Archive for January, 2012

FanGraphs Audio: Dayn Perry, Quite Contrary

Episode 133
Like a book by Jonathan Safran Foer, today’s guest Dayn Perry is incredibly loud and extremely close. Unlike a Safran Foer book, Perry also swears a lot with his child in the room. Among the topics discussed in this edition of the podcast: baseball cards of the 1980s, Dayn Perry’s employment history, human sexuality.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 34 min. play time.)

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FanGraphs After Dark Chat

Mike Newman Prospects Chat – 1/31/12

Estimating a Miguel Montero Extension

Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero narrowly avoided his arbitration hearing today, agreeing with the club to a one-year, $5.9 million deal for 2012 — i.e. Montero’s last year of team-control.

Per Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, both the Diamondbacks and Montero are interested in discussing a long-term deal to keep the catcher in Phoenix for the foreseeable future.

Projecting a market-value contract for the Montero depends on what you think about his true-talent level. He finished fourth per WAR among catchers last season (counting Mike Napoli as a catcher) — and is sixth among catchers between 2009 and ’11. Still, a lot of that value comes from Montero’s strong 2011.

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Notable Recent Minor League Pacts

The offseason has provided a good amount of drama, some mammoth contracts, and plenty of frequent flyer miles racked up. One thing that I think has gone under the radar a bit is the caliber of players — maybe more so in terms of how good they once were — who have already settled for minor league deals, or may be in line for them as we draw closer to Cactus and Grapefruit League play.

Today, let’s take a glance at the minor league pacts signed in the last week, and have a look at their potential implications.

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Montero or Lawrie?

Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail had an interesting note in his column today, noting that there’s speculation in Toronto that the Mariners offered Michael Pineda to the Blue Jays in exchange for Brett Lawrie. They passed, and as we all know, the Mariners shipped Pineda to New York for Jesus Montero instead.

So, this brings up an interesting question – who is the more valuable player going forward, Lawrie or Montero? A year ago, Marc Hulet ranked Montero as the fifth best prospect in the game, while Lawrie came in at #35. Baseball America concurred, putting Montero at #3 and Lawrie at #40. Lawrie had a fantastic 2011 season, capped off with a monstrous performance in the Majors, but Montero hit well in his late season call-up as well. His minor league performance wasn’t as impressive, but you have to adjust for the difference in league/park and note that catching generally diminishes offensive numbers, so the gap might not be as large as it might seem on the surface.

Of course, Lawrie looks like he could be a quality defensive third baseman, while Montero offers little in the way of defensive value. Scouts seem to be a bit more sold on Montero’s bat, though, and prior year minor league performances all favor Montero. They’re essentially the same age, and both will be counted on as building blocks of their respective team’s offenses for years to come.

So, that brings up the question – who would you rather have going forward, Lawrie or Montero?

Poll after the jump.

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Stress and Anxiety in Baseball

Baseball is a team sport. Between the foul lines, however, the outcome of the game is inextricably composed of multiple individual performances, and in today’s hyper-analytical and overly-critical society that places each individual performance under a microscope, stress amongst baseball players has — by all accounts — risen to never-before-seen levels.

For some players, that stress lacks a healthy outlet. It builds and builds until mental disorders begin to bubble to the surface, and in some cases, they can become debilitating for players.

Taylor Buchholz became the latest major league baseball player to come forward and announce that he will take time away from baseball due to anxiety and depression issues.

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Was Pat Burrell a Bust?

Yesterday, Pat “The Bat” Burrell retired, seeing his playing days end due to a combination of chronic foot problems and a lessening need for a bat-only player who flopped in his one audition as a DH. Burrell finishes his career with 6,520 plate appearances and a .253/.361/.472 line, good for a 117 wRC+ and 21.9 WAR. If you offered nearly any player a 12 year career with those kinds of numbers, they’d probably jump at them, as Burrell had a nice run as a quality player for the Phillies.

However, Burrell wasn’t just any player – he was a member of an exclusive club of players selected #1 overall in the June draft. When you’re taken first overall, expectations are high. You’re not just supposed to be a nice player – you’re supposed to become a star. Anything less could be perceived as a disappointment, and given that Burrell never made an All-Star team and only had two season where he posted a WAR above +3.0, his career could be construed as a failure to live up to those lofty expectations.

Are those expectations fair, though? What is the normal performance for a position player taken with the top overall pick in the draft? I wasn’t sure, so I decided to use the Custom Player List function on the leaderboards to find out.

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Yoenis Cespedes and the Success of Cuban Players

The Yoenis Cespedes signing is at hand. The exciting Cuban defector is at most weeks, at least days, away from a payday with a major league ball club:

And according to Baseball America’s Jim Callis, Cespedes would instantly be the top prospect for 24 of the 30 franchises:

If Cespedes had signed, he would have ranked somewhere in the 10-15 range on my list. The only systems in which he wouldn’t be a slam-dunk No. 1 would be the Angels (Trout), Rays (Moore), Nationals (Harper), Rangers (Darvish), Mariners (Jesus Montero) and Orioles (Manny Machado).

(Tip o’ the hat to MLB Trade Rumors.)

But is all the hype really warranted? Is Cespedes really going to make an impact? Heck, is he even going to play on a major league club in 2012, or just work his way through the minors?

We cannot say for certain what the Future holds so greedily in its little secrets pouch, but we can delve into the grayish soup of history and at least make a guess. And my guess is we will both see Cespedes in 2012, and he will not be so bad maybe.
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Offseason Notes: Entirely About the Caribbean Series

Scholars maintain that the translation was lost hundreds of years ago.

Caribbean Series Begins Thursday
With the victory on Monday of Dominican Winter League team Escogido over Cibaenas, the four teams for the very entertaining Caribbean Series — which begins Thursday, February 2 — have been decided.

Here they are, with links to team pages and a list of players whose names and/or faces you’re most likely to recognize:

ARAGUA (Venezuelan Winter League)
Edgardo Alfonzo, Seth Etherton, Wilson Ramos.

ESCOGIDO (Dominican Winter League)
Julio Borbon, Jose Constanza, Andy Dirks, Francisco Liriano, Julio Lugo, Jordan Norberto, Denis Phipps, Fernando Rodney, Aneury Rodriguez, Fernando Tatis, Pat Venditte.

MAYAGUEZ (Puerto Rican Winter League)
Jeff Dominguez, Ruben Gotay, Martin Maldonado, Eddie Rosario, Ramon Troncoso.

OBREGON (Mexican Pacific League)
Alfredo Amezaga, Luis Ayala , Karim Garcia.

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Brandon Beachy’s Secret Weapon

Brandon Beachy turned in one of baseball’s most surprising performances this past season. After rising through the Atlanta Braves’ minor league system in 2010, Beachy wrestled the fifth starter slot away from Mike Minor in 2011. The undrafted Beachy shocked the baseball world, posting a 28.6% strikeout rate, 3.19 FIP and 3.16 xFIP en route to 2.8 win season. While his success was unexpected for many analysts, Beachy had a secret weapon that may have been the key to his transformation.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron Explains It All

Episode 132
The Detroit Tigers now have Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Delmon Young, and yet still claim to lack a DH. In this episode of FanGraphs Audio, managing editor Dave Cameron explains how that’s possible. Also discussed: Roy Oswalt’s Final Destination, a pair of cheap pitchers, finding the next Michael Pineda.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 32 min. play time.)

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Roy Oswalt and the Rangers

This post is quite a bit shorter than our normal fare here. We’re going to experiment with some quicker news analysis pieces for things that are still churning through the rumor mill. Don’t worry, these pieces won’t take the place of the more in-depth articles you’ve come to expect from the site.

A few weeks ago, I talked about how Roy Oswalt could end up as the steal of the off-season, and noted that he could instantly improve the rotation of nearly every team in baseball.

In fact, there might only be one team where Oswalt wouldn’t represent an upgrade over someone currently penciled into their starting five – that team is the one that Oswalt is meeting with today, and is apparently one of the two teams he wants to play for in 2012.

No team in baseball needs a starting pitcher less than the Texas Rangers. Their starting pitchers combined for +19.8 WAR last year, third most in the Majors, and while they lost C.J. Wilson, they spent roughly $110 million to bring in Yu Darvish and have decided to bring Neftali Feliz to camp as a starting pitcher. Toss in Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, and Matt Harrison, and their rotation doesn’t even have room for Alexi Ogando, who himself probably belongs in a Major League rotation next year.

Oswalt’s a good bet to be a solid starter next year, but the Rangers already have six solid starters at the big league level. If, as rumored, they’d have to either move Harrison to the bullpen or make him available in trade, they should simply say thanks but no thanks. Oswalt makes sense for St. Louis, who have replaceable pitchers at the back-end of their rotation. Texas, though, simply doesn’t need him.

Contract Retrospective: Lugo in Boston

In the hot news of the weekend, Julio Lugo’s negotiations for what was probably a minor-league deal with Cleveland have broken down. Things were not always so bleak for Lugo. Lugo had some good seasons with the (then) Devil Rays in the mid-2000s, and after a 2006 in which he was traded to the Dodgers, he was in demand as a free agent middle infielder during the 2006-2007 off-season. The Red Sox were in the market for a shortstop, having let Nomar Garciparra-replacement Orlando Cabrera walk after the historic 2004 World Series victory, and coming off of generally unsatisfying one-year flings with Edgar Renteria and Alex Gonzalez. They settled on Lugo, giving him a four-year, $36 million contract prior to his age-31 season.

While the Red Sox did win another World Championship during Lugo’s first season with the team, on an individual level his tenure in Boston was quite poor. Lugo was traded to the Cardinals during the 2009 season with Boston picking up almost all of Lugo’s remaining salary. When people discuss Theo Epstein’s problems signing free agents during his time in Boston, Lugo is one of the first names that comes up (probably right after J.D. Drew, for most people). However, while it is easy to criticize a contract in hindsight, if we put ourselves back in the Red Sox’ position in 2006-2007, was that an unreasonable contract for a player like Lugo at the time? This is why Contract Retrospectives were born.

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Reliever Usage Redux: A Follow-Up

On Friday, I spent some time talking about the change in bullpen usage patterns over the last thirty years, and noted that the shift to more pitchers making shorter appearances hadn’t led to an improvement in performance for relief pitchers in the aggregate. There were a lot of good responses left in the comments, and there’s some useful commentary on the issue over at The Book Blog as well.

Many of the responses focused on a similar point that I didn’t do a very good job addressing – that by focusing on aggregate data, we could miss value being added if the performance in extremely important situations was greatly improved due to the new usage patterns. The results as a whole might be similar, but if the new allocation results in better performance during important situations and worse results when the game is already decided, then teams would be drawing a benefit from using relievers in this manner. William Juliano expressed this view on the issue in a really good post he did at his own blog as a follow-up, and looked into the relative performance of the top tier of relievers from both 1982 and 2011. As expected, he found the quantity-for-quality trade-off, as modern day relief aces are pitching fewer innings but getting somewhat better results in those innings than their counterparts were thirty years ago. The two changes essentially offset, as he notes, and there’s only a small difference in WAR between the 25 best relievers of 1982 and 2011.

Juliano finishes with the following conclusion:

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Offseason Notes for January 30th

Experts are pretty sure that one of these pitchers is Kyle McClellan.

Table of Contents
Here’s the table of contents for today’s edition of Offseason Notes.

1. Assorted Headlines
2. Superfluous Video: Kyle McClellan
3. Crowdsourcing Broadcasters: Pittsburgh Television

Assorted Headlines
St. Louis May Trade McClellan
The St. Louis Cardinals have interest in trading right-hander Kyle McClellan, reports Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The move would serve to clear some payroll space for a team (i.e. the Cardinals) that appears to be among the most likely to sign Roy Oswalt. McClellan will make $2.5 million in 2012. He split time in 2011 between starting and relieving, actually posting a better xFIP in the former role (4.25 in 104.2 IP) than the latter (4.59 in 37.0 IP) and showing almost no platoon split (4.32 xFIP against 247 LHBs, 4.36 against 360 RHBs).

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Q&A: Drew Smyly, Tigers Pitching Prospect

Drew Smyly will come to camp as a non-roster invitee, with an outside shot of making the Tigers starting rotation out of spring training. It’s more likely that the 22-year-old southpaw will begin the season in Triple-A Toledo, but even if he does, he’s clearly on the fast track to the big leagues.

Drafted in the second round in 2010, Smyly started his professional career last season, and he did so with a bang. Splitting the year between high-A Lakeland [14 starts] and Double-A Erie [7 starts] he went a combined 11-6, 2.07, logging K/9 rates of 8.6 and 10.4 in his respective stops. Following the regular season, he threw 17 scoreless innings for Team USA.

Smyly talked about his path to pro ball, and how he gets hitters out, late in the 2011 season.


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Top 15 Prospects: Detroit Tigers

Despite graduating a few gems over the years, the Detroit Tigers organization is not known for focusing resource on developing in-house talent. The organization drafts rather conservatively (outside the couple of rounds, at least) and mostly uses its prospects as trade bait. With that said, this year’s Top 15 list has three players on the top of the list that could develop into above-average contributors in Detroit… if they’re not traded first.

1. Jacob Turner, RHP
BORN: May 21, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round (9th overall), Missouri HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 1st

Turner’s name came up a lot this past off-season as team’s understandably coveted the right-hander in trade talks with Detroit. Standing 6’5” he has an impressive pitcher’s frame and should be durable as a big league starter once he fills out a bit more and gets stronger. He commands his fastball well, which can touch 94-95, and works down in the zone with it. His curveball and changeup both have the chance to develop into plus pitches, giving Turner the ceiling of a No. 2 starter. The right-hander may very well open 2012 in Detroit’s big league rotation after pitching much of ’11 in double-A and receiving three late-season starts in the Majors. Often likened to current Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello because they were both fast-moving, high draft picks, they’re really not that similar.

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Phillies Procure Pierre

The Phillies signed Juan Pierre today to a Minor League deal. While the Phillies were wise to take on no risk with the deal, signing Pierre simultaneously makes little sense for the Philes as well as puts another obstacle in the path of Domonic Brown.

In announcing the deal, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. said that Pierre could serve a valuable speed role for the Phils, who didn’t have much speed on their bench last season. What this generally means is that Pierre would serve as a pinch runner. Unfortunately, Pierre, who has long been one of the least efficient basestealers in the game, is ill-equipped to be a late-game weapon.

Last season, Pierre was caught stealing more than any player in the game, and that wasn’t a fluke — over the past three years, Pierre has been caught stealing nine more times than any other player in the game. And while some of that is a function of the fact that he runs so frequently — only Michael Bourn attempted more steals over the same three-year period — it’s not all of it. Of the 160 players who have attempted at least 25 steals over the past three seasons, Pierre’s 72.7% success rate ranks 95th.

That’s not to say that Pierre isn’t a good base runner. While he may be a bit overaggressive in trying to steal bases, he is that way for a reason — he’s fast. Pierre has a positive BsR in every season for which it has been measured, and over the past three seasons, his 14.4 BsR is third-best in the game. That’s all well and good, but it’s also likely a quality that either has little value or is redundant on the current Phillies roster, take your pick. Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino certainly don’t need to be pinch run for. Laynce Nix isn’t a burner, but he has generated neutral or positive BsR scores throughout his career.

Looking at the infield, the story is much the same. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins aren’t going to get taken out of the lineup for a runner, and while Placido Polanco, Ty Wigginton or Jim Thome aren’t the fleetest of foot, you would need to get Michael Martinez or John Mayberry into the game afterwards if you bring in Pierre to run for them. Catchers are always easy to run for, but managers are also usually loathe to leave themselves without a catcher on the bench. There will be opportunities to pinch hit for the pitcher, but are you really going to pinch hit Pierre? Jim Thome will be the primary pinch hitter du jour against right-handers, and while Pierre has hit better against lefties the past four years, Wigginton is still probably the better option. Again, Thome and Wigginton aren’t the swiftest duo in the Majors, but pinch hitting one of them and then inserting Pierre as a pinch runner if they reach burns two of the team’s four bench players who aren’t the backup catcher in one move. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room, especially for a National League team.

Adding Pierre also makes little sense because the Phillies roster was already pretty chockfull. Assuming that there are 13 slots for position players, the Phillies lineup looks as such:

Catchers: Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider
Infielders: Ryan Howard (DL), Michael Martinez, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, Jim Thome, Chase Utley, Ty Wigginton
Outfielders: John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, Hunter Pence, Juan Pierre, Shane Victorino

This is where the Phils get a little extra credit for keeping the deal to a Minor League one. If you were counting, you noticed 14 names. In other words, when Howard returns — which could happen as early as May — someone on the above list will need to go. It seems like a good bet that that person would be Pierre.

Of course, the real crime here is that one of the 14 names you didn’t read on the above list was Brown’s. With Raul Ibanez leaving for … something, it was thought that Brown would get a chance to garner substantially more playing time. In his time in the Majors last year, Brown put up league-average offensive numbers. He put up the same wOBA as did Nix, and bested Pierre by 28 points. Perhaps that’s not much to hang your hat on — after all, it was only 210 plate appearances — but you have to start somewhere. Brown posted his best BB% and K% since A ball, the latter of which was likely a concern after his 2010 cup of coffee. He didn’t go all Brett Lawrie on National League pitchers, but he wasn’t atrocious either. He deserved a shot at more Major League playing time, but now if he hopes to get any, he will have to get hot in March. And that still might not be enough.

Perhaps the most telling thing about Pierre’s signing is that the Phillies may only need him for the first six weeks of the season. Given the choice between keeping Brown on the Major League roster and giving him a chance to work his way into regular playing time while Howard is out or signing someone else, the Phils chose to sign someone else. Even if Pierre stays with the Phils for the duration of the season, his value is limited due to the fact that he is not an efficient base stealer, as well as the fact that the Phillies have few players for whom he can pinch run without Charlie Manuel having to burn a second player after the inning ends. Finally, bringing in Pierrer also throws another road block onto Brown’s already cluttered road to regular playing time. Like many of the Phillies’ moves this offseason, signing Pierre probably doesn’t make the Phillies any worse, but it is also unlikely to make them any better.

Brandon Morrow’s Left On Base Blues

Has it ever happened to you where one number — just one measly stat — throws your mind on a complete tangent, and results in you wasting a half hour of your life? This happens to me more often than I should admit. For instance, I was taking a stroll this morning through the FanGraphs leaderboards when one stat jumped out and lodged itself in my brain. Oh look, Brandon Morrow’s swinging strike rate (11.5%) was the second highest in the majors last season. That’s not even a surprising statistics; I know Morrow is a strikeout ace, and that his ability to get hitters to swing and miss is among the best in the game. But for some reason, the stat wouldn’t leave me alone.

Me: Didn’t Morrow just sign a new contract extension?

Other Me: Yes, that’s right — 3 years, $20 million.

Me: So the Blue Jays must think his ERA will eventually fall in line with his peripherals, right? You don’t make that sort of a commitment to a 4.50 ERA pitcher, and the Blue Jays are smarter than that. Morrow did post a 3.31 SIERA these past two seasons…

Other Me: They must. But Morrow’s problems have largely stemmed from an inability to strand runners on base (<70% LOB% over past two years).  Could this possibly be a pitch selection problem? Or maybe Morrow isn’t able to go to his best whiff pitch when runners are on base, for whatever reason?

Me: For that matter, what is Morrow’s best swing-and-miss pitch?

Other Me: Uhhh…

Just like that, one simple statistic turned into a full-blown investigation.

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