Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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One Team Hall of Famers: a dying breed? (2014 Jeter retirement update)

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Jeter waves to the fans in his last home game.  AP photo via abcnews.com

Jeter waves to the fans in his last home game. AP photo via abcnews.com

In June of 2013, in the midst of the Mariano Rivera retirement tour, I posted about one-team Hall of Famers and whether they were a dying breed in modern baseball.  I figured that they were, that free agency had ruined the iconic “one team” home-town legend that we grew up knowing (especially in DC, with Cal Ripken Jr. just up the road).

Now that Derek Jeter has wound down own his 2014 retirement tour, and the fact that we’ve seen some recent player movement that has eliminated some HoF candidates from being one-teamers, I thought this was a good topic to pick back up.

Here’s a quick glance at the landscape of one-team Hall of Fame candidates in the game today.

  • Recently Retired One-team Hall of Fame locks: Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter

You have to think each of these three guys is a first ballot Hall of Famer, and each was a one-team guy.

  • Recently retired one-team Hall of Fame candidates: Todd Helton

I’m not sure Helton will make the Hall; if Larry Walker can’t get in because people think his numbers were inflated by Colorado’s home park, then Helton will be in the same boat.  His embarrassing, ridiculous DUI arrest in mid 2013 while driving to get lottery tickets (despite the fact that he has more than $160M in career earnings just in salary alone) certainly won’t help his case.

  • Active HoF one-team promising candidates: Joe Mauer, Justin Verlander, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Dustin Pedroia, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Mike Trout

If Verlander finished out his contract just being a 14-11 guy each year, he’d probably end up with 250 wins to go with his Cy Youngs, MVP, and Rookie awards.  People will remember how good a hitter Mauer is when the time comes.  Yes, I think Utley is on track to be a hall of famer; he’s been hurt for so long that people have forgotten how good he is.  No I don’t think Rollins is a HoFamer right now, but he deserves to be in this category not the “borderline” category.  Now, not all of these guys are guarantees to stick with their current teams (especially McCutchen, who eventually cashes in on a big contract that Pittsburgh cannot afford), but for now this is the list.  Almost all of these guys managed to be excellent players for huge-payroll teams, meaning that they can easily finish their careers without having to move on.

Yeah I put Mike Trout on this list.  Did you know that Trout already has as much career bWAR (28.3) by age 22 that Paul Konerko has for his entire 18-year career??  If Trout flamed out before the age of 30 he’d have the same case for inclusion that Sandy Koufax had, and he’d be in.

I cannot see the likes of Rollins, Utley or Pedroia moving teams at this point; do you view Pedroia as a HoFame candidate?  He’s got more than 40 bWAR by the age of 30, an MVP vote, two rings and a bunch of All-Star and Golden Gloves.

  • Active Borderline HoF one-team guys who need to step it up: David Wright, Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki, Joey Votto, Cole Hamels, Adam Wainwright, Jordan Zimmermann

These are all perennial all-stars, kings of the game, but none of them really screams out “Hall of Famer” right now.  I may be slightly down on these guys (especially Hamels, who might be more than borderline right now).  I’ve thrown Zimmermann in there thanks to his second stellar season in a row and his no-hitter; he’s likely to have another top 5 Cy Young finish in 2014 and with a few more such seasons he may put himself into the conversation.  Of course, the odds are that he departs the Nats after 2015, so he may be off the list anyway.

  • Active One-team players who have taken themselves out of HoF candidacy lately: Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jered Weaver, Ryan Howard

I used to think Zimmerman was on track, especially after his monster 2009 season.  Now I think he’s destined to be just a middle of the order solid hitter on teams with better hitters surrounding him.  Think Scott Rolen.  Braun may be one of the best players in the NL, but getting caught with PEDs not once but twice will prevent him from ever being enshrined no matter what kind of career he puts together.  The fall-off of the San Francisco duo of pitchers speaks for itself; what the heck happened to Lincecum?  Similarly, Weaver now looks like a guy who peaked during his expected peak years and now is settling into being a slightly better-than-average pitcher.  Fair?  Maybe not, but his ERA+ for 2014 is 104; not exactly Kershaw-territory.

  • Recently traded/free agent one-team HoF promising candidates: Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Robinson Cano,  Justin Morneau, David Price, Jon Lester, Prince Fielder

I’m not saying all these guys are HoF locks right now, just that they’re top players who have made big moves recently to break up a string of years with one team.

Conclusion?   I think there’s plenty of one-team candidates out there.  So no, one-team hall-of-famers aren’t going to be a dying breed.  Teams are locking up their marquee players to long-term contracts earlier and earlier, meaning the likelihood of having big-name one-team players present their cases to the voters is that much higher in the modern baseball climate.

Did I miss anyone worth talking about?

 

Pitcher Wins on the FA Market – 2014 edition with bWAR

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Kershaw's new $30M/year contract will be tough to live up to.  Photo via wiki.

Kershaw’s new $30M/year contract will be tough to live up to. Photo via wiki.

One of my pet projects of recent years has been to track “major” Starting Pitcher free agent contracts and then to do analysis of how they turned out, on a Dollar per Win basis.  This post is an updated version of this analysis to determine some of the “best” and “worst” free agent contracts ever awarded to starting pitchers.  It is updated for 2014 from last year’s version of the post by my putting in all the 2013 data for pitchers, plus putting in the significant 2014 FA contracts.  And, per requests I have added in bWAR and $/bWAR for analysis (though, as we’ll soon see, $/bWAR can be tricky to interpret for really poor performing pitchers).

The raw data spreadsheet is available in Google Docs at this link, or along the side of this blog window in the NAR Creation links section.  I havn’t cut and pasted any of the data here because the spreadsheet is too “wide” for the blog; I suggest opening it up in a separate tab while reading this post.

Data Taxonomy/caveats: For ease of analysis, I depend on the Average Annual Value (AAV) of the contracts as opposed to trying to figure out exactly how many wins were earned in which year of a varying contract amount.  Therefore (for example), Gio Gonzalez‘s contract may have only paid him $3.25M in 2012 but I’m using the full AAV of $8.4M for the purposes of the analysis (it would just be far too difficult to calculate each pitcher’s dollar per win on an annualized basis otherwise).  This analysis focuses heavily on dollars per pitcher Win, despite the known limitations of the win stat.  There is also dollars per Quality Start and now dollars per bWAR (baseball-reference’s version of WAR).

Here’s some interesting facts, that come out of this analysis (some of these points can also be seen at the amazing Cots Salary database, now at Baseball Prospectus, and are confirmed in my spreadsheet tracking the same):

Largest total Starting Pitcher Contracts ever signed

  • Clayton Kershaw‘s new 7yr/$214M deal signed this past off-season.
  • It beats out the previous record holder (Felix Hernandez‘s  7 year, $175M extension) by nearly $40M in total value.
  • CC Sabathia (7yrs/$161M in 2009) was the longer-time previous record holder before that.
  • Zack Greinke (6yr/$147M)  and Cole Hamel‘s 6yr/$144M contract deserve mention.
  • Masahiro Tanaka signed one of the biggest ever deals (7 year $155M) before he ever threw a MLB pitch.

Largest Single-Season AAV

  • Kershaw’s new deal finally beats out Roger Clemen‘s long standing single season record 1yr/$28M deal in 2007 as the largest AAV pitcher contract.  
  • Justin Verlander‘s new deal gives him an AAV of $28M, a 10% jump up from the $24-$25M/year threshold deals we saw a number of pitchers sign in the last couple of years.

What are some of the Worst Deals ever made?  Lets talk about some of these awful deals on a $ per win or $ per bWAR basis.  Most of these contracts are well known to baseball fans and are commonly thrown around when talking about the worst historical FA contracts, but they’re fun to revisit.  Thanks to the bWAR inclusion, a number of new/more recent contracts now pop up on this list.

  • Kei Igawa‘s 2007 deal with the Yankees, which was 5yrs/$20M but included a $26M posting fee, is generally speaking the worst $AAV per Win contract ever signed.  Igawa went 2-4 in 13 starts over the life of this 5 year deal, equating to $23M per win for his team.  He made exactly one quality start, meaning the Yankees paid $46M per QS.He spent the last two seasons of this contract buried in AAA.   For their $46M, the Yankees got a combined -0.6 bWAR out of Igawa.
  • Chris Carpenter signed a 2yr/$21M extension in St. Louis before the 2012 season that seemed like a good deal at the time; unfortunately for both sides Carpenter hurt his shoulder, only made 3 starts in 2012, went 0-2 and contributed a -2.3 bWAR in that time.  So his dollars per win is infinite and his $/bWAR is uncalculatable.  I still rank Igawa’s deal as worse though since it cost his team more than double the dollars, and since Carpenter’s troubles were injury related while Igawa’s was mostly due to performance.
  • Jason Schmidt‘s 3yr/$47M contract with the Dodgers.  Schmidt made 10 total starts and went 3-6, equating to $15.6M per win.  He totaled a -0.5 bWAR during this 3 year contract.
  • Oliver Perez made just 21 starts (and got 3 wins in the duration of his 3 year/$36M contract with the Mets.  He was released in March of 2011, the final year of the contract, causing the Mets to eat $12M in salary.  The Nats picked him up and carried him on their AA roster all year before dumping him as well; he’s now trying to remake himself as a loogy and is in Arizona’s bullpen.
  • Matt Harrison‘s current deal (so far) has been pretty expensive for the Rangers: for $11M in salary in 2013 they got just two starts and two bad losses before he hit the D/L and missed the remainder of the season.  He still hasn’t returned.  Odds are he recovers and has a chance to earn this contract, but you never know with shoulder injuries (though to be fair the injury that cost him 2013 was a ruptured disk in his back).
  • Tim Lincecum‘s recently completed 2yr/$40.5M contract was pretty ugly for San Francisco; he went 20-29, had just a 43% Quality Start percentage and contributed -2.3 bWAR over those two seasons for his $40M.
  • Barry Zito signed a 7yr/$126M deal.  In those 7 years he went 63-80 and contributed just 3.0 bWAR in the lifetime of the contract.  That’s $42M per win.  By way of comparison, Tanner Roark‘s 5 weeks of effort for the Nats last summer totaled 2.0 wins.
  • Mike Hampton‘s injury plagued/ill conceived 7yr/$121M contract resulted in two full missed seasons and just a grand total 3.0 bWAR of value.
  • Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren both managed to put up negative bWAR for their 2013 seasons (for which they were both being paid $13M a piece).  But those are just one-year deals; they aren’t the multi-year disasters that these other contracts can be.
  • Chan Ho Park signed a 5yr/$65M deal with the Dodgers; for those $65M the Dodgers got precisely 0.2 total bWAR in 5 seasons.  That’s right; for that money they could have fielded a 4-A pitcher and gotten comparable value.  Park was 33-33 during that time and missed significant time with injury.
  • Darren Dreifort (6.1M/win and 0.2 bWAR in 5 seasons), Russ Ortiz (4.7M/win and -3.2 bWAR in 4 seasons), Carl Pavano ($4.4M/win and 0.4 bWAR in 4 seasons), and Carlos Silva ($4M/win and -0.7 bWAR in 5 seasons) all had pretty infamous contract disasters too.

How about some of the Best Contracts ever signed?  Lots of players have signed small one year deals and won double-digit games, so those really cannot count.   Starting with an arbitrary floor of a $50M free agent contract, here’s some of the best value FA contracts ever signed:

  • Pedro Martinez: 7yr/$92M, during which he went 117-37 for the Red Sox for a $786k/win total.
  • Justin Verlander‘s 5yr/$80M deal from 2010-2014 will be a steal for Detroit: he’s already contributed 25+ bWAR and is at about $888k/win.  The same probably will not be said about his mammoth $140M extension.
  • Mike Mussina went 92-53 in his 6yr/$88.5M contract for $961k/win.
  • Chris Carpenter‘s 4yr/$50.8M deal from 2008-2011 was a steal for St. Louis: He may have missed some time but he still went 44-23 during that contract, contributed 13.6 bWAR and his $/win number was just $1.1M.  He’s the only guy who appears in both the “best contracts” and “worst contracts” section in this post.
  • Mark Buehrle‘s 4yr/$56 deal from 2008-2011 resulted in about a $1M/win and just $3.2M/bWAR, great value for his team despite his mediocre looking 54-44 record.
  • Jered Weaver, Yu Darvish, and Hyun-Jin Ryu deserve  mention here; they’re all in the early stages of their long-term contracts and are easily providing value in terms of $/win.

So what does this data mean?  Here’s some conclusions when talking about Dollars per Pitcher Win.

  1. Up to perhaps the mid 2000s, if you got about one (1) pitcher Win per million dollars spent on a player in the Free Agent market that you were doing great.
  2. Now, if you’re getting anything under $1.5M per win, you should be happy.  Especially if you’re paying an ace $25-$30M/year.
  3. Anything over $2M/win is usually considered a bust.  Nearly every contract in the $2M/win in AAV and above has been mentioned and criticized as being a bad contract; the list of “worst ever” above starts at $4M/win and goes higher.
  4. If you pay a starter anything more than about $25M/season,  you’re really going to have a hard time getting value back.  There’s only been a handful of 20-game winners over the past 5 years or so, but paying a starter $24M like Greinke is getting is almost certainly going to be regretted at some point.  An injury or a lost season completely blows the $AAV/win.
  5. It illustrates more clearly than anywhere else the value of a top-notch, pre-Arbitration starter.  Take Clay Buchholz for example; in 2010 he was 17-7 while earning the league minimum of $443k.  That equates to $26,059/win on the same staff that was busy paying Daisuke Matsuzaka $2.06M per win (when adding in the $52M posting fee).  Buchholz has struggled with injuries since then, but teams that  lock down and depend on these pre-arb starters save untold amounts of FA dollars as a result.
  6. This analysis is nearly impossible to do across baseball eras because of the general inflation of contracts and especially because of the bonanza of FA dollars being thrown out there right now.  Pedro Martinez at the top of his game signed a 7yr/$92M deal.  Imagine what he’d get today?  It could be three times that considering how good he was in comparison to his counterparts in the mid 90s.  He was coming off a 1997 season in which he struck out 305 batters, had a 1.90 ERA, a 219 ERA+ and won the Cy Young award.  So going forward a general $1.25M/win is a more accurate barometer for whether or not a pitcher has “earned” his contract.  But there’s no easy way to draw a line in the free agency sand and say that before yearX $1M/win was a good barometer while after yearY $1.25M/win is a good barometer.
  7. A caveat to the $1M/win benchmark; there are different standards for obtaining wins.   If you sign a $3M 1 year deal and then subsequently go 3-12 with a 6.00 ERA … while it looks like you reached the $1m/win threshold in reality you were, well, awful.  This analysis only really holds up for major FA contracts paying in excess of $10M/year.

And here’s some discussions on Dollars per WAR, since we’ve added that in for this 2014 analysis.

  1. The general rule of thumb is that “wins” in terms of WAR “cost” is somewhere between $6M and $7M on the open market.  Did $6M/win work out in this analysis?  Yes and no; it is sort of difficult to do this analysis with players badly underperformed.  Take for example John Danks: he’s two years into a 5yr/$65M contract where he’s gotten hurt in both seasons and has just 7 wins and a 0.7 bWAR.  Well, $26M in total salary paid so far for 0.7 bWAR equals a $37M/war figure.  Well that’s not quite right.
  2. The best you can do is look at player-by-player examples.  Johan Santana‘s 6yr/$137.5M contract cost his team $9M/bWAR.  That’s unquestionably bad.   Cole Hamels went 17-6 in 2012 on a 1yr/$15M deal, which turned out to be just $3.2M per WAR for his 4.2 bWAR season.  That’s great.
  3. The $/bWAR analysis gets worse if the bWAR is negative; our own Dan Haren came in with a -0.01 bWAR for 2013; how do you decide how much the Nationals paid on a dollar-per-bWAR basis for Haren?  If you divide 0.01 into his $13M salary you get a non-sensical -$1.3 billion figure.

 


Lastly, for comparison purposes, here’s the above analysis looks for the 2013 Nationals pitching staff.  Keep in mind that the $/win figures for pre-arbitration pitchers vastly skew the analysis (apologies if this bleeds off the side of the browser screen)

Last Name First Name Total Value (includes guaranteed $) $$/year AAV Contract Term Years Into Contract Starts QS QS % W L $ per start $ per QS $ AAV per win Total bWAR $ per bWAR
Strasburg Steven $19,000,000 $4,750,000 2009-13 5 75 46 61.3% 29 19 $316,667 $516,304 $818,966 8.5 $2,794,118
Gonzalez Gio $42,000,000 $8,400,000 2012-16 2 64 43 67.2% 32 16 $262,500 $390,698 $525,000 7.9 $2,126,582
Zimmermann Jordan $5,350,000 $5,350,000 2013 1 32 21 65.6% 19 9 $167,188 $254,762 $281,579 3.7 $1,445,946
Detwiler Ross $2,337,500 $2,337,500 2013 1 13 6 46.2% 2 7 $179,808 $389,583 $1,168,750 0.1 $23,375,000
Haren Dan $13,000,000 $13,000,000 2013 1 30 15 50.0% 10 14 $433,333 $866,667 $1,300,000 0.0 (0 war)
Maya Yunesky $8,000,000 $2,000,000 2010-13 4 10 1 10.0% 1 4 $800,000 $8,000,000 $8,000,000 -0.8 ($10,000,000)
Karns Nathan 490,000 490,000 2013 1 3 0 0.0% 0 1 $163,333 (0 QS) (0 wins) -0.4 ($1,225,000)
Jordan Taylor 490,000 490,000 2013 1 9 3 33.3% 1 3 $54,444 $163,333 $490,000 0.0 (0 war)
Ohlendorf Ross 1,000,000 1,000,000 2013 1 7 3 42.9% 3 1 $142,857 $333,333 $333,333 0.9 $1,111,111
Roark Tanner 490,000 490,000 2013 1 5 4 80.0% 3 1 $98,000 $122,500 $163,333 2.0 $245,000

The counting figures for Starts/QS/Wins/Losses are cumulative for the life of whatever contract the player is on.  So for Strasburg, he was basically in the 5th year of his original 5 year deal, hence the 75 total starts in those 5 years.

The 2013 Nats have $AAV per win and $/bWAR mostly on the good side:

  • Yunesky Maya and Nathan Karns both contributed negative bWAR for 2013, so their numbers are meaningless.
  • Taylor Jordan and Dan Haren both came in at zero (or close enough to it) bWAR, so their numbers are also meaningless.  Well, not “meaningless” in Haren’s case: basically he gave the team replacement performance for his $13M in salary; the team could have just called up a guy from AAA and let him pitch all year and gotten about the same value.  Thanks for the memories!
  • The best $/win guy was Tanner Roark, who got 3 wins for his MLB minimum salary … and that’s not even taking into account the fact that Roark’s 2013 salary probably should be pro-rated for this analysis.
  • The worst $/win guy was  Maya; who demonstrated yet again that his $8M contract was a mistake.
  • Nearly the entire staff has $/win values under the “you’re doing well” threshold of $1M/win.  And nearly the whole squad is doing $/bWAR well below the $6M/bWAR range.

 

2014 Rotation Rankings 1-30

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The ace on the best rotation in the game.  Photo: talksportsphilly.com

The ace on the best rotation in the game. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

Last year, with my excitement over Washington’s Dan Haren signing and my supposition that Washington had the best rotation in the game, I ranked all 30 team’s rotations ahead of the 2013 season.  Then, after the season was done, I revisited these pre-season rankings with a post-mortem to see how close (or, more appropriately, how far off) my rankings turned out to be.

Here’s the 2014 version of this same post: Pre-season rankings of the MLB’s rotations; 1 through 30.  Warning; this is another huge post.  I guess I’m just verbose.  At this point midway through Spring Training there’s just a couple of possible FAs left that could have altered these rankings (Ervin Santana being the important name unsigned right now), so I thought it was time to publish.

The top teams are easy to guess; once you get into the 20s, it becomes pretty difficult to distinguish between these teams.  Nonetheless, here we go (I heavily depended on baseball-reference.com and mlbdepthcharts.com for this post, along with ESPN’s transaction list per team and Baseball Prospectus’ injury reports for individual players).

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Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in Majors Pitching

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National High School Baseball Powers

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(Useless blog information: this is my 700th post!)

USA Today just came out with their pre-season 2014 top -25 High School Baseball rankings (to go along with Baseball America’s pre-season top 50 and Maxpreps.com’s top 100 pre-season rankings), and a number of familiar national High Schools are on the various lists.  I thought it was a good time to publish the review of Local and National high school baseball powers that I’ve had in draft status for a while.

I touched on the topic of High Schools who consistently generate talent briefly in January 2013, when I penned a post delving into the best players the State of Virginia has produced.  II you’re interested in the best producing Virginia High Schools there’s a section in that January 2013 post on the topic.  Despite having some significant talent come out of the state recently, there is no high school in our area that comes close to producing what some of these schools in Florida, California and Texas do.  At the bottom here I’ll talk briefly about significant local schools.

Lets take a look at some of these baseball factories and look at some of the big-time talent they’ve produced lately.  I’ll freely admit that this is mostly analysis of teams that have been good lately … but i’ve tried not to fall into the habit of picking a team that just happens to be good now by looking at the performances of these teams over the past 4-5 years.  Suffice it to say; one class of great players can make a team very highly ranked for a year or two, but you need to consistently develop players to constantly be considered among the best programs in the country.

Here we go.  In each case if they’re pre-season ranked I’ll use a quick short-hand so as not to repeat typing the same things over and over.  (X,Y,Z) after each high school mean’s the team is pre-season ranked by in order by USA Today, Baseball America and Max Preps.

  • Archbishop McCarthy HS, Southwest Ranches, Fla (#1,7,1); They have won four consecutive Florida 6a titles and are the 2014 preseason#1 ranked team by USA-Today   They’ve had no less than eight draftees in the last four drafts, including two first rounders (presumptive 3B starter in Detroit Nick Castellanos and Nick Travieso in 2012).  This is a seriously good baseball program.
  • Harvard-Westlake HS in Studio City, California (Los Angeles) (7,8,7).  Alma Mater of our own Lucas Giolito, but was also home to another 2012 first round pick Max Fried.  Can you imagine a high school team with two first round pitching prospects?  Also the alma mater of current MLBers Josh Satin and Brennan Boesch, both of whom were drafted out of Cal-Berkeley, and 2013 2nd round pick Austin Wilson out of Stanford.  A good pedigree of recent high-end talent.
  • The Woodlands HS in The Woodlands, Texas (#29,NR,NR). Alma Mater to 2011 #2 overall pick Jamison Taillon and 2011 3rd round pitcher Bryan Brickhouse.  More recently, home to 2013 3rd rounder Carter Hope.   All three of these guys were big-time right-handed pitching prospects.  Also home to two current MLBers: Kyle Drabek (a 2006 1st round pick) and Paul Goldschmidt (an 8th round pick after going to college).   They’re a bit down this year, but have been highly ranked for years.  Defending Texas 5-A champs, no small feat.
  • American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla. (#3,24,14).  Began gaining notice after producing both #3 overall 2008 pick Eric Hosmer and (former) Nats prospect Adrian Nieto in 2008; since has produced another 6-8 draft prospects.  Enters 2014 with a preseason #3 ranking from Usa-Today and should match up well with Archbishop McCarthy (if they are scheduled to play).
  • Owasso (Okla.) HS. (#4,4,2) 2014 Preseason USA-today #4 team who went 36-0 last season and returns seven starters.   Recent alumni include two first round draftees in St. Louis’ Pete Kozma and the likely more impactful Dylan Bundy, Baltimore’s #1 prospect, who reached the majors by age 20 and is currently rehabbing a Tommy John injury.
  • Barbe HS, Lake Charles, LA (#8,6,6).  Getting some pre-season 2014 credit thanks to a slew of Division 1-signed talent; had three players drafted from its 2010 team.  Of local interest to yours truly because Lake Charles is where my wife hails from and where we go married.
  • Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas: (#12,13,9) his sports powerhouse is also routinely nationally ranked in Football and Basketball, and has matriculated a handful of local players lately (including supplemental 1st rounder Joey Gallo in 2012).   They were the defending Nevada state champions seven times before losing in the final last year.  This is not however the alma-mater of our own Bryce Harper: he went to Las Vegas HS, which doesn’t have nearly the alumni pedigree as Gorman.
  • Archbishop Moeller HS, Cincinnati (#17,30,10).  Moeller has a very rich history; its alums include Buddy Bell and his sons, Ken Griffey Jr and Barry Larkin.  They’ve had at least 11 alumni play pro-ball.  And they’re back in the national scene, ranked #17 pre-season by USA-Today for 2014.
  • Rancho Bernardo, San Diego: (NR, #3, #24): this school’s nickname is “the Factory,” so I had to put it in here.  Home to 3 current major leaguers (including Cole Hamels) and a whole slew of recent draftees.
  • Venice (Fla.) HS (#15,1,4).  A johnny come-lately to the party: they’re also a defending Florida state champ (in a different class than Archbishop McCarthy) and are the #1 ranked pre-season team by Baseball America.  Not a ton of alumni history here, but they are #1 in one of the three main publications i’m using as reference here.
  • Broken Arrow (Okla.) HS (NR,#15,NR): Broken Arrow had three members of its 2011 team picked, including upper 1st round talent Archie Bradley.  They’ve had a few MLB alumni and are routinely in the latter stages of the Oklahoma state tournament.
  • St. Francis HS Mountain View, CA (#27,2,12): some interesting spread between the three rankings for St. Francis, based in Mountain View, CA.  They have a slew of alumni currently playing college or pro ball and are #2 in Baseball America’s pre-season rankings for 2014.
  • Seton Hall Prep, West Orange NJ: (NR on any 2014 list) the rare cold-weather school with significant pro matriculation.  Detroit’s Rick Porcello hails from Seton Hall Prep, though the most famous New Jersey native in the majors (Mike Trout) attended a different HS (Milleville HS) and is the first player from his HS to make the majors since the 1940s.

Some of the all-time great producing High Schools not already mentioned:

  • Hillsborough HS in Tampa (NR on any 2014 list) boasts 41 pro alumni and 10 with MLB experience, including Gary SheffieldDwight GoodenCarl Everett and former Nat Elijah Dukes.
  • Jesuit HS, Tampa: (#26,NR,NR).  Another high school in Tampa that has a huge alumni base in pro ball; 10 major leaguers and 74 players in pro-ball (per baseball cube).
  • Lakewood HS in Orange County (NR on any 2014 list) has 57 pro alumni and 12 MLB experienced players, though not nearly of the name quality of Hillsborough’s graduates.
  • Sarasota HS in Florida (#37,NR,NR) also boasts 57 pro player alumni, 14 MLB pros including our own Ian Desmond.
  • There’s a HS in Oakland called McClymonds that has two Hall of Fame alumni (Frank Robinson and Ernie Lombardi), a host of other famous names from 60s and 70s but which hasn’t generated a pro player since the mid 1970s.  Per its wikipedia page it only has about 250 students now; I wonder if they even still field a baseball team.
  • Polytechnic HS in Long Beach (NR on any 2014 list) has 47 pro alumni but an astonishing 18 guys with MLB experience, headlined by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and possibly future hall of famer Chase Utley.
  • Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif. (NR on any 2014 list): 9 major leaguers among at least 40 pro alumni, including Washington’s Danny Espinosa.
  • Special Mention: the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy is technically a high school and easily has the highest number of drafted players (111 in baseball Cube’s records).  Most recently, 1-1 pick Carlos Correa is an alumni, though he’s one of just two 1st rounders out of this school that I can see.

 

DC Area Local

Its hard to say if there’s a local “baseball factory” school; certainly one does not exist like the Florida and California schools mentioned here.  But there are a couple of programs in the DC area who play significant schedules and who recruit heavily in the baseball circles:

  • Riverdale Baptist HS, Upper Marlboro MD.  They have quite a few players in the NCAA ranks but few who have lasted long in the pros.
  • St. John’s HS (Washington, DC); they’ve had some recent draft success and have sent players to good schools.

Past these two schools, it does seem like certain local public programs are always doing well.  Dematha is getting some national ranking mentions pre-season but doesn’t have the baseball pedigree that they have in Football and Basketball.  Vienna programs Oakton and Madison HS are constantly in the mix locally and state-wide, a product of a fabulous youth program that feeds into both those schools.  Finally, the two largest schools in the area (Lake Braddock and Robinson) routinely advance far in the regional tournaments, thanks in part to an enrollment that rivals some colleges.  But they’re hardly “factories” like the above school, nor do they put out the kind of upper-end players that Florida and California schools can.

 


For some historical perspective, here’s a slew of links to pre- and post-season rankings that i’ve collected for the past few years, with #1 national team and any local schools noted.

Other useful links for High School baseball analysis;

Did I miss any?  Please discuss.

What is the “ceiling” of various Nats pitching prospects? (Updated for 2013)

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Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Two off-seasons ago, I did an analysis piece discussing the “ceilings” of the various pitchers (focusing on starters in the system) on our major and minor league rosters.   That led to some good discussions in the comments about what the definition of a pitcher’s ceiling is, about what a “#3″ starter is, etc.

Now that the 2013 season has ended, I thought it’d be a good topic to revisit and factor in recent performances and the last couple year’s worth of player movement in and out of the organization.

This post mostly focuses on the Starters we have in the organization.  There’s no real mention of guys who are already in the bullpen (either in the majors or the minors) unless we have heard rumors of them converting back to being starters at some point or another.


Some setup

What do I mean by a #1, #2, #3, #4 or #5 starter?  With some simple examples (from the 2011 post)

  • A #1 starter is a MLB-wide “Ace,” one of the best 15-20 pitchers in the league, someone who you’re genuinely surprised if he performs badly on a given day, opten mentioned in Cy Young conversations.   Guys like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.
  • A #2 starter is a  slight step down from your elite “Aces,” but still an excellent starter.  Can challenge for the top awards if they put everything together for a season, but remains consistently above average.   I see guys like Madison Bumgarner, Homer Bailey or James Shields in this category
  • A #3 starter is better than your league average pitcher, someone who is solid, consistent innings eater and who routinely gives you quality starts but not much more than that.   I think of guys like Mark Buehrle, Kyle Lohse, or John Lackey here.
  • A #4 starter is basically someone defined as someone who’s a slight step above the back-of-the-rotation guy, usually a veteran guy who knows how to pitch but doesn’t have the best stuff to really go much beyond or a younger guy who is establishing a foothold of a career.   Good examples from this year could include the likes of Kyle Kendrick, or Edwin Jackson or Bronson Arroyo.
  • A #5 starter is just good enough to fill out your rotation.  Starters at the back end who all you’re hoping for is 6 innings and keeping your team in the game.  Think of someone like Jason Marquis at this point in his career, or Ryan Vogelsong.

For clarity; if your team has three excellent pitchers, it does not mean that a league-wide ace is defined by these standards as a “#3″ starter.  When the Phillies big 3 of Roy HalladayCliff Lee and Cole Hamels were all healthy and firing on all cylinders a couple of years back, all three were #1 starters in my book.  Just because Hamels pitched third in the rotation didn’t mean he was a “#3 starter.”

Also before getting going, a quick discussion on “ceiling” versus “predictions” and what I’m trying to do here.  As was pointed out when I posted on this topic in 2011, a pitcher’s “ceiling” is quite literally the highest level of capability that we can expect that pitcher to accomplish given a perfect set of circumstances.   Scouts routinely talk about player “ceilings” and “number X” starters as a convenient way to speak a common language when describing a pitcher.   I like to be a bit more grounded in predicting what may happen to pitchers, so this analysis is less about the perfect-scenario “ceiling” as it is a thoughtful prediction on where a guy may eventually fit in given his talents and his performances as compared to scouting reports and industry buzz.


Updated ceiling predictions for Nats pitchers post 2013 season:

Nationals Starter Ceilings (per scouting reports, personal observations).  I’m not going to include any MLFAs here, assuming that they’re all either 4-A or minor league starters as a ceiling.  I’m also only really going down to full-season ball guys, throwing in a couple of our higher-end prospects.  Its just impossible to really project guys in rookie ball unless you’re a professional scout.

  • #1: Strasburg, Giolito
  • #2: Gonzalez, Zimmermann
  • #3: Cole, Ray
  • #4: Jordan, Roark
  • #5: Detwiler, Solis
  • MLB bullpen: Purke, Karns, Ohlendorf, Garcia, Johansen, Treinen
  • 4-A starter: Hill, Mooneyham, Schwartz, Voth, Meyers
  • Minors starter: Rosenbaum, Maya, Gilliam, Rauh, Anderson, Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull
  • Minors bullpen: Perry, Demny, RPena

Discussion:

#1 Starters: Stephen Strasburg is already an “Ace” starter in this league, ranking up among the 15-20 best arms out there.   However he’s no longer considered in the same class as the likes of Kershaw, thanks to injury and a curious lack of dominance this year (have a draft post on this topic that i’ll expand on later).  Lucas Giolito is widely considered the Nats top prospect and an easy future #1 pitching prospect.  Big guy, big arm, and by all accounts has come back post TJ surgery.  The BA guys think that he could be the #1 prospect in the entire minors with another dominant 2014.  How quickly can he move through the minors?  Can he stay healthy?  Right around the time Giolito arrives, the Nats “3 big names” could all be at the end of their current contracts and an interesting conundrum could face the team; keep the band together?  Or let these guys go and re-load/re-build?

#2 Starters: Just as Gio Gonzalez made the leap to a #2 starter with his Cy Young challenging 2012, Jordan Zimmermann has made that leap by virtue of his near-20 win season in 2013.  I believe these two guys can stay as #2 starters for the next few years, until they hit the regression stages of their careers.

#3 Starters:  A.J. Cole has regained his mojo after bouncing around the California league and advanced to AA this year.  He features a significant fastball and but complaints in the scouting world about his secondary stuff lead him to a #3 starter prediction.  I think he should be a #2 ceiling, and perhaps a spring training working with the Nats staff can get him back where we thought he was when we drafted him.  I’m sure picking Robbie Ray to have a higher likely ceiling than his 2013 AA counterparts would be mocked.  But look at the evidence: he’s the same age and same draft class as Cole and has consistently out-performed him when they’ve been on the same team.  He’s lefty, he averaged well over a K/inning this year, and suddenly he’s 22 and he may be “done” with AA.  Why aren’t his credentials higher with prospect-watchers?  It isn’t has if he’s a soft-tosser; he throws decent stuff from the left side.  I continue to think he’ll move along with Cole and they’ll be promoted to the majors within a couple of weeks of each other, perhaps mid 2015.

#4 Starters: If you want to say I’m crazy for thinking that Tanner Roark can maintain his September pace as a starter for this team, I can understand.  I’m not personally convinced that he’s going to be a mediocre 6th inning reliever or continue to be a Kris Medlen-in-2012 anomoly who continues to get guys out.  For now, i’m rooting for the better story.  Meanwhile I’m also not convinced that I have Taylor Jordan pegged properly; I think honestly he could be a #3 pitcher in the league.  This lack of real punch-out capabilities is what’s holding him back for now.  That being said, guys don’t just come up to the majors and post a 3.66 ERA.  For now, a #4 ceiling sounds good.

#5 StartersI’ve come to believe that Ross Detwiler‘s reached his ceiling; his 2012 season is as good as we’re going to see him.  Not because of a lack of talent; its because he just can’t stay healthy.  I’ve seen and heard reports that Detwiler’s stuff is fantastic; that’s great on paper but he just can’t seem to translate that to the big club on a consistent basis.  I would not shed a tear if he headed to the bullpen, other than to think that its a waste of his talents.   I also feel like Sammy Solis will stay as a starter and continue to climb up the ranks, and tops out as a 5th starter just by virtue of his being left handed.  There’s just something to be said about being a lefty with decent stuff being able to hang around the league (think of someone like Eric Stults).  

MLB Bullpen: Right now i’m projecting a whole handful of our good minor league starters to eventually get transitioned to the bullpen.  Which is good and bad; good for this team as they continue to develop arms and continue to have quality guys in the pen.  But bad in that it predicts a severe thinning of the starting pitching corps.  First off, I think the Christian Garcia as starter experiment is over; he needs to focus on being a reliever so that he can stay healthy and contribute.   I believe that Ross Ohlendorf‘s time as a starter is over, but he should slot in nicely as the 7th guy/long-man/spot-starter that this team will need here and there in 2014.  The more I think about Nathan Karns, the more I think he’d make an excellent setup guy.  Big arm, big fast-ball, not really that much secondary stuff.  He got hit hard as a starter; in shorter stints he could dial it up more and focus on his limited arsenal.   Unfortunately I think Matthew Purke may be headed to the pen as well, but his gun-slinger action could make him an excellent later-innings pitcher, perhaps even a closer, if he can translate that to a bit more velocity.  Lastly the reported two biggest arms in the minors (Jake Johansen and Blake Treinen) project for now as bullpen guys.  Again, I hope I’m wrong, but so far the evidence seems to point at big velocity and little else.

What is a 4-A starter?  A guy basically who looks good in AAA but who, for whatever reason, can’t translate that success to the Majors.  They may get a call-up here and there but never pitch well enough to stick.  This is how I see a handful of guys ending up: Brad Meyers has been hanging around this status for several seasons and just can’t get a break.   I’ve also tagged some guys with good numbers in the lower minors but with fringy scouting reports with this for now, thinking that a lack of a dominant fastball means they’ll stay as a starter until they reach their peak.  Taylor HillBlake Schwartz, and Austin Voth all seem to fit this bill.  Lastly the curious lack of dominance of Brett Mooneyham lends me to believe he’ll end up in this predicament as well.  I hope I’m wrong here; I’d love to see these guys take the leap, or (save that) find success in the bullpen.

Career Minors Starter: Unfortunately, I think we’ve seen the best that Danny Rosenbaum and Yunesky Maya can give; they’ve both had shots at a major league roster and couldn’t stay.  I think they’ll retire as AAA starters.  The rest of these guys listed are mediocre-to-decent starters in the system who don’t seem to be listed as true prospects.  I’m specifically disappointed thus far in Kylin Turnbull, who couldn’t make the leap to high A and seems like he needs to make some sort of adjustment in 2014.

Career Minors Bullpen guys: When Ryan Perry passed through waivers off the 40-man roster, his chances of ever making it back to the majors took a huge dent.  Paul Demny‘s precipitous drop this season also seems to spell doom for his career.  And apropos of nothing else, Ronald Pena seems like he has achieved the dreaded “organizational arm” tag.


On the bright side, the top-heavy nature of this list gives fans optimism for the power of this rotation for years to come.  In 3 year’s time (if Giolito, Ray and Cole all matriculate as expected) you’d have two Aces, two #2s and two #3s to choose from for your rotation.  That’s significant, considering that lots of teams are scraping the bottom of the barrel for their 5th starter.  If Ray and Cole turn into servicable major leaguers, you could trade/let go a guy who gets too expensive (Gonzalez or Zimmermann) with an able, cheap replacement.  Maybe I’m too high on Ray and Cole (who are both youngsters) … but then again maybe i’m too low on Jordan and Roark (both of whom have already shown the ability get major league hitters out).

Agree/Disagree/Hate what I’ve written?  I’m open to criticism.

 

2013 Pre-season Rotation Rankings revisited

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Scherzer's dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top.  Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Scherzer’s dominant Cy Young season brings the Tigers to the top. Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

In January, after most of marquee FA signings had shaken out, I ranked the 2013 rotations of teams 1-30.  I was excited about the Nats rotation, speculated more than once that we had the best rotation in the league, and wanted to make a case for it by stacking up the teams 1-30.

I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to revisit my rankings now that the season is over with a hindsight view, doing some post-mortem analysis and tacking on some advanced metrics to try to quantify who really performed the best this season.  For advanced metrics I’m leaning heavily on Fangraphs team starter stats page, whose Dashboard view quickly gives the team ERA, FIP, xFIP, WAR, SIERA, K/9 and other key stats that I’ll use in this posting.

  1. (#2 pre-season) DetroitVerlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Porcello (with Alvarez providing some cover).  Scherzer likely wins the Cy Young.  Three guys with 200+ strikeouts.  The league leader in ERA.  And we havn’t even mentioned Justin Verlander yet.  A team starting pitching fWAR of 25.3, which dwarfed the next closest competitor.  There’s no question; we knew Detroit’s rotation was going to be good, but not this good.  Here’s a scary fact; their rotation BABIP was .307, so in reality this group should have done even better than they actually did.  Detroit’s rotation was *easily* the best rotation in the league and all 6 of these guys return for 2014.
  2. (#3 Preseason): Los Angeles DodgersKershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Nolasco, and Capuano (with Fife, BeckettLilly, Billingsley and a few others helping out); The 1-2 punch of Kershaw (the NL’s clear Cy Young favorite) and Greinke (who quietly went 15-4) was augmented by the stand-out rookie performance of Ryu, the surprisingly good half-season worth of starts from Nolasco, and then the all-hands-on deck approach for the rest of the starts.  This team used 11 different starters on the year thanks to injury and ineffectiveness, but still posted the 2nd best team FIP and 5th best fWAR in the league.
  3. (#8 pre-season): St. LouisWainwright, Lynn, Miller, Wacha and Kelly (with Garcia, Westbrook, and a few others pitching in).  Team leader Chris Carpenter missed the whole season and this team still was one of the best rotations in the league.  Westbrook missed time, Garcia only gave them 9 starts.  That’s the team’s planned #1, #3 and #4 starters.  What happened?  They call up Miller and he’s fantastic.  They call up Wacha and he nearly pitches back to back no-hitters at the end of the season.  They give Kelly a starting nod out of the bullpen and he delivers with a better ERA+ than any of them from the #5 spot.  St. Louis remains the bearer-standard of pitching development (along with Tampa and Oakland to an extent) in the game.
  4. (#22 pre-season): Pittsburgh:  Liriano, Burnett, Locke, Cole, Morton (with Rodriguez and a slew of call-ups helping out).  How did this team, which I thought was so low pre-season, turn out to have the 4th best starter FIP in the game?  Francisco Liriano had a renessaince season, Burnett continued to make Yankees fans shake their heads, and their top 6 starters (by number of starts) all maintained sub 4.00 ERAs.  Gerrit Cole has turned out to be the real deal and will be a force in this league.
  5. (#1 pre-season) WashingtonStrasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren, Detwiler with Jordan, Roark and other starts thrown to Karns and Ohlendorf).   Despite Haren’s continued attempts to sabotage this rotation’s mojo, they still finished 3rd in xFIP and 5th in FIP.  Haren’s 11-19 team record and substandard ERA/FIP values drug this group down, but there wasn’t much further up they could have gone on this list.   If  you had replaced Haren with a full season of Jordan’s production, maybe this team jumps up a little bit, but the teams above them are tough to beat.
  6. (#11 pre-season) Atlanta: Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Teheran and Maholm, (with rookie Alex Wood contributing towards the end of the season).  Brandon Beachy only gave them 5 starts; had he replaced Maholm this rotation could have done better.  Hudson went down with an awful looking injury but was ably covered for by Wood.  They head into 2014 with a relatively formidable  and cheap potential rotation of  Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Beachy and Wood, assuming they don’t resign Hudson.  How did they over-perform?  Teheran finally figured it out, Maholm was more than servicable the first couple months, Wood was great and came out of nowhere.
  7. (#26 pre-season) ClevelandJimenez, Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Kazmir.  Too high for this group?  7th in rotation fWAR, 8th in FIP, and 6th in xFIP.  This group, which I thought was going to be among the worst in the league, turned out to be one of the best.  Jimenez and Masterson both had rebound years with a ton of Ks, and the rest of this crew pitches well enough to remain around league average.  They were 2nd best in the league in K/9.  You can make the argument that they benefitted from the weakened AL Central, but they still made the playoffs with a relative rag-tag bunch.
  8. (#9 pre-season) CincinnatiCueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, Leake (with Tony Cingrani).  Cueto was good … but he was never healthy, hitting the D/L three separate times.  Luckily Cingrani came up from setting strikeout records in AAA and kept mowing them down in the majors.  Latos was dominant,  Leake took a step forward, and Bailey/Arroyo gave what they normally do.  If anything you would have thought this group would have been better.  6th in Wins, 7th in xFIP, 9th in FIP.  Next year Arroyo leaves, Cingrani gets 32 starts, Cueto stays healthy (cross your fingers, cross your fingers, cross your fingers) and this team is dominant again despite their FA hitting losses.
  9. (#25 pre-season) New York MetsHarvey, WheelerNiese, Gee, Hefner and a bunch of effective call-ups turned the Mets into a halfway-decent rotation all in all.  7th in xFIP, 11th in FIP.  Most of this is on the backs of Matt Harvey, who pitched like the second coming of Walter Johnson for most of the season.  Wheeler was more than effective, and rotation workhorses Niese and Gee may not be sexy names, but they were hovering right around the 100 ERA+ mark all year.  One superstar plus 4 league average guys was good enough for the 9th best rotation.
  10. (#12 pre-season) TexasDarvish, Holland, Ogando, Perez, Garza at the end.  Texas’ fWAR was the 2nd best in the league … but their accompanying stats drag them down this far.  Despite having four starters with ERA+s ranging from 114 to Darvish’ 145, the 34 starts given to Tepesch and Grimm drag this rotation down.  Ogando couldn’t stay healthy and Perez only gave them 20 starts.  Garza was mostly a bust.  And presumed #2 starter Matt Harrison gave them just 2 starts.  But look out for this group in 2014; Darvish, a healthy Harrison, and Holland all locked up long term, Ogando in his first arbitration year, and Perez is just 22.  That’s a formidable group if they can stay on the field together.
  11. (pre-season #6) Tampa BayPrice, Moore, Hellickson, Cobb, Archer and Roberto Hernandez.   Jeff Niemann didn’t give them a 2013 start, but no matter, the Tampa Bay gravy train of power pitchers kept on producing.  Cobb was unhittable, Archer was effective and Moore regained his 2011 playoff mojo to finish 17-4 on the year.  An odd regression from Price, which was fixed by a quick D/L trip, and a complete collapse of Hellickson drug down this rotation from where it should have been.  They still finished 12th in FIP and xFIP for the year.
  12. (pre-season #21) SeattleHernandez, Iwakuma, Saunders, Harang, Maurer, and Ramirez.  Seattle featured two excellent, ace-leve performers and a bunch of guys who pitched worse than Dan Haren all year.  But combined together and you have about the 12th best rotation, believe it or not.
  13. (pre-season #7) PhiladelphiaHalladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, Lannan (with Cloyd and Pettibone as backups).  The phillies were 13th in xFIP, 10th in FIP on the year and regressed slightly thanks to the significant demise to their #1 guy Halladay.  Lee pitched like his typical Ace but Hamels self-destructed as well.  The strength of one excellent starter makes this a mid-ranked rotation.  Had Halladay and Hamels pitched like expected, they’d have finished closer to my pre-season ranking.
  14. (pre-season #17) BostonLester, Buchholz, Dempster, Lackey, Doubront, and Peavy: Boston got a surprise bounce back season out of Lackey, a fantastic if oft-injured performance from Buchholz, a mid-season trade for the effective Peavy.  Why aren’t they higher?  Because their home stadium contributes to their high ERAs in general.  Despite being 3rd in rotation fWAR and 4th in wins, this group was 17th in FIP and 18th in xFIP.  Perhaps you could argue they belong a couple places higher, but everyone knows its Boston’s offense that is driving their success this year.
  15. (pre-season #16) New York YankeesSabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes/Phelps Hughes and Phelps pitched as predictably bad as you would have expected … but Sabathia’s downturn was unexpected.  Are  his years of being a workhorse catching up to him?  The rotation was buoyed by unexpectedly good seasons from Nova and Kuroda.  Pettitte’s swang song was pretty great, considering his age.  Enough for them to slightly beat expectations, but the signs of trouble are here for this rotation in the future.   Pettitee retired, Kuroda a FA, Hughes a FA, a lost season for prospect Michael Pineda and other Yankees prospects stalled.  Are we in for a dark period in the Bronx?
  16. (pre-season #29) Miami: FernandezNolasco, Eovaldi, Turner, Alvarez, Koehler and a few other starts given to either re-treads or MLFAs.  For Miami’s rotation of kids to rise this far up is amazing; looking at their stellar stats you would think they should have been higher ranked still.  Fernandez’s amazing 176 ERA+ should win him the Rookie of the Year.  Eovaldi improved, rookie Turner pitched pretty well for a 22 year old.  The team dumped its opening day starter Nolasco and kept on … losing frankly, because the offense was so durn bad.  Begrudgingly it looks like Jeffry Loria has found himself another slew of great arms to build on.
  17. (pre-season #5) San FranciscoCain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito, Gaudin.  What the heck happened here?  Cain went from an Ace to pitching like a 5th starter, Lincecum continued to completely forget what it was like to pitch like a Cy Young winner, Vogelsong completely fell off his fairy-tale cliff, and Zito completed his $126M journey in typical 5+ ERA fashion.  I’m surprised these guys are ranked this high (14th in FIP, 16th in xFIP but just 27th in fWAR thanks to just horrible performances all year).  What the heck are they going to do in 2014?
  18. (pre-season #10) Arizona: CorbinKennedy, McCarthy, Cahill, Miley and Delgado.  Corbin was 2013’s version of Miley; a rookie that came out of nowhere to lead the staff.  Miley struggled at times but righted the ship and pitched decently enough.  The rest of the staff really struggled.  I thought this was a solid bunch but they ended up ranked 23rd in FIP and 14th in xFIP, indicating that they were a bit unlucky as a group.
  19. (pre-season #15) Chicago White SoxSale, Peavy, Danks, QuintanaSantiago and Axelrod.  Floyd went down early, Peavy was traded.  Sale pitched well but had a losing record.  The team looked good on paper (16th in ERA) but were 26th in FIP and 17th in xFIP.
  20. (pre-season #14) Oakland: ColonAnderson, Griffen, Parker, Straily, Milone, with Sonny Gray giving 10 good starts down the stretch.  This rotation is the story of one amazing 40-yr old and a bunch of kids who I thought were going to be better.   Oakland is bashing their way to success this season and this group has been just good enough to keep them going.  I thought the likes of Griffen and Parker would have been better this  year, hence their falling from #14 to #19.
  21. (pre-season #19) Chicago CubsGarza, Samardzija, JacksonWood, and FeldmanFeldman and Garza were flipped once they showed they could be good this year.  Samardzija took an uncharacteristic step backwards.  Jackson was awful.  The Cubs ended up right about where we thought they’d be.  However in 2014 they look to be much lower unless some big-armed prospects make the team.
  22. (pre-season #20) Kansas CityShields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen, Mendoza: despite trading the best prospect in the game to acquire Shields and Davis, the Royals a) did not make the playoffs and b) really didn’t have that impressive a rotation.  12th in team ERA but 20th in FIP and 25th in xFIP.   Compare that to their rankings of 25th in FIP and 26th in xFIP in 2012.   But the results on the field are inarguable; the team improved 14 games in the Win column and should be a good bet to make the playoffs next year if they can replace the possibly-departing Santana and the ineffective Davis.
  23. (pre-season #23) Milwaukee: LohseGallardo, Estrada, Peralta, and dozens of starts given to long-men and call-ups.  I ranked this squad #23 pre-season before they acquired Lohse; in reality despite his pay and the lost draft pick, Lohse’s addition ended up … having almost no impact on this team in 2013.  They finished ranked 23rd on my list, and the team was 74-88.
  24. (pre-season #13): Los Angeles AngelsWeaver, Wilson, Vargas, Hanson, Blanton, Williams: The Angels are in a predicament; their two “aces” Weaver and Wilson both pitched well enough.  But nobody in baseball was really that surprised by the god-awful performances from Hanson or Blanton (2-14, 6.04 ERA … and the Angels gave him a two year deal!).  So in some ways the team brought this on themselves.  You spend half a billion dollars on aging offensive FAs, have the best player in the game languishing in left field because your manager stubbornly thinks that someone else is better in center than one of the best defenders in the game … not fun times in Anaheim.  To make matters worse, your bigtime Ace Weaver missed a bunch of starts, looked mortal, and lost velocity.
  25. (#28 pre-season) San DiegoVolquez, Richards, Marquis, Stults, Ross, Cashner: have you ever seen an opening day starter post a 6+ ERA in a cave of a field and get relased before the season was over?  That happened to SAn Diego this year.  Another case where ERA+ values are deceiving; Stults posted a sub 4.00 ERA but his ERA+ was just 87, thanks to his home ballpark.  In fact its almost impossible to tell just how good or bad San Diego pitchers are.   I could be talked in to putting them this high or all the way down to about #28 in the rankings.
  26. (pre-season #27) Colorado: ChatwoodDe La Rosa, Chacin, Nicaso, Francis and a few starts for Garland and Oswalt for good measure.  Another staff who shows how deceptive the ERA+ value can be.  Their top guys posted 125 ERA+ figures but as a whole their staff performed badly.  26th in ERA, 19th in FIP, 26th in xFIP.  Colorado is like Minnesota; they just don’t have guys who can throw it by you (29th in K/9 just ahead of the Twins), and in their ridiculous hitter’s park, that spells trouble.
  27. (pre-season #4) TorontoDickeyMorrowJohnson, Buehrle, Happ, Rogers, and a line of other guys.  What happened here?  This was supposed to be one of the best rotations in the majors.  Instead they fell on their face, suffered a ton of injuries (only Dickey and Buehrle pitched full seasons: RomeroDrabeck were hurt.  Johnson, Happ, Redmond only 14-16 starts each.  This team even gave starts to Chien-Ming Wang and Ramon Ortiz.  Why not call up Fernando Valenzuela out of retirement?  It just goes to show; the best teams on paper sometimes don’t come together.  The Nats disappointed in 2013, but probably not as much as the Blue Jays.
  28. (pre-season #18) BaltimoreHammel, Chen, Tillman, Gonzalez, FeldmanGarcia with a few starts given to Gausman and Britton.  I’m not sure why I thought this group would be better than this; they were in the bottom four of the league in ERA, FIP, xFIP and SIERA.  It just goes to show how the ERA+ value can be misleading.  In their defense, they do pitch in a hitter’s park.  Tillman wasn’t bad, Chen took a step back.  The big concern here is the health of Dylan Bundy, who I thought could have pitched in the majors starting in June.
  29. (pre-season #30) Houston: BedardNorris, Humber, Peacock, Harrell to start, then a parade of youngsters from there.  We knew Houston was going to be bad.  But amazingly their rotation wasn’t the worst in the league, thanks to Jarred Cosart and Brett Olberholtzer coming up and pitching lights-out for 10 starts a piece later in the year.  There’s some potential talent here.
  30. (pre-season #24) MinnesotaDiamond, Pelfrey, Correia, Denudo, Worley and a whole slew of guys who were equally as bad.  Minnesota had the worst rotation in the league, and it wasn’t close.  They were dead last in rotational ERA, FIP, and xFIP, and it wasn’t close.  They were last in K/9 … by more than a strikeout per game.  They got a total fWAR of 4.6 from every pitcher who started a game for them this year.  Matt Harvey had a 6.1 fWAR in just 26 starts before he got hurt.  Someone needs to call the Twins GM and tell him that its not the year 1920, that power-pitching is the wave of the future, that you need swing-and-miss guys to win games in this league.

Biggest Surprises: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami and New York Mets to a certain extent.

Biggest Disappointments: Toronto, the Angels, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Baltimore to some extent.

Disagree with these rankings?  Feel free to pipe up.  I’ll use this ranking list as the spring board post-FA market for 2014’s pre-season rankings.

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

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One Team Hall of Famers: a dying breed?

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Chipper Jones at his retirement game.  Photo via lostthatsportsblog

Chipper Jones at his retirement game. Photo via lostthatsportsblog

I was listening to a podcast this past weekend and the host mentioned something in passing related to Chipper Jones being the last of a dying breed: one-team Hall-of-Famers.  In the modern age of free agency, we’re seeing iconic players such as Albert Pujols (and in other sports lately, Paul Pierce and Peyton Manning) switch teams mid-to-end of their careers and sullying their legacy in their original city.

It got me thinking: who in baseball right now are the best remaining chances of guys being single-team Hall of Famers?

Using the Current Baseball-Reference Active career WAR leaders as a guide to finding players (and using Baseball Prospectus’ Cots Salary database to quote contract years), lets take a look.  The players are listed in descending order of total career WAR.  The first few names are obvious.  Then there’s a group of younger guys who have yet to play out their arbitration years and who could easily jump ship and sign elsewhere in free agency; i’ll put in a complete WAG as to the chances of the player staying with one team their entire career.

Hall of Fame Locks and Likelys

1. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees.   100% likelihood he retires as a Yankee, and 100% likelihood of being a first ballot hall of famer.

2. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees.  As with Jeter, he’s 100% to retire as a Yankee (having already announced his retirement) and should be a first ballot hall of famer as inarguably the best late-inning reliever the game has known.

3. Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers.  Just kidding.  Come on, you laughed.

4. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins.  Its hard to envision someone being more of a franchise player than Mauer; born in Minnesota, High School in Minnesota, 1st overall draft pick by the Minnesota Franchise.  Massive contract with full no-trade through 2018.  I think Mauer will be a Twin for life.   Hall of Fame chances?  Looking pretty good; already has an MVP and has a career .323 BA for a catcher, pretty impressive.

5. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees.  He’s about half way through his career, but his numbers and accolades keep piling up.  Pretty soon we’re going to look up and he’s going to have 400 homers and a career BA above .300 as a 2nd baseman with a slew of top 5 MVP finishes, and we’ll be asking ourselves where Cano ranks in the pantheon of baseball 2nd basemen.  Here’s the canonical list of 2nd basemen elected to the hall of fame in the last 50 years: Roberto AlomarRyne Sandberg, Rod Carew and Joe Morgan.  Do you think Cano belongs there?  Now, will Cano stay a Yankee?  We’ll soon find out: he’s just played out his two option years and has not been extended.  Are the Yankees preparing to let him walk?

6. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers.  He’s struggled this year as compared to his typical lofty achievements, but he already owns the career trifecta of awards (RoY, MVP, Cy Young).   He’s signed through 2019 with a 2020 option, at which point he’ll be 37.    He probably won’t get to 300 wins but he could broach 250 with excellent career numbers.  Will he stay with Detroit?  It seems like a safe bet.

Honorable Mentions: Juston Morneau: early numbers supported it, but he has aged fast.  Update 9/1/13 traded away from Minnesota in a waiver-wire deal; no longer eligible.

 

Borderline Hall of Fame Guys

1. Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies.   He turns 40 in August, has played his entire career with Colorado and is in the final year of a two-year deal.  His production has vastly tailed off the last two years and I can’t see him playing again after this season.  But, we haven’t heard any retirement news either, so I wonder if he’s going to be one of these one-teamers that tries to play one season too long.  Chances of Hall-of-Fame:  33%.   I think he’s going to have the same issues that Larry Walker is having; despite a career 134 OPS+ his home OPS is nearly 200 points higher than his road OPS, and I think writers will believe him to be an offensive juggernaut borne of Denver.

2. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies.  He’s struggled with injuries four seasons running now, but otherwise has great career offensive numbers for a 2nd Baseman.  Even if he gets healthy, he may fall short of the Hall of Fame for similar reasons to those of Jeff Kent.   And, Utley doesn’t have an MVP.  However, Utley may be falling off this list because his name is prominently mentioned in trade-rumors if the Phillies decide to sell.

3. David Wright, New York Mets.  He’s in his 10th season with the Mets and is signed through 2020, so his chances of being a career one-teamer seem high.  Not 100% though; He’ll be 37 at the end of this deal and may want a couple more seasons; will he be productive enough and stay healthy enough to earn another short-term deal that late in his career?  Is he trending towards the Hall of Fame?  Probably not; he’s got plenty of All Star appearances, Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers but relatively little MVP love.  In this respect he needs his team to be better.

4. Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies.  Rollins is the subject of a long, long running joke amongst my close friends.  One die-hard Philly fan made his argument that Rollins was a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and the rest of us mocked him for being such a homer.   In reality, his Hall of Fame case likely ends up being really debatable.   He has a smattering of career accomplishments but not nearly as many as (say Barry Larkin, the most recent elected SS).   Now, does Rollines remain in Philadelphia?  Probably; he’s signed through 2015, at which point he’ll be 37.  I can see Philadelphia keeping him on board with a 2 year deal at that point.

 

Too Early to tell Guys

1. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners.  Signed through 2019 for just absolutely ridiculous money (he’ll make $27M in the year 2019).  Of course, he’s just 27 now so he’ll still have some career left by then.  Will he stay in Seattle?  A good bet.  Will he continue to look like a hall-of-famer?  Also a good bet, despite his velocity loss.   But like any other guy who’s only 27, its hard to project 10-15 years down the road, especially for pitchers.

2. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox.  Pedroia doesn’t seem like a guy who is mentioned in the same breath as hall-of-famers, especially when compared to Cano above.  But here’s what Pedroia has that Cano doesn’t: A Rookie of the Year award AND an MVP award.  Pedroia has bounced back in 2013 from a couple of injury-plagued years and has put him self back in position to gain MVP votes if Boston makes the post-season.  Will he stay in Boston?  Seems like hit; he seems like a classic career Red Sox Captain-in-the-making.

3. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers.  Great production, career accolades, signed to a long-term deal for a mid-market team.  He has all the makings of being a classic one-team Hall of Famer …. except for the small fact that he’s a) already tested positive for banned substances and b) is becoming public enemy #2 (behind Alex Rodriguez) because of his arrogance in being caught up in the Biogenesis scandal AFTER beating the testing rap.  He could win 3 more MVPs and I don’t see him making the hall-of-fame until some veteran’s committee 75 years from now posthumously puts in all these PED cheaters of the 90s and today.

4. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays.   He’s signed with options through 2023.  He’s always on the short list of the best third basemen (offensively and defensively) in the majors.   He’s already had a series of all-time highlight moments in his career.  But from a cumulative accolades stand point, he’s very much lacking.  While he won the 2008 Rookie of the Year award, the closest he’s come to an MVP is 6th, and his 2013 All-Star snub means he’s only appeared in the game 3 times.  I think he’s going to need a run of healthy, strong seasons to really put his name in the HoF mix.

5. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals and Troy Tulowitzki with Colorado: both guys are here for the same reasons: they are each team’s “Face of the Franchise” and are likely never going to play anywhere else.   They’re both signed to very long term deals.  In Zimmerman’s case, he’s a local guy.  As for Hall of Fame chances, right now they look very negligible for both players.  Not because they’re not good, but because both are too inconsistently injured to put together the full seasons needed to stay in the minds of all-star and MVP voters.  They are what Longoria is heading towards: injury plagued solid players who are the cornerstone of their teams for a 15 year stretch.

6. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds.  Here’s a fun fact: Votto trails our own Ryan Zimmerman in career war despite being a year older.   He’s signed with Cincinnati with options through 2024, at which point he’ll be 41, so he’s almost guaranteed to be a one-team guy.  Will he accumulate enough accomplishments to be a Hall of Famer?  So far so good.  He’s one of the most feared hitters in the league and seems to be getting better.

7.  Matt CainCole HamelsJered Weaver: all three of these guys have nearly identical career WARs, all are signed for relatively long-term deals, all are on most people’s shorter lists of the best starters in the game, and all are between 28-30 right now.   But ironically, I don’t see any of them as hall-of-famer calibre talent when compared to the next small jump up in talent in the league right now (see the next player).

8. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers.  It is foolish to speculate on the Hall of Fame chances of a 25 year old pitcher.  But Kershaw seems to be a safe bet to sign the largest pitcher contract in history with the nouveaux-rich Dodger’s ownership group, so he could continue to pitch in the cavern of Dodger stadium for another 10 years and start to really approach some hall-of-fame mandate numbers.  Ask yourself this; who would you rather have for the next 10 years, Kershaw or Stephen Strasburg?

 

Summary: In all of baseball, just two HoF one-team locks.   A couple more good bets for being career one-teamers but by no means HoF locks.  So yeah, it seems like the one-team hall-of-famer is going the way of the Reserve Clause.

Ask Boswell 7/8/13 Edition

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Your Nats are on a little roll; they swept the Padres and have clawed their way to a mighty 4 games above .500 before looking downright weak so far in Philly. What’s the temperature of Tom Boswell‘s chat this week?  Lets find out?

As always, I write the answer here before reading Boswell’s, and edit questions for clarity/conciseness.

Q: Is this the turnaround we’ve all been waiting for?

A: Well, at the risk of being a complete hypocrite (as a couple of my friends accuse me of doing, after basically writing off the team when they were still mired at .500 at the end of June), I’ll stick with “we’re not out of the woods yet.”   After winning 4 straight and sweeping the hapless Padres in Washington, we travel to Philadelphia for a mid-week 4-game set where I only give the Nats the clear starting pitcher advantage in one of the four games.

And sure enough, Dan Haren gave up 2 early runs to set the tone and the Nats were efficiently shut down by former Ace John Lannan in dropping the first game 3-2 while getting just one run in 8 innings against Cole Hamels in last night’s loss.  It would not surprise me in the least to see the Nats lose 3 of 4 in Philly (the mano-y-mano Cliff Lee-Gio Gonzalez showdown tonight favors the Phillies, then the Jordan Zimmerman-Kyle Kendrick matchup that favors Washington on paper .. but Zimmermann has been leaking runs lately and only has 4 quality starts in his last 8 outings).  Boswell says that “baseball hates a straight line,” I suppose implying that the Nats can get a winning streak together and get back in.

Q: Why are the Nats ownership pushing out Johnson?

A: Asked and Answered in a previous chat.  See the Davey Johnson question from the 7/1/13 version of this post.  Boswell indeed repeats his 7/1 answer today.

Q: Who gets demoted to make way for Scott Hairston?

A: The obvious and easy answer is (and was) Tyler Moore, the only real expendable hitter left on the active roster.  Expendible meaning he wasn’t a vet, wasn’t out of options, and isn’t hitting .300 playing every day.  (This move has already happened by the publication of this post, so it isn’t very timely).  Boswell points out that not only is Moore going to AAA, but there’s literally no room for him NEXT year since Scott Hairston is signed through 2014.  Oops.  Moore is now officially trade bait.

Q: Why do Baseball fields continue to be irregularly shaped?

A: Anachronism.  Its the only thing I can think of.   Boswell sort of agrees.

Q: Why havn’t we pulled the plug on Dan Haren?

A: I’ll give you $13M reasons why.  But, we’re getting close.  If the Nats are really going after Matt Garza then Haren’s days are numbered.  Thank baseball for guaranteed contracts, eh?   Boswell proposes a crazy trade proposal: Detwiler, Espinosa, Moore and Giolito for David Price, who he constantly mentions as being a guy he’d love to see acquired.  I don’t see it; Tampa Bay is notoriously difficult to deal with on the trade market and this trade offer basically collects three under-performing MLBers and an injured rookie for one of the 15 best arms in the game.  As David Schoenfield put it in his ESPN chat yesterday, this is a ridiculous trade offer from a homer-fan in Boswell.  

For what its worth, later on in the chat someone also pokes disbelief at this trade proposal.  Boswell defends the trade more on the years-of-control and by comparing Price to the Gio Gonzalez deal.

Q: Why did the Nats acquire Hairston in the first place?

A: Clearly, they felt like they needed better bench hitters.  And, they got him.  Boswell notes his great lefty splits.

Q: Will the Nats re-align their rotation post All-Star Break?

A: Probably; they did minor tweaks last year.  Unless it results in some ridiculous layoff, you’d have to think they’re going back to the opening day 1-2-3-4-5.  Boswell says nobody knows.

Q: According to high placed sources, Cliff Lee has informed the Phillies he’ll waive his no trade clause for the Nationals. Will the price be to high?

A: Ugh.  Just go look at Cliff Lee‘s contract.  He’s owed more than $75M AFTER this season (I’m counting the 2016 option that seems very likely to vest).  He turns 35 in August.  That’s an awful lot of money to be going to a 38 year old guy.  And it’d take a massive haul of our thinned farm system to get him, since the Phillies would be full bore into rebuilding mode if they moved Lee.  Just don’t see it.   Yes Lee has been great this year, but the fall-off for guys in their mid 30s can be steep.  Boswell points out similar facts.

Q: MLB seems to be making a special effort to promote Puig for the final spot, three tweets about him yesterday; none about the other four NL candidates. If they want him that badly why not institute a next-to-last spot for whoever they want to pick for marketing purposes?

A: Others have proposed reserving an all-star spot for an “Up and coming” player who isn’t on the ballot and thus has little chance of making it.  That makes sense to me.  MLB is doing their best to capture the Yasiel Puig-mania, and good for them to finally do some aggressive marketing of their marketable stars.  Boswell says Puig is awesome and then goes off on a tangent.

Q: Is Rafael Soriano turning into Don “fullpack” Stanhouse for Davey Johnson?

A: Rafael Soriano‘s numbers are fine; 2.19 ERA, converted 21 of 24 save opportunities.  He gives up a hit an inning; not ideal for a closer but not out of the realm of crazy.    I don’t get THAT nervous when he comes into games.   Boswell says Soriano is underrated.

Q: Alex Rodriguez is playing single A ball. Are the Yankees sending him a message?

A: Did the Nats “send a message” to Bryce Harper by sending him to Potomac (A-Ball) to rehab?   MLBers have to play re-hab ball somewhere;  dumb question inspired by the media sensationalism that perpetually surrounds Alex Rodriguez.  Boswell pokes fun at the Yankees, Brian Cashman‘s STFU tweet and the whole situation with A-Rod in general.

Q: Do the Nationals over-play music and promotions at games?

A: The question comes from someone who clearly comes across as a whiny “I liked it in the old days when we just had an organ at baseball games” type.  I’ve never gotten that impression at Nats games.  If you want to *really* see what a fan experience is like with near perpetual distractions and music, just head on over to the Verizon Center and take in a Wizards games.  They play 95 decibel music DURING PLAY.  Its just crazy.  Boswell says that while the PA is too loud, the Nats park is relatively devoid of ads and clutter.  

Q: Trade proposal: Clippard and Storen for Cliff Lee

A: Two non-closers for a MLB Ace.  And one (Drew Storen) who is really struggling this year.  Yea right.   If you’re going to propose trades, make them at least believable.   boswell falls back on intra-division, CYA blocking reasons for not considering this trade.

Q: Should we prevent Harper from participating in the Home-Run Derby due to injury concerns?

A: Should we block Harper from taking batting practice due to injury concerns?  Another ridiculous question.  The Home Run Derby is just BP with the cameras on.   Boswell says its more likely to mess up h is stroke; whatever.  Everything I’ve read about Harper’s BP sessions show that he’s basically trying to hit it to the beer stands on every pitch.

Q: Does Storen need a change of scenery?

A: Great question; the full text of the question answers things pretty well; Storen has gone from closer to 7th inning Ryan Mattheus replacement in less than a half a season.  If traded and given another shot, you have to think he’d re-flourish as a closer.  Mike Rizzo has traded closer-quality guys to teams that covet them (see the Matt Capps deal) so maybe this could be in the cards.  I’d always trade in a closer for a position player, since you can “make” closers so easily.  Look at what Ian Krol is doing; all he’s done since arriving as an unheralded AA-reliever is just shut people down; I’ll bet he would make an excellent closer.    Boswell says the team wants Storen around for the long haul.

Q: Trade idea: Danny Espinosa for Ervin Santana?

A: Hmm.  #2 starter with a 2.93 ERA for a team trying to make the playoffs for …. an AAA infielder who hit .158 this year.  AND the questioner thinks the Royals would throw in a prospect to make it work!  Talk about over-valuing your own assets.  There’s a difference between potential talent and realized talent; Espinosa completely encapsulates the difference.  Yes we know that he’s a plus-plus defender who can hit 20 bombs from the shortstop position.  But he has regressed year to year at the plate and now will be lucky to play in the majors again before the Sept 1st callup.  Why would the Royals possibly do this deal?   Thank god this is just a local chat and not one of these national ESPN chats where Nats fans in general would be lampooned for trade ideas like this.  Boswell doesn’t really even give an opinion on this one.

 

Johan Santana to miss 2013; a cautionary tale

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Santana to miss 2013 and end his Mets career on a sour note. Photo via wikipedia/flickr user slgckgc

Earlier this month I published an updated version of the “Starter Dollar per Win” analysis that I maintain and update on an annual basis.  In that post, I listed some of the worst free agent starter contracts ever signed (among them Kei Igawa, Jason Schmidt, Oliver Perez, Darren Dreifort).  However I did not mention Johan Santana among these awful deals because it looked like he could at least finish out the last year of his deal and increase his per-win values.

Last week we learned that Santana has a torn shoulder capsule and is likely to miss the entire 2013 season.  This is the last guaranteed year of the 6 yr/$137.5M contract that he signed with the Mets after his fantastic early-career stint with Minnesota and it seems almost certain that he’ll be looking for work elsewhere in 2014, if he continues to play at all (this being a re-tear of the same Anterior Capsule that sidelined him for all of 2011 and his third arm/shoulder surgery overall).

In his 6 years in New York, he had one great season (the first), two entirely missed due to injury, two with good results but still injury curtailed, and one (2012) that was entirely mediocre and injury curtailed after he (foolishly?) threw 130+ innings to chase a no-hitter.  That’s not entirely a great return on $137.5M.

Looking at my “Dollar per Win” analysis spreadsheet, and assuming that the Mets are going to pay him a $5.5M instead of his $25M option for 2014 (the $137.5M number only includes guaranteed money and thus already includes this $5.5M buyout), here’s how he ended up performing on a per-dollar basis for the life of this contract:

  • 109 starts over 6 years: $1,261,468 per start.
  • 72 Quality Starts: $1,909,722 per QS
  • 46 Wins: $2,989,130 per Win.

This contract is now officially “Worse” than the infamous Denny Neagle deal (19 wins for a 5yr/$55M deal) and significantly worse than the even more infamous Mike Hampton deal (56 wins for an 8yr/$121M deal) on a dollar per win basis.

The cautionary tale is a familiar one: we all know that pitchers are health wildcards to begin with.  But guaranteeing many years and tens of millions of dollars to these injury wildcards is lunacy.  (Ken Rosenthal wrote a similar story on 3/29/13 on this same topic).   I now count Thirteen 9-figure contracts that have been given out to starting pitchers in the history of the game, and of the contracts that are closer to the end or finished its hard to find any of them that the signing team would do over again.

  • Santana, Barry Zito, Hampton, Kevin Brown and Daisuke Matsuzaka were all 9-figure deals that did not live up to the money (Matsuzaka’s 9-figure haul includes the posting fee).
  • Matt Cain, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Yu Darvish (again, including his posting fee) are all 1-2 years into longer term 9-figure deals with (admittedly) satisfying levels of performance thus far.
  • Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and now Justin Verlander as of 3/29/13 are all starting 9-figure deals in 2013 or later.  Adam Wainwright just missed the cutoff; his new deal totaled $97.5M.

How does this affect the Nationals?  Well, in 2017 Stephen Strasburg is likely to become a free agent (lets be honest with ourselves; his agent is Scott Boras, his agent is aggressive to the max, wants to explore every possible free agency aspect, and rarely if ever allows his clients to agree to contract extensions, team friendly or otherwise; Strasburg is going to hit the FA market).  Based on the list of arms above, and assuming Strasburg doesn’t get re-injured in the next few years you have to think he’s going to be in line for a 9-figure deal of his own.  What do you do if you’re the Nats?  Do you pay the man, knowing that the likelihood of a 9-figure deal being a good deal for the team is very slim, or do you let him walk and let some other team pay him that money and assume the franchise crippling risk?

At least it isn’t a problem we have to deal with for a few years :-)

Starting Pitching Quality in the WBC

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I keep a little file, periodically updated, that keeps track of “Ace Starters” in the league.  There’s usually right around 20 of them at any one time.  There’s no hard and fast rule as to what defines an Ace; not every team has an Ace.  Some teams have more than one Ace.  Its essentially defined as a guy who, every time he goes to the hill, he is expected to win, a perennial Cy Young candidate, a guy who is acknowledged as being one of the best in the game.

Here’s my list of “Aces” in this league, right now; Strasburg, Gonzalez, Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Cueto, Wainwright, Lincecum, Cain, Kershaw, Greinke, Lester, Price, Sabathia, Dickey, Johnson, Verlander, Hernandez, Darvish and Weaver.    Twenty guys, some arguable with poor 2012 performances (Lester, Lincecum, Johnson, Halladay), some arguable for possibly being one-year wonders (Dickey, Greinke, Gonzalez), but by and large a quick list of the 20 best starters in the league.

How many of these Aces are pitching in the 2013 WBC?  TWO.  That’s it.  Gio Gonzalez and R.A. Dickey are starting for the US.  Not one other US Ace is taking the hill for their country.  The few foreign guys (Hernandez, Cueto and Darvish) aren’t pitching for their teams either for various reasons.

If you asked me to give you the 4 best US starters, right now, the four starters I’d throw in a World Baseball Classic to best represent this country, I’d probably go (in nearly this order) Verlander, Kershaw, Strasburg and maybe Cole Hamels.   If you asked me the NEXT four guys i’d want on the bump i’d probably go Sabathia, Cain, Price and Lee.   After that?  I’d probably still take the likes of Halladay and Greinke before I got to Gonzalez or Dickey.   And that’s only because of the poor 2012 showings by Lincecum, Lester and Johnson; if this was 2011, those three guys are absolutely in the mix for best arms in the league.  So by rough estimates, we have perhaps the 14th and 15th best American starters going for us right now.

Who else does the US team have starting?   Ryan Vogelsong and Derek Holland.  Vogelsong is the 4th best starter ON HIS OWN TEAM, and Holland isn’t much further up on the Texas depth chart.

I’m enjoying the WBC, don’t get me wrong, but you can repeat this exercise for a number of the positional players on this roster too.   Look at the post-season voting last year and look at who is playing on these teams.  No Buster Posey, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Hamilton or Prince Fielder.  There is only one player who got an NL Cy Young vote in 2012 participating (Fernando Rodney for the D.R.).  I think this event needs its best players to play, and I think the league needs to come up with a way of making that happen.  No more injury dispensations, no more excuses for not having the best, most marketable guys out there.

Why in the hell aren’t Trout and Harper playing for the team USA??   This is the best duo of young, marketable players to this this league since the 1998 home run derby.  They’re on the cover of Men’s Health Magazine and Sports Illustrated in the last month.   You use what you have and market the league on the backs of players like this.  Look at the NBA; they market on top of their most recognizable names and they have grown because of it, from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James.  Why MLB can’t seem to see the forest for the trees sometimes is just frustrating.  The WBC is growing in popularity; its ratings in Japan eclipsed the TV ratings for the Olympics in that country, and the US games reportedly have gotten the highest ratings for a non-playoff game in TV history).  Team USA needs to catch on.