Archive for April, 2015

A Primitive Call for a Sabermetric Foray Out of the US

Advanced metrics in baseball have by and large proven useful for the evaluation of players and teams in the American pyramid of professional baseball, generally comprised of Major League Baseball franchises and their minor-league affiliates. This means that at least in the mainstream sabermetrics community, the vast majority of work in advanced analytics has taken place within the borders of the United States. It’s no secret, however, that MLB franchises have vast scouting networks all across the globe – baseball has always been a sport with tons of growth potential, and especially over the last half-century, MLB has imported talent from an incredible geographic range. Teams have long-running infrastructure for scouting, acquiring, and developing young players from other nations – a trend which is almost certainly guaranteed to continue in the future.

Major League teams with their own analytics departments no doubt have a wealth of resources for the evaluation of foreign talent, but for the average sabermetrician who does not have access to baseball academies in Latin and Central America or who can’t regularly view other professional leagues in countries like Korea, Japan or Taiwan, the requisite data are hard to come by. Baseball-Reference has a wealth of information on other leagues such as Nippon Professional Baseball, but only relatively traditional statistics are available, limiting the extent to which those who aren’t involved with professional organizations can observe and interpret those figures.

It’s easy to look up anyone’s batting average with RISP in NPB, but we’ve not yet arrived at a point where we (we being a fan of modest statistical background with access to free data on the internet) have been able to easily produce, say, a run expectancy table, or calculate a replacement level, for a non-MLB league without much more effort than should be necessary. At the very least, we can derive the most basic of metrics – here I’ve compiled a list of last year’s  Nippon Professional Baseball leaders and calculated FIP (min. 48 IP), which thankfully wasn’t at all difficult to do because the statistics necessary to calculate FIP are simple and easily available. It’s not as if it’s impossible to achieve the level of analytical proficiency with NPB that we have with MLB, it just hasn’t happened yet.

There’s logical explanations for this, but given the data available to us, it should only be a matter of time before sabermetrics begin to thrive outside of the United States for amateur statisticians and professional sports organizations alike. I would venture that there’s definitely a growing interest in international baseball from the American fan community; personally, I’m all for a sweeping movement in statistical analysis for international baseball leagues – not just to find the next Masahiro Tanaka or José Abreu, but with a real vested interest in other incarnations of America’s national pastime. We’re a long way from it, but it’s not out of the question to imagine an international baseball dynamic where fans follow the NPB with the the same fervor of an American soccer fan who might support a club in the English Premier League or the German Bundesliga. In that hypothetical scenario, sabermetric analysis is thriving, and most importantly, it’s thriving just as much outside the MLB as in it.

Testing the Eye Test: Part 2

Sorry for the relatively long delay – sometimes life gets in the way of our best laid plans. In case you want a refresher, here is part 1:

In part 1, I found that, counter to my expectations, range correlated most strongly with FSR data of all the UZR components (UZR itself had a stronger correlation with FSR). I expected the strongest-correlated component to be errors, which was actually one of the least-correlated components. However, I wanted to go a little bit farther and look at the difference between correlations between the UZR components and FSR and the correlations between the UZR components and UZR itself to get a sense of what the fans weight more than UZR does. As a reminder, here is the data set I compiled for this analysis:

“I pulled the defensive stats of every player who qualified (minimum of 900 innings) at a position from 2009-2014 (FSR data is only available for those six seasons on FanGraphs). I then disregarded catchers, as UZR does not cover the position. Likewise, pitchers are left out because they are not covered by UZR or FSR. That left me with 761 player seasons across the other seven positions.”

Without further ado, here are the correlations between UZR and its components:

Position |# |ARM |DPR |RngR |ErrR
1B |118 |N/A |0.207 |0.930 |0.326
2B |117 |N/A |0.275 |0.907 |0.465
3B |107 |N/A |0.166 |0.948 |0.386
SS |130|N/A |0.459 |0.866 |0.384
LF | 71 |0.584 |N/A |0.895 |0.196
CF |115 |0.357 |N/A |0.935 |0.069
RF |103|0.310 |N/A |0.906 |0.061

I always had a suspicion that range was the most important component of UZR but these results are insane. It turns out range is far and away the most important component of UZR. Interestingly, the weakest correlation for range is at SS, perhaps because shortstops without proper range are moved to another position. ARM, although only calculated for outfielders (a real shame as Andrelton Simmons deserves credit for being able to make this throw), has the second-strongest correlation but lags range by a large amount. Like the FSR correlation, it is surprising that LF has a stronger ARM correlation than CF or RF. DPR narrowly edges out errors, although the correlation for errors is far stronger when you only consider infielders. Now, to get a sense of the difference, here’s the two sets of correlation subtracted from each other (positive numbers mean the correlation with UZR is higher and negative numbers mean the correlation with FSR is higher):

Position | # | ARM | DPR | RngR | ErrR
1B | 118 | N/A | -0.005 | 0.644 | 0.006
2B | 117 | N/A | 0.116 | 0.437 | -0.082
3B | 107 | N/A | 0.011 | 0.315 | 0.125
SS | 130 | N/A | 0.095 | 0.437 | 0.041
LF | 71 | 0.074 | N/A | 0.369 | 0.010
CF | 115 | 0.120 | N/A | 0.441 | -0.002
RF | 103 | 0.096 | N/A | 0.365 | -0.006

There are two different ways to look at this: one is that FSR has nearly the same correlation as UZR in most categories. That’s good! It lends a lot of credibility to FSR to know that you can predict FSR nearly as well as UZR with ErrR or DPR. On the other hand, look at the huge difference in the range column. It appears that the fans are severely underestimating the importance of having great range (or have different ideas of how to evaluate range). That’s a problem! As we just saw, range is the most important component of UZR for every position. It is also not terribly surprising as I hypothesized at the beginning of this series that the fans are underestimating the importance of range in favor of flashier tools. This also explains a lot of the discussion about Derek Jeter’s defensive ability (or lack thereof).

This sums up the research portion of this series. I think all of this does lend a lot of credence to FSR: it does reflect that range is the most important component of defense and it does a good job of properly ranking the importance of the other components. In addition, the correlation between FSR and UZR is fairly strong but not so strong that the two systems are interchangeable. However, when considering FSR, be sure to mentally adjust when a player has particularly good (or bad) range.

In part 3, I will examine some of the player seasons that produced the most disparity in the two rankings.

A Decade of DH: The Mariners Post-Edgar Martínez

Edgar Martínez is kind of a demigod in Seattle. If you drive west past Safeco Field, parallel to the first-base line, you’re doing so on Edgar Martínez Drive (hang a right at home plate and you’re on Dave Niehaus Way).

He’s the only one of the franchise’s most celebrated players, besides hopefully Felix, to have spent his entire career with the Mariners organization, something Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro can’t lay claim to. His game-winning double in the 1995 ALDS is the Seattle Sports Moment to many, and it was just a quarterfinal, Super Bowl/’79 NBA Finals/1917 Stanley Cup be damned.

He’s also the greatest designated hitter of all time, and if not the greatest (which he is, in a completely objective manner of speaking untainted by my personal preferences) the player who perfectly typifies the designated hitter position. For years he has been the barometer of the DH, the mark by which all who came before and all who shall come after will be evaluated – Frank Thomas and Jim Thome weren’t purebred designated hitters the way Edgar was. Although Edgar won his first batting title playing third base, a hamstring injury relegated him to the DH role, so he was the only one of the three to primarily play designated hitter for most of his career, unlike Thomas and Thome, who spent much more time in the field. Also, Frank Thomas was an absolutely filthy pitcher in Backyard Baseball 2003, as well as complete garbage as a hitter in that very same game, so don’t you tell me that designated “hitter” is his primary position.

seriously this makes no sense

But whatever Edgar Martínez meant to the DH position went tenfold for the Mariners. For me Edgar’s retirement was in a way the turning of a page for the franchise, but his loss as a Mariners icon could ostensibly be counteracted somewhat by roster stalwarts Ichiro, Dan Wilson, Bret Boone, and Jamie Moyer (duh), among others.

What would change almost irreparably was the Seattle Mariners’ designated hitter slot that Martínez vacated when he retired.

2015 marks the Mariners’ eleventh season since Martínez’s retirement, meaning that a full decade has passed in the majors without Edgar on the Mariners. The first step in our journey into an Edgar-less world begins with a ranking of cumulative fWAR at the DH position by team from 2005 (the Mariners’ first season without Martínez) to 2014.


The first thing you’ll notice seems pretty intuitive, which is that the top 15 teams are all American League teams – this obviously makes sense because the DH rule is only applicable in the American League, so it would logically follow that the fifteen American League teams would have accrued the most Wins Above Replacement in the major leag-

wait, hold up – philadelphia????????

where are the mariners



lemme just scroll down to find them, one sec





So Mariners designated hitters rank 27th, which means that between the Mariners and the Astros, twelve – TWELVE National League teams, who only employ a designated hitter for a handful of games per season (interleague away games to be exact), have produced more fWAR at that position over the last decade than the Mariners, who use a designated hitter on pretty much a daily basis.

In fairness, the explanation for this seems logical: the defensive fWAR penalty for the designated hitter position (the highest of any defensive position) is cumulative – it increases with the amount of innings played at any given position. The Mariners have accrued ungodly of amounts value above below replacement by trotting out consistently bad DH production, whereas the magnitude of damage a National League DH can do to his team’s aggregate replacement value is limited by sample size. Something that I don’t completely understand is that FanGraphs’ data on National League players DHing seems to be incomplete, but maybe it just has something to do with eligibility not lining up with FanGraphs data or the fact the sample size of National League DHs is inadequte. Perhaps having all National League DHs accounted for just wouldn’t be worth the effort or be statistically significant.

Even if we remove the National League from the equation, the Mariners are still dead last in their own league by quite a bit. The next-worst team, Houston, has been in the American League for all of two full seasons and has managed to comfortably outpace Seattle (upon further examination this is made more impressive by the fact that one of those seasons, Chris Carter’s 37-dinger campaign in 2014, doubles Seattle’s cumulative fWAR over the entire decade in magnitude). But then again as stated before, Seattle have incurred a penalty for having adhered to the DH rule since its inception, whereas Houston have only had two seasons to let the DH penalty pile up.

In order to ascertain exactly what shenanigans could have gone down with the M’s DH position such that all Seattle DHs from 2005-2014 collectively managed to produce fewer wins than Edgar’s farewell 2004 season (his worst by fWAR, totaling -0.5), here’s a fond look back at some of the Mariners’ highlights at DH over the past decade (min. 100 PA), ordered by total fWAR produced for the Mariners.

1. Russell Branyan, 2009 & 2010, 125 wRC+, 3.4 fWAR

FanGraphs lists Branyan first in highest total accumulated fWAR post-Martínez for any Seattle DH, which makes sense, because his 2009 116-game stint with the Mariners was quite good-until you realize that he played all of those games for the Mariners at first base, meaning that 2.7 wins of these 3.4 weren’t even put up from the designated hitter slot. Fun fact: Branyan’s 2009 season, in which he swatted 31 homers and posted 126 wRC+, is the only season since 2006 in which a Mariners player has hit 30 homers (2013 Ibañez missed this mark by just one home run).

On the bright side, Branyan returned to the Mariners via trade in June of 2010, and this time he actually put in some time at DH. He managed to do quite well for himself, with 121 wRC+ in 238 plate appearances, and 25 of his 44 hits went for extra bases. After a couple 2011 stints with Arizona and Los Angeles, he then decided that playing for Seattle had ruined the major leagues for him and went on to play only in minor-league and Mexican league games for the rest of his career.

2. John Jaso, 2012, 143 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR

Jaso shared catching and DH duties with Jesus Montero in 2012, and in only 108 games became the second-most valuable position player on the team by fWAR behind Kyle Seager. Jaso also had the third-highest walk of rate of any position player in baseball (min. 350 PA) in 2012 and was Felix Hérnandez’s batterymate for his perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Mariners then infamously dealt Jaso to division rival Oakland in a three-team deal that yielded a return of Michael Morse, former Mariner just coming off a career year with Washington in 2011. Morse played half of the 2013 season before injury caught up to him and he was shipped off to Baltimore.

Jack Z could lead the Mariners to 4 consecutive titles and be the executive of the year each of those years and Mariners fans (myself included) would probably still find time to complain about the Jaso-Morse Trade for some reason. Jaso is currently back with Tampa Bay and is currently injured, but his 2013 and 2014 seasons were still much better collectively than what the Mariners fielded during that same time period.

3. Mike Sweeney, 2009-10, 111 wRC+, 0.7 fWAR 

At the same time Russell Branyan was busy dirtying himself in the field and hitting big hits, the Mariners extended 2 non-roster invites in 2 consecutive years to great Royals player, great hitter, and great all-around guy Mike Sweeney (who doesn’t have a picture on his Wikipedia profile, but Yuniesky Betancourt does….?). Making the team both times, Sweeney was a productive hitter for the Mariners in 2009 and 2010 and was traded to the Phillies, they of the 15th-ranked DH fWAR, in time for the NLDS, where he was able to collect a hit in his first and only postseason at-bat (against Aroldis Chapman, no less). He then signed a one-day contract to retire a Royal. It’s nice to feel good about something tangentially Mariners-related every once in a while, especially because after we move past Sweeney on this list things start to get a little dicey.

4. Kendrys Morales, 2013 & 2014, 108 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR

Morales was one of the better hitters on a largely uninspiring 2013 Mariners team, boasting a .342 wOBA and a 119+ wRC, both of which would have led the team if not for an incredibly strange Raul Ibañez season. The Twins signed Morales as a free agent the following offseason for $7.6 million, which was kind of strange but made sense if they could turn that value into something. It turns out that something was the Mariners’ Stephen Pryor, and Morales ended up back in Seattle, where he had effectively iced his chances of cashing in on a qualifying offer from the Mariners a year ago. In 2014, Morales put up -0.8 fWAR for Minnesota and -1.0 fWAR for Seattle, by far the worst year of his career.

5. Jack Cust, 2011,  97 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR

A profile of Jack Cust came up on the Jumbotron at Safeco Field once while I was in attendance at a Mariners home game, in which he stated that his favorite quote was “play hard”, a nugget of wisdom Cust attributed to himself. The combination of that Jumbotron quote and Cust’s .116 ISO for the Mariners in 2011 continues to be one of the more perplexing relationships I’ve observed to date, as is the 97 wRC+ (Cust’s wRC on the season was 20).

6. Jose Vidro, 2007-08, 94 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR

Vidro, who leads the players on this list in plate appearances with 955, spent almost two seasons with the Mariners (2007 & 2008). His 2007 season with Seattle wasn’t bad – his .775 OPS was just above league average, his 10.1 BB% was just above league average, and his .345 wOBA was just above league average. Vidro decided to use 2008 to erase most of the solid work he had done in the previous year, cutting his walks in half, getting on base 70% as often, and found himself designated for assignment and later released that summer.

7. Greg Dobbs, 2004-06, 74 wRC+, -0.3 WAR

Dobbs didn’t really play enough to be remembered as outright terrible, usually taking backup duty at third base and then being relegated to a pinch-hitting/DH role in 2005/2006. Before we move on, there’s a couple interesting notes about Dobbs.

First, Greg Dobbs hit a home run in his first at-bat with the Mariners (and his first major league at-bat), which would turn out to be the only home run he would hit in 2004. This isn’t particularly notable except for the fact that it always reminds me that Miguel Olivo also homered in his first major league at-bat, which I will never forget for some incredibly frustrating reason. “Miguel Olivo homered in his first major league at-bat. He was with the Chicago White Sox and the home run was off Andy Pettitte”. This useless piece of information has been wasting my neural capacity ever since I read it on some Mariners gameday program, which I think had Richie Sexson on the cover, so I’m jointly blaming Sexson and Olivo both for forcing me to remember that information and also for being pretty underwhelming with the Mariners.

The second thing is Dobbs’ 2006 season, in which he was only around for 28 PA in 23 games, 18 of which he came in as a pinch-hitter. In those games he managed 150 wRC+ on a cool .435 BABIP. He also walked 0 times. Ultimately it was only 28 PA, an absurdly silly sample size, and clearly the Mariners felt similarly, because they waived out of him in 2007, whereupon Pat Gillick, now with the Phillies, decided to take a second chance on Dobbs long enough for him to earn a World Series ring in 2008.

8. Jeff Clement, 2006-09, 90 wRC+, -0.3 fWAR

Yeah, let’s just not go there.

9. Milton Bradley, 2010-11, 83 wRC+, -0.5 fWAR

Bradley contributed -0.5 fWAR in his time with the Mariners and interestingly enough, being bad at baseball may have been one of the better things he did in Seattle.

10. Carl Everett, 2006, 72 wRC+, -0.8 WAR

Carl Everett was a two-time All-Star in Boston, put up a six-win season with the Astros, and found himself signed by the Mariners for the 2006 season, where he had his worst offensive season by far. Everett was league-average in B% and K% and that was about it. Everett was released in July of 2006 at the age of 35, having posted -0.8 fWAR in 92 games. You could say he was getting to be a bit of a dinosaur, but don’t tell Carl Everett anyone said that about him.

11. Ben Broussard, 2006-07, 88 wRC+, -0.8 fWAR

Broussard was acquired by the Mariners from Cleveland in the second half of the 2006 season, filling in mostly at DH after Carl Everett’s dismissal; in that time-frame Broussard’s figure of 78 wRC+ is not particularly inspiring, and only slightly bests Everett’s. Broussard then spent most of his first and only full season (2007) for the Mariners switching between first base and the corner outfield spots, His overall 88 wRC+ was a slight improvement but still not great, especially while the man Bill Bavasi gave up to acquire Broussard, Shin-Soo Choo, has produced 24.3 fWAR since the 2007 season.

Back to Broussard, though:

12. Eduardo Perez (2006), 48 wRC+, -0.8 fWAR

I don’t think I really have to say anything here.

13. Jesus Montero (2012-), 83 wRC+, -0.9 fWAR

Jesus Montero is now somewhat of a tragic figure among Marinerds. In the 2012-2013 offseason, Montero claimed that he had a coach who had helped him ‘learn to run’, which I guess if you haven’t yet is probably a good idea. He then cut his 2013 season short by getting suspended for his involvement in the Biogenesis snafu. Last August, he got into a bizarre altercation. Montero’s role in the organization has strayed far from the top hitting prospect the Mariners traded Michael Pineda(who’s now the #3 in New York) for. Montero continues to toil away in the Mariners’ farm system (reports out of Tacoma yesterday were that he legged out an infield single), in the hopes he can top 2013’s terrible 64 wRC+. Montero is still only 25, so it’s not as if all hope is lost, but the fact remains that his on-field production at the major league level has been nothing short of disappointing.

14. Ken Griffey, Jr. [1989-99(omitted), 2009-10], 84 wRC+, -0.9 fWAR

Nobody was expecting 90s Griffey Jr. the ballplayer, which was convenient because he didn’t show up. Griffey was only mediocre in 2009, with a wRC+ of 97 and a wOBA of .324, rendering him merely replacement-level (0.0 fWAR). 2010 was a different story. Griffey Jr. posted a depressingly bad 32 wRC+ in 108 plate appearances. Amid issues with Don Wakamatsu restricting his playing time and the bizarre rumor of Griffey napping during a potential pinch-hit opportunity, things came to a head in June of 2010, when Griffey abruptly left the club, drove home, and announced his retirement before the next days game. The Kid’s return to Seattle was a welcome dip into the nostalgia-drenched coffers of yesteryear for a struggling ballclub, and before anyone had time to process it, the sweetest swing in baseball was silenced in a flash.

15. Corey Hart (2014), 70 wRC+, -1.1 fWAR

Hart has the lowest single-season WAR of any player on this list. The Mariners paid $6 million with $7 million in undisclosed incentives for a year of Hart coming off a knee surgery that caused him to miss all of 2013, which at the time seemed to be a reasonable gamble for a high-risk commodity that could potentially have paid great dividends. Unfortunately, Hart struggled to stay healthy and perform. playing only 68 games in the season; the midseason acquisition of Kendrys Morales certainly didn’t help. Ultimately the Mariners’ front office decided to take a gamble with Hart and lost.


BONUS ROUND (fun with small sample sizes): Scott Spiezio in 2005

Scott Spiezio in 2004 was simply a bad infielder and player, posting a miserable .288 OBP, 67 wRC+, among other poor statistics on his way to putting up a below replacement-level season of -0.1 fWAR.

Big deal though – it’s one bad season. Besides, if you look up on that same list, Carl Everett put up -0.8 fWAR in 92 games. Eduardo Perez did it in 43!

This is nothing to Scott Spiezio.

Again, the sample size here is ridiculously small, but the absurdity of the numbers he managed to log in 29 games is honestly kind of impressive. The Mariners released him from here and he then went on to win the World Series with St. Louis, even hitting a game-tying triple in Game 2 of the 2006 NLCS, so fortunately he was of some use to a team after that 2005 season.


In fairness, the designated hitter is not an incredibly stable position in today’s game. It doesn’t make sense to pay a premium for a skill that can be replicated by other hitters who can also play competent defense. There are only a handful of “conventional” designated hitters in the league, and even Victor Martinez and his -31.1 UZR/150 in 2014 are called upon to play defense every once in a while. For whatever reason – be it sentimentality with Griffey or having the odds stacked against them with Hart or just because Bavasi (Clement, Broussard), the Mariners have gotten an extraordinarily poor level of performance out of their designated hitters in an Edgar-less world, with some bright spots (Jaso, Branyan, 1 season of Kendrys Morales).

This season, Seattle will call on 2014 home-run king Nelson Cruz to fill in most nights at DH (at least as long as Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano are healthy enough to man right so Cruz doesn’t have to). In 10 years of trying to fill Edgar’s place, the Mariners haven’t quite succeeded and probably won’t ever do so, but wouldn’t it be something to see them come close?

Gausmanian Distribution

At the end of spring training, Buck Showalter banished Kevin Gausman from the rotation in favor of Ubaldo Jimenez, a pitcher with a much higher salary and much less talent.  Many assumed that Jimenez’ salary largely dictated the move. Yes, he outpitched Gausman in spring training (4.44 ERA to 7.04), but it’s hard to believe that Showalter invests very much in spring training stats, and in any case if you put “4.44” into Google Translator, “success” is unlikely to be one of the resulting character strings.

One Orioles fan of my acquaintance heard that Showalter’s decision had more forethought: Buck’s intent may be to use Gausman much as the fireman reliever of old, and bring him in to critical situations in ballgames regardless of today’s ossified reliever usage patterns. Bill James long ago established that this is the most effective way to use a top-flight reliever, but it is less clear that this is the best way to use a potential #1 starter. Gausman is the only pitcher on the Orioles 25-man roster who has even  a prayer of turning into an ace, and it seems unlikely he’ll do it from the pen.

Gausman’s had a somewhat unusual start to his career. In his first two years as a major leaguer, he started 25 games and made 15 relief appearances. There are a total of 15 active pitchers who had at least 25 starts and 15 relief appearances in their first two years:


(Table courtesy of the invaluable Baseball Reference Play Index)

It’s certainly an eclectic mix. Only Buehrle established himself as an ace, though Arroyo has had a good career as a mid-rotation workhorse, and Masterson and (to a lesser extent) I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Fausto-Carmona have made useful contributions. For other starters on this list (Wood, Kelly) it’s too soon to tell. Affeldt and Stammen wisely gave up starting and have become bullpen mainstays. More sobering, many of the names on this list have had their careers derailed by injuries. It’s hard to know whether the mixed usage contributed to injury problems for guys like Ogando, Billingsley, and Holland; it is equally possible that conserving these young arms early may have averted even more serious or earlier arm trouble.

Gausman sits uneasily here; he is by far the highest drafted pitcher on this list (fourth overall in 2012). It is unsurprising to see a club experiment with a 38th-round pick who struggles to break a pane of glass, like Buehrle. Such tinkering is less common with a player drafted to be a rotation anchor. Indeed, there are only two other first-rounders on this list, Billingsley and Lynn.

In his first season (2006), Billingsley started 16 games and came in from the bullpen twice. He put up a respectable 3.80 ERA, but with atrocious peripherals (5.8 BB/9, 5,9 K/9). The Dodgers understandably exiled him to the bullpen to start the 2007 season, but Dresden-like pyrotechnics from Proven Veterans Mark Hendrickson, Brett Tomko, and Jason Schmidt forced the Dodgers to put Billingsley back in the rotation in June, and he acquitted himself reasonably the well the rest of the way. He would go on to have uneven success over the next four seasons until diagnosed with a torn UCL in September 2012. He has pitched in two major league games since.

Lance Lynn offers a happier comp for Gausman. He appeared largely in relief (2 starts in 18 games) in 2011. Despite Kyle McClellan’s runtastic performance as the Cardinals’ fifth starter, LaRussa elected not to insert Lynn into the rotation; the Cardinals instead traded for Edwin Jackson, who stabilized the fifth spot.  This seems similar to Showalter’s choice: go with the established if not necessarily dominant veteran in lieu of the risky young flamethrower. Lynn had put good numbers in 2011 at AAA, but not in 2010. The Cards’ reluctance to turn over a rotation spot to him in the midst of a playoff run was understandable. Lynn has been in the rotation since 2012, and has consistently produced very close to his career marks of 3.32 FIP and 2.71 K/BB, despite some jumpiness in his ERA.

Both these examples tend to suggest Showalter is making a mistake. The Dodgers finally ran out of Jason Schmidts, while the Cards went with the good-enough E-Jax (and, to  be fair, won the World Series). But in each case the young replacement would quickly prove himself superior to the older and supposedly safer option when finally given the chance. There are very few who would predict that, over the course of 30 starts, Jimenez will outperform Gausman in any significant statistical category.

But Showalter has other things on his mind. Specifically, this:

#27 Orioles

Chris Tillman 184.0 4.10 4.40 1.4
Wei-Yin Chen 169.0 4.04 4.17 1.5
Miguel Gonzalez 157.0 4.42 4.84 0.5
Bud Norris 154.0 4.15 4.30 1.1
Ubaldo Jimenez 146.0 4.28 4.38 0.9
Kevin Gausman 91.0 3.97 4.00 0.9
Dylan Bundy 18.0 4.40 4.56 0.1
Total 919.0 4.17 4.38 6.4


Yep, this is the FanGraphs Depth Chart projection for the Orioles starting rotation, with the O’s ranked 27th out of 30. Not a single starter checks in with a FIP under 4.00. This is a shaky rotation, and the Orioles have no quick way of making it better. Eventually, perhaps as early as next year Gausman, Bundy, and Hunter Harvey will form an enviable top 3, but there’s another problem on Buck’s plate. Next year, much of the current roster may be lost to free agency, including Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Chen, and Norris. The Orioles are under enormous pressure to win now.

And Gausman can help! Because at this stage of his career, he is a much better reliever than starter. The big difference is in strikeouts:

AL average starter K/9: 7.1

AL average reliever K/9: 8.3

Gausman as starter K/9: 7.0

Gausman as reliever K/9: 11.7

That there is some major whiffage for a staff in dire need of it. Put Gausman together with Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, and Tommy “Big Game” Hunter, and the Orioles have a fully weaponized bullpen.  Buck’s plan is to hold on for the first five or six innings, and them shut down the opponent’s offense while the Orioles bats bludgeon their way to victory. And with Gausman acting as a mobile reserve, Showalter can shrink the innings for which the starters are responsible, but do so on a game-to-game basis. On those days when the starters happen to be effective they can go longer, and on those days (more often than not, one suspects) that they get into trouble, Showalter will be able to address some of that trouble with the best arm on the roster.

This isn’t the way I would ordinarily do it, but then again, this isn’t the roster I would have assembled. Showalter has repeatedly shown an ability to work with the tools he has rather than impose some prefabricated tactical rule set that disregards the strengths and weaknesses of his players. Baltimore’s road to the playoffs is neither straight nor sure, but at least it’s Showalter behind the wheel.

A Meditation on the Nature of Baseball Fandom

There are a lot of people who like baseball. Almost 74 million people attended an MLB game last year, and a 2006 Gallup poll estimated that 47% of Americans identify as a baseball fan. Almost every one of those fans can be more precisely described as a fan of a team rather than the sport itself. FanGraphs readers certainly lie on the less casual end of the spectrum, and that seems to lead to a broader appreciation of baseball in general, but that’s not the case for the vast majority of the baseball-loving populace. Even those who have grown into sport-wide interest didn’t start that way, and probably maintain a preference for one team over all others.

The fan-team relationship, in many ways, is at the heart of baseball. There are easier ways to generate numbers at random, but preference for one outcome over another is what provides a narrative. To be sure, there are lots of ways to enjoy the sport. There is significant pleasure to be had from detailed analysis, or moments of physical grace and power, and everyone is free to enjoy baseball in whatever way they see fit. Rooting, however, is what turns baseball from a hobby into a sport.

What are fans rooting for when they root for a team? Teams today are thoroughly modern organizations, exceedingly large and multifaceted and difficult to grasp entirely. Fans are like the proverbial blind people around an elephant, who comprehend only what they immediately perceive. For most, that’s the laundry, as Jerry Seinfeld famously described it. Everything about a team changes but their name, and sometimes even that changes, but fans remain loyal to the concept of the team, to the history and experiences and hopes they share with other fans. But the second-most enduring aspect of most teams is the owner, far surpassing almost every player, despite being virtually ignored by most fans. Owners are also the ones that benefit most when a team succeeds, and so rooting for a team is in many ways closer to rooting for its owner than rooting for its players.

There have been a few events in the news recently that have prompted thoughts on this topic from several people. The two major ones were Kris Bryant’s demotion by the Cubs, for reasons connected to his arbitration clock rather than his performance, and the comments made by Angels owner Arte Moreno about Josh Hamilton’s drug problem. These are both conflicts between people who are part of the same team, and from a team-oriented viewpoint, should have the same goals but clearly don’t. The question becomes who is “right”, from the viewpoint of the fan. Lots of people have written some excellent things about these conflicts, but my favorite is by Jason Wojciechowski, found here, writing about the paradigm we view these sorts of disagreements from. The whole piece is well worth a read, but the relevant part for this discussion is in the last paragraph:

“A notion of ethics or even morals is something I think we ought to promote in business rather than celebrating the pure concept of moneymaking… We’ve created a political-legal-social scheme that allows firms to exist (thrive!) because we’ve judged the firm a useful construct. Where we go from that starting point… is up to us…. I would like us not to say ‘baseball teams are businesses and so they should be applauded for demoting Kris Bryant’ as our starting point. That’s not our starting point. That’s a moral/ethical choice that has been made from an earlier starting point. Recognition that there are other choices is the first step to reform.”

I don’t think there can be much disagreement with Jason’s point, and I think it’s critical to this discussion. In every aspect of baseball, the viewpoint and goals are decisively pro-team, but that is a starting point. I think it’s time for fans to take a different, pro-player, view as our starting point.

This can be traced back to analytics and the rise of sabermetrics, which have blurred the line between fans and observers of baseball from the outside and professionals from the inside. Anyone who demonstrates their ability to find useful information for a team has the potential to be richly rewarded, and as a result, analytics has one motivating goal in almost every case: to make teams more money. Usually, this takes the form of identifying or measuring undervalued skills and assets, and capitalizing on those market inefficiencies. Under the prevailing framework of baseball analysis, a researcher who identified (for example) the key to Tommy John surgery would be entirely justified in keeping that information private and selling it to a team and making untold sums of money, rather than releasing it to the public and keeping the other 97% healthy as well.

Now, I am not suggesting that someone who made such a major breakthrough should not be rewarded for their work, medical or analytical. Modern baseball analysis is increasingly a business rather than a hobby, and the researcher who identifies the perfect defense-independent pitching metric should be rewarded for the likely massive amounts of work that went into that discovery. But teams are trying to save money for one reason only: to make their owners more money. Every team, from the Red Sox and Yankees to the A’s and Rays, has the ability to spend more and chooses not to. The only “spending limits” they encounter are owner-imposed, and exist for the purposes of profit.

We, meaning fans and hobbyists, are not professional baseball researchers or owners of teams, and as such, are not restricted or motivated by the profit motive. We should feel no such compulsion to orient our passion solely toward teams and their profits.

Despite that, the perspective of the fan tends to always be pro-team, and in many cases, that means it is anti-player. Mike Trout’s contract is “good” because the Angels don’t pay him a lot despite being very good, and Josh Hamilton’s contract is “bad” because the Angels do pay him a lot despite not being very good. Really, therefore, what we mean when we say a contract is good or bad is that it makes or loses an owner money. When the topic of contracts comes up, fans often view them solely as a question of what the team “should” do. This is an example (no offense, T-Sky, you were just the first I saw), where the author writes that “if I were a general manager… I would hand out a lot more contracts like the one the Cleveland Indians just gave Carlos Carrasco.” To be fair, the author also discusses why he feels these deals are good for the player later in the article, so the focus is not just on the team (owner) saving money, but the wording suggests that the player has no agency or control over his own future. While people might not consciously think this, the language used is important, and shows the subconscious assumptions of most fans: contracts are bequeathed by teams to deserving players, as determined by that same team. Now, this obviously isn’t the case in contract negotiations in reality, but it illustrates the viewpoint fans bring – team first, and frequently, team only.

Contract negotiations are not the only aspect of baseball in which this fan viewpoint reigns supreme – on the contrary, this is baked into everything we as fans do. It colors every aspect of the game. As another example, when each year’s Hall of Fame discussions are happening, players are often given accolades for spending their entire career with a single team. There might be valid and legitimate reasons for this – a rapport developed with the fans of that team really is cool, and worth giving someone a bump for – but truly, what is being rewarded is the decision not to test the free-agent market and take the highest contract possible, and instead to reward a team (and an owner) with performance at below-market rates.

Dustin Pedroia, for example, has played with the Red Sox for his entire career, and is currently signed through the 2021 season, after which he will be 38 and either finished or very close to finished playing baseball. He signed his current contract in 2013, but was already extended through 2014 and 2015. The net extension was for 2016 through 2021 (six years) and $89 million dollars, or about $15 million per year. In 2013, Dustin Pedroia had over 5 WAR. At that point in his career, he had averaged 4.7 WAR per 600 PAs. Two years prior, in 2011, he had almost 8 WAR. Had he made his services available to the highest bidder, he would have signed for so, so, so much more than $15 million per year. Instead, he signed with the Red Sox, saving them that large amount of money. Maybe that meant more money was spent on other players, but the Red Sox are one of baseball’s richest teams, and the limits to their spending have always been self-imposed. What that definitely meant was that more money went to the team and its owners.

The standard is to consider Pedroia’s career in a slightly better light because of that. (I don’t mean to point fingers, either – I absolutely am guilty of this.) He sold his services for less than they were worth to a team that could absolutely afford to pay full price, and he’s more likely to make the Hall of Fame because of it. That also means that, implicitly, we’re punishing players that choose to go to the market, and make as much money as they can, which is the last thing I want to do! But when it’s portrayed as rewarding “loyalty”, or whatever other word is used to describe giving money back to team owners, it’s hard not to. This is but one example of the subtle but pervasive pro-team culture that’s endemic in all of baseball fandom.

If this resonates at all with you, I’d encourage you to try to shift your focus as a fan, away from the team and toward the players. There are some trends in baseball that make this more of a legitimate option. Fantasy baseball allows fans to have “their” guys, regardless of what team they’re on. The drive to recognize prospects as early as possible allows fans to keep track of players long before they do anything that impacts a major league team, and hopefully root for them no matter what team they debut with. National media coverage and means you aren’t restricted by geography to what players you follow. Those are steps in the right direction.

If we as fans take a more individual focus, perhaps the conversation will change. Perhaps it will no longer be considered automatically “good” that Bryant has to wait an extra year to sign his first free agent contract, and is more likely to see his career ended by an injury before he ever gets paid, or “bad” that Josh Hamilton capitalized on his excellent performance through age 31. The good/bad labels come from the perspective of the people paying those players, but we as fans are not those people, and we should feel no obligation to take that as our starting point. Root for the players, not the teams.

Here’s to the Grinders–Week 1

There were a number of great moments for some of baseball’s biggest stars during the first week of the MLB season. Albert Pujols hit his 521st career home run, which tied him for 18th place on the career list with Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Willie McCovey, and Frank Thomas. Mark Buehrle won his 200th career game and is now tied for 113th on the all-time list with Chuck Finley, George Uhle, and Tim Wakefield (wow, Tim Wakefield won 200 games). Alex Rodriguez hit home run #655 and is just five away from the legendary Willie Mays.

But this isn’t about those guys. Those guys get plenty of notice. This is about the lesser-knowns, the guys you’ve never heard of or had forgotten about. These are my guys. They are the scrubs, the journeymen, the players who refuse to hang up their spikes . . . the grinders.

  • San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain’s arm injury opened the door for Chris Heston to get the second start of his major league career. Heston is 27 and debuted with the Giants just last season, so he’s not really a prospect, if he ever was one. He played college baseball at Seminole Community College in Florida and was drafted in the 47th round of the 2007 Major League Draft. He did not sign. When you’re drafted in the 47th round, it’s like the team is telling you, “Hey, we need someone to carry the bats from the clubhouse to the dugout for one of our minor league teams and you look like you might be able to handle that job.” Heston went back to school for another year, then was drafted in the 29th round by the Washington Nationals the following year. When you’re drafted in the 29th round, it’s like the team is telling you, “Hey, we need someone to take up space on one of our minor league rosters so the real prospects can have someone to play against.” Heston chose to go back to school, this time to East Carolina University, and ended up being drafted again, this time in the 12th round. He signed with the Giants and pitched in their minor league system for five years before getting into three games during last year’s Championship run. He pitched a grand total of 5 1/3 innings as part of the team that won the World Series so he has a ring on his finger. No matter what he does for the rest of his major league career, Chris Heston has a World Series ring. In his start on Wednesday, Heston pitched six scoreless innings for his first major league victory.
  • A guy I hadn’t thought of in a few years, and didn’t know was still playing baseball, had a big hit on Wednesday. This player got off to a great start to his major league career, hitting .300/.336/.549 in 70 games in his rookie year of 2005 and was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the caption: “The Natural”. “The Natural” tanked the following year (.260/.293/.449) but rebounded for a 3.3 WAR season in 2007 (.293/.338/.444). Since 2008, he’s had one above average season, two seasons close to replacement level, and four seasons below replacement level. If you haven’t guessed by now, this player is Jeff Francoeur. Jeff Francoeur is a survivor. Just when you think you’ll never hear another thing about Jeff Francoeur, he shows up once again. After hitting .235/.287/.378 in 2012, you might have thought his career would be over. Then when he hit .204/.238/.298 in 2013, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to say a fork was sticking out of his back because surely he was done. And certainly after he had 2 hits in 24 at-bats last year, you would think it was time for him to ride off into the sunset. But he didn’t ride off into the sunset. He signed with baseball’s most pathetic team, the Philadelphia Phillies. On Wednesday, he came to the dish in a scoreless game in the bottom of the sixth and hit a 3-run jack to help the Phillies beat the Red Sox. The only possible conclusion is that Jeff Francoeur is a zombie.
  • In Cincinnati, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds played a closely fought ballgame that went to extra innings. The Pirates brought in Radhames Liz to pitch the bottom of the 11th. Liz had been signed as an amateur free agent by the Orioles in 2003 and played three seasons with the O’s from 2007 to 2009 but had major control problems as he walked 6.2 batters per nine innings. He spent the 2009 season in the Padres’ minor league system then pitched in Korea for three years before returning to the states and signed a minor league contract with the Blue Jays before the 2014 season. He pitched at two levels in 2014, then signed a one-year deal with the Pirates. His appearance in the bottom of the 11th inning on Wednesday was his first major league action since 2009. Unfortunately, it did not go well. He started off the inning by getting Brandon Phillips to pop out. He then plunked Zack Cozart. In 2014, Zack Cozart was the worst hitter in all of baseball who had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title when he hit .221/.268/.300 (56 wRC+). The last person you’d ever want to hit with a pitch is Zack Cozart, but that’s just what Radhames Liz did. He regained his composure to strike out Matt Dominguez. Of course, Matt Dominguez was the second-worst hitter in all of baseball last year (63 wRC+). It’s kind of amazing that the two worst hitters in baseball last year were batting back-to-back in this situation, but life has those little amazing things happen every now and then. Still, there were two outs and a runner on first and Billy Hamilton was coming to the plate. Billy Hamilton, by the way, was the 13th-worst hitter in all of baseball last year out of the 146 hitters who qualified for the batting title (79 wRC+). Surely, Radhames Liz could get Billy Hamilton out and send this game to the 12th inning, right? No, not right. Not right at all. Radhames Liz walked Billy Hamilton. This is not a particularly easy thing to do because Billy Hamilton does not walk very often (5.7% of the time in his career). Walking Billy Hamilton meant there were now runners on first-and-second and Radhames Liz would have to face Joey Votto, the best hitter on the Reds. Joey Votto singled to right, Zack Cozart scored, and Radhames Liz had single-armedly lost the game for the Pittsburgh Pirates in his first major league action in six years.
  • On Friday, Jerome Williams started for the Philadelphia Phillies against the Washington Nationals. Williams is on the seventh major league team of his career, including three just last season. His best year was his rookie year back in 2003 with the San Francisco Giants when he was worth 2.0 WAR. He hasn’t come close to that performance since. In 2008, he played for the Long Beach Armada of the independent Golden Baseball League (other GBL alums include Mark Prior, Jose Canseco, and Rickey Henderson). In 2010, he played for the Uni-President Lions of Taiwan in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. He was with the Los Angeles Angels from 2011 to 2013 and spent the 2014 season with the Astros, Rangers, and Phillies. In his nine major league seasons, he’s had an ERA under 4.00 just two times. He’s still kicking around, though, and pitched 6 innings while allowing just a single run on five hits in his first start this year.
  • The Tampa Bay Rays are without three-fifths of their projected starting rotation, so they got creative on Friday and started Steven Geltz. Geltz signed with the Los Angeles Angels as an undrafted free agent in 2008 out of the University of Buffalo. It’s highly unlikely for an undrafted free agent to ever making the major leagues. In addition, Geltz is listed as 5’10”, 170 pounds and he’s a right-handed pitcher. Short, right-handed pitchers are a rare breed in major league baseball. Scouts are generally looking for size and projectability when scouting pitchers and this is even more true for right-handed pitchers. It’s easier to be short and slight if you’re a left-handed pitcher slinging breaking balls than if you’re a righty. Geltz doesn’t have a great fastball (averages around 92 mph) but he’s been quite good in 7 seasons in the minor leagues, with a career 3.38 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 362 minor league innings, while striking out 12 batters per nine innings. He got a cup of coffee with the Angels in 2012 and a Mocha Grande with the Rays last year and has pitched in 15 major league games with a 2.84 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 13.5 K/9. All of his previous professional appearances have been as a reliever and he has never faced more than 10 batters in an outing before. So, there he was on the mound to start Friday night’s game against the Marlins. He went two innings, throwing 35 pitches, 25 for strikes, and allowed one run. Not bad. There’s a pretty good chance that this will be the only start of his major league career.

Finally, we have the journiest-journeyman of all the journeymen, Buddy Carlyle:

New York Mets’ reliever Buddy Carlyle was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Reds out of a Nebraska high school in the second round of the 1996 MLB Draft. Then this happened:

  • 1996: Pitched for the Princeton Reds in the Appalachian League
  • 1997: Pitched for the Charleston AlleyCats in the South Atlantic League
  • April 8, 1998: Traded to the San Diego Padres for Marc Kroon.
  • 1998: Pitched for the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Mobile BayBears in the Southern League
  • 1999: Pitched for the Las Vegas Stars in the Pacific Coast League
  • Made his major league debut on August 29, 1999 with the San Diego Padres.
  • 2000: Pitched for the Las Vegas Stars and the San Diego Padres
  • November 3, 2000: Contract was sold to the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League.
  • 2001 and 2002: Pitched for the Hanshin Tigers
  • December 18, 2002: Signed as a free agent by the Kansas City Royals
  • 2003: Pitched for the Wichita Wranglers of the Texas League and the Omaha Royals of the Pacific Coast League
  • October 15, 2003: Granted free agency
  • December 23, 2003: Signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees
  • 2004: Pitched for the Trenton Thunder of the Eastern League and the Columbus Clippers of the International League
  • October 14, 2004: Granted free agency
  • November 18, 2004: Signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
  • 2005: Pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League.
  • December 15, 2005: Signed by the Florida Marlins.
  • 2006: Pitched for the Albuquerque Isotopes of the Pacific Coast League
  • May 18, 2006: Sold to the LG Twins of the Korean Baseball Association
  • December 4, 2006: Invited to spring training by the Atlanta Braves
  • 2007: Pitched for the Richmond Braves of the International League and the Atlanta Braves
  • 2008: Pitched for the Richmond Braves and Atlanta Braves
  • 2009: Pitched for the Atlanta Braves, the Rome Braves of the South Atlantic League, and Gwinnett Braves of the International League
  • October 9, 2009: Granted free agency
  • 2010: Returned to Japan to pitch for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Nippon Professional Baseball League.
  • December 2, 2010: Signed a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training with the New York Yankees.
  • 2011: Pitched for the New York Yankees, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees of the International League, and the Toros del Este of the Dominican Winter League
  • January 30, 2012: Signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves
  • 2012: Pitched for the Gwinnett Braves of the International League
  • November 3, 2012: Granted free agency
  • December 11, 2012: Signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.
  • 2013: Pitched for the Buffalo Bison of the International League
  • November 5, 2013: Granted free agency
  • February 18, 2014: Signed a minor league contract with the New York Mets
  • 2014: Pitched for the Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League and the New York Mets
  • November 4, 2014: Granted free agency
  • January 5, 2015: Signed as a free agent with the New York Mets

By my count, this is Buddy Carlyle’s 20th year in professional baseball but only the eighth year in which he pitched in the major leagues. He’s played on 26 teams for 14 different organizations in four different countries. He’s been a Red, an AlleyCat, a Lookout, a BayBear, a Star, a Padre, a Tiger, a Wrangler, a Royal, a Thunder, a Clipper, a Dodger, a 51, an Isotope, a Twin, a Brave, a Ham Fighter, a Yankee, a Toro, a Bison, and a Met.

Before last season, Carlyle had pitched 284.3 major league innings with a 5.13 ERA and 1.39 WHIP, while striking out 7.2 batters per nine and walking 3.4. Last year, at the age of 36, Carlyle found major league success by posting a 1.45 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, and 1.5 BB/9.

On Opening Day this year, the Mets were holding a 3-1 lead heading into the ninth but their closer, Jenrry Mejia, was injured with a sore elbow. Jerry Blevins got the first out of the inning, then Buddy Carlyle came in to get Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos for his first major league save. He was immediately added to nearly 2,000 fantasy baseball teams on Yahoo by ever-watchful saves scavengers. More importantly, it was a great moment for a guy who just kept plugging away at it all these years. Hat tip, Buddy Carlyle.

Tell Me There’s A Chance: World Series Odds Need To Be Fixed

Being a sports fan is hard. On average, a major league team’s chance to win the World Series in a given year is 3.3 percent. I promise the math works out. Some teams, particularly larger-market teams, may have a greater chance, but for fans of any team you are more likely to end the season sad than happy. However, in April there is hope for every team. This is an old baseball cliché, but it is also generally true!

If you look at FanGraphs’ playoff odds, every team has a chance to make it at least to the wild-card game. Even the Phillies! So the cliché is grounded in a bit of reality, as clichés usually are. On the other hand, two teams are listed as having 0.0 percent chance of winning the World Series. Those darn Phillies and the Atlanta Braves.

Let’s talk about those Braves and their chances at fortune. For purposes of this exercise, we are going to assume that the playoff odds are correct up until the playoffs actually occur. Maybe you think the Braves 3.2 percent chance of making the playoffs is pessimistic. After starting 3-0, it has jumped from 3.1 percent, so that’s something! Maybe you think that is too low (or too high), but that doesn’t matter, this exercise could be done using many bad teams. The Braves have a 3.2 percent chance of making the playoffs but a 0.0 percent chance of winning the World Series. This is very unlikely to be true.

I don’t have the statistical skills to delve into the projection models, but I believe there is a fundamental flaw that essentially double dips on poorly projected teams. The playoff odds beyond simply making the playoffs are calculated assuming each team is as good or as bad as projected. The problem with this method is that it doesn’t comport with reality. If the Braves (or the Phillies, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Brewers, Twins or Rangers) make the playoffs, it will be at least partially due to them being a much better team than the projections thought they were. Of course, the projections know that this is possible, hence the slim odds instead of no odds of making the playoffs.

For purposes of this chart, I’m going to make generous assumptions on the decimal points that we cannot see. These assumptions work against my conclusion and I believe my conclusion still holds. For percentages that are listed as 0.0, I’m going to assume 0.05. * For 0.1, I’m going to assume 0.15. And so on. These odds all come from FanGraphs projections as of Friday, April 10, 2015.

Below is a list of teams with less than a 10-percent chance of making the playoffs. Assuming they make the playoffs, based on these conservative assumptions, the odds of these teams winning the World Series are:

Team                         1 in…

Phillies                      24

Rangers                     16

Twins                         16

Diamondbacks         19

Braves                     64

White Sox                  18

Reds                            30

Brewers                      36

Rockies                       39

The three teams in the AL actually don’t look that bad. I’d say they are perhaps a little too pessimistic, but not drastically so. In the NL, the Braves are the worst example, but the Reds, Brewers, and Rockies are all clearly unrealistic considering what we know about the playoffs (that it is something, perhaps a big something, of a crapshoot). My guess is that this could be fixed by regressing the odds of each team heavily towards a typical playoff team to account for the fact that poorly projected teams that make the playoffs are likely way towards the top end of their possible outcomes. If the Braves make the playoffs, it will be largely because they are good, and probably also because they got a decent amount of luck. I’m not saying they’d be 8-1 (as a division winner) or 16-1 (as a wild card team), which is what their odds would be based on coin flips. But there is no way the Imaginary Good Braves would go into the playoffs as 64-1 longshots to win the World Series. You don’t need a calculator or anything other than common sense to know this. And remember, I used very conservative assumptions. It is likely that if I had access to more significant digits, some of these numbers would look much worse.


*The Phillies listed odds of making the NLCS are 0.0 percent. Based on this, I halved the odds for winning the NLCS and then halved them again for winning the World Series. Thus, I conservatively estimated that the FanGraphs odds for the Phillies winning the World Series are 0.0125 percent. Thanks again, Phillies, for making things harder.

Carrasco’s New Deal, and Why the Yankees Should Do the Same with Pineda

I’m about to drop a cold, hard truth-bomb…

I’m not a professional general manager.


I know your mind just exploded, but it’s true.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that if I were a general manager (again I’m really not), I would hand out a lot more contracts like the one the Cleveland Indians just gave Carlos Carrasco, 28. For those of you not familiar, they agreed on a 4 year- $22 million contract. That shakes out to $5.5 million per year.

Now Carrasco is far from a sure thing as a top of the rotation guy, but he did have an encouraging season last year. He had 9.4 K/9 and an impressive 4.83 K/BB. Also, his FIP was just 2.44, suggesting that it wasn’t a fluky season, but a sign of things to come.

While we should expect some regression to the mean with Carrasco and can’t expect him to post a 2.55 ERA over the next four seasons, all the metrics suggest that Carrasco has what it takes to be a very good starting pitcher.

This isn’t an (article? blog post? stupid collection of words?) about Carrasco, though, it’s more about the type of contract he was given. We’ve seen it before, a player in his twenties being locked up to a long-term, rather low-per-year deal. Andrew Friedman was notorious for doing this with the Rays. For example, he locked up Chris Archer to a 6 year/$25 million deal when Archer was 25. Matt Moore got a 5 year/$14 million extension at just 22. Most notably, he gave Evan Longoria a 6 year/$17.5 million extension with an upside of $44.5 million over 9. These are good deals. Andrew Friedman is smart, so Andrew Friedman made these deals. (Logic!)

Why are they smart? Well, for a small-market team like Tampa, the deals allow them to maintain their homegrown stars for a longer time and at a relatively low average salary. For a big market team like the Yankees, these deals also make sense because if the player fails, it’s not a big deal to just eat the money they owe him. For example, if the Yankees decided to give Michael Pineda an extension in the range of 4 year/$30 million (give or take x million, I can not stress enough how bad I am at projecting contracts), to kick in starting in the 2016 season, I think that would be a really smart move, for both the Yankees and Pineda.

Pineda, when not injured or poorly concealing pine tar, has been a really good pitcher. I don’t want to bore you with numbers, just kidding I do. He has a lifetime FIP of 3.16 and a 3.78 K/BB ratio in 253.1 innings. Last year, he was filthy, posting a 2.61 SIERA, 2.71 FIP, and 8.43 (!) K/BB ratio. So, yeah, when he’s not a bonehead or hurt, he’s pretty freaking good. I recognize the inherent risk he carries, but (please don’t yell at me) he has shown flashes of a pitcher who can command $100 million when he hits free agency. Having a guy with that much upside and skill through his age-30 season at just 7 to 8 million dollars per year is really a bargain. If it doesn’t work out, they’re the Yankees and can afford to eat the money. It’s not like its a huge, burdensome contract.

The deals also make sense for the players, however. Look at Carrasco, first. Last season was the first in which he did not spend any time in the minors. Sure, the way he pitched suggested that if he continued like that and hit free agency eventually, he could be taking home a big contract, but when you have had just one, albeit good, season in the majors and you are offered $22 million, you probably take it.

Same goes for Pineda. He started 28 games in 2011, then missed two full season with injuries, and only started 13 last year. Sure, he’s looked awesome, but if you were a guy with his background of injuries and uncertainty, and you were offered $30 million, I imagine you take it. The deal also allows him to hit free agency when he’s 30/31 and, if he pitches well enough, get that huge contract.

So what have we learned:
1) I’m not a general manager
2) Long term/low AAV extensions can benefit both the teams and players
3) More contracts like this should happen



Insurance in Baseball is Like a Black Hole

How much gravity does insurance have in Major League Baseball front office decisions?

Puns aside, let me tell you the funny thing about a black hole. You see astronomers cannot really see one, instead they are detected through their effects on the universe around them. Although less extreme, insurance is similar in this regard on its impact on baseball teams. Most teams insure some of their larger contracts in case their players cannot play due to an exterior factor such as injury. Perhaps the impacts of this major facet of the game does not cross our mind often because it is not eminently visible. However, make no mistake that insurance is a major factor when teams make major decisions regarding the DL, contract extensions, playing time and so on.

First, consider the history of baseball insurance to better understand why it impacts baseball. It can be said that by the late 1990s it had become common place for teams to insure their larger contracts. The first time baseball and insurance first truly started getting media attention was with Albert Belle in 2001 due to confusion over his insurance contract. Albert Belle had suffered a career-ending hip injury with the Orioles. Fans grew excited however despite the disheartening news when in 2002 the all-star slugger was added back onto the Orioles’ 40 man roster. Disappointed Orioles fans can tell you that Belle never played another MLB game however. Instead, he was added back onto the 40-man roster so the Orioles could collect insurance on his contract (some MLB insurance contracts do not cover a player unless they remain on the 40-man roster). At the time the MLB insurance contract covered the remainder of the salary owed on Belle’s contract. According to writer Michael Branda, the Orioles recovered an astounding 27.3 million out of a 39-million-dollar loss represented by Belle’s injury. Since the huge losses on Belle’s contract in the early 2000s, insurers in baseball have become much more stringent with their underwriting in baseball contracts.

Belle was not the only reason for teams being more stringent with their underwriting. The associated risks with insuring a MLB player have increased. One reason is PEDs. The MLB really did not enforce its ban on PEDs up until the late 2000s, but now being caught using PEDs can result in a significant loss in playing time. According to MLB Trade Rumors a syndicate of the MLB, Ervin Santana a first-time offender was suspended for 80 games on April 3rd of 2015. Santana was expected to make 13.5 million dollars this season. Despite being suspended, the Minnesota Twins are expected to still have to pay half of Santana’s salary (only players caught for the second time or more for steroids lose most of their salary).

To account for this insurers enforce a 60 to 90 day deductible policy in order to shield themselves from these sort of losses as well as claims made for short-term injuries. In addition to the 90 day deductible insurance policies are typically term policies of about three years with an option for renewal after the conclusion of the contract. As a result, if a contract proves to incur severe losses the liabilities will be only in the short term. Obviously to further protect themselves insurers only cover players with no preexisting injuries and all players must be inspected by the insurer. Furthermore, with wide variability and unpredictability in player health an insurer can in a way readjust its rate every three years to better reflect the player’s risk of not playing.

These more stringent underwriting practices have influenced the game, oftentimes when deciding when to take a pitcher off of the DL. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post explained it best when he talked about how in 2012 Stephen Strasburg was “shut down” during a playoff push for the Nationals due to potential health concerns. In this decision there appeared to be a delicate balance between contention and the considerations of the insurance company that would not have covered Strasburg if he had been injured due to these health concerns. It is not crazy to think that finances come into play when making a decision on baseball players. Jeff Moorad, a decision maker for the Padres explained that in 2010 Chris Young was eligible to come off the DL. The Padres ultimately chose to put Young back on the field but Moorad added, “the accounting department much preferred that he [had stayed] on the disabled list.”

Baseball insurance has grown steadily more expensive. Although it is difficult to ascertain how much a team actually spends on insurance it is clear that it can be a burden for smaller teams. For instance, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ rotation once featured the dominant starting pitcher Brandon Webb. Between 2006 and 2008 Brandon Webb made three all-star games and finished first, second and second respectively in Cy Young voting. In this span Webb also led the league in innings pitched once. In essence Webb was due for a large payday once his contract expired. However contract negotiations between Webb and the Diamondbacks hit a snag in June of 2008. Despite a track record as a durable starter, no insurance company was willing to write a policy for injury risk to the Diamondbacks hurler. The reason is because insurance companies refused to accept the risk of Webb injuring his arm or if they were willing to, they were going to charge exorbitant rates.

As a result, the Diamondbacks could not get an insurance contract that did not have an exclusion on arm, shoulder or elbow injuries, all vital and injury-prone body parts for pitchers. According to AZCentral, a news outlet that covers the Arizona Diamondbacks, due to Webb not being insurable the Diamondbacks broke off all contract negotiations. In the long run, this proved to be a smart move since ten months later after contract talks ceased Brandon Webb never pitched in the majors again due to injuries. The point of this is that not only is baseball insurance so expensive it can prove to be impractical, it shows that most insurers are unwilling to insure some pitchers. Walt Jocketty, the former general manager for the middle-market St. Louis Cardinals explained that insurance has “become so expensive that it’s a cost item we really have to look at when you put your payroll together.”

In addition to insurance contracts altering how teams manage their rosters they influence how teams treat their players. In essence there is a human side to these contracts. Consider Josh Hamilton who is in the middle of a massive five-year, 125-million-dollar contract with the Angels and who has been playing quite ineffectively relative to his salary. Josh Hamilton who recently suffered a relapse on his drug addiction before the 2015 season is a prime example of insurance influencing teams to treat their players in a way they hopefully normally would not. Despite being a repeat offender, an arbitrator chose not to suspend Hamilton for any period of time. What makes this story scandalous is the Angels’ seemingly acerbic response to this news. It appears that the Angels almost wanted Hamilton to be suspended to spare them the expense of his failed contract. Clearly the Angels have little incentive to help Hamilton recover from his addiction. Instead, it is in their interest to see that Hamilton never plays another game of baseball again because if he does not play for an extended period of time the Angels can potentially collect insurance and definitely reduce their payroll.

Insurance influences baseball more than many people may realize. When it comes to playing time, DL decisions and contract negotiations, insurance seems to be an integral piece in the decision-making process. For me though, part of what makes baseball great is the inherent competition of players, often with disregard to their own body (*cough* Adam Eaton *cough*). There is little harm of teams protecting themselves from the inherent risks of baseball players becoming injured. The risk is that insurance becomes an incentive for teams to make decisions that may be bad for the game, such as not playing players for financial gain. Let’s hope that ultimately, teams do not get engulfed into this black hole.

Hardball Retrospective – The “Original” 1999 Texas Rangers

In “Hardball Retrospective: Evaluating Scouting and Development Outcomes for the Modern-Era Franchises”, I placed every ballplayer in the modern era (from 1901-present) on their original team. Therefore, Fergie Jenkins is listed on the Phillies roster for the duration of his career while the Pirates claim Barry Bonds and the Rays declare Carl Crawford. I calculated revised standings for every season based entirely on the performance of each team’s “original” players. I discuss every team’s “original” players and seasons at length along with organizational performance with respect to the Amateur Draft (or First-Year Player Draft), amateur free agent signings and other methods of player acquisition.  Season standings, WAR and Win Shares totals for the “original” teams are compared against the “actual” team results to assess each franchise’s scouting, development and general management skills.

Expanding on my research for the book, the following series of articles will reveal the finest single-season rosters for every Major League organization based on overall rankings in OWAR and OWS along with the general managers and scouting directors that constructed the teams. “Hardball Retrospective” is available in digital format on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, GooglePlay, iTunes and KoboBooks. The print edition is coming soon. Additional information and a discussion forum are available at


OWAR – Wins Above Replacement for players on “original” teams

OWS – Win Shares for players on “original” teams

OPW% – Pythagorean Won-Loss record for the “original” teams


The 1999 Texas Rangers         OWAR: 50.4     OWS: 284     OPW%: .512

GM Tom Grieve acquired 79% (38 of 48) of the ballplayers on the 1999 Rangers roster. 38 of the 48 team members were selected through the Amateur Draft process. Based on the revised standings the “Original” 1999 Rangers placed six games behind the Mariners in the American League Western Division race. Texas (83-79) claimed the Wild Card by a one-game margin over Chicago and Kansas City.

Perennial All-Star backstop Ivan Rodriguez enhanced his trophy case with the 1999 A.L. MVP award. “Pudge” produced a .332 BA while notching career-bests in home runs (35), RBI (113), runs scored (116), base hits (199) and stolen bases (25). Rodriguez collected 13 Gold Glove Awards including 10 in consecutive seasons (1992-2001). “Slammin’” Sammy Sosa launched 63 moon-shots, drove in 141 baserunners and registered 114 tallies. Juan “Igor” Gonzalez belted 39 round-trippers, knocked in 128 runs and delivered a .328 BA after an MVP season in the previous campaign.

Fernando Tatis (.298/34/107) enjoyed a career year over at the hot corner, scoring 104 runs and swiping 21 bags. Rusty Greer clubbed 41 doubles, 20 big-flies and plated 101 baserunners while eclipsing the .300 mark for the fourth successive season. Rich Aurilia (.281/22/80) and Mike Stanley (.281/19/72) supplied additional thump towards the bottom of the lineup. Warren Morris parlayed a .288 BA and 15 long balls into a third-place finish in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

Rodriguez slots into 13th place in “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” among backstops. He certainly elevated his ranking after playing ten additional years following the publication of NBJHBA in 2001. Right fielders Sosa and Gonzalez are listed in 45th and 52th place, respectively.

Warren Morris 2B 1.71 15.4
Ivan Rodriguez C 5.22 28.63
Fernando Tatis 3B 5.05 23.74
Sammy Sosa RF 4.98 26.64
Juan Gonzalez DH/RF 2.88 24.42
Rich Aurilia SS 3.06 18.11
Rusty Greer LF 2.32 21.03
Mike Stanley 1B 1.82 13.67
Terrell Lowery CF -0.17 3.21
Rey Sanchez SS 2.59 11.29
Jose Hernandez SS 2.3 16.33
Dean Palmer 3B 1.04 16.71
Hanley Frias SS 0.22 4.42
Edwin Diaz 2B 0.17 0.62
Kevin L. Brown C 0.12 0.58
Jon Shave SS 0.09 1.98
Bill Haselman C -0.04 3.84
Jeff Frye 2B -0.13 2.35
Ruben Mateo CF -0.26 1.9
Kelly Dransfeldt SS -0.26 0.8
Chad Kreuter C -0.58 3.51

Kevin J. Brown, the undisputed ace of the Texas rotation, compiled a record of 18-9 with a 3.00 ERA, 1.066 WHIP and 221 strikeouts. The balance of the starting staff submitted sub-par efforts in contrast to their career norms. Jeff Zimmerman (9-3, 2.36) fashioned a 0.833 WHIP and received an invitation to the Mid-Summer Classic during his rookie campaign.

Kevin J. Brown SP 5.54 19.92
Darren Oliver SP 3.94 12.45
Rick Helling SP 3.78 12.52
Kenny Rogers SP 2.97 11.57
Wilson Alvarez SP 1.89 9.95
Jeff Zimmerman RP 3.67 14.64
Mike Venafro RP 1.19 7.36
Mark Petkovsek RP 0.84 9.49
Terry Mathews RP 0.31 2.54
Danny Kolb RP 0.13 1.9
Brian Bohanon SP 1.63 9.68
Ryan Dempster SP 1.45 6.98
Jim Brower SP 0.42 1.87
Robb Nen RP 0.07 7.89
Danny Patterson RP -0.08 2.64
Mike Cather RP -0.17 0
Corey Lee RP -0.2 0
Jonathan Johnson RP -0.26 0
Bobby Witt SP -0.28 4.52
Billy Taylor RP -0.3 5.54
Dan Smith SP -0.34 1.73
Tony Fossas RP -0.39 0
Ryan Glynn SP -0.42 0
Scott Eyre RP -0.66 0
Doug Davis RP -0.66 0
Julio Santana SP -1 0.17
Matt Whiteside RP -1.1 0

The “Original” 1999 Texas Rangers roster

NAME POS WAR WS General Manager Scouting Director
Kevin Brown SP 5.54 19.92 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Ivan Rodriguez C 5.22 28.63 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Fernando Tatis 3B 5.05 23.74 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Sammy Sosa RF 4.98 26.64 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Darren Oliver SP 3.94 12.45 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Rick Helling SP 3.78 12.52 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Jeff Zimmerman RP 3.67 14.64 Doug Melvin Chuck McMichael
Rich Aurilia SS 3.06 18.11 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Kenny Rogers SP 2.97 11.57 Eddie Robinson Joe Klein
Juan Gonzalez RF 2.88 24.42 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Rey Sanchez SS 2.59 11.29 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Rusty Greer LF 2.32 21.03 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Jose Hernandez SS 2.3 16.33 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Wilson Alvarez SP 1.89 9.95 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Mike Stanley 1B 1.82 13.67 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Warren Morris 2B 1.71 15.4 Doug Melvin
Brian Bohanon SP 1.63 9.68 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Ryan Dempster SP 1.45 6.98 Doug Melvin Sandy Johnson
Mike Venafro RP 1.19 7.36 Doug Melvin Sandy Johnson
Dean Palmer 3B 1.04 16.71 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Mark Petkovsek RP 0.84 9.49 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Jim Brower SP 0.42 1.87 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Terry Mathews RP 0.31 2.54 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Hanley Frias SS 0.22 4.42 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Edwin Diaz 2B 0.17 0.62 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Danny Kolb RP 0.13 1.9 Doug Melvin Sandy Johnson
Kevin Brown C 0.12 0.58 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Jon Shave SS 0.09 1.98 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Robb Nen RP 0.07 7.89 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Bill Haselman C -0.04 3.84 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Danny Patterson RP -0.08 2.64 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Jeff Frye 2B -0.13 2.35 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Terrell Lowery CF -0.17 3.21 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Mike Cather RP -0.17 0 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Corey Lee RP -0.2 0 Doug Melvin
Ruben Mateo CF -0.26 1.9 Doug Melvin Sandy Johnson
Jonathan Johnson RP -0.26 0 Doug Melvin Sandy Johnson
Kelly Dransfeldt SS -0.26 0.8 Doug Melvin
Bobby Witt SP -0.28 4.52 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Billy Taylor RP -0.3 5.54 Eddie Robinson
Dan Smith SP -0.34 1.73 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Tony Fossas RP -0.39 0 Eddie Robinson
Ryan Glynn SP -0.42 0 Doug Melvin Sandy Johnson
Chad Kreuter C -0.58 3.51 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Scott Eyre RP -0.66 0 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Doug Davis RP -0.66 0 Doug Melvin
Julio Santana SP -1 0.17 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson
Matt Whiteside RP -1.1 0 Tom Grieve Sandy Johnson

Honorable Mention

The “Original” 2001 Rangers              OWAR: 48.4     OWS: 278     OPW%: .513

Sosa shredded opposition pitching to the tune of a .328 BA while launching 64 moon-shots, registering 160 RBI and scoring a League-best 146 runs. Aurilia delivered career-bests with a .324 BA, 37 dingers, 97 ribbies and 114 tallies as he topped the circuit with 206 safeties. Gonzalez swatted 35 big-flies and knocked in 140 baserunners. Zimmerman notched 28 saves and Brown furnished a 2.65 ERA in 19 starts.

On Deck

The “Original” 1924 Senators

References and Resources

Baseball America – Executive Database


James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York, NY.: The Free Press, 2001. Print.

James, Bill, with Jim Henzler. Win Shares. Morton Grove, Ill.: STATS, 2002. Print.

Retrosheet – Transactions Database

Seamheads – Baseball Gauge

Sean Lahman Baseball Archive