Archive for December, 2011

Where The Free Agent Value Was Last Winter

When the calendar rolls over to January, teams traditionally start to go bargain hunting in the free agent market, shopping for players in the open box section of talent. Some of these “previously owned” goods are more damaged than others, but most of them come with significant health questions, and they’re often guys who underwhelm with mediocre physical abilities. Especially on the pitching side, the bargain bin is generally full of soft-tossing contact pitchers with below average strikeout rates, often coming off some kind of recent arm surgery.

It’s generally hard to get too excited when your team starts shopping for one of these blue light specials. Paul Maholm? Jeff Francis? Kevin Millwood? No one rushes to buy season tickets when these signings are announced. However, last year, no area of free agency provided a better return on investment, and honestly, it wasn’t even close.

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FanGraphs Glossary: The Winter Cleaning

As pointed out on Twitter today, there’s some good news for baseball fans today: the wait until Spring Training is officially half over. The middle of February is looking closer and closer now that January is a few days away, so before we know it, pitchers and catchers will begin their yearly migration down to the warmer climes. Our long, dark teatime of the soul is all but over.

But this is bittersweet news. Yes, the wait until Spring Training is almost over, but the coming month and a half is typically the slowest, most painful time of the offseason. The Winter Meetings have passed and baseball news has slowed down to a crawl, so there isn’t much to keep us baseball-philes content. This January promises to be more eventful than most, considering Prince Fielder is still on the market and there are multiple potential trades that may happen, but I’m not about to set my expectations too high.

Since things can get so slow this month, this is typically the time of the year when I update and re-edit the Sabermetric Library — a mid-winter cleaning, if you will. I haven’t begun dusting out the cobwebs yet, though, as I’d love to get input on what people would like to see this time around. And so…

  • Are these any pages in the Library you think badly need an edit? Is there anything you’d like to see added to any particular page?
  • Are there any new pages or articles you’d like to see added to the Library?
  • Any new links that I should be sure to include in the Library?

In short, if you have any ideas on how to improve the glossary here at FanGraphs and to make it more useful, please share! I’ll be spending the next month or so making edits and changes, and I welcome any ideas.


Memories of Melvin Mora

Melvin Mora has reportedly announced his retirement. I will admit that I was a bit surprised to find out that Mora is going to turn 40 in February. I knew he was a “late bloomer,” but I had not processed just how late. Upon his retirement, it is worth reflecting Mora’s curious development as well as taking a look at one of his most exciting in-game moments.

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Is Byrd the Word For Washington?

The acquisition of Gio Gonzalez certainly bolstered the Nationals starting rotation and bumped up their postseason odds. It wasn’t a splash of the Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder ilk but with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, Gonzalez will help form a fairly formidable trio. However, the Nationals aren’t finished just yet.

In addition to their rumored interest and pursuit of Prince Fielder to replace Adam LaRoche at first base, the Nationals are also in the hunt for a centerfielder. Last season, they expressed interest in both Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton. The former was eventually traded to the division-rival Braves, while the latter posted a .449 wOBA in September as the Rays won the Wild Card on the season’s final day.

But the Nationals are still looking to shore up their outfield. Center field remains a legitimate weakness on a team with sights on significantly improving and potentially contending for a playoff berth. As it currently stands, there are four realistic options: trade for Marlon Byrd, trade for B.J. Upton, sign Coco Crisp, or shift Jayson Werth over while installing someone else in right field.

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FanGraphs Q&A: The Best Quotes of 2011

Since joining FanGraphs eight months ago, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a number of people within baseball. Many of them had interesting things to say. So continuing a tradition that began when I was at Baseball Prospectus, I’m ending the year with some of the highlights. Without further ado, I give you The Best Quotes from FanGraphs Q&A 2011:

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“I don’t try to strike out people, but sometimes they swing and miss.” — Felix Hernandez, May 2011

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Tom Milone and the Whole Velocity Thing

Because you’re the sort of person who would do such a thing, you’ve likely found yourself, at one point or another, having dirty thoughts about the major-league equivalencies (MLEs) for soft-tossing, and recently traded, left-hander Tom Milone.

If, somehow, you’re not that sort of person, perhaps you’ve wandered to this site by accident. In any case, here’s a recap of what you would’ve found there:

In 2010, pitching at Double-A Harrisburg, a 23-year-old Milone posted a zMLE line (that’s ZiPS MLE) of 151.3 IP, 27/27 GS/G, 6.78 K/9, 1.84 BB/9, 1.01 HR/9, ca. 3.92 FIP.

In 2011, pitching at Triple-A Syracuse, a 24-year-old Milone posted a zMLE line of 145.2, 24/24 GS/G, 7.84 K/9, 0.99 BB/9, 0.62 HR/9, ca. 2.72 FIP.

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Samson Is Wrong: Marlins Aquarium Is 2nd to Rays

The Miami Marlins just announced plans to give their new ballpark an aquarium theme, and they have already installed two 450-gallon fish tanks. One each will be along the first- and third-base lines — the fish safe in soundproof, shatter-proof glass. In an exclusive interview with MLB.com, team president David Samson explained: “The reason this has never been done before, is not that it can’t be done…. It’s because no one thought to do it.”

But Samson is wrong. In fact, the other Florida team got there first. All the way back in the hazy mists of 2006, the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays installed a 10,000 gallon aquarium — with 22 Cownose rays — beyond their outfield wall in right-center field. The Rays Touch Tank is still there, and the number of Rays’ rays has increased to 30. It was controversial at the time because the team offered to donate $5,000 to charity — half of it to the Florida Aquarium — any time a batter hit a home run into the tank. But both the team’s and the aquarium’s officials took pains to maintain that the rays themselves were not in danger.
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How Great Was Edgar Martinez’s Bat?

While we’ve spent the last few days talking about the Hall of Fame, and this post is somewhat inspired by discussions about Edgar Martinez’s worthiness for enshrinement in Cooperstown, this isn’t really a post about whether or not he deserves induction. I get why people are hesitant to vote for a guy who spent most of his career at DH, had a relatively short career, and who played in an era that saw offensive records shattered left and right. I might not agree with their conclusions, but Martinez is a bubble candidate, and legitimate cases can be on both sides of the coin.

However, one of the arguments that I’ve seen more often this year is that Martinez simply wasn’t a great enough hitter to overcome his lack of defensive value. This argument was laid out most plainly by Jeff Fletcher in his explanation of why Martinez is not getting his vote. He looked at Martinez compared to his contemporaries, and sums up his stance with this line:

So if I’m going to vote him in based solely on his bat, he’d better be an absolute slam dunk offensive HOFer…

The argument that a career DH needs to be an elite, premium hitter for induction is valid, and a standard I would argue for as well. I just disagree with Fletcher that Martinez was not that kind of elite, all-time great hitter.

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Baseball’s New Year’s Day Babies

Flash forward a couple days from now.

It’s New Year’s Day, around 6:00 p.m. You’re on the couch or in your favorite comfy chair. You’ve watched too much football — for which you care little. You’re hungry but too tired or lazy to do anything about it. You switch on the local news and find the most obvious, repeated story of New Year’s Day: “Who was the first baby born in [your city] in 2012?”

It’s a thing. I don’t know why it’s a thing, but somewhere, someone decided it was interesting and important to keep track of the first baby born in each community every year. As if that distinction made the baby special for reasons other being born a few minutes after Dec. 31, thus preventing his or her parents from claiming an extra tax deduction for the prior year.

But this is America, and we keep track of these things. And since baseball is as American as apple pie and wireless surveillance, let us do the American thing and take note of the major league baseball players who were born on Jan. 1.

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Ryan Madson: Loser of the Offseason

Ryan Madson has had a successful career spent entirely with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies signing of Jonathan Papelbon early in the offseason effectively ended that chapter of Madson’s career, but he entered the offseason as either the best or second-best available closer.

Madson was going to get paid, and it was just a matter of which team would see past his “inexperience” at the position and opt for his services over, say, Heath Bell or Francisco Cordero.

Unfortunately, best laid plans haven’t come to fruition, and it seems with each passing day that he will end up being the loser of the offseason: a very good player forced to sign for less than he would have had he hit free agency a year earlier or later.

Because so few remaining teams have both the need and payroll flexibility to give a multi-year deal to a closer, it’s looking like Madson’s first foray into free agency will result in his eventual employer getting a bargain.

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Worst Defenders Since 2002

The end of each year inspires many “Best Of” articles. Sports blogs, in particular, latch on to these types of posts. Best Plays of the Year. Best Games of the Year. Best Players of the Year. Even niche articles, such as Best Mustaches of the Year. The list goes on and on.

This list does not list the “Best Of” anything. Instead, it lists the worst five defenders since 2002 (when UZR was developed to record defensive statistics on this site).

To determine the worst defenders of the past ten seasons, I sorted players by UZR/150. This was to prevent a player — like Adam Dunn — from dominating the list by simply playing horrendous defense for the better part of a decade. I also set the minimum number of innings at 3,000. This helped to avoid one season outliers, such as Ryan Braun and his escapades at third base in 2007.

Finally, I employed positional adjustments, so the UZR numbers could be presented as a position neutral rating. This allowed for a poor fielding left fielder to be rated worse than an equally poor fielding center fielder, as one would assume the poor fielding center fielder would post improved numbers if moved to left because it is an easier defensive position. For more information on the specific positional adjustments utilized, visit this article from two years ago.

Without further ado…

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Miles Head: Oakland-bound Prospect

With the trade of Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney to Boston in exchange for Josh Reddick and a pair of minor leaguers, one of the questions A’s fans are asking is, “Who is Miles Head?” The short answer is that Head is a mid-level prospect who would have been ranked in the 15-20 range among Red Sox farmhands by most publications in the coming days. A more detailed description will tell you that…

…Miles Head can hit a baseball. The 20-year-old first baseman proved that last summer, bashing his way to one of the best seasons of anyone in the Red Sox system. Splitting the year between low-A Greenville and high-A Salem, he emerged as a legitimate prospect by hitting .299/.372/.515, with 37 doubles and 22 home runs.

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Boston Lands Bailey

It appears that the Boston Red Sox have found their new closer.

More than a month after the Philadelphia Phillies signed former Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox on Wednesday traded for Oakland stopper Andrew Bailey. The Sox also received Ryan Sweeney in the deal, in which Boston gave up outfielder outfielder Josh Reddick and a pair of minor league players.

While Boston obviously thinks Bailey fills a major void in the bullpen — he saved 75 games during the past three seasons — the former Athletic now finds himself in a much less forgiving ballpark.

So will this move work out in Boston’s favor?

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FanGraphs Chat – 12/28/11


Which Active Players Are Going To Cooperstown?

Yesterday, we talked about Alan Trammell’s case for Hall of Fame induction, and if you’ve been surfing the baseball newspapers lately, you’re probably come across arguments for or against most of the other bubble candidates on this year’s ballot. While there’s certainly value in discussing the credentials of guys Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker, we’ve also been having those conversations for several years now, and the facts haven’t changed since the last time we reviewed their candidacy. So, today, I want to turn my Cooperstown-related focus to the guys that are still playing.

Given what we know today, which active players are going to end in the Hall of Fame? And which ones should, but look unlikely to get the necessary support? Is anyone currently playing likely to get inducted that doesn’t actually deserve it? Let’s take a look at the current crop of players and where they’re likely to end up, at least with what we know at the moment.

No-brainer, first ballot, let’s not even bother arguing.

Albert Pujols (+87.8 WAR), Chipper Jones (+87.5 WAR), Derek Jeter (+74.4 WAR), Ivan Rodriguez (+73.4 WAR), Mariano Rivera (+39.0 WAR/+54.6 WPA).

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Mariano Rivera: Thinking Man’s Cutter

Mariano Rivera’s cutter is the most dominant pitch in the game today, if not one of the best ever. Baseball’s all-time saves leader has carved out a brilliant career with his signature offering, sawing off a lumberyard’s worth of bats along the way. Hitters know it’s coming, but rarely can they square it up.

When a pitcher possesses such a weapon, it is easy to assume that he can simply rear back and let it go. Unlike a Greg Maddux or a Mike Mussina, he doesn’t need to be a practitioner of the art of pitching. He just blows hitters away with pure stuff.

According to Rivera, it isn’t that simple.

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Trammell, Yount, and the Value of Career Length

Hall of Fame ballots are due at the end of the week, so this time of year, a lot of attention turns to which players belong in Cooperstown. The expectation this year is that Barry Larkin is going to get in, making him the 22nd shortstop (minimum 50% games played at the position) to get enshrined. I’m in full support of Larkin’s induction, and think he’s an excellent candidate who should have gotten in a year ago. But he’s not the only shortstop on the ballot who deserves legitimate consideration.

This year will be Alan Trammell’s 11th year on the ballot, and given how little momentum he’s garnered since debuting in 2002 (going from 15.7% to just 24.3% last year), he likely has no real chance of getting elected by the BBWAA. Unfortunately for Trammell, he didn’t hit any of the big milestone numbers that make voters take notice, and he excelled in the areas that aren’t generally valued all that highly by the voters. With just 2,315 hits and secondary numbers that aren’t overly exciting, Trammell is generally seen as a Hall of Very Good guy, a quality player who just wasn’t quite great enough to get a plaque in upstate New York.

However, I think Trammell has a better case than is generally accepted, and his candidacy points out why looking at career totals is not the best way to evaluate a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness.

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Do Better Pitchers Actually Have Better Command?

Command and control. They sound like terms we’d use during a military operation. But no, these are two skills that are very important in baseball. The two refer to the same general ability to throw pitches in the best locations for the pitcher. There is a distinction between the two. As I understand it, control represents the pitcher’s skill in throwing strikes; command refers to the pitcher’s ability to throw pitches where he intends to throw them.

We can’t actually measure command. That would require knowing where the pitcher wants to throw the ball, and we don’t know that unless he’s telling us before each pitch. CommandF/X  — Sportsvision’s technology that tracks the catcher’s glove — would help, but that’s not publicly available.  What we can do, though, is measure pitch location through PITCHf/x. This should work as a good proxy.

We know that command is very important, and that the best pitchers, on the aggregate, display much better command than lesser pitchers.

Or do we?

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Milone Goes To Oakland

One of the pitchers going from the Nationals to the Athletics in exchange for Gio Gonzalez is soft-tossing lefty Tom Milone.  Milone, who will be 25 in February, was a 10th round draft pick by the Nats in 2008 and has gotten by with excellent control (only 4.4% free passes throughout his MiLB career).  What might be turning some heads is that his strikeout rate, unspectacular in 2008 and 2009, has jumped up to one per inning over the past two seasons.  Considering that Milone got five starts in the big leagues last September, we can look at PITCHf/x data to get a feel for his repertoire.

Milone showed four pitches in his stint with the Nationals:

           n    mph
Fastball   212  87.9
Changeup   90   79.4
Cutter     67   84.9
Curveball  33   74.2

Milone, whose four-seam fastball typically sits in the high-80s, has similar velocity to fellow lefty starters Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano, and Randy Wolf.  His cutter can blend in with the four-seamer both in terms of movement and velocity, but on average is 3 mph slower with ~4 more inches of cut and ~3.5 more inches of vertical sink.  His change is a fairly typical 8 mph off of his fastball and also gets 4 extra inches of movement away from a right-handed batter.  His curve doesn’t drop too much, generating only 3 inches of topspin.  (The biggest hooks in the majors – Barry Zito’s and Tim Collins’, for example – get over 10 inches.)

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The Myth Of Truly Blocked Prospects

Every off-season, the arrival of the winter meetings, top prospect lists and general baseball boredom leads to rampant speculation about baseball trades involving prospects who are presently “blocked” in their current organizations and need to be freed like Brandon Allen (Hasn’t he been freed twice in the last year already)? Maybe the Fangraphs crowd can come together and compile a list of prospects who wound up being truly “blocked” for an extended period of time, but I struggle to find even a few scenarios where a productive young player did not force his way into the picture or be traded to fill other holes.

Having previously scouted Braves Mike Minor, his name popped into my head as a pitcher who I have little doubt would have compiled 185 innings pitched as a mid-rotation workhorse and an improvement over the now exiled Derek Lowe. The extra half win or more I’m confident Minor would have provided came back to haunt Atlanta as the Braves missed the playoffs on the season’s final day.

And while it did take about a season and a half for a permanent rotation spot to be opened up for Minor, few scenarios actually exist where a legitimate big leaguer waited in the wings for two seasons or more marinating in the minor leagues. I use two seasons as a criteria for “blocked” status because an organization like Tampa will develop talent more slowly than other organizations. For me, “blocked” does not really exist when player development is still occurring at the minor league level and one has to provide leeway for that.

Additionally, I’ll also concede another season for a prospect to force his way into the picture, overtake the incumbent and then allow time for the organization to author a deal for the displaced player. Before writing my own #Free(insert prospect name here) post launching verbal darts at a General Manager pinned up on the dartboard nestled in my “Cheers” case (where much of the writing magic happens), that executive deserves ample time to negotiate the best deal possible before being subjected to this father-of-three’s G-Rated rantings.

For this reason, Mike Minor doesn’t truly fit the criteria.

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