Archive for January, 2013

The Sabermetric Revolution, as Applied to Ryan Doumit

Allow me to try to simplify the sabermetric revolution as much as I can:

Late 20th Century: we are evaluating baseball players
Early 21st Century: we were so wrong about our baseball player evaluation!
Less Early 21st Century: we were so wrong about our baseball player evaluation, again!

First, there were players, then there were numbers. Then there were better numbers, then there were still better numbers. The numbers will only continue to improve with time, and a lot of the things we currently think we know about baseball will probably end up being at least partially untrue. Keep that in mind next time you express a particularly strong opinion. But anyway.

Several years ago, people started to care an awful lot about on-base percentage and offensive productivity. This was warranted, because it is important to get on base and be offensively productive. A little later on, people started to care an awful lot about defense. Turns out some of those OBP-happy sluggers were subtracting runs almost as fast as they were adding them. Whoopsadoodle.

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Should MLB Punish A-Rod Based on News Reports?

As Dave Cameron wrote two days ago, multiple reports have emerged about numerous baseball players connected to a clinic in South Florida that dispensed performance-enhancing drugs and has been nicknamed “BALCO East.”

Of course, as Cameron notes, “Rodriguez is going to get the most attention, because he’s Alex Rodriguez.” The Yankees are reportedly exploring all avenues to void the last five years and $114 million of his contract. But this is an interesting case, because, if they succeed, this would be the first time an active player would be successfully punished based on news reports.
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D’Backs Extend Martin Prado

When the Diamondbacks traded Justin Upton to Atlanta last week, the reaction was mostly negative, and was mostly centered around the idea that Arizona traded three years of a young star for a one year rental and some marginal prospects. However, from Arizona’s perspective, they weren’t acquiring one year of Martin Prado; they were acquiring the rights to sign Martin Prado to a long term contract, and they just announced that they’ve done just that.

The four year deal is worth $40 million, according to Ken Rosenthal, and will cover his final season of arbitration eligibility and three years of free agency. He was already set to make approximately $7 million in 2013 — he had asked for $7.05 million, while Atlanta had countered at $6.65 million — so this can essentially be seen as a three year, $33 million extension that covers 2014 through 2016.

Considering what other similar players got in free agency this winter, 3/33 for Prado has a pretty good chance of working out decently for Arizona.

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Will There Be Another Ryan Braun?

I have a theory about front offices, and about baseball organizations in general. It seems to me that everybody’s trending in the direction of getting smarter about the game. There are fewer things within the game to exploit, because everyone’s got better awareness and understandings. I believe that, over time, front offices will come to closely resemble one another, strengthening the correlation between team success and team payroll. The front-office extremes will be closer together, and teams will depend more on money and luck. It’s just a theory and we’re not there yet, but it seems to be a sensible conclusion.

About those extremes, and about better understandings — today, we’re still trying to nail down evaluations of defensive performance. When people complain about WAR, they almost always begin by complaining about UZR, because UZR isn’t perfect or even anywhere close to it. But while we’ve still got a ways to go with regard to defensive quantification, over the last several years tremendous progress has been made. I probably don’t need to explain it to you, because you are smart. We’re getting numbers, the numbers usually aren’t dreadfully inaccurate, and people better understand that defense is important and can make a whale of a difference. Finding good defenders is no longer something to be exploited; defense isn’t nearly as underrated as it used to be.

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Ken Caminiti’s Goody Bag

Ken Caminiti calls it his goody bag. The black and green duffel accompanies him on every road trip, along with his bats and the black mitt that helped him win his second Gold Glove award last season.

“I take it everywhere,” the San Diego Padres third baseman says, pulling it out of his locker stall before a game in Atlanta recently. “It’s part of my routine.”

Caminiti unzips the bag and reveals bottles and zip-locked bags of pills, vitamins and nutritional supplements. He opens one packet and shoves a handful of capsules into his mouth viking-style, all but swallowing the plastic.”

The above is the lede to Pete Williams’s 1997 USA TODAY story titled “Lifting the game: Creatine is baseball’s new gunpowder.” It’s not the only incredible part of the story when viewed through the lens of what we now know about performance enhancing drugs. The entire story is required reading, but a few snippets demand extra attention.

Hat tip to Bomani Jones for digging this story up early Wednesday morning.

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Daily Notes: Five Notable Oliver Batting MLEs from 2012

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

1. Five Notable Oliver Batting MLEs from 2012
2. Qs and As with Brian Cartwright, Proprietor of Oliver
3. Video: Cleveland Prospect Dorssys Paulino

Five Notable Oliver Batting MLEs from 2012
Attentive readers — and entirely negligent ones, too, probably — will have noted by now that Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been appearing all up in these electronic pages over the course of the last month.

I don’t believe I’m letting any cats out of their various bags when I state that, soon, FanGraphs will also be releasing Brian Cartwright’s Oliver projections — projections, that is, which could be acquired only in exchange for vast amounts of American currency at The Hardball Times as recently as last year.

By way of whetting the readership’s collective appetite, I present below five notable major-league equivalent stat lines (or, MLEs) from the 2012 season, courtesy that same Oliver system.

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Reports From Instructs: Phillies Wrap-Up

As promised, there’s only a few instructs reports left but it’s lasted me the (most warm in Florida) winter as junior colleges started this week and I was in the Dominican last week to see the top July 2 players. Along those lines, this wrap-up from Phillies camp will lead off with a high profile American but finish with three recent international signees that caught my eye.

Larry Greene signed with the Phillies for $1 million as the 39th overall pick in the supplemental round of the 2011 draft. Greene is from the South Georgia, the same area that has recently produced Buster Posey, Kaleb Cowart and Byron Buxton. Unfortunately, Greene isn’t the same kind of prospect but, as the signing bonus suggests, he has the tools to be a successful big leaguer. The first thing you notice about Greene physically also stands out on the roster—the Phillies updated his height and weight to 6’1, 259. That should create a certain mental image, but Greene isn’t fat and runs better than you’d expect; think NFL fullback. And don’t think Ryan Howard because that’s really lazy.

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Q&A: Dave Eiland, Royals Pitching Coach

Dave Eiland isn’t a big fan of teaching the cutter, nor does he feel a true curveball can be easily taught. That doesn’t mean the Kansas City Royals pitching coach isn’t a master of his craft. Highly respected among his peers, he played 10 big-league seasons and spent eight years as a pitching coach in the Yankees system — three with the parent club — before joining the Royals. Eiland shared his thoughts on tutoring young pitchers during a late-summer visit to Fenway Park.

——

David Laurila: What is your primary responsibility as a big-league pitching coach?

Dave Eiland: To get the absolute most I can out of the pitchers’ abilities. To do that, I focus on their strengths and on improving their weaknesses. I also concentrate on how their strengths match up to the hitters’ weaknesses. I do that with film work, studying hitters’ strengths and weaknesses, and how each individual pitcher can use their strengths to attack those weaknesses.

DL: What role do scouting reports play?

DE: They play a big role, and I do my own scouting reports. By studying film, I know where certain holes are and what pitches hitters can and can’t handle in certain areas and counts. I know their tendencies in certain counts.

A lot goes into it, but I try to keep the information that I give to pitchers simple. I don’t want to overload them with so much stuff that everything starts running together. Then you have paralysis by analysis.

DL; Is the amount of information you share with pitchers handled on a case-by-case basis?

DE: They all read the same scouting reports, Read the rest of this entry »


2013 ZiPS Projections – Los Angeles Dodgers

Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections, which have typically appeared in the pages of Baseball Think Factory, are being released at FanGraphs this year. Below are the projections for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Szymborski can be found on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other 2013 Projections: Angels / Astros / Athletics / Blue Jays / Brewers / Cardinals / Cubs / Diamondbacks / Giants / Mariners / Mets / Nationals / Phillies / Pirates / Rangers / Rays / Reds / Rockies / Royals / Tigers / White Sox.

Batters
The Dodgers begin 2013 with slightly more than double the payroll of their 2012 opening-day roster. That fact established, it will not surprise the reader to learn that the Dodgers have spent some of that additional money on position players. The club’s highest-paid field player at the start of 2012 was outfielder Andre Ethier, at $10.95 million. As of today, the Dodgers have five batters earning more than that: Adrian Gonzalez ($21.9 million), Carl Crawford ($20.9 million), Matt Kemp ($20.3 million), Hanley Ramirez ($15.5 million), and Ethier himself ($13.5 million).*

One would hope — for the sake of order in the universe, if nothing else — that the Dodgers’ financial outlay would correlate to success. In fact, it appears as though it will. The Dodgers produced 20.3 WAR via batting and fielding last season; the squad presented here is probably closer to 25 WAR. To the front office’s credit, there are some values here, as well: Luis Cruz, A.J. Ellis, and Tim Federowicz — all expected to produce like average major leaguers — will combine to make just $3 million in 2013.

Figures stolen directly from Cot’s Contracts.

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Effectively Wild Episode 130: 2013 Season Preview Series: Toronto Blue Jays

Ben and Sam preview the Blue Jays’ season with Matthew Kory, and Pete talks to Toronto Star Blue Jays reporter Brendan Kennedy (at 17:32).


Papelbon vs. Pena: an Exercise in Waiting

I’m not going to go over what Pace is again, because not only have I written about it several times — it’s also perfectly intuitive, such that you should understand it on the first try. Pace isn’t important, for baseballing purposes, but Pace is important for watchability purposes, therefore Pace is of some importance to us as fans. It’s tracked at FanGraphs, for both pitchers and hitters, and also for whole teams and leagues. It is a statistic not unworth examining.

In the past, I’ve played with opposite extremes. In September, I wrote about Mark Buehrle facing Carlos Pena. Pace tells us that Buehrle is the fastest-working pitcher, while Pena is the slowest-working hitter. I wanted to see what would happen to their Paces during head-to-head showdowns, and the results split the middle. More recently, I wrote about Jonathan Papelbon facing Michael Bourn. Similar idea in mind, with Pace telling us Papelbon is the slowest-working pitcher, while Bourn is the fastest-working hitter. Preliminary results showed a Pace right on Papelbon’s slow average. Bourn didn’t make Papelbon speed up.

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Freddy Garcia and the Value of Broken Starters

From 2001 to 2006, Freddy Garcia posted six consecutive seasons with 200 or more innings pitched, and while he wasn’t an ace, he was an above average durable starting pitcher. That skillset helped him earn about $45 million during his three arbitration seasons and the three years of free agency that the White Sox bought after acquiring him from Seattle. He was a valued asset for his durability and consistency.

Then, in 2007, his shoulder started hurting. He tried to pitch through it, but his performance suffered, and finally he underwent season ending shoulder surgery in August. As damaged goods, he was only able to land a minor league contract with the Tigers for 2008, and that began a pattern that continues to this day.

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The Year’s Most Pointless Intentional Walk

All baseball managers have strategies, and all manager strategies are supposed to function to maximize a team’s chances of winning. They don’t all work out that way, of course, and one need only explore the world of sacrifice bunts, but the managers’ hearts are in the right place. When managers get involved, they do so because they believe their involvement will bump the chances of winning the game. And managers don’t like to concede a game before it’s over, and one could never be critical of a manager for not giving up. There always exists some chance of victory, before the conclusion, and there’s something noble about pursuing long odds. But the necessity of managerial involvement follows a spectrum. In close games, in high-leverage situations, it makes the most sense to try something strategic. In not-close games, there’s hardly any benefit, so while such strategizing isn’t pointless, it is the most pointless.

As a sort-of example, the Giants closed out the Cardinals in the NLCS in Game 7. The Giants were up 1-0 after one, 2-0 after two, and 7-0 after three. It was still 7-0 at the seventh-inning stretch, with the Giants at home. They’d add two more runs, just for the hell of it. In the top of the eighth, Bruce Bochy replaced Santiago Casilla with specialist Javier Lopez. In the top of the ninth, with two outs, Bochy replaced Lopez with closer Sergio Romo. Bochy managed as if the game were close when it wasn’t, and there wasn’t much in the way of benefit. But Bochy gets a pass, because (A) whatever, and (B) it was Game 7 of the NLCS and those are high stakes. This was essentially pointless strategizing in a very important baseball game.

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Park Effects Through the Edinson Volquez Lens

More than any other pitcher in 2012, Edinson Volquez captured why park effects matter. The Padres’ righty exhibited a similar profile at home and on the road — lots of strikeouts (8.9 K/9 home, 8.5 away), walks (5.0 BB/9 home, 5.4 BB/9 away) and ground balls (53 percent home, 48 percent away). All marks were slightly better at home, as expected, but there’s nothing in the basics to suggest a significant home/road split.

Except, of course, he pitched for San Diego. Volquez posted a 2.95 ERA behind just three home runs allowed (0.3 HR/9) at Petco Park but was ravaged on the road to the tune of a 5.60 ERA and 11 home runs allowed (1.2 HR/9).

The aggregate Volquez was a below average but still useful pitcher — he posted a 114 ERA- and 113 FIP-, numbers typical of a fourth or (more likely) fifth starter. A mediocre pitcher finding acehood within the Petco Park walls is nothing new, but it does raise a question: does the pitcher change his style to fit his surroundings when his home park is extreme?

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The Best of Brian Schneider

It has been a rough week for the population of former Montreal Expos in the major leagues. On the heels of Nick Johnson’s retirement, former Expos, Nationals, Mets, and Phillies catcher Brian Schneider announced that his baseball playing career was over. Schneider started his professional career after being drafted by the Expos back in 1995, when they still may have seemed to have a viable future in Montreal (remember that 1994 team?). Schneider was never a star or even a “what if” guy like Johnson, but he he did manage to play 13 seasons in the majors. Schneider was hardly a career backup, either, as he started at least 95 games at catcher every season from 2003 to 2008. He was not ever an average bat (other than in his 48 plate appearance stint in 2001), but he was not terrible, especially considering his position. Schneider was good defensively. He threw out more base runners than average, and the limited records we have show Schneider to have been good at framing pitches.

Schneider was on two teams (the 2010 and 2011 Phillies) that made the postseason, but never got a plate appearance in the playoffs. Schneider may not have been much more, at least by the numbers, than an adequate catcher with a diverse combination of skills, but even players like that can have some pretty exciting hits. As we often do on these occasions, let’s take a look at Schneider’s three biggest hits according to the “story stat,” Win Probability Added (WPA).

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Cincinnati Reds Top 15 Prospects (2012-13)

The Cincinnati Reds organization features some high-ceiling talent at the top of the Top 15 list but the depth in the organization is lacking. There are some impact arms at the top but the up-the-middle offensive players are somewhat lacking, other than Billy Hamilton.

 

#1 Billy Hamilton (SS)


Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
21 678 173 23 3 93 125 165 .300 .398 .408 .371

Hamilton is probably one of the most hyped prospects in recent memory because of his plus-plus speed and 100+ stolen base totals that he’s racked up in each of the past two minor league seasons. Some patience is required with the prospect, though, as he’s not a finished product. One thing that excites the Reds, though, is that he could develop into an impact lead-off hitter. A contact stated, “It’s hard to find guys with the mentality and desire to be a good lead-off hitter… It’s not always a glamorous spot.”

Hamilton, 22, was shifted from shortstop, his natural position, to center field late in 2012 so the coming season will be key in his defensive development. He has all the skills necessary to develop into a plus fielder — above-average range, good arm and developing reads. The contact I spoke with said the defensive move had nothing to do with the organization’s feeling that Hamilton could not handle shortstop. “It’s more about what he can do, rather than what he can’t, with this move… He’s going to be one of the best [in center field].”

Hamilton split 2012 between high-A and double-A before finishing the year off in the Arizona Fall League. The contact I spoke with said Hamilton got off to a low start in double-A when he moved up and that might have been one of the best things for his development. It might be shocking to hear, but the talent evaluator said the struggles were “good to see,” adding that it often doesn’t help prospects when their first tastes of adversity come at the big league level. “It can really crush a guy,” he added. Hamilton should open 2013 in triple-A and his defensive development will dictate when he’s ready to contribute at the big league level. Read the rest of this entry »


Job Posting: Cubs Director of Research & Development

Director of Research & Development – Baseball Operations

Location: Chicago, IL

Description: This role will be responsible for developing and overseeing the research and analytics function within Baseball Operations, reporting to the Assistant GM.

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Nick Johnson Retires, FanGraphs Weeps

Eight times on base. Had Nick Johnson reached base just eight more times in his ten-year career, he would have become just the 41st player in history to leave the game with a .400+ OBP (min. 3,000 PA). Eight times on base in ten years. I say we blame the Orioles, because it was with them that he reached base just 33 times in 102 PA last season (.326 OBP). He went into the season with a career .401 OBP.

Johnson, 34, retired from baseball earlier this week according to WFAN’s Sweeny Murti. He leaves the game as a favorite of statheads everywhere thanks to pure hitting ability — career .268/.399/.441 (126 wRC+) — that never quite received the respect in deserved. Quotes, like this one said to our own David Laurila last summer, stand out as well…

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FanGraphs Chat – 1/30/13


Daily Notes: Ft. Action Footage of the Venezuelan Playoffs

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

1. Assorted Headlines
2. GIFs: College Prospect Ryne Stanek’s Lusty Slider
3. Status Update: Venezuelan Winter League Championship Series

Assorted Headlines
Baseball America Publishes Excellent College Baseball Preview
“Published last Thursday” would be the more appropriate phrasing, but would also reveal that the author, who is hypothetically paid to do just such a thing, neglected to see Aaron Fitt’s excellent annual piece when it was released. In any case, Fitt has released his preview-cum-scouting-report of the top-25 college teams. First overall: North Carolina, which team features three starters who posted an 8.1 K/9 or better last season. Noted, and draft-eligible, pitching prospect Ryne Stanek — whose repertoire includes a mid-90s fastball and plus slider — heads third-ranked Arkansas.

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