Author Archive

Starlin Castro Is Good at Baseball

During his chat last Wednesday, Dave Cameron ranked the top MLB shortstops as Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, and then a huge chasm before the next best guy. As we are no longer in the era of offensive shortstops, the guys who can swing a big stick like Tulo really stand out from the crowd. I agree with Dave for the most part, but there is one guy I would add to that list who is quickly closing the gap on Reyes: Starlin Castro.

Castro doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention other than when he is screwing up, but he is one of the best young pure hitters in the game. There have been a lot of knocks on Castro thus far in his young career which has led to the lack of respect. His defense is suspect at best, he doesn’t walk much and there have been some attitude/effort problems. These are legitimate concerns. Talented players can wash out if they don’t have their head screwed on straight, and he loses some serious value if he has to move off shortstop.

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Brett Cecil’s Descent?

We spend a lot of our time at FanGraphs focusing on players who have bright futures ahead of them — or campaigning to have a blocked player finally get a chance in the major leagues. This makes sense, since it’s human nature to look for the positives and see the future with optimism. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always turn out that way for ballplayers. Many of them flame out at a young age.

Are we witnessing the same fate for Toronto Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil? Following his disastrous 2011 — during which he spent a stint in the minors — Cecil reported to camp this year having shed more than 30 pounds, but his velocity was down in the 87-89 mph range. In his latest start, he allowed five walks in only 2.2 innings, and he gave up five runs. While it’s true that it’s only Spring Training, this isn’t good news for a pitcher who has experienced velocity issues in the past, and was once was counted on to be a reliable middle of the rotation starter. Let’s take a look at Cecil’s development, and how it compares to where he is in 2012.

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Stanton’s Possible Extension

It is an exciting time for Miami Marlins fans. They have a brand new ballpark, a new star shortstop in Jose Reyes, and two new solid pitchers in Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle. They also have a new name in right field, Giancarlo Stanton, formerly Mike. At the tender age of 22, Stanton was ranked as the 3rd best right fielder in baseball by our own Jack Moore, trailing only Justin Upton and Jose Bautista. Reports are conflicting, but it sounds as if the Marlins are prepared to make a long-term offer to lock up their star slugger. Such a deal would follow in the footsteps of other young outfielders to sign extensions: Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, and the aforementioned Upton. Thus far, these deals have had extremely favourable returns for the franchises, and a Stanton extension would likely be no different.

Thus far in his career, Stanton has been worth 7.3 WAR in only 997 plate appearances, mainly on the strength of a .525 slugging percentage. Numerous scouts rank his power tool as an 80, and at his age, there is still room for improvement. The projection systems recognize this, as his projected wOBA’s for next season range from .372 to .395, with an increase in ISO in all systems except Marcel. Read the rest of this entry »

Yadier Molina’s Potential Payday and Catcher Aging

It has been a tumultuous off-season for the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals, as they lost their face of the franchise first baseman, their iconic manager, and a couple of key front office members. However, life goes on, and it is time for the Cards to focus on the players they do have on their roster. One of those players is catcher Yadier Molina, who, after having his team option picked up, is in the last year of his current contract. From a PR perspective, letting Molina walk – and essentially losing their top two homegrown players in consecutive off-seasons – would be a disaster, but does re-signing the 29-year-old backstop to a lucrative deal make sense for the Cardinals?

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Who Is Your $100 Million Pitcher?

There has been a poll up on Joe Posnanski’s blog for quite some time now asking his Brilliant Readers which pitcher they would rather have for four years if they were an MLB owner with $100 million burning a hole in their pocket – Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, or Yu Darvish. The question arose due to the expectation that Yu Darvish would cost whichever team acquired him a number in this range. In the end, the Rangers ended up shelling out $111 million over six years for the Japanese star.

Obviously, a poll can only display so much information because it does not allow voters to lay out their arguments for and against each pitcher. Fortunately, we here at FanGraphs can provide that opportunity through our comments section. What follows below will be a brief summary of each pitcher, and then hopefully a spirited debate in the comments. Read the rest of this entry »

The Post-Injury Jeff Francis and DIPS

It’s probably the Canadian in me talking, but I have always been a Jeff Francis fan. The University of British Columbia product was selected 9th overall by the Colorado Rockies in the famed Moneyball draft, and rewarded the team with 11.8 WAR in his first five big league seasons before succumbing to the injury bug. Now, the 31 year old finds himself without a job a month before spring training despite posting 4.6 WAR over the last two seasons.

Why is he unemployed? Well, the 85 MPH fastball has something to do with it, but so does the fact that he’s traditionally been a guy whose results haven’t matched his peripherals. Other than his 36.2 inning cup of coffee in 2004, only once in his career has his ERA been lower than his FIP. For his career, his FIP is a respectful 4.40, but his ERA is 4.78, a 38 point gap that helps shed light on the perception of Francis as a guy you only want on the hill if you have no other options. The last two seasons have been especially brutal, with an ERA almost a full run higher than his FIP – the main culprit being, as usual, a .317 BABIP. His inflated hit rate has been fueled in part by a significant drop in his infield fly rate, which has hovered at close to 6% over the last two years after being over 10% early in his career.

There is nothing overly unusual about a pitcher posting back-to-back seasons with BABIP’s of .320 and .316, or having a career mark of .310. These numbers are well within the expected random variation of our sample of major league pitchers. However, Francis has changed quite a bit since his early days in Colorado when he was throwing 89-92 MPH. He is now down in the 85 MPH range, and is now a full-blown pitch to contact guy. Last season, only 16.20% of Francis’ plate appearances ended in a walk or strikeout, ranking him 93rd out of 94 qualified pitchers. I decided to do some digging to see if just maybe these two factors might be related.

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FAN Projection Targets: AL West Second Basemen

Wendy and Matt have already covered the NL West and AL Central, so let’s continue to show that we here at FanGraphs are not subject to East Coast bias and look at the other set of second baseman on the left coast: the AL West. Due to the presence of the A’s and Mariners, the AL West does not generally project as a strong offensive division, but second base is the exception with two All-Stars, a potential star, and the younger brother of an All-Star second baseman. Let us know how you think these players will perform next year.

Texas has the most well established player in the division in Ian Kinsler, a player with a strong walk rate and excellent power for his position. Last season, he posted the 4th highest WAR total in the American League on the strength of a .370 wOBA. Pretty impressive considering his .243 BABIP was 39 points below his career average. The big factor was that he eclipsed 650 plate appearances for the first time in his career. No one has ever doubted Kinsler’s talent level – for his career he has posted 4.64 WAR per 650 plate appearances – just his durability. This is the big question going into 2012, along with whether he can maintain his power while simultaneously raising his BABIP. It may be a coincidence, but the two seasons in which he has posted an ISO above .220, he has had BABIP’s of .241 and .243. All of his other seasons have resulted in ISO’s below .200, and BABIP’s ranging from .279 to .334. Read the rest of this entry »

Joe Saunders: A Fit for the New-Look Marlins?

So far this season, the Miami Marlins nabbed a trio of marquee free agents while also being heavily connected with eventual Angels’ signees Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. After a quiet couple of weeks, the team might be in on another deal, albeit this time with a less sexy name: Joe Saunders.

Saunders makes some folks cringe because he was the big-league player the Diamondbacks got in the Dan Haren trade. Baseball fanatics know that Tyler Skaggs — who also was acquired in the deal — is a very well-regarded prospect; but to the casual fan, the trade looked like a Haren-for-Saunders salary dump. Saunders’ performance did little to quell that sentiment: He posted only 1.9 WAR in almost a season-and-a-half before Arizona non-tendered him this fall. Read the rest of this entry »

Yu Darvish’s Landing Spot

Yesterday, Eno Sarris covered the potential cost of Yu Darvish by using Major League comps, eventually settling on a Jordan Zimmermann comp to go along with the $100 million price tag. While this is certainly not a financial commitment for the faint of heart, the rumour mill is saying that the Blue Jays have submitted the top bid for the Japanese star. However, Nippon Ham is under no obligation to take the highest bid, and there have been rumors swirling around the Rangers as well. While we will find out who the official winner is by Tuesday, let’s take a preliminary look at how Darvish would fit on these two teams, and which fit is best.

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Red Sox Bring In Jesse Carlson

In a move that sent approximately zero shock waves through the baseball world, the Red Sox signed former Jays left-handed reliever Jesse Carlson to a split contract this week. It was such a big story that it wasn’t even reported on MLB Trade Rumors for well over a day after the news of the signing first broke. While this transaction has flown under the radar for obvious reasons, it could pay dividends for the Red Sox.

For his career, Carlson has thrown 141.1 innings with a FIP of 4.11, good for 1.1 WAR. This obviously isn’t much to get excited about, and neither is the fact that he has only pitched 13.2 innings in the big leagues since the end of the 2009 season. After two solid seasons in the Blue Jays pen, Carlson was sent to the minors before the 2010 season, and stayed there until he was recalled on August 15th. He then missed the entire 2011 campaign after undergoing left rotator cuff surgery. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Sleep on the Angels

The Los Angeles Angels have already made one big move this week, acquiring Chris Iannetta from the Rockies to hopefully solve their offensive woes at catcher. Now, they have been tied to free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez. A Ramirez signing would give them a glut of infielders with him, Alberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo and a healthy Kendrys Morales all established as MLB players. With Kendrick establishing himself as a premiere second baseman, the odd man out would probably be Callaspo. Let’s take a quick look to see if swapping out Callaspo could help turn the Angels into a legitimate post-season contender.

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Extending Shaun Marcum

It has been reported that Brewers GM Doug Melvin is interested in signing two of his front-line pitchers, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, to contract extensions before they become free agents next off-season. This would be a big morale boost for a fanbase that will likely be going through Prince Fielder withdrawal this winter. If Fielder does leave, his $15.5 million salary coming off the books would certainly help create the flexibility to re-sign these two important parts of the organization. However, as with any long-term extension, there are plenty of risks to this plan, especially with Marcum.

Marcum was acquired from the Blue Jays in December 2010 as part of the Brewers’ “go all in for 2011” plan. He had a solid first season in Milwaukee, pitching 200.2 innings with a 3.73 FIP, both career bests. These numbers earned him 2.7 WAR, which due to the league switch and the decline in offense in 2011, was actually 0.9 WAR worse than his 2010 campaign with the Jays.

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Open-Market Value — The Free Agent Team

A couple of years ago, Sky Andrecheck used the power of hindsight to see if an MLB team could have built a 2009 playoff contender using only players who were available on the free-agent market that previous off-season. The only caveat was that this team had to have a league-average budget. Using actual WAR and salaries, Andrecheck pieced together the perfect 25-man roster — actually 18, since he left his bullpen to fend for itself with replacement-level players — and on Aug. 24, his hypothetical team was on pace to win 96 games. And it all happened for the bargain price of $78.6 million.

While this is an interesting exercise, and one I replicated for the 2008 season, I don’t need to tell you that a pretty strong team could have been built on the backs of 2011 free-agent steals such as Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy, Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Vogelsong. Instead, Mr. Dave Cameron, in his infinite generosity, has given me a budget of $80 million FanGraphs Pesos to piece together a free-agent team for next season, without the benefit of hindsight. In case you’re wondering, the ratio of FanGraphs Pesos to Schrute Bucks is 3:1.

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An Alternative to Pujols in St.Louis

While I’m sure they are still celebrating in St. Louis, reality is going to set in quick, as the Cardinals have a busy off-season ahead of them. Not only do they have to replace their hall-of-fame manager, but they have to decide what to do with the only first baseman the city has known for the better part of a decade: Albert Pujols.

There are numerous factors that are going to affect whether Pujols returns — and many of them difficult to quantify. Letting Pujols walk would be a public-relations nightmare, and it would certainly hurt the Cardinals at the gate – but I’m not going to pretend that I know what that magic number would be. There’s also the question of Pujols’ declining ability as he ages, and whether he will live up to what will inevitably be a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. While I’m sure we’ll cover that topic in depth here at FanGraphs, that’s not what I want to cover today.

What I would like to suggest might sound blasphemous, but given the construction of their current roster — and downplaying the previously mentioned factors — it might not be the worst thing in the world for the Cardinals if Pujols walks away.

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How Will Prince Fielder Age?

While the upcoming Free Agent crop isn’t the deepest in recent memory, there are a few sexy names at the top of the list. One of those names is of course Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. Looking at his stats, we see a player who has accumulated 15.3 WAR over the last three seasons and is a perennial threat to launch 40 home runs and get on base over 40% of the time. However, due to his less than slim body type, it is not prudent to assume that he will age like most other Major League players.

In order to attempt to predict what Fielder will do over the life of his next contract, we should compare him to players with similar body types. Jeff Zimmerman has put together a list of 205 players who weigh more than 3.25 lbs per inch of height in order to construct an aging curve. To put that in perspective, a 6’0″ tall player would have to weigh a minimum of 234 lbs in order to be included in the sample.

Below is a graph that shows the aging curve of the heavy players we identified, and the curve for average sized players. Across the x-axis is age, and the y-axis runs (batting, positional, UZR), with 0 being the peak year. The y-axis shows how many runs below the peak year they are at a given age.

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The Brandon McCarthy Saga – Part Two

Special thanks to Brandon McCarthy for taking the time to walk me through his experiences as a pitcher, and providing me with countless insights I never would have discovered researching on my own. 

When part one ended, we had covered the final changes McCarthy made to his delivery in Winter Ball, and were about to analyze his 2011 season. It’s safe to say that Oakland seems to have been the right choice, as the end result of two years of hard work and frustration was a league-leading 2.86 FIP built on the strength of a 1.32 BB/9 and 0.58 HR/9 – both by far career lows. He also mixed these with a solid 6.49 K/9 and career high 46.7% ground ball rate. The groundball rate can be explained fairly easily by the increased use of sinkers and cutters*, but it’s not often that we see a pitcher cut his walk rate by 2/3 almost overnight. However, these were the stats that McCarthy was chasing going into 2011.

“I CANNOT (emphasis McCarthy’s) stand the “nerd stat” narrative and the disdain for them, especially considering how valuable they can be… They’re accurate barometers of what you’re actually doing… Those are the numbers that I was chasing after. I wanted lower home runs, I wanted lower walks, more ground balls, and to get to the top of that category the first year after the changes is a nice accomplishment.”

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The Brandon McCarthy Saga – Part One

Special thanks to Brandon McCarthy for taking the time to walk me through his experiences as a pitcher, and providing me with countless insights I never would have discovered researching on my own.

There has been plenty of ink spilt this season over Justin Verlander’s American League MVP candidacy, and he is a shoo-in for the AL Cy Young Award. A large part of the narrative is the 24 wins, but one would assume that all the gushing means he had one of the most dominant pitching seasons of the last decade. However, when controlling for run environment, Dave Cameron notes that the last two AL Cy Young winners, Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez, had better ERA’s relative to league average than Verlander. Moving on to the advanced stats, Verlander did not even lead the league in FIP in 2011. Neither did his nearest competitor for the award, CC Sabathia. It was in fact Brandon McCarthy of the Oakland Athletics.

In 2010, McCarthy was a 26 year-old pitcher with 372.2 Major League innings under his belt toiling away in Oklahoma City, AAA affiliate of the Texas Rangers. He had been cut from the big league club following a rough Spring Training, and was toying with his mechanics and pitch repertoire, all while battling micro stress fractures in his right shoulder. Injuries limited him to 56.1 innings that season, and while the 3.36 ERA looked tidy, a 79.9% strand rate masked a less impressive 4.23 FIP.  As a pitcher who is in tune with defense independent statistics and had experienced severe arm injuries four years in a row, McCarthy said “it was at that point that I was going to have to start considering my options outside of baseball.” A year later, he was the American League FIP leader.  To figure out this transformation, let’s travel back in time.

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