Archive for August, 2010

Giving Gallardo Love

Yovani Gallardo is one of four National League starting pitchers with a sub-3 FIP and yet only three posts have included him this season. Two April posts on his extension and fantasy availability and then Gallardo’s entry into the Trade Value series. Otherwise, Gallardo’s season is one of the fertile patches around these parts thanks to Jack Moore’s tears cried from neglect.

Workload appears to be the reason Gallardo’s name is absent from the best pitching season talk. He missed time with an oblique injury, limiting his innings total to 149 innings. Most of Gallardo’s company is at 180 innings and rising, making Gallardo’s innings supply appear bare. Still, 2010 is an impressive season. Gallardo is the same age as that Felix Hernandez guy and his FIP this season (and for his career) is comparable to the King.

Now, Gallardo has something like 640 innings fewer than Hernandez and his ability to get groundballs and limit walks is clearly trailing Hernandez’s, but that he can stand next to Hernandez and not look like a complete second-class citizen is a compliment. The hierarchy effect does come into play when comparing Gallardo to his slumdog rotation mates. While Gallardo himself has accrued 3.9 WAR, the sum of the next five pitchers with the highest starts total (Wolf, Bush, Narveson, Parra, and Davis) is 1.1. You can triple that and Gallardo still wins.

Gallardo’s fastball is a fine pitch that sits in the low-90s. It does not miss bats as often as one would expect, however, Gallardo supplements that aspect with precision. The true seductresses in his arsenal are his breaking pitches. A delightful pair, indeed, which tempt but rarely fulfills batters’ need for contact. Both pitches have a whiff rate over 10%, leading the rest of the Gallardo’s pack.

The smudge on Gallardo’s Mona Lisa is simply durability. Simply not because durability is the easiest thing in the world to alter or fix – just ask the last great starting pitcher the Brewers’ system produced – but in the sense that the number of issues with his play is one. To compete next year, Milwaukee needs insurance, not just from Lloyd’s of London, but also in the form of an upgraded rotation in order to complement their young ace. They also might need a spotlight to ensure Gallardo gets the shine he deserves.


Rockies Overpay at Second Deadline

Due to an injury to Rafael Betancourt as well as other concerns, the Rockies were looking to add a reliever on today’s waiver trade deadline. They did just that today, acquiring Manny Delcarmen from the Boston Red Sox along with cash considerations (not Kevin Cash considerations) in exchange for minor league reliever Chris Balcom-Miller.

Delcarmen satisfies the Rockies needs in the sense that he has been a relief pitcher in the minor leagues before, but he isn’t likely to actually improve the Rockies bullpen. His 4.70 ERA is not MLB quality for a reliever, and his 5.18 xFIP and 5.69 FIP suggest that me may be even worse. Delcarmen walks far too many batters – 5.7 per nine innings – to survive without an elite strikeout rate. He has never struck out more than a batter per inning, and with the introduction of HR issues – a 14% HR/FB rate and a 1.4 HR/9 – Delcarmen has been well below replacement level in 2010. Delcarmen was moderately productive earlier in his career, as he was worth 3.7 WAR from 2005-2009, but ZiPS doesn’t see him returning to that former glory, projecting only a 4.02 FIP, and it’s hard to imagine that Coors Field will help whatever is ailing him with regards to home runs.

The real story here, however, is the guy coming back to Boston. Balcom-Miller has had a fantastic season with Asheville in the Sally League, posting a 3.31 ERA in 108 innings backed up by a fantastic 117:19 K:BB ratio. That’s a 6.2 K/BB for a 21 year old in his second professional season. Baseball America said prior to the season that Balcom-Miller’s ceiling was as a “solid middle-of-the-rotation starter,” and one has to think that this season would only improve his stock.

The Rockies might need warm bodies, but that’s about all they will get out of Delcarmen. He no longer projects as a productive reliever. Meanwhile, the Rockies will send a very promising starting pitching prospect out of the system for what might be at best a minuscule increase in their playoff odds. It’s hard for me to classify this deal as anything less than an overreaction to the Rafael Betancourt injury by Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd, and the end result will be a similarly talented (if not worse) team in Colorado and a weakened farm system.


Contract CrowdSourcing: Adam Dunn

Same concept as yesterday, just with Carl Crawford’s polar opposite – Adam Dunn. Rather than being a speed and defense guy, Dunn is all about the power, swinging for the fences on every pitch. It works for him, as he’s having his normal season – .265/.358/.556, good for a .386 wOBA. His career wOBA? .385. He’s a pretty easy offensive player to project.

Defense has always been his bugaboo, but after agreeing to move to first base full time, he’s been passable with the glove now that he doesn’t have to run around the outfield anymore, but he’s still far from an asset defensively. How much will teams hold his history of butchery against him, or will they assume that playing first base full time has made him a guy that can carry a glove and be a valuable contributor?

Dunn turns 31 this winter, and there are some pretty scary comparable players that have had their careers veer over the cliff after their 30th birthday. Richie Sexson posted a .385 wOBA at age 30, then went .355, .305, .314, out of baseball. Mo Vaughn put up a .421 wOBA at age 30, then went .370, .369, .349, .291, out of baseball. These guys were paid handsomely for a skillset that is very similar to Dunn’s, and teams have become a bit nervous about giving long term deals to guys with old player skills. However, there are guys like Jim Thome that have remained highly productive, so we can’t assume that Dunn is certainly headed for steep decline.

Will Dunn find the market to be more friendly than the last time he was a free agent? He was essentially the same player two years ago when he had to settle for just $20 million over two years. Have teams become bigger fans of his since then, or is Dunn in line for another rude awakening when he asks for a long term contract? Let your voice be heard below, and we’ll talk about the results tomorrow.


Myth and Legend, Meet Cincinnati

Last Saturday, Peter Gammons sent out an eye-opening tweet, about the newest Cincinnati Red, Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman:

One of the best scouts texted from Louisville that Chapman was 98-105 w/ 91 mph slider and “best velo I’ve ever seen” Friday night. Hi, Cinci

When I woke up Saturday morning and read it, I assumed Gammons had hit “5” instead of “1” or “2”, as his tweets are routinely rife with typos. But then, as J.J. Cooper wrote in a fun piece at Baseball America, the story caught on. Apparently Ed Price had beat Gammons to the punch with the 105 mph radar gun reading — which, to be fair, could have come from the same scout — and Cooper reported Baseball America heard a 104 mph reading from a different scout in attendance. The specific number, it doesn’t really matter (it’s not, I would guess, 105). However, we will learn where his velocity tops out at soon, as Chapman has been called up to join the Reds (and, presumably, their postseason roster) on the eve of September. We will all be able to see where his pitches register on the Pitch F/X scale, and soon, we’ll know if he is indeed the hardest thrower in (recent) Major League history.

As fun a narrative as the mythical radar gun reading is, lest we forget that actual important baseball is on the horizon. The Reds’ postseason odds have never been higher than they are today; as Chapman makes his way from Louisville to Cincy, BP has Cincy’s playoff odds at 95.52%. This is nice and consistent with the delicate developmental approach the Reds have taken with their prized lefty: while he was converted to relief on June 23, the team waited until the last possible day to release Chapman to the wolves. Now, barring a team-wide collapse, Chapman will be eased into competitive big league baseball up until October. For the Reds to be able to develop Chapman at their own pace, and create such a gap between themselves and the Cardinals is exactly how Walt Jocketty would have written it.

We’ll see how Dusty Baker reacts to his newest addition, but it’s clear he doesn’t have the same bias against young pitchers that he does with young hitters. While it will take some time for Chapman to up-end Arthur Rhodes as the favored lefty in the bullpen, I do think it’s possible that by October, Baker will have warmed to Chapman as his preferred platoon set-up man (opposite Nick Masset) — especially if Chapman continues and builds upon his recent success.

It’s been 23 days and eight relief appearances since Chapman last gave up a run. In fact, since July 4, Chapman has allowed just three earned runs in 23.1 innings. In this stretch, he’s allowed just 11 hits and 10 walks while striking out 38 batters. And, we’ve seen further improvement recently with Chapman’s control: just four walks in his last 18.2 innings. After a good 13-start debut in the rotation (4.11 ERA, 10.42 K/9, 5.48 BB/9, 0.82 HR/9), Chapman thrived in the bullpen, and now leaves behind the Louisville Bats with a 3.39 FIP to show for his five months of minor league work.

From a stuff angle, obviously the fastball is Chapman’s first weapon of choice. To quote the already linked BA article, “That kind of velocity almost breaks the 20-80 scouting scale.” When paired with his newfound control, the pitch immediately enters the discussion of the Majors’ best fastball. It is, without question, the craziest arm speed I’ve ever seen. He combines it with a slider, which as Gammons noted, sits in the low 90s, and can flash plus-plus in relief. However, the pitch can betray him at times. In Spring Training, I liked his change-up weapon to right-handed hitters better than the slider — though ultimately the pitch bears more importance in his future as a starter than his September and October as a reliever. For two months, it will be all about the fastball.

In late March, amidst the buzz of his Spring Training success, we asked you to project the 2010 performance of Aroldis Chapman. We received 504 entries, and as a reminder, here were the FIP components of your projection: 116.55 innings, 8.36 K/9, 3.88 BB/9, 1.11 HR/9. All this adding up to a FIP in the 4.36 region. But much has changed since then, and now we know his 2010 will be about 20-30 innings split between the regular season and playoffs. Now that you know about Chapman, as a reliever, I’d love to hear some revised predictions in the comments.


Don’t Punt on the Designated Hitter

Heading into the 2010 season most American League teams had a plan with the DH spot. As I noted earlier this month, many of those plans failed. As we can see on the team DH leader board, only six teams have gotten better than a .321 wOBA from the hitter-only position. In some cases this was poor luck. The Angels and Blue Jays had solid plans for the DH spot but saw them blow up, while the Rays had a good hitter who just couldn’t do it as a DH or in the AL, apparently. Other teams had plans that predictably failed. The White Sox are the prime culprits here.

During the off-season the Sox faced some criticism for passing on potential full-time DHs. They instead favored a rotation that would allow them to give someone a half day’s rest every once in a while. That might sound like a reasonable tactic, but the half day’s rest is a dubious assumption. There is no study, to my knowledge, that demonstrates the effect a day at DH has on an everyday player. Employing this tactic also means the team must replace the everyday player in the field, and that usually involves an inferior player. The White Sox have certainly felt the latter effect.

Twenty times this year Paul Konerko has filled the DH spot and seven times he has taken a day off. In all 27 instances Mark Kotsay took his place at first base. In an additional 47 games Kotsay himself has served as the DH. This has been nothing but a detriment to the team. Kotsay is no longer a good hitter, and really hasn’t been one since 2004. He has a mere .304 wOBA this year after a .309 mark last year, and he hasn’t crossed the .320 mark since 2005. There was no reason to think he’d approach average production for a DH. Yet he has been their primary guy in that spot. It seems like it could have gone to a more worthy player.

Kotsay wasn’t the Sox only option heading into the year. During the off-season they had signed Andruw Jones, who spent the majority of his 2009 season at DH. They also had Carlos Quentin, who struggled with injuries in 2008 and 2009. A rotation between the outfield and DH might have served both of them well. But the White Sox couldn’t count on that, since neither played a full 2009 season. Since they couldn’t count on it, the Sox would have done well with a more solid option at DH. Instead they turned to Kotsay.

The Sox weren’t lacking for options at DH. Jim Thome expressed his desire to return to Chicago after his short stint in Los Angeles, but the Sox passed. Minnesota jumped at the opportunity, and for relative pennies they picked up a 2.4 WAR player. Jermaine Dye also wanted to return, but there didn’t seem to be any interest from Chicago. There were good reasons to avoid him, but those reasons become diminished when your team has Mark Kotsay penciled into the DH spot. CHONE projected Dye to produce 1.2 WAR on the season, and that might have been even more if he didn’t play the field. That’s a nearly two-win boost over Kotsay, who has produced -0.6 WAR.

Passing on Thome hurt the most, of course, because of the swing it caused. This is all in hindsight, of course, but it still must sting to see a three-win difference between Thome and Kotsay. That’s three more potential wins for the White Sox and 2.5 fewer for the Twins. Even rounding down that’s a five-game differential, which would have the Sox in first by a game. Even with Dye over Kotsay the Sox could be within two games of first. Instead they’re four games back against a team that has played exceptionally since late July. And the entire difference might have come down to the decision to punt the DH spot.

As Dave noted yesterday, the White Sox stand to improve by adding Manny Ramirez, perhaps to the tune of a full win upgrade in September. But they could have used those wins earlier in the year. The team made a conscious decision to keep the DH spot open this winter, and it has come back to bite them. Maybe the 20 games at DH have helped keep Konerko fresh and productive, but we can’t prove that. What we can prove is that the usage of Mark Kotsay as the primary DH has hurt the team. Other teams might have gotten burned by their DH plan, but the Sox got burned by their lack of one. If they’re still in second place on October 4, it wouldn’t be wrong to point fingers at the guy whose DH plan included Mark Kotsay.


Biggest WAR Risers From 2009

Yesterday we took a look at some of the players who have seen dramatic declines from last year to this one. Today we’ll do a similar perspective on guys who have had a great 2010 compared to their relatively worse 2009.

1B Aubrey Huff
2009 WAR: -1.3
2010 WAR: 4.9

Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty big swing. In 2009, Huff was just about as bad as you can be while splitting time between the Orioles and Tigers. In forty games with Detroit, Huff mustered a .257 wOBA thanks to a pathetic .189/.265/.302 slash line. He was better in 110 games in Baltimore with a .307 wOBA, but his time DHing and poor defensive performance hurt him badly. He lost 4.9 runs in the field, 15.9 at the plate, and 12.2 due to position. For Aubrey, it was a year to forget. Luckily, 2010 has been a year to celebrate for the Huff family and Giants fans alike. At thirty-three, Huff could have continued into the doldrums of baseball aging, but his rejuvenation has been integral for San Fran; his .394 wOBA as the everyday first baseman on the bay has been a huge lift for the team. As our own R.J. Anderson put it as follows back in June:

The Giants signed Huff for $3 million on a one-year basis- meaning that just getting a combination of those projected figures probably would have made Huff worth it. Instead they have received one of the best hitters in baseball to date. It’s like a karmic refund for the Edgar Renteria deal turning into a mess.

2B Rickie Weeks
2009 WAR: 1.4
2010 WAR: 4.5

Rickie is one of those guys that you just can’t wait to play good baseball; when he’s playing well, he’s easily one of the best second baseman in the game. After posting a .235/.374/.433 line in 2007 as a twenty-four year old (15.4 BB% at that age is something else), Weeks struggled more at the plate in ’08 with only a .334 wOBA. In 2009, Rickie posted an identical wOBA as in 2007, this time with less patience and more power (.272/.340/.517), but only got 162 plate appearances due to injury. In 2010, Weeks is outplaying even his 2007 season with a .370 wOBA. After some pretty big fluctuation over his career, his walk rate is steady right now at 9.4%, right around his career average. 2010 has been a good year for Weeks.

2B Kelly Johnson
2009 WAR: 0.6
2010 WAR: 4.4

The tale of Kelly Johnson has been told many times. The former Atlanta youngin’ became an everyday player when he posted a .363 wOBA in 2007 at twenty-five years old. However, after a solid but less successful 2008, Johnson’s poor 2009 lead to the end of his days with the Braves. His .306 wOBA could be partially explained by a .246 BABIP, well below his career mark of .316; it wasn’t good enough for Bobby Cox and Frank Wren. Johnson moved on to Arizona this year and has crushed the ball, hitting .278/.368/.485, a .372 wOBA, in 125 games thus far. His UZR and DRS numbers are also the best this season out of the past three years. Patience and power can be a game of high highs and low lows, and Atlanta’s loss has certainly been the Diamondbacks’ gain.

OF Jose Bautista
2009 WAR: 1.9
2010 WAR: 5.4

If I were to have asked you during this past off season Jose Bautista’s odds of leading all of baseball in homers in 2010, what odds would you have given me? 100:1? 250:1? If you were a betting man, you could have made or lost a lot of money. Bautista, who had a .408 SLG last year and career high of .420 in 2006, has an outstanding 42 home runs this year thanks apparently to a new swing that appears to be working. At twenty-nine, Bautista is hitting .266/.382/.620 (.423 wOBA, 169 wRC+), an insane line for someone who had a career high wOBA of .339 in 2009. As Dave Cameron put it last week:

Bautista will likely never have a year like this again, but there’s no reason to think he’s going to revert back to the version we saw before last September. He has made changes that can stick, even if not quite to this degree, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Bautista hit 30 to 40 home runs each of the next several years.

For Thursday, I’ll do a split fallers/risers article on some of the guys that could have been on one of the lists.


Contract Crowdsource Results: Carl Crawford

2,000+ votes later, I’d say you guys are somewhat interested in this contract crowdsourcing idea, which is great. This will be a regular feature on FanGraphs leading up to free agency. We’ll try and do as many of the upcoming free agents as we can.

Let’s talk about the results of the Crawford survey. Just a few numbers to start off:

Average length: 5.5 years
Average salary: $16.4 million

Median length: 5 years
Median salary: $17 million

Standard deviation, years: 0.93 years
Standard deviation, salary: $2.91 million

Agreement was high among the group, especially in length. 78 percent of all submissions projected either a five or six year contract for Crawford, while 49 percent projected an annual salary of 14 to 17 million per season. It didn’t take long at all – about 25 ballots – before the data stabilized right around 5.5 years and $16.4 million, and it stayed there no matter how many additional ballots poured in.

So, I think we can say with some confidence that the crowd expects that he’ll get something around 5/80 or 6/100. This is why I’m glad we’re doing this exercise, because I figured the number would be a bit higher – I had him pegged at something like 7 years and $120 million.

Matt Holliday, a comparable player in value, got 7 years and $126 million with no bidding war to speak of last winter. Certainly, he benefited from the market’s premium given to power hitters, which Crawford will not get, but I’d expect that multiple teams will be bidding Crawford’s services up, which could drive the price beyond what the group consensus is. If I had to bet, I’d take the over on Crawford’s deal compared to the crowd’s average, but again, I’ve generally been lousy at estimating what players will sign for, and it’s likely that the crowd will be more accurate at projecting these deals than I will be.

Given these expected prices, though, I do wonder if Tampa Bay should make a serious run at keeping him. At least in the short term, $16 million a year for Crawford’s services is a bargain, and retaining him would keep their window of contention open longer. If they could get him to take a shorter deal, reducing the long term risk for the franchise, they might just be able to keep their franchise left fielder.


I Really Had a Blackout

Saturday….

For most, it’s the best of all days. You don’t have to go back to work for about 48 hours, time to take in some games. You love baseball. You either moved away from where your favorite team resides, you live in a market that doesn’t have a club, or you’re a fanatic and want to watch as many games as you can.

You went out and bought an out-of-market package to “catch all the action”. You either doled the bucks out for MLB Extra Innings for television, or MLB.TV for computer, and if you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, you purchased MLB.com’s At Bat 2010… maybe you’re whacked and have more than one, or possibly all these packages.

And it’s Saturday afternoon, and you decide that you want to watch some other game than what is being broadcast on FOX.  To your surprise, it’s blacked out.

Sunday evening, you decide to try again….  Blacked out due to ESPN.

And, depending on your location, you can be blacked out of 1, 2… up to 6 clubs in some locations during the week.

Is it any wonder that the #1 customer service call to MLB centers on its blackout policy? You think of kicking the TV, but you really want to kick yourself for making the purchase before reading the fine print, or someone with the league.

The problem is nothing new. Here we are with the 2010 season nearly complete, and there is no end in sight for MLB’s convoluted, arcane, and, many would say, unwarranted blackout policy. “I see no reason why there ought to be so many clubs able to blackout in those territories,” said MLB President and COO, Bob DuPuy in 2008. “That’s my intention. That’s my goal. I didn’t get any pushback. The whole thing is about making the game more popular and available.”

2008. And that was after several years of fans, customers, and the media asking, “When are you going to address this issue?”

In 2009, there seemed to be a back door into fans being able to see games in-market, with no blackouts. The problem was (and is) that it costs. On June 24, MLB, YES Network, and CableVision announced that in conjunction with MLB.com, for a one-time fee of $49.95 for the remainder of the 2009 season or $19.95 for any 30-day period thereafter, you could get Yankees games in-market. Just 5 days later, a similar deal was launched by Cox Communications and the San Diego Padres. Both DuPuy, and MLB Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman said at the time in a conference call that this model for in-market streaming would be coming for more and more clubs in the coming months. Having followed the blackout issue in MLB for years, I posed the question to DuPuy, “Is this how MLB plans to deal with the blackout policy?” DuPuy replied that the answer was no, and that the league was still working to address the blackout policy for MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV. To date, the deals with the Yankees and the Padres remain the only in-market streaming packages. According to reports, low subscription rates have plagued both. Whether that is the reason that the league hasn’t branched out, at this point in the season, is unknown.

They say that everyone has a story. If you look at the TV television territory map, or see inside MLB Extra Innings, MLB.TV and television blackouts in detail, a large percentage of readers are caught in MLB’s fine print on broadcasts with the out-of-market package at the local and regional level, and everyone that has either MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV gets burned via national blackouts on Saturday, and part of Sunday due to exclusivity agreements with FOX and ESPN.

It’s moved beyond the ridiculous. At least in 2008 there was someone saying that they were trying. The excuse now is likely that the economy. The owners, afraid to relinquish even a cent of revenue, have gone into a bunker mentality. Excuses, excuses… There’s none left. When, oh when, will the league address the blackout policy? Will it take Congress stepping in? Will it take fans turning their back on the packages? The latter seems unlikely. I know I’m hooked. The league has me the wiffles.

Maybe that’s the biggest and most galling part of the blackout policy. The most dedicated fans are the ones getting burned, but many of us are such a mess — addicted — that we take the kicks, and then afterwords,  in the throes of our withdrawal, hate ourselves for putting ourselves through the pain.

Remember when Saturday was the best day of the week?


Rasmus has to Play

As the Cardinals slide farther and farther out of the National League Central race, it’s hard not to notice that one of their best players hasn’t been in the lineup for over two weeks. Young center fielder Colby Rasmus hasn’t had more than one plate appearance in a game since August 14th; since then, his only action has been as either a pinch hitter or defensive replacement. In that time, Rasmus has had all of four plate appearances, as his job has effectively gone to Jon Jay, especially given this quote from manager Tony La Russa (h/t Viva El Birdos)

“He’s had all the work,” La Russa said. “He’s never backed off the work, taking batting practice. I think it all has to do with what his concentration is, and what his focus is. I do believe that, you just watch his swings in batting practice and in the game, I think he is convinced that he helps us more if he just yanks the ball out of the park. That normally is not the case, because you’re limiting yourself to a side of the park and you’re vulnerable to too many pitches. We really push, ‘Just play the game.’ That’s what Jon [Jay] does. He plays the game. take a single, take a walk, let the home runs come.”

From this quote, it is obvious that La Russa takes issue with Colby Rasmus’s approach. I don’t particularly doubt that La Russa understands how a MLB player should approach an at-bat. But Rasmus’s poor approach has still resulted in a .268/.352/.501 line, which translates to a .364 wOBA and a 130 wRC+. Basically, Rasmus has been an excellent hitter, and most evidence points to Rasmus supporting that line with an average to above average glove in center field. Even though Rasmus’s line is boosted by a likely unsustainable .341 BABIP, ZiPS projects Rasmus as a .341 wOBA hitter, which is good for a slick fielding center fielder. The wOBA projects Rasmus as a 3-4 WAR player with upside.

The aversion to playing Rasmus goes farther back than merely the past two weeks. Rasmus has 403 plate appearances on the season and has started only 93 of the club’s 138 games, despite the fact that he hasn’t missed significant time before his recent injury. As a result of La Russa’s anti-Rasmus tendencies, along with the midseason trade of Ryan Ludwick, a grand total of 591 plate appearances have gone to Jay, Joe Mather, Randy Winn, Allen Craig, and Nick Stavinoha. This group, despite a .315 collective BABIP, have posted a meager .317 wOBA, and none of them provide the kind of defense Rasmus does.

The apparently superior approaches that La Russa has favored haven’t produced more than Rasmus to date and there’s nary a crystal ball that suggests that they will, even if the group is limited to Jay and Winn or Jay and Craig. Jay’s line, particularly once his .376 BABIP normalizes, screams average, and Craig’s isn’t much better. Winn is at replacement level this season and even at that level ZiPS suggests that he’s playing over his head.

Tony La Russa has been around long enough to suggest that he’s a good major league manager, but right now, it’s clear that his decisions are resulting in an inferior St. Louis Cardinals team on the field. Colby Rasmus is a 3-4 WAR player right now with 4-5 WAR potential, and in his stead, La Russa is fielding players at the league average or below. The Cardinals need to utilize every weapon they have to catch the Reds; the Cardinals are now six games back of the Reds, three games back of the Phillies, and have playoff odds below 25%. Without Rasmus on the field the Cardinals are killing their chances at October. As time goes on, one has to wonder if La Russa and his whopping .535 career winning percentage is worth keeping around if he will let personal feelings or just simply misguided judgments of talent keep players like Rasmus off the field. The questionable move has certainly cost the Cardinals in 2010 and if the Cardinals organization isn’t careful, they could lose out on a player who looks to be one of the premiere center field talents in baseball.


One Night Only! (How Manny Edition)

This edition of One Night Only knows which side its bread is buttered on.

(Games listed in order of likely awesomness. NERD scores in parentheses.)

Chicago Americans (5) at Cleveland (3) | 7:05 ET
Starting Pitchers
White Sox: Edwin Jackson (8)
162.1 IP, 7.65 K/9, 3.71 BB/9, .318 BABIP, 51.8% GB, 10.2% HR/FB, 3.97 xFIP

Indians: Justin Masterson (6)
151.1 IP, 6.78 K/9, 4.10 BB/9, .341 BABIP, 60.7% GB, 11.0% HR/FB, 4.23 xFIP

Manny Being Manny Traded via Waivers
Let’s be clear about one thing, America: this game is miles more interesting if newly acquired Manny Ramirez is playing in it. And let’s be clear about another thing, America: NERD doesn’t really have a way of accounting for this.

Or, at least not yet.

Maybe — how about this — maybe a game becomes an automatic 10 when one of the most talented, yet enigmatic, players of his era joins a team just on the fringe of playoff contention — a team that, for the entire season, has slotted a no-hit journeyman into the DH spot and also features a mouthy Latin whack job for a manager.

Cool?

Out of Left Field. Literally. Kind Of.
Though it’s become commonplace to say that the White Sox have effed themselves by fielding* Mark Kotsay at DH — and while, yes, Mark Kotsay, isn’t a good DH — it’s actually not the position at which they’ve failed hardest. Because, while Chicago’s DHs have posted a 92 OPS+ relative to the league average DH, the team’s left fielders (ahem, Juan Pierre) have posted only an 83 OPS+ relative to other left fielders. No, OPS+ isn’t perfect, and, yes, maybe Pierre picks up some overall runs via stolen bases and such. But it’s still bad, people.

Action, Jackson
Edwin Jackson, in case you didn’t know, has been good since joining the White Sox. Like, disgusting-good. Blam, line: 28.0 IP, 10.93 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, 58.9% GB, 2.55 xFIP, 1.1 WAR. And he’s got 21 Ks over his last two starts.

*Not the precise word, obviously, but what’s better? Batting? Deploying?

Colorado (6) at San Francisco (4) | 10:15pm ET
Starting Pitchers
Rockies: Esmil Rogers (9)
49.1 IP, 8.21 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, .393 BABIP, 48.1% GB, 6.5% HR/FB, 3.71 xFIP

Giants: Madison Bumgarner (7)
73.0 IP, 6.41 K/9, 2.34 BB/9, .322 BABIP, 44.8% GB, 10.9% HR/FB, 4.30 xFIP

Regression Alert
Esmil Rogers has exploded to the top of the NERD charts recently. Why’s he there? Let me count the ways.

1. Bad Luck. Despite an ERA of 5.66, Rogers is actually currently sporting only a 3.71 xFIP. Rocky pitchers will always have inflated-looking BABIPs — Coors has a BABIP about 20 points higher than league average — but his current number is far above what it ought to be.

2. Velocity. Rogers’ fastball is currently averaging 94.3 mph overall (and 93.7 mph as a starter). That’s faster than fastballs belonging to a whole bunch of guys typically classified as power pitchers, guys such as Josh Beckett, Mat Latos, Francisco Liriano, Brandon Morrow, and CC Sabathia.

3. Age. Rogers only just turned 25, which means he’s been 24 for the majority of the season, which means he’s on the youngish side of things. Also, besides a four-inning start last season, it’s his first real season in the majors.

Andres Torres Watch
Last Night (v Colorado): 4 PA, 2 K.

Entering Playing: .284/.366/.498 (.351 BABIP), .379 wOBA, 138 wRC+, 5.7 WAR (8th among hitters).

Andres Torres Watch (Totally Subjective Remix)
Andres Torres remains talented and handsome. I want him to be my power animal.

A Brief Critique of Dave Cameron
About two weeks ago, to celebrate the arrival of 2010 minor league stats to the site, our Full-Time Employee Dave Cameron wrote a brief article singing the praises of Luis Rodriguez, who, after years of serving as a sort of Quad-A utility infielder, is having a crazy season. To quote Cameron:

In 354 plate appearances, Rodriguez is hitting .296/.360/.502. That is not a typo – the diminutive middle infielder is outslugging Jesus Montero. A guy who has slapped the ball on the ground for most of his career, he’s already launched 15 home runs in the International League, and 31 of his 90 hits have gone for extra bases. He’s done this while maintaining his excellent bat control, as he again has more walks (34) than strikeouts (30).

Because I’m a human person, this story warms the cockles of my heart. Moreover, I celebrate our generally unassailable Editor for calling attention to Rodriguez’s achievement.

However, I do take umbrage at one of Cameron’s maneuvers, and it’s this: in a moment of poor judgment, Cameron opted to title his post “The Next Andres Torres?” Because it’s phrased as a question, I’ll provide the answer here post-haste:

No.

“Oh, but Carson,” maybe you’re saying, “Torres was also a career minor league who also improved considerably during what would otherwise be considered the end of his peak years.” To this I reply: “Sure, but is Luis Rodriguez anywhere near as handsome as Andres Torres?” Let’s check.

Luis Rodriguez

Andres Torres

Conclusion: no way, friend.

Milwaukee (8) at Cincinnati (7) | 7:10pm ET
Starting Pitchers
Brewers: Yovani Gallardo (8)
149.0 IP, 9.97 K/9, 3.74 BB/9, .338 BABIP, 43.3% GB, 6.8% HR/FB, 3.42 xFIP

Reds: Aaron Harang (5)
100.1 IP, 6.73 K.9, 2.51 BB.9, .331 BABIP, 37.7% GB, 11.5% HR/FB, 4.33 xFIP

Just One Brief Note
This game marks the return of Aaron Harang from the DL. That’s what we in the industry refer to as “need to know” information.

Also Playing
These games are very likely playing at some kind of sporty channel near you.

Read the rest of this entry »


Under the Radar Keppinger

Throw on your guessing caps and then write down the top five in batter BB/K ratio this season. Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer are layups. Aubrey Huff is a shocker and Daric Barton is the black beauty amongst the group, but none of those four leads the league. Nope, that honor goes to Jeff Keppinger as the 30-year-old’s 1.38 ratio nary edges out Pujols’ 1.30.

Keppinger’s wOBA is at .331, above league average, and he should very well surpass his previous career best – an insane 2.2 figure from 2007 that he racked up in 276 plate appearances. Not too bad for someone whose career transactions include being traded in the Kris Benson to New York deal as well as in separate deals for Ruben Gotay, Russ Haltiwanger, and Drew Sutton.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve become so prone to looking at walk rates and isolated slugging ability that we forget about contact skills entirely. Not that one group of players has more value than the other on a wide-scale basis, obviously, it varies case-by-case, but a guy like Keppinger is flying under the radar because he doesn’t hit for much power nor does he get on base an insane amount of time. He does make a lot of contact, though, and that is a good attribute to have.

Keppinger also has one of the more, uh, interesting and vulgar sponsorships going at Baseball-Reference. Really, just check it out for yourself. Keppinger brings out the passion in folks.


Saito Producing at 40

Everybody knows about Billy Wagner’s ability at the closer position, and by now most know about impressive rookie Jonny Venters holding down the Atlanta Braves bullpen. However, the best FIP on the team belongs to Takashi Saito and his 2.40 mark over 48 innings this season. This impressive performance has Saito at 1.1 WAR already, making him the third Brave reliever to top the 1.0 WAR mark this season.

It’s not terribly surprising that Saito is having a good season. CHONE and ZiPS both projected a sub-3.50 FIP out of Saito despite his advanced age – a major input for these systems. However, there were warning signs that Saito wouldn’t be as good as these projections expected, as Erik Manning pointed out in the winter.

Saito’s career K/9 of 10.9 dropped to 8.4, which is substantiated by an 80% contact rate. Compare that to a career rate of 73%. His walks were also up, as more batters sat back on his breaking stuff rather than chasing it outside of the zone.

Saito also became an extreme fly ball pitcher – 52% of his balls in play were flies, but 18% of those were of the infield variety, so that’s at least a positive here among some negatives.

Throw this and more together and out pops a 4.40 tRA – not completely terrible, but a clear decline across the board for Saito. It’s definitely not what you would want to see out of high leverage reliever.

Groundball rate typically stabilizes quickly, and so even though Saito only threw 55 innings in 2009, that’s enough to worry at least a little bit about a 15% drop in groundball rate. Whatever it was that caused the massive increase in balls in the air, it has reversed itself in 2010. Saito is once again inducing ground balls on 46% of balls in play. Combine that with a strikeout rate (12 K/9) that’s back at elite levels and a walk rate (2.6 BB/9) that’s back below average, and Saito is once again looking like an elite reliever as he did with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Swift drops across the board in a relief season like those Saito suffered in 2009 may not be worrying for a younger pitcher, as the small sample size typically has a high impact. However, when the subject is over the hill, we have to worry about legitimate deterioration of skills with age. In this case, it doesn’t appear that Saito has lost much, if anything, of what made him worth a staggering 6.9 WAR in only 189 innings from 2006-2008. The magic continues for Saito with Atlanta at the age of 40, and any hints of his career headed towards its end appear to be gone now.


Contract CrowdSource: Carl Crawford

Today, I want to kick off an experiment of sorts. Over the last few off-seasons, I’ve noticed that the expectation of what I think a player will sign for is regularly not anywhere close to what he actually gets. Whether it was due to my misconceptions of what the market would value a player as, or just corrections inspired by the recession, we’ve seen guys sign for fractions of what they were expected to get, or not sign at all despite being pretty useful players.

So, rather than just go into this winter with my own observations of what the market may look like, I thought it would be a worthwhile effort to crowdsource the expected contracts for most of the major free agents who are looking to get paid this winter. We’re going to find out just how well the wisdom of crowds works in projecting the free agent market.

The first player we’ll throw out for discussion is the big fish of the winter, Carl Crawford. The Tampa Bay outfielder, who just turned 29, has established himself as one of the game’s best all-around players. Over the first nine years of his professional career, he’s averaged just under +4 WAR per season, and he’s been even better than that the last two years, posting a +5.5 win season last year and already reaching +5.6 wins so far in 2010. He’s in the prime of his career with a skillset that ages very well, and with a variety of abilities that are valued by every team, no matter their team-building philosophy.

Crawford is going to attract intense interest from multiple teams. There will be an inevitable bidding war for his services, with the Yankees and Angels most often rumored to be the teams ready to break the bank in an effort to lure Crawford to join their organizations. So, the question is, how much does he get, and for how long?

You can use the form below to submit your answers. Once we have a decent sample and the numbers seem to have stabilized around a length and figure, we’ll revisit the expectations. Assuming there’s enough interest, we’ll continue doing these until we get to free agency and find out just how much you guys actually know about projecting free agent contracts. It should be a fun experiment.


Prospects Chat – 8/30/10


David Ross: The New Gregg Zaun

I’m not sure who started it (perhaps Rany Jazayerli?), but a few years ago many internet writers began to call Gregg Zaun the Practically Perfect Backup Catcher. However, as people looked more closely. they began to realize that a catcher who was close to league average offensively (Zaun has a career 94 wRC+) and non-horrible defensively would actually make a Pretty Good Starting Catcher. The Toronto Blue Jays noticed and were the only team to really give Zaun a full season of playing time in 2005. By that time, Zaun was in his mid-30s, durability issues started to set in, and he’s never seen that much playing time again. However, the nerdosphere’s like affair with Zaun continued, and although he’s been more of a half-time player since then, he’s hit well enough to be an above average player (relative to his playing time).

Zaun’s 2010 with the Brewers ended early due to injury, and it’s an open question whether he’ll come back for his age 40 season in 2011. But there may be a new candidate to take up his role: Atlanta’s David Ross. Of course, barring unforeseen circumstances befalling Brian McCann, it makes sense that Ross isn’t going to be a starter in for the Braves any time soon. Despite his backup role, however, it seems to me that he could ably start for someone.

Ross has a good defensive reputation, and both DRS and TotalZone rate him as above-average. But let’s leave that aside and focus on his bat. We know that that most catchers don’t hit well. One of the handy things about wOBA is that it is just linear weights in rate-stat form, so we can convert it to runs above/below average. At FanGraphs, the full-season positional adjustment for catcher is +12.5 runs. So prorated 700 PA, to be average a catcher has to be worth -12.5 runs or better to be average or better (assuming average defense). In the 2010 run environment (.322 league average wOBA), that means a defensively-average catcher with about a .300 wOBA will be league average.

How does Ross stack up? Over the last three seasons (2008-present), he has a .349 wOBA (.249/.369/.421), which clearly puts him above the .300 “average line” we set above, as well as better than many starters over the same period, some of are rightly considered to be good players: Russell Martin (.324), Carlos Ruiz (.323), Yadier Molina (.319), and Kurt Suzuki (.315). While Ross’s 2009 power outburst (.234 ISO) was likely far above his true talent, and he’s probably had a fair bit of BABIP luck the last two season (.341 BABIP in both 2009 and 2010 so far), Ross has also thrived on an very good walk rate (15.1% from 2008-present) due to his consistent ability to lay off pitches outside the strike zone. Of course, there’s a sample size issue here, as Ross hasn’t even had 500 plate appearances total the last three seasons. A good bit of regression (particularly for BABIP) is called for here. After doing so, ZiPS RoS projects Ross’s current true talent as a .322 wOBA hitter — about MLB average, which, as a catcher makes him an above-average player.

In a league where Bengie Molina and Jason Kendall have full-time jobs, one wonders why more teams didn’t offer Ross a bit more money and playing time when he was last a free agent. His .286 wOBA in 2007 probably didn’t help, and perhaps teams felt he couldn’t handle even a half-time workload. However, in 2006 he played almost as much and had a .386 wOBA. Whatever the case may be, we probably won’t get to see what Ross could do with more playing time. Not only is he playing behind McCann, but the Braves have Ross locked up through 2012 at a bit more than $1.5 million a year — a bargain given that Ross still been delivering them about a win a season in less than 200 PAs. If McCann does go down for a while, Atlanta knows they won’t suffer too much in the hands of the new Practically Perfect Backup Catcher Who Could Probably Be Starting Somewhere.


Wrist Injuries and Rickie Weeks and Troy Tulowitzki

A few days ago, I looked into Jay Bruce’s decline in power since his wrist injury last season. I asked our readers if there were any other players they wanted examined. Troy Tulowitzki, Derrek Lee, Jordan Schafer and Rickie Weeks were brought up. I don’t have the batted ball data around when Derrek Lee’s injury happened and Jordan Schafer was sent to AAA after coming off the DL, so neither of those two will be examined. That leaves Rickie Weeks and Troy Tulowitzki to be looked at closer.

I will be looking at the average distance in feet for the fly balls and line drives and the average angle they were hit towards (positive angle is to left field and negative number is to right field). The angle is important to look at because it shows that the batter is able to get the bat through the ball and drive it.

Rickie Weeks

Rickie is a nice test case since he has broken his wrist twice since making to the big leagues: once in May 2007 and the other time in May 2009. Here is a look at line drive and fly ball distances and angles for Rickie from 2007 to current:

weeks

I am not for sure what to make of the data exactly. Before either injury, he was driving the ball to left field and averaging 277 ft per hit. After the first injury, he never hit for the same power in distance and started hitting the ball more towards center field. This season, it looks like he has had a boost of power and is starting to turn on the ball a little more. I am wondering if his 2007 injury never actually healed until this past off season.

Also, I divided this year’s data into two time frames. It can even be seen that he is increasing his distance over this season. Again, the one year recovery on wrist injuries looks to hold true.

Note: As asked in my last article, someone pointed out that the weather may be a concern (flyballs travel further in warm weather vice cold weather). The difference is that the ball travels at most ~3 less feet in April compared to a peak distance in June.

Troy Tulowitzki

There is not much data since Troy’s return, but here is his data from the last 4 years:

tulo

Two pieces of information stick out to me right away, though.

First in 2008, he had much less power than in 2007 and 2009. Looking back to 2008, he had both a quadricep and hand injury during that season that may have slowed him down. I may also have to look if hand injuries have the same loss of power that wrist injuries do.

For 2010, he has hit for distance just fine, but before and after the injury, he was taking it more to center than he did previously. Since Troy has returned, he is hitting it even more towards center.

Further Research

I am really needing to get some good baseline data to work off of for future analysis. I will probably wait to start it this off season so I can use all of the 2010 data on injuries and batted ball data.


Reviewing the Top Prospects: AL Central

Entering 2010, FanGraphs posted Top 10 prospect lists for all 30 MLB organizations. And it’s been a great year for rookies, which means there are going to be a lot of changes in the Top 10 lists for 2011. Before we tackle that beast after the season, though, we’re taking a look at how each club’s No. 1 prospect has fared in 2010. Today, we’re looking at the American League Central division.

The Cleveland Indians

Carlos Santana | Catcher
2010 Level: Triple-A/MLB
Age: 24

Santana forced Cleveland’s hand by posting a .451 wOBA in 57 triple-A games in 2010. The catcher then started off his MLB career with a scorching stretch before his bat cooled a bit. His season ended early after an ugly collision at home plate that forced him to go under the knife for a knee injury. Santana ended his rookie season with a triple-slash line of .260/.401/.467 in 150 at-bats. Like Buster Posey in San Francisco, Santana has a bright future as an offensive-minded catcher who projects to get better behind the dish after being converted to the position earlier in his career with the Dodgers. Value: Up

The Kansas City Royals

Mike Montgomery | Left-Handed Pitcher
2010 Level: A+/AA
Age: 21

Montgomery is one of the top pitching prospects in all of minor league baseball who reached double-A at the age of 20. The lefty did have a hiccup this season, though, when he landed on the disabled list with elbow soreness. His numbers have been very good in double-A, but he saw his walk rate increase with the jump (3.50 BB/9), but that could also be related to his injury. Montgomery still has a solid 3.76 FIP and has been hard to hit (7.67 H/9). With a fully healthy 2011 season, he could reach the Majors by the end of next season. Value: Even

The Chicago White Sox

Tyler Flowers | Catcher
2010 Level: Triple-A
Age: 24

After posting a wOBA rate of more than .400 in 2009 (split between double-A and triple-A), Flowers looked to be on course to take the MLB job of incumbent catcher A.J. Pierzynski in 2011. However, a disappointing triple-A season in 2010 may have cast some doubt in the minds of Chicago’s front office. Flowers has hit just .221/.333/.435 in 340 at-bats. Always known for power, walks and lots of strikeouts, the young catcher has continued the trend but the low batting average and even-higher-than-normal K-rate (35%) has led to a .339 wOBA. His BABIP is much lower than his career norm but he could also be putting too much pressure on himself with the Majors with a MLB job within sight. Value: Down

The Minnesota Twins

Aaron Hicks | Outfielder
2010 Level: Low-A
Age: 20

Asked to repeat low-A in 2010 despite a respectable ’09 season, Hicks has risen his wOBA from .337 to 372. His been quite consistent this season, save for a poor showing in May. He’s still learning to tap into his power (.146 ISO) but Hicks has already stolen a career high 19 bases and has an outstanding walk rate at 16.2 BB%. Overall, he has a triple-slash line of. 271/.389/.417 in 391 at-bats. He’s going to continue to require patience, but Hicks could develop into something special. Value: Up

The Detroit Tigers

Casey Crosby | Left-Handed Pitcher
2010 Level: Rookie
Age: 21

Injuries continue to haunt Crosby and he’s appeared in just three games this season after making 24 low-A starts in 2010 in which he posted a 2.80 FIP. The young pitcher has battled elbow soreness this season, which is definitely not good news considering he underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after signing with the Tigers out of high school in 2007. Value: Down

Up Next: The NL Central


Biggest WAR Fallers from 2009

With September fast approaching, it’s incredible to think the season is almost over. I say the same thing every year, but it really does seem like Opening Day was yesterday. As we get closer to the big 1-6-2, I wanted to take a look at some of the biggest decliners in WAR (not primarily due to injury) from 2009 to 2010 and do a little analysis as to why the drop occured.

UT Ben Zobrist
2009 WAR: 8.3
2010 WAR: 2.7

Zobrist was the name around sabermetric circles last year, putting up awesome offensive numbers while playing a variety of positions. Unfortunately for Ben and Rays fans alike, that prowess at the plate has not carried over to 2010. The 29-year-old’s wOBA dropped from .406 last year to just .330 this year, a combination of an 11.9% drop in home runs per fly ball and concurrent drops in BABIP and BB%. Meanwhile, here’s Zobrist’s defensive games started in 2009 versus 2010:

1B: 2/7
2B: 81/27
3B: 1/0
SS: 6/0
LF: 2/0
CF: 5/8
RF: 37/71

Due to Tampa Bay’s roster construction, Zobrist is playing a lot more of right field and less of premium positions that require a lower offensive performance to beat replacement level standards.

SS Derek Jeter
2009 WAR: 7.4
2010 WAR: 2.2

Jeter’s 2009 was truly remarkable, putting up the fourth highest wOBA of his career (and best since 2006) while also accumulating the most fielding runs of his career. In 2010, everything has come apart for the captain from the Bronx. Jeter’s on pace to have the worst offensive year of his career by a pretty decent margin with a .323 wOBA (102 wRC+); he’s walking 2.3% less of the time while also hitting grounders at a Tim Hudson-esque 65.8% rate. With a BABIP .63 lower than last year, there isn’t much saving Derek at the plate. On defense, UZR has him for -4.3 runs with DRS saying he’s been at -11. Either way, Jeter has disappointed given his 2009 and contract.

INF Chone Figgins
2009 WAR: 6.1
2010 WAR: 0.2

The most dramatic decrease of all, Figgins has gone from one of the best third basemen in baseball last year to one of the worst second basemen this year. In his first year in Seattle, Figgins has hit a measly .248/.336/.292 despite a modest .306 BABIP; after a .358 wOBA with the Angels last season, Figgins is at .298 this year, well below league average. Despite moving to second base, the positional advantage hasn’t mitigated enough to put Figgins where he should be. After a UZR/150 of 17.9 at third base in 2009, Chone is at -13.8 at second this season. Simply put, Jack Z can’t be pleased.

OF Matt Kemp
2009 WAR: 5.1
2010 WAR: 0.6

At the start of the season, Kemp was the big name throughout baseball. He was dating Rihanna and coming off of a stellar 2009 in which he put up a .367 wOBA while playing solid defense in center field. But everything has fallen apart since then. Kemp just hasn’t been the same player he once was with a UZR/150 of -15.6, nowhere near where he was last year. Moreover, Kemp’s .323 wOBA has been due primarily to a BABIP .49 points below his career average. Here are his peripherals for the the past two seasons:

BB%: 7.8/7.9
K%: 22.9/27.9
LD%: 21.3/20.2
GB%: 40.4/40.9
FB%: 38.3/39

Not much different. Still, Kemp’s production has been seriously disappointing, but at twenty five years old he has a lot of time to go back to his better days.


Manny to The White Sox

For the second year in a row, the White Sox have used the August waiver period to add a talented outfielder who has worn out his welcome with his current team. Last year, the White Sox took on the remainder of Alex Rios’ contract, and while he struggled to finish out 2009, he has been one of their best players this season, and the move has certainly paid dividends. Will adding Manny Ramirez pay off as well?

There are a couple of ways to look at whether Ramirez will work out or not. The White Sox are a fringe playoff contender, with about a 13 percent chance of making the playoffs. Ramirez is a significant upgrade from their rotating DH platoon, a position that has been most frequently manned by Mark Kotsay and his .233/.307/.382 line. ZiPS projects a .292 wOBA going forward for Kotsay, which pales in comparison to the .400 mark projected for Ramirez.

Even if you bump up the projection a bit to account for the other guys who would rotate through the DH position, we’re still looking at a 100 point gap in wOBA in September, which is a huge number, and, over 100 plate appearances, it adds up to nearly an eight run difference. Even though it’s only for a month, replacing Kotsay with Ramirez should add almost a full win to the White Sox total.

Given their place in the standings, a one win upgrade could make all the difference in the world. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that Chicago ends the season within just one game of the Twins. Having Ramirez’s bat in the line-up could put them in the playoffs, and given how valuable that is, picking up his $4 million in remaining salary and not surrendering any talent is something of a no-brainer. The team gets significantly better in a playoff race and all they have to give up is cash. That’s the kind of move every fan should want their team to make.

But it does raise a question. If the White Sox had $4 million in their budget for 2010, why did they wait until August 30th to spend it? They gave Kotsay $1.5 million to occupy a fairly important roster spot, despite the fact that he’s been a replacement level player since 2006, and failed to make necessary upgrades to their offense over the winter. If they had the ability to throw another $4 million at this roster, couldn’t that money have been spent better last winter on a guy who would have been around for the whole year, rather than just the final month?

It’s a fair question, but the reality is that circumstances change and budgets are not static. I’d imagine, though I’m just guessing, that if Kenny Williams could have spent another $4 million last winter, he’d have done so, and probably made some different choices about what his team looked like. The uncertainty about a team’s overall performance is far greater in January than it is in August, and not knowing if a team will be a contender or not pushes teams to be somewhat conservative with their payrolls each off-season.

The team has information they didn’t have before, and Jerry Reinsdorf was willing to gamble some cash on a player who can upgrade the team in a playoff race. Perhaps that is cash he was not willing to gamble over the winter, not knowing what this team would look like come the stretch run. While it’s reasonable to ask Williams why he was willing to lean so heavily on Kotsay, I don’t think we can assume that the money that they just spent on Ramirez was available to him over the winter.

So, overall, kudos to the White Sox again. They made a bold, intelligent waiver claim last year with Rios, and they’ve done so again with Ramirez. I still think Minnesota wins the AL Central, but Chicago will at least make it interesting. Plus, Manny being managed by Ozzie Guillen? Let the comedy begin.


One Night Only! (Misching You Edition)

This edition of One Night Only contains a semi-lengthy consideration of a fringe major leaguer.

In other words: P-A-R-T-Y.

(NERD scores in parentheses.)

New York Nationals (3) at Atlanta (5) | 7:10pm ET
Starting Pitchers
Metropolitans: Pat Misch (10?)
18.0 IP, 3.50 K/9, 1.00 BB/9, .314 BABIP, 46.3% GB, 4.0% HR/FB, 4.55 xFIP

Braves: Jair Jurrjens (5)
95.0 IP, 6.25 K/9, 2.94 BB/9, .291 BABIP, 39.6% GB, 7.3% HR/FB, 4.52 xFIP

Pat Misch, Pat Misch Is on My List
You’ll notice, if you look down below at the full schedule of today’s games, that I gave Met starter Pat Misch an estimated NERD of only 6. At the time, I thought I was being liberal even with that assignation: Misch isn’t exactly what you’d call a “stuff” guy (currently sporting, for example, an average fastball velocity of 85.4 mph) and appears, at first glance, to be a serious candidate for the Quad-A (or just straight-up Triple-A) label.

Thing is, Misch does one thing really well, and that’s throw strikes. His strike rate of 66.5% through his first three starts would tie him for 11th place in that category — with Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton — of the 205 NERD-qualified starters. Nor does it mark a serious departure from his minor league numbers, which generally have him throwing strikes at about a 65% rate.

His strike-throwing profile is borne out in his line so far, which includes a 3.50 K/9 and 1.00 BB/9. In other words, he’s pitching to contact pretty seriously. And when a pitcher is conceding so much contact, the logical question to ask is, “What’s his groundball rate?” If it’s high, you’re probably talking about a serviceable (and, for now, cost-controlled) major league pitcher; if it’s low, you’re talking about John Wasdin, who’s called Way Back Wasdin not for nothing.

So, what’s Misch’s groundball rate?

Well, there are a couple-few answers to that. Like this one: “Through 174 major league innings, it’s 43.3%.” Or, like this other one: “Through 705.1 minor league innings, it’s 47.2%.” Thing is, we ought to be most interested in a third answer — i.e. what it’s likely to be going forward.

Because Misch has a considerably larger minor league resume, it’d be ideal to project his major league rates using at least some of his minor league data. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy as looking at major league equivalencies.

The Evolution of Groundball Rates
A couple weeks ago, Resident Prospect Maven Bryan Smith wrote an article all up in this piece called “The Evolution of Groundball Rates,” in which Smith looks at 18 current major leaguers and the differences between their minor and major league groundball rates.

After listing both sets of rates, Smith gives us this:

[It’s] interesting that half the players dropped their groundball rate between 3 and 7.5 percent between the minor and Major leagues. Those who attended FanGraphs Live heard the problems I have with using MLEs to project minor leaguers. While it would be easy to do this study with everyone in the MinorLeagueSplits era, create an average drop that we apply for everyone, I just don’t find it all that informative. If you want to assume a player drops about 5-5.5 percent when he reaches the Majors, you’ll probably be about right as often as you’re about wrong.

Essentially, what we learn from Smith — and he presents the numbers in that article if you wanna see — is that groundball rates don’t translate perfectly from the minors to the majors.

In other words, if we’re going to project Misch, it’ll require something more nuanced than just MLEs. It’ll require, ultimately, human input.

The Horse’s Mouth
On account of Bryan Smith is basically just sitting by his computer all the time, thinking about this exact subject, I decided to go ahead and ask him what’s the deal with Misch. Specifically, I asked this:

I’m curious as to how you view Pat Misch. In particular, I’m wondering how he might fit into the different categories you discussed in your piece on the evolution of groundball rates.

Per his Minor League Splits page, he appears to’ve settled in the high-40s and low-50s at the Triple-A level. At the same time, he’s working with only an 85-87 mph fastball.

Who’re his comps, you think?

And, specfically, this is what Smith replied:

One thing that doesn’t receive enough attention when thinking about groundball rates is command. I think most are guilty of assuming that GB% is correlated strictly with movement — the sinker with the most downward movement should yield the highest number of groundballs. But this isn’t the case, and it’s important to remember that commanding a pitch down in the zone is half (or more) of the battle. Misch’s stuff — both in terms of velocity and movement — aren’t special in the slightest, and he doesn’t have the unique build (and downward plane) of a guy like Doug Fister. But what they do share is amazing command, and there is significant value in that. I don’t think Misch will be able to sustain a 50% groundball rate, but I think his ability to spot his fastball below the belt will keep him on the better side of average going forward.

The Outlook on Misch
I’m not sure that Pat Misch is gonna ever be a world-beater of a starter. He strikes out very few batters, and that’s not the best of qualities for a major league pitcher to possess.

But he also seems to have the stuff to not walk batters and, within, reason to induce grounders at an above-average rate.

If I Had My Druthers
• Jair Jurrjens, a native of Curacao (in the Netherlands Antilles), would begin referring to his fastball as “The Dutch Oven” — owing, you know, to the heat that it provided.
• It would become such a fabulous pitch that announcers are absolutely forced to reference it, by name, on the air.
• I, along with droves of American teenagers, would L my A off.

Also Playing
These games are very likely playing at some kind of sporty channel near you.

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