Archive for July, 2011

Boston Fortifies Rotation With Bedard

For many pundits, the Boston Red Sox were the clear best team in baseball this year. Ever since a 2-10 start, the Sox have won over two-thirds of their games, with a stellar 64-30 record. They lead the American League in both actual record and first-order (Pythagorean) record, and their 67.8-37.2 third-order record is a full two games clear of the Philadelphia Phillies.

But even the best teams are rarely without weakness, and with Clay Buchholz’s status uncertain, the Red Sox found themselves with some shallowness in their rotation. Sure, John Lackey, Andrew Miller, and Tim Wakefield would have no problem bringing an offense with as much firepower as Boston’s to the playoffs, particularly with an 8.5 game lead on Los Angeles for the Wild Card if they can’t hold their 2 game lead on New York in the East. But in the playoffs, the Red Sox will have to get by potent offenses such as the Yankees and the Rangers, and with Lackey and Miller as the third and fourth options out of the rotation, the Red Sox had a clear need to upgrade.

Upgrade they did, as the Red Sox pulled a three-way deadline deal to add Erik Bedard from the Mariners. To swing the deal, the Red Sox sent prospects C Tim Federowicz, RP Juan Rodriguez and SP Stephen Fife to the Dodgers in order to acquire OF Trayvon Robinson, who was then flipped along with OF Chih-Hsien Chang to the Mariners, bringing RP Josh Fields back as well as Bedard.

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Adams Joins Reformed Rangers Bullpen

After weeks of rumors about the Padres and Rangers being engaged in talks for closer Heath Bell, the teams pulled off a deal… involving setup man Mike Adams.

The Rangers, fresh off of acquiring Koji Uehara on Saturday, sent pitching prospects Robert Erlin and Joseph Wieland to San Diego to bring aboard arguably the best non-closing relief pitcher in the game. Since joining the Padres in 2008, Adams has thrown 217 innings with the following pertinent numbers: 137 (!) hits, 10.0 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.90 WHIP, 1.66 ERA and 2.48 SIERA. He ranks towards the top in each of those categories, and his 5.2 WAR in the span is the highest among setup men and middle relievers in the National League, and second to Matt Thornton across both leagues.

Simply put, Mike Adams is one of the very best relievers in baseball, regardless of whether or not he closes out the ninth inning, and was the top reliever on the market. Right behind him was Uehara, who has been equally filthy over the last two seasons. In acquiring both pitchers, the Rangers fixed a significant deficiency: the bullpen.

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Cardinals Add Furcal to Mix

In an effort to sure up their interior defense, the St. Louis Cardinals agreed to a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, bringing Rafael Furcal back east in exchange for Double-A outfielder Alex Castellanos. The trade was first reported last night, but could not be made official until Furcal – a 10/5 player – waived his no-trade clause to complete the transaction.

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Pirates Add To Outfield With Ludwick

At the outset the Pirates had a solid plan in the outfield. They flanked superstar center fielder Andrew McCutchen with young up-and-comer Jose Tabata in left, and a platoon of Garrett Jones and Matt Diaz in right. It might not have been the heaviest-hitting outfield combination in the league, but it didn’t appear to be a problem area, either. Since then those plans have hit a few snags. Tabata hit the DL, Jones failed to produce even one batting run above average in the first four months, and Diaz has been an unmitigated disaster at the plate. Rookie Alex Presley helped for a while, but he, too, hit the DL. Their need for outfield help persisted until a few minutes before today’s non-waiver trade deadline, when they acquired Ryan Ludwick from the Padres for a player to be named later.

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Oakland Uses Brad Ziegler to Free Brandon Allen

The Athletics traded a reliever and got back a young player that, despite his struggles to date, already has shown more power than anyone on the Oakland roster not named Josh Willingham. Yes, they used Brad Ziegler to (hopefully) free Brandon Allen.

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Bourn Seeks Playoff Identity In Atlanta

The Braves finally got in on one of the most active trade deadlines in recent memory Sunday morning, when they acquired Michael Bourn from the Astros. In doing so, the Braves were able to part with quantity over quality and get a guy who perfectly fits their ballclub.

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Giants Acquire Orlando Cabrera

Not content with Jeff Keppinger and Carlos Beltran as trade deadline acquisitions, the San Francisco Giants added veteran middle infielder Orlando Cabrera to the mix. In exchange for Cabrera, the Giants sent 23-year-old outfielder Thomas Neal to the Cleveland Indians – who had little use for Cabrera after Jason Kipnis was promoted.

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Pirates Acquire Derrek Lee

Just hours after acquiring their potential first baseman of the future (Chris Davis), the Baltimore Orioles shipped off their first baseman of the present – Derrek Lee – to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for yet another young first baseman in Aaron Baker. Selected in the 11th round of the 2009 draft, Baker has produced above-average offensive marks since turning pro. Meanwhile, his age (23) and his level (A+) probably give him an advantage. Although Baker may never turn in to anything more than an organizational soldier, his power potential is worth taking a shot on; especially since the 35-year-old Lee is not in Baltimore’s post-2011 plans.

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Why Did the Rockies Trade Ubaldo?

The Rockies and Indians finalized a deal Saturday night that sent ace Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland in exchange for prospects Alex White, Joe Gardner, Matt McBride and Drew Pomeranz. The rumors swirling around Jimenez were strange from the start, since a team in the Rockies position usually looks to acquire pitchers of that ilk rather than deal them away. However, after learning of the exact return package and assessing the state of the Rockies organization, dealing away Jimenez made more sense than it originally seemed, and might benefit the team more over the next few years.

In Jimenez, the Rockies had a very valuable trade chip if he was ever to be made available. He tallied about 4.5 WAR in 2008, and then sat right around 6 WAR in both 2009 and 2010. Cost-controlled pitchers with that type of resume just aren’t generally made available, since those are the pitchers teams try to build around, not without. Jimenez is currently signed to a four-year, $10 million deal that expires in 2012, with club options for $3.75 million in 2013 and $8 million the very next season. By virtue of his contract, however, he can void the 2014 option if traded.

In spite of the cost control, if a great deal of the budget is already committed and the top prospects within the system — who were going to be relied upon to contribute in the major league rotation before 2013-14 — weren’t developing up to expectations, then there isn’t a whole lot to actually build with. By trading away Jimenez, the Rockies basically admitted one of two things, if not both:

1) They were bearish on Jimenez’ ability to ever reach that 5+ WAR area again
2) They have soured on farmhands like Christian Friedrich and Tyler Matzek, who haven’t developed the way the organization envisioned

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Jimenez Makes Playoffs More Realistic in the Cleve

When authors for, and readers of, FanGraphs gathered at Goodyear Park in Arizona this past March for a panel that included Chris Antonetti, it was apparent that, while the Cleveland GM had legitimate optimism regarding the club’s future, his expectations for the 2010 season were more muted.

Nor would anyone begrudge him this: the team’s two most well-compensated players (Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner), each contending with lingering injuries, had combined for fewer than two wins in 2010. Hitting prodigy and 2010-callup Carlos Santana’s season had ended abruptly with a home-plate collision and subsequent knee surgery (particularly discouraging for a catcher); and the No. 1 starter for the team, Fausto Carmona, was probably more of a No. 3 or 4 starter for a contender. Really, Shin-Soo Choo appeared to be the only thing which one might call an “impact player.”

That, less than five months later, Antonetti and Co. would be making a deadline deal with a view towards securing a postseason berth, seemed improbable.

In fact, that’s precisely what’s happended, as, last night, Cleveland acquired Colorado ace Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies in exchange for minor-league pitchers Joe Gardner, Drew Pomeranz, and Alex White and catcher/first base-type Matt McBride.

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Hairston, Marquis Bid Farewell to D.C.

The Nationals made a pair of moves Saturday, sending utility-man Jerry Hairston Jr to the Brewers and starting pitcher Jason Marquis to the Diamondbacks. Both were marginal moves that weren’t all that exciting, but the Nats turned two players who didn’t factor into their plans into prospects who might. In exchange for Hairston, the Brewers sent back outfielder Erik Komatsu. For Marquis, the Diamondbacks traded away shortstop Zach Walters. Neither prospect is what we might label “can’t-miss” but both have the upside to help the Nationals as their rebuilding blossoms into contention.

Hairston signed a one year, $2 million deal in the offseason with the Nats, leading some to question why a team in their position even needed someone like him. Well, this is why. As the trade deadline approaches, some fringe contender is going to need middle infield help, either to replace a failed starter or to bide time due to an injury, and will make a trade for a player of that ilk. Hairston accomplishes both of those goals for the Brewers, who are not only dealing with the offensive impotence of Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt, but also injuries to Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez.

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Koji Uehara To Texas and To Close?

Today, the Rangers traded Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to the Orioles for setup man Koji Uehara. Some might balk at the asking price, but it’s become obvious that neither Hunter nor Davis were going to figure in to the Rangers’ future plans. And Uehara might end up at the cheapest way for the Rangers to upgrade their late-inning relief.

It’s true that there are a lot of years of control left on the young players that the Orioles acquired. Both can be free agents in 2016 at the earliest. But it’s also true that both players had muted upside.

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Red Sox Acquire Aviles From Royals

With the flurry of rumors around the trade deadline, it can be easy for a move to sneak up seemingly out of nowhere. Theo Epstein and Dayton Moore pulled the trigger on one of those deals this afternoon, with the Red Sox acquiring second baseman Mike Aviles from the Royals for minor leaguers Yamaico Navarro, a 23-year-old versatile infielder, and Kendal Volz, a 23-year-old righty reliever.

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Detroit Tigers Acquire Doug Fister

The Detroit Tigers made a move that will help them today and in the future, acquiring starting pitcher Doug Fister from the Seattle Mariners. The Tigers will also receive reliever David Pauley, and will send Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez and a PTBNL to Seattle.

With Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello already in place, the Tigers headed into the trade deadline looking for a back-end starter. Fister, owner of a 3.33 ERA, will slide in nicely behind Detroit’s other arms. While Fister’s ERA is certainly a result of Safeco Field and the Mariners’ defense, he is by no means a product of a great situation. Fister’s xFIP currently sits below 4.00, as does his SIERA. While his league-average numbers are all well and good, Fister’s value comes from his contract situation. The 27-year old won’t be arbitration eligible until 2013, giving the Tigers another year or two of very cheap production.

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A Pence for a Championship?

You’re the shepherd of a contending team. Your veteran left fielder is 10% worse than the average major leaguer and your young right fielder is part of a tandem that’s third-worst in the National League at he position. An exciting young corner outfielder is available on the market. Acquiring the upgrade is a no-brainer, right?

A lot of ink will be spilled about how Hunter Pence is over-rated. You can point out that he’s got a below-average walk rate. You can say his strikeout rate is only average. It’s true that his power looks above average when compared to the league but is only about the same as the average right fielder (.163 ISO for Pence, .168 for the average right-fielder). It’s even true that he steals bases at a less-than-efficient rate (63%).

And yet, acquiring Pence makes sense for the Phillies.

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One Night Only: Game Previews for July 30th

A recent photo of Cleveland manager Manny Acta.

Featured Game
Kansas City (7) at Cleveland (8) | 19:05 ET
This game has all the things to put a smile on your face — and also on other parts of your body, if that’s something you’re into.

To wit:
Felipe Paulino, pitching for the Royals, has been excellent since joining said team’s rotation at the beginning of June, producing this exact line: 60.2 IP, 8.75 K/9, 2.23 K/9, 48.8% GB, 2.99 SIERA, 3.23 xFIP, 82 xFIP-.
Justin Masterson, pitching for the Indians, can throw all fastballs if he wants — and he doesn’t care what you or anyone thinks.
• The Royals (average batter age of 26.5) and Indians (28.0) are the youngest and fifth-youngest teams, respectively, in the league.
• The Indians, despite their youth — and the fifth-lowest opening-day payroll, as well — are only 2.5 games out of first place.
• People will/have come! Average attendance at Cleveland’s Progressive Field this season (per Baseball Reference): 21,158. Attendance last night (per 35,390.

Watch: Fox Sports Kansas City. (I say this with little authority, however. I know I’ve watched before and haven’t been gravely offended. And, as an aside, Royal broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre cites both lectio divina and Thomas Merton in this article from the National Catholic Register — which, regardless of your thoughts on religion, organized or otherwise, this suggests Lefebvre is probably the thoughtful, curious sort.)

Also Playing
Here’s the complete schedule for all of today’s games, with our very proprietary watchability (NERD) scores for each one. The average NERD Game Score for today is 5.7.

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Astros Wisely Accept Phillies Offer

The Astros finalized a deal Friday night sending all-star outfielder Hunter Pence to the Phillies, along with $1 million in cash, for RHP Jarred Cosart, 1B/OF Jonathan Singleton, and two players to be named later. One of the PTBNLs turned out to be Josh Zeid, a reliever from Double-A Reading, while the other isn’t considered to be a major prospect per Ken Rosenthal, who broke the story.

The Astros didn’t have to deal Pence right now since he is under team control for two more years. However, his value has never been greater, since he can impact three playoff races. Most available players are half-year rentals or are under contract or control for one more season. Pence was also about to get fairly expensive for the Astros, who, as a rebuilding team did not need to carry a $12-15 mm player that didn’t help accomplish their goals. Pence might have been the face of the Astros franchise, but that was more indicative of the status of the organization than anything specific to his set of skills.

Though he isn’t truly a differencemaker, or an offensive savior for any interested team, the perception of his abilities around the league likely exceeds his actual production. Combine these ideas and the Astros should have been able to extract a great return for a good, not great, player. In getting Cosart and Singleton, they took on some risk (Cosart’s durability, Singleton’s lack of position), but there is a very good chance that they acquired a package equally as good as the return on Roy Halladay.

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In-Game Update: Tyler Colvin and wOBA by Count

That footage you see there is of Chicago Cub outfielder and No. 8 hitter Tyler Colvin swinging and missing at a pitch from the newest of St. Louis Cardinals, Edwin Jackson, in the second inning of this evening’s Cubs-Cardinals matchup. More accurately, it’s Tyler Colvin swinging at (what appears to be) an 0-0 slider very much in the dirt with the bases loaded and no outs.

While, given all the variables at play, it’s difficult to say exactly how many runs Colvin cost his team with that one ill-advised hack, we do know — thanks to work from a combo package of Toms Tango and Tippett from 2006 — roughly what the difference in wOBA is given different counts.

Specifically (again, as of 2006), batters passing through a count of 1-0 had a collective wOBA of.371. Meanwhile, batters passing through a count of 0-1 had a collective wOBA of .283*. The difference between those two states, in a context-neutral environment, is about 0.1 runs — but that’s just on a single pitch, with literally no regard for the situation. Considering that, in a typical none on, none out scenario, generic run expectancy is 0.46 and that, in this situation, the (again, generic) run expectancy was 2.28, then we see that Colvin’s lack of discipline is magnified even more.

*The exact numbers are probably different this season given the deflated run environment, but the point remains.

Assorted Trade Rumor Thoughts

It’s Friday, two days before the trade deadline, and I officially have rumor-induced ADHD. I keep catching myself peeking at my Twitter feed ever couple minutes, and I don’t think I’ve closed my MLB Trade Rumors tab in four days. Sunday needs to come and go already so I can go back to having a life.

As I can barely focus on anything for more than 15 minutes, I figured I’d write up some of my assorted musings on the big rumors floating around out there. Original idea, huh?

The Ubaldo Jimenez Rumors

I don’t get it. If I was the Rockies, there’s no way in heck that I’d trade Jimenez. I can understand the logic behind shopping him, considering they have lots of holes on their roster for 2012 and no surefire prospects ready to fill them, but the Rockies had better be sure they’re getting back an absurd haul for him. How often do 5-6 WAR pitchers come along, nonetheless ones that are signed for only $18 million over the next three years? Pitchers like Jimenez are rare commodities, and no matter how good a prospect is, they’re still only a prospect.

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Game Score (and Crowd-Sourcing)

Bill James created a metric called Game Score that looks at a pitcher’s standard pitching line, to come up with an overall score, centered at 50, with most scores in the 0 to 100 range. I am trying to take that concept, deconstruct Game Score, and reconstruct it by forcing it to follow some set rules.

The scale of Game Score will mimic win percentage. So, a Game Score of 50 means you will win 50% of the time. A Game Score of 70 means you will win 70% of the time, and so on.

We’re not going to be total maniacs about it, and force a Game Score to stop at 99 or 1. Think of the relationship between Game Score and win percentage more as useful guidelines, rather than a hard constraint. This is especially because the relationship between wins and runs is not linear, and so, it’s going to be impossible to create a linear metric that will work at the extremes.

We also know that ten marginal runs equals one marginal win. This means that one marginal run equals 0.10 marginal wins. In terms of the Game Score scale, one marginal run is 10 Game Score points. Keep this in mind as you read the various versions of Game Score.

In addition, we’re going to set the starting point of Game Score to 40, rather than following the Bill James lead of starting at 50. The idea here is to think in terms of replacement level, and if you pitch to one batter and are out of the game, we’d hardly call that an “average” game. Indeed, I would even consider starting the Game Score at 35 or even 30. For the moment, we’ll start at 40, and let’s see where this takes us.

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