Selasa, 24 Januari 2012

Prince Looks to Become King of Detroit

Well, after roughly four months of waiting, a few massive signings, and a lot of frustration, it appears that Prince Fielder has found himself a home.  On January 24th, 2012, the Detroit Tigers reportedly signed Fielder to a deal worth 214 million dollars over 9 years.  Because of the significance of the move, this post will be a lengthy combination of BBR, extension watch, and other types of setup, because there are so many things to consider. To start off, let's go back in time to before Fielder signed and pretend that the market is wide open with everyone having enough money to sign him.  Let's look at the market value Fielder probably should have received from a contract.
Section One: What is Fielder Worth?
The first step in answering this question is looking at what Fielder has done recently.  After all, he is putting up some crazy offensive numbers, but he plays the least valuable position very poorly and doesn't run the bases.  He puts up the offensive numbers of an elite player, but is his overall value that of someone you want to be paying 24 million dollars per year?  Normally I would use 2 year splits, but Fielder's got a bit of a fluke season sitting there in 2010, so we'll use three year splits to get a more accurate representation:
2009-2011: .287 BA/ .409 OBP/ .547 SLG/ 155 OPS+/ 4.7 WAR/year(-0.6 dWAR/year)
2009: 15.3% BB/ 19.2% K/ .303 ISO/ .315 BABIP/ 23.1% HR/FB
2010: 16.0% BB/ 19.3% K/ .209 ISO/ .291 BABIP/ 18.3% HR/FB
2011: 15.5% BB/ 15.3% K/ .267 ISO/ .306 BABIP/ 21.8% HR/FB
Alright, so we're seeing relatively consistent performance in the rates here, save for a drastic dip in ISO in 2010 that really explains the drastic dip in performance that Fielder's end results saw in 2010.  Obviously, Prince is an offensive force who is going to put up monster performance at the plate.  However, his defense and base running are atrocious.  Here are his splits for UZR, base running, and dWAR over the past three years:
2009:   1.7 UZR/ -4.5 BsR/ -0.3 dWAR
2010: -7.4 UZR/ -6.5 BsR/ -0.8 dWAR
2011: -5.1 UZR/ -5.4 BsR/ -0.7 dWAR
It really isn't like you have to doubt the numbers here, either.  It's pretty much consensus among scouts and members of the baseball community that Fielder is a terrible base running and can't field his position.  That is what takes him from being the 6 WAR player his offense suggests he could be and makes him the fringe 5 WAR player that he consistently is.
What makes Fielder difference is where he is on the age curve and the fact that he is a big fat man.  Obviously it hasn't hurt his offense, but Fielder's weight and shape have really hurt him as a base runner and as a fielder (pun slightly intended).   Let's consider some other guys that are a lot like Fielder:
Mo Vaughn: Consistent 4-5.5 WAR player from 25 to 30.  Post 30, he never was higher than 1.5 WAR
Cecil Fielder: Average 4.2 WAR from 26-28.  Average 0.4 WAR from 29 on.
David Ortiz: Average 4.8 WAR from 27 to 31.  Average 2.0 WAR from 32-25 (saved by a bounceback 2011 season).
The forecast here is not good.  Now, in my personal opinion, Fielder is much more athletic and healthy than those three players were and keeps himself in non-terrible shape.  However, he is obviously much bigger and out of shape than the average Major League player, and that needs to be accounted for.  Fielder may keep up his performance for a few years, but things look extremely bleak beyond that.  Given that, let's project Fielder over the 9 years he got (fair to assume that is what Boras was most looking for):
2012: 5.0 WAR
2013: 5.0 WAR
2014: 4.2 WAR
2015: 3.2 WAR
2016: 2.2 WAR
2017: 1.5 WAR
2018: 1.5 WAR
2019: 1.0 WAR
2020: 1.0 WAR
Quite honestly, the argument could be made that I am being very gracious to Fielder here.  Given the other three examples, I am giving Prince the benefit of the doubt and an average of 1.7 WAR from the time he is 31 until the end of a 9-year contract.  This projection gives him a total WAR of 24.6 over the contract, which is pretty fair given that he will be 28 next year and is likely to hit a wall based on what others have done.  However, we need to now look at some projections for what free agents are going to be worth.  Based on some numbers I ran on a contract project, I came up with the following model:

2012: 4.2 d/WAR
2013: 5.0 d/WAR
2014: 5.2 d/WAR
2015: 5.5 d/ WAR
2016: 5.5 d/ WAR
2017: 5.5 d/ WAR
2018: 5.5 d/ WAR
2019: 5.5 d/ WAR
2020: 5.5 d/ WAR
Based on the unexpected happenings past 2015, it is hard to go up past the 5.5 d/WAR mark due to the massive inflation that would need to occur for that to happen.  This model then gives us an average of 5.27 d/WAR over the next 9 years for free agents.  This means that Fielder's 24.6 WAR performance would suggest that he should earn 129 million dollars.  For those keeping track at home, that is 85 million dollars less than he was actually signed for.
Section Two: How Does This Fit for Detroit?
Well now that it's been estimated that the Tigers paid about 85 million dollars more than he should have been paid, the Tigers better have a really good reason for giving him so much money.  The Tigers are coming off an ALCS appearance and have drawn pretty well over the last few years, so selling tickets (one of the primary motivations for the Pujols deal).  In fact, Fielder won't even be among the top two most popular players on the team (oh hello Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander).  So if Fielder isn't going to produce the extra ticket boost to fun his contract, then why did the Tigers do this move?
For the 2012 season, there is a nifty little move the Tigers can pull off to "save" a little bit of money.  After Victor Martinez went down with an ACL injury, the Tigers earned the ability to use the insurance clause on his contract, which basically means they can put some of the money they would have put towards V-Mart to Fielder's contract.  However, that clause certainly doesn't protect against an 85 million dollar difference in what should have been and what actually was. Either way, the Tigers now have Fielder on their payroll and will need to use him.
There is one problem here.  There are now three players on the Tigers' roster that really should be destined for the DH spot.  Delmon Young, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder are all relatively awful defenders, and at least two of them are going to have to play the field.  The Tigers have 3 options then:
1) Fielder DH's, Cabrera stays at first, and Young plays Left.
2) Cabrera DH's, Fielder stays at first, and Young plays left.
3) Young DH's, Fielder plays first, and Cabrera moves to third.
None of these options are good, but Tigers fans should be most wary of option number three.  Delmon Young's defense in the outfield is absolutely awful, but it comes out value-wise to be roughly similar to what Fielder and Cabrera to at first.  The real travesty here would be the horrendous freak show that would be Miguel Cabrera at third base.  Seriously, you would want to avert your eyes if that happened.  We are talking someone who could legitimately be a -2.0 dWAR player over a full season at the hot corner.  Even though his offensive value would skyrocket, it would be almost a guarantee that the ball got by him unless it was hit right at him.

Section Three: Conclusion and Suggested Action
Enjoy the deal for the next three years.  Fielder will mash no matter where he is put in the lineup or on the field.  However, after Fielder turns 30, Tigers fans should be ready to grab the torches and pitchforks, because this deal could get really ugly (remember, I was being fairly conservative with my estimates). The deal comes off as a panic move to me.  The Tigers needed to replace about 3 wins from Martinez' absence, and I did not believe their stance as favorites in the AL Central was impacted at all by the loss of V-Mart.  A 1 to 3 year deal would have made perfect sense, but the Tigers seem to have gotten trapped by Boras into giving out a contract much larger than it should have been.  All I can say is that I hope Cabrera doesn't end up at third and I really don't hope Fielder ages like his father did.
Overall grade of a C- from me.

Sabtu, 14 Januari 2012

Extension Watch, Part Four: B.J. Upton

This edition of Extension Watch is going to be as much about a player worthy of a lengthy extension as it is about a player who is among the most underrated players in the entire history of the game.  When considering B.J. Upton, put all traditional thought aside, because Upton's value comes primarily out of the fact that all of his skills are incredibly underrated.  Upton's ability to draw walks, his great power, and his elite speed have helped him put up some of the best value numbers you will find among American League outfielders.  The other great thing about Upton is that he got started very early in the majors, so he will only be 27 by opening day of 2012. When you combine all of these skills plus his relative youth, Upton is the perfect candidate for an extension.

Now, it is one thing to speak of Upton's underrated value, but it is another thing to be able to show it and understand why Upton is so underrated.  To help bring light to this comparison, we're going to compare Upton to the average center fielder over a 5 year span (Upton took over CF duties full time in 2007 for the Rays).

Upton: .257 BA/ .346 OBP/ .425 SLG (114 wRC+)

Average CF: .266 BA/ .332 OBP/ .413 SLG (100 wRC+)

However, those are just the raw numbers.  Here are some other numbers that Upton has put up that should be considered over that time span:

37 SB (12 CS/ 76% success rate)/ 3.6 rWAR (0.7 dWAR)/ 4.0 fWAR (2.86 UZR)

Upton's end results are fantastic unless you're a diehard traditionalist who is going to hold his below average batting average against him.  Upton's inability to make frequent contact is one of his only weaknesses as a player.  In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything in his rates that suggests he will be slowing down any time soon.  This is why Upton is such a great candidate for an extension.  He's in the middle of his prime, he doesn't have any major holes in his game, and he plays one of the game's most valuable positions.  Upton is constantly ridiculed by fans who are quick to judge against him and completely unaware of what he can provide to a team.  With that being said, let's look at our four basic things to understand when considering an extension for B.J. Upton:

1) His future value
2) The structure of a possible extension
3) The ability of the Rays to extend him
4) Other feasible options for him to look at if he doesn't sign an extension

Section One: Future Value

The reason this is section one is due to the fact that it is the single most important part to understanding a possible extension.  Teams pay for future value, and they do not pay for past value.  Let's take a look at some of Upton's raw rates from the past two years (since those are the years we are most concerned with when considering future ability):

2010: 11.0% BB/ 26.9% K/ .187 ISO/ .304 BABIP/ 0.91 GBFB/ 11.0% HR/FB
2011: 11.1% BB/ 25.2% K/ .186 ISO/ .298 BABIP/ 1.00 GBFB/ 14.1% HR/FB

The biggest thing to notice here is the consistency between the two years.  No real flukes, and no red flags to speak of.  Upton's BABIP is seemingly low for a speedster, but it actually has been consistently low over the past three years since he really has started to hit more fly balls compared to the earlier part of his career. Perhaps Upton's most underrated aspect is his power.  No, he's not a 30 home run guy, and compared to his brother, his power is weak.  However, don't let yourself undersell Bossman Junior, because he tallies up extra base hits a lot.  His .186 ISO last year was 7th among major league center fielders (6th if you toss out Josh Hamilton), and his .187 ISO over the past two years is 8th (guys like Josh Hamilton, Carlos Gonzalez, and Vernon Wells are there that don't play CF full time).  So what we're looking at here is one of the more dynamic offensive center fielders in the game.

Where Upton changes the playing field is on the bases, however.  His 78 steals in the last two years are good for 2nd (distant second behind the incredible 113 steals by Michael Bourn) in the majors, and he has only been caught 21 times (79% success rate).  This kind of volume and efficiency in base stealing adds the value Upton needs to create higher wRC+ values, because it's rather rare base running ability that we are seeing.

The most promising thing from Upton is that there aren't any major red flags or warning signs to look at in his game.  He strikes out a lot, but he does so at a consistent rate and it doesn't hurt his game so much as to drive people away.  He walks a lot for a center fielder (5th in the majors over the last two years), and his ground ball to fly ball ratio is consistent and balanced, meaning Upton can see value from his power and from his speed.
Section Two: Structure of a Possible Extension

The best thing going for Upton is that he is still somehow only 27 years old.  However, because of that, we can't expect his speed to last forever.  This will eventually greatly impact his base stealing, but it will impact his defense even more.  Over the last two years, Upton's defense has come in at just above average by UZR and dWAR, and from what I have seen, he has a propensity for getting terrible reads on the ball off the bat, but he is able to save himself with his elite speed.  Due to this, I expect a slightly more rapid regression out of the prime (especially since Upton already has a ton of major league miles on him) than other players who are over similar age.  However, let's not kid ourselves: Upton is still one of the more valuable and under appreciated players in the game. I would prefer a four year deal with Upton if at all possible, which would make me project his WAR (an average of fWAR and rWAR) this way over that period of time:

2012: 4.2 WAR
2013: 4.0 WAR
2014: 3.5 WAR
2015: 3.0 WAR

That is a grand total of 14.7 wins over four years at an average of 3.7 wins per year.  Of course in structuring an extension, we need to look at how much this value is worth for a market fair extension.  As with the other writings, I am going to borrow a model I generated based on some contract research I have done to project the average d/WAR value each year over the next four years:

2012: 4.0 d/WAR
2013: 4.3 d/WAR
2014: 4.6 d/WAR
2015: 4.9 d/WAR

As was the case in the Sean Marshall article, this model creates an average 4.45 million dollars per unit of WAR for extensions candidates over this period.  That means that if Bossman Junior puts up 14.7 wins over that time frame, he would be worth 65 million dollars, or roughly 16 million dollars per season.  this creates a possible extension (with a restructuring of 2012) that looks like this:

4 years/ 65 million dollars (16.3 AAV)

Section Three: Ability for the Rays to Extend Him

I'm not going to beat around the bush here: the Rays absolutely cannot extend Upton at this price.  He would take up well over a third of the team's current payroll, and you don't make that kind of commitment unless ist is a franchise-type player who consistently puts fans in the seats and produces top 5 overall value.  Upton is none of those things, although he is a fantastic baseball player.  The Rays have made a living off of getting young players to agree to extremely team-favorable extensions in the past, but I doubt it is going to work with Upton, as he is very close to his pay day.  Even last year, Upton made less than 5 million dollars, and he has made less than 10 million dollars through the first five years of his career.  There is no doubt in my mind that he bypasses Tampa Bay and hits the free agent market as soon as he can (which is right after next year).  However, this is not terrible for the Rays, because they have Desmond Jennings waiting to take over center field full time as soon as Upton heads for other pastures.

Section Four: Feasibility of other Options

Take your pick with this one.  An extremely undervalued center fielder that probably won't go for what I have projected him to go in this article.  I am expecting Upton to get an AAV around 12 million dollars on the open market, and that is because his skills are so undervalued.  With that being said, his top potential suitor could very well be the game's biggest spenders:

1) New York Yankees

This would be a no-brainer if I were the general manager of the Yankees.  Kiss Nick Swisher goodbye as he heads out the door, move Curtis Granderson to right field, and put BJ Upton in center field.  Coudl you imagine a defensive outfield of Gardner, Upton, and Granderson?  Not only that, but Upton's power numbers would likely go up in Yankee Stadium.  The Yankees are a team that can easily afford Upton (even though there is talk that they really don't want to be at the 2014 salary tax level).  Perhaps the biggest problem with this fit is the fact that Josh Hamilton will be a free agent in the same off season.  The Yankees could put Hamilton in left, Gardner in center, and Granderson in right field and come out with extremely similar results (although Hamilton's injury concerns and age would make me go after Upton more aggressively).

2) Los Angeles Dodgers

This is a move I really like for this organization.  Personally, I think Matt Kemp should be playing left field, much like Josh Hamilton does down in Texas.  If you want to preserve his value and help him out long term, Kemp in left field makes all of the sense in the world.  Bringing in Upton brings speed, defense, and power to a franchise that will be looking to get back their old reputation as one of the game's best franchises after Frank McCourt blew the franchise to bits.  The Dodgers will have new ownership, not a lot of committed money, and they will most certainly be looking for pieces to put around Kemp and Kershaw.

3) Seattle Mariners

Catching up to LAA and Texas is no easy task, but getting Upton would be ideal for Seattle.  He's not a super stud power bat, but he can hit 15-20 homers up in Seattle, and his speed and defense fit the ballpark very well.  If Upton gets overlooked because of the pitching talent on the market and because Josh Hamilton is the only recognized superstar hitter, then his value could drop enough to fall well within Seattle's price range.

4) Trade

In the end, I really think this is what is going to happen.  The Rays are currently probably the sixth best team in the American League, and if the Red Sox have the bounceback year they should, the Rays won't make the playoffs. This presents the perfect opportunity to trade Upton for a package of prospects that is centered around a young power hitter (which is vital for the Rays to get).  Ideally, the Rays would look to acquire the best young power hitting first baseman they can (he could play another position, but first base is the position of greatest need for the Rays right now).  This move would allow Desmond Jennings to move to center field, and the Rays could pretty easily find someone to take over in left.  Look for Upton to be traded at the deadline this year if the Rays start falling out of contention.

Trade Analysis: Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda

Late Friday night, I was well into a pint of Canadian Club, when my brother, a Red Sox fan, texted me one four-letter, highly unprintable word. Since my brother generally only texts me for sports reasons and since I don't particularly like the people with whom I was drinking, I got up and checked to see what went down. Sure enough, the Yankees had acquired 22-year-old ace Michael Pineda from the Seattle Mariners.

The trade was only slightly unexpected: the Yankees were reportedly closing in on Hiroki Kuroda (whom they would later sign that same day), and the Mariners were not believed to be shopping Pineda, though like any good GM, Seattle's Jack Zduriencik was listening to offers on everybody.

At the same time, the acquisition did not come cheaply for the Yankees -- they had to move stud prospect Jesus Montero, and MLB-ready Hector Noesi, while Seattle included the young but high-ceiling'd Jose Campos.

Noesi provides Seattle with a young, cheap, talented pitcher who should pitch well in Safeco, with solid strikeout and fly balls numbers. Campos, who should be examined later by another blogger, provides the Yankees with a potential, albeit far-off, frontline starting pitcher. For the sake of simplicity (and because this portion of the deal will be examined later), I will simply look at the Pineda and Montero aspects of the deal.

What Does Seattle Get?

I'd say Jesus Montero can hit, but it's a bit misleading. Jimmy Rollins can hit. Montero rakes. He's spent the last two years at Triple-A Scranton, compiling a .289/.351/.493 line in 967 PAs. He has great hitters' tools across the board, bat speed, control, discipline, leverage, you name it. He was called up toward the end of the season, and didn't stop hitting, slashing .328/.406/.590 with 4 home runs in 69 PAs. Montero was brought up a catcher, but is really below average at the position, lacking in both arm strength and agility behind the plate. He turned 22 in November.

A lot of Montero's value to the Mariners is attached to him as a catcher. At the MLB level, he should be well-below average, but if he can stick at the position, it will really help his value. The Yankees all but gave up on him as a catcher, letting him catch just 3 of his 17 starts in the majors, and for all intents and purposes, Montero is a DH with the potential to be a backup catcher, catching perhaps 30-40 games a year. The Mariners got no production out of their catchers in 2011, but they would be much better served finding someone to catch and letting Montero DH or be the backup catcher.

What is is bat worth, though? Quite a bit. According to the MLE calculator I often use on here, his 2010 season works out to .250/.301/.430, or roughly average for the AL in 2011. 'Average' in 2011 meant that every plate appearance was worth 0.0428 runs above replacement. What is important to note, though, is that Montero was 20 in 2010 -- he will be 22 in 2012. If you apply a standard aging curve to that, it calls for a 9% increase, which makes him worth 0.0467 runs per plate appearance. This means that as long as he is a full-time player, getting 600 PAs this year, his bat will be worth 28 runs above replacement, or almost 3 wins by itself. This of course will be offset by either his position (DH) or bad defense at catcher, but he should definitely be a positive value in the years to come.

Perhaps most importantly, the Mariners get an extra year of control here. Pineda would have had five more years of service time before being eligible for free agency, while Montero has the full six years left.

What Does New York Get?

We don't really have to do any extrapolating or converting for Pineda, because in 2011 he stopped being an elite prospect and became a full-fledged ace. In 28 starts he pitched 171 innings, struck out 171, walked 55, and gave up 18 home runs. This was good for a 3.74 ERA, a 3.42 FIP, and a 3.36 SIERA, culminating in a 3.4 WAR. He was 22.

Pitcher aging is a very tricky business, but we can only assume that Pineda will only continue to improve. There was nothing fluky about his 2011 season, he strikes guys out with a high-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, and he throws strikes. His home runs allowed will be something of an issue, as he had a mediocre 0.9 HR/9 in Safeco, and that should only rise in Yankee Stadium, but keep in mind that home runs are less valuable when a pitcher strikes batters out and limits walks, and Pineda does both. He should continue to be an ace for years to come.

The Winner

I have to think that New York (based only on these two players; remember that two other pitchers were exchanged, with Seattle getting the more MLB-ready prospect) wins here. In the next five years alone, Pineda could accumulate as much as 25-30 wins of value, depending on how much development he has left. They did sacrifice a year of team control by acquiring Pineda, but it doesn't really matter: it's the Yankees. If Pineda turns into Pedro Martinez and warrants a $35 MM AAV when he files in 2016, the Yankees could afford to give it to him. On the level of these two players alone, it's hard to see how New York does not come out on top here.

The Loser

Seattle. The team needed offense, and they did get it, but at what cost? Montero is a fine bat, sure, but his value is impacted severely if he has to DH, and if he ends up behind the dish, he will be a serious inhibitor to the team's existing strength, run prevention. If Montero turns into a .280/.375/.550 hitter -- and he very well could -- he would still only be worth 3-4 wins as a DH. They could put him at first base, but this would displace Justin Smoak, one of the team's few bright spots on offense.

Montero also brings his own baggage: he came into spring training 2011 unmotivated, according to some members of the media, and while a lot of these accusations may simply be based on the fact that he did not hit for the first several weeks of 2011, these question marks will follow him to Seattle. Montero, between 2012 and 2017, could accumulate anywhere from 15-25 wins, a fine value, but I don't see how it is worth the cost.

The Bottom Line

The Yankees filled a big hole in their roster with not only a potential ace, but a very young one at that. What they gave up could end up being an All-Star, but it is much, much cheaper to replace a good DH (they are reportedly now in discussions with Carlos Pena) than a #2 or #1 starting pitcher. It seems that the Mariners made something of a lateral move, trading in Pineda's few wins for Montero's (in Seattle's run-depressed environment, Montero's value gets a boost while Pineda's is depreciated), but Pineda certainly has more upside, and it appears that Montero will be bringing some real headaches, either from his lack of a position or his personality. Chalk this one up to those damn Yankees.

Selasa, 10 Januari 2012

Intangibles: A Not-So-Intangible Impact

This is really an age-old debate that needs a bit of clarification.  Recent Hall of Fame arguments (particularly the argument for Jack Morris) have gotten people arguing that intangibles have an impact on an individual and a team that make him better and more valuable to a team than his stats show.  Firstly, let me start by saying that "intangibles" such as leadership that impact the other players on a team are not what I'm here to discuss.  I believe that those things have an impact, albeit completely immeasurable, on one's teammates.  Any one that doubts this should look into any social group or society and see the profound impact that a quality leader can have on people. However, individual intangibles should not be viewed in the same way, and there is a laundry list of reasons why.

Let's first start with the premise of the argument on the side of people who believe in intangibles.  They believe that traits (we'll use athleticism, competitive nature, and hustle in our examples) of an individual make the player better than what the player appears to be on paper.  They believe that these traits provide an immeasurable quantity of value that you can only get if you watch a player play on a daily basis.  For this reason, they not only look at statistics, but they attribute extra things to a player on top of that.  Well, I think that thinking is wrong.  Let's look at each of the three previously mentioned intangibles at a theoretical level.  This should shed some light on a topic that I think is commonly misunderstood: most intangibles have a completely tangible impact.

1) Athleticism

Anybody who has read the book "Moneyball" (or seen the movie, but I recommend the book) probably read about how important athleticism is in the eyes of old school scouts.  There are reasons for this, but they are not intangible.  They are completely tangible.  If all else is equal (competitive nature, hustle, work ethic, etc) then the impact of athleticism will be obvious.  For example, let's assume that the term "athleticism" means that a player has the following qualities that are above the norm: speed and strength.  These are the two most dominant traits that separate good athletes from great athletes in the eye of the public:

Speed- Well, we already know what speed impacts.  Speed affects one's ability to reach on weakly-hit balls (which increases batting average and on-base percentage), one's ability to steal bases and do so effectively (stolen bases and success rate), and one's ability to field his position by increasing range (this impact will be seen in scouting reports and defensive metrics such as UZR and rtot)
Strength- Obviously the biggest thing that increased strength will provide is the ability to hit the ball far.  This will increase home run totals, overall slugging percentage, and ISO (isolate slugging, which is slugging minus the singles).  Assuming that an athlete is strong, this could very well also mean an increase in throwing arm strength, since the player will be able to get more on the ball.  This will also show up in defensive metrics that measure throwing ability and will increase a player's outfield assists and will increase his abilities to make defensive plays on the infield as well.
So athleticism not only has a tangible impact, but it is one of the primary foundations of producing statistics.  It is probably the single most valued ability for a baseball player to have as it so heavily impacts every part of one's game.
2) Competitive Nature
This is probably the biggest one that comes up in a Jack Morris debate.  People believe he had a desire to win above and beyond what other pitchers did.  First of all, I don't think there's any excuse for professional athletes to not want to be competitive, considering they've made professions out of being skilled competitors.  However, that's not what I'm really interested in.  I want to look at a potential impact of an increased ability for competitive nature on the game of baseball.  What is competitive nature?  Just a desire to win games, right?  A desire to be better than everyone else you are competing against.  Well, this will impact every single statistic you can think of.  If a guy is best when he tries his hardest (fair assumption), then he will be performing at his best all the time.  Well, where's the argument?  If he's performing at his best, then you know there is nothing to add to his overall statistical accomplishments.  If he's performing at his best, his rates are going to be as good as they'll ever be assuming that the ability of one's teammates are equal to the abilities of everyone else's teammates.  It is a fundamental truth in baseball that the team that produces more runs than the other team is going to win.  How does one produce runs better than the other team?  Perform better statistically.  How does one perform better statistically?  Assuming everyone is equally talented, the answer is by trying harder and putting in more effort.  How does one try harder and put in more effort?  By being competitive.  Just like athleticism, a competitive nature is something that is a foundation of the formulation of all statistics.  There's no extra benefit to be gained by being competitive on top of what your stats already show.
3) Hustle
We'll call this the "David Eckstein" effect.  Is there any player in recent years that has been given more critical acclaim due to intangibles than David Eckstein?  Well, maybe Nick Punto, but David Eckstein is the guy I attribute most to it.  So what is hustle?  Let's go to for this one:
"to proceed or work rapidly or energetically"
Seems pretty straightforward to me.  Looks like hustling is giving maximum effort (gee, that sounds familiar to that competitive nature thing from before, eh?).  In this case, hustling is going to show up in just about every statistic you can see.  "Taking the extra base" turns a single into a double (which impacts SLG and ISO), "going first to third" is something people actually keep track of (thank you people at, and other forms of hustle (such as defensive plays due to hustle and stealing bases) will show up in the defensive metrics we use, the overall prevention of runs, and stolen base totals.  Every ounce of effort put into playing by a baseball player will show up in his statistics.
In the end, there's no added impact from hustling, athleticism, or competitive nature beyond the statistics that a player puts up.  Nobody is being sold short, and nobody should be cheated out of the numbers they put up because they weren't perceived as a quality person, didn't give 100%, or weren't the most athletic person in the world.  Writers and fans made a joke of the seemingly complete absence of effort from Manny Ramirez, but his overall numbers are a lot better than a lot of guys who have seemingly tried very hard.  It is wrong to penalize individuals for not appearing to try hard, and it is equally unfair to give added benefits to a player because he hustled and went from first to second.  Those individual intangibles do make players better.  However, the impact isn't "intangible."  The impact is perfectly tangible as these things impact most of the statistics we know: batting average, on-base percentage, defensive metrics, stolen base success, fielding-independent metrics, home runs, etc.
Arguing over the impact of individual intangibles gets us nowhere.  These things are already recorded, and players like Jack Morris aren't being sold short here.  Every ounce of Morris' competitive nature has been recorded in the numbers he put up.  There is no reason to give Morris additional credit for his competitive nature, because it would be redundant.  
So hopefully now people understand that our common individual intangibles do have a tangible impact, they are accounted for, and nobody is being sold short when their stats are being portrayed (as long as you use the right ones that is).  So let's let this argument die, already.

Minggu, 08 Januari 2012

Kendrick Contract Extension/BBR Part 10

The Angels have provided an opportunity for me to do a special editionof “Breakout, Bust, or Rebound?” for their second baseman Howie Kendrick.  The first part of the program will focus onour BBR outlook on Kendrick, and then we’ll discuss the contract at the endsince it focuses more on the long-term outlook for Kendrick and his team.
There’s a reason that the Angels pursued a contract extension for HowieKendrick: his 2011 end results were awesome and he is still only 28 yearsold.  To get an idea of what we’relooking at, here are Kendrick’s 2011 end results:

583 PA/ .285 BA/ .338 OBP/ .464 SLG/ 125 OPS+/ 120 wRC+/ 14 SB (6 CS/70% SB Rate)

Those are great results from someone in the American League.  Most would consider that all-star worthy, andthat’s exactly what Kendrick was in July of 2011.  His successes in 2011 look even moreimpressive when you consider what he did compared to the average 2ndbase slot for a major league team:

.255 BA/ .316 OBP/ .378 SLG/ 91 wRC+

As you can see, Kendrick was much better than your average secondbaseman in 2011 at the plate.  Throw in aridiculous 16.7 UZR, 0.7 dWAR and a 3.2 base running value (per fangraphs) andsuddenly you’ve got a great overall season. These rates helped Kendrick earn a 5.8 fWAR and a 4.3 rWAR, which madehim one of the better infielders in all of baseball in 2011.  However, BBR doesn’t look to what Kendrickdid in 2011.  We are concerned with whathe’s going to do in the future.  I amlabeling Kendrick as a bre…bus…rebou…nope, not calling him anything justyet.  We’ll get to that later.  For now, let’s look at some other stufffirst.

The first part of understanding the potential thinking behind a BBRselection on my part or a contract extension on the part of the Angels is tolook at what Kendrick has done in the last few years from an end resultstandpoint and a rate standpoint.  Let’slook at the end result patterns first:

2009: 400 PA/ .291 BA/ .334 OBP/ .444 SLG/ 104 OPS+/ 105 wRC+/ 11 SB (4CS/ 73% SB Rate)
2010: 658 PA/ .279 BA/ .313 OBP/ .407 SLG/   99 OPS+/   96 wRC+/14 SB (4 CS/ 78% SB Rate)
2011: 583 PA/ .285 BA/ .338 OBP/ .464 SLG/ 125 OPS+/ 120 wRC+/ 14 SB (6CS/ 70% SB Rate)
Total: 1641 PA/ .284 BA/ .327 OBP/ .436 SLG/ 109 OPS+/ 107 wRC+/ 39 SB(14 CS/ 74% SB Rate)

And here are the other rates:

2009: 5.0 BB/ 17.8 K/ .152 ISO/ .338 BABIP/ 12.2% HR/FB
2010: 4.3 BB/ 14.3 K/ .128 ISO/ .313 BABIP/   6.9% HR/FB
2011: 5.7 BB/ 20.4 K/ .179 ISO/ .338 BABIP/ 16.5% HR/FB
Total: 4.2 BB/ 16.9 K/ .141 ISO/ .339 BABIP/   8.8% HR/FB
It is rather remarkable how well Kendrick’s end results and rates lineup.  Kendrick has a good sample size foreach year and a good number of PA to judge him on from the three-year span.  What we can see is that 2010 was a down yearfor Kendrick, because his HR/FB rate was terrible, his BABIP suffered a 25point drop, and his walk rate was rather low. Even though his career averages suggest he’ll regress, it is unfair toKendrick to use them because he got such spotty playing time in the first threeyears of his career (played 72, 88, and 92 games).  It is better to judge him based on hisaverages over the last three years where he has played at least 100 games ayear, and it’s even BETTER to look at just the last two years since they havebeen full seasons:
2010: 658 PA/ .279 BA/ .313 OBP/ .407 SLG/   99 OPS+/   96 wRC+/14 SB (4 CS/ 78% SB Rate)
2011: 583 PA/ .285 BA/ .338 OBP/ .464 SLG/ 125 OPS+/ 120 wRC+/ 14 SB (6CS/ 70% SB Rate)

2010: 4.3 BB/ 14.3 K/ .128 ISO/ .313 BABIP/   6.9% HR/FB
2011: 5.7 BB/ 20.4 K/ .179 ISO/ .338 BABIP/ 16.5% HR/FB

Here we see a tale of two seasons, and the reality is that Kendrick islikely to be somewhere in-between (especially when the numbers from 2009 arelooked at).

Real Life Value to the Angels

As mentioned before, Kendrick’s value to the Angels is great, becausehe primarily plays second base.  However,he also can efficiently play other positions. The acquisition of Albert Pujols also should help Kendrick defensivelyas it will allow him to play more up the middle instead of playing towards thehole.  Offensively, Kendrick is a beastfor the position that he plays, and he really shouldn’t be overlooked goingforward.  Based on the numbers postedabove, I would anticipate the following rates from Kendrick for 2012:

5.2 BB/ 18.4 K/ .161 ISO/ .338 BABIP/ 13.2% HR/FB

Those rates should help Kendrick in achieving an overall slash linethat looks something like this:

.291 BA/ .331 OBP/ .439 SLG/ 121 OPS+/ 114 wRC+/ 14 SB (5 CS/ 74% SBRate)

These numbers should put him at roughly a 4 WAR on both fangraphs andb-ref, which makes him a great guy to consider for an extension.  He is a late-blooming 28 year old who will beplaying his 3rd full season in the majors, so it’s hard to just usethe typical age graph for reference here. Players that are 28 typically are still plateauing from peak, butplayers in their third full season typically have one of their best years.  This makes me believe that Kendrick will havea strong 2012 and 2013, but start regressing once he hits 30.

Fantasy Value

If you took Kendrick late, traded for him when his stock was low, orpicked him up off the waiver wire, you probably finished in the top 3 in yourfantasy league in 2011.  As far asfantasy numbers go, Kendrick played 140 games and put up the following numbersin a traditional 5x5 setting:

.285 BA/ 86 Runs/ 18 HR/ 63 RBI/ 14 SB

So far, I haven’t had to mention much about lineup change whenprojection a player’s future numbers, but this is a case where I have to.  With Albert Pujols anchoring the lineup andthe potential for a healthy Kendrys Morales, the Angels should be able to scorea lot more in 2012.  Kendrick could batanywhere from 2-5 depending on how the Angels build their lineup, so I’m goingto give a couple different potential projections based on the rates I postedearlier:

Projection One- #2 Spot in Lineup:

.291 BA/ 95 Runs/ 14 HR/ 71 RBI/ 14 SB

Projection Two- #5 Spot in Lineup:

.291 BA/ 83 Runs/ 14 HR/ 92 RBI/ 14 SB

Those are actually better overall fantasy numbers despite Kendrickhaving worse overall offensive rates.  This is a good example of why rate stats arebetter to look at than end results, because the changes around Kendrick in theoffense (more Trout, Pujols, and Morales) will allow his overall end results toincrease a lot.  I like Kendrick in afantasy setup for 2012.  I like him somuch that I would suggest taking him in the first five rounds, because hisoverall numbers should not be too much worse than guys like Kinsler and Ugglawho are likely to go in the higher rounds.

The Contract

Ah, here’s the thing I am most concerned with.  Based on reports, the Angels gave Kendrick a4-year extension worth $33.5 million. This means that the AAV for the contract will be $8.375 million, whichis a complete robbery on the Angels’ part. This deal is great for us to use, because we’ve already got metrics touse for projecting his future value from our previous installments of “ExtensionWatch.”  Here are the next four years ind/WAR based on our previously used model:

2012: 4.0 d/WAR
2013: 4.3 d/WAR
2014: 4.6 d/WAR
2015: 4.9 d/WAR

This creates the average d/WAR of 4.45 million dollars per unit of WARfor all extension candidates over this period of time.  I’ve already talked a little bit about what Iexpect from Kendrick in 2012 and beyond, but here are my estimates for hisaverage WAR (an average of rWAR compared to fWAR):

2012: 4.1 WAR
2013: 4.1 WAR
2014: 3.6 WAR
2015: 3.2 WAR

This projection gives us an overall total of 16 wins of value.  Based on our market projection for extendedplayers, this means a completely market fair contract would call for roughly$71.2 million for Kendrick over the next four years.  Well, the Angels paid roughly half ofthat.  That means that Kendrick canperform like this over that span and be worth the contract:

2012: 2.05 WAR
2013: 2.05 WAR
2014: 1.8 WAR
2015: 1.6 WAR

What we are looking at here is one of the better team-friendlycontracts signed in a long time.  Even ifKendrick is worth about half of what I have projected him to be, he is stillworth being paid 35.6 million dollars. Kendrick has out-performed the average year on the most recent model ineach of the last five years of his career, and that is with very spotty playingtime, so I am confident that this will be a fantastic deal for the Angels.  I think Kendrick got robbed and should havewaited to become a free agent in a rather weak free agent market for hitters.

Like a Straw Passing a Melon: The 2012 Angels and the Logjam of the Century

In 2011 the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Anaheim County, California, United States, North America, Western Hemisphere, Earth, the Solar System, The Milky Way, the Universe, etc) were nothing if not deep at their 'Eric Hinske' positions: outfield, first base, and DH. Vernon Wells manned left, Peter Bourjos manned center, Torii Hunter was in right, Bobby Abreu was the DH, Mark Trumbo played first, Reggie ".356 career OBP" Willits was the 4th outfielder-type, former MVP candidate first baseman Kendrys Morales would be coming back from his leg injuries, and 19-year-old Mike Trout, the #1 or 2 prospect in the world, was eventually another cog in the system as well.

This brings us to 2012, and there are a few issues:

One: Trout is a full-time player. Trout has raked all over baseball's farm systems, with a career Minor League OPS of .930. He does literally everything, tool-wise, including plate discipline, and he may also be the fastest player in pro baseball. Depending on the source, he was ranked as the #1 or 2 prospect in the game, and even earned a callup in 2011, getting 135 PAs, OPS+ing 88 and putting up a 0.9 WAR -- which translates to 4.0 given 600 PAs. Trout, who turned 20 in August, is ready for a full-time gig in MLB, and for all the things that Scioscia does, if he does not get Trout playing time, that would be the most unforgivable.

The Angels added another spanner to the works in December when they signed this guy you may know, Albert Pujols. Pujols is, of course, their first baseman, leaving Abreu, Trumbo, and Morales hanging in the wind for the DH spot.

None of these pieces are movable. I count nine players competing for five spots, and among them, few could conceivably be traded. Trout and Bourjos are exciting young players that should not be moved. Hunter, Wells and Abreu are all made unattractive by age, limited fielding ability, and salary ($18, 21, and 9 MM, respectively). Pujols obviously isn't going anywhere, and the return/upside on Morales right now would make it ridiculous to trade him. Basically, they were left with the ability to trade or release Willits, a decent player whose value they have destroyed by leaving him to rot in Triple-A for large swaths of his career, and Trumbo, who is a decent little player.


Willits is actually not an Angel, having declared minor-league free agency in October. So that's one problem gone -- now we only have 8 guys competing for 5 spots. With a history of not valuing Willits, it is hard to envision them bringing him back.

There are some givens in this situation. I think you have to put Trout in left field, Bourjos in center, and Albert at first base. Whether or not they do this is yet to be seen, but Pujols is obviously getting starts at first, Bourjos had an outstanding 5.0 WAR in 2011 as one of the best center fielders in the league, and Trout is very likely to outpace Wells and Hunter in the short-term, let alone the necessity to play him to continue his development. This leaves us with the following:

RF, DH -- And five players competing for those spots: Wells, Hunter, Abreu, Trumbo, Morales.

The position of RF is a tough call. The two obvious competitors are Hunter and Wells, both former Gold Glove center fielders. Neither have taken to the corners (or age) particularly well, and both put up negative fielding values in 2011, though both are better options than Abreu, who hasn't been a good fielder in a long, long time.

Now, using Bill James' Favorite Toy and the usual aging curve, We can predict Wells to be something like a 1-1.5 win player (awesome return on $21 MM). Hunter, on the other hand, looks more like a 2-win player, by the same system. Hunter (who, not without relevance, was Anaheim's starting RF in 2011) is your starting right fielder and Wells is your fourth outfielder, playing the corners with Trout being able to fill in for Bourjos in center.

This leaves Trumbo, Morales, Abreu, and the DH spot. Abreu probably wouldn't have been back this season if not for a playing-time-based vesting option that brought him back at the aforementioned $9 MM. While Abreu's power is virtually dried up at this point (8 home runs and a .365 SLG in 2011), the former Home Run Derby champ and future Hall of Famer still brings a solid bat to the plate. His discipline, his main remaining tool, brought him a .353 OBP in 2011, and his bat was still worth 7 runs above average. Still, he will be 38 in 2012, and expecting him to be anything better than average on offense (something not really acceptable from a position with a 112 OPS+ in 2011) would not be advised.

Trumbo on the other hand is an interesting player. What he lacks in discipline (4.4 BB% -- 8.3% league average) he mostly makes up for in power: he hit 29 home runs and ended up with a 118 OPS+ and 8 batting runs above average. This does not seem much more impressive than Abreu's campaign, and it isn't, but what is important is age. Trumbo turns 26 next week, meaning that he is in the beginning of his prime, as opposed to Abreu, who is at the tail end of a spectacular career.

Trumbo is clearly the better option at DH, but is having a reserve DH making $9 MM really ideal? Probably not. Which is why the Angels may look into a much-discussed option: moving Trumbo to third base.

The Angels currently have Alberto Callaspo listed as their third baseman. Many baseball people have offered the possibility of making Trumbo the third baseman, but I'm not even really going to entertain that possibility. Callaspo is roughly as valuable as Trumbo at the plate (111 OPS+, 10 batting runs), and is much better in the field. Trumbo is a fine-fielding first baseman, but Callaspo was a pretty good shortstop before becoming probably the best-fielding 3B in the AL not named Evan Longoria. He posted a 4.5 WAR in 2011, and, at 29 years of age, there is no reason to expect him to regress significantly. Callaspo is easily the best option for 3B.

So, we return again to Abreu being left out of the fold. And, because I like to make the Angels look silly, I will now introduce the wild card: Kendrys Morales.

Morales now infamously broke his leg during a walk-off celebration in early 2010, and complications have kept him off the field since that May afternoon. He was once an elite talent, a highly-sought-after Cuban defector, a two-time top-100 Baseball America prospect, and placed fifth in the 2009 MVP ballot as a 26-year-old. Before he hurt himself in 2010, from 2009 until his injury, he had hit .302/.353/.548 as a smooth-fielding first baseman, and was regarded as a budding franchise player. Morales says he is ready to go for 2012, and while the Angels may be able to stash him at Triple-A initially (he hasn't faced pro pitchers in almost two years), if he proves in either Spring Training or early on in his minor league stint that he can still rake, the Angels will have no choice but to bring him back up.

The Angels' best solution may simply be swallowing their pride, eating $30 MM for two bench players (Wells and Abreu) and playing Trumbo at DH. This is a deep team with a real chance to win in 2012, and it would be foolish to do anything but try to win.

However, if a situation does arise where Morales is hitting in the minors, he may force the Angels' hand, and they may have to move Trumbo, who is, as I said earlier, the only real possible trade candidate. The Angels could use pitching depth or bullpen help, and any organization welcomes prospects, and Trumbo may be expendable if Morales emerges as the DH option of the future.

In short, the Angels are not going to be able to walk away from this situation while both putting the best team on the field and not ruining their relationship with at least one player. It may be that eating a bunch of salary and moving Abreu or Hunter or even Wells is what they need to do, if they really want to find all of these guys time, but it is unlikely that each of these guys leaves 2012 with 500 PAs. Jeremiah wrote, "as ye sow, so shall ye reap", and it appears that the Angels are paying the price for not only the awful financial planning that cost former GM Tony Reagins his job, but also some excellent player development. Make no mistake: this is an issue that the Angels probably will not enjoy sorting out; but as baseball management figures so often state, this is a good problem to have.

Trout, the latest in this generation of super-prospects, should be a star for the Angels for years to come.

Sabtu, 07 Januari 2012

Breakout, Bust, or Rebound? Part Nine: Johnny Cueto

There is no doubt that 2011 was a disappointing campaign for the Cincinnati Reds.  After the team won its first division title since 1995, it was swept out of the playoffs by Roy Halladay and the Phillies.  Going into 2011, the team's expectations were sky high as they looked to defend their title against the Cardinals and the upstart Milwaukee Brewers.  In the end, the Reds finished as a sub-.500 team for the 10th time in 11 years.  However, one player broke out and had a stellar year after coming back late in the season from an injury: RHP Johnny Cueto.  Here is a look at what Cueto did in 2011 from an end-results standpoint:

156 IP/ 169 ERA+/ 1.090 WHIP/ 2.21 K/BB
This campaign was certainly an unexpected season from Cueto, especially since the next highest ERA+ he posted in any individual season was 112 (and he had only ever been over 100 one time).  Cueto's limited time didn't get him any attention for the Cy Young voting (deservedly so), but he definitely was a standout for the Reds in 2011.  However, how important is the season if he's got little chance of repeating it?  Well, it's not worth much of anything, and Cueto makes this list as a bust candidate for good reason.
Don't let that 2.31 ERA from 2011 fool you about Cueto (nate, looking at you).  He did very little as a pitcher to see the jump that he did.  Let's look at Cueto's last three seasons and his career averages to get a good idea as to what he's done:
2009:    6.93 K/ 3.20 BB/ 1.26 HR/ .291 BABIP/ 41.6% GB/ 11.2% HRFB
2010:    6.69 K/ 2.71 BB/ 0.92 HR/ .290 BABIP/ 41.7% GB/   8.6% HRFB
2011:    6.00 K/ 2.71 BB/ 0.46 HR/ .249 BABIP/ 53.7% GB/   5.8% HRFB
Total:    6.97 K/ 3.04 BB/ 1.05 HR/ .283 BABIP/ 43.5% GB/ 10.2% HRFB
There are a few things that should stand out here.  Cueto, who will be 26 at the start of next year, is sacrificing strikeouts for a very limited gain in control.  However, he's doing one thing right: he increased his GB rate by 12%, which is an astronomical jump.  As a pitcher, getting more ground balls is a great thing, but sacrificing strikeouts is the last thing you want to do when you are going into your prime.  Along with the strikeouts, it can be seen that Cueto saw a 41 point drop in BABIP and a career low in HR/FB ratio.  Those things are very likely not sustainable, because HR/FB ratio shouldn't jump around too much if a pitcher is pitching in the same park.  Cueto's 2011 ERA is the result of the mega drop in BABIP and the drop in HR/FB ratio.  The ground balls help him a bunch as far as progression, but one random year of increase is a little suspicious.  Let's look at his other rates over the past few years to see where he's going in terms of them:
2009: 4.51 xFIP/ 4.78 tERA/ 4.35 SIERA
2010: 4.09 xFIP/ 4.31 tERA/ 4.12 SIERA
2011: 3.90 xFIP/ 3.55 tERA/ 3.93 SIERA
Total: 4.21 xFIP/ 4.52 tERA/ 4.16 SIERA
Is Cueto trending in the right direction?  Yes, he's come a long way from 2009.  However, he hasn't made changes in his peripherals that dictate he should be any better than the average pitcher.  Last year he was incredibly fortunate to get the ERA he had, and it is rather astonishing that he was able to sustain it over 156 innings pitched.  However, rather than be closed-minded and just assume that everything was luck based, let's look at Cueto's individual pitch progression to see if there's anything there that can help us out:
2009: -2.6 wFB/ -0.2 wSL/ 0.0 wCT/ -3.7 wCH
2010: -2.6 wFB/ -3.9 wSL/ 6.6 wCT/  3.0 wCH
2011: 13.3 wFB/ 6.4 wSL/ -1.1 wCT/ 2.3 wCH
Well, there are three things to take away from this:
1) Cueto's fastball was suddenly magical after being terrible for 3 straight years.  This doesn't make much sense, as he threw it roughly the same amount of the time at virtually the same velocity (slightly faster than 2010).  His control didn't get any better and his strikeouts went down, so the win value in this pitch is very likely a fluke result.
2) Same thing happened with the slider that happened with the fastball.  Sudden magic.  However, this one could be better explained: Cueto threw his slider almost 9% less than in the previous year, and he took a full MPH off of it.  He likely had increased control of the pitch and used it to get ground balls low in the zone.
3) Cueto showed consistency in his change up.  Being able to throw this pitch effectively increases GB rates when the other pitches in the arsenal are being thrown effectively.
So obviously not everything in Cueto's 2011 season was a fluke.  Some of it was indeed based in skill.  However, there was a lot of fortune involved in what Cueto did.  The increase in GB% is great, but the drop in strikeouts is not great.  This is why Cueto's 2012 will be a major disappointment compared to his 2011.
Real Life Value to the Reds

As mentioned before, Cueto was one of the lone bright spots on a disappointing Reds club in 2011.  His breakout season helped the Reds by getting 4.3 rWAR, which is better to use for showing end results than fWAR is.  A 2.31 ERA over 156 innings is extremely valuable to the team.  Even though his independent rates are certainly weaker than his end results, it's not like Cueto is a terrible pitcher.  His IP total helps him accrue above average value, as he's been worth about 2.8 fWAR each of the past two years.  However, the decrease in strikeout rate increases the overall number of balls put into play, which creates more opportunity for hits and, more importantly, home runs.  A 5.8% HR/FB ratio while playing in the Great American Small Park is lucky to say the least, and an increase in that total along with normalization of BABIP to around .280 should assist in Cueto's raw ERA jumping back to where it should be.  With that, here's what I am going to expect from Cueto in 2012:
6.30 K/ 2.71 BB/ 0.99 HR/ .282 BABIP/ 43% GB/ 9.4 HRFB
3.99 xFIP/ 3.85 tERA/ 4.02 SIERA/ 2.2 fWAR
Thankfully for the Reds, Cueto is no longer the ace of the staff, so they can feel a bit more comfortable in their pitching staff.  However, the above results would be a great disappointment to the Reds.  Cueto is entering the best years of his career, so a drop in rates now would solidify him as an average pitcher, meaning he'll never reach the potential that some people (nate) think he will.
Fantasy Value

If you picked up Cueto off the waiver wire last year in your fantasy league, you probably made a big jump in your pitching categories.  After May 7th, Cueto had the following 2011 fantasy numbers in a standard 5x5 league:
9 Wins/ 2.31 ERA/ 104 K/ 1.090 WHIP/ 0 Saves
That's a really good shot in the arm for a fantasy team that has had trouble with injuries on a pitching staff.   In fact, it's probably a move that allowed some players to make the jump from 3rd to 1st in their fantasy leagues.  However, forget about 2011.  That was a thing of the past as the likelihood of Cueto going sub-3.00 in ERA with a WHIP below 1.275 again is pretty much zero.  With the changes in his rates being less than stellar, let's look at what I expect from Cueto in 2012:
13 Wins/ 3.71 ERA/ 122 K/ 1.275 WHIP/ 0 Saves
These are decent numbers, but there are a lot of starters that you can take in fantasy baseball that can get you this kind of season.  Due to Cueto's breakout, he's very likely going to be targeted early by the average baseball fan.  He put up really good numbers for the limited time he was active in the majors last year, and his raw ERA will excite some fantasy owners.  However, Cueto had a .25 drop in K/BB ratio, dropped a bunch in strikeouts, and as noted before, that ERA won't stay where it is.  What is my suggested draft strategy?  Either pick him where he's slotted and trade him (if you know someone that values him and gives a negative reaction to you picking him in the draft) or just completely avoid him until late in the draft if you really, really need pitching and have avoided taking it the entire draft.
Cueto's likely never touching his 2011 again, which is why I label him as a bust for 2012.

Jumat, 06 Januari 2012

Fixing a 104 Year-Old Problem

After Theo Epstein arrived in Chicago to accept his new job as president of the Chicago Cubs, he vowed to build a Cubs culture through building things in what he phrased as, "the right way."  This goal, per reports, could have been achieved in a number of ways.  The Cubs were going to have a ton of money coming off the books after a disappointing 2011 campaign, so they had elite financial flexibility going into the off season.  In the past, this would have meant an avid pursuit of major free agents, which would probably give the Cubs the ability to make a run to the playoffs.

However, this is clearly not the same Cubs operation as before.  There's rebuilding and then there's complete roster destruction.
Perhaps former GM Jim Hendry recognized what was going on before he was relieved of his duties.  The first major change came when RF Kosuke Fukudome was traded to Cleveland for a couple of minor leaguers (which gave way for guys like Tyler Colvin, D.J. LaMahieu, and Bryan LaHair to get more playing time).  However, within the first couple of months of the off season, it is clear that Theo is going after some major overhaul.  How much overhaul?  Well, here's a list of guys that were on the active roster at some point last year and are now gone (for the moment, as Theo may bring some of them back):
1B Carlos Pena
3B Aramis Ramirez
RF Kosuke Fukudome
RF Tyler Colvin
C Koyie Hill
IF DJ LeMahieu
LF Brad Snyder
SP Carlos Zambrano
SP Rodrigo Lopez
RP Sean Marshall
RP John Grabow
RP Kerry Wood (Cubs expected to re-sign him soon)
SP Doug Davis
SP/RP Andrew Cashner
No, you are not misreading anything there.  Every one of those guys appeared on the active roster at some time with the Cubs in 2011, and the only one who is expected to be back is Kerry Wood.  There are three names on the list that were significant for the Cubs in 2011 (Pena, Ramirez, and Marshall), but the rest is simply trying to get rid of a mess created over a span of 10 years by a terrible combination of pressure from the Tribune Company and a GM who was a bit in over his head in the market he was in.  So the main question is: what are the Cubs replacing all of this with?  Well, here's a list of all of the player acquired by the Cubs' organization during that span:
OF David DeJesus
RP Casey Weathers
3B Ian Stewart
IF Jeff Bianchi
IF Ronald Torreyes
OF Dave Sappelt
SP Travis Wood
RP Manny Corpas (split contract)
RP Andy Sonnanstine (split contract)
RP Carlos Martinez (Cuban prospect)
OF Yasiel Balaguert (Cuban prospect)
OF Reed Johnson (re-signed)
SP Chris Volstad
UTIL Joe Mather
1B Anthony Rizzo
RP Zach Cates
As Robin would say, "Holy roster turnover, Batman!"  Now, obviously there is roster turnover, but for it to be significant, we need to measure the potential value of some of these moves.  Because I'm the author of this write up and carry the authority to decide, you will get looks at David DeJesus, Ian Stewart, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, and Anthony Rizzo.  These are the five guys that will have the most immediate impact on the Cubs' roster, and if you want reports on the other guys, I suggest trips to fangraphs, b-ref, Baseball America, and other sites.  Without further ado, here we go:
1) OF David DeJesus (2 years/$10 million, option for 2014)
One of the main things Theo emphasized was getting better at defense.  When Kosuke Fukudome was traded to Cleveland, the Cubs gave away their best defender and pretty much solidified themselves as the worst defensive team in the league.  Getting DeJesus was the first step in fixing that problem.  A ton of David's value comes from fielding, as he's gotten 2.3 dWAR and 26.0 UZR combined over the last 3 years. However, DeJesus also provides usable offense, as he's posted the following career rates:
8.3% BB/ 13.4% K/ .137 ISO/ .316 BABIP/ 104wRC+
DeJesus does not figure into the long-term plans for the Cubs, but he fits with the Cubs in a rebuilding process, because he should provide 2 years of efficient value (the 5 million dollars per year is asking for him to produce just over a win of value).  DeJesus will be just enough to get on base, play good defense, and pest opposing teams.
2) 3B Ian Stewart (acquired in trade of Tyler Colvin and D.J. LeMahieu along with Casey Weathers)
To me, the acquisition of Ian Stewart was much like the acquisition of David DeJesus...just on a much smaller scale.  Formerly a top prospect, Stewart never panned out with the Rockies.  His power is decent and his patience is ok, but Stewart simply struck out way too much to ever find consistent success at the major league level.  A career 27.9% K rate is high enough to make him a marginal offensive player despite having some other decent skills.  In the field, Stewart has also had a tough time, but compared to Aramis Ramirez, this could be a very slight defensive upgrade.  This could be a case of a player needing a change of scenery (Stewart is under team control through 2014 if the change is good), but he is most likely going to be a utility infielder once Josh Vitters is ready to come up and play every day in the bigs (Vitters might be better than Stewart right now and is 5 years younger with tons of team control).  This was a case of the Cubs getting someone to lessen the blow of losing arguably the team's best 2011 performer.
3) SP Travis Wood (acquired in trade of Sean Marshall)
Two things were consistent for the Cubs last year: bad defense and worse pitching.  Starters such as Doug Davis, Rodrigo Lopez, Casey Coleman (who?), and Ramon Ortiz were regular sightings on the mound whenever the Cubs played in 2011.  After Randy Wells (meh) and Andrew Cashner (he gone) got injured after their first starts of the season, the Cubs scrambled to throw together whatever they could find in order to try and build a stable rotation.  However, that didn't work,  so here the Cubs are with a 25 year-old right hander who figures to be at the back end of the Cubs' rotation.  What does Wood do well?  Eh....he's got good control, but nothing else stands out.  After his first 209 innings in the bigs, these are the rates he has posted:
6.99 K/ 2.85 BB/ 0.82 HR/ .293 BABIP/ 31.4% GB (oh yuck)
There is no doubt that Wood is a junk-ball pitcher who is going to rely on control to be a pitcher in the majors.  His fastball sits in the upper 80's to low 90's and he'll throw sliders, cutters, curveballs, and change-ups along with it.  Wood may not have tons of potential, but he should provide one things: innings.  All the Cubs will be asking of Wood is to throw 160+ innings a season, and hopefully that leads to a fWAR value of around 2 just about every year.  A quick look at Wood's fielding-independent rates suggests that we don't know what to expect in 2012:
2010: 3.97 xFIP/ 3.88 SIERA
2011: 4.61 xFIP/ 4.55 SIERA
The largest reason for the changes in those rates is the alarming drop from a 3.31 K/BB ratio in 2010 to a 1.90 K/BB ratio in 2011.  Both seasons happened with similar numbers of innings pitched, so it's safe to say that Wood should probably sit somewhere between the two years, which makes him roughly a 2.0 fWAR player over a full season of pitching.
4) SP Chris Volstad (acquired in deal for RHP Carlos Zambrano)
The stars aligned and Carlos Zambrano was somehow traded from Chicago to Miami.  I'm going to be lazy here and quote some stuff about Volstad that I observed in my latest post about the Zambrano trade:
2010: 5.25 K/ 3.09 BB/ 0.87 HR/ 47.9% GB/   8.8% HRFB/ 4.43 xFIP/ 4.59 SIERA
2011: 6.36 K/ 2.66 BB/ 1.25 HR/ 52.3% GB/ 15.5% HRFB/ 3.64 xFIP/ 3.84 SIERA
Career: 5.83 K/ 3.14 BB/ 1.11 HR/ 50.4% GB/ 12.3% HRFB/ 4.19 xFIP/ 4.26 SIERA
His K rate shot up, his walk rate decreased significantly, he saw a huge increase in the number of GB he got, and the primary reason for the end results he had was a drastic spike in HR/FB ratio.  Fight now, it's hard to judge the HR/FB issue with Volstad considering he's had such drastic differences in rates:
2008: 3.9%
2009: 17.5%
2010: 8.8%
2011: 15.5%
If Volstad can keep up all his other rates and finally give us a good sense as to what he'll do from HR/FB ratio, then we're looking at a guy who is ready to make significant strides in terms of his end results.  Not necessarily to the point where he'll be a great success, but to the point where he's a guy who makes you feel very comfortable when you have to send him to the mound as a 4th or 5th starter.  If he can throw 175 innings of 3.8 ERA ball, then he can be an individual who provides surprise value to a team that is desperate for it in their rotation.
5) 1B Anthony Rizzo (acquired in trade of Andrew Cashner to San Diego)
Of all of the pieces acquired so far in the off season for the Cubs, Rizzo definitely appears to be the guy that is going to looked to as one of the key pieces of the rebuilding process.  Pre-2011, Rizzo was rated as the #75 prospect on Baseball America's top 100 list, and he did not disappoint in the minors:
413 PA/ .331 BA/ .404 OBP/ .652 SLG
10.4% BB/ 21.5% K/ .320 ISO/ .369 BABIP
Keep in mind, Rizzo played in a PCL launching pad, so his numbers are rather inflated, but those are still some insane statistics.  Due to his performance, the Padres called him up to see what he could do.  This time around, the results were not pretty:
153 PA/ .141 BA/ .281 OBP/ .242 SLG
13.7% BB/ 30.1% K/ .102 ISO/ .210 BABIP
So, what we've figured out by these numbers are that statistics can get pretty crazy when sample size is limited.  Rizzo's skills are there: he has a bunch of patience, good power, and can field his position fairly well.  However, he can also get ahead of himself and strike out in bunches.  The good thing is that Rizzo is only going to be 22 next year, and the presence of Bryan LaHair on the roster is going to let the Cubs send Rizzo to AAA to start 2012 to complete what baseball folks refer to as "seasoning."
The Cubs have not gone through a legitimate rebuilding phase in a very long time.  Early in the 2000's, they started a rebuilding process that only ended in more failure as guys like Mark Prior and Kerry Wood could not stay healthy, Carlos Zambrano went insane with rage, and "can't-miss" prospects like Corey Patterson went down as all-time busts.  This led the Tribune Company, which was failing and needed to make a splash for the Cubs to be a success, to sign some incredibly large and unreasonable contracts for guys who were not worth the money (Soriano, Zambrano, etc.).  So far, TheoCorp has started things differently.  He hasn't made any big splashes yet, and that could turn out to be a mistake.  However, the management staff seems to know what it takes to put a winner on the field (2004 and 2007 with Boston).  Who knows?  Maybe Soriano could be moved next.  Stay tuned.

Kamis, 05 Januari 2012

Ozzie's Guillen's Flying Circus: Big Z Traded to Miami

Every once in a while, there's a move that doesn't really mean much that you just have to talk about.  Late last evening (January 4th for future readers), the Chicago Cubs sent longtime Cub Carlos Zambrano to the Miami Marlins.  Here's a breakdown of the deal as it has been reported:
Marlins Get:
RHP Carlos Zambrano
$15.5 million
Cubs Get:
RHP Chris Volstad
It became obvious over the last few months of the regular season that the Cubs' change in management (and ensuing change in culture) meant the end of Big Z's days as a Cub.  With all of the explosions, fights with teammates, and unfair battles with gatorade coolers, there were seemingly no places for Zambrano to go...with the exception of Miami.  Why Miami?  Well, the guy in the title says it all.  Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano had a well-known relationship during their time in Chicago, and it must have become apparent to people that Big Z's last (and maybe only) opportunity was going to come under playing for one of his best friends.  So the Marlins are banking on the fact that they can make something useful out of the 2.5 million they will be sending Zambrano's way in 2012.  On the surface, this deal looks like nothing more than a change of scenery move for a couple of guys that really needed it.  However, this is a move that could benefit the Cubs in the long term. Let's look at the deal for both sides, starting with why the Cubs would make this move:

Chicago Cubs' Thinking
It has been very much apparent this off season that Theo Epstein and Co. are sticking to their plan of building a new culture in the Chicago.  They're looking to get younger, they're looking to get more talented, and they're looking for guys that they think can fit the idea of the "Cubs Way."  Already, they've made moves to get younger and more talented by bringing in guys like David DeJesus, Ian Stewart, and Travis Wood.  None of the moves are big splashes, but when you consider the money spent and the pieces moved, there's a gain here.  So far, the players (outside of Reed Johnson) have increased the talent of the team by adding depth.  Last year, it was extremely apparent that the Cubs lacked the MLB ready pitching in the minors to overcome early injuries to Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells in the rotation.  But why trade a starting pitcher for a starting pitcher?  Well, let's consider a few things:
1) Control
Even if Theo and new manager Dale Sveum got Zambrano to turn things around for 2012, he in no way fit the bill for the Cubs as they look to build towards a world championship.  At 31 by opening day 2012 with one year remaining on his contract, it made little sense for the Cubs to hold onto him.  So what did they do? They traded for Chris Volstad, who will only be 25 on opening day 2012 and comes with control through the 2014 season.  From a control standpoint, they got younger (by 6 years) and added 2 years of a cost-controlled starter.  Even if Volstad doesn't get any better, the Cubs have acquired more youth and control to build on the depth within the rotation.
2) The "Culture"
As mentioned before, Theo and his partners are trying to build a winning culture in Chicago.  They want to emphasize hard work, focus, and reliability.  With Zambrano's short fuse and seemingly terrible relationships with teammates, he did not fit the bill for this culture at all.  Yes, Zambrano has a winning record and has been a big part of 3 playoff teams, but going forward he does not carry that kind of value.  He simply wasn't the kind of guy to have on a team that wants to win.  Does Volstad fit the culture?  I have no idea, because he's been so quiet in the past that I've never heard anything about his personality, which could be exactly what Theo is looking for.
3) Talent
As mentioned before, on the surface this deal looks like nothing more than a salary dump.  However, I've already mentioned how the Cubs have gotten more youthful, more control, and have worked towards the culture they want to build with this deal.  That's not all there is to it: there's a good possibility that Volstad is better right now than Carlos Zambrano.  Huh?  Well, hear me out.  Let's begin by looking at some rates for each over the past two years:
2010: 8.12 K/ 4.79 BB/    .49 HR/ 43.6% GB/  5.2% HRFB/ 4.27 xFIP/ 4.33 SIERA
2011: 6.24 K/ 3.46 BB/ 1.17 HR/ 42.4% GB/ 11.3% HRFB/ 4.34 xFIP/ 4.46 SIERA
Career: 7.60 K/ 4.05 BB/ 0.75 HR/ 48.3% GB/ 8.9% HRFB/ 4.13 xFIP/ 4.26 SIERA
2010: 5.25 K/ 3.09 BB/ 0.87 HR/ 47.9% GB/   8.8% HRFB/ 4.43 xFIP/ 4.59 SIERA
2011: 6.36 K/ 2.66 BB/ 1.25 HR/ 52.3% GB/ 15.5% HRFB/ 3.64 xFIP/ 3.84 SIERA
Career: 5.83 K/ 3.14 BB/ 1.11 HR/ 50.4% GB/ 12.3% HRFB/ 4.19 xFIP/ 4.26 SIERA
A quick glance tells us one thing: Zambrano is older and is trending backwards and Volstad is younger and is trending forwards.  Zambrano saw a few tell-tale red flags that point to decreases in ability and success: significant drop in strikeouts, spike in HR allowed (partially due to HRFB and partially due to skill), and a drop in GB%.  Big Z's positive skills are going in reverse, which is what should be happening for a pitcher who is on the wrong side of his prime.  Meanwhile, Volstad saw just the opposite.  His K rate shot up, his walk rate decreased significantly, he saw a huge increase in the number of GB he got, and the primary reason for the end results he had was a drastic spike in HR/FB ratio.  Fight now, it's hard to judge the HR/FB issue with Volstad considering he's had such drastic differences in rates:
2008: 3.9%
2009: 17.5%
2010: 8.8%
2011: 15.5%
If Volstad can keep up all his other rates and finally give us a good sense as to what he'll do from HR/FB ratio, then we're looking at a guy who is ready to make significant strides in terms of his end results.  Not necessarily to the point where he'll be a great success, but to the point where he's a guy who makes you feel very comfortable when you have to send him to the mound as a 4th or 5th starter.  If he can throw 175 innings of 3.8 ERA ball, then he can be an individual who provides surprise value to a team that is desperate for it in their rotation.  Volstad has better velocity and movement on his pitches, better trends in his rates (and better overall rates currently), and is entering the stretch in his career where he should be putting up his best numbers.  Zambrano is doing the opposite, and those are the reasons that this is much more than a simple salary dump for the Cubs.

Miami's Thinking
I firmly believe that Miami has gone through with this trade for three possible reasons:
1) They want to continue to build up the interest in their team.  Adding Zambrano to the mix just adds another fiery personality to the party and makes for a more interesting club.  He's a much bigger name than Volstad, and he brings another personality to the team that may help sell more tickets.
2) They believe they can turn Zambrano around.  Since 2008, Zambrano has been a member of losing teams that have gone through a lot of turnover.  He was one of only a few players remaining from the Cubs' 2003 NLCS team, he had many different managers in Chicago, and the turnover seemed to leave him with few allies in the dugout.  As I mentioned before, Zambrano now gets to go off and play for one of his best friends: Ozzie Guillen in a community that is new to him and has not yet had a chance to grow tired of his antics.  A change in attitude may be what Zambrano needs to extract the last couple good years he might have in his body.  After all, Zambrano's nickname is El Torro, which not only speaks about his anger issues, but also about his stamina and durability.  At 31 years old, there's still a slim shot that he's got something left in the tank.
3) They simply feel that Zambrano might be better than Volstad next year.  Perhaps their analysis department is reaching a conclusion that I cannot see.  From my well-hit analysis, I reach the same conclusions that I came about when doing a fangraphs breakdown.  Zambrano does have one thing that Volstad doesn't: a track record of success.  There have been years in the past where Zambrano has been a great pitcher who can bring a lot to a team.  As little evidence as there is of that ever returning, there's always the possibility that Zambrano could have one season where he reverts back to his days as one of the game's better pitchers.
In the end, this deal slightly favors the Cubs from a player value standpoint, but it should be a net wash for the Marlins at the end of the day.  Zambrano should help sell more tickets than Volstad could have, and the Marlins only have to pay him $2.5 million for one season.  Any starter who could possibly post an ERA in the 3's and comes at have of the market value for a win is a guy worth taking a chance on.  The Marlins trade 3 years of a cost-controlled young starter with some average potential for a guy that could catch fire for a season and make things really interesting in Miami.  However, the Marlins did, in my opinion, get a little less talented on the field and moved controlled years of a guy going into the best years in his career.  That combined with the obvious chance that Zambrano has at least one blow up that draws negative attention to the team makes me side with TheoCorp. on this one.