Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Milton Bradley the "Mine Field?"

This article by Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle was going so smoothly and was almost interesting (especially considering the very deliberate approach that Sabean is taking and the thus the lack of relevant coverage)...until he said this:

"General manager Jack Zduriencik earned a ton of well-deserved praise for changing the Mariners' identity, but it must have gone to his head. He traded for Milton Bradley. Zduriencik decided that unlike all those other executives and managers over the past decade, he could turn Bradley into a prince. What a foolish, team-wrecking notion.

Bradley's latest firestorm won't be ignited right away. Griffey, Bradley's longtime idol, will make sure of that. But in signing Bradley to a two-year deal, the Mariners dropped a mine field into their master plan. The Cubs, with Bradley out of their clubhouse, will have one sensational Christmas."

While I completely understand the skepticism (which is justified) that surrounds the future of Bradley, I could not disagree more with the idea that the Mariners GM somehow sabotaged all that solid team chemistry he'd built in 2009.  First off, saying that Zduriencik signed him to a two-year deal is completely false.  He did no such thing.  He traded for him and he essentially dumped a worthless pitcher for the outside chance that Bradley would recapture the brilliance he'd showed (on the field) throughout his career and especially in 2007 and 2008. The cost?  About $3 M over 2 years.  Which is certainly something the Mariners can afford in a pretty solid market with solid attendance, especially considering the fact that they had the worst offense in the AL in 2009.  I'm certain Zduriencik doesn't believe he can turn Bradley into a prince.  I think he'd be perfectly happy if Bradley would just keep his mouth shut and be a productive player.  And with the way things have been going for the new GM, I wouldn't bet against that happening.

If Zduriencik should be criticized for anything it should be the resigning of the Kid.  While Griffery is a wonderful man, he is no longer a wonderful baseball player.  He was carried off the field at the end of 2009 and it probably should have ended there.  There are only 25 valuable spots on each active MLB roster, and I'd be extremely hard pressed to believe that the Mariners could not have filled that roster spot with a more productive player than Griffey.  He can no longer play the outfield like he so wonderfully did in his younger days and thus is resigned to DH.  Unfortunately, he's not going to provide much more with the bat either.  It also can't be an attendance and revenue ploy because Seattle drew about 135,00 fewer fans in 2009 from 2008 despite a more competitive ballclub and the addition of the hometown hero.  His BABIP in 2009 was very low (.222, by far his career low) so it's not unreasonable to think he could perform better in 2010.  But at his age it's extremely doubtful he will be worth anywhere near the $3 M he signed for.  There's nothing more heartbreaking than seeing a player hang on too long.  My father telling me about a "clumsy" Willie Mays playing the outfield for the Amazings comes to mind, and it still seems unfathomable to contemplate Mays was every clumsy.  Luckily, Griffey probably won't be expected to play any defense but I have to be candid.  I wish he would have hung them up.  But then again, maybe he made a promise long ago as a boy never to quit until they forcefully took the jersey off his back...something Zduriencik clearly isn't yet ready to do. 


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why Wins are Stupid, Simplified

One of the main statistics that will hurt a Cy Young candidate (such as Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke) is wins. This despite the fact that the pitcher has zero control of whether or not he will win. Luckily, this year these two fine gentlemen were not bamboozled. We all know wins are probably the worst barometer for a pitchers skill, but nonetheless affected the Cy Young Vote and do year in, year out. Let’s take a look at Quality Starts in the NL for the top 3 Cy Young vote getters in 2009. I particularly would like to use Quality Starts because unlike FIP, BABIP, YMCA and STD (I’m kidding about the latter two) they are fairly simple concepts, at least comparatively. There are only two criteria to log a quality start. You must pitch 6 innings or more and you must not allow more than 3 ER (earned runs).

The Contenders were:
Tim Lincecum
Chris Carpenter
Adam Wainwright
Let’s see how they faired:

QS = Quality Start, W = Win, L = Loss, % = Percentage, ND = No Decision

What this shows is a few things. 1) If Lincecum pitched poorly, the best he could hope for was a no decision. He never was rewarded with a W for pitching poorly but rather got pinned with the L more often. On the other hand, Carpenter got 2 W and Wainwright an astonishing 5 W (more than half the time he pitched poorly). Also, you can see though Lincecum logged the most Quality Starts and the highest Quality Start percentage, he still ended up with the fewest wins. You can also see that when Lincecum pitched well he won roughly (slightly more often) as frequently as Wainwright and less often than Carpenter. In Wainwright’s defense he did take losses at a higher clip when he pitched well but the fact that he won over half of the games he pitched poorly is outrageous.

This is a fairly straightforward example to show just how unreliable the W is to compare pitchers. For reasons like this QS analysis and others, people like Keith Law considered Lincecum the top pitcher in the NL and called it a “No brainer.” Despite all the information available, however, Wainwright received 13 first place votes, a greater number than both Lincecum and Carpenter whom finished 1st and 2nd in voting, respectively. This despite being inferior to not only Lincecum and Carpenter, but at the very least 2-3 other NL pitchers. Luck is a factor, defense is a factor, and Giants fans well know offense is certainly a factor. I would never say the ’09 Cardinals’ offense was reminiscent of the ’27 Yankees, but they certainly weren’t the ’09 Giants either, were they?

Roy Halladay is in a Class of his Own

Roy Halladay just wanted to thank the fans. It’s humbling and refreshing to hear about such a class act in the same industry (Professional Sports) that largely falls into the other pile, classless. While Tiger Woods was once recently (as recent as maybe 1 month ago) regarded as one of the true class acts of all time, well we all know the truth now. This is the same industry where touchdown routines include hiding a Sharpie in your sock to sign a football and deliver it to a fan. Or where players like S. Jackson sign contract extensions and then promptly demand to be traded. Or in baseball where Roger Clemens clearly used steroids (unless you believe his wife was using HGH unbeknownst to him), then parades around the media and even Congress proclaiming his innocence and risking his freedom. Oddly, the very same thing drove these athletes to excel in sports. Some cheat and some don’t, but most all of them have a desire to compete and win far greater than the average Joe.

Roy Halladay has long been regarded as one of the hardest working pitchers in MLB. His hard work has paid off handsomely with his outstanding success. There are other things that drive these same athletes to work hard. Money. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the truth with Roy Halladay. Why? When he agreed to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Phillies, he also agreed to a 3 year, $60 M dollar extension. While that probably seems like a ridiculous pile of money to most, it’s not exactly so in the game of baseball. In the same world that Barry Zito received a contract of $126 M (albeit undeservingly), Roy Halladay could have commanded a similar if not far greater sum of money. But he didn’t because it seems his competitiveness far exceeds his greed. He believed Philadelphia would give him a chance to win a World Series. And now it seems the only thing that will exceed his will to win his class. His gesture was no doubt a sincere one and the fans of Toronto, I’m sure, understand this completely. It’s time for them to rebuild but they will always have their memories of seeing him pitch every fifth day.

Affeldt: The Stars Aligned in 2009

On the heels of Jeremy Affeldt winning the Set-Up Man of the Year award, I decided to examine his season a little more closely. What I truly wanted to determine was whether not he could reasonably be expected to perform similarly in 2009. Unfortunately, he cannot. I’ve mentioned before that it’s extremely difficult for a batter to consistently beat the average of a BABIP (Batting average on balls in play) because they have little control over what happens once the ball is actually put into play. Have you ever heard a play-by-play guy say, “It’ll look like a line drive in the box score tomorrow?” They may not know it but they are talking about the luck that is involved in baseball. I also mentioned that the BABIP works for pitchers as well (though there are always exceptions, and Tom Glavine was one), and as it turns out, it’s even more useful for evaluating the future performance of a pitcher. So too is something called FIP. FIP was researched by a very smart baseball man named Voros McCracken. Voros believed that a pitcher can only control three main things, homeruns, walks and strikeouts. It’s essentially the exact same principle used with BABIP. To prove this he created an equation called FIP. The basic equation is:
FIP = ((13 x HR) + (3 x BB) – (2 x K))/IP

*HR = Homerun, BB = Walk, K = Strikeout, IP = Innings Pitched
FIP is an indicator of how well a pitcher pitched, independent of how well his fielders fielded. You probably won’t be too surprised to know that both Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum both had excellent FIP’s in 2009. If baseball was fair and luck was not a factor (in market terms, if it were efficient) then FIP would essentially mirror ERA. But, baseball, like life and the market, isn’t fair (it’s inefficient) and FIP doesn’t always mirror ERA. Both Tim Lincecum and Greinke had higher ERA’s than were their FIP’s in ‘09. In 2008, Lincecum hit both dead on, i.e. you could say he was luckless. His FIP 2.62, his ERA 2.62. This is rare. In 2009, his ERA was 2.48, his FIP 2.34. So you could say he was just slightly unlucky. Also, in 2009 his BABIP was .292 while in 2008 it was .313. If he got some extra luck (say in the range of a .265 to .275 BABIP), you can only imagine how that might positively impact (lower) his ERA. Luckily for the Giants in 2009, Affeldt got a nice chunk of this so called luck. A really nice chuck. And unfortunately, Affeldt and Giants fans will more than likely be staring at a sharp regression for their shiny new set-up man.

When looking at 2009, you can see that Affeldt had a .244 BABIP. The average BABIP for a pitcher is right around .285. Throughout his career (and even including the anomaly of 2009 in the average) his BABIP has been .306. Even more unsettling is the difference between his ERA and his FIP. Affeldt’s ERA in 2009 is 1.73 while his FIP is 3.59! His ERA is actually more than twice as good as his FIP. Notice also how his career FIP and ERA are almost equal. That’s not surprising because we know that when it rains it pours and when you’re on a roll nothing can go wrong, but eventually it evens out. They are near the same because over a larger sample the truth really comes out. You can also see that his LOB (Left on base percentage) in much higher than it had been throughout his career. It will be incredibly difficult to sustain that as well and really is just a byproduct of being so lucky and giving up fewer hits than he normally would have and probably should have. What he did do well which helped his overall numbers was limit the HR. Affeldt does have the ability to control this, and thus this is commendable. You’ll also notice that in 2008 his BB/9 (Walks per 9 Innings Pitched) was 2.87 which is much lower than his career average. In 2009 he was back to his old tricks and walking about 4.5 per 9 IP. But because Affeldt had so much success when the ball was put into play and stranded so many runners, he was not hurt by them. If you are a Giants fans, you may or may not recall how many double plays he induced. He induced a ton. This is particularly peculiar because Edgar Renteria is no Ozzie Smith, especially at his age. Affeldt induced nearly 20 though he pitched fewer than 70 innings. Now take a look at his GB/FB (Ground Balls / Fly Balls) for 2009. Throughout his career, he generally was getting about 1.5 ground balls for every fly ball; however, in 2009 he had 3.5 batters hit ground balls per every 1 fly ball. Isn’t that strange?

I used the wonderful to come pull together all of these stats, and stumbled across this which explains this phenomenon perfectly. I wasn’t the first to unearth Affeldt’s shocking secret. This was posted back in July of 2009. Affeldt magically got a ton of ground balls in 2009 that he hadn’t historically gotten. There seemingly was no fundamental reason for it, either. He is not a sinker baller pitcher, like Derek Lowe, who throws a heavy ball that makes batters pound the ball into the ground. He primarily throws a 4 seam fastball that usually results in many more fly balls and a very nasty curve ball. Mike Krukow has said that Affeldt has come to believe he can control his curve as well as his fastball. If he is throwing that curve more often now than he had in the past, and players aren’t expecting it, and if we’re lucky, that curve he is throwing is the reason for all this grounder madness. But it’s not. Affeldt has thrown roughly the exact same percentage of fastballs and curveballs over the last 3 seasons. So the only hope now is that his fastball got way better, his curve got way better, or a combination of both. Again, unlikely.

So now that we know that all of the stars aligned for Affeldt for one magical season in 2009, we should realistically expect him to come back down to earth. His BABIP will likely go back up to his career average (about .300 at least). Even if he continues to allow fewer HR than he has historically (and AT&T should help him with this), and walks fewer than he did last year, he will still likely give up more hits and more runs in 2010 which will significantly increase his ERA. I’ll be willing to bet that his ERA will be between 3 and 4 in 2010, which isn’t such a bad thing and he’s still a pretty decent reliever. He’s just not that good of a reliever.
It’s almost Christmas so I won’t give you a big old lump of coal and nothing else. There is a silver lining in all of this and his name is Dan Runzler. The Giants have a nice collection of young, solid and quality relief pitchers. Runzler no doubt sticks out in my mind. In the very few appearances I’ve seen him he has a very nasty slider and appears to have nice control. Also, he is left handed with a very easy 93-96 MPH fastball. Even with a fringy second pitch, he could probably be a serviceable left handed arm in the bullpen if he’s able to locate that plus fastball. And this is good because Affeldt was the only left handed reliever the Giants employed for most of 2009, and we know he won’t quite cut the mustard next season. At least not like last year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Link Between K's and HR's

I was recently looking up MLB Park Factors to try and make sense of all this talk about free-agents’ reluctance to playing in San Francisco. It’s frustrating and a little absurd coming from a fans perspective. Locals of the Bay Area among many others who have visited the ballpark by the Bay understand just how special it really is. The fans are only outdone by the beauty of the pristine yard. So when you hear Peter Gammons report that “Jason Bay doesn’t want to play in San Francisco, pure and simple,” it can be maddening. But it can also be seen as a good thing. For one, Jason Bay can’t play outfield a lick. Think Manny Ramirez. He has always been a poor outfielder but when he got a bit older he played most of his games in Boston. Left field in Boston has very minimal ground to cover and can somewhat hide a poor outfielder. You can see now how horrendous he is as he has aged further and is currently patrolling the very spacious outfield in Dodger Stadium. AT&T does the opposite of Boston. In AT&T a poor outfield defender is exposed and sticks out like a sore thumb. Also, Alfonso Soriano and Gary Matthews Jr. passed on the Giants for similar personal beliefs that the park would depress their numbers. Well, that turned out pretty darn good for the Giants. Soriano is a terrible defender and seemingly has little left after his 2009 campaign. Gary Mathews Jr. spends most of his time watching the game from the bench rather than playing it. I am here to tell you Giants fans do have to look forward to and if they stay the course the promise land awaits, even if they don’t make that big free-agent splash and we keep those first round draft picks that netted the Giants Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey.

It’s no secret that baseball fans love homeruns and strikeouts. What’s not to like? Also, they seem to go hand & hand from the days of Bobby Bonds to the present Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds. Unless, of course, your name is Barry Bonds (later in career), Albert Pujols or more recently Joe Mauer because they are the very few and elite who can hit for substantial power while also managing to keep a high contact rate.

The homerun and strikeout are also very uniquely linked in the game of baseball. What, you might be saying. It’s true. Fact: They both result in the player grabbing some pine (meat), though one is clearly preferred and applauded and the other, at times, results in broken equipment. But the comparison certainly doesn’t end there. The thing that truly links them is a very simple fact. Neither of them result in the ball being put into play (the field), and thus they become a very reliable and worthy statistic to analyze baseball players. The walk is a very meaningful statistic for this reason as well. It seems the old timers got at least a couple of them right. Worthwhile statistics I mean. Unlike the RBI and batting average, these statistics are largely independent of the other players on the field. A pitcher can in essence protect him self from the factor of luck by striking a batter out. A batter can protect him self from the factor of luck by hitting the ball over the fence, but unfortunately with the long ball it’s not quite as simple as that because though the HR is largely shielded from luck it is not so completely. The reason for this is that some parks are much more HR friendly (Colorado) while others are enormous and a slugger can hit it a country mile only to see it land harmlessly in a glove (San Diego). I will use the ESPN Park Factors to illustrate how big of a difference it can be. The Park Factors basically show whether the park favors the pitcher or hitter. 1.000 means that the park is even and doesn’t favor either. The difference between Petco (San Diego) and Coors (Colorado) is enormous. They play in the same division and yet they couldn’t be more dissimilar how the parks play.

The Park (Years)          RS/HR*
Petco Park (’04-‘09)       .798/.762
Coors Field (‘02-‘09)    1.257/1.258
*RS = Runs Scored Factor, HR =Homerun Factor

This is a drastic example but you can see why it’s important to look a little closer when you compare players. It isn’t perfect but it’s certainly a much better predictor of future performance than, “He was the best pitcher because he won the most games.” You can also see why it’s important to look a little closer when it comes to voting for awards. Because why should Adam Wainwright have been rewarded because he won 20 games? Luckily he didn’t win 20 games (though he came close until the Cardinal bullpen blew the lead in his final start) and luckily he didn’t win the Cy Young Award. Had he gotten #20 I’m fairly certain the Cy Young vote may have looked drastically different. He did, after all, have more 1st place votes than both Lincecum and Carpentar despite his 3rd place finish. A few of the Baseball Writers are starting to turn but by and large they continue to vote the way they did 30 and 40 years ago because baseball is a game of tradition and it somehow pains them to see it broken down so methodically. Perhaps they feel it takes away the magic and beauty of it. We all know that change is difficult and thus it is hard to blame someone for resisting such an unexpected revolution. This has caused a direct contradiction between the way most teams have begun to evaluate players and the way they are seen in the papers. This isn’t seen as a particularly large problem but it should be. It should be because a player is chosen to the Hall of Fame based on his body of work over a career, which includes the individual recognition he either did or did not receive.

To go into greater detail about Colorado, the park has a huge outfield and thin air. Colorado is a pitchers nightmare, a real house of horrors. The combination of the thin air and expansive outfield has resulted in a situation where a player is likely to not only post a high BABIP (because of the large outfield) but also hit a lot of dingers due to the whacky mile high air. A few years ago it was actually much worse than it is today. In 2002 the Park Factors at Coors Field were 1.440/1.600. They made two changes that greatly lowered the runs scored. They created the humidor which made the balls softer and not go as far and thus lowered the homeruns. Additionally, they made the infield grass longer which slowed down the ground balls. Prior to then it was easy to post an incredible BABIP as well as mash balls over the fence. That scenario had the Rockies going through pitchers at an incredible rate and because they have to play half their games there as opposed to the opposition who play at most a few series’, it was far more detrimental to them. It was the opposite of home field advantage. They are also known to turn the area directly in front of the batters box into a sandbox when Aaron Cook is pitching. Why? Aaron Cook is a ground ball pitcher and the sandbox area deadens ground ball and results in more outs and double plays. That’s truly Brilliant. As for San Diego, simply put the dimensions are huge and the ball doesn’t carry.

Back to strikeouts...On the Uggla post I described how it is reasonable that he could, if not probably should, have a more solid year in 2010 if he is more “lucky,” i.e. he posts a higher BABIP (batting average on balls in play). What’s so great about racking up the K’s and whiffs is that this luck factor is eliminated completely. The more strikeouts a pitcher compiles, the less often the ball is put into play and the less likely his team can screw up by either making an error or simply not having enough range to get to the ball. Thus the expression, he has runs in his glove. People will often say this about an excellent fielder because while a team may not be able to score runs while on defense, they can certainly prevent them. And a run prevented isn’t as flashy or exciting in many cases but I assure you it’s just as valuable. The ratio is 1:1. Case in point, the 2009 Seattle Mariners defense allowed them to contend later into the season than expected despite a horrifically unproductive offense. The Giants used the same formula and it’s quite frankly very irritating for fans. There is nothing quite as frustrating as watching your favorite teams Ace lose a 1-0 game while the opposing 5th starter dominates the home lineup.

Giants fans will be happy to know that while the homeruns certainly have ceased since the departure of the greatest living hitter, Barry Bonds, the strikeouts have emerged. It sure is too bad they didn’t put the two together. The Giants struck more batters out in 2009 than did any other team in MLB (1302).  In fact, that's a greater number than the AL record of 1,266 by the 2001 Yankees while the NL Record is 1,404 by the 2003 Cubs. It’s no wonder they played meaningful baseball deep into the season. There’s no reason to think that they won’t continue that trend so it’s time to be just a little more optimistic about next season. With the rotation of Lincecum, Cain, Zito, Sanchez and Bumgarner the opposing bats should be creating more wind than contact again in 2010. Even an incremental improvement in the offense could be enough to take the division, especially when the Dodgers are frozen in divorce induced payroll purgatory. Giants fans are no doubt getting restless this off-season and so am I. The fans, management and the entire world are acutely aware the Giants need to find a way to score more runs.  Even Brian Sabean does (despite the bashing he gets among the SF faithful), as was proven by this comical and facetious comment about Scott Boras. But with the 3rd ranked Farm System in terms of impact talent according to Baseball America and two of the most energetic, exciting players in the game in Kung-Fu Panda and the Freak, it’s time to quit griping and grumbling and understand the glass truly is half full.  The pieces are there. The Giants are truly on the right track for the first time in a long time, and though they’ve never won it all in San Francisco and the franchise has no rings since ’54, there is good reason to believe brighter days are coming. Plus it’s still better than watching basketball (especially if you are rooting for the Warriors).  And it's a whole hell of a lot better than being a die hard Pirates fan (17 consecutive losing seasons and no end in sight). The long awaited parade down Market is inevitable.

While I doubt I have to say it, you really should appreciate the whiffs while you can. Lincecum deserves special recognition because he really has no peers (or fears) and it’s one of those rare occasions where everyone agrees. He’s phenomenal. And he’s certainly helped himself by eliminating that pesky luck.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mariners Making Moves in AL West

The busiest team this offseason has been the Seattle Mariners and they have rapidly closed the gap between themselves and the Angels. While the Angels have lost both Chone Figgins (to the Mariners, mind you) and John Lackey while doing little else, the Mariners have made a flurry of moves that should help them contend if not be an outright favorite coming in to 2010.

2009: A Year to Build On
The Mariners were an excellent defensive and solid pitching team in 2009, which allowed them to become one of if not the greatest example of run prevention throughout the league. Their two greatest assets in this category were King Felix who had a Cy Young worthy season (if not for Marvelous Greinke) and Franklin Gutierrez who is perhaps currently the greatest defensive CF in the Major Leagues whom no doubt was robbed of a Gold Glove. Ichiro remains an excellent fielder with a stellar, powerful and accurate arm in right field. Jack Wilson was acquired in a trade mid-season which only made their defense that much more dominant considering he’s an incredibly gifted defensive shortstop. Don’t forget Beltre (who may or may not depart) who continued to show he has one of the top third base gloves in all of baseball. I expect you’ve noticed that I am going on and on about defense. Well, that’s because their defense was about the only bright spot in 2009. Their punchless offense posted the worst OPS (On-base plus slugging percentage) in the AL and, much like the Giants, they simply could not score enough to keep up with other teams. The only significant contributors were Russel Branyan who had an excellent breakout season before breaking down with back problems in September and the ageless Ichiro. Branyan was a 1 yr, $1.4 M dollar signing that was, perhaps, a bit of foreshadowing in terms of the craftiness of Bavasi’s replacement, Jack Zduriencik. What’s more? Jack pulled off a heist by dumping the atrocious Yuniesky Betancourt for a couple of pitching prospects that could possibly be useful in the future. The Royals’ GM must be working with Bill Bavasi. Here is what Keith Law had to say about the trade.

Offseason Stuff: Free Agents, trades and Dumb Luck
In terms of this offseason, Christmas came a little early in the Pacific Northwest when Kenji Johjima opted out of the remaining two years of his contract (worth about $16 M). It appears Kenji preferred to go back and play in Japan, which was lucky for the Mariners because it freed them up some cash. In 2008, he had an absolutely brutal year at the plate where he probably couldn’t have hit his way out of a wet paper bag. In 2009, he rebounded somewhat but after he lost his everyday job to a platoon with Rob Johnson, he simply wasn’t worth near $8 M per year. The 3 year $24 M dollar extension was signed in April 2008, a parting gift to the Mariners from the inept Bill Bavasi. I don’t know what’s worse, his General Managing or Carlos Silva’s pitching. I’ll get to Silva, another of Bavasi’s unquestionable horrendous signings (4 yr, $48 M).

The Mariners then kicked off business by signing Chone Figgins, stealing him away from their division rival. Figgins has always been a gifted utility player that can play just about anywhere, however, given the chance to play 3B regularly he proved to be a slick and consistent fielder. Figgins has always had wonderful speed (averaging 46 SB and 6 triples over the last 5 seasons), but in 2009 Figgins hiked his OBP (on-base percentage) significantly to .395 making him an ideal leadoff hitter*. He drew about 40 additional walks in 2009 and should he sustain the ability to walk at last years rate it should make for an incredibly speedy top of the lineup in ‘10.

(*) Mariners fans may want to believe that Ichiro should retain his thrown at leadoff, however, his lack of plate discipline and inability to draw walks at the rate of Figgins should give Chone the edge. Also, Ichiro has excellent bat control which make him an ideal 2 hitter for hit and runs, etc. Lastly, Ichiro can not be expected to hit .350 (average) every season, and thus his OBP will take a hit in the seasons he is closer to .300.

After signing Figgins, the Mariners got themselves involved in a blockbuster 4 team trade that netted them 2008 AL Cy Young Cliff Lee. With that it was very clear they were going for it in 2010. Hernandez and Lee will quite possibly be the best 1-2 punch in either the AL or NL in 2010. Breaking down the trade: The Phillies sent Michael Taylor* (an excellent OF prospect), Kyle Drabek (probably their #1 pitching prospect and a future #2 starter) and Travis d'Arnaud (a solid catching prospect) to the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay.

(*) The Jays flipped Taylor to Oakland for Brett Wallace. Each are excellent prospects and the trade was more because it made sense for each team in terms of personnel. The A’s had a logjam of corner infielders and needed some depth in the outfield.

The Phillies then sent Cliff Lee to the Mariners for Phillipe Aumont and Juan Ramirez, who are both of the Mariners’ top pitching prospects, as well as Tyson Gillies (an extremely fast outfield prospect with limited offensive upside because of his lack of power.)

The Mariners gave up 3 very solid prospects, but in return, got a true #1 starter in Cliff Lee. The downside is the fact that Lee is only under contract for 2010. Apparently, the Phillies believed they would not be able to sign Lee to an extension they both could agree to in terms of dollars and years and that was the motivation in going after Halladay whom they worked out a 3 year, $60 M dollar extension (4th year vesting option) prior to consummating the trade. Halladay is the better of the two starters but the difference is not huge. Halladay will give you more innings and more CG’s and is an absolute beast of an Ace workhorse with slightly better stuff. The Phillies could have kept Lee for 2010 but took it as an opportunity to restock their farm system after giving up so much to obtain Halladay.

Lee is very affordable in 2010 at about $8 M (a contract he’d signed when he was an Indian just a short time ago, two trades prior). The Mariners did risk a lot because there is a definite chance Lee will walk away from them next winter when he becomes a free agent. Even then, the Mariners will receive draft pick compensation. Also, it is possible that they can sign Lee to an extension* if they are able to get him to fall in love with the city and the park. I see no reason why he should not love Safeco. Safeco is absolutely brutal on right handed hitters and because Lee is a lefty, he will see more of them. Think Jarrod Washburn. Washburn no doubt was helped not only by the Mariners’ defense but also the park. Only, Lee is much much better than Jarrod Washburn. At the very least, they put themselves in strong position to take the AL West by storm and make their first playoff appearance since 2001, something that will be warmly welcomed by Seattle. If they somehow don’t play well in the first half, they can still flip him to another team looking to upgrade for the playoffs and acquire some excellent prospects to restock their farm once again.

(*) Unfortunately, I don’t really see this happening for them. The Mariners need to try and lock up King Felix and it would be difficult to sign both long-term. Some already believe that Hernandez will be worth $100 M plus in free agency given his ability and young age. Lee won’t be too far behind.

The Mariners then did the unthinkable, they traded for Milton Bradley. At first glance, I can absolutely see why this might make Mariners fans cringe. Milton Bradley has extreme character issues and has played on something around 10 teams in about as many seasons. That being said, he was one of the best offensive players in the American League in 2008 for Texas, whom plays in the Mariners’ division. After signing a 3 year, $30 M contract with the Cubs he had a disastrous 2009 that culminated in him being sent home in September by Cubbies GM Jim Hendry for conduct detrimental to the team. What did they give up for Bradley? Nothing. The Mariners unloaded their final bad contract of the Bavasi era in pitcher Carlos Silva. The Mariners are the clear winners in this trade as the Cubs were unable to obtain any value whatsoever for Bradley. They roughly have the same financial commitment (Silva: $25 M remaining and $2 M buyout and Bradley: $21 M remaining). The Mariners did send over about $9 M spanning two seasons to offset the difference, however, it only amounts to about $3 M with the buyout.

Carlos Silva has had two terrible seasons which included an injury in 2009. He’s not even close to worth a 25-man roster spot on either team. The Mariners would have likely released him and so too should the Cubs. What they will do with him remains to be seen.

There are a couple of things to discuss in terms of Bradley. The obvious one is the label he has as a bad teammate and cry baby. This label is completely justified. My one defense I will provide is that Chicago is a horrible place to play for a mental midget. The Cubs fans are wasted by the middle of the first inning and they will jump on a player. Bradley should no doubt have a much better chance at succeeding within a much more docile and player friendly city and market in Seattle. Another thing to note is that he will likely DH a good majority of the time in Seattle which will keep him off of the field and away from the brutal ridicule he no doubt gets on the road patrolling the outfield. Actually, the benefits of this are two-fold. Bradley has had some difficult staying on the field and healthy in his career and a DH role should greatly increase the likelihood he’s able to stay in the lineup. The last item to discuss is of course what the Mariners possibly have to gain in this transaction, Bradley’s production. Milton Bradley can be a very productive offensive player and has been throughout his career. For one, he always works the count and posts a quality OBP. Even in 2009, he posted a .378 OBP (just 8 points lower than ICHIRO’s). His average and slugging percentage were not great but he walked 66 times in just 393 AB’s. Bradley is a switch-hitter and can hit for power from both sides when he’s right. He can be quite productive, in fact, and is just one year removed from posting the highest OPS in the AL. That makes the upside of this trade absolutely incredible, especially when considering they gave up absolutely nothing. Even if Bradley should continue to act like an absolute fool and play terribly, the Mariners can simply release him and be no worse off than they were prior to the trade, less $3 M. This is a fantastic trade and the fact that the Mariners need for offense is so acute makes it that much more meaningful. I’ll be quite honest. As a Giants fan, I couldn’t help but wonder what a trade of Aaron Rowand for Bradley might have looked like, given the Giants’ reminiscent need for some semblance of an average offense to support their phenomenal pitching staff.

Final Thoughts
The Mariners are still probably not done. They have upgraded their offense in certain areas but still have definite room for improvement. One avenue that has been considered by Seattle is Jason Bay. Avoiding Jason Bay is a good idea, if they do indeed avoid him. They have upheld if not close to upheld defense with Figgins at 3B over Beltre. If they retain Beltre, Figgins will play 2B making them that much better on defense. Bay would have made Gutierrez’s job that much more difficult in CF.

Off the books are Beltre (possibly), Branyan (possibly), Bedard, Johjima, and Miguel Batista. They may retain Branyan and Beltre and the grumblings seem to indicate that the Mariners have an interest in doing so.

If they keep Beltre that paves way for 1st round pick (2nd overall) Dustin Ackley to stay in the Outfield. More than likely he’d have to play LF but this might not be their top choice. It’s traditionally a more power type position and they will essentially be fielding 3 outfielders with minimum power (Ichiro and Ackley not prototypical but Gutierrez will be average power in CF) and Figgins at 3B is another power position where he won’t be providing it. But, it’s hard to hit it out of Safeco so maybe speed and gap hitters will serve them very nicely.

Quick Aside: Had Zduriencik been around a few years ago instead of Bavasi, don’t you think maybe he would have taken University of Washington alum and 2006 Golden Spikes Award winner Tim Lincecum before the Giants did at #10? Can you imagine that rotation? Just a thought.

While Seattle has gained significant ground, it seems as though the Angels have lost some. They lost their #1 starter John Lackey to the Red Sox and Figgins. Texas is an emerging team with wonderful pitching prospects* and a pretty solid offense. If they can continue developing their young staff and Josh Hamilton and Michael Young can stay healthy, they could pose a serious threat in the division as well. Oakland is the poorest franchise in this division by far. It’s lucky that the division has only 3 other competitors because it would make it just that much more difficult for them. That being said, they have possibly the best GM in baseball (Though this gap has significantly slimmed and some GM’s may not want to deal with him having been absolutely smoked on deals in the past) as well as some promising young offensive and particularly promising pitching prospects. With that, if the Mariners can grab another bat or two I have my money on them in 2010. They should be able to make an excellent run to get to the postseason and after that, who knows? Throwing Hernandez and Lee at the top of the rotation could look a lot like Johnson and Schilling who vanquished the Yankees in 2001. Folks in Seattle should be very pleased with Zduriencik and be eager to see not only what he does next, but what the Mariners are capable of in 2010. If baseball was an addiction (and for me it is) Bill Bavasi truly was rock bottom.

(*) Texas is thriving under the tutilege of Nolan Ryan, who has implemented a much tougher mentality towards pitchers within the organization.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Uggla talks continue

As I had suggested in an earlier post, the Giants are probably more interested in Dan Uggla than they’d like everyone to believe. After all, they have been linked to the slugging second baseman in trade talks since at least the July trade deadline if not longer. The Miami Herald has reported that the Giants and Marlins have discussed Jonothan Sanchez, Clayton Tanner and a mid-level pitching prospect for Dan Uggla.

It’s not clear if the Marlins would be asking for Sanchez and the two additional minor league prospects, however, Sanchez alone would likely be too much of a haul. The only other team that appeared seriously interested in Uggla was the Baltimore Orioles, whom inked Rockies 3B non-tender Garret Atkins yesterday.
The Marlins are pretty much dead set on moving Uggla because of the salary he will command in not only 2010 but 2011. Uggla has 2 more years of team control remaining but his salary will likely reach $7-8 M in 2010 and beyond that in 2011. If the Marlins were unable to move him now or at the deadline in 2010, his value would drop further and further going into the 2010 offseason and likely would result in the Marlins non-tendering him because they simply couldn’t risk paying him $10 M plus in 2011. This means that Uggla’s value diminishes with each game. Also, his batting average in 2009 was only .243, he strikes out often and is known to have a below average glove. The Marlins would be wise to move him now and get what they can for him. I have one additional tidbit I neglected to mention in my previous Uggla post. The Marlins are rumored to be considering moving their rookie OF Chris Coghlan over to 2B. Coghlan had a torrid second half after being promoted to the majors in 2009 and was a very solid NL Rookie of the Year candidate.

It’s admirable that Sabean has waited to pull the trigger as I am sure the Marlins are doing their best to pry away Sanchez. There are a few reasons why Giants fans should breathe a little easier. The Giants seem always to be loaded with minor league pitching and could certainly include 1-2 decent pitching prospects without greatly diminishing their depth. Oddly though, despite the extreme quality the Giants major league ready and incumbent pitching staff has in Lincecum, Cain, Zito, Bumgarner and Sanchez, they lack depth. It’s not vey likely the Giants would move Sanchez without first acquiring another major league ready starter. They have some players they could try at 5th starter such as Kevin Pucetas, however, it’s very unlikely they’d be willing to pair two young players at #4 and #5 with Bumgarner likely cracking the 2010 opening day rotation.
Sanchez is still only about 26 years old. Sanchez still has 3 more years of team control and a much more modest salary because this is his first arbitration year. He is simply a must keep player with his potential and low cost. Furthermore, Sanchez has incredible upside that is too steep a price for a player the Marlins feel they have to move. Sanchez threw a no-hitter in 2009 and the enigmatic lefty finally seemed to have realized some of his potential in the second half of the year. In the second half of 2009, he was the second most difficult pitcher to hit in terms of batting average against (the Dodgers’ (Bums) Clayton Kershaw was the most difficult). He did this while getting his number of walks under control and striking out a ton of batters which he’s always done. Sanchez has plus-plus stuff from the left side that can devastate lineups so long as he stays ahead of hitters.

Here’s to hoping Sabean calls the Marlins’ bluff and holds out until they are willing to take much less than the City by the Bay’s prized young left-hander.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cooking the Books

Are we now already in the post juiced era? Though it may be impossible to completely eradicate PED’s, if baseball isn’t out, it can probably at least see the light at the end of the tunnel. Look no further than the average age of MLB players (Moneyball has helped this too, no doubt) or more so the number of players hitting 35-40 + HR’s each season, for which the number has declined rapidly. The days of 60-70 HR are over. That mark of 73 may never be broken.

The question should be raised, is it just to pin this period as the steroid era and consider each player who played within it suspect? I personally agree with pinning the era with the tag completely, but it will take years before they know when to put a timeline on the madness. There just isn’t enough information yet. There likely won’t be adequate information ever. What player has admitted to more than they were caught for? Certainly not A-Rod. Steroid users, like criminals, have shown time and time again they will only admit to what they’ve been caught for. Andy Pettite might be the only exception. What’s more? You cannot definitively say anyone was definitely clean – not even Jeter. We know who ABUSED steroids but not who simply USED them. But they don’t classify them any differently really, do they? They say Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi and Sammy Sosa USED steroids. Why? Because it’s so obvious they did and or were caught because they so clearly ABUSED them. But then it’s pretty easy to spot Frankenstein in a crowd.

You can’t definitively say Jeter* didn’t use them because there were no signs. What if he used them one season? Do you think you would be able to tell, really? Don’t you think he’s close to if not just as guilty if he even used them once, though? If he did, he was obviously 1) smarter about it and 2) used them with much greater control.

(*) Please keep in mind this is not an attack on Derek Jeter. I have incredible respect for the player. I merely want to use a player with a shining resume who’s been able to completely remove himself from the steroid discussion. I could use David Eckstein, but what fun would that be.

Perfect example: Rafael Palmeiro was one of the most adamant people during the Grand Jury hearings, “I never used steroids!” Shortly after this he tests positive. Does he go down as a user or a Jeter type without that test? Everyone is a suspect. If Jeter didn’t use and wants to cry that he should be enshrined separately from the known users, too bad.

I say too bad because he should have said something when those around him were juicing up, but hindsight is 20/20. Maybe they were afraid, didn’t care or didn’t think it was that big of a deal. They do say that the HR chase revived baseball. Whether or not that’s true, I have no idea. It could be a very good scapegoat or justification to turn a blind eye. When the Ortiz and Ramirez tests came out this year, there was a lot of talk about the ’04 Red Sox. Apparently, they were all on the juice. It seems more than likely now that we know David Ortiz was on the 2003 list and Manny Ramirez was using as well. Just like the homerun chase, their quest to erase the curse was bigger than the steroids.

In terms of the hall of fame, I’m glad I don’t have to choose who gets in. Cooperstown is completely compromised because of this and I doubt there will ever be a really fair and good way to remedy the dilemma steroids created. The voters are just now starting to confront the issue of how to vote for the players who played within the era. It requires a 75% vote and since McGwire (who was once considered a likely 1st ballot HOFer) got something like 25% or less in his vote we have a pretty good idea about how they will treat the abusers. There will be players who may not get in that were deserving based on their pre-use skills and stats (Barry Bonds) and also others who may sneak in because they never got caught and had inflated numbers because of the use. They really should have a PED section and era at Cooperstown. They need to embrace that it was a reality while not condoning it. They need to admit the mistakes they made and show some accountability. Selig* most definitely should play a huge role in this. It will probably always be a mystery in a lot of ways (perhaps the JFK of sports) but I believe we will know a lot more in 5 to 10 to 15 years then we do now.

(*) Selig turned a blind eye (as did every single person in MLB basically) and then pretended like he had no idea what the extent was and didn’t act as promptly or aggressively as he should have. They should be freezing blood like they do in the Olympics which takes doping much more seriously.

The books are so cooked and this is the primary reason the fans, media and legends of the game are so outraged. It’s not because the game isn’t fair, etc. It’s because Ruth, Aaron and Co.’s records were considered sacred and they were obliterated over a 10 year or less period when they’d stood for 30 and 40 years. Perhaps one of the reasons Bonds took the most heat is because his name now tops not one but both of those records – Single Season and All-Time HR leader.

It will probably take years for baseball historians to sort it all out. For one, it will take years for all of the information to come out. Players might admit more when they get older. Also, through time we will probably get a better idea of when steroids started and when they finally ended. To determine that they will probably have to analyze the statistics as well as create a timeline from the players.

If pressed to ponder, there has been a plethora of things that have changed baseball over the years and have impacted statistics and thus records. If steroids never existed there are plenty of reasons why comparing players of different era’s is pointless.

Let me give some examples:
  • Shorter fences
  • Harder baseball
  • When Gehrig & Ruth played, they played exhibition games on their off-days… Can you imagine that? What if they had more rest?
  • Ground rules; sometimes there were people sitting on the grass in bounds in the old days.
  • Black Sox scandal
  • Mound height changes
  • Wars? Know any players that can hit .400 (with power) and fly a fighter plane in Korea and WWII? Meet Ted Williams.
  • Elimination of scheduled double headers
  • 4 man rotations becomes 5 man rotation
  • Emphasis on bullpen, specialty pitchers and Closers (Gagne broke the saves streak – you think it’s tainted? I do.)
  • Tommy John Surgery (blown out shoulder used to mean go get a 9-5 job) (Notables: Mariano Rivera, John Smoltz, Kerry Wood, Matt Holliday, Eric Gagne, Brian Wilson, John Franco, Tim Hudson, David Wells, and Kenny Rogers have had the surgery among many others… these are record holders, hall of famers, one time saves leaders, perfect game pitchers and once in a lifetime pitches (The Rivera Cutter) on that list. Without Tommy John and depending on when they had the surgery, some would be nobodies.)
  • Amphetamines
  • Betting (Pete Rose?)
  • DH
  • Coors Field (Todd Helton flirted with .400 some years ago, no chance he does that if he’s not a Rocky. Also, look at the batting title winners and other stats leaders over the last 15 years, there are tons of Colorado Rockies on the list. Once upon a time, they weren’t putting the balls in the humidor.
  • Steroids…
What’s next? It is pretty crazy when you put them all in a list. Do you believe it ends at steroids?

With steroids it’s impossible to compare players of even the same 10 year period because 1) you don’t know when they started and stopped and 2) you don’t know who used them. When you raise the mound, you raise all the mounds. You don’t raise the mound for just one player (say Roger Clemens because we know he used).

I mention all of these things not to discredit the fact that steroids caused the recent obliteration of records and bloated stats of the last 15 years, but rather to illustrate that you can’t accurately compare players from one era to another or even 10 years apart in certain instances because it’s not a level field. In some cases it’s not even apples and oranges, it’s apples and pop-tarts.

The problem is 1) steroids were and are illegal. 2) It wasn’t something they fundamentally changed in baseball – like a mound height change – it was something players were doing in the locker rooms like back alley type stuff, however out in the open it may have been. But what it really comes down to is the fact that they cooked the books. In this decade of corporate crime, ENRON and the Madoff’s of the world, you can clearly see why people get so bent out of shape about it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bumgarner’s No Bum

Every single team has its untouchable prospects. These are players that a franchise could not bare to see play for another team and generally wouldn’t include in any deal. Unfortunately, there really is no such thing as an untouchable player. Every team will at least listen if the right deal presents itself. This includes the untouchables that have already established themselves in the Major Leagues – Mauer, Pujols, etc. If the Giants call the Twins tomorrow and offer Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval and Madison Bumgarner for Joe Mauer you better believe the Twins will listen and even consider doing the unthinkable, moving Mauer. The word untouchable prospect gets thrown around a lot but the average baseball fan doesn’t really know why a certain player is tabbed untouchable. Also, this is all so very fluid. Nobodies become untouchables and untouchables become flops, sustain injuries and as I said, get moved in the right deal. Last winter, I assure you, Pablo Sandoval was well liked but not considered untouchable. Now? The Kung-Fu Panda is pretty well untouchable alongside Lincecum. It wasn’t too far back when Sabean mulled the idea of sending the Freak (and soon to be first ever pitcher to earn two Cy Young awards in his first two full seasons) to the Jays for Alex Rios. The same Alex Rios who was picked up off waivers by the White Sox this past season for nothing. As I said, this stuff is fluid.

For the Giants, the current untouchable prospects are Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. I’ve scribed a great deal about Buster in an earlier post, and thus it is time to expose the luster of Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner was drafted after high school by the Giants 10th overall in the 2007 Draft out of North Carolina. He is barely 20 years old. He is about 6’4” and 215 lbs. He is left-handed. Before wearing down in his second professional season in 2009, he was regualarly clocked between 93-95 MPH and topping at about 97. After his brilliant debut in professional baseball as an 18 year old in A ball, he went into 2009 ranging from about the #6 to # 19 prospect in all of baseball. Since then hes done nothing but raise the bar for his expectations. His ceiling is a strong, tall, power arm, #1 left-handed starter, i.e. a C.C. Sabathia type. The key word in that sentence is ceiling because theres no such thing as a true can’t miss prospect. These are the types that make scouts wet their pants. Their size* is believed to allow them to endure the 200 inning workloads and avoid injury. Also, left-handers of this caliber are particularly rare. Lastly, Bumgarner has a smooth and easy delivery that he is able to consistently repeat. It’s not violent which is yet another characteristic of Tim Lincecum’s scouting report that scared off multiple teams. What does this mean? Generally, when a pitcher has an easy delivery it makes them that much more capable of controlling their pitches. The result? Better command = less walks = less balls left over the plate. His stats will beautifully illustrate the type of command his delivery has afforded him. When you add a power left-handed arm to that equation, well, you can see why the Giants like him so much. There aren’t enough explatives to describe the promise he has…and he has good makeup (meaning the Giants don’t expect to get a call that he’s been accused of murder in North Carolina).

(*) The very lack of size is what allowed Tim Lincecum to fall to the Giants at #10 overall in 2006. Had he been Bumgarner’s size he’d have no doubt been #1 overall after he won the Golden Spikes Award in 2006. This award is given to the most outstanding player in the NCAA each year and Buster Posey was the recipient in 2008.

I imagined that a good way to analyze his statistics thus far in the minor leagues was to compare them to a mixed bag of other players’ minor league stats. I chose 8 others. I chose mostly left-handers (7 of 8). Of them, I chose 4 established and highly successful Major League left-handed starters, 3 of which has won an AL Cy Young (Zito 2002, Sabathia 2007, Lee 2008) and one with a World Series MVP (Hamels 2008). I chose two highly touted left-handed prospects who have already made their debuts in David Price (Rays) and Brian Matsuz (Orioles). Lastly, I chose two Giants. One was another lefty in Jonathan Sanchez who has been an enigma with his minor leagues success and no hitter which directly followed his demotion to the bullpen in 2009 prior the injury of Randy Johnson. The last player I chose was the only righty in the field and your back-to-back NL Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum. Why? He’s a Giant and his minor league statistics are disgusting.

I’ve listed a good number of statistics to gaze at but I’ve ranked 7 of them in this field of players 1 thru 9. I chose to rank each player in ERA, WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched), H/9 (Hits per 9 innings pitched), HR/9 (Home runs allowed per 9 innings pitched), BB/9 (Walks per 9 innings pitched), K/9 (Strikeouts per 9 innings pitched) and K/BB (Strikeout to walk ratio). These statistics are readily available on and are an excellent barometer for comparing pitchers. You will see from them that among the 9 players he is easily one of the most impressive. He lead the pack amont this this field in BB/9 and K/BB. You can conclude from this that he has excellent command (remember that easy delivery?) and the ability to strike out opposing hitters. He ranks second in WHIP (he is allowing less than one baserunner per inning) and HR/9 (he is allowing few than 1/3 dingers for every 9 innings pitched). He ranks 3rd in ERA and H/9. The only category in which he ranks out of the top 3 is K/9 where he ranks last. Among the players shown here, only Tim Lincecum outdoes him and perhaps Cole Hamels is a peer to him, statistically. It was noted that sometime during the 2009 season his velocity started dipping into the high 80’s and low 90’s. The general concensus is that he wore down because he was still just a baby at 19 years old in his second professional season. You can partly attribute this to the fewer number of strikeouts he started to accumulate as the season wore on. Should this be a concern? It certainly seems to raise a red flag, however, there is no indication whatsoever that he is injured or that his velocity will not return. In fact, some people believe a few other scenarios. 1) He began working more heavily on his secondary pitches which may have affected his velocity. 2) He began pitching more for contact to reduce the number of pitches per inning to get deeper into games. 3) He indeed wore down do to the long season and his age. Scouts have even been known to believe his dip in velocity was a plus. Madison learned how better to attack hitters despite his diminishing raw “stuff” and, additionally and most importantly, he continued to dominate. I’m sure there will be plent of guns on him come the spring and we will then where the young mans velocity stands.

It is clear as day why the Giants love Bumgarner and why other teams would love to get their paws on him. Let’s pray Sabean won’t have it and he takes the mound for the Giants as the 5th starter come April. I think we would all be thrilled if his promise culminated in him being as productive of a pitcher as Hamels, Sabathia or our very own Lincecum. And for the next 3 seasons at about $400,000 to $500,000 I’d say that’s quite the bargain…especially if you read my previous post. For now, we can only hope but as I said… this is all very fluid.

2010 Salary – 3 Aces but No Clubs

Looking at the salaries for the Giants in 2009 ($82-88M) and what they have committed in 2010 (+ what they will likely commit because of the arbitration process (Lincecum, J. Sanchez and Wilson), it doesn’t look too good. Everyone thought they had a ton of salary coming off the books, and they did. They dropped about $31 M with Johnson, Winn, Molina, Dave Roberts and Howry. But if you add back what they owe in addition to last year (Rowand goes up, Renteria goes slightly up, Cain goes a little up, plus adding the salary of F. Sanchez) as well as what the arbitration eligible players will make… it is almost a wash. Lincecum alone will probably make between $10 and $13 M more than he did in 2009.

The Giants will have to add payroll to acquire anyone. I’m not talking about the big fish. I’m talking about Nick Johnson, Mark DeRosa and the like. If they added Bay or Holliday, that would certainly probably be everything if not quite a bit more than what they could potentially afford. After looking at this more closely it is easy to see that it won’t be easy to improve the offense even marginally. Also, you understand why Sabean has yet to pull the trigger on any player. Ownership appears to want to keep the salary at about the $90 M range and, quite simply, after arbitration and without adding a single additional player they will nearly be there. If you look at their starting rotation alone and you assume they stick with Lincecum, Zito, Cain, Sanchez and Bumgarner, that alone would be about 45% of their 2009 salary. Then they still have to pay Rowand, Renteria and 18 others.

You know what is also pretty obvious when you look at it? There is no way they can keep all 3 (Zito, Cain and Lincecum). They cannot afford to keep all three unless they agree to increase payroll quite dramatically over the next 4 seasons. It’s pretty simple. What team in MLB can afford to pay the salaries of 3 aces? Perhaps the Red Sox and Yankees but no others. I say 3 aces because Zito (Mr. Albatross Contract) is paid like one, Lincecum who will command an arbitration record salary in 2010 is on the door-step of being paid like one and Matt Cain isn’t far behind.

The italicized salaries in red show my predictions, which are modest, and everything in black is fact and of course we are talking millions. This is the cost of only 60% of their starting rotation and 12% of their active roster. Something has to give.

The arbitration years for Tim Lincecum are, ’10, ’11, ’12, and ’13 (Arb 1-4). I really wish Mr. Lincecum would do 5 years $60 M (which would buy out his first year of free agency) rather than doing year by year. He’s essentially risking future money for a higher annual salary by doing so. That can be dangerous because he’s a pitcher. Lincecum is what they call a “Super two.” It happens when a player has 2 + years of major league experience and it fluctuates year to year based on the 2+ year candidates, determining in effect which of the 2+ players will be arbitration eligible. Mark Reynolds (the slugger with 40 jacks for the Diamondbacks) missed the Super two by a few days. Lincecum made the super two deadline by a couple of weeks, which made him and cost the Giants millions.

Lincecum has already said he is going to shoot for a 1 year deal via arbitration, which is partly to appease the players union. Quite frankly, the Giants will not be able to afford all 3 players beyond 2011. They could, but it will almost certainly cement there inability to field a more balanced club of strong pitching and strong offense. The Giants potentially have another Ace in the wings in Madison Bumgarner who they will be able to pay about $400,000 to $500,000 for the next 3 seasons. They also have 27 year old Jonathon Sanchez who misses so many bats you can’t help but to envision him having a promising and possibly dominant future. Zito is immovable and thus isn’t going anywhere. Lincecum has taken baseball and the Giants by storm and is one of the most promising young pitchers in the history of baseball. He isn’t going anywhere either. Matt Cain is 24 years old. Matt Cain had his best professional season in 2009. Matt Cain is still under control for the next two seasons at an extremely economical price. Essentially, Matt Cain is probably one of the most valuable pitchers in MLB based on years of control, ability and $ cost. That is undeniable. I’ll end this post with a simple question for Giants fans. Cain’s value will never be higher in the next two seasons as it is right now, should Sabean sell high?

One last parting thought: Pablo Sandoval’s first year of arbitration will be in 2012, i.e. the same year Cain would become a free-agent

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fantasy Draft: 2008 or 2009 Lincecum?

I’ve frequently heard people say that in Lincecum’s first full season (2008) he was better and more deserving of a Cy Young than this past season (2009). Take a look at season A and season B above. Which pitcher do you prefer?

Season A is 2009 Lincecum and season B is 2008 Lincecum. If you somehow think the fact that the Freak was better and more dominating in 2008 because of an 18-5 record versus the 15-7 he posted in 2009, you’re probably an idiot. There are far more advanced stats that, too, would illustrate his brilliant 2009 campaign. That being said, even these statistics that can be understood by even the casual baseball fan paint a pretty clear picture. He was better in 2009 in every way. Tim himself has pointed out how he was please to have lowered his WHIP (Walks + Hits per inning pitched) in 2009.

Tidbit: in 2009 – hitters posted a .557 OPS against Tim Lincecum. For those that don’t understand what OPS is; it stands for on base percentage (OBP) plus slugging percentage (SLG). On base percentage tells how many times a player reaches base safely per plate appearance (not at bats). It essentially tells what percentage of time that player is making an out. Slugging percentage is essentially batting average adjusted for power – so if a player hits a double, he is compensated double. If the player hits a triple, he is compensated triple and so on. So, for example, if a player were to a hit a HR in a single plate appearance his SLG would be 4.000. OPS is simply the sum of SLG and OBP. So, if a player were to hit a HR every single time he came to the plate his OPS would be 5.000 (1.000 OBP + 4.000 SLG), our maximum. Anyways, the worst offensive regular player in 2009 I could find posted a .559 OPS in over 400 AB’s, i.e. 2 one thousandths better than batters fared against Timmy. Willy Taveras, you have officially been outed. Meanwhile, Carlos Zambrano, the fiery Cubs Ace pitcher, posted a .689 OPS.

What does this all mean? It means wins are useless for the individual (but infinitely important for the TEAM). Afterall, the difference between a win and a no-decision can be as simple as a blown call at first base during a day game against the Dodgers that coulda-shoulda-woulda ended the game. It is looking far beyond the wins and losses that netted both Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke their 2009 Cy Young crowns. Each was a cut above the competition and while I won’t go into great detail about Greinke's brilliant 2009, he was even better than Lincecum in the tougher American League.

Can Buster fill Bengie’s Shoes?

With the recent perplexing signings of old veteran catchers for multiple years and respectable salaries, it seems more and more likely that Buster Posey will become the opening day starter for the Giants in 2010. Brian Sabean was equally miffed and upset to hear that the Nationals had signed Pudge Rodriguez for 2 years, $6 M. Curious too was it when Jason Kendall received virtually the same compensation from the Royals. So why is Sabes so annoyed? It’s quite simple. Because of these signings, the other comparable catchers on the market will expect a similar compensation or better. The Giants, however, are not willing to offer a two year deal and furthermore, probably were not looking to spend $3 M + per year.

The Giants are reported to have had heated debate on whether or not Posey should step in at the outset of 2010 as the everyday catcher. They concluded in their meetings that he needed further seasoning in the minors, probably somewhere between a few months and a full season. These signings will likely have forced Sabean’s hand to give Posey the job. So the real question is: how can we expect him to perform in 2010?

Most scouts believe that a catcher needs to catch about 200 games in the minor leagues before being moved up to the major league level. Joe Mauer caught 202 but he was drafted out of high school. Brian McCann caught 205 and he too was a high school draft pick. Kurt Suzuki was drafted out of the NCAA and won the Johnnie Bench Award as the top collegiate catcher in 2004. He caught 266 games in the minors. Matt Wieters is a highly regarded prospect for the Orioles that was also considered one of the best NCAA catchers. He, like Posey, was drafted 5th overall one season earlier. Wieters caught 120 games in the minor leagues before getting the call in 2009. Posey will definitely be a little light on the minor league experience but having caught 103 games in the minors, you can make an argument that there is a precedence in Matt Wieters where a player made the jump sooner. It should definitely be noted that college players should develop faster than high school players, and thus, Mauer and McCann would have needed more time.

In terms of throwing, Posey projects nicely. He has thrown out about 45% of attempted base stealers. In the minors, Wieters threw out 36%, McCann 37% and Mauer 44%. It is extremely difficult to evaluate the defense of a catcher and even the Sabermetrics community has not found a proper statistic to analyze and evaluate them. Thowing out runners is a very small fraction of the duties a catcher must fulfill. The real question will be whether or not Buster can catch and call 100 + games in the Show. He also won’t be catching powderpuff stuff as the Giants have one of the most electric staffs in MLB. Jim Callis of Baseball America and Keith Law of ESPN among many others strongly believe that Posey is ready to step in and take the job. Actually, it seems just about everyone believes he is ready except for the Giants.

Aside from the obvious financial positive to put Posey in, many Giants will be curious to find out how he will do offensively. Buster, after all, is the brightest position prospect for the Giants since sweet-swinging Will “the Thrill” Clark. So how will he do? It’s tough to say. Catcher is the most difficult and demanding defensive position. The pressure to perform behind the dish as well as at it will no doubt be a sizable obstacle for him. What does he have going for him though? He converted from short stop to catcher (playing for the first time ever) after his freshman year in college at Florida State. The transition was seamless. Also, he moved from Single A-Advanced San Jose in 2009 all the way up to AAA Fresno without so much as batting an eye, smacking line-drives all over the fields of the California and Pacific Coast Leagues all the while.

I want to preface my analysis by pointing out the incredible physical and statistical differences between Buster and Bengie. Buster is an incredibly athletic catcher. Bengie would be considered athletic had he chosen a different profession, Sumo wrestling. Buster is a patient hitter who takes walks and works the count. Bengie swings at everything and quite frankly it seems he is trying very hard not ever to walk. Buster is anti-Bengie.

In order to see the true value of a player, you really must look further than the “counting” stats that have traditionally been used in Major League Baseball. You have to throw out grandpa’s statistics. Everyone believes Bengie has been a great offensive force for the Giants over the past 3 seasons, but I assure you, he has not been nearly as good as most would have you believe. He’s averaged about 18 HR and 85 RBI for the past 3 seasons. What does this tell you? It tells you 1) that he has pretty good pop for a catcher. That is good and fine. It also tells you that he has driven in some runs. Unfortunately, RBI’s are a statistic of circumstance and not necessarily of skill. Bengie Molina spent much of the last few seasons occupying the cleanup spot. Do you think he would have averaged 85 RBI if he were hitting 7th or 8th where he probably should and would have on any other league average offensive team? It’s nearly impossible for a cleanup hitter in a formidable lineup not to reach 100 RBI (a benchmark tattooed in baseball history) over a full season. I’m confident that Fred Lewis would have done just as well as Bengie Molina hitting cleanup were he given the opportunity in 2009.

The book Moneyball really opened up the eyes of those in baseball about how to evaluate players. OBP is probably the single most important and readily available statistic to evaluate players but for years it was ignored. Bengie Molina has a poor OBP year-in year-out because he does not walk. Why is OBP so important? Because each game each team has 27 outs unless extra innings are required. The more often a player gets on base, the better chances his team will score more runs. It’s so simple yet so overlooked. Bill James (the Father of Sabermetrics and true spawn of Moneyball) created ways to properly evaluate players’ contributions. With this in mind he created Runs Created or RC. The basic formula is very simple and there are also more complicated formulas with more variables to try and arrive at something more accurate. You will be shocked to see how accurate this formula can be. I will try to use the basic and advanced formula to evaluate Molina and project how Posey must perform in 2010 to equal Molina’s offensive output.

Basic RC:

Advanced RC:

Well now you have the formulas I’ve used but, as always, the proof is in the pudding. I’ll get to that! First, take a look at how the a few young catchers faired in their first full season (Wieters is an exception because his statistics come this year for which he did not play the full season). This is more or less something to chew on. You can take a good look and reasonable conceive that Buster could do at least do as well as the least talented of the 4, Kurt Suzuki, over his first full season. Wieters RC is lower because he played in much fewer games and thus accumulated many fewer at bats.

Now, if you’re not convinced that the formulas above work, take a look at the SF Giants 2009 stat line. All of the stats displayed are straight from the 2009 Giants. Take a look at the number of runs they scored, 657. Now take a look at the number of runs the two formulas predict. Isn’t that amazing? Now take a look at Molina’s stats line and see that he contributed about 60 runs or about the same number as Travis Ishikawa or Fred Lewis amortizing his at bats to equal the same number Molina had. Shocking indeed!
To get my projected statistics for Buster Posey in 2010, I simply took his 2009 Minor League statistics and discounted them by about 20%. So, for example, he had 31 doubles in the minors in 2009… so I multiplied 31 by .80 and projected he might hit 25 doubles in 2010. A decline of about 20% certainly seems fair given the obvious difference between the minor leagues and major leagues. Also, Posey will likely not perform in all-star caliber fashion in his first full season. That being said, you can clearly see that he won’t have to just to equal the offensive production of Bengie Molina in 2009, while making about $400,000 as opposed to the $6 M Molina was paid in 2009 or the $7-8 M he would have gotten had he been offered arbitration and accepted.

I believe Buster can absolutely perform adequately as the starter in 2010. Will he? It remains to be seen. Also, if Sabean truly sees Buster as plan B and insists on paying a few million to a stop-gap, we will never know… at least not in 2010.

Slow Hot-Stove Day = Explaining Rule V Draft…!

I check my iPhone way too many times per day trying to get the latest information going on in Major League Baseball and the Giants. It’s honestly probably a bit of a problem. I detest days like today where I check 50 times and learn absolutely nothing new and interesting. So, it leaves me no choice but to explain the Rule V (five) draft! I know you are all on the edge of your seats…

Why should you care? Well, because players like Shane Victorino, Dan Uggla, Johan Santana and David Ortiz have been selected in the Rule V. Who else? Have you ever heard of a former Pirate named Roberto Clemente?

Every June MLB holds the Rule 4 draft but 1) we just call if the “Amateur Draft” or the “Draft.” I don’t feel it necessary to get into that draft because I think the process is generally understood. Perhaps, however, I will get into the idea of slotting (and if I am feeling REALLY ambitious the hypothetical salary cap and parity issues in baseball) at a later date. Stay tuned. But every December during the General Manager Winter Meetings they hold the Rule 5. Not every team must make a selection but the order is done just as the June draft, i.e. the Pirates, I mean the crummiest teams get first pick and most years the Yankees select last. The reason they hold the draft is essentially to protect the minor league players that have been around a while. If signed at 18 or younger the player has 5 years of exemption while those signed at 19 and above are exempt for only 4 years. Once a players exemption period has expired, the organization must place him on the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 to protect him from being snatched by another admiring GM. The Giants, for example, placed Darren Ford (acquired during Ray Durham trade to Brewers), Kevin Pucetas, Brett Pill (this guy had an excellent season in the difficult Eastern League which is one of the least hitter friendly leagues in the minors) and Francisco Peguero. I had a chance to see Peguero play in the California League Championship in San Jose. He’s a very promising CF prospect that you may want to keep an eye on. Anyway, if this draft did not exist, a team might stockpile players in their system that might otherwise be given a shot on another team’s Big club.

The reason some teams do not make any selections is that they may not have any room on their 40-man roster which is already full. This is because any player selected in the Rule V must immediately be placed on the claiming team’s 40-man roster. Also, when the season begins the selected player must remain on the claiming team’s active 25-man roster for the entirety of the season. If not, the player is essentially offered back to the original organization for $25,000 (half of the $50,000 it costs to take a Rule 5 draft pick). Once the player has been on the claiming organizations active 25-man roster for the entire season his status goes back to normal and he can be sent to the minors. This is a nifty way for a rebuilding team to claim a good prospect. A contending team might be more reluctant to keep a prospect on their active roster for an entire season, for obvious reasons.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scott Boras: The Hypocrite

The super-agent addressed the media at the Winter Meetings again yesterday. He gave his ridiculous pitches for his players while doing his very best to chisel at certain franchises fan base. It seems one of his primary targets this time around was the San Francisco Giants. This is what he had to say, more or less, liberally paraphrased by Andrew Baggarly of San Jose Mercury News:

Boras on Beltre - “We did a study of road numbers compared to a hitter like Jason Bay. Obviously, Adrian had nicks with his collarbone (this year), but in 2006-08, we compared his numbers to Bay’s 07-09 on the road and … Adrian had more RBIs, just a couple fewer home runs and he hit 25 points higher. The OPS was the same. That’s just to put into perspective what kind of offensive player he is. He compares favorably to the top free-agent talent. And nobody has to tell you he’s far and away the best defensive third baseman in the game.”
Boras on Giants’ interest - “That’s my assumption. When you look at the game and you can get a top-seven player at a position … Obviously, the Giants have this window of opportunity in the next four or five years with one of the dominant pitching staffs in the game, if not the most dominant… and they were 29th, I think, in runs scored. If you add a player who can add to the pitching staff as an incredible defensive contributor (while) adding a middle-of-the-order bat capable of 90 RBIs, I’d say he’d be pretty welcome in the Giants’ situation.”

I’d just like to point out a few things from this. First, though, I don’t blame Boras for the tactics he uses. Boras is very intelligent and he is literally a Jedi Master in using the media to turn a teams fans on its management and owners. He is the man, after all, that got the Giants to fork over 7 years and $126 million guaranteed to the Giants’ least talented starter going into 2010 (this is debatable, but I’d say there are decent odds he’s outpitched by Freak, Cainer, No-No Dirty Sanchez and baby Bum in 2010).

He is very careful to highlight the strengths of the players he represents. In a recent post I used Matt Holliday’s Home/Road statistics to argue he is clearly not the franchise player Boras is marketing him as (*). While Boras would never dare analyze Home/Road statistics on Holliday, he quite happily did just that for Beltre in comparing him to Jason Bay as well as emphasizing his great defensive ability. Boras’ arguments are very strong and I myself used the exact same reasoning on my first post. I didn’t in my post, however, mention that Beltre was a Boras client. This fact may price the Giants out of Adrian Beltre. Boras is confident Beltre will receive a premium contract and precedence agrees with his belief and Boras is doing his best to hook the Giants yet again.

(*) Quickly one thing he said about Matt Holliday – “Matt Holliday could play in the NFL.” What a ridiculous statement. He will do and say anything in the media to create a buzz about his clients.

So is Boras a hypocrite? Absolutely! Do I blame him? Absolutely not! His #1 job is to get his players paid – handsomely – not to be ethical. He does it year in and year out across multiple sports. When speaking he is very good to tell the truth when his assertions are verifiable (like stats, for example). When his assertions are not verifiable (team payroll capabilities), he makes wild accusations that can never be confirmed. I was recently asked if teams will eventually stop working with him all together. So long as he continues to represent the premium players on the market, there is no chance of that. The key in dealing with him is not to let his biased analysis of each player control the market. Unfortunately, there will probably always be 1-2 teams that will cave in to his demands.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Are Giants really losing interest in Uggla?

The most recent reports from the Giants are saying that they have lost interest in Dan Uggla. There are multiple reasons why that might be true, but it is also possible that the Giants want to see if their lack of interest will lower Uggla’s value (meaning the players any team would have to give the Marlins to acquire the slugging second baseman).
The Giants could be posturing by simply inquiring about other options. They’ve recently been talking to the Padres about Kevin Kouzmanoff as well as showing interest in Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa, Nick Johnson and now Orlando Hudson. Also, they’ve been very vocal about his poor defense and how that makes him less than ideal.
The Marlins may be trying to get great value for Uggla, but it should be noted that they have been planning to move Uggla from day one of the offseason and they have multiple reasons to do so. The first reason is that he is due for a salary raise in arbitration that could have him making $7-8 M next season. The Marlins simply cannot afford to keep more than a few players with salaries approaching double-digit millions. What’s more? Late in the season Dan Uggla made comments about Hanley Ramirez’s ability to stay on the field. It was Uggla’s belief that Ramirez wasn’t giving it his all. If the Marlins put any stock into team chemistry, it’s obvious who has to go. Hanley Ramirez is one of the very very few franchise players in MLB. He is an MVP calibur, 5-tool player at a premium position, shortstop, and still just a baby. He belongs in the conversation of untouchable players – your Albert Pujols’ and Joe Mauer’s.
Uggla’s Value? This from Keith Law of
"Now is actually a great time to try to trade for Uggla as he's coming off a slightly down year in batting average that is masking a significant spike in walk rate. He's always had power, and his approach at the plate has improved for several years. If he maintains those secondary skills and posts a BABIP over .300 -- something he did twice in three years before 2009 -- oddly, he's a potential MVP candidate."
Uggla’s value is completely held within his offensive abilities. He is an average second baseman at best and that cannot be remedied. But his offensive upside is substantial. What Keith Law is essentially saying is that Uggla has become more and more patient (taking more walks and increasing OBP) over the past few seasons AND…his 2009 was somewhat unlucky which resulted in his very low batting average (which should have lowered his value for the time being). This while also averaging about 30 HR with 90 RBI per year of the past 4 seasons. What is BABIP? It stands for Batting average on balls in play. It is the % of plate appearances (not at bats) that result in a ball being put into play and resulting in a hit (excluding a HR). The equation is:
BABIP = (H – HR) / (AB – K – HR + SF)
SF is sacrifice fly… all others I presume you know. It is very difficult for a player to sustain either a very low or a very high BABIP, though some players are capable of doing so (Matt Kemp, for example, has sustained an extremely high BABIP over a few years). BABIP is a very good way to determine if a player has a batting average that is unjustly low or unjustly high. Dan Uggla had an extremely low BABIP in 2009 while between 2006-2008 he posted a BABIP above .300 in two seasons. The typical or average BABIP is about .290 -.300.
Dan Uggla – Year – (BABIP, Avg, HR, OPS)

2006 – (.315, .282, 27, .818)
2007 – (.286, .245, 31, .805)
2008 – (.323, .260, 32, .874)
2009 – (.277, .243, 31, .813)

Conclusion: Dan Uggla will be traded and for less than he is likely worth. He is still a young player and I have very good reason to believe that his 2010 statistics have a great chance of being quite impressive. Whoever acquires him will be quite pleased, so long as they understand his offense will come at a cost of some outs on defense.