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Arizona management: Get off my Lawn!

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Miley must be happy to get out of Arizona.  Photo via soxprospects.com

Miley must be happy to get out of Arizona. Photo via soxprospects.com

A couple of years ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks curiously traded their #1 draft pick from the previous year (Trevor Bauer) for a package of players that centered on the underwhelming Didi GregoriusI posted about the Bauer trade when it happened (Dec 2012) and, frankly, laid the blame at the kid’s feet for working his way out of town.

But since then, we’ve had other incidents involving Arizona players on their way out the door.  To wit:

  • In Jan 2013, the team moved its star Justin Upton for (again) a questionable return (centered on Martin Prado), and the litany of history between the player and the team was documented in the trade recap here via azfamily.com.  This Deadspin link also references Ken Rosenthal‘s reporting, which detailed the team’s issues with Upton: he didn’t play with enough “intensity.”
  • This past July, the team traded starter Brandon McCarthy to the Yankees for a middling Vidal Nuno.  McCarthy’s splits before/after the trade?   He was 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA before the move, 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA after.  And that’s moving to the AL East.  The apparent reason?  Arizona was actively discouraging him from using his effective cut-fastball.

Why do I bring this up?  Because, in the wake of the off-season Wade Miley trade to Boston … guess what?  Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reported that Miley and the Arizona training staff clashed in the past, and he thinks it led to his out-ster from the team.

And then there’s stuff like this: Arizona management forced some fans sitting behind home plate to change their clothes in April of 2013 … and apparently just did it again.

Arizona finished 64-98 last season, worst in the majors.  Its no wonder they’re so bad right now, given the rate at which they’ve traded young, good, controllable assets for mediocre and expensive ones.  They canned their entire coaching staff last off-season (aka, the “King of Grit” Kirk Gibson) and their GM (Kevin Towers) as a result, hiring Tony La Russa as their senior-most baseball executive and then Dave Stewart as their rookie GM.  Perhaps the hope is that this new regime will stop openly clashing with its players and will value production on the field versus compliance in the clubhouse.

Of course, Stewart didn’t help his case by plainly stating ignorance of analytics to the press this past off-season.  And the new regime’s moves this past off-season didn’t exactly inspire confidence: their major move being the $68.5M signing of Cuban Yasmany Tomas, who apparently can’t actually play 3B and may start in the minors.  And its hard to look at any of the slew of trades they made and say “wow, that was a winner move.”  You almost have to wonder how they’re going to screw up the #1 pick in the 2015 draft this coming June.

All the better for the rest of the NL West, which features two teams with very clear playoff intentions (LA and SD) along with a third (SF) who has only won three World Series in the last five years.

post-posting update: Arizona has defended its forced uniform changing.  Actually they provided an explanation .. it was just someone playing around.  Sure.

MLB Organizations behaving good … and bad.

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Hamilton's team has hung him out to dry.  Photo via theclassical.org

Hamilton’s team has hung him out to dry. Photo via theclassical.org

Today is a tale of two organizations.  I’d rather talk about that than the opening series loss to the pitiful Mets, featuring a 6 run meltdown from Stephen Strasburg today.

1. Good.  San Diego Padres

Read this piece this week on For the Win (USA Today’s sports blog), linking to a story by Steve Bisheff of the OC Register in SoCal.

Worth a read.  The Padres have re-signed a former minor league prospect every year since 1996 to a contract to give him a small stipend and access to health care after he had a debilitating heart attack on the field.

Its nice to read stories like this.

2. Bad.  The Los Angeles Angels

As has been well reported by now, Angels slugger and contract disaster Josh Hamilton had a drug relapse over the off-season and self-reported himself to the league.  While negotiations were underway to determine what, if any, penalties were to be done, someone leaked pretty much all the details of the situation, drastically violating the confidentiality of the Joint Drug Agreement and hanging Hamilton out to dry.  Which happens; there’s plenty of players who have been labeled “PED users” by virtue of leaked reports of supposedly sealed and/or anonymous testing.  It can be assumed but not proven that the leak came within the Angels organization, based on who reported it (team beat reporters) and who their sources generally are (team officials).

Eventually it was determined that Hamilton would suffer no consequences, to which the Angels president John Carpino was quoted, “It defies logic that Josh’s reported behavior is not a violation of his current program.”   The GM Jerry Dipoto also issued a rather snippy press release, going out of his way to degrade the player.

Wow.  Way to stick up for your player, guys.  I agree with Craig Calcaterra whole heartedly here; this comment was petty, graceless, and completely unnecessary.  And I also agree with his opinion (stated here), that MLB’s subsequent decision not to investigate the leaks is just as abhorrent.  Hamilton has a past; he has an addiction, just like millions of Americans.  He struggles with it, and sometimes slips.  So do we all.  There’s probably  not one person reading who wasn’t once “addicted” to something or another, or who had a bad habit they struggled to break, who cannot relate to his issues.  Nicotine, Alcohol, high-fat foods, whatever.  To show so little sympathy is kind of tough to swallow.

For  years, the union held out against drug testing, in large part because of *exactly* what has continually happened since.  Constant leaks from people (either in the MLB or with teams) who have axes to grind and who give anonymous quotes to reporters, who then dutifully report salacious details with no provable accusations that end up destroying careers (see players such as David Ortiz, Jeff Bagwell and the “back-acned” Mike Piazza for more examples).  This Hamilton example is just one more example.  You can’t put the genie back in the bottle either.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

April 9th, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Opening Day Payroll, Attendance, Starters & other cool stuff

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Harper's homer and subsequent hair flip was the highlight of the Nats opening day: photo via natsenquirer.com

Harper’s homer and subsequent hair flip was the highlight of the Nats opening day: photo via natsenquirer.com

Every year I try to attend Nats Opening Day.  Since giving up our season tickets, we’ve had to pay (handsomely) for the opportunity, and yesterday was no exception.  For nostalga purposes, we bought into our old section (131) for the home opener and had a great time in the sun.  Too bad Ian Desmond had money on the game and enabled three unearned runs to score.  Oh and our first pinch hitter off the bench?  The powerful and feared Matt den Dekker.  So yeah, this team looks like it may struggle offensively for a bit.

Here’s some fun stuff that I have been tracking for years inre opening day.


Opening Day Payroll; Nats

Counting payroll is always a tough one.  I have a payroll tracking worksheet (now updated for our last three NRI additions and our opening day roster) where I have been trying to estimate the Nats payroll.

Why the discrepancies?   I can’t quite figure out how my and Cot’s estimates are off: I’m counting the $2M option year buyout to Adam LaRoche, while Cots does not.  Taking that out, i’d still be off by about the same amount, only to the wrong side.  My guess is that Cots is missing a min-salary guy somewhere.  Meanwhile USA Today’s estimate is counting the entirety of Dan Uggla‘s 2015 salary of $13.5M towards Washington’s total; If you took that away except for the MLB min portion Washington is responsible for you’d be at $161,518,497 as their estimate.  USA Today’s numbers also don’t take into account the nearly $40 million dollars (net) that the Dodgers are paying players who no longer play for them; their payroll (per USA Today’s estimates) should really be nearer the $270M range.

You know what they say; a few million here, a few million there, and soon you’re talking about real money.


Opening Day Payroll; MLB

Here’s a quickie little XLS where I have the opening day payroll for all 30 teams going back 5 years.  Caveat; I usually depend on the USAToday salary database for these numbers, which have proved to have some issues (as discussed above).

USAToday has the Dodgers at $230M, but that’s before another $40M of payments to former players.  Cots has the Dodgers at $271M, a more accurate figure.  That’s first place by a significant margin.  In second place is the Yankees: $213M-$217M for a team that many feel will come in last last place.

I’m going to update this XLS for Cot’s figures, since USAToday’s are just so bad.

 


Opening day Nats park attendance

Attendance for yesterday’s game was announced at 42,295.  Here’s some attendance milestones for the franchise:

  • Nats park capacity for 2015 seems to be 41,456, an increase of 40 seats from last year
  • 2015’s opening day crowd wasn’t even close to 2013’s: 45,274.  That remains the regular season record attendance.
  • All time record attendance?  The ill-fated 2012 NLDS game 5: 45,966.
  • The first game in franchise history; 2005 in RFK: 45,596, which stood until the NLDS record-setting game.
  • The long-running regular season attendance record was the great Fathers day 2006 game in RFK against the Yankees: 45,157.  That record stood for more than 6 years.

 


Opening Day Starters

Here’s my opening day starters worksheet in Google docs.  Thanks to some turnover at the top of some of these rotations, the two active leaders in Opening Day starts (CC Sabathia and Mark Buehrle) did not extend their leads of 11 and 9 respectively.  The names of note for opening day starts:

  • Leader in Opening day starts who extended their total in 2015: Felix Hernandez, making his 8th.
  • Leader in consecutive opening day starts: also Hernandez, making his 7th total (he missed one earlier in his career).
  • Four pitchers now have 7 opening day starts on their resume: Bartolo Colon, Jered Weaver, James Shields and Justin Verlander.  Verlander’s streak of 7 consecutive starts was broken when he was supplanted by David Price for 2015.  Of these four, it seems likely only that Shields will continue.
  • 12 pitchers made their first opening day start in 2015, including our own Max Scherzer.
  • The most ever?  Tom Seaver with 16.  The most consecutive?  Jack Morris with 14.

 


cool stuff

Qualifying Offers: Are they working? (2015 edition)

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The QO didn't affect Scherzer's next contrct very much.  Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

The QO didn’t affect Scherzer’s next contrct very much. Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Last year we did a quick analysis of all the Qualifying Offer-receiving free agents to see if the system was “working.”  (note; from here out I’ll use the abbreviation of QO for Qualifying Offer).

Now that James Shields has signed, there remain no more free agents on the market who received a QO from their former team.  Lets take a look at how the qualifying offers affected the markets for those players who got them this off-season.

Here’s a table of the 12 players who received QOs ahead of free-agency (I hope this table is readable once it publishes…)

Year Player Old Team New Team Draft Pick Forfeited Signing Date Subsequent contract (w/o options) Money up/down per AAV Q.O. Screw the player?
2014 Melky Cabrera TOR CWS 3-81 12/15/2014 3yr/$42M -1.3 Not Really
2014 Nelson Cruz BAL SEA 1-21 12/1/2014 4yr/$58M -0.8 No
2014 Michael Cuddyer COL NYM 1-15 11/11/2014 2yr/$21M -4.8 Sort of
2014 Francisco Liriano PIT PIT none 12/9/2014 3yr/$39M -2.3 Sort of
2014 Russell Martin PIT TOR 1-18 11/18/2014 5yr/$82M 1.1 No
2014 Victor Martinez DET DET none 11/14/2014 4yr/$68M 1.7 No
2014 Hanley Ramirez LAD BOS 2sup-69 11/25/2014 4yr/$88M 6.7 No
2014 David Robertson NYY CWS 2-45 12/9/2014 4yr/$46M -3.8 Sort of
2014 Pablo Sandoval SFG BOS 2-44 11/25/2014 5yr/$95M 3.7 No
2014 Ervin Santana ATL MIN 2-43 12/11/2014 4yr/$55M -1.55 Not Really
2014 Max Scherzer DET WAS 1-29 1/21/2015 7yr/$210M 14.7 no
2014 James Shields KC SD 1-13 2/9/2015 4yr/$75M 3.45 no

It should be noted that for the third consecutive year, not one player who received a QO accepted it despite its ever increasing value ($15.3M for 2015).  Is this “reverse collusion” on the part of the players, not to play the QO game?  For the third year, there were players about whom pundits scratched their heads as to why they chose not to take the offer.  While not as obvious as in 2013 (when both Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales vastly over-stated the market for their services and were severely penalized as a result), the fact that especially Michael Cuddyer and David Robertson didn’t take the QO remained puzzling.

So, among the 12 players, who was hurt?  In the end, nobody really.

  • Half the players got new contracts with AAVs above the QO figure, in some cases significantly above.  So they’re not being “hurt” by the system.  This list includes Russell Martin, Victor Martinez, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, James Shields and of course our own Max Scherzer.
  • Another 3 players (Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Ervin Santana) signed longer term deals for slightly less than the AAV of $15.3M.  I say these guys were “not really” hurt since they guaranteed themselves 3-4 years and in each case nearly or more than $50M of earnings.   Each player rightly gambled and guaranteed themselves $50M instead of $15M.

The remaining three players each kind of have extenuating circumstances.

  • Michael Cuddyer (inexplicably) signed a 2yr/$21M deal with New York instead of taking a 1yr/$15.3M deal to stay in Colorado.  There has to be more to this story; why wouldn’t his agent have advised him of taking the QO and then hoping to get a 1yr/$6M deal the following off-season??  Wouldn’t that have been the better play?  Did he want to leave a losing team in Colorado?  (If so, why the heck did he go to the Mets??)  The Mets even more inexplicably gave up the 15th overall pick to get an 35-yr old corner outfielder who played just 49 games last year due to injuries and who has a combined 3 bWAR in the last two seasons.   One can see the nature of the kind of player you can generally get in the mid-first round here.  So while Cuddyer’s AAV is way below $15.3M, because he voluntarily signed the Mets contract he only screwed himself :-)
  • Francisco Liriano declined the QO and then re-signed with the same team (Pittsburgh).  He got a 3yr deal for $39M.  Most pundits would agree that nobody would have given Liriano a $15M/yr longer term deal thanks to his age and injury history, so his taking lesser money AAV but for longer is a smart move for him.  Perhaps the QO limited his market, forcing him to go back to Pittsburgh … or perhaps not.
  • David Robertson declined the QO but got a 4yr guaranteed deal for $46M … as a reliever.  Which is fantastic, considering the volatility of the reliever position in general.  So even though his AAV is far less than $15.3M, he made out big time with the amount of guaranteed money.

San Diego gives up the best draft pick (13th overall) to get Shields’ services for four years, but five teams altogether give up first round picks to sign players.  Boston gives up its two second round picks to play Ramirez and Sandoval on the right side of their infield for the next four years.  A number of very wealthy teams pick up supplemental first round picks (Dodgers, Yankees and Detroit), which (like all FA compensation) kind of seems to defeat the purpose of helping “poorer” teams off-set the loss of marquee players.

Lastly, the order (and pools) for the 2015 draft is now set.   A better look is here, showing all the picks gained and lost.  Houston has the 2nd, 5th and 37th overall picks, 12 picks in the top 10 rounds and has an astounding $17M of bonus money to acquire players.  Washington has just $4.1M to sign its first 10 picks, meaning we’re likely looking at another set of college seniors drafted in rounds 6-10.  More on the draft later on.

So, to answer the question of the day; are QOs working?  This year they seemed to have worked; you can’t really argue that any player was negatively affected and teams that lost players got compensation picks.  You can argue whether the right teams got these picks.

Fyi; the spreadsheet with all this analysis is here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1UEiZzwWarVP3PfCtZeYTVBqC49dmBut21O7UhB17htQ/edit?usp=sharing

One day on the job … three dumb things already said or done

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ManfredSelig

Out with the old, in with the … same? Photo via nydailynews.com

So, I see that new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is picking up right where the oft-clueless Bud Selig left off.   On his first week on the job, he was quoted as saying two rather ridiculous things and doing something even dumber:

1. He’s open to “banning defensive shifts

2. He thinks baseball will eventually return to Montreal.

3. He appointed Fred Wilpon to be the head of the sport’s Finance committee.

I don’t think I need to go deeply into why #1 is a ridiculous statement; plenty of others in the blogosphere have done that already.  I’ll just say this: there’s a reason defensive shifts work, and its because batters have become far, far too one-dimensional at the plate.  There’s a very simple, easy method for defeating defensive shifts; bunting.  Watch Robinson Cano bunt for a casual double against a shift in Boston: he barely tried to get the bunt down, just essentially punching the ball towards a vast gap left open by the too-clever Boston infield.  There’s not even a fielder in the camera’s field of sight by the time the ball runs by the bag.  I didn’t see this game live, but i’ll bet Boston didn’t try this shift on him again.  If they didn’t, and I’m the starting pitcher … I’m probably not throwing another pitch until I see a conventional infield again.  As far as Cano goes … its a line-drive in the books right?

And that’s all it will take.  If every pull hitting lefty would just punch a couple of bunts towards the vacated third base position, the defensive shifting probably would drastically reduce.

If you’re *for* the banning of defensive shifts … how exactly would you do it?  Put dotted lines on the field and make players stay in their positions until the ball is pitched?  We’re talking about a game that’s existed for decades without such a need.  How would you police it?  How would you account for players running out of position to cover bunts?  When the pitcher is up, is the 3rd baseman allowed to creep in?  How much?  What if someone fake-bunts and suddenly players are out of their “zones?”  If someone cheats out of position, do you just give the player a ball or a base?  How does that change the decades-old score keeping?  That’s just a few of the implementation questions that would make this a non-starter to realistically force-feed into the game.

Look; if you want to tilt the power back to batters (and that’s what this is really about, right?  Offense is down, strikeouts are up), then do what they did back in the late 60s.  Lower the mound.  Shrink the strike zone (actually … don’t shrink it, just frigging call it like it should be called and stop giving guys who throw 100 a ball off the outside corner).  Or work the ball a little bit so that it plays better (wind it tighter, make the seams lower, etc).  I don’t think you’re going to be able to turn back the clock on match-up relievers, power arms out of the bullpen, etc, but there are things you can do to keep the game on a level playing field.


As far as baseball returning to Montreal … I just can’t see how it would work given the current state of finances in Baseball.   Yes Montreal is a huge city (Just to mention a couple of non-insignificant barriers:

  • RSN TV markets: currently the entirety of Canada’s TV market is “owned” by Toronto, though the area where Montreal sits is “shared” with Boston.  So that means that, much as the Nats had to make concessions with Baltimore to move to Washington, that a franchise would have to buy out these teams’ interest in the Montreal market.
  • Canadian dollar values; this was one of the main reasons the Montreal franchise began to struggle in the mid 1990s; Toronto hasn’t been relevant in nearly the same amount of time.  Why does anyone think this situation will ever change?
  • Montreal as a franchise had some of the best talent in the game in the early 90s but couldn’t escape the generations old Olympic stadium.  Modern baseball franchises depend on modern stadiums; who is going to commit to building a billion dollar stadium in the near-socialistic political climate in Quebec?
  • Oh, and there’s this: the Montreal Expos were dead last in attendance every year between 1998 and 2004, when they finally departed for Washington.  Even in 1994, the year they were 74-40 and were dominating the NL … they were just 11th out of 14 teams in the NL in terms of attendance.   In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1983 before even finding a season where the Expos were not in the bottom THIRD of attendance in the NL.  They don’t draw in Montreal; they never have.  Why would anyone think it’d be any different now?
  • Perhaps there’s relocation possibility to Montreal (in today’s climate, likely from Oakland or Tampa).  But if you’re the Oakland or Tampa owners; are you going to be any better off in Montreal than you are today?  You’d be going to a WORSE stadium situation and would struggle with RSN issues.
  • If you’re going to expand the game to go to 32 teams so you can put a team in Montreal (and its tempting; Montreal is a big city, it would rank just between Phoenix and Seattle in terms of MSA sizes of US cities), then where would you put the 2nd team?   The two biggest cities w/o a major league team right now are Portland and San Antonio … creating a team in Portland would revisit en masse the same Baltimore-Washington RSN issues we’ve already talked about, San Antonio isn’t exactly a metropolis itself, and both team areas would immediately be in smaller markets than places like Kansas City and Cincinnati, teams that struggle to compete because of their own small markets.  Or you could argue that NY or LA should support a third team … yeah good luck with that RSN fight.
  • Not to mention that a 32-team league drastically changes the playoff situation, likely forcing an NFL-like structure where four divisional winners and two wild-cards make the playoffs … thus also implying that two divisional winners have to play coin-flip play-in games against wild-card winners, eliminating the advantage of winning your division and essentially the whole point of the second wild-card as we know it now.

Just don’t see a return to Montreal.


The last point (appointing Wilpon to head the finances committee) is a joke that writes itself.  Multi-millionare owner of a franchise born to mint money in the NY media market has to run his own team like a small-market franchise thanks to hundred-million dollar civil suits against him and is dependent on tens of millions of dollars of bridge loans to keep his team afloat.  Yeah; that’s the guy I want involved with *anything* related to finances.

*sigh*  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Oh one more thing I forgot: Baseball also felt the need to disband the “Oakland Stadium committee,” just 6 short years after it started and with seemingly nothing accomplished.

Well, at least Selig is out of the picture.  Oh wait, no he isn’t.  He’s going to serve as “Commissioner Emeritus” and draw a $6M annual pension.  Man!  What a game.  How do I get that job?!

Written by Todd Boss

January 27th, 2015 at 10:29 am

What the Cuban embargo easing means for baseball

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No more death-defying defections for cubans like Yasiel Puig.  photo mlb.com

No more death-defying defections for cubans like Yasiel Puig. photo mlb.com

With the sudden and surprising announcement that president Barack Obama plans to “normalize relationships” with Cuba on 12/17/14, one cannot help but wonder how this move will affect the market for Cuban baseball players.

Here’s a smattering of links to post-announcement baseball industry impact analysis:

If you read any of these links, read Olney’s.  Its ESPN insider only, but he extensively quotes one Joe Kehoskie, who has worked as a player agent within Cuba for years.  Kehoskie states some important points, namely and most importantly, the US-Cuba embargo is NOT what was preventing Cuban players from playing in America; it was always the Cuban government.  Proof?  Cuba does not have an embargo against it with any other country with a large organized league (i.e., Japan, Korea, Mexico, Europe, any of the winter league countries, etc) yet their players were barred from playing even in them until just recently.  The Cuban government took these steps just recently to enable its players to play elsewhere; in Sept 2013 Cuban players were allowed to play in foreign leagues, which has subsequently led to a number of additional defections (and rising player contracts) here in the states.  But as Kehoski points out, there’s still huge hurdles to foreign ownership of property in Cuba (preventing the immediate building of academies by MLB teams for example), and it is worth saying that the country is still a communist dictatorship, with huge amounts of government control over the activities of its people.

Lets dream a bit though, and imagine that the Cuban government relents and releases the market for baseball players.  Immediate questions from a baseball perspective include:

  • Can MLB scouts immediately (and freely) travel to Cuba to scout?  It seems so: the Obama press release talked about immediate easing of travel restrictions and stated limits on import/exports (they had to answer multiple questions about bringing back cigars in the press conference :-) )
  • Will the Cuban league negotiate a posting system similar to what MLB has with the Asian leagues?
  • Or, will MLB teams set up their own academies similarly to what they do in the Dominican Republic?

MLB teams will want the academy route clearly; it won’t take but a few million dollars of infrastructure to setup teams and dormitories, and 16-yr olds could be signed for a few thousand dollars outside of harsh international FA spending limits much as they are in the DR.  But the Cuban government may want to do a posting system to help protect its local leagues and to earn much-needed money.   Not to mention the fact that Cuban culture values education and they’d likely be aghast if kids started dropping out of conventional school in their mid teens to enroll in baseball-only academies for a shot at a baseball lottery ticket.  Also, can you imagine billionaire owners negotiating with the cronies of the communist Cuban sports bureaus looking to hoard cash on the backs of their penniless players?

A huge benefit that could start immediately?  The possible return of the Cuban winter league, which used to be the clear preeminent winter league, drawing future hall of famers to the island for a winter vacation.  Now, Havana in the 50s isn’t what it is today of course … but if the Cuban government relents to foreign investment, there’s no reason for Cuba not to turn into another tourist-heavy island nation in the same way that other Caribbean countries operate.

One last thing: I’ve always taken an interest in the World Baseball Classic, and one of the things I’ve always wondered is what a united Cuban team could look like.  In the wake of the 2013 event, I wrote about what such a “politics-free” team could look like.  And now, two years and a number of high-profile defections later, I think a Cuban team could be even better.  Will we get to see a united team in the next version?   Hopefully so; the next WBC isn’t until 2017, by which time we’ll hopefully have a lot more clarity.   If you look at the 2013 version of the unified Cuban team, It lists Jose Abreu as a sub; now we know he’d be the marquee hitter in such a lineup next to Yoenis Cespedes.  And more players are coming.  In fact, you may put a unified cuban team as the 2nd or 3rd favorite in the WBC (behind the DR and USA).

Here’s a quick proffer on what a unified Cuban all-star team could look like right now.  Using the 2013 team as a starter and adding in recent defectees:

  • C: Yasmani Grandal
  • 1B: Jose Abreu
  • 2B: Yunel Escobar
  • 3B: Yonder Alonso
  • SS: Yoan Moncada (backed up by Alexei Ramirez)
  • LF: Yoenis Cespedes
  • CF: Yasiel Puig
  • RF: Yasmani Tomas
  • Starters: Jose Fernandez, Odrisamer Despaigne, Miguel Gonzalez
    (Gio Gonzalez was born in Cuba, but has already played for the US, so we eliminate him from consideration).
  • Relievers: Aroldis Chapman

That’s quite a good squad to start with, even without looking at the lesser Cuban players and/or the guys in the pipeline.

Post publishing link collection: Sports on Earth’s Phil Rogers on the future of the Cuban National team: he basically does a more researched and thoughtful version of the lineup above.  Nathaniel Grow of Fangraphs does his own version of this post in general.   Chris Moran of Beyond the box Score also does a version of this post.  Craig Calcaterra pipes in too.  Thom Loverro puts up his 2 cents.  BusinessInsider quotes super-agent Ron Shapiro and his “sea of questions” regarding baseball players.

Best contracts in the game right now

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Sal Perez is the best value contract in the game right now.  photo via si.com

Sal Perez is the best value contract in the game right now. photo via si.com

Inspired by Steve AdamsMLBTR chat on 11/18/14, I thought this was a fascinating topic.  What players have the best value contracts in the game right now?

For several years, the answer here was Evan Longoria, who signed a 6yr/$17.5M contract in 2008 and promptly put up three straight seasons north of 7.0 bWAR.  We’re into the option years on that original deal, which are still pretty affordable, and Longoria did get a 9-figure extension, so he’s not entirely in this discussion any longer.  Call him the “godfather” of ridiculously good value contracts.

Using the obvious websites (baseball-reference.com and Cots’ salary database now at BaseballProspectus.com), lets take a look at some candidates.  Note; I refer to a “valuation” of $6M per win above replacement as a way to “value” production.  There are some known limitations to equating salary to this figure, and there are others who estimate it even higher, but $6M per is still a decent estimate to use as a quick estimate of a player’s “monetary” production on the field.

Note: we are NOT including the litany of pre-arb players who are putting up huge seasons.  This is mostly trying to focus on those players who have signed for affordable contracts but who are delivering huge value.  Thus players like Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon, Kyle Seager, Corey Kluber and Starling Marte are not included here.

Candidate contracts: I’ve arranged these in my opinion of the order of value:

  • Sal Perez: 5 years/$7M (2012-16), plus 2017-19 club options worth just a *combined* $14.75M.  This for a guy who has made the all-star team and won the catcher Gold Glove two years running.  Wow.
  • Chris Sale: 5 years/$32.5M (2013-17), plus 2018-19 options of $12.5M and $13.5M.  This for a guy who led the AL this year in ERA+ and has received significant Cy Young votes 3 years running.  His bWAR in the last three seasons: 5.9, 6.9 and 6.6.  That’s crazy.
  • Jose Altuve: 4 years/$12.5M (2014-17), plus 2018-19 options at $6M and $6.5M.   Two-time all-star, led the AL in both hits and batting average in 2014.   Just put up a 6.6 bWAR season … and the Astros got it for just $1.25M in salary.
  • Jonathan Lucroy: 5 years/$11M (2012-16), plus 2017 option at $5.25M.  this late bloomer signed an incredibly affordable deal, then had a break out 2014 season where he posted a 6.7 bWAR, made the All-Star team, finished 4th in the MVP voting and should have won the gold glove as the best framing catcher in the game.   His total salary for the remaining three years of his contract is just $12.25M.
  • Madison Bumgarner.  Current contract: 5 years/$35M (2013-17), plus 2018-19 options at $12M each.  Bumgarner was 4th in Cy Young voting this year with a 4 bWAR season but (as we all know) dominated the playoffs, single-handedly handing the Giants their 3rd World Series title in the last 5 seasons.  A 4-war season is worth at least $24M on the open market these days, but he earned just $3.75M this year.  His options can vest and increase with certain achievements, but even at their max $16M value he’s still a massive bargain.
  • Yasiel Puig: 7 years/$42M (2012-18).  Everyone thought the Dodgers were crazy to commit $42M to an unknown; now it looks like a massive bargain.  For $2M salaries the last two years he’s put up 4.9 and 5.4 bWAR seasons.
  • Julio Teheran: 6 years/$32.4M (2014-19).  This contract gets expensive later, but in 2014 he was paid just $800k to put up a 4.0 win season.  If Teheran continues to be the #2 pitcher he showed this year, the Braves have great value on their hands.
  • Jose Quintana: 5 years/$21M (2014-18).  Thanks to the crummy team he toils for, Quintana’s exploits have gone unnoticed.  But he’s now got a career 117 ERA+ and has reached 200 innings both of the last two seasons and is signed for a song going forward.  Its no wonder analysts scoff when his name is mentioned in trade talks.
  • Michael Brantley: 4 years/$25M (2014-17), plus 2018 option of $11M).  This is preliminary, but based on his 7 bWAR season in 2014 (for just a $1.5M salary), this could be a huge bargain.  Is he a flash in the 2014 pan or is he for real?  If he’s for real, the Indians have a fantastic value going forward.
  • Ben Zobrist: 4 years/$18M (2010-13), plus 2014-15 options of $7 and $7.5M.  This was the poster child for years of affordable contracts (once Evan Longoria got his extension).  He’s averaged 4.75 bWAR over the past four seasons while playing six or seven different positions for the Rays.  Even in the final 2015 season at $7.5M, he’s projecting at 4 bWAR, still a significant under-value.  Keith Law calls  him “the best contract value” in MLB history; maybe he should be higher on this list.
  • Mike Trout: 6 years/$144.5M (2015-20).  No, a $33.25M salary in 2020 isn’t really a bargain, but the Angels are still getting the best player in baseball for $1M in 2014 and $5.25M in 2015.  Even if Trout declines to “just” a 6 bWAR player for the next 6 years … the Angels are still coming out ahead on the $6M/WAR evaluation technique.
  • John Lackey: 1yr/mlb minimum (2015).  He had a quirk in his previous contract that vested a MLB-minimum year thanks to an injury a couple years ago, so the Cardinals get the benefit of a veteran innings-eating 100 ERA+ starter at the league minimum.  Nothing to sneeze at, even if its just a one year contract.  On the open market you have to think he’s worth $8-$10M/season.
  • Steve Pearce: 1 year/$850k (2014).  This isn’t really a true candidate like the other players here, but Pearce’s story is worth noting.  He was DFA’d and *released* in April and re-signed a couple days later, but still posted a 6 bWAR season for Baltimore this year.  He’s arbitration eligible for 2015 but how far could his salary really rise after an 850k salary?
  • Jonathan Singleton: 5yrs/$10M plus 3 club options.  He may not profile as being worth this contract now … but if he lives up anywhere close to expectations, those later option years at $2-$2.5M are going to look pretty darn good.  No wonder the players union howled when he signed this deal.
  • Adam Jones: 4yrs/$62M is nothing to shake a stick at, even if his “gold glove” defense is rather suspect.
  • Edwin Encarnacion: 3 years/$29M (2013-15), plus 2016 club option of $10M.  Yeah that’s a pretty good deal.
  • Jose Bautista: 5 years/$65M (2011-15), plus 2016 option of $14M.   $14M for a guy who probably would have gotten 33% more had he been a FA two years ago.

How about the same analysis for the Nats?  The clear best value players on the team are Anthony Rendon and Tanner Roark.  Both Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister delivered pretty good WAR/pay value.  Denard Span just gave us a 3.6 bWAR season for $6.5M in salary; a pretty good deal.  But none of these contracts really contend with the above list.

Did I miss anyone obvious?  Do you agree with my rankings above?

Closer post-mortem 2014

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Francisco Rodriguez screwed my fantasy team this year.  Photo via cbssports.com

Francisco Rodriguez screwed my fantasy team this year. Photo via cbssports.com

This post is somewhat driven by fantasy baseball, where one of the typical pitching categories is “Saves,” and the constant churn of closers has become a huge detriment to most fantasy baseball players.  I’m no exception; this year I drafted who I presumed was going to be the closer for Milwaukee (Jim Henderson), only to watch him be replaced the day before the season started, inexplicably and without warning, by Francisco Rodriguez, who subsequently earned 40+ saves for the guy in my league who vulture waiver-wire picked him up.  (We eventually found out why; Henderson gave up 10 runs in 11 innings before going under the knife for “Labrum & Rotator Cuff Debridement.”  Ugh).

My research shows that just 13 of the 30 teams in the MLB this year started and ended the season with the same closer.  That’s a pretty amazing churn of players.  So I put together a tracking XLS.

Team Switch during 2014 season? 2014 Closer, start of season 1/2 point Closer End of Year Closer Most Saves 2014 full season # Saves for Team Leader in 2014
Ari Addison Reed Addison Reed Addison Reed Addison Reed 32
Atl Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel 47
Bal Yes Tommy Hunter Zach Britton Zach Britton Zach Britton 37
Bos Yes Koji Uehara Koji Uehara Edward Mujica Koji Uehara 26
Chc Yes Jose Veras Hector Rondon Hector Rondon Hector Rondon 29
Cin Yes J.J. Hoover Aroldis Chapman Aroldis Chapman Aroldis Chapman 36
Cle Yes John Axford Cody Allen Cody Allen Cody Allen 24
Col LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins LaTroy Hawkins 23
Cws Yes Nate Jones Ronald Belisario? Jake Petricka Jake Petricka 14
Det Joe Nathan Joe Nathan Joe Nathan Joe Nathan 35
Hou Comm. Chad Qualls Chad Qualls Chad Qualls Chad Qualls 19
KC Greg Holland Greg Holland Greg Holland Greg Holland 46
LAA Yes Ernesto Frieri Joe Smith Huston Street Huston Street 17
LAD Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen Kenley Jansen 44
Mia Steve Cishek Steve Cishek Steve Cishek Steve Cishek 39
Mil Yes Jim Henderson Francisco Rodriguez Francisco Rodriguez Francisco Rodriguez 44
Min Glen Perkins Glen Perkins Glen Perkins Glen Perkins 34
NYM Yes Bobby Parnell Jennry Mejia Jennry Mejia Jennry Mejia 28
Nyy David Robertson David Robertson David Robertson David Robertson 39
Oak Yes Jim Johnson Sean Doolittle Sean Doolittle Sean Doolittle 22
Phi Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon 39
Pit Yes Jason Grilli Mark Melancon Mark Melancon Mark Melancon 33
Sdp Yes Huston Street Joaquin Benoit Joaquin Benoit Joaquin Benoit 11
Sea Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney Fernando Rodney 48
Sfg Yes Sergio Romo Santiago Castilla Santiago Castilla Sergio Romo 23
Stl Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal Trevor Rosenthal 45
TBR Yes Grant Balfour Jake McGee Jake McGee Jake McGee 19
Tex Yes Neftali Feliz Joaquim Soria Neftali Feliz Neftali Feliz 13
Tor Casey Janssen Casey Janssen Casey Janssen Casey Janssen 25
Was Yes Rafael Soriano Rafael Soriano Drew Storen Rafael Soriano 32

Now, technically the Reds never “switched” their closer; they just knew that Aroldis Chapman was coming back after a brief stint on the D/L.  And the Astros show Chad Qualls in all the positions, but they clearly were going with a committee for most of the season.  So you could argue against those two teams, but that still leaves half the league switching their closer mid-season.  Other teams stuck with the same guy all year (Detroit with Joe Nathan) despite awful numbers (4.81 ERA on the season for Nathan), so you could argue that they *should* have switched.

The Nats were no exception; they started the year with Rafael Soriano, who was one of the league’s best for half the season.  By September, the Nats had dumped Soriano for their *previous* closer in Drew Storen, who then dumped the bed in his only two post-season appearances (blowing the save in Jordan Zimmermann‘s epic 8 2/3 shutout innings, and then allowing two hits and a run in a non-save situation the next night).

What does this mean?  For “real” baseball, not much that we didn’t already know.  Closers are judged mostly on high-leverage short-sample sizes, where one blow-out inning destroys ERA and WHIP numbers for a month.  Its a ridiculous statistic that has far too much credence in the modern game.  And its even more ridiculous that a mediocre “closer” with a ton of saves earns more than a middle-to-late innings reliever with a ton of “holds” and great numbers.  But this is our system.

For “fantasy” baseball, the take away again is kind of known: closers are a crapshoot.  Try to get a couple of “known” closers in the 5th-8th rounds, grab a couple of fliers on people later on, but be sure to be incredibly proactive on the waiver wires in the last week of spring training/first week of the season.  A lot of these personnel changes happened in early April and then stuck the rest of the way through (quick examples being Milwaukee as described above and the New York Mets, who saw presumed closer Bobby Parnell blow out his elbow on practically the first day of the season and have Tommy John surgery on 4/8/14).

 

2014 MLB Awards Predictions vs Results

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Kershaw cleans up the BBWAA awards.  Photo via wiki.

Kershaw cleans up the BBWAA awards. Photo via wiki.

Here’s who I predicted would win.

  •     NL MVP: Kershaw
  •     NL Cy Young: Kershaw
  •     NL Rookie: deGrom
  •     NL Manager: Bochy
  •     AL MVP: Trout
  •     AL Cy Young: Felix
  •     AL Rookie: Abreu
  •     AL Manager: Showalter

Here’s who actually won, along with some links to other awards

End result predicting 2014’s BBWAA awards: 6 for 8.  My worst prediction season on record.  2010: 8 for 8.  2011: 8 for 8.  2012: 7 for 8.  2013: 8 for 8.  I swear I only looked up these links because I was re-categorizing posts and adding in a filter for “awards” related posts :-).  Usually its a bit easier to predict the BBWAA electorate in these awards; I suppose that the general evolution of the writers is slowly bringing more statistical analysis into the mix, meaning that the “dinosaur” method of voting is heading out the window.  Probably for the better.

Links to other awards, some of which I used to try and track/predict but no longer.

Gold Glove Awards versus Defensive Metrics Review for 2014

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Alex Gordon was one of the best defensive players in baseball, by any measure in 2014.  photo 365rundown.com

Alex Gordon was one of the best defensive players in baseball, by any measure in 2014. photo 365rundown.com

Last year, I created a little spreadsheet upon the announcement of the Gold Glove winners, to see how they compared to various defensive metric leaders (2013 xls link here).  And I threw in the “Fielding Bible” award winners, since that has now taken over as the “accepted” list of the year’s best defensive players, thanks to the Gold Gloves continuing to pick inexplicable players (this  year’s repeat “I cannot believe he won” player again being Adam Jones).  But, as we’ve seen, the Gold Gloves are getting better, and the days of picking someone like a statue-esque Derek Jeter and/or a nearly permanent DH in Rafael Palmeiro seem to now be over.

So, now that we’ve announced the 2014 Gold Glove winners, lets also look at the league leaders in various defensive metrics.

This data is in the following spreadsheet for 2014 on Google Docs.

First, your 2014 Gold Glove winners: bold are also Fielding Bible winners, and red are the most egregiously bad selections.

Pos AL GG Winner NL GG Winner
C Salvator Perez, CLE Yadier Molina, STL
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Adrian Gonzalez, LAD
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS DJ LeMahieu, COL
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Kyle Seager, SEA Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Christian Yelich, MIA
CF Adam Jones, BAL Juan Lagares, NYM
RF Nick Markakis, BAL Jason Heyward, ATL
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU Zack Greinke, LAD

As with last year, the league still remains obsessed with Adam Jones despite his possessing negative defensive rankings across the board.  Kyle Seager wasn’t “bad” but wasn’t nearly as deserving as Josh Donaldson.  The only other real “bad” selection was Molina, not because he’s not a great defensive catcher (he is), but because he missed a ton of time and there were better options in the NL this year (namely, Jonathan Lucroy).  Otherwise every Gold Glove winner listed here was deserving.

Repeat Gold Glove winners from last  year: Molina, Hosmer, Pedroia, Hardy, Simmons, Arenado, Gordon, and Jones.  So, 8 of 18.

Here’s the 2014 Fielding Bible Awards, which (if you’re not aware) is a Bill James-driven website that uses a committee of national writers to select the winners (the site is here and you can read about their methodology).  Bolded are also GG winners:

Pos 2014 Fielding Bible Winner
C Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
1B Adrian Gonzalez, LAD
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS (repeat)
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL (repeat)
3B Josh Donaldson, OAK
LF Alex Gordon, KC (repeat)
CF Juan Lagares, NYM
RF Jason Heyward, ATL
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU
Util Lorenzo Cain, KC

They selected Lucroy over Molina, and Donaldson over Seager.  They’ve also added a 10th position for “Utility,” to recognize the excellent work of Lorenzo Cain playing multiple outfield positions.

Now, here’s the league leaders by various defensive stats.  The links to get any of these leaderboards are in the Google xls.  First: UZR/150.

Pos AL UZR/150 NL UZR/150
C
1B Albert Pujols, LAA (9.3) Anthony Rizzo, CHC (8.2)
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS (20.4) DJ LeMahieu, COL (11.0)
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL (15.4) Andrelton Simmons, ATL (18.4)
3B Josh Donaldson, OAK (13.3) Todd Frazier, CIN (8.9)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (22.6) Christian Yelich, MIA (14.1)
CF Jackie Bradley JR, BOS (22.6) Juan Lagares, NYM (25.3)
RF Nori Aoki, KC (7.7) Jason Heyward, ATL (20.5)
P

I like UZR as a measure and use it often. UZR/150 somewhat standardizes the scores across a 150-game average to represent the figure for a full-season for apples-to-apples comparisons.  A good number of these leaders also earned Gold Gloves and/or Fielding Bible awards.  Josh Donaldson was the clear AL 3B leader.  Otherwise there’s a lot of similarities to the lists we’ve already seen.  I was surprised as heck to see Albert Pujols on this leader board.

For a quick point of reference to the above scores, the BEST UZR/150 of any Nationals player this year was Anthony Rendon‘s uZR/150 of 4.6 while playing 3B.  Span and LaRoche (our two GG finalists) both scored *negative* UZR/150 scores … perhaps an indictment of their nominations in general as being based on reputation and not actual on-field performance this year.

Next: DRS; Defensive Runs Saved.  Some like this stat a lot; I struggle with it because single plays (like an outfielder reaching over the wall to take away a homer) result in huge swings in the numbers on plays that aren’t necessarily the hardest to make.

Pos AL DRS NL DRS
C
1B Chris Davis, BAL (8) Adrian Gonzalez, LAD (12)
2B Ian Kinsler, DET (20) DJ LeMahieu, COL (16)
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL (10) Andrelton Simmons, ATL (28)
3B Josh Donaldson, OAK (20) Nolan Arenado, COL (16)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (27) Christian Yelich, MIA (13)
CF Leonys Martin, TEX (15) Juan Lagares, NYM (28)
RF Kole Calhoun, LAA (2) Jason Heyward, ATL (32)
P

Dustin Pedroia had one of the highest UZR/150 ratings in the league … but he was not the top-rated 2nd baseman in the AL.   We have our third different AL center fielder in three lists.  Otherwise this is a pretty good list.

Next: FRAA: Fielding Runs Above Average, a Baseball Prospectus measure that attempts to remove the bias present in zone-based data and also tries to factor in the tendencies of the pitcher on the mound (ground-ball guy, fly-ball guy,

Pos AL FRAA NL FRAA
C
1B Steve Pearce, BAL (7.7) Adrian Gonzalez, LAD (11.4)
2B Jason Kipnis, CLE (9.5) Chase Utley, PHI (6.9)
SS Alexei Ramierez, CWS (8.1) Jean Segura, MIL (23.6)
3B Kyle Seager, SEA (20.5) Nolan Arenado, COL (14.3)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (12.2) Khris Davis, MIL (6.6)
CF Jacoby Ellsbury, NYY (12.0) Ender Inciarte, ARI (11.0)
RF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (8.3) Jason Heyward, ATL (26.4)
P Dallas Keuchel, HOU (6.7) Tyson Ross, SD (3.7)

Interestingly, Jean Segura shines highly here (the supposed “best defensive player in the league” Andrelton Simmons only scored a 10.0 in FRAA).   And this stat really favors the play of some random players: I had no idea who Kevin Kiermaier or Ender Inciarte were before doing this post, nor did I know what position they played.

Adam Jones scored a -8.1 FRAA; ranking him 1187th out of 1212 players for 2014.  I’m not kidding.  That’s how bad a selection for the Gold Glove Jones was.

Last stat: Baseball Reference’s Total Zone Fielding

Pos AL Total Zone Total Fielding NL Total Zone Total Fielding
C Salvator Perez, CLE (12) Wilson Ramos, WAS (8)
1B Steve Pearce, BAL (13) Justin Morneau, COL (11)
2B Jonathan Schoop, BAL (16) Anthony Rendon, WAS (12)
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL (14) Jordy Mercer, PIT (21)
3B Kyle Seager, SEA (23) Chase Headley, SD/NYY (18)
LF Alex Gordon, KC (25) Khris Davis, MIL (13)
CF Lorenzo Cain, KC (18) Billy Hamilton, CIN (14)
RF Kevin Kiermaier, TB (12) Jason Heyward, ATL (30)
P

Check it out: our own Wilson Ramos is on this list as the “leader” for the NL.  Which, no offense to Ramos, makes you question at least the catcher rankings for this stat.  Rendon also factors in for his partial season at 2B.  But overall, this seems like the least reliable defensive stat.

As mentioned above, both our GG finalists (LaRoche and Span) seem to have been nominated on reputation only; neither of them appeared near the top on any of these statistical measures (unlike last year, when Span at least was a leader in Total Zone)

Did I miss any good defensive metrics?  Do you have one you like more or less than these?  I know there’s other stats out there; I can update this analysis with more of them.


So, how did the Gold Gloves do this year in selecting the most deserving winners?  Pretty good.  Alex Gordon was the AL leader for left fielders in every stat.  I think they picked the two correct short stops.  Catchers are difficult to measure.  They absolutely screwed up the AL Center fielder (though to be fair; there were four statistical measures presented and four different AL center field leaders.  Excellent defensive players who jump around (Lorenzo Cain, Ben Zobrist) make the awards somewhat challenging in some cases.