lilly:

Lilly is comimg off of a huge 2009 where he posted a 3.65 FIP and 3.98 xFIP, good for 3.7 WAR. His K and BB rates, however, have been disturbingly poor this season, as his K/BB went from 4.19 last year to 2.71 this year. But for teams that aren’t looking too deeply at those numbers, Lilly’s 4.08 ERA may be appealing. Teams will envision him as a 3-4 starter in a good rotation, when really he’s just not pitching well right now. If the Cubs could pry away outfield prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis from the Mets, it would be a steal.

I’d say Lilly’s BABIP hasn’t fully regress at .261, but he may be a pitcher who is able to get low BABIPs against (stress the “may”), as his career BABIP is .285. Here are his marks over the latter part of his career:

2002: .241
2003: .303
2004: .272
2005: .301
2006: .300
2007: .272
2008: .283
2009: .270
2010: .261

Still, Lilly’s peripherals are not holding up, as the lefty is striking out less batters and walking more. Still, ZiPS thinks he’s good for a 4.19 FIP for the rest of the season, and he’s a free agent after the year. The Dodgers currently have Carlos Monasterios starting games, but the usual reliever has a 5.14 xFIP and ZiPS thinks he’d have a 5.68 FIP the rest of the way. While that’s an upgrade of about ~1 run per game, the Dodgers probably could’ve found a replacement pitcher for Monasterios that didn’t cost as much as they gave up (prospects Brett Wallach and Kyle Smit).

Is Lilly the tipping point in the Dodgers’ playoff run? Probably not, and neither is Ryan Theriot, also acquired in the deal. Jamey Carroll, the current Dodgers second baseman, has a .322 wOBA thanks to a .374 OBP. ZiPS thinks he’s good for a .311 mark for the rest of the season. Theriot currently has a .291 wOBA and ZiPS likes him for .310 for the rest of the season. Not much of an upgrade; in fact, probably not an upgrade at all. However, Theriot is gritty, and looks like a younger version of the Janitor from the show Scrubs (who, ironically, played the first baseman for the Cubs in the movie Rookie of the Year, an all-time classic). Moreover, the Dodgers are trading Blake DeWitt in the deal, who has a .319 wOBA and is predicted to go .323 the rest of the way via ZiPS. So the Dodgers trade for one second baseman for a worse one while probably cutting playing time for another good one. That doesn’t help you make the playoffs.


Cardinals Add Jake Westbrook, Lose Ryan Ludwick

The NL Central figured to be a battleground once again this year, but few, I’m sure, had the Reds in it as late as July. Yet there they are, just a half game behind the St. Louis Cardinals. We’ve heard that the Reds probably won’t make a deal, which leaves the window open for St. Louis. Adding Jake Westbrook could be a move that helps propel them to the Central crown.

The Cardinals have a strong top of the rotation with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Jaime Garcia, but have had trouble filling in the rest of the staff. Brad Penny, who was pitching well before suffering an oblique injury, has faced further setbacks during rehab and his return this season is questionable. Kyle Lohse might return soon, but he was horrible in nine starts this year. Jeff Suppan hasn’t produced the worst results, but with 1.8 homers per nine and more walks than strikeouts he’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Garcia presents an additional problem. While he has pitched better than anyone could have hoped this season, he does have a workload limit. His career high in innings pitched came in 2006 when he threw 155 innings in Class-A. He threw 122 innings in 2008, but last year, because of injury, he managed just 37.2 innings. The Cardinals might keep him in the rotation through the year, but it’s tough to project a pitcher heading into uncharted — or at least recently uncharted — waters. Adding another starter helps hedge that concern.

Westbrook hasn’t had a very good season, a 4.65 ERA to go with a 4.67 FIP and 4.41 xFIP. He missed all of 2009 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, so it’s possible that his results improve as he continues to pitch. He hasn’t realized that type of trend through the season’s first four months, though, so perhaps a significant improvement is a bit optimistic. He is, however, a sinkerballer who will work with a pitching coach who has helped many pitchers develop the pitch successfully. Perhaps his pairing with Dave Duncan will help him rediscover his old form.

It wasn’t all gain for St. Louis, though. As part of the deal they’ll send their starting right fielder, Ryan Ludwick, to San Diego. He’s part of a powerful outfield trio that can not only hit, but also play defense. Ludwick’s three-year UZR/150 is 4.7, which puts him fifth among major league right fielders. It looks like the Cardinals will run with Jon Jay in right. He has hit well in limited time this year, but considering his minor league numbers (.799 OPS in 1767 PA) and his current BABIP (.446). The move will also give Allen Craig, the team’s No. 7 prospect heading into the season, a chance. His minor league numbers are a bit better than Jay’s, a .883 OPS with even better numbers in 829 AAA PA, so this could be his opportunity to claim his spot in right.

Still, it seems a curious trade-off for St. Louis. They’re right around league average in run scoring at 4.40 runs per game, and while Jay and Craig have some potential, it’s unlikely that they’ll replicate Ludwick’s production through the end of the season. Meanwhile they’re taking a gamble with Westbrook. There’s a good chance he’ll improve, both because of the move to the NL and Duncan’s tutelage, but he’s no sure thing. If he continues pitching like he has in Cleveland and Ludwick continues hitting, it will be a net loss.


Pirates Lift Chris Snyder

Nobody expected the Pittsburgh Pirates to be buyers at the deadline, but here we are. Today the Pirates finalized a deal to acquire Chris Snyder (and minor league shortstop Pedro Ciriaco) from Arizona for Ryan Church, Bobby Crosby, and D.J. Carrasco.

The Pirates already have Ryan Doumit under contract through next season (with two club option years thereafter) which makes Snyder an interesting acquisition on the major league level alone. Throw in Tony Sanchez in High-A and the Pirates have the makings of a catcher surplus. Why take on Snyder, though, when the team isn’t competing now nor later? Because look at the cost it took to acquire him.

Crosby and Church are both over 30 years of age and have a combined wOBA of .511. Carrasco is the best player going the other way and he’s a middle reliever. In return, the Pirates get a catcher who hits around league average. That’s an asset. The word right now is that Pittsburgh will not move Snyder, and Doumit will play some first base and right field while splitting catcher duties. That doesn’t mean a deal will not happen at some point before the 2011 season begins, and if one does happen the Pirates (presumably) will not have the same sense of urgency to dump without bringing back costs as the Diamondbacks currently do which (should) suggest a better return closer to Snyder’s market value.

You can take some tinfoil and tape it to a cardboard box but that doesn’t raise the value. That is essentially what the Pirates did, and then they dealt that cardboard box for a television. I know nothing about Ciracio but I don’t think he’s a negative value unless he somehow leads to the destruction of the entire Pirates’ minor league system.

The aftermath of this deal won’t be felt for a while. The initial impact, though, makes it hard to blame Pittsburgh for taking advantage of a sweet opportunity.


The Ryan Ludwick Trade: San Diego’s Perspective

In a surprising move, the Padres have pried outfielder Ryan Ludwick away from the Cardinals as part of a three-way deal with the Indians. In exchange, the Padres will be giving up two (currently unknown) prospects, and it appears one will go to the Indians with the other reporting to St. Louis.

Ludwick has been a hitting machine this year, raising his LD% into the 22% range, thus reaching base at a higher rate. He has kept the strikeouts in check, and is walking at the same rate he was last year. Add in a SLG% that has risen closer to .500, and you have a hitter good for a .354 wOBA. It’s not quite the .406 wOBA season he had in 2008, but it’s still good. However, transitioning to Petco poses a potential problem. But it’s not the biggest worry in the world, because even if Ludwick’s home runs decline, he should still be able to crush doubles into the gaps.

On the defensive end, Ludwick won’t kill the Padres while attempting to cover ground in spacious Petco Park. UZR has been very kind to him this year, and he projects to be a slightly above average defender going forward.

The Padres have been trying all kinds of things in right field, with six players seeing at least five games there. Will Venable has seen the biggest chunk of playing time, but his offensive game hasn’t been up to snuff. He’s a good defender, but not a player who’s on the same level of Ludwick.

Next season will be Ludwick’s final turn through arbitration, and it won’t be cheap. Ludwick’s 2011 salary will likely be around $8 million, which could make him the Padres highest paid player. He’ll be worth the money, but you have to give props to San Diego ownership for be willing to shell out the bucks to put a winning team on the field. This is a good move by the Padres, who show they are willing to spend money to win, and stay competitive in a tight NL West race.


New York Yankees Acquire Austin Kearns

Brian Cashman was not done after agreeing to a trade for Lance Berkman. Hours later, he went out and grabbed Cleveland Indians’ outfielder Austin Kearns for a player to be named later or cash. This trade isn’t as sexy as the one for Berkman, but is it as practical or just a busybody maneuver?

The Yankees have used Marcus Thames as their right-handed hitting backup corner outfielder. The key word there is hitting because while Thames’ defense is undesirable, his offense mostly makes up for it. His wOBA this season is .364 through more than 100 plate appearances. That’s good, but his line is propped up by a .369 BABIP that seems wholly unsustainable given what we know about Thames.

Kearns is the better fielder but the lesser hitter. Even against lefties, Thames has held the advantage recently and for their careers:

2010: Thames .373 (64 PA) | Kearns .315 (112 PA)
2009: Thames .345 (124 PA)| Kearns .287 (66 PA)
2008: Thames .369 (135 PA| Kearns .240 (99 PA)
Career: Thames .361 (755 PA)| Kearns .353 (1,021 PA)

It’s a false dichotomy to say the Yankees must decide between Thames and Kearns. Given their roster’s switch-hitting capabilities, they can afford to send down Juan Miranda and Colln Curtis and keep Kearns and Thames with Berkman arriving too. Maybe they choose against that route and simply like Kearns more than Thames. Whatever the Yankees decide to do shouldn’t change the opinion on this deal too much. They get a potentially useful player off the bench for the stretch run without giving up anything of great value.


Rays Acquire Chad Qualls

Deadline day kicks off with a small trade that might have been a bigger deal in years past. MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reports that the Rays have acquired right-handed relief pitcher Chad Qualls from the Diamondbacks for a player to be named later. The Rays will pay the remainder of the $1.48 million left on Qualls’s contract.

A lot of things stick out about Qualls’s numbers this year, most of them bad. His ERA sits at 8.29, his WHIP is an even 2, his BABIP is all the way up at .434, and his strand rate is just 51.4 percent — and that’s just by glancing at his dashboard. His WXRL — wins expected above replacement, Baseball Prospectus’s reliever stat — is -2.407, last among 588 qualified major leaguers. He has allowed three of six inherited runners to score. Opponents have taken extra bases on 19 of 61 hits allowed, a career-high ratio. His whiff rate is at a career low by a significant margin. He’s been pulled from a game 15 times — he was the closer until mid-June. I could go on, but the point is clear.

Why the Rays’ interest, then? The move appears to be based on Qualls’s history. He was a good to excellent reliever from 2005 through 2009. While his 2010 has been horrible, he still sports a 4.30 FIP and 3.84 xFIP, and the latter approaches his career mark of 3.48. He has held opponents scoreless in 18 of his appearances, which is not good, but of those 18, 10 were perfect appearances. So maybe they see something in him. He did undergo knee surgery in September, so there is also hope that he’ll heat up a bit in the final two months.

The good news is that his stuff appears in tact. His fastball sits at the same velocity as it has in the past, and he’s using it at just about the same rate. Looking at this PitchFX page, everything appears to be in line with his past performance. It’s a bit dicey comparing PitchFX from year-to-year — I’ve noticed a number of pitchers who have “lost” horizontal movement this year, so there are definitely some consistency issues at play — but there don’t appear to be too many differences for Qualls.

He’ll be joining a Rays bullpen that ranks among the best in the league. They have the third lowest bullpen ERA in the majors, the third lowest OPS against, and the second highest WHIP. With quality setup men like Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit in addition to role pitchers like Dan Wheeler and Andy Sonnanstine, the Rays can afford to take a gamble with Qualls. If he returns to his old form he gives the Rays an indomitable bullpen. If he doesn’t, the Rays have other options.


A Surprising Best?

If you had to guess which team in baseball had played the best overall game so far this season, who would you guess? The Yankees? The Rays? The surprising Padres? How many teams do you guess before the Twins?

The Twins host the Mariners this weekend for a three game set and while previewing that series over at a local Mariner blog, I took notice of just how good the Twins were ranked across the four team categories –hitting, defense, starting pitcher, relief pitching—that I break teams down by. By my rankings, I have the Twins as the second best offense, sixth best defense (rated by UZR) and fourth best in both starting and relief pitching. The WAR rankings here at FanGraphs agree exactly on the position players but differ slightly, to third in starting and 11th in relieving, on the pitchers. Even still, both of our rankings agree, there has been no better team in baseball this season than the Minnesota Twins.

So how come they are only 56-46 and currently out of the playoff picture? Partly they have been unlucky in allowing runs. Despite a very good defense and a home park that, while too early to tell, seems to be leaning toward pitcher friendly, the Twins have an ERA that is 17 points higher than their FIP.

On the hitting side, Minnesota has also been hurt by some unclutch performances at the plate. Their team -1.40 clutch rating is 11th worst in baseball. They have also been unlucky when it comes to turning runs into wins. According to BaseRuns, the Twins should be expected to have about a .586 winning percentage to date worth between three and four extra wins over their current record. That would put them on par with the Rangers and just a few games behind Tampa and New York, which is more in line with where they belong.

The Twins were a preseason favorite for a reason and even with the loss of Joe Nathan they have played up to the level expected of them. All that is left is for the wins and losses to catch up to the individual at bats performances.


The Lance Berkman Trade: Yankees Perspective

Details aren’t official yet, but Lance Berkman will be a Yankee within 24 hours, according to Joel Sherman. Berkman will ostensibly become the DH for New York, supplanting Marcus Thames and Juan Miranda, and will also be able to fill in for Mark Teixeira at first base.

Berkman is in the middle of a down year right now, mostly due to a career low .279 BABIP. His power is down as well, as his .191 ISO is his first ISO below .200 since his first season in the big leagues, 1999. As such, 2010 has been Berkman’s worst full major league season. Still, he’s been productive. His wRC+ of 123 is solid, even at first base, as evidenced by his 1.9 WAR in 385 PAs. The plate discipline is as good as ever, as Berkman is walking a remarkable 16.8% of the time – 195% of the league average.

It’s not likely that Berkman will ever repeat his 162 wRC+ seasons of 2008 and 2006, given that this is Berkman’s age 34 season. However, there is reason to believe that he will improve. Power numbers can fluctuate wildly over the course of even half a season. ZiPS projects that Berkman will put up a line of .268/.386/.486 for the rest of the season – a roughly 140 wRC+. That’s a major improvement over the below average hitters that the Yankees are currently running out as DHes in Juan Miranda and Marcus Thames, and it also beats the projection for Jorge Posada, who has actually seen the most PAs at DH of the entire Yankees squad.

This one’s exceedingly simple for the Yankees. With Nick Johnson injured, DH was a bit of a weakness. Apparently, the cost for Berkman is minimal in terms of prospects, and the Yankees can easily absorb the roughly $6M remaining on his $14.5M contract – Buster Olney even reports that the Astros will pick up a significant portion of the money remaining. Berkman should be able to add roughly a win over Thames and Miranda over the course of the season, and there’s a chance that he sees a rebirth of his power in New Yankee Stadium, particularly batting left handed. Between the switch hitters Berkman, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, and Jorge Posada, the Yankees will also have a lineup that won’t be susceptible to specialist relievers. The Yankees used their cash reserves to effectively buy another hitter for the stretch run, and an impressive Yankees lineup will only get better now.


Scorched Earth in Houston

Last Saturday night, the Houston Astros hosted the Cincinnati Reds. They lost by seven runs and failed to score. When they take the field tomorrow the players will be a week older and the season a week closer to ending, but that is true of all teams. What makes the Astros’ week so special is the all but guaranteed absence of their most well known players. Roy Oswalt started that game, and so did Lance Berkman. Now, it appears, neither will be a member of the only organization they have known. Oswalt is the Phillies’ newest addition and making his debut tonight; Berkman is on the verge of heading to the Yankees.

Reportedly, the return in the Berkman deal is minor with the Astros essentially dumping his salary while giving him the chance to participate in a pennant race. For their part this week, the Astros will walk away with Brett Wallace, J.A. Happ, Jonathan Villar, whatever may come from the Yankees and without Oswalt, Berkman, and the $11 million sent to Philadelphia. Their payroll sat at more than $90 million entering this season and now the Astros appear ready to shed the following contracts:

– $10 million of Roy Oswalt
– $2 million buyout of Lance Berkman
– $5.5 million of Kazuo Matsui
– $4.5 million of Pedro Feliz
– $3 million of Brian Moehler
– $1.5 million of Geoff Blum
– $0.8 million of Jason Michaels

Some players will be signed and others given raises, but that’s nearly $30 million off the books for a team that should have a low payroll based on the lacuna of elite talent. You can debate the quality of the returns and question whether Drayton McLane is setting this franchise back even further by meddling into Ed Wade’s responsibilities. Those are legitimate concerns. What is worth pointing out is that there was never going to be a panacea. Never a magic bullet. The term “salary dump” has an ugly connotation but sometimes salary dumps are legitimately fruitful moves; especially when applied to erase mistakes.

Berkman and Oswalt are fine players and put in commendable service with Houston during the glory years. On this team, though, on this 2010 team their salaries and presences were nothing shy of onuses. By having those two, McLane forced himself and his management alike into thinking they were fringe contenders when they were nothing of the sort. Some ill-timed hot streaks catapulted the Astros into a state of naivety on their own limitations.

This is painful for Astros fans and it may only get worse. The team has lost its face in one brisk swoop. A deck sealer company used to rain commercials about a torture test. That is exactly what McLane is about to endure. Can he exercise better judgment and see this process through or will he venture for a scapegoat and keep his franchise locked in the jaws of mediocrity. This is the first cut; more will come because more have to come.

As for what’s next; the most obvious question is whether McLane will put the team up for sale. Beyond that, the Astros should try like heaven to move hell – Lee’s contract – even if it means engulfing the disaster for next season in order to free up cash for 2012. Wade is by no means a great General Manager, but one has to feel sympathy for him. He’s performing with the sword of Damocles overhead.

Note: And moments later Buster Olney tweets that the Astros are picking up a lot of money owed to Berkman. So much for a salary dump.


Cristian Guzman to the Rangers

With Ian Kinsler being placed on the Disabled List yesterday with a strained groin, the recently free-wheeling Jon Daniels wasted no time finding a temporary replacement, trading currently unknown prospects for veteran middle infielder Cristian Guzman according to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. While the Kinsler move to the DL was more precautionary than potentially serious, the Rangers are taking no chances.

Guzman will also give the Rangers needed insurance up the middle, as backup infielders Andres Blanco and Joaquin Arias are not very slick with the bat. ZiPS projects Arias for a .292 wOBA going forward and a .295 mark for Blanco. Although Guzman only has a .304 wOBA on the season, ZiPS likes him for a .319 rate the rest of the way. The main issue for Guzman this season has been his power; after slugging .440, and .390 over the past two seasons, he has dropped down to .361 in 2010, his lowest total since his horrendously terrible 2005. The combination of summer and Arlington may give Guzman a little power boost.

Defensively, Guzman has adjusted decently to second base this season according to UZR (although Baseball Info Solution’s Defensive Runs Saved does not think as highly). Guzman shouldn’t be called on to spell Elvis Andrus very often, as the former’s range at shortstop is well below average.

For Washington, they’re capitalizing on an aggressive market that is lacking in the available stars of recent years. After snagging Wilson Ramos from Minnesota for Matt Capps, the prospects they get back from Texas could be pretty good considering that the Rangers are overpaying in farm talent for salary relief in lieu of their recent bankruptcy. However, we’ll wait and see if the bigger dominoes (Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham) fall before tomorrow’s deadline.


The Edwin Jackson Trade: Arizona’s Perspective

The Arizona Diamondbacks were panned last week for shipping Dan Haren and his team-friendly contract to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for an underwhelming return. While that trade could come back to bite the organization, the D-Backs managed to get good value today in sending Edwin Jackson to the Chicago White Sox for Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg.

Jackson, 26, was picked up by Arizona this past off-season (along with RHP Ian Kennedy) as part of a three-team trade that cost the club Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth. The former Dodger, Ray and Tiger signed a two-year deal in February that bought out his two remaining years of arbitration eligibility — Jackson’s earning $4.6 million this season and he’ll pull in $8.35 million in 2011. With Arizona buried in the standings, the team has decided to blow up the current roster instead of trying to fix weak spots around a strong nucleus of young talent. Jackson’s year-and-change of service time is being converted into cost-controlled talent in the form of Hudson and Holmberg.

A fifth-round pick out of Old Dominion in the 2005 draft, Hudson shot from Low-A ball to the majors in 2009 and rated 66th on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects lists prior to this season. The 6-4, 220 pound right-hander comes equipped with 92-93 MPH heat, a mid-80’s slider and a low-80’s changeup, as well as an occasional mid-70’s curve. Though the 23-year-old hasn’t found success in a small sample of big league pitching over the past two years (a 5.41 xFIP in 34.1 innings), he has 10.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and a mid-three’s FIP in 117.1 IP at the Triple-A level.

Hudson doesn’t project as a top-of-the-rotation stud, and there are concerns over his fly ball tendencies (39.2 GB% in Triple-A). Still, the Diamondbacks get six seasons of team control over a MLB-ready starter who might not perform all that differently than Jackson right now. These projections came prior to the trade, but consider Hudson and Jackson’s rest-of-season forecasts from ZiPS:

Hudson: 7.02 K/9, 3.73 BB/9, 0.88 HR/9, 4.06 FIP
Jackson: 6.78 K/9, 3.62 BB/9, 0.94 HR/9, 4.16 FIP

Hudson might give up more homers than that — according to Minor League Splits, his work at Triple-A translates to more than a HR per nine and a 4.36 FIP in the show. Is that worth years of service time and millions of dollars to the Pale Hose, though? Perhaps the White Sox will use Jackson as part of another deal to acquire a bat. In this trade, they got the guy with greater name value and a bigger salary without necessarily getting much better.

In addition to Hudson, Arizona added a 19 year-old lefty in Holmberg. The 6-4, 220 pounder was Chicago’s second-round pick in the 2009 draft. Holmberg doesn’t get rave reviews for his physical build (BA compared him to a young David Wells in that regard) or his fastball, which sits in the upper-eighties. He does, however, possess a sharp curveball and changeup. Holmberg’s professional experience is scarce, as he has tossed 80.1 innings in rookie ball over the past two years with 7.4 K/9, 3 BB/9, a 4.38 FIP and a ground ball rate slightly above 50 percent. He’s not a great prospect, but Arizona could have something if his velocity creeps up a bit.

The Diamondbacks have to be pleased with their haul for Jackson — they got younger and cheaper, perhaps without surrendering anything in terms of on-field performance in the present.


The Miguel Tejada Trade

In the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, the San Diego Padres acquired Miguel Tejada for double-A pitcher Wynn Pelzer on Thursday night. Damn hot tub, it’s not 2004 any more, and now this is more of a back-pager in the newsrag of the 2010 trade deadline. In fact, it’s such a snoozer, you wonder why the Padres even bothered.

It’s not like San Diego gave up too much – Pelzer has a 4.54 FIP on the back of a 7.84 K/9 and 4.91 BB/9 in San Antonio this year, and that number only gets worse if you neutralize it for park and luck effects relative to the rest of the relatively pitching-friendly Texas League. Then again, his career FIP against righties is exactly a full run lower (3.54), so he may have a future as a reliever if he can’t iron out his splits. In fact, he just recently moved to relief, perhaps in order to recover some of the lost zip on his fastball. Going into the season, he was Baseball America’s #7 prospect, but as Dave Cameron just reminded us today, it’s important to remember that was before he went out and put up a 1.675 WHIP in double-A and took some of the shine off. Bryan Smith has more on Pelzer here.

The bigger question is actually if Tejada is an upgrade for the Padres. Starting with defense, the answer is unclear. His career UZR/150 at shortstop is -3.6, and that number drops further if you count only his last three attempts at the position, from 2007-2009. This year, he’s even been poor at third base, with a -7.3 UZR/150 and 15 errors in what has generally been described as lackluster-at-best defense. The current thirdbaseman for the Padres, Chase Headley, sports a 9.9 career UZR/150 at third and half the errors and really shouldn’t be pushed anywhere for the veteran.

Of course, the Padres’ current shortstop, Everth Cabrera, has a negative career UZR/150, but has shown better defense in the small sample that is this year. But do the Padres really want to go with a 36-year-old who hasn’t played shortstop in a year, and hasn’t played it well in two, probably four years? Especially since Cabrera is somewhat similar offensively (.241 wOBA, .287 ZiPS RoS wOBA) to Tejada (.296 wOBA, .324 ZiPs RoS wOBA)?

Short of playing Tejada at a completely new position – second base – and pushing Jerry Hairston, Jr to shortstop (career 2.4 UZR/150), the only other option is for Tejada to serve as a utility player, which seems like the plan. At least it’s not going to cost the Padres much long term in order to strengthen their bench for the stretch run.


The Edwin Jackson Trade: Chicago’s Perspective

One of the league’s most active teams when it comes to the trading deadline, the Chicago White Sox have acquired Edwin Jackson from the Diamondbacks for pitchers Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg.

Jackson is now in his fifth organization since he made his major league debut in 2003. Either he’s a very valuable commodity, or someone that teams views as easily acquired rotation filler.

While Jackson is a White Sox for now, do we know if he will be one on Saturday evening? There has been rumored interest in a three-way swap between the Diamondbacks, Nationals and White Sox, with Adam Dunn ending up in Chicago and Jackson landing with the Nats.

While Jackson’s strikeout and walk rates haven’t been great this year, he’s made up for it by getting ground balls. His GB% has been hovering around 40% most of his career, but he’s brought it up to an impressive 50.5% this season. This made up for the possible detriment that is Arizona’s home park, and should help keep balls from flying out of The Cell. Since Jackson has pitched in the AL Central before, his numbers shouldn’t unexpectedly decline (or increase for that matter).

Jackson is under contract for $8.35 million next year, thanks to a two-year deal from the D’Backs that was heavily back loaded. While Jackson isn’t a stud, he’ll be worth his contract and a little more. After next season, Jackson will be a free agent and should be able to command about $10 million a year on the open market.

As for what they gave up, Hudson was the team’s top pitching prospect, but there are questions about his long term role. He’s got a decent fastball and change-up, but his breaking ball is inconsistent. While he showed some good GB rates in the minors, he’s been an extreme flyball guy in his brief time in the big leagues, and the White Sox may have decided that he gives up too many balls in the air to succeed in their park, especially since he doesn’t have a knockout pitch to rack up a ton of strikeouts. Still, he’s a decent young arm, and one that will be under team control through 2016.

Kenny Williams likes to deal, but this is not one of his better ones. One may expect the price for Jackson to be lower than what the White Sox paid, given what the returns were for superior pitchers in Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren. Instead of keeping Hudson and letting him fill the rotation spot that Jake Peavy vacated, the White Sox decided to go out and fill it with a more expensive source. While Jackson probably won’t be enough by himself to change the direction of the White Sox’s season, he is a good piece for this year and beyond. All that remains to be seen is if he will stay a White Sox for long.


Dated Information

In almost every mainstream write-up of a trade involving a minor league prospect that is consummated, the author will reference the prospects off-season ranking by Baseball America, and for good reason – BA is the market leader in prospect analysis. John Manuel, Jim Callis, and the rest of the crew over there do really good work, and have established themselves as the best source of information on prospects around.

However, I’m beginning to feel like the reliance on a ranking compiled months ago is carrying too much weight when discussing current trades. Let’s use last night’s Wilson Ramos/Matt Capps trade, for instance. The normal reaction is that the Twins overpaid, trading a “top catching prospect” for a useful but not elite reliever. Many Twins fans are outraged that they would give up such a valuable trade chip in exchange for a one inning guy, especially after he was rumored to be part of the package that would bring them Cliff Lee a month ago.

A lot of the perception of Ramos’ value comes from the fact that BA rated him #58 on their pre-season Top 100 and #2 overall in the Twins system. However, since those rankings occurred, baseball has been played, and Ramos’ value has diminished. He hasn’t hit at all in Triple-A this year, as more advanced pitchers are taking advantage of his aggressive approach. He also hasn’t shown much in the way of power, as only 19 of his 67 hits have gone for extra bases.

If BA were to do re-do their Top 100 today, I guarantee you that Ramos wouldn’t rank #58. I’m guessing that he wouldn’t even be in the Top 100. He’s has a bad year, and the things that were questions about him last year are problems this year, giving teams reasons to think that his bat might not be enough to make him more than a defensive-minded backup. So, his pre-season ranking does not really reflect his value at the moment. Things have changed.

We saw this last year as well, when Tim Alderson (#45 pre-season prospect) was traded to the Pirates for Freddy Sanchez. The reaction at the time was that the Giants were crazy to give up a top pitching prospect for a decent, but not great, infielder. However, Alderson had spent the previous four months without any velocity, showing almost none of the stuff that made him a first round pick to begin with. The Pirates received a significantly lesser version of Alderson than had been assumed based on his prospect status, and that’s continued to carry over as Alderson has fallen off the prospect map at this point.

In prospect land, things can change a lot in a short period of time. A year ago, Mike Trout went 25th overall in the draft, but if you gave teams a do-over today, he’d go #2, as he’s now the consensus best prospect left in the minors. His stock has risen dramatically in the last four months, and his pre-season Top 100 ranking of #85 is now as outdated as shag carpet.

The guys at BA do great work. You should subscribe to their magazine and follow them all on twitter. But, don’t be slaves to pre-season rankings when trying to determine a player’s value. Things change between the time those lists get made and the time those prospects become trade chips.