Senin, 28 November 2011

Who Could Be the Next Astros GM?

Sometime late Sunday night, the Houston Astros dismissed General Manager Ed Wade, who had been with the team since the end of the 2007 season. Since 2008 the team has gone 292-355, losing 106 games in 2011. The farm system is basically shot, and if any team in MLB needs a transfusion of new ideologies, it's Houston. It looked like the 'Stros had a budding dynasty as recently as six or seven years ago, but they have become, in that short of a time, the worst franchise in MLB.

Fortunately, with new owner Ed Crane in town, the team will have a shot to bring in some life. Sunday saw the departures of Wade and longtime president Tal Smith. Once a new GM is decided, manager Brad Mills and his coaching staff are believed to be on the chopping block as well.

There has been quite a bit of front office shuffling so far this offseason, with Baltimore, Minnesota, and Anaheim revamping their GM position, and Boston, San Diego and the Cubs entering a weird dance that saw three GMs and a President be appointed. The game is stocked with GMs-in waiting, and the Astros will have a tough decision to make, as there are many people in the game right now who are very qualified to take that job.

Here I will look at some of the most qualified people that the Astros should be looking at. I've broken the list into four categories: in-house options, current GMs, former GMs, and executives who have never been GMs. Let's start with the former.

In-House Options

David Gottfried: If anybody in the Astros organization deserves the job, it's Assistant and Interim GM David Gottfried. He has a long history of various management positions in the game, through the AFL and the minors, and has served in various capacities as an assistant at the major league level. One drawback to Gottfried is that his background is in delegation, not evaluation. With no real experience in either type of player evaluation (standard scouting or statistical analysis), Gottfried is not expected to hold the job, or even really be in competition for it.

Current General Managers

Andrew Friedman: Tampa Bay Rays GM Friedman is really the only option here, as most of the GMs in unstable positions have already moved around by now. Friedman is unanimously considered a top-few GM in all of professional sport, and quite possibly the best in all of baseball. He has experience in player development, is an incredibly smart man, has experience building teams, and even has Houston roots. In short, he would be perfect for the job, and you have to think that if Crane could just give it to anybody, it would be Friedman. In fact, he's the first man to whom they have obtained permission to speak. It is not impossible that he leaves Tampa Bay, but is also not likely. He has turned down many offers in the past, including several this offseason, some of which he has even declined to interview for. If there is a job in baseball that Friedman would take, one has to believe it would be Houston, but he has shown nothing but a desire to remain in Tampa in the past.

Former General Managers:

Gerry Hunsicker: Hunsicker should be a popular choice with the fans, because the last time he was a GM, he did his damndest to build a dynasty while serving as Astros GM from 1995-2004. He resigned following the 2004 season as his relationship when the then-owner Drayton McLane corroded, and has spent the last few seasons as a senior executive with the brilliantly-run Rays front office, and between the fact that he's done it before and the fact that he's hanging with the uber-modern guys with the Rays, there's no reason to not want him back. Will he want to come back to the Astros with a new ownership group?

Allard Baird: Baird had a less-than-successful stint with the Royals from 2000-2006, but has hung around the game (he is now with Boston), and has a history with classic evaluation, having served as head of both scouting and player personnel while with Boston since his dismissal from the Royals. Baird doesn't bring anything new to the table, but he's experienced in evaluation and in the front office game, if the Astros want to go that way.

JP Ricciardi: If it were up to me, Ricciardi would never sniff my GM chair. He proved slow to adapt and PR challenged while in Toronto, but he remains one of the most respected pure evaluators in the game. He has a broad resume encompassing stops as a coach and scout, but was also one of the 'moneyball' minds under Sandy Alderson, along with Beane, DePodesta et al. He was the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays from the end of 2001 until the end of 2009, and while he was incredibly efficient at first, he failed to adapt to the changing dynamics of the game, alienated players and personnel alike, and ultimately proved ineffective. Currently, he serves as a special assistant under Alderson with the Mets. He has had his issues, but is a great evaluator, has experience as a GM, and has made clear his intentions to get back to the top of a baseball front office.

Non-General Managers

This will be a quick list of my top-five candidates among those who have never held the position before:

1. Rick Hahn. Hahn is a graduate of Harvard Law, has served in virtually every capacity in baseball management, from agent to his current position of White Sox Assistant GM. He has been considered
the top GM prospect for several years.

2. Tony LaCava. LaCava won the Orioles GM job before refusing it this fall. He currently serves as VP and Assistant GM in Toronto, a great front office program. His background is in player development, which should appeal to Houston, as that is what they need to do. He has been a scout, development director, and has been an assistant GM since 2007.

3. Thad Levine. Levine is an MBA out of UCLA, and is similar to Rick Hahn in his experience. He has been an ace contract negotiator and transaction expert for the Rockies before joining the Rangers as assistant GM in 2005, a position he currently occupies.

4. AJ Preller. The Texas front office works so well because they have a two-headed monster of executives under GM Jon Daniels. To counter Levine's knowledge of the on-paper front office game, they employ Preller, one of the top scouts and player development guys in the industry. He works in amateur, professional and international scouting, has experience in administration (in the AFL), and currently serves as the Rangers' Senior Director of Player Personnel.

5. David Forst. Another Harvard grad, Forst has an extensive background in scouting and player development. He has worked under Athletics GM Billy Beane for ten years, and the last six as assistant GM.

Honorable mentions:

Nationals Assistant GM Bryan Minnity: In 2009 when Washington hired him away from his job as Pirates Director of Baseball Operations, they had this to say in the release: "With the Pirates, Minniti's focuses included rules compliance, transactions, budgeting and contract negotiations. Minnity graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a double major in Mathematics and Statistics."

MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Kim Ng: Former Dodgers' Assistant GM, Ng is one of the most respected 'paper' people in baseball. Her knowledge of the rules of transactions, as well as her reputation as an elite arbitration executive has her constantly surfacing in GM talks.

Royals Assistant GM JJ Picollo: was a serious piece in the Braves front office that developed such an assembly line of talent in the early-mid 2000s as their farm director.


If I had to choose for the Astros, I would pick Lacava for his player development history, but there are a lot of interesting options out there for Houston, and it should be interesting to see who they go with.

Minggu, 27 November 2011

Could Japan's Next Star Be... Wily Mo Pena?

We learned last weekend that Wily Mo Pena has signed on to play for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball. Pena, 29, has always been kind of an odd story, and him going to Japan is just something of another interesting chapter in his tale.

Pena came up with the Reds way back in 2002, just 20 years old at the time, and showed tons of potential. He slugged .527 as a bench player in 2004, and fans of the teams for which he played will remember his prodigious power.

Red Sox fans will remember that he was shipped to Boston in exchange for Bronson Arroyo (who has since thrown 1300 innings and posted 13 WAR) before the 2006 season. Unfortunately for Pena, he was blocked by an outfield that included Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon, then JD Drew at the corners, and never did develop the plate patience the Red Sox had hoped for. He was flipped to the Nationals in mid-2007 but didn’t stick there, and has since bounced around the organizations of the Mets, Padres, Diamondbacks and Mariners.

For a guy who once hit .300 and once hit 26 home runs, it is surprising that Pena has never been able to find a home, but a mediocre glove and a run of bad luck have prevented him from realizing what we all thought was big potential (three-time Baseball America top-100 prospect) – he suffered various nagging injuries and was constantly held back by teams stocked with veteran outfielders.

Pena, however, will now have a shot to make an impact somewhere in pro baseball. What I am interested in finding out is what kind of player he can be in Japan – and I think it’ll be quite a good one.

Pena can hit – that was never really a question. He was a little short on patience, but, by and large, he always had the tools. I mentioned that that he’d bounced around after leaving Boston, but during that time, when he was serving as an org player (an up-and-down, Quadruple-A type), he still hit: he has a .278/.343/.483 career batting line at Triple-A, and this year went .358/.440/.712 in 332 PAs. I believe he can hit now as well as he ever did, and for that reason, for the conversions, I will be using his career line of .250/.303/.445. Yes, his numbers in the majors have been awful of late, but between his great Triple-A numbers and the Jeremy Giambi effect, there is plenty of reason to believe he is still that guy that can hit 460-foot homers if you throw him anything belt-high.

With an assist to Jim Albright, I’ve worked out the modifications for batting average, OBP, and SLG: 1.144, 1.098, and 1.333, respectively. When applied to Pena’s MLB numbers, this makes him a .286/.333/.593 hitter in Japan – he could OPS over .900 over there.

I like these conversions for one main reason, and that is the nature of Japanese pitchers. They have a habit of being fine, of keeping to the edges of the plate, and I think that this will suit Pena fine. He makes his living off of mistake pitches, and mistakes happen no matter where you’re trying to throw. I also think that this approach will probably exploit his main weakness at the plate, his lack of discipline, so unless he hits 40 homers over there and earns some mad respect walks, I don’t see his OBP climbing too sharply.

Pena’s career path has been one of the most twisted, convoluted and tumultuous you’re going to see from a guy who’s never had serious injury or off-field problems, and it should prove interesting to watch him perform for Fukuoka. Nothing is guaranteed in baseball, not in the Majors, and not in Japan, but hopefully Wily Mo Pena has finally found a place where he can be a star.

Breakout, Bust, or Rebound?: Part Five- David Freese

Some could argue that it's hard to "break out" when you win a World Series MVP en route to aiding your team in winning another title, but David Freese definitely qualifies as a candidate to break out in 2012.  There are a lot of things to consider with Freese.  He never appeared on any high prospect lists, and he was extremely late coming into the major leagues, but there is something to be said about a guy who gets it done at every level.    A career .915 OPS in the minors, with a consistent ability to hit for average, draw walks, and hit for a good amount of power is something that stands out no matter where a prospect is ranked.  Freese is nothing special defensively, but he's average at a pretty important position: third base.  An average fielding third baseman who has multiple offensive skills is going to be highly valuable in the bigs.  So what's the problem?  Why is Freese even eligible as a breakout candidate going into 2012 if he's got all of these tools and is going to be 29 years old by opening day?

Well, he was moved around a lot in the minors to start.  Freese was drafted by the Padres in the 9th round of the 2006 MLB draft, and he bounced around a lot in the minors.  The Padres had Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff in the organization, and after practicing at catcher with the Padres (despite not appearing at the position in any games) he was traded to the Cardinals for Center Fielder Jim Edmonds.  My oh my, how Cardinal fans probably hated that trade at the time.  Anyway, Freese moved into the Cardinals' system, and after Troy Glaus went down with an injury prior to Opening Day 2009, Freese got the call up and made his debut, coming off the bench and hitting a go-ahead sac fly against the Pirates.  For some reason, Brian Barden and Joe Thurston won starting time at third, and he was assigned to AAA Memphis.

Then the injuries started.  Freese had ankle surgery shortly after being demoted.  Then in 2010 after winning the job at third, he suffered another ankle injury, which required two surgeries and ended his season after 70 games.  In 2011, the terrible luck continued as he was hit by a pitch that fractured his left hand, forcing him to miss two months.  So this is where Freese stands.  He is in an awkward position.  He's got a World Series MVP, but has not really done much in Major League Baseball.  He has yet to record 400 PA, but he has all the ability in the world.  This leads me to believe that Freese is going to break out in 2012.

Real Life Value to the Cardinals

David Freese is a great guy to look at for the study of well-hit balls.  To explain why, here are some of his career rates:

7.0% BB/ 21.1% K/ .131 ISO/ .356 BABIP/ 12.1% HR/FB

Now, those rates suggest a few things.  Firstly, he's not going to walk a ton in the majors, but he's going to walk enough to suffice.  His patience is good enough to make it so he's not an easy out for wild pitchers.    He doesn't swing and miss a lot (only 9.6% on an average), and he only swings on pitches out of the zone 27% of the time.  Secondly, the .131 ISO isn't fantastic, but it's decently close to average.  Considering that Freese has limited playing time and has had problems with injuries, I'd say a .131 ISO is a good sign.  The last thing to look at here is the astronomical BABIP.  David Freese isn't a speed guy, so why is he getting so many hits on balls put into play?  Well, let's look at his career BIP splits:

22.9% LD/ 50.5% GB/ 26.6% FB

Well that explains a bit of the less-than-awesome ISO and the extremely high BABIP rates.  Freese hits a ton of line drives and ground balls.  Normally this is a less-than-great offensive outcome, but Freese has one advantage that I draw from my research with Inside Edge: he hits the ball hard A LOT.  Freese had a well hit percentage north of 35% (where the average is 27%).  More astounding is the fact that he hits so many balls hard while hitting so many ground balls.  Most ground ball hitters do not record a lot of well hit balls, and a .131 ISO as a result of that is certainly unexpected.  What this suggests is that Freese is what I would call a "doubles hitter."  He doesn't hit the ball in the air a lot, but he consistently makes good contact, doesn't swing and miss a lot, but won't hit a lot of home runs.  Knowing a bit more about his offensive approach, let's look at what Freese did in limited time in 2011:

363 PA/ .297 BA/ .350 OBP/ .441 SLG/ 6.6% BB/ 20.7% K/ .144 ISO/ 122 wRC+/ 2.7 fWAR

I bet nobody thought Freese was as good in 2011 as he was.  Before getting hurt, he actually was hitting .320 and was on a torrid offensive pace.  I have been skeptical of Freese in the past, mainly because of when he broke into the bigs and his lack of playing time, but there's no reason not to like him.  He displays average defense, average base running, and good offense for a weak modern 3rd base position.  With his current offensive skillset and more time to display it (injury free of course), this is what I would expect out of Freese in 2012:

640 PA/ .310 BA/ .374 OBP/ .471 SLG/ .845 OPS (131 OPS+)/ 4.3 fWAR

Fantasy Value

Having David Freese in fantasy is like balancing an egg on a spoon.  Everything goes well, then you trip and fall and the egg breaks, putting it on the DL for a couple months or a year.  That's the biggest problem with Freese going forward: his injury history is brutal.  Despite that, let's look at what Freese gave to the traditional 5x5 system in 2011 in 363 plate appearances:

.297 BA/ 41 runs/ 10 HR/ 55 RBI/ 1 SB

Not bad.  Over a full season, that's roughly a .300 BA with 80 runs, 100 RBI, and a couple of steals (although you don't draft him for those).  Freese did a lot of damage early in the year when he was really hot and healthy, and he was really good late in the season after he was given some time to come back and play. He capped it all off with an epic performance in the World Series.  However, health isn't the only issue with Freese going into next year.  The players around him are what I would consider highly volatile from a fantasy projection standpoint.  For now, we'll assume Pujols comes back, but Holliday is dealt with some pretty significant wrist issues in the playoffs, and Lance Berkman sure is not likely to produce like he did in 2011 (or is he?  You'll have to wait and see when I predict his future).  In short: David Freese has a lot of fantasy upside for 2012, but also could fail for reasons outside of his ability level.

With all of that being said, Freese's offensive ability is good enough and the talent around him is good enough for me to expect him to have a very good 2012 fantasy campaign.  In a traditional 5x5, you could see something like this from Freese:

.310 BA/ 82 Runs/ 21 HR/ 106 RBI/ 1 SB

That's a really, really good fantasy third baseman.  With the position being as brittle as it currently is, this would be the ideal guy to "steal" late in a fantasy draft.  Depending on your league and what Yahoo! decides to do with rankings, Freese might end up being a little more highly slotted in the draft than one would expect.  Because of his injury risk and lack of sustained past success, I expect him to be a guy that is acceptable to take around the 10th round in a 12 team league (this is hard to predict because I don't know if rankers will see the upside in Freese that I do).  However, with a weak third base position where the elite guys will be gone in the first couple of rounds (Longoria, Zimmerman, etc), Freese is a great guy to target.  If you can't get him in the draft, do your best to trade for him, because he's got upside like nobody else.

David Freese will break out in 2012.

Bonus What Are They Worth? Carlos Beltran

The tortured artist never leaves his muse, and it is for that reason that I am returning to my award-winning series, What Are They Worth?, an examination of the top free agents and their contract situation going forward. Having completed examinations of the top five, I'd like to take a look at one of the more interesting cases on the market this winter: that of Carlos Beltran.

Remember when you thought Carlos Beltran was a future Hall of Famer? Me neither. But, we are all aware that he was, at one point, an elite player. His career was derailed, to a degree, ove rthe last few years. He played in just 81 games in 2009, 64 in 2010, and was shifted to right field as a result of his omnipresent knee issue in 2011. He had a bit of a resurgence, however, posting some very good hitting numbers over 140 games for the Mets and Giants, and garnered enough faith for Brian Sabean to trade his top pitching prospect, Zach Wheeler, to New York to acquire the slugging outfielder.

Beltran is an interesting case because, as good of a season as he had (.300/.385/.525), his career has experienced a vast swing, from one of the best players in the game in the mid-2000s to an injured, but generally-still-effective, though much-maligned aging star. It's a career arc that we've seen countless times, but the thing that makes Beltran's case interesting is the fact that he could very well be poised to be a serious contributor again.

So, what can we expect from Beltran in 2012? In his prime, Beltran was one of the most complete players on the planet, a 40-40 threat and annual CF Gold Glove contender. As such, I will look at all three facets of his game, the running, the fielding, and the hitting.

The Running Game

Beltran's knees are pretty well shot at this point. 2004 was a long time ago, and Beltran can't be expected to surprise anybody on the basepaths. He went 4/6 in steal attempts in 2011, and it's probably best that, whatever he has left in those legs, its usage is kept to a minimum. They didn't bother him too much in 2011, so it's not as if he's likely to improve. I can't envision a scenario in which he reaches double-digits in steals, but you can safely pencil him in for a few. Where value is concerned, however, you can safely jot him down as a zero in the baserunning category.

The Glove

There was a time when Andruw Jones was the greatest defensive CF, probably in the history of the game. Guys like Ken Griffey Jr, heralded athletes, could only strive to emulate him. Among that group of second-tier defenders, however, was Carlos Beltran. From 1999-2009 he accumulated 71 fielding runs, an impressive total. He was gifted with speed and athleticism, but also made an effort to be an intelligent outfielder; take good routes, make smart breaks. After tearing his knees up in recent years, however, all that is left is those mental tools. He's not slow, but he probably doesn't have the physical ability to play center field any more. In 2011 the Mets moved him to right field, and he proved capable. The defensive metrics gave him from -5 to +2, so to call him average would be about accurate.

He's injury prone and he's slower than he once was, but he's got the mental ability to play an adequate right field. I would absolutely trust him with 150 games in right, and probably even let him play a little center if I had to. He's not embarrassing himself out there. I will predict for 2012 a -1 fielding value, based on his average (or a hair worse) scores in 2011, and the fact that he will be 35 in 2012. He is certainly capable of more, but he's probably capable of worse as well. A -1, or roughly average score is fair.

The Bat

This is the facet of Beltran's game that makes him an appealing free agent. He posted a 152 OPS+ last season, a huge year. Over the previous years, he compiled a 129 OPS+. The dude can hit, and 2011 was no fluke -- for the most part. His babip was slightly elevated (.324, career norm of .303), but his power peripherals (HR/FB), looked great, even lower than they should have been. I don't think a .280 batting average is out of the question for him, and his batting eye (which, if the old song is right, is not connected to the knee bone) should help him produce an OBP in the neighborhood of .355, .360.

His power, too, should prove interesting. he hit 22 home runs last season, but he spent four months in METCO Park, where home runs go to die. If he plays 145-150 games next season, he should be able to get to 20 home runs. In 2011 he hit 172 fly balls, 12.9% of which went for home runs (22). His career norm in this field is over 15%. If he had had that rate in 2011, he would have hit 26 homers. It's obviously impossible to tell how many plate appearances he will have next year; how many fly balls he will hit, and how many of them will go for home runs, but all of the data points to him being able to clear 20 jacks with ease. A .500 SLG is not guaranteed, but is very much within reason, and a .475 seems very likely.

For what it's worth, Bill James is estimating a season of .279/.369/.480 for Beltran, very similar to what I've estimated here. If my math is right, and it always is, this is approximately a value of 30, based on TangoTiger's batting runs. For reference, Beltran had 39 batting runs in 2011. Another way to do it would be to look at his peak batting production (averaging about 25 runs per season), and use the aging weights (.78 for a 35-year-old), giving us 20 runs. Something between 20 and 25 seems most likely to me, and this gives us a total value of:

23 batting runs, -1 fielding runs, -8 positional value (in RF), 17 runs over replacement, for a total of 31 runs, or about 3.4 wins. For the coming seasons this means his value (and remember, this is all assuming he stays healthy), will be:

2012: 3.4
2013: 3.2
2014: 3.0

This means that, with the current valuation of a win, Beltran might be deserving of a contract in excess of $15 MM AAV (average annual value). I'm not prepared to guess as to how many years he will get, but it will probably be 2-3. Based on these evaluations there is certainly a case to be made for offering him a 2-year, $30 MM deal, depending on the risk you are willing to assume as a GM.

Sabtu, 26 November 2011

Breakout, Bust, or Rebound?: Part Four- Ryan Vogelsong

There are some pretty major and memorable breakout seasons in Major League Baseball.  Guys like Brady Anderson come out of nowhere and explode onto the scene, dominating over the course of the season.  In 2011, there was one individual who came out of nowhere, seemingly with no background, and got some of the best end results in the majors.  That player's name is Ryan Vogelsong.  Before getting into what he did in 2011 or what he did in the future, it is important to understand where he came from.  Vogelson was selected in the 5th round of the 1998 MLB draft.  The top 10 in that draft consisted of Pat Burrell, Mark Mulder, Corey Patterson, Jeff Austin, J.D. Drew, Ryan Mills, Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, Sean Burroughs, and Carlos Pena.    Vogelsong made his debut at 22 years old, making a few relief appearances for the Giants, but was quickly flipped over to Pittsburgh in a trade for then-dominant starter Jason Schmidt.  Vogelsong then did not pitch a full season in the bigs until he was 26, where he pitched 133 innings and recorded a 6.50 ERA.  After failing with the Pirates, Vogelsong headed over to the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan, where he played for the Hanshin Tigers.

Things did not go any better for Vogelsong over in Japan.  He pitched as a starter the first few years, only pitching more than 15 starts once.  His only season with 100 or more innings was in 2007, where he recorded a 4.13 ERA and a 2.22 K/BB ratio.  Despite having no success in MLB, no success in the minors, and no success in Japan, the San Francisco Giants decided to give Ryan Vogelsong a shot prior to 2011.

Somehow....some worked...or did it?

Ryan Vogelsong's 2011 sure worked well by end results, but that doesn't tell enough of a story.  Because we here at the blog want to focus on the process rather than the end results, here are some simple numbers for Vogelsong juxtaposed to his career averages:

2011: 6.96 K/9/ 3.06 BB/9/ .280 BABIP/ 8.2 HR/FB%
Career: 6.46 K/9/ 3.91 BB/9/ .297 BABIP/ 8.4 HR/FB%

Vogelsong wasn't that great in 2011.  For a starter, his K rate was not good, his BB rate was average at best, he saw a near 20 point benefit in BABIP compared to his normal years, and his HR/FB ratio was nearly what his career norm is, despite the fact that he was pitching in a larger ballpark where that ratio should be lower given the same overall skillset.  However, we won't stop here.  Let's look more into what he did last year versus his career.  After all, not everything is attributed to luck:

2011: 20.4% LD/ 45.6% GB/ 34.0% FB/ 4.04 tERA/ 3.97 SIERA
Career: 21.8% LD/ 40.7% GB/ 37.4% FB/ 4.88 tERA/ 4.56 SIERA

So not everything Vogelsong did in 2011 was based in luck.  He produced better statistics in what I would call a "second-tier process" level.  These are statistics that aren't directly dependent on the pitcher, but they are darn close (the only ones being more dependent in my opinion being walks, strikeouts, and how hard a ball is hit off the bat).  He was able to gather many more ground balls, didn't see a drastically low dip in his line drive percentage, and his decreased FB% numbers in a bigger ballpark would really suggest that his HR/FB ratio drop more, so maybe he got a bit unlucky in that regard.  Here is a look at his individual pitches in 2011:

Fastball: 16.3
Cutter: -8.0
Curve: 4.2
Changeup: -1.0

There are a couple of interesting things present when you look at Vogelsong's career win values for each of his pitches.  Firstly, according to fangraphs' data which feeds from Baseball Info Solutions, Vogelsong ditched his slider and focused on the above 4 pitch arsenal.  His fastball was very good in 2011, which suggests he was able to control it and use it as a base.  However, he was not successful at all in throwing his cutter and changeup off of it.  In fact, the curveball was the only thing saving Vogelsong from having one good pitch in his arsenal.  In his previous years in MLB, Vogelsong's curveball was one of his worst pitches, and in 2011, it was solidly his 2nd best pitch.  However, with only a fastball and a curveball (Inside Edge data suggests the same thing BIS does), Vogelsong's projected success isn't very high, especially with a weak strikeout rate and an average walk rate.

Ryan Vogelsong is likely to be a bust next year.

Real Life Value to the Giants

As was the case with analyzing Justin Verlander's MVP case, his ERA matters, but not a whole lot.  Looking at the breakdown in the above 2011 statistics shows that Vogelsong's raw 2.71 ERA is nice, especially over a career high in innings (180).  However, every time you break it down more, the number just looks less impressive.  Firstly, he pitched a lot in San Francisco, which is a pitcher's friend.  He posted an ERA+ of 132, along with a 2.28 K/BB ratio.  As mentioned before, his K rate wasn't impressive, his walk rate was average for a starter, and he didn't do anything better, save for getting more ground balls and fewer fly balls.  These numbers are scary for projecting what will happen in the future, and it doesn't get any better when you compare his 80.4% Left On Base percentage against his 69.9% career average.  LOB% is a good metric to look at, because unless a pitcher somehow "learns" to more effectively record outs, this percentage should remain fairly constant.  In theory, a pitcher is being an idiot if he "buckles down" as a pitcher in "clutch" situations.  He should be attempting to pitch at that level all of the time, unless he does it in a way that would hurt his arm (such as an increased velocity in pressure situations).  From fangraphs, Vogelsong provided roughly 2.4 wins in value, which is extremely lackluster when you compare it to his raw ERA that was just north of 2.70.  Here's a look at what Vogelson produced overall to the Giants in 2011:

179.2 IP/ 2.71 ERA (132 ERA+)/ 6.96 K/9/ 3.06 BB/9/ 2.4 fWAR

Going forward, there isn't a lot going in Vogelsong's favor.  He got better at limiting walks and producing ground balls, but that really was it.  For the ballpark he pitched in, it would be hard to see him producing extremely well over the course of a full season again.  He had a career high in innings pitched in 2011, which is another red flag, because none of his other seasons were even close.  With that being said, here's what I predict for Ryan Vogelsong in 2012:

140 IP/ 3.58 ERA (106 ERA+)/ 6.40 BB/9/ 3.58 BB/9/ 1.3 fWAR

Fantasy Value

This is the segment of the program where we flip over to the more traditional mindset and look at what Vogelsong means for a fantasy team.  Using a 5x5 system, this is what Vogelsong did for fantasy teams in 2011:

13 Wins/ 2.71 ERA/ 139 K/ 0 SV/ 1.252 WHIP

Now, those are decent numbers, but let's think this through a little bit.  If not using a traditional 5x5 setup, you can include stats like K/BB (2.28), 1 complete game, 1 shutout, he pitched 180 innings and made 28 starts.  If you have an innings cap or a starts cap, it gets to be a little bit iffy on the "how often should I pitch Vogelsong" chart.  A few things to remember going forward: he pitches behind an atrocious offense, his ERA is likely to climb despite being in a large park, he doesn't strike out a lot of guys (only 100+ in one season in his career), and his WHIP is not good at all for a fantasy team.  Ryan Vogelsong was a great boost in 2011 to a team trying to propel itself over the top, but he wasn't worth much of anything in a fantasy league last year.  The ERA is nice, but the wins were highly unexpected, the strikeouts were above average but not elite, and the future does not look good at all, really.  That being said, here's what I predict out of Vogelsong for 2011 (remember, I predict 140 innings pitched):

8 wins/ 3.58 ERA/ 100 K/ 0 SV/ 1.295 WHIP

Ew.  Those numbers are not good at all in a fantasy setting.  Not a lot of wins, completely average ERA, average strikeout total, and a WHIP that won't win you anything.  Vogelsong simply isn't an attractive fantasy option.  Quite frankly, the way he is viewed in 2012 should be somewhat similar to the way he was viewed going into 2011.  He wasn't on anyone's fantasy radar until he had multiple starts and showed some kind of competency.  A good strategy, if you are into risks, would be to draft Vogelsong in the later rounds and try to swap him for someone you feel has a lot more upside.  Sell the fact that Vogelsong did what he did for end results in 2011, and maybe someone will bite on that ERA that is unlikely to be repeated.  Otherwise, maybe take him in the last couple of rounds to see if dumb luck can repeat itself.  I don't think he's bad enough to completely fall off the table, but it sure is an attractive option considering the fact that he had no track record prior to the 2011 season.  He didn't see any kind of increased fastball velocity, and his alternate pitches were pretty mediocre and lackluster.  The aforementioned mediocre K rate and average BB rate does not serve his projected ability well, and I will be inclined to avoid him in the draft altogether, especially given the reports available for a lot of other mid-tier starting pitchers.

Ryan Vogelson will probably bust in 2012.

Derek Norris is Awesome

There's not real rhyme or reason to this post, I just feel like writing about a prospect with whom many of you may not be familiar, and whom Baseball-Intellect called 'one of the best prospects you've never heard of': Nationals catcher Derek Norris.

The interesting thing about Norris is that, as much as I love him, he is seriously short on classic tools for a legitimate prospect: He's hit .249 across the low majors, hasn't displayed any speed at all, and is generally rated lukewarm by scouts and scouting organizations: he was the #72 prospect by Baseball America before 2011.

Norris was rather unheralded out of high school, when he was selected by the Nationals in the fourth round with the 130th overall pick in the 2007 draft. Since then he's done nothing but put up great numbers.

Overshadowed by super prospects Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, et al, Norris has quietly put together quite a resume for a 22-year-old catcher. Here is what we can see in him:

Offensively, there is a lot to like. He has outstanding bat speed and ridiculous recognition: as a result he punishes pitches left up. He puts that recognition to good use by being one of the most patient hitters in professional baseball. In 2011 he only hit .210, but he had a .367 OBP. In 2010 he hit .235 but had a .419 OBP. The cause of this is an insane walk rate: in 2011 at Double-A Harrisburg he walked 18.2% of the time. The only man in MLB close to that this year was Jose Bautista.

His power is impressive as well: He cleared 20 homers for the second time in his pro career in 2011, adding to his career SLG of .458. Between the insane plate discipline and the plus power, Norris profiles as a solid offensive contributor: he had a 129 wRC+ in 2011.

His one weakness at the plate is a poor ability to make solid contact: he is, as mentioned, a career .249 hitter. When combined with his batters' eye and his power, however, if he hits .230, it won't matter, because he's still capable of an .800 OPS, assuming he continues to develop.

He has more question marks defensively. His arm is outstanding, and he has a career 47% caught-stealing rate, including 40% in 2011 at Double-A. His arm strength is moderate, but he has a quick release and an accurate throw that will make him dangerous to run on at the major league level.

Behind the plate he has his shortcomings. His game-calling has not drawn rave reviews, and he allows his share of passed balls (15 in 2011), but it should be noted that he has basically learned the position as a professional -- he was converted to catcher in his senior year, and he has made enormous strides.

Most recently, Norris has been hitting in the Arizona Fall League, putting up a .276/.367/.382 line in 21 games.

Norris will turn 23 in February and possibly start 2012 at Triple-A, but that's not certain, and neither is what type of player he will be at the major league level. With his arm and the progress he's made in the field, he should be a serviceable or better defensive catcher, and offensively, I find it more than likely that he will be an above-average hitter.

In any case, Norris' story is one that bears watching in the coming years.

Kamis, 24 November 2011

What If: Jesus Montero for Gio Gonzalez?

The New York Yankees need to add a starting pitcher, this is not a secret. And, they would love for that pitcher to be of the left-handed variety. Apparently, in baseball circles it is believed not only that the Yankees will try to add a lefty, but that they will succeed. The market, however, is slim for lefties, which has given rise to an interesting scenario: Jesus Montero for the Oakland A's' Gio Gonzalez.

New York has, sensibly, been protecting Montero. The soon-to-be 22-year-old catcher is one of the best hitting prospects in baseball, and has been considered off-limits, and rightfully so. I'll fill you in on his statistical accomplishments, but suffice it to say, he should not be brought off the top shelf for anything but elite talent.

Gio Gonzalez is a prize to be had. He is young, just 25 in 2011, and has been reliably good in his career, posting a 3.17 ERA over the last two seasons to go with a 3.72 FIP and a 3.95 SIERA. He has very good stuff and command, resulting in solid peripherals that should translate to any ballpark, and, perhaps most importantly, will not qualify for free agency until after the 2015 season.

I will state early on that I would not trade Jesus Montero for anything but an ace, and as good as Gonzalez is, I don't think he constitutes that. Still, Gonzalez might be the best starter on the market, and is still a very, very good pitcher. Besides, this is a hypothetical. Lighten up, would you?

What I have decided to do here is provide what would happen, in terms of value, to each player in his new home. In the coming six seasons, what will Montero do, versus what will Gonzalez do in the next four, because if they are traded one-for-one, that is essentially the deal: four of Gio for six of Montero.

Gonzalez is the easy one, because he has an established track record. He posted a 3.7 WAR in 2010, followed by a 3.6 in 2011 according to StatCorner and their handy batted-ball metrics. According to FanGraphs' WAR, he had a 3.5 last season. Because of Gonzalez' age (he might still be improving), 3.7 makes the most sense to me, so, what's four years of 3.7 wins? 14.8. Basically, the Athletics are offering up 15 wins.

What can Montero do, now? Most people know of his exploits in the minors. He's a career .308/.366/.467 hitter in the minors, and over the last two years, both at Triple-A, has collected 967 PAs at a .289/.351/.493 clip. He got a brief callup toward the end of this past season, and, for good measure, he posted an OPS of .996 in 69 PAs.

How does all of this translate to a MLB uniform, where predicting is concerned? Using this minor league equivalency translator, and Montero's 2010 stats (it was the better of his two seasons, which, considering his cup of coffee in 2011, I decided would be more useful), I can make him out to be a .250/.304/.429 hitter -- but I think it would be prudent to consider him capable of significantly greater things, even at this age. His average and on-base should be right around average (.275 and .335), with very good power (.425-.450). If he is a DH and accumulates 600 PAs, this amounts to approximately 6 batting runs above average.

Take those 6 runs, tag him with a -3 for baserunning and GIDPs, take a -14 for being a DH, then add your 19 replacement runs, and Montero is about a 1-win player. Many of the Yankee fans reading this (I know we have tons, of course), will be up in arms about this, but remember, DHs get nothing. David Ortiz had a 3.8 this season, and he did .309/.398/.550 -- Montero isn't David Ortiz. If you project a normal growth rate for a hitter of his talent (culminating in 25 runs as a hitter in his age 27 season), he accumulates 117 runs, or, 13 wins.

As a catcher, he is much more interesting. Montero is a notoriously bad catcher. He has led the International League each of the last two years in passed balls, with 23 over the two seasons. He can't really throw guys out, and has had CS% of just 23 and 20 in 2010 and '11. Not awful, but nothing to have any hope of him catching many guys at the big-league level. I'm trying to be fair when I say he would be a -15 fielder at the major league level as a catcher. He has a legitimate claim to the worst defensive catcher in the Show. But you don't come for the defense, do you?

If Montero was a catcher, you would have to believe he would get the bulk of the starts at catcher (say 130), and some significant time as a DH, ten games or so. What this gives us, over six years, is 165 runs, or 18 wins. Simply by being a catcher, Montero increases his value significantly, even if he is horrendous at it (and it would be tough for a guy to put up a -15 at any position for 6 straight years).

I don't know what Montero's future holds. He could, theoretically, catch, but the Yankees appeared to be weaning him off of that in 2011, and Oakland appears set with Kurt Suzuki. In any case, if you were to even the two out, you get... 15.7 wins. Ie: slightly more than the value of Gonzalez.

It's impossible to predict for 22-year-olds, but assuming that these predictions are anywhere close to true (it's the best we can do for accuracy), the Montero-for-Gonzalez swap is, if not one that should be done, deserves to be speculated about, in any case.

Selasa, 22 November 2011

The New CBA: Breaking Down the Main Points

So, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association reached an agreement this week on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that keeps labor peace for the next 5 years.  In any large, complex agreement, there are going to be positives and negatives that greatly and minimally impact the practices within an organization.  Rather than sifting through an extremely long legal document with many articles and subsections, Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors has broken the new CBA down into 10 key points that are now in effect for MLB.  Here is a list of the ten:

1. Playoff Expansion as Early as 2012
2. A "Mid-Level Exception" Concept for old Type B level players
3. A Cap on Spending in the Draft and a Draft "Luxury Tax"
4. An Earlier Signing Deadline for Draft Picks
5. Changes to Compensation Rules for Traded Players
6. Loose Trading of Draft Picks
7. Limits on International Spending
8. More "Super Twos"
9. Earlier Deadlines in the Off Season
10. Expanded Rosters for Doubleheaders

Now, to understand each of the 10 concepts, here are the positives and negatives for each, along with my personal grade for the move overall:

1. Playoff Expansion as Early as 2012

This really only provides positives as far as MLB is concerned.  Playoff expansion puts more teams in the race, thus increasing fan interest during the regular season.  This will lead to, hopefully, more sales in tickets, merchandise, and more tune-ins during television and radio broadcasts.  Having more teams interested in the regular season will also lead to more interest in the playoffs, because more teams will have already followed for 162 games.  Adding a one-game playoff means an extra opening of two MLB ballparks, thus increasing overall league revenue.  If a small market team like Tampa makes it, that's a big difference.

Baseball is a game of tradition, and it definitely likes to hold to those roots.  Some of the franchises are nearing 150 years old, and a lot of the old traditions in baseball still exist.  A lot of change in baseball has been good, but a lot of it has also either been bad or has been improved upon after being changed.  By constantly changing the way the fans view the game, baseball is taking a chance at losing old fans in favor of gaining new ones.  Hopefully the positive gain in new fans is large and that old traditionalists can stick with the game.

Wooly's Grade: B+

The format for the new playoff system is ideal, but adding big-money games to the schedule is always a plus.  Getting people more interested in baseball is always going to help the game.

2. A "Mid-Level Exception" Concept for old Type B level players

The positives that stem from this would be that the "average Joe" in MLB would not be undervalued like he is in every league with a salary cap that is currently playing (HAHA, NBA).  It would make it so that players have an easier path to earning more money and have more leverage in negotiations when they become unrestricted free agents.  This helps large market teams by giving them more consistent access to the average players they need to acquire to round out their rosters.

This move makes it extremely hard for small market teams to hold on to even the average players.  Lack of finances already makes it hard for small market teams to keep big players, so making it harder for them to hold on to average players is crippling.  Here's an example: in the current system, Ronny Cedeno (assuming he's eligible for arbitration) would be offered arbitartion, and if he accepts, the debate would go to an arbiter and a salary would be negotiated.  The player wouldn't make as much money, but would be able to sign a fair deal to both parties.  If he didn't accept arbitration and qualified as a Type A or Type B free agent, the team would be compensated for the loss.  In the new system, middle-tier free agents (like a Ronny Cedeno if he would be going into free agency) will make, at a minimum, the average dollar amount of the 125 highest paid players in the game (roughly 12 million dollars).  If the team declines, the player goes to free agency as an unrestricted free agent and will likely sign with a new team.  They will then be able to use the new arbitration level (the average of the 125 highest paid players) to negotiate their new deal.

Wooly's Grade: D

I do not approve at all of the inflation of contracts for average players.  While it can help some teams, it does not promote proper distribution of money based on performance.  I would say it hasn't helped in the NBA and definitely won't work in MLB.

3. A Cap on Spending in the Draft and a Draft "Luxury Tax"

I can only find one positive from this: players can't hold out on teams and then negotiate with large market teams to get contracts.  Also, players taken high in the draft won't be making insane amounts of money to potentially be complete busts.

Teams that were beginning to spend the most on the draft (Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Atlanta, Texas, Toronto, etc) no longer get to take advantage of the market inefficiency that existed.  The new CBA has destroyed the newest form of Moneyball, in a sense.  The free agent market has become so inflated and inefficient that small market teams simply can't compete in it.  Therefore, they began to direct more of their resources to spending in the draft.  Now when they try to take advantage of that, they will be punished.  The playing field has been "evened" despite the old system favoring the teams smart enough to properly allocate their resources.  Another major problem is that draftees can no longer sign....wait for it....major league contracts! That's right, everyone is essentially going to be loosely slotted and can only sign minor league deals.  Less incentive for kids to come out early.  A high school kid now basically only has the option of going to college over the pros unless he is a top 10 slotted pick.

Wooly's Grade: F

Major League Baseball comes up with a major fail on this one.  The league was getting a lot better with letting small market teams take advantage of market inefficiencies, and this is a major step backwards.  This hurts the Pirates and Royals so much that it isn't even funny.

4. An Earlier Signing Deadline for Draft Picks

Draft picks can't hold out for contracts as long as they could before, and front offices have to put less time towards signing guys.

It's easier for players to hold out and not agree to contracts.  There is less pressure on them to sign, and there is much more pressure on teams to get deals done.  Some contract negotiations will be rushed.

Wooly's Grade: C

Really, in the end, I think this is just something that owners wanted for reasons I am unaware of.

5. Changes to Compensation Rules for Traded Players

Teams will no longer be able to trade for random Type A or Type B players mid season and take advantage of the compensation system while watching the player walk away in free agency.  Essentially, teams won't be able to turn a mid-level prospect into a first round compensation pick.

Teams trying to unload large contracts at the deadline for so-called "rental players" now have a lot less bargaining power.  A player now has to be on a roster for the entire year for a team to be able to access compensation for him.  This means that the Giants have a lot less incentive to trade for Carlos Beltran at the deadline, and means that there's no way they get an elite prospect like Zack Wheeler out of the deal.  Elite players in the last year of their deals will begin to go for less to large market teams from small market teams. This means that the Yankees can trade the Pirates for Andrew McCutchen in the last year of his deal and the Pirates will have access to less compensation than they would have before.

Wooly's Grade: D

Another move that hurts the progress of taking advantage of market inefficiencies.  Teams like the Blue Jays (who have a genius for a GM) won't be able to trade for the Kelly Johnson's of the world and get compensation for it.  The league is giving more leverage to large market teams, here.

6. Loose Trading of Draft Picks

Rather than focus on positives and negatives for this one, I'm going to say that not enough was done with draft pick trading and that the new system is extremely situational.  I do not understand the details well enough yet to comment properly on the topic.  As of now, compensation lottery picks can be assigned to other teams.  Perhaps some more research on this will benefit everyone.

Wooly's Grade: B

I like the concept of trading draft picks, even though I don't fully understand how MLB has changed the system.  It's a start, and will serve as a base for future discussion of the trading of draft picks.

7. Limits on International Spending

No more Daisuke Matsuzaka-esque postings.  Teams will have better access to international players and they won't be as pricey.

This is a lot like capping the draft.  It punishes teams for spending smartly in the international market and trying to take advantage of market inefficiencies.  It puts everyone "on the same playing field" when in fact it makes it so hard-working small market teams can't take advantage of the larger market teams who don't properly allocate their resources into international players.  This is the second CBA decision that has limited access to a newer, well-developing "Moneyball."

Wooly's Grade: D+

The idea behind limiting international spending is good, but the way MLB has gone about it hurts small market teams way too much.

8. More "Super Twos"

Players that are fast developing will have faster access to arbitration.  As they progress, they will be better and more quickly able to negotiate their contracts.  It makes teams more fairly pay their young players.  This also encourages the signing of more team-friendly extensions that eat up a player's arbitration years.  These contracts are extremely efficient and beneficial.

Small market teams will have to start paying more for their young stars at an earlier age.  The faster the players develop, the better access they will have to more money.  This will limit the money that small market teams can put towards the free agent market, including average players and elite players.  In order to prevent this from happening, teams will be more reluctant to call up their star prospects, and will likely do so later in a season, which hurts the development of the player and the overall competitive level of the team itself.

Wooly's Grade: F

This will just hurry the process of star players from the Royals being placed on the Yankees' roster.

9. Earlier Deadlines in the Off Season

This just speeds up the process of the off season and creates a longer time for the free agent market to grow and develop.  Teams have to offer arbitration earlier after the end of the World Series and rosters will begin to take shape earlier, likely before the GM meetings and then the Winter Meetings in December.  This will likely just promote more fruitful discussion at those meetings between teams and agents.

Wooly's Grade: B

Doesn't create a lot of positives, but it speeds up the off season and lets more fruitful discussion happen over a longer period of time.

10. Expanded Rosters for Doubleheaders

Basically, a team can carry a 26 man roster for a doubleheader day so that teams don't have to worry about added strategy going into a double header.  It gives them more roster flexibility.

Wooly's Grade: A

This is a long-awaited move that reduces the possibility of injury and gives teams more flexibility.  I'm all for this kind of move.  Unfortunately, the CBA didn't do enough of this.

Overall Reaction:

This CBA has hurt small market teams so much that I would legitimately entertain the idea of a hard salary cap.  I have been against the idea of a salary cap in baseball forever, but it's just so hard now to justify its existence with the way the new CBA is written.  Large market teams now have a financial advantage, won't be hurt as much in the draft, won't lose as many draft picks in the compensation system, will have more leverage in trade deadline negotiations, and will be hurt less by the international market.  So many things have been given in favor of large market teams that small market teams can't keep up in an open market.  Eventually, the "Mid-Level Exception" for the arbitration figure mentioned earlier will be unaffordable to most teams.  This is because the contract extensions for Howard, Braun, and others haven't kicked in, and guys like Pujols, Fielder, Wilson, Darvish, and others will be getting massive pay days and will feed more into the top 125.

It's good that this new CBA is only 5 years.

Senin, 21 November 2011

AL MVP: Who Should Have Won?

This year was a very good year to have a debate over who should have won the AL MVP award.  Unlike what normally happens, WAR did not reach a consensus on who was the most valuable player.  In my opinion, there were 3 guys that deserved a shot at winning.  They were Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Justin Verlander.  Miguel Cabrera gets an honorable mention, but that's about all he deserves.  Now, back to the argument: WAR couldn't reach a consensus, so let's break down the argument for each of the three players starting with a look at WAR:

Jose Bautista:

Fangraphs: 8.3
B-Ref: 8.5
Average: 8.4

Jacoby Ellsbury:

Fangraphs: 9.4
B-Ref: 7.2
Average: 8.1

Justin Verlander:

Fangraphs: 7.0
B-Ref: 8.6
Average: 7.8

Well crap....Ellsbury leads a lot in Fangraphs, B-Ref likes Verlander the best, and Jose Bautista has the highest overall average.  WAR has effectively told us nothing by this initial look.  Therefore, let's look at individual players.  Now, much can be said about pitcher and hitters and which WAR works best.  Now, part of my research is looking at the process that a player goes through in order to get his end results rather than viewing his end results and giving them the highest regard.  Therefore, we will throw out the WAR result for Verlander and focus on his fangraphs WAR and his pitching peripherals.  For Bautista and Ellsbury, a combination of oWAR (a baseball-reference offensive metric) and defensive metrics will be used.  Let's look at this a little more closely.  Here is my MVP ballot with the thought process carried out:

Before I carry on, I want to solidify a few personal views:

1) This is an independent award.  Wins are calculated linearly, so creating 4 wins on a 31 win team is as valuable as creating 4 wins on a 131 win team.  Nobody should be aided or punished by the quality of the players they are put on a roster with.  Therefore, success of the team is thrown out.
2) A win in April is worth a win in September.  A home run in your first at bat is as valuable as a home run in your last at bat.  Value doesn't change as time goes on.  I don't want to hear arguments about "He's on a fist place team" or "he was in the middle of a pennant chase."  Each win is just a part of the overall win total.  If you win in April, there's less pressure to win in September and you don't have to be in the middle of a pennant chase.
3) I don't care if a guy tailed off after the All Star Break or if he took a while to heat up.  He produced an overall level of value during the course of the scheduled 162 game season.
4) Pitchers and hitters are both eligible for the award and can absolutely be worth as much or more than position players.  You don't have to play every single day in order to be the most valuable player in the league.  A pitcher basically controls one out of every 5 (sometimes 4) games.

Now, onto the ballot with explanations carefully mapped out:

1) Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays

This was not a hard decision for me to make.  If I stick to my personal philosophy of using rWAR for hitters and fWAR for pitchers, Bautista wins this award running away.  If that doesn't work for people, he also had the highest average WAR.  However, I'll look into the individual statistics so that people can get a real sense of his value:

20.2 BB%/ 16.9 K%/ .302 BA/ .447 OBP/ .608 SLG (181 OPS+)

Bautista led the league in home runs (the most valuable of the offensive statistics), walks, slugging percentage (with a .306 ISO to go with it), and adjusted OPS.  He was a better hitter than Cabrera, and he played a more valuable position (right field).  The best part about Bautista is that his rWAR was almost all offensive value, meaning that it was less likely that his rWAR value was the result of a fluke defensive rating.  He led the league in the following stats:

Average WAR
BB% (by almost 4%)

He did this while playing average defense at a position not named first base or designated hitter.  Before WAR was created, I think people in the stats world would still have jumped all over Bautista as the MVP.

2) Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston Red Sox

While I think Bautista should have been the clear #1 in this vote, determining the second player on the ballot was hard to do.  Ellsbury and Verlander finished nearly the same by their respective rWAR and fWAR values, but I think rWAR undervalues Ellsbury's defense, so that bumped his value up in my mind, personally.  While UZR is a statistic that is all over the place, Ellsbury has been highly rated in the past, and his scouting report will tell you a lot of the same.  The 0.4 dWAR he scored on baseball-reference does not do his true defensive ability justice, which is what I believe gives him the edge over Verlander, and is likely the reason that he scored so much better on fangraphs vs. b-ref.  Ellsbury's incredible on-base skills and speed (39 stolen bases) were enough to make him one of the most valuable offensive players in the league, and his superior defense puts him up on an elite level as far as 2011 is concerned.

3) Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers

Verlander was a dominant pitcher, for sure.  However, he was not as dominant as people think he was.  Yes, he won the traditional pitcher triple crown.  whoop-de-fricken-doo. He didn't come out as the most valuable pitcher by fWAR (that belongs to CC Sabathia as far as the AL is concerned), although his non-FIP fielding independent ERA metrics came out much better than what happened for CC.  However, he produced better rate stats over more innings, so the fact that CC came out better in fWAR is sketchy at best, and is another aspect of why I would put him ahead of CC and his teammate Miguel Cabrera.  Verlander had a strikeout rate of 8.96 to a walk rate of 2.04.  That is some ridiculous stuff right there.  Now, in fairness, Verlander also saw a very low (almost fluky) BABIP rate while producing fewer ground balls and more fly balls (not good, especially when your HR/FB rate is 8.8%).  Verlander was dominant, but he wasn't the most valuable player in the American League.

Sabtu, 19 November 2011

Breakout, Bust, or Rebound?: Part Three- Matt Kemp

Step one: don't freak out, I'm not saying Kemp is going to be a bust.  Step two: I am officially putting Matt Kemp on bust alert. Why?  Well, quite frankly, Matt Kemp had the ultimate breakout season in 2011. Going by full seasons, he set career highs in plate appearances, runs, hits, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS+, and WAR.   However, we aren't just talking about your normal breakout.  We are talking about a 47 point jump in OPS+ from his career best.  In short: that is ridonkulous.  But why does this automatically mean Kemp is on bust alert?  Well, he'll be 27 years old and has done this the last three years:

2009: .297/ .352/ .490 (124 OPS+)
2010: .249/ .310/ .450 (106 OPS+)
2011: .324/ .399/ .986 (171 OPS+)

*cleans glasses*....Am I reading that right?  That's what he did at 24, 25 and then at 26?  Well what the heck? How do we know what we're going to get in the future?  Well, this thinking is what makes me put Kemp on bust alert.  The rWAR produced by Kemp over the last three years would read 5.7, 2.3, and 10.0.  For those that aren't aware, an rWAR of 10 is of historic proportions.  Kemp's easily the best player in baseball if he keeps doing that.  The problem is, there is no way anyone can expect Kemp to repeat last year.

Before jumping to conclusions about Kemp simply because he's inconsistent or can't be trusted, it's important to look at some of the metrics we've been looking at before.  Here are some basic numbers for Kemp over the past 3 years, including 2011:

2009: 7.8% BB/ 20.8% K/ .193 ISO/ .345 BABIP
2010: 7.9% BB/ 25.4% K/ .201 ISO/ .295 BABIP
2011: 10.7% BB/ 23.1 % K/ .262 ISO/ .380 BABIP

Don't just look at the spike in BABIP and say it's the reason he jumped.  His career BABIP rate is .352, so he's going to get good rates on balls put into play.  That's not why he jumped.  It contributed, but not to the tune of what happened in Kemp's case.  What else would help?  Let's look at some BIP data:

2011: 23.2% LD/ 36.3% GB/ 40.5% FB/ 21.4% HR/FB
Career Norms: 21.5% LD/ 41.1% GB/ 37.4% FB/ 15.9% HR/FB

From this, the obvious trends are there.  He hit more line drives and fly balls and fewer ground balls.  He then saw more homers come out of the fly balls he was hitting.  However...still seems to not account for enough.  Something else had to have happened.  Maybe he saw more fastballs?  Nope, he saw 50.4% fastballs in 2011 compared to his 52.7% career norm.  Well, what about where he was seeing his pitches?  From my data in my Inside Edge database (pitch-by-pitch account of everything that's happened), he didn't see any larger number of fastballs down the middle.  So what the heck else could have happened?  Well, here's what happened: Matt Kemp almost never missed bad pitches in 2011.  He had a 1.200 OPS or higher in every zone in the middle of the plate, and he had an OPS of 1.800 on pitches down the middle.  Here's a look at some of his individual pitch values from 2010 vs. 2011:

Fastballs: 6.5 vs. 37.9
Sliders: -1.1 vs. 6.4
Cutters: 1.2 vs. -0.8
Curveballs: -0.3 vs. 4.4
Changeups: -2.6 vs. 0.3
Sinkers: 0.1 vs. 0.9

There it is!  Matt Kemp absolutely destroyed fastballs in 2011.  However, he saw fewer of them than normal, which would suggest that he simply did not ever miss mistakes.  Who does that?  Well, legendary hitters like Albert Pujols, that's who.  He got better at hitting 5 of the 6 primary pitches he saw in 2011.  That just shows overall vast improvement.  He didn't get lucky, he didn't face weaklings, and he didn't get aided by a ballpark or from hitting in a certain spot in the lineup.  He just got BETTER.

So then, Wooly, why the heck would you project Kemp to falter at all?  Well young padawans, I will tell you why: Matt Kemp's 2011 is one of the best non-Pujolsian seasons  of the last 10 years.  It's just going to be insanely hard to repeat.  Plus, with the BABIP and HR/FB going down towards career norms, he's probably going to drop off just a bit.  So regression is expected simply because of how good 2011 was, but he's officially on bust alert because he had never done anything like that before and he has publicly known attitude problems.  So let's look at his value in a couple of different spots.

Real Life Value to the Dodgers

So I've shown you the overall value that Kemp has produced in each of the past three seasons along with some of the really specific statistics regarding what Kemp has done.  What's to come in 2012?  Well, assuming that the BABIP and HR/FB levels fall down towards career norms and aren't what Kemp is going to produce year after year, probably something between his 2009 and 2011.  This means somewhere between a 5.7 rWAR and a 10.0 rWAR.  Ladies and gents, the Dodgers were very smart to give Kemp his 8 year, 160 million dollar contract.  Why?  Well, since money loses value as time goes on (shout out to djiboutirox), Kemp is going to have to perform almost a win worse than his 2nd best season in order to wind up being at market value.  Here's a look at what Kemp is going to make over each season and what the market value of dollars per WAR will be in my eyes:

2012: 10m- 4.0 D/WAR (2.5 WAR to meet)
2013: 20m- 4.35 D/WAR (4.7 WAR to meet)
2014: 21.5m- 4.7 D/WAR (4.57 WAR to meet)
2015- 21.5m- 5.05 D/WAR (4.26 WAR to meet)
2016-21.5m- 5.35 D/WAR (4.02 WAR to meet)
2017-21.5m- 5.5 D/WAR (3.91 WAR to meet)
2018-21.5m- 5.5 D/WAR (3.91 WAR to meet)
2019-21.5m- 5.5 D/WAR (3.91 WAR to meet)

Now, these are conservative market values to say the least.  I would not be surprised to see that D/WAR ratio up well above 6.0 million dollars per unit of WAR in 2019.  However, since the future of baseball business is so shaky (teams aren't making enough money to pay guys 7 million dollars per unit of WAR they produce under the current system), I had to go with a more conservative guess (and this HURTS Kemp by asking more of him to meet his dollar total that he's being paid).  So, basically, Matt Kemp needs to produce a grand total of 31.78 WAR to be worth his contract by the numbers I gave (that's an average of 3.97 WAR annually).  Kemp needs to totally bomb in center field to not be worth his contract.  The Dodgers need to be really excited about this kind of deal.  But what to expect from Kemp in 2012?  Here are my predictions:

2012: .310 BA/ .382 OBP/ .553 SLG/  .935 OPS (160 OPS+)/ 7.5 WAR

Fantasy Value

Matt Kemp scared a lot of fantasy players with his 2010 campaign.  I know for a fact that individuals were targeting him in the first round prior to 2010 (he was taken there in the competitive league I play in), and he bombed like you wouldn't believe.  That made people hesitant to take him in 2011.  It does not immediately come to mind where Kemp was taken in my draft, but it wasn't first overall, which means it was a steal.  Here's what Kemp did for fantasy teams in 2011:

.324 BA/ 115 Runs/ 39 HR/ 126 RBI/ 40 SB

He was 7th in batting average, 4th in runs, 3rd in HR, 1st in RBI, and tied for 4th in stolen bases.  He was a pure fantasy monster.  However, I'm all about the first round of a fantasy draft being where you take your safest pick (save for injuries), so Kemp should be viewed in 2012 as Jose Bautista was in 2011.  He's worth the first round pick, but I would fight myself over taking him over Pujols, Braun, Votto, Cabrera, and Tulowitzki.  Now, there are a lot of individuals who would definitely take Kemp first overall on ceiling alone, but those 5 guys I mentioned are much safer bets to produce at elite levels than Kemp.  If it came down to Kemp vs. Pujols/Votto/Cabrera at the #3 or #4 spot, I would probably jump on Kemp's upside because he's a center fielder.  However, I think Tulowitzki and Braun are definite safer picks than Kemp.  So what to expect from Kemp in fantasy in 2012?  Here's what I like:

.310 BA/ 105 Runs/ 32 HR/ 112 RBI/ 36 SB

When you look at those numbers, they are darn near impossible to pass up, which is why I'm saying Kemp should go no lower in a 2012 fantasy draft than 6th overall.  Unless he falls completely off the table, he's locked himself in as an elite fantasy pick.  He's going to produce.  However, there should always be that thought in the back of one's mind: he could always succumb to the mental problems he's had before and repeat 2010.  Don't let it stop you from making what should be a smart pick at the 5 or 6 spot, but also don't let his 2011 be the sole reason for where you take him.  If you get a nice offer for Kemp after the draft, don't be too hesitant to trade him.  He's no Pujols or Cabrera.  However, he has all the potential in the world, so take him.

However, Matt Kemp has officially been placed on Bust Alert.